Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Earthquakes, Baby Ponies, and Hurricanes, Oh My...Starring Flat Stanley!

What a week!!

I thought that in the light of the extraordinary events which occurred this week at Blessing Farm that I should do some sort of Weekly Wrap Up. Unfortunately, lack of power and internet caused me to miss the offical link up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers, but here is my own crazy journal of what we did this week for your reading enjoyment anyway (feel free to gasp in amazement as you read...we did!).

Monday was strangely normal. The calm before the storm. We worked on our Alphabet Lapbook with Firefly, did some schoolwork on the computer (Mathletics, Reading Eggs, Big IQ Kids, Time4Learning), and when we were done Tex and I cleaned the garage while the kids played. Poor Boo wound up managing to get covered from head to toe in those tiny seed ticks. I must have plucked a good fifty or more off of him, which left him with itchy sores all week. I remember thinking that it was a slightly hectic day. Little did I know what Tuesday would bring...

Tuesday started out normal, with the little kids doing their nature study sitting at the dining room table and Tex unloading the dishwasher when...our chandelier started swaying back and forth. Of coure, Stanley had to jump right on it since it looked like a fun ride (thankfully he is light enough that it did not fall down, but I told the kids that they had better not try it!) while the rest of us gaped at the floors which were sort of rolling underneath us, and the walls that were shaking. It was sort of like you'd imagine it might be if you were sitting on an unbalanced washing machine. Weird.

Once it stopped, I asked Tex if he had any idea what just happened and he immediately guessed it was an earthquake. Of course, I, being the logical adult said, "We don't get earthquakes here." And of course, I was wrong. Wow! Thankfully, nobody seems to have been hurt and the damage in various locations around the state has been minimal. The authorities said it was a 5.8 on the Richter Scale, which I know to folks who live in other places is pretty small, but to us, who have never been through an earthquake, it was pretty exciting! I can now cross that one off of my list of things to do...Needless to say, that was the end of offical school for the day. You try to focus kids on math facts pages after experiencing their first earthquake. Not happening.

We did go to the library for Chess Club that evening, and the Three Amigos played DK History Explorer and read several books. I also read a few cute ones outloud to Firefly and Boo, then we checked out all of their Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. Those are great, in case you haven't read them (perfect for early readers and enough of a hoot that I don't mind hearing them over and over again.)

Wednesday started off fairly normally, too. Bubba came over to visit between clients (he is a farrier), and wanted to go to the barn to check on Merry. I told him that Tex had just fed the horses a bit ago and that she had been fine (no baby yet), but we went to check her out was here! Right there in the stall what had not been here just minutes before (about thirty of them) was now laying quietly on the straw next to her absolutely adorable, miraculous, and precious baby filly.

She is a Quarter Horse-Shetland Pony cross (don't was unplanned) and is all dark brown, no white markings at all. She's as tiny as can be and so sweet. We must have arrived just shortly after the big event. She had been cleaned up a bit by her mama, but was still wet. Tex ran for towels, so we could help dry her while we waited for Merry to deliver the placenta. Within the hour, the baby was standing and nursing just fine. We could hardly tear ourselves away to give them time to rest, but we finally did. As you can imagine, not much schoolwork got done that day either.

We have no name for her yet, so if you'd like to make suggestions...The sire is Mr. Dusty Gold Bars and the dam is Miss Merrybelle. Just leave a comment!

By Thursday we knew that Irene was heading our way and that she'd likely arrive here with lots of wind and water, so I went to WalMart and stocked up on hurricane essentials like water, batteries, bread, milk, Dr. Pepper, and chocolate. It was crazy hectic there, and the trip took me over three hours.

We were hoping at this point that we would not have to leave, but by that evening, the sheriff's office had called and strongly recommended that we evacuate. We are in a flood zone (the kind where if there is any sort of bad storm you know your property will flood to some extent...we did not know this when we bought the house as the purchase happened during the driest summer/autumn in recent history). We spent the evening picking up the outside toys and stowing away the lawn furniture. By the time we were finished ], it was raining buckets and we were soaked, but apparenty that was an unrelated storm...just a hint of what was to come.

Friday was a lesson in disaster preparedness. Hubby took the day off from work to get us all ready to leave, and we spent the day figuring out what we'd do if the house and property completely flooded, and trying to minimize the damage if it did. The house did flood during Isabel (which was touted as a "once a century event") and so we were doubly cautious about our plans isnce they were saying Irene could be worse than Isabel.

We loaded the horses, the new foal and her mom, and all our hay and feed on the trailer and moved them to the home of very helpful and generous new friends and neighbors whose property is higher and was not likely to flood. After living in their barn, which is like the Ritz-Carleton for horses, with automatic fly spray misters overhead, stall mats, an artificial brick (cushioned) center walkway, turn out paddocks for every stall, and air conditioning, they are not going to want to come back home.

