Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Thanksgiving Present

Actually, a Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday, anniversary present, all in one.  It's a  . . .
Our old driveway had this . . . . special . . . little curve towards the bottom that we could never quite manage to stay on if we had 2 cars in the driveway.  Consequently we ran off onto the grass regularly, leading to lots of mud and weeds on that side.  Eventually we put some paving stones down in an attempt to cut down on the mud, but after so many years of driving over them, they sank down into the mud.
You can't really tell from this picture, but the top right side was basically falling away, such that there was a good 6 inches to get up into the garage . . . not that we've been able to fit a car into either side of the garage for years!  Ha!  For the record, when we first moved here in 2004, we were able to fit the Sienna into the left side of the garage for a few years, and the old Odyssey in the right side (turned at a weird angle so that the driver had to exit the sliding door, though) during the winter if we took out all the bikes.  But then, more kids . . . less interest in moving all bikes, etc. in and out for different seasons . . . eventually no more cars fit into the garage ever.  Oh well.

A couple years ago (5 maybe?), a bunch of other people in the neighborhood had their driveways redone, so Bob and I started considering doing that ourselves.  With all our gestational diabetes-induced marches around the neighborhood, we had plenty of opportunities to observe exactly how every single driveway in our neighborhood was situated.  (Feel free to ask--we can describe all the widenings, extra parking pads, etc.  It's been a fascinating topic of conversation for years for Bob and me!)

Two years ago we got as far as calling a few places,  and even discussing the project with our next-door neighbor on the right.  He took our recommendation, called the guys, and his driveway was done a few weeks later.  It looked great!  This strengthened our resolve to get a new driveway, but it did not increase our pace.  Eventually in March 2015 we called and the guy came out and gave us an estimate.  Time passed, we kept complaining about our old driveway (to add to its charms, it dipped a bit in places, which collected water and froze into black ice over the winter, so there was always a danger of slipping and flailing around that was entertainment for the neighbors, I'm sure), but Bob and I couldn't really come to an agreement on how we wanted our driveway to be shaped, so nothing changed.

But then--2 weeks ago, the repaving place was having a sale, and so we reopened the discussion, complete with hoses to mark out possible lines in the grass.  During one of these discussions, our other next-door neighbor came out.  After a few words with him, Bob and I both agreed on how we wanted it done, he called the place, they had a cancellation for last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and BOOM!  We were finally, 2 years later, about to get a new driveway!  Well, you can't say it wasn't well-anticipated, lol.
The guys came at 7:30 AM, made quick work of the old driveway (bye, Felicia), cut out the new shape, leveled off the area with dirt and whatnot, and then poured the new one.  They were finished by 12:30, while we were at iFly!
To say I am happy with the new driveway would be a vast understatement.  I am THRILLED!  I LOVE the new driveway!  Best present ever!  Do instead of going from the edges of the garage doors, it now goes from the edges of the house.  That might not seem like a huge difference, but it's a good 3 feet, and it now seems SO spacious!
And here's what we ended up doing to get rid of that nasty curve.  Several other neighbors had gotten a little sliver of asphalt next to the concrete pad, but those are all breaking off now, so we thought it would stand a better chance of lasting if it was a thicker piece.Plus, that means that when a big storm is forecast, we can fit all 4 cars onto the driveway out of the way of the snowplow, something we couldn't even dream of doing with the old one.  We could barely get 3 cars on there!
This was one of the main sticking points--what to do with our sidewalk.  We thought we might have to go all the way over the where it already had the line, but it turned out that the repaving guys just sawed through it and carted it off, so we could just have the driveway line be off the edge of the bricks.  Whew! 

So now you know what I've already gotten for Christmas!  I plan on enjoying my present the whole year through! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


We are enjoying our Thanksgiving break, especially having Nathan home.  This afternoon we made some fun memories as a family--we did some indoor skydiving at iFly!  Indoor skydiving is the "simulation of true freefall conditions in a vertical wind tunnel".  Bob and some of the kids had stopped by and observed some people a few weeks ago, and he really wanted to give it a shot.  It is *super* expensive, but Bob found a deal from Costco that helped a bit.  It was for a "birthday party" for 12.  Fortunately, we have a lot of birthdays, and Drew's is coming up next week, so that worked out fine, lol.  It meant that up to 12 people got a grand total of 24 minutes of flying time, and then we got a pizza party afterward in their "party room".

