Monday, December 01, 2014

Christmas is coming!

OK, I'm trying something new here, so hopefully this will work. For the last seven or eight years, I've put together a calendar of activities for our family to do during the month of December. (That's not the new part.) Back in the dark ages, I made a paper chain and fastened it on the wall, like a caveman. I cut a star out of yellow construction paper and it moved down the chain to show what day it was. (I'm totally laughing at how primitive this was compared to the Advent Bucket Lists we see on Pinterest now!) 

It is completely impossible that they were ever this little.
Somebody must have been using a trick camera.

 Some of the activities stay the same year after year, under threat of rioting by the minions. Watching Elf, for example, absolutely must happen. Last year, I collected a couple dozen Elf quotes and put them into a Bingo card generator. Everybody's cards were different and it was so funny to watch people tense up when they were approaching a Bingo and the line they needed was coming up. So now we can't just watch Elf and be happy. We have to watch Elf while playing Elf Bingo. But I'm okay with that!

Some of the activities stay on the calendar for a while but then fade away due to changes in age or location. "Play in the snow" is a safe bet at some point in December if you live in Virginia, but not so much in south Texas. Sadly, "letters to Santa" and "Put out ho-hos and milk for Santa" have also cycled off the calendar.  On the bright side, "Christmas Eve tamales" is a delicious new tradition.

Now that both my kids are older (read: have more demanding homeschool schedules and ::gasp:: independent social lives), we may not be able to do every single thing I have planned. I'm going to find a way to be okay with that. I don't want to be the crazed Pinterest mom making the whole family miserable because "TODAY IS RANDOM ACT OF KINDNESS DAY, DO YOU HEAR ME?!"

So here's what I'm hoping December 2014 will look like at our house. Feel free to copy any ideas that appeal to you, or--better yet--leave some ideas of your own in the comments.

Here's the new part I mentioned. I've never had a download link before today. The instructions seemed pretty straightforward which is almost always a sure sign it's not going to work. If you try to download it, would you please oh please do me a favor and let me know if it works?
click here to download calendar

Monday, November 17, 2014

Watch Me Grow

This may be one of my favorite crafty projects of all time.  I used my cricut to cut 4 1/2" circles from cardstock, Then I chose one picture (I usually pick my favorite, but if the birthday kiddo has a strong preference, I try to use their choice.) for each year of their life. I cut the pictures into 4 inch circles, affixed them to the cardstock and threaded everything onto some sturdy jute twine.

Both of my children were born toward the end of the month, so I pop this banner up in the kitchen at the first of their birth month. Each year we add a current picture. It is so much fun to watch my babies transform into little ones, then school age, and now into their teens through this simple banner.

I loved this idea so much that I also made a scrapbook layout for each child that I maintain in conjunction with the banner.  Can you believe that 18 years' worth of birthdays will fit on two 12x12" pages?? I always think of the sweet old ladies in the grocery store/post office/restaurants who would tell us frazzled moms with babies and toddlers to "Savor every minute! It goes so fast!" My son only has four empty circles left on his layout. I get choked up just thinking how fast they'll fill up.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Whatcha Readin? Week 46

Another week, another thriller. I'm telling you, next week I'm going to read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms to balance myself back out! Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbott is the story of a woman, her three children and her unstable, obsessed husband. What could possibly go wrong??

The woman--Olivia--and her children disappear, and the case is assigned to Detective Tom Douglas, who has actually investigated three other cases involving Olivia. Her husband Robert is, of course, their first suspect. He tells them a little truth, slanted to serve his purposes, and a lot of lies. From the evidence they uncover, the detective and his team have three theories: 1. Olivia and the children have been killed 2. Olivia and the children have been kidnapped or 3. Olivia and the children wanted to disappear. Robert has spent years planting seeds in case he needs to make Olivia look unfit, so the team also has to figure out whether the children are safe if they are, in fact, with Olivia.

Robert, in the meantime, is running his own covert investigation, and he's a step ahead of the detectives the entire way. I like books to have happy endings with clear and definite closure, but the more details Abbott revealed, the less sure I was that I was going to get that. I was reading as fast as I could in spots--as if I could help the detectives catch up by reading their parts faster! It might have worked, if I'd been able to read Robert's parts slower. ha!

This book could have been a predictable, formulaic read, but Rachel Abbott did a great job at keeping the reader off-balance throughout the book by frequently changing narrators and looking at the same clue from various perspectives. That's not to say that the book didn't follow a formula; I just wasn't sure which formula it was until the end. She also kept the suspense taut by changing the pacing of the story. At first, Robert is merely agitated, but soon his sections read like a crazed bull in a china shop. We're watching him unravel and lose control; we see him rapidly shift from being concerned with maintaining appearances in front of the police to being obsessed with finding his wife, regardless of who or what stands in his way. It was frightening.

