Category Archives: Family

Six Must Read Christmas Books

We schedule the entire month of December as our homeschool Christmas Break, but if we don’t have something planned, I find we get irritable and worn out.  So instead of loafing for an entire month we take a casual approach to school, join our library’s winter reading program, read a few Christmas favorites and don’t worry too much if we miss a day here and there.  This gives us plenty of time to craft, bake and visit neighbors without descending into total chaos.

Here are a few of the Christmas books I find myself recommending over and over!

The Glorious Impossible, by Madeline L’Engle tells the story of Christ as seen in Giotto’s frescoes from the Scrovengi Chapel.  We used it last year because it just happened that we were studying Giotto just when Christmas rolled around.  Easiest artist study ever! And we are re-reading this year as a way of keeping in the true spirit of Christmas.

Apple Tree Christmas, by Trinka Hakes Noble, tells the story of a young girl who has a hard time getting into the spirit of Christmas after losing something special to her.  We loved this one so much that we checked it out from the library for the whole month of December a few years running. Finally I started to feel bad about hoarding it and bought us our own copy.  Now we read it year round.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss.  Do I really need to say more?  We love the book, and the original movie too!  Just try not to recite along when you’re watching the movie.  I find the kids don’t appreciate it.

The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot tells the heart warming story of how a kitten finds a home with an old lady and three hounds.  All of James Herriot’s stories give you a cozy feeling, and especially so when you’re snuggled up next to the fire with a cup of cocoa and your loved ones.

The Family Under The Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson is a story about a family who finds themselves homeless just as winter sets in.  They meet an old man who shows them the ropes of life on the streets, and helps them find a new kind of home.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson is the hilarious tale of the horrors that ensue when “the worst kids in the history of the world” decide they’d like to star in the town Christmas Pageant.

FYI these are NOT affiliate links, they’re just here for your convenience.

Even better, why not see if your local library has these titles in circulation?

Feel free to drop a book suggestion or two of your own in the comments!

Happy Reading!

Five Baby Steps To Getting The Family Outdoors

We all know by now how important time spent in nature is for our health, and especially the health of our growing children. Not only is fresh air and exercise essential for healthy bodies, more and more studies are linking time in nature with mental and emotional health.

Unfortunately getting out is one of those things we often strongly believe in, and yet don’t quite manage to do. I know. The commute is killing your evenings, and soccer is eating up your Saturdays. You don‘t know where to go, and when you get there the kids melt down. Then there’s the mess when you get home.

I had all those same issues keeping us from getting out as often as we knew we should. Finally I had to decide that getting outside was as essential as food and water and build bridges over the hurdles keeping us from making it happen.

1. Clear Time

We are in a over-scheduled season at the moment and it is making outdoor time harder to accomplish. For future planning purposes I intend to keep each kid to one activity at a time, and be very selective about my volunteer time. But for now one thing I’ve done to get us out is to make a morning walk part of our homeschool checklist. That way even if we can’t clear time later in the day, we’ve had some fresh air and a bit of nature first thing after morning chores. It’s not quite enough time for my taste, but it’s better than an hour in front of a screen any day.

2. Gear Up

As the old saying goes, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes”. Last winter I gave up trying to squeeze into my old snow gear and finally bought the right size. Suddenly taking the kids out sledding didn’t seem like such a chore. Having the right gear for whatever Mother Nature throws at you will keep you comfortable and enjoying your outdoor time much longer. At a minimum you’ll want to dress in layers, wear sturdy shoes, and a carry a backpack for snacks, water and a first aid kit.

When it comes to sporting goods, I’d recommend renting gear for your first season so that you can decide whether the new activity is going to stick before you shell out your hard-earned money.

3. Pair Up

If you don’t live in an area with easily accessible open spaces it may be that you are uncomfortable getting out because you are unsure where to go, and when you do get out you are on unfamiliar turf. It can be helpful to find an outdoorsy friend to show you the ropes until you get your legs under you. Another option is to join a nature study group or an outdoor education club such as Scouts or Camp Fire. If there is cell coverage where you venture, bringing a phone can also give you a sense of security.

