Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Aldi Friendly Spaghetti Sauce...


My kids are eating a lot more spaghetti lately, so my Mom's recipe that I used to make and freeze isn't stretching as far as it used to. I decided to modify it, and now I'm making a pot of sauce and having leftovers for later in the week. I can get what I need at Aldi most of the time, excluding the minced garlic in a jar I keep in the fridge and possibly the Worchestershire sauce?

Olive oil
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 t. minced garlic
1 onion, finely diced
1 bell pepper, finely diced
1 t. sugar
1 heaping t. each basil and oregano
a generous splash of Worchestershire sauce
1/2-1 lb. of ground beef, browned

Brown the hamburger and remove from your large pot. Put some olive oil in there and add the garlic, onion, and pepper. (I mince mine in the mini food processor that lives on my counter.) Saute until softened, and then add all the other ingredients except beef. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Add ground beef and simmer another 1/2 hour.

Feeds 4 hungry males. Maybe.

First 4-H presentations....


This year, I decided to get my act together and get the big boys to do their first 4-H presentations. My mom will tell you that 4-H was an important component to her homeschool, and I agree that it was really useful for me. The public speaking skills that I gained from having to give a talk with visual aids from the time I was pretty young have stood me in good stead, and that's just the beginning, really.

So what was stopping me from doing this before now? Daily life. A full schedule. Adding one more thing to the to do list. (And I kept telling myself I had time because I only had one Cloverbud.) BUT, it's worth it, so we pulled it together in time for our county presentation day. I had the boys tell me what they wanted to present, and I helped them organize their talk and make posters. We printed off text and images and Seth was able to arrange his how he wanted. (I admit to doing Evan's posters for him. Sue me. He's 6.)

Seth's presentation was called "Seth's Wacky Gadgets." He talked about famous inventors that inspired him, showed a couple of things he'd come up with, and then gave a step by step demonstration of his rubber band crash car game. The judges had lots of good questions and made him feel really encouraged. He told them that when he invents something awesome one day, he'll give them a discount. That's my boy.

Evan's presentation was called "Critter Catching School." He mostly showed how he catches a variety of wild creatures (like frogs and lizards and bugs), complete with gardening gloves, a box to keep them in, and a few little plastic bugs and toads and snakes. The last poster was about safety, and I included large pictures of copperheads and black widows. We have taught him not to try and catch anything with patterns because it might be poisonous. (We have decided that telling him that he can't catch things because he might get stung or bitten isn't the way we want to raise him or his brothers. This article sums it up pretty well.)

I really enjoyed how Evan kept trying to pack up all his things and walk off while the judges were still asking him questions. I guess I should've covered that part of presentation etiquette. Next year. :)

David said he could see why I thought presentations were worth it after seeing the boys at our county day. A tired end-of-the-year-homeschooling mom likes to hear that from the principal. :)



Saturday, March 05, 2016

On trying again...



I've meant to write about this a few times, but I have been paralyzed by wanting to explain perfectly, so I haven't made a start. I give up. It won't be perfect, but here goes. :)

I'm singing again.

I was raised by an opera singer. Mom has a M.A. in Vocal Performance from Cincinnati College Conservatory, and she was a coloratura soprano before I was born. She sang lead roles in operas, including the Queen of the Night from Mozart's "The Magic Flute." I've heard recordings, and I remember flipping through her photo albums of performances, watching her strike a dramatic pose in flamboyant costume on stage, her mouth formed for an impressive high B.

Now, this means that I was a classically trained singer's child. :) My brother and I sat with her at the piano while she taught us to sight read music. We were blessed to live near the well ranked music school where she got her undergraduate degree, and there was a really good children's choir in town, so we both joined when we were old enough. I sang in that choir from ages 10-18. I went to international children's choir festivals, and I was a street urchin in the "La Boheme" chorus and a shepherdess for "Ahmal and the Night Visitors". When I went to college, I joined the choir.

Then I got married and started moving around, and singing in a choir just didn't seem to be something I could find time for anymore. The babies started coming (thank the Lord), and I woke up one day and realized it had been about 15 years since I'd sung classical music.

