Saturday, December 17, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011



Merry Christmas 
from Smooth Stones Academy 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Version of "52 in 52"

On the WTM message boards there are a group of moms who took a challenge to read 52 books in 52 weeks in 2011. Well, I am a reader no doubt yet the thought of reading that many books at this stage in life just didn't seem doable. (I started reading WEM three years ago and I have only read the first two suggested books: Don Quixote and The Pilgrim's Progress.) Still the idea intrigued me. I love projects, deadlines and the accountability of doing it with a group.

I am jumping topics here, but I promise to tie it together in the end. We have lived in our current house for eight years. Eight years and we still have white bare walls. There is very little in our house that reflects who we are as a family - our loves, our history, our heritage and values. Just white bare walls. Blech!

Now for the past few years I have been saying that there just has not been time. And there is truth in that. One house. Eight years. Four pregnancies. Two babies. Two losses. Lots of therapy for Thatcher. One Asperger diagnosis. Six and one-half years homeschooling. One doctorate (for dh) now half finished. And I could go on and on. But honestly, who couldn't? Life is busy...for everyone. The reality is that now I can carve a little more time now that the boys are older. The key word is *little*. I am certainly not swimming in time here. I posted recently about how busy I feel my days are. Yet it's a different kind of busy than when the boys were little.

I am ready to begin doing some things around the house. I spend 90% of my time inside these walls and I want what surrounds me to be beautiful. It doesn't have to be designer or expensive, just a home that reflects our family. Warm colors. Family pictures. Simple decorations (I am not fussy about decor and certainly don't want clutter that just requires more time to dust and/or clean).

But here's the deal - I am an organizer, not a decorator. Organizing comes naturally. Systems and plans and linear thinking are almost effortless and energize me. Being creative and artistic...not so much. That's not to say that I do not enjoy it. I do...when I do it...and it's been a vvveeerrrry long time since I've done any of it. I am rusty. I am not sure how to create the look I really want in my home: collected over time, a bit worn, casual with touches of elegance (out of reach of busy boys ;). I took this quiz at Real Simple to find out my "decorating personality." And the result was...
Cozy Casual: You’re about comfort and warmth, favoring warm, traditional rooms made for relaxing with family and friends. Your ideal decor draws on English and early-American furniture designs, as well as laid-back country, cottage, and farmhouse styles. Weathered, low-maintenance furnishings are easy, inviting, and built for daily life. Think golden retrievers, fuzzy slippers, and just about any movie by Nancy Meyers.
Yep, that sounds about right. Unfortunately, my organized left brain gravitates towards living room sets where all the pieces match and fireplace mantle decor that is perfectly symmetrical. Sigh, I know what feels like home to me; I just don't know how to create that look in my home.

Then I read this inspiring article at Femina that further motivated me. Just about every single point made in this post struck a cord with me. Here is a bit of a teaser:
A homemaker needs to be a great many things on a shallow level, but if she wants to get deep in some area or another, that simply adds richness to the home. It adds life. It adds love. Think of a few ideas here with me. Interior design, Cooking, Baking , Pastry Chef, Landscape Architecture, Musician, Artist, Event Coordinating, Educator, Accountant, Tailor, Farmer. A woman at home can dabble in almost anything – not wasting her time, but learning her craft
So I am finally going to tie this all together. This year in 2012 I am going to do my own 52 in 52 -52 home projects in 52 weeks. I am going to hone a bit of my homemaking craft by using 2012 as the year that I begin turning our lovely house into an even lovelier home. I joined Pinterest and have already started pinning some simple DIY home decor projects and decorating ideas. This will need to be mostly low budget for me as we have not won the lottery or anything.

Would anyone like to join me for this challenge? Each week you can choose any home project you wish. Make candles. Paint a room or a piece of furniture. Fill picture frames with new pictures. Create a homemade wreath . Fill a bare spot on a wall with a bargain (or otherwise) find. Design a new centerpiece for a table in your home.

I know that 52 small projects (and maybe a few not so small ones sprinkled in here and there...kitchen wallpaper, say bye-bye) will not make a decorated home by the end of 2012 but it's a start. It feels challenging yet doable. And I am ready to get started right now!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Updates

Today I spent some time updating my sidebar to reflect what curricula the boys are each currently using. We are using a few new programs this year for the first time: Tapestry of Grace (TOG), Growing with Grammar (GWG), Elemental Science (ES) and Writing with Ease (WWE) being the main ones.

Tapestry has me still in what I have heard called "The Tapestry Fog" and I have not managed to navigate my way out just yet. One of the many strengths of TOG is that it's a buffet. One of its weaknesses is that it's a buffet. ;) It takes time to figure out just how to use this program and for each family it looks a bit different. I have developed a Weekly Planning Page which I am hoping will help me use TOG more effectively. Tomorrow we begin week 16 of school but only week 6 of TOG. Clearly we need to do better here.

Growing With Grammar has been a hit with Haddon. I.just.couldn't.do.FLL.again. ;) I don't know what it is, but FLL wasn't a good fit for us. GWG has been a breath of fresh air. I am more CM in my approach to grammar (delayed start to formal lessons) and have loved JAG and JAG: Mechanics with Thatcher. I plan on taking the same path with Haddon when he gets to 4th and 5th grade, but in the meantime GWG takes five minutes a day or less, is painless and very gentle. Haddon is a workbook kid and loves the satisfaction of a completed page in front of him and I like knowing I am not leaving grammar out completely. With Thatch I had more time to discuss his readings and roll more "informal" or "incidental" grammar into our daily lessons across all subjects. Now that I am schooling all three GWG helps me know I am covering the basics until we get to JAG in a few years.

