Friday, April 20, 2018

When Parenting Feels Like You're in the Fire

I was born and raised here in rural Kansas. After college, God saw fit to bring me back here and it's where we have chosen to raise our family. Yes, it would be nice to have a Way-Mart closer than 45 minutes away but it's a trade off. I'm not afraid to let my teenagers roam through town with their friends and everything is literally within five minutes of my home. Bad traffic here usually means you've gotten behind a farmer in his combine on the way to or from the field. 
Every spring we watch as those farmers and ranchers burn their fields. Orange flames licking at the old grasses, gray smoke rising into the sky. While this can be a bit confusing for folks from the city or other parts of the country, small town Midwesterners know that these fields are set ablaze for their own good. The fire destroys the old, unnecessary, and unwanted while restoring the minerals and nutrients necessary for the land to thrive again. 
Parenting can sometimes feel like we have jumped right into the middle of the burning field. No fire-retardant suit, no fire extinguisher, without so much as a bucket of water. Just the horrible burning. And it's hard. It's hard to watch our babies, totally dependent on us, become teenagers, stretching and growing and *leaving* us. Needing us less. Becoming adults who are no longer dependent on us. How dare they? 

But looking at the long-term, we know that the fire is necessary. We must walk through it. Without the fire, the new life can't come. Without becoming less dependent on us, our kids can't grow into independent adults. If we allow their entire lives (and ours) to be fire-free, we will stifle their growth and nothing will grow as it should.
That doesn't mean that it's going to be easy. Being refined by the fire is never, ever painless. But just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace, we are not in the flames alone. God walks right with us through the hottest parts, protecting and teaching us as we go. And this fire that motherhood sometimes brings us to, this fire is NEVER, EVER out of His control. He has us right there, holding us as it rages. There is no better place to be. 
So, sweet momma who is going through the fire right now, know that the green is coming! The burn does not last forever and after it comes the beauty of new life! You - with God at your side and as your guide - can do this! 

Friday, April 6, 2018

What I *Think* I Finally Understand About White Privilege

I'm white. All branches of my family tree reveal a hodgepodge of Western European ancestry. To the best of my knowledge, there are no Asian or African genes in my pool. I don't say this with pride or shame. These are simply the facts. My ancestors came from places like Czechoslovakia, Ireland, England and Germany. The last four or five generations on all sides were born and raised Americans. That's what I call myself: just a plain ol' American mutt.

I live in the middle of the middle of nowhere. The Midwest. Kansas. My town is tiny and most of the people in it look a lot like me. According the the last census, we're 95% white. Again, this is not a point of pride of shame, just fact.

Growing up, there were two Black students in my school and they were adopted by white parents. There were two families with Mexican fathers and white mothers. Neither spoke much Spanish. We had one family with an Asian father and white mother. That was it. I can literally count on two hands the number of minorities that I shared classes with from kindergarten to twelfth grade. We didn't have a Black culture or a Hispanic culture or a Chinese culture at my school. Even the people of color seemingly had assimilated into the white, rural culture of our small town.

It wasn't until college that I was really forced to deal with the issue of race. I remember sitting in a class full of freshmen from around the country and talking with a young man from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was handsome, on the football team and Black. The first two mattered to me, as I was a flirty thing who preferred athletes. The color of his skin didn't matter enough to me to even register. As was my habit, I talked to him (and all of the other cute boys) before, after, and sometimes even during, class. He didn't talk to me much but that wasn't much of a deterrent. I could talk to a brick wall, especially if it was a cute wall.  One day he turned around in his seat and asked me, "Why do you always talk to me? Where are you from?" I told him a small town in Kansas. He asked if I knew any Black people. I asked him what he meant and his response was something along the lines of, "You're a white girl. I'm a young Black man. You are not supposed to talk to me." He was sincere. He wasn't angry or mean, just honestly confused. For me, race wasn't something I usually thought of. It wasn't an issue at all for me. I never had to deal with it. For him, it was something he couldn't escape. He was reminded of his race every single day and had to live his life accordingly. Where he was from innocent flirting with a white girl could have dire consequences. I had never thought of life in those terms. He had never thought of life in mine.

After that semester we didn't have any more classes together. Although it was a small college, our paths rarely crossed. But I never forgot that conversation. Almost 25 years later, I can still see the perplexed look on his face as we talked about race. Though I didn't yet have a name for it, this was the first time I was confronted with my white privilege.

White privilege. Ugh. When you live in what is almost exclusively a white community, these words aren't often spoken and when they are, it's more likely spit out in disgust than in deep thought. Because the reality is, many people here don't really understand what this means. After all, they don't know very many people of color. The ones they do know don't seem so different from them.

The struggles of their few neighbors of color seem much the same as their own. They have served in combat Vietnam or the Middle East. They have lost jobs and struggled to make ends meet. They have worked to put food on the table and children through college. They have all been touched by cancer and the grief that comes from losing a loved one too soon. Their children go to school together and they work alongside one another. The struggles aren't so different.

And that makes it hard for much of white America to understand the need for affirmative action, anything about the Black Lives Matter movement or how someone could ideologically oppose Barack Obama and yet vote for him - twice!- simply because of his skin color. They - no, let's be honest, we - didn't understand. We still don't so many times. Because our struggles are the same and we should all be treated the same, right?

Except sometimes the struggles are very, very different. Like when some "good old boy" makes a racist comment that's "just a joke" and everyone is expected to laugh. My whiteness, my privilege, allows me to brush it off.

