Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rising Food Costs

Anyone who has been to the grocery store recently knows that food costs have been climbing. Dairy prices jumped this past fall. Prices for fruits and vegetables rollercoaster up and down, depending on weather and gasoline prices, which affect shipping costs from farm to grocery. And now wheat prices are set to skyrocket. My sister owns a cafe for which she does all the baking, and she found that the cost of a 50 lb. bag of flour from her supplier doubled last week, and is expected to keep going up. I had read an article just this past week that said that wheat harvests have been bad here and abroad for a couple of years. Yikes. Our pocketbook has been taking a steady beating lately, and this news does not bode well. Bread, rolls, tortillas, pasta, cereals.... lots of dietary staples will be affected.

So I'm looking for ideas!

I'm already couponing, using sites like Money Saving Mom , The Coupon Mom, Savvy Dollar, and others to help shave $$ off my weekly grocery bill. I'm thinking that I'll have to pare down the food options at home. Right now, with 2 teens and a youngster in the house, they expect readily available snacks and mini-meals whenever they get hungry. And my husband likes a hearty meal - to quote, "soup is not a meal, it is something you eat before a meal". And I care about our health, so I want to provide high quality, and not just junk.

Now, beyond saving on food, I found a site today that gave a recipe for homemade laundry detergent, at a fraction of the price of the top brand and even cheaper than the store brands.

Leave a comment and tell me - how are you making ends meet?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Greek Temple

We are learning about Ancient Greece right now, so this week we made a Greek Temple out of a small flat box ( base), 4 toilet paper tubes ( columns) , white poster board ( roof and pediments) and white copy paper (details like fluting and capitals on the columns). It was actually a pretty quick and easy project, and J had something cool for "show & tell" at co-op on Friday. We found the directions for this project, which we adapted somewhat, in the Kaleidoscope Kids book, Ancient Greece! 40 Hands-on Activities to Experience this Wondrous Age.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Favorite Homeschool Products

This week, Heart of the Matter is asking

What is Your Favorite Homeschool Product?

Computer - If I had to homeschool with only one item, it would be my computer (with high speed internet access, of course). It is a library at your fingertips - encyclopedia, thesaurus, Bible, English handbook, atlas, cookbook, travel guide, literature ( complete books online), art and music history, etc. etc. There are so many sites with free lesson plans and unit studies and lapbooks and e-books and video clips and virtual tours and music files, that you could pull together a complete curriculum from online resources!

One of my favorite educational websites that I use often is Enchanted Learning. I pay for the yearly subscription, but you can also use parts of the site for free.

Copy Machine - second to my computer would probably be my printer/copy machine. I use it nearly every day! I copy workbook pages, assignment sheets, BINGO boards, outline maps, drill sheets, puzzles, copywork, and more.

Senior High: A Home Designed Form+U+La is one of my favorite "homeschool" books for preparing for and succeeding with the high school years. It not only includes tons of reproducible forms to help with course planning, grading, and record keeping, but also addresses the heart of homeschooling, which I found to be hugely encouraging!

Fourteen years ago, when I was just getting started in homeschooling, I devoured the curriculum guides by Mary Pride ( Big Books of Home Learning ) and Cathy Duffy (Christian Home Educators Curriculum Manuals). I appreciated how these two women not only listed the various materials, curriculums, companies, and programs available for homeschoolers, but also described the type of approach and type of learner these would appeal to. Since the homeschool market continually is flooded with great (and some not so great) new materials and companies, a recent book is necessary. I recommend Cathy Duffy's 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum: Choosing the Right Curriculum and Approach for Your Child's Learning Style.

Last but not least, I'll put in a plug for my favorite curriculum. A few years ago, I found Tapestry of Grace, and was delighted to find something that I could use with all my children, that combined a Classical Approach with a hands-on unit study approach, could be adapted easily to include Charlotte Mason ideas in early grades, had a strong Christian emphasis, and included many of the wonderful books that I had already collected over the years! My dear children laughed at me. "Another new curriculum, Mom?" But I knew that this was one that would serve us well for the rest of our homeschooling years, as a foundation for what we did in our homeschool. We add math, grammar, art, phonics, science, music, and foreign language. Tapestry covers history, geography, philosophy and worldviews, literature, writing, Bible & Church History, and Fine Arts.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Animal School

You can also view this video here on You Tube.