My sister-in-law offered to take Firefly and Boo to her house to play, and our neighbors hosted Ladybug and Cowboy for a few hours in the evening so I could pack without interruption. What a relief! Thank you, all of you. I found myself worrying about the kids and wondering what trouble they were getting into (since they were so quiet), then realizing that they weren't even here!!

I spent my time shoving what clothes and special items I could into suitcases or the cars, moved books off of the bottom shelves, and prayed a lot. Hubby boarded up the windows with the help of our neighbor's kind and skilled brother-in-law, and Bubba came by and took Ladybug and Cowboy to my folks' house, where we'd decided to weather the storm (with a generator and plenty of flashlights!) and I followed around midnight in the Suburban, with Hubby pulling the horse trailer filled with the generator, the pets, and boxes containing all of our photo albums.


It started to rain while I was driving home the second time (poor Tex spent so much time running around for eveyone, doing this and that, that he forgot to load his own suitcase and chess set, so I had to go back and wound up moving more books and quilts to higher ground) around 2 am, though it wasn't bad at first. By the time we woke up in the morning, though, the winds were starting to rise, and the rain eventually let loose in torrents. You can see Firefly and Stanley in the picture, standing on the front porch during the worst of the rain. Flat Stanley was a little nervous about the water, but he was too interested in the storm to not go outside at all.

Saturday morning, Tex and I settled everyone in, played a game with the kids, they read books, and then they spent a few hours builing towns and zoos with Nanny and Poppy's blocks. Hubby kept calling us with updates about our house (he decided to go back there and hold down the fort...or hold on the roof, if necessary), and called us at one point to tell us that our favorite climbing tree (the one right by the house) had split in two and thankfully fallen away from the house.

Fortunately, I had the foresight to make spaghetti and salad at lunchtime for our biggest meal, and the power flickered and went off just as Tex and I were sitting down to eat and relax with HGTV (my choice...we don't have cable at our house and I wanted to see if the new Pioneer Woman Cooks show was on...I love her recipes!). Sigh. We read books instead. I just got Tex started on the Left Behind series, so I don't think the lack of TV was a problem.

We had fortunately just filled the tub with water for the toilets and the sink with water for the dishes, too. Unfortunately, I have told the kids so many times that water in a tub is dangerous for Boo and to let it out if they ever see any left in it, that Cowboy helpfully let all the water out of the tub shortly after that. Another sigh. We managed to collect rainwater in clean trashcans instead, though.

We spent the night in the front parts of the house, away from the trees of the woods in the back yard. It was kind of like a camping adventure, only a hundred times as noisy and without the bugs. The back end of the storm was the scariest, as the winds tore around the house furiously.

We really enjoyed listening to a local station who had switched their usual programming to storm coverage, and we are very grateful for this as it was our only way to know what was going on once the cable went out. It was kind of like the old days, with limited lighting, just the radio, and each other's company. I taught Tex to play solitaire and we had a nice talk, full of plenty of laughing, in spite of the storm and my pounding head (bad weather+exhaustion and stress=migraine for me).

I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of an thunderous crash and ran upstairs in a panic, afraid that a tree had fallen on the house and hurt someone. Fortunately, my investigation revealed peacefully sleeping children, so I shone my flashlight on the woods and cautiously peered out the window with Bubba to see if we could determine the source of the noise. We didn't see anything new on the ground, though...actually it was something missing that he first noticed. An enormous red oak, which has been leaning since Isabel, had finally given up the ghost and come tumbling down. Bubba and I had to run out to make sure that it had not fallen on a widow neighbor's house, but thankfully, it hadn't quite reached to the road, let alone her yard (they sure do look even taller when they are standing!). Running back to the house afterwards was a bit scary, and I cowered behind the huge a/c unit once when the wind started howling like crazy through the trees, so I wouldn't get hit by falling branches.

Flat Stanley went out with us Sunday morning to see what damage the storm had wrought, and he, along with the other kids, had to climb on the oh so cool tree. (see picture above) "It could be our fort," said Cowboy. "No, I am sorry, it can't be. Poppy will be cutting it down soon." "But why? I want to keep it here. It is cool!!" he replied. We found a few black pines that were uprooted and will sadly have to be destroyed (see a picture of the boys "trying" to hold it up), but a wonderful neighbor of Poppy's came over and offered to help with all of the tree removals in exchange for the wood. Works for me!

Nanny and Poppy arrived back from their extended trip to visit with and help family members in Iowa and Missouri. The kids were fantastically excited to see them, and tickled that they came bearing gifts! A bag of dinos (from a yard sale) and a pirate puzzle for Cowboy, Ginny dolls for the girls (from a flea market...but in great condition, and very sweet), and a computer game for Tex (Bejewelled 3). It was like they got a present for being so good during the tumultuous week, and they were very grateful. As for me, I was just glad to see my folks back safe and sound, to know that the Lord protected both our homes from falling trees, and that our house DID NOT flood after all. Yay!