Yes. It's true. More Blacks than whites live in poverty. More are in prison. On welfare. All true. But do we even take a minute to understand why or do we just expect people whose great-grandparents lived under Jim Crow, might not have even been taught to read, much less vote or have the chance to go to college, to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make something of themselves? It's not that easy. Generational poverty is a very real deterrent to success. Is it possible? Of course! But it's very, very hard.

I admit that I don't understand many things when it comes to race. Honestly, I'm not even sure of what labels I'm allowed to use and if capitalizing Black but not white is offensive or affirming. I am not sure that I can ever understand what would drive someone to loot and riot, setting buildings and cars in their own neighborhoods on fire. I don't get that. But I also don't get what it's like to be afraid for my life if I'm pulled over for a traffic violation. More often than not, I get a "slow down" and a warning. That is not the case for many people of color in this country. No, that isn't cop bashing I'm doing there. I have great respect for law enforcement. They do a job that is incredibly difficult, dangerous, and all too often, looked down upon. But not all officers are good guys and even the good guys don't get it right one hundred percent of the time.

A few days ago someone I love dearly told me about a meme they'd seen of an old white farmer in overalls and on a tractor, asking, "Where's White History Month?" While I get that it seems unfair at first, I also explained that history is most often told by the victors. In America, that's been almost exclusively white men. Their stories, from the days of colonization to the Civil War, to the Great Depression and beyond have been told. Without Black History Month would we know of names like Crispus Attucks, George Washington Carver, Madam CJ Walker or Benjamin Banneker? We know the name of John Quincey Adams but how many had even heard the story of la Amistad before the 1997 film?

I was well into adulthood before I learned about the Japanese internment camps during WWII. I had no idea what the Atlantic slave trade actually looked like until I saw Amistad. Generational poverty and its long lasting effects became real to me as, in my 30s, I read A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne and Same Kind of Different as Me by Moore, Vincent and Hall. The courage of young Ruby Bridges brings me to tears to this day but I had never heard of her until my senior year of college. These are stories that deserve to be told. Minorities get special months or days or museums to tell theirs because for so long they were unable to do so. Everyone deserves to have their stories told, regardless of where they come from or what they look like.

Black lives matter. Saying that doesn't mean they matter more than others. It doesn't mean that other lives are less important. It simply gives voice to a community that has oft been silenced. Okay, maybe "simply" isn't the right word there. We all know it's not been a simple issue. Not simple, but worth the time to affirm the God-given value of each life.

Maybe I've got this all wrong. It wouldn't be the first time. I've said and done things in ignorance and in fear. I've let jokes and comments go when I would have done better to speak up for those less privileged than I. But I'm learning. I'm trying. I'm doing my best to follow Jesus, and he said we needed to do two things: love God and love people. May He give me the strength, wisdom and perseverance to do both.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Advent Jesse Tree

I am 41 years old, was raised in a Christian home, earned degrees at a Christian college, lead a VBS of over 200 people and know more than a few Bible stories by heart. But until a few years ago, I'd never celebrated or even understood Advent. That changed when something caught my eye as it came across my Facebook feed several Decembers back.

If you, like me, grew up without Advent, you may not have any idea what it means. Essentially, it's a season of preparing one's heart for the coming of Christ. As Christians, we believe that God came once to the Earth around 2000 years ago and that He will return again in His perfect time. Advent reminds us of the time that He came as the baby Jesus and points our hearts to the time that He will return again.

To help us accomplish this in the Crutchfield house, we use a Jesse Tree. It's really a simple idea. Each night, starting on December 1, we gather as a family and listen to a little bit of the story of God and His people. We read Scripture, share a devotional, and hang an ornament on our Jesse Tree. (There are many different versions of the Jesse Tree. With so many stories to choose from, not everyone picks the same ones.) For this year, we are using Ann Voskamp's Unwrapping the Greatest Gift as our guide.

Because the idea of hand making 25 different ornaments is just more than I could fathom and because I know I have some amazingly creative and crafty friends, I put out a plea for them to join me in an ornament exchange. This year I had nine friends and their children take on the challenge. Together we made 24 different ornaments, each depicting a different part of the story. Here's what we came up with. (I missed getting a picture for Day 6 and we weren't able to get Day 20 this year. I'm planning to make an ornament for that day and will update when I get around to taking pictures of those.) I've included a heading and a Scripture for each ornament. I was amazed to see my friend's interpretations of each part of the story. 

Day 1: The Stump 
Out of the stump of David's family will grow a shoot. Isaiah 11

Day 2: The World
In the beginning God created... Genesis 1

Day 3: The Snake in the Tree 
So (Eve) took some of the fruit and ate it. Genesis 3

Day 4: The Ark
It broke His heart...I am sorry I ever made them. Genesis 6

Day 5: Abraham is Promised a Legacy
All the families on Earth will be blessed through you. Genesis 12

Day 6: Abraham and Sarah have a Baby
Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age. Genesis 21

Day 7: The Sacrificial Ram is Provided
So Abraham named that place The LORD provides. Genesis 22

Day 8: Jacob's Ladder
As [Jacob] slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. Genesis 28

Day 9: Joseph's Coat of Many Colors
You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.   Genesis 50

Day 10: The Ten Commandments
The LORD said, "Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever."  Deuteronomy 5

Day 11: Rahab's Red Rope
I know the LORD has given you this land. Joshua 2

Day 12: Grain from Boaz's Field
Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. 
Ruth 1

Day 13: King David's Crown
And the LORD said, "This is the one; anoint him." I Samuel 16

Day 14: The Light
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. Isaiah 9

