Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More Book Reviews

Yes, I've been busy reading, but I also haven't done reviews in a long time. So, here's more!

The Testament by John Grisham - Money can't make you happy. That's the theme of this book which traces the antics of a family whose patriarch has just committed suicide and left a cryptic will. That's all I'll say. You have to read it. A

Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg - This is another story set in Elmwood Springs, MO. The book starts with an eighty year old woman falling off a ladder after being bit by wasps. From there, she is believed to be dead, goes to heaven, found to be alive, and more. Lots of fun. B

The Prince and the Pilgrim by Mary Stewart - I picked up this book because I love Stewart's Merlin series. This book is also set in Arthurian England but is much lighter in tone than the Merlin books. It is a sweet love story with lots of medieval touches. B

The Summons by John Grisham - Two men are "summoned" to their father's (a judge) house. They arrive to find that the man has died and left a very simple will - but one son finds that the father also had a large amount of cash that has been unaccounted for. The story twists and turns around the money and it's effect on the sons. B

The Broker by John Grisham - A man is given a presidential pardon for no apparent reason. He is escorted out of the country and given a new identity to start a new life. But it's not that simple. Someone - or more than one someone - want him dead. Another Grisham success. A

I'm Fine with God - It's Christians I Can't Stand by Bruce Bickel - This book is written by a Christian to show how behavior by some Christians is damaging to the cause of Christ in the larger culture. The first thing that bothered me about this book is it's title - I don't like saying that you can't stand someone. I just sounds too harsh. While I agree with much of what he says in the book, he doesn't distinguish between what some Christians do and who they are. I would have been much happier to see him say that he can't stand the behavior of some Christians. In any case, the content of the book wasn't bad, but it wasn't very helpful either. C

The Rainmaker by John Grisham - A young lawyer just coming out of law school doesn't have a job, but he has a client. An elderly couple are suing a medical insurance company for not covering the bone marrow transplant needed by their son. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as the lawyer discovers. One of my favorite Grisham novels. A

A Painted House by John Grisham - The cotton harvest is a big time of the year for Arkansas farm families. The main character of this book is a young boy whose parents and grandparents raise cotton. This book tells the story of one year's harvest - the Hill People whom they hire, the Mexicans who come up to work, and the tensions that inevitably result. A

Memoirs of a Geisha: a novel by Arthur Golden - In the early 20th century, girls were sometimes taken from their families in rural Japan and forced to live in the cities as prostitutes or, if they were fortunate, as geisha in training. This is the story of a famous geisha - how she got that standing, what life was like as a geisha, the impact of World War 2. An excellent book. A

Pocket guide to the apocalypse : the official field manual for the end of the world by Jason Boyett - This is a very small book by a Christian humorist about Christian views on end times (eschatology). Actually, he does a very nice job of explaining the major theological camps involved. He also includes a list of films inspired by the Apocalypse as well as a glossary of end times terms. My favorite, though, is the end times chronology which lists important people as well as predictions of when the Apocalypse was going to happen. A

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff - The author of this book intertwines the story of Ann Eliza Young, the real-life wife (some say 19th, but probably 27th) of Brigham Young and her divorce and crusade against polygamy with a murder mystery in a fundamentalist Mormon offshoot group (probably supposed to minic the FLDS). The mixing of the stories is a little awkward at times, and the modern story doesn't work as well as the historical story. The historical story, though, does give some background information that helps to understand the modern story. B

There are some great books here that you might want to check out from your local library.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - September 29. 2008


Last week's menu plans got messed up because I forgot a crucial detail.  When you buy a turkey this time of year, it is frozen.  Oops.  So, I still have a 20 pound turkey sitting in my refrigerator, thawing.  I'm planning to roast it on Wednesday so the menus for the rest of the week will revolve around it.  Here are this week's menus - in no particular order:

1. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans.

2. Leftover turkey, potatoes, gravy, veggie.

3. Turkey sandwiches with raw veggies.

4. Turkey and andouille gumbo with rice and salad (or raw veggies)

5. Leftover gumbo

6. Tacos (maybe with arepas)

7. Frozen pizza for my migraine day (I'm sure I'll have one)

Check out orgjunkie.com to see what others are planning for their week!

A Homeschool Morning

Wild Man and I have just spent the last hour sitting on the sofa together, each reading a book. I wouldn't trade this stuff for the world.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Book Reviews - September 27, 2008

It's been awhile since I did book reviews so I am going to do some short reviews tonight. I'm slowly losing my compulsiveness and don't feel the need to finish books that don't really interest me, so I will only review books that I enjoyed. The reviews will be short because there are so many (sorry). I am also going to start giving books I read letter grades indicating whether I think they're worth your time to read.

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz - This is a highly entertaining book about a young woman who works for her parents as a private investigator. The book is highly readable and well-paced. Occasionally, I got a little lost since she tells most of the story as a flashback. The serious theme of the importance of family comes through clearly without any preachiness. The use of inappropriate language and the prevalence of immoral behavior precludes this book from being appropriate for teens, but it is a fun read for an adult. B

The Chamber by John Grisham - I've read a lot of Grisham lately because I really enjoy his writing. He captures the people and places of the South very accurately. This book is about a young lawyer trying to help a relative who is on Mississippi's death row. Grisham's opposition to the death penalty comes through. It's a good read and quite thought-provoking. A

The Brethren by John Grisham - This novel revolves around several inmates of a minimum security prison and a young presidential hopeful. And, yes, the two settings are connected. Another excellent book by Grisham. A

Welcome to the World Baby Girl: a novel by Fannie Flagg - I picked up this book because I had previously enjoyed a novel by this author. This one was another winner. It is the story of a New York news reporter in the 1970s and her rural family. There are a number of plot twists, but, in the end, I was happy for the main character, but saddened by the family history that was gradually revealed. A