Wednesday Art Class

In yesterday's art classes, we worked some more on line drawings.

The 9 yr olds did some directed drawing ( they followed my directions - draw a small dot on the right side of the paper, draw a circle around the dot, etc...) and drew a bird, which they then painted, using watercolor crayons. Then they used an Ebony pencil to do a line drawing of a toy animal, and used the side of the pencil to shade around it.

The 14 yr.olds worked on line drawings by copying a master - this study of the head of an angel for Madonna on the Rocks, by Leonardo Da Vinci. They found this was harder to do than they thought!

Since the girls found this a bit frustrating, and Amanda was begging to do something with COLOR, I had them draw a bird from a photo, and then paint with the watercolor crayons as well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tournament Time

Today Eric played his last "regular season" high school basketball game ever! Unfortunately, it was against the Hawks, who creamed us. Eric had a really good game though, scoring 17 points and getting some great rebounds. One bright spot was that I got to hug on my friend Lea, whose son was one of those responsible for the creaming.

This is one of those periods of life when I have to put on my blinders and concentrate on getting through one day at a time! In addition to our normal schedule of homeschooling, science classes, art class, choir, basketball practices and games, church... we are putting on the Eastern NC Homeschool Basketball Tournament this weekend. I say "we" because my husband is the Tournament Director, which means this is a family affair! He is doing the majority of the work, but I am the official "sounding board" and "proofreader". Amanda took on the job of creating a 25-page program for both the Eastern & Western Regionals, which included typing up the rosters for middle school, JV, and Varsity boys and girls teams from across NC - 43 teams in all! It just went to the printer today. I was drafted to draw up maps and help create the "info packet" to send out to all the teams. Other people are helping with things like t-shirts, certificates, and trophies. Tomorrow we have to go through the list of parents who have volunteered to help (a big hooray for parents who volunteer!!!) and plug everyone in to spots during the two days - we need door monitors, scorekeepers, locker room monitors ( hate it, but even homeschool kids have been known to be rowdy and unruly!) There are many, many, many details to take care of before the teams arrive at the gym on Friday. Pray that all goes smoothly.

The state homeschool basketball finals will be the following weekend in Greensboro, with the top teams from this weekend's regionals. Then a couple of weeks after that we'll be traveling to VA for the HSPN East Coast Homeschool Basketball Tournament, at Liberty University. Our boys and girls varsity teams went last year and had a fanstastic tournament. Only the boys varsity team is going this year. Hopefully, it will be as much fun!

Totally off-topic .... I love "American Idol"; tonight was the top 12 guys. David Archuleta gets my vote so far for most talented and most huggable! He's 17 and so darn cute! My Italian grandma would just squeeze his cheeks! Overall, there is a lot of talent in this group of guys. Tomorrow night the girls sing ~ I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Where Do You Homeschool?

This week, The Heart of the Matter is asking

Where Do You Homeschool?

Do you have a special room set aside? Are you a "couch schooler"? Do you move around the house all day long? Is your kitchen table covered with books, science equipment and crafts?

Okay, no pictures for this one. House is way too messy, plus I don't have anything really cool to show you!
We homeschool EVERYWHERE. We read and talk and look at the globe while sitting/lying on the couch or bed, do math and art and maps and italic at the kitchen table, watch videos or do crafts sitting on the TV room floor, write and research sitting at the computer, exercise in the back yard (HA!) , and sometimes take books or CDs with us in the car when we have to go to doctor or dentist appts. Bookshelves can be found in the dining room, TV room, living room, hallway, and bedrooms. School materials are stored in various locations throughout the house - in bins and baskets and boxes in the pantry, under the beds, in the hall closets, on the bookshelves. We have a fairly small house, and .... ahem..... I am not the most organized person in the world. We somehow manage anyway!
To see cool pictures and get organizing ideas from OTHER less chaotic homeschool moms, check out the links on Heart of the Matter.

Valentines Day

Mark and I went out to dinner on Wednesday night to celebrate Valentines Day, since he had basketball practice tonight. Plus, we figured the restaurants would be less crowded the night before!