4. Start Small

If you’re new to getting outdoors with the family you won’t want to jump right in with a full-on hike in the woods. Instead find an out-of-the-way corner in a nearby park, and ease into the dirt, bugs, and weather with short initial visits. As you get more comfortable being outdoors you can try a short jaunt to a good picnic spot, and then a day hike before taking on longer treks, or over-nighters.

5. Just Be

When you’re decompressing from a hyper-scheduled lifestyle it can feel like you should be doing something at all times. For that reason it may be good to have a scavenger hunt or a nature journal with you for your first few visits to the woods, especially if you are bringing children who are accustomed to fully regimented days. But part of nature’s wonder is the peace it can bring when you are able to let go and just be. Eventually you’ll find yourself ditching the crutches and letting your senses fully engage with the sights, smells and sounds surrounding you, while the kids get engrossed in watching bugs or clouds.

Getting out isn’t always easy, but I’m more and more convinced its absolutely essential. Taking these baby-steps will get you on the path to more time outdoors and all the good it can do for your mind, body and spirit.

For those who already regularly get out, what baby steps would you add?

The Prayer That Changed My Life

When each of my first two babies (not babies anymore, but my babies still) was new, in those sleepless, bleary-eyed first months I would lay awake at night, listening to my husband snore, and eyeing the baby monitor, suspicious of it’s silence.  Exhausted, barely managing to breastfeed, self-feed, and generally function as a human, I would lay awake and pray the same prayer every night, over and over and over.  Read More at Her View From Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother Culture Monday #5

Finding Time

How about writing the final post in my Mother Culture Monday Series a week late at 7:40 pm?  Sounds like someone has her act together, huh?

Honestly, that is exactly the point.  It’s EASY to let little demands and big demands, (even joyful demands on time are demands) get in the way of taking time to grow our own bodies, minds, and souls.  As I’m writing this, I’ve already stopped twice to read to my two year old.  If we are deliberate about taking time when we can, all the little times we can’t take a break won’t stack up and weigh us down.

I know there are a LOT of those little things waiting in line, and it can be hard to put them on the back burner, indeed some things simply CAN’T be set aside for later.  (insert 20 minute break to put the kiddos to bed) 

Here are a few suggestions for finding time to read, think, pray, exercise or whatever it is you need to be your healthiest, and incidentally most effective, self:

CAUTION: You will be tempted to use the time you carve out to catch up on chores.  Unless the chores being undone causes you physical distress, DO NOT use this time for laundry, dishes, or cleaning out the closets, or at least do so extremely sparingly, and only in preparation for actually being able to relax next time.  

  • Set a bedtime for your kiddos.  Make it one to two hours before you are ready to drop dead, and guard it fiercely.
  • Enforce a daily quiet hour/nap.  (My big kids read, sleep, daydream, or pray, the baby naps)
  • Instead of raptly watching your little athlete at practice, either take a walk, a class of your own, or just read in the waiting room.  (Honestly I’d feel bad about this one except that the waiting area in my kid’s gym has a terrible view of the gym floor, so even if I watched I’d only be catching glimpses of my budding gymnast.)
  • Swap half an hour a day (or two hours a week—whatever you can manage) with a neighbor mom.
  • Send big kids out to play.  My Bigs were shocked last summer when I told them to explore the neighborhood for half an hour while the baby napped.
  • Send the kiddos out for a walk with Dad.
  • Take Grandma up on the offer of an afternoon off.
  • Set up a safe play area where you can let the kids play while you are nearby, but not necessarily “watching”.
  • Hire a teenage Mother’s Helper to entertain the kids for an hour while you read or soak in a bubble bath (or both!)
  • Get your family on a routine, so that they aren’t shocked by your daily “Mother Culture Minute”, but stay flexible and willing to snatch a minute when the opportunity arises.

