Monday, August 31, 2009

First Day of School

We school year round but we ease WAY up in the summer and in December.
So we officially kick off our school year every fall.
We choose when to do that.
This year, we chose today.
This past week, we had a family meeting and decided all the things we'd like to study this year.
The kids were in charge of food for the meeting--we had mini pizzas and 2 kinds of M&Ms.

Happy 1st day of school!
School barefoot. Love it.

Our "4th grader"
(Some people get really hung up on grades/levels, so we sort of play along) :P

Our "1st grader"
He is SO excited to be in 1st grade.

A sneak peek at our studies this morning

1st and 4th grade pictures to celebrate the first day
(Please notice awesome schedules behind them).

On tap for this year -- besides the usual math and spelling daily stuff, we're focusing on monthly topics as a way to approach our other subjects:

September -- Making posters and reading in preparation for the National Book Festival in DC
October -- Portuguese
November -- NaNoWriMo, so lots of fun writing and illustrating
December -- Portuguese
January -- Science for 2 weeks and then History for 6 weeks
February -- History continued with a week dedicated to Art History
March -- Grammar (YAY!)
April -- History
May -- Grammar

Daily Schedule
Every day, we get up and exercise.
Everyone gets ready and has breakfast and practices instruments, typing tutor, etc.
We meet in our home library for a spiritual thought.
Then spelling/handwriting.
The kids have requested learning about music daily so every day we tackle a different genre or band or whatever strikes our fancy.
(We went to our alphabetized CDs today and started with the very first one -- ABBA. While listening to the CD, we learned about disco, saw some disco balls and disco moves online, read about ABBA, and found Sweden on the map.)
This is when tackle our monthly subject. Sometimes we meet at home, sometimes outside, sometimes an ice cream shop, sometimes the library, whatever suits our fancy. Today, we made a list of all the authors we want to meet in DC next month and tomorrow we start making posters and reading more of their books and collecting them for signatures.
Today, we also did some fun 1st day of school drawings and handwriting exercises.
And we also have an "About Me" book project. And we also ate a snack.
Cooking/Lunchtime as a family
Daily Math with Daddy
Varying kinds of reading time and quiet time as a family and individually -- we are reading A LOT of cool books together
1/2 hour each -- Computer and TiVo (PBS)
Cooking/Dinner (the kids are interested in learning to cook, so we incorporate it into our meals

The kids also do lapbooks on anything that interests them.

Our evenings are generally free except for music lessons and occasional groups and activities through our homeschool group. We had a planning meeting here at our house this past week as well -- we had a dozen parents in attendance (many couldn't make it) and here is just a taste of what we're doing with our group:

We meet every Friday.
The first 3 Fridays of every month, we meet for various monthly classes at the library in the morning (we also have 2-3 field trip weeks/month on the other weeks).
And then lunch together.
Then gym (lead by teacher)/pool time for 2 hours in the afternoon at the YMCA as a big, huge group.

Classes this year include:
(We have rooms for 3 different age groups from babies to teens--often we meet together and sometimes we don't--depends on what we're doing)
September - Park Days
(Soccer, Capture the Flag, Kickball, Track and Field events, Olympics, Annual Picnic)
October and November -- Mock Trial Class
December -- Holiday crafts and activities and studies (cultural, religious) and party!
January --Games Club
February -- Dissection (Frog, Worm, etc.)
March -- Cultural Studies (Geography Bee, various Lectures/Presentations on countries throughout the month, International Fair where every child presents on a country and we celebrate with food and posters and exhibits
April -- Fine Arts Month (Poetry Slam, Music week, and Art Gallery for kids to share their work--anything they want!)
May -- Science Fair (Intro to Scientific Method and then research/group time for individual and group projects--kids can do both and then an actual Science Fair)

Field Trips are geared to both older and younger kids and include:
Refuse Authority and Water Treatment Facility (a big favorite a couple of years ago so we're repeating it this year)
Touring a school, meeting a bee keeper, a fire station, and the actual chocolate factory (not the ride)
Science Center and museum and local attractions in Amish Country
Apple orchard, hayride, wienie roast, cider, campfire, etc.
Actual courtroom trial
Farm Show
Rescue Mission and V.A. Medical Center
Night Field Trip to a radio station
Hospital Dietary Center
Visiting and learning about the workings of a restaurant (Thing 1 is especially excited about this one!)
K-9 Emergency Unit
Wheatland--home of President James Buchanan
Amish Farm
And several TBA!

