Monday, November 26, 2012

Post-Thanksgiving Rambling

* The morning comes quietly after the unusual bustle of a holiday weekend. One cat semi-snoozes on the back of the sofa, keeping an eye on the bushes outside in case a bird should happen to land. The other cat snores on the red chair. Have you ever heard a cat snore? It's rather disconcerting. He sounds like a tiny old wheezing man.

* This was probably a perfect Thanksgiving week. Our oldest came home last Monday night from college. An assortment of his friends were here most of the time. I like looking out at our driveway and seeing a few extra cars. (Why do all his friends have blue cars?) But we also had lots of time just with him when his friends were at work. We even got in games of Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit and had two suppers all by ourselves. Laurel and I did a tiny bit of shopping, we watched one Christmas movie, and we had amazing meals, almost all cooked by Randy.

Thanksgiving game of Rummikub

* We spent actual Thanksgiving Day at my brother's with an assortment of family members. There was basketball, ping pong, and a few games. It was a quieter dinner than usual with only one little one (my great-niece, age 4), and we headed home before dark.

* Duncan got to be in a Christmas parade over the weekend. He is much adored by a friend's little girl, and she requested that he ride in the parade with her. He donned an elf costume, made by my friend, and tossed candy to the parade watchers. He's a sweetheart!

Duncan Elf

* Today is going to be a getting-back-to-normal day. I laugh at myself even as I write that. I have high hopes of having a solid school day, packed with meaty material. We don't have co-op today, so we have an extra day to really immerse ourselves in World War II. I am tempted to use the forbidden phrase: "to catch up." I didn't really say that, did I?

* I also have high hopes of getting our house back to normal. We've had a painting project going on for the past few weeks. Our living room walls look fabulous; now I need to restore sanity to the house. I haven't replaced the regular decor, knowing that as soon as Thanksgiving is over, we'll be putting Christmas decorations up. At this point, cleaning and decorating will partner up.

* At long last, we have entered the world of the flat screen TV. It is a lovely thing indeed! We hooked up the PS3, and the kids and Randy had a great time playing all kinds of games. Randy thinks Call of Duty should count as school, since Duncan is studying WWII this year. ;) He's my kind of homeschooling Dad.

* And speaking of homeschooling, it's about that time. Have a great week!

The cat likes the new TV.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday

My Black Friday shopping thus far consists of a midnight run with my 15-year-old daughter to Old Navy and the mall, where we wandered about somewhat aimlessly, gawking at the crowds, AND ordering my first set of free Christmas cards from Shutterfly.
Stationery card
View the entire collection of cards.

Next up, more lounging around by the fire. We may get ambitious and make a late afternoon run to Target, or we might just make some cookies.

Hope you are having a relaxing day, whether you are out in the crowds or somewhere cozy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Grandmother's Legacy

I found a treasure the other day as I cleaned off a bookshelf.  I had completely forgotten about this black binder that I brought back from Illinois with me after my Uncle Max's funeral last January.

My grandmother, Helen Firebaugh, was a woman of strength, grace, and action. She started a school lunch program—a warm breakfast and lunch—during the Depression before there was such a thing as a school lunch program. As chairwoman of the Democratic party in her county in the 1940s and 50s, she picked up people and took them to the polls. (She may have even strongly suggested they vote for FDR.) She taught Sunday School forever, counseled people, took care of the sick, visited her neighbors, raised her family, and did all the things that mothers and wives did and a whole lot more.

And my grandmother loved poetry. That black binder that my Uncle Max left to me contains pages and pages of mostly newspaper clippings of poetry and words of wisdom. As she called it, "Poems for Every Occasion."

Many of the poems are ones I would call cheesy. They rhyme and have a "message": don't give up, grow strong, have courage, live well. But here's the thing: it isn't the quality of the poems that strikes me when I read my grandmother's collection, but that she chose these poems because they reflected the person she was and the person she strove to be.

She was an optimist, an activist, and a nurturer. She was a woman who lived life well, without whining about how she wished she had more money or how her hips ached every single day. She embraced people and made them feel loved. She was an encourager.

 Flipping through the pages I came to the real treasures for me: three poems written by my grandmother, in her familiar handwriting. Such a pang of sweet memory hit me when I read this one especially. She would have been in her 80s when she wrote this, and I would have been 12. (She passed away when I was 19.) I love the last lines because I can exactly hear her reading them and chuckling. "But Alas! with arthritis that makes me hurtle, I move around like a turtle." She had a wonderful sense of humor, the kind that kept a family going.

