Sunday, August 21, 2016

Quit Comparing Already!

Just now I was reading an acquaintance's FB post about how she was prepping lessons since her kids were starting (home)school tomorrow. My self talk went something like this "Oh no, I'm really not ready to start yet! But that's OK, 'cause it's not Labor Day yet. I wasn't really planning to get going in earnest until after Family Camp and Labor Day anyway. I wonder if I should anyway... I'm not very good at this. It makes me cringe to think about doing formal lesson plans. I hate cutting stuff out and laminating it and everything and... Arrgh!"
Thankfully, as I was starting to spiral into this garbage, I had to do a serious face-palm: we never actually Stopped school this summer! We did very little school during March and April while my husband was on sabbatical, so there was no formal break this summer. Sure, things got in the way, but mostly - at least three or four days a week - we sat down for Bible reading, and at least a couple of days a week we added math, handwriting, or etc.
This very week, for example, Grace and I have read a number of books together - as in, Grace is actually reading a significant portion of the words in the simpler books to me. And this largely at her request! This is a big step forward! (It helps a lot, I think, that I've entirely abandoned "how to teach your kid to read in 100 easy lessons" with her. James did great with this method, but Grace was bored stiff by it less than half-way through. When we started looking at books she actually cared about, reading got interesting again. I am so thankful for the flexibility of actually being able to say "OK, this isn't working, let's put it away!")
Grace reading an Elephant and Piggie book with Lucy - and Nettle!

On top of that, we went through probably 6 or 7 chapters in "Life of Fred: Apples." This is also at Grace's level, not James', and she's mostly quite interested - at least in the stories. There's a little more prompting and "encouragement" needed from me when it comes to the exercises (and I'm learning she really isn't solid on how to write many of her numbers!), but we're making progress. And again, this is homeschool. If she needs to take a couple of minutes to calm down out in the middle of the deserted cul-de-sac while I sit on the porch patiently waiting, it's OK. We can work with that. And if she wants to practice her memory verse by adding some ballet moves, double bonus!
Both big kids also spent 3 hours each afternoon at "Building Camp" at the local Christian school. The girls also had their ballet class and James his taekwondo plus a speech therapy lesson.
James did little formal school work outside of a couple of minor copy-work assignments, but even that is a victory for me, since he resists them so thoroughly.  In fact, it was a really rough week for James (and his parents!) He's struggling mightily against anything that sounds like it might be work, and he's being very disrespectful about it, especially after he's lost his temper - which is happening several times a day. I don't know how much progress we made on this issue this week, but I do know it consumed nearly all of my energy, emotional and otherwise, so it is purely amazing that we made any school happen at all. But as one of the blog posts I recently came across said, addressing behavior and attitude *is* your work: it's not a distraction, it's the main event. It's actually far more important than just about anything else you're teaching.  It's hard to put it on your schedule, or create a curriculum for it, because it happens in real time. Of course, the rest of school does too, I think, if you're actually doing it right. :}

So, yeah, my school 'storage space' still consists of a vaguely localized pile of books and a file carton. And my notion of what the 'start of school' should look like is amorphous at best. We probably won't have a kick off party. Maybe I'll get around to dressing them up in nice clothes and take a Pinterest-worthy picture with a sign in front of the house - and then again, maybe I won't. It's not the end of the world. Neither is it a big deal if I start with the Spelling-U-See and writing curriculum right away in September. October would be fine too. Or even later. Especially if we find that we need to spend a lot more time than expected working on behavior and the willing execution of chores! ('cause, how do you plan for that?!) And if it's half-way through the year before I decide whether Grace is actually doing Kindergarten or First Grade, does it really matter? Isn't the whole point that I'm teaching her on her schedule the things she is ready for and eager to learn?
I need to frequently remind myself that we're not doing school in a box On Purpose, and that if my school actually Did look like my friends' schools (let alone anything I might see on Pinterest or a Mommy Blog), that would actually be a bad thing. I don't have their kids, or their specific strengths and weaknesses. We were designed for each other, and since I am clearly Not slacking off entirely, perhaps now would be a good time to quit beating on myself and giving myself the credit I am due.
Yeah.

