Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry, Merry Christmas!

Well, I'm back and I'm really happy that I am. After a week of steroid infusions my symptoms are improved, although not quite back to normal, but much, much better! I'm walking on my own. I had to use a walker for two weeks. My reading and writing are back to normal. I actually went a few days where I was suddenly dyslexic. During this time everything I said was slurred. I also went a day where I couldn't remember my children's names. That was my lowest point. I have always been a pretty upbeat person, but I experienced horrible depression during that time. This was my worst flare up and one of my weirdest. I lost all sense of taste, balance, feeling on one side of my face, and I had double, blurred vision.  My taste isn't completely back and I still have blurred vision, but those are easy to live with. I feel like myself again!
Instead of Thanksgiving dinner at our house, which would have been too much even with the family helping, we spent the day at the Unitarian Universalist Church we attend. It was lovely. Ethan made two awesome pumpkin pies to take and our favorite mashed potatoes . With my husband and Peter working, Ethan became my caregiver during my flare. He did all the cleaning, dishes, laundry, cooking, and childcare. I'm so grateful for him. I don't know how we would have coped without him. He found out he really likes to cook, and says he might some day take some cooking classes. He, like Max, has aspergers. He experiences extreme anxiety when he's in crowds so that makes college classes impossible at this point. Hearing him say he might consider cooking classes is a big step.
We celebrated Chalica at the beginning of December. It really just entailed a lot of discussions about UU principles with Bess. I'm thinking about ways we can create a more fleshed out experience for next year.
My husband was hired by AT&T a couple of weeks ago in tech support. After trying unsuccessfully for months to get a job in his field, hospital administration, we're over the moon he has a job. He starts in January.
All in all, life is good. MS bites, but we're coping. As Bess' book from BookShark says It Could Always Be Worse.

Until Next Time and the Happiest of Holidays to All of You!

(And Thank you to Jessica McCarthy for taking the time to leave me a kind comment on my last blog post. It came at a particularly low point and was much appreciated!)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Taking a Blogging Break

I wanted to thank all of you who have read my little blog. I've really enjoyed this. It's fun talking about homeschooling to someone even if they're anonymous. It saves my poor husband from my blathering. He's wonderfully responsive even when I know he couldn't give a rat's behind about curriculum.
 "Should I teach Latin this year?"
 "Sure sounds good."
 "Should I buy our books piecemeal or support the curriculum company?"
 "What do you think?"
 "Should I teach them leprechauns exist and the world was created five years ago?"
 "Yep.I support you."  
And he does support me. He's kind and loving, just not a curriculum junkie like I am. And I'm beyond happy I have my "curriculum-makes-my-eyes-glaze-over-husband". I've really had to rely on him for everything these last two months. My MS went into overdrive and I am having a whole lot of symptoms .Hopefully my new medication will resolve some of them.
So now we get to why I'm having a blogging break. I can barely type right now. I'm usually a pretty good typist(one of the few useful things I learned from public school),but recently I have been having trouble typing. I have to one-finger type and my hands are really clumsy.  I end up accidentally spelling everything wrong . It takes forever. These two paragraphs have taken 40 minutes. I know my family would help me, but I write better on my own.
So I hope to be back soon. I'll still be reading homeschool blogs, just not writing my own for a while.
I really hope you all enjoy your holidays! I wish you all well. Thank you for reading!
Until Next Time!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Goodbye, October!

Halloween was mostly wonderful. I did take a nasty fall on our front walk. I think it might be time for a temporary cane. MS -- I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. But the rest of the holiday week was wonderful. My witch and dragon attended two Halloween parties and had an "Awesome Time!!!"
It was really cold for Halloween and a little rainy, but that just meant more candy since there were fewer kids willing to brave the elements. They probably went trick or treating at the mall. I refuse to do that. I think talking to the neighbors is a huge part of the holiday.
We always wait until Halloween day to carve our jack o' lantern, rather than watch it slowly droop and draw fruit flies, and then fight about who has to stick the candles into the smelly carcass. Plus I love having the house scented by roasting pumpkin seeds on Halloween. I'm addicted to the things. And since they're full of fiber and the kids love them, I feel like it cancels out some of the unhealthiness of the holiday. At least that's what I tell myself as my 6 yr old tries to cram three Milky Ways at once  into his mouth. A handful of seeds makes up for a thousand calories of sugar, right? Right? Let me live with my delusions.
Now it's time to put up the Thanksgiving decorations and plan our dinner. I'm actually making a turkey this time since we're no longer vegans. I have to locate my old recipe for brining the turkey which resulted in a juicy, not dry bird. I always look forward to cooking with the whole family, watching the Macy's parade, and avoiding Black Friday shopping. Both my husband and Peter have to work Black Friday which means we might have to eat our dinner the day before so that they can rest up for the overnight shift. But as long as people get their cheap piece of crap from China, I guess our family time is of little significance.......and yes, I'm slightly bitter.
But we'll make the most of it.  That seems to be our family motto these days.

I hope you and your family had a lovely Halloween! Until Next Time!

Saturday, October 11, 2014


I guess it won't come as a surprise that I love fall since I've never changed my blog header from our tree's autumn foliage. It's 80% love of fall color and 20% laziness.
We're getting really excited about Halloween! Max and Bess have been busy putting up our decorations this week.