Power was finally restored to many places (including Blessing Farm) by Wednesday (but not at Nanny and Poppy's hoo), so we went home (leaving our generator behind) and discovered this fun new review item (a Scruble Cube) waiting for us on the enclosed porch. Nifty! Tex arrived home that evening, after helping his Poppy work on clearing that tree for most of the day, and got a nice surprise. It was a neat way to end our little adventure. I will post a review later and let you know how Tex liked it.

We never did get much school work done, but I think we all learned a lot... The value of preparedness, the blessing of a giving and recieving a helping hand, and looking out for one another. Those lessons are much more important than anything out of a textbook.

Thank you so much to all who opened their homes (and barns) and offered their help to us during this crazy, amazing week.

Well, that's our weekly wrap up. Whew. I am glad that one is done!! I hope everyone else weathered the stom well.

Now to start praying that Katia will stay out to sea..



How to Have a H.E.A.R.T For Your Kids

How well do you really know your kids? What has God shown you about who they are and who they will become? He has sent these children into your home at this specific time for His glorious purposes. Indeed, you have been invited on the adventure of a lifetime, a journey on which you will see walls fall, seas parted, and giants slain. You don't need special skills or training for this journey—you need only to seek God and hold tight to His mighty hand! As with so many things, the first step to having a heart for your children is knowing your heavenly Father. As you seek daily to share His heart for your children, keep this inspirational book close at hand.
 (from the Apologia website)

I received How to Have a HEART for Your Kids by Rachael Carman to review last month and have been carrying it around in my purse ever since. It is a sturdy, hardcover book of compact enough proportions that it is not awkward to transport in my (albeit large) handbag. I am one of those people who always has to have something to read, wherever I go, or I might just feel like I am wasting precious time waiting in a line, an office, or in my car. Give me a book, however, and I will happily wait for an hour or more without a complaint. My ever-present book has saved my sanity on slow-doctor's-office-visit days more than once.

So, once I recieved this book in the mail, I decided it would be on this month's reading list (you can see my reading lists on my sidebar to the right) and I have been enjoying it in small, but inspiring, bits and pieces ever since. In case you are not familiar with the author's name, let me introduce you briefly. Mrs. Carman is a homeschooling mother of seven blessings and has been married to her husband, Davis, since 1986. The two of them purchased Apologia Ministries a while back (I will assume that if you have homeschooled at all, you are familiar with Apologia...they produce our favorite science texts EVER!), and have been expanding its selection of products, from solely science-related materials, to include encouraging and inspiring products for homeschooling parents as well.
One excellent product from their new Parenting Resources section is the How to Have a HEART book I have been reading lately. This straightforward, easy to read book is full of solid and much needed advice for those who are already homeschooling as well as those who are merely considering homeschooling. There are many books on homeschooling available these days (which is a nice change from when I started and the pickings were slim!). Sometimes, it seems like there are too many to choose from because they all have different viewpoints about what the most perfect way to homeschool is.

This book is not like that. Mrs. Carman focuses on what God has said about your relationship with Him, your relationship with your husband and your kids, and how what you do impacts your kids' relationship with Him. In this way, her advice applies to any style of homeschooling and will be helpful to any parent contemplating taking the home educating plunge, even those with very small children who don't necessarily have to choose a homeschooling style yet (maybe especially to those early home educators because the huge impact of this small book will have longer to make a difference!).

The book is divided into an Introduction, five chapters, and an Epilogue. Each of the chapters discusses a part of the H*E*A*R*T acrostic in deeper detail, and each chapter is followed by several instrospective questions for you to contemplate during your reading or prayer time. The questions are also excellent ones to consider discussing with your spouse.

Here is what each of the letters stand for:
H – Have a Heart for the Things of God
E – Enrich Your Marriage

A – Accept Your Kids
R – Release Them to God
T – Teach Them the Truth
Overall, I have to give the author kudos for writing a book that encourages such soul-searching about the true mission and reasons we each have for homeschooling our children. Above all, our focus should be God, not academics, and I know that I have often gotten distracted by the long lists of supposed "need-to-do's" for academic subjects and lost sight of the really important stuff like my kids' relationship with God, each other, us (as parents), and how they view themselves in light of what the Father feels about them (He LOVES them and has a PLAN for their lives). I believe that overall we have succeeded in guiding our children towards discovering what the Lord has in store for them (though it is early days yet for the younger ones), but even feeling as if we are somewhat on the right track, I know there is always room for improvement. The day I think I know it all is the day I stop learning and when we stop learning, well, what is there left for us (or for God to do through us, for He is the only one who truly knows it all)? This book has a lot you will learn from it.

