Saturday, November 28, 2009

Enjoyable Two Year Olds...

I love two year olds. I always have. While most people think of the terrible twos, I always thought of it as the terrific twos.
[Kari and Arden, pictured at left]

I did licensed home day care for about five years when we lived in Florida. It enabled me to stay home with my little ones and earn some money. My favorite year or two of doing this was when I had Kari and two other little girls that were two years old and then the following year too. I had a few other kids come and go, but these three with the ones that I had five days a week, nine hours a day.

I loved it, and it was sweet seeing the relationships grow between the girls.

This all came flooding back to me this week when my niece, her husband their and two year old daughter came for Thanksgiving. Kylee just turned two in October and she was an absolute delight.

I think she is probably genetically good natured, but that by itself would not account for the way she charmed all of us. Her mom and dad gently corrected her and re-directed her when she needed it. She played by herself really well and also was very gentle with our dog. She had us all laughing a lot of the time with her concern for the two dogs. At one point she took out every single dog toy and toy by toy brought each one to our dog and laid it in front of her. She was so proud to be able to help the dog in that way.

It got me thinking about what makes a two year old enjoyble rather than terrible. I think the main thing is consistency. When Kylee tried to do something she shouldn't, such as sitting on a basket, her mom told her not to and had her sit on a little chair or the floor. When Kylee tried to sit on the basket again, her mom quietly told her no, and directed her to sit on the floor. After 2-3 times, Kylee did not try to sit on the basket anymore. If her mom had looked the other way and allowed her to sit on the basket just one time, then all the times of saying no would have been for naught.

I read an article one time that said that most kids are like little gamblers. They can lose 99 times, but if they win just once, they think they have beaten the "house." I believe it. Parents need to be consistent with discipline 100 times out of 100 or kids think they have won and will keep trying to get away with something else. But, if you are consistent, and they know that, after trying a couple of times, they will generally quit trying. And this makes a two year old very fun to be around.

They are enthusiastic, will try anything, seem to be made of rubber they way they tumble and trip around. They are little mimics who soak up and learn just about anything. They sing and dance and laugh and are generally fearless. I love to watch their faces because you can read just about every human emotion in them. You can see fear and worry, joy and wonder. We went to Panera and there was a little child hollering in their high chair. Kylee was so worried and you could see she wanted to go over and comfort the crying child. You could see the compassion and concern on her face.

I know all children are not as delightful as Kylee, and I have parented children that were not as compliant--but even my hardest children were fun as two year olds. I had to be consistent, but watching them develop their imagination and their confidence was really a great experience.

I think we should embrace two year olds--they are a lot like us, before we develop negative self-confidence or embarrassment issues.

The world is new and exciting every morning when you have a two year old. Their wonder is infectious. I love it!

Take care,

Photos, top to bottom--some of my kids at two years old: Kari and friend Arden; Cris, Kari, Dusty

Monday, November 23, 2009

If only you were all like me...

On the Sonlight® Club Forums last week there was a thread started where the original poster basically said that she was tired of people who said that their kids wouldn't do their school work, or that the family didn't have time to do their school work, or that the kids wouldn't help with chores and on an on. This person said that people just need to do it! Make their kids mind, quit whining, take control, get on with it! No excuses!

If they would just do things her way, all would be well.

It made me think of an old episode of "Doug." I can't even remember how many years ago it was on TV, but Kari and Scotty used to watch it and they are 20 and 23 now and I don't think they have watched Saturday morning cartoons for years! Doug had this dog named Porkchop and they had lots of adventures, but the one I remember best is when Doug wonders why everyone can't be just like him. He knows what is best, what works--in short how to live the perfect life.

Just be like him.

Well, he has a dream and guess what? Everyone is just like Doug. They dress the same, think the same, go to the same places. I can't really remember all of the ramifications, but I do remember the thing that makes Doug realize that diversity is good. He goes to get an ice-cream cone. His favorite flavor is Buttery Brickle [I think I am remembering right] but there isn't any of his favorite flavor anywhere. Not one bit! Why? Because it is everyone's favorite flavor; and right then and there Doug realizes that everyone being just like him is NOT a good idea.

I couldn't help thinking of this episode when I read the very long thread that insued after the original poster basically told everyone if they were more like her, their kids/schools/families would be wonderful.

Would they?

I don't' think so. I think we need to appreciate our differences and certainly if someone asks for advice in an area where they struggle it is only right to pass along how you do things; but to assume that the way I do something will work in your home is unrealistic and a bit condescending. Many of the forum ladies pointed out that she had not walked in their shoes, did not have the children they have, the spouse they have, the responsibilities and the challenges that they have. Everyone is not the same and one size does not fit all.