Day 15: Fire From Heaven
The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!" 
I Kings 18

Day 16: Jonah's Big Fish
The LORD gave a message to Jonah..."Go!" Jonah 1

Day 17: Little Town of Bethlehem
You, O Bethlehem, are only a small village...Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you... Micah 5

Day 18: Xerxes' Scepter
Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this? Esther 4

Day 19: Habakkuk's Watchtower
I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. Habakkuk 2

Day 20: Zechariah and Elizabeth have a Baby
He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. Luke 1

Day 21: John the Baptist Prepares the Way
Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near! Matthew 3

Day 22: An Angel Visits Mary
Mary responded, "I am the Lords' servant. May everything you have said about me come true." Luke 1

Day 23: An Angel Visits Joseph
She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means "God is with us." Matthew 1

Day 24: Jesus is Born in a Manger
She gave birth to her first child, a son. Luke 2

Day 25: Christmas Forever, for Everyone
The Savior - yes, the Messiah, the Lord - has been born today! 
Luke 2

December is sometimes a crazy and always a busy month. With all the hustle and bustle of the season, we sometimes lose the real meaning in the chaos. I would encourage you to take a few moments every day to spend with your family, reflecting on the TRUE meaning of Christmas; Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. God, who left His throne in Heaven to be born as a baby in the humblest of places, among the humblest of people. Messiah, who healed the sick and ate with the sinners. The Christ, who rather than condemned, pardoned. Jesus, who loved even those who betrayed Him. The Lord, who saw you and said that you were reason enough for Him to send his Son as the ultimate sacrificial lamb. 

As we approach Christmas my prayer for you is that you will know the Light of the World loves you. That you will see the gift of the baby Jesus for what it is: God's love for you. 

Merriest of Christmases to you, my loves. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Thrill of Victory

Back in 2011, when E finished his second wrestling season, I wrote a blog post titled "The Agony of Defeat."  It had been a long, hard season for my little man, and even longer and harder for me. Truthfully, the years that followed brought much more of the same.

We invested in the sport. Practice, practice, practice. When he was nine, we spent a ton of money and time sending him to a Purler wrestling camp once a week for about four months. He watched videos and practiced with his dad as well as his teammates but he still just couldn't seem to end up on the winning side of a bracket.

At age 10 he decided he didn't want to do it anymore. So we sat out a year. I'm not going to lie, it was kind of nice to have a season off. We spent a lot of time at home that winter and it was a good time for us.

When E was 11, his little brother decided he wanted to wrestle. I tried to talk him out of it. I had done my time as a wrestling mom and I didn't want to sit through the hard losses again. But just as I had almost talked the little one into not joining the team, E decided that he'd like to give it a try again. And this momma's heart sank. I did not want him to wrestle. It had been so much work; so hard on him and on me. But I didn't tell him that. I just asked him if he was sure. He said he was, so we signed up and once again E was a Mat Cat wrestler.

That year we went to five tournaments and a couple of scrambles. He didn't win a single match. Not one. But he had so many that were close. I mean, super close. Like one point decisions close. It was heart breaking. When sub-districts came around, we asked if he wanted to participate. His answer was, "I haven't won a match all year. I don't think it's worth the time and money for me to go." We made it clear that if he wanted to go and try, we would happily do so, but in the end he opted not to continue the season. It was the right choice.

The next year, he wanted to wrestle again. He was bigger, stronger and faster than he was the year before. He was more coachable than ever and continued to work hard. At his first tournament, he won. Not just one match, but the whole stinking thing! For the very first time, my son, who had been doing this since he was six years old, was taking home the bracket!

The rest of the season he continued to do well, earning second, first, second and first at the next four tournaments. When districts came around, he was ready. So ready, in fact, that he walked away with the bracket again. He was a state qualifier!

At the big tournament, he ended up one match away from making the podium, but was in the top eight in the entire state. It was amazing to watch him. When he lost the final match, in what ended up being a very close bout, my heart just about broke in two. I'd wanted it so badly, because I knew he had wanted it so very much. But once again, E showed his true colors. He held his head high and returned to the stands to greet his many fans. He hugged us all and thanked everyone for coming. He was pure class. To this day, thinking of that moment brings proud tears to my eyes.

This year he was a 13 year-old seventh grader who wrestled in a 14 and under bracket. Again, this made him one of the youngest kids in his division. Even harder, for the post-season, he had to face 14 year-old high school freshmen. Those boys had a entirely different practice experience than E did. They worked two hours a day, five days a week, with other high schoolers. E had practice a couple times a week and often didn't have a practice partner close to his size. But that didn't stop him. He worked hard and made the best of what he could. He won a lot of matches this year against kids in his weigh class. He ended up wrestling a lot of combined brackets that put him up against kids who were five, ten, or even fifteen pounds heavier than him. He came up short there a few times. He earned a couple of first place brackets but ended up with the silver or bronze medals more times than not.

When districts came along, he faced tough competition. In fact, there were several high school freshmen in his bracket. He persevered and ended up fourth there. It was enough to get him to the next level. He was once again a state qualifier.

He really wanted to make the podium at state. But as the fourth place finisher from District 1, he matched up against the first place finisher from District 3; a freshman who was tough enough that E got pinned. His next opponent was also a high schooler and although E went the distance in that bout, he didn't have enough points to win. Two matches and he was done. State wrestling didn't go quite like we'd hoped, but I'm still so proud of this kid. He didn't walk away with any wins but he walked tall.

When you wrestle, it's all you. You either did enough to win or you didn't. You can't blame someone else. You work your booty off and leave everything you have on the mat. It's by far the toughest four and a half minutes in sports.

