Wednesday, October 17, 2012

ART PROJECT: Day of the Dead Metalwork

 A friend and I alternate teaching a once-a-month art class to 10 homeschool children ages 8 - 12 (funny thing - this is only 3 families, including my own).  This month I thought it would be fun to do something spook-inspired in honor of Halloween, but I feel like we've done so much traditional Halloween art that I thought investigating a different culture might be fun.  As such, I searched around and found a very cool project over at Dick Blick - Day of the Dead Triptychs.  I knew that in the time given there was no way the kids would be able to complete all three panels. My goal was that they each fully complete one panel, hopefully two - and they did. In the two hours allotted, each child was able to complete a completely metal-and-paint panel and one with a paper maché skull.  We were also able to incorporate a quick Day of the Dead lesson (though shamefully I forgot my laptop on which I'd created, if I do say so myself, a pretty awesome power point presentation that included many pictures of beautiful DoD artwork) and a snack of pan de los muertos, baked (and completely veganized) by my friend. I combined my children's creations to make triptychs (and one bi-panel) and we're using these to decorate our home.
If you want to give these a go you should know that the panels were fairly inexpensive, though mostly because I bought in bulk (just don't tell my husband!) to bring the cost down and used paint & tools I already owned.  I figured it cost approximately $1.50 per panel, maybe a little more but close enough.  If you don't buy in bulk the cost will probably at least double. And if you don't have metal embossing tools you'll either need to buy them or go without. The kids actually used the blunt end of paintbrushes to do most of the work, but I also have some tools (a crimper, stampers, etc.) that they were able to work with.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


My oldest daughter is learning about the French Revolution and the Fete de l'opinion, the festival day in which the people were free to criticize their rulers, without fear of punishment, "in the form of songs, caricatures, and ironic and sarcastic speeches." (Thank you Wikipedia for a succinct definition - mine would have been 2 pages long.)  To experience this properly, I told her to pick something - a rule or condition in our home - with which she disagrees and either write a song or draw something to express her opinion against "the standing reign." 

She chose to express her disagreement with our "no iPhones or iPod Touches for children" policy.  Here is the cartoon she designed.... I think she did a great job, and I know she had a lot of fun with this project. =)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Homeschool Group Blues

It's an election year. Sigh. This should have absolutely nothing to do with homeschool groups and homeschool e-lists (e.g., Yahoo groups) but it does. If ever the old axiom warning not to discuss religion and politics should be followed, I believe it should be followed on "open" homeschool lists.  There is nothing more polarizing than posts which promote one point of view without providing the opportunity for discussion.  And therein lies the rub - discussion is not allowed. If you do not agree with the majority, you are attacked and belittled.  To me, this is bogus. It's not the way I operate and it is not the way I want my children to operate.  

Most groups I'm on claim to be "inclusive" and the moderators express a desire to have discussions focus on homeschooling only. While some moderators do a great job of quelling sparks before they flame, others seem to content to allow arguments to flare into a widespread conflagration.  Additionally, many of the posters are downright rude, derogatory, and mean. For example, one writer on a list to which I subscribe wrote (and I'll summarize here because the original spelling and grammar are hard to follow) that we are not fulfilling our god-given parental duty if we listen to the lies of mainstream media because the current administration is out to get rid of homeschooling and if we don't take movies like this one, which according to her is (and here I'll quote) "teaching fact over opinion and these facts are about, say, 1000% more accurate" we are idiots and not good parents.

Nice. Way to keep it neutral and inclusive.

It's sad because it ostracizes members of the group and leads to hard feelings all around.  When one member on the list involved in the above "discussion" asked if we could keep the list about homeschooling she was slammed.  It was ridiculous. 

I did contact the moderators and I publicly supported the "vote" to take politics and religion off the boards, but nothing has changed. So I'm left wondering if I should just leave the group? Or is that the wrong thing to do?  If the group advertised itself as a conservative, close-minded message board in which you should agree the majority philosophy before signing on this would not be an issue because everyone joining would know what he or she is in for.  I think it's the proclamation of "inclusive and open to all homeschoolers, regardless of beliefs" that really ticks me off.  There are many "real-life" groups which require a signed statement of faith, creed, etc., and you either agree you are that thing or you agree to agree that the group promotes it (i.e., you go along).  And I say great! Fine! I don't want to sign such a thing, so I don't join. I know where I stand. But to say "all are welcome" and then go after anyone who doesn't fit a certain mold... it's just wrong.

Even more depressing - most of the groups I am on or have been on in the past have the same overall problem.  Sigh. 

