Wednesday, July 31, 2013

More Baking Therapy! (Recipe Included)

Breakfast is one of those meals that I don't fix.  Well, I do fix it, but not at the normal breakfast time of day.  I'm not sure who decided breakfast should be in the morning, anyway, because I'm fully on board with the idea of eating breakfast foods 24/7.

I digress already.  This is going to be one of those posts where I do that, I think.  

My kids eat breakfast daily.  They wake up starving, especially M1, and there are enough studies out there that point to all the good things that breakfast does that I hope their breakfast habit lasts throughout their lifetimes.  But if I want them to eat breakfast, I have to make sure we have it around... right?

I used to buy a lot of breakfasts - Pop-Tarts, boxes of cereal, frozen French toast sticks (OK, those still happen sometimes), granola bars.  But these days I try to make most of the kids' breakfasts, particularly because M1's breakfast consumption has risen in proportion to his height.  I was making regular waffles, but he was eating 2-3 at a time, and a batch of waffles was only lasting a few days.  I felt like I was spending all my time trying to keep up with the eating and making massive quantities of food for no good reason.

The saving grace actually came from my grandmother.  When she moved into her retirement home last fall, she gave some of her foodstuffs to my mom, sister, and me.  The thing that's relevant to this post?  I got the buckwheat flour, and with that, I got her handwritten buckwheat pancake recipe.

That recipe makes for the heartiest pancakes/waffles I have ever tasted in my life.  Seriously.  Look how thick this batter is!

Viscosity - this has it.
Remember this photo.  You'll need to reference it later.  I'm pretty sure my grandmother developed this recipe to feed hungry husbands and farmhands who were heading out to or coming in from the fields.  At least, that's what I like to think.

The waffle maker is older than my kids... don't judge ;)
Did I mention there's no sugar in these except for honey?  And they're delicious?  And they're so hearty that my son can eat ONE and be stuffed till lunch?  M2 can cut one in half and be full.  *angels sing*

If you pin this, let me know!  I love finding my stuff on Pinterest!


Hearty Buckwheat Pancakes (or waffles!)

1 1/2 c. buckwheat flour
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 T. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 T. honey
4 large eggs
1/4 c. oil
Milk, buttermilk, or combination (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 c.)

Sift together dry ingredients.  Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Mix only enough to combine them.  The batter should be thick and somewhat lumpy.  Coat a griddle with cooking spray and preheat over medium heat.  Use 1/4 c. batter for each pancake.  Flip cake when brown and keep warm in a 200-degree oven.  Serve with blueberries and maple syrup.

Blogger's notes:  I love the blueberry bit.  Cracks me up.  If I'm just using milk, I only need 1 1/2 to 2 c. total; if I use some buttermilk, I have to add a bit more to get the right consistency.  Also, these will soak up syrup like nobody's business!  I get ~14 waffles out of this, but your mileage may vary depending on the size of your waffle maker and the thickness of your batter.



Monday, July 29, 2013


I don't often touch on anything, well, touchy here at Our Sunnyview.  It's not always sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, but I do tend to deliberately sidestep anything that might be considered controversial.

Still, sometimes something just hits a chord with me, and I feel the urge to share it with anyone out there who might read this (and I appreciate you all!). 

Recently a couple of my Facebook friends have shared this article on their feeds:  Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church.  It's given me a lot of pause for thought, and I wanted to comment on why I feel this article is both right and missing the point all at the same time.  Feel free to stop reading if you don't want to hear more.  I won't know, and I won't be offended.  It's your life. :)

What It Got Right:

I like this article because of the list of things that the author says that younger generations want in a religious facility:
- to allow science and faith to not be mutually exclusive
- to allow the LGBT community and faith to not be mutually exclusive
- to allow the tough, deep questions to be asked
- to keep politics out of the pulpit (and, if we're being frank, the pulpit out of politics)

These are ALL things that I would look for if I ever thought about darkening the door of a church again.  The third item on that list in particular has been a major sticking point for me throughout the years.  It was actually one of the reasons that I left my last church.  All the adult Sunday School classes were lectures, which I didn't care for.  But when I mentioned that that style of class didn't suit me, I received in return a prayer that my heart would be opened to the Word of the Lord (presumably so I would be willing to learn from those who were older and 'wiser').  I had the same struggle as a teen when I asked the youth leader if we could study the Bible as history as well as the lighter stuff.  She thought I'd lost my mind.  Who wants to go to a church where all they're going to do is skim the surface?  If I'm going to believe something, I better be allowed to dig into the whys and wherefores.