Writing With Ease has been great. I really wanted a program I could stick with from start to finish and Susan Wise-Bauer has really filled a hole in the world of homeschool curricula in that respect. Haddon has done beautifully in Level 1 and truly enjoys writing each day. Yes, a first grader, not to mention a boy, who adores writing! Wohoo!!! At the start of the year, I put Thatcher in Writing with Skill, Level 1 (SWB's next level in her program designed to be started around 5th grade). Even though we completed Writing Tales 1 and lots of outlining in SOTW 4 last yearWWS was still just too much. I spent a few weeks trying to build some skills that would help him be more successful but in the end decided to back up a full level to WWE 4. It was a rough start. But we are about to begin week 10, and Thatcher is showing solid growth. I couldn't be more pleased and look forward to using this program for years to come.

I hope to post great things about Elemental Science soon, but we have not started it yet this year (a huge blushing face would really come in handy here ;) Thatcher's ADHD has been especially challenging this year as his core subjects have really ramped up and he has struggled academically for the first time since we started homeschooling seven years ago. We have always struggled to be consistent in history and especially in science and this year has proved no different. This coming week we are trying a new schedule where we do history and science FIRST thing in the morning. It is already stressing me out just to think about not jumping straight into math and writing (Thatcher's subjects that require the most concentration out of him) but we are going to try it. I reserve the right to change my mind though! :)

Well, just a few new things around SSA. Hope your week gets off to a great start tomorrow.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Now I Get It

It has been seven months since my last blog post. So many times I have thought how I would love to blog about this or that. I miss blogging; I truly do. Back when I started this blog in 2007 I didn't think I had much to share. I had only been homeschooling a few years, and my oldest was in first grade. I remember thinking back then that I wish there were more veteran homeschoolers in the blogosphere. Most bloggers seemed to be like me, in the first few years of their journey. Now that I feel like I have a bit more to share (although I know in the grand scheme of things I am still a newbie in most respects) I just don't have time - or haven't had the discipline to make the time, I should say.

Days fill up quickly. They really do. This year I am homeschooling all three boys. Thatcher is in 5th grade, Haddon in 1st, and Beckett is in Kindergarten. I wake up at 5:00 each day to have time to read my Bible, exercise on the treadmill and grab a quick shower before the boys are up at 7:00. Then it's chores, breakfast, discipleship and we're off. We are schooling to 4:00 most days. Whatever is not done by 4:00 typically doesn't get done until the next day. I know for some school doesn't take that long but with an ADHD'er in the mix it just does for us. Then it's time to pick up and start dinner. After dinner this fall we were heading to the baseball and/or soccer fields Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights plus games on Saturdays. We have always had a rule that each child would only participate in one sport/activity at a time but with three boys - three practices and three games each week meant six outside commitments. We get home and then it's time for baths and bed - for the boys AND for me! :)

Homeschooling is harder than I ever thought it would be. This year has just about eaten my lunch in so many ways. Most of my friends are experiencing similar feelings of exhaustion and/or burnout. Yet at the same time, it is good. I am still thankful for the blessing of homeschooling my boys...most days anyway ;) Dh and I had a great conversation recently which pushed me out of a pity party I had been having with myself and set me back on a better path.

The whole reason for this post was mostly to say, "Hello!" I am still here. Still homeschooling. Still thinking about all I would love to share. Happy Thanksgiving to any readers I still may have. I hope your week off is full of blessings, restfulness and time to recharge. This blog post is the start of that for me.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Multitudes on Mondays ~ April 25

Living in Houston is a bit different. While many parts of the country are finally starting to feel like spring is here to stay, for us it's almost gone! We are typically hitting temperatures in the mid to high 80's with 70%-80% humidity. That means that we've have many days already where it feels like 90 degrees, and we are not even out of April.

Today as I add to my (very irregular) counting of 1000 blessings I am reflecting back on some of the beauty we've enjoyed this spring.

51. Hummingbirds buzzing about at our ranch this spring...truly amazing! I have never seen them in such a frenzy. The boys and I sat in awe watching on this particular evening. I grabbed my phone and took this short video. I was barely 12 inches away from them and they didn't even seem to notice!


52. Monarch in our butterfly garden almost ready to emerge. The boys never tire of watching each chrysalis as it changes from its gorgeous jade green to translucent to new butterfly!

53. Those first moments of a monarch's life still clinging to her former home.

54. The reminder that butterflies are to me of this precious truth:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. ~2 Corinthians 5:17
55. And although the transformation of this butterfly is complete, my transformation is very much still in progress. And the progress is oh so agonizingly slow. And painful often. I wonder if it hurts the butterfly as she struggles to emerge from her chrysalis. Because sometimes for me this process seems just.so.hard. But I cling to the promise found in Scripture,
And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.~ Philippians 1:6
56. A black swallowtail caterpillar on a fennel plant. My absolute favorite caterpillar!

57. This lesser vine sphinx moth the boys spotted on the window at church at our Saturday night Easter service.

58. I am so incredibly thankful that my boys are learning not only to spot nature but are beginning to delight in it. There is a sweet connection between loving our Creator and truly appreciating His creation.
I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in. ~George Washington Carver
59. The delight on little and not so little boys' faces at seeing one of their favorite places on earth for the first time in 2011, our swimming and fishing place we call Blue Hole. For bullfrogs croaking underground while we fished and the tiny baby perch the boys caught on that gorgeous spring day just a few weeks ago.

60. For all the beauty we get to experience each time we leave the burbs and head to the Hill Country. What a privilege and joy!


* Sorry about the quality of some of the pictures. I need a class to learn how to take better nature photos on my phone! :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Multitudes on Mondays ~ March 14




On this journey of gratitude I am learning (or at least trying to learn) to be thankful in all things. And to look for and see grace in all - the big and small. Some weeks it is in the simple day to day blessings I am learning to revel and other times it is in a place where God absolutely wows me with his love, his majesty and his creation. This was one of those weeks.

