Thursday, March 30, 2006

Vocabulary and Our Word of the Week Study

In this earlier post, I explained about a vocabulary study we started in which we signed up to receive a new word a day from an online dictionary site. This has been alot of fun for us and we have had so many connections to the words that we are studying. They seem to be popping up everywhere! We have modified this study to just once a week. It has filtered to other members of our family as Josh's older brother remarked on a word Josh had told him about when he himself came across the word in some reading he was doing. Just the other day, Josh called me excitedly over to the computer to read something to me. He then proceeded to read a sentence which used one of our earlier words, pugilist, in it. And in what context was this word used you may be wondering? He was reading an article on the NHL (ice hockey) website lol. He knew EXACTLY what they were talking about.

Our word for this week:

noun- 1. one who is self-taught

A very good word for a homeschooler don't you think :)

Monday, March 27, 2006

We are celebrating a family wedding

My oldest daughter is getting married in August and has given Josh and I a research project for our studies. She has asked us to listen to and recommend pieces from classical composers for the ceremony. This should add some extra incentive to our composer studies :) Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. We're allowed help she says :))

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Picture books

What's Your Angle, Pythagoras by Julie Ellis

This book helps to make learning the Pythagorean Theorem at a basic level fun and easily understood.

The Battle of New Orleans: The Drummer's Story by Freddi Williams Evans

I had to laugh when we began to watch a History Channel show last week when Josh was sick. The show was on the American Flag and it's origins, refurbishing and such. They discussed the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans in this context. This book was sitting on our bookshelves from a find in the new books section at our local library. Needless to say we read it that day :)

Music for the End of Time by Jen Bryant

Another good find in the new section of the children's books netted me this book. The cover peeked my interest and upon reading the inside flap knew that this would be one to interest Josh, after all, it spoke of a nightingale and anything that has to do with birds is usually an instant hit lol. Little did I know what a treasure this book really is upon that first glance. Reading it, we learned the story of the French composer, Olivier Messiaen, who composed and performed for the first time, his famous Quartet for the End of Time, while in a German concentration camp during WWII. Messiaen may become Josh's favorite composer, for while doing further research on his life and music, we found out he was, as well as being a deeply religious man, also an avid bird-watcher and incorporated bird songs into his works. We listened to some of quartet, which is written in eight parts for 4 pieces; the piano, the violin, the clarinet and the cello, and is based on a passage in the Revelation of St. John. The opening notes were inspired by a nightingale's song.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Tuesday Teatime

Tuesday's are always a favorite day for Josh and I. This is the day we have our tea time. It is also the day that we cover our poet, artist and composer studies. Today was designated as a Beatrix Potter Tea per a request from Josh.

As I have said in an earlier post, I have been reading the book The Tale of Holly How by Susan Wittig Albert to Josh. These are light mysteries in which Beatrix Potter is the main character of the story. Since I began reading it, Josh has been craving scones and so today we made chocolate chip scones for our tea time using a recipe from a book I got from our library titled, Beatrix Potter's Country Cooking by Sara Paston-Williams, as a basis while improvising a few things. We decorated the table with some cut out illustrations from a box of Beatrix Potter chocolates I bought at Target a few weeks ago in the dollar section. We also enjoyed a few of the chocolates along with our scones and Earl Grey tea. :) We put a few of the books we have been reading about Beatrix Potter on the table. These included: The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller and Countrywoman by Judy Taylor and At Home with Beatrix Potter by Susan Denyer. Of course we had to read a few chapters from The Tale of Holly How too.

It was an usually rainy, grey, chilly day here in Las Vegas earlier in the day and just perfect for tea and Beatrix Potter.

