Monday, January 31, 2011


For weeks, I have been digging in my heels about taking down the Christmas decorations because I love the twinkle lights. As January began to give way to February, however, I realized we needed to go ahead and put away the greenery and the ornaments. One evening, Hubby and I got out the boxes and tubs, and began putting everything yuletide away.

The house still felt cluttered to me. The let-down after a busy week and the sadness I felt by putting away all the pretty decorations prompted me to suggest we rearrange the house in order to make it feel new and fresh for the rest of the winter.

I have always wanted to try using the larger (but darker) front room as the dining room and the smaller, lighter back room as the living room. I like the living room furniture close and cozy; the piano, too, seemed to belong in that place. The table, now that we use it so much for so many homeschool tasks, needed to have more space around it. It should only be a mere few months and we'll need a sixth chair at the table too!



As you can see, the living room area feels much more intimate, while the dining room space has room on all sides of the table to walk and work and sit. The big, open feel of that room gives me a peaceful, clean feeling, and I love the big, wide walkway to the front door.

So far, we love the new arrangement. Curly insists that it feels like a whole new house. Personally, I would not go that far, but I do like the extra light of the additional lamp and I'm enjoying the smaller, cozier living-room nook that gets only deliberate traffic rather than functioning as a though-way for the household.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Interest-Led Learning Highlights

Since I keep a separate, private blog for our unschooly/homeschooly notes and pictures, I rarely post more than the highlights here. But I found out yesterday that my blog got a mention in the Online College site as the record of a Christian Unschooling family. That's pretty nifty, and I figured I should pull a few of the pictures and stories over here as an overview for people who come looking for Unschooly material!

Since Curly is six and Little Mister is four, learning to read is on all of our minds. The other night Daddy practiced words with them using the Apples to Apples game. Not only did they work on sounding out words, but they provided us with moments of absolute hilarity when they came up with definitions for words like "Bruce Springsteen" or "nuclear power plant."

He has also been reading The Hobbit aloud to the whole family. Curly is old enough to really follow the story; Little Mister sit rapturously though the exciting, action scenes. The Bean wanders around trying to grab the book.

With the heavy snowfall a few weeks ago, the two older kids wanted nothing better than to go outside and play in it. Eavesdropping on their imaginative play, I discovered that they were playing off the recent Kipper shows they had watched about friends building an igloo. Their toys even spoke with the British accent like the show.

We've also been sledding a couple of times. During the winter it's difficult to provide enough fresh air and exercise for my family, so I tried to take advantage of the snowfall to get them outside.

Hubby found a site online (Handwriting Practice) where you can put in a phrase and it spits out a lovely handwriting practice sheet to trace. Since Curly, the artistic one, wanted to improve her handwriting, we printed out some fun, personalized sentences and lyrics to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" for her to trace.

Along with writing, Curly has been pestering me to teach her to type, since she wants to be able to log into the Webkins site herself to care for her dinosaur. I told her I'd rather she learn to type correctly now instead of developing habits she would later regret. Thinking of her violin playing, Curly quickly agreed. So we found a kids' typing program online that's produced through the BBC. She and Mister both love going through the lessons and listening to the silly little songs and the end of each.

Instead of coloring books and insisting my children learn to "stay within the lines," I provide them with blank paper and colored pens or markers. I find that their interest and imaginations get quite a bit more stimulation when they make up their own pictures to color.

Lastly, here is a recent post from our Learning Journal:
I scored these math flash cards free from another homeschool mom who was done with them. The kids and I regularly sit on the couch and have a quiz game where they get to keep the cards they get right and I get to keep the ones they don't. I have to say, I have never yet won a game!

I remember drilling math facts in school. I remember the dread with which I looked forward to those worksheets full of addition problems and the horrible timer that went with them. I remember the feelings of frustration and failure that I could NOT seem to ever do the sheets fast enough.