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - I haven't yet read The Kite Runner, but this is a more recent book by the same author. It is a terribly sad, yet uplifting, story about two women married to the same man in Afghanistan around the time of the rule of the Taliban. The idea that this plot could occur in this century anywhere in the world is disturbing. I highly recommend it. A

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory - I listened to the abridged version of this book on CD and greatly enjoyed it. It is the story of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII. It was well written and enjoyable to listen to. The author took some liberties with history, but this was just motivation for me to look up the actual known facts. B

The Last Juror by John Grisham - This was actually the first Grisham book that I read and it got me hooked. It tells the story of a murder trial in a small Mississippi town and it's aftermath. The characters are believable and sympathetic. Grisham deals deftly with the racial issues in the town, which are complex. A

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant - A courtesan and her servant, a dwarf, are driven from Rome in the 1500s and settle in Venice. There they restart their lives and her career which become intertwined with a blind woman healer as well as many of the rich and powerful of the city. The plot is intricate, the characters well-developed, and the descriptions rich. It was an enjoyable book, but definitely for adults, given the subject matter. B

The Street Lawyer by John Grisham - This novel starts with a young man who is an up and coming lawyer in a major DC law firm. An incident in his office with a homeless man shakes his whole world and he finds himself a lawyer representing the homeless of the city. This is a great book with a theme of finding meaning in work helping others instead of making lots of money (a theme I found in several of Grisham's novels). A

The Partner by John Grisham - Summarizing this novel in a paragraph is just about impossible. A lawyer who is believed to be dead is found in South America and is brought back to the US for stealing money. The detailed plot kept me riveted. The main character isn't exactly a hero, but was still sympathetic. A very good book. B

The Runaway Jury by John Grisham - This is the story of the trial of a tobacco company and how a juror (along with some outside help) manipulated the jury and determined the outcome of the trial. It's hard to finish this book and not be a little cynical about the jury process in this country. Great read. A

The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher by Rob Stennett - The premise for this book is highly improbable: a man (who isn't even a Christian) starts a church in a small town which grows to be quite large and a national sensation. You have to read the book to find out how it ends. Suffice it to say that I had trouble putting it down. A

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan - The narratives of four women and their daughters are woven together in a story of family that reaches from China to California and spans from the early 20th century to the 1980s. The book is quite well written and kept me captivated the whole time. A

The King of Torts by John Grisham - Another fine work by Grisham. A young lawyer gets sucked into mass tort suits and becomes rich and famous - until it all falls apart. A

I realized that I gave all As and Bs to these books. I think it is because I quit reading books that aren't any good, so I don't review them. If I review it, I almost surely enjoyed it. I hope you find a book or two that you might like.

Check it Out!

Ga'hoole Girl has updates on both of her blogs: Adventures in Hyrule and Books, Homeschooling, and Crazy Pets. Check them out for some fun reading!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Rummage Sale

Wow. These kids are seriously growing up. SANY0805 They ran their own rummage sale this morning in our front yard. Today was the Rummage-O-Rama for the whole town, so they got a good bit of traffic. Mostly, though, they cleaned out their stuff, priced it, and put on the sale. SANY0804 Ga'hoole Girl manned the sale a good bit of the time and also sold some lemonade since it was a warm day. She also kept track of the money. Now that it's over, she and Mr. Math Tutor put the rest of the stuff in the back of the van to take to Goodwill. And my house is a little more empty today!

Our Week In Review - 9/27/2008


This week we focused more on "input" than "output" since the kids were both sick, "input" referring to taking in information with "output" referring to producing work (workbooks, papers, etc.). We spent a lot of time this week watching movies and reading and far less time doing things. This is another advantage of home education - we can work around sick kids and not have to worry about working harder later to "catch up".

To go with our Sonlight Core, we watched a number of movies this week. The highlight of the week was "Luther". The kids enjoyed it and seemed to understand the main thrust of the movie. We will also be reading about Luther in Story of the World and The World of Columbus and Sons, but I decided not to do a separate read-aloud about Luther since it seemed like overkill. We listened to several chapters from Story of the World. We watched a movie about the Aztecs and Mayas which went along with learning about the exploration of the New World by the Europeans. We also watched the first part of a movie about Shakespeare. The kids are interested in seeing a Shakespeare play on DVD, so we'll probably watch "All's Well that Ends Well" next week on Netflix Instant Viewing.

Mr. Math Tutor read the last of I, Juan de Pareja to us this week and we went online to read about Diego Velasquez and Juan de Pareja, both Spanish artists. If you aren't familiar with them, click on the links for more info. Wild Man finished Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone and is planning to start reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets next. This works out well since Core 7 doesn't have readers at his level. I think the full set of Harry Potter books will keep him quite busy. Ga'hoole Girl is reading the Lord of the Rings books and has been rereading some Ga'hoole books for fun as well as to get ready for her paper.

Both kids kept up with math and Spanish this week, but grammar, writing, etc. got set aside for the week. We didn't cook much this week, but the kids watched several episodes of "How'd That Get On My Plate?", "Good Eats", and "Ace of Cakes" (which isn't as educational, but super fun).

The big activity for the week around here was getting ready for the rummage sale. That was totally the kids' idea and their doing. In fact, they are manning the rummage sale right now, while I'm blogging! Both kids have much cleaner and emptier rooms now than last week!

I don't have real big plans for next week. We'll do some of the election stuff that we missed this week and try to finish Sonlight Core 6. In a couple of weeks, we're going to Chicago to check out the museums for a few days. Of course, there won't be any learning going on - wink, wink.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Record-Keeping, The Essentials - Heart of the Matter Online 9/26/2008

I am fortunate to live in a state that requires a minimal amount of record-keeping for homeschooling. If I had been the stay-at-home parent for the first few years, I probably would have been downright psychotic about records. Yes, that was who I was. It's a good thing I was a doctor where I could put my compulsiveness to a more socially acceptable use. Mr. Math Tutor was, shall we say, not compulsive.