Oh, and the coffee hour and jeans and rock music?  Jeans, yes.  Coffee, sure.  Rock music?  I dunno.  That's a matter of personal taste.  I don't see how rock music makes it better.  I think offering a choice is a better option.  Personally I like the hymns, some of which are older than my grandmother's grandmother's grandmother.  They've been around that long for a reason.  But coffee and the choice to wear jeans or not and the choice to have rock music or not isn't going to drag me in for the long-term.  It might appeal initially, but it won't keep me there.

What It Got Wrong:

The focus of the article is on evangelical Christianity.  Yes, it's a big sector of the church-going population, but the author talks about millennials abandoning the hip, evangelical worship services for the traditions and liturgies of other churches.  Awesome.  Let me tell you where a lot of other folks are headed when they abandon the evangelical megachurches: Nowhere.  I about choked on the idea that some of these traditional, liturgical churches might embrace the idea of anyone in the LGBT community leading anything church-related, let alone embracing the idea of evolution as fact.  (When I visited my mother last fall, she wanted to know if M1 had 'gotten over that evolution thing yet.')  To be fair, the ELCA has elected a gay bishop, which is a great step forward, and the Episcopal church has had a gay bishop for years as well, which has led to a split between it and the Anglican church in North America.  But for the most part these churches with traditional services have 'traditional' values.  Stepping into a Catholic Mass after attending a Baptist service for the majority of your life (or vice versa) can be a huge culture shock.  Again, I don't think it's something that many millennials are going to adjust to quickly or well.

Why not?  Ahhhh, that is the question, isn't it?  The author seems to think that young people WANT religion in their lives.  And I won't quibble with that.  The question of personal belief is one that I think most people struggle with off and on for a good chunk of their existence.  I certainly have.  However, what she's really missing is the concept that millennials live in a world that they have shaped.  The Internet came of age with us, and as we grew, we shaped it.  We have literally designed our worlds to suit us, and with that power has come the rather revolutionary awareness that we don't have to be pigeon-holed into one belief, one lifestyle, one life plan.  The Free Love era a few generations ago had it almost right, but they didn't have the Internet.  These days we're not all going to flock to one part of one city to participate - we'll find a forum or create a social network for that.  We don't want to walk into a place that we can't adjust to our liking in some form or fashion.  If there's not going to be a class that appeals to us, we'll either make one of our own or not go.  If there's not a worship service that we like, we don't go.  This is true across the board for millennials - homeschooling, colleges offering to create custom degree plans, etc. are all areas that are growing due to the customization demands of today's young adults.  And churches have a tough time adapting to that. 

One of the fastest-growing church communities that I know of is LifeChurch.  Run more like a business than a traditional church, its commitment to small, community-based groups with individual focus appeals to many families that I know.  Is it my cuppa?  No.  But when talking about the millennials, this is what the author should have thought about.  She's got the right idea; she just didn't get there. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Homemade History - Week 2

Last week we discussed prehistory; this week we moved forward a little bit.  Enjoy!

Week 2 Topics:  Nomads; The First Farmers

Monday: Reading and notes.  This week's reading suggestions were from Story of the World (chapter 1 - M2 particularly enjoyed this, as it was new to her), Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World (pp. 14-19), and Usborne World History (pp. 84-108).

Tuesday:  M1 had a little more reading that he wanted to finish, so he did that, and then the kids and I discussed topics for the mini-reports they're going to do.  M1 is going to write a short (perhaps four- or five-paragraph) report; M2 is only required to write one paragraph.  They got to pick their topic - anything ancient history was fair game.  M1 selected the Olmecs, and M2 wanted to learn about Egyptian clothes, jewelry, and home decor.  We'll work on these projects a little each week for the next few weeks and finish them up in week 8.  In week 10 they'll pick a new topic.  We'll wind up doing four 'reports' total by the end of the year.

