Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Salsa and Me

Yes, I am a novice canner. Yes, I am of mostly Scandinavian descent, therefore I am not familiar with the preparation of "hot" foods. Eaten them? Yes. I have eaten salsa many times before.

This was the first time I'd ever made it.

Now, I do seem to recall that I read somewhere that fresh jalapenos are hot. The seeds are hot. They burn the tongue and can be uncomfortable on the skin.


I did not refresh my memory in that regard and went ahead to prepare several fresh jalapenos for the salsa I made this morning. (18 half-pints worth) I began by slicing one up, seeds and all and dumped it into the mix. Then I thought "Hmmmm... maybe I should taste one just to see how hot it really is?" I popped about an 1/8 teaspoon-sized piece of pepper with 2 seeds into my mouth. BURN! Drank a glass of water and decided I would strip the innards out, since my memory was clearing (probably activated by my overheated mouth) and telling me that the seeds were the hottest part of the pepper. I prepared the rest sans guts.

Gradually I began to notice a burning sensation on my hands. I washed up very carefully and it kept getting worse, started creeping up my arms. OUCH! The dim recesses of my mind pulled up a mental file .. something about wearing gloves when preparing hot peppers. OUCH!-OUCH!-OUCH! At one point my entire left arm felt numb, like I was having a stroke. I asked my husband if I was whining too much. He gave me "that look". You know what I mean.

Anyway, the salsa is done, it's good, and my hands and arms feel much better. Next time: gloves!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Few Topics

Here is a shot of our follow-up assignment from the zoo visit. It's not pretty. At all. I took all the photos I had accumulated of the animals we saw and made stickers out of them. Then I had the kids place the stickers in the correct group on the very-quick-and-ugly-but-functional poster I whipped up. I quizzed the kids as we went along about the characteristics that determined the classification of each animal. Unfortunately I did not get any amphibian photos and only one fish photo so we just discussed the ones we saw. This project was a lot of fun and the kids now know these classifications backwards and forwards.

Sweet little Ellie made herself a paperdoll set a couple of weeks ago. At her request I took a picture of her and printed it. We have a small light box that has been around since I was a child and she used that to trace outfits over the photo. She colored them and cut everything out. I thought this was really cute. She did a good job on it but she gets so impatient with coloring!

Fall is here. The weather is suddenly colder. We harvested the rest of the tomatoes and the pumpkins this week. This is the first year I've canned anything. So far I've done 5 pts of apple jelly, 17 pts of applesauce, 17 half-pts of grape jelly, 32 half-pts plum jelly, 9 quarts of spaghetti sauce with lots more to go. I'm also planning on canning pumpkin, salsa, and more spaghetti sauce. I'm pleased with my first foray into canning. To quote Isaac: "Holey Macaroni!"

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Curriculum and Schedules

I thought I would list what we are doing for homeschool this year. This was the first year I used a mix of my own curriculum choices. In previous years I borrowed a complete Sonlight curriculum package from a friend. I liked it, but now that I have "gotten my feet wet" I enjoyed selecting the individual components, since I am nothing if not opinionated! I am using a modified classical approach.

I will focus this post mainly on Ellie, since Isaac's work in PreK is much less involved and he tends to ride on her coat-tails. He has some workbooks of his own and participates in memorization, science, and listens to all the reading.

In the morning I send out the siren song, calling school to order with some music that I compiled from various sources. They are mainly fun songs that the kids like, which includes silly songs and educational jingles.

Here's one of our favorites:

We open with The Lord's Prayer. Since we attend an Evangelical Free church, there is not a lot of corporate recitation like you would find in other older denominations. I miss that and feel some of it is helpful and important, so I include some recitations in our school setting. We are also doing the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the 23rd Psalm. Some of it we may switch out for other foundational passages when I am sure these are embedded in their hearts and minds.

We also recite the Pledge of Allegience and other things we are memorizing, which is currently the books of the Bible (in song form) and a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson.
This sounds like a lot, but we really enjoy this part of the day together and it goes very quickly.

Then, depending on the day of the week, we open the rest of our studies. Language Arts and Math are daily, the rest are between one to three days a week. We have classes four times a week, with the fifth day (Thursdays) for shopping, field trips, or as a "wild card" in case we need to rearrange the week.

Here, in a nutshell, is the rest:

Bible: We are just finishing Grapevine's Birth of Jesus. The concept of stick figures to illustrate the story seemed so simplistic, I wasn't sure about it. Well, the kids LOVED this study, and I expect we will continue with more when I can get it ordered.

Bible/History: We use 106 Days of Creation Studies as a supplement to our Bible and History studies. I wanted to be sure and tie the two together.