With Ga'hoole Girl being high-school age next year, I have been thinking more about how to record her high school work in order to make a transcript. For the last three years, I have been using Homeschool Tracker Plus to plan out the children's work for the day and/or the week. At the beginning of the Sonlight Core, I make up lesson plans in the lesson planning section. I put the Sonlight assignments in place and then add in movies or other interesting things that we might do. On Saturday or Sunday, I move the lesson plan items onto the daily or weekly assignment list then add in the rest of the assignments.

I make one list for me which lists out the work that I want to do with each child or both children for the week. This list is scheduled on Monday, but contains the work for the week to give me some flexibility. I have another weekly list for Ga'hoole Girl which lists her work that she can schedule herself during the week. Then, I make a daily list for each child with daily assignments and chores. I print the new daily list in the morning and check off the work from the day before.

I keep written work that I want to keep in a file drawer with files labeled by child and subject. This isn't critical right now, but I do need to keep these papers starting next year for Ga'hoole Girl's science work.

I definitely love using the computer to keep records. HST+ is a great program with lots of flexibility. If you're interested in using it, you can try the free version first. Check out Heart of the Matter Online for more great posts about record-keeping!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Perfectionism vs. Excellence

Sunday night, I let my perfectionism get hold of me and I ruined our evening and made my headache even worse. I had a wicked migraine Friday night and then unpleasant headaches Saturday and Sunday. When I was home by myself Sunday night (Mr. Math Tutor and the kids were at church for our teenage small group), I decided that I absolutely had to do something about the messy house. And, of course, I didn't just straighten up, I cleaned and cleaned. When the rest of the family got home, I was obsessed and got them into the act. We were all miserable, and my headache got worse instead of better.

I let my perfectionism get control of me again. The house needed to be straightened, but I sacrificed my evening and my relationship with my family because I needed it to be perfect. After some reflection and prayer, I have come up with some thoughts on perfectionism and excellence (which is the alternative to perfectionism - NOT mediocrity). BTW, my perfectionism tends to come out in housekeeping, but it can also show up in all kinds of things - homeschooling, yardwork, etc.

Perfectionism is "all or nothing". Excellence can accept gradations. In the above case, I could have very reasonably straightened the house, even asking for my family's help, without requiring that it be perfectly, eat-off-the-floor clean.

Perfectionism sacrifices relationships. Excellence keeps relationships primary. When I'm pursuing excellence, I don't run over my family in order to get done what I want.

Perfectionism is trusting in myself and taking control into my own hands. Excellence is trusting God and letting Him be in control of my life.

Perfectionism believes that the product is all important. Excellence acknowledges that the process is also important. If I decide that I need the house to be completely clean, I want to involve the children in a healthy way, not just yell at them to do what I want that instant. I need to show that I love them and want them to work and learn with me, not just be my servant.

So, how do I get from pursuing perfectionism to pursuing excellence? I start with prayer. Then, I can ask myself these questions:
1. What is the worst that will ahppen if I don't do this task "perfectly"?
2. How is my relationship with my family while I'm working at this task?
3. What is my goal?
4. Am I pacing myself?

Here are some messages that I can tell myself when I start sliding toward perfectionism:
1. My worth is not based on my performance.
2. Doing more is not necessarily better.
3. Resting is not laziness.

During my counseling session today, my counselor and I concluded that my worst perfectionistic episodes usually are preceded by an episode of some kind of anxiety. I use perfectionistic behavior as a way to manage unpleasant anxiety symptoms. We came up with a list of ways to manage this anxiety without going overboard.
1. Prayer
2. Exercise
3. Drink a glass of milk or cup of tea
4. Kntting
5. Engage in the task, but place limits.

Hopefully, in the next few months, I will be able to use these strategies and see some improvement in my anxiety and perfection. What works for you? Any other ideas for me?

Thankful Thursday - September 25

I love Thankful Thursdays, and I'm definitely going to be doing them regularly again. It is a great chance to be able to stop for a little while and focus on being thankful for what I have instead of my usual wishing for more.

Today, I am thankful for my counselor. I have been meeting with this counselor intermittently for the last several years. This year, we have been focusing on managing life despite chronic pain. The last month or so has seen some pretty intense sessions where we explored some deep issues. I'm really not a fan of all this "emotional work", but the payoff has been good. I thank God for leading me to such a great woman and for letting me work through these issues.

Check out Thankful Thursdays to see what other bloggers are thankful for! What about you? What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I am reading churched by Matthew Paul Turner right now.  I'll be posting a full review in a week or so, but I wanted to share something that the book reminded me of.  In one place, Turner writes about how he would "dillydally" by watching bugs instead of doing his spelling words.  Wild Man is exactly like that!  Doing a couple of pages of Explode the Code takes 45 minutes because he needs to make up a story about all the pictures or tell his stuffed monkey about the words he's learning.  It's nice to see that a little boy with an active imagination grew up into a productive human being.  There's hope for Wild Man yet.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Becoming a bookworm

My baby boy is becoming a bookworm, just like the rest of the family!


He Survived!

Mr. Math Tutor survived his first trip to Woodman's. For those of you who don't live in the Great White North, let me explain. Woodman's is a grocery store chain in the Wisconsin/Northern Illinois area that has very large, well-stocked stores. Not only that, but the prices are the best around. Even in the winter, their produce looks fresh. The downside, of course, is that the place is huge. Whoever takes Ga'hoole Girl to piano lessons on Tuesday also has the task of going grocery shopping at Woodman's. And, since I still have a headache, it fell to Mr. Math Tutor today. I gave him a detailed list, and he had Ga'hoole Girl with him as a guide. He sounded tired when he called, but he made it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - 9/22/2008

This week, Ga'hoole Girl will be learning about roasting. Our family loves roast turkey, so we will have a non-holiday roast turkey meal this week. This also gives us several days of yummy leftovers and a chance to try out a soup recipe!

