Thursday, December 20, 2012

Four Christmas Countdown Ideas

I love the idea of a Christmas countdown or Advent calendar, but the crafter in me just can't be happy with store bought options. So, here's what I've come up for over the last few years.

2009 was the first year I though to do a countdown calendar. I know I was late in the game on this one. My oldest child had 12 Christmases before I caught on. Poor kid. Anyway, I went simple that year (it was a kind of last minute thing) and used my digi scrapping skills to make an 8x8 inch December calendar. The kids put a gold star on each date each morning.

As simple as it was, it was a hit. The kids had a visual of "how many more days 'til Christmas" and the simple act of putting on a star seemed special. I knew Christmas countdowns had become a family tradition.

In 2010 we bought a home with vaulted ceilings, and suddenly I was dealing with more wall space than I knew what to do with. There was no way an 8x8 inch calendar was going to cut it. So instead I put my software and DSP digital scrapbooking kits to use again, and made a large wall calendar. Each date is a little 4x4 square individually hung on the way. As each day passed a kid would hang a little hand made ornament over the date. That was especially fun as they got to do lots of Christmas crafting to make all the little ornaments. Sadly, I never did get a photo of the calendar on the wall hung over with cutely pathetic little ornaments made by 8, 6, and 4 year olds.

Last year I got the idea to give the kids a little present each day. I went searching online and came up with a number of different patterns or instructions for paper gift boxes. I found a few, bought a pad of Christmas scrapbooking paper, and got busy. Then I filled each box with candy and stacked them prettily on a cake pedestal.

Each day of December one child picked one box and shared it's contents with their siblings. It was a great success, and most of the boxes held up so well we'll be using them for a while to come. Here are the links to the box instructions and templates that I found worked best.
Origami box (vary the sizes by starting with different sized squares)
Cube box (I made both the small and larger size)
Pyramid box (these are especially cute)
Mini Gift bag (these make super cute gift bags for American Girl dolls too)
Mini Take-Out boxes (these are my favorites)

When we pulled out the Christmas decorations the last week of November, I still didn't know what I wanted to do for this year. But as we rummaged through all of the stuff, and thought of some of the ideas I had seen on Pinterest (specifically this one that no one seems able to find the original source for), I got an idea. I combined the gift boxes from last year with the large calendar squares from 2010. This was the result:

I filled the boxes candy as before, but this year I tied them with colored raffia and hung one over each date. Each day a kid gets to take one day, open it, and share the candy with their siblings. And up there, on day 25, is a special gift bag. No candy in that one. Shhh, don't tell the kids. There is gift cards in that one.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

School Room Week

Not Back to School Blog Hop
It's week 2 of the NOT Back to School Blog Hop, and this week I get to share with y'all my school room. I'm so excited about it!

We don't have a "school room" really, but rather much of our school takes place in our family room. This room is the largest in our house, and serves as our family room, dining room, play room, library, school room, and probably a dozen other functions as well. It is open to both our living room and kitchen, and you have to go through this room to get to our backyard. In addition to all these other things going on in there, it is the room we entertain in when we entertain. Obviously, it's a busy place.

Here's what is used to look like. (As usual, click on any image to see it full sized.)
Here's what it looks like now, from the same angle.
 Sooooo, much nicer. SO MUCH! I took this on Saturday afternoon, with Lego's all over the place and other little messes, but it still looks so much nicer than it used to even when it was as clean as it could possibly get.

I have dreamed of built in cabinets and shelves since long before we even bought this house. In fact, when we looked at this house before we bought it we discussed that 17 foot long wall would be perfect for my built-ins.

My husband and I planned what we wanted, and we took that plan to Lowe's and ordered kitchen cabinets. It took five weeks for the cabinets to come in, but in the mean time hubby painted the wall (he chose the color too, but I love it). Then he installed the cabinets, making the wooden "counter top" and shelves himself. It took me longer to go through everything and fill up the cabinets than it took him to install them!

