Friday, April 26, 2013

Make Your Own Chocolate Kit: Need I Say More?

The girls and I had a wonderful time learning about, making, and eating (that's the best part) chocolate with this kit. Read more about it over at Curriculum Choice!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Testing, Testing

Last week, I threw into our mix a bit of standardized testing. My state's homeschooling laws require that standardized testing take place every three years beginning with third grade. Now that my daughters are older, I prefer to test annually, so they get a better taste of such requirements.

Different states have different testing requirements. In my state, I have only to choose a nationally-normed test, which allows me many options. For several years now, I've selected the CAT/5 Survey test. This is a short-form test, with six sections of 20 questions each, as opposed to the Full Battery.

Why the Survey test? Because it saves time and because it lessens the chances that the test will cover concepts we have yet to cover. I've found that the latter situation does nothing but ruffle my children's feathers and stress everyone out to a painful degree.

Why the CAT/5? Because homeschooling parents can administer the test at home. Another test option is the TerraNova, but I don't know anything about that one. I stick with what I know.

Then there's the ITBS and the Stanford Achievement Test. To administer the ITBS at home, a parent must hold a college degree and be accepted as a test administrator, which for me is one too many hoops to jump through. The Stanford also requires the degree as well as teacher certification and test-administration experience OR video training and pre-approval as a Stanford test administrator. Again, too many hoops.

Instead of giving the test at home, I could easily locate an ITBS testing center and drop off my daughters. For a few hours each day over three days. For a price, in terms of money, time, and stress. No, thank you.

There are several services that will mail you the testing materials and score the test for you. I've used both Family Learning Organization and Seton Testing Services with great satisfaction. Three others I've seen online are Thurber's Education Assessments, Crosspointe Educational Services, and Brewer Testing Services. But I don't have any experience with either of those.

As the girls move from middle grades to high school, I'll reassess my decisions on standardized testing depending on our needs. But right now, I'm happy with what we're doing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Giving Up on My Hair

If you know me IRL, then you know my hair. It is curly and it is red. According to one friend, she can always find me in the crowd at church, thanks to my hair. The color part gets help these days as I approach "a certain age," but I will not go gentle into that particular good night.

Several years ago, I wouldn't go gentle into the curly night, either. When Himself and I met, I used the round-brush technique to dry my hair. Every. Single. Day. Since I have a lot of hair, this took a considerable amount of time. As well as a toll on my hair. But I was committed to straight hair.

On a camping trip during this same period, I decided to let my hair dry by itself after I'd showered. A friend was amazed. "I didn't know you had curly hair!" she exclaimed. I guess I shocked her. Really, curly hair can be a bit startling, especially if you're not expecting it.

However, not long after Miss Priss was born, I gave up straightening my hair. Shocking, eh? I know, but I was busy with other things. I didn't have the time to mess with it.

But I didn't give up messing with it entirely. Over the years, I sometimes dried it with a blow dryer and then put it in hot rollers in an attempt to control my curls. Other times I wore it short. I've coated it with gels, pomades, de-frizzers, curling balms, pomades, etc.

The thing is, everyone in my family of origin has curly hair to varying degrees except my mama, whose hair is stick straight (and she has kept it permed for decades). And we've all messed with it. Curly hair is versatile, since you can wear it straight, wavy, or curly, depending on how much time and effort you feel like investing in your hairdo.

But I recently had a revelation. I came upon Lorraine Massey's book, Curly Girl, at a used bookstore, and I bought it. Massey has a interesting viewpoint: stop fighting your curls and just go with it. Oh, and ditch the shampoo. According to Massey, shampoo is awful for curly hair. There's a difference between cleaning one's scalp and cleaning one's hair; and curly hair requires a different method than straight hair due to its molecular structure and moisture needs.

So I've been trying it. I've shampooed once in two weeks so far, and I concentrated on my scalp only. It's taking my scalp a while to get used to no shampoo. But I can already see some benefits -- at least, enough for me to continue with the experiment. Here's a recent photo of me (well, mostly my hair). (Thanks to Tiny Girl for her photographic expertise):

In the interest of truth in journalism, I used a dryer with a diffuser to finish things off, a method of which Massey approves.

Before the experiment, I only washed my hair about twice a week anyway, and I may eventually return to that method. I'll have to wait and see.

What I won't return to, however, is fighting my curly hair into submission. As Popeye used to say (and probably still does), "I yam what I yam."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Finally, a Daily Schedule System That WORKS!