I just don't understand the need to attack each other.  So many times I hear things in the homeschool community that blow my mind. Things I cannot believe people actually say out loud.  And I don't attack the person for her belief. What's the point? Not only is it not going anywhere, it's rude! It's the same with these ridiculous posts - one side or the other isn't going to change the mind of the other poster.  Why attack? It's bad form, and it's a bad example for your children.

Okay, off my soapbox. Back to school.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A la Mary Cassatt

When I saw this lesson on Meet the Masters, I was horrified. I thought, "Could there be a more boring art assignment? How overly simplistic!" 

I was wrong. 

The finished products here are only part of the story and do not really do justice to the concepts learned. I wish I had had my camera rolling during the plaid explosion that occurred before these creations.  The girls and I took oil pastels and scrap paper and went to town creating all different sorts of plaid patterns.  We used all different types of strokes to create the different textures.  In fact, we took so much time on the exploration part of the lesson that we were rushed to finish our profiles.  Sigh.  But we had a lot of fun, and I'm still trying to figure out a "big girl" art project in which I can incorporate some of this plaid! 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Not Something You See Everyday...

Over the house
 On Monday we were out on the porch doing a project when suddenly this flew over our house.  We watched it until it was out of sight. We think it landed at an airfield on the other side of the river (because it was so low and was clearly headed down), but it may have made it to the military base on the other side of the Bay.  I've never seen a dirigible/airship/blimp in our area, and never this close. It was so fun to see the girls' reactions - they've definitely never seen one in real life!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Snippets from Week 2

Last week was our second week of school, and it completely flew by. As we're starting on week 3 today, I decided I want to include a snippet of our work from each week, especially as (ostensibly) the point of this blog is for me to have a record of our journey.  Because I did not plan on photos, I don't have pictures of some of the cool things we did last week. But going forward, I'll keep this "weekly snippet" in mind and be sure to snap 'evidence' of our doings. =)  I also find it hard to pick just one or two things for each girl from the week... I really wanted to get a picture of all of the craftiness going on last week (hemp jewelry, knitting a baby blanket, paper bracelets, duct tape wonders) but I don't have any so that will have to wait.  Here is what I did have photos (or records) of from our second week of homeschooling:

 Grade 3 ~ Cooking
My 3rd-grade daughter loves to cook and this little cookbook from Oak Meadow (this is a vintage copy) has very simple recipes that she can do without much help.  They almost seem too easy, but actually they teach valuable lessons in cutting techniques and using fine motor skills. She loves to help out in the kitchen, and being able to do this independently was a great bonus.
 Grade 4 ~ Terracotta Warriors
This project was not part of our regular school work, but something my DD wanted to do because we have been listening to The 39 Clues. There is a very exciting scene that takes place among the Terracotta Warriors, and she decided to learn more as well as create her own warrior.

 Grade 5 ~ Environmental Science
So much of what my DD did was outside - a trip to the pond, collecting samples, etc. - and of course I did not take one photo. She did write about the interconnectedness of humans and the environment, though it was more of a journal entry than a true essay. She is also checking the turning of the seasons by measuring shadows - in a few months we should have a really interesting log of the change in length as we have shorter and shorter days. 
 Grade 7 ~ Comparative Religion and The Scientific Method
My oldest DD has been busy!  This essay on Hinduism is just one of her essays for the week. She is a girl that loves to read and write, so last week was fun for her. She is also fine-tuning her ability to use the scientific method. I feel like it's one of those things we cover every year, but every year we add to it. She did a very simple experiment on gravity to refresh her memory on all the steps of the method before we dive into more complex work.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Backyard Nature Study

Last week we saw something in the backyard that none of us has ever seen before ... an albino deer. Then, we saw another one. Clearly, they are twins.  Our camera isn't the best so we couldn't zoom in as much as we wanted, but you can see the deer in the photos attached.  We've seen them every evening since - it's wonderful  And it's nice to be reminded of Nature's wonder sometimes!  It's also nice to be able to look out of the back windows and see things like this... it reminds me not to take anything for granted.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Snippets from Week One

Elizabethan Dress - 7th Grade
7th Grade
Our first week back has been very successful!  I'm pleasantly surprised because I am feeling quite under the weather with a lingering cold - the kind that keeps you up all night coughing unless you take something that knocks you out and either way, you end up groggy and tired every day. Despite my sluggishness, we've actually had a fun week. Hurray!  Here are some snapshots ....

15th-century Writing - 5th Grade
Scientific Observation - 4th Grade

Literary Narration - 3rd Grade

Monday, September 3, 2012

Back-to-Homeschool Self-Portraits... Modigliani Style!

