The temperatures are 100+ this week.
My husband enjoyed raspado for a cool treat as a boy in Panama. Here, we call it a snow cone. But then he added the snow cap... sweetened condensed milk. Oh, boy! Snow cones have never been the same since!
Keep cool during this insane heat. And please don't let your pets suffer.


What If They Change Their Minds?

Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
If I am completely honest, I have to admit I avoid the road that takes me past their old school if possible. When we do have to go by, it never fails that one of the kids will comment about their old school. Their comments are filled with nostalgia. I can't help but ask them about it.

Do you miss it? Do you want to go back?

I fear the answer will be yes. I worry they will want to go back to school because it matters to me what they want. So far, every time I pose the question, the answer has been no.

No way! Nope. Are you kidding? 

And I feel relief and vindication at getting that answer. The thoughts fill my head...  

See! This is better! They LOVE it! 

But what if they didn't? What if the answers start to come back with less certainty? What if they said...

Maybe. I don't know. It might be nice. 

What would I do then? Would that change anything? Would their wanting to go to school outweigh the benefits of homeschool?

No! Not yet! Maybe later. 

Homeschooling is full of moments where doubt creeps in, but there is no reason to borrow trouble. Homeschooling has been the right choice for us and I do not think that will change any time soon. I have to remind myself that I will handle the future when it gets here. If the circumstances change, if my children change their mind, or it no longer seems the best for any other reason, I will consider those new developments at that time. For now, homeschooling is exactly right for us as a unit and for each individual as well. 

And really, that is all I need to know to continue on. 


Southern Pine Beetle

This tree was perfectly healthy two months ago, well, it looked that way anyway. Apparently it was under attack by the Southern Pine Beetle we just couldn't see it yet. We had a little wind one evening and the branches began popping and snapping off. The tree had to be cut down before it came down on its own. It was leaning toward my house and we knew if it fell on its own, it was taking out the kitchen in the process. The time had come.

According to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture this beetle is the "most destructive forrest insect in the southern united states." I've seen a lot of destruction in eastern Tennessee, but it isn't as common here in middle Tennessee.  The tree service was quick and efficient when they cleared the tree, but there was one piece of wood left behind by the crew, and it showed some physical damage from the beetle.
Aside from a giant dead tree, the Southern Pine Beetle leaves other evidence and some of it can be seen here. Adults leave a blue-stain fungus as the tunnel out and tiny holes on the bark where they erupt from the bark. 

I'm glad to have the tree gone. and I hope the other pines near it are not infected. It is amazing how different a place can look and feel when you remove a single tree. 



Vacation Bible School was so much fun!

This was one of the first times I was going to drop off my 4yo in a group setting. She was a bit nervous. I know this because:

  1. She had me read Lama Lama Misses Mama, which is about Little Lama being dropped of at school for the first time. Every night for a week she told me "I am never doing that!"
  2. Sunday night she announced that she needed her own cell phone so she could call me if she needed anything...like to come home right away.
  3. She played "going to school" with her bath toys where they were all crying for their moms. 
So, when we got there on Monday, I kissed her on top of her scowling head, I wished her teacher good luck, and headed out. 

The day went well. I couldn't quite read her teacher's expression when I picked her up, but we agreed that she has one very strong personality that will hopefully serve her well someday.

Yes, I am choosing to look at that as a compliment. 

The older two also had a fantastic time. Both were in groups with old friends and came home talking a mile a minute about the games, crafts, snacks, and the music. It was complete organized chaos!

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were bliss! I dropped them off without incident and enjoyed a few hours of sweet alone time. My husband took me out for brunch and we went window shopping on one day. I tell you, it was NICE!

Wednesday night my four-year-old came down with a fever, so she had to miss out on the last two days of VBS. Yet another reason I don't miss school - my kids don't bring home every virus that happens to be making its rounds. She was really down about it too. She had come to really love her teacher and group. The other two are down with it now. Luckily, it seems to last only a few days. Oh, well. That's life! At least I'm not having to read anymore stories about sad little lamas.


Why I Get Nothing Done At Night

We have a very long bedtime routine. Even now that the kids are big enough to do most of their washing and changing themselves, I still take hours at night getting them to sleep. The reason for this madness? I really enjoy reading to them. Ever since my oldest moved to her big girl bed we have read bedtime stories faithfully. It used to be a short and sweet thing to do each night, but now it can take hours, and even then it doesn't take much to persuade me to keep reading a little bit more than I am supposed to.

First off, all three of my kids enjoy different types of books. My four-year-old goes back and forth between picture books and beginner chapter books. We begin with her book each night because she is youngest and tends to fall asleep quickest. Her favorites include a set of beginning phonics books and Junie B. Jones, but our current book is 101 Dalmatians (Puffin story books)by Dodie Smith. The older two are happy about this are enjoying the book as much as she is. This is the book the Disney movie was based on. As usual, the book is much, much better. 

