Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday!!! Week Nine!!!!

I can hear bells ringing! It's the end of week nine AND we're only slightly behind the massive schedule I made! We might actually catch up before the end of the quarter next week... not that the world will stop turning if we don't, I realize, but still... we might catch up! We're only "behind" by one science experiment and one history project (both of which my husband was supposed to do with the girls but who's pointing fingers? other than me?). This week hasn't been my best, but it's almost over. Hurrah!

And the end of week nine means that Halloween is tomorrow. Naturally, three of my girls changed their minds about their costumes at the last minute. The eldest sister has decided it will be more fun to be a Fortune Teller. She has a deck of tarot cards and fancies she can use them correctly and accurately. Hey, maybe she can for all I know so, calling her by her fortune teller name I say, "Go Madame Magista!" Anne Boleyn has become Pippi Longstocking - I have to admit I was a tiny bit disappointed on this one and actually tried to change her mind (not something I do much of when it comes to Halloween costumes), but she stayed firm. She just finished reading Pippi Longstocking and I think she's quite inspired so what can you do? We already have the hair down - her little braids stick way up and out with modified metal hangers. Very cool. The third hasn't changed her mind - still going as a ghost (she wants the white sheet and everything). And the youngest has decided to be a dancer instead of a puppy, which actually makes my life easier because I had put off buying any puppy-costume items and we have drawers full of dance costumes.

So Happy End-of-Week-Nine to me and Happy Halloween to you!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ironically...

Not 30 minutes after posting about our history lessons, I received a very detailed email regarding the inscription Laus Deo on the top of the Washington Monument, other Christian inscriptions found all around government buildings, and the role of the "true Father" of America, which, according to the writer of the email, clearly demonstrate the "true" and "accurate" purpose of our country: that it is obviously and divinely determined that "we" are a Christian nation and should educate people (here and abroad) on this truth.

I have been having a hard time finding sources that sell or give away this sort of information. It's so hard to find male-dominated, Christian-dominated, evangelical stuff these days! I appreciate the effort to get me back on track. Thanks for the email. Unfortunately, I'm a stubborn little heathen and won't listen.

History

I love that in homeschooling, our history lessons includes those pieces of history that are commonly left out. And I love that when we are at the library, my children actively look for books that include these untold stories.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Just Imagine

George Bernard Shaw is one of my favorite writers. Not only was he an amazing writer, thinker, philospoher, and humorist, but he was also a dedicated vegetarian, which earns you a few extra points in my book (not that anyone reads my book).

I read this again today and had to share...

"Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will."
~George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Queen Bee

My nickname in the internet world is, rather obviously, Queen Bee. This refers to my position in my personal "hive" at home. Well, I was in the bookstore yesterday and the title of a book caught my eye: Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence by Rosalind Wiseman. I looked up the book's definition of a "queen bee" and I was a tad emabarassed that I've been referring to myself as queen bee since the definition in that book isn't nearly as lovely as the one in my head (a mama bee working hard in her hive). Sheesh. I hadn't even thought of it like that. Then I wondered how I hadn't heard of this book. It turns out that this book was initially published back in 2002 when I was in the middle of the baby-bearing years and not thinking about girls in adolescence. It has since been updated and revised for the 2009 "girl world," as Wiseman calls it. It actually looks like an interesting book, and as I have four daughters I may well read it (though I'm hoping that because we homeschool my girls may be saved from some of the horrid nastiness Wiseman describes... or at least spared until they are older and better able to deal with it).

I thought about changing my virtual name, but have decided, "Nah - I don't care that much." Which is, of course, in keeping with the characteristics of Wiseman's queen bee who does what it is she wants to do.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is it over YET?!?

Okay, so Week Eight has - for lack of a better word - sucked. It hasn't been the kids or the work, it was just a busy week, too many late nights, too much going on. I feel like the week simultaneously dragged on forever yet flew by so quickly that we couldn't fit everything in. And technically, we still haven't fit everything in. We have not completed our labs for chemistry this week - we will either get to it right before dinner or it will be done this weekend.

So even though we managed to get to 99.9% of our work so far (it's 4:45pm on Friday) and didn't have any major meltdowns, why do I feel like this week just plain sucked?!?! I thought about it this afternoon and came up with one possible answer - as much as I don't usually have much time for myself (and I detest that fact), this week I had NO time to myself. No time to unwind, no time to relax. No time to recharge my old batteries. And I didn't work out as regularly as I normally do and therefore I think there were less endorphins floating around in my head. I really do need that stress release or something because I was not in a happy frame of mind all week long.