As a fun back-to-homeschool project, we created these Modigliani-inspired self-portraits.  Modigliani is perhaps best remembered for his elongated portraits, and the idea for this particular project was inspired by Kathy over at Art Projects for Kids.  Two of my girls felt frustrated at the start of the project because the placement and size of the facial features is not what they are used to drawing. However, all were extremely happy with their results.  These are completed on large paper, the drawing outlined in Sharpie and then colored with crayon.  The girls signed the bottom with big, cursive signatures (blacked over in the photo).  I think if we were to do it again I'd use oil pastels as I believe the stronger color would result in a more dynamic picture. However, I love them even as they are! Super fun, quick, and a great way to get back into the artistic swing of things.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Short and to the point...

"Resistance to change is proportional to how much the future might be altered by any given act.”
~Stephen King, 11/22/63

I read Stephen King's 11/22/63 for a book discussion and I really liked it. The book made me think not just of plot and storyline, but of deeper questions pertaining to life in general.  And while there is a plethora of quotes from which to choose to exemplify why this book makes me think, this one seems to sum it up for me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Music Appreciation Resources

As I continue to plan out the school year, I am trying to come up with a fun course of study for music appreciation. For two years we did a monthly composer study. This worked well, but last year I switched to an orchestra study - this did not work well.  My girls asked to learn more about composers and "go back to the way we used to do music."  So I began searching the web. In the course of my search, I found several free resources I want to share:

Famous Composers: This website, put together by a piano instructor, offers free music appreciation for elementary children.  In my opinion, these biographies and lessons are a great starting point. It would be easy to add in picture books about the composer, additional musical selections, etc. If your child plays an instrument it would also be fun to learn a piece of music by the composer being studied (there are many free easy arrangements available online). 

Classics for Kids: I've posted about this website before, and it's worth posting again. Classics for Kids offers wonderful biographies, podcasts, fun worksheets, an interactive timeline, lesson plans, a map... and much more. Each month, the website features a composer but you can access information on previously featured composers as well. Overall, this is a wonderful addition to any household.

Notebooking Pages: This website offers several free notebooking pages for both music and composer studies, as well as every other subject (you must create a free account in order to access all freebies).  In addition, for around five bucks you can buy all of the composer study pages if you are interested in doing a long-term or more in-depth composer study.  I have used notebooking pages in the past with great success - after listening to a biography and a music sample, we've used the pages for narration. At the end of the year I bound the pages into a spiral notebook.  I used some Notebooking Pages and some I created in Word (if I knew how to upload them, I would share them!). 

Making Music Fun:  What a great find! This website offers so much to homeschoolers - games, biographies, charts, fun videos, cross-curricular worksheets and lessons plans, and more. And it's free! There are also resources for students playing an instrument - sheet music, practice charts, etc.  Overall, definitely worth checking out. 

Carnegie Hall: Carnegie Hall offers free music appreciation resource at this website.  From here, select which of the four resources you would like to utilize.  The Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra is, in my opinion, especially excellent. Students join Violet & her uncle on a safari through the orchestra. There is a version for teachers and one for students. Check it out!

That's all for today! If I come across additional resources I will share them. Feel free to add resources as a comment and when I update the list I will incorporate them into my post!

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Years ago, I read a book with a great title: Pears on a Willow Tree.  This phrase came from the main character's grandmother, who called wishing for the impossible "wishing for pears on a willow tree."  She pointed out that if you want pears, you need to plant a pear tree. I was thinking about this today. For whatever reason, humans seem to fixate on the things we can't change, the things beyond our control, out of our hands. Often we go about our days without making the changes within our control, wishing for changes without.  What would happen if we all acted? If we moved to make differences, to affect change in our lives for the better? From the mundane to the magnificent, we each have the potential to alter our reality and improve our lives, our world... if only we plant pear trees.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gray Days

Why is it that when the sun is shadowed by unending gray, I can't move?
My morning stretches into afternoon, and little is accomplished.
And what is accomplished is done only through extreme will and extreme caffeine.

I often think I should live somewhere else, away from the rivers and the Bay of rural Maryland -
near another Bay on the opposite side of the country, near the mountains.
Where I'd fit in - better.  Where my lifestyle might not be viewed as as strange or otherworldly. But somewhat typical.
Where it's gray.

But then a gray day comes to visit and reminds me that I need the sun. Often.
That I am given exactly what I need. That I don't know better than Mother Earth.

Thank god for gray days.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Organizational help ... please!