My eight-year-old is enjoying Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1)by Suzanne Collins about a boy who falls to an underground world inhabited by giant bugs, bats, and a strange race of humans. Apparently we have a subterranean thing going with him. We had just read a very good abridged version of Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne after seeing the movie Journey 2

My eleven-year-old still loves a bedtime book too even though she reads for pleasure on her own now. I try to pick books she wouldn't pick on her own or something from the classics . Right now she is listening to the first of John Grisham's new book series for kids  Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. So far we both like it a lot even though she was not certain a murder mystery legal drama would suit her.  It is a genre of books that is underrepresented in children's books in my opinion. It walks the reader through the legal system in such a way that is both thorough and interesting. She knows very little about the legal system and will occasionally stop me to ask a question. The murder in the story is a strangulation but it is about as non-violent as a murder can be. Before this selection we had read a lot of fantasy and we were both ready for a change of pace. 

So, at any given time I can have three children's chapter books going, my own book club's book, an audio book for the car, and a couple of non-fiction books on whatever subject I am interested in at that moment. Then of course, the kids have their own books they are reading on their own. It is a lot of reading, I guess, but I love it. Thank goodness for good libraries!

I am always on the prowl for the next good book we will read. I am constantly jotting down my friends' ideas. Their writing curriculum by Susan Wise Bauer spends each week on a different book and if the selections strike our fancy, I add it to my future reads list. Despite this, I am down to just a couple of suggestions at the moment, so I would love it if you'd share any of your great suggestions! 


An Inspired Moment

She really loves to paint. Today she wanted to paint a rainbow with the sky above and the grass below. 

I helped her get out the supplies, and then I left her to it. Our supplies are an easel, a canvas, a plastic palette, and tempura paint in red, yellow, blue, black, and white. Kids love to mix their own colors. Using inexpensive canvases when they want to do a project makes it special and easy to display. 

 The colors of the rainbow are out of order intentionally. She wanted hers to be different.


Alone With The Songs In My Head

Today was the first day of vacation bible school for my kiddos. Although my kids and I have been involved at our church's VBS every year except one for the last seven years, this year had a couple of crucial firsts.

  1. This is the first time all three are old enough to attend. This is also the last time they will all be attending together unless my oldest decides to volunteer. 
  2. This is the first time that I will NOT be volunteering. I've worked with music, games, crafts, nursery, and four-year-olds. I'd still do music if it weren't for point number three:
  3. This is the first time in three years that I will be all alone in the house and I am almost embarrassed at how giddy I am at getting a few hours of alone time. 

Someone once told me that the tunes that pop in your head have meaning. You should listen to the lyrics that are looping to get a glimpse at what your subconscious is thinking. I have no idea if that is true, but the songs I started humming today were fitting. As I pulled in my drive, I started humming the Handel's Hallelujah Chorus.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! 
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! 
For the lord God omnipotent reigneth...

Cliche' I know, but true. That song was stuck in my head and thanks to my days in choir, I heard the harmony part!  That lasted until it was replaced by the chorus of Vacation by the Go-Go's :

Vacation, all I ever wanted
Vacation, had to get away
Vacation, meant to be spent alone. 

Humming and dancing (hey! no one was watching!) I decided to get some house work done without interruptions. Cue Elvis in my brain.. just the intro and the first line...

A little less conversation 
A little more action please.

Perhaps he was singing about something besides housework, but it worked for me. By then it was time to go get them again. I decided to indulge in NPR on the ride to get them. After all, if I didn't turn on the real radio, who knows what I would have started humming next!


Do your kids swim? Mine are learning. I would like to have them all take lessons, but I haven't found a cost effective class yet. With three kids at three different levels, well, it adds up quickly. Time for Plan B, exposure, exposure, exposure!

We've been going to the YMCA since February. When we started none of my kids were confident in the water. Now, my oldest has passed a swim test and can come and go freely in the pool. My son can swim pretty well, but doesn't use strokes yet so he sticks to the shallow end.

That leaves me to my youngest and even she is getting better. She can play in the kiddie pool and go down the little kiddie slide by herself. When she gets into the big pool, she wears a life jacket and is getting a very good feel for the water.

It wasn't long ago that I was chasing toddlers and not letting them out of my sight for a minute. I must say, I like being able to sit on the edge and relax a bit. Oh, I still do the head count (one, two, three... one, two, three) but now, I do that while sitting in the sun and *gasp!* relaxing a bit. I still hope to get them in lessons someday, but for now the kids are getting better and having a great time. We're good with that.