We were flown to Colorado, guests of a ministry whose goal is to refresh, encourage and bless pastors in the journey. They take the mission of their ministry from 1 Kings 19:7 where the angel says to Elijah, "Arise and eat for the journey is too great for you." Their hope is to strengthen pastors because they say the journey is too much at times. They hosted us in their condo on the mountain, fitted us with ski gear, gave us three day ski passes, took us to eat out at amazing restaurants for dinner and prayed with us each evening. This was our second time to be blessed by this wonderful ministry.

So grateful for...

41. Breathtaking views at every turn. Absolutely stunning.


42. Three days of skiing with incredible snow, one of the deepest snow bases in history!

43. No injuries!



44. Precious friends with whom we shared our trip. We love these guys to death and are so blessed we get to do life with them each and every day.


45. Our wonderful hosts, Allen and Doris, (center) who had the vision for this ministry years ago and have been faithful to bless so many pastors and their wives each and every year. Their generosity is overwhelming. Allen told us that one of their goals was to show us just a bit of how deeply God loves us. Mission accomplished!



46. More breathtaking vistas, and this one with the love of my life in it! Very thankful he is my best friend and Daddy to my three boys. It was so fun to be away from the daily grind and just enjoy each other.


47. The prayer that happened each night as we gathering around this bench for a time that was sweet and refreshing and truly soul nurturing.

48. Amazing food. Yum! Homemade mushroom ravioli with a cognac demi-glace, trout with eggplant ratatouille and polenta, a huge plate of amazing barbecue and one of these each afternoon after skiing - a toffee covered caramel apple from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Must.learn.to.make.these.soon.....

49. My sweet mom who took time off work to come down and love on the boys so we could go away. They went to parks, saw a movie, got a special new toy, had special lunches out and best of all got precious time with their Grandma! They love her so very much.

50. A safe trip that brought us back home...
Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home;
~John Howard Payne

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A New Addition to Our Day

When I taught public school we had time each morning referred to as DEAR (Drop Everything and Read). It was so much fun! I allowed my students to sit under their desks, on our classroom beanbags or anywhere - as long as they were fully engaged in a book. Each year for some of my students it took time to acclimate to this new freedom. Reading for the pure enjoyment of the activity was a new concept for them. No discussion, no tests, no agenda.

Recently, as I was thinking about what I wanted our homeschool days to look like, I realized we just weren't spending enough time reading. I read a Bible story to them each morning at breakfast. At lunch we do our read-alouds; for the last several months we've been reading through the Chronicles Of Narnia again. Haddon reads a science reader to me daily, as well as from a phonics reader and his My Favorite Bible Storybook for Early Readers. Thatcher reads daily from Story of the World, in science and across most of the curriculum. In addition, he reads each evening for at least an hour at bedtime. But somehow it just wasn't enough. I was not getting to see my boys delight in books on their own. And I definitely wasn't getting enough reading time in with Beckett. One of my biggest goals is instill a love of reading in my boys because a lifetime passion for learning almost always begins with a love of reading. DEAR time immediately came to mind.

So when it was time to start our new semester I told the boys that from time we finished breakfast, around 8:15, until 9:00 it would be DEAR time each day. There were a few stipulations. I would have a basket of books from which they could choose their daily reading selection. They could discuss with me outside of DEAR time if they had particular requests but I got the final say. There would be no talking to each other or discussing of books; this was just time to read and enjoy.

Thatcher took to it right away! He loves to read and always has. We have used this time to be certain we get all of our history reading finished. I am also making sure to keep the basket full of of many fiction selections as he naturally gravitates to non-fiction. He adores the Childhood of Famous Americans biographies, and any book about the military or spies will hold him captive for hours. Because I don't want him to neglect the beauty and creativity that is found in fiction I am making sure that at least every second or third book he reads is full of imagination. It has been fun to watch him rediscover this genre of books.

For Haddon, at first, DEAR time was intimidating. He was definitely still an emerging/early reader when we began. By nature he is not a risk-taker and the thought of reading without Mommy right beside him was a little unsettling. I told him that he could come tiptoe and ask me a word anytime after he tried his "good reader strategies" and was still was stuck. He was greatly relieved but still reluctant. The first book he chose was Frog and Toad are Friends. It took him the full week to read it. Then he picked up Frog and Toad All Year followed by Frog and Toad Together. With each successive book he got a bit more comfortable and a bit faster. The book he is reading in this picture, Days with Frog and Toad, was completed in one sitting. He was so very proud! His confidence has gone through the roof and I have been amazed at his growth as a reader in just six weeks since starting DEAR time.

Beckett, my sweet Beckett. He was born seventeen months after Haddon and in the middle of multiple therapies, doctors' appointments and diagnoses for Thatcher. As a result, I have logged a fraction of the reading time with him that his older brothers got. DEAR time has been a wonderful opportunity for us to read together and to try and make up a tiny bit of all that missed time from years past. But it has been a learning experience for him...and for me. The other boys would sit still for anything I read to them; they were just happy to be reading. In contrast, Beckett is very picky about what we read. He has to choose the book or at least agree to my selection. ;) He has loved the Dr. Seuss books, especially Fox in Sock and Green Eggs and Ham. We have also been reading lots of Mother Goose rhymes and he has enjoyed memorizing several and saying them to Daddy when he gets home at night. At first he would not sit still to "read" any books independently (while I was cleaning up breakfast dishes) but now he will curl up and look at a book for five minutes or more. It's a slow start, but a start, nonetheless!

