Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Timber Rattlers

Look who we nearly stepped upon while hiking in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park on Saturday! My husband,Randy, was in front and passed them. Duncan (10) was in the middle and yelled, "Whoa!" We all stopped with our mouths hanging open. His trekking poles would have come right down in the middle of them had he taken another step.

Although we've hiked dozens of miles (or in Randy's case, 350 miles) in the Smokies, this is our first rattlesnake encounter. I'm not a big fan of snakes, but this was actually pretty awesome. They were rather entranced with one another and didn't pay us much attention; in fact, we didn't even get a good shake out of them. I'm okay with that. Duncan and I skirted around the trail to pass them.

For more pictures and details from our Saturday hike, visit Randy's blog, 900 Miles.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fourteen (14)

My little girl is 14 today. Like any teenager, she spends lots of time interacting with her friends: by text, by phone, by Facebook, in real life. Like most teenage girls, she takes a lot of pictures of herself, alone and with friends (and also of feet). But I don't have had any of those "ergh! I have a teenager" moments with my daughter. The truth is, she is delightful. She is sweet, funny, honest, respectful, agreeable, and creative. Oh, sure— we have little moments here and there when we are short with one another, but that's just life in a family.

She shares her birthday with one of her closest friends (she was 3 or 4 when they met), who is precisely one year older.

Her mom let her spend the night with us. The girls have co-op all day today, so they wanted to make muffins to share with their friends.

We have always taken birthdays off, but today she'll have a full day of classes.

They bought this ribbons to wear on their backpacks. Walmart was out of the Birthday Girl ones, so they improvised.

Duncan and I will do a little school and then clean the house. She loves a clean and freshly decorated house. This evening my parents will come over for dinner (chicken with 40 garlic cloves) and cake (hot fudge cake), celebrating our brown-eyed girl.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Making Community Service Part of Your Homeschool

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Indeed, although as homeschoolers we have opted out of traditional public education, that doesn’t mean we have opted out of being part of the community at large. One unique but often overlooked benefit of homeschooling is that we have the opportunity for regular, deliberate acts of service.

My husband and I are both leaders in scouting organizations (Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for him, American Heritage Girls for me) that encourage community service. I frequently get emails from members asking for ideas for service. People want to serve but sometimes don’t know how or where to do so.

Opportunities are everywhere, for every age. But where do you find them?
{Come on over to The Homeschool Classroom to read the rest of my article on community service!}

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day-in-the-Life in Our Homeschool

The first question to ask when doing a day-in-the-life post is, which day? The way it goes around here is: each year is different, and every day within each year is different.

But first, let me introduce my family in case you are a first time visitor. We have just started our 12th year of homeschooling. Here are my beautiful students: Laurel, 9th grade, and Duncan, 5th-ish, and here was our first week back. In case you missed it, here is where we do school, and this is where you can find our curriculum choices for the upcoming year.

We are the kind of homeschooling family that is frequently not at home. For 22 weeks of the year, we have enrichment classes through our local support group on Mondays. My kids take a variety of classes for five hours each Monday, including science, art, literature, computer, drama, and other classes.

On Tuesdays for 24 weeks of the year, my kids attend a performing arts co-op in the afternoon. And on Thursdays for about 14 weeks of each year, we have a full afternoon of scouting (Cub Scouts and American Heritage Girls). We also enjoy a couple of field trips each month, although those are lessening as my kids get older.

On Fridays this year, I'll be teaching a British literature class for about 20 high-schoolers, and then a friend will be teaching European history. Laurel is taking both of these classes, and Duncan will hand out with either friends or his grandparents.

One could say that leaves Wednesday as a regular, at-home days. But rather than look at these outside activities as intrusions upon our homeschooling, I consider them essential elements of my kids’ education.

Regardless of our afternoon activities, our mornings (except for Mondays) look basically the same. We begin at 10 a.m. I’m a morning person, and I do the vast majority of my own work in the mornings between 7 and 9 a.m.: writing, paperwork, various planning, exercise, etc. My kids usually sleep until 8 or 9 a.m., so they have an hour or two to get moving, eat breakfast, and watch a little television or play a Wii game.

It’s 10 a.m. now, and let’s say today is a Wednesday—an “at home” day. Here's what it looks like.

10-11 a.m.

Math. We start with math every day. Their brains and my patience are generally at peak condition, and this is an ideal combination for math. Both are doing Teaching Textbooks.

11-11:30 a.m.