We also have parents nights out for just hanging out or going to the movies and we also host intellectual outings and lectures for the adults. We also have a book club and writers' group.

We have our traditional kick-off picnic in September, Earth Day celebration in April, and Olympics Day in June.

We're also offering these Extra Curricular Groups (Non-Fridays):

ART CLASSES - The kids are getting Art classes 1-2 times monthly taught by an art teacher in the community on Mondays.

NEWBERY AWARD BOOK CLUB -- one night monthly from 6:30-9, Newbery Award Winning Novels, writing, activities, food,

NEWSPAPER CLUB -- the kids are WAY excited about this one, this one is run by kids (with an adult facilitator) and they will organize themselves into a newspaper club and have an editor and also print a monthly newspaper for themselves and the library is also distributing it--it'll have book and movie reviews, field trip recaps, and more!

OPEN MIC NIGHT - an opportunity for kids to share music, poems, reports, and the like


Also, there are kids interested in: Making a movie (writing, filming, editing)

We also have a great fund raising opportunity at our local Lazer Tag place. Generally, 15 minutes of play time costs $8/person. However, on fund raising nights, we can reserve the place for ourselves and we can pre-sell tickets for $10 each for 3 hours of unlimited play time. We then get $5 back for every ticket sold. We can use the proceeds to do a fun outing or defray other costs for our group or as a fundraiser for the library, etc. And bonus, fun night for us!

We're also organizing a directory of families in our group and printing membership cards (we get discounts all over the place -- Michael's, Waldenbooks, Barnes and Noble, etc. for homeschooling).

We're putting together yearly yearbooks.

There is also talk of another overnight trip, but instead of DC, this time to Boston. And perhaps the beach. And there is also talk of doing another overnight camping trip (they did one a couple of weeks ago) to the PA Grand Canyon next August again.

There are also service projects and various volunteering opportunities in the community.

So really, when people think that you don't do much or interact with others when you homeschool . . . well, that's not true for everyone. ;)

We're very lucky to have a fabulous group and so many great things all around us. And I love that we still have all meals together and most every evening totally free. We don't feel overprogrammed at all because we do so much together during the day as part of schooling together.

And I have loved, loved, loved sharing our kids' first day of school together. I love hanging out with them and wouldn't trade it! It's been a great day.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

He's caught up with me!

I've been 35 for almost 6 months now.
This past Tuesday, Mark caught up (again)!

Here's how we celebrated:

(Imagine picture of breakfast in bed here)

Mark was greeted with a bowl of granola
and freshly-picked raspberries from the farm

While he worked that morning,
I got busy on one of my surprises for him--
I made, from scratch, a homemade
German Chocolate Cake.
It was, in a word, phenomenal.

Now, you should know . . .
I'm not much of a baker (I prefer cooking).
But I try.
And boy did I succeed on this.
That's right, unabashed, self-congratulatory praise.
I *am* proud!

I bought a sifter for this.
I used cake flour.
I visited the farm and got farm fresh eggs (the difference between farm eggs and store bought eggs is about a year's worth of nights and days, there is just no comparison--farm eggs make EVERYTHING better, whether baked in or eaten by themselves--they are truly the best eggs).

I bought a 3rd cake pan since this is the first-ever 3-layer cake we've ever made.
I should add, too, that we don't even like cake that much (except this one--Mark loves German Chocolate Cake). Anyone who knows us or reads our blog knows that we do creative birthday cakes for the kids' parties but in general our "cakes" are usually donuts or cookies or pie or a bowl of M&Ms or a blob of chocolate chip cookie dough.