Thanks for taking time to read and ponder Mother Culture with me.  I hope this series has got you on the path to taking better care of yourself, as a soul, as a human, as a woman, and as a mother.

What would you add?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or catch up with me on Facebook.

 

 

 

Mother Culture Monday #4

Can I be honest for a minute? I’m having a hard time replacing “time wasting” with Mother Culture. But that is exactly WHY I need to be more deliberate. The nature of my time wasting habits (internet/facebook) is definitely making my brain dull. I don’t want a dull brain. Today I took the proactive step of removing email and facebook from my tablet, so that when I’m using it for a legitimate reason (homeschool math, reading kindle books to the kids, playing music) I don’t get distracted by the time-wasters. This way I’m not bringing the distractions with me when I step away from my desk, and into my role as a human and mother.

Now, onto our final definition for (Mother) culture from Merriam-Webster.

5
a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations
b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time popular culture
c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization
d : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic

That is a lot to chew on.  There are so many ways to be a mother, and more yet, to be a “good” mother.  I suppose for the purpose of our discussion we can default to those things which all mothers have in common; The Culture of Motherhood.

Get a group of mothers together, no matter what religion, socioeconomic status, or nationality and you’ll find that we all desire that our children be healthy, well adjusted, and smart.  We all hope our children know how much we love them.  We all hope our children will grow into respectable adults.  We are all trying hard, and we all worry we’re falling short.

We may speak different languages but we’re saying the same things:

Quit pulling your sister’s hair!

Brush your teeth!

Eat your veggies!

I love you!

Isn’t that idea kind of edifying?  You are not alone, and that “pinterest perfect” mom at story hour, is probably just as tired and insecure as you are.  Perhaps you could strike up a conversation.

Having a good group of Mothers to fellowship with does MUCH for the mother’s soul.  Whether its your own mother, your sisters or a local mom’s group, I can’t say enough good things for spending time with other mothers, hearing their stories and sharing yours.  I know that I always walk away from visits with other mothers with a full cup.  I hope that I can fill theirs in return.

The one caveat to all this motherly fellowship is that you need to be sure not to compare, and critique yourself too harshly against mothers who appear to be doing it better.  In truth they may be have it all together today, but maybe yesterday their kids had frosting sandwiches for lunch, (points to self).  Do borrow the good ideas other moms share with you, but don’t use another mother’s public persona as a checklist for your failings.

You are the mother your children need.

 

Well, I’m all out of Mother Culture definitions for you, and I think by now we’ve all had a good chance to mull over what it means and how it can help in each of our homes.  Next week I’ll move on to some nuts and bolts of how I get a few minutes to grow myself each day, even with a busy toddler in the house.

 

 

Mother Culture Monday #3

Welcome to Mother Culture Monday #3

How did you do carving out a few minutes for yourself this past week?

I did some time wasting, but for future reference, I’d like to be more intentional about my “Mother Culture Minute” and do something that really feeds me. The goal here is to do something to grow on, not just to take a break and space out, or worse yet, put energy into something that isn’t a benefit to some aspect of your being. (ahem…I will be the first to admit I have a little Facebook problem, which does have some benefits, but is mostly just a drain on time and energy)

Let’s take a peek at Merriam-Webster’s third and fourth definitions of “Culture”.

3. expert care and training (beauty culture)

4. enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training :  acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills (a person of culture)

The word “training” comes up more than once.  I take that to mean that culture can refer to education.  In this case it can be self-education via reading, listening to lectures, practicing new skills, or for those of us who are really good at carving out time, taking a class.

What specifically should we be reading, listening to and practicing?  Well that depends on your lifestyle, and values, but here are some thoughts.

“The mother cannot devote herself too much to this kind of reading, not only that she may read tit-bits to her children about matters they have come across, but that she may be able to answer their queries and direct their observations. ”  Charlotte Mason

The above quote is in reference to Nature Studies, (which I highly recommend even if you are not pursuing a strictly CM education for your children) but I think it can be applied across the spectrum of your family’s interests.  To paraphrase Miss Mason, your children will adore you for knowing what they want to know.

