And together we learn

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Good UPS day, and good blog day

This is a really really happy blog day. Look--I'm famous!! I kinda feel like a pathetic ninth grade geek who's just been invited to a party with the senior cheerleaders. It's like that, but in a homeschool-mommy-blogger way, not a ps way. Bad analogy, but there you have it! My stats went through the roof today, and I smiled for a lot of hours.

My husband doesn't quite understand--he still maintains that the majority of the people I call my friends online are surely nasty old men in wifebeaters who are just posing as homeschool mamas and posting curriculum and fieldtrip ideas and such. I say there are much easier ways to be predatory online than get into the hs mommy blog circuit!

We had our 'Not Back to School' party the other day with our co-op. So much fun!! Sarah posted a cute picture from the party over here. I should caption this photo "Patience." Look at the longing on their little faces...but they didn't touch the cupcakes until we gave the word. Good kids!

Today the Rainbow Resource box arrived!! Plus a Montessori box and an Amazon box!!! The UPS guy is one of my favorite people this time of year. Finally finally I can get everything feeling settled in. All three kids played delightedly with the new Wikki stix (neon colored, no less) while I planned and sorted and arranged all the new fun things. We'll start with our Handwriting without Tears and Story of the World on Monday. But since the reading thing is finally clicking with Hazel, we're not changing a thing there.

I actually had a great conversation with her yesterday about goal setting. We were talking about the possibility of a Liberty Girls club for her in January, but that she should probably know how to read a little before she can go. I explained the concept of small, daily choices that lead to a bigger goal, and she was the one to make the connection to how she needs to practice reading everyday. And she has done so, cheerfully and on her own. I really am not trying to push her, honestly. But I know that she is ready, able, and is lacking everything but a deep down desire. I'm trying to live by the principle of 'inspire, not require.' Very hard to do sometimes!


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Games, peaches and chickens

The decision to scrap the whole phonics curriculum was definitely the correct one for now. We play one or two word games, do a little journal writing, and maybe read a story together alternating pages, as in I read one and Hazel reads one. Seems to be less intimidating for her that way.

Yesterday's reading game was a huge hit. Instead of having objects and corresponding word slips, I made verb word slips. Run, jump, sit, sleep, eat, swim, skip, hop were the words. The girls had to draw a slip and then do (or pantomime) whatever it said. HUGE hit around here. Even Calvin delighted in drawing the papers and then hamming it up for his sisters.

Today I played a game with just Hazel during Chloe and Calvin's naps. I put vowel tiles in one pile, then made a pile with consonants (s,c,t,r,b,p,d,n,m,h). We took turns drawing 2 consonants and 1 vowel, then had to make a word with them. Amazingly, almost every time we were able to do it. We did amend the rules so we could add one supplemental letter if we needed it. Hazel ate this game up and we had a great time with it.

I have a friend who's father recently passed away. He was an avid gardener, and has a huuuuuuge garden and orchard. Her poor mother can't keep up on all of it, so they invited us over today to pick peaches and apples and raspberries and squash. They had 30 fruit trees! In the middle of a suburban neighborhood, no less. I got 2 big boxes of peaches and one of apples, then I picked a couple bowls of raspberries for the mother. I gave Hazel a sun-warmed, freshly picked, beautiful peach. She took one bite, and her eyes grew wide with delight. Pure joy, right there, with juice dripping down the chin.

There were about 18 chickens milling about. My girls got to actually collect fresh brown eggs from the laying boxes, and weren't they absolutely thrilled???!!

Funny aside about chickens--I was saying bedtime prayers with Calvin. You know how when they're just starting to talk they just parrot back the last word you've said? Well in the prayer I said, "We're thankful for the chickens," and he thought for a moment. He couldn't quite wrap his mouth around the word 'chicken', so he circomlocuted with " 'ank you bock bock bocks." I think God both understands and smiles!