I don't know what it is about fall, but as soon as it's here I instantly go into soup-making-mode. I don't know why. It's just beginning to get cool in our part of the country. Nevertheless, we're eating soup. This week I made Midwest Chowder and Cream of Broccoli-Cheese Soup, both of which were really good. Next up, Chicken and Dumplings. While not a soup, it still seems right for this time of year.
And yes, I said Chicken and Dumplings. Our vegan and vegetarian days are at an end. After my last visit to the hospital, I found out, along with my MS symptoms, I'm extremely anemic. I'll be on mega doses of iron for at least 6 months. To be honest, it didn't really come as much of a surprise. I've been so tired and often depressed for a few months. I just didn't feel right. I'm not blaming our diet completely; there are plenty of vegetarian options for iron, but I always had so much energy as an omnivore, and I didn't as a vegan. When I discussed this with the family, my husband and Ethan admitted they had been overly tired as well and craving meat for a while. So our five years as vegans and a few months as vegetarians are over. It was a hard decision. We love animals. Hell, we don't even kill spiders if we don't have to. Charlotte's Web and James and the Giant Peach made all the kids staunch protectors of spiders. But I am convinced now that we are meant to be omnivores. I could give you all the reasons, but if there's one thing vegans hate it's former vegans who claim health reasons for eating meat, dairy, and eggs. I know, because it used to annoy me too. So I won't add to that. It's not an argument I want to have. I'll just say, this is a choice we're making for our family. It's our choice. Actually, that's pretty close to what I say to people who question homeschooling, so I've had practice.

What We're Reading This Week

Bess is reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Max is "reading" The Lego Adventure Book 2 for about the thousandth time. I'm reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Bess and I just read the chapter on the Trojan War in A Child's History of the World from BookShark, so we're following that with Tales from the Odyssey by Mary Pope Osborne.

What We're Crafting

I'm working on Bess' Halloween costume. She's going to be a witch this year. I found a $3 hat at Target along with a $3 broom. She and I are making a no-sew tutu with spiderweb pattern mesh cloth. We're using a fabric pen to draw stripes on a pair of old tights. I think it's going to be pretty neat. I'm surprised. I'm not very crafty. My Halloween projects usually end with me saying, "Who wants to go to the store and just buy one of these?"

What We're Watching

Fireplace for the Home on Netflix. This is what we poor non-fireplace-owners do when the rest of you lucky people are scenting the neighborhood with the wonderful smell of firewood burning. It's not quite the same but it's not bad.

My next posts will be a review of Horizons Math and of BookShark 1 mid-year. We're at the halfway point, 18 weeks of 36. Since every time I even say the word BookShark my page views increase exponentially, I thought a review might be helpful for those considering the program. Spoiler Alert: We love it. However, I know it wouldn't work for every family, so I'll make sure to give an in-depth look at the curriculum.

I hope you're enjoying the fall weather as much as we are! Until Next Time!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Banned Books Week

This is one of my favorite weeks! I absolutely love it. We read a bunch of great books and laugh about what people have found offensive. Captain Underpants was the most challenged book of 2013. It boggles the mind! We love that series! I have never understood why people feel the need to make decisions for everyone about what is appropriate or not to read. Our library has tons of books I wouldn't let my children read, but that's a choice I make for MY family, not yours. Here's an idea. Pay attention to what your kids bring home from the library. Problem solved.
Here's a link to information about Banned Books Week.

We're starting off by reading Where The Wild Things Are for Max.
Yes, that was banned too. And then on to A Wrinkle in Time for Bess, also banned. Sigh.

What Were Cooking-- Midwest Chowder, so delicious and simple to make. With the weather cooling, it feels perfect for soup making. We serve it with Soft White Dinner Rolls. This is a really easy recipe  for bread. A child could do it. Hmm. Maybe it's time to teach Bess to make rolls....

What Were Creating--Homemade Paper Lanterns. I'll post a picture when we're finished.

What We're Watching--They Might Be Giants:Here Comes Science

 What I'm Watching--The Korean drama My Lovely Girl.

What I'm Reading--For my Banned Books Week selection I'm rereading To Kill A Mockingbird. I never tire of it. It's perfection.

So that's what's on the docket for this week. We're planning on plenty of fall walks, too. I'm sure Bess and Max will have our house overflowing with found acorns and pine cones soon.
I hope you have a great week!

Until Next Time!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Simplifying Our Schedule

I realize I've been neglecting my little blog recently. I was in the hospital for three days last week following a pretty serious MS flare up. I'm doing better now, and other than being really tired from the infusion treatments, I'm feeling pretty well. The one good thing to come out of that mess was that I had 3 days to stare at the ceiling and think. I couldn't read because my eyesight was blurry, and for someone who hates cable there's not much else to do but think. And being the boring homeschool mom I am, most of my thinking was school related. So here's what the hospital drop ceiling tiles revealed to me.--- I Need to Simplify Our School Day. We Are Doing Too Much.
Bess, at 7, is really smart and is the "perfect" student. Other than occasional grumbling about math, she will sit at a desk as long as I ask her to and do her work, and work hard at it, and then follow up by reading history and science books for fun. But now I think, I've been piling too much on. Just because she can do it, doesn't mean she should. She learns so much on her own from reading and her own projects, there's really no reason to schedule so many "extras".
So here are the rules I've outlined for myself for this year.