 First everyone went into a room for some training, where they watched a 4 minute video and did some demos of the positions.  Then everyone got all suited up.  The goggles made everyone's faces all squished, and then I realized it was going to be very hard to tell them all apart once they starting actually going into the wind tunnel.  
 Jonathan was first.  Tog o out there, you just stand at the door and lean in.  The wind just kind of picks you up, and the guy maneuvers you around.   The tunnel is really loud so you wear earplugs under your helmet.  Just like space-a aircraft!  They had learned some hand signals so the instructor could communicate with them.  He stood there and held onto handles sewn on the back on the jumpsuits so no one went flying away.  Plus, there was a guy sitting outside the tunnel controlling the wind speeds, and if someone got too high, he lowered the speed (or if someone was heavier than everyone else, he would raise the speed).  Here you can see Jonathan demonstrating how to arch your back.  Poor Grace arched her back so much (and she is so light) that she definitely floated off a bit and would have been better served to be flatter, making more wind resistance!
 I was worried that Drew would be terrified, but he was a real trooper out there!  Three is the youngest a child can be.  Next year for Verity, I guess.  Ha!  Drew did panic a bit on his second flight.  Everyone flew for 1:12 for two separate flights.  The general consensus was that it was really good to have more shorter flights so you could process what you did and maybe learn something for the next time.  Plus, it was *really* windy and hard to breathe, so you needed a break after a bit!  Apparently, a minute felt like a really long time, lol.
 And here we can see the difficulties of figuring out which face is whose when they are out there.  Is this Faith?  Micah?  Also, it was really hard to take good pictures.  The sun was reflecting off the glass walls, and the older kids especially were moving around so much that almost every picture I have of them is blurry (even harder to figure out who is who, lol).
 *This* one is Micah, for sure . . . I think.  No, it really is.  He had such a great time too!  What little boy doesn't want to be Superman?!
 During the second flight, the instructor took them each up way higher, which they thought was really fun.  They all had such big smiles on their faces!  Even Luke and Caleb, who had both been less than enthusiastic about this outing, agreed that it was really fun.
 One non-blurry picture of Caleb up high.
 Verity was transfixed by the sight of all her siblings and her daddy flying.  She was super excited when they buzzed close to her, and she would wave furiously while calling their names.  It was really cute.  She did not seem the least bit disappointed to not be out there, and it was a good thing someone stayed behind to watch her.  Everyone else was in this little closed off area behind the tunnel, sitting on a bench.  It was really loud in there, so she couldn't have been in there, and there wasn't anything else we could have done with her!  Really, I was just fine with not going.  Skydiving has never been a remote dream of mine in any way, shape, or form!  I am not adventurous, lol.
 Afterward we enjoyed 4 pizzas and some pop while watching skydiving videos of all sorts play on a big screen.  They even showed in its entirety the space jump of Felix Baumgartner from 2012.  I had watched clips of it when it happened, but it was much more impressive to see the whole thing in real time on a huge screen on the wall!  I can't even imagine over 4 1/2 minutes of freefall at almost 600 mph.  That is just nuts!  It certainly made indoor skydiving seem like a little walk in the park.

Part of our package included a free video of each person (they each got to choose which flight they wanted to keep).  They sent me the link, and now I need to actually download them.

So the overall consensus was that was a very fun activity, albeit a very expensive one.  It is significantly cheaper to go back a second time, than to go the first time.  It was a nice thing to do as a family, especially with Nathan home!  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Egypt 5th Week Activity

Today was the culmination of the Egypt unit for our elementary co-op.  I was super happy to get the chickens that have been mummifying on my kitchen counter since the end of August out of the house!
Here I am in my lovely ancient Egyptian attire. I bought this ensemble for 20 bucks on Amazon right after Halloween.  If you didn't leap at the deal then, you missed your chance--it's up to $40 now.  I'm so sorry.  It has a crown too, with dangly gold chains, but I graciously let my helper Stephanie wear that.  My hair really looked triangular with it on.  I guess i just don't have Egyptian hair, lol.