PS: After writing this - at 11 o' clock at night! - I had a long and detailed nightmare about finding myself in a third grade classroom full of children. I realized that about half of the kids in that classroom were actually My students and were here with this other teacher only because I was new and needed a little prep time. My own classroom was next door and they'd be hitting it in force in mere moments. Of course, I hadn't prepared a Thing. No curriculum, no lesson plans, no nothing! I snuck out and into my own classroom hoping that the previous teacher had left materials for me. She had, but they were in a mess. There was certainly nothing I could pull out and present to the kids at short notice. Thankfully I woke up before my students showed up.
Anxious much about school? ;)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

DIY Flower Fairies


My oldest daughter (5) noticed a couple of flower fairies hiding in a silk flower arrangement a while back. Rather than let her play with mine, I gathered the materials to make some of her own. This is one of my absolute favorite kind of crafts, because the end product doesn't simply look pretty: it can be played with!
My second favorite thing about this craft is how adaptable it is. There are a few basic materials you'll need, but after that you can improvise with whatever you find in your craft stash.
Oh, and my third favorite thing? No glue! (Or even sewing!)
Here's what we did

Materials

Required

  • Pipe cleaner or fabric wrapped floral wire (the former is Much easier for little hands. If you have to buy it, look for the extra skinny rather than the fuzzy variety. You don't need the bulk.) 
  • Wooden beads for heads, about 1/4 to 1/3 inch in diameter. 
  • Silk flower bush (we got ours from the Dollar Tree and it had enough blossoms for 5-6 fairies) 

Optional

  • Embroidery floss or yarn for hair
  • Beads of various shapes and sizes 
  • Scraps of fabric

Tools

  • Scissors or wire cutters for pipe cleaners
  • Better scissors for cutting yarn or thread
  • Pen (I used a fine line Sharpie) for drawing face

Making Your First Fairy 

I'm going to presume that you have most of the optional materials as I write my instructions here, but please, improvise! That's half the fun!
In fact, of you don't have any fake flowers but do have some old T-shirt material, scroll all the way to the bottom to see how you use it to make a flower skirt. 

  1. Remove a few blossoms from your silk flower bush. Ours had plastic centers that had to be pulled out of the flowers so they would have a hole in the center. 
  2. Thread a small coordinating bead and a blossom onto your pipe cleaner, leaving about 1.5 inches or so at the top. 
  3. Cut some hair for your fairy. I happened to have a bag of embroidery floss scraps left over from my mom's cross stitch kits. It was full of multi-colored, coordinating hanks, and I was excited to finally find something useful to do with them. I cut a bundle of 15-20 strands about 3-4 inches long
  4. Loop the short end of your pipe cleaner back through the hole in the flower 'hat.' Use this end of the pipe cleaner to secure the hair by wrapping it around the bundle, and then twisting it around the long end of the cleaner. 
  5. If you haven't already, thread on your fairy's head. 
  6. This is where you get to do all sorts of improvising. Our flower bush included some leaves that, when threaded on at this point, made great wings. You can also add a couple of pretty beads for the fairy's blouse, or wrap your pipe cleaner in yarn or embroidery floss.
    For another fairy we made wings by stringing 6 pony-sized beads on a pipe cleaner, folding it into a loop, and then repeating so we had a figure-8. We attached it just below the head with the loose ends of the pipe cleaner.
    Or, you can make your fairy a blouse out of another blossom. Thread it on above the arms. 
  7. Cut a piece of pipe cleaner for your fairy's arms. Attach it to your fairy below the head by wrapping it around the stalk a couple of times. You can add beads or other decorations if you like, too. Make a loop at the end for hands. 
  8. If you added a blossom to make a blouse, complete it by folding it over, allowing two petals to be "sleeves." Tie a piece of yarn or thread around the middle to keep it in place. 
  9. Now, add one or two blossoms for the fairy's skirt. 
  10. Finally, make her legs. If you want, add some beads before folding over a loop for a foot. Cut another piece of pipe cleaner and attach it by wrapping it well at the waist, decorate as desired, and fold into the second foot. 
  11. Use a fine-tipped permanent marker to draw your fairy's smiling face, and you're done! 

But since pictures are worth so much more than words, here are some close-ups of several of our fairies.
Fairy with leaf wings and beaded blouse and bloomers
Fairy with blossom blouse
Fairy with jeweled wings
My original fairies with floral-wire bodies
Fairy with "flowers" made from T-shirt scraps.

