Monday, November 29, 2010

Getting Back in the Groove After Thanksgiving Break

     We took a week off for Thanksgiving, which is the longest break we've had this year.  I have to admit I was expecting a lot of whining from Anna about having to do school today, but much to my relief she went cheerfully through her work.  I think I was more of a problem, as I have been sick and felt less than motivated. 
     I think the key to keeping Anna motivated and happy with her school is short lessons.  This is the thing about doing CM that makes it seem almost too easy.  Like I've figured out a short cut to teaching.  But it really works; the first fifteen minutes are when they are learning, and after that you are just wasting time. 
    I've got my new Winter Semester schedule up and running.  I still do core curriculum four days a week, but I've added a little more to Friday, since we don't have co-op.  Anna is also now reading all her poetry.  She really enjoys reading poetry, and likes to put it to song, which is pretty cute. 
So, here's how it looks:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Preparing for Advent

     We spent yesterday getting ready for Advent, by making our wreath and making some Advent treats. 
     This year for our Advent wreath I decided to try something a little different, and hopefully easier than I've done in the past.  I got this idea for my sister- to use a styrofoam wreath as the candle holders and also to stick the greenery into.  The only green styrofoam ring I could find was made out of a very tough material, and so I thought it would be best to drill the holes into it.  First, I marked out where I wanted the candles, and then used a 3/4 inch butterfly bit to drill the holes.
     After I drilled the candle holes, I used a small bit to drill randomly placed holes all around, drilled in at an angle.  These are to stick the greenery in.  Then Anna and I collected bits and pieces of greenery from around our yard.

     I used mostly Cyprus, as that is what we have the most of, and also it seemed to lay the best.  I had to poke a few more holes here and there to fill in all the bare spots, as well as more holes for the pine cones that we used to decorate it. 

     As a finishing touch, and also to hold the branches in more, I wrapped a thin white ribbon around it, and then stuck the candles in.  The 3/4 inch hole was perfect for the standard sized taper candles that we use.   I think the ring will be able to be reused year after year. 
     Sometimes I think I like celebrating Advent even better than Christmas.   There's no hype, or unrealistic expectations, just a time to remember that Jesus came once, and will be coming again.  I also like all the symbolism of Advent.  Protestants tend to get away from using any symbolism, and I think that's too bad.  The world is full of secular images, and if you aren't doing anything to contradict that, it can be hard to teach your children to live a life that is different than what the world promotes.
     In our house we do not make believe about Santa Clause, but instead we do things like celebrating Advent to make the Christmas season special.
     This is a very informative web site for learning more about Advent, and other religious holidays.   

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Easy Art Project

     We do art every Monday, and this includes learning about our Artist for the semester, picture study, and also working on our own creative projects.  For this Monday's art project I got the idea to do oil pastel and water color pictures from this Monet inspired project at Art Projects for Kids.
    I chose to do trees instead of lilies, and sent the kids outside while I got everything set up. I drew a tree out-line with a sharpie pen on all three of their sheets, although obviously the twins could care less.

     Anna worked on a sheet of watercolor paper, and the twins had thick drawing paper.  I had blue acrylic paint in a jar, watered down to resemble watercolor, and a selection of green, brown, orange, and red oil pastels in the middle of the table.  Samuel didn't lose any time in getting a big handful of colors to start with.

     Both Abriel and Samuel worked industriously, and only occasionally tried to eat the pastels and grab the jar of paint.

     After Anna was finished with her tree, I gave her a big wash brush, and told her to paint all over her picture.  She looked a little dubious until I explained that the oil pastels repel water, and so the paint would not stick to her drawing.  She liked the cloudy effect it gave her sky.

Then I temporally lost my sanity, and allowed Samuel and Abriel to put a wash on theirs.  (With my help)  Samuel did pretty good...