Here is a question from the "R" section of the book (Release Your Children-Chapter 4) that helped me with my planning for Tex's school year: "Has God given you a vision for what He has planned for each of your children? How are you preparing them for the future God has planned for them?" It made me think hard about whether he (Tex) is getting enough Bible time, or have I placed too much emphasis on math or science? It also made me consider what strengths and gifts I see in Tex, and how I can help him learn to utilize those strengths, as well as learn to compensate for areas he needs more work in (don't we all need work in many areas!).

I'd like to share some of a passage that particularly affected my way of thinking about my children (not that I think I view them unappreciatively, but this paragraph really opened my heart to seeing the impact I have as a mother, and the enormous responsibility). It is from Chapter 3-Accept Your Children:

     "Could it be that you or I have given birth to an answer to prayer? That will make you think. What are you urgently praying for? Godly government leadership? A cure for cancer? Are you praying for a new generation of dedicated homeschool families? Missionaries to take the good news to the lost? Are you praying for the movie industry to portray more Christian themes? Fashions to become more modest? Advertisers to have more integrity? On a more personal note, is there a relative for whom you have prayed to recieve Christ as Lord and Savior? It's possible that the answers to some of those prayers are already here in the form of a child, a teenager, or a young adult. Are the answers to these prayers growing under your roof?" (pages 95-96)

Wow. Do you feel more important yet? I do. I am humbled by the responsibility that has been placed in my hands. It kind of makes the endless hunts for supplies, shoes, and cherished toys look a little different. How I act, what I do, what we choose to teach and focus on WILL influence my children's ability to live out the plan the Lord has laid out for them. I am going to pray for more wisdom and patience this week...big time!

This book is filled with choice tidbits like the one I shared above. I felt it was an easy and worthwhile fact, it is probably something that should be taken out once a year around planning time and set next to the bed so it can be perused, pondered, and the admonitions and ideas shared in it prayed over again and again.

The only thing I think I wish I could add to the book was a bit more personal sharing of how the author and her family handled specific experiences. I didn't realize until I was halfway through with the book why I felt a bit less involved than I sometimes do with a book (apart from the very thought-provoking questions and deep Biblical lessons , because I suddenly came across (in the book) exactly what I was looking for...the author sharing a detailed story, giving specific information about her own choices (in this case, she shared about her date nights at a favorite restaurant). My usual sort of homeschooling book is very chatty and shares actual events and writer-specific techniques, rather than generalized ideas. I especially enjoy the ones where home educators share about their school days and their "insider tips" (that's one reason I love blogging!). This book has less of that, and more generalized advice. It is more like an inspirational retreat for parents (specifically home educating ones) than a homeschooling how-to book. 

Now, as I said at the beginning, the fact that the book is this way is very useful because ANY style of homeschooler can read this book and glean something from it (though it is written to a Christian audience). I LOVE that. However, if you are seeking many specific stories about particular methods or tips for homeschooling, this is not likely to satisfy your craving. There are some stories that offer some more specific and detailed examples of what the author and her family chose to do (such as supplementing their Bible memorization by participating in Awana), but they are not the norm, since the author is (I think) desiring that you, your husband (or wife, depending on which you are!), and God have a talk (or listen, on your part) and decide what is right and best for YOUR family.

That said, I can definitely recommend this book wholeheartedly, especially if you (like me) need something that will help you focus on the truly important part of homeschooling...preparing our children's souls for eternity. What a responsiblity. What a challenge. What a blessing.

  • If you would like to learn more about this book, try reading the Introduction HERE. You can view the Table of Contents HERE.
  • Grab a cup of tea and settle in to read some more reviews about this book from other homeschoolers HERE.
  • You may order How to Have a HEART for Your Kids at Apologia's website HERE for just $13.00. It's a homeschool retreat in a book, so line up a babysitter, organize your planning gear, and head on over to your favorite quiet place for some frutitful (and necessary) time with the Lord.

Blessings to you and yours,


I hope this review blesses you. Reviewing this book blessed me. I received this book for free in return for an objective review of this book. This review contains my accurate opinion about my experiences with reading this book. If you have questions about anything I have said or refered to in this review, please feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's a Girl! and Other Amazing Miracles and Blessings

The past 24 hours have been exciting around here. Yesterday, just before two in the afternoon, the house started shaking. At first, we looked up at each other, and we were worried that one of our neighbors' houses had blown up (one of them had their garage blow up a year ago on the Fourth of July from a gas explosion and it rocked the entire street). We also entertained the tought perhaps the local military base had experienced a problem, and briefly worried about what might have gone wrong.

When the floor started to, well, sort of roll, and the walls were moving back and forth, and the chandeleir began to rock crazily, we realized it was an earthquake. An earthquake in our state? Are you kidding me? Unheard of, at least by us. But just a few excited moments after the shaking stopped (which essentially reminded us of being on an unbalanced washing machine), the phone started ringing, and Hubby reported that there had, indeed, been an earthquake (later labeled a 5.9 or so on the Richter Scale) whose epicenter was less than two hours drive from us. Wow! I know this will sound strange, but we wierd and unsocialized homeschoolers thought it was kind of exciting!!! Frankly, I was relieved it was an earthquake and not an explosion because if something had blown up near here, there's enough major stuff in our vacinity that the consequences would not have been good.