As promised, here's how to make a quick and dirty blossom our of a shirt scrap

Quick n' Dirty T-Shirt Blossom

1. Cut a rough circle 2-3 inches in diameter from your T-shirt fabric. I did not measure or use a compass or trace or anything! 

2. Fold into eights (fold in half, half again, and half again.) You can also stop at quarters, for a four-petaled flower.

3. Using a very sharp pair of scissors, trim off the two bottom corners of the triangle, making a rounded tear-drop shape. 

4. Stack a couple of different sized blossoms together to make your fairy's skirt, and another for her blouse. (A 4-petaled flower might work best for that!) 


Friday, June 17, 2016

Messy Science: Erupting Foam



Recently all three of my kids have become fans of the Amazon Prime show "Annedroids," which follows roughly 12 year old Anne, two friends, and a trio of adorable androids as they use science to solve a variety of problems. My own credulity is stretched to the breaking point as I try to pretend it is possible to for a pre-teen to create self-directed, learning, and emotional robots out of parts found at a junk yard, but the kids love it and it seems harmless enough.
Anyway, in one of the early episodes Anne and her androids created what she simply termed a "chemical reaction" from common household ingredients: hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, and yeast. The results, which were probably just a wee bit exaggerated for TV, were spectacular, with pink foam exploding all over poor Shania, not once but twice in the course of the episode.
Needless to say, my kids have been clamoring to try it ever since.

Here's what we did

Gather materials

* Hydrogen Peroxide (the 3% solution in the brown bottle you can get from the pharmacy section at any store for under $1 is fine)
* Dish soap
* Packet of dry active yeast
* Warm water
* Large container (pitcher or clean 2 liter soda bottle)
* Small cup

Experiment! 


The episode did not give any measurements, and the characters performed the experiment a couple of times with different amounts anyway.
So we just went for it!
1. We took everything outside and placed it on a tray
2. I proofed the yeast by adding about 3-4 Tbsp of warm tap water to the yeast in a small measuring cup. Lucy stirred this mixture with a stick
3. I added a few drops of food coloring to the pitcher
4. Grace poured in about 3/4 of a bottle of H2O2 (aka Hydrogen Peroxide)

5. I squirted in perhaps 1 Tbsp of blue dish soap
6. James poured the yeast mixture into the H2O2 & soap mixture.


Results 

As expected, the results were not Quite as spectacular as on TV, but they were satisfying nevertheless. At first I was afraid all we were going to get was a couple of inches of bubbles in the pitcher (which was only about 1/3 full of H2O2.) But over the space of about a minute, the foam grew and grew and grew until it overflowed the pitcher and even my shallow tray. (Yes, I was very glad we'd done it on the porch!)


The kids were pretty excited, especially 3 year old Lucy who had a blast flinging the (surprisingly warm) foam about for quite some time. In fact, we all had fun playing with the stuff for maybe 15 minutes before I made James drag out the hose and spray off the mess.

So, Why?! 

According to sciencebob.com, the reaction occurs when the yeast steals oxygen from the hydrogen peroxide. The reaction occurs so quickly that millions of tiny oxygen-containing bubbles are formed. The reaction is exothermic, meaning that it generates heat (releases energy), but not so much in our experience that you're in any danger of getting burned. The resultant mixture is just soapy water, so it's safe to play with and wash down the drain.
I'm going to have to admit, though, I couldn't interest even James in the "why" of the whole thing: they just wanted to see things foam up!






Friday, June 3, 2016

Eleventh Hour Mini Unit

We needed a break from "normal school" at the end of this week. We've been doing a lot of worksheets lately, and my 1st grader is Not Impressed. So when I announced that we'd spend school time today trying to solve the mystery of "The Eleventh Hour," he was thrilled.


We picked "The Eleventh Hour" by Graeme Base up at the library last week when I happened across it and recognized the author's name and style from "Anamalia," a book I loved so much that I bought a copy for us after giving away one to my niece!
If you've never explored a Graeme Base book, you are definitely in for a treat! The rich, intricately detailed, and humorous illustrations make them a real joy for any age.
"The Eleventh Hour" has an added bonus: an old fashioned "whodunnit" (non-violent, thankfully!) occurs inside the book's pages which you, the reader, are asked to solve. Unlike Agatha Christie, however, where Poirot always manages to keep some critical observation to himself, here the mystery is actually solvable using a combination of visual, textual, and even coded clues.