 Abriel on the other hand did not.  She refused to let me help her, and seemed very into dumping the whole jar of paint on her picture.  It ended in her screaming as I wrestled the paint brush out of her death grip; so I learned my lesson about that. 
    I hung the finished pictures on the wall, where they look very pretty.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lazy Autum Days

     After spending a drowsy afternoon sitting outside, collecting acorns, and soaking up some of the last warm rays of the season, I felt that something should be done with all of these beautiful acorns.  That's when I thought it would be fun to use them as math counter.  How much more fun would it be to count acorns instead of the little plastic bears Anna uses now?  Each little acorn is like a piece of art, alike, and yet with endless variation.

New Binocular Fun

     We got a pair of binoculars to help with birding, and at our first opportunity to use them I see a flock of Cedar Waxwings.  Unfortunately before I can get the binoculars focused, they flew away, so we spent some time looking at stationary objects.  Then Anna runs off with them to go explore.  When she comes back, her face is lit up and glowing, and I can't wait to hear what new delights she's been seeing.  "These things are amazing!", she says.  "I can see our new neighbors just like I'm in their yard!"
Ummm... Not exactly what we got the binoculars for...  I say something about not spying, and she says, "I wasn't spying; just looking."   You got to love kids.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fridays are Free Again!

     Our Homeschool Co-op is through with the Fall semester, and we won't be resuming until the Spring semester (starting sometime in February).  It gives a nice little break; one I felt like I especially needed this year after teaching two classes with a combined amount of twenty-three students.  ( Hats off to class room teachers; it's nothing like teaching your own at home.)  Both were baking classes, for lower and upper elementary. We had lots of fun making many messy deserts, and I decided to give each of my students a cook book that included all the recipes we made together.  I put all the printed recipes into clear page protectors, and bound them in the colorful folders you see here.  After stuffing 276 pages into plastic pockets, I realized just how happy I will be to not have to plan a lesson every week. At least for a little while.  I have already signed up to teach a Nature Class next semester.  Now that ought to be interesting.

Tea Time With Toddlers

     I like tea time.  I find it's a nice little pause between lunch and dinner; a time ti sit down and relax while having a bite to eat and sip some delicious tea.  I love tea.  We don't do it once a day (I tried that once, and it ended up being way more work than it's worth) or even once a week, but I do try to do it at least a few times a month. 
     Today I made a coffee cake on a whim, and decided it would be the perfect accompaniment to some tea.  And since I was feeling adventurous, I decided that instead of giving the twins a sippy cup of milk to drink, I would give them their own tea for the first time.  In their very own breakable tea cups.  Surprisingly enough, no disasters happened, and they just loved being big enough to join us for tea.  They liked the tea better than the cake! 
     Of course there were occasional lapses in manners... but hey, they're one!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How to Make a Suet Log Feeder

     We were reading about Tommy Tit the chickadee in Burgess's Bird Book, and it talked about how he  appreciated the suet that Farmer Brown's boy put out for him, and so we decided to make our own suet feeder. 
     To start with I got a log from where we had cut down a wild cherry sapling.  I clipped off all the little off shoots, and then my husband drilled four holes through it with a 1" butterfly drill bit.   A 1 1/4 " one would have probably worked better, but this was all I had on hand.  The holes are placed: one at the top drilled through the side, two in the middle drilled through the front, and one in the bottom drilled through the side.  I was thankful that Dave did the drilling for me.

Next, I drilled a hole in the top to screw in the eye bolt.  I already had the twine strung through it.  Anna helped screw it into place, using the drill bit for leverage.
Then, I drilled holes right below the feeder holes to insert perches. Using the twigs I had cut off the log in place of dowels, I dropped a bit of glue down in the holes, and Anna hammered the twigs in. 