Tex later commented that since we can now lay claim to having been in three major hurricanes in Florida (Ivan, Katrina, Dennis), endured two Nor'easters here that converted our non-waterfront home into an island for a week each, had a tornado destroy a school just a few miles up the road from our house a few months ago, and spent the last several weeks sporadically coughing and choking on smoke from forest fires a few hours away, he wonders what natural disaster could be next? A tsunami? Never say so! I think I will pass on that one!

Though does look like we may be getting a visit from Irene over the weekend.'s a good thing we see these things as adventures instead of trials. In any case, by the end of the day, the kids had tired themselves out chattering excitedly about the day's unusual events, and we all agreed that God had truly blessed us all by protecting us.

Well, the next amazing thing to happen around here was and is, indeed, both amazing and miraculous. Tex went out to give the horses their hay around 10:30 a.m. and I asked him to leave the shetland pony, Merry, in her stall (she spends the night in the barn) until I could get out there with Ladybug to brush her and check her. She can be a bit tough to catch at times, so leaving her in would save us the trouble of being out of breath and grumpy when we brushed her.

Bubba showed up about fifteen minutes after that and said he wanted to go out to the barn with us, so I put on some shoes and we went out to the barn together. We (me, Ladybug, and Bubba) walked into the barn, and saw Merry looking through the bars of her red stall door and then I screamed. "Oh my goodness...It's here!! Go get everybody...quick!!!"

This is what it was...a beautiful, dark brown, sweet-as-can-be filly. Lying right there by the stall door, pretty as you please. Not twenty minutes (or so) before it had not yet been born, and there she was, just as real and alive and alert as her Mama...who, by the way, looked exhausted, and had yet to pass the placenta, so she still had some work to do. Poor thing. Yet she was gorgeous to us and handling things like she was a pro...which was good, because this is a first for me.

Bubba sent Tex to the house to grab some towels and he called the vet right away. The kids lined up along the side of the stall, standing on buckets to see what was going on. I had no clue what I was supposed to be doing, but I am used to being the one who knows what to do in any situation, so I went in the stall to see if I could help in any way. I cleared away as much of the wet straw as I could, and once the towels arrived, I helped dry off the wee one. Both she and her mother were very mellow, and they let me help with no fussing. Hubby drove off to the feed store to buy more straw (he's on swings this week, so he didn't miss awsome!), to make their bed a bit more comfy, as well as some Mare and Foal feed for Merry.

Bubba passed on the word from the vet that the placenta should be tied in a knot and it would pass on its own within three hours. I got to do that lovely job, but it wasn't too bad. The kids checked the placenta out (after all, we are homeschoolers) after I put it in a bucket for the vet to check when he comes out tomorrow. Eeeyeuew! But what a miracle.

Within fifteen minutes or so of our arrival, the baby was already struggling to stand. It took her a while, but she managed without too much trouble and began looking for Mama's milk. Merry was understandlably tired, and had been up and down to rest a few times. The vet suggested that if the foal was struggling to find her food source, we might hold Merry so the baby could nurse for the first time to get that important coelostrum, and eventually, she managed. Bubba and I took turns holding Merry, and gently bumped the baby toward the mare's udder a time or two, both trying to stay out of it and let them figure it out as God intended, yet our "new parent" nervousness made us want to help (after all, it is Bubba's naughty Quarter Horse stud gelded...who got Merry in the family way in the first place).

It amazes me how they go from complete helplessness to standing to cavorting around the stall in such a short time. Our little gal seems to have energy her poor mama lacks, and kicked up her heels a time or two. Her one main problem was not standing up, but trying to get down again. Poor thing wandered around for quite a while, trying to figure out how to lay down.

Mostly, we all just gazed at the new miracle God had given us unexpectedly as a blessing. We all loved her instantly, and are as proud of Merry doing such a great job delivering a healthy foal all on her own as if she was one of our own kids. We made sure we gave her fresh water, a bit of food, some hay, and got the worst of the poky straw out of her mane, then we gave her what she probably wanted most of all...peace and quiet and time to recover.

We all went inside for lunch, leaving Mama and baby getting to know each other, while baby ate a satisfying (and noisy!) meal and mom nibbled on hay. How exciting a day!! What miracles and blessings we have been given.

To top it off, on the way back to the house, we stopped by the tractor shed to drop something off in it and spied this bird's nest in a bag of stuff that had been put it there not too long ago. Tex told me he'd noticed it had eggs in it, so be cautious. I stepped up on a box to peer into it and said, "Nope, no eggs in there." "Wonder what happened?" he said. "The turned into baby birds," I said. And they had. Will miracles never cease...I hope not.