We are also getting a bunch of venison from a friend on Thursday. I'll have to see what he's giving us before I can make too many plans, but I hope we'll get steaks, stew meat, and ground venison. Our family loves venison. We haven't had problems with it tasting gamey - I don't know if it is because of the meat itself, because the people who give us venison dress it cleanly, or just because we enjoy the taste of venison. In any case, it means a lot of free meat for the winter.

1. Leftover Oven BBQ chicken, fried potatoes, sauteed asparagus

2. Chicken/brocolli/asparagus stir-fry

3. Roast turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans

4. Leftover turkey dinner

5. Turkey soup or gumbo with salad (still searching for a recipe)

6. Tacos

7. Turkey sandwiches

Check out Menu Plan Monday to see what others are up to this week. Her theme is family favorites this week - participants are invited to post a family favorite recipe (although I didn't - sorry).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Our Week in Review - September 21

It was the best of weeks, it was the worst of weeks . . . .Oh, wait, wrong story. But, this week did have it's share of ups and downs. The biggest down is that I didn't get the schedules made last weekend, so we were disorganized all week. I also had a bad headache Monday and Tuesday morning. The rest of the week was OK until Friday night when I had a wicked bad headache and threw up for a few hours. I still have some leftovers of that headache this morning. The kids both came down with colds yesterday, which is probably going to affect how much we can do this week.

But, it was also a good week. Ga'hoole Girl's piano lesson was cancelled on Tuesday. We were already in town when they called, so we went to the Marc Chagall exhibit at the Appleton Art Center. I loved it, Ga'hoole Girl liked it, and Wild Man tolerated it - I call that a success. Then, on Friday, we skipped school and went to the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. I'm afraid, despite all my admonitions that they weren't to learn anything, that the children did come away from that experience better educated about wildlife than when we started.

Bible - We are still reading through Genesis. We didn't memorize a verse as a family this week, but Wild Man did learn his verse for Sunday School.

Math - We love ALEKS. Kids are doing well.

Spanish - Kids continue in Power-Glide. Ga'hoole Girl has started using Spanish words and phrases in normal conversation - fun!

Spelling - Ga'hoole Girl loved spelling this week because her word lists were pretty easy! Wild Man has been working on syllabication.

Reading - Wild Man is reading Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. I read a chapter or two each day out loud to him, as well. Ga'hoole Girl is continuing with Lord of the Rings.

Grammar - Ga'hoole Girl is doing well in her grammar book. Her writing this week had much better mechanics although we are having to work a little on fragments.

Writing - Ga'hoole Girl changed the topic of her paper and did a nice outline. She is writing a paper comparing Guardians of Ga'hoole (book series) with history. This requires her to really synthesize ideas as well as show some understanding of history. I'm pretty impressed.

Handwriting - Wild Man's cursive is coming along.

Art - Ga'hoole Girl has been complaining terribly about her art history book (and about having to study art in general). I've decided to take art out of the regular cycle of work for her, but require her to do at least 1/2 credit of art in high school. We listened to a CD about artists and their work while we were on the way to Appleton on Tuesday. One of the artists on the CD was Marc Chagall. When we got to Appleton, we went to see the Marc Chagall exhibit. A great coincidence!

Science - Ga'hoole Girl read about rocks this week and wrote a nice little paragraph on how rocks are used by humans. We also watched Mythbusters and learned some about friction.

Sonlight - We did more reading about explorers this week as well as listening to the audio CD of Story of the World.

Food science - Ga'hoole Girl grilled a flank steak with great success. Of course, the grease under the grill caught on fire which provided some excitement all the way around, but the steak was still delicious. She and Mr. Math Tutor are supposed to grill chicken soon, but I'm not sure if that will happen since she's feeling bad. Wild Man and I made french bread a couple of times this week. Next week, I'll let him do it with supervision.

Elections - The kids have their running mates. We didn't do much other this week, but I hope to have them set up platforms this week.

Child Care - Both kids babysit on Thursday mornings during Women's Bible Study. This week they had eight kids! Talk about learning on the job!

Ga'hoole Girl is having a rummage sale next weekend. I'm thrilled because she will get tons of stuff out of her room. I did, though, tell her that I wanted to buy some of her old toys that I want to keep for sentimental reasons. I've been good about getting rid of lots of old stuff, but I have dreams of having a granddaughter one day who will want to play with American Girl dolls.

For next week, I will definitely have the kids schedules made out, but I'm sure we will have to be flexible since they are both feeling sick.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Skipping School

Yesterday, I decided that we would skip school. We did chores, but no "schoolwork" and then went to Green Bay to the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. What a blast we had! The indoor nature center had lots of little exhibits with information about animals, classification, skeletons, habitats, etc.

A short walk took us to the Wildlife Observation area which included a Birds of Prey exhibit. Ga'hoole Girl was in heaven! One of her favorite sets of books is the Guardians of Ga'hoole series which is about owls. Ga'hoole Girl has never seen owls live before, so this was a new experience. (One of other favorite book series is about dragons, but I don't think we'll be seeing them up close and personal anytime soon.) The last exhibit was the Eco-Trek. They have a cougar, coyotes, wolves, and otters, just to name a few. We went inside the building where they had some snakes behind glass. (Of course, since Wild Man and I have been reading Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, he and I both kind of freaked out when we walked in the reptile room and saw snakes behind glass. We both had an irrational fear of the glass disappearing and snakes making a break for it!)

Now, this might sound suspiciously like a field trip, but I need to assure that it was absolutely not. The children were completely forbidden to learn anything. All we did was have fun - no learning! Of course, being children, they couldn't follow our instructions completely, so I'm afraid that they did come away with a few nuggets of new information and some new insights into Wisconsin wildlife. But I did my best to prevent it. Truly.

Simple Schooling

Over the last few years, I have been trying to incorporate principles of simple living into my life. The goal is to focus on what's important and get rid of what's unimportant. Benefits to this include less hurry, more relaxation, less clutter (time and stuff), and spending less money. I've also tried to apply it to educating my children. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

1. Focus on what's important. To really live simply, you need to know what is most important in your life and then to focus on that. In homeschooling, I have a few basic goals for my kids and I try to stay focused on those. One of our goals is for the kids to have a strong grounding in Scripture. To that end, we do Bible study almost every day.