Back to this glorious cake . . .
I toasted the coconut and pecans.
I simmered and stirred.
I sneaked around the night before, barring Mark from the kitchen
and making (and hiding) the frosting.

I buttered the three cake pans.
I floured them.
I melted several ounces of German Chocolate.
I used a lot of butter in this recipe.
And a lot of eggs.
You don't even want to know the fat grams involved.
But we're smart about it--one week later and we're still eating little bits at a time,
savoring every bite of this divine dessert.

Ahem, I was saying.
I baked 3 cake pans of cake.
I cooled them on cooling racks.
I even went up to the 3rd floor to a pile of stuff we thought we'd sell and I must admit that I was wrong when I thought we wouldn't use that Princess House cake dish.
We used it! I brought it down and washed it.
I placed each cake layer followed by the delicious frosting.

I know some might think, "Yeah, you made a cake. Just say that."
But oh no no no. I didn't just "make a cake."
I made a German Chocolate Cake.
From Scratch.

Big difference.

Here is the result:
German Chocolate Cake.
From Scratch.


We did other things to celebrate, too.
Like a lovely, light summer lunch outside on our patio:

Cucumber Sandwiches with Dill
Fruit Salsa with homemade Cinnamon Chips

Also delicious.

Then we went bowling:

Then back home to open presents:

Check out the toothless grins

The kids got him much-needed new T-shirts.
See, Mark works his tail end off around here
with both work and home/yard projects,
so his T-shirts have slowly gotten pretty much destroyed.

Now, he's got new ones.
But one of "his" T-shirts is really for me:

See, this comes from a Friends scene (of course)
which you can view here--go ahead, it's funny:

He also got some that fit him well--
"That's What She Said"
"Save Ferris"
"Shrute Farms Beets"
"They tell me I have ADD. They just don't underst . . . hey look, a chicken!"

And I got him a Wii Fit:

I'm hoping we get using both this and the wonderful gift that Mark got me for my birthday (a Zune). It's pathetic that I haven't used it yet--I'm so intimidated and overwhelmed by new technology. It's ridiculous.

Then we went out for Mexican Food.
And then we came back for DELICIOUS cake.

Yep, totally posted this just to show the cake again.
I'm egocentric that way.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Post and Blog Funk

The Magic Violinist has posted a new post. Please check it out and comment!

Me? I'm in a blog funk. Have even considered stopping or going private or something altogether. I'm discouraged. Every blogger loves comments and knowing she has readers, but I get few comments and I'm thinking that I have a handful of readers and they're probably all people I talk to anyway or with whom I communicate on other blogs. I spend A LOT of time on posts and dang it, sometimes you just want feedback (Mom!). Just teasing--my Mom calls me about every single post and gives me oral feedback. :) (I still like comments!)

But seriously. It's summertime. I'm not on the computer that much these days. I'm outside. I'm playing games with my family. I'm reading. And I'm enjoying all of those things. So, I don't know.

I generally love blogging, but I'm in a funk and I also want to focus on other writing. To blog or not to blog, that is the question. Is anyone even reading this?? (See? Case in point.) :P

Maybe I'll just do a private blog for myself only while I work on NaNoWriMo. Now there's a thought. Maybe I'm just feeling more private? So unlike me. Maybe I'm sick of putting myself out there? Could be. Maybe it's just time to focus on writing a book. Hmmmmmmmmm . . .

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Favorite Authors/Favorite Books

Okay, so I want to know. If you were going to this, what books would you take to which authors to have signed? We're in the process of making our lists and I'd love to hear your thoughts, too!

No question in my mind, I'm getting my beloved copy of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter signed by Sue Monk Kidd.

Thing 1 is taking Princess Academy (Shannon Hale) down as well as our Judy Blume stuff among many other things.

Thing 2 is taking down our Mo Willems stuff as well as Spiderwick.

Mark's excited about Ken Burns.

And we're all excited about pretty much all of them--Grisham, Kidd, Robinson, Patterson, Sparks. I mean, we even get to meet Rickey Minor! :P

More PA fun with Mark's brothers

So, let's review.