I was also struck by how Abbott slowed the story by alluding to the detectives' lives. Tom would make dinner for his girlfriend or take a phone call about his cottage being robbed, and I would think, "Dude! You don't have time for this! Robert is thinking about one thing and one thing only--and he's ahead of you at the moment!" That is good writing, right there, my friends. As I keep saying, I'm done with this genre for a while, but I would definitely recommend this book.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Homeschool Week in Review (Week 11)

This week we studied the name Melek, which means King. This was another name that overlapped with a title given to Jesus. (We learned earlier that God is Jehovah Shalom--the Lord is Peace--and Jesus's was also the Prince of Peace.) God is King of everything, just as Jesus is called King of Kings.
For God is the King of all the earth;
    sing to him a psalm of praise.
Psalm 47:7

We did math...I just can't remember a single thing about it.  At least that means it went smoothly. Unfortunately, the rough days in math are the ones that really stand out in my memory.  So...yay! I can't remember a single thing about this past week's math!

Will is working on verbs and objects. He works independently and only has occasional questions for me. I'm a grammar nerd, so of course I'm really pleased to see his proficiency increasing! Katie is working on nouns. One of the lessons was on collective nouns, which we always think is so much fun.  Our favorites are the ever-popular 'murder of crows' and a 'clowder of cats.'

We're still reading The Blood of Olympus.  It's a long book to read aloud! We're going to have to start our next genre and study them concurrently or we won't finish before May. (May 2017, I think! It's a really long book!)

We read about Mussolini and fascism in Italy, but I didn't learn as much as I wanted to, so we're going to park here and dig a little deeper. You've heard the expression, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"? Well, the homeschool corollary is, "If Mama's curious about something, everybody's curious about something." ha!

Science (co-op)
We've had a ton of rain this week, which is REALLY unusual for this area. Will had just finished a science chapter on the water cycle, and he made the comment that if this rain continued, it just might raise the water table. He was shocked to hear himself spontaneously apply what he was learning! It was a pretty cool moment.

IEW (co-op)
Both kids knocked out paragraphs on how antiseptics make surgery safer. We also got to recompile all their assignments, because the teacher's grade book went missing at the auto shop. I thought it was going to be a huge pain, but it actually turned out to be kind of fun. I think I heard one of them say that they were moving on to multi-paragraph essays, so I'm guessing our time of quick -n- easy IEW is coming to an end.

Other news
Both kids are spending the weekend at Cold Play, our church's fall retreat for students. They're both so excited that it's a miracle we got ANYTHING done this week.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Whatcha Readin? Week 45

Another perk of being an Amazon Prime Kindle user is Kindle First, a program that gives you the opportunity to read certain books the month before they're released.  My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni is a suspenseful thriller.  In other words, Amazon lured me way out of my typical genre with this one!

Tracy Crosswhite's younger sister Sarah disappears and is never found. A man with a history of rape and assault is convicted of Sarah's murder with circumstantial--and suspicious--evidence. Tracy sees the inconsistencies during the investigation and trial, but no one will listen to her. Tracy blames herself for Sarah's disappearance and becomes obsessed with trying to figure out what really happened. She eventually becomes a detective with the Seattle Police Department, always reviewing her sister's case in her mind.

Not too far into the story, some hunters or hikers find Sarah's body. The case, of course, goes from the back of Tracy's mind to the forefront. She returns to her small hometown to give her sister a proper memorial and burial. But she is still bothered by the way things don't quite add up. And, despite warnings from everybody in her life, she just can't leave it alone.

I'll be honest, this genre stresses me out. I don't like not knowing what's going on; I don't like little hints here and there; I don't like holding my breath and waiting for the boogeyman to pop out at me. This. Is. Not. My. Favorite. Genre.
Me, reading My Sister's Grave

I made it through the first two-thirds of the book just fine, but that last third--EEK!!!  I couldn't put it down, couldn't read fast enough. I was SO GLAD to reach the end and just collapse.

My Sister's Grave had the level of character development that is typical of this genre, which I think is too bad, because Tracy could have been really fascinating. But, again, if Dugoni had spent a lot of time and effort on character development, it would have slowed the plot to a crawl, which would have left the majority of his audience dissatisfied. (Who do I think I am, anyway, dipping my toe in this genre and expecting it to change to meet my character needs?! ha!)

OK, so now that I've whined and complained about thrillers, suspense and mysteries, guess what's next on my list? Yep. Another thriller. This one is called Sleep Tight (Yeah, I see no possible way this could go badly.)  After I finish Sleep Tight, I'm jumping back to my comfort zone. You heard it hear first. ;-)

Monday, November 03, 2014

One of our November traditions

 I absolutely love fall! I love the crisp mornings (when we can get them in South Texas!); I love college football; I love to cook comfort food like soups and apple muffins;  I love everything about fall--except pumpkin spice anything. But that's a story for another day.