One of my fav
orite things about watching Eli wrestle, since he was very little, is how he leaves the mat. In a sport where tears and tantrums aren't all that uncommon, Eli has consistently impressed me with the way he acts when the bout is over. Win or lose, he walks off with grace, humility and high character. The few times this hasn't been the case were moments we used to reflect with him on what it means to honor Christ in your day to day life. He's taken those moments and turned them into something beautiful. At state, after a really hard loss, he again displayed great sportsmanship as he walked off the mat. I couldn't be more proud. 

This weekend we're heading to Iowa for Middle School Nationals. The very next day after districts, E qualified as an alternate for Team Kansas. I'm looking forward to watching him wrestle one more time this season. He's looking forward to getting to eat whatever he wants after this one last weigh in. I'm sure neither of us will be disappointed. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Homeschool Co-op: Apologia's Chemistry & Physics, Lesson 1, Part 1

Today was a good day. It was the first day for us to begin our new co-op. A new year, but with old friends. Two of my bestie homeschool mommas, our 13 kids and me just hanging out in the library conference room is a fabulous thing. It's in the week in and week out times that you really get to build relationships and get to know people on a level that goes deep enough to really make a friendship that lasts.

Aimee gave us a lesson on a Renaissance artist and Jessica introduced us to creative writing in a really fun way. I may talk more about all that some other time, but for tonight, I'm going to focus on my lesson: The Properties of Matter.

My part of co-op is teaching Chemistry and Physics using Apologia's Young Explorer Series. Each lesson will probably take me at least two weeks to get through, because there are a lot of really cool experiments and I want to do as many as possible. This is why I love doing science with other families. It forces me to do more than just show the kids a video or tell them what is supposed to happen. I actually gather the stuff and do the experiments. The accountability and larger group both help with this, I guess.

Lesson One is properties of matter.  Since it was Day 1, we started with a really short review about my expectations for the class and all that jazz. Then came the lecture portion. This is my fourth Apologia science co-op class and I've pretty much done them all the same way. I NEVER read to the kids from the book, unless it's a short excerpt or the directions for an experiment. In fact, I've found that it's best for me to read the material ahead of time, and just make short notes for myself to teach from. It's more fun for everyone that way. No one enjoys a class that only involves the leader reading straight from the text you can read yourself!

I'm a big believer in graphic organizers and use them with kids all the time. So, rather than have them just take notes, I gave them one. Because it's a homeschool class, we have kids ages 4-16. That's a WIDE range. The smallest don't even get a paper, because honestly, if they can't read, there is no point. The middle kids may get a page that is partially filled out and the oldest of the kids have to fill in most of the blanks themselves. Differentiated instruction at it's best, right there! My old principals would be so proud!

There were a TON of supplies for this lesson. I spent a good chunk of time on Sunday afternoon collecting them and making sure I had everything I needed. That said, the baseball and eggs didn't make it to the car and I forgot to stop at my mom's house and borrow her turkey baster. Luck for me, the kids are imaginative and I had a small medicine dropper that we could use in a pinch!

One of the things I love about the Apologia books is that they include a lot of great experiments right in the text. Yes, I supplement with other things when appropriate, but just doing the stuff in the book is enough. That's exactly what we did today; most of the suggested stuff with a little of my own thrown in.

We only got through three properties today; volume, mass and density. We did the experiments for each as we got to them. Density was by far the most fun. Because it was a word that some of the kids had never heard before, we started out the discussion by having everyone stand and huddle together, thus becoming more dense. We then took some steps back; less dense. Repeat a couple times and they got the idea along with a couple of group hugs!

Because I'd forgotten the eggs, I assigned the next experiment as homework. Basically, the idea is to see how adding salt to water changes its density, and thus, the ability of certain things to float. Drop an egg into a regular glass of water and it will sink to the bottom. Drop it in a glass of salt water the result should be different.

We did another salt water density experiment with colored water that stayed separated when we sucked it up in a straw. I have to admit, I kind of blew it on this one. I didn't have big enough cups (see the photo below) because I didn't read the lesson closely enough. I tilted them a little and it kinda worked, but mostly it was a bust - totally my bad. Live and learn, folks!

The next, and last one of the day, went a lot better. It had the most supplies and was pretty pricey, as far as experiments go. I spent over $20 on the ingredients. The point of the experiment was to see how liquids with different densities would stack on top of one another. We followed the instructions and added a cup each of honey, corn syrup, and 100% maple syrup. Those are the three big layers on the bottom. Cool, huh? The next layers were supposed to be one cup each as well, but I got nervous that my vase wasn't big enough and I didn't have the turkey baster. It took a lot of time to add everything with the little medicine dropper, so I improvised. The kids could still see the layers, so that worked. I just forgot about dropping things into the solution to see where they would end up. That was much harder to see. I wish I had taken a bit more time and made all the remaining layers at least a little bigger.

Next came whole milk, dish soap, water, vegetable oil and rubbing alcohol. We added some food coloring to a few of the liquids to make it easier to see the differences. Everyone thought this was a really neat experiment. One of the littler guys kept hypothesizing that the liquids would mix but whenever they did, they quickly separated back out. After getting all the layers in, we added various objects to see where they ended up. You can see the ping pong ball that ended up on top, as well as the die and rock that sunk all the way to the bottom. What you can't see in the picture is the cherry tomato in the dish soap, the bead right under the milk layer, and the popcorn kernel that we couldn't find that's somewhere in the middle!