Trust in the Program
BookShark is a solid program. There's no reason to supplement so much. Bess as a second grader has learned more history and geography than I learned in any one year of public school. Plus she loves the curriculum, so she retains most of what she's learned. What we read for fun is supplement enough.

Trust in Bess' Choices
Bess is doing enough "extra" on her own already. She is constantly throwing down bits of knowledge she's gained. Recently a discussion by our older two about the Thor movies led to Bess leading a family talk about Norse gods. This is par for the course with Bess and it's almost always from books she's chosen herself. Sometimes it's inspired from initial BookShark readings. She chooses enough good non-fiction to balance her fiction selections. She is a capable selector of books. I need to remember that.

Just Because Bess is Capable of More Doesn't Mean She Needs More
I don't ever want to destroy Bess' love of learning. I think if I keep her on the path I'd initially set for the year, I just might do that. We don't need to formalize art. We enjoy making art and reading art books often. That's enough for now. Learning Korean was probably more a whim than an actual desire on her part. So that's on the chopping block too. Grammar can wait until next year. Latin also. Supplementing geography is completely unnecessary. BookShark has more than enough built in. Piano lessons are gone. She hated them. Learning to code, that's finished(what was I thinking?).
We won't ever be unschoolers. It's not our learning style. But we learn enough from spontaneous projects, outings, and reading that we are educating ourselves enough to have much of our learning feel child-led. I need to trust that.

Keep Extracurricular Activities to a Minimum
It's been a difficult year, and I need a rest. I don't want to be constantly going from one activity to another. We're limiting Bess to 4 extracurricular activities per week (2 are on the same day at the same location). Ballet, Science and Storytime at the library, and Brownies will be it. Max is easy. He doesn't enjoy any organized activities at this point.

Max Will Have Only Two Subjects This Year
Reading and Math and playing are more than enough for Max. He needs down time and I don't want to frustrate him. We recently had him tested and his IQ results led me to believe he was capable of so much more. I suddenly felt compelled to have my startlingly smart boy on the fast track to genius-ville. However, Max needs less, not more. He needs time to be a kid, relax, and work on dealing with the world. So for the time being, I'm buying building games and puzzles, and every Lego we can afford. He's happy. That's enough for now.

This is what I'm cutting from my plans---Evan Moore 6-trait Writing, Critical Thinking Company's Editor-in-Chief, Evan Moore Daily Geography Practice, Zaner-Bloser Spelling, Typing Instructor for Kids, Khan Academy, piano lessons, all formal art instruction, all foreign language instruction, handwriting for Max, formal science instruction for Max. 
It feels freeing just to list everything we're not doing this year.

As a reminder to myself for the future.....I've made out a five year plan for Bess. I fully expect the plan to change over the years, but this will remind me to keep things simple. Max has a one year plan at this point, as he's kind of the wild card. Time will only reveal how we'll educate Max to fit his style of learning. I'd need a crystal ball and flux capacitor to figure out Max's future educational arc.

Why five years? Because that's how many boxes I had on my graph. Seriously. I'm too lazy to make another graph. I've been shoving my plans onto this same graph outline for years!

So that's my epiphany. If you also need an awakening, whether spiritual or educational(and in graph form!), may I recommend hospital ceiling tiles. Their wisdom is endless. At least that's what they told me when I was hopped up on pain killers.

Until Next Time!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Great Giveaway from Moving Beyond the Page

FYI: By posting about this giveaway I'm getting an extra entry into the drawing. (I will always tell you if my positive reviews end up with me getting free or discounted stuff.)

How to enter to win: Simply comment on the August 2014 giveaway and you are entered. You can earn up to five more entries by sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Google+profile, Pinterest, or by reviewing on your personal blog, as I am doing. You have to go back to Secular Homeschool and comment with links to your share or review. And of course you have to be a Secular Homeschool Community member. But why wouldn't you be? It's an awesome place!

We used Moving Beyond the Page for one semester when my daughter was five. It was right after our Connections Academy disaster, and I wanted something hands on and fun for Bess. She loved it! We used Age 5-7: Environment Concept. It added a new layer to our nature walks in the woods. She understood so much more about habitats and homes, weather, and our place on the planet. I felt our discussions were much more in depth, and yet the curriculum wasn't too difficult to implement. I was very impressed. We probably would have stayed with MBtP if it hadn't been for the fact that Bess needed much more reading than is offered. So on to Sonlight, and then BookShark. But I have been thinking quite a bit about how MBtP would be perfect for Max. It's hands on with lots of discussions. I really think it would be just the thing for my more hands-on learner.
I have heard people complain about the price of MBtP, but really I think it's a really good price for what one gets. I like that one can buy just one concept to try out, not a full year, and for those really strapped for cash, most of the books can be found at any good library.
The customer service is better than any company from which I've ordered. They are quick to answer questions, helpful, polite, and seem sincere in the wish to make sure you have everything you need for a great school year.
So sure, I hope I win the contest. But I'd happily give this review without free stuff. I never regretted our purchase.
I wish good luck to all who enter!

Until next time!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Our Busy Week and a Few Links to Fun Stuff

We are experiencing some busy and stressful days, lately. I've been hoping to have time to review a couple of things here, but I can't seem to gather enough coherent thought to actually write any reviews. Hopefully by next week.  Of course, the world is trembling in anticipation to read my tedious thoughts on math curriculum.