Japanese Paper Folding

You only need a piece of square paper and a pattern. The basic folds are often repeated for other patterns, so once you get the hang of a few, it becomes easier. It is a great hobby and the only downside is finding paper flowers, bugs and other items all over the house. We've begun to use them to decorate gifts. I like them better than bows.

Things to keep in mind about the paper:

  • The thin origami paper from craft stores helps with crisp folds. 
  • The larger the size, the easier for beginners.
  • The traditional size used in Japan is the smaller size you will find at craft stores. 
  • foil is fun and pretty, but not forgiving if you attempt to refold it.
  • My daughter enjoys the small paper because of the challenge and how cute the small creations are.

Where to find the patterns:

  • There are lots of books at that library and some of our favorite patterns have been from books.
  • How to make origami app  for the ipod or iphone is what my daughter is using in these photos.
  • Origami Club website has a lot of free instructions.

The next level of origami:

Origami is not only beautiful, but it is mathematical too (isn't everything?). The Documentary Between the Folds, which I enjoyed on Netflix, will amaze you with the artistry, history, and theory of paper folding.

Here is a youtube video we found while trying to find a good pattern for a violin. This type of origami is just amazing. We still haven't found that violin pattern, so if you happen to know of one, please let me know.

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Grammar: The Nuts and Bolts of Language

Grammar for the Logic Stage

picture: Milestone Ministries
The grammar text we have chosen for the logic stage is Rod and Staff's Building Christian English Series. It has a very strong academic core and no frills. The lessons are explained well in the reading section and are simple but effective in cementing the ideas. The teacher's manual begins with tips for explaining the lesson and follows with  the answers to the problems. I find that the lessons are so well written that it is rare for me to have to use the teacher's manuel, but I am glad I have it. I have looked at several other systems but I haven't found anything that works better for our family.

Rod and Staff is written from a protestant, mennonite, perspective. The illustrations are of mennonite families and many of their lessons have selections from the Bible. This doesn't concern me in the least. I am not a protestant mennonite, but I couldn't care less if the example they use to teach my child about appositive adjectives comes from the gospels or from Harry Potter. I want well written examples and, yes, the Bible is a fantastic source for that. As many who have read my blog know, I consider myself a secular homeschooler because I place academics at the core of our education. When I look for resources I look first to their accuracy and second to their compatibility with my kids learning methods. That is about it. As long as they are reasonably priced, the viewpoint, be it secular or christian, is not a concern as long as it doesn't attempt to preach. When I teach my children about religion, I'll use my own religious resources.

My daughter, on the other hand, is bothered by this perspective. Every time she gets a lesson that is heavily biblical, I hear the sighs and grumbling start. It is distracting to her. She is very sensitive to having people try to persuade her to think or believe differently than she does. My grandmother would say she has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to religion. My mother would say she takes after me. I'd say they both have a point. So, I made a deal with her: if you can find another program or book that teaches grammar as effectively, I would consider it.

Oh, how she wished for another level from the books we used before, but no such luck. Even if new books from the authors of First Language Lessons were being written, they would not be ready for her in time. We looked at three different texts and two different co-ops before she agreed that the Rod and Staff books are either better or allow her more independent study, both of which are important to her.

So, there you have it! Even my daughter, who can smell a religious hard sell a mile away, chose these books for their quality. Once the decision was ours and not just mine, her grumbling stopped too.


10 Things To Do This Summer (Free or Almost Free)

1. Free: Picnic at a State Park. Find a park, any park and pack a picnic lunch. Don't forget the bug spray.

2. $1.00 Movies at Regal Theaters. Just be forewarned, if your kids have to have the snacks that go along with a trip to the movies, the regular movie prices apply which no longer makes it a bargain in my opinion.

3. Bass Pro Shop has free workshops and activities for kids in the summer.

4. Lowe's Free Build and Grow activities are held once a month all year long. You may need to call ahead to reserve a spot.

5. Splashing in the sprinklers is never a dull day.

6. Take a tour of local production plants. Here in Nashville, Purity Dairy and Nissan top the list.

7. Library Reading Program. It's a free program with a day of fun promised for doing something we do anyway!

8. Plant something and watch it grow. Enjoy a flower or eat a vegetable that you grew yourself. It is a very rewarding experience.

9. Pick your own fruits and vegetables at a local farm. While technically not free, you are spending your money on food that you need anyway. Why not make a day of it and let the kids see where their food come from.

10. Lego Free Builds are every month at the Lego Stores. Anyone who loves legos knows that free legos are very rare!



A friend had me wait a minute before I left her house because she had something for me. She dug around her garage and pulled out a five disk CD player and handed it over. I was more than a little confused. She smiled and told me that after hearing about my son's robotics camp, she thought he might enjoy dismantling some broken electronics. I was very grateful.