The result? Beauty and organization. ALL of my homeschool stuff, plus craft supplies, plus my vacuum, plus all of our board games and puzzles, plus all the books we own, plus more fits in those cabinets with room to spare. I am in love. I love it so much that here are some more photos from different angles just because.
All four Sonlight Cores we're doing this year are out on the shelves, but neat and attractive, along with some nicknacks and books from my childhood. Those wires are hook ups for our surround sound, whenever we get a new one, since the the very old one went boom the moment we turned it on last week. Notice the comfy chair in the corner there. By the way, that's a school book she's reading, yes on a Saturday afternoon while the boys play with Legos. Sonlight. It's that good.
This is what it looks like when we're doing school in there. Here we are doing art, recreating Van Gogh's Sunflowers using oil pastels. It's one of the lessons in Confessions of a Homeschooler's World's Greatest Artist curriculum (which is amazingly free!).

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Curriculum Week - Long Answer

Not Back to School Blog Hop
I did a short and sweet post that hits the big things we are using for homeschool this year, but I really am a long answer kind of person (just ask my husband, he'll tell you all about my long answers Skype Emoticons). Anyway, I just couldn't let it go with such a short post that only mentions a handful of the numerous things we are using this year. So, here is the full list of curriculum for each of my kids.

10th grader - Auditory/tactile learner with strong Math and Science tendencies and more average in English and History. He wants to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a degree in Aerospace Engineering, and he has recently started thinking about a dual major with Mechanical Engineering too (he learned that it is the Mechanical Engineers that build jet engines).
  • Bible - reading the Bible and the books: The Bible Jesus Read, The Case for Christ, and Pilgrim's Progress (the original). If we have time he'll get to Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. 
  • Math - Life of Fred: Geometry.
  • Science - Apologia Physics. 
  • English - Sonlight Core 100. The Literature in Core 100 is all of his literature (23 titles including such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Call of the Wild), and the Creative Expression in Core 100 forms the majority of his writing for the year, although I am the type of person to throw in my own ideas for writing on occasion too. For example, this week we are finishing a 3 week writing unit on the idea of the Monomyth (aka the Hero's Journey tale) using a short story retelling of the Theseus and the Minotaur myth by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the movie Star Wars: episode IV (the first Star Wars), and finally another movie, tale, or book of my son's choice (it looks like he'll be using The Hobbit for the final essay). Anyway, this idea came from a Currclick product.
  • History and Geography - Sonlight Core 100. We are using all of Core 100's History, but I am also adding in Hewitt's tests for Hakim, am scheduling all the History of US Book 11 source documents, and am scheduling in the book What Hath God Wrought by Dr. William Grady for some Baptist perspective on USA history.
  • Spanish - Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish, plus talking with native speakers (aka approximately 50% of everyone that shares this county with us, so it's not hard to find native speakers)
  • Fine Arts - Listening to and Understanding Great Music from the Teaching Company.

8th grader  - Good all around learner, although with visual strengths. Loves to read and is a good writer. She has no definite future plans as of yet, but she's thinking maybe nursing school.
  • Bible - reading the Bible and right now she's reading The Bible Makes Us Baptist by Mary E. Bamford. I don't know what else I'm going to have her do this after this. Yeah, I need to get going on to that.
  • Math - Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra I with Biology along with Singapore's Challenging Word Problems 6.
  • Science - Apologia Physical Science.
  • English - Help for High School will make up the first semester of her writing, maybe a bit longer than that, and then she'll pick up the Sonlight Core H writing. She's also doing Winston Grammar Basic and will follow with Advanced. She will do All About Spelling book 7 sometime this year as well.
  • History and Geography and Literature - Sonlight Core H with Mystery of History III. Since Mystery of History IV still won't be published for another year or more, she'll use Story of the World IV to finish off Core H.
  •  Art - This girl is resistant to art, so I'll be bringing her into what the younger ones are doing. It might be "young" for her, but she needs things that won't cause her to be frustrated or upset by the process.