The first subject we do each day is our Bible/Discipleship time at breakfast. The next thing we do is curl up on the couch and read each day for DEAR time. I wouldn't have it any other way! :)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More Thoughts About Self-Education Over at Milk and Cookies

Amy, at Milk and Cookies, asked if I would do a guest post during the 10 Days of Homeschooling Blog Hop sponsored by Heart of the Matter. I immediately said, "Yes!" and got to sharing some things that have been on my heart as this year completes the grammar stage for Thatcher.

Despite obtaining a degree in education and teaching public school for eight years, I had no idea that there were different methods of (home)schooling when I started out on this journey. Thankfully it was not long after I began educating our oldest that I stumbled across The Well Trained Mind. It immediately clicked for me; this was the education I wished I had received! And the journey to classically educate our boys began.

Now jump forward six years...

To read the rest head over to 10 Days of Classical Education: Day 2 at Milk and Cookies and take a peek.

Also, take some time to check out some of the other "10 Days" posts. I have been inspired and encouraged, and I bet you will be too!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Multitudes on Mondays ~ February 7



A little late today but continuing the list of His good gifts:

31. The whole family tagging along with dh to Austin this weekend on a work-related trip.

32. Perfect timing of the church who asked dh to speak just before we were to start our unit on Texas history! :)

33. The break in the icy road conditions on Friday that allowed us barely enough time to get out of Houston after we thought we wouldn't be going on this much anticipated trip after all.

34. Sharing family legacies...being able to show my boys the 180 year old house my mother-in-law grew up in east Austin, now owned by the American Botanical Council. What a blessing to see where she and her siblings (whom my boys adore) made all their childhood memories!


35. Fun times learning about our state's history at the Texas Capitol.

36. Walking around the campus where I attended college. Such sweet memories. I was overwhelmed with emotion as I shared remembrances with the boys.

37. A visit to the Texas History Museum. I know nothing of the specific history of other states save where it intersects with American history, but Texas truly has a remarkable story. This museum really was an incredible opportunity to experience it.

38. The best part of the LBJ Presidential Library for my boys was rolling down the steep hill out front afterwards! I got each of them to stop just long enough for me to snap a quick pic...and then back to rolling. ;)


39. For little random details I always notice and fall in love with...like old ornate doorknobs from 1888 in the House and Senate Chambers at the Capitol.


40. For little boys worn out and ready to go back home after a fun and exhausting weekend.




Friday, February 4, 2011

Five Dollar Friday: Roasted Tomato Basil Soup with Homemade Whole Wheat Croutons

This recipe is from one of my favorite Food Network stars, Ina Garten aka Barefoot Contessa. I love her recipes and her show and own two of her cookbooks. I made this recipe for the first time a few weeks ago. Thatcher ate two huge bowls and would have eaten more if I let him! You can find the original recipe here at the Food Network site. The recipe below has a few modifications to make it more cost effective and fit our family's taste. Honestly, as is it is a little high on the price to be considered a $5 meal but I wanted to post it because if you have basil and tomatoes from your garden, this soup would be nearly free! Even obtaining one of these ingredients from a friend's garden would bring the price down by $3.00. Spring will be here before we know it so if this recipe isn't in the budget for winter, tuck it away for spring when everyone's gardens will be full of goodness.

Also, I love this soup because it is not laden with tons of heavy cream like so many tomato basil soups are, yet it has enormous flavor. I serve it simply with homemade croutons and a bit of Parmesan cheese. Grilled cheese sandwiches are always a favorite with any tomato soup or a chicken Caesar salad would be wonderful if you wanted to add some protein.

Ingredients:
3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt (may not need if you are using stock, esp. if it's not low sodium)
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped yellow onions, about 2 onions
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 (28-ounce) canned plum tomatoes, with their juice
2 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 quart chicken stock or water
1/4 cup heavy cream (not in original recipe but just a bit add a lot of flavor in my opinion)

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt (if using), and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.

2. In an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, saute the onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the butter, and red pepper flakes (if using) for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add garlic and cook two more minutes.

3. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock/water. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes.

4. Add 1/4 cup heavy cream.

5. You have several options here depending on the kitchen gadgets you own and how chunky you want your soup. The original recipe calls for a food mill but I use my immersion blender to make a really smooth soup (and don't have to dirty up any additional bowls or appliances). A food processor or blender would work well too, just be extra careful when mixing/pureeing really hot liquids.

6. Taste for seasonings. Serve hot or cold.

Cost Breakdown: $9.62

$ 3.00 - 3 pounds plum tomatoes
$ .42 - olive oil
$ .02 - 2 teaspoons sea salt (may not need if you are using stock, esp. if it's not low sodium)
$ .04 - black pepper
$ 1.00 - 2 cups chopped yellow onions, about 2 onions
$ .24 - garlic cloves
$ . 14 - butter
$ 1.50 -canned plum tomatoes (sale)
$2.99 - fresh basil
$ .02 - dried thyme
free - 1 quart chicken stock or water (ckn stock left over from here or here)
$ .25 - heavy cream

If you want to add homemade croutons here is how I do it:
I use thick slices of the homemade whole wheat bread I make for our family, but any bread will do. Cut the crust off and brush an olive oil/herb mixture over both sides of the bread. I like to add about 1/4 tsp of basil and 1/4 tsp of thyme with a bit of salt and pepper to about 1/4 cup olive oil for my croutons. You could add garlic powder if you wanted garlicky ones! Cut bread into large chunks. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 - 20 minutes turning every few minutes until all sides are browned. These are wonderful sprinkled on top of your soup. Enjoy!


