Friday, March 24, 2017

A Week, Briefly (In Which Lola Cries a Lot)

Sunday night.

On Monday the temperature crossed the 80 degree mark.

We got out the water table, and the littles had a fine afternoon.  I took zero pictures because I was inside writing a review.

We did get some pictures of Academy, though.  We worked on lesson 2 of Color My Conversation, a review product we're enjoying so much more than I thought we would.

Mister Man completed his first Snap Circuits original creation.  He made a propeller spin and a light bulb glow without following directions in the plan book.  He was quite proud, and so were his parents.  Sir Walter Scott says maybe he'll turn over all of the electrical work our house needs to Mister Man.

Ladybug and Lola were sick with high fevers, so I excused Ladybug from school, and Lola just rotated from Daddy's arms to my arms to big sisters' arms all day long.

Pixie had a job interview with Menchie's Frozen Yogurt.  Looks like she's hired starting some time next month!!!!

Otherwise we plowed through math and literature, geography and history, art appreciation and Spanish and tried to stay cool without turning on the A/C.

On Tuesday Lola cried all day.

Unless I was holding her.

And sometimes even then.

I did most of my usual work with her in my arms.

Her fever was dropping, so I knew she didn't need a trip to the doctor; she just felt yucky.  I tried to humor her as best I could, but sometimes I passed her off to a sister for fresh loves.

Ladybug was really sick, too.

No school for her.

The rest of us worked hard and happily.

In the afternoon Nature Angel and Little Princess did an ArtAchieve lesson.  I wasn't around to watch them as it was my errand running afternoon, but when I got home there were two awesome pictures that clearly demonstrate that the girls learned and applied the rule of thirds (what the lesson was about) in composing their projects.

Later, Nature Angel made her own original Snap Circuits project.  She also made a super-complicated one from the book.

Wish I had some pictures. 

It was library day.  I stood in a circle in the living room and simply turned, taking pictures as I went:

Pixie is driving more and more.  She won't have any problem getting her license next year.

Now, how do we get Rose Red to do the same?

Lola cried a lot.

Wednesday was an easygoing day.  The local schools are on spring break, so the girls friends are all free and want to hang out.  We did our usual morning work, but we skipped Symposium so that Pixie and Super Star could go to a party.

Lola and Ladybug are convalescing.

Little Princess finished Life of Fred: Kidneys.  She could not work the equations or do the large multiplication/division problems, but she watched and listened to me work them through, and now she can predict what I'm going to do next and help me along.  At one point she even took the pencil from me and did some of the work herself.

I guess I was writing too slowly for her. :)

Nature Angel finished reading and narrating Mathematicians Are People, Too.  She's not ready to write yet, so we're needing another math-ish book for her.  We don't have the second book in the series, so I guess I'd better go explore our bookshelves and/or check the library website.

Lola cried a lot.

Thursday hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was irritable and angry all day long.


Baymax had a dreadful fever all night long.  He was clingy, but not awful.  Just in need of loves and comfort.

A mass email went out from a local church leader about a service opportunity, and I told the older girls they could choose school or service for the morning.  Pixie, Super Star, and Belle chose service, so I drove them over and dropped them off to help a disabled member of our church congregation get packed and ready to move.  They only spent a couple of hours helping, but the woman they helped was reduced to tears when she thanked me for loaning my girls to her.  She was very, very thankful.

Then she gave Super Star a bike and me a carpet cleaner. 

Goodness, it's hard to help someone without being blessed in return!!

(Yes, she needed to get rid of them before moving, but it still blessed us tremendously!)

Ladybug refused to do school, but Little Princess asked me to do more and more until I had to cut her off and remind her there were others waiting for a turn.

Mister Man finished Life of Fred: Apples.  He's very proud and so excited to start Butterflies.

Brother and Ladybug are experiencing cyclical regression.  Our sweet 6 weeks through February and March are over, and now we're having monster tantrums, lying, toilet issues, and passive-aggressive behaviors again.


At least I know they'll end, and we'll swing back up in a month or so.

Now to just get through the rest of March and April.

I dropped the big girls off at dance (too many littles down with gross noses, fever, or nasty coughs to take the whole crew), came home to do dishes and deal with negative behaviors, and raced back to pick them up.