I don't make a lot of fuss over holidays - but I try to do something little to make it special. On Feb. 14, I make Valentines for my kids and give them something sweet! This year I cut out red paper hearts, wrote their names on them, and then wrote an adjective that described them for every letter of the alphabet.
The oldest two got theirs by email, but the ones at home found theirs on the kitchen table this morning, along with their favorite candy.

Okay, so guess who is who!







Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Homeschooling Teens

In an effort to be honest and transparent, I have to say that homeschooling teens is....challenging. I have a 14 y.o. girl and 18 y.o boy still at home, and have graduated two older ones who are off on their own. I love all my kids to pieces, and am convinced that learning at home is a much better environment than the p.s. alternative. But it takes a strong dose of courage and fortitude to navigate the teen years.

Academics isn't really the difficult part of homeschooling a high schooler. I take full advantage of opportunities for group learning within the homeschool community and at our community colleges. History, writing, literature, geography, art - these are all things that I am comfortable handling at home. We have been blessed to find once a week classes or small co-ops for high school sciences, math, and foreign language. One son did an online computer programming course. My daughter took a challenging Christian worldview and logic class with a local homeschool dad. The 3 older kids all took several classes at the community college under the dual enrollment program, which allows high schoolers age 16 and up to take college courses for simultaneous high school and college credit.

The tricky part is navigating the parent/child relationship as your children move from childhood to young adulthood. This is probably a universal challenge for all parents, but I think it might be magnified for homeschoolers because we spend so much time with our kids! I have found that my boys, in particular, become a bit intolerant of mother's requests and expectations, whether for academic assignments or help around the house. There is a constant awareness that I must choose my battles carefully, and let my children earn increasing independence, while at the same time protect them as best I can from their own immaturity and impulsiveness. The gray hairs are multiplying rapidly.

It is often tiring and frustrating to deal with young people who are convinced they know much more than you do. But I wouldn't trade this opportunity I have to plant seeds and give direction ( which is heard, if not always heeded ), to be a strong presence and voice in their lives, to be an encourager and advocate, to speak the truth in love and continually point them to the Savior as they make decisions and spread their wings. Homeschooling has given my teens much freedom, allowing them to balance academics with interests such as sports, music, computers, etc. They can refresh themselves with afternoon naps , take a break from studying by cooking or going for a run, listen to music or eat while doing school work, and spend time with siblings whom they would rarely see if they were in traditional schools. When I list the pros and cons of homeschooling my teens all the way through high school, the list of pros still outweighs the cons. I firmly believe it is the best choice for my family. I can always color my hair.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

New Wheels

I said I'd post a picture of Alex's new car... here it is, a 2006 Honda Civic Si.

This is his first car ever! He made it through high school and 4 1/2 years of college without one! In today's world, that is viewed as something akin to child abuse! But I think he is really appreciating his car all the more now.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Art Class - Week 3

Here is Jason's work from Art Class yesterday. Amanda wasn't happy with her sketches this week, and asked that they not be displayed for all the world to see.
Maybe next week.

First, we talked about cave paintings, and looked at some examples in books. Then we created our own, using brown paper and pastel chalks. We purposely crumpled up the paper to make it look more rock-like.

Then we talked about starting a picture file of magazine pictures, etc., and using those for inspiration and models for drawings. The boys all chose a magazine picture and drew from it, using pencil and watercolor crayons.


Monday, February 4, 2008

Words to Ponder

I found this quote on another blog today. It speaks volumes to me!

“Less is better. Little things done daily are better than grand plans.”

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Homeschoolers Making Friends

"How will they ever make friends?"

This question may come from a well-meaning but often uninformed person when hearing that you homeschool your children. It makes me chuckle, because it suggests an underlying assumption that #1 -homeschoolers never leave their houses, and #2 - school is the only place kids can meet other kids. However, it is a real concern that new homeschoolers often have, since homeschooled kids are obviously not surrounded by a classroom full of their peers and a school building full of children each and every day. Since my children have been homeschooled for the past 14 years, and they seem to have TONS of friends, I had to stop and think - how did they make these friends?