2. Eliminate educational "clutter". Clutter is the stuff around us that we don't need or use. One big source of clutter in education is busywork. Kids in school do lots of busywork, but kids educated at home can be more focused in their work. If a child understands a math concept, there is no need for them to do three more pages of problems. Instead, they can move on to applying the concept and come back for a review in a few weeks. (This is one reason we love ALEKS. The kids move on to a new concept when they have shown that they understand the current one. The program reviews every few weeks to make sure they don't forget what they learned.)

3. Stick with what works. In our family, we have found that Sonlight works really well for us. It is the absolute best curriculum? I really don't know. We're happy with Sonlight, so I haven't gone looking at other curricula. To this end, I rarely look through homeschool catalogs unless I need something. There is always the temptation to think that the resources on the page must be better than what we're using now. Overbuying curricula wastes time, money, and bookshelf space. Of course, when something isn't working, then it is time to get something different. We don't stick with a bad resource just because we paid money for it.

4. More is not always better. This is true in a myriad of ways when it comes to home education. There is no need to purchase every book that my child might read when the library has them anyway. If we change from one curriculum to another, I don't keep the original curriculum cluttering up my shelves. There are tons of books published every year on many different subjects. My kids will still grow up to be well-educated even if we don't own, or if they don't read, every one of those books.

5. Accept educational gaps. Not everyone can learn everything - and trying to make them will just make everyone crazy. Mr. Math Tutor and I know the basics of what we want our children to learn before they leave home but it doesn't include everything that they could possibly learn. If a child isn't going into a science-related field, there is no need to push for them to learn calculus. Not every child needs to know the details of art history, or how to build a solar panel. Once the basics are covered, we encourage our children to follow their interests. (Remember, kids coming out of institutional schools don't know it all, either.)

6. Combine subjects. Particularly in high school, students can combine work in more than one subject. Ga'hoole Girl writes about what she is learning in science or history which gives her practice in writing (mechanics and composition) while helping her synthesize the ideas from the other subjects.

7. Make everyday life at home part of "school". This comes naturally in our home, but I include it here as a reminder that normal life can be included as part of school for record-keeping and making transcripts. Ga'hoole Girl is learning food science this year while doing a lot of cooking (along with reading about the food and writing critiques of her cooking). Things like sewing, home decorating, and car maintenance can all be included under the heading of "school".

8. Practice contentment. This is a broad category that encompasses many of the previous points. Unfortunately, discontent is rampant among homeschoolers. As parents, we worry that our kids aren't learning enough, that we didn't choose the right curriculum, or that we spent too much money. The Bible's admonitions for contentment, though, apply in homeschooling as much as anywhere else. Philipplians 4:19 reminds us that God will meet all of our needs while 1 Timothy 6:6 tells us that "godliness with contentment is great gain." And, my favorite - 1 Peter 5:7 "Cast all your anxiety on him because he care for you."

I certainly have not succeeded yet in making our family's educational venture as simple as I would like. I have found, though, that the recommendations I have listed are a good start on the road to "Simple Schooling".

Friday, September 19, 2008

Morning Conversation

So, as I was on my way to get into the shower, the kids came and told me someone was at the door to speak to me. I went to the door to meet two very nice Jehovah's Witnesses. Usually, Mr. Math Tutor is the one who gets to answer the door when I suspect that it's the JWs, but the kids didn't give me any warning as to what I might be facing. Actually, I think it was the JWs who ended up being surprised.

We talked for about thirty minutes. The couple was very nice and pleasant. It was apparent that they had studied and were ready for my objections to their faith. Nonetheless, they didn't have good answers for why the New World Translation of the Bible is so different from most other translations. Their response to my objection about the translation of John 1 was not convincing. We spent a good bit of time discussing the nature of Jesus - part of the Trinity or created by God. At the end, they gave me a book with some information. I offered to pray with them, but they declined.

It was a good conversation, but I don't think they expected to get someone who had a good understanding of basic Christian beliefs. It slowed down my morning a bit, but it was worth it.

Balancing "Mom" and "Teacher" - Heart of the Matter Friday Meme

Part of being a parent (I say parent instead of Mom since my husband also does some schooling) is being a teacher. When the kids were little, I helped teach them to talk, walk, and go potty. As they have gotten older, I have taught them manners (well, maybe not enough!), how to do chores, and about Jesus. So, why is there tension between the roles of "Mom" and "Teacher"?

Frankly, I don't think we have a lot of problem with role differentiation in our home. Our kids have never been to school, so they don't think of parents as separate from teachers. In our society, the teachers are held up as the keepers of knowledge, while the parents are marginalized. When the kids spend most of their time at home, they learn that adults have different areas of knowledge specialization, but that most adults can help kids learn almost anything.

We also don't separate out "school" time from "home" time very strictly. The kids' school lists also include their chores. When I record the week's school activities, I also include cooking meals, outside activities, and other interesting things (like star-watching while lying on the trampoline).

I do find that there are some places where there is some role tension, though.

1. As the kids are getting older, we run into subjects where I would prefer to be the cheerleader instead of the coach. I would rather cheer my kids on and be purely encouraging sometimes instead of pointing out where they made mistakes and need to improve. This can be a learning experience, though, where we learn how to communicate, even about difficult subjects.

2. Giving grades is tough as the mom. I don't give grades because I expect the kids to work at something until they have mastered it. When I do a high school transcript, if I have to give grades, they will probably be very high grades. This is because they work at the subject until they understand it. If they don't do the work adequately, the subject won't go on the transcript.

For more on this topic, check out Heart of the Matter - there's lots and lots of good stuff.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Roller Derby Queen!