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Thursday, February 3, 2011

SOTW Wrap Up and Review

This week we finished Story of the World 4. I posted our condensed plan to cover the entire fourth book in only 21 weeks in an old post. As in other years, Thatcher has loved this volume! I chose not to go too in depth with many of the more sensitive topics and am very thankful to share that the condensed schedule worked well for us. It will also allow us to spend the remainder of the year on Texas History.

Now that we have completed all four volumes I feel I am somewhat qualified to do a review of the series as a whole! I have few complaints and many praises about SOTW. It, like all curricula, has strengths and weaknesses, but I feel the strong points far outweigh the weak. I am also aware that one aspect of the curriculum that may be a weakness for us can be a great strength for others, depending on the teacher's goals and the types of learners she has. I felt the stories were well-written for the age they were intended. Condensing and summarizing thousands of years of world history for elementary children was a HUGE and bold undertaking for Susan Wise-Bauer, and I think she did a remarkable job. Certainly, no curriculum is perfect and we tweaked along the way. We skipped some things that were not holding Thatcher's attention (although that was rare) and we camped out on areas that were especially exciting for him.

We rarely used the Activity Guide other than as a staring point for my yearly book lists (You can see them at these links - SOTW 1 , SOTW 2, SOTW 4) . Thatcher is not a crafty/activity kid and certainly not a fan of coloring so a huge part of the AG was never used. I don't anticipate using
the most of the activities with Haddon and Beckett either; I much prefer these wonderful SOTW lapbooks available for free! Hopefully she will continue making and sharing them for all four volumes. (The first 15 chapters of lapbooks from Volume 2 are already available on her blog as of this posting as well.) I also am not a huge fan of the way SOTW teaches geography as I do not think it is helpful for young children to learn by only focusing on a tiny bit of a map at a time. I am so thankful I purchased this set of Geopuzzles from Timberdoodle and will continue to use them with Haddon and Beckett rather than using the maps from SOTW as our introduction to geography. I will also research other options to teach basic map skills apart from SOTW. Any recommendations? :)

Further, I am not crazy about the review questions included in the AG, because, in my opinion, if you are having your child(ren) regularly narrate then the review questions are overkill. The exception would be that if/when, through narration, the teacher discovers the student just didn't get the concepts presented, then the review questions can be helpful to guide them to a better understanding of what was read. Lastly, I will most likely not have my boys complete history copywork like I tried to have Thatcher do; you can see my attempt at the link for my SOTW 1 book list above . It was just too much and when I have my young boys doing copywork I would prefer them to be copying bits of Scripture, literature or poetry. We spend a great deal of time on history as it is and I would rather focus our copywork efforts on other areas that often don't get as big a share of the educational pie.

What I appreciate about SOTW is that my child loves history after this first rotation! That speaks volumes to me. He now has "pegs" on which to hang all future learning. He remembers the basics about each period of history so that when we being again next year he will have a solid foundation on which to begin building.

Another thing I have come to appreciate just this year is that SOTW can be more than just a history series. It can be an wonderful introductory (or supplementary) writing course if planned and executed well (and, I believe, according to the author's intent). I wanted to share a few things I've learned about SOTW and how I will use it a bit differently with the younger two boys in regard to this to maximize the writing aspect of the program, which I have come to view as a huge strength of the SOTW series.

If you are Classically educating your children you will undoubtedly have read about narration (especially if you have read The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer, the same author as SOTW) as an important tool in the process of teaching your children. Narration is also a vital skill if you are educating according to Charlotte Mason's principles. The way they define and use narrations vary somewhat though. If you haven't yet read my post comparing the two styles, you will want to pop over and read this first before proceeding. In TWTM, Wise-Bauer says of narrating, "You'll be using this technique (narrating) extensively in the study of history,"~Revised and Updated version, p. 109.

When Thatcher was in first grade we started strong with narrations and lots of good intentions. The problem was that Thatcher was not ready for WTM style narrations (choosing the most important details) and I wasn't prepared enough to know how to support him in what proved to be a very challenging skill. I kept trying to get his narrations close to the samples in the Activity Guide and we both ended up frustrated. I also attempted to get him writing his own narrations way too soon considering he is a boy, young for his grade AND an Aspie (who almost by definition struggle with writing) which just further intensified the frustration for both of us. For the most part I dropped narrations and just had him read and listen to the audio book and do some supplemental readings for each chapter. This I regret.

The problem was that when things got tough and narrations just got tedious, I dropped them completely instead of changing and adapting to make them fit us. When we didn't fit the plan I dropped the plan. I threw out the baby with the bathwater. I forgot that a curriculum is just a tool, not a noose! ;) That's because I am too much of a by the book kinda gal. Sigh. What I know now is that developmentally he wasn't ready for narrations as defined by SWB's Well-Trained Mind but he was most certainly ready for narrations ala Charlotte Mason.

This is a classic case of, "If I knew then what I know now..." With my youngers I will do it differently. We will be more diligent to stick with oral CM style narrations for a much longer time. I will only have them begin copying their narrations down after I am CONFIDENT they are beyond ready for this skill. I will only have them write their own narrations independently after we have done it together for several months and he is pushing me out of the room! ;) We will move to more WTM style narrations when they are older and better able to discern main idea vs. supporting detail(s) concepts. We will practice this skill much outside of just history as well.

Another problem was that I didn't have "the big picture" in regard to where these narrations were taking us. I think all moms starting the SOTW series should start by first listening to Susan Wise-Bauer's three lectures titled A Plan for Teaching Writing from Peace Hill Press. Listen to all three MP3's even if your child is just starting out. It will give you that big picture I was missing. It will help you persevere in those tough times (like I failed to do) because you will better understand WHY you are doing WHAT you are doing.