4th grader - Dyslexic, strongly visual learner. He is 4th grade by age, but working on a 3rd grade level pretty much across the board.
  • Bible - Egermeier's Story Bible with memory verses from his Sunday School class (I'm his Sunday School teacher too). Here soon our Wednesday evening Bible class will be starting to use a Patch the Pirate curriculum that will have assignments to be completed at home as well.
  • Math - Miquon Purple. He is nearing the end of the last Miquon book, so he'll be starting Singapore Primary Mathematics 3A in the next month or so.
  • Science - Apologia Astronomy with A Journey Through Learning's lapbook to go with it.
  • English - The Sonlight Grade 3 Readers, Handwriting Without Tears 3 (he's learning cursive), and All About Spelling book 3. For writing he is doing a mix of Language Lessons for the Elementary Child volume 1, Brave Writer's newest book Jot It Down, and things I make up myself. (For example, this week he had the idea to write letters to two sisters whose graduation ceremony we are attending this weekend. Our family is close with these girls, so he felt he had something important to say to them and I thought it was a great idea for this week's writing.)
  • History and Geography and Literature - Sonlight Core C. Oddly enough (for me), I'm doing Core C pretty much as written, well except for Bible as I am reading Core A's Bible with Core C. 
  • Art - I'm really trying to get to Art more this year (as opposed to the not at all last year). I've gotten set with Artistic Pursuits K-3 book 1, lots of Pinterest ideas, and I bought a beautiful art project idea book at the convention last month, called Amazing Art Projects for Children. I'm also going to work through Confessions of a Homeschooler's World's Greatest Artists units.
2nd grader - Also dyslexic and behind in reading, but ahead in all other areas. He is a visual learner, but does well with auditory learning too.
  • Bible - He'll be doing everything that his 4th grade brother does, only he finds memorizing easier even though he is two years younger.
  • Math - He is quite the little mathematical thinker. He is less than a week away from finishing Miquon Green, and will move into Miquon Yellow. That equates to him being a full year ahead in Math.
  • Science - see what the 4th grader is doing above.
  • English - All About Reading level 1. At the rate he is working, it may be January before he finishes this level even though he started it in March or so. He often takes him 2 to 3 days to make it through a single lesson. He is making improvement, but reading does not come easy for him. Anyway, he is also doing Handwriting Without Tears 2, Language Lessons for Little Ones volume 2, and Brave Writer's Jot It Down. 
  • History and Geography and Literature- Sonlight's Core C. He is especially loving the mapwork with the Geography Songs workbook and CD.
  • Art - see above.

Kindergartner - I'm still not sure yet if this one favors visual or auditory learning, but she is surely kinetic. This girl moves all the time. She also has the attention span of a gnat.
  • Bible - Sonlight's Core P4/5 Bible, the Family-Time Bible, along with memory verses from her Sunday School class and the Patch the Pirate workbook when that starts later this month.
  • Math - Singapore's Earlybird Math.
  • Science - Sonlight's Core P4/5 includes Science, but she is listening in on the Apologia Astronomy book too.
  • English - All About Reading level pre-1, with Handwriting Without Tears K. 
  • Social Studies and Literature - Sonlight's Core P4/5. My 8th grader is actually reading this aloud to her sister. It's our compromise for me to keep reading aloud to my 8th grader, but I think it's good for them both too.
  • Art - She joins everyone else for arts and crafts and has for years now. She loves to do it, but speeds through it (see comment about her attention span above).

Monday, August 6, 2012

Curriculum Week - Short Answer

Not Back to School Blog Hop
It's that time of year again. It's the NOT Back to School Blog Hop. I have so much fun with this every August, posting what I'm doing and reading what everyone else is up to. What a great way to get motivated to ramp up our homeschool year!

I'm officially homeschooling 5 kids this year, grades 10, 8, 4, 2, and Kinder. Considering each kid is using an average of 10 or so different curriculum items... Well, do you all really want to see the whole list of 50+ items? Yeah, I thought not.

So, here's the short answer. We are Sonlighters.
Sonlight Curriculum

This fall will be 10 years since we started using Sonlight curriculum, and while everything we use doesn't come from the Sonlight catalog, it does form the core of our homeschool. This year my 10th grader is using Core 100, my 8th grader is using Core H, my 4th and 2nd graders are using Core C, and my K'er is using Core P4/5

Notable non-Sonlight things we are using this year include Life of Fred for Geometry and Pre-Algebra, All About Reading level pre-1 (my review of it) and level 1, and Brave Writer's Help for High School, The Writer's Jungle, and Jot It Down.

If you want the long answer, the detailed list of what I'm using for each subject for each grade, check out this post.