I also spent a good deal of time trying to figure out Egyptian eyeliner, specifically that winged look.  I never really got the hang of it, alas, so hopefully it never becomes a style trend for stay at home homeschooling moms around here.  I am flanked by my painted cardboard mummies (minus the cat), and I'm holding King Cluck in his golden sarcophagus. I am definitely trying to keep these mummies, chickens, etc.  I don't want to have to repeat all this a third time in 7 years!
I gave the same little talk about the mummification process that I gave 7 years ago.  Everyone was pretty interested in touching the mummified but unwrapped chicken to see what it felt like.  It feels pretty firm, and the flesh turns a dark purplish color.  They were also quite interested in smelling it.  This time I embalmed it in just salt, baking soda, and baking powder, instead of adding spices.  You might think that would make it smell worse, but you would be wrong.  The spices just add . . . something . . . to the smell that makes it more unpleasant.  The wrapped mummy got rubbed with scented oil, and he definitely had that same weirder smell.  The unwrapped one is not as . . .  different.  It's weird.
Then the kids did the same "mummification practice" on bananas that they did 7 years ago--cut a slit in the side of a banana with a plastic knife, scoop out a few spoonfuls of "organs" and place them into the "canopic jar" (dixie cup).  Then fill the cavity with cotton balls, tape it shut with 2 pieces of waterproof tape, and wrap the whole thing up with toilet paper.  Voila--mummy!  For some reason, the whole thing didn't take as much time as it did the last time.  In 7 more years, I'll have to add to the presentation, or have some other craft.  I think the opening ceremony part was longer last time.  Ah well--it was fine.  We reviewed things they learned about Egypt during the 4 teaching weeks.
We had 3 other rooms besides the mummy room for the tiers to rotate through.  One was a pyramid building room.  They built pyramids using boxes and moved heavy things around on sledges.  We were a bit worried about this room because it seemed like teachers might not be here because of sickness, but everyone did show up, and it went really well.  The kids enjoyed it.  It is always great to have big hands-on things, especially using things like simple machine principles!
Another room had food and other stuff.  The moms in here were super prepared, and they had baked up Egyptian food for the kids to taste, as well as had things for the kids to do, like grind barely and make little jars of scented oil. Plus they got cool points for having the kids sit on the floor on big pillows and flat tables!
The last room was a craft room.  One of the food room moms had been at a VBS this past summer that had a Moses/Egyptian theme, and they did this cute "woven" basket craft.  I ordered the kits from a company I had never heard of,  They were only $1 each, which I thought was a good price  The moms in that room had to cut the yarn into 10 yd pieces, but the kids just had to weave the yarn in and out of these white posts.  There are an odd number of posts, so the basket keeps getting higher.  They were really cute!
Here's a close-up of Faith's basket.

So it went really well, and I came home to teach life science and memory work, give haircuts to Luke and Caleb, and give baths to Micah, Drew, and Verity.  Now I am really crashing.  I can't believe how tired I am!  And I can't believe that after biology on Thursday, we'll be on Thanksgiving break!!  I am SUPER thankful about that!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Advice to New Homeschooling Moms of Kindergartners

I gave a 30 minute talk last night to a lovely group of ladies.  It was on choosing curriculum, and it was geared mainly to those moms who are just starting homeschooling and have younger kids.  I'm going to paste in my notes here in case anyone ever wanted to know what I think about choosing kindergarten curriculum . . .  It's really long, and formatting is weird, since I took it out of word.