Wednesday:  Video day!  We started with History Pockets and went over topics that civilizations share (specialization of labor, religion, arts/entertainment, a system of government, etc.) and what the basic needs of a human are (food, water, shelter, and possibly clothing... M1 also made sure we knew air was essential).  Then we watched a few videos.  We started with Making Stone Age Weapons and Irrigation in Egypt before visiting National Geographic and watching a video about some ancient springs in Texas.  I really wanted the kids to watch a PBS video about an atlatl, but I couldn't get it to work and haven't heard back from them yet about whether this issue is going to be resolved or not (maybe a little more pestering couldn't hurt?), so we bounced over to Youtube and watched an atlatl video there instead.  Finally, we wound up watching a few more videos on Youtube by searching for "ancient homes."  I think M2 might use at one of them as a reference in her report.

Thursday:  Again, we used History Pockets.  The kids wrote down definitions for the words civilization, ancient, and history and outlined the basic human needs that we covered on Wednesday.  Then M1 answered the question, "Why were ancient cities usually built near large bodies of water?"  His first answer about drinking water didn't hold water when I reminded him that many of them were beside an ocean, so he actually had to think about the rest of his answer, which was the point.  Score one for Mama on critical thinking.

Friday:  Project day!  I don't have any photos of M2 this time, because she elected to play the Iron Age Life game from the BBC For Kids history site.  She liked it so well that she actually played it twice.

M1 asked if he could make his own pottery.  I had purchased some terra-cotta air-drying clay, and he requested to use that to make his pottery more 'authentic.'  (For the record, he does know that clay normally gets fired in a kiln.  Nobody that's related to my dad - or me, if I'm honest - could grow up not knowing that.)

He made a lovely little pot and a lid to match.  He's very excited about his creation and is eager for it to finish drying.

Then, then we all went to the kitchen...

Steel-cut oats
 ... for a little lesson on grains.

Flax cereal and wheat grown from birdseed
that fell in our garden area this spring
First we went through the pantry and found as many different grains as possible and discussed where in the world each grain originated.

Cornmeal and buckwheat flour
The kids were surprised how many different grains... and legumes... and regions of the world... we had represented in our kitchen alone.

Clockwise from top left: white rice, roasted and seasoned chickpeas, navy beans,
popcorn,  couscous, quinoa, barley; Center: red lentils
After we demonstrated our grain-fed diversity, we cooked a few of the grains - particularly the couscous and quinoa I'd picked up especially for the project - and tasted them.  For fun, I also cooked up the barley and the popcorn, and I'd already roasted and seasoned the chickpeas the previous evening.  The kids liked everything, but our Western palates craved more flavor.  I wound up adding a touch of kosher salt to everything except the chickpeas.

Next week:  Aborigines and Pacific Islanders

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Kitchen Therapy

This has been a long, exhausting week.  M1 still has his head firmly lodged in either electronics or his posterior, Oz feels like a life-sucking parasite has taken residence inside his head, and two of the cats decided within the last 10 minutes that they needed to demonstrate their hairball-hacking skills.

All of this means that I either resort to drinking or find solace elsewhere.

This is not to say that there isn't an open bottle of wine in my fridge.  There is.  Ohhhh, there is.  But I also bought two bags of flour and sought refuge in my kitchen... baking.

I totally plagiarized PW's picture for this shot
It started with the tortillas a few days ago.  Now, the recipe that I used (see either link) suggests using just plain white flour, but this fairly green girl likes things a bit healthier.  Yeah, OK, so substituting half whole-wheat flour really doesn't offset the lard by much, but it makes me feel better.  And that's the whole point of this exercise, anyway.