We ended the day with pizza and bedtime stories.

Lola cried a lot.

Friday dawned blue and pink and beautiful.  Eventually it rained, and we curled up inside with cool construction toys.   Otherwise we did our usual morning schoolwork--everybody except Rose Red who volunteered to cuddle Baymax while he had a terrible fever.

I took the older girls up to their book club meeting--To Kill a Mockingbird--but I couldn't stay because Sir Walter Scott was working, and I was in charge of the littles.

Lola cried a lot.  I've loved her, cuddled her, fed her, rocked her, helped her sleep, given her drinks, sung to her, bathed her, dressed her, wrapped her, and cared for her.

I don't know what's wrong.

But I hope she's better soon!!!

(linking here)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: Bessie's Pillow

What a surprise for me to open my mailbox and find a treat in it--Bessie's Pillow, published by Strong Learning, Inc.

I'm a fan of treats. :)

I decide to keep this one for myself--at least for a little while.

Upon reading the introduction, I'm glad.  Pogroms and their accompanying violence are mentioned.  There are no graphic descriptions, nothing offensive at all, but I am relieved not to have to explain the word "rape" to my 5- and 7-year olds just now.  

I'll savor this treat, and then I'll put it on my teens' book lists for individual reading and journaling.

Within a matter of minutes I am emotionally drawn into the story.  It is written in the first person, and the tone is both matter-of-fact and authentic.  I feel that I am reading Bessie's thoughts.  The author seems to have captured the voice of one for whom English is a second language--direct yet rich.

Photos found at Bessie's America

When she speaks of leaving home alone, I remember going away to college--only a phone call away from home--yet I was so homesick that I can remember it still more than 2 decades later.  The loneliness swells in my throat as I read of Bessie's far deeper loneliness.

When she recalls the horror of a pogrom, helplessly watching a neighbor woman being beaten, I am reminded of the same violence happening to my precious friend just 3 years ago.  I feel as sick reading of Bessie's terror as I did when I first saw my friend's hurts and hugged her until we both cried.

I wonder if my teens, who have far less experience to draw on for understanding, will relate to Bessie's story, and then I realize that they will relate in their own way.  They will be touched by her emotions in what capacity they can, and it will be powerful because Bessie's feelings are universal, and they are described so simply and straightforwardly that the teens will relate.

And the story is ultimately a love story.

My teen daughters will certainly appreciate that.

So will they appreciate Bessie's determination to find her own way and to define herself in strength and joy in spite of societal pressures to conform.

They are having to do that themselves, even today.

I read the whole book in a single sitting, compelled to turn page after page even as the night grows older and older.  My heart breaks for Bessie as she faces challenges as hard as any woman can face, and my heart rejoices as she heals and triumphs over them.

Though I am descended of English, Scotch, and Swedish stock that arrived in America a century or two before Bessie does, her story stirs in my heart a deep appreciation for my heritage--for the heritage of all Americans.  This country was made by people of great strength, and we of today have inherited that. 

We can stand strong and true to that heritage!

If only we will.

I am grateful for the opportunity to read and think about Bessie's Pillow.  I feel it is well-written, well-told, and a worthy study.

As the chapters are brief and rich with early 20th century history, Charlotte Mason educators will rejoice to add this to their list of living books for this era.

And for those who wish to turn their study of the book into a unit study there are free resources to help them do so.

At the end of the book there are 20 full pages of photos and additional information.

Online, there's a  teacher's guide.

There's a wealth of other resources at Bessie's America, too.

It is also entirely reasonable to simply open and enjoy the book as a stand alone experience. 

But I found that after reading Bessie's Pillow, I could not help but explore the resources because my interest in Bessie and other immigrants was so intense.

How grateful I am for the surprise I found in my mailbox!

For more reviews click here or on the banner below.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: Creating a Masterpiece

"Start copying what you love.  Copy copy copy copy.  At the end of the copy you will find yourself."
--Yohji Yamamoto

This seems to be the guiding principle behind the online art lessons available at Creating a Masterpiece.  We had the privilege of receiving access to these interesting and challenging projects via the monthly plan

Our relationship with Creating a Masterpiece changed over time, so I've chronicled our experience in journal format.