I have a sweet friend from my Mothers of Preschoolers days who sings classical music, and I was watching her on Facebook talking about singing in an opera chorus, and something just snapped in me, I think. I realized that I didn't want to let this part of who I am just die away from neglect. My youngest is now 4, and it suddenly dawned on me that I might be able to rehearse in the evening for the first time in years.

I contacted my friend, and she suggested that I try out for the choir that sings with our symphony. That sounded totally intimidating. (I suspected it would probably be full of musical professionals, and I think it is.) She said the director was really kind and encouraging, so I contacted him, and I went for an audition last September.

I sang a bit of an old choir piece a cappella. I did some sight singing, and he had me vocalize to assess my range. He told me that I needed to "get the cobwebs out." He also told me to see a voice teacher a couple of times and come back and re-audition in January.

Yeah, I cried on the way home.

And then I realized that he hadn't told me "no." He'd given me clear and concrete things to do, and I could do them. So I pulled myself together, threw my shoulders back and put my chin up, and I called my friend (who is a voice teacher). She gave me a classical aria to learn to sing for my audition. This is it. (Not me singing.) I decided that she must have a lot of confidence in me. :)

I practiced a little each day for a few months, mostly during nap time or while David was putting the boys to bed. I saw my friend again for another lesson. And I scheduled an audition for January.

When I got there, I listened to the others auditioning in front of me through the sanctuary doors, and I wanted to just stand up and walk out. I'm sure I didn't only because I decided that this whole experience was about facing my fears and doing my best with the time and resources I had and leaving the rest to God.

When I walked down the aisle, the director recognized me. I told him what I'd been doing, and I sang for him. He said, "I think you still need a little work on your upper range.... so I'm making you a second soprano." And then he said, "Most people don't come back."

Every rehearsal feels like a gift to me. I still can't believe I get to make beautiful music with talented singers. Sometimes I feel like the worst one there, and I might or might not be, but I also suspect I might be the most grateful singer in that room.

I was afraid to try to do this, so afraid that God would say "no" to this desire.  But He said "yes" instead, and in that "yes," I feel like He said, "I see you, Ellen." Me. Not "mom" or "wife" or "homeschooler", but this person that He shaped through the experiences that she had as a child and the things He allowed her to do and be because of who she was born to and where she lived and the space that He created for the works that she would do.

My mom and dad and my husband and oldest son are coming to my first concert. I hope that Mom pats herself on the back. I can sing with this choir because she gave me the tools. I hope my 9-year-old boy hears Beauty and remembers the prayers he prayed for me when I wanted to give up. I want him to see that perseverance sometimes pays off in the ways we hope for.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Winter days and Caddie...


As the boys get older, winter days get more pleasant. I notice a change every year. Sure, there are still times when our house feels very small, and I'm putting people in time out for sword fighting in the living room. But we're also having days when all of them can handle a calm activity all together for an hour! 

This afternoon we sat at the kitchen table and colored (Seth drew) for an hour after rest time. (Ben kept begging me to let him have coloring sheets from the nice books I got as birthday presents, and I kept insisting he finish out the page he had instead of leaving three measly marks on there and declaring himself done, but that was the most drama that happened. Very minor.) We get a lot of books on CD from the local library, and we're going through one of my childhood favorites, "Caddie Woodlawn." 

I painstakingly brushed with markers while Caddie's father told of his childhood in England to his family gathered around his hearth. We heard how Caddie's teacher put Obadiah in his place, how she fixed the circuit rider's clock and became her father's partner in clock repair, and how the family ended up eating turkey all winter because her mother wouldn't part with her birds for the Civil War prices...  

The boys occasionally made comments. "Why would she do that?" "Uh oh." I wondered about the things they didn't say. Were they internalizing the ideas about English inheritance law and how American pioneers differed in their thinking? Good books teach. I believe that.

Now I'm making chicken soup and corn muffins. (David loves Jiffy, so I've stopped trying to make cornbread from scratch most of the time. ;) They'll head off in the rain for Cub Scouts after dinner, and maybe I'll read with the little guys under each arm, letting them head to the book case to pick whatever they want. Maybe I'll get Evan and Ben to play UNO with me, Evan with his cards laid out on the table so I can help him with them, Ben on my lap "playing" my hand for me.