It's so delightful to me to give my kids an enjoyable way to drill math facts. Also whenever they struggle with one, we talk about the best way to approach the problem, whether adding columns, breaking a number into pieces to get to ten, or just plain memorization, like 4+3=7. I had no one to show me tricks like the fact that 9+7 can be easily approached by thinking of it like 9+1+6. It was not until junior high when my best friend was something of a math nerd did I even learn such tricks existed. By then it was too late and I hated math. How sad.

Luckily in college, I had a calculus class that brought me back around and now I'm having a lot of fun with math and my kids. They are picking it up quickly, which is great because we'll have plenty of time to build a solid foundation which will give them the tools they need to be quite successful at higher math and science.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The End of a Long Day

It's been a long day. Curly had a friend over this morning; well, I babysat this little girl while her mom had an appointment, but the girls played, mostly. Then we picked Mister up from Preschool, did lunch, and put the Bean down for a nap. By then the house was a disaster. During nap time I wrote for an hour for my boss, then another hour on my current piece of fiction. I'm surprised at how much creative energy I expend in writing. The Bean got up, the kids played, spreading more toys through the house, covering the table with markers and paper. I washed/dried/folded four loads of laundry and mopped the dining room floor. Then Hubby and I had a date scheduled and friends had planned to swap babysitting with us. But they were late, Bean cried and wouldn't stay, bedtime loomed and our date ended up being 40 minutes at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place.

Now the kids are in bed, the dishwasher is running and this is all I want: a glass of Riesling, a plate of toasted baguettes and some creamy Brie, a little chocolate and the laptop with a DVD in it. I'll flop on the couch with Hubby and we'll both tell each other how tired we are and how we ought to go to bed. Instead, we'll stay up talking and reading books and watching movies and enjoying the quiet of the kid-free, toy-free living room until the clock says it's past midnight. We'll drag our tired selves off to bed and fall asleep listening to a book until the morning comes all too soon and we'll get up to do it all again.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book 1 Recital

After three years of daily practice, after tears and smiles and broken bows, after hard work and joyful accomplishment, Curly had her Book One solo violin recital tonight. 

We chose a venue at a local retirement center and invited only a few of the nearest family members in order to keep it as low-key as we could.  Since she is only six, we felt that the less pressure we could put upon her the better.

My Mom and Dad, who live nearby, came along with Grandma Doris, Dad's mom.
Curly's teacher on the left and her accompanist, on the right.  The two ladies are friends and often play weddings together.  We loved the accompanist, who flew through the music and followed Curly so expertly that even when she messed up, they were able to get right back on track again.


Perpetual Motion, one of Curly's favorites.  She loves the "doubles."

Twinkle, the hallmark of the Suzuki program!

The program lasted about 45 minutes and Curly played fifteen different songs in all; fourteen of the Book One songs and then at the end a fiddle tune with her Daddy on guitar.

Afterward we gathered at Bucer's Coffeeshop to celebrate.

We ordered desserts and gave Curly gifts and flowers and balloons, all red, of course!  She and Mister played a rousing game of Snakes and Ladders

Grandma Doris flirted with The Bean and fed him bites of banana bread, except the one Papa stole!

Neither Papa nor Bean smiled for the camera, but they smiled lots of the rest of the night.

Curly spent her night running around the table trying to get into every picture.  I didn't mind having a quick snuggle before she was off again to eat her cookie.

When Curly's teacher gave her a large lollipop as a gift, Little Mister decided then and there he ought to learn to play violin and have a Book One recital too.

We had a fun evening and I'm so proud of my girlie!  The thing I like the most is that she loves to play, loves the music and had a blast.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Loving Preschool

Little Mister's preschool teacher works so hard to come up with cute crafts to do with the kids. I love all of her ideas!