My mother was the youngest child in her family, and I the youngest in mine, so my grandmother was in her late 70s when I came along. My mother, who is now 85 herself, tells me stories of my grandmother in bits and pieces. I am delighted by her stories, mesmerized by the strength and courage of my grandmother, and very, very grateful for her legacy. A love of poetry, yes, but more than anything, I am grateful for the legacy of optimism and expectancy, of looking for beauty in simple things, of embracing life, of just "having some fun."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Scheduling for Middle School

Young student with workbook

Middle school is a time of great transition in our family’s home education program. We take a relaxed approach during the elementary years—not unschooling, but definitely far from school-at-home.

My youngest is in sixth grade now. I work with him on almost everything; we’re a team. On the other end of the spectrum, my daughter is in 10th grade and works completely independently. So, what happens in those four years to go from teacher-directed to student-ownership?

We make a deliberate move toward more and more independent work in middle school when three key components come into play: checklists, “buckling down,” and accountability.

{Come on over to The Homeschool Classroom to read about how we make the most of middle school in our own small world!} 

Have you entered iHomeschool Network's Stocking Stuffer yet? Read all about it and leave a comment here for a chance to win $250!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Christmas Stocking Stuffer Giveaway

It's Thanksgiving week in the U.S., folks, and you know what that means: the Christmas season has officially begun! I know, I know— I don't get it either, but let's roll with it and here's why:

We bloggers at iHomeschool Network want to bless two readers with $250 cash each!

Straight cash, people! We want to give our readers a chance to win one of $1100 in prizes, and a couple of readers will have an extra $250 in their pockets. Check out all the prizes  on the Rafflecopter at the end of this post!

Entering the giveaways is really easy. All you have to do is leave a comment here on my blog or on any of the other participating blogs, listed below.

Only one comment is needed. You can gain up to 70 more entries by doing the activities in the Rafflecopter widget. (Be patient. If your internet is slow, the widget may take awhile to load!)

So what would you do with an extra $250? Remember, just one comment is needed to enter!


Let the season begin! 

{Update: Thanks for participating! You can check out a list of all the winners at iHomeschool Network. If you've won, you will receive an email!}

Monday, November 12, 2012

International Dance and Pageantry Performance

Bezalel School. It's an activity we keep doing year after year, even though at the end of every season we are worn out.
Twelve week of classes and practices and then four days of rehearsals. The kids are exhausted, and I've put some serious mileage on and gas into my van.

And then, it's performance evening, and everything comes together so beautifully that I can't take my eyes off my daughter, dancing with such grace and beauty.

 How does she know how to do all these things? She seems so separate from me at these moments, as her arm curves gracefully above her head and she spins.

And then my boy confidently strides across the stage, saying his lines loud and clear without a microphone. 
There is nothing he'd rather be than one of the shepherds and one of the three "wise guys."

There are about a dozen kids in the class, ranging from age 10-19, and they use white flags in blacklight to do an amazing routine. It's all so beautiful to watch. I wish I could get the darned video to load so you can watch too. :) I love that my kids are part of a school that using the performing arts as an act of worship and celebration.

And now that this performance is over, the holiday season officially begins!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up

Here is what homeschooling looked like in our own SmallWorld this week:

Monday: Co-op all day. 8-4 for Laurel, 9:30-4 for Duncan and me. Came home and went our separate ways until supper. Had beef stew simmering in the crockpot all day. Duncan went to bed early with a sore throat and utter exhaustion.

Tuesday: Laurel's friend got dropped off at 7:30 a.m., as her parents were heading out of state until late Wed. night. The girls did homework for a few hours. Duncan slept in until about 10:30. When he awoke, we read some of our biography of Hitler, and he read some of his Robotics book for Boy Scouts.  At 12:30 we left home. I took Duncan to rehearsal for our performing arts co-op (1-5 p.m.) and dropped the girls off at a coffee shop. (The girls didn't have to rehearse, as this was Act 2 only.) I had great intentions to get lesson plans done during my few hours sans kids; instead, I did odds and ends and then visited my parents and ran a couple of errands. Picked the girls up from the library, where they had walked, and then picked Duncan up at Bezalel at 5 p.m. After dinner the girls had government class, which normally meets from 5:30-7 but was meeting at night to watch election results. The girls were home finally by 9:45 p.m.

Wednesday: The kids all slept in late. The girls spend the morning basically getting ready for an all-day rehearsal. I read a few chapters of our novel for literature circle, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, to Duncan. The kids had dress rehearsal from 12:30-6 p.m. I had lunch with a friend and then came home and again, didn't do lesson plans. Picked the kids up, at dinner at Pizza Hut, and headed to youth group/small group at church. We got home at 8:45 p.m. and collapsed.
Our troop packed 30 boxes for Operation Christmas Child!