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Sunday, August 26, 2007


Two kids up with fevers. Hmmmmm. Chuck E. Cheese yesterday. Coincidence? I don't think so!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Our unschooly day

I was late this year in planning and ordering, so all my new fun school stuff hasn't arrived yet. So the formal, planned lesson stuff isn't happening for a little while longer. Things are pretty informal around here, but I want to assure myself that learning is actually happening. So I'm going to periodically jot down the more 'learning' type things that take place around here.

*We went and cleaned our church house this morning. The girls worked dusting woodwork and emptying trash cans. They worked diligently and cooperated.

*I read out loud from Little House in the Highlands while the girls worked with some Montessori sewing kits (embroidery and button sewing). Calvin did some water play while we read.

*Hazel and I played a reading game. I grabbed a bunch of articles (glass, spoon, lid, ring, rake, brush, cup, book) and made labels for each on strips of paper. We put the items in one bowl and the labels in another and she matched the words to the item. This is a Montessori idea that I got from Barbara Curtis' Mommy Teach Me to Read. Chloe joined us after her nap and needed some help on some of the words, which Hazel proudly offered.

*After they tired of doing the word game, they used my set of 6 nesting mixing bowls to stack and compare sizes, then they got out many many many pieces of kitchen stuff to bake me some 'goodies.' That's got to be at least mildly educational, right? I made them clean it all up afterwards, so they got another lesson--consequences and responsibility.

*While driving we played an animal classification game where they had to tell me if something was a mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian. We talked about the qualities of each class, and did a little with some of the different orders--mostly primate and marsupial. The girls loved this one. We'll have to make this a car time staple. One of our other favorite car games is shamelessly stolen from Melissa at Here in the Bonny Glen. It's her version of Mad Libs; my kids call it the 'Miss Verb' game and they love it.

*We went to my own personal version of hell--Chuck E. Cheese. *Shudder* The kids picked it for our family fun day. ICK!!!! But they had to figure out what they could 'buy' based on the number of tickets. Needed some help on this one, but at least it was math of a sort, right? Total aside on the topic of that blighted chain--on the drive home Hazel dreamily speculated that the kind person who built C.E.C. must have loved children a lot and wanted them to be happy. I kinda think that sadistic person just hated parents a lot.

So in looking back over our day, there was some learning going on. I guess I had to assure myself of that. You know how there are those panicky moments where you feel so overwhelmed by this task we've undertaken? Had a big one today. But deep breath, I can do this. They can do this. They WILL learn, one way or another.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Education Week

I've been absent from blogging this week for a very good reason. I promise. I've been going to Education Week at BYU. It's a week of classes on every subject from folk dancing to Paul's epistles to marriage and parenting and overcoming pornography. Classes on making our homes joyful places, building spiritual understanding, women in the New Testament, and teaching children with music. Over 1000 classes.

So my darling Steve and I spent the week going to these amazing classes together. His family goes every year. We eat together in the dorm cafeteria, discuss what we're learning, and connect in such a meaningful way. Since no children under 14 are allowed, we found a babysitter and made the most of the week.

Steve drives a motorcycle, so we took that down and drove all around campus--it made getting to classes so much more fun!

The classes we took ended up having quite a theme, even though that wasn't our intention at all. Service. Love. Sacrifice. I went to a class taught by a woman who works with AIDS orphans in Zambia. Her class was on Being Enough, Knowing Enough, Doing Enough--incredible. It's amazing what one person can do if they are led by the Spirit. Some incredible stories and pictures.

Then I went to one class on service taught by a woman who works with lepers in India. Seriously. They extend microcredit loans to these people with stumps for arms and missing eyes, then they are finally able to start earning money rather than begging and it gives them a tremendous sense of dignity. They treat the babies early--it costs $1.50, and they are cured for life. They can go to school and start to break the horrible cycle of raising the next generation of beggars. Incredible.