I think the biggest shame in today's parenting philosophies is that there are so many choices and so many who think they have all the answers--whether anyone wants to hear them or not.
  • There is attachment parenting and the opposite--is that detachment parenting? Perhaps not, I think it is more of a scheduled approach.
  • There is the public school, private school, charter school, homeschool issue. Which is better?
  • Then, if you decide to homeschool, there is homeschool on line with minimal parent involvement, literature based homeschool and unit studies with high parent involvement, distance school, traditional textbook approach, video classes, etc.
And what is right? I think each thing is right for certain people at certain times. And for anyone to presume to know what is right for another is insulting. Just because Sonlight is THE perfect curriculum in my mind, does not mean it is perfect for you and your situation.

Can't we still be friends? Can we still respect each other? Can we extend grace and love to each other, especially when one of us is down and feeling whiney?

And if not? If everyone needs to be like me in order for the world to go on it will be pretty sad, because in no time at all there will not be any Coconut Almond Fudge Ice Cream left anywhere.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Toys and Christmas

With Christmas right around the corner I thought I would remind people that when buying for children, try to remember tools not toys. So, rather than make a new post I will refer you to my previous posts:

Tools Not Toys
How to Tame your Toys
Ideas to Beat Boredom
Great Christmas Sale on Books and "Tools" for kids-70% off selected products. [These are great deals, blocks, board books, games, misc. books]

I hope this helps as you do your Christmas Shopping.

Take care,

Friday, October 30, 2009

Applesauce Day...

If you know me well, you will probably have heard about Applesauce Day. It is an annual event--first a bit of history.

[My filled jelly cabinet with jam, soup, salsa and of course, applesauce!]

When I was a child my sisters and I helped my mom can tomatoes, peaches and a variety of other produce. She told stories of when she was a child how Grandpa would put the old canning stove under the tree in the back yard because it was cooler that way. I wish I would have asked if it was electric, gas or a wood stove.

At any rate, they would wash the jars in the back yard in tubs of hot soapy water in preparation for canning. It was a lot of work! [We just put the jars through the dishwasher.]

[Top, apples cooking; below, my son Dusty milling the apples. He put cooked apples in the top of the hopper, cranks the handle and like a miracle, the applesauce comes out the front while the peels and seeds go into a bucket to compost.]

When canned goods first started appearing in stores my Grandma and her friends thought that only lazy people would buy canned fruits and vegetables. I mean, who would do that when you could can your own? How times have changed since then.

At any rate, through the years Mom and I canned applesauce. When we moved to Kentucky in 1992 Mom and Dad would bring apples down from Michigan [on their way back down to Florida] and Mom and I [with some help from Dad and a bit from the kids] would can applesauce. We used archaic equipment and it was really hard work.

[Various friends and family cutting the apples--before you can cook them, they need to be quartered and the blossom end cut out. With back to camera, daughter in law Molly, to the left Jenny and daughter Kate, and new recruits Karen at end and Tricia in foreground.]

This continued till the year my dad died. Mom started to decline with Alzheimer's and she went to live in Michigan permanently-no longer making the treks down to Kentucky with apples. The first year she was not coming I was kind of depressed. I mentioned this to Bob--I mean it is kind of like when someone dies and they won't be at Christmas anymore--except we hadn't celebrated Christmas with my parents for years. But, when fall came, and Mom and Dad weren't there to help me do applesauce, it was really, really hard for me.

[Friends Bethel and Kenji put more applesauce through the mill.]

Bob said, "Maybe you need to modify the tradition. Make applesauce with our kids to carry on the tradition." That was good advice, except our kids were not interested at that time. Too young.
[Jenny and Kate with youngest daughter Violet in foreground, Kenji with son Kai on floor, our son Dusty [back to camera] and daughter in law Jen in Living room.]

So, I called up my friend Jenny who now has 5 children, but I think she and Keith only had two back then, and asked if she wanted to come over for "Applesauce Day." She did. That first year I think we canned about 60 quarts, split them and called it a day.

[Karen and my daughter Kari putting the applesauce into jars, ready to process.]

Since that day in 2001 the tradition has grown. This year we canned 7 1/2 bushels of apples, yielding about 62 quarts and 112 pints, plus we ate a LOT. So, here are some photos of applesauce day 2009.

[ Photos: Karen and Kai tasting the sauce. Isaac to right eating some applesauce too. #2- Some of the completed applesauce, #3 Keith reading to his three youngest kids. As you can see, applesauce day is a family event! I think it would make Mom and Dad smile.]

Take care,

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dear Jill...

I received a note from a homeschooling dad expressing his frustration that he can hardly teach his two young children because each takes so much individual time. Here is part of his very good letter [names have been changed]:

"I'm finding that right now, my big challenge is coordinating things. Robin is six and her math takes a lot of time and attention. So while I'm doing Robin's math with her, it's hard to figure out how to keep Jacob busy and engaged with useful activity, without interrupting Robin's math. And vice-versa. If I'm involved in 2nd grade math with Jacob, it's hard to keep Robin engaged with something useful, without interrupting Jacob.

"Also, since both kids are young, there are constant questions and a lack of ability to solve their own I'm constantly jumping back and forth from one child to the other. I like to finish one task before starting another. That really doesn't work with home school, as in my case, I'm teaching 1st and 2nd grade pretty much simultaneously in the daytime."