Week 1 

Lessons in Ink:  The Cardinal

Nature Angel--age 9

A few days ahead of our scheduled art day, we chose to do the ink drawing of the cardinal from the Beginner menu.  It was awesome to click through the supply information and find a suggested supply amount for 1-6 students.  I compared what we already owned to what we needed and made a painless order from Blick right from the Creating a Masterpiece website.

That was really convenient!

Pixie--age 15--with her non-dominant hand!  (She'd been injured a couple of days prior.)

I gathered my 6 students ages 7-16, and we got to work.

Rose Red--age 16

Immediately it was a struggle.  No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't see the sketches the instructor was making.  We turned out lights, closed blinds, passed the computer around, and began to think we'd have to give up, but I watched the movements the instructor's hand made, made my own drawing (as best as I could), and showed the students.

If you get right up close, you can just see an oval sketch on the paper.  It is impossible to see in a group setting.

It was time consuming, frustrating, and laborious.

Belle--age 13

Eventually we completed our sketches and moved into the inking.  This was far easier to see and understand.  We appreciated the breather we got.  The kids stopped complaining and asking to give up; they began to enjoy the process.

Super Star--age 14

But then we moved into the brushwork.  No matter how many times we watched, paused, rewound, and rewatched what the instructor did, we couldn't make our ink behave the same way hers did.  She gave some instruction (i.e. "use lots of water"), and we watched carefully, but there was some intangible quality that we couldn't capture.

We talked about practicing and how skills develop over time, and that gave some comfort to my frustrated students.

Little Princess-age 7

The project took us hours to complete.  It wasn't supposed to take that long, and I did ask the kids if they wanted to put it away and finish later when we felt fresher, but they refused, stating their fears that their "mistakes" would dry and not be fixable another day.  We soldiered on, and in the end we were just glad to walk away from it when it was finally done.

What could we do?  How could we fix this?

We decided that we'd watch the video for our next project all the way through the day before.  We'd use no art supplies; we'd just watch. That might give us a better sense of what we would need to do and give us time to listen to the instructor's advice before we even set our hand to work.

Note:  A couple of weeks later, Nature Angel opened up a lesson in soft pastels called Country Rooster.  In this lesson, the sketches were just as hard to see in The Cardinal, but the video was edited with darker marks to guide the students.

Before . . .

 . . . after.  Such an improvement!!!!

This was a significant improvement and made the process of drawing quite pleasant.

I hope The Cardinal video will eventually be edited this way, too.

Week 2

Lessons in Oil Pastel:  Winter Cabin

Little Princess

Nature Angel and Little Princess wanted me to print some coloring pages, but I hate doing that, so I asked if they wanted to create another masterpiece.

They responded eagerly in the affirmative.

I set them up with the computer, some paper, and some oil pastels, and they got to work.

Slightly dismayed at the start (which reaffirmed my desire to preview the next family project before starting) because they were surprised by the step of drawing on scratch paper and copying onto a final sheet, they recovered and found their groove quickly.

In short order, happy little girls bounced into the kitchen to report, "You have to press lightly so that the pastels won't be too bright," or "We're using the sides of our pastels so the colors flow better."

They were very happy with their new knowledge and emerging skills.

This was a nice change from their initial frustrations.

And I really preferred them to be creating art rather than coloring in yet another printed sheet.

They had to pause part way through their lesson for the family to have lunch, but they resumed their work seamlessly, and it wasn't long before they came proudly bearing their finished projects which are now hanging in place of honor on their bedroom wall.

Nature Angel

They spent perhaps just over an hour on their art.

That was the kind of lesson that I can support.


Lessons in Watercolor--African Sunset

Nature Angel did this one on her own.  She's loving these art videos more and more.  She fills her free time with them joyfully following directions and producing art projects that make her smile.

I appreciated that in this project the instructor encouraged the students to experiment with different ways of putting the paint on the paper and that the trees were made by blowing the paint into tree-ish patterns.  It was interesting and satisfied a creative/experimental urge in my creative girl.

I also appreciated how the instructor pointed out that sometimes accidents happen when we create art, but we should not be quick to give up or erase those accidents--that they add depth and fun and character to our art, so we should study the accidents to see if we actually want to keep and enjoy them.