Next week, we'll discuss seven more properties and make our own lava lamps! I'm really looking forward to seeing how those turn out. Stay tuned, as my plan is to try to document our way through chemistry and physics here! 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Homeschool Update: All the Other Stuff We're Trying This Year

It's another new year and once again, I'm changing some things up. But we're keeping some things the same, too. Earlier, I wrote about how outsourcing math by using Teaching Textbooks has changed our homeschool for the better. If you missed that, you can read all about it here. Not teaching and grading everything for all four kids has been a lifesaver so far, even though we're only a month in. I actually have time to do the laundry, keep the house reasonably clean and if I'm lucky, catch up on an episode or two of my favorites on Netflix.

Another thing I've passed off this year is writing for my two oldest. I've been struggling to be effective in teaching writing for several years now. This summer my husband and I were discussing how and what we could do to change that. About that time, a friend, who just happens to make a living as a professional writer, posted on Facebook that she was wanting to teach a writing class for middle and/or high school kids. This was honestly an answer to prayer. For a minimal fee (at least, compared to what I spent on TT!) she would teach them about thesis statements and paragraphs and punctuation and all that jazz. We signed up immediately. There are just four kids in the class, so it still has a very "homeschool" feel. They enjoy lots of discussion, a little silliness and tons of individual feedback from a professional writer. It's a total win for us. My son still hasn't fallen in love with writing but at least he's trying now. Truth is, he has great voice and his stuff is fun to read. Hopefully, after this class, he'll know that and realize that he can be good at this, even if it's not as natural to him as throwing a baseball.

One thing we DIDN'T change was our history. Last year we started Notgrass Publishing's America the Beautiful. It's American history, geography and literature. It can be done in a single year, but we decided to stretch it out over two. All four kids gather around the table, listen to me read the lesson and then do age appropriate assignments. Sometimes that means map exercises, creative writing paragraphs, looking up definitions of new vocabulary or completing a crossword puzzle. The older two kids have five daily comprehension questions. All of this is done without complaint. The kids like the lessons and so do I. I am really liking the chronological approach they use. It's brought to light a few things that hadn't clicked for me with my random bits and pieces of history taught in random years. The continual struggle over slavery from the earliest moments of American history, in particular, has stood out to me. They also give a short biography of each president and the kids and I are enjoying learning about them. Did you know that Johnson once beat a man with his cane after a failed assassination attempt, where both men's guns failed to fire? Neither did I. But now we all do!

The littles are continuing their phonics workbooks. Tigger uses a book I had left over from my public school teaching days and AJ uses one I pulled out of a bin at the recycling center. It's probably my very best find out there to date. You never know where you're going to find the good stuff, momma. I'm so NOT above dumpster diving when it comes to otherwise expensive curriculum stuff!

With my bigs, I'm finding we have a few holes. When they were the littles, all of this homeschooling stuff was so new and scary and overwhelming for me. There are some things that we did really well and a few things, not so much. Some things worked really well for one kid and not at all for another. But one area that all of my kids have struggled with is spelling. So, this year we're trying out All About Spelling. The littles are on Step 1, so we have a really long way to go and I can't give much of an opinion on it yet. I do really like that they are learning ALL of the sounds each phoneme makes, not just the long and short vowel sounds. It makes more sense to start off saying that "C" can have a hard sound like in "cat" but also a soft sound like in "circus," as opposed to just saying "the c says /k/." I can already see the difference that is making with AJ reading.

I'm waiting to save up a bit so I can buy All About Reading because I have this feeling that it's going to prove to be more effective than Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for my boys and their learning styles. Since I only have one left who is learning to read, I'm finding it harder to bite the bullet and spend the money, but well....I'll let you know. For now, we're taking it one phonics page at a time.

Next week we start a new co-op with some of our old co-op friends. I'll be teaching Apologia's Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics while the other moms teach art/music appreciation, creative writing, and PE. I've spent the day collecting materials and making lesson plans and I think it's fairly safe to say that I'm pumped about how fun this is going to be! Not to mention, I will get to see a couple of my favorite homeschool moms on a regular basis again! Their kids are pretty great, too, it's going to be a blast to teach. (Chemistry pun intended. My kids keep asking me if we're going to blow things up. I keep answering with, "I hope not!")

This isn't all that fills our days, but it's the majority. We throw in some Typing Instructor, DuoLingo, Tynker,, Stack the States or other app on most days. The kids read - a lot. To me, to each  other and to themselves. Next month they'll read to the residents at our local assisted living facility once a month. They'll also hear the librarians read at the bi-monthly homeschool story times our local library will be hosting. No one ever meant homeschooling to be staying home all day anyway, right? After all, the world is our school and we can (and do!) learn everywhere!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Homeschool Update: How Teaching Textbooks Changed Us

So....we're like a month into the new school year here. Kinda. I mean, I can't say that we've been hard-core schooling all that time. This year we've done what I'd call a soft-launch. Also known as the "Mom can't handle everything all at once so she's starting off slow" launch. Whatever works, man.

Anyhoo, we're off and running now. And honestly, this may be the best year yet. "What makes this such a great year?" you ask. To sum it up in a word: outsourcing. That's right, my friends, this homeschool momma has started out Year 8 by NOT teaching every single thing myself. It's blissful.