In order to absorb the wisdom from other homeschoolers, I posted the question over at Secular Homeschool - but I also wanted to re-post here!

We had some construction at our house this year, and as such my very well-organized school room suffered a massive blow. It now looks like a crazy zone with stuff everywhere, piles, and haphazard bookcases. I lost valuable wall space as a double door was added in the back (in a room with many windows - lovely for light, but hard for storage) and had to swap out bookcases. This caused organizational death to all of my HS materials. I had had everything set up for the year, and after the construction I just threw things onto bookcases (and spent hours searching for stuff all spring). It's really bad.

I'm now looking to re-vamp the space before we start the next academic year. I'm wondering what are some favorite organizational tools, bookcases, storage units, etc., for fellow homeschoolers. Here's what I'm considering so far:
Here's what's not working:
  • regular bookcases for school work (not the ones I had before) - they aren't deep enough and stuff falls over
  • storage cabinets/bookcase combo (from Ikea) - things just get lost and I end up buying stuff I already have
I would love to hear how others organize - what are your best items? I do use shoe boxes a lot, but they are falling apart now.

Any ideas and/or photos and/or links are warmly welcomed!! =)

Monday, July 2, 2012


When I was a kid, I hated math. I thought I was terrible at it and I dreaded doing math, math tests, real-world math problems, and as I got older I dreaded physics knowing it had lots of math.

I don't know why I felt this way. I realize now that I am not terrible at math by any stretch of the imagination. I wasn't a math major in college, but I did survive - and actually do well in - advanced calculus classes at UCLA. But even though I know this to be true, I still have math anxiety.  I believe it stems back to my father constantly telling me, "Girls aren't good at math."  I love my father. He is a good man. But this one sentence sticks out in my head far more than all of the good things he told me over the years.  I've asked him about this sentiment, and he stands by it today. We've argued and debated, but at this point I've given up on changing his mind.

As a homeschooler, I wanted to be sure that my kids love math. I have failed thus far. Only one of my girls loves math. Two are indifferent and one actually hates it more than I even did.  Lovely.  I'm not sure where I went wrong. For one of my girls, I know her dyslexia is part of the problem (people with dyslexia often have a hard time with math and math facts).  For my oldest, I believe she truly isn't a math person - she's not bad at math, it's just not her thing.

All of this leads me, every year, into looking for a math program that is a good fit - and fun.  After years of struggling to find something that works for us, over the past two years we have used a combination of Teaching Textbooks and Math Mammoth.  And we have had success with both.  I can recommend them each without hesitation.  However, I have made the mistake of talking to too many homeschoolers about math and hearing "We use the BEST program and are SO happy with X!" too many times to ignore the pull to investigate for myself... and as such, I've been looking at different programs for my oldest.

The difficulty lies in deciding what not to use.  As Teaching Textbooks has worked well for her, I'm inclined to use their Pre-Algebra series.  Math Mammoth must have come out with more levels in the last year or two, because when I bought it they only went through grade six - now I see grade 7/pre-algebra (and beyond) ... and logic dictates I should get that level and stick with what works.

BUT ... I just learned about Thinkwell and it looks amazing - and far too involved and thorough to be used as a supplement.  Additionally, the Homeschool Buyer's Co-op has a great deal on Thinkwell right now (click here to see the deal - and if you're not a member, this is a free resource and you can sign up here).  Plus my daughter is always asking to do some of her school work on the computer, and because math isn't her favorite subject, allowing her to use the computer for it is a good thing (ala Teaching Textbooks).

If you have any experience with Thinkwell, I'd love to hear it!!


At least I'm never at a loss for things to think about!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Home Economics

I admit - the idea of doing home economics when you're a homeschooler sounds, to me, a bit funny. Don't we live home economics? One might think so, but as I reflect upon what I wish to impart to my children I realize that I don't often teach them as much as I'd like in this area. My girls do all do their own laundry, and they do know how to cook or bake a few things (some better than others).  I sew and as such I've taught them the very basics of using a sewing machine, etc.  But in reality, it's usually easier for me to plan and make meals, do the bulk of the cleaning (though they definitely have chores!), make shopping lists, etc.  I think writing down some goals for the year will be helpful in ensuring that I do teach them what it takes to run a household because as we all know, there is far more to it than making brownies (I'm not saying brownies aren't important).  There is such a steep learning curve when you become the adult and the one (or one of two) responsible for "getting it all done."  I'd like to help my girls feel more prepared when they get there.  