On a more positive note, here are some things we did accomplish despite being extra busy...
  • The oldest girls designed and made their own Scottish kilts (we were learning about Mary, Queen of Scots and James VI of Scotland)
  • The oldest girls also baked and served everyone Parkin cake (a tradition British cake - 75% of the kids enjoyed it)
  • All of the girls captured (then released) several enormous praying mantids - and managed to see them eating beetles (apparently they ate the head first each time)
  • My youngest finished the first stage of the Hooked on Phonics program and could not be more excited about reading
  • My oldest took it upon herself to come up with a ceremony for her girl scout troop; she designed, researched and presented it this week in honor of the founder's birthday (Happy 109th Juliette Low)
  • My 1st grader is breezing through her literature work and I had to move her up another grade
  • I managed to fit in making all the bread for the next two weeks - yippee! I hate to smell the fresh bread because it's the only time I really want to eat bread (I have Celiac) so I'm happier when I get a break from it!

I could write many more positive things, and just writing the few above I feel better already. Hmmm. Maybe I need to start a Homeschool Gratitude Journal... I'll have to think about that.

But how will I fit it in?!?!

Farewell Week Eight - only two more to go and we're done with the first quarter of our academic year. Wow.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

SpellQuizzer, reviewed.

I received an email from Dan, the creator of SpellQuizzer, asking me to give the program a try and review it on my blog. According to the website, SpellQuizzer is a spelling program that helps kids learn their spelling and vocabulary words. For the past several weeks, I'm implemented the program into my second-grader's daily Language Arts. I was a little hesitant because I didn't want to add more into our day than is already in place, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The program is simple to implement and can either work in conjunction with an existing spelling program by helping the child learn the assigned words for the week, or can act as a stand-alone depending on how a homeschooler "does spelling." First you download the program. Once installed, simply click on the icon and begin! (Side note: directions as well as demo videos on how to use the program can be found at the SpellQuizzer website.) At first I tried the program myself with one of the preloaded sample lists. You click on the Quiz Me on a List! icon and select a list. You then hear a word from the list and type it into the box and hit enter (or click on Check Spelling). If the word in entered correctly, you move on to the next word on the list. If it is incorrect, a box appears with the correct spelling. At the end of the session you are given your score and an opportunity to re-try incorrect words.

There are several ready-made lists available for free on the SpellQuizzer website that can be imported for free and used as spelling lists. You can also create your own lists, which is wonderful because you can customize the program to improve and work on your child's current spelling and vocabulary lists, or, as we do in our home, create a list based on words the child has misspelled in regular work throughout the week. Creating your own list is straightforward, even for the techno-challenged, like me. You simply need a microphone (most computers come with one, but they are less than $10 to buy if you don't have one). Click on the Create a Spelling List icon and follow the simple instructions. You type the word you're adding, add the audio, and check the playback. The set-up in simple and intuitive. Once you're happy with the sound simply click Add Word. I liked to use different voices and accents to keep my daughter on her toes! You can always go back and make changes by selecting the Edit a List icon. You can also export your list if you'd like to share. The website has a community forum where SpellQuizzer users can share ideas, tips and lists.

I gave ease of set-up and use an "A." But how would this program actually work with my second grader? I wondered if she would enjoy it or if she would prefer something with more "bells and whistles?" I had her work on her spelling list (one I created from her frequently misspelled words) once a day. On Friday I gave her a written quiz. Typically my daughter struggles with spelling. For the past two weeks she did not miss one word on the list! And she loved doing the program. She asked me if she could play SpellQuizzer quite frequently. I let her "play" with the lists I downloaded from the SpellQuizzer website. And I think the lack of "bells and whistles" is part of what makes the program work. It is simple and straightforward. My daughter enjoyed getting the words right, but when she got one wrong she simply looked at the correct spelling and tried again. No sirens went off, she didn't lose points, etc. I think the clean format made it easier for her to focus on learning to spell the words. It gets an "A" from the second-grade user for fun, and an "A" from mom on results.

I think this program has a lot of potential for future use in our homeschooling. Next, I would like to add my older daughter's Latin and Greek roots and vocabulary words to the program. There is not an age limit on the program and it could be used well into highschool and beyond. Younger students can benefit as well. I believe even my kindergartener could use it. And as an added bonus, children will get keyboarding practice while they type in their words.

The only thing missing for homeschool use, and something I would like to see included, would be an option to record the scores on quizzes and track progress. The program was designed to help practice for spelling tests given in a school setting, and in my opinion it clearly does that. And if you're a homeschooler implementing SpellQuizzer with another spelling program a tracking tool wouldn't be as important. But I think many homeschoolers would be interested in using this as a stand-alone product, and having the scores and progress tracked would be a beneficial tool for homeschool parents, especially if the software is used by older, more independent students.