Then yesterday I made egg noodles.  I don't have any pictures of them because A) they were instantly cooked and devoured as part of the chicken cacciatore we had for dinner last night, and B) they weren't all that good.  They were a bit tough and chewy.  It's been a long time since I've made egg noodles, and I wasn't impressed with the recipe I used.  I need to poke around Pinterest for a while and find myself a new recipe to try.

Today, I got back in the kitchen again:

Burger buns the size of Oz's hand 
Hoagie buns... they're so, so soft...
These are actually the same recipe.  I have absolutely no idea if they'll be any good, but they look and smell amazing.  I've had to shoo cats away from them several times.  They're incredibly easy to make, too.  If you read the comments, it suggests only making 8 buns out of the recipe and letting them rise for 30 minutes instead of the recipe's recommended 10.  If you make 8 buns, though, and you're in a nice, warm, humid, southern-USA-in-summer-like environment, watch out!  They'll be huge.  Eight is a perfect number for hoagies, but I'd go for the full dozen burger buns.  Or let them rise for less time.  Unless, of course, you like burger buns roughly the size of your giant spouse's hand.  That's a bit much for me.

Is this all the baking I'm going to do this week, you ask?  Oh, no.  No, no, no.  I already have plans to make homemade ravioli this weekend.

Baking therapy.  It's the only way to preserve sanity, I tell ya.

That and Pinterest.  And wine.  Together, they're a lethal combo for my waistline.  I hope the scales survive.

P.S.  Share a link to your Pinterest!  I always love finding and stalking following new people!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Long, Long Days (and Nights)

Today, everyone is a bit tired and cranky.  A thunderstorm with mild hurricane-force winds blew through last night, knocking out power to 100,000+ folks around the area, setting fires to schools and homes, ripping off roofs, and generally causing havoc.  As storms do.

It hit our house right before midnight.  I was awake, as I generally am, resting in bed reading a book.  Oz was sort of watching TV and sort of drowsing next to me.  We heard the wind first and went to the front door to peek out and have a look.  It was amazing to watch the wind whip everything around, from the neighbor's trash can (which wound up in our front yard) to the Virginia creeper that drapes the house across the street.  The wind woke M2 up, the power flashes scared her, and she came down to our bedroom to be comforted with the knowledge that there were no tornadoes lurking in this particular beast.  As she went back to bed, she informed me, "Oh, M1's up, too.  He's on his Kindle."

Of course he is.  And I'm sure he hadn't been to sleep yet, either!

So he's a cranky little monster this morning.  I reminded him last night of what happens when he self-induces sleep deprivation, but because it was already 12:15 a.m. when I told him this, the damage was done.  He's already tried to fall asleep at his desk a couple of times this morning, and if his fatigue was induced by a growth spurt or something not of his own making, I'd probably have pity on him and let him go take a nap, but I refuse to endorse stupidity.  So he has to suck it up.

What that means for me, however, is that I have to watch him like a bloody hawk for the entire rest of the day.  Every time I've turned my head this morning, even for just a second, he's been either wandering (mentally and physically both) or up to no good.  So far I've had to correct him for about a dozen things, all of which make me want to facepalm at the sheer brainlessness of their doing.

It's 11:30, and he's only about half-done with his school day.  Yesterday was the same, which leads me to believe that he's been bingeing on these late-night Kindle sessions more than one night in a row.  Not surprising, but there it is.  In the past, I've confiscated his electronics on days like this, working under the theory that one day his maturity level will be such that I can give these devices back to him and not suffer from the after-effects of electronics abuse less than a week later.  Yet he's 10, and it hasn't happened, and I'm tired of being his keeper.

So I'm not doing it.  Forget it.  The only thing I'm doing now is informing him that this sort of behavior will not go over well in this house, that I will not let him take a nap during the day (and that chores will be used as a method of keeping him awake and that sassing me during the execution of said chores will simply multiply their existence), and that he's making bad decisions and learning bad habits that will follow him into later life.  We've had more than one discussion about this sort of electronics addiction and effects on his potential high school and college life.  Oh, and I'm not taking him to the pool today.  Because I'd have to get in the water with him to make sure he was keeping his hands to himself, and Mama doesn't feel like it.  As it is, I'm not even sure I'll let him wander around the library unsupervised today.  One step forward, five steps back. 