Stand Up! Praising God With Music

Recently, when I was given the opportunity to review a collection of Big Band Praise songs, I have to admit, I was intrigued. I am an old-fashioned girl at heart. This is reflected in the aprons I wear when cooking, by the milk glass and old needlework I collect, and the style of furniture in my "parlor" (as well as by the fact that I even call our front room a parlor!)

Big Band music is another one of my particular nostalgic favorite things, along with old movie classics and "real" dancing (like good old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers used to do). I have very fond memories of dancing with friends to Glenn Miller songs during college, and have several collections of Big Band music I listen to from time to time when my heart needs a lift, and my feet need some encouragement to get on the move.

If you are a fan of Big Band era music, too, and also love listening to hymns and praise music, then this is one cd you are going to want to go out and buy right away. It is awesome! The first day I received it, I stuck it in the player in my kitchen, and almost immediately, every one of my kids was in there asking me what the good  music was. Within moments, the Amigos were dancing and laughing, smiling at each other as they hummed along with the new take on the timeless hymns we all love so much. I think we played it three times that first day. Twice while we did our chores and school work, then once again at dinner time.

I do enjoy traditional hymns very much. Their messages are so full of Biblical truths and you probably know how much more easily most of us remember things when they are set to music. It can be both a blessing (like when your child memorizes scripture in the guise of a song) and a curse (like when that annoying commercial tune gets stuck in your head). Anyway, one of my favorite Christian radio programs was an all hymn show on Sunday mornings which featured classic hymns played by more contemporary bands, usually true to the tune of the song, but with a slightly updated take. I love the classic sound of many of the old hymns, but sometimes the energy level of the newer versions helps me to get out of a slump in a way a more traditional tune does not.

If you are ever in need of something that will help you scrub your floors with a more cheerful heart, or are simply seeking an innovative way to get your kids to want to learn the life-changing lyrics of some of the best classic Christian songs, then you are going to love this collection of instrumental hymns and some newer praise favorites played with Big Band flair and verve.

From the very beginning (Just a Closer Walk With Thee), you will find your toes tapping, your lips curving in a smile, and your heart more merry. Other tunes include: Fairest Lord Jesus,  Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, Hosanna, God Will Take Care of You, Stand Up, Stand Up for JesusIndescribable, and four others. Not a single one of them is a song I would skip. In fact, I am going to be checking to see if the Swing Low Praise Band offers any other titles, and if they do, I will be adding them to my Christmas wish list. Every one of my kids, from ages 20-2 LOVES this cd and regularly asks me to pop it in when we are making dinner or doing kitchen chores. I love the fact that as we are doing our work "as if for the Lord," we are praising Him in our hearts through our enjoyment of this music and our renewed positive attitudes.

Another of my favorite things about this cd it is that it gives me the pep I sometimes need to get moving, along with the message (of the Good News) my heart always craves, yet because the songs are instrumental, it is not so distracting that it cannot be on while the kids are doing schoolwork or I am doing something like typing up a post or visiting with a friend. Another BIG benefit is that these songs DO get stuck in your head, in a very good way! I noticed the other day that I do not mind when my mind plays the strains of one of these wonderful tunes over and over again the way I do when it is a song of nonsense, or offense (as you sometimes run across on television or in movies). All it is doing is focusing me back on the Lord, as my brain fills in the words I know go along with the catchy, toe-tapping tunes.

This one is a keeper, folks!! Plan to buy it for your loved ones this Christmas. I know my grandmothers will love it, so I guess if they read my blog they know what they can expect to be in the boxes from us under their Christmas trees this December (I hope you like it!!). I would highly recommend this cd to anyone. The only folks I think should pass on this excellent collection of tunes are those folks who do not approve of dancing. If that is you, don't order this one because it will tempt you too much. For my part, I am glad that I don't mind dancing when it is meant to be an expression of praise to God and a reflection of a joyful heart, because watching my little ones' faces light up when the first song begins to play, and seeing them turn happily in circles in the kitchen with their hands raised high, is a real heart-warmer for me.

You can pick up a copy of this cd from the publisher, Discovery House and if you click on the song titles, you will hear a portion of the music(though I think you are safe taking my word for it on this one!),.


I received a copy of this cd from Discovery House Publishers for the purposes of offering my honest review here on my blog. The opinions you read here are a reflection of our true experiences with this product. If you have any questions about what I have said here, please feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Organizing Our School

First, I will share with you our read-alouds for the week. We are studying ancient history this year, and though we have not started at precisely the beginning (we have covered the Creation story more than once, and the kids got interested in Egypt before we did a few of the early Bible stories, so we will fill those in later...they do know them already), we are ready to jump on into Egypt in earnest this week, after dipping our toes in last week using the Flat Stanley Worldwide Adventures book The Great Egyptian Pyramid Robbery. For Fun Friday, the kids built Lego pyramids, and Tex read them the book Pyramid by David McCaulay, so they are raring to learn more about them.