Stay tuned for next week. I now have my dream homeschool room and I'll have great photos to share!

Monday, July 30, 2012

No wonder my kids struggle to learn to read and spell

Crazy ABCs, with a focus on silent letters. "C is for czar" and so on. Funny, but kind of depressing too.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Day 5: High Angle

For day 5 I was to take a shot from a high angle. Well, I did take photos today, but mostly of life as it happens and nothing too artistic. There was just too much laundry, grocery shopping, and preparing my family room for a whole wall of built in cabinets and shelves today.

f 2.8, 1/1250, ISO 800
Anyway, here's the highest angle shot I did get. That's a cicada on my youngest son's hand. They are ugly but harmless bugs that "sing" a loud buzzing tone that you almost feel more than hear. They are the sound of summer, and fascinating to little boys.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Day 4: Something Green

Day 4 of my 30 Day Photography Challenge is "something green".
f 2.2, 1/1250, ISO 100

My son's amazing green eyes (I took this after having to give him a talking to about not doing what he was told. He has a such a tender heart.)

I did do a bit of touch-up on this. I lightened it a bit and used Coffeeshop Blog's EyeBright to bring out the green. Here is what it looks like straight from the camera.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Day 3: Sky

For day 3 of my challenge I was supposed to photograph clouds. Well, I haven't seen a cloud in a week. Clear skies and intense sun are the norm for late June down here on the border, so once again I took artistic license and took a photo of the sky. But of course it couldn't be only sky, because that would be boring, so here are a couple sky plus something else shots I took this morning.

f 1.8, 1/2000, ISO 100
f 3.5, 1/2000, ISO 100

Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 2: what my camera wore today

This is day 2 of my self-initiated photography challenge, using this 30 Day Challenge chart posted on the Life, Love, and Photographs blog last spring. Today was supposed to be "what you wore today", but honestly I didn't find that very motivating at all. Today was a loosey-goosey, old holey skirt, comfy but horribly stained T-shirt, and pony tail day. Sorry, folks, there was no way under heaven y'all are getting a photo of that.

However, I did spend time sewing today, and made myself a comfortably padded and pretty cover for my camera neck strap. I used this tutorial as a base, but went off on my own with it (which is pretty much par for the course for me when it comes to sewing).

So, you all can at least see what my camera wore today, and pretty much everyday I will be carrying it. I also made a plain black neck strap cover for hubby to use, because for some reason he says he won't wear a strap with flowers and ruche (the technical term for that that gathered bit of blue fabric). Go figure.

As with yesterday's photo, the first is straight out of the camera and the second is with just a tiny bit of post-production. In fact, today it was a very tiny bit of "fixing"; just a small curves adjustment as I found it to be a bit cool straight from the camera. Hmmmm, is it the camera? It could be my monitor too. I think I need to investigate this further.
f 2.2, 1/100, ISO 1600
I'm still loving that shallow depth of field. I wonder how long it'll take for that to get old, if ever.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Old Sign Tutorial

I have been following the CSI project blog for well over a year now. Hmmm, maybe even over two years. I've loved many of the things bloggers have shared, and have even made a few of the things. I have frequently wanted to enter something myself, but never seem to get around to posting a tutorial of the right theme in the right time. Well, when I saw this week's theme, I got all motivated. I've done a wood project. I love how it turned out. I even have photos ready to share. Here goes my first CSI project tutorial.

I have long wanted a "Mama's Restaurant" sign in my kitchen, just because of all the times my kids have said, "Let's eat at a restaurant." Then I could say, "We are eating at a restaurant. Mama's Restaurant!"

Then one day my husband found an old board out in the desert. It was dirty, covered in spider webs, and oh, so beautifully aged. I particularly loved the old rusty, barely hanging on hinge. Here's how I turned it into a focal point in my kitchen.

Important! Step 1: Have hubby brush the board off very well, and make absolutely sure no spiders are hiding in those cracks. Spiders in the kitchen are not a nice focal point. I'm just saying.

Step 2: Lightly roll on your chosen background color of paint. You're aiming for the result to look like the board was painted when it was new and didn't have all those cracks and splits. Keep the paint light on roller, so that no paint gets into the nooks and crannies. Paint the board lightly, and not too evenly, and allow to dry.