A Homeschool Sick Week

Josh has been sick with a case of a stomach bug this week so our homeschool studies have consisted of:

- Being prostrate on the couch, sipping 7 Up and ginger ale while nibbling on crackers and watching LOTS of the History Channel.
- Birding out the family room window while lying on said couch.
- When feeling up to it checking on the Iditarod Race on the computer and while there checking the NHL webiste too.
- Birding out the front window while on said computer and yesterday morning spotting a roadrunner (yes I did say roadrunner) sitting on top of our neighbor's roof across the street.
- Commiserating with oldest sister each morning as she stops by and who is dealing with this very same stomach bug.
- Listening to mom read MANY times throughout the day from a fast becoming favorite book, The Tale of Holly How (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter) by Susan Wittig Albert.

I have read both books in this new series and have shared a few things from them. Josh was interested, as he loves a good mystery - The Hardy Boy series is one of his favorites and asked if I would read from one of them. This is actually the second in the series but no matter. The author, who also writes two other mystery series, is also the author of many young adult novels. While browsing her website I read comments on how she wanted these books to be appropriate for that audience also as well as adults. The main character is as you may have guessed the famed children's author, Beatrix Potter. Albert has done meticulous research on the life of Beatrix Potter and incorporates many factual items in the fictional stories. Josh is especially enjoying the way in which Albert incorporates the animals of the village into the story.

"Normally, I'm a disciplined writer who controls her material, but in this case, the material took control. To my surprise, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle began to talk about herself, and about The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and about Miss Potter, and the other animals all chimed in.6 I immediately realized the value of these characters to the story, and to the whole series, and began to incorporate them, not as mere "colorful" characters, but characters who are instrumental to the plot, and who may even have plots of their own. And I used this franchise to create other animal characters—animals that live at the farm, in the village, and in the countryside. Galileo Newton Owl and Bosworth Badger XVII are two of my favorites.

In this imaginative effort, of course, I am following the model Beatrix herself followed: stories featuring animals whose interesting adventures usually point up some sort of important moral lesson, a kind of Aesop's fable. I am also following models of contemporary mystery writers such as Lillian Jackson Braun, Rita Mae Brown, and Carole Nelson Douglas, all of whom have introduced animals into their mystery fiction. (Of course, I had to get permission from Frederick Warne & Co., the owners of Beatrix's copyrights, in order to incorporate Beatrix's creations into my fiction.)

Bringing the animals into the books also broadened the audience, for with a little extra work, I could make the series suitable for a middle-grade and young adult audience, as well as adult readers. These would be books that could be read and enjoyed by whole families, in fact."

This is a quote from Albert's website about her experiences in writing these tales.

A Homeschooling Day in March

Friday it SNOWED (well for all of 10 minutes or so lol) here in the desert of Las Vegas. Josh and I had already been up to the park for our birding walk, a VERY cold walk - well here in the desert 40 degrees IS cold :) especially with the winds that accompany it. When it began to snow we went back up to the park for yet another walk.

Were we glad we did! We ended up getting some great looks at a Northern Flicker on the second walk. The flicker pictured in the link is a yellow-shafted flicker while here we have a red-shafted flicker. There are just a few differences between the two but you can get a good idea of what we saw from this.

Charlotte Mason would have been proud of us out and about even in this weather.

Iditarod XXXIV - The Last Great Race

Yesterday was the official start of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race in Alaska. For many years our family has followed this race and incorporated it into our homeschooling studies. As you can see we have collected a few items surrounding this, The Last Great Race :)

This year we will be rooting for our favorite musher, Dee Dee Jonrowe, who is making another attempt to win that elusive first place finish. We will also be following Gary Paulsen, a favorite children's author of ours. If you look closely at the picture above you'll see we have a few of his books that are about the Iditarod.