Sunday, February 21, 2016

Things that are working for me....


Hello, blog. It's been a long time. But I may have to reconcile with you now that I have discovered that I can upload photos from my Android phone with ease. ;)

So, a few things that are making this winter season enjoyable for me....

1. Agatha. That is the name that I've given my cheery little space heater. She is a cozy mystery to me, what with her realistic looking flames and the fact that she doesn't have to give heat unless you flip an extra switch. I can see her sitting there on my hearth from the kitchen, calming me with her soothing, light bulb induced flames that are realistic enough to slake my fire lust.

2. Duraflame logs. They are good for our marriage when Agatha just won't do. There's no trudging out to get wood and painstakingly building a fire with enough kindling and paper to ensure success. I have a basket of them beside the fireplace. They're about $2 a log, but David thinks it's worth the price not to have to do the aforementioned as often as I'd like a fire.


3. Spiral bound pads and good pens. I've begun keeping a daily gratitude journal, usually writing in it when I sit down after the kids are in their rooms for rest time. Assessing the morning with gratitude in my heart for what has gone well (especially if it's a day when many things have not) has really been a good exercise for me. I like that spiral notepads mean that I can keep the little notebook open a lot more easily, and a V5 Precise fine point is a little luxury that means I write more than I would with a Bic.

4. Fair Trade Fridays. I got a subscription to Fair Trade Fridays because I wanted to help provide these courageous ladies a regular source of income through making something that they can take pride in. Well, I got way more than I bargained for. I've gotten some lovely things in my monthly packet, including 3 lovely necklaces that I wear all the time and a really cute black and white tote bag that I'm saving for spring.

What are some little things that are helping you enjoy winter just a wee bit more?


Monday, January 11, 2016

Every time I climb a tree....



Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
I scrape a leg
Or skin a knee
And every time I climb a tree
I find some ants
Or dodge a bee
And get the ants all over me

And every time I climb a tree
Where have you been?
They say to me
But don't they know that I am free
Every time I climb a tree?
I like it best
To spot a nest
That has an egg
or maybe three

And then I skin
The other leg
But every time I climb a tree
I see a lot of things to see
Swallows rooftops and TV
And all the fields and farms there be
Every time I climb a tree
Though climbing may be good for ants
It isn't awfully good for pants
But still it's pretty good for me
Every time I climb a tree.

- David McCord

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Hand blasting mushrooms and stars are we. :)

Halloween 2015


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Loving bugs...



Hey, bug, stay!
Don't run away.
I know a game that we can play.

I'll hold my fingers very still
and you can climb a finger hill.

No, no.
Don't go.

Here's a wall- a tower, too,
a tiny bug town, just for you.
I've a cookie. You have some.
Take this oatmeal cookie crumb.

Hey, bug, stay!
Hey, bug! 
Hey!

                        Lilian Moore






Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I think it's working....


Planting corn with Papa to discover whether corn planted with little fish grows faster than corn planted without them. The verdict is in, and Squanto had something going for him...

I am guilty of writing when I'm processing stress but not coming back to Ye Olde Blog when pulling out of the nosedive. :)

The first week of school was rough for all. BUT, we are getting into a good routine. I was too quick to throw my hands up in despair. (Ain't that the way it always goes when you're a recovering perfectionist?)

I'm often most in awe of the growth in my oldest child. After all, he's the first one to walk this far on this journey with me. 

I reminded him today that I want a good part of his rest time to be reading time, and he told me excitedly that it definitely would be. "I have this AWESOME book called, "Two Bad Pilgrims," Mommy. I read it all yesterday, but it was so good that I want to read it again. They nearly blew up the Mayflower!" 

I have been putting new books in his library book basket in his room... and he's READING THEM! :) No coaxing, no begging, no half-hearted mumbling about how he "looked at" them during rest time. He told me the whole story of a Graphic Library telling of Marco Polo the other day because he couldn't contain himself. He was leaning on my bed as I was sitting there with a sleepy Ben and talking fast because he couldn't wait to get it all out. 

