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Laying the Foundation for Homeschool

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This summer I’ve been busy working to organize our home and lay the foundations for homeschool. While I prefer a flexible, creative approach to homeschool, rather than a workbook only style, I realize that having an orderly environment where we know where all our great books and supplies are is conducive to achieving this. So in this spirit we’ve been clearing out our junk (over 7 garbage bags have gone to the thrift store, not to mention all the garbage and recycling we’ve cleared out). And we’ve been organizing our homeschool books and supplies. My oldest daughter has had lots of fun helping write labels for them.

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She is actually, unlike some of my other kids, quite naturally orderly and loves all this house beautifying. We spent one morning hauling apart our overcrowded kids book shelf, giving away or recycling some, and putting the rest back in categories like stories, French books, reference books, science books, pre-school, arts and crafts, etc. After I took this picture we got out our dollar store labels and wrote all of these and put them on the shelves.

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My 8 year old was very satisfied:
“I’m so proud of us, Mama! Here, tell me to get a science book.”
“Ok, grab a science book.”
She ran and got it and showed me.
“See, we look at it and then we put it back where it goes!”
I’m so glad she gets excited about this; as order is not my natural forté it helps a lot!

We labeled our binders with partitions for our different subjects, too.

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I recently read a great post on the blog “Capturing the Charmed Life” about homeschooling:

The Art and Science of An Education

It’s a beautiful testament to the benefits of a flexible education tailored to your own children specifically. I like her broad vision of education as something that helps us learn how to live, not just how to pass certain exams. Definately worth reading for anyone interested in education or child-rearing.

Here’s a wonderful quote by John Taylor Gatto she included in her piece:

“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist: it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges: it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing; wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die”.

This is what I hope to do: expose my kids to great works of art, literature, science, etc and help them to develop a life-long love of learning. I also want to teach them to think for themselves, to care for others and to become the best people they can be. It’s a big goal; wish me luck!

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What Happens When a Mom of Five Goes to Buy Milk

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Whoops. You buy about half the store and your kids ride in a rocket.

They spent about half an hour playing in it as I dug through my bottomless pit purse to find my debit card (don’t worry, Mum, I found it when I got home), couldn’t, then had to use the store office to call my chip credit card to ask what my PIN was again…and you know how fast calling credit cards is…Thank goodness the kids got along and the office guy was super patient and friendly.

“Well,” said my oldest, “today was a good adventure!”

Guess we really earned our ice cream after all that. Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup goodness, here we come! Oh, yeah, and reorganizing that purse, too…

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“Do Not Be Afraid of Tenderness.”

These were words Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio spoke during the homily at the Mass inaugurating his pontificate as Pope Francis. They echoed the first words of Pope John Paul II: “Do not be afraid,” spoken when the threat of Cold War still loomed. But they have a distinctive twist that catches my heart, and seems particularly relevant for today’s world.

How often, in the business of our daily lives, in our many interactions with neighbours, strangers, co-workers, friends and even family members, are we mindful of the need for tenderness? Is it not easier to be brusque, dismissive, too busy to care, too busy to listen when someone is longing to open up their heart?

And yet listening attentively, with tenderness and understanding, is a powerful gift which can change someone’s whole day, and perhaps much more. It makes the other feel valued, respected, and cherished.

It is a deep need of our souls to be received like this, to feel that we are journeying through life accompanied by friends and family who love us, and by fellow human beings who value us. I can’t express how much it means for me that people I love take the time, even over the phone, to listen to my joys and struggles, to encourage me and console me.

This kind of tenderness is a gift we can all give. It affirms the sacredness of the other, that they have value and are worth our time…worth dropping everything for a moment for. In our materialist “time is money” culture this tender listening is so needed. It is what deepens relationships and builds community. It is what binds us together no matter what our culture, finances or background, bringing unity in diversity.

I hope that we can extend this attentiveness to people beyond our immediate circle of friends. To the person waiting with you at the bus stop. To the grocery clerk or banker. To the homeless man you see every day. To the neighbour who needs a smile and a kind word. And to our spouse and children when we are tired and don’t feel like it. This is perhaps the hardest one.

It is difficult to be truly present to the little ones who tramp around all day demanding it. But it’s so important to have special moments together, even if they are brief. There is an add on the bus for helping troubled youth that says something like, “Tell kids they matter. They’ll believe you.” Listening to our children’s little stories, as well as those of other people we meet in our day, is a way of telling them they matter.

So in our busy, individualistic world, more concerned with productivity and money than relationships, don’t be afraid to take time for tenderness.

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The Glories of Butter and Sugar

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This morning my 8 year old woke up before everyone else and whispered enthusiastically: ” Mummy, let’s make muffins while it’s still quiet!” I was so happy she woke up eager to start the day together, and that I didn’t have to go commando mode and rush her off to school. I’m loving the freedom of summer, and the fact that it won’t be taken away in a few weeks, because we have decided she is going to be homeschooling with her younger sister, instead of returning to school. I get the best parts of her again…her eagerness, helpfulness and joy, instead of her exhausted moodiness after a long day away.

We had wanted to bake the day before but were out of too many things, and would have had to substitute almost everything but flour and lemon in the recipe. I’m all for ground flax egg replacer, almond milk instead of cow’s milk, apple sauce instead of oil, brown sugar instead of white, etc, but we were missing even our replacements.