Each year in SOTW 1-3 your child is expected to narrate each chapter along the way taking a greater responsibility for his/her narrations as the years and the child's maturity progress. But in SOTW 4 there is a switch that I was unaware of until I bought it this past summer. SOTW 4 moves from narrating to outlining. At first the students are given incomplete outlines to fill in after reading each chapter. In this way they are slowly introduced to this very valuable skill but ever so gently. In the last 10 chapters of the book they are given completed outlines and are expected to write a paragraph from the outline.

Wow! This was such a great transition for us. We, with lots of hard work and perseverance (that was lacking in those younger years), made the transition successfully and Thatch can write a well developed paragraph with minimal help now. The transition would have been much more smooth had I continued with oral narrations in the younger years but just taken our time, known my kiddo better and understood that big picture. Yet despite our less than desirable start, here is an example of one of his final outlines. He completed this completely on his own with no help from Mom.

And here is an example of the three paragraphs (he forgot to indent the third) he wrote independently from the second part of the outline you can see above all about Civil Rights. I was beyond thrilled when he brought this to me!


Overall, I am thrilled to give Story of the World my strongest recommendation as a first history program for grammar stage students. There are many wonderful options out there and I rate this as one of them. It was a strong start for us in what I want to be one of our core subjects all throughout our schooling. Thank you, Susan, for all your hard work and your contributions (this being only one of many) to the homeschool community!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Narrations: WTM Style vs. CM Style

I am reposting from the SSA archives today because it is an important piece to understanding tomorrow's ramblings. ; )It was from a post where I was answering SSA readers' questions I had received via email and/or the comment section.

Question: Could you share how a WTM-style narration and a CM-style narration have looked different to you? We do WTM-style right now and it seems so...artificial, or forced, or something.

Answer: I talked a little about this in my last post comparing CM to Classical, so here I thought I'd share a few quotes from the authors themselves. First Susan Wise-Bauer's ideas on narrations...
Narration is a way to develop the child's understanding and storytelling skills. The process is simple: the child tells you what he's just heard or read. ...In first grade, you begin to ask the child to summarize the plots of short simple stories...Narration lets you know how much a child retains and understands. It also develops vocabulary and powers of expression, and lays the foundation for good writing later on.

~The Well Trained Mind, Revised and Updated, p. 55 (emphasis mine)
Narration removes the need for "comprehension exercises." Instead of learning to complete fill-in-the-blank questions, the child uses all his mental faculties to understand, sort through, reorganize and relate the main points of a story.

~Ibid, p. 59 (emphasis mine)
This process (of narration) developed the student's comprehension skills and taught him how to tell the difference between irrelevant details and important elements of plots or argument.

~Ibid, p. 272 (emphasis mine)

And now Charlotte Mason's ideas on narration...

Narrating, like writing poetry or painting, is an art that's inherent in the mind of every child. It's just waiting to be uncovered. The child doesn't need to go through an educational process to develop it because it's already there. The child only needs a reason to narrate and he does--easily, generously, with events in the right order, using appropriate illustrative details, with the right choice of words, without flowery wordiness or redundant phrases, as soon as he's able to speak easily. This amazing ability lies within every child, yet it is rarely tapped into to serve his education. Robert will come home with an exciting story of a fight between Duke and a stray dog down the street. It's wonderful! He saw it all and tells everything with great eagerness in a style that might rival any epic movie. But our scorn for children is so ingrained that we don't appreciate it. All we see is how childish Robert is being. But if we could only see it and use it, his recounting could be the very foundation of his education.
~Home Education, Volume 1, p. 231

Readings should always be in consecutive order and from a carefully selected book. Before the day's reading, the teacher should talk a little and discuss with the children what happened in the previous lesson. Then she can say a few words about the current lesson, just enough that the children are eager in anticipation. But she should be careful not to explain too much and, especially, she shouldn't take too long to get into the reading itself. Then she can read two or three pages, enough to cover a complete episode. After that, she can call on the children to narrate. If there are several children, they can take turns. The children narrate with enthusiasm and accuracy while still retaining a sense of the author's style. It isn't a good idea to nag them about their mistakes. They may begin with a lot of "ums" or "ands" but they soon stop doing that on their own, and their narrations become good enough in style and composition to publish in a book! This kind of narration lesson shouldn't take more than 15 minutes. The book should always be very interesting. When the narration is over, there should be a little bit of discussion where the moral points are brought out, pictures can be shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard.
~Ibid, p. 232-233

Essentially, the main difference between a WTM (Classical) narration and a CM narration is that the former wants more of a summary and the latter wants a child to tell all he is able to recall. To me the CM style is much more natural for a young child as many struggle mightily to differentiate between a main idea and a superfluous detail. The poster of the original question states that she feels WTM style narrations seem, "artifical or forced." I would maintain this is because WTM narrations may be trying to accomplish too much, especially for the younger student. If the goal is to determine, "how much a child retains and understands" (SWB quote above) then why summarize? If we really want to know how much they retain then let the children tell all they know! I am not saying summarization is not a valuable skill...oh, but it is. I just don't feel this is necessarily the best place to teach it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My (Again) Updated Whole Wheat Bread Recipe

I have been making our family's bread for almost two years now. Hard to believe. It all started because I wanted a whole grain loaf that used no HFCS and I was tired of paying $4 for it. I started in May 2009 using a bread machine and tweaked until I had a really great loaf of bread. But then about six months ago my trusty bread maker died. I had read time and again that the best loaves are made by hand but until that point had resisted trying it out. The bread maker was just so easy. ;) After my machine quit I began researching new options; once I saw that the ones I wanted were in the $200 + range I quickly decided that it would be me and the trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer for a test run!