Ever since his camp, my son has been reading about electronics, wiring simple motors, and looking up robot videos. He's been very hungry to learn about anything having to do with robotics and engineering. Meanwhile, I've been keeping an eye on the toaster. I figured it was only a matter of time before he began to see it as more of a project than an appliance. 

As you can probably guess, he devoured CD player. An hour after giving it to him, I came back to find: 1. a very sizable pile of small screws. 2. A motor carefully placed to the side. 3. The circuit boards stacked next to the motor. 4. the rest of the CD player being worked over carefully by a happy boy chattering on about what he was discovering. 

Mom! This motor is basically the same as the other one I saw, and that (the circuit board) looks a lot like my snap circuits only smaller and with more parts. Do you think any of this will work? 

The best and most lasting learning comes when someone is excited and experiencing new things. I've learned that at least half of my job as a homeschooling mom is to find out how to ignite their interest. I don't always have them so enthusiastic, but it is what I aim for. Moments like these are priceless because he becomes so fired up about learning. Without that fire, learning is boring and difficult, but with it, all learning is magical. 

By the way, I'm still keeping an eye on my toaster.


History: Our Favorite Story

Andrew Jackson

I've often said that history is one of the main reasons I am homeschooling. With each passing year I become even more convinced that the history we study here surpasses the history I studied in school. My personal experience with the subject consisted of fragmented American history with a concentration on the state I lived in and the famous people who also called it home. Being from Tennessee, I knew the three presidents from here (Jackson, Johnson, and Polk) and the state bird (mockingbird) but I really had no concept of how fascinating world history really is. 

The first time I encountered history outside of this fragmented approach was my first semester of college. I took a Western Civ course taught by a gifted storyteller. She would lean against the front of her desk with arms folded and a binder of notes she would occasionally check for accuracy. She told stories of Europe that I had never heard before. My ignorance appalled me but I wasn't worried about that for long. For the first time in a very long time I was genuinely curious about something! I never missed a class. I would take a legal pad in and begin to write. An hour and twenty minutes later I would leave with pages of notes that I couldn't recall writing and a head full of history. 

Yesterday we completed our history book for the year. This is the third year we've used Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer. I really enjoy this series and will be using book four next year. The selections read like a bedtime story. I see my children listening to these stories with the same interest I had in my Western Civ class. My children particularly loved history this year because the third book, which ends at 1850, is starting to form the globe into a world they recognize. They saw the United States gain its familiar contiguous shape through the war with Mexico. My son threw up his hands in disgust when the all too familiar story of a power hungry ruler who treated his subjects poorly began to unfold yet again. He wondered aloud why these people didn't see what was coming as clearly as he does. I just smile. My kids have no idea how happy it makes me to see them so interested and passionate about history.


Wordless Wednesday: Carrots!

Hoping for a Simple Summer

Each summer I want to reign in our schedules, tie up all the loose ends, and let ourselves get bored. Slowing down and taking it all in is not the natural state of being in this society, and I find it takes effort. Mostly, that effort comes from saying the word 

If it spreads us too thin, takes too much time or money, the result is usually more stress in the end anyway. Time to simplify our summer. Here are a few of the things we are choosing to spend our time on this summer:

My List: Write. Garden. Read. Complete old projects (including school). Organize (always on the list). 

My Kids' List: Swim. Work on projects (including school). See their schooled friends often.

No doubt we will do lots of other fun things that are not on this list, but only if it doesn't spread us too thin. How are you prioritizing your summer? Some families enjoy running at top speed while others need the quiet times. Does your summer reflect what you need?


Six Mile Hike

It is June and the weather is beautiful! The weather was in the upper seventies, and there was a bright blue sky overhead. We decided to attempt a long hike. Six miles was more than we have ever done with kids before but we thought they would be up for it. Littlest one took a few shoulder rides, but the other two hung in there for every step. We packed a backpack with fruit, water, and Cliff Bars, found our walking shoes and headed for the greenway.


Summer Camps 2012: Jr. Bison Bot Camp

Every year I try to find a summer camp for each child. I think camps are an excellent way for my children to experience something new and have an opportunity to be away from the rest of us for a while. I have several things I am looking for in a summer camp.
  • The camp has to be a good price. 
  • I must be able to drop off my child and not hang around.
  • It must provide an enrichment opportunity. 
This week was my son's camp. He attended Lipscomb University's Junior Bison Bot Camp. The camp is designed to teach basic electronics and robotics to rising 3rd and 4th graders. Nissan, who has a plant here in middle Tennessee, was an active partner and not only provided scholarships, but also had engineers attend the camp to answer questions about engineering and industry. The kids made several robots and mechanical contraptions including a mechanical hand, a line following robot that won't run of the edge of the desk, a doodle bot that draws circles as it dances across paper, a wooden robot that walks, and a buzz wire game similar to how the game Operation works.