Step 3: Paint your lettering. I practiced on a strip of butcher paper cut to roughly the same size as the board, in order to work out the spacing. I went with "café" because "restaurant" wouldn't fit. Allow to dry.

Step 4: Sand over the paint to make it look even more roughed up.

Step 5: Hang and enjoy (Yes, those are cast iron pans hanging below the sign. It was my husband's idea, but it looks great. We just pull one down when we need to use it.)

I hope you enjoyed this short and sweet tutorial. Maybe I'll do another for the CSI project some day.

I got a new camera!

My new baby, a Canon Rebel T3i, plus my lenses, 50mm f/1.8 II and 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II.

I consider myself an amateur photographer, always striving to take the best photos I can with the equipment I have. For years that has been a simple Kodak point-in-shoot, but even with it I have been able go beyond just pointing and shooting and have learned to compose my shots, look for great lighting, and much more.

To the left is a shot I particularly love from that Kodak, straight-from-the-camera without post-production adjustments. Her skin is so nice and creamy because of the light from an open door the right of the camera, and I love the perspective.

However, for some time now I have been feeling as if I had outgrown my Kodak, and I have even felt my desire to take photographs waning because it. Just this week I have been blessed to finally upgrade to a DSLR camera, and after months of research and waiting, I opted for a Canon Rebel T3i . If my experience with my Kodak is any indication, it will be many, many years before I outgrow this camera.

Instead of purchasing the camera with lens kit, I opted to order the camera body and the lens I actually wanted separately. It meant I couldn't take my camera home the day I bought it (I had to wait a week for it to come in), but the price was actually $10 or so cheaper. Why bother? Well, do you love those portrait shots with the subject in perfect focus but the background blurred and dreamy? I do, and it's the lens that makes that happen. Well, specifically it's the f-stop of the lens. The Rebel kit lens' lowest f-stop is 3.5 and you need at least a 2.8 or so to get that nice blurry background. The 50mm lens I purchased has an f-stop down to 1.8!

Anyway, to help me quickly master this camera, I have decided to follow the 30 Day Photography Challenge that Life, Love, and Photographs hosted last June. I am taking some artistic license, however, as mastering the camera is my goal. So, for example, today I will post a portrait, not a self-portrait (and you can see how my lens blurred my background so nicely).

This was shot in manual mode, with an ISO of 800, f-stop of 2.8, and shutter speed of 1/160. There is a large window directly behind the camera, but it is tinted so it is a subdued light. This photo is straight out of the camera.

This is the same shot cropped and with a bit of post-production adjustment in Photoshop Elements (less than 3 minutes of work). That dreamy, blurred background makes me so happy! (Especially since those bookshelves are particularly messy and dusty right now ;).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Organization for the Naturally Unorganized (part 1)

I believe there are only two kinds of people in the world when it comes to organization. There are the naturally organized people, and everyone else. The naturally organized (the NOs) have cute little mottos like, "A place for everything and everything in its place," while the rest of us, those that I think of as the naturally unorganized (the NUs), can't even find the place for our things, let alone find our things to put them there.

So, how do you know which group you belong in? Well, most of us know in our hearts, but if you are unsure take this little quiz:
  1. Have you ever spent more time setting up an organization system than you spent using said system?  
  2. If I were to ask you to tell me the specific location of at least one pen, your keys, a pair of scissors, and last month's water bill, would you be unsure or doubtful of where all these items are?
  3. Do you want to knit/sew/scrapbook/whatever but the time it would take to set it up would be more than the crafting time you have available?
  4. Have you ever missed an activity that you wanted to go to, because you totally forgot about it or remembered the date and time wrong?
  5. Have you had to dig through clean, but not folded and put away, laundry in order to get dressed more than twice in a week?
If you answered "yes" to most of these questions, you're in good company. I can answer "yes" to all of them; I am the queen of the NUs. 

But, is there hope for us? Yes, but it's not in the way the NOs would lead you to think. We cannot just do things their way and hope to suddenly become like them. Think about it, you know exactly what I mean. Most of us NUs, if we've been adults for more than a couple of years, have spent time and money on some wonderful, beautiful organization system that will fix all of our problems, only to find that it just becomes something else that doesn't have a place and doesn't get dusted.