Next step, making the suet.  Here is the recipe I used:
1 cup shorting
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup pure corn meal
1 cup sugar
3 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup bird seed
Melt the shorting and peanut butter until creamy. ( I set a metal bowl directly on my burner, over low heat) Add the remaining ingredients and stir. 
When it's all mixed up, it will be thick enough to smush it in the holes by hand, if you don't mind being a little messy. 
All finished, and waiting for the birds to discover it!   The left over suet was frozen in a zip lock bag to use for refills.  I can't wait to see what kinds of birds we get!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Make Your Own Toddler Crayon Blocks

My little ones love coloring and crayons, but unfortunately their favorite thing to do with crayons in to peel off the paper and break them into little unusable bits.  After reducing our full crayon box to a few little bits and pieces knocking around, I decided something must be done.  Since depriving my kids (even little ones) of art materials isn't an option; what we needed was a toddler friendly crayon.  The answer? Big chunky crayons with no paper wrappers.  It took me awhile to think of what I could use for a mold, since I wanted block crayons, not circular like you would get by using a muffin tin, and then finally it hit me; my ice cube tray! I never use it anyway; the only reason I bought it was to freeze homemade baby food, which I'm not doing anymore.  Well, I thought since it was plastic that I could just put broken bits of crayon in the tray, and microwave it.  It turns out that crayons are impervious to microwaves.  Who knew?  So I had to melt them first, then pour the wax into the mold.  I love the way they turned out!  They're very smooth and fun to hold, and are really great for coloring in large areas.  The twins love them, and they haven't tried eating them yet!

Laying Down the Rails of Habit

     Habit training is something that makes so much sense, but can be so hard for me to implement.  I love the idea of "laying down rails of habit" for your children.  It goes along with
    Proverbs 22:6 
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
     Unfortunately, I have realized that in order to teach my children positive habits that they can adhere to for the rest of their lives, I myself must unlearn a lot of bad habits of my own.  One of my worst is laying in bed until I absolutely have to get up.  Even with young children, I haven't yet broken myself of this habit.  Sure, I get up with the kids, take care of their needs, then go back to bed!  I don't get any more sleep doing this, since the kids are in and out of bed with me every few second, but what does happen is that they succeed in tearing apart the house while there is no one to supervise them.  There is every reason in the word for me to break this habit, but I keep chugging along those old tracks. 
     Knowing what a hold a bad habit can have on you, it is wonderful to see a good habit forming in your children.  I keep to the same school schedule every day, and now Anna automatically knows that when the babies go down for their nap, it's time to break out the math book.  One day I was right in the middle of something, and so I thought I would start school with Anna after I got finished.    By the time I got ready to do school with her, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she had started on her own, and was more than halfway through with her lessons that day!  
     Being more attentive to the formation of habits, has made me realize just how much work I need in this area, but it is better late than never, and eventually new tracks will get laid.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What to do with an old box.

    A few years ago I made a little box to put Anna's blocks in.  I just used some scrap material we had on hand, and screwed it together.  Since then, the box has been abundantly scribbled on, had old pealing stickers stuck on it, and etc.  It was looking pretty bad, but I didn't really care since it's just a box to hold blocks in.  But last Christmas my Father made Samuel a beautiful set of blocks, and my Mother made a big bag to hold all of them, so I put all of the blocks in the much more attractive bag.  But what to do with the box?  I decided it was the right shape to hold our kids movies in, to help keep them accessible but organized.  So this scrappy little box has been sitting on my TV cabinet since.  When you're used to looking at something, it's easy to not see it's faults, but the other day I looked up there and thought, you know, I bet I could sand those scribbles off and make it look a lot better. So I did, and then I thought I'd paint something on it, and so I did.  The result is this.
     If you're thinking that the painting looks familiar, that's because I copied Gyo Fujikawa's illustration from A Child's Book Of Poems.  There is something about that crocodile that appeals to me.  I think a lot of it is the colors.  I had to alter the picture a little to make it fit on the box, but I like the end result.  It was fun just copying someone else's art; I haven't done that in years.  I used watered down acrylic paint to try to copy the pastel look of the original.  Considering I was working with completely different materials, I think I copied it pretty closely.  What do you think?  This was my Homeschool Holiday project.

I love Homeschooling Because...