The implied question is, "How can I get it all done?"

I hear this over and over as I talk to parents throughout the Midwest. I replied to this dedicated father in the following way and my husband thought I should share my response in case it might encourage other homeschooling families.

Dear Friend,

I have a couple of suggestions. First off, I would not do two separate curricula with children so close together. Please think about having them share whatever is practical, such as science, social studies/history and Bible. There is absolutely no reason to teach each one separately. When you teach children together you will not only be simplifying the teaching, but they will be learning together which will forge strong family bonds. You will probably hear them reinforcing what they are studying with each other during non-school time because they are studying the same thing.

I am not sure what curriculum you are using, but even before I used Sonlight Curriculum with my children, I combined them in many subjects. In fact, one year, I wrote unit studies so all my children could learn together. They were in 9th, 7th, 5th and 1st grades plus we had a 3 year old to make things more interesting! Obviously the 9th grader understood more than the 3 year old, but we all learned together at our own level. Just like when you have Bible study—all can join in, but each takes something different away from it.

I am not sure what math you are doing, but generally I would sit at the table and start one child off while other children worked on handwriting, or spelling or maybe just had a 10 minute break. Then I would start the other one off and sit at the table and kind of help both/all the children at the same time, going from one to another. If this doesn’t work, then schedule 30 minutes with each child while the other one is doing silent reading, tidying up their room, cleaning the bathroom, etc. If they take longer than 30 minutes, make it a two day lesson, or have them do what they didn’t get done as homework. There is really no reason for math for a 1st grader to take a 45 minutes or more. Slow down if it is too hard. You are building a foundation you can build on later, not trying to win a race.

If you are doing a traditional curriculum they are frankly a LOT of busywork because they are designed for school use. Cut out some stuff, don’t do it all. You are the teacher—you control what your children do at what pace. When you were in school did you EVER finish a text book? Didn’t the teacher skip some chapters? The books are your tools, you are their master. Many folks let the curriculum be the master and they are the servant. Don’t get into that trap. You are the master, the books are your servants. Don’t let them be in charge.

I am fully convinced after homeschooling our five children for 17 years that there are only three things to teach our children [as far as academics]:

• To be able to read and comprehend [This would apply to most subjects, even math. If they can read it and comprehend it you have done your job.]
• To be able to think critically about what they have read and form opinions [This does not mean doing the questions at the end of the chapter. This means having thoughtful discussions with your children about what they have read or what they are learning about]
• To be able to communicate back [orally and via the written word] what they know or think about a subject

They do not necessarily need to learn about every time period in history. They don’t necessarily need to learn how to diagram sentences or a lot of other things. What they need is to be able to read about a subject, understand what they have read, think about it and what the implications are, and to communicate it back. You cannot teach a child everything. Can you? I know I don’t know everything. But, if you can teach them to read and think and communicate they can approach any subject, job or situation with confidence.

I truly believe that today’s schools do not teach children to succeed because they don’t teach them to think. Yet, our whole lives involve thinking. When you get a job, no one asks you to do a multiple choice test—they give you work and expect you to be able to read the material, figure out what to do and do it.

I suggest when you have the time you may want to read “A Thomas Jefferson Education” by DeMille. He has some wonderful insights about the difference between an education like our founding fathers received and the "assembly line" education of today's schools.

I also suggest that this year you try combining the children in some subjects. I think you will all benefit. And if you are not reading good literature to your children, you might want to ditch history and just read to your children some of the Childhood of Famous American books or other historical biographies and/or novels. This could be done as bedtime reading to break up the day a little bit. You will all learn a lot and it will be much more enjoyable. If you plan to homeschool for the long haul, then I think it would be nice if it was enjoyable for you too.

Feel free to use what you can from my suggestions and toss what would not work. Homeschooling is a job. It is not easy, but it is the most rewarding job you will ever have and it will reap huge benefits.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Homeschool Blog Awards Nominations...

Nominate your favorite homeschool blog. Go here to see the details. If you like this blog, you might want to consider nominating it in the "Homeschool Mom" category or another category you think is appropriate.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Driver's Ed...

I am not an expert on teaching kids to drive. I don't have the nerves or patience it takes to get in the car with a teen and teach them how to actually keep from killing themself or someone else. In fact, when Cris was learning to drive and I was a mere passenger in the back seat I shouted out, "We're all going to die!" I couldn't help it. I really thought we were all gonners.

At any rate, my husband is an amazing driving teacher. He taught all our kids to drive.

I gave birth, he taught to drive. We call it even!

But, we did learn a great way to make sure our kids had plenty of experience on the road before we allowed them to take their road test to get their license.

We had them log 2000 miles with Bob or I supervising. Every time they got in the car to drive, they had to jot down the miles and then jot them again when we returned home. I generally felt comfortable sitting in the co-pilot seat after they had logged 1000 miles.