·         10 kids, 19-2, names and ages
·         Bob—retired AF Lt. Col, now government contractor
·         Didn’t grow up in a big family or even ever want to homeschool
·         College experience, bio/math degree
·         L’s lived with us, we saw homeschooling in action
·         Walking group—trying to get into best preschool, etc.
*Suzanne’s advice to me then:  just work on first-time obedience, good attitude, attention span
                                --Buy Usborne count by numbers and alphabet books, tear out pages and laminate them
*Moved to Ohio, started “real” homeschooling
                --Veritas Press stuff, found Well Trained Mind
                --Nathan couldn’t rhyme, had problems spelling, slow to learn to read, but took off after he turned 7
                *Did a lot orally!
                --Luke taught himself to read at 4 after a few lessons of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
*Moved to VA when Nathan was in 2nd grade, in 2004 (*had 4 kids)
                --plodded on with homeschooling, had 6 more babies, including 3 girls in less than 3 years
                --Discovered Nathan most likely had “dysgraphia”, where there was a “gate” between his brain and his hand, and that doing things orally was a good thing for that
--Worried about putting him in local co-op in 7th because of writing/spelling issues
                --Year of CC with good friends, the McCs—new campus, showed us what we wanted and didn’t want
                --Started our own little junior/senior high co-op with McCs and 2 other families the next year called Rivendell
*Rivendell—rigorous; 8 approved AP syllabi, 4.5 average score, I teach junior high school science classes there, through AP biology
                --Nathan graduated 2 years ago, having gotten a perfect 800 on the verbal part of the SAT, turned down an appointment to West Point (USMA) to take a 4 year full ROTC scholarship at VT as an engineering major and had a 3.84 GPA last year.
Encouragement—what they are at 5 is not what they will be later on
                --WIDE range of normal; assume normalcy but work with weaknesses
                --Don’t compare, especially boys/girls

I say all this as introduction so you know where I am coming from.  I am not one who says, “Just do character stuff—academics don’t matter!”  BUT it is so easy to get completely overwhelmed when looking at curriculum and just homeschooling—am I doing enough?  Is this curriculum challenging enough for my kindergartner?  As you look at curriculum and map out your path, I want to tell you what I’ve found important to focus on, and I want to give some advice about choosing curriculum.

General advice first:

1.       Pray.  Seek the Lord’s guidance.  Listen to his voice, but don’t confuse it with noise around you.  Just because everyone is talking about a certain new curriculum is not necessarily a sign that God wants you to switch to that. Be discerning.

2.        Don’t chase after the perfect curriculum, and don’t buy into the hype of every shiny new curriculum.  Don’t envy your friend’s new curriculum—especially if the one you have been using is working just fine.  The perfect curriculum is not out there.  And even if you find one that works perfectly for one child, it won’t work that well for the next.  Balance your expectations!

3.      A corollary to #2:  Don’t jump from curriculum to curriculum, especially in math.  There may be legitimate reasons to switch.  I did it this year for my 5th grade daughter.  But make sure you understand the reasons the first curriculum didn’t work, and get to the root of the problem, instead of just bailing out at the first sign of a problem.  Jumping around is a good way to have gaps for your kids.

4.        Don’t make choosing a curriculum, especially at the kindergarten level, a bigger deal than it is.  You’re not marrying it.  And honestly, most curricula and most methods of teaching (CM, WTM, traditional) will really get the job done, especially at this young age.  So don’t fret about it.  Go with something you like and you think you will use because YOU understand the logic behind it.  Don’t choose something that will make you feel guilty if you don’t use it, or that ties you to a strict schedule.  These are your years to be flexible!

5.       Choose something that compliments your lifestyle and family situation.  Don’t choose something with high teacher prep or high one-on-one time required if you have several other younger kids.  If you lose stuff easily, don’t pick a curriculum that has you storing 50 small pieces that are all very important.  And if you don’t even like crafts, then don’t choose something where you are buying supplies every week and cleaning up messes that you hate.  That’s what TNT is for.

6.       Don’t try to do a ton of different subjects, just to say you’re doing them.  Honestly, seatwork at this age should be about 20 minutes.  Work on developing attention spans (and those of you that have girls first will have the advantage here), but don’t try to cram in phonics, math, grammar, art, science, history, etc. so their schedule looks like that of someone in 4th grade.  It doesn’t need to, because there are many more years to add on subjects.  Have reasonable expectations for this age, looking ahead to your long-term goals, but not trying to accomplish those goals all in one year.  Fourth grade is where we really start beefing up the schoolwork.  By then the kids are more mature and able to handle things. 