Our biggest concern, this week, is Max. He is scheduled for a procedure at the hospital in two days. To say it will be epic and terrible is not me being a drama queen. When neurotypical children are afraid of the hospital, one can reason and comfort them through their fears. With Max, reason is impossible. The question is How many health professionals will he kick and hit before the day is through? We are trying to prepare him as well as we can, but I doubt it will have any bearing on his behavior. He's a kid who screams during baths, and can't even have his hair combed without yelling. The sensation of baths and combs feels like real pain to him. This procedure will involve actual pain combined with a place he is unfamiliar with and strangers with needles. I would do anything to spare him this trip to the hospital. I hate for my sweet, little guy to go through this, but it's necessary. To make up for everything, we are throwing our frugality in the toilet to buy him a huge, ridiculously expensive Lego set he's been coveting. Mom Guilt: Making children's dreams come true since the beginning of time...

But enough worry and complaining. Here are a few links to cool stuff I found this week.

Bess is nuts about anything to do with ancient Egypt and archaeology, so I thought it would be fun to try out this Mummification of Barbie. That's the plan for next week.

Since the kids have been begging me for a big, crafty project, I thought we'd also try this Geometric Art project. Both of them love painting, and the weather has been cool enough so we might be able to do this outdoors.

We're about to read The Great Wall of China which came with our BookShark curriculum.

We've chosen to make our own Styrofoam Great Wall. Max and Bess are super excited. If Max has anything to do with it, many brave Lego men will die in battle on top of that wall.

And here's one last link: One family's BookShark Box Day on youtube. I love box day even when it is someone else's. I'm looking forward to more BookSharkers posting videos. Yes, BookSharkers is a word, despite what spell check says. As Bess is fond of telling me, when she makes up words, "I wrote it, so it's a word." Hard to argue with that logic.

Until Next Time!

Friday, July 18, 2014

This Week

We've been on a break for a couple of weeks as we get ready for the new school year. Since we homeschool year round, it won't be a major change for us except we'll be using quite a few new materials. Bess and Max are pretty excited about the boxes of new books arriving. They're stalking the mailman every day.

We are reading together: Lenny and Mel, Lenny and Mel's Summer Vacation, and Lenny and Mel After-School Confidential All of them are really funny. They were favorites of my older kids, and it's fun to reread them with Max and Bess.

Bess is reading: The Geronimo Stilton Series I,Tut:The Boy Who Became Pharaoh, and Pippi Longstocking.

Max is enjoying: The Legos Ideas Book and Calvin and Hobbes.

I'm rereading: Better Than School and Teach Your Own. I always find it helpful for me to start the school year by reminding myself why we homeschool. Both these homeschool classics do just that.

We're watching: Pororo the Little Penguin in Korean. Since Bess is beginning Korean this year, I thought it would be a fun introduction to the language as we wait for her curriculum to arrive.

I'm watching: Fated to Love You(Korean Version) with Ethan, and impatiently waiting for the new episodes to be released. It's such a fun show!

We've had beautiful weather this week, cool and almost mosquito-free, which is so unusual for our part of the mid-west during summer. We've been spending most of our days outdoors with friends. Once the heat and humidity return, we'll be stuck inside again. But for now, we're enjoying running through the sprinkler, going to the park, and hiking in the woods.

Until Next Time!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Homeschool Plans 2014-2015

Yay! It's one of my favorite times of the year. Curriculum planning! This year my planning is somewhat more stressful, because my husband just began a new job and our cash flow is a little slow. Molasses slow.
So I'm a little crazier than usual. I had a dream in which a big box was delivered to our house and when I opened it, instead of books, it was full of pickles. Bess turned to me with a sad expression and said,"How will I get into college if I only learn about pickles?"
We have been making pickles this week, so it's not all curriculum anxiety, but I am a little worried I'll make the wrong choices on a budget that doesn't leave much room for mistakes.
However, I made pretty good decisions last year, so I should be pretty confident about this year's choices.

So here's the plan:

Bess is 7 and will be in second grade. She will be learning:

For History:
The second half of BookShark 1 History. We will order BookShark 2 History and Science in January.

For Reading:
We will continue using BookShark 2 Intermediate Readers, ordering the advanced readers later.

For Math:
Horizons Math 2
Mathtacular 2
Math in a Flash
Math Analogies Beginning

For Language Arts:
Evan-Moore Daily 6-Trait Writing, Grade 2
Critical Thinking Company's Editor in Chief

For Geography(besides what we learn with BookShark):
Evan-Moore Daily Geography Practice, Grade 2

For Handwriting:
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting, Grade 2

For Spelling:
Zaner-Bloser Spelling, Grade 2

For Typing:
Typing Instructor for Kids

For Art:
Discovering Great Artists
Great American Artists for Kids
Various Artist Biographies
Child Size Masterpieces
Art Projects

For Foreign Language:
Yes, You Can Speak Korean 1
All About Korea:Stories, Songs, Crafts, and More 
Dino Lingo-Korean 

Bess will also be receiving German instruction from her grandmother(a retired German Professor). We haven't made a decision on curriculum yet.

For Music(with lessons from our son, Ethan):
Piano Adventures Lesson Book, Primer Level
Piano Adventures Performance Book, Primer Level

Max is 6, and will be doing mostly kindergarten work, but is technically in 1st grade. He has some learning challenges from autism. He will be learning:

For Math:

Horizons Math K
Addition Songs

For Reading:
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons(we're part way through this book)
Developing the Early Learner, Books 1-4

For Handwriting:
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting K

For Science:
Let's Read and Find Out Science Books(various titles)
Magic School Bus Science Kits

Max will also be listening in on any BookShark titles which interest him, and doing any art projects I plan for Bess.
We'll supplement with lots of read-alouds for both of them.