Here is my preliminary list - I will be adding to it over the next few weeks and I cherish input!  And if you "do" home economics I would love to hear about how you organize the subject.  Once I figure out what my goals are, I'm going to break it down into a weekly checklist and further subdivide by age as my youngest and oldest have different ability levels.  I know myself, and if I don't have a checklist it probably won't get done!
  • Learn to devise daily/weekly cleaning schedule and plans for household cleanliness
  • Learn to really clean showers, tile, sinks, etc. (as opposed to their current "wipe it with a cloth" approach)
  • Learn meal-planning
  • Create grocery lists based on meal plans
  • Cook an entire meal, all courses
  • Understand basic clothing repair & demonstrate knowledge
  • Follow a simple pattern (clothing) and sew article with little help
  • Begin to learn household budgeting 
  • Learn about seasonal cleaning and help create a schedule
  • Learn about the importance of keeping clutter to a minimum - not just the stuff in plain sight but hidden clutter as well (closets, basements, garage, etc)
Oh - and if you have any great books, articles, etc., that you've used - either as part of homeschooling or just in general to run a household - I'd love to hear about them. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Thoughts on Planning

Now that we've had a few weeks off, I've reached a point where I'm willing to think about planning for next year.  We used MBtP for the past two years, and while I am happy with it I'm not sure that I want to use it again next year.  I may just be a person that needs change every few years. Or it may be that new things come along and catch my eye. Or a combination of both.  I'm not sure why, but I feel ready for a change.  At least for my oldest daughter. 

I started searching online and have seen some interesting things, but nothing that grabs me and shouts, "This is it!! Use me! Use me!"  What I should do is start reading planning threads (I have read a few) ... but typically this overwhelms me until I'm ready to spend several hours pouring over websites, etc.  I'll get there. 

At least I no longer carry that feeling of trying to find "the best" way to do things. When I first started out I was convinced that there had to be a "best" way to approach homeschooling, and, of course, depending on who you talk to you get a different "best."  Talk to unschoolers, and unschooling is the best way to homeschool. Talk to Classical homeschoolers, and that is the only way to educate your child. Talk to Charlotte Mason followers, and ditto. I always found talking to relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers left me feeling more calm and at ease than before the conversation, so I believed that to be my style (though I would say that I love the Classical idea of chronological history).  It probably is in that I've used an eclectic mix, although "relaxed" is a word that I'm not sure applies to how I approach anything - I am more of a "do or die" sort.  Though I am relaxed in the sense that I don't worry about covering everything (this is impossible), I'll use what is a good fit and/or free/cheap (this is smart), and I don't get stressed (anymore) over the idea of homeschooling and making choices (though actually creating my annual plan does create some level of stress). 

So while I'm not sure what next year will bring, I feel relatively calm as I think about the planning process. I'm excited about many of the extracurricular opportunities my kids will have, both new activities and tried-and-true oldies.  I'm certain the year will fall into place and that no matter the approach or materials, they will learn and grow. 

Kinda takes a load off! 

Still, I do love to look at everything that's out there... and I know I will plan out the entire year before the start of school once I figure out what we're using.  Here are some of the things I've looked at so far...
  • Calvert (too much $$)
  • Oak Meadow (I really love the look of this)
  • Complete Curriculum (the price is right but we've never, ever used textbooks)
  • Homeschool Programming (giving this a go for computer science)
  • History Odyssey (looks kinda dry)
  • Michael Clay Thompson (interesting)
  • Brave Writer (interesting)
  • JASON Science (looks good, but looks to be a lot of work)
  • Growing With Grammar (looks good)
  • K12 (not for me)
  • The Well-Trained Mind (not speaking my language this year, for whatever reason)
  • Sonlight (yes, this is Christian but I looked anyway as I know have heard of secular users)
  • PLATO science (interesting)
  • CK-12 (haven't done more than bookmark it)
  • Intellego (interesting)
..... the list actually goes on and on, so much so that I can't write it here, so maybe I've done more than I thought.  Though I haven't done much more than bookmark items and start looking over this and that.  Most likely I'll do what I did before we tried MBtP and go back to my eclectic ways.  I'll post our final choices when I make them ... probably sometime right before the start of the school year! =)

Monday, June 25, 2012


I have never used Complete Curriculum, nor am I affiliated with it in any way. I just thought I post about it as the savings until June 30 are amazing (over 90% off) and I figured a post like this might be beneficial to someone.