Well, maybe that's an exaggeration, but Ga'hoole Girl is having a blast now that she can roller blade. Of course, she's using my blades, so I can't go with her, but I can't really complain since I haven't enjoyed roller blading since I fell and busted my tailbone 11 years ago. But that's another story. Anyway, Ga'hoole Girl is out roller blading whenever she gets a break. I don't think she'll be thrilled when winter comes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"I'm With the Band"

Wild Man has been asked to be the manager for a band being set up by some neighborhood girls (elementary school age). They call themselves "Glitter Girls". So far, all they've done has been to hang up posters to recruit more members. Wild Man's job is to keep all the paperwork and to hang up lots of posters. Of course, I had to remind him today not to go around town hanging up posters without telling him mom that he's going!

Star Light, Star Bright

Another joy of homeschooling: Last night we went out after dark and lay on the trampoline to look at the stars. When we came back in, we compared what we saw to the star charts I had "happened" to print out last week. I hope that by winter we have a basic understanding of the night sky. So, what interesting "educational" things are you up to?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"I'm Becoming a Book Person"

Said Wild Man to an enthusiastic mom!!!!!!!

He read more than 25 pages of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone yesterday.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - 9/15/2008

It's that time of the week again!! Menu Plan Monday! I've done actual menu plans for the last two weeks and it's worked really well. I plan out menus for six days, but I don't assign the menus to specific days. If I feel like cooking one day, then I choose one of the menus requiring more work. If I don't feel well, then Mr. Math Tutor or Ga'hoole Girl can cook one of the easier menus. In addition, I know that we have the ingredients to make whatever I have planned. So, we'll keep it up.

1. Ham, skillet fried potatoes, veggie

2. Garlic and onion soup, salad

3. Spaghetti, garlic bread, salad

4. Flank steak, couscous, veggie

5. Brocolli-chicken stir-fry

6. Grilled chicken thighs, pasta, salad

7. Grilled cheese sandwiches, raw veggies

There, now I've got the menus planned and I made a grocery list for Mr. Math Tutor for tomorrow. We're ready to start the week.

Extra Activities, Helping or Hindering? - Heart of the Matter Online Meme

Extracurriculars - how many, which ones, when, where? These are questions that almost every homeschooling family has to grapple with. Here's how we have dealt with them.

We are big believers in extracurricular activities. Both of my kids are outgoing and love to be with other people, so we try to accomodate that as much as possible. That has to be tempered, though, with other considerations. With my migraines, I can't take the kids everywhere every day. We live in a small town with few opportunities, so we have to consider the time and cost of driving. I try to encourage some diverse activities, but yet give the kids the chance to stick with something long enough to become proficient.

Ga'hoole Girl has been taking piano lessons since she was four years old. She currently takes lessons at Lawrence University Academy of Music. We chose to have her lessons there because she loves piano and has gotten to be pretty good. The lessons at Lawrence are a little more expensive (she's taking hour-long lessons) but her teacher is excellent. Wild Man took piano lessons until last year. He didn't want to take lessons this year. Since he's got a good grounding in music, I let him stop now.

Ga'hoole Girl started dance class at age 4. She took ballet and tap for the first several years. Last year was the first year that she didn't take ballet. Now she is taking Theater Dance and Tap. Wild Man is in his third year of dance class and is taking jazz. I wanted him to take either piano or dance because it helps with his dyslexia. He chose the dance.

Athletics are a big deal around here. Ga'hoole Girl played soccer, tee ball, basketball, and softball over the years. She finally decided at about age 9, though, that she doesn't really like the competitiveness of sports. Wild Man is a different story - he loves to compete. He plays baseball now, but he did play soccer a few years ago. He also takes swimming lessons during the summer.

We also do field trips to art galleries and museums as they come up. Ga'hoole Girl goes to the Junior High group at church. Wild Man does dance this year instead of AWANA, although he goes to pretty much every other church activity that he can. The kids used to be in 4H and Ga'hoole Girl used to take an art class at the public school, but we have phased out these activities in favor of piano, dance, baseball, and church.

Extracurricular activities are an important part of my kids' education. They learn the activity in which they are participating, but they also learn to follow directions and work in a group. And they have a lot of fun. I think we have a nice balance this year of activities that keep the kids busy that they like, but that don't overwhelm us.

Check out Heart of the Matter Online for more posts on this topic!

Interesting Links

In the last year or so, I have come across some really interesting blogs and other websites. You might enjoy some of them, so here they are.

1. Yarns of the Heart - This is the blog of an unschooling mom with three kids, one of whom starts college this year. I'm not an unschooler, but I love her insights about life and learning.

2. Jesus Shaped Spirituality - Michael Spencer set up this site with more of his thoughts about how we can become more like Jesus. Lots of good stuff here.

3. 538 - For all you political freaks out there, this site has tons of statistical info about both candidates and parties.

4. Chloe of the Mountain - Chloe is another Sonlight mom with a great blog. I love how honest she is about life and parenting.

5. The Creation of an Evolutionist - One man's journey from literal young-earth creationism to theistic evolutionism (or evolutionary creationism). Lots of good information for you to chew on.

6. The Hogs Head - There are several Harry Potter sites out there, but this is my favorite. Travis Prinzi is the Chief Warlock of the Blogengamot and an excellent writer. Check it out!

7. The Simple Life at Home - Lori is a homeschooling mom who lives in Qatar. She writes well and has great insights about life in a different culture.

Our Week in Review - 9/14/2008

I think this week was probably pretty typical for our school weeks. Of course, I wish we had gotten more "school" done, but I keep trying to remind myself that unstructured time is just as important to the children as scheduled schoolwork.

Bible - Still working through Genesis. Memorized Proverbs 3:5-6.

Math - Kids are continuing in ALEKS. They both did assessments which were pretty good.

Spanish - Kids doing well in Power Glide.

Spelling - Ga'hoole Girl has been a little frustrated because we did place names which included Massachusetts and Saskatchewan. Yep, they're tough. Wild Man is now working in All About Spelling Book 2. Most of what he learned in Book 1 is finally coming more easily. We got a magnet board, so our lessons are shorter since we don't have to do the setup.