That's an attitude I want to cultivate in my family.

Lessons in Charcoal--Sailing Adventure
I previewed this one, and found that there were no surprises for us in this lesson.  We had our charcoal, paper, and erasers, and we were ready to go.

I found that the instructor showed angles and explained when to use the point or the side of the charcoal, and she explained things like, "We're making it darker to make a stormy sky," or "We're making the waves like this to show the wind coming from this direction."  I appreciated that.

I struggled with the lack of explanation of principles of drawing: 
Why was the first line supposed to be thicker and darker than the second?
Why was the sail shaded in the center?
Why did the lines need to be curved the same way?
Why did the second sail's bottom line need to be angled?
Why do we always move our hands the same direction?

I did learn over the course of our review period that by copying, the children seemed to intuitively learn the technical principles that I (at first) wished were specifically taught. 

(**We never ended up doing this project as the older girls felt too overwhelmed to try another project, and the little girls had so much fun working independently.)

Weeks 3-6
Hardly a day went by that Nature Angel and Little Princess didn't ask, "Can I do Creating a Masterpiece?"

The Peaceful Lake by Little Princess
The Peaceful Lake by Nature Angel

I limited them to the soft pastels, oil pastels, watercolors, and charcoal that I'd purchased, but there seemed to be no end to what they could create.  They joyfully sat for hours and hours working their way through whole projects in a single sitting.

Nature Angel works on Baby Bluebird
When Nature Angel began using sidewalk chalk to recreate some projects she'd been taught on Creating a Masterpiece, and when Little Princess began sketching on random bits of paper she found around the house, I felt really grateful for the inspiration and skills my girls gained from the lessons they completed.

And Baby Bluebird on the sidewalk!

We've had a positive experience with Creating a Masterpiece overall.  Though, other than our first (and only) group lesson, we did not use the lessons as intended (i.e. one lesson at a time, taking several days or weeks to finish a single project) I feel that my little girls have had joyfully creative art experiences, and I feel that they were inspired to be more artistic in other parts of their lives.

For more thoughts on Creating a Masterpiece click here or on the banner below:

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Week, Briefly (In Which We Slog through the End of Winter)

Winter came back. We just froze for most of the week, and some of us caught colds. Mostly we're in that late winter mode of slogging through to the end. We'd avoided it before because of the early spring that enlivened February.

And I look forward to more light and life in our days.

It's hard to write about separate days-- they kind of all blur together right now.

Every day we have preschool stories (The 12 Dancing Princesses), chores, and Morning Meeting. We're reading about Christ's final days, and the kids were so very quiet as they listened to and pondered the story of Gethsemane. The spirit witnessed of the truth and power of the atonement.

Every day we break for individual school work. Ladybug had one bad day when she refused to do school, and Little Princess had a breakdown one morning, but otherwise everyone is learning and working well.

One lesson, one story, one page, one chapter, one sentence at a time, we're headed to the ends of our books.

Pixie said, "I only have 1 grammar unit left, so I'll be done with that next week.  I have 21 math lessons, and about 3 weeks worth of science.  Then I'll be done!  I can concentrate on English after that, and I am going to finish my school!!!!"

That slow inching along is rather worthwhile.

Of note this week is the fact that Wednesday was a grayish-cold sort of day, the older girls had an ice skating party, and many of the littles weren't feeling well.  

It could have been a recipe for disaster.

But I had a bin full of new-to-us building toys, and I pulled them out.

The kids played peacefully for 3 hours.

3 HOURS!!!!

That is truly a miracle as we've not had that kind of peace since the "new" kids were placed with us (Sudden realization:  our adoption anniversary is later this month!).

I am thanking Heavenly Father for the tiny, tiny, tiny incremental changes that have been taking place in our family and home to make that possible.


Also of note is the fact that Rose Red was not accepted into the Girls on Ice program.  She'd be disappointed except for the fact that one of her friends has invited her to go to Florida to a surfing camp that very week. 

Sir Walter Scott and I have said yes to her going so long as she does her schoolwork and chores with a cooperative attitude.

She was invited to prom by such a darling boy in such a darling way (he did it with a hockey puck puzzle at the skating rink on Wednesday), but Rose Red will be in California on another outing that very weekend. 