...Because, Abriel was up sick half the night before, and I really didn't feel like spending their nap time teaching Anna like I usually do.  So I didn't.  I declared today a holiday, and Anna and I spent our school time doing relaxing activities.
      Anna built a fantastic Lego house, complete with a fenced in back yard with a picnic table, grill, and garden.
     The great thing is that I know I will be able to catch up all the missed work durring the rest of the week, no problem, but today I got to relax for a couple of hours, and work on a project of my own. More on that later.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Toys I Love

     Here's my top five favorite toys based on what my kids love and play with, and also that I just really like.  These aren't in any particular order; just what comes to mind first.
#1 Folkmanis Puppets.  These are some of the most beautiful stuffed animals I have seen, and they have the bonus of being puppets as well.  All my kids love them, and I don't think you can ever grow out of them.  I know my nieces who are 10 and 12 still play with theirs.
#2 Lego's.  I loved them as a kid, and still love them. Now Anna spends hours playing with hers.  She likes to build a house, and then use it like a doll's house for hours of play.
#3 Lee Middleton Play Babies.  My sister got two of these for her daughters one Christmas, and I fell in love.  Lee Middleton Dolls are beautiful collectors dolls that are not meant to be played with by children, but a few years ago they came out with their "Play Babies" line, that are designed for children.  Last Christmas I got Anna and Abriel ones.  Anna's is designed for children about six or older, since it has wigged hair.  It is beautiful, and she is now known as "Lizzie".  Abriel's doll is designed for children one year or up, and for that reason is bald, but she has a very soft body, and I was able to get a brown eyed one that looks like Abriel. It's hard to find fair skinned brown eyed baby dolls.
#4  Books.  OK, I know these aren't technically toys, but my kids get one every Christmas, and they are definitely good for hours of entertainment.  Anna has a large bookshelf full of them, and the babies have a little one.  The babies can't get enough of them right now, so they make great car toys.  Anna gets car sick though, so even though she brings books along to read, it isn't long before she starts looking green.
#5 Stacking cups.  I didn't have a set of these with Anna, so I don't know if it's just the twins who are so gaga over them, but they play with these more than any one toy.  They "cook" with them, carry things around, have tea parties, and of course, stack them.  They have a plastic set right now, and I am getting them a pretty wooden set for Christmas.

     What should be on this list, but isn't yet is a truck.  Samuel has a few, and he loves them, but I haven't found one that I am really happy with yet.  His favorite one is probably his wooden fire truck, and it's OK, but it has rubber tire treads that keep falling off, and the ladder never stays on.  The quest for the perfect truck continues.
     One of the things that the kids are getting for Christmas that I can't wait to see myself, is a 9 foot long rainbow play silk.  Anna is a fort building fanatic, and so I think this will be perfect for that.  A really marvelous invention to aid in fort building are play clips.  However they are expensive, but luckily I am pretty sure I can make some myself.  Which is how I really economise for Christmas; I make presents for the kids, which are really my favorite toys.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What makes a good toy, a good toy?

     I have a love-hate relationship with toys.  Good, well made toys are a delight that you never grow too old to enjoy; cheap plastic toys that easily break, and then clutter up your house for forever because your daughter loves everything and can't bare to part with even the most awful piece of junk- well, let's just say hate isn't a strong enough word. 
     Christmas brings it's own particular set of challenges, since I don't like buying cheap toys, yet I don't have the money to buy lots of expensive ones.  Now that we are buying toys for three kids, it's an even bigger challenge.  Notice I said "challenge" not "problem", since that's really what it is.  How to get the most play for the least money.   In order to do this, I first try to figure out what my children really love and play with the most, and then work my Christmas list around that.  I also have a few criterias that a toy must meet.
 They are:
#1 It must have aesthetic appeal.  This is particularly true for dolls. There might be no such thing as an ugly baby, but there are plenty of ugly baby-dolls. Think Cabbage Patch dolls.
#2 It must be well made.  A toy might be awfully cute, but if it breaks it's not a good investment. I also like the way well made stuff looks and feels. It's something I would want in my home.
#3 It must encourage open ended play.  A good example of the opposite of this, is a toy I saw advertised the other day.  It was a pig that you could "feed" until it's tummy popped out.  And then that's it.  Who comes up with an idea like that anyway?
#4 It can't be annoying.  I don't care how much the kids love it, if it spontaneously starts beeping or talks at all, it will end up in the trash.
#5  It has to be age appropriate. This is something I have learned the hard way.  It might be the greatest thing ever, but if your child isn't ready for that particular toy or activity, it's will frustrate your child or end up broken, or both. 
     So that's it! Five things a toy must be before it makes the cut.  Monday I will write a post on my favorite toys, as well as ones on my, umm... I mean my kids, wish list for this Christmas.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