The very best thing I have ever done was switch our math curriculum from Saxon to Teaching Textbooks. Don't get me wrong. Saxon is a FABULOUS, hard-core, tried-and-true way to teach math. Kids who go all the way through it are math phenoms. But you guys, it is SOOOOOOO time intensive. I'm talking hours and hours and hours of math every. single. day. Teaching, working and grading three levels of it pretty much killed me last year. In fact, I would say that it sucked the joy out of many a day in our little home. The kids would groan and moan when I said it was time to do math. There was much, much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Thanks to the power of the internets, I found a Facebook group of homeschool parents. A few kept talking about this new fangled math system they called "TT." For over a year, I watched, listened, and researched to see if this was something that would work for us. Last spring, when we got our tax return I talked Vance into biting the bullet, spent almost $600 and bought three brand new levels of Teaching Textbooks for my kids. Honestly, we should have started that very day. But alas, I waited for the new year to start this fall. Rookie mistake.

For those of you unfamiliar with the power of TT, let me give you the basics. TT is a CD based program that works with our iMac. (It can also work on a Windows based machine just as well.) After the initial download, the kids put in their CD, click the icon and put on their headphones. The program gives a lecture, practice problems, and regular problems. The kids have two chances to get it right and get immediate feedback on each problem. TT has a grade book built in, so the kids and I can go anytime and see how they've done on each assignment and test. The problems are fun and even with only one kid able to work at a time, they take WAY less time than how we were doing math before. Did I mention that I don't have to grade anything? Nada. That is by far my favorite part.

Remember how I said that last year there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth? Well, we still have that. Every time I mention cleaning a toilet or giving me a kiss in public, that's the case. But math time? Not so much. In fact, not at all. One kid is often done with math before I even get breakfast. The others smile and go to the computer with absolutely no fussing when I mention that they need to do their math. More than once, a kid has even ASKED to do MORE THAN ONE ASSIGNMENT a day. This. is. unheard. of. Can I get a "Hallelujah" here? Because this change really deserves one. I can honestly say that TT has changed our homeschool for the better. We have more time and even more importantly, we have more peace in our home. *Insert contented sigh here.*

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Unsolicited Advice: School Supplies

It's August. That means BACK TO SCHOOL for many of us.

I taught public school for nine years and am about to start year eight with my kids at home. Add the 18 plus years I was a student (kindergarten through college!) and I've been in a classroom for most of my life. Basically, I'm an expert on this stuff.  Sadly, I'm not really cool enough to get endorsements from any of these companies, so these are my honest, unbiased, real-as-real-can-be opinions. Take 'em or leave 'em, but I really think you're going to want to take 'em.

1. Crayola trumps EVERYTHING. Don't cheap out and get the store brand. Crayola costs more because they make a better product. You will regret it if you don't get the name brand for crayons, markers, colored pencils and water colors. Trust me. Your kid's art will look cheap and dull next to their friends who take my advice. You don't want the kindergarten masterpiece to be second rate because of a few cents difference, do you?

Do you like my handy-dandy little storage box? That's a baby wipes container. Throw a little fancy looking duct tape around the sides and bam! You've got a perfect size container, with a lid, for free. 
Unless the teacher asks for the regular, get washable. Yes, they cost more. But they cost less than replacing the new school clothes you just bought.

*NOTE: Sometimes washable doesn't work. For example, I used to do an art project where kids used crayons to draw a picture and then water colored over that. Washable crayons result in big puddles of muck and sometimes crying kids. The teacher knows how your kids will be using these things. Get what she asks for.

2. Ticonderoga is the ONLY pencil we buy in our house any more. I wish I had known about these when I was a classroom teacher. They sharpen correctly the first time, every time! No more having to sharpen the pencils for hours every week. Classroom teachers, you know the sound the pencil sharpener makes that lasts forever? Well, with these, it lasts a lot less time. They last forever and write amazingly. Those cheap ones you get a thousand of for a dollar? Well, those are horrible. STOP BUYING THOSE! You can get 144 Ticonderogas for under 14 bucks on Amazon. That will last you your lifetime! You can also get a lot less of them for less money if you're not ready to stash them away forever. They even come in pretty neon colors if you want to splurge a little. Aren't they pretty?

Obviously, these have been hanging around my house for a while. But look! Even though they've been chewed on, beaten up and used for constant drumming, they're still all pretty long! They last forever! 
3. Elmer's glue is really the only kind you should buy. Amazon has 30 sticks for under $10. Those will last you a while. The younger your kid is, the more of these they will need. I bought the 30 pack three years ago and we've still got a jar full.

I'm a big believer in repurposing containers. These glue sticks fit perfectly in this glass jar that was originally a candle.

4. If an item on the supply list is almost impossible to find at a decent price (in my town, it's a yellow folder they use at the middle school), let the teacher know. Usually, they can have an idea of where to get it or they can easily swap it out for something else. But they don't know how hard it is to find if you don't tell them. My first year teaching I asked kids to bring a certain color of notecard because it matched the cover of that book. One of the parents let me know it was really tough to find and I made the change to something more readily available. No big deal for me and I saved the parents the hassle of trying to find something that didn't exist!

5. Last year's scissors will work just fine. Really. Unless your kid is heading into 4th grade, where he's probably making the transition into an adult size pair, just use what you've got.  There's no need to go buy shiny new ones.

6. Skip the fancy stuff. Really. Your kid doesn't need shiny, light-up writing utensils. Or sparkly glue. In fact, those things are just distractions at best, or at worst, waiting to be stolen right out of your kid's desk.  Keep the swanky stuff at home for special projects or writing in your diary. Do your kid's teachers a favor and don't send it to school.

7. Okay, maybe not ALL of the fancy stuff. I do love me some Frixion erasable pens. They come in all kinds of pretty colors and they actually erase smoothly. I've found that they're a bit finicky and a few that we've ordered haven't worked at all. But the ones that do are awesome! I use them for lesson planning. These pens erase when heat is applied, so they may fade or disappear completely if you put a cup of hot coffee on them. They also make erasable markers, which I have yet to try, but are on my list. How fun is that?