“The wisest woman I ever knew–the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend–told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, “I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!” That is the secret; always have something “going” to grow by. If we mothers were all “growing” there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls.”     The Parents Review Vol, 3 no. 2

I think it’s important to not only read and practice things that fill our “Mothering Toolbox”, but also things that fill our own cups.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Read scripture
  • Read inspirational fiction
  • Read inspirational non-fiction or biographies
  • Take up a handicraft in which you make something beautiful
  • Write in a journal
  • Write REAL letters to friends
  • Garden
  • Exercise
  • Prayer and meditation

As to reading, one note for myself is that I want to lean back toward hard copies rather than Kindle versions.  The feel and smell of a real book adds to the experience for me, aside from the dubious effect of too much screen time.

What will you do to fill your cup this week?

 

 

 

Super Simple Chocolate Wacky Cake

Oh my. We have been on a bit of a wacky cake kick. We love the classic cake, but we’ve been playing with the recipe, and have some variations that are to die for!

Actually “we” is a misnomer. I hardly get involved at all anymore. This cake is so simple that my daughters (8 and 10 yrs) are able to make it with zero help from me.

No need to prep the pan or dirty a mixing bowl!

No need to prep the pan or dirty a mixing bowl!

It’s about a 35 minute process which makes it perfect for short notice company, sudden cravings on a busy weeknight, or when your kid tells you about the bake sale the morning of the bake sale. And it doesn’t need to have any fancy ingredients. You likely have everything you need for the basic recipe in the cupboard right now.

Let’s get started!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Grab a cake pan.  I use 9×13 Pyrex, which yields a thinner slice.
You’re going to mix your dry ingredients right in the pan, no need to grease it first.

In the pan whisk together:

1 1/2 C All Purpose Flour
1/3 C Cocoa Powder (mileage may vary by brand-I use toll house)
1 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Make a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients, and add:

1 tsp vinegar (I use ACV)
1 tsp vanilla
5 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 C water

Mix wet and dry ingredients well and spread evenly in the pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Variations:

Substitute melted coconut oil for the vegetable oil, and add 1 C shredded coconut for a tropical twist.

Substitute orange extract in place of vanilla for orange truffle cake.

Substitute cold coffee on place of the water for a mocha cake.

Use your imagination.

YUMMY!

Mother Culture Monday

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, today I was feeding my sourdough starter, and I made a seriously Charlotte Mason quality connection.

Mother Culture;  you have to feed it, or you run out.

If you’re not a hardcore CMer you’re probably wondering what on earth I’m talking about and how it applies to you.

What the heck is “Mother Culture”?

First let’s talk about what it is NOT. It is not a formula to be the perfect mom. It’s not even a clear path, or a collection of tips to being a good mom. The “perfect mom” doesn’t exist, and there are many, many excellent moms who never gave Mother Culture a second thought.

Here’s one of the many things Charlotte Mason had to say about Mother Culture:

“There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth. When babyhood is over and school begins, how often children take to proving that their mother is wrong. Do you as often see a child proving to its father that he is wrong? I think not. For the father is growing far more often than the mother. He is gaining experience year by year, but she is standing still. Then, when her children come to that most difficult time between childhood and full development she is nonplussed; and, though she may do much for her children, she cannot do all she might, if she, as they, were growing”.

Essentially it’s caring for ourselves as well as we care for our families, intellectually, spiritually and physically, so that we have something left at the end of the day, to come back on tomorrow.  (Just like we feed our sourdough starter–which is literally a mother culture–MIND BLOWN–so that we always have some for the next baking.)

Simple, right?

Uh…hello?  Still with me?

Look, I’m not even sure what I’m talking about here.  I have a LOT to learn, and I’m sooooo tired!

I suspect that’s the whole point!

So I’m inviting you to join me as I study up on what this whole “Mother Culture” thing means for our lives, our families and our communities.

For the next few Mondays I’ll share something CM said, or a link, and chat about how it shakes out in my life.