Not sure what this race is all about? Here are a few resources besides the official site linked earlier in this post to get you started:

Websites -
Cabela's Iditarod site
Iditarod Unit Study
Anchorage Daily News

Picture Books -
Dogteam - Gary Paulsen
Kiana's Iditarod - Shelley Gill
Mush! - Patricia Seibert
Akiak - Robert Blake

Juvenile Books -
Woodsong - Gary Paulsen
Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers - Gary Paulsen
Iditarod Dream - Ted Wood

Adult Books -
Winterdance - Gary Paulsen
Iditarod Dreams - Lew Freedman and Dee Dee Jonrowe
Iditarod Classics - Lew Freedman

So, what are you waiting for... MUSH :)

Lent Begins

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, our family began it's observance of Lent by attending church in the evening and also by creating this Lenten Cross earlier in the day.

While browsing through Lenten activities I came across an idea for a Lenten Cross on this site. Since one of my favorite traditions during Advent is the lighting of our advent candles I knew this would be a great idea for our family for Lent. I used modeling clay for the cross, sculpting it into a free form and then pressed the candles into the clay. There are 7 candles total - one for Ash Wednesday and then one for each Sunday in Lent. At Easter we will remove the lenten candles and replace them with a larger white candle which we will decorate as our Easter Paschal candle. It will sit in the middle empty space of the cross.

Surrounding our Lenten Cross are 40 small crosses I cut out of purple construction paper. These represent the 40 days of Lent. Each day Josh will say a special prayer, perform an act of kindeness or one of sacrifice. He will then take a cross and place it into the basket. These visuals will act as reminders both to the time of Easter approaching and for Josh the acts that he has done in preparation during this most holy time of the church year.

Today's studies

have been postponed until tomorrow.

Big brother home sick from work with strep throat + Olympic Men's Hockey games starting this morning and on TV for more than 8 hours = Time well spent on other things in life :)

After all, everyone in this family tells me that Hockey itself is Education! lol

With my older son having played for eleven years and Josh for eight, I have to agree with them that during hockey season, hockey = life (at least for this family lol) I also don't have the heart to pull Josh away as this is the first year he hasn't played himself since he was three years old. Cost of playing traveling hockey here in Las Vegas and being a one income family just doesn't allow for it anymore unfortunately.

So today we will enjoy watching Olympic hopefuls and spending time together.

New Vocabulary

I had to laugh this morning. I overheard Josh telling his older brother (who is home from work for the week because of a bad case of strep throat) about our Word of the Day Study. The study has been modified to Word of the Week. Josh and I are having great fun with it and keep seeing words we have studied pop up in our things we are reading. These are words such as ineffable, dubiety, sussuration etc. He then proceeded to tell him about an "adventure" he had last night when he couldn't get to sleep. He came out to the front room and grabbed the dictionary. Taking it back to bed with him he proceeded to look up words for the fun of it. He came across what he now says is the "coolest word ever"!

Utilitarianism: noun
1. The belief that good and evil should be measured by usefulness of actions in contributing to human happiness and welfare.

According to him it is the "coolest word ever" because it is interesting. Hmmm... I forsee "interesting" discussions on this :)

So what is your "coolest word ever"?

Persuasive enough?

Since the Narnia movie came out in December, Joshua has LIVED in this world. He read ALL the books, a few of them twice. He has read about C.S.Lewis. He has seen the movie FOUR times lol and begs to see it again. We have had MANY discussions on the symbolism in the movie and book and also the differences between the two mediums. He has asked to see it one last time, again lol, before it leaves the theatre and before it comes out in DVD, April 4.

So.... this morning for his writing process piece I ask him to write a persuasive paragraph. The topic.... you guessed it.

If you can be persuasive enough then we will go see the movie one last time at the theatre tonight. Why should I take you to see Narnia - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe again when you have already seen it four times before?