Keep these things in mind as you head out to spend your kids' college funds on their new school supplies and you should do okay. Godspeed on the new school year! Make it a fabulous one!

Give me shout out for your favorite school supplies in the comments!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Review: Window on the World

I bought this book for the 2011-12 school year based on the recommendation from Sonlight.  Sonlight uses it as part of their Core B+C curriculum.  I used it with my first and third graders.  My four year old sometimes listened in as well.  It was one of our favorite purchases that year.

Each double page spread in this extremely inviting, colorful book focuses on a different county or people group around the world.  Maps, statistics, and interesting facts about each country/group are included in ways that add to the conversation and allow the readers to understand more about the culture being taught.  The photos are fantastic and are often of children. This has really helped my children to relate to the people we've read about.

Each section has an attention keeping narrative that explains the spiritual situation of the people described in that day's lesson.  Be warned, the authors don't shy away from hard situations or put a politically correct spin on them.  These have really opened up some deep discussions with my kids.  In describing Muslims in Yemen, the book explains, "Because families are very close, it would be unthinkable for one member of the family to choose another religion. Such a person is considered a traitor who deserves to die." That brought up some serious questions that I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to address, but in the end, I was glad to have those conversations with my kids.  In the back of the book they include some pages that explain many of the worlds dominant religions.  These pages have helped me explain many things to my children over the course of this year.

Our favorite part of the book is the "To help you pray" section of each double page spread. This part gives things to thank God for as well as things to ask God for.  I have really enjoyed praying with my children for people we would otherwise not even know about.  My heart still melts when I think of my four year old praying at supper and asking God to "please be with the kids that live in the sewer, God.  Be with them."  My kids and I are much more missions-minded since we have started reading this book.

When used as a part of the Sonlight Core B+C program, kids study the history and geography of the world, starting with the Middle East and working towards more newly civilized parts of the planet.  For example, they start with the Creation story in the Bible, Mesopotamia in their history lesson, the Middle East for Geography Songs and the countries of the Middle East for this book.  More on that when I get around to reviewing Core B+C at some point in the future.

My only complaint with this book is that the edition I have was published in 2001.  It's pre 9/11 and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  When we read about Iraq, they talked a lot about Saddam Huessein as the leader.  Obviously, I had to update that a little.  I have no idea if an update is in the works or not, but I certainly hope so.

I give this book 5 out of 5 possible stars. *****

Saturday, January 30, 2016

How to Have a Spy Party

When my baby turned six he wanted to have a SPY birthday. With only a week to plan, I jumped on Pinterest and looked for ideas. Using several I found there and a little of my own creativity, I managed to pull off a pretty great secret agent event!


Normally, I just text or Facebook the other moms but this time I found a really cute way to do the invites with minimal effort, so I went for it. This blogger over at birthday blueprint had a cute idea. I tweaked her idea and came up with this. I used free fonts called Top Secret and Special Elite that I picked up from here.  It's just a regular piece of scrapbooking paper (a little on the thick side, so it's probably card stock, but not too heavy) that I ran through my printer. Then I freehand cut the edges to look like a file folder. The final result is small enough to now fit in a 5"x7" manila envelope. I wrote the kid's names on the tabs at the top, last name followed by first initial. 

Inside, I copied pretty much directly from the birthday blueprint idea. I changed the seal a little bit. We wanted our spy school to be named Advanced Spy Academy, so I tweaked that, too, using the seal she provided as a start.

Because the party guests were mostly 4, 5, and 6 year olds, I didn't use the cypher. I used a simple picture code instead. I didn't want it to be too hard for the little guys. If your guests are older, there are lots of cyphers and codes which you could create or find on Pinterest pretty quickly.

Getting people to RSVP to an event is a task, so I added my own twist. Parents would need to text me the secret code to reveal the mystery location of the A.S.A.  Once they did, I replied with this:
Congratulations, recruit. You have used your spy skills and decoded the message. The secret A.S.A. training facility is located in (town), in the building known as (our church name). Remember to keep this location top secret and be sure you're not followed. 
The kids seemed to enjoy the extra bit of cloak and dagger. I think the picture clues were just about right for this age group.

As an extra bit of fun, the kids dressed in their "agent gear" and took an invite to the neighbors.


Upon arrival, I had my husband and oldest son stand guard at the door. They asked each kid for the password before admitting them.

Once inside, I met the kids at the Code Name Generation Station. Here they choose two slips of paper, one with a color and one with an animal. Together, they formed the code name. I glued the strips onto name tags and told the kids to use them, instead of their real names, for the party. It was fun to call out things like "Pink Platypus" and "Gold Unicorn" all afternoon. I just used regular paper for the name tags and stuck them to the kids' shirts with masking tape.

Recruits were given a stick on mustache by my eight year old son. He was very enthusiastic about helping the kids put on their "disguises." Several opted for eyebrows over mustaches. I picked up several packs of these at our local Dollar General. They were $1. I got two sizes, larger ones for wearing and smaller ones for a game that I'll tell you about if you keep reading.  The big ones were one to a package and the smaller ones came in sets of three.

The kids liked putting these on but they really didn't like wearing them for very long. Most lasted only a few minutes and several kids had red, irritated skin when they took them off. They were perfect for the game, though.

Once they were properly disguised, my daughter got a foil footprint from each guest. We found that this worked much better on the carpet than on tile. Later, we numbered and hung the prints. We used them for a game that I'll explain in a bit.