I learned about Complete Curriculum over at Secular Homeschool. I had never heard of it, and because of the price I decided to investigate. Based on the name & website, I expected to find it boring and incomplete. I was pleasantly surprised instead as the program looks pretty good - good enough to be a "spine" if someone is looking for a planned program. And for $5 you don't have much to lose. For that price, you will get a 12-month subscription and the ability to choose 10 "textbooks" from the K-12 grade levels in either Language Arts, Science, Social Studies and/or Math.  You do have to print everything out yourself, but the program allows you to add content to any lesson you'd like. For example, if the lesson is on poetry you could add a YouTube video of a relevant poem or two. Or if it is a science lesson on atoms, you could add videos, PDFs, etc., to that lesson.  When I looked at the samples on the website I thought the program looked boring, but once I was able to look through the entire year I changed my mind. There are a variety of activities - writing, drawing, labs, oral presentations, computer work, etc. 

If you have used this program, or plan to use it, let me know what you think!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Blogging for Homeschooled Kids....

If your son or daughter loves to read blogs, have him or her check out the 28th Homeschool Kids Blog Carnival! And if he or she is a blogger, there is a form to fill out for the next Carnival.  If you're like me, you might feel a little hesitant letting your child set up a blog. But if you set up some ground rules at the beginning and stay apprised, it can be a rewarding endeavor. All four of my girls have blogs, although my oldest (almost 12) is the only one that consistently posts. The others are hit or miss. However, having the blog enables them to express themselves in a different way and to get feedback (via comments) from friends and other homeschoolers at those times when they do feel like posting. And as they get older, I feel that it will be something they may do more often.


From the Bookshelves.... Part One

Wow - we are reading so much lately that I'm not even sure where to begin.  I will keep our list to the last two weeks, and for the sake of time I am going to have to break this down into two posts.

Family Read-Aloud
As is typical of late, our family "read-aloud" is another audiobook - Pollyana by Eleanor H. Porter (free on LibriVox). The girls were not excited at first because the reader is rather slow, but eventually the story grabbed them and now they are hooked. The best (funniest?) part is that I keep overhearing them talk about how glad they are when different things happen.

Dad's Books
My husband has been listening to several audiobooks, but offhand I do not know the titles nor his opinion of them. I will have to include them in Part Two. :)  I can also add that he is still reading book four of Harry Potter. I believe when he finishes we will need to have a celebratory glass of champagne. This could quite possibly happen sometime in the fall ... possibly 2013. It is not because he reads slowly, but rather because he has no time in which to read.

Mom's Reading List
As for me, I have read several books from the YA re-made fairy tale genre.  First, Sweetly by Jackson Pearce - a book I genuinely enjoyed. No, I don't believe it to be great literature, but, yes, it was fun and different. Pearce takes the story of Hansel and Gretel and turns it into a modern-day story about brother and sister Ansel and Gretchen, but with some major changes and a serious twist.  I can absolutely see high school kids digging this book. It's fast moving, fun, scary (but not too scary), and there's a little romance, too. 

Second in the YA grouping was Beastly by Alex Flinn. In this tale based on Beauty and the Beast, an obnoxious high school boy is cursed by a witch in order to learn that it's what's inside that counts. Personally, I did not love this book. It was, for lack of a better word, "okay."  Maybe it's just me, but I had a hard time with the story as the characters were too unbelievable. I know, I know, this should be somewhat expected in a fairy tale remake. But I don't mean the magic and premise of the story (I've read many magic-based books and have had no problem with the characters).  I can't put my finger on it exactly, but if I had to sum it up in a few words, I would say the characters are a bit too flat. And I think the language is somewhat unbelievable. However, the book is easy to read (i.e., good plot and interesting story line), and I'm sure kids would enjoy the modern-day take. I would put this at ages 14 and up.

And last in the group, I read Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. Interesting book. I have not read any of Marillier's other novels, but I believe I will. While I understand why this book is categorized as YA (main characters are all teens), I believe that the language would make this a difficult read for your average teen in that it is a "slow-to-warm" book and moves rather slowly at times.  Set in Transylvania, this story takes The Twelve Dancing Princesses and some of The Frog Prince (and potentially a few other stories!) and changes things up in big ways.  I started out not liking the book, but by the end I was hustling along to see how things would end.  What I really enjoyed is how different this book was from most other YA books I've read. However, apparently (according to other Marillier fans), it is not so different from other Marillier books. But I, being new to the author, did not know that and I enjoyed the story despite some of the slow and heavy plot. I would recommend this for adults that enjoy fantasy/fairy tale and older teens (16 and up) who like to read and don't need a "quick book."

Lest you think I only read YA books, I have also read some plain old adult fiction.  First on the list is State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (author of Bel Canto).  I know that people love this story, but I am not one of them. I was bored from page one and stayed bored through the end.  Enough said.

