Winding Down

This is my favorite week of the year. I love the week after Christmas because no one expects you to do anything. Everyone is on vacation. Music lessons? Nope. Sunday school? Holiday break. Sports? See you next year! Regularly scheduled play dates? Out of town. At our home we have been playing video games, catching up on school work, building with Legos, and leisure reading. I am slowly returning to a much less harried version of myself. Things had gotten out of hand around here since October and I am very serious about creating the changes necessary to regain a bit of peace. I've started following Flylady again and have already started getting results. Her organization system is designed for people like me. I'm easily sidetracked and not a "born organized" type. In addition to this system, I have made a hard rule for me and the kids.
Absolutely no more regularly scheduled events of any kind 
are being considered until further notice.

I don't care if the event is only for a few weeks. Anything more is just too much. You see, I love my family and I would like to enjoy life with them. Running at the pace I previously set was wearing me out. As a result, I was starting to spread the frustration to my husband, kids, and most likely my friends. So, I now lace up my shoes, de-clutter my home, and reclaim my home and life. It's only been a few days but the kids have noticed it both in the house and in me.


A few of my favorite things

Over the years my kids and others have come up with some great terms. Enjoy!

"Christmas crumbs".... broken glass tree ornaments.  As in, "Mom, the cat ran up the tree and made Christmas crumbs!"

"Ex-penseful" .... the feeling of wanting to open the gift. A cross between exciting and suspenseful. As in "Just looking at those gifts makes me feel ex-penseful!"

Advent... "the longest days of the year even if people say they are the longest nights."

"Play-tivity"... A kids nativity set. "This is my play-tivity. The other one is the no-tivity."



We just completed our first year with Jr. First Lego League. It has been a great experience for all of us! The theme this year was Body Forward and the kids were asked to come up with a replica and poster of a biomedical invention that makes things better or easier for everyone. Oh, did I forget to mention that some part of this had to move?
Working? Playing? Yes!
Tons of Legos helps

The first idea was to create a prosthetic arm from Lego pieces. After weeks of reading books on the subject and a field trip to a prosthetic designer, we decided that it just wasn't working.
After another brainstorming session, the kids clearly wanted to do something with a military theme. After some online research, they decided to reconstruct a Combat Support Hospital (CSH and pronounced "cash") that is used for troops in combat areas.

Da Vinci robotic surgery
X-ray machine
The CSH unit has five stages. A helicopter to transport the injured from the battle field, an armored transport vehicle to carry the injured to the tents, a triage tent to asses the wounds, an operating tent, and an intensive care unit tent for recovery. The cycle is complete as the recovering soldier is once again loaded aboard the helicopter to be flown to a better hospital.  Sound like a lot? Not for these kids. They attacked to project and really produced an outstanding display.

Coming together! Clockwise from lower left: helicopter, transport vehicle, triage, OR, and ICU
 The moving parts were on the helicopter which was supported on poles above the rest of the display. A motor made the blades spin and a manual crank lifted a wounded minifig in a basket. Some of my favorite features for the other stages were: a transport vehicle with opening doors for a minifig to fit inside, a curtained off exam room in the triage made with a Lego fishing pole and net, the x-ray machine, the da Vinci robotic arms for the OR, a sink in the OR, IV poles and beds in the ICU and lastly, nurses and doctors toting laptops!

setting up at the JrFLL event
The final result!

The day was a success. The judges were impressed and the kids did a fabulous job describing their project. Every member spoke comfortably and knowledgeably to the judges. We were so delighted when we were asked to show our project as a representative of the junior level in April at the high school FLL event! We'll be there!

The project is not all that we did. We used the WeDo system and the Lego Education Set to teach programming and the use of simple machines. I blogged about this earlier here.
Working with the WeDo


Taking an Oath

My husband became a naturalized citizen when he took an oath in a federal courtroom this week. I could write for days on the beauty, the emotions, and the reasons my husband decided to take this path, but this blog is mostly about what my children are learning. Homeschooling often works best when living life and believe me, they learned a lot about citizenship this week. Here are some of the things my kids now know that most Americans (in my experience) don't:

  • An alien is just someone who isn't from here. (My son's current favorite factoid)
  • Each country has its own rules as to how you can become a citizen.
  • Some countries give you citizenship if you are born there, others don't. The US does. Switzerland, for example, does not.
  • Most countries give you citizenship if your parents are citizens. The US does. This can lead to dual citizenship.
  • A "Green Card" isn't green. It used to be, but it's now white and looks like a regular ID.
  • You don't automatically get your green card (residency) or citizenship just because you marry a citizen. It takes a long time, tons of legal papers, and a lot of money. (I get this a lot. TV and the movies have really shaped the false perception that once married foreigners are "safe" from deportation. No way! We were a "cut-and-dry" case and it still took us over two years just to get his residency.)
  • People who are naturalized citizens are as much a citizen as someone who was born here except they cannot become the president.
Over fifty people from over 20 different countries were sworn in this day.
  • Citizens here do not have to carry identification to prove they are citizens, so most of the naturalized citizens will get a passport just in case they have to prove it anyway. After years of making sure to always carry his residency card, my husband just feels incomplete without something.
  • Passports say with which country you have citizenship and are valid forms of ID.
  • You can have more than one passport if you have multiple citizenships.
  • Once you are a US citizen, the US does not count your other citizenship(s) any longer unless you are a minor.
So, how many did you know? I know I learned a lot through this process and I have a very high respect for immigrants. What most of us were just born with, they choose.


Present for Christmas

I almost missed this day. I was tired and wanted alone time so I tried to convince my family that they should go get the tree and I would help them trim it when they got home. At the last minute, my husband gently convinced me that experiencing the holidays is better than planning them. I went and had a great time. The trip was a silly, magical, cocoa and candy cane filled morning. It would have been a tragedy for me to have opted out of those memories!

A wise friend once told me that someday my home will have everything at a ninety degree angle again, but it will be quiet, and my husband and I will be alone. So, I am trying to gift myself with the experiences of Christmas. I want to be present for the moments; every loud, messy and chaotic one of them!


Balancing Act

How much is too much? Are you one who tends to overextend yourself, dabbling in so many extra things that you find yourself too run ragged to enjoy any of them? I am.

creative thinking
I don't know how I get myself up to my neck in a tangled schedule of extra classes and activities. I was so proud of myself at the beginning of the year. My schedule was tight in places but flexible enough that it still felt relaxed. I felt so comfortable in fact that when approached to join a team here and a group there I thought, "Wow, this is a group my kids would love. It's educational, fun, and just what I think homeschoolers should do to capitalize on the free time they have!" I mapped it all out on the calendar and it looked "do-able" so we took the plunge.

Then reality hit. The extras started coming in: extra hours on projects to get them done, materials to run to the store to get, extra rehearsals, various homework assignments, and many other unseen time suckers. And once committed to any project, you can believe that all involved believe that it should be your number one priority. If I dare hint at how hectic things have become, others roll their eyes and tell you that everyone else is busy too.

team building
Yet, my life isn't about how busy everyone else is. If I cared about normal, I probably wouldn't homeschool. It's time to make the tough decisions because that is my job. So, I talked to the kids and found out what they loved and what they merely enjoyed. I hate to withdraw from activities that may have an impact upon others but sometimes that is the only way to regain balance.

 So, I ask you, How do you keep from doing this? How do you find, and keep, balance?


Junior Thespians

My kids have discovered Shakespeare. We've been reading books from the Shakespeare can be Fun series by Lois Burdett. These books are fantastic at introducing the bard to children. They include the more famous lines and keep the adult content to a minimum. In Romeo and Juliet, they do die in the end which shocked my son. I explained that Shakespeare used tragedy to make us think about things. His drawings have since taken on a very macabre element which he excuses as tragedy. I'd better make a note of that on any that make it into the scrapbook.

Then, they watched a little cartoon on Netflix called Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss. Okay, this movie is isn't the greatest and everyone lives happily everafter, BUT! They use the proper names of the characters and adhere to the central story line. I'm happy with it considering my three-year-old now knows Juliet was a Capulet and Romeo was a Montague!

They next ran with the whole Romeo and Juliet idea and decided to organize a neighborhood play. My son was to do the scenery and my daughter would handle costumes. My three year old kept lying dramatically over her stuffed animals saying "I'm dead. Just kidding!" All was going well until they came across one tiny problem: my daughter wanted to be Juliet and my son insisted on being Romeo. Ewwww.

Well, there is always the Tempest or Macbeth. I have no fear, they will have moved on to Robin Hood by tomorrow! 


History in the Baking

King Alfred's Cakes

I'm trying a new approach to history. We read through several chapters and work our way back through the projects that go with them for a fun review. We are using The Story of the World Vol. 2 by Susan Bauer.  We just read about King Alfred the Great and how he pushed back the viking invaders after they forced him from his castle. The story goes that while Alfred was biding his time, he lived with a farming family who was unaware of his identity as king. While staying with the farmer, he was expected to help out with the chores. When asked to watch the baking cakes while the woman of the house left to tend to other chores, Alfred completely forgot and let them burn. When the farmer's wife returned, she scolded him terribly and he was so ashamed he couldn't bring himself to tell her she was scolding the king.