If you've read this far(without dying of boredom),it might seem that I've over-scheduled Bess, and under-scheduled Max. However, I'm pretty sure I've planned out the right amount for each of them. Bess loves to learn, unless it's math, and is always asking for more to do. Learning Korean was her idea, probably inspired by my love of K-dramas. If we don't rush it, I'm sure learning two languages won't be too difficult for her. As for Max, he spends so much time having me read to him, I feel he's soaking up a lot of information. If I push school too much, he shuts down and refuses to do anything.

I'm excited about our curriculum selections, and as long as we don't receive a box of pickles, we should have a very fun and productive homeschool year.

Until Next Time!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

BookShark: First Impressions

BookShark Gr.1 History and Read-Alouds
I'll probably be writing a more detailed post later about our new BookShark materials, but I thought I would give my first impressions now.
The reason we ordered BookShark in the first place is because we've used Sonlight for the past few years, and have really loved it. BookShark is Sonlight, but secular. Book-based learning is definitely our family's favorite way to learn, and Sonlight does an excellent job of combining literature, history, and geography. I'm still convinced it can easily be used by a secular family. I wrote a post about that before.
So why bother to order a secular version at all?

1. I didn't particularly like paying for the few books I didn't use. If I bought a full core I was always left with a few titles I didn't want. With BookShark, we'll use every title.

2. I didn't enjoy sifting through the Christian content in the Instructor's Guide. After receiving my BookShark IG, which isn't cluttered with religious subject matter, I realized how much it really bothered me. It's refreshing not to have to begin our school day filtering the unnecessary content(and rolling my eyes).

3. Sonlight's timeline figures were overwhelmingly about missionaries and Christian figures. Bookshark's are full of history, actual history. I'm not saying there aren't important Christian dates and historical figures. Of course, there are. But it gives kids a false sense of the importance of those dates and people if the majority of the timeline is filled with them.

4. I want to send a message that catering to secular homeschoolers is a good thing. Too often, we resort to using Christian materials because they are the best available for a subject. Sonlight, in my opinion, is the best book-based curriculum on the market. However, now I can get those materials without voting with my dollars for evangelical curriculum.
A peek at our new timeline figures

So here are are a few of my first impressions of BookShark Grade 1 History, and 2nd Grade Intermediate Readers.

1. More relevant timeline figures.

2. Easier to use IG(if you don't want the Christian content).

3. They've shifted a few of the readers around to different ages, and placed them in more accurate levels, and eliminated the Christian readers.

4.The IG is still "open and go", just as easy to implement, and it still includes helpful extras such as the additional schedule pages.

5.Brighter, less old-fashioned covers to the IGs. Okay, it's a small thing. But I always found the Sonlight covers kind of ugly.

BookShark Gr.2 Intermediate Readers

Most of the books we already owned(purchased from Sonlight). I've replaced our IG mid-year. I only had to add Marco Polo, Encyclopedia Brown, and Lumber Camp Library to our Readers.
We are using this core for second grade even though it says first grade. If you are a Sonlight veteran, you know the cores cover at least three ages. I always find the middle age range to be the correct one for us. First grade is intended for ages 6-8, and since Bess is 7, we're using it for half a year of second grade. For now, it doesn't really matter where she's placed, but the later grades have heavier material and I don't want to rush into them until she's mature enough to handle it.

That's about all I have to say about BookShark until we've used it for a while, but so far I'm really pleased. I'm planning out our other subjects for the fall, and I'm pretty sure BookShark's Science will be part of those plans.

For more details than I have here about BookShark, I recommend this blog post from Our Enchanted Place.

I'll give a BookShark update as we get further into the year.

Until Next Time!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Laundry on the line, our favorite history link, and the end of the gluten-free diet

Our dryer, Admiral Crappy, finally decided it was time to shuffle off this mortal coil, so we're hanging laundry until we can afford a new admiral. Here's the timeline so far on that:
First day-"Doesn't laundry from the line smell fresh and lovely? It's heaven!"
Day two: "Can I help?It's fun! We're like pioneers!"
Day three:"Why are my t-shirts so stiff?"
Day four: "My pants aren't dry? I have to leave for work!"
Day five: "Uh, Mom? Isn't the laundry outside? Because it's raining..."
Day six:"What?!Again?! But we helped hang laundry yesterday!"

But my husband has graduated, and is starting his new job in a couple of weeks, so hopefully our remaining line drying days are few. RIP Admiral Crappy. I never realized how much I loved you.

Another change for us is the end of our gluten-free "adventure". Max is seeing a GI specialist, and we've found his problem doesn't have anything to do with gluten. What exactly the problem is we don't know yet. But I'm relieved to be able to use flour once more. However, we will not be going completely vegan again. Max gained weight while he was eating cheese and eggs, so we're going to remain vegetarian for now. Max and Bess found they love Greek yogurt, real cheese, and scrambled eggs, and for Max to like anything is a big deal.

Bess has been enjoying this BBC Primary History site. She loves the archaeology games, the Greek Hero game, and the WWII time capsule game. Great for elementary kids, but I've learned a few thing, too. It's worth a look.