Important things to focus on in kindergarten:
1.        Reading—obviously
a.       Like potty-training, this is easier when they are motivated.  If they don’t get it right away, it is okay to not push it.  Again—WIDE range of normal.
b.      I’ve used VP’s Phonics Museum because I did a ton of research when Nathan was my oldest, and so then after that of course I was going to use it.  100 EZ Lessons works well too, with ETC, or really any other phonics program.  Use what you like.  Your kids will probably be excited for a lesson or 2 and then not want to do anything resembling hard work after that, so don’t depend on what they “like”.  They can be fickle.  Again, don’t use something too complicated when you are still having babies or have toddlers.  I dropped all the fancy extras of VP, and you know what—it still worked just fine.
c.       Read aloud, and make SURE they see you reading yourself, something other than your phone or computer.  It’s hypocritical to talk about how important reading is, but never actually do it.  Sometimes have them narrate back what you’ve read to them to make sure they are comprehending, another important skill.
d.      I start handwriting by writing with a highlighter and having the kids trace over it.  You don’t need fancy curricula for everything.  After that we generally use HWT because it doesn’t have a slant, and I’m left-handed, so it’s hard for me to teach writing. This is not a big focus of mine, honestly.

2.       Math—this is a big focus of mine, but not necessarily the workbooks.
a.       Do a lot of practical math—cutting apples, graham crackers, etc. into fractions, adding things, playing with 10s concepts so they can envision numbers in their minds
b.      Encourage logical thinking, with steps, in problem solving.  Break problems like organizing a room into smaller steps.  Critical Thinking Press, Hidden pictures, etc.
c.       Don’t skip around in your curriculum; make sure they know their facts
d.      We’ve always used Saxon until I switched Anna (5th grade) to Teaching Textbooks this year.  She needed a confidence boost, and her 13 month younger sister was at the same place in math as her, so it made sense to put her in something else.  She would have been devastated to be doing the same math as Grace.  It’s been a great change for her—she’s gained a lot of confidence back already.

3.        Memory Work (Train the brain to memorize—Nathan has appreciated this skill in college)
a.       After a year of CC, I designed my own based on what I wanted them to know later
b.      Bible passages (benefits to knowing chunks of Scripture), timeline, kings and queens by houses, presidents, science facts, poems, and then mapwork corresponding to TOG (which we use with our older kids)
c.       We do it all together (until junior high) , but different expectations for different ages, as part of our “couch time” every day, where we also read the Bible, pray for a country in Operation World, read SOTW, and do other oral stuff like FLL. 
d.      Younger kids—at least the first several verses of the Bible passage, some timeline, easier poems (Owl and the pussycat, I’m Nobody, Who are You, All Things Bright and Beautiful, etc.), while the older kids eventually learn all the timeline, kings and queens, etc. plus harder poems and speeches, like St. Crispin Day speech from Henry V and the Gettysburg Address. 

4.       Latin—not for kindergarten, generally, but more like 2nd or 3rd grade
“Math for the right side of the brain”
Junior high—take National Latin Exam level 1, then start foreign language
BUT Anna is taking German this year because that opportunity arose, so don’t be afraid to take opportunities that come up just because they don’t look like your ideal plan

5.       Science—extra at this age.  Make them curious and observant.  Develop a science vocabulary, like with memory work, and don’t worry if they don’t understand it.  Read library books on different science topics.  Take nature walks and help them ask “why” questions.

6.       History—read something like SOTW or MOH, have maps everywhere in your house.

7.       Unstructured time to play both inside and outside, especially for boys
This honestly is more important than any curriculum.  There is so much time for sitting still later. 

8.        Don’t be afraid to take time off.  Take a long-term view.  Kindergarten schoolwork is simply not that deeply crucial.  If it takes you 2 years to finish something, so what.  If you have a baby and need to take a while off, that is okay.  “The baby is the lesson.”

9.       I liked to school 6 weeks, then take a week off when I only had littles.  Don’t burn yourself out.  Being super-rigorous or finding the perfect curriculum is worthless if you can only last 2 years. Again, think long-term.  Go year-around—not only is it better in terms of retention, you can take time off without guilt.