Let me tell you--two thousand miles is a lot! To get that many they will have driven back roads, expressways, during the day, the night, the rain and if you live in northern climates, even the snow. It takes commitment on the part of the parents and the teen, but it is time and gas money well spent. By the time you teen takes their road test you will feel confident in their driving ability.

Also, it takes the pressure and strain off the parents as to saying when a teen is ready. Instead of saying, "You aren't ready for the road test because..." you can just ask how many miles are logged and when you child reaches that mark, you take him. It is not subjective at all--but totally objective and everyone knows the expectations.

I know many states have minimum driving requirements, but even if they say the child needs to drive 50 hours, makes sure they also have 2000 miles. The 2000 mile goal is did not originate with us. Years ago my sister heard a judge say that he had observed that the most and worst accidents caused by teens were by inexperienced teens. He said that if they had at least 2000 miles under their belt they were exponentially better drivers than those who didn't. We took his advice to heart and I think it was some of the best advice we ever took.

I wanted to pass this advice on to those of you with pre-drivers. Please, have your children keep a log book, make them log 2000 miles, then take them for their road test. You will be glad you did.

Take care,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nobel Prize won by former home-educated student...

Did you see the news this week? Willard S. Boyle is sharing the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in developing the sensor that is widely used in digital cameras.

Born in Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1924, Willard moved to northern Quebec when he was three years old because his father took a job as a doctor at a lumber camp.

He was homeschooled by his mother until he went to high school in Montreal. [Way to go Mrs. Boyle! ]

So, if people question your homeschooling, you can say, "Hey, the last guy to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics was homeschooled."

You can read more about Boyle by going here:

Take care,

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Craft Fair in our small town...

Yesterday there was a craft fair/festival in our town. Main Street was closed off, vendors set up tents, the potter had his wheel going, people were making kettle corn, lathe-turned pens and various other things. There was a wool booth with 4 real live sheep in attendance. This was especially popular with little kids and dogs!

I took a quick look around and bought a few things at the farmer's market and then hurried to help my friend who owns a gift shop on Main Street. The shop is actually in the dining room of her house. It is called The Front Room and she has lots of local items as well as unique and reasonable gifts. She carries the famous Prairie Kari Soap [I say this laughing, since I make the soap], Woodstock Chimes, His Gem baby clothes and lots of cool stuff.

At any rate I am still smiling when I think about some of the folks who came in. There was one young boy, I am guessing about 10, who was so enthusiastic about the Smencils that Linda sells in the shop. He was giving everyone within earshot a little education about how they are made with 100% recycled newspaper and smell cool. He was very good-natured and so enthusiastic! With his big dimples and quick smile he reminded me of Chad when he was younger, so smart and affable--like a grown up in a kid's body.

The chimes were a hit with many people trying them out. They sound lovely, and young kids as well as old men seem to love them--truly a intergenerational gift.

There were people who just came in to look, others who came just to say hi. Everyone loved the Buttered Maple Toddy Goose Creek candle Linda had burning, but no one bought one. Made in Liberty, Kentucky, these candles are wonderful and really throw the scent.

Some people tried to talk the price down on some items, but really, Linda's profit margin is not that high, so she needs to get the prices she charges. I cannot imagine trying to talk-down a shop owner, but I guess people figure "why not?" I was kind of taken back by their boldness.

I talked to some homeschooling parents who were just starting to homeschool. One lady said how much they enjoyed the book "Milly-Molly-Mandy" when she found out I was a Sonlight Consultant. Her little girl was about 8 and so sweet, she reminded me of my daughter Kari when she was that age.

At any rate, it was a great day. Lots of fun, lots of families, lots of jewelry sold.

Living in a small town is great and very rewarding, and despite my perception that I know everyone in town, I realized yesterday that I don't. It is events like this that get us out of our routine so we can encourage and get to know our neighbors. I can't wait till "Old Fashioned Christmas" when Main Street once again becomes a huge sidewalk, free from cars and commerce, and inviting us to once again get to know our neighbors.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Curses--I mean Cursive!

Does anyone care about cursive anymore?

This was the title of an article in our local newspaper and it reminded me of many conversations that I have had with parents. Do their children need cursive? Many schools have dropped the formal training in cursive, or have short lessons on it in 3rd grade and never touch on it again. Does it matter?

I am not sure. What do you think? In this computer/phone/texting culture, why do we need cursive? I rarely write cursive and my husband has printed for years. In fact, I am not sure if I ever saw him write much more than his name in cursive in the past 35+ years.

In years past cursive was important because it was faster than printing so all correspondence could be sped up if they writer wrote in cursive. But now just about everything that takes time such as work or school reports, Christmas letters, letters to the editor, personal journals and so on are done in some type of word processing program. Most of us only use pen and ink for signatures, shopping lists, short memos and a few other applications. Like many people I don't even keep a hand written calender anymore, I use a Google Calendar and print it out a month or so at a time.