We visited 14 states with Michael this summer.

We traveled across the country and saw buffalo, Mt. Rushmore, Chris Farley's grave, Wrigley Field and the national aviary. We got cheese in Wisconsin and deep dish pizza in Chicago.

He lived with us for over 7 weeks in PA.

We did a TON of yard work.

We ate out some.

We cooked great food.

We played lots of games, especially Ticket to Ride (but also Battleship, Pit, Twister, and many more!).

We watched all of Freaks and Geeks.

We went bike riding and played basketball and baseball and Laser Tag.

We got Hershey's ice cream at the local, old-fashioned ice cream shop.

We played a lot of Mario games and Rock Band.

We visited some Amish Country. We visited Hershey several times for both Chocolate World and Hersheypark.

We drove through New England (6 states on this leg of our road trip) and ate great food and visited great places in MA and RI, like Boston and Newport. Mark and his brothers went to a game at Fenway Park (and the Red Sox won).

We flew kites and visited the ocean.

We played cards.

Michael got to work for our business and the boys built various arbors and put in fencing and did a TON of landscaping.

We made brownies, soft pretzels, chocolate chip cookies, Dutch babies, and other scrumptious snacks.

We dealt with a guy who ran over our antique wrought iron fence.

We played Webkinz and Facebook Scrabble.

We barbecued and ate a lot of ice cream.

We lit fireworks.

We had pizza parties.

. . .

Oh, but there's more!

More work building pergolas (this one has a ceiling fan!)

More work planting and watering ivy to climb our fences

More fun around town--this is the boys chatting up something at National Night Out where we met friends and got free burgers, hot dogs, water, pierogies, Italian Ice, and fun!

More trips to Chocolate World to ride the ride, get free chocolate, and visit the many chocolate-themed shops!

Ugh. Scott asked me to take this picture of him holding a gift he thought Lindsay would like but didn't buy for her. Think he's trying to score points with a pregnant wife? I say punch him, Lindsay! :P

The gang at Chocolate World

So we have lots of these pictures in front of Chocolate World with our visitors. From this summer, we have one of Uncle Michael with the kids. And here is one with Uncle Scott and the kids! 3 of Mark's brothers to go (mine has visited a few times)! We've always been excited to have our siblings visit us here. I don't think I would've guessed that the twins would be the first. Loved having them here. We're excited for our next visitors so we can take you to Chocolate World, too!

More fun with friends--
Thing 1's first wedding shower with her cute friends
(She was so excited to attend)

More fun in the sun - Here is Thing 2 and Uncle Michael

Three amigos!
Thing 1 is doing ALL sorts of tricks off the diving board!

Thing 2 surfing on Uncle Michael's back

Thing 2 and his amigos!
Thing 2 is doing flips and handstands and twirls and cannonballs and "falling" into the water and all sorts of tricks!

More fun in Hershey, this time at HersheyPark! The kids get free tickets (and we get free parking) through a summer reading program. We usually go once locals are in school (one of the benefits of homeschooling) but we went earlier this year so we could go with Michael (there are 13 roller coaters in the park and he really likes those--some of them are CRAZY!)
Here we are lining up to get our bags checked.

Then it's time to see how tall we are for the rides:

Thing 2 is ALMOST past the peanut butter cup stage.

Thing 1 is ALMOST past the Hershey Bar stage.

I'm the same as previous years--a Jolly Rancher.
(Mark is taller than Jolly Rancher, which means he's tall enough for everything, but too tall for some rides)

Here we are with Hershey Kiss

It TOTALLY poured on us right when we were using the water park -- it was crazy!

This was pre-water park and pre-ride-closing rainstorm
Fun ride--The Howler--one of those spinny rides that Mark and his brothers don't handle so well (are there any of the brothers that can stomach spinny rides or is it all 6?)

More Rock Band
Love Thing 2's pose--he was getting into it.
You should hear him sing "Hello There, Ladies and Gentlemen!"