If math is done, we continue on our separate ways. My 9th grader is doing nearly everything through co-op classes, so she'll be keeping her own schedule and her own timeline. For my 5th grader, we'll move on to Sonlight Core 5. We do our Bible and read-aloud. After that, Duncan has been doing his independent reading.

Since it's a Wednesday, we'll do spelling. I haven't decided yet if I'm doing spelling with my 9th grader or not. She loves to do spelling tests, but she doesn't really need them anymore. But I'll give Duncan his spelling words (we do Spelling Power). He usually misses a few words, which he copies, colors, and posts on his desk for review.

11:30 a.m.-12 p.m.

Brain teasers! This is Duncan's absolute favorite part of the day. We are using Mind Benders (Critical Thinking). After a few of those, we do grammar (Easy Grammar 6), which he loves.

12-1 p.m.

Lunch break. We eat first and then scatter our own ways. I check emails and Facebook, do a little housekeeping, and maybe start supper preparations.

Duncan is allowed to play 30 minutes of Wii or DS during lunch break. Laurel can get online.

1-1:30 p.m.

Back to language arts. I do reading comprehension with Duncan (Spectrum 6) and more Sonlight reading.

1:30-2:30 p.m.

Geography or art. We don’t do these every day, but we have extra time on Wednesdays. For geography, we will watch a Netflix documentary about whatever country we are reading about in Sonlight, cook something, or make a craft from this country. For art, we will read from our 100 Masterpieces book and then maybe do a project of our own.

2:30-3 p.m.

More read-aloud time. We read some more from our current book and then discuss what we’ve read.

3 p.m.: School’s out!

When I think back through our years of homeschooling, I am amazed at how different each year has been and how varied our daily schedules have been within those years. Every year our lives adjust to yet another new “normal.”

I'm linking up with the Not-Back-to-School Blog Hop at Heart of the Matter

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up: First Week Back

We stuck to our goal of beginning on Aug. 17, the same day the University of Tennessee, where Dr. H. teaches, started back. It was terribly tempting to wait until next week, when our oldest heads back to Belmont University, but we maintained our UT starting date tradition.

Here are my students. Duncan is in 5th grade and Laurel has begun her high school journey. (You can read all about what they are doing this year on this post.)

Our first day is all about tradition. We head to our growth chart and measure. We love seeing how much they've grown since last year and how they compare to each other at the same age. Duncan has grown a whopping 3 inches since last year and is now 2 inches taller than his (tall) brother was at the same age. (Jesse is now 6' 1", so I suspect Duncan will be about 6' 3".) Laurel at 5'5" is now exactly the same height as I am. I suspect that, at nearly 14, she's about done growing. Duncan (10.5) is only 2 inches behind us.

The next task is to do the annual "About Me" page.

These include height, weight, lists of favorites (books, movies, food, activities, etc .) and whatever else they decide to add.

After these are finished, we get out our Big Box of Books and spend awhile perusing. You can read all about our Big Box of Books here.

And then… we did math. I know. What a let-down after all the morning frivolity. They are both doing Teaching Textbooks: algebra for Laurel and pre-algebra for Duncan. (He's a math kind of guy.)

We only do a half day for our first day, so we were finished at noon.

The rest of the week, I added subjects in bit by bit. My Starting Year 12 post explains that. Laurel is actually only doing math and working on an American Heritage Girls badge, since the rest of her classes she is doing through our co-op, which begins next week. She did manage to get 5 lessons of math done, so that was awesome.

Duncan and I began Sonlight's Core 5 (or whatever the letter equivalent is now). We are reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, one of my all time favorites, and he is reading Call It Courage. Duncan's absolute favorite thing is his Mind Benders book (Critical Thinking). He would happily do brain teasers all day. I added in grammar (Easy Grammar 6) on Thursday and a reading comprehension book (Spectrum 6) on Friday. We're also going through a wonderful art book called The Art Institute of Chicago: 100 Masterpieces. I have this vague fantasy that we'll go to Chicago this year and see all these masterpieces.

I haven't yet added in spelling and handwriting for Duncan. That would require my finding the books. Duncan's science will begin when co-op classes start after Labor Day.

Next week, Laurel begins all her co-op classes: physical science, Excel and Powerpoint, health, art history, British Literature, and European history. She also has 2 drama classes and her international dance class. Duncan also has a drama class and creative worship (flags) class.

This week we've been doing school in our living room and dining room. I am reminded of how much I love our school room, which we will reclaim when Jesse heads back to college on Tuesday.