     Paddle-to-the-Sea is the book that we have been studying for geography this year.  I love it.  The illustrations are beautiful, and I love the tips he gives for remembering the outlines of the Great Lakes.  For instance, Lake Superior looks like a wolf's head, and Lake Michigan looks like a gourd, since it's surrounded by farming country. 
     We have been slowly going through the book, doing only one chapter a week to let the material really soak in.  Going slowly is part of Charlotte Mason's methods for retaining information, and goes against my natural grain.  If I like something, I want to completely immerse my self in it, living and breathing whatever it is until I am completely sick of it.  I am learning the value of taking things a step at a time. 
     Geography would not be complete without maps, and for that we use a blank map from Beautiful Feet Books.  The maps they have to accompany the Holling C. Holling books are lovely.  They are big, thick and cream; you can't beat that.
What is it about cream paper that makes it seem better?  Right now Anna is slowly painting and labeling her map; it's looking very pretty.  The only thing I don't like about the map, is that it stops before the paper ends, so you don't really know when to stop coloring it in.  I think they should have at least drawn the coast line all the way down, so that the Atlantic doesn't over flow into the mid- Atlantic states.  I thought I was the only person bothered by things like this, but it bugs Anna too.  I am thinking of penning it in myself.
     All in all though, I am really enjoying going through Paddle-to-the-Sea.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nature Study with a Bit of Science

      This is a little bit of art and science mixed in with nature study, but I thought it would be a fun way of demonstrating what is (or was) going on with the trees right now.  I got the idea from a book I have called Why Do Leaves Change Color? In the book a squirrel talks about how in the spring when a tree gets it's leaves it starts making it's own food, called chlorophyll.  Chlorophyll is what gives leaves their green color.  In the fall, when the days start getting shorter, the trees don't have enough sunlight to to generate enough energy to continue to make chlorophyll, and the leaves begin to die.  The green chlorophyll breaks up and disappears, and what is left are the colors that were there all along, but were covered up by the green. 
     To demonstrate this, I drew out leaf outlines and then had Anna paint them red, orange, and yellow.  When that dried, she painted green on the upper half.  All three leaves have the same shade of green painted on them, but the different colors underneath make the green appear to be different shades.  So, in the summer when you see a tree with light green leaves (like a tulip tree) you can know that in the fall that tree will turn yellow.  Our black oak has very dark green leaves, and in the fall it turns burgundy.  (The leaf out lines were traced from a black oak leaf.) 
     The reason for the poorly executed cursive is that I have been trying to write out things for Anna in cursive more often, so that she will get used to reading it, and in doing so I have realized that my cursive needs some serious help.  Not exactly like our Zaner-Bloser example page.  It's not even strait.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Anna's Birthday