Who’s in??

My Great-Grandmother’s Commonplace Book

elizasmithwedding

“Our Wedding Day, August 1 1912, Humbold Sask” Henry and Eliza eloped in an ox-drawn carriage in Saskatchewan. She was age 15

I never knew my great grandmother. But looking through her commonplace book, I know I would have admired her. And she probably would have been puzzled by, but tolerant of my my wide-eyed enthusiasm for doing things the hard way. I can almost hear her saying ,”For pity’s sake, just use your microwave”!

What is a commonplace book anyway?

It was your great grandma’s Pinterest; a scrap book of notes, ideas and clippings related to the interests and every day life of it’s keeper.  I was lucky enough to stumble on two of my Great Grandma Eliza’s in my mom’s basement, and Mom was nice enough to let me have them.  They are full of frugal recipes, garden tips, measurements (did you know 15 lbs are in a peck?), home remedies, and housekeeping tips.  You know, mom stuff.  My kind of stuff.

11259348_611568168946949_7970244153906018005_oGrandma Eliza was born in 1897, and she married in 1912.  Her commonplace books appear to have been started in the the early 1900’s.  The earliest date noted in either book is 1915, but entries don’t appear to be chronological.  I suspect she “filled up” the pages, and then came back later to add more in leftover spaces.  It even looks as though her daughter, my Grandma Dolly (given name Hazel, my youngest is her namesake) added a note or two.  One is mostly handwritten in a record book, and the other is mostly cut and pasted into what appears to have been a school notebook.  You can see bits of History and Math peeking out from between the pasted-in articles.  I love that.

10915064_611568145613618_4685964967271451839_o

Her recipes and tips reflect the thrift of the day, and the articles she clipped feature women making do and rising above.  One clipped article features a Mrs. HG who found herself widowed and without an income on “the shady side of fifty years”.  But she did have the family home free and clear.  She sold a piece of jewelry and purchased three tables and twelve chairs, which she used to convert her front parlor into a dining room.  She offered a luncheon of baked beans, green salad, bread, and her neighbor’s fruit preserves for fifty cents, and having such a low overhead was able to support herself nicely thereafter.  Such an inspiration!  I love that even so many years ago, my great-grandmother was interested in many of the same things I am today; frugality, good food, and creating a warm home.

11072055_611568242280275_1806267066963852980_o

Calves Brains With Potato Balls and Tomatoes. YUMMY!

Aside from giving a glimpse at the sort of things Grandma Eliza was interested in, her commonplace books offer useful information.  Okay, I admit I’m not likely to need directions for maintaining a kerosene cookstove, and honestly, I’m not keen on tasting calves brains with potato balls.  But you can bet I’ve tried her method for cleaning and seasoning cast iron with great success!  And my girls, who have been learning about proper tea etiquette, will be very interested in the article she clipped on Table Service In The Home.11217604_611568282280271_1343129495048705349_o

I’m inspired to start keeping a commonplace book of my own.  Yes, I know my great grandchildren will probably be able to look back on my facebook, pinterest and even this blog if they are interested, but how much more valuable to have a book to hold in their hands, leaf through, and use as a resource for “old timey” wisdom?

Oh and as a side note, as I was putting my girls to bed this evening, the two year old asked “Mom, where’s my notebook?”  Yes, she actually speaks that well, and her notebook was jumbled in her covers.  All three of my daughters adore notebooks and journals. My husband is a serial note-booker, so I always figured they got it from him, but now I realize that they may have come by some of those tendencies on my side as well!

How about you?  Do you keep a “commonplace book”?

Special thanks to my mother and cousins for filling me in in dates and details of Grandma Eliza’s life, and for the wedding photo.  I would love to hear from any of you who have more stories to share!  

Schooling Outside The Box

Homeschooling has been such a blessing this year.  I love being with the kids (most of the time 😉  ) and I love watching their wheels turn, while they make new connections, and discoveries.  And while I’m sure I still have TONS to learn, I feel pretty confident sharing our successes and tricks.