So while my two oldest girls went on an outing to a horse ranch with friends, the three little ones and I went shopping. For once we bought all the stuff actually in the recipe…lovely butter, creamy milk, nice brown eggs. We even used white sugar instead of granulated because friends had given us a big bag of it. Almost a sin in my hippie herbal veggie family… ;)

The result, lovely fluffy muffins that were proclaimed: “The best ever! Just like ones from a restaurant!” And this even with sneaking in a little less sugar and half whole grain with bran and ground flax flour with the white…can’t totally deny my background! We also squeezed in half the lemon juice of the lemon we grated for the peel, and left out the lemon preserve filling. It would likely be super yummy, but would risk being perceived as an actual fruit by my two picky food purists…

Here’s my quick and easy way to share the recipe with you:

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We made a double batch with some plain lemon mini-muffins for my girls who say, “Mmmm, that so plain!” and mean it as a compliment, and some mini-lemon blueberry loaves for the rest of us.

So here’s three cheers to our glorious friends butter and white sugar…and while they might not visit us that often, it’s pretty fun when they do!

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Corn Pops Are Good For Your Brain

“What!?” exclaim health-conscious parents everywhere. “Sugary cereal good for your brain?!” Well, they’re good for counting anyway, and therefore perfect for homeschool math lessons, on the days when workbooks won’t cut it and your kids need something tangible to help them compute.

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It happened to us the other day, that after getting stuck on a math problem in her book, my eight year old wouldn’t budge. “I’m not doing it! I hate math!” I remember feeling the same way in school myself. So I had a few options. Give up, force the issue and make a fight, or find a more fun way to teach the same concepts.

A great homeschooling mom blogger called Bonnie Landry quoted Plato on this dilemma:

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”

“Honey, want to grab some corn pops and one of those kid’s divider plates? We can do some math that way.”
Her eyes brightened. “Ok, Mummy!” Off she scuttled.

So using our handy three part plate (good for more than preventing food groups from touching, apparently), we used corn pops to add, subtract, multiply, divide, count by twos and fives, and do word problems. With a smile! And this for the supposed math-hater!

Her little brother, who is just over one, loved corn pop math, too. Especially subtraction…his expertise!

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Later that day we baked peanut butter cookies, and practised reading fractions and measuring (1/2 tsp this, 1/4 cup that, etc). Who knew math could be so yummy?!

Bonnie has a great little book called Chocolate Chip Math which gives more examples and the theory behind this fun, relationship-oriented approach to learning. Check it out:

Chocolate Chip Math

Or read more on her blog:

oh, that’s simple

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Katie to the Rescue!

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Have you ever had one of those months where you get a mouse in your kitchen, your stove breaks, you’re pregnant during what feels like a heat wave (and wearing charming compression stockings that make you look and feel about 80), the leftovers get burned and set off smoke alarms late at night, and on top of it all, your back goes out?

Times like this, it’s amazing to have a mind-reading friend, a really good old friend from university, one of the people who is like family to you, email you out of the blue and offer to stop by and bring you dinner. The friend you wanted to call for help but didn’t want to disturb, who heard your silent prayer and took time out of writing her thesis to help you. This is what happened to me.

My friend Katie brought a green salad, Thai chicken soup, cherries and her sweet company. Simply wonderful. We dove into a great conversation about homeschool, writing and being contemplative in the midst of busy daily life. How being prayerful helps us to focus and be inspired when we write. Nothing like a really good talk to feed the soul.

Here are some pictures of the dinner we were lucky enough to receive!

Thai Chicken Soup with red peppers:

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Don’t forget fresh lime…

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“Yum!” says baby.

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My 8 year old said: “It tastes Thai-tastic!” and “The cucumbers are cucumber-licious!”

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She’s my big helper.

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“Aaah, that’s cool!” My 6 year old had seconds of chicken and salad and said “It tastes good.”

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So Katie, thanks for being so lovely! My world is a more beautiful place because of you, and dinner was delicious, as was the break from cooking! ;) Getting to chat with you over iced coffee (life-saver!) reaffirmed the goodness of the world, and put little struggles in perspective. Life can’t help but be wonderful when you are loved.

Also recently my Dad brought me flowers, my mom called to say how much she loves me, my brother found and cleaned up the icky dead mouse (heroic!), my landlords bought us a brand new oven, my friend Ida brought us bread from Cobbs and Milton brought us treats from Starbucks, and my friend Sara took my big girls swimming with her daughter twice to give them an outing and me a break. There is so much to be grateful for! For every challenge, I bet we could all count three blessings. One of them is that challenges help us to be humble enough to reach out and ask for help, which gives people a chance to be heroes and show us how much they love us.

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May you all be blessed with friends and family like mine!

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Playing Urban Farmer

For the last few weeks I’ve been busy playing urban farmer, taking care of my landlord’s gorgeous garden while their family is on holiday. It’s kept me a bit busy for writing much, but here are some pictures of the lush green plants and vibrant flowers, and some of my summer garden elves, too!

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Healthy Vegetables

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Beautiful Berries

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Fun Flowers

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Fragrant Herbs

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Water Babies

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Busy Bees
They sure love artichoke flowers!

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Perky Chickens

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Evening Sunshine

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I hope you are all enjoying a lovely summer, and after busy hot days, relaxing in the sweet evening sunshine!