In our years of homeschooling, I've used a variety of scheduling methods. I've tended to stay with one for myself, but the girls' I've altered and changed in an attempt to find what works best. Here's what I have learned:

  • Weekly printouts with each week's assignments designated by day (which is the system I use for myself) tend to disappear during the week.
  • Daily printouts of each day's work disappear during the day -- at least with one my children they did.
  • With printouts, one child tended to check off assignments diligently, and the other needed reminding. Frequently. As in several times a day.
  • Whiteboard method, with each day's assignments listed to be check off as completed worked well, but the large whiteboard took up quite a bit of room in my small kitchen AND hid a lovely painting (a fact Miss Priss detested). Also, I had to write out each day's complete lessons and assignments each day. (Quelle surprise.) I thought I'd take the board down every day after lessons were completed, but I didn't. (Ditto.)

A few weeks ago, I came up with our new system and it is working well. I designed one template (which I have available on Scribd in both Word and PDF formats, so download at your pleasure), printed it out, and then secured it in an 81/2 x 11 frame. I included everyday lessons on the printout, so I only have to write in that day's reading assignments and activities directly on the frame's glass. I use a fine-point wet-erase marker (Vis-a-vis). The girls use the same marker to check off assignments as they complete them. A quick spritz and wipe, and it's all ready for the next day.

Here's a peek at the Scribd document:

You can alter it to best suit your family's needs. Or use it as a beginning point to create your own.

This system has been a wonderful solution for us. It only takes a few moments to jot down that day's readings and activities; there's no paper schedules for the girls to keep track of; and it's easy to alter if need be. Plus, I write down my errands in the Notes section, so the girls can see my agenda for the day.

And everyone can now see the lovely painting in the breakfast room.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why I Love Sunday Afternoons

The house is quiet. Everyone is gone. Since no one thought to leave Mama a note, I'm assuming the kids went with Himself to watch his afternoon hockey game while I was napping.

My Sunday afternoon siesta is a tradition that everyone understands except Himself. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who nap and those who don't. Nappers don't tend to look askance at non-nappers, but the reverse is not always true. Himself has known me for almost two decades, yet he still sometimes gapes at me when I announce it's time for my Sunday afternoon indulgence.

It is a day of rest, after all.

Lunch after church tends to be a simple affair: sandwiches, leftovers, fried chicken from the grocery deli. Sometimes we go out, but not often. After we change out of our church clothes, the girls call friends to play. Later, either Himself or I take Tiny Girl to the barn for a practice ride. I also read. I plan our upcoming week.

And I always, always, make time for a nap. A serious nap complete with eye mask, ear plugs, and comfy covers.I crawl into bed with a happy heart.

Today it's rainy, so no trip to the barn. As much as I love the ponies and watching Tiny ride and everything else, I'm glad to stay home today.

Sometimes it's just nice to be instead of do.

Photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller / / CC BY

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Lovely and Useful Tradition of Elevenses

The girls and I recently decided to add that delightful British custom of elevenses to our schedule most days. I say "most days" because one really can't support a break when one has only worked since 9:30 or 10.

A more traditional tea time doesn't work for us because our afternoons are busy with activities and Miss Priss's math lessons at the tutoring center. Even so, I find that a break around 11 AM is best for us. Elevenses allow us to refresh ourselves, refocus our efforts, and reframe our day, if need be.

Everyone is ready for a cup of tea and a snack by 11 o'clock. Our blood sugar needs a boost and our minds need a break. But what to nibble, you ask? Traditionally, it's something sweet: a slice of cake, a few cookies, a scone. I rarely have cake in the house and as for scones, well. . . . So we opt for cookies, but we keep a few varieities for elevenses only, such as Biscoff, McVitie's or Burton's rich tea biscuits, Jammie Dodgers (also from the UK but available at my Publix grocery), or a special cookie from Trader Joe's. If you'd like to do a little more, has a page of recipes for elevenses. The Squidgy Chocolate Muffins look tasty. And what a great name!

During elevenses, we go over our day's schedule and check everyone's progress thus far. If someone is straggling, this is a good time to point out what needs to be done and when. We also lay out a general plan for the rest of the day, including time to visit with friends or enjoy a favorite craft. Often, this spurs a straggler on to complete her work in a timely manner. If the day is nice, one or both of my girls may decide to take her remaining readings en plein air.