Overall, I highly recommend checking out the SpellQuizzer website. You can download a free trial and if you like the program it is very reasonable to purchase ($29.95).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Guilty Pleasures...

Phew - what a whirlwind the last few days have been! Busy, busy, busy. Busy with school, busy with housework, busy with meetings, swim team, lessons, practices, bills, etc., etc., etc. The list could probably fill an entire blog entry. Fortunately, I managed to squeeze in a few of my guilty pleasures to get me through the last few days.

Guilty Pleasure #1 - The Biggest Loser. I know, I know - it's a show on TV. And it's a "reality" show to boot. I am aware I just dropped several rungs, if not completely off, the ladder for most folks. I don't know why I like this show so much. It drives my husband nuts that I like it. Luckily for all involved, I don't usually get to watch it. Until the advent of ... trumpets sounding... Hulu.com. I did grab the initial two episodes but then missed all others. Until last night when I "hulu-ed" week three. Okay, it was a somewhat bum week to come back to the show because it was full of "game play" and other nonsense. Ugh. But, I have to say this about the show in general - it inspires me to keep working out when I feel tired because really, how can I complain when the contestants on that show keep it moving? What excuse could I possible come up that would work after seeing a 400+ pound person work harder than I've probably ever worked? And as a bonus, I am inspired to most definitely NOT overindulge in unhealthy foods. Not because of weight gain (though I don't enjoy that) but because I see what happens to these poor people when they get their medical reports. Ahhh! Please pass the carrot sticks...

Guilty Pleasure #2 - reading. I am that girl that always has her nose in a book. When I got in trouble in school it was typically for sneak-reading under my desk. I am still that way. So this week I worked some sneaky moves to grab a few extra pages. Love it. I finished three lovely little books since Monday. Go reading!

Guilty Pleasure #3 - framing. Yes, framing. After the incident with The Wind last week, I needed to reconfigure some art work. For the past two years I've had an unframed canvas precariously balancing on top of my cookbook bookcase in the kitchen. The thing has fallen countless times. I decided after the last time it wasn't going back up. At least not there. I took some other pieces in to be framed, and I moved another already framed piece to this location. The beauty of this artwork is that it can actually be secured to the wall. Hurray!

Guilty Pleasure #4 - taking a class. Tuesday night was the second in a series of five evenings in a class called Cakes for the Queen of Heaven offered through my fellowship (UU if you're wondering). The class aims to discuss the historical role of the female in religion and spirituality. I have enjoyed doing something for me, without any of my people. It's been interesting. I was an Anthropology major and I especially find the interactions between women in a group of women fascinating. Almost more so than the class itself.

Anyway, that's me getting through my beautiful but busy Week Seven!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Wrapping Up Week Six

The end of week six. More than halfway to the end of the first quarter. Fifteen percent of the year's work completed. Well, we're almost done. Another hour or two. Close enough.

Time to reflect on what is working and what is not working...

Going great:
  • Almost all homeschool subjects - can you believe I just wrote that????? I myself have a hard time believing it! But it's true - things are going very smoothly; I'm happy with what I've planned and the girls seem to be enjoying themselves.
  • Amount of time dedicated to school work - again, I somehow hit the nail on the head this year and found a good balance. Fingers crossed it keeps working!
  • Keeping extracurricular activities during traditional "after school" and evening hours - although this makes for some long days (e.g., we don't get home from swim team until 8pm) we can focus on things around the house that need to get done (e.g., school work, chores, free play, etc.).

Not going so great:

  • Connecting with other homeschoolers, a.k.a. community building - relatively nonexistent. I have one (yes ONE) homeschooling friend with kids about the same age. She has organized a fabulous poetry group that meets once a month, but other than that we don't have a local "gang" to hang with. We do attend some activities, but this is most definitely NOT the same thing as having a group with which you feel you really click.
  • Weekly Nature Study - hasn't happened one time. We do go on walks, we collect and observe things in the natural world, but I haven't done the official "Nature Study" with journals, etc., like I wanted to. I don't think I'll bother this year.
  • Finding time for myself - again, nonexistent. I do work out and I'm happy to report that I make time for that, but it's not enough. Exercise to me is the same as eating and sleeping, so while I'm grateful to be getting the basics I don't feel like it counts as "me time." It'd be the same as saying, "Gosh I'm glad I ate today!" Of course I am aware that I am fortunate and that there are others going without, but you get my meaning. Unlike my previous bullet, I think I will bother this year. I need to. I have four daughters and I need to keep telling myself that I will not set the example of putting myself last. This is very hard for me to accomplish in reality. It sounds good, but in practice I have let almost all of "me" go. Exactly what I vowed would not be my choice (because I do believe we make choices on this). I do not want my girls to continue this as women, so I need to figure something out. Maybe we can chip away at this unhealthy cycle.