More fun IN our house - VERY short video of bat in our house. You might have to watch it twice to see it.

More outdoor enjoyment -- our beautiful back patio area--pergola built by the boys, ceiling fan wired and installed by Mark, morning glory vines running up the sides. Lovely!

More fun with our bird area -- that little bird bath/fountain was a deal we got on clearance. We love this area and really enjoy our feathered (and furry) visitors!

More food - farewell barbecue with Uncle Michael under our patio pergola!

We often eat out here because sometimes it's cooler outside than inside!
We got this cute picture of Uncle Michael and the kids before Mark took Michael to the airport to go back to school. Here are the three of them with their Webkinz. We got Michael a buffalo one as a farewell/thank you gift to commemorate our road trip and summer (we saw buffalo). Now the "kids" can play together on Webkinz and visit each other's online houses! We can hardly wait!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Guess WHAT!

I've mentioned that we love living in the Northeast/MidAtlantic, right? Maybe once or twice?

And I've mentioned that part of it is being close to so many cool cities, right?

Perhaps I've mentioned how we can get up and get to DC by breakfast time?

Well, in one month, guess what we're going to do!

Here's a big hint--we're meeting these children authors:

Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, authors of The Spiderwick Chronicles
Kate DiCamillo, author of The Tale of Despereaux and Edward Tulane
Shannon Hale, author of The Princess Academy
Lois Lowry, author of The Giver and Number the Stars
Jon Scieszka, author of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and Ted and The Time Warp Trio Series
David Shannon, author of No, David!
Mo Willems, author of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knuffle Bunny, and The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog

And these teen authors:

Judy Blume
Paula Deen
Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid)
Kadir Nelson, who has written various books about Jackie Robinson and Harriet Tubman
James Patterson (yes, he's writing young adult books now)
Sharon Robinson, author and daughter of Jackie Robinson

And these fiction and fantasy authors:

John Grisham
John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany and The Cider House Rules)
Jodi Picoult
Nicholas Sparks
Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle)
David Wroblewski (The Story of Edgar Sawtelle)

And these mystery/thriller authors:

David Baldacci
Mary Jane Clark
Michael Connelley
James Patterson (this category, too)
Daniel Silva

And these history and biography authors:

Ken Burns (yes, the Civil War documentary guy)
Gwen Ifill
SUE MONK KIDD (I'm pretty excited about this one)
John Meacham
Rickey Minor (yes, of Idol fame)
Ann Kidd Taylor
David A. Taylor

And these poets:

Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran)
Kay Ryan, U.S. Poet Laureate

and many more as well as several illustrators, too!

We are spending the next month getting geared up and ready. We're incorporating this awesome trip into our schooling. We're making posterboards about each author we're excited to meet, reading their books, and collecting them to take them down to get autographed. I AM SO SO SO EXCITED! D.C., here we come!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How to smuggle food into amusement parks

Step 1: Pack a Ziploc-able lunch.

Step 2: Place the food and snacks at the bottom of a dark-lined backpack with multiple pouches.

Step 3: Pile wallet, keys, camera, and the like on top of food.

Step 4: Nonchalantly walk into park.

Step 5: Get in line that has male bag checker.

Step 6: Unzip various sections of the backpack while asking general questions to distract him.

Step 7: Unzip the section that is full of feminine hygiene products.

Step 8: He's done. Enjoy the park and not paying for expensive park food.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Back in PA with Scott and Michael

Back in PA, we ate a lot of food and played a lot of games . . .

We also played some backyard baseball. Which sometimes resembled Calvin Ball. :)

And we played a little Lazer Tag:

After that, we played some arcade games where Mark and the uncles helped score some tickets for the kids. Deal or No Deal was especially exciting.


Oh man, ouch!
(Love the facial expressions in this one)

There were very big decisions being made!!

All that playing made us hungry for some good old fashioned ice cream at the local ice cream shop.

Ishmael, Roy Munson, Abraham

And what better way to round out the evening than with a little Rock Band?

Give it up for