History: We use Story of the World: Volume 1 (Ancient Times), both the text and the activity book, which I find indispensible. I love this curriculum. It's very interesting for me and the kids, and the activity book really is wonderful too. Since I started this a year later that I would prefer, I am going to continue on with Volume 2 this summer so I can catch us up. I expect this to make following the classical model of education easier over the next ten years.

Geography: A Child's Geography, Explore His Earth! adds emphasis to our world geography studies, and it has a lot of interesting overview information that is not covered as completely elsewhere.

Reading: We are currently finishing up Book 3 of Explode the Code. We do about 1 lesson a week, two pages a day.  This program keeps Ellie's interest and has worked well for us, as long as I keep it down to 2-3 pages.

Grammar: Easy Grammar: Daily Guided Teaching and Review for Grade 2 is working well, is easy for Ellie to follow, and is just one worksheet a day. I supplement this with catchy grammer songs that I downloaded from YouTube, and she writes more examples herself on the white board, which makes it fun.

Writing: I use the Instructor Text guide only for The Complete Writer: Writing with Ease. I like the manuscript practice and the narration practice. I believe I can see the improvement in her mental processes as a direct result of this.

Math: We began Math-U-See with the primer and are continuing with the Alpha book now pretty aggressively. We are about 1/2 way through and expect to get through the Beta workbook book this year as well. The DVD that comes with this is a terrific help for both mother and daughter.

Science: Handbook of Nature Study with The Outdoor Hour Challenge once a week. We also include various Science studies as they come up in tangent with Geography, Creation, and History (ala Charlotte Mason).

Art: We just started Art Adventures at Home, Level 1 as it was backordered for quite awhile, but so far so good.

Music: Gilbert DeBenedetti's free Music Theory workbooks are going very well so far too. I liked that they were free, and Ellie is enjoying the lessons on our large electronic keyboard.

Physical Education: OK, I thought about this one, but the kids are already so active outside that I didn't pursue anything formal in this area at this time. I did write down some skills goals for this year and we are doing things like timing races. That's about it.

I have schedules I update every week to keep me on track. I like having things to check off, and it gives me a formal record of what we've covered. I created an Excel spreadsheet form with hyperlinks to the static data (because I'm a nerd) so it's quite easy to update. Here's what it looks like, in my large teacher notebook.

I have a schedule for each of the two, but you can see that Ellie's on the right is much more involved.

This is an example of my goals section. I have goals for each child in each subject area. I have also noted which part of the curriculum is expected to address that goal. We review progress on the first of each month. I just started doing this and have some things to catch up on that I should have covered last year. There is not much checked off in this section yet, as we have only had one review, and I want to be sure that the goal is completely accomplished before checking it off.

Well, I know this has been a very long post, so that's enough for now.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Field Trip

Sooo.... Carol...
How did the field trip go yesterday?........

Let's just say THIS is how I felt this morning.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Many-Colored Coat

The Cutie-Pies did a life-sized (Isaac-sized) coloring of Joseph and his coat today as part of their History studies. We read about the beginning of the Jewish people this week, just some basics from Abram to Joseph. Isaac enjoys hearing his name mentioned in this context, but I suspect he's just a tiny bit confused, knowing he has a story from a life before he came to us. I need to remember to continue to clarify that this was a different Isaac. Especially when we dig in deeper and get to the story of Abraham's almost-sacrifice of his son....

School is moving along very well this year. We made a working thermometer with a bottle and a straw for Science today, worked more with maps and directions, and are plowing through Language Arts and Math. We had some really good Art and Music lessons today as well.

Tomorrow we have our first homeschool field trip to the Minnesota zoo. We will be classifying vertebrates, so we will keep a log of what we see and get pictures so we can make a poster/chart when we get home.

We are all excited for the trip. Daddy will be sleeping in the car on the way down, since he will have only had about 2 hours of sleep when we leave - that, after a 72-hour work week. I don't know how he manages. I would be just a tad bit grumpy, I'm quite sure.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Wild Grapes

My husband has done a lot of "beating back nature" along a few hundred feet of our driveway in the last two years or so. There were some dead trees and some noxious weeds that needed to be cleared out.  In the process, he began to notice that there was a lot more wild fruit growing there than we realized. A lot more. The more he trimmed, the happier those fruit bushes, vines, and trees became. They were getting a bit of light and began to bear their fruit. We found wild apple, chokecherries, thorn apples, wild grapes, plus some others which have not yet been identified. Very cool! I have longed for some more fruit-bearing plants and had been planning for some planting areas, but there they were all along! We didn't have to plant them, weed them, trim them, or spray them. What a gift from God! I can feel His delight in our discovery of this gift to us.
On Thursday my dear husband picked 2 1/2 gallons of wild grapes along our driveway before he went to work. There's more to be had, but it's a good start. The kids and I cleaned them carefully, picked over them, then threw them, small stems and all along with a couple of cups of water into my 8 quart stockpot. It was heaping full.