Homeschool Support Group - obviously, being involved in a local homeschool group is one way for homeschooled children to find friends. When we first started homeschooling, we belonged to a small support group of only 8 families. This was great for us moms, but my oldest ended up feeling somewhat left out because there weren't any other boys his age in the group. We were friends with a homeschool family from our church with kids the same age as mine, and their neighbors were also homeschoolers, so play time at their house was always fun. Our kids all got along great, so we arranged for them to play together about once a week. Two years later, I helped start another support group, which quickly grew in size. Through this group, we participated in field trips, a weekly co-op, twice a month park days, a monthly oral presentation day, and other things. Mostly, the same people would be at each of these things, so there was repeated exposure to a group of homeschooled kids, and relationships grew. Today, I see our support group having less participation in these kinds of activities although it is 10x the size it was when we started. I think part of the problem is that you rarely see the same people at more than one event. There is just too much for homeschoolers to choose from in the area now, and it competes with support group activities. Still, participating on regular basis in support group activities will give kids a chance to get to know other homeschoolers.

Church - We have always been active in church, and my children made friends there, with kids from public and Christian schools as well as homeschools. We have always been selective in the activities we participated in, and just because the church was doing it didn't mean we would go. But in general, we found a lot of benefit from our children participating in Sunday School and Team Kid ( later Awanas) and yes, even Youth Group! They also have worked in the nursery, helped in the Food Pantry, and gone on a summer missions trip.

Sports - My kids enjoy athletics, so our kids started at age 5 or 6 playing on various sports teams run by the town, church, or homeschool association - soccer, baseball, basketball, volleyball. Involvement in sports is a big commitment, but it has been a great outlet for my kids and something we all enjoy. As much as possible, the whole family attends games and siblings cheer on their brother or sister. Dad has been involved in coaching. And the kids have made some good friends through playing on teams season after season.

Christian Camp - My kids attend a nearby Christian Camp for a week every summer, and as teens they work there as CITs ( counselors in training ). My college-age daughter has worked as a counselor there for the past 3 summers and my son is hoping to be on staff this summer. Some of their best friends in the world are from this camp. Because it is local, most of the campers and staff live in the area, so there are monthly activites at the camp year round where they have opportunity to stay in contact with kids they meet during the summer.

Classes / Co-ops - We are currently participating in a weekly co-op of 13 families who all are using Tapestry of Grace Yr. 1 as their curriculum. We meet every Friday from 9:30-1:30, in small groups divided by grade level, ie. preK, K-3rd , 4th-6th, 6th-7th, and 8th-9th graders. The kids have really grown close to the other kids in co-op ~ we knew most of them before we started, but not all.
In years past, the kids made new friends in our support group's weekly enrichment co-op that met 1 afternoon a week for 8-10 weeks. Both of these co-op situations had built in lunch or snack time where the kids could just hang out and talk and maybe play in the gym or outside. These were the times when they got the chance to talk and get to know each other. We have also arranged small co-ops around a certain subject. For instance, we had a great time doing General Science and Physical Science with a few other families every other week, with the moms taking turns teaching. I have also taught classes at my kitchen table from time to time, inviting other families to join us for Art or an "American Girl" unit study or a Keepers at Home club.

Boy Scouts - my older boys both participated in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for many years and both earned their Eagle Rank. Their experiences were different as far as making friends goes. My oldest son made some great friends in Scouting, and actually shared an apartment, nicknamed the Eagles Nest, his senior year of college with 2 old friends from Scouting. My middle son enjoyed Scouts and was friendly with the boys there, but none became real friends.

Which just points out that you can't "make" friendships happen. Sometimes our kids ( and us ) will click with people and sometimes they won't. If your whole reason for participating in an activity is to "make friends", then you might be disappointed. But if you make an effort to choose a few activities that your children ENJOY, and then do them consistently, chances are they will find a couple of people that they have things in common with and will want to spend time together. And if you are the type of mom who doesn't like to leave the house or who doesn't like anything to mess up your routine, you might need to stretch out of your comfort zone.

Another thing to remember is that some people like to be active and around lots of people and have lots of friends, but others are more reserved and quiet and more comfortable with only one or two other people. Consider these things when choosing activities for your children to be involved in. Also realize that kids don't really need to be together with friends every day. That much contact can actually be very draining on some children. Pray for guidance as you make choices that work for your child and your family.