Parenting and storms combine for a really long day.  Pass the Bailey's, wouldja?

Monday, July 22, 2013


I am a fairly nostalgic person about some things.  Clothes?  No.  High school?  Oh, HELL to the no.  My kids being babies?

Most emphatically, YES.

A few minutes ago, I hollered upstairs at the kids and asked them to come empty the dishwasher.  They gallumphed down the stairs to do my bidding, and I'm not sure why, but the noise triggered something. I think it reminded me of the old house and how the kids used to come tromping down the hall like a small herd of elephants.

The aforementioned Hall of Elephant Children
It suddenly hit me (again, because this has been happening every few weeks for the past few months) that my time with my children really is limited.  M1 is 10; M2 8.  I'm about halfway through the cycle of parenting wherein the children legally have to live with their parents.  When I first started this blog, I thought the kids were huge.

Now, I know better... and in another four years, I'll know better still.

M1, age 10... and a half
M2: My Teensy-Bean is no longer Teensy
I remembered how the kids used to fit on my lap.  I remembered when they couldn't empty the dishwasher or open a cabinet above the countertop without climbing on a ladder.  I remembered the tiny clothes and the digestible toothpaste and their smiles when they looked up at me and lifted their arms so I could hoist them onto my hip and haul them everywhere.  Everything just came flooding back to me.

Both kids noticed the silly, slightly tearful smile I got.

"Wut, Mom?" asked M1, with his inquisitive yet flat affect, working diligently all the while so he could get back to his game ASAP.

"Yeah, Mom, why are you smiling like that?" M2 echoed, bouncing over to the arm of the couch, grateful for any excuse to stop working for a moment.

"Just having a Mommy Moment, kiddos... just having a Mommy Moment."

I hope those moments stay with me forever.  I don't ever want to forget!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Homemade History - Week 1

Because I'm excited about our homemade history program this year, I really want to share it with you. I've gotten feedback from my kids, and they're happy with it so far. To be fair, we're only one week in, but I hope it's a plan that will stick.

Week 1 Topic: Prehistory

Monday and Tuesday: Reading and notes. I pulled readings from the Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World (pp. 6-13), Kingfisher History Encyclopedia (pp. viii-7), and Usborne World History (pp. 10-82).  I also requested a couple of library books.  I did not require the kids to read all of this (most of the time we will have far fewer reading options with far fewer pages, but I started off with a big chunk o' history, so there were a lot of choices).  We spent these days discussing interesting tidbits from the books that the kids did read.  I wanted to give them a wide range of reading choices so they didn't feel stuck with something they considered drudgery.  M1 really liked the Usborne book; M2 preferred the library books that we picked up on Wednesday.  Perfect.

Tuesday: After we finished our reading and discussion, we looked at the world map from Map Trek and labeled continents, oceans, and a few other notable landforms and bodies of water.

Wednesday: We picked up our library books on Wednesday.  We also took a look into History Pockets: Ancient Civilizations - we briefly discussed the progression of ancient civilizations that we'll study this year and compared the length of each empire/dynasty to time in general, specifically prehistory and the millions and millions of years before humankind even walked the earth. We visited ChronoZoom and National Geographic and watched several videos about dinosaurs, pre-human earth, etc.

Thursday: The kids defined a few words (archaeology, nomad, artifact, evolution), and M1 also answered the question, "Why should we study history?" We also talked about what each child wanted to learn in history this year. I loved their answers. Technology Boy Loves Technology. Now I know even more how to cater to him. M2 is easy - she just wants to learn more about mythology!

Friday: Project day! I let the kids pick what sort of project they wanted to do, and true to form, M1 picked a mystery and M2 picked an art project.

M1 read about the Ice Man Otzi, compared hypotheses of his death, and formulated his own theory about how the mummy came to exist on the mountain. Then he read the link above and compared his theory to the facts known today.  (He was really proud that he deduced that the cause of death was the arrow.)

M2 wanted to do cave art, a la Cueva de los Manos.