Wow! Same recipe, same ingredients but so much better!!! I could not believe it. Dh could not believe it. Truly amazing. And the best part is that using the Kitchen Aid with the dough hook to do most of the mixing/kneading means that it hardly takes me any more time to make this loaf than it did in my bread maker. If you don't have a stand mixer you will just need to knead by hand for about 15 minutes or so. Whole wheat loaves take longer than white loaves. Another bonus of kneading by hand is that it's a great arm workout and incredibly therapeutic as you pound away all your frustrations on the dough rather than on those around you! ;)

I have also changed away from my original recipe which used milk. I have one little guy who cannot tolerate dairy well so we replaced the milk with water about a year ago. In addition, this is a large loaf so you will need a 10 inch bread pan. I am currently looking to replace all my aluminum cookware with stainless or stone bakeware and haven't been able to find a 10 inch bread pan in either. If any of you readers know know of a place, please pass it along. I can find the 9 inch in abundance but not the 10.

100% Whole Grain Bread

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp grapeseed oil (or any mild tasting vegetable oil)
  • 4 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp molasses
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup oat flour (made by grinding rolled oats in my blender or food processor)
  • 1/4 cup gluten
  • 2 tsp yeast (active dry)
Directions:
  1. Measure all wet ingredients (first 5 listed) in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, reserving a tablespoon or so to bloom yeast in small bowl.
  2. Add yeast to reserved warm liquid. I never check the water temp anymore as I know what is just about right by touch but most websites will say between 110 and 115. Hotter than that will kill your yeast.
  3. I premix all my dry ingredients (excluding yeast) every month or so like at the bottom of this post. If you use my method, dump all dry ingredients in the mixer on top of wet and turn mixer on low. If not, measure all dry ingredients and add to mixer, then turn it on low for 2 or 3 minutes.
  4. After the yeast has started to bloom add it to the mixer.
  5. Keep machine running on low speed for about 8-10 minutes.
  6. Empty contents of mixer onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand another 4-6 minutes. Add flour as needed so dough doesn't stick to your hands or the counter.
  7. Form dough into an oval about the same length as your 10 inch bread pan.
  8. Place loaf into a well greased pan.
  9. Cover with a kitchen towel and set in a warm place away from drafts. For me this is in on my dryer if it's running or on top of my stove, if not.
  10. Let rise until loaf is about an inch to an inch and a half above the pan. This usually takes a few hours in my house in winter. Shorter in summer.
  11. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes covering the last 10 minutes lightly with a piece of foil to keep from over browning. Most websites will say cook until bread reaches an internal temperature of 200 - 205 degrees but I have found that at 190 I can pull my loaf out and let it continue to sit in the pan for 5 minutes before turning it out to cool and it's perfect. Every pan is different. Every oven is different. You will just need to play around and find what works for you.
  12. You just must eat a hot piece with some butter and a bit of honey. Please do! :)


Monday, January 31, 2011

Multitudes on Mondays ~ Jan. 31st



And the gratitude journey continues:

21. The blessing of best friends - despite the distance that two very large states has put between them. These boys' hearts are knit together in a way that words cannot describe and is precious to behold!
22. The reminder in Sunday's sermon that even the heroes of faith described in Hebrews 11 had feet made of clay. That the writers of the Bible were very intentional about describing not only their successes but their failures - and the reminder that they are not the true heroes of Scripture. The only one who could claim that he was always faithful, "to do the things that were pleasing to Him." (John 8:29) is the true hero to look to in all things, at all times.

23. Christmas 2011 came early for me in the form of a new set of excellent quality stainless steel pots and pans that I did not pay a dime for after I returned my original set.

24. For companies that have lifetime guaranties and honor them.

25. For friends 15 years ago that bought me the first set of pots and pans as wedding gifts that lasted for a decade and a half.

26. For little boys who go and go and go...until their go is all gone. ;)

27. For boys who come downstairs in the morning like this...

(math manipulatives for guns and all!)

28. For memorizing the book of Philippians in 2011 with a faithful friend.

29. For my very own copy of Ann's book waiting to be read and discussed with friends. And the anticipation of God doing great things in all our hearts.

30. For the pot of hot coffee that awaits to wake and warm me at 5:00 am each morning along with my copy of the Word that waits to warm my soul.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Five Dollar Friday: Chicken Tortilla Soup

Last Friday I shared how I make Chicken Noodle Soup and a homemade stock in the process. This week's recipe is just a yummy step or two off that initial recipe. Everyone loves their tortilla soup a different way. Mine is a simple soup that allows the flavor of the yummy homemade stock to shine. You can add a can of black beans and some organic frozen corn if you want a soup with more to fill it out. A dollop of sour cream on top just before serving is yummy, too. I am also re-posting the steps involved in making a stock just so readers don't have to go between two posts.

Ingredients:

4 lb chicken
3 lg garlic cloves, smashed with flat side of knife (no need to peel)
4 celery stalks, cut into chunks
4-5 carrots, peeled and cut in chunks
10-12 peppercorns
1 lg onion (I prefer sweet), peeled and quartered
Bunch of fresh parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 T salt (start with 1 T and check flavoring to be sure it's not too salty for your taste, you can add more when you add bones to stock).
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies (I use a store brand of Rotel but the mild version)
8 oz. shredded Monterrey Jack Cheese
1 bag tortilla chips
2 limes cut into wedges
2 avocados

Directions:
1. Remove any extra pieces from cavity and rinse chicken well with cool water.
2. Place in large stock pot with all vegetables and seasonings.
3. Add cool water to cover chicken by an inch.
4. Turn pot to medium until you see a bubbles rising to the top. Then turn pot to med-low/low (see notes below).
5. Skim any impurities that rise to the surface during cooking.
6. Cook for 90 minutes to 2 hrs until chicken is cooked through and extremely tender. If you try to pull the chicken by the legs they will just fall off!
7. Remove chicken and allow to cool. Remove meat from bones and cut into bite-sized pieces. Drizzle a little olive oil over chicken along with a little stock from the pot to keep moist.
8. Add bones back into broth and simmer for another 30-60 minutes. Add more salt at this point if needed.
9. Strain broth to remove all veggies, spices and bones. Rinse out stock pot.
10. Place broth back into pot. If time allows place in fridge for a few hours or overnight and fat will rise to the top and solidify making it very easy to remove. If not, just let broth sit for a time and you will be able to skim most the fat that rises to the top.
11. Add canned tomatoes w/ green chilies reserving most of the juice. Add juice if desired.
12. Add chicken and warm pot if necessary before serving.