Next, I read House Rules by Jodi Picoult.  Picoult is an author I enjoy from time to time, but her since her books all tend to follow a similar pattern (formulaic) I can't read them often or I want to scream. Once a year or so?  I can enjoy them. A bit. I feel somewhat lukewarm about House Rules. It was interesting and I think Picoult did a good job of portraying different aspects of autism and Asperger's. However, it felt forced at times compared to some of her other novels.  It did keep me interested 'til the end and I actually learned several things about forensics about which I had no idea (probably because I don't watch CSI or any of the other crime shows).  I walked away from this book thinking, "I am so lucky."  I recommend it if for no reason other than appreciating what you have.

Phew! This is getting long. I will end with the three books I'm currently reading: Push by Sapphire (turned into the movie Precious), Mudbound by Hilary Jordan, and The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaajte.  All three books are good so far, and all could not be more different.  The first two I picked up on my own, and The Cat's Table is for a book discussion - not a book I would have ever started reading if not for the group, however it is beginning to grow on me. Ondaajte has an interesting way with words and absolutely stunning imagery.  You can actually see the story as you read.

Part Two of this post will cover what the girls are reading. I sometimes wonder if I should leave out what my husband and I are reading, but then I think, "Nah." 

Happy Reading!

Saturday, May 26, 2012


We have LOTS of yarrow growing in our front garden... and I'm excited! I know about the medicinal properties of yarrow, but have never attempted to do anything with it. Actually, I didn't know this was yarrow because I always thought yarrow was white. However, now that it's confirmed I've decided that, because it is literally taking over (surprise), I am going to try to a few herbalist remedy recipes (say that three times fast). And have the girls help me. We really should all have gardening journals - well, we did once upon a time though they are long since forgotten. Time to dust them off and begin again. I think yarrow will be a great place to start as instead of just eating it like we do most of the plants around our house we can do something different with it.

Oh - and if you live near me and are in need of yarrow I have plenty to spare!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Runny Babbit and Bowcase Shoard

As I mentioned in a previous post, my youngest (7) is in love with Shel Silverstein's Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook (in case you haven't figured it out, he swaps the first letters of words to make new, sillier words).  She copied and illustrated the namesake poem as a tribute to the book. She usually starts this way - copies her favorite pieces and then begins to venture into her own material. While she has an incredible imagination, there's nothing like inspiration to really open the doors of possibility even wider.

My 8-year-old is excited for me to showcase her current, unedited bulletin board (hence my attempt at Silversteinesque humor). Our school year will be coming to a close on Friday (with the exception of math for everyone and math + Spanish for my oldest) and everything will come off of the bulletin boards. Needless to say, they won't stay empty long. We clear them off each week and whether we're doing school work or not they are filled with the creative endeavors of the girls. However, this is the final "school" bulletin of this academic year.  Hurrah!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Kids Can Do It" Recipe

I have a food blog as well, so I try to keep my posts separate - but these cookies are so darn good and so easy that it really is a "kids can do it" recipe. As such, I thought I'd share with my fellow homeschoolers, who are, I am sure, always looking for quick-to-make snacks. Last night I tried these out on my husband, and they were so good that I had to make another batch this morning with the girls (yes, he and I ate the entire batch ourselves). I am calling them Quick'n'Easy Peanut Butter Cookies, although I really think they should be called Disappearing Peanut Butter Cookies because I bet they won't last long enough to cool completely from the oven! They are easy but have enough ingredients to make it fun for even more experienced child cooks, and not using a mixer is a fun change for kids who are used to machines doing everything from brushing teeth to washing clothes to baking bread.

Check out my original post here for the recipe!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Philadelphia Museum of Art


It's been a while since I took the girls to an art museum. We used to go almost every other week ... in fact, at one time I believe we had memberships to four or five different art museums  And I think I burned out.  I'd say it's been over a year since the last time we went and all of our memberships have expired. But today we took a field trip with some fellow homeschoolers and enjoyed a group 'school' tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I am grateful to my friend for proposing and organizing the trip. 

The girls had a good time and on the way home they asked if we could go again next week (although I secretly believe their favorite part was lunch with friends on the Washington Monument at Eakins Oval!).  We do a lot of art projects in our house, many based on famous artists. But it's always so nice to see the real thing. And our tour guide was good with children - she was engaging and didn't overwhelm them with too many details. Overall, a successful trip and a reminder to go more often!