The article said that cursive writing in an art that helps teach children muscle control and hand-eye coordination. I suppose the same could be said of a key board, Wii controller or text messaging. The article concluded rather lamely what one teacher says "I just tell children, what if we are on an island and we don't have electricity? One of the ways we communicate is through writing."

What? I mean if we don't have electricity, probably we won't be too worried about writing correspondance, we will communicate by talking or making symbols on tree bark or making signal fires so someone will rescue us. In that scenario I think that a wilderness survival class might be more in line. [I actually taught a seminar in wilderness survival years ago, so ask me if you have further questions.]

For my kids, I really wanted them to be able to be able to write and print legibly and to be able to read traditional cursive. Out of my five children, three learned traditional handwriting, one child learned italic cursive and one used Handwriting Without Tears [both untraditional cursive programs] I wanted them to be able to read traditional Spencerian Cursive because I wanted them to be able to read letters from their grandma. Silly, huh?

And I think any thing that instills some discipline is good.

But, I think my children's children will not need to know cursive to be able to read my letters because I type everything. And, if they do need to learn how to read it, my advice is to have them type their reports using a cursive font. They can always change the font if they need to, but if they type with a cursive font they will know enough cursive to read it and whether they can write in cursive is not that important.

I advise parents to have their children learn to communicate in a legible way and to learn touch keyboarding in elementary school. I am not sure cursive is as important as it once was, but it is not a bad thing to learn it either.

So, what do you think? Does anyone care about cursive anymore?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I was a Disney Extra...

I always thought of extra as something you don't need. like extra cream in your coffee, or extra whipped cream on a sundae. But in the movie world, extras are really important. At least that is what the Disney folks said to us, the extras who showed up for the filming of Secretariat, who was the Triple Crown winner in 1973. When he won, it had been 25 years since the last winner and it was historically significant because he won by 31 lengths!

The movie being made by Disney was filming in Lexington at Keenland this week and they needed extras. I wasn't busy, so I made myself a 70s style top, dug out my 70's jewelry, did my best Farrah Fawcett hairdo and off I went.

They were very disorganized, so it took some time to figure out where I had to go. Finally I found the cold upper deck section of the grandstands reserved for the extras who are essential to the production. I mean, what good is it to have a champion race horse winning the Triple Crown if no-one cheers him home. And believe, me we cheered ourselves silly.

First, we were not really at Keenland according to the movie-makers; it had been changed to Belmont in New York. So, the race we were watching was supposed to be the race where Secretariat won the Triple Crown, the climax of the whole movie, and we were there to cheer him on. And cheer we did.

We cheered from the rail, we cheered from the box seats, we cheered from the upper deck area [every section], we cheered from the benches, we cheered when the horses were re-enacting the win, and we cheered when there were no horses at all [which felt totally ridiculous, but we were acting, right?], and we cheered silently when we were told to do so.

I actually scored a sign along the way [not many signs to go around] and mine had a line drawing of a horse head with the words "Triple Crown." So, if you see the movie, look for a crazy middle age woman with a blue batik top with huge sleeves and big hair carrying a Triple Crown sign. That will be me! I held that sign way above my head right at the finish line while I cheered my heart out, so maybe that will be a freeze frame or something and you can pick out my sign.

When they filmed a paddock scene another lady and I lead a cheer, "GO BIG RED" till we were about hoarse [pun intended]. Luckily I am a very experienced talker with lots of stamina, so when others were losing their voices, I kept cheering. I was also a back ground person in another paddock scene. I had the important job of chatting with three other ladies in an informal way. Not much acting there, except we couldn't actually make any noise [very difficult!].