James started our "unit" last night when he plucked the book out of the box and started reading it out loud to his 5 year old sister. While he was able to read most of the words, the rhyming and moderately advanced text put the story - not to mention the mystery - a little outside their grasp. I read it out loud a second time, and we took a quick pass at the mystery. While I found some coded messages that could be untangled without pen and paper, the mystery itself remained just that after the first reading. Thus my spur of the moment decision to replace worksheets with detective work this morning.

A note on grade level:
My oldest is a first grader, so I took care of most of the mechanics and lead most of the discussion and ideas. I think a 4th or 5th grader might be able to do most of these steps independently, although actually recognizing some of the codes for what they are may take adult assistance.

Here's what we did

1. Created a timeline of the birthday party, graphing which guests were present at which events. Both older kids helped here. We even got in a little clock-reading practice.

2. Solved a tic-tac-toe code, mirror writing, backwards writing, and some simple scrambles without pen and paper

3. Used pen and paper to solve letter substitution codes.  I had my first grader take dictation on some of these. I think with a little more time I could have taught him the process of actually deciphering some of the simpler codes, but we had both some time constraints and a lot of chaos from an impatient 3 year old in the room.

4. Identified Hieroglyphics and Morse Code puzzles which we will probably work on later.

5. Fingered our suspect and then used our guess as the key for a "shift" or "Caesar" cipher on the last page, which, when solved told us exactly how the crime was perpetrated.
This last cipher was a really long one, and I got tired of it less than half way through. A quick Google led me to this Caesar Cipher Solver. (No fair using it without figuring out the key first - but it Could do it for you!)

Now, did it take all of that work just to get the answer? Well... I don't want to give anything away, but it was my pre-reading 5 year old who found one of the critical clues. My first grader also spotted one of the cipher keys we needed for another clue.

All in all we spent about two hours, maybe a bit more on the project, including reading through the text a couple of times on different days.
My oldest stayed reasonably engaged (at least until we got to the long, boring decipher at the end!), but my kindergartner was done after 30 or 40 minutes.
Again, an older elementary kid could probably figure out some of the simpler codes, and a motivated middle schooler could probably get through most of them.

Thankfully, Base also includes a detailed description of every code and clue in a sealed section at the back of the book. If you get stumped or just want to know what he was thinking on a particular page, you can always refer here!

I hope to use this experience as a jumping off point for some more code / cipher projects. They're not only fun, but I'm guessing I can sneak in quite a bit more writing practice than he's usually willing to do without a fight!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Vacation Blessings

I have a praise I'd like to share. We're on day 5 of a 2 week vacation in Florida (we're Oregonians.) Monday we milked the most out of our Disney tickets with nearly 12 hours (and 8.88 miles of walking!) at the Magic Kingdom.

The kids (6, 5, and 2) did pretty well that day, but Tuesday was a near disaster with numerous disciplinary problems as too tired kids (and parents) drove too long down to the Tampa area and tried to take care of too many little chores like laundry and groceries while adjusting to yet another new location.

I went to bed discouraged and dreading the visit to my husband's ~90 year old grandpa which was on the schedule for today. I imagined wild, wound up children bouncing off the walls in an old, cluttered house with nothing for them to do forcing us to cut our visit to 30 minutes or less. And I couldn't figure out any way to problem-solve this. My husband thought maybe we could get Grandpa to come to a nearby park with us, but I doubted he'd be willing or able. Nothing else seemed likely to work, and I'm afraid I unloaded on my husband a little more than was truly beneficial about the difficulties and stresses of a mother on "vacation."

Anyway, I found myself awake much earlier than I really wanted (my norm for traveling days even without jet lag!) and for once had the sense to grab a Bible and sit on the porch for 20 minutes before the kids found me. I prayed for God to bless our day and especially our visit with Grandpa Pete. And He did! He started by prompting my mother in law to offer us the pick of her large stash of children's books, so we had half a dozen new-to-us titles when we got to Grandpa's. Within 10 minutes of our arrival there, he was reading "Go Dog, Go" to the girls while my eldest entertained himself with a book more his own speed.

 Shortly thereafter we discovered that the old play room was relatively tidy and still stocked with fun toys from 3 or more generations. All three kids proceeded to entertain themselves nicely - and even more importantly, peacefully - for at least an hour. We were able to stay as long as we wanted and have a nice visit despite the fact Grandpa wasn't up to the nice dinner out we'd hoped to give him - let alone the park.