Reading - Wild Man continues in Explode the Code Book 6. He is also very highly motivated to read on his own. He used some of his reading money to buy a used copy of Quidditch for GameCube this week. A few days ago, Wild Man decided he would try his hand at reading Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. The chapters are much longer than he's used to, so he only had to read 1/2 of a chapter. I'm pretty amazed that he did it!! Ga'hoole Girl is starting the Lord of the Rings trilogy since she's finished all of her Sonlight books.

Grammar - Ga'hoole Girl is now correcting her own grammar workbook. She doesn't really like to do it, but I think it helps her learn where her mistakes are. My original plan was to use Editor In Chief after she finishes her grammar book because I think she needs some work on using grammar and punctuation, but I think I've changed my mind. When we are done with her grammar workbooks, I'll just correct her writing for a month or so. If she continues to have tons of mistakes in her own writing, we'll use Editor In Chief in addition to working on her writing. Ga'hoole Girl seems pretty motivated to clean up her own writing - now she has an incentive to proofread!!

Writing - Ga'hoole Girl did a couple of short writing assignments this week. I've talked to her about the need to proofread her writing (see above). The content was reasonable. She is working on a research paper from her Jump In! book. We've pushed the due date back since she needs to go to the Appleton Library to do research this week.

Handwriting - I've been impressed with Wild Man's progress in cursive. He actually is writing his y's correctly now so that he can write them in cursive later.

Art - Ga'hoole Girl did some reading about medieval art this week and did some writing about a tapestry about a unicorn hunt. We also listened to an audio book about various artists.

Science - Ga'hoole Girl is working in her new Earth Science book and read about minerals this week. Next week she'll read about rocks. Wild Man watched a TV show about the new particle accelerator. He didn't really understand much about the particle physics, but he thought the idea of such a huge machine was interesting.

Sonlight - We did some reading about kingdoms in Africa, the rise of Burgundy, and the Hapsburg family. We also read and did some map work while discussing explorers.

Election Unit - The kids are making their platforms, writing introductory speeches, and making up running mates. Ga'hoole Girl made herself a duct tape hat.

Food Science - The kids watched some food science shows on days when I didn't feel well. Ga'hoole Girl made some scrambled eggs in a homemade double boiler (and learned that scrambled eggs made in a metal bowl are hard to clean). Ga'hoole Girl is supposed to grill soon, but the weather has been yucky. She has done her reading, though. Both kids are pretty limited in their kitchen activities right now, though, because they left the kitchen a wreck Friday afternoon.

Dance - Ga'hoole Girl is loving her tap and theater dance classes. Wild Man's jazz class is taught by a man, which he likes.

Argumentation - Ga'hoole Girl got stuck on the lectures she was supposed to watch this week, so we will watch those together this week.

This week looks to be interesting. There is a Marc Chagall art exhibit at the Appleton Art Center, which I want to see when we're in town this week. We have to work that around Ga'hoole Girl's piano lessons and library trip. Mr. Math Tutor is substitute teaching Monday and maybe Tuesday this week. We are also planning a trip to Chicago in a few weeks to check out the museums. We're all excited because we'll be taking the train and staying right downtown.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Odds 'n Ends

Here are just a few interesting things going on around here.

1. I'm knitting again after a self-imposed moratorium due to tennis elbow. Actually, I was having pain through my entire right arm. We finally figured out that it was due to computer usage since we moved the computer to a different desk. My darling husband put in a keyboard tray so I don't have to raise up my arm, and I'm feeling much better. So, now I'm back to knitting since it doesn't aggravate my arm.

2. I'm working on a hat pattern from Knitty. It uses the "magic loop" technique of using a cable needle with a long cable for the entire pattern - from the small circumference through the larger circumference. It was a little tricky to get started, but now that I'm comfortable with it, I love it.

3. I will be reviewing the new book churched by Matthew Paul Turner in the next few weeks. I was selected to be one of the bloggers who gets a free copy of the book to review and one to give away! Now, I just have to figure out how to do a giveaway.

4. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Ga'hoole Girl has not been making the best choices, so Mr. Math Tutor and I have had to limit her activities for the next week or so. Yuck.

5. Mr. Math Tutor had his first tutoring client this week. He'll also being doing some substitute teaching next week. His website (with logo) will be ready within the next month. Stay tuned for details!!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Book Review - September 6, 2008

I haven't done many reviews lately, but I did want to write my thoughts to a book I just finished called Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel.

I don't read many parenting books these days. It's not because I think I know it all, but because I'm pretty sure that most of the parenting "experts" don't know near as much as they think they do. The Christian community has developed a tendency toward thinking that good parents always turn out good kids. Do they? The evidence suggests otherwise. We all know families who are totally screwed up but have a kid who does really well. Then there's the other extreme where the parents seem to be doing a great job, but the kids rebel. What's going on here? What's going on is that children are their own individual people with wills who make their own choices. Perfect parenting can still turn out rebellious kids. After all, God is THE perfect parent, but some of His kids have been serious "problem children".

Well, after that pessimistic start, let me say that I do believe that parents can and should try our best to help our kids navigate childhood and adolescence and to become happy and productive adults. I just want to make clear that there are no formulas to follow to guarantee a great outcome.

But, Grace Based Parenting is the best parenting book that I think I've ever read. Dr. Kimmel starts with a discussion of some of the most common types of parenting models found among Christian families, including fear-based, image control, high control, life-support, and others. Then, he starts to tell us about a radical way to parent - living to know Jesus more and more and letting our children be the recipients of the grace we receive from God. One of the main characteristics of grace-based families is a lack of fear. We are leaning on God to help us make our decisions, not a book or formula. We can allow our children to be different without feeling threatened.