I wanted her to add more color/handprints, but she was simply appalled at how dirty/painted her hands got just doing this much.  So we stopped.  I think it would be fun to add other hands to the piece and see if we can really get it going, but we'll see.  It's her project, and if she's happy, I'm happy.

First week of school is over and done.  What a ride! Now M1 and Oz are off on a weekend jaunt to tour a couple of caves, and the girl and I are going to get some boy-free time. Hope everyone stays cool and has a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Homemade History - How I Did It

Since my two children are at polar opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to knowing anything about ancient history (with the exception of the Greek gods, thanks in large part to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), I struggled to find a history curriculum that I thought would work this year.

M1 had already covered the basics once by using Story of the World, so using that as a primary source was out.  I looked into some unit studies, but I gave them up as not deep enough for M1 or too advanced for M2, assuming I could find studies on the topics I wanted to cover, anyway.  History Odyssey, by Pandia Press, looked the most promising, as it covers a wide range of topics and uses various resources to do so, but... I don't know... it all just seemed so paper-based.  Where were the activities?  When did the kids get to have fun?  Looking at the lesson plans, it seemed like everything was 'read this,' 'write that.'  No, thanks.  Story of the World may not be the greatest history curriculum out there, either, but at least there were ways to illustrate what the kids were learning with a few activities now and then.

Finally, I gave up.  I sat down with the Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World (one of the several history encyclopedias I own at this point) and asked myself, "What do I want them to learn?" 

I came up with several topics.  I knew I wanted to start with prehistory.  Mankind's history is rich to us, yes, but I felt the kids needed to know something of the world before we came along.  After all, at this point we're nothing more than a blip on the timeline of the universe.  I knew I wanted to dig deeper into some of the civilizations - Egypt, Greece, Rome, China - and touch on the technological advances, the gods, the humanities that made up these peoples. Finally, I had my list.  Next it was time to put it in order.  So I did, assigning a certain number of weeks to each civilization.

Then came the hard part - finding resources.  I started by picking out reading selections for each week from the encyclopedias that I own and scouring our library's web site for corresponding fiction and/or nonfiction works.  Then I moved to external resources.  I made several purchases from Teacher Created Resources, specifically the books on Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Mysteries in History: Ancient History. About the same time, someone pointed me toward Map Trek: Ancient World, and I purchased the ebook version of it.  It's a bit too Christian-centric for my liking, but I can pull out the maps that are relevant to me and ignore the rest (I will happily not use the maps on Noah, Abraham, and Solomon, for example).  When combined, these books provide a fairly solid basis for a number of activities we can do throughout the school year.

Something else I wanted to provide for the kids was a video reference library.  M2 is visual, so reading might have been enough, but M1 is auditory and watching videos or playing computer games really helps him get information tucked away in his often-overly-active brain.  Whether the videos are about tribal cultures, archaeology, or even a demonstration of an ancient technique, I wanted them to have something to do on the computer, if possible.

As we go through this curriculum, I plan to share what we've done, from the dry stuff like the reading, definitions, and questions about our existence (M1 is old enough that he needs to start comparing our lives today to the lives of those who came before) to the fun stuff like the timeline, art projects, and videos.  I would love feedback and further suggestions, if you have any!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The First Day Back

So today was - IS - the first day of our 2013-2014 school year.  It seems surreal.  It feels like we've taken almost no time off at all, and yet it feels like forever ago that we launched rockets and ended our school year back in May.  It's a strange dichotomy.

The kids were both prepared and unprepared for today.   M1 fussed for a while about the amount of writing that was going to be expected of him this year (never mind the fact that it's still nowhere near the amount of writing that would happen in a public school setting and the fact that he was doing nearly this amount in May), but he's also looking forward to some of our history activities and science experiments.  M2 was very grateful for the math review, even though it frustrated her that she'd forgotten things, but she's excited about the history and science projects, too, with a major jones for the timelines that I hung this morning.