He's asking to re-do Spanish exercises from our Spanish book that he wants to understand better. He wants to build molecules from atoms. He's learning to take more ownership of his own work. "Can I come back and finish my school work? I've been on break for awhile now." I can even sit at the table and answer a question here or there from him and work with my kindergartener at the same time! 

And my 6-year-old son? The one that I was setting a 10 minute timer on our reading work so that I wouldn't explode in frustration from his unwillingness to attempt to sound out the word "mad"? (Yes, I did see the irony at the time.) He's sounding out three letter words like a champ and giving me high fives. Today he discovered that he could use his math blocks to get the answer in more than one way. "Look, Mommy, it's not just 3 and 3 that make 6! I can make 6 with 5 and 1, too!" 

I couldn't have imagined being where I am today when I had a kindergartener and 2 wild preschoolers. 

I went to a workshop at the homeschool conference the spring we were wrapping up kindergarten, and the speaker said that if you had no students that could work independently, you were likely to suffer from burnout. A light bulb went off in my exhausted brain. "Hey, that's me. That is very much me." I felt guilty that I was suffering from burn out only one year in. How was I going to make it if I was suffering from burn out only one year in? 

Well, now I know how. The secret is students who get older and more independent/responsible and actually excited about learning! Very few things are more wonderful to me than seeing their enthusiasm. (Good French chocolate and coffee with lots of half and half and vacation in the mountains, yes, but also their enthusiasm.)

Without a vision, the homeschooling mothers perish. My own vision on the hard days is sustained because of the beauty of my own homeschooled childhood. I keep it by reading encouraging blogs, and finding things to include in our morning basket that inspire me, and by asking those who are ahead of me on the trail to give me a sip from their water bottle of increased perspective. I find it again by running across books that I read as a child that I loved and want to read again with my children. I expand it in the library stacks when I see what new treasures there are to be explored.

I have learned to have affection for things that I didn't love because I knew they were things worth trying to love. I have learned to love lesson planning (at times) and gross science and even some things about teaching math because God has helped me learn to love them. I'm thankful that He has helped me not to give up and set my heart to appreciate beautiful and hard things that are serving us all well. 

I wanted to share that. I am not who I was when I started homeschooling, and I'm not now who I hope to become. I was shaped by my homeschooled childhood, and I see that I will be changed again by the process of becoming a homeschooling mother. 



Wednesday, September 09, 2015

A homeschooling morning...


Today was pretty representative of what a lot of mornings look like when Ben is off having adventures with Mimi and Pop Pop. It ended up being mostly what I'd like Morning Time to look like, so I thought I'd write about it.

I read some from Understood Betsy from the Ambleside reading list at breakfast. I made sure to stop at an exciting point so they'd beg me to keep going. (Insert evil cackle. ;) 

We started Morning Time after he walked out the door, and we spent about an hour on it. We started with saying together one of the poems from my Memory Work binder, "Little Drops of Water, Little Grains of Sand." (I haven't added much new memory work yet, so each day I move the sticky tab to the next thing under the "Review" section in the binder.) We also sang through our new 50 states song, but I slowed it down and had Seth read along instead of using the video. (Evan complained. It's a fun video.)

Then we read the story of the Rich Young Ruler in a new kid favorite around here, Favorite Parables from the Bible by Butterworth and Inkpen. I wouldn't have known a thing about this book if we hadn't gotten one of the stories from a yard sale. We discussed what it meant briefly, and then everyone gave prayer requests. ("Hot soup" has made someone's prayer request list a lot lately. We're deep here. ;)

On to singing two verses of "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty." I explained the meaning of the complicated vocabulary when we first started learning it a week or two ago, and I ask if they remember what a word means as a refresher from time to time.

I have a collection of poetry books from when I was a child, and right now we're reading a couple of poems a day from The Random House Book of Poetry for Children. They liked the ways that different poems describe the wind.

My goal is to read a chapter from Tree in the Trail once a week, and I also bought the expensive maps for it from Beautiful Feet. We have ours up on the wall, and I'm using colored pencils to add the details. Today we added the Santa Fe Trail (and it ain't easy to do based on the map at the back of the book, y'all.) There are bloggers that I've found that help with this, and I've got their sites bookmarked.