That is enough reflection for today - we're about to get started on a fun art project, finish up a hands-on history project, and we still have some reading, poetry and vocabulary to complete before I can say good-bye to Week Six!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Morning Walk

I try to start most mornings with a "Morning Constitutional" (this should be said in a very deep, very serious voice - preferably with an uppercrust British accent). I take the girls on a short walk around our neighborhood. Sometimes we keep it very brief - just long enough to stretch our legs and say good morning to the birds. Other days we take the long route and may even venture into the woods. We love our walks, and the girls have told me that they don't feel right on the days we miss them.

And then there was our walk today. My youngest almost got hit by a car. Lovely way to start the day.

We live in a rural-style neighborhood. Aside from the obvious reasons (like the fact that the house behind us is a farm), I call it rural-style because (a) the houses are situated on larger lots (usually 1+ acre) and (b) there are no sidewalks. "B" causes me great anxiety on a good day. My children are not allowed to wander the neighborhood or walk to friends' houses without an adult. On our constitutionals, I make the girls walk in a line right along the edge of the road. If a car or truck comes along I ask them to step off of the road unless it is terribly muddy. I do this even though we sometimes go for a 30-minute walk and never see a moving vehicle. Today, as we rounded a curve in the road I spied two cars approaching, some distance apart. The first slowed down and gave us wide berth. Thank you, Considerate Driver. The second car did not slow down. And instead of heading away from us, the car actually seemed to angle closer to where we were walking. As I gave a warning to my children to step off the road, my youngest tripped - straight into the path of the oncoming vehicle. The car did not slow down. It continued to drive straight at us (and, I might add, not at all in keeping with the curve of the road). I literally yelled "STOP" and stepped out into the path of the car. The driver LOOKED UP FROM HER LAP (text-messaging? dialing a phone? searching in her bag?) and was obviously shocked to see us there. She braked and swerved, avoding us completely.

Disaster avoided.

I think we'll skip our walk tomorrow morning and let mom catch her breath...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Anvil

Among my favorite books of all time are Deep Thoughts and Deeper Thoughts by Jack Handey. As I flipped through Deeper Thoughts this evening, I read the following and it reminded me of eager kindergarteners on the first day of school, lining up for the bus...

"If you're a blacksmith, probably the proudest day of your life is when you get your first anvil.

How innocent you are, little blacksmith."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thankfully Thursday

I don't know what it is, but this week is kicking my behind. Or maybe it's just that I feel behind. Not so much with homeschooling - somehow we're actually staying on track, so far - but rather with housework. UGH. Dreaded, dreaded housework.

Now, I am by no means a five-star domestic goddess. Not even close. But I do tend to stay on top of the little things and our home stays relatively neat and orderly (as neat and orderly as a house with four hooligans can). I have a laundry system that works pretty well (no piles of laundry), our dishes make it into the dishwasher and cabinets, the floors and furniture stay as dust-free as dark wood can, and I typically feel confident that our home is presentable and comfortable...

This week? Yikes! I have four loads of clean laundry hiding in my closet, sometime earlier in the week our dishwashing cycle got thrown off and now no matter what I do there are dirty dishes in the sink because the washer is either full or running, I can see nasty footprints and smudges-of-unknown-origin on the wood floors, there are piles of paper and books all over the kitchen and playroom, and the kitchen floor... I can't even begin with the kitchen floor; suffice it say that a large gust of wind met with a large, ornate jar filled with decorative oil and vinegar (and peppers, seeds, flower bits, etc.) and the latter plummeted from the top of a bookshelf to the tile floor below and shattered. I did clean it up despite my wish that someone else would magically appear and take over the task for me. But this took away from my usual floor-cleaning time so I have only one very clean spot in my kitchen while the rest has gone to hell.

And the dust. Oh, the dust. I know it's my fault. I'm a sucker for the wind. It's my favorite element. I could stand in the wind for hours. I love it, absolutely and unconditionally. So like the insane person that I am, I kept our windows WIDE open earlier this week because we had very windy weather (see above paragraph regarding large jars toppling) and I am now seeing the ramifications to all floors and furniture surfaces. But I'm not complaining too loudly about that because, after all, we did get to enjoy the wind.

I won't even get into the rest of the disaster. I have decided that there's nothing to be done at this point except clean it all up. So I've designated a good part of Saturday to the task. The girls will help me and I am confident our usual order can be restore. Okay, maybe I'm not confident but I'm really, really hopeful. Maybe desperate is a better word?