Kimmel tells us that our children need a secure love, a significant purpose, and a strong hope. Woven among these three needs of children are four freedoms: the freedom to be different, the freedom to be vulnerable, the freedom to be candid, and the freedom to make mistakes. This book fleshes out these three needs and four freedoms that our children need. It is filled with examples, but not strict checklists or to-do's. He reminds us that raising children is like a dance with many factors that alter our motions: the child's stage of development, the parents' stage in marriage, economics, individual issues, etc. There isn't always one way to do something - that's why reliance on God is so important.

While this book stresses grace, it is clear that there are definite needs in our families for structure and discipline. It is clear that we should not tolerate sin in our children, but we need to continue to deal with our children with grace. So, we need to respond to our children, not react. Discipline is required, but the child should not be condemned for sin. Children should reap the natural consequences for their behavior - to circumvent this is to not allow our children to mature. How we discipline is between us and God. Each family is unique so our methods of discipline will be different - and this is fine with God.

There are not checklists of how to be a perfect parent, but there are examples of both grace-based and non-grace-based parenting. Kimmel is very clear early on that loving our children with the grace of God will require that we put their needs first, but the cost is worth it. The book ends with encouragement for parents that no matter what our child does, God is still in control and loves them. My favorite quote is "If the only thing you get right as parents is His grae, everything else will be just fine."

One reason that I so enjoyed this book is because grace-based parenting is pretty much how Mr. Math Tutor and I have chosen to parent our children. We clearly are not "there" yet, but the philosophy really rings true: treat your children as God treats us. This leads to some interesting things in our home, but it seems to work. For example, Wild Man decided for a while when he was 4 or 5 years old that he didn't want to sleep in his bed but wanted to sleep on the floor. We decided that this wouldn't hurt him so we let him. He decides every once in a while now that he wants to sleep downstairs, but we don't allow that because it is disruptive to the rest of the family. Our kids have been allowed to choose their own clothes ever since they were able to dress themselves. At times, I requested that Mr. Math Tutor put signs on them announcing that they dressed themselves, but he told me that I needed to get over it! No, the clothes didn't always match, but that's OK. And, I had to give up my need for the kids to look "good" (notice whose need it was - mine, not my childrens'). Both kids have been known to play outside in shorts when it's 50 degrees out - they come back in for long pants pretty quickly. Those are just a few places where we try to allow the children to make as many of their own choices as possible, even though it may be a little trying on the parents.

If you have kids, I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you have been focused on behavior, this will help you to learn to focus on leading children with grace and becoming more heart-focused. And, if this is already your philosophy, you will enjoy reading how Dr. Kimmel fleshes things out and encourages you, along with giving some practical advice. Enjoy!

Our Week in Review - 9/6/2008

After such a rousing start to our new school year the last two weeks, this week was pretty much a disaster. I had a headache all week due to weather changes and medication changes. The kids did their independent work each day, but we only got group work done twice. Here's the breakdown:

Bible - We did Bible 4 out of 5 days, still working our way through Genesis. We didn't do a good job with memorizing our verse (Proverbs 3:5-6), so we'll do it again next week.

Math - Kids are continuing in ALEKS.

Spanish - Still working through Power-Glide. Wild Man is on lesson 72 of 90, while Ga'hoole Girl is on lesson 47 of 70.

Spelling - Didn't get any spelling done with Ga'hoole girl and only did spelling twice with Wild Man because of my headaches. I got magnet stickers to put on the tiles for Wild Man's All About Spelling, but discovered that our whiteboard is not actually magnetic. I wanted to get a magnet board at Office Max, but they were $50! If I get desperate, I may lay out the bucks.

Reading - Wild Man has been reading on his own every day, which has been good for his reading and his pocketbook!! He started Book 6 of Explode the Code, as well. Ga'hoole Girl is done with her readers for Core 6, so she has requested to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy next. Fine by me!

Grammar - Ga'hoole Girl continues through Easy Grammar Plus. This week was learning about commas. I think she should be done before the end of the month.

Writing - Ga'hoole Girl did a nice paragraph on what was disturbing to her about the book on Bloody Mary. She has been working in her Jump In! book learning about interesting introductions, quotations, transitions, and appropriate citation.

Handwriting - Wild Man is starting cursive and learned how to join m's and n's.

Food Science - Both kids watched a few episodes of "Good Eats" and "How'd That Get On My Plate?" Ga'hoole Girl read the introductory section about grilling although she didn't get to do any grilling this week.

Art - Ga'hoole Girl read in her Usborne Art book and looked at a website - she's studying medieval art. Wild Man and I read about some basic art history and composition.

Science - Ga'hoole Girl started Module 4 in Apologia. She'll finish that module next week and then be done with Apologia. I found a great book by DK and the Smithsonian Institute called Earth. It is huge and comprehensive, but the reading level is just fine for Ga'hoole Girl. I'm going to purchase a copy and have her read 15-20 pages each week. To whet her appetite, I'm letting her start with the section on rocks and minerals - she's thrilled!

Sonlight - The kids listened to 3 chapters from Story of the World and we read a good bit in The World of Columbus and Sons. No timeline or map work this week - we'll aim for next week.

Election study - We never got to any of our unit study work. We did watch the Republican convention Wednesday night, but not Thursday. We'll watch McCain's speech online next week.

Dance - Ga'hoole Girl started her tap class Thursday night. She gets to start in the advanced tap class and she loves it. This Monday, Ga'hoole Girl starts theater dance and Wild Man starts jazz.

Puppet Class - Wild Man does this once a month with the homeschool group. This week was the first week and he's pretty excited about it.

In other news, the kids had cavities filled on Wednesday. They survived, albeit with numb mouths for a couple of hours. Mr. Math Tutor and Wild Man went to the homeschool group meeting on Friday, where Wild Man did his puppet class. Our new Sonlight box came Thursday. The books look just wonderful!!!! I'm seriously motivated to finish Core 6 so we can start Core 7!

I would like to be a little more "productive" next week. The headache is a little better today, so here's hoping for a better week next week. In any case, the kids (and grown-ups) are learning!!