Sure, there was some fighting and griping and sniping in the car, but with my mother-in-law in the front passenger seat having a good conversation with my husband, I was relegated to the center row of the van. This allowed me to encourage, cajole, entertain, and (yes) threaten without raising my voice. I stayed calm, and the kids eventually straightened up and ended the day on a relatively good note - I even had really good bedtime conversations with the 5 year old who thinks maybe she'd like a career in "helping manatees" (we learned about them on a side trip), and the 6 year old who had many biological, theological, and spiritual questions.

And they have a Mommy with a renewed commitment to starting the rest of our vacation days with prayer!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Jambalaya in your Instant Pot


I've owned my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker for just under a week now, and so far it is (nearly) everything I hoped for. Beans - including "soaking" - in about an hour. Rice in 20 minutes. Chicken from frozen in about 20. Oatmeal for breakfast in 15. Pretty exciting stuff!

I decided to give Jambalaya a try tonight. I've already made rice in the cooker several times and was comfortable with the timing and water ratio, so I was confident enough to attempt an adaptation of my  favorite One Pot Jambalaya recipe.

This is a fantastic recipe I've made more-or-less as written several times in the last few months. It is Super flavorful and somehow creamy tasting - even before you garnish with sour cream. But it does take a Long Time to cook - even longer than it says. I've had trouble with crunchy rice about 1/2 of the times I've made it, probably because I've done it for a crowd on Sunday nights and tried to cram too much into a single pot. No matter the cause, though, crunchy rice is no fun. So it was an obvious candidate for the pressure cooker.

The adaptation was simplicity itself and it turned out great.
I was only cooking for my husband and I tonight (the kids wouldn't touch it with a 10 ft pole), so I also cut the recipe in half.
Please, check out the original at eRecipeCards.com for a more traditional ingredients list, plus ideas for spicing up the roux you make in the first step. Of course, Jambalaya is supposed to be thrown together out of whatever is on hand, so I don't feel too inauthentic in my substitutions!

Ingredients (Serves about 4) 

1 to 1.5 lbs Pre-cooked meat of choice, in bite size pieces. I have used various sausages such as Louisiana Hot Links, Kielbasa, etc, shredded rotisserie chicken, shrimp, and etc. Tonight it was just hot links.
1/2 bag of frozen diced onion (or about 1/2 an onion)
1/2 bag frozen mixed bell peppers (or about 1 pepper)
Heaping Tbsp of minced garlic
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c flour
2 T Cajun spices, or to taste (I made my own from a recipe similar to this one)
2 C white rice, uncooked.
3 C chicken stock

Instructions 

  • Set the Instant Pot to Saute.
  • Make a roux from the oil and flour, combining well and stirring until it begins to bubble. 
  • Add onions and peppers and stir to coat. Cook until veggies are tender. 
  • Add garlic and then meat. Stir to coat and heat until warm through. 
  • Meanwhile, heat your chicken stock (Or in my case, water with a Tbsp of "Better Than Bullion") in the microwave until boiling. This will save you lots of time when coming up to pressure! 
  • Slowly add stock and cajun spices to Instant Pot, stirring well. 
  • Finally, add the white rice. Do not stir: just gently push it under. 
  • Put the lid on the Instant Pot and set to Manual, 9 minutes. 
  • Leave in "Keep Warm" for about 10 minutes - longer if you have the time for full natural pressure release. In my case, we were ready to eat and I got impatient after 10 and released the rest of the steam manually. 
  • Serve with Tabasco (for your husband) and plenty of sour cream (for me!) 





Friday, January 29, 2016

Flower Coloring Pages

Just a quick post here to offer a couple of coloring pages for anyone who would like them. Nothing fancy, but free!

I drew these at 4x6 inches, but you can print them at up to 8x11 without a problem.
I also cropped a set to 8 x 11 inches so they will fit on your page without an annoying border - just note that you do lose a little around the left and right margins.
The 4x6 versions and one of the 8x11s have a space left intentionally blank for you to write your own verse.  (Or type it: I suggest Picasa if you don't have a fancy editor!) The last 8x11 has Psalm 100:1-2 already in there for you.

Have fun!

4x6

4x6

8x11

8x11


PS: I photographed rather than scanned the color pic, so I don't know that I'd try to print - it - it's crooked!