This week we will begin reading Boy of the Pyramids: A Mystery of Ancient Egypt by Ruth Fosdick Jones in the evenings. We will also read the picture books The Great Wonder: The Building of the Great Pyramid by Annabelle Howard and Zekmet the Stone Carver by Mary Stolz during school time. I have no idea where these stories fit in on a timeline as we have not broken ours out yet.

We have Mystery of History to use as our spine, but at this point, I am still trying to figure out how our schedule will work, so I am capitalizing on the children's interest in pyramids and choosing to ease in to our studies with these books, then we will go back and fill in the chronological gaps later.

I am going to be honest here. I planned to "start" our formal homeschool year at the beginning of this month (I like to be able to take time off in December whenever I want). When I finished up those graduate courses for re-certification at the very end of May, August looked like a long way away. I breathed a sigh of relief (and absolute exhaustion), and out of desperation for my sanity, I basically took a month off. We didn't sit at home in the month of June and do nothing all day. Our state homeschooling convention, my birthday, Bubba's birthday, and several outings with family and friends all happened in June. It was a busy time, but a blessed relief from academics and (gasp!) blogging.

I went shopping in July (at the Dollar Tree---a good place for bargain school supplies!) and snapped up some excellent school supplies (some cool calendar items, bulletin board stuff, etc.), and was all on fire for setting up a workable schedule and (a somewhat modified) workbox system. You can read an overview of the workbox system at Heart of Wisdom, if you don't know what I am referring to. You can find some workbox printables at Homeschool Share as well as some great printable labels at Homeschool Creations. I zoomed right through the initial planning, roughed out a workable Monday through Friday plan, and was eager to get things cracking by laminating my activity labels and posting the BIG PLAN on the wall. Hmmmmmph. Let me tell you, that schedule has sat on the top of my paper cabinet for a month now and it still looks scary to me. I just can't do it. I am having a hard time getting past the idea that I'd have to stick to it, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by get the idea. Really, that thought just scares the daylights out of me.

I am a very organized person at heart. Don't look inside my closet or my garage and you might actually believe that statement (though my disorganized looking spaces are organized in their own just won't see it). I have lists for my lists, and labels for my lists, and I keep pretty well on task each day by reveling in that satisfying line-crossing-out thing you get to do when you complete a task on your list.

I keep a calendar on the wall above my desk for family events, a three-month calendar next to it for review dates and appointments, dry erase board lists on the fridge for me and family members to refer to, and books with lists in my purse, not to mention the family journal I fill out nightly as a record of what we did and the sweet things the kids said that I don't want to forget.

Oh, and before I forget, I want to metion a new site I found out about called is a FREE site where you can guessed it...LISTS! Then you can access them from any computer and keep up with your stuff to do no matter where you are!! (I assume it is accessible from fancy phones like the ones I don't have). Sorry if that was random, but it is pretty nifty...if you like lists.

However, in spite of my love of list-making, the idea of having to say, "It's nine a.m. and that means that we are all dressed, teeth brushed, beds made, breakfast eaten, devotions read, and now it is time to do math for a half-hour, then history for an hour, then reading time for..." Well, eek! You get the idea. I just CAN'T seem to make myself do that. Can you? Do you? If you do, you impress me. Really. I mean it. I can make it to a doctor's appointment once in a while by nine thirty (I did so just last week), but EVERY DAY? Ugh.

Still, I felt that this was something I needed to do. Something that would bring us structure, guidance, accountability, a PLAN. Well, having thought about it in great depth, I am finally admitting that I am not there yet. Not this year, anyway. I want more structure, we need more structure, but an hour by hour accounting of our time day to day is not going to do anything but stress me out. Whew. I feel so much better having admitted that. You aren't mad at me for giving that schedule up before I even tried it, are you? You can do it if you like, but it is just not for me.

Things are too unpredictable around here still (with a tornado-boy, octopus-armed, mini-mayhem, sweetie-pie toddler running around causing rampant destruction minute by minute...) and I have too much to do to get where I need to be to be able to sit still at a table (or at least in one area of the house) for a few hours every morning (I need to tame that garage and turn it into a play room, as well as take care of that closet I mentioned, redo my front porch and my laundry room, not to mention help with fences and stalls in the barn still...and get rid of more stuff!!!!).

Still, I am not unaware that structure is a good thing for children, so I am coming up with a new plan. This plan has a modicum more structure than what we did last year (since the main focus of learning for Ladybug and Cowboy last year was learning to read, add, and subtract, there wasn't much to do but read, add, and subtract a we did art and nature studies), and the added structure will help the younger ones (and, I think the older one...Tex) be held more accountable for achieving a group of pre-set (by teacher) goals. Yet, it will offer me flexibility to change from day to day. For example, if I have a migraine, I can add more computer work to the day. If it is a nice day out, we can do several learning activities outside (like an art project, nature study, and reading), all in the morning, then work on the garage for the afternoon.