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Little Mister's face is all smiles as he gets ready to accompany Daddy out the door, Daddy heading to work and Mister to Preschool. Once in a while Daddy takes him early and they stop by the coffee shop downtown where Daddy gets an Americano and Mister gets part of a chocolate chip cookie. Then they play a game of chess or read part of a book together. The one-on-one time with his Daddy and the love and attention have transformed Little Mister this year as he flourishes in his role as a middle child.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quick Carribbean-style Dinner

This was accidental serendipity tonight in my kitchen. Delish!!!

(without the garnish)

Easy Broiled Jerk Chicken

2 chicken breasts, thawed
1/3 stick of butter, in pieces on top
4 tbsp Jerk Sauce, drizzle on top
sprinkling of Montreal Chicken Seasoning

In non-metal baking dish, microwave chicken and butter for 4 minutes. Then add the sauce and spices. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes, then broil until golden brown on top. (Make sure it's cooked though by slicing into the thickest section and check for pinkness.)

White Jasmine Rice

Cook according to instructions with a little added salt. Mold on plate with small dish coated in No-stick or oil.

Spicy Black Beans

1 can black beans, partially drained
1/2 box "Pacific Natural Foods" organic spicy black bean soup

Boil for 30 minutes to thicken, stirring occasionally.

Serve next to rice, spread out on plate under the chicken.

Fried Banana Garnish

Heat vegetable shortening to about 400 (hot deep frying temp)
Carefully set chunks of banana in oil until the outsides are a light golden brown. Remove to paper towel. Serve on top of jerked chicken.

Sibling Friends

Up until this point, Curly has not been a naturally affectionate child. Hugs have been scarce and she was more interested in doing lots of fun things than snuggling. Whether she has reached the magic age of six in which little girls begin forming friendships or whether my emphasis on teaching her to express affection has finally sunk in, I don't know.

I do know that this new cuddly Curly has us all smiling. To be sure her hugs are more often along the lines of a football tackle than a soft, warm, comfortable experience.

Her attachment to her little brother remains strong. More than once she described him as her "best friend." When they are in the middle of World War Three in the basement, I tend to question this description, but I do think overall they are about as close as siblings can be and I delight to see it.

Curly is like me in the intensity of her relationships. I hope my two older children continue their friendship through childhood and into adulthood.

Getting Him Up

I love mornings during the week. The Bean usually takes a morning nap of sorts and gets up around 9:30. This gives me time to do a few chores and check Facebook before he starts to squeak.

When I hear him, I stand at the bottom of the stairs and talk to him.

"Are you awake?" I ask rhetorically.

"Eh!" he replies.

"Do you want me to come get you?" I ask, again rhetorically.

"EEE!!!!" he responds.

So I go up and his delight in seeing me always makes me feel like the Queen of Spain! To him I am the coolest person on the planet at that moment and he bounces and crows with the delight of being awake and alive and nearly free of his crib.

I pick him up and cover him with kisses. Then we have a little routine that involves him pointing at the window, whereupon I carry him to it and he pulls the curtain aside to look for snow.

I tried to take a picture of him getting up. He anticipated the flash of the camera and squeezed his eyes shut even though I did not have the flash turned on.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Prepositional Phrases

Out of the bathroom window
Above my neighbor's house
Beyond the tree
Beneath the clouds
At the request of my daughter
With the camera

I captured...


Friday, January 21, 2011

Cold Sassy Tree

Published in 1984, Cold Sassy Tree narrates life in a sleepy southern town in the slow beginning of the twentieth century. Filled with quirky characters, it still somehow resonates the warmth of memories and family and home and the smell of apple pie.

For me it represents the memory of the man's voice on the radio, his perfect diction caressing every word as if it were a treasure. The book reminds me of the Saturday nights when my family gathered around to listen to the NPR broadcast each week, anticipating what would come next in the unusual story. I remember my dad tuning the radio and then scolding me for being a chatterbox instead of simply listening, drinking in the words of the story. Later in the week, my mom and I would talk about the tale, curious as to what would happen next in that magical hour on Saturday night.