We're waiting on our BookShark order so we're on a mini-vacation from school. I'm spring cleaning, catching up on reading, watching Korean dramas, and of course.....hanging laundry.

Until next time!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Our Year in Review

We homeschool year round, but even though we began in September, our curriculum for the year is pretty much finished. So I thought I'd give a review of what worked, and what didn't. I apologize for the length of the post.

Sonlight Core A History with Grade 2 readers: We loved this core, and zipped through it. With all the times my kids begged me to read "just one more chapter", we were completely finished by February. However, I won't do that again. In order for the material to match their emotional maturity level, I'll have to be careful not to go too fast through the cores. Plus I can't afford two cores a year!
I took out the religious materials, and I immediately sold the Language Arts portion and just used the reader's schedule. I'm not a fan of Sonlight's LA.

What we loved : There were too many great books to list them all. My daughter loved the Usborne Internet Linked Children's Encyclopedia(she still uses the history links daily), Living Long Ago became her bedtime read of choice, The Llama Who Had No Pajama convinced Bess and Max that poetry could be enjoyable(now they happily choose poetry selections from the library), the two Dolphin books and the James Herriot book became Max's favorites, and we all loved No Children No Pets. There were so many good titles! The markable map added to Bess' geography knowledge to a great extent. Labeling every place we read about, and occasionally reviewing, was all it took to make her an avid map lover. She labels countries now for fun. Yeah, I know. Weird kid!

What we didn't like : Besides the religious stuff, we didn't care for the following titles- The Story About Ping, Mary on Horseback, and Johnny Appleseed:Story of a Legend(how can you make Johnny Appleseed boring? This book manages it.). I also found the Core A Tips CD next to useless. You can do a google or pinterest search and find way more interesting crafts and activities.
The majority of the timeline stickers were for the religious readers, so I wish there had been more historical figures instead of missionaries and such.

But overall, I'm really pleased with this purchase. I've heard people say Sonlight costs too much. Yes, it is expensive, but not overpriced. For a huge box of books, plus curriculum with a high resale value, the price seems reasonable to me.

Horizons Math 1: Well, Bess and I would probably write opposing views about this one as she's not a math fan, but even she would admit this is way better than what we were using(Saxon). I'm not slamming Saxon. I used it K-12 with my older two, but it wasn't working for Bess. She hated the boring black and white graphics and constant repetition. Horizons has plenty of practice built in, but it's colorful and seems more fun somehow. I like that it moves much faster than Saxon which I think is pretty slow in the elementary years. It isn't secular, which is odd. It's math! But the Christian stuff was pretty minor. I think there might have been a cross on one page, the three wise men, and a handful of other things, but not much. The teacher's guide has inspirational quotations at the bottom of the page. It's pretty trivial, and the program more than makes up for it in quality, in my opinion.  I will definitely be buying Horizons 2.

Mathtacular DVD: I'm not sure how much of the actual math my kids are soaking up, but they love this. They watch it for fun. I'll be purchasing Mathtacular 2.

Zaner-Bloser Handwriting K & 1, and Spelling 1: These are colorful, not too expensive, and functional. I will be buying the next levels.

Noeo Biology 1: This was the big let down of the year. It's the kind where I wish I could build a time machine and warn myself not to waste the money. A few of the books were good, but some seemed dry and textbooky. The experiments didn't always work, but that might have been our fault. What really disappointed me was the Instructor's Guide. It just divided up the reading and experiments into a schedule for each week, which I could have done on my own. It didn't offer any extra information or suggestions on what to discuss or teach. Noeo uses a Charlotte Mason approach and expects kids to draw, write, or talk about what they've learned. I'm fine with that for other subjects, but wanted more guidelines for science. Oh well, live and learn. I won't be buying Noeo again. We'll try BookShark's Science next.

Evan-Moore 6- trait writing 1: Easy to do, quick writing assignments. Bess liked it. I feel sort of indifferent about it. We probably will try the next level. I'm still debating with myself about it. It's difficult to gauge how much she learned from it.

Language Smarts B: Bess really liked this. I felt it didn't have enough practice. I prefer Rod and Staff, but know she will hate it. I'm currently searching for a middle ground, something colorful and fun, but thorough. I will not be buying Language Smarts C.

Building Thinking Skills Primary: This was okay. But I bought the wrong level for Bess. It was way too easy, and we gave up after a month. I don't think I'll buy a higher level, though. I'm not sure it's worth the cost.

Artistic Pursuits Book 1: I had fully intended to read and do projects from this once a week, but we didn't. It was probably wishful thinking that with a new baby in the house we'd have enough free time to be artsy. Hopefully, we'll get some use out of it this year.

Mathematical Reasoning A: This was a nice introduction to math for Max, who has autism. The concepts were easy enough without a lot of repetition. I will say, I don't believe this is a complete math program. It was for Max, but not for kids who don't have learning challenges. There just isn't enough skills practice. I'm not sure if I'll be buying the next level or not. I'm still thinking about it. I am happy he seemed to enjoy this. He even asked to do math occasionally.

Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons: Our copy, bought years ago, is looking worse for wear. I taught Peter and Ethan to read from this, and now Max is a third of the way through it. Best $20 I ever spent. I'll continue to use it with Max. We're moving slowly, and I'm bribing him with TV time to get him to sit still for the lessons, but it's working! There are times when Max is sounding out words that I start to tear up a bit. I was so worried that I wouldn't be able to teach him at all, and now I can actually visualize a day when my son will be reading books on his own.