For our optional subject today, we tackled art.  This has been a subject I've struggled with over the last few years for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I have no artistic ability or history whatsoever, so I'm flying blind.  Secondly, I think I've been barking up the wrong tree curriculum-wise.  I tried using Artistic Pursuits, but nothing was sticking, I suspect in large part because while Artistic Pursuits features excellent images and great information about various artists, the projects simply don't match!  A project about African textiles doesn't really work with information about an Italian renaissance painter, does it?

Anyway, now that we're using Discovering Great Artists (giant thanks sent to my friend Kim who introduced me to this book!), I decided to take it easy.  Our first project?  Making art cookies.

First I made egg yolk paint.  The kids loved picking out their desired paint colors, and I enjoyed trying to make them.  In the end, we had red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and a purplish-brown.  Then I realized we didn't have time to actually make cookies, so we had to run to the grocery store to pick up a tube of the ready-made stuff.

Homeschooling - it's all about the improv.

While the kids painted, we discussed art that they already knew about.  They surprised me with the knowledge of artists, works, and styles that they've somehow picked up... from somewhere... or someone.  I dunno.  M1 painted himself a rough Mona Lisa and incorporated cubism into his version of a tree.  M2 painted a happy face - pop art! - as well as some abstract cookies and an Impressionist rainbow.

The best part?  Cookies.  We ate them.  And with that, the first day of the school year came to a successful end.  Only 179 more days till summer!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reading List (Your Mileage May Vary)

One of the things that I do during our school year is request books for the kids.  I only request one every other week so that nothing gets overwhelming, and I take into account the kids' interests as well as the fact that I want them to read 'good' books.  Both kids are pretty good about picking good books, not just brain candy, but that doesn't always mean that the good books sound appealing at first.  There's no way my son would have read Little Women on his own and no way my daughter would have picked up The Phantom Tollbooth, either, but they both really like these books now.  Sometimes they don't finish the books - I don't insist on it.  I ask that they give the book a fair shake and at least try to read it, but finishing isn't a requirement.  There have been a few flops but not many.

This year, M1 will be reading several books that I suspect will take him longer than two weeks to read, so his list isn't as long as M2's.  He's in 'fifth' grade and she's in 'third,' but again, I adapt the list to their ability and keep in mind what they have and haven't read already.  We do discuss the books, especially if I know that there are difficult themes in them, but I don't do anything in-depth.  It's simply discussion.  As they get older, I may bring these books back for further reading and discussion, but familiarity with the story will help them dig deeper when the time comes.

Without any more ado,  The Reading Lists:

The Giver
True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
The Iliad
Ender's Game
Fahrenheit 451
Lord of the Flies
The Odyssey
Romeo and Juliet
On My Honor
Murder on the Orient Express
Joyful Noise (poetry book)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Beowulf (this is actually a reread for him, but he likes it)

Black Ships Before Troy
The Fortune-Tellers
All-of-a-Kind Family
Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing
Tuck Everlasting
Little Women
The Secret Garden
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
James and the Giant Peach
Night of the Twisters
The Penderwicks
Caddie Woodlawn
Harriet the Spy
The Westing Game
My Dog May Be a Genius (poetry book)
The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
The Cricket in Times Square

Friday, July 12, 2013

Curriculum 2013-2014

I've updated the curriculum page for the 2013-2014 school year.  Feel free to check it out, ask questions, give feedback.  Thanks!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On 'Beauty'

As my kids get older, I find myself in that awkward parenting position where I have to explain things like interacting with the opposite sex, how to behave when you're interested in someone else, what behaviors are acceptable and what to expect from others in return.  And because people, particularly children, are typically first drawn to looks, I find myself also explaining an idea of beauty.

I have always had a poor self-image.  I don't think my parents did anything to cause this, but I don't remember them helping me develop a healthy self-image, either.  There was no discussion of eating disorders, being happy in my own skin, exercising for health vs. desired body shape, etc.  We never talked about how a young man should treat me, either (other than, once, 'if he treats you badly, here's how to disable his car').  And all these topics (car disabling included) are ones I really want to touch on with my kids so that, hopefully, they will have a more balanced image of both themselves and others.  I don't want them to evaluate themselves based on others' ideas; I want them to create their own idea of their own beauty based on positive notions, not the public image.  Will we discuss the public's idea of beauty?  Sure, because they're going to be exposed to it.  But I hope to show them how warped it is.