It's so easy to get caught up in my own life, my own concerns, my own business. It's so easy to forget just how blessed I really am, living here in my cozy suburban home. My babies have never known hunger. I've never lacked for medical care. There is so much need in the world, and I just want to help. So Steve and I are going to set some goals in the next few weeks to decide just where and how we are going to make a difference.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ice cream

A neighbor of mine recently had a new baby after a difficult pregnancy--4 months of bed rest (she has 3 older kids) so she needed lots of help. People are always so wonderful, so there were meals brought in, kids shuttled to where they needed to be, and lots of support. Well, she wrote an essay explaining why ours is the best neighborhood in America and won the prize of an ice cream party for the whole neighborhood.

My kids are sticky, sweaty and exhausted after an evening of chasing friends in the twilight. There were about 20 families there--so incredibly fun to relax with neighbors and take a break from our busy lives.

The other night we were trying to decide how to best savor the box of raspberries we got from this week's CSA haul. Hazel and I decided that they'd be best spooned over vanilla ice cream. She cocked her head to one side and said, "and I think a sprig of mint, don't you?"

Yup, she's my kid all right!!


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

School plans

So many things to blog!!! Like most everyone else, I've had homeschooling on the brain, big time. I've found it (for some crazy reason) difficult to plan with my children all around, and by the end of the day my brain is shot and I just want to veg. So I told Steve that I needed a day off, all to myself to plan.


I packed up my laptop, my Rainbow Resource catalog, all the random books I've been gleaning from, and headed to the library. By myself. For hours.

It really shouldn't be so difficult. The planning. After all, my oldest is all of 5 years old. I have to keep reminding myself that the choices I make now are really not going to effect her homeschooling success for the rest of her life, but still. Lots of choices out there. I focused on each child, and myself, for about 1/2 hour each. I wrote and wrote and wrote all the ideas and inspiration about each person so I could come up with some kind of map for the next six months or so. Calvin was the easiest, and they got progressively harder. The list for myself is formidable. Basically mine comes down to discipline. In fact, all this scheduling and chore charts and master plans stuff doesn't mean a thing if I am not doing my part.

For me, it all boils down to one thing: stop reading about homeschooling/mothering/craft projects/fun things to do with kids and actually DO THEM!!! I was just talking about this with Sarah--the whole "I can't come play with you, honey, I'm learning how to be a good mother" thing. I surely hope I'm not the only one who falls into this trap.

So anyway. Here's the unveiling of the new and improved, 2007 official Together We're Learning Family Plan!!!

Morning Devotionals, consisting of a song, scripture reading, a memorization verse, and a quick, inspirational story of some kind (still looking for the perfect book here).

15 minutes wiggle time, whether a quick run outside or dancing to music. We're following the composer and artist studies from Ambleside Online. Right now is Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky, both of whom my children love (No, not because they're extra cool or anything, but Pictures at an Exhibition was the piece we saw at the Chicago Symphony where they did a huge puppet show, and Rimsky-Korsakov composed Flight of the Bumblebee. I make 'em work to that one!!) and the artist is Da Vinci.

Journal entries--just a sentence or two for Hazel and a picture for Chloe.

Handwriting Without Tears. I'm going to be doing this with both girls. Hazel needs a crash course in decent handwriting, and Chloe's ready to start.

Story of the World I for history. We'll read it out loud and do projects on Fridays, alternating science and history.

We'll continue with Math U See. It's working, so why mess with a decent thing?

Phonics I'm pulling waaaay back on the formal stuff. She will learn how to read eventually, right? It's not worth a fight, and I don't want to make her hate it. She loves me to read to her, she'll pretend to read books to Calvin, and she'll play word games with me in moderation. That's going to have to be enough for now. I have tons of curriculum, should this decision change. But for right now it's going to take a backseat.

Chloe is actually starting to sound out words on her own, so I'll just play games with both of them and see where it takes us. Expect more on this topic--it's an ongoing battle in my mind!!

We're going to be doing lots of Montessori activities. The kinds that encourage careful, deliberate movements and fine motor skills. There are some great ideas in Mommy Teach Me by Barbara Curtis. (all her stuff is fabulous, by the way)

And then of course, the read alouds. We just started the Martha books--read 50 pages straight, until Calvin smashed a full bottle of hot pepper infused olive oil on the floor. The 45 minute clean up of that pretty much stopped any reading for the rest of the night.