I cooked them down then strained out the seeds, stems and pulp. I added sugar to the juice and a few pinches of salt and some pectin, boiled it for a minute or so, then canned it up. This batch made 17 half-pints of jelly.
Luscious grape jelly. Rich and full-bodied flavor with a little "wild" tang. Not at all like the cheap jelly we usually buy in the store. Women have been making wild grape jelly for many generations, but it's new to me.

Friday, September 4, 2009


I thought I would show what we're doing with school these days. Ellie is in second grade and Isaac is in PreK. I have a spare bedroom this year to use for school, so that helps a lot with keeping my sanity intact.
I organized subject notebooks with folders, subject matter, extra papers, pockets with pencils, glue sticks and erasers (in case we take things outside). Isaac has just one notebook. Ellie's Reading, Grammar and Writing notebook was in use when this picture was taken.
I had lots of idea helps from reading homeschooler blogs this year. I really like this idea. Drawers for coloring supplies. We just pull out a drawer when it's needed. Colored pencils, markers, and crayons. It's all ready to go and always in the exact same place. No more hunting for boxes or bins, and the kids are less inclined to make off with them.
Here's our reading area. After switching bedrooms around we ended up with an extra mattress so plopped it on the floor, threw a couple of beanbag chairs on it and we have a comfy spot for reading. I freely admit that I am the one who was looking for more reading comfort, since at this stage, there is a lot of reading done by Mom.
This is one end of the table we work at, complete with a recent pyramid project from our study of ancient Egypt.
Flash cards. Who knew?
I never dreamed they would be so  helpful. I used templates generously provided by Donna Young at her wonderful website and made my own.
I have alphabet cards with no pictures (which are hard to find) so we can practice sounds along with letters without the picture hints. I have numbers. Isaac can count, but is not yet recognizing some numbers. Ellie has Addition math facts to memorize, and Dolche words, which are words to learn by sight along with phonetics.
The Dolche words are separated into different piles right now. Words Ellie has mastered, words she is working on, and words she has not yet started. She really enjoys the "competition" of flash cards. I was surprised at how well they work.
Here is our fabulous 4' x 8' whiteboard. We looked at Menards and Home Depot without finding what we needed. Turns out our local building store keeps them in stock to supply the public school. Neat deal. And they are cheap too.
The kids like to do their figuring on the whiteboard. Here Ellie was reviewing part of the day's Grammar lesson. I am really looking forward to improving my own grammar skills while educating my children. Another wonderful benefit of homeschooling.
When not doing school, we sometimes play fun games, such as the one suggested in a book. Draw a picture and see how quickly the subject can be guessed. Mom was the guesser.
Ellie was very pleased with her baby drawing. Mom guessed it very quickly and then Ellie finished her drawing.
This is Isaac with his caterpillar. Mom guessed that one right too. 
Here's our classroom mascot. His name is Bubbles.  

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Remember I mentioned Deja Vu?

I knew there was a memory there somewhere. It's why I snapped the picture of Isaac.
My two sons.
Isaac at 4, Greyson at about 9.
Warms the cockles of my heart!
Little cutie-pies.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Kids and Fun

Isaac learned to shower last month. He climbs in along with Ellie for moral support, but needs to be properly equipped to deal with the water on his face. He came up with this idea all on his own.
We spent last Saturday at "The Point" with Jess and Tyler. Tyler brought his boat and gave us a spin around the lake. That was so much fun. Reminded me of when I was in my early teens, when I could take the boat out by myself. What a thrill that was for me then. I was not yet old enough to drive, and the feeling of independence, power, and speed was intoxicating.
Little Isaac was anxious to get some fishing in. He and Daddy dug for worms in the garden the day before, so they were well prepared. Isaac and Ellie did very well, baiting their own hooks and reeling in those fishies. We had "miniature crappie" dinner the next day.
Jess and Grey were happy to see each other. They have a strong sibling bond. I've always been grateful for that. Grey wanted this picture with his Jess. I am so proud of them both.
We went to the fair a few weeks ago. The kids have their expectations which include cotton candy (in pink and blue) and a few carnival rides. Mom expects to see the animals. I never get tired of looking at sleeping pigs and the rear ends of cows.
A rainy summer day. I don't know what they would do without each other. I often have deja vu with these two. It's like Jess and Grey all over again. What a blessing to be able to do this twice!
I'll leave with a sweet shot of the newlyweds at the lake. It was great to see them.