This is his response:

I believe that you should take me to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tonight because it is simply a great movie that makes you feel on a number of levels, spiritually and emotionally. The movie is a fantastic film. It doesn't feel as if you're in a theatre. It feels like you are fighting alongside High King Peter for Narnia, Aslan, and all that is good in the world. The movie is more like a journey than a film. It makes you feel like you were one of the Pevensies stumbling out of the wardrobe and landing in a magical world and being that world's only hope. And I also believe that you will enjoy it immensely.What was it you said to me after the last time we saw it? Hmmm let me think... Oh yeah! "That movie is so good I could just watch it over and over again and not get tired of it." Once again I believe you should take me to the movie tonight because it is an amazing movie and you will enjoy it yourself.

So what do you think? Persuasive enough?

Our birding blog

Last March we began a journey into a new world; the world of birding. This journey has taken us on many new and exciting adventures and we have learned so much in this time.

As a way to remember our experiences I began a blog to document them. If you visit you will see much more birding goes on than documenting unfortunately. I am trying to be better about this though. Here is part of my latest entry to that blog:

This morning Josh and I headed up to our neighborhood park to bird. We have been trying to do this a few times a week and keeping track of what is there each time. In January we were able to finally see the Burrowing Owl that we had been told by neighbors that lived in the wash sandwiched in between our park and a golf course. He was such an amazing sight. Josh and I stood there hardly daring to breathe for the first few minutes. We have since been blessed to see this bird again numerous times and this morning was no exception. Josh and I smile just thinking how lucky we are to have this species living within a few minutes of where we ourselves live. :) The park has been fairly quiet in the winter but we have enjoyed watching the different behavior of many of the birds. This is another aspect of birding that is fun for Josh besides identifying new birds he hasn't seen before.There has been a tremendous amount of birding that has gone on in our house but we are much poorer at actually documenting it here.In the middle of December we participated in our first Christmas bird count and had a great time! For Christmas, Josh was given a surprise birding trip to Monteray, California with his dad. Then in January, Josh and I were able to go on our local Audubon group's trip to San Diego. My goodness. Between the two trips Josh added over 50 new life birds! We had such a great time with the small group of people that we went with to San Diego. It never ceases to surprise me how generous of their time and knowledge seasoned birders are and how blessed we are as a result. Josh is now up to 266 life birds and he still hasn't closed in on his first year of birding yet!

We hope you'll visit our "bird world" sometime.

Observing Black History Month

In the past we have done unit studies during Black History Month. This year because of medical complications of an older brother and as a result driving taking up a HUGE part of my day, I thought we would end up losing out on this wonderful learning opportunity this year. I should have known and trusted Him. :) While at the library the other day, I was perusing the new picture books "when what to my wondering eyes should appear" - no not Christmas books :) - but FOUR books to use as read alouds during this month for Black History.

Delivering Justice W.W. Law and the Fight for Civil Rights by Jim Haskins

Happy Feet by Richard Michelson

Mr. Williams by Karen Barbour

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni

Looking through Happy Feet I was pleasantly surprised to discover the book is about the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York during the Harlem Renaissance of the Roaring Twenties, THE very same time period we are studying for American History. :)

Picture books are one of my favorite ways to start and build on the topics we study. For those of you who might be skeptical about using them with older children please let me reassure you that there are some beautiful illustrated books that are written in a sophisticated style and full of meaning. Many of these books are not "twaddle" at all. I can't count how many times our studies have been enriched by this genre of books.

Great Backyard Bird Count

A little over a week ago, I received in one of my Clickschooling emails information about the Great Backyard Bird Count.

What is the GBBC?
The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all levels in counting birds and reporting their results to create a mid-winter snapshot of the numbers, kinds, and distribution of birds across the continent. Participants count birds for as little or as long as they wish during the four-day period and tally the highest number of birds of each species that they see at any one time. At the Great Backyard Bird Count web site, they fill out an online checklist to submit their counts.

This explanation comes from their website where you can get more information if you are interested.

Josh and I will be birding and recording the birds in our neighborhood park. This is something we are in the habit of doing so the results will be put to good use. I sent away for an ambassador packet from Cornell University and it came the other day. In it are data sheets to fill out, promotional sheets and a ton of other information. You can get yours by emailing

After having participated in our first official Christmas Bird Count in December, we are excited once again in some way to be a part of helping our bird friends.