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art . . . It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.
C. S. Lewis

Family Pictures

With Alex leaving soon, I felt the need to have a nice family picture done. It has been about 5 years since we've had a professional portrait taken. So yesterday the 7 of us trooped over to the seminary campus with a photographer friend of ours for an outdoor photo shoot. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, with temps in the low 60's. Melissa took dozens of shots ( digital photography is so wonderful!) - of the whole family, of mom and the girls, of dad and the boys, of just mom and dad together, of the 5 kids, of each kid individually. I can't wait to see the results!

Afterwards we went out for a nice family dinner together. Being a Saturday night, our first couple of choices of restaurants had 2 hour waits, so we moved on. We finally ended up at a local sports restaurant, where we still had to wait an hour. Oh well. Good for the restaurants!

After dinner Alex headed off to a going-away party with his college friends down on campus.

Church this morning, and then this afternoon its off to a Super Bowl party with some friends. I'll be bringing my Mexican Layered Dip and homemade tortilla chips. Mark and I are both from MA, so - GO PATRIOTS! This is the only football game we watch the whole year. Normally, I wouldn't even know who was playing!


Friday, February 1, 2008

But If Not

Today was TOG Co-op. We just finished Week 22 of Tapestry of Grace Yr. 1, in which we learned about the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Jewish people to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. We read the book of Daniel, and I was struck again by the unswerving faith of young Daniel and his friends, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-nego). Although they adapted to their situation by serving the Babylonian king dutifully and with excellence , they would not compromise their belief in the one true God by bowing down to golden statues and idols, even if it cost them their lives.

Daniel 3:13-18
"Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true... that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?"

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown in to the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

Wow. I am humbled when I read those words, because I have never had to face such a decision as that. How would I measure up? I don't think we can ever know, until we do face something enormous in our lives. One thing that is clear to me is that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn't come to their faith in an instant. The foundation was laid in their childhoods, in faithful homes where they were taught to love and serve the Lord God by their parents and extended family. By the time they were young adults, that faith became such a part of the fabric of their lives that it couldn't be separated or removed, even when they were taken captive and sent far away from the familiarity and security of home and loved ones. They didn't just know about God, they knew Him! They knew without a shadow of a doubt that he could save them from any calamity, but their devotion wasn't dependent on what God did... just who He was.

Years ago I heard this story about the British Army at Dunkirk, and I shared it with my Co-op class today.

In early 1940 the British and their allies sent a force of some 350,000 men into the low countries of Europe to stem the tide of German advance into France, Belgium and Holland. Caught in a brilliant pincer movement by the invading German forces the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force was pushed back to the beaches of the small Belgian town of Dunkirk. To everyone’s surprise the Germans halted their advance to regroup. As England and the world waited for what appeared to be the sure and certain annihilation of 350,000 men a three word message was transmitted from the besieged army at Dunkirk. It read simply, "But if not." The British people understood the biblical import of the cryptic message. It was a reference to the Old Testament book of Daniel, where Daniel and his friends chose death rather than worship an image of the pagan king, "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18). The British Expeditionary Army, surrounded, cutoff and on the brink of destruction was declaring to Britain and to the world that even in apparent defeat they were, in fact, victorious. The message, more eloquent than a sermon delivered in St. Paul's Cathedral, galvanized the British people. In a matter of hours thousands of boats of every description headed across the dangerous waters of the English Channel and, at the risk of their own lives from enemy fire, began the evacuation of the heroic but beleaguered army in what historians now refer to as "the miracle of Dunkirk."

The amazing thing to me is that the British people in 1940 had a collective understanding of what the phrase "But if not" referred to! They understood, and were inspired to act by the deep faith and conviction which those words represented. How many people today would have a clue? But there was a foundation.... a common biblical literacy that seems to have evaporated over the last 60 years.

I also think about the Estes family, who have a precious little boy with a mitochondrial defect. This illness is devastating, and he has been hospitalized frequently with very serious and sometimes baffling symptoms. In the midst of their exhaustion and pain and concern for their little boy, Jeff and Kate possess a deep faith in God which sustains them, and allows them to publish on their blog frequent lists of things they are thankful for, even in very dark circumstances. They know that God could choose to heal their baby, and also know that God loves them and is trustworthy and sovereign, even if He doesn't. Their faith has a firm foundation, and they are now laying that foundation in the lives of their children.

I hope that Mark and I are laying that kind of foundation in our children's lives. I know I need to continually work on having that kind of faith myself.