Once everyone was foot printed, we brought them all into the larger room and gave the "new recruits" a welcome. I warned them about Doctor Baron Von Evilstein and his minions, then put them to the test to see if they had what it takes to become spies.


PASS THE TNT: This was basically hot potato with "dynamite." My daughter made this for us out of three paper towel rolls, some red construction paper, rubber bands, black electrical tape and a minute timer. We covered the display so the kids wouldn't know how much time was left when passing it. If it went off while they were holding it, they were out. This was a hit. We played several rounds without anyone getting out, then one round where we eliminated kids when it went off in their hands. I randomly changed the amour of time on the timer, but with little kids, it probably didn't matter. I would suggest 10-45 seconds each round, depending on how many kids you have. We had 13 kids playing. This game probably lasted about 10-12 minutes.

Next, we split into three groups for stations. I did this because I couldn't set up enough for all the kids to be busy at once. In smaller groups, there was less waiting, which led to less problems for me! Keeping the kids busy is a must for a party like this one.

SHOE PRINT ID: Using the prints we took when they came in, the kids had to try to figure out which print was from which party guest. I gave them magnifying glasses to make this more exciting. Those were also picked up at DG for $1 each. At first we just had the kids try to guess whose shoes they were. It didn't really work. But the station leaders quickly adapted it, having all the kids take off their shoes and bring them to that area. The kids then got to look at the shoes and compare them to the prints on the wall. This made it much more manageable and I think, fun for the kids.  I wasn't sure how this was going to go but the kids really got into it. I think the magnifying glasses really helped to play up the spy part. My 10 year old manned this station along with an adult friend who stayed to help. I didn't get a good picture of the wall but I think you can get the general idea from this one.                                                                                                                     

LASER BEAM AVOIDANCE: This was by far the most popular activity of the day. My husband set up the course using some red yarn, a chair, a support beam and an air hockey table. The kids had to get through it Mission Impossible style. It was super easy to set up and great to watch! Every single kid absolutely LOVED this one.

TARGET PRACTICE: We traced around bowls, plates and other round things to create two targets. We cut the circles out with a box knife. The circles were labeled with points based on their size. Smaller holes were worth more than the larger ones. We kept score but didn't give prizes. The kids were fine with that. We placed a futon about six feet from the table and had the kids shoot from the far side of it. That helped to keep them a reasonable distance away.

My 12 year old manned this station. It was hard for him to keep up with both guns because he had to reload them quickly. They also jammed several times. If I had to do it again, I would have had 4 guns loaded and ready to go, so that each kid in the group had his own and we only had to reload between groups. Despite the technical difficulty, the kids seemed to enjoy it.

MEMORY BOOSTING: I had one of my kids put on some random bits of costumes (He picked them out himself.) and come into the room with the recruits. He then left and took off one item. When he returned, the kids had to remember what was taken off. We repeated this a couple of times. The recruits got a kick out the costume and it was surprisingly hard to remember what was missing when he removed the Viking hat.

When that was over, I took out a tray full of items I had put together that might be used by spies. I covered the tray with a towel (Okay, it was actually a Superman cape, but I don't know if you have one of those, so you can use a towel if you need to!), then gave the kids a few seconds to memorize the tray. We actually named all the items together because I wasn't sure they would know what a flash drive is. Then I removed the tray from their sight, and took off a couple items. The kids had to tell me what was missing. Because the kids were too young to write, we just did this orally as a group. With older kids, you could have them write down as many of the items as they could remember.  *And yes, those are 3D glasses form the theater. I kept them just for this after we saw the new Star Wars movie last weekend.

PIN THE MUSTACHE ON THE SPY: Saving the best for almost last, we did a Pin the Mustache on the Spy game. To make this life size, I had my son lie down on huge piece of cardboard and traced his body. I printed off a black and white picture of his face and glued it to the paper. Using the sticky mustaches from DG, we played a modified pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game. This was a big hit with the kids.

BOMB DIFFUSION: About the time we finished up with this and I was *going to* let the kids eat cake and ice cream, my cell phone rang. It was Major Monobrow, telling me that Doctor Baron Von Evilstein had somehow infiltrated the facility and needed our help. I put the phone on speaker so the kids could hear. (It was my husband, reading the script I had written out.) Lucky for us, DBVE had left a clue to where the bomb was hidden. The kids deciphered the clue, which led to a bomb shaped piñata. They had to "diffuse" the bomb and keep the candy safe. 

We didn't have a good plan for the piñata, so my husband decided that he and my oldest son could just hold it on a pole between them. This resulted in both of them ducking wildly several times while the moms all tried not to pee ourselves while laughing hysterically. I HIGHLY recommend you figure out a way to hang the piñata from something or at least have really good health insurance for your husband. I really wish I would have gotten some of this on video for you but my phone ran out of battery just before we started this. I'm sure we could have won America's Funniest Home Videos with that one!

After the piñata, we had cupcakes and ice cream. I used the A.S.A. seal from the invitations and some clip art I found in a Google search to make cupcake toppers. I mounted them on black scrapbooking paper and hot glued them to toothpicks. Easy peasy and cheap! My son then opened his gifts. When that was done, the kids got to play on the laser beam course until their parents picked them up.

Overall, I would say this was a very successful party. Most things were inexpensive and easy to make while remaining really, really fun. Every kid got to take home a bag of candy from the piñata and a magnifying glass as a souvenir. We scheduled the party for two and a half hours and it was probably 20 minutes too long.