I'm going to try to loosely follow the book list from Real Learning for our picture book readings. Oh, and a question for people--I'm looking for books where the characters make proactive, non-victim like choices. (This is a completely different post, but this is what my #2 daughter is needing now) So any advice would be fabulous!

So there you have it! If we can stick to this, we should have a great couple of months ahead. We're doing some wildly fun things in my homeschool co-op, but that's another post. This one is merciless, and I promise not to inflict one like this on people again for a while.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007


I was recently released from my calling as Nursery leader and called to teach R.S.

In non-LDS speak, this means that my service position in my church changed from working with the 2-3 year olds to teaching a lesson once a month to the women's organization. I adore the toddlers, but woo-hoo!! I've missed the grown-up interaction on Sundays.

So today was my first lesson. Topic: Reverence.

I was trying to prepare, gather my thoughts, etc, but Hazel was wanting some attention. I tried to appeal to her sense of reason to leave me alone for a few minutes.
"Which lesson do you think is harder to prepare--one for the toddlers or one for the mommies?"

She thought for a second and replied, "The toddlers--they have so much more to learn!"

So true. Sometimes it takes a child to point out the obvious. Oh, and the lesson went great, btw.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bliss on a slice of bread

So I posted the list of veggies--now I have to tell you what we've done with them. Mmmmmm. We've been eating so well this week!

Tonight I grilled some chicken and then did a squash orzo. Since Chloe won't eat zucchini (or so she thinks) I camouflage it. So, one package orzo, cooked. Saute an onion with a bunch of garlic and a chicken bouillon cube, then when the onions are soft add about 2-3 zucchini/squash, grated. Cook until soft. Add a bunch of chopped herbs--I did oregano and sage, but anything would work. Combine the squash mixture and the orzo, then add 1/4 cup grated parmesan.

Incredible. The kids gobbled it up, and never even thought about the hidden zucchini.

But the best meal by far (to date) was last night. I found it in my favorite Cooking Light. Once I read the recipe, I knew we had to have it.

Grilled eggplant, grilled red onions, grilled italian bread spread thick with aioli, tomato, and a pile of greens.

My sister and BIL were over, and the four of us just ooohed and aaahed our way through dinner. Summer on a plate--words don't really do it justice. So INCREDIBLE!!!

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lunch is served

I was out gardening yesterday. Oceans of tomato suckers still swim before my eyes. I had hundreds of volunteer tomatoes spring up and thought it would be *great* to let lots of them grow. Things that seem like a good idea in May might not be such a good idea a few months later. Yeah, the tomatoes are threatening to take over the whole garden plot, but fortunately the monster zucchini plants are keeping them in check. Aaah, August.

The kids were in and out of the yard and house while I was working. Hazel called me to come inside with that proud, I've-just-done-something-good kind of voice. She set the table, set out the loaf of bread and a knife, made a pitcher of Crystal Light, and announced that lunch was ready. But the cutest? She's picked beans from our bush bean plant (four of them, to be exact), then she put them into a pan of "hot water Mom, to cook them just like you do" and proudly served each of us our one bean for lunch. So sweet!


Monday, August 06, 2007

Bounteous blessings

I am swimming in vegetables. Beautiful, organic, LOCALLY grown vegetables. And it is such a wonderful feeling!! After reading Lindsey's wonderful series on food, I bought the Barbara Kingsolver book Animal Vegetable Miracle. Oh, so wonderful. I so recommend it.

So I'm trying to take the baby steps that I can to incorporate local and organic foods into our diet. Fortunately, my garden is giving me a lifetime supply of zucchini, scallop squash, beets, swiss chard, and any herb you can imagine. And in a week or two, I will be drowning in tomatoes. Then, my BIL is volunteering for a local CSA (community supported agriculture, where you buy into a farm share of produce for the summer). He borrows our van to deliver produce once a week, and in return gets a double full share. Since they have one very small baby, they share this bounty with us and we get a full share a week. Hello, win win win for everyone involved?? I think so too.