A topic that has come up more than once when I’m over-zealously sharing our experience with public school moms is “I’d be scared I’d miss something”.  That is a valid concern, particularly for someone such as myself, who didn’t want to use a “box curriculum”.  Not only do we not have the budget for a complete “open and go” curriculum, but I fear I’d get bored and toss it anyway, or dislike parts of it and just not use those parts, which would lead to–you guessed it–those pesky gaps in learning.  Depending on your philosophy, and your state’s law, that could be a problem down the line.  I happen to believe there will always be gaps, whichever education you pursue for your child, so philosophically, gaps weren’t a huge concern for me.  But there is a certain continuity needed for skill building–I’m thinking math and language arts here– and it’s important to comply with your state’s laws.  (More on my opinion about gaps here)

One tool I’ve used to be sure we’re meeting our state’s requirements is a Course Of Study. Simply put this is a one page outline covering what we plan to do for each subject for the year. It may sound overwhelming, but if you’re at the point where you’re researching homeschool, chances are you’ve already started this process mentally.

The first step is to find out which subjects are required by your state.  If your state doesn’t set requirements for homeschool, you’ll need to decide which subjects are important to you.  Some considerations are future college goals, necessary life skills, and any obstacles you anticipate for your student.  We live in a state that requires 11 subjects, but doesn’t specify when, how, or at what level each subject is to be covered.  For my Course of Study/outline each subject is a heading.

Now that I have my headings, I just plug in what materials or resources I plan to use for each subject.  Some activities, and resources may cover more than one subject, and that is okay.  I simply list them separately for each subject.  For instance I have Garden listed under Occupational Ed. and Health.

If you’re not sure what to use for a particular subject, a simple google search will provide an overwhelming number of options.  I’d recommend you start by asking homeschool families in your area what they are using, and if they would consider letting your observe a school day, or subject period.

Here’s my Course Of Study for 2016/17

Half Acre Cottage School
2016-2017
Course of Study
Required subjects: reading, writing, spelling, language, math, science, social studies, history, health, occupational education, and art and music appreciation.

Reading

  1. Araya will read independently and narrate back to me from her choice of level appropriate books.
  2. Montana will read with me using Mc Guffey Readers, word building with scrabble tiles, Moby Max
  3. Whenever possible the other subjects will be literature based (ie living books for history, natural science etc.)
  4. Weekly library visits

Math

  1. Math Mammoth (workbook)
  2. Xtramath/ Moby Max

Science

  1. Nature notebooks (observations lead to questions/research)
  2. Weekly nature hike
  3. Burgess Bird Book For Children
  4. Museum and Dam Field Trips

Language arts (language/writing/spelling/grammar)

  1. Reading (living books for history, science, literature, and free reads)
  2. Copy work from the Bible, literary classics, (and Mc Guffey Readers for Montana )
  3. Daily journal prompt
  4. Vocabulary and spelling taken from reading selections
  5. Araya will compose written narrations for some readings.
  6. A Child’s Garden Of Verses

History/Social Studies

  1. An Island Story
  2. Fifty Famous Stories Retold (emphasize that some stories are based on real people/events but heavily fictionalized)
  3. Viking Tales
  4. Biogrophies: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Buffalo Bill

Health

  1. Daily life-conversations with mom, meal planning
  2. Gymnastics
  3. Weekly nature walks/hikes
  4. Garden

Occupational Education

  1. Life– chores, daily responsibilities
  2. Volunteering/ Camp Fire
  3. Garden
  4. Handicrafts (sewing and cooking at present)

Art and Music Appreciation

  1. Artist Studies
  2. Nature Journal
  3. Composer and Folk Song Studies
  4. Handicrafts

Remember, while we do have laws we need to follow, many of us choose to homeschool so that we can give our children a customized education.  Hopefully this helps you get an idea how to put together your course of study in such a way that you don’t forget any required topics.  Feel free to comment with questions on how to actually use any of the resources I’ve listed.