Hooray for the outing!  Bummer that she can't go with the cute boy to prom. :(

Otherwise we've been living and learning, and there's only so much description I am willing to write about grammar worksheets, math problems, and history timelines.

Spring seems to be on the return, so perhaps we'll start living in the out-of-doors again.

In the meantime, I have a couple of hundred miles (not an exaggeration) of driving this weekend getting kids to various parties, church functions, work, and dances.

(linking here)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

LDSHHE Conference 2017

When we found out that Natalie Madsen and Stacey Harkey from Studio C would be making an appearance at the LDSHHE conference this year, my kids were utterly, completely, and totally committed to attending. :)

Later, we found out Stacey wouldn't be able to make it, but the kids' sorrow turned to joy when Matt Meese stepped in to take his place.

At first we were going to take the whole family on the trip to Omaha, Nebraska for the conference.  We thought it would be a good mini-family vacation to test the younger kids' abilities to handle the stresses and changes of a trip away from home and to hone our skills in preparing for and preventing as many crises as possible for the planned trip out to Southern California this summer for a family wedding.

Rose Red was in the bathroom finishing her make up.  The rest of us got bored waiting, so we took this picture in the hotel lobby.

But then we did some budgeting and realized we had a still-unhousetrained puppy to deal with, and we backed out.

The teens were livid.

Sir Walter Scott and I talked and prayed and thought and talked and so forth and so on.

One day he tentatively looked at me and said, "You could take the teens and I could stay with the littles . . . "

My eyes bugged out; I'd had the same thought at the exact same moment.

"But [Baymax] is still nursing and you'd have Theo to deal with and you'd have no big kid helpers and . . . " I answered, my voice trailing off.

We talked some more and decided to go for it.

And that's how I found myself leaving 8 children 9-and-under and a puppy with their (wonderful) daddy while I drove hundreds of miles away with my 4 teenage daughters and their accompanying luggage.

In the car on the drive

Before we left the teens and I had a sit-down talk. 

For some reason, my family elicits the comment, "You guys are the most normal homeschoolers I've ever met."

People who say it think it is a compliment, but my blood boils every time I hear it.  I have literally had to bite my tongue to keep from giving lectures about such a wretched indictment against homeschoolers and such a foolish judgment about us.

It has also had the effect of making my teens self-concious about being homeschooled.

"You can post that one of me.  That's one I like," said Rose Red.

Rose Red said, "I hope maybe there will be one public-school hottie there because you know there won't be any homeschool hotties."

That's what our sit-down talk was about.

I asked the teens to imagine meeting their favorite home schooled friends, not 10 years ago when they were all too little to care what their friends looked like or wore, but today.  How would they judge their friends now?  How would their friends judge them?  Then I asked them to keep their minds open to finding out what these new kids at the conference are really like on the inside instead of dismissing them as unlikable because they wear the wrong jeans or the wrong hairstyle.

"Because you don't like being judged on your appearance and being found wanting, do you?"

They reluctantly agreed, and we set off.

Waiting for the conference to start.

The conference was small--maybe 65 families.  But that made for a good 50-60 kids at all of the teen activities.

There were only 15 vendors.

The speakers were either amazingly good or mind-bogglingly poor.  One woman (of national renown) gave a seminar on the importance of motherhood, but she managed to blame everything that is wrong with kids today on poor parenting--even increasing autism and ADHD statistics.

She also said that co-sleeping was bad parenting and would lead to all kinds of evils.

I was just numb.  I couldn't even stand up to walk out of the room.

My sister and her teens were at the conference, too, so she let me vent afterward.

She's much calmer than I am in general--more willing to look at the big picture and let go of the details.

The next presenter read every word of her lecture.

Read it.

No discussion, no talking, no interaction with the audience.

Just face down on her paper and reading.

My brain wanted to fall out of my head and crawl out the door.

Why on earth would a person trying to inspire homeschoolers to be better teachers be such a truly terrible teacher?

I was boggled.

Then we (my sister and I) attended a couple of awesome seminars on dealing with crises and on embracing change.


Before that I'd been ready to give up.

The teens had a grand time with Natalie Madsen leading them in writing and performing comedy skits, and then they had a boring teacher or two.   Then they had a really good one about motivation.