So today they brought me:
3 heads broccoli
1 kohlrabi (any ideas what to do with this one??)
big bag of salad greens
huge bag of chard
6 squash--striped and yellow
1 ginormous make it into zucchini bread zucchini
1 eggplant
2 heads of cabbage, purple and green
6 ears corn
1 big scallop squash
6 beets
6 yellow banana peppers
1 poblano pepper
4 red peppers of some kind, probably hot
1 jalapeno
4 tomatoes
15 red and yellow potatoes
3 turnips
1 rutabaga (more help?)
2 peaches
3 plums
2 apples
1 pint raspberries
1 pint blackberries

HOLY COW!!! I just made a menu trying to incorporate most of this into the next week. We're going to be loving life. Does anyone want to come over for dinner?


Getting to know you...

We've been on a quest lately to get to know people in our neighborhood a little better. To that end, we invited three families over for dessert last night. So we had the eight adults and our combined thirteen children over.

The day before, I'd hung some laundry up on the deck railing to dry, and asked Steve to retrieve it when it was dry. I didn't pay much attention to the pile of dry laundry. Unfortunately.

While all the adults were socializing upstairs on the deck, Steve sidled over to me and in a sideways whisper relayed the following: "Your bra is on the grass downstairs!"

Sure enough, smack dab in the middle of the yard, where all the children were playing and right underneath our guests--my big old brassiere.

If the goal was for the neighbors to get to know us better--mission accomplished!!


Sunday, August 05, 2007

When you know the book you're reading could help, if you'd just focus

I just found myself skimming a book while simultaneously chatting with my husband, watching tv, and telling the girls to get in bed already.

The book? Mitten Strings for God--all about savoring peace and simplicity and choosing a more conscious, contemplative, and purposeful life.

Ironic, no?

I think the take home message for me here is to slow down and stop the multi-tasking, already.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Reptilian theology

Hazel posed the question, "How old is God?"

We answered with talk of His eternal nature and so on.

....long pause....

"God is a turtle?????"


Playing catch up

You know how you don't blog for a while, maybe because you're out of town, then once you get home there's just laundry for days, then you are overwhelmed at the thought of all those missed posts floating around your head so it just becomes easier to not even bother?

Well, that's how the last week has been. Sorry!! So I'm not going to try to catch up or anything; I'll just dive in the middle and ramble. As usual.

We spent a few days at a condo in the mountains. 16 of us in a condo that sleeps 8. Good times. Thank heavens for air mattresses! We took the kids horseback riding one day. The man in the second picture owned the operation and I swear I'm not making him up. He really is just what he appears to be--no artificial mannerisms for rustic effect in this guy!

The kids swam for days and days--Hazel is finally able to swim for 6 feet or so underwater. I've avoided the whole swim lesson thing. If anyone can give me some pointers on how to do them with 2 younger siblings in tow, please do enlighten me.

So she gets swim lessons from me. I guess if I can homeschool her in history and phonics, I can homeschool her in swimming, right?

There's a little creek that runs behind the condos. The kids spent many happy hours splashing in the water. Chloe built fairy houses out of river rocks and fed the inhabitants lots and lots of pebbles. Calvin threw rocks with never-ending delight. Each splash found him throwing his hands in the air yelling, 'YES!!' in that darling toddler-speak way. Hazel played with the bigger boys and generally thought she was at least 5 years older than she really is.

But then, sniff, I realized that she really is growing up. She has been obsessed with the hope of having a 'wiggler' like her friends. She manhandles her gumline, hoping that she'll attain that measure of maturity, but it never materializes. Until last night. When I smiled and confirmed her first loose tooth, the look of joy that radiated over her little face was infectious. She couldn't stop smiling all night. In fact, she confided in me at the Thai restaurant where we were eating, "This is the most beautiful night of my whole life. A wiggler and coconut ice cream!!"

Oh, and Sarah, she is desperate that your daughter find out about her long-awaited loose tooth. Would you let E. know?

This last picture is just because I can. The curls melt my heart every single time I see him. So yummy!!

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