The picture at the top of my post is of a burrowing owl. Josh and I are hoping to be able to include this species in our count as we have a resident burrowing owl in the wash that is a part of our park. We have seen him on numerous ocassions and have been blessed to be within 5 feet of him. A beautiful bird!

Signs of Spring

Yesterday Josh and I were out on our back patio and he suddenly exclaimed, "Look mom. The second sign of spring!" I looked down to where he was pointing on the ground and let out a big sigh. There they were running to and fro.... ANTS. Now we await their annual invasion inside the house, in the pantry and bathrooms.

I will remind myself, in the event that I start to feel sorry for myself, about the ladybug invasion happening over at Theresa's place.

And just in case your curiousity was aroused.... the first sign of spring was last week when we looked out and noticed Arnold, our Anna's hummingbird, having to fight off three bees from HIS feeder, poor guy.

Don't know why these signs caught me by surprise as here in Las Vegas we really haven't had any winter to speak of this year. Guess we got spoiled by the snow once each year in the last two years. I'm still hoping though and adding more and more snowflakes (of the paper and craft variety) to our front window display in the hopes of enticing at least one winter snow fall. I think I may have to settle for the brief, and I do mean brief - after all it only lasted for about 2 minutes, of snow and sleet we had about a month ago.

Putting into Practice

In my last post I wrote about Karen Andreola encouraging us to take time for ourselves as mothers so as to encourage our own growth as women. One way to do this is to have a reading plan of at least 3 books of varying levels.

Check out Dawn's post over on Gentle Art of Learning for a fantastic example of how to do just this. She calls this reading, "Cultivating Mother's Heart". Her latest post is Part 7 but she has links to the previous six parts so be sure to read them too. I hope you are as inspired by her as I am.

This mother's "niches of time"

In my last post I made reference to those "niche times" I find for myself as a homeschooling mother and wife.

Karen Andreola in her wonderful book, Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning, actually names these times as Mother Culture. She states that following Charlotte Mason's advice to her own teachers it is important for mothers who are homeschooling to take time for themselves. We need to first simplify our lives and organize our time. We are then to use this time for "uninterrupted quiet time to focus on prayer, reading etc."

She tells the story of a wise woman that stresses the importance of reading for ourselves as part of this Mother Culture. This woman states, "Besides my Bible, I always keep three books going that are just for me - a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for."

Right now my Mother Culture reading includes:

- re-reading Wuthering Heights and also All's Quiet on the Western Front
- reading Reimagining Christianity by Alan Jones (Episcopal priest and Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Fransisco)
- and I just finished a novel by Gail Godwin called Evensong

When I am sorely in need of my own niche I visit my favorite place, Mitford, and have wonderful times with Fr. Tim and Cynthia and so many others that live in that wonderful world created by Jan Karon.

Grandparenting - Today's style

Grandparenting - Today's Style
Maybe it's just me but this article really bothered me as I was reading it.

I am not a grandmother yet so can't speak from experience. I also understand the need for "me" time. I long for that too as a mother sometimes and try to find little "niches" just for me. Nothing wrong with that.

This article seemed to underscore the prevalent way we look at things in our society; things that people think are most important such as beauty, power, money all for ME. The ME generation continues on into a style of grandparenting.

Now don't get me wrong. Usually I try not to judge. My motto is "walk in their shoes" first. I am not making a judgment so much on the choices in their lives as I am just saddend that this is how we as humans look at relationships, epecially with our own grandchildren. I often lament the fact that in my own family one set of my children's grandparents have passed away without their getting to know each other and the other set isn't really involved with them on an intimate basis. I have promised my own children that I will be an "involved" Grandma and will proudly wear that name.

Call me old-fashioned if you wish. That's ok. I would whole-heartedly agree with you.