      I've never been one to go all out for birthdays; the fact that all of my children were born in yucky weather months probably has something to with it, as well as always being an a budget that doesn't include spending hundreds on a party.  However, I always try to do what I can to make birthdays a special event.  This year for Anna that meant having her cousins over, making her a fun "Happy Birthday" banner, and letting her decorate her own cake.  The banner idea I got from "Pink and Green Mama's" blog. Her's was made out of felt, but since I was running low in time, I made Anna's out of construction paper.  I would like to make a felt one that I can reuse every year for all of their Birthdays. 
     I always make and decorate my own cakes; it's very fun thinking up the theme, and then decorating it, but this year Anna said she wanted to decorate her own cake.  She wanted a "Fall" cake- blue with orange leaves.  I was impressed with her design; it sounded like it could be beautiful, so I suggested that she cut the leaf shapes out of fruit roll ups (a pretty good idea, if I do say so myself) but she wanted to do it her way.    So I stepped back and let her do her thing, which was surprisingly hard for me.  I made the cake (pumpkin for Fall) and mixed up the icing (cream cheese), but she was in charge of the rest.  Like me, she hates the taste of food dye, so she didn't want the colors too dark.  I wrote "Happy Birthday" and did some piping around the bottom, and she did the rest. It turned out very nice.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Time Outdoors

    The past few days I've been feeling winter creeping in on us, as the beautiful crisp days of October have turned into the cold soggy days of November.  I must admit, I am dreading winter this year, not just for the cold, but because with the cold means more time inside.  There will probably be a lot of days that we wont be able to go out at all.  The girls will be fine with this, but Samuel needs to be outside at least some every day.  He is never more content than when he is playing around in the dirt, or some other busy outside task he has found.  And he is never more discontented on rainy days when he can't go out at all. Then he's a terror. I'd hate to raise a child like Samuel in a city.
     Charlotte Mason advocated getting out even in rainy weather, and where as I don't see anything wrong with this per se, I just don't particularly like going out in the rain. Especially winter rain.  I wonder if Miss Mason did, or just recommended it for other people.  At this point in time I can't send the twins out even if there are puddles on the ground, as they drink out of puddles.  It's embarrassing, particularly in public, but I can't seem to break them of it.  Maybe they'll grow out of it before winter hits in earnest... Maybe.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Our Island Story - St. Alban

I love finding good pictures to go with Our Island Story, since the copy we own is not illustrated.  I thought I would share a couple I found for the story of St. Alban, for those of you who are going through Our Island Story as well. They're a little gory, but so is the story...

Pumpkin Carving

     I've carved a pumpkin every October since I've been married.  Last year was the only year I didn't.  I just didn't have the energy to do anything extra, but I missed my tradition.

    This year however, the babies were old enough to "help", and it was something we could all do together.  As the twins are approaching two, they are able to be a bigger part of our family activities, and taking their own roles in our family.  I'm starting to get a sense on how it is to be the mother of more than one child.

For instance, when it was time to clean out the pumpkin, I just cut off the top, and let the kids go at it.  I didn't feel compelled to be down there with them, because I knew they were having fun doing it themselves.  It has freed me from being a play mate to Anna, and can enjoy just being a mommy. 

     I am looking forward to when the twins can fully participate in everything we do, and become friends for each other and Anna. In many ways they already are.  This morning while Anna was watching TV, Samuel walks up to her and taps her shoulder; she says "what?", and he gives her a big hug.  Sometimes sisters just need hugs.

  Our finished "buppy", as Abriel calls it.

Monday, November 1, 2010


     Well, I did get my Raggedy Ann and Andy for Halloween, and they looked adorable.  We went out for a little trick or treating, and then to Awanas for their Halloween themed night. 

Anna was a Princess, of course.  Although I think this might be the last year she wants to be one, as she seems to be growing out of loving all things princessy.


Here is Anna wearing her mask.  I guess she wanted to give her costume a feel of mystery, so she asked that I make a mask to go with her outfit.  The hat and mask are made from poster board, and were a cinch to make.

Samuel with his Daddy.  He was a little intimidated by everyone's costumes, a football player in particular, for some reason.  Unbelievably, both Samuel and Abriel kept their wigs on for more than a few seconds.  If I had a little more time I would have made their wigs so that they wouldn't gap, but I thought that there would be no way I would be able to keep them on anyway.  Maybe all the oooing and ahhing over how cute they were helped. They do like to be cute.