I'm linking up with Kris for the Weekly Wrap-Up.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Big Box of Books

I've had lots of questions about our Big Box of Books, as seen in this Starting Year 12 post. We're up to two full boxes now, and with eight years left, I'll have to find another good box or two.

So what's in the Big Box of Books?

Books. Lots of them.

There are lapbooks…

Our annual About Me books in a variety of styles …

Books made in co-op classes…

And lots and lots of homemade books that go along with our regular studies…

Every year on the first day of school, we spend about an hour going through the boxes. This is where the real memories are. "Oh, I remember this!" And "Awww! Wasn't I cute!"

Our favorite part is probably going through the "All About Me" books that we do every year. We love to compare heights and favorites and all kinds of personal data.

These two boxes are my greatest homeschooling treasures. Besides writing samples, this is pretty much all the "paperwork" I keep. It's not for a portfolio and we would certainly never bring the Big Box of Books and present it to the Dean of Admissions at a prospective college.

It's all for me, and them. If you don't have a big box, start now! Throw away all those math worksheets you've been keeping in a file, and start making some books.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Five Things That Make Me Happy

I'd love to say that things don't make me happy—only people do, but really, there are some things that make me happy.

1. I love this new canvas of Laurel and me. This was taken two falls ago against our old yellow shed. When Easy Canvas Prints asked if I'd review their product, this was the first photograph that came to mind that I knew needed to be on a canvas. I am absolutely thrilled with this gallery-wrapped canvas print! My hope is that I can get a whole wall in my office of different sized canvases with prints of the whole family. I know just which one I will do next: Jesse on his red tractor at age 3. It is incredibly easy to make and order the canvas, and Easy Canvas always has great discounts and special deals. These would make fantastic Christmas and/or birthday presents! (By the way, I have another canvas from a different place, and I have to say that the Easy Canvas print is much, much nicer.)

2. My new laptop sleeve makes me so very happy. I mean, look at it. It's a bunch of viewfinder thingies! Who wouldn't want this? I bought this on Etsy from Bertie's Closet. This seller has dozens of laptop and iPad sleeves, and Laurel and I had a hard time choosing. I love everything about the sleeve—it's high quality, nicely padded, and of course, extremely stylish.

3. My laptop brings me such tremendous happiness. Dr. H. surprised me and got me one for our anniversary. I had no idea how much I would love it. And since we've started back to school, I discovered that is also going to be fantastic for Laurel to use, as well, especially since the kids are both doing Teaching Textbooks for math this year. Laurel can go to her room and do math on the laptop while Duncan does his at the main computer. Awesomeness. (And yes, of course it's a Mac. That's all we use around here.)

4 and 5. My Ryka running shoes and my Nike sport band have revolutionized my running life. I like comfort, and I like to keep track of stuff. The sport band tracks my time, distance, calories, etc. and then I transfer the information onto my own Nike page, so I can track my progress. And see that little pouch? I chose the Ryka shoes before I had the sport band. Part of the sport band includes this little sensor that is supposed to slip inside a Nike shoe. Fortunately, Grantwood technology makes this awesome little pouch that attaches to any running shoe. The sensor slips right in, and off I go. I should add a #6, since we're talking about running: Dr. H. has started running with me! Like me, he's always despised running. He is incredibly fit, but he finally decided that running would help improve his cardiovascular system for hiking. I had been running 5 Ks in the mornings, but I started Couch to 5K again (for the 4th time) so that we could do it together. How much fun is that?

Admit it. You've got a few material goods that just make you happy. What are they?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Not Back-to-School Blog Hop: My Students

This is my beautiful daughter, Laurel. She'll be a freshman.

This is our Christmas baby, Duncan, who will be in 5th grade this year. Sorta. Or is it sixth? Here's how I feel about grade levels.

In case you missed it, here is where we do school, and this is where you can find our curriculum choices for the upcoming year.

And I would be remiss if I didn't include a photo of our firstborn, the guinea-pig, the one who started it all. This is our oldest son, Jesse, who is 18 and will be leaving for his sophomore year in college in just a week. And yes, we did homeschool him all the way through high school and he is thriving—not just surviving— in college.

Linked up with the Not Back-to-School Blog Hop at Heart of the Matter

Friday, August 12, 2011

Reason Enough to Homeschool


Where I live, the public schools begin in early August. Summer still—the hottest month of the year—and kids are sitting in slick chairs, pencils sharpened, new shoes still a little tight. I imagine a little boy just my son’s age watching a fat bee hover outside the window. He can’t hear it buzzing, of course, because the air conditioner drones at high speed, drowning out the sounds of bees and the smell of sunshine and dry grass.