A couple of funny things that made me laugh:
  • There was an older man with very non-70's facial hair. He was told he could be an extra if he didn't mind losing the beard. He didn't mind, so a Disney guy whipped out a cordless razor and shaved him right there.
  • There were a lot of cops--well really extras pretending to be cops and security guys. The funny thing was a lot of the extras thought they were real cops so it was hilarious listening to people asking them cop-related questions. Some said, "Hey, I work in an office, I never wore a uniform till today," while others played along and gave semi-cop answers.
  • One black gentleman had about the best costume there in my opinion. He was tall and thin, about my age, and had a powder blue polyester leisure suit, a striped polyester shirt with a wife-beater underneath, a striped blue fedora, a HUGE Polaroid camera around his neck, and ponytail. His name was Earl. I was next to him in one shot and said I loved his hat. I asked if it was his or Disney's. He said it was all his, the whole outfit. Another man asked why he still had a leisure suit [the guy who asked was in a Disney suit, brown leisure and he said he hoped no one smoked, he was afraid the suit would melt on him]. Earl said he also had a purple and green one at home. He said he puts on his outfit, and a Fender Guitar and goes to parties to liven them up. We thought he meant he played the guitar in a band, but no, he uses the guitar as a prop, it was his dad's and he can't play a note. We all laughed when he then removed his hat and the ponytail was attached to it-he was really very clean cut.
  • Since there were only a few hundred of us but we needed to look like thousands in the stands, we had to keep changing locations to cheer. Then they will splice it together and make it look like there was a huge crowd. Someone at Disney got the great idea that the extras who had played the horse owners in the earlier paddock scene should not be sitting in the grandstands with the rest of us, in case they were spotted. It would look weird to have them sitting with the crowd, so a Disney guy yelled to all of us, "Are there any horse owners here?" Well, this is Kentucky, and it is a movie about horses, so about 1/3 of the people started to stand up. The Disney guy's jaw dropped, he shook his head, smiled and dropped his head--then he looked up and said, "I mean, is there anyone in the stands who PLAYED a horse owner in the paddock scene we shot today." Oh! About everyone sat down and one guy yelled from the back, "I own a beagle, does that count?"
  • Another guy from Disney asked, "Does anyone have hair pieces?" I mean, everyone looked at everyone else. If anyone did they were not going to admit it. So we all played dumb, then the guy said what he really meant [he said this very slowly, syllable by syllable], "Are there any men with mustaches or long sideburns?" Ahh, say what you mean. They pulled these guys and put them up front because they looked more 70's.
  • The camera crew actually dug a hole at the finish line to put one camera in so that it will [presumably] shoot the hooves when they cross the line.
All in all I was out there 12 hours, and you are not going to believe this, but:
  • There must have been 30-40 kids and not one kid was bad or obnoxious or whiny all day
  • Nobody smoked all day, but I didn't see any no-smoking signs. Not sure if Keenland is non-smoking or what, but it was weird to have hundreds of people and no smoking
  • Not one cell phone rung all day. Not one! Some folks called out on the phones in the lulls [most of the day was a lull] but not one phone rang.
All in all a fun and educational day. They did feed us, one large hot dog, one bag of chips [I got the Bar-B-Que], one large drink. The paid extras [I was unpaid, the basic difference was the money and the paid ones wore Disney clothes, we wore our own] were paid minimum wage [we asked a "cop"].

It was very disorganized and I felt I could have saved them quite a bit of money if I was in charge, but alas nobody asked me. I talked to all sorts of interesting people from little kids to octogenarians--really a diverse group--and learned a bit about each of them.

And Extras--they couldn't make a film without us, we should be called Essentials.

Take care,

PS No pictures in this post because it wasn't allowed, but you can see the Promo bulletin here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

How Living Books Teach...

I was privileged to be able to speak to some homeschooling parents in Frankfort, KY this past week. If you are interested in listening to my talk, you can click on the links below. The one hour talk is divided into 5 smaller parts to make it easier for you to listen to it when you get the chance.

~How Living Books Teach~

  • An introduction to the differences between teaching with living books and teaching with traditional textbooks or workbooks. Part 1
  • How stories engage us and how reading aloud benefits the whole family Part 2
  • Will my children have gaps in their learning? Triangulating information and how living books inspire creativity. Part 3
  • Creating strong families and character training Part 4
  • Quality time, learning about other cultures--summary of benefits and what you can do to incorporate living books into your family routine. Part 5
Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions,

Take care,

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Soldier's Farewell...

As I was wrapping bars and bars of soap this morning, I thought I should share an incredible, nearly spiritual experience we had yesterday.

Our long time neighbor, Johnny Lamb died earlier this week. He was in his 70's and had been ill for quite a while. Bob was asked to officiate at the funeral, along with grocery store owner, Leonard, yesterday. Chad and Scotty were asked to be Pall Bearers.

Since Johnny had been in the military, we think in the Korean War, he was to be buried with full military honors. We have a military cemetery about 15 minutes south of town which is his final resting place.

It was a foggy morning, and while we waited at the pavillion for the hearse, we saw, coming through the mist, a horse pulling a flat wagon with the flag draped coffin atop. It was led by a veteran in a Civil war uniform [Camp Nelson trained northern soldiers, predominently black soldiers during the Civil War]. Following came a horseless rider, led by another wool clad soldier. The slow clop, clop of horse's hooves were all we could hear as the caisson approached.

Once the casket was in the pavillion, four military men shot three rounds, for a total of 12 shots. Then one of the Civil War soldiers fired off a cannon, to make a 13 gun salute. The cannon smoke swirled around the mourners and on into the haze. Then the sound of taps could be heard floating through the pungent black powder mist, carrying through the haze the mournful notes of a soldier's farewell- a final tribute to a man who lived well and was loved much.

We all felt like Johnny would have love it!


*This picture is kind of like it, only there was one Civil War dressed soldier leading the horse pulling the caisson, and one leading the horseless rider.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Taught to Play?

You are not going to believe this--or perhaps maybe, like me, you are thinking you knew it would come to this.The Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton, Mass., is paying $23,500 to the national non-profit Playworks to teach children how to play.


Yes, that's right. They are going to teach children how to play old-school activities like jump-rope, four square, capture the flag, kickball, hula-hoop and so on.