We may find that circumstances dictate a reframing of our day. A gift of beautiful weather means that Tiny Girl will want to spend more time at the barn. An unexpected invitation leads to an assignment being  postponed until evening. My work schedule may change. We talk about these things at elevenses.

As the girls grow and mature, they will begin to work more independently. A break for elevenses in those years will mean a chance to touch base with one another, to talk about our day's work, to discuss points of interest and points of concern. I look forward to that.

For now, the girls mainly look forward to a break and a snack. And that's wonderful. I can ponder the fine points of elevenses and what they mean to the flow of our days.

Photo credit: H is for Home / / CC BY-NC

Monday, April 8, 2013

New Sighting! Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

So I got all excited about this bird that was pecking at the trees near our feeders because I thought it was a pileated woodpecker. We hear them a lot but see them rarely. But Tiny Girl said, "It can't be, Mom. It's too small."

After we got a few brief glimpses through our binoculars (a birder's best friend -- well, those and a good field guide), it flew away and we flew to the computer.

Our friends at Bird Web provided the solution. On the pileated woodpecker page, there are several photo suggestions for birds that look like it. Tiny Girl pointed to one. "That's it!"

Yellow-bellied sapsucker
Sphyrapicus varius

We compared the yellow-bellied sapsucker with the red-naped sapsucker. The latter is not in our area of the country, so that gave us our answer.

Typically, Cornell's All About Birds site is my go-to online resource, but the only two similar species they suggested were the red-headed woodpecker and the American crow. (What?? I think I can tell the difference between a crow -- which we see all day, every day -- and a pileated woodpecker!)

But it's good to have a few tricks up one's sleeve, so I'm glad I found Bird Web.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 5, 2013

Weekly Happenings: Ready for a Break

It's been a productive week -- a good note to end on, since we're taking next week off for our spring break. The girls and the dogs and I are headed to the beach for several days, and, boy are we excited! Sadly, Himself will be occupied with work activities involving golf, both playing and watching (at The Masters, no less), so he can't accompany us.

In math and science this week, Tiny Girl worked on the area and circumference of circles, and Miss Priss tackled percents. They read and notebooked about mixtures and solutions. WE entered our last two days' worth of data for Project FeederWatch. And of course, a few species who'd been conspiculously absent those two counting days decided to show up later in the week!

 Hermit thrush

 Male yellow-rumped warbler

We read from Plutarch's PericlesThe Story of the GreeksAugustus Caesar's WorldArchimedes and the Door of ScienceTales from Ancient EgyptThe Story of David Livingstone; and Beautiful Girlhood. Miss Priss is reading The Golden Goblet, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and Tiny Girl is reading Outcast, by Rosemary Sutcliff. The both also read at least two Nancies. We also began the poetry of Alfred Noyes, and we all are enjoying his work.

Also on our schedule: adverbs from Daily Grammar; composition from Writing with Skill; inductive study of the Psalms, and piano practice.

We often see these little guys gleaning seed around the base of the feeders:


Here is this week's culinary disaster:

It was going to be a lemon cream cheese pound cake. I also made homemade raspberry sauce to go alongside. The cake batter was scrumptious; all signs pointed to a magnificent dessert for the dinner party Himself and I are attending this evening.

Five minutes into the baking time, I wondered about the burning smell. I flung open the oven door and wailed, "My cake!" The oven was furnace hot, and the thermometer inside read 500+ degrees. At first I thought maybe I'd put it on broil instead of bake, but no, all seemed as it should be. Except it was NOT as it should be.

So Himself is stopping by a local bakery on his drive home to pick up a raspberry white chocolate mousse cake. It's on hold for him. Thank heavens for local bakeries.

Monday, April 1, 2013

New Sighting! Eastern Phoebe

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

I've heard mention of Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) often over the years, but I've never seen one except for photographs. But just today, I caught sight of an unusual bird perched atop the feeder pole. For a second I thought, "Mockingbird?" But it was too small and its head was darker. I thought it might be a Phoebe.

It flew away before I could grab my trusty binoculars, which I keep on the kitchen counter for bird-spying. But I looked it up in my new compendium, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, almost 800 pages of photos and detailed descriptions, along with a CD of bird songs, featuring 150 different species. And I was right!

(I'm getting pretty good at this, actually. Ahem.)

She didn't partake of our feeder offerings, but I hope she comes back.