We started homeschooling 12 years ago because…

• We thought it was silly that our then-first-grader spent time each week in public school devoted to filling in bubbles on a test page. He and his classmates were practicing for the standardized tests they would have to take in second grade. …

{Come visit Simple Homeschool to read the rest of my article! And while you're there, be sure to browse around at other great posts, like The Worst Reason to Homeschool by editor Jamie Martin. Fantastic!}

Linked to:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Artist at Work

My Aunt Ann, whom my father and I visited last week in Friday Harbor, Washington, is an artist. Everything about Aunt Ann is spacious, ordered, and full of color and light.

She has spent her life with sketch pad in hand, recording life with lines and curves the way I do with words.

When I think of my aunt, I think first of flowers, saturated with color in paintings or fresh in her garden and on every table.

These last days of her life she spends ordering, remembering, and recording.

She is going through a lifetime of sketchbooks, filling black-and-white drawings in with color, adding dates and locations and sometimes a word or two of description.

This pile of books—just a few among the dozens—look like my own stack of journals, but hers are filled with the most intricate renderings of a life lived in full color.

I am honored to have watched my aunt work, to be part of her painting life if only for short periods of time. I am more determined than ever to always have fresh flowers in the house. Such beauty can be added to our lives with a burst of bright color.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Where We Do School

We "do school" in a lot of different places: the living room, the mountains, the back yard, at my parents' house, at the dining room table, at enrichment classes, etc. We're all about life learning.

But we really do actually have a dedicated school room. We are blessed to have a whole apartment attached to our house. For the first eight years that we lived here, my parents snowbirded (yes, I said that, and I'm sticking to it) in the apartment. Now that they bought a house and live down the street full time, we've converted it into the school room/guest house/hang-out. We do the vast majority of our book-learning here:

We have tons of bookshelves and room for a couple of more, a table, couch, plenty of drawers, and even a little gas fireplace. Plus, we can stick anything up on the wall without feeling decorating angst. It's a sweet set-up.

Speaking of decorating angst, Laurel also uses this spot in the apartment kitchen for her own private work area. She tries not to lick the Willy-Wonka wallpaper too much. (Yes, that is one of my upcoming painting projects. Someday.) During the winter, we actually close off this room and only use the living room, which stays nice and toasty.

The computer is at the house, so we do tromp over here whenever we need to internet. I love having the apartment to actually go to for school. The kids actually have to walk out one door and in another, and somehow that seems to make the transition from lounging around to school work more defined. Plus, I can escape to the house when I need to. Yep.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Friday Harbor

For the next couple of days, I'm here in Friday Harbor, Washington, on San Juan Island, just a few miles from British Columbia (soon to be the home of some of my favorite people).

The flights were all fantastic. They even had diet Pepsi on the plane, which makes me happy. My Dad is a perfect traveling companion.

I couldn't stop looking out the window. I've never flown this particular route before, from Chicago to Seattle, and I was fascinated by the quilts of farms as well as the snow-capped mountains. It was all so beautiful!

We saw Mt. Ranier from the plane long before we landed. I think I took about 100 pictures. It's so weird to see it looming up out of the clouds!

After we landed in Seattle, we hopped on a tiny little plane to fly to Friday Harbor. I was apprehensive when I heard we'd be a 4-seater. Last time I was in one I was four years old. My uncle took us up after Sunday lunch one day, and I threw up. Fortunately, I found the whole experience to be absolutely amazing this time! What an awesome way to see Seattle:

And to get to San Juan Island. This was one of those times I wish I had a nice camera!

That's Lopez Island above, where my cousin Scott and his family live. We are taking a ferry across to see them tomorrow.

Our pilot spotted whale-watching boats right outside of Friday Harbor, so he circled around. We saw a couple of whales frolicking, but not closely enough to really see any detail. He was an awesome pilot.

And the rest of the pictures below are Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

My Aunt Ann and her wonderful husband, Jack, met us at the little airport and brought us back to their home and fed us swiss chard from their garden and kobe beef that my cousin raises.

Today we are driving around the island and just enjoying being together. My aunt says she feels absolutely fine, although her prognosis is bleak. It is lovely to see my 86- year-old father together with his 81-year-old baby sister. Life is sweet, even in it's saddest moments.