I pulled out Patterns of Nature and we read about wild flowers and weeds and answered the questions. I had Seth color in the illustrations while I was working with Evan on his kindergarten table work. Maybe he'll have half a shot of identifying goldenrod and queen anne's lace now. 

We did a capillary action experiment last week, and I called my brother to ask him to explain it to me in detail. (When your brother has a doctorate in horticulture, you call him, and he tells you because you're his sister. ;) I explained what he'd told me and had Seth tell it back to me. I had them both repeat key phrases a few times, and then I wrote the definition of capillary action on the white board. I also cut and pasted it into a word document, printed it out, and then handwrote Seth's definition underneath it. He drew a picture of our experiment underneath that.

We read a few more pages in Leif the Lucky, and they narrated those back to me. I'd written down their narration on that a few days ago, and I had Seth illustrate that page (also while I worked with Evan.) We talked about when he lived and explored and how it was long before the Age of Exploration.

Seth read me a few pages of a short chapter book on Ferdinand Magellan from our library. I narrated it back to him. Evan sat nearby and listened. We checked the location of Magellan's ship on our world map on the wall, just like we do for a lot of our readings when locations come up. Reading about explorers has meant a lot of referring to the map lately. 

This is Morning Time, a work in progress, a rich buffet on some days and skimpy fare on others. I feel like I'm getting an education from Morning Time, and I have hope that they are, too. :)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

School Year 2015-16...





And we're off! First official day of 3rd, Kindergarten, and Pre-K coming right at ya! I gave them their "first day of school" presents, took pictures, and we got most of the regular school work done.

I decided to take a picture of my handwritten guidelines in case someone might be interested in that. The top picture is what I wrote out for this year. The second picture is more detail about some of the things I include in our morning time. Just click on the picture to see it larger.

The bottom picture highlights my eclectic approach to social studies. :) Here we have the $10 manual for My Father's World that I picked up at the homeschool store. I liked the activities in it, so I went through and tabbed them and made a note of which ones I wanted to use. (I may or may not attempt to to follow some of the days as written just to mix things up and see if I learn a few things to add to my teaching repertoire.)

I wanted to get more study of the natural world in, but I have found it hard to get regular about that in addition to whatever science topic we're doing. (Last year it was astronomy.) This year I picked up a Rod and Staff book called Patterns of Nature, and I've been surprised already how much they like the short, simple stories and review. They're retaining a lot more using this approach than they did reading books from the library on the same topics, so this is staying. We are also reading and narrating right now from books on simple machines, and I plan to cover that and some chemistry this year.

Paddle to the Sea was a huge hit for geography last year for all of us, so I'm continuing on with "Tree in the Trail." Holling Clancy Holling has grown on me big time.

"Our American Heritage" was one of my favorite history books as a child, so my mom kept it. It introduces history using famous figures in history, so I plan to use the chapters as jumping off points. The simple book list in tan beside that gives me book titles with suggested grade levels and in chronological order.

I gave up on French because it's not nearly as practical as Spanish, so we're using Song School Spanish this year. Not sure how many days a week that we'll listen to the CD's and do the workbook, but so far they really like it, so I'm thinking maybe more than one day a week. This is just supposed to be a gentle introduction, so I'm OK with not pushing this.

I am taking selections from Ambleside's book list, including a children's Pilgrim's Progress for devotions and "Understood Betsy" as a read aloud. I've also got "The Courage of Sarah Noble," "Me and Ben," and "Caddie Woodlawn" on CD from the library, and I'll start playing those while we eat lunch. I have found that they listen better sometimes at meals when it's a CD instead of my voice, and I get less frustrated at interruptions when I can turn up the volume. ;)

Our local once-a-month book sale has art print books for $1 a copy, and I snatched up ones of Michelangelo, Vermeer, and Durer. I'm on the hunt for Rembrandt. I cut up these books and use the pictures for picture study. I'm trying to go in chronological order for great masters.

I added Vivaldi to my Spotify list today. Seth and Evan both asked to listen longer. I think he's replacing Handel as the current favorite composer. :)