Thursday: Duncan woke up early and then fell asleep on the couch, foiling my determination to do math with him. But I can't wake up an exhausted child with a mild sore throat. He finally awoke, chipper and well rested, at 12:30. Seriously. Took Laurel to geometry at 1:30. Picked her up at 2:45 and headed to our Operation Christmas Child shoebox packing party from 3-5 p.m. Returned home and opted not to go to our support group's Moms' Night Out. I mean, really.

Friday: Left the house at 9:30 a.m. to go to Knoxville and march in the Veterans Day Parade. Home by 2:15 p.m. Left again at 2:25 to take Laurel to her student council meeting, and then took Duncan to fencing from 4-5 p.m. Got home around 6 p.m. We all just about fell into our plates at dinner. And this is what I thought: "I have been gone from 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m., and I feel like death. Some people do this every single day. Thank you, Lord, for giving me this is a rare day, and not an every day!"

You may notice a nearly complete lack of academics this week. You would be right. Laurel, a sophomore, continued on with all of her regular studies as much as possible; but Duncan got a little literature and a little history. With 9 hours plus driving time devoted to their performance, several hours extra sleep time to ward off sickness, and another 6-7 hours devoted to community service, this week was just not conducive to spelling, grammar, math, and science. I am happy to have gotten a little history and literature squeezed in.

The good news is: performances only happen twice each year. Parades and service projects of this nature are occasional events. It just so happened that everything fell on this week.

Next week: we are going to revel in getting back into a routine.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Counts as Homeschooling?

What counts as homeschooling?
At a recent roundtable discussion organized by our homeschooling support group, a brand new homeschooling mom raised her hand and asked the perennial question: What counts as homeschooling?

I have heard the same questions dozens of times through the years: Can I count playing board games? Can I count hiking as PE? Can I count the afternoon we spent talking with a veteran about WWII? Can I count our trip to Washington DC? Yes, yes, seriously? and YES!

I know the question that is being asked. It comes from a deeply ingrained assumption that if it is school, it must be ___________ [boring, tedious, difficult, taxing, mind-numbing, repetitive—you choose]. For some reason, we feel that we must put an official stamp of approval on an activity in order for it to “count” as “school.”

{Come on over to Simple Homeschool to read the rest of my article!} 

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Most Epic Field Trip

Yes, it's true. If all goes according to plan, our family will be heading to France in six months for the most epic field trip ever! We have a l-o-n-g way to go until we get there, but getting these guide books is one of the first steps in making this trip real.

One of the focuses of the trip is to spend a day or two in Normandy. My Uncle Max flew three missions on D-Day, and we want to honor him by visiting the beaches. Of course, this fits in perfectly with our year studying WWII as well as Laurel's year of American history.

We'll also spend a few days in Paris, and I'd like my kids to see Chartres and Versailles. I would also love to visit Monet's garden in Giverny, a trip we didn't make when I was in France as a high schooler.

We have 3 out of 5 passports still to get and lots of planning to do, but this trip is starting to seem more real!

Friday, November 2, 2012

31 Beautiful Things, Day 31: Us

Whew! Finally! I've come to the end of these 31 days. What an incredible challenge this has been. Finding something beautiful every day is a little harder that it sounds. Some days are exhausting. Some days I am pretty sure I just drive someone somewhere all day long. Some days I had to think really hard  about something beautiful.

But here's the thing: at the heart of it all, when I'm tired and crabby and overcommitted, I have this beautiful family. They are all I ever wanted from life. And so I am ending these 31 Days of Beautiful Things with the most beautiful things of all. (Thank you to my friend Donna for taking our first family picture in absolutely years!)

Here are all my beautiful things posts, inspired by The Nester. I'm a couple of days late in finishing up, but still. 31 posts in 33 days? For sure a record for me. Thanks, readers, for sticking with me during this month! We'll be back to the regularly scheduled programming soon!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

31 Beautiful Things, Day 30: Boo

I can't believe we've been going trick-or-treating for 18 of our 19 years of parenting, but there you have it. I can't help but find it a beautiful thing, this long-time tradition stretching from my childhood in upstate New York to Ohio to Iowa and, for most of these years, in Tennessee. I can't even imagine how many conversations of "what should I be for Halloween?" have transpired among my children in these years. We've had bumblebees, firemen, Zorro, Batman, Darth Vader, Ironman, aliens, cowboys, Little Red Riding Hood, fairies, princesses, Pippi Longstocking, and so many more.

To dress up, to get candy, to be in disguise for one night, to feel autumn on their hands and feet and see a big orange moon rising: these kinds of nights I hope they remember as beautiful things.