Thank goodness the motivational speaker was motivational!

One speaker spent 48 1/2 minutes of the 50 he had allotted to him to badmouth his publishing company and people who buy used books on Amazon.

I spent that hour researching curricula online (free hotel wi-fi) for next year and texting pictures to my kids (most of which are so bad I deleted them).

Quite simply, they are beautiful . . . and I am clearly one tired momma.

The evening entertainment was a talent show that included all of the skits the teens had produced in the morning and various numbers by teens across the midwest.  It also drew a much larger crowd of locals than had been at the conference during the day.  There were at least a couple hundred people there.

Pixie and Belle were hits!   I know they're my kids, but I really think they're such cute dancers, and the crowd came to life clapping and whooping and hollering as they danced.

Super Star muttered, "Stupid foot surgery--I could have been up there, too!"  She was good natured and helpful, though, by providing music behind the scenes.  I am grateful for her humble service, and so are Pixie and Belle.

After the talent show we were treated to a live concert by Jeneve Rose Mitchell.

Let me just say that girl can sing!

And play!

The concert was fun from beginning to end.

The next day Matt joined Natalie in various Q&A and meet-and-greet sessions.  We took tons of pics and texted tons of them home.  We also got them to sign our conference programs and took them home for Nature Angel and Little Princess who were just dying inside thinking how cool it was for us to meet some of their heroes.

They are gracious people who sacrificed to share themselves with us.

On the second day I knew which presenters to seek and which ones to avoid.

Made for a better day.

Rose Red's photos:  She says it was so fun to see them interact and just be friends once they warmed up and got talking.

The teens had a ton more free time to play games and do team-building games, and by the end of the day, they were loath to leave their new friends.

Pixie said, "I did what you told me, Mom.  I didn't judge until I spent time with them, and everyone was so fun!"

I'm kind of wondering if they were less-judgmental than I was!

My favorite moment of the whole concert was too near the end, but at least it happened.  Jeneve is only 17 years old.  She was at the conference to perform, speak, and drum up support for her next CD.  Before the concert she was a stranger in western costume.  After the concert she was an idol.  But the whole time she was still a 17-year old girl who was lonely away from home and working.

A few hours before the end of the conference (I was sitting out because I was avoiding more publishing diatribes) I saw her pacing the floor outside the teen room.  She'd peek in and turn and pace.  Peek in and turn and pace.  Peek in and turn and pace.

It took me at least 15 minutes, but I finally understood.

"You're welcome to go in.  You're the same age as my daughter.  I know the kids would welcome you," I said.

"You think?" she asked shyly.

 "Absolutely.  Just go on in and join the games.  I know the kids would love to hang out with you."

She ducked her head and blushed.  She looked sideways at me, "You sure?"

"Absolutely!  Go on in," I smiled.

"Thank you, ma'am.  I will.  Thank you."

My heart just melted.

Two minutes later Pixie came out to use the bathroom.  I caught her attention, "Go find Jeneve and sit by her.  She wants to join the teens, but she's too shy."

Pixie promised to see what she could do.

Later she reported that as she returned to the activity, she caught Jeneve at the back of the room, just losing courage and getting ready to flee.  "Come on in and sit with me," she offered.  Jeneve took her up on her offer and within the hour was surrounded by kids welcoming her to their games and snacks.

When it was Jeneve's turn to lead a Q&A session, she knew enough kids that it was more of a give and take teasing and laughing session among friends than anything else.

(I know because I peeked in and watched for a while.)

The kids got a kick out of purchasing and drinking butterbeer.

Overall, I had confirmed that I have no goals for my kids other than that they learn how to learn and find their true happiness.  I don't care which college they attend, or even if they attend college.  The schools that promised this education plan or that one all left me hollow and annoyed with their sense of superiority and promises to change our lives.

So did the presenters who claimed to have the only true way to teach.

Brain surgeon or garbage collector, as long as my kids work and serve in meaningful ways, I'll be happy.

I missed home the whole time I was away.  Sir Walter Scott was an amazing single parent for the weekend, and the kids just love him more for the time he spent with them.  I never worried--I just had it confirmed to me that my place is at home.

This is my season for domesticity, and I'm grateful for it.