The problem with all of the organization systems out there is that they were developed by.... not you. "Huh?," you say. In order for a system to work, I mean really work, it needs to take your individual home, activities, and preferences in mind. For example, I hate to write by hand, so any system that has me setting up a paper calendar that I have to write appointments on is not going to be kept up to date by me. I'll put it off until the calendar is so out of date that it's useless. So, my calendar system is totally digital, and I find keeping it up to date almost effortless.

Anyway, this post is the first of what I plan to be a series on how to organize your home, homeschool, crafts, appointments, and more with your own needs and preferences as your guide. I will be giving lots of examples of how I do things, but only as ways to spark your own creativity to think outside the color-coded, labeled, and shelved box.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Review of All About Reading Pre-level 1

All About Reading is the newest line of products from All About Learning Press, the makers of All About Spelling. All About Reading level pre-1 and level 1 are currently available, with level 2 due out some time this year. At the time of this writing I have completed level pre-1 with one child, and am in the first few lessons of it with another one. I have also recently started level 1.

If I had to say what made All About Reading (AAR) so great in a single, short sentence, it would be, "All About Reading is research based." The author, Marie Rippel, is extremely well read in the research and studies behind what makes successful readers, and AAR focuses on the things that have the most impact on future reading success. Marie terms these "The Big Five Skills" and describes what they are better than I can.

Of these Big Five Skills, phonological awareness is the one most overlooked or underestimated by other learn-to-read programs out there. Phonological awareness is, "

I don't know if it is that they are ignorant of the importance of this skill, or if they assume children develop this skill naturally and don't need to be taught. Some children do develop phonemic awareness naturally; my oldest two children did.

AAR level pre-1 takes your child through the alphabet three times. The first time through focuses on capital letters, the second time on lower case letters, and the final time on the most common sound of each of the letters. This level is "pre-1", because it doesn't teach reading. Rather, it teaches the skills necessary for reading success, skills that most other learn-to-read programs overlook (more on this in a bit). Depending on your child's development and upon your feelings on the better late than early debate, AAR level pre-1 would be appropriate for 3 year olds on up to even 7 or 8 year olds. For me and mine, I find it best for 5 year olds, although I still put it to good use with a 6 year old last year because it wasn't published until just after his 6th birthday.

Like all All About Learning Press products, All About Reading is set up to be taught at the child's pace. Level pre-1 has 78 lessons, but an older child could do 2 lessons a day and a very young child could work at the pace of 1 lesson per week. I used it last year in the second half of Kindergarten doing 1 lesson a day, and I am starting it this year in the second half of preschool aiming for 2 days on each lesson.

In addition to introducing a letter and doing phonological awareness activities, each lesson of level pre-1 also has you sing the alphabet song while pointing out each letter on the chart, read a selection from one of two books (Zigzag Zebra or Lizard Lou), do an ABC Craft Sheet (a sampling of pages my son completed is to the right), do some additional letter activities (the teacher’s manual gives a list of suggestions), and finally 20 minutes of Read Aloud Time is scheduled. You are left to choose the books for reading aloud, but it is scheduled so that you remember the importance of doing it. I use Sonlight for our Read Aloud Time.

I don't use the zebra puppet. As popular as Ziggy seems to be, it's just not in me to talk to a child through a puppet. Too many bad Lamb Chop memories, I guess. My kids have done well with me just reading, "Ziggy says..." and then doing the activity without the puppet. Anyway, if you have similar puppet feelings, just rest assured the program works just fine without it.

Lastly, I thought I'd share an iPod app that I've been using with my youngest as another option for the additional letter activities. The iWriteWords app is a cute and fun way for your little one to practice writing capital and lower case letters, and then words. I like this app better than numerous other free and less expensive ones, because this app teaches letter form the same way that my chosen handwriting curriculum, Handwriting Without Tears, does. Too many of the other apps I found allowed the child to trace the letter any way they wanted too. I know from past experience how important it is to develop the habit of starting letters at the top from the very beginning, or they will never break the habit of starting at the bottom. Anyway, there is an iWriteWords lite. It only includes the letters A, B, and C, capitals and lower case, but it does give you a chance to see if you'll like it before you buy.