10.   If you are burning out at this stage—dial it down.  Teach practical skills instead, that will actually help you, like laundry folding, sweeping, cleaning toilets, etc.  Take field trips.  Go to the park or on hikes.  Read tons of books out loud. 

Ultimately, we are all just giving the Lord our loaves and fishes when it comes to educating our children.  He is the one that gives the increase.  Be faithful, but not obsessive.  Don’t make kindergarten more than it needs to be.  If your curriculum is overwhelming you, then that’s a sign to step back.  Most importantly, pray for guidance.  The Lord will be faithful and give you guidance—you just have to be careful that you are not putting your demands and ideals on him!

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

More Egypt

Today I taught again for our elementary co-op.  Another mom, Stephanie, volunteered to come in and help, and it was so nice to have her there!  I think the kids must have been on their best behavior for her, though, because while the first week I taught the 4 year olds were very distracted and antsy, this time they were all riveted and quiet.  It was amazing!

We are still covering ancient Egypt, so this week we learned about mummies and pyramids.  I talked about what the Egyptians believed happened when a person died--they went on a big journey to the underworld, so they need lots of stuff to help them on their journey.  I contrasted that with what the Bible says about how only our souls are eternal, and we can't take anything else with us when we die.  I made up a little craft with clip art images I found to glue in a sort of "tomb".

We talked about the "Book of the Dead", and I was able to show off some papyrus paintings my parents had given us from Egypt awhile back.  We talked about how the Egyptians believed that a dead person's heart was weighed against a feather, and if the heart was filled with truth and light, then it would be lighter than the feather, and the person would get to go into Osiris's kingdom and live happily ever after, but if the heart was full of wickedness and evil, then it would be heavier than a feather, and a monster would eat it.  I asked the kids if that was how God really judged us--by how much good stuff we do?  No, because we would all have heavy hearts, since "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God".  It is only because Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, so that when God looks at our sins, he sees Jesus' blood, that we can enter heaven.  We can never do enough good things, because we are all sinners, and just one bad thing is enough to keep us out of heaven, since God is perfectly holy. Hopefully it all made an impact, but you never know with 4 and 5 year olds!

Then we talked about the process of mummification.  Next week for our big 5th week activity, I'm reprising my mummy talk from 7 years ago, complete with chicken mummies, and I wanted these little guys have to some background knowledge of mummification.  They were quite interested!  I demonstrated with a ken doll, and even wrapped him up in cloth strips.

Then we talked about pyramids, since rich people wanted a nice, special place to be buried.      
The kids made rice krispie pyramids.  I ended up using 3 inch square blocks as the base, then 2 inch blocks for the next layer, and then 1 1/2 inch for the top.  Of course, that makes more of a step pyramid, so I had them squish the top block into more of a point, and Stephanie and I went around and trimmed the sides at an angle so they had a more pyramidal shape.  The kids got to eat the scraps, so they were all enthusiastic about this part!
The small pyramids on the side were with left-over rice krispies.  It's so fun to squish rice krispies!  I was absolutely thrilled when I found these huge sheets of pre-made rice krispies treats for sale at Walmart a few days ago.  What a time savings!  I made enough pyramids for 16 kids, plus my sample ones, and I used 2 big trays.  They were really sturdy squares, too, nice and dense.  They worked well!

After that, I read a short book to them about mummies and pyramids from the library (*creatively titled Pyramids and Mummies by Seymour Simon).  It had pictures of some real mummies, plus lots of pyramid pictures, so the kids were all interested.  It was fun, but I'm glad to be done!

Now all that is left for Egypt is the 5th week.  I'm busily drawing mummies on cardboard, and I need to paint them.  I also need to finish wrapping the one chicken mummy, and put him in his shoebox sarcophagus.  I only taught life science and memory work after getting home, so that was a bit of a break, which was especially nice because I've picked up a cold, with a sore throat and bit of a cough.  I'll just teach biology on Thursday this week.  I was able to vote after memory work, and there wasn't even a line!  

I think if I can just get through next Thursday's biology  class, things will settle down.  Maybe.  I'm hoping.