Our project was to see if the kids were better at tending cakes than King Alfred. We mixed up a small batch of sweet cakes and set them to bake without a timer. I left to tend to other chores and left it up to the kids to watch over the cakes so they wouldn't burn. This was perfectly safe because they watched through a window and never opened the door. After a while, my daughter thought it was time. They were beautiful! My kids are definitely better cooks than King Alfred!


Sprinkly Sun ~~~~Chihuly's Cheekwood Exhibit

These would have made for a great "Wordless Wednesday" but today being Thursday, you get commentary too.
 Cheekwood Botanical Gardens had a free day November 2nd. Most public schools were out this day so they could be used as polling stations on voting day. Add to this a final week of a Chihuly exhibit, and we knew we were in for some serious crowds. But, hey! Did I mention it was free?!
 The crowds were only bad at the beginning. Parking was a beast. But once inside, the gardens were not crowded at all. A few places where some major exhibits were centered resulted in an occasional line, but we never had to wait to see anything.
 We topped a hill and saw people playing by a pond. One of the most picturesque moments of my life. It looked like a movie set.
 The kids felt like they were on a scavenger hunt. We would round a bend and hear "Ooooh! Chihuly! I see the next Chihuly!"
Gum Drop (left) first noticed the "sun" in the posters flanking the entrance. She pointed to it then and said she liked that "sprinkly sun" best. When we came to it she would stand and look at it for a long time. She was disappointed we couldn't go right up to it and take a picture of her sitting under it. She told her daddy all about it when we got home. It never fails to stun me how art moves people of all ages.  If you ever have a chance to see Chihuly's work in person, I highly recommend it. Things I learned: 1. Each piece of glass is separate and rearranged for each exhibit. 2. Chihuly visited Cheekwood years ago and made sketches of displays he wanted to do. He then constructed them in his studio, made detailed instructions and had them shipped to the location. 3. Cheekwood has been working on the grounds for a year leading to the exhibit to ensure the plants around the exhibits were complimentary to the art. 4. Only about eight pieces were broken during the shipping and set up of this exhibit.


Love the season of death

I love this time of year and all of the harvest celebrations. Two holidays our family celebrates this time of year are Halloween and All Saint's Day. On Halloween my kids will pose as Darth Vader escorting Queen Isabel of Spain and their little sister the princess.  My favorite things of Halloween, are plastic masks, candy, jack-o-lanterns and even the eerie sound effects my neighbors set up with motion detectors. I could do without the gore. Blood and guts and haunted houses aren't my cup of tea. But this night is when I give a nod to death and all of the mysteries that natural end holds for us all.  No matter what anyone says or believes, I have yet to meet anyone who knows what death is truly like from experience. And that is precisely what unnerves many of us. I see Halloween as a time for us to poke fun at ourselves and our fears of this very natural part of life.

All Saint's Day is the other side of death's story. This is the part of faith. November 1st is when I honor all those who have actually gone before me and I place my faith and trust in God who holds them with care. I light a candle. My kids to dress up because our church holds a parade where they can dress as their favorite saint.

St. Christopher the Christ bearer
Two books we've enjoyed greatly are Once Upon A Time Saints and More Once Upon A Time Saints by Ethel Pochocki. These books are great! These are legends and stories of early Christians who are often lesser known and their stories are G-rated.  We used these books to choose their saint. My oldest picked St. Zita. St. Zita was domestic, charitable, and loved by the angels. My son picked St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers who is said to have carried the Christ child over rough waters. My three year old still wants to be a princess.


Good Questions

My daughter was talking with a friend recently who said she was not smart. She insisted on calling herself "dumb" because the only thing she was good at in school was science.  After thinking for a moment, my daughter told her that the only thing she really knew a lot about was ancient Egypt and that none of it would really do her any good in real life. This exchange must have been simmering in her because several days later she brought it up to me and asked me several really good questions.

I only know about Egypt because I have a passion for it. What about things I don't like? Will I be able to learn about them? Why do you think I am smart when I hardly know anything yet? 
Can you still be considered smart if you aren't great at everything?

Where to begin? I hope I got it right. In the back in forth conversation that followed, I hope she heard me clearly because those questions strike at the heart of why I choose to homeschool.

First of all I told her that no one is born with a lot of knowledge. "Smart" is what we call people who can learn relatively easily. Because she can learn, she is smart. All the knowledge she accumulated about ancient Egypt is just proof that she can learn when she tries.

Next I told her that by learning about things she is passionate about, she is discovering how to learn in a fun way. The key is that learning about boring or uninteresting topics is done in exactly the same way. Research, reading, and asking questions will serve her well even if she doesn't like what she is looking into. Learning how to gather, sort, and compile information is more important than any of the actual facts she gathers. True, it's harder and more work when you aren't interested, but it is a lot easier if you know what to do.

Lastly, I told her that nobody is good at everything. Yes, there will be subjects that just don't click easily or sometimes at all. That's okay. Do your best and focus on your strengths. Life will go on!