Playworks says things I can't believe need to be said, but none-the-less I have been saying them for years. [Why didn't I think of marketing play?]
  • Recess is the single biggest opportunity to raise the level of physical activity for all children
  • Teachers cite improved behavior in the classroom when students have recess.
  • Time and time again, research has shown that healthy play and recess help kids succeed in the classroom
  • Kindergarteners are under intense pressure to meet testing standards while also being denied play time, leading to a rise in aggression and behavioral problems.
  • Play creates essential opportunities for children to explore their imaginations, to connect with other people and to stretch and grow physically, emotionally and socially.
  • Play creates an important opportunity to teach kids conflict resolution skills.
  • We believe that rock-paper-scissors is a perfectly adequate problem-solving tool most of the time. [I LOVE this statement!]
And, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, free, unstructured play is essential for keeping children healthy, and for helping them reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones. Unstructured play also helps kids manage stress and become resilient.

I believe this.

I believe that kids need more time to play without being in an organized sport or league or lessons. They need more time to play, to work off energy, to make up their own games and to created their own entertainment. In this entertainment culture kids don't have enough time to think, to dream, to be bored and to have to find their own remedy.

I admit, I can't believe that kids need to be taught to play, but then again, maybe I can. Kids today are so scheduled between school, day care, various lessons and clubs there is only so much time in a day and no time to play. But honestly, if we want no child left behind, children need time to play, to run, to shout, to create their own fun.

I visited the local elementary school a couple of years ago on a lovely winter day in Kentucky. The sun was shining and it just under 30 degrees outside. No kids were out playing. I asked one little girl about it, and she said they never went outside to play until the temperature was over 35 degrees!
Can you believe it?

They just read or played quietly or just didn't do any type of unstructured recess time. I can't imagine what torture that must be for the more active children. No wonder so many kids need to be medicated to make it through the school day. [In all fairness, at this school, each individual teacher supervises recess whenever they want to. So, this teacher didn't like cold weather, so the kids it that class did not go out. Other teachers, from more sturdy stock, did take their kids out for recess . I guess the days of teachers taking a little break while the kids go out and are overseen by monitors are long gone. Pity.]

My fondest memories of elementary school were the THREE recesses we took every day. Fifteen minutes each morning and each afternoon and 30 minutes after lunch. And, for the record, I grew up in Michigan where we played outside every day unless it was raining, regardless of the temperature. We had to wear dresses back in those days too, but we pulled on our play pants under our dresses for recess time, put on our boots, mittens, scarfs and whatever warm things our mom sent with us, and out we went. I can't believe how adults have robbed children of the joy of play, and much of it done in the name of safety or academic necessity or enrichment.

Less conflict.
Better attention span.
Children explore their imaginations.
And they wear off calories and energy to boot.

Sounds too good to be true. Cheap, old fashioned, fun and can be done anywhere.

Playing...Gotta love it! Recess anyone?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Teaching Lots of Kids?

This is a short post. Lately I have had a lot of parents asking me how to coordinate teaching more than a couple of children, especially if they are at different learning levels.

I think most of my ideas can be heard on these two recorded teleconferences. These were recorded a couple of years ago, but are still full of helpful information.

Teaching Lots of Children with multiple Core Programs: Part 1 and Part 2

[hese are two recorded teleconferences between me and Donna P., a homeschool mom of 8 [soon to be 9] children. Between us we have homeschooled 13 children and these recordings summarize our tips, experience and wisdom. Each recording is about an hour long, but I think well worth your time.

So, put the kids to bed, get yourself a cup of tea and a scone and enjoy. I pray these recordings will be a help and a blessing to you.

Take Care,

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Today while reading the Sonlight Forums I came across this question from a long-time homeschooling mom... [edited a bit for brevity]

"I am wondering how other moms handle the time when their older children begin reading more deeply about their childhood heroes and find that someone they had believed in all their lives, and looked up to, was really a rascal in this area or other. Maybe not a rascal, but maybe racist, or not as godly as they thought, or fill in the blank. Having raised my children with 'heroes', they are very disillusioned when they get older and read about their heroes' failings.

"I know this teaches them to think, and not to believe everything they read, and about the sin nature of man, etc, but it also devastates their hopes that there really were/are people out there that were/are altruistic."

I understand where this mom is coming from. We see it all too often with today's heroes but when our kids look to people like Abraham Lincoln or George Washington and so forth, some how we think that those are totally wholesome heroes. But, upon further investigation we find that these heroes owned slaves or were not faithful to their wives, or were racist...

I guess our kids need to realize that human nature hasn't changed.

I encouraged this mom to talk to her children about Abraham, David and the Apostle Paul. Perfect? By no means! But yet they did great things for God.

When my kids were younger I liked to make sure they saw and understood even though people are not perfect, look what they can accomplish. Look what God can do with these jars of clay. I think it is inspiring for kids to think that a rascal can do great things--it kind of gives us hope for ourselves. If every hero was like Joseph or Jesus, I think that would be discouraging--I mean, how could we every measure up?