To serve soup, crush tortilla chips in bottom of bowl and sprinkle with cheese. Add soup and squeeze lime juice over all. Add chopped avocados on top of bowl and serve.

Cost Breakdown: $8.58 (enough for a dinner plus lunch the next day for the boys and me - and leftover stock to freeze)
$ 2.00 - chicken (on sale for $.48 a lb)
$ . 12 - garlic cloves
$ . 50 - celery stalks (I got organic for this price)
$ . 50 - carrots (again, organic)
$ . 01 - peppercorns
$ . 50 - lg onion
$ .50 - fresh parsley - about half a bunch (less $ if you use dried)
$ . 04 - dried thyme
$ . 03 - bay leaves
$ . 08 - sea salt
$ .50 - store-brand Rotel tomatoes
$1.50 - Monterrey Jack cheese
$1.00 - tortilla chips
$ . 30 - limes
$1.00 - avocados

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Five Dollar Friday: Chicken Noodle Soup (and How to Make Your Own Chicken Stock)

This is the first soup I ever make for our family, and it's still a favorite. Pair it with a green or fruit salad and it's a complete meal. The amount of soup below will feed my family two times, especially when I serve it with sides.

When I see whole chickens on sale for a great price ($.50 - $.60 a lb) I'll buy five or more (depending on freezer space) to make this recipe, tortilla soup, chicken and dumplings, roast chicken with roasted veggies or just tons of stock and chicken to freeze for later meals. :) If you have never made your own stock from scratch you will never want to go back to the store-bought stuff. Homemade is so much more flavorful and it freezes wonderfully. Consider freezing it in three sizes: quart, pint and cup. That way you can defrost just the amount you need with little to no waste. :)

Ingredients:

4 lb chicken
Whole wheat egg noodles
3 lg garlic cloves, smashed with flat side of knife (no need to peel)
4 celery stalks, cut into chunks
4-5 carrots, peeled and cut in chunks
10-12 peppercorns
1 lg onion (I prefer sweet), peeled and quartered
Bunch of fresh parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 T salt (start with 1 T and check flavoring to be sure it's not too salty for your taste, you can add more when you add bones to stock).

Directions:
1. Remove any extra pieces from cavity and rinse chicken well with cool water.
2. Place in large stock pot with all vegetables and seasonings.
3. Add cool water to cover chicken by an inch.
4. Turn pot to medium until you see a bubbles rising to the top. Then turn pot to med-low/low (see notes below).
5. Skim any impurities that rise to the surface during cooking.
6. Cook for 90 minutes to 2 hrs until chicken is cooked through and extremely tender. If you try to pull the chicken by the legs they will just fall off!
7. Remove chicken and allow to cool. Remove meat from bones and cut into bite-sized pieces. Drizzle a little olive oil over chicken along with a little stock from the pot to keep moist.
8. Add bones back into broth and simmer for another 30-60 minutes. Add more salt at this point if needed.
9. Strain broth to remove all veggies, spices and bones. Rinse out stock pot.
10. Place broth back into pot. If time allows place in fridge for a few hours or overnight and fat will rise to the top and solidify making it very easy to remove. If not, just let broth sit for a time and you will be able to skim most the fat that rises to the top.
11. Bring to a boil and add egg noodles. I usually use about 2/3 of the package but you can use more or less depending on how you like your soup.
12. Once noodles are tender, turn off heat and add desired amount of chicken.

Thoughts on this recipe:

The trick to making really tender, juicy chicken is to never let your pot get to a boil. This will toughen your chicken. At step four you just want to start seeing gentle bubbles rising to top, one every second or so and then turn your heat down. When your heat is turned down you should be seeing a bubble rise to the top every few seconds. Also if you don't cook your chicken long enough it will not be tender enough either. Most of the time I cook mine closer to two hours but your cooking time will depend on the exact size of your chicken and the heat you use to cook/how hot your stove gets.

You can vary the spices/seasonings you use to make your stock. Add/delete/change any of the spices to fit your family's tastes. Also, I typically don't need all the stock this process provides for my soup. I can typically freeze at least a quart of stock. It will just depend on the broth to filling ratio you prefer in your soups. Finally, my boys don't like veggies in their final soup, but if I was making a pot just for me I'd add some carrot slices and finely chopped celery in to cook when I added the egg noodles.

If you are only interested in making stock and not the soup simply use the chicken for another meal or freeze it. The stock can be refrigerated for a week or frozen up to three months.

Cost Breakdown: $5.07
$ 2.00 - chicken (on sale for $.48 a lb)
$ .79 - ww egg noodles (on sale, regular price is $1.89)
$ . 12 - garlic cloves
$ . 50 - celery stalks (I got organic for this price)
$ . 50 - carrots (again, organic)
$ . 01 - peppercorns
$ . 50 - lg onion
$ .50 - fresh parsley - about half a bunch (less $ if you use dried)
$ . 04 - dried thyme
$ . 03 - bay leaves
$ . 08 - sea salt

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