Friday, May 4, 2012


Josefina in the Cradleboard
A friend and I co-lead an American Girl Doll Club for homeschooled girls ages 8 and up.  Each month the girls read a book, we discuss it as well as other issues that arise (we have covered some serious topics!), and we typically do a project or craft inspired by the book of the month.  This month we are discussing A Kaya Mystery: The Silent Stranger.  One of my favorite aspects of the AG mysteries is the last section of the book where they provide the historical context and tie it into the story. The Silent Stranger is an award-winning book, and as an undergrad I majored in Biological and Sociocultural Anthropology with an emphasis in both Native American Studies and Chicano Studies ... so it's not surprising that I loved this book and the tidbits of information at the end.  :)

Example from slide show
In the story, a woman is in shock after losing her husband and infant in a lightning storm.  The mystery of what happened to her infant is solved by paying attention to cultural differences between tribes - partly with the help of the differences in cradleboards. I decided to create a short power point presentation on cradleboards, their cultural significance and the variations between tribes as well as images of different cradleboards.  I then created a Native American-inspired cradleboard designed to hold an American Girl doll. This cradleboard combines different elements from different tribes (e.g., a Navajo "rainbow" but the Nez Perce teardrop design).  If I had a larger budget, I would have used different materials (e.g., faux buckskin for the blanket, faux leather for the ties and strapping) but with only $5 to spend on each one I had to make do, and I'm pretty happy with the way they turned out. When the girls decorate the rainbow piece, they are going to have the option of seed beads or colored beans for the design and feathers or creating interesting pictures (in the vein of mobiles) that will hang down.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

From the Bookshelves...

Family Read-Aloud
Actually, it's an audiobook .... we're listening to Beyond the Grave, Book 4 in The 39 Clues series.  I can see why kids like these books, and the audiobooks are well done. However, I think I can only take so much of this series before I need a break.  They are nonstop action and little character development.  I still like the books and I think they are a fun change, so we'll do the series but we may interject other material between books.

My husband is slowly making his way through the entire Harry Potter series (he's only a few years behind the rest of us) and is currently on the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  He really enjoyed the first three but was having a hard time getting into this book.  I think it has more to do with how little time he spends reading than the material itself. He has only been able to read for a few minutes a day, which must make it hard to get drawn into the story.

I, myself, have been reading nonstop lately. I think I've read two dozen books in the last three weeks, and I won't bore you with all of the titles. Currently I am in the middle of Bitterblue, the sequel to Graceling. (Yes, these are young adult titles. I read Graceling as part a book discussion group: Not Your Mother's Book Club, a group designed for adults who want to discuss YA books. It's been great - the discussions are interesting and have provided a different view of the material, and I feel that it's introduced me to titles that I'm certain my oldest daughter will want to read in a few years.)  I thought Graceling, though far from perfect, was an interesting story with a very redeemable, strong, and refreshing female character. I would actually recommend the story to others interested in this genre. Bitterblue, on the other hand, I'm ready to stop reading and I'm only halfway through. I won't stop - I will hold out hope that the book improves. But so far? I'm disappointed. A few other titles I've read lately include When She Woke, which is a wonderful, thought-provoking novel and a book I highly recommend and The Art of Racing in the Rain, another must-read which would also make for a nice discussion book.

My eleven-year old is a voracious reader and, like me, has a huge stack of books she's reading.  She recently finished Tuck Everlasting, and it has moved onto her list of all-time favorites. She is also reading Homeless Bird, the story of a thirteen-year-old girl in India facing an arranged marriage. It is a wonderful tale of courage and character.

On my ten-year-old's nightstand are the widest variety of books in terms of genre and difficulty. She just finished Matilda and thoroughly enjoyed the novel despite having hated the movie.  She is also reading Emily's Runaway Imagination, which is a true classic in many ways and a very fun read.

My eight-year-old is working her way through Edgar Eager's series, Tales of Magic. She is currently on Knight's Castle.  This series is timeless and I believe that most children will enjoy reading these books. I believe they are tagged for 3rd grade and up, but really any age will enjoy these tales of time-traveling children, magic, and misadventure.


And lastly, my little one (age 7) is very into poetry at the moment. Specifically, she is reading several Shel Silverstein books - for what seems like the hundredth time. :)  Runny Babbit is on one of her all-time favorites, and as such we're using it as inspiration for several language arts projects.  Runny Babbit, for anyone who doesn't know, involves poems in which the first two letters of words are switched. This creates funny creatures, like a Pinky Stig. This book would make a great gift or a good addition to the family library. We keep borrowing it from our public library, but I think I may put this on my birthday shopping list...