To that end, I need to find healthy images to show them as well.  They're out there.  The Internet can be an ugly place, sometimes, with images of gaunt girls and buff boys everywhere. (Look at the Google images for yoga!  How many realistic women do you see?  Even in a supposedly 'healthy' setting, the message is being sent that this thin, fat-free body type, this thin, hourglass shape, is the ideal, and nothing else is acceptable.)  But I want to tell my kids that no matter what shape they wind up being, or what shape other people are, people are interesting.  People matter.

One thing I want to share with my children is this video of Dustin Hoffman that's been making the rounds on Facebook this week.  The fact that he recognizes the struggle that women feel every single day, the expectation that somehow we're all supposed to magically be beautiful and that our internal beauty is less important than our external, is crucial to me, and I want that to be seen.  Something else I want to have on hand soon is this book.  I want them to see what women are, that our mere belief that we are beautiful makes us so.  I wish there was something similar for my son, because I think that more and more these days boys also feel the pressure to be the right shape, the right degree of fit, though obviously nowhere near as much as girls do.  For now, though, these links are a start.

Feel free to share this post.  Share with me other books, videos, and ways that you have helped your child create a beautiful self-image... and ways you have helped your children see the beauty in others.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


I hate when anxiety rears its ugly head.  It is, sadly, something that I see more often than I'd like around here, and I know that many of my friends and their children struggle with it as well.  We all muddle through by using our own tried-and-true techniques and trying to teach the kids different coping strategies as well, but it still isn't fun.

My own anxiety is in high gear this weekend.  I start the training for the (potential) teaching job on Monday - tomorrow - and true to my own self-deprecating form, I already feel foolish and out of place.  I told a friend today that the anxiety I'm experiencing right now reminds me overwhelmingly of first-day-of-school jitters.  When I was a teen, I would spend the week before school started on a high state of alert, one crisis away from bolting to the toilet.  I certainly wasn't able to eat.  I would have nightly nightmares.  I would spend hours each day worrying about whether I would be able to make it from class to class on time, whether I would remember my schedule, whether I would understand the material... a cacophony of worries would inundate my brain, and by the day before I would be in a state of panic that I have only reached once or twice since, and those were random occurrences.

So right now... I am not well.  I am trying to convince my brain that this isn't quite like middle school or high school, because my performance over the next two weeks really does not affect my future.  OK, it does, but not drastically, not in the way that failing middle or high school would have done.  Not that that was a likely possibility, anyway... oh, hell, anxiety is a nasty beast.

In addition to my own concerns, M2's anxiety is flaring as well.  I've seen it edging higher and higher over the last few weeks, I suspect fueled by the lack of a regular schedule, and it's reached an apex.  I had planned for her to go to a simple arts program a couple of hours each day this week; I was going to go find a coffee shop, park myself with a chai, and do my training while she was gone since M1 has his own day camp to attend this week.  However, when I mentioned it to her, she said, "Er... no."  Well, more specifically, she said, "Mom, I'd really not like to go."  At first I thought that her reluctance was due to 'normal' fears - she wouldn't know anyone, it was a new place, she might have to stand up and perform something solo - but no... no, she's become far too astute and aware of her own fears for that.  I spent quite a bit of time and many lungfuls of breath trying to talk her down out of these imaginary trees I had placed her in before I asked her why she didn't want to go.  Her answer?  "I don't want to leave you, Mom."

And that was that.  I had known before that her separation anxiety was probably the largest component of her troubles in school, but I'd forgotten.  So I'm now hoping that she'll do a simple kids' yoga program at the same center in early August.  I think it would be a good move for her, and M1 and I could do his individual school work while she was there, since hers doesn't take nearly as long to complete as his does these days.  I'm hopeful that a friend or two might attend along with her.  We shall see.

For now, I'm just trying to get us both through the next few days.  It's an agony I wouldn't wish on anyone.