So here's the new plan. I have been toying with the idea of workboxes for months now, and I like the idea. But we do have a small house (just under 1500 square feet for eight of us, and some of that is an unheated/cooled semi-enclosed front porch), and space is at a premium. Plus, I can't see Boo ignoring the possiblities of opening all those drawers at this point, and I can't figure out where to put them so he can't get them.
So two weeks ago, when shopping at WalMart, I bought these "lap desk" containers and gave one to each child. I put a handwriting book in each of the Three Amigos' boxes, as well as their nature notebooks, spelling notebooks for the older Amigos, a box of crayons, some regular pencils, and a few worksheets or activity/coloring pages. Then in another box I put a blank book we are using to make an alphabet book for Firefly (just a file folder with about thirty pages stapled in it), added some crayons and colored pencils, scissors, and a few glue sticks. I also printed up some "A is for Ant" printables from Homeschool Share and Lapbooking Lessons, and added a book or two on ants from our Insect Books box. I didn't work on organizing Tex at this point. We don't have his laptop yet, so I set him to reading a few books for our first study on Egypt (his choices are pretty heavy and may take him a while), organizing his planner, and working his way up to Algebra (which he is studying this year) on his Khan Academy account.

Our trial week was a success. We had a blast. The kids enjoyed their lap desks. I liked the convenience of having all of the things I needed for the Alphabet book at hand before we even started, and as long as I walked between the computers and the tables different kids were working at, things went very smoothly.

Okay, so that shows you the flaw in the system. I had to be there, monitoring and adding to the mix constantly. That was okay for the first two weeks, since it was rainy, I had bad headaches all the second week, and I didn't want to do much else anyway, but for the third week, I was feeling okay, and wanted to get out to that monster garage and get to work! So what did I do for school that third week? Well, I wound up having the kids do the majority of their work on the computer (we use some Time4Learning for Ladybug and Cowboy, as well as Reading Eggs and Mathletics, plus Starfall/More Starfall for Firefly, Mark Kistler and Meet the Masters for art, with some Bibletown for fun, not to mention the link-ups and memes we occasionally participate in--see my left sidebar) for a few hours in the morning, reading a few books each day as they took turns using the computers, and then working outside every afternoon.

I feel pretty lousy about that week, schoolwise. Sure, we went to the library and read out loud a lot, and we accomplished a lot of cleaning, but I feel overused the computer and underused the kids' creativity. I am supposed to use those online classes as a supplement, not as the basis of what I am doing. Ugh.

This is the board used by House of the Rising Sons.
I love, love, love this idea.
Please check out the rest of her post.

Obviously, I need to find some middle ground, so I don't default to the computer when I can't be "fully engaged." That's where a schedule (that the kids can follow independently) comes in. Well, today I was persuing a few link ups (Link and Learn at No Time for Flashcards, in particular), and I found this interesting blog, House of the Rising Sons. I LOVE her idea to use similar box labels to the ones the original Sue Patrick Workbox System uses, but to put them on marker boards, instead of on the boxes. In this way, all their work is displayed on the one board and you can write any specifics to the side of each label. Then, instead of using mulitple boxes to store the assignments (ie. one box per label/subject), you keep each child's work in one box (such as our lap desks). Thus, their assignments are listed on a small board that they can easily handle, they can still see each assignment in order, then they have the satisfaction of marking it off as it is done.

It is an ideal system for list lovers like me (and Ladybug, who is a listmaker in training), and since you prepare it each evening, instead of once weekly, it is not prepared so far in advance that it can't easily be adjusted for issues that come up, or based on how I am feeling (or what I am doing) each day. I can choose to write out what we will do OVERALL on my own list, to help me organize our way through the Ancient History we hope to cover this year, but I can go day to day, exploring more or less as the kids show evidence of their own delights in the material. Yay! A solution I think I can live with. I am excited!!

So I have written out my first boards for Ladybug and Cowboy for tomorrow. I don't have labels printed yet, so I just drew pictures with the dry erase markers. I think it will go well. I pray it will go well. I remember how frustrated Bubba became early on in our homeschooling journey when he wouldn't know exactly what was going on every day (we did not have any sort of precisely written daily schedule at that point...just a knowledge that there was a LOT we needed to cover and catch up on, not to mention the co-ops, Boy Scouts, sports, church, etc.), so if he'd finish quickly, I'd give him something else to do, and so on and so on...and you can imagine how that made him feel. This way, the kids will see what is to be done, do it, and we will all have that relief of being done when it is done. Hooray!!

I will update later and let you know how it goes. Say a prayer for us! Thanks.


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