For the last several years, I've seen friends on Facebook using the month of November to post one thing each day that they're grateful for. What a great idea! For some reason, though, I have a really hard time following through for the whole month. I can never figure out if I want to post my thankful thing first thing in the morning or last thing at night or at high noon. So, ironically, instead of feeling grateful throughout the month, I feel stressed and neurotic.  Who needs that?!

We have started a Thankful Tree tradition at home. I feel like I can be more candid at home than I can be on Facebook. Sometimes I want to be thankful for silly things, profound things or semi-private things. I love social media, but it weirds me out sometimes to be grateful for something and then get (or not get) "likes" for it.

The vision for our Thankful Tree is for everyone to add one leaf each day, but we're pretty lax on policing that. (Well, okay, we don't police it at all.) Sometimes I'll add several leaves in one day, sometimes I miss a day. It's no biggie. I want this to be a fun memory and something my family looks forward to. 

Thankful Tree 2013

We started our 2014 Thankful Tree on Saturday. I'm excited to see it transform from a bare trunk to a gorgeous record of our blessings!

 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
Psalm 118:1

Friday, October 31, 2014

Homeschool Week in Review (Week 10)

I have no idea where this past week went. The last thing I remember, it was Monday evening. Some weeks are just like that, aren't they?

This year, for the first time, I have scheduled a catch-up day the last Friday of each month. If we've stayed on-track all month, we have that day off. If we're behind where I thought we'd be, we use that day to catch up. Taking one day off doesn't cause us to lose our momentum, and knowing that we can "earn" a three-day weekend has been a powerful motivator for all of us!

So here's what went on in the Button Factory this week--as best as I can remember, anyway!

We hadn't finished everything I wanted to talk about on last week's topic of Jehovah Shalom, so we carried it over for a second week. Ironically, just as we sat down to begin, I was overcome with one of those Mommy meltdown moments. Do you ever feel that even when they're listening, they're not listening? That's where I was. I would ask one child to look up one verse, and the other to look up a different verse.

Before I finished telling Child 2 what his verse was, Child 1 was asking, "Did you say Ephesians or Ezekial?"
Then Child 2 asked, "What chapter again?"

One-half of a second later, Child 1 needed me to repeat "what chapter? not the verse, just the chapter?"

Child 2 announced, "Got it!" and Child 1 said, "Okay, chapter 5, what verse?"

Child 2 then read his verse:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 
(emphasis added by Child 2 as he read.)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:12-17

Don't ever let anyone tell you that the Bible doesn't speak to us right where we are, even today! It was a humbling lesson, but... 

The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12

My 8th grader had some kind of crazy converting-percentages-to-fractions lessons that I used to know how to do when I was in 8th grade, but I was utterly flummoxed this time around. They weren't normal percentages, for one thing. 50% = 1/2 = 0.5. I get that. But what is the fractional equivalent of 12 1/2%? We figured it out together, but seeing a fraction and a percent together just caused my brain to shut down. My sixth grader is working on bigger multiplication problems: 3-digits times 3-digits. She's pretty free-spirited and it's not easy for her to buckle down and pay attention to details for that long (If you think about it, that's 9 multiplication problems, plus adding.) I feel so sorry for her when she gets 90% of the answer right, but because of one mistake in multiplication or carrying or adding, the answer is wrong.

Will finished his unit on nouns and pronouns and moved on to verbs. Katie was also working on nouns and also completed a couple of the first lessons on pronouns.

We talked about the events leading up to Egypt's independence from England in 1922.  I'm really excited about what's next, though: Fascism in Italy! Okay, that's probably a weird thing to be excited about, but I can't recall ever formally learning anything about Mussolini. I'll be sure to report back next week on what I learned! ha!

We're still reading Heroes of Olympus in the evenings. We've started working through some aspects of the adventure genre, mostly dealing with conflict so far. This is a big, complicated book with lots of story lines, so our attempt to identify the "main" conflict in the book almost led us into our own war. Such opinionated children!!

Science (co-op class)
Katie learned about the three different tests for determining the reliability of historical documents. They are, if you are interested, the external test, the internal test and the bibliographic test. I have no idea what Will learned in Physical Science because after helping Katie with General Science for 8,000 hours, I curled up in a corner and rocked myself until dinner time.

IEW (co-op class)
This is still everyone's favorite class. The dress-ups are starting to add up. We now have quality adjectives and the "" dress-up in addition to strong verbs, quality adverbs, who/which and because clauses. I'm ready to see some sentence openers any minute now.

So that's a quick run-down of Week 10. See you next time!