Evan-Moore Everyday Literacy Science K: This would probably be too easy for most kindergarten students, and I think it's too easy for Max, but he loves it. Sometimes with kids with learning challenges, it's a good idea to let them succeed at something rather than learn something. Max feels proud of himself when he works on this book, and he's learning that school can be fun. That's good enough for now. I will be buying him the next level.

And that's it. We supplemented with loads of library books, and titles from our own bulging bookshelves. We managed a few crafts. We cooked together. Took nature walks(Max's are more like nature runs). Bess took ballet this year and loved it. We went to many, many library programs. We played with friends. We played with our hilarious and animated baby, Rose. It's been a fun year. One of my favorites. I hope your school year was a happy one, too!

Until next time!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

BookShark Ordered!

So, I've placed my order with BookShark(the new, secular version of Sonlight). Yay! I can't wait for it to get here! You wouldn't think someone could be as excited as I am about instructor's guides, but then you don't know me that well. I'm boring that way. Curriculum is my drug of choice.

We're taking a week off to wait for the first grade IG to get here. I sold my Sonlight Core B IG(the equivalent of BookShark's 1st grade). I thought about just slogging through the religious stuff for the rest of the year, and then buying BookShark for second grade, but since we started the core in March, we still have a ways to go. I've loved Sonlight, but I get seriously tired of having to skim over,what I believe to be, foolish ideas.

Here's what I bought: History 1 Instructor's Guide, Timeline Figures 1, 2nd Grade Intermediate Reader Schedule and Notes, Marco Polo, Encyclopedia Brown, and Lumber Camp Library. The last three were titles we didn't get with the Sonlight 2nd grade readers. The cores and readers are mostly the same(minus the religious stuff), but they have a few different titles, and some shifting of which cores some of the books are in.

FYI: If you sign up for an account right now,  BookShark will email you a $10 off of $100 purchase code.

BookShark's website isn't as user friendly as Sonlight's, especially if you're purchasing individual items, but I'm sure that will change soon. I also hope they eventually create a forum for BookShark. And I know my kids would love it if the cores came in a box they can make into a castle(one of their favorite things about getting a shipment from Sonlight).

I'll post my first impressions about BookShark when the package comes, just in case you're as boring as I am, and want to hear about it. Or you can just snicker derisively at my mundane life. My children do!
Until next time!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Archaeology, and the GFDF diet so far

We've been having a ball reading about and playing at archaeology this week. We read Archaeologists Dig for Clues and Tut's Mummy Lost and Found which both came with our Sonlight Core B materials, and supplemented with dig magazine and the Geosafari Egyptian Dig kit. The kit was fun, but not terribly educational. We found at least one inaccuracy in the history pamphlet which came with it. But Max and Bess had fun making a mess, and afterward they created their own dig in the backyard. They found lots of acorns and one rock which led to a half hour argument about who owned said rock, because apparently it's a valuable dinosaur bone the likes of which the paleontology community has never seen. Fortunately, they settled it out of court. The acorns were cataloged as proof of an ancient squirrel civilization.
Archaeologists at Work

A few weeks ago, we put Max on a gluten-free, dairy-free diet for his GI symptoms(chronic diarrhea accompanied by slow weight gain). Many children on the autism spectrum have issues with gluten and dairy. We've been pleasantly surprised by Max having fewer temper tantrums and being much more talkative since the change. I'm not saying it's a direct result of the diet, because I'm sort of a skeptic about anything that isn't proven in a controlled, clinical study. I'm just making an observation. It's possible the change in diet happened to coincide with a cognitive jump. It's not unusual for Max to be completely incapable of doing something one week, and then become a master of it the next. So I don't know. But here are the changes I think can definitely be attributed to the diet change: fewer GI problems, better sleep, and increased appetite.

I'm not a natural when it comes to gluten-free cooking, but I'm slowly learning. It feels odd to have eggs in the house again, as we've been vegan for years. But Max is very picky about the texture of the foods he eats, and vegan/gluten-free foods were not getting eaten. So we buy eggs now. I only purchase free-range from a nice,local farmer, but I'm not naive enough to think the hens are sent to a retirement community when they stop laying. We are choosing our son's health over our moral stance. Maybe, one day, we will be in a situation where we can raise our own chickens who will have full access to retirement benefits.

I've created a page here for gfdf recipes and product reviews which I will periodically update.

Until next time!

Friday, April 11, 2014


I haven't posted here in a while. We've had a hailstorm of changes over the past month or two, and I needed to concentrate on other things.

First, my mother was in the hospital for a short time.

Then, my oldest son quit college mid-semester because of some serious issues with anxiety. Thankfully he's doing better now. He's taking one class he really enjoys, and helping us at home. I think taking a break was a good idea.

And for two months, I've had a few minor multiple sclerosis flair ups which is normal for me in the year following a pregnancy, but annoying as hell. My symptoms usually get better about a year after giving birth. Rose is 9 months old now, so hopefully soon I'll start having fewer problems.

Also, we have my husband's upcoming graduation in May and ongoing job search.

We're gearing up for a move. Even if my husband gets a job in our city, we are going to need a new place.

And to top it all off we've started our youngest son on a gluten-free/dairy-free diet which is a big change for the main cook of the family(me).