For as long as I can remember I have loved being read to. The sound of my mother's voice reading aloud whatever she happened to be reading at the time punctuates some of my earliest memories. The flow of words, the rhythm, the ebb and flow of consonants and vowels always enchanted me. I love the way they run together into colors and then landscapes and personalities and then into adventures and love and heartache, painting pictures of shipwrecks or gardens or families who never grow old. Of course at an early age I gobbled up printed words as well, but nothing could replace a story brought to life by a talented reader.

Recently I finished The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. The book, although filled with a language as rich as New York Cheesecake, nevertheless was really brought to life for me by the narrator, Caroline Lee. Subtly, she performed the class-defined accent of every British character and her native Australian accent flavored every syllable in between.

There's something magical about a storyteller, a weaver of tales. To discover this enchanted world was a gift I was given as a small child, listening to my mother read. And one pearl that stands out in the necklace of my childhood memories is Saturday nights with my family around the radio, listening to Cold Sassy Tree.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snapshot: Helping With the Dishes

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

Yesterday we took another trip through the glaring snowy sunshine to the Science Center, which is on the other side of the next town, a good 20 minute drive from our house.  Sightseeing along the way includes commenting on a house near us that is being raised to accommodate a new basement and a construction crane on campus.

Little Mister makes a beeline for the tracks when we get to the Science Center.  Then The Bean makes a beeline for him with the evil intent of wrecking his track and making Mister scream and cry.  So I follow him to prevent this and we form a sort of follow-the-leader from the door of the Center to the bin where the tracks live.

The Bean discovered the tub full of lentils where the dinosaur bones are buried.  When I got him home there were lentils in his diaper and lentils stuck to the leftover banana on his shirt.

He flits from place to place, trying each activity.  He discovered that this little egg-shaped chair spins and he begged his sister to twirl him.

She ignored his pleas for constant entertainment and instead worked on an elaborate felt-board story involving a plant cycle.  (The hat, you might notice, is the Night Fury on How to Train Your Dragon.  She wears it constantly so she can pretend she is the dragon.)

Another game they played together was pretending the balls from the Mag-neetos were dragon eggs.  When the eggs hatched, they turned into "chicks" (yellow stuffies from the eek-neeks' bin).  Little Mister, concerned about his baby brother's marauding tendencies, created a sturdy crate for his chicks.

Back at Curly's attempts to finish her story, her absorption attracted the attention of Little Mister who decided she needed some help.  He put the sun into the story which resulted in the sibling version of the Battle of Hastings.  Mommy interfered and a truce was drawn and sun removed again from the story.

The Bean, having succeeded at tearing Little Mister's track apart, went on to investigate the CD player.  He's discovered that the CD player at home not only had interesting buttons to push, but also makes Mommy turn purple when he takes the CD out and covers it with slimy saliva.

Curly inherited her Daddy's circulation, which means her hands and feet constantly feel cold.  Mister, on the other hand stays toasty warm like me.  We decided to find out whether this phenomenon was measurable in a scientific manner.

Since blue was warmest, then green, then yellow and orange, we discovered that yes, Curly does indeed have much colder hands.  She tried warming them up by tucking them under her armpit, but barely succeeded in producing any blue at all, much to her competitive disappointment.

The Bean, not one to be left out of any competition, decided to try his hand as well.  Unfortunately his attention span is about as long as the flash of light when a bulb burns out so we did not have a chance to see how warm his hand print looked.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Err, Ur

It must be a Daddy thing. A Mommy would never do this. At least this Mommy would never do it. But it sure looks fun!

Hubby's dad invented this funny little manoeuvre, which he calls an "Ur," in which he flips a baby from his legs, over his head to land in a little giggling ball on the couch. When I saw him do it with our first child, I nearly had a heart attack. Now I laugh and try to capture the action on camera. Such is the education of a mother.