There you have it, one of the top ten reasons why we homeschool: I want to teach my kids how to lead themselves to knowledge rather than how to play follow-the-leader. There is absolutely no "teaching to a test" here. Our lessons, whether they are structured or not, are all based on teaching them how to think for themselves. If they can learn for the sake of learning and not to please me or a random teacher, I will feel that I did something right.


~~~~~Wordless Wednesday~~~~~ Kendo Tournament

Jelly Bean at the Southeast Kendo Tournament
Noda Sensai an excellent teacher


fighting her heart out.


Forced Fall Break

This week is fall break. I didn't realize that until Tuesday. Life just got in the way of formal schooling. On the other hand, life has its own methods of teaching and boredom can be a wonderful tool:

bored bored bored
  • My youngest had a slight fever which made her extra clingy. The older two were just going to have to manage on their own. They were bored but they soon learned how to entertain themselves. They worked on a lot of unfinished projects. The violin and calligraphy pens were used often. My son's Lego skills got a workout as he tried to shape his own planet/space ship. (Yes. The boy is crazy about Star Wars) The increased down time was just what my son needed to crack open a chapter book and really take off reading. We were all pleased at his huge strides in this area. 
  • My eight-week -old nephew was taken to the hospital last week. I spent a lot of time there as we waited for information. (He's going to be just fine). Hospitals are boring. Even just waiting for me to come back from the hospital was boring for them but they learned something anyway. This ordeal taught my children about being there for others in a time of need, hospital etiquette, and how lucky we are to have our health.  It also taught them about the digestive system, the liver, the gall bladder and what happens when these things aren't running smoothly.
  • Extra games of hide-and-seek resulted in my oldest helping her baby sister count high into her teens while the older two practiced counting in as many languages as they could. I heard Spanish, Latin, and Japanese. 
  • The computer got a lot of use too. PBSkids.org is a favorite because the littlest has a lot of fun just watching the others. My son later brought up a discussion about asthma after playing a game from the site. 
Homeschooling is often full of activities, books, writing, and field trips. It has allowed me to fill our life with activities of our choosing. But there is the other side to homeschooling that I think is just as valuable as all of that. Homeschooling allows for downtime.  Downtime is a rare luxury in today's overly scheduled world. For kids, learning how to be alone, working on a large project without rushing through it, and breaking up boredom on their own develops skills that most kids don't have. I can't help but hope it will give a sense of balance to my kids.



It's okay to try something new.
It's okay to make mistakes (you will learn a lot from them.)
It's okay to take risks. 
It's okay to take your time.
It's okay to find your own pace.
It's okay to try it your way.
It's okay to fail. You may try again free of fear. 
It's okay to look foolish. 
It's okay to be different.
It's okay to wait until you feel ready. 
It's okay to make a mess ~ which you are willing to clean up.

~~~~As posted in my homeschool room. Completely ripped off from an unknown source.

Science in a Nutshell - Good Stuff!

My kids are focusing on earth science this year. Science for us is all about reading books about the subject with a generous helping of hands on experimentation. I try very hard to find story books, picture books, and any other book about the subject except nonfiction texts aimed at teaching. Why, oh why do they insist on making these boring books that are just watered down versions of the truly boring texts used in high schools everywhere? Grainy photos of children in outdated clothes only makes my son feel that the entire subject is something from when mom was a kid and not relevant to him. Definitions in bold print only make my daughter cringe at having to memorize something she finds dull. UGH! My kids love nonfiction books that have illustrations and are written conversationally. They love fiction stories that convey facts. When they are very interested in a subject, even the "boring books" are chosen and read, but a new subject that was not their idea had better be interesting if I don't want to waste all our time.

Experimentation if often found everywhere. I love to take real life situations and relate them to our current topics. A hillside worn away by a nearby brook showed my kids the layers of rock accumulated over time. A trip to Cedars of Lebanon State Park was chock full of sink holes, limestone, fossils, and other geological formations. I rarely feel the need to supplement this type of experimentation, but I am so glad I decided to try a couple of kits this year.
Science in a Nutshell Rock Origins Kit

The Science in a Nutshell kits have been wonderful. They are less than forty dollars each, have six to twelve experiments in each that are easy for my elementary kids to do. They have most everything you need except for a few common household items so I don't have to worry about setting up something only to find I forgot a crucial ingredient. This year we are using the Fossil Formations and Rock Origins. Yesterday, my 7yo son and 9yo daughter correctly identified ten mineral samples. I missed two. I got magnetite and hematite switched. They were very pleased!

I'm interested to know if anyone else has tried the other kits. We'll be delving into space soon and I noticed a kit for the moon. Hmmmmmmm.......