But somehow we're still coasting along in our homeschool. It's been a good year for us. And next year should be even better, because I just found out my days of secularizing Sonlight are almost at an end. Whoohooo! Bookshark(formerly Brightflash) is up and ready. It's the new secular version of Sonlight. I'm really looking forward to not having to edit the IG every day. So yay for that!

What we're reading : Where the Sidewalk Ends
                                 Half Magic
                                 Bedtime Math

What I'm reading: Raising Girls
                           Mortal Instruments: City of Bones(guilty pleasure book)

What We're Watching: Lionel Nation

What I'm watching: Korean Dramas--The Great Doctor and Pasta(These are both on Netflix right now. I highly recommend both series.)

In our kitchen:  Gluten-Free Banana Muffins(with Earth Balance replacing the butter to make it dairy-free)

Crafting: Crayon Resist Paper Easter Egg

And that's about it for now. Lately, I'm just trying to keep everything running as smoothly as it can through all of our changes. Just when I think it's all too much to handle, I find some hidden pocket of strength. There is something to be said for getting older. If all this had been happening in my 20s, I would be drowning in a pool of my tears right now. At 42, I'm doing okay.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Year-Round Homeschooling

For the past few years, we've dumped our old summers-off school schedule for year-round schooling. At first, I was a little worried about the change. I have wonderful memories from childhood of lazy summer days spent reading and goofing off, and I wanted my children to also experience those long, lovely months of freedom. But as a homeschool teacher I dreaded each year having to spend most of the first month of school reviewing what the kids had forgotten over the summer. Math, in particular, was jettisoned from their minds at an alarming rate. I'd get a lot of blank looks and huh?s at the beginning of September. Then we'd have to spend a whole lot of time relearning the material. Public schools have the same problem. If you've ever used a math program which is also used in schools, you know that usually the first 20 or so lessons are review.
With summers off, we also had the problem of getting into the routine of school. Our good study habits vanished when we had too much down time. When we're in a constant routine with a week off here and there, my kids seem to have fewer problems concentrating on our lessons.
So, year-round schooling it is for us, and we like it much better. Every month, we get a week off and 3 weeks off in August. We plan for 189 days of school so we have those extra 9 days for sick days. We take the weeks of Halloween and Thanksgiving off, and two weeks for Christmas and New Years.
I don't get burnout as much as I used to. That one week each month is great for school planning, organizing the house, reading, playing games, watching movies, and relaxing. I have time to get the house really clean and organized which makes it easier to keep up with the housework during school weeks.
At the end of our vacation weeks I feel recharged and ready to get back to school. And when the kids know they have mini-vacations planned year round, school doesn't seem like such a burden.

I use DonnaYoung for our school calendar. That site is a treasure trove of helpful, free resources for just about anything you would need to organize and plan your homeschool.

I use a highlighter to mark our vacation so the kids don't have to ask when the next one is. They can just look at the calendar. Since our state requires us to keep track of school days, I use the calendar to mark off time in school. It's really simplified my record keeping.
So there you have it. Our school schedule in a nutshell.

Until next time!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

This Week

We've spent the last few days dealing with This. We live near the path of the chemical plume, and so our water was affected. We've had to use bottled water for everything. All our washing, cooking, and drinking water had to be bought. We haven't been able to wash clothes or take much of a bath.We should be free to use our taps by tonight, and I am looking forward to a hot shower. One positive to come from all this is we've essentially been doing a dry run of our emergency plan, and I realize we've way underestimated how much water we need to store. So we'll have to reevaluate what we have on hand for disasters.

This Week

I am grateful: for clean water.

We are reading: Stories from Nature

I am reading: The Illustrated Man

We are cooking: Comfort food!  Veg News Vegan Macaroni and Cheese(so good!) and Chloe's Vegan Spiced Applesauce Cake(Wonderful!)

 Creating and Organizing: My kids bought me a Taste Book a couple of birthdays ago and after  trying in vain to find my favorite soup recipe, digging through the messy drawer I keep my recipes in, I thought it was time to put my gift to use. So hopefully I'll soon have all my recipes organized, and I can find another purpose for the hell drawer.

In our homeschool: We've been reading Pasteur's Fight Against Microbes and working on bacteria and fungi experiments. It's part of Noeo Biology I. Right now we have two experiments in progress. 1: We collected bacteria from a doorknob and spread it in an agar filled petri dish, and on one half spread anti-bacterial cream. 2: We took saliva samples from our dog and our baby, Rose, and spread each on a half of an agar filled petri dish. Bess had to write out hypotheses for what would happen in each experiment, and then keep notes on the growth of the bacterial colonies. So far, the dog spit has more bacterial growth.
Bess and Bacteria

So that's it for our rather slow, shower-free week. I wish you a great week, and clean water!
Until next time!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

What We're Reading This Week

With the snowstorm and record low temperatures on the way, we made a trip to the library today to stock up on the essentials. No bread and milk run for us. We get the important stuff first! So here's what we'll be reading this week as Mother Nature tries to freeze us.

For Bess and Max:
Surprise Island(Boxcar Children #2)

For me:
Momo(a favorite book from my childhood)


And there you have it, our plan to beat cabin fever. I hope to finally finish the scarf I've been knitting since god knows when, play some board games, and make vegan cinnamon rolls.

I wish you warmth and time with family. Until next time!