I think it is also prudent when kids have these crisis moments to talk through what choices their heroes could have made and also to point out that if even these great men [and women] messed up sometimes, can they still see them as heroes?

This really helps kids understand why we need a saviour. I mean, if everyone was perfect and never let anyone down and was totally in God's will, it wouldn't make Christ's sacrifice mean much, would it?

It is humbling to think that "no one is righteous, no not one," and yet we can accomplish a lot for God if we are willing. I think this is a message our kids really need to learn.

My daughter Kari wrote a song quite a number of years ago, when she was 16. I am going to type the words here--I think she really has a grasp on heroes and how to approach them--by trying to emulate the best traits from each one.

Talk Like a Donkey by Kari

Turn the pages
See another life come and gone
Time has covered them
We carry on...
Why do we do the things we do each day?
Doesn't really matter, we're not here to stay

But we can learn from them
We can analyze their mistakes
Yeah we can learn from them
Maybe figure out what it takes

We can learn from them
We can analyze their mistakes
We can learn from them
Maybe figure out what it takes

We've got to pray like Daniel, the lion guy
Obey Noah with, no outcry
Fish like Peter reel in men
Be a leader like Paul
That guy set some trends

Talk like a donkey though strange it may seem
Be willing like Stephen who died for his team
But whoever you're like or or choose to be
Remember to live like Jesus

Ruth was obedient, and she found bliss
Samson gave himself away, with just one kiss
Job had a good life, but he was robbed till he bled
Ester fought for all her courage, went to the king and pled

We can learn from them
We can analyze their mistakes
We can learn from them
Maybe figure out what it takes

We can learn from them
We can analyze their mistakes
We can learn from them
Maybe figure out what it takes

We've got to pray like Daniel, the lion guy
Obey Noah with no outcry
Fish like Peter reel in men
Be a leader like Paul that guy set some trends

Talk like a donkey though strange it may seem
Be willing like Stephen who died for his team
But whoever you're like or or choose to be
Remember to live like Jesus

As I turn the pages,
New respect has grown in me
I think I know what kind a person I want to be
Yeah life is different now
Sure things have changed
But through their examples--they've shown me how to rearrange

I going to pray like Daniel, the lion guy
Obey like Noah with, no outcry
I'll fish like Peter reel in men
Be a leader like Paul that guy set some trends

I'll talk like a donkey though strange it may seem
I'll Be willing like Stephen who died for his team
But whoever I'm like or or choose to be
I'll remember to live like Jesus
I'll Remember to live like Jesus

Take care,

Friday, September 4, 2009

Chocolate Monkey

Did that get your attention?

Today I thought I would share about the best chocolate dessert I have ever made. I figured if you are reading my blog, you must be somewhat of a kindred spirit, so there is probably a 95% chance that you love chocolate.

This recipe messes up quite a few pans, and seems fancy, but really, it is very easy and does not have many ingredients. It doesn't take too long to make-unless you are taking pictures of every stop along the way like I did.

Chocolate Monkey- A rich baked- dark chocolate pudding
Preheat oven to 350°

You will need these ingredients:
  • 1 pound dark chocolate, like bittersweet or semi-sweet, chopped [not unsweetened]
  • 9 Tablespoons butter [1 stick plus one 1 T, plus a bit to butter the ramekins]
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • pinch salt
  • 4 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 8 [5-6 oz] ramekins or small baking dishes; cups could work
Cut off four strips of foil, a bit bigger than your ramekins, and lay them on top of each other. Put one ramekin upside down and push into foils strips to make a dent. Do this twice, so that you can cut out 8 ramekin caps from the four strips of foil. Cut out about 1/2" around the dented area, making little caps for the ramekins.

Butter ramekins. and set aside. Cut up the butter and chop the chocolate.

Put them in a microwave safe bowl and microwave until melted. I do this at 50% power for a minute, then stir and put on another minute until done. This make take 3 minutes total. You can melt over a double-boiler if you don't have a microwave.

Remove from heat and let set 5 minutes. While cooling, separate the 5 eggs.

Mix the egg yolks and the salt together and whisk till combined. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate, mixing well.

In a mixing bowl, beat the 5 egg whites at medium speed on an electric mixer. Beat till they hold soft peaks. Add the 4 1/2 T sugar and whip till they become glossy peaks.

Put a pot of water on to boil. You will make a hot water bath for the Monkeys.

Beat 1/4 of whipped whites into the chocolate mixture by hand to lighten the batter. Then scrape the chocolate mixture into the remaining whites in the mixing bowl and fold in, gently, but thoroughly--till you don't see any white remaining.

Divide the batter into the buttered ramekins.

Put a foil cap on each one, seal around the edges and put in a pan. [I use a creme brulee pan because it has a nice little rack and it is easy to take the Monkeys out of the water bath. But, before I got this pan, I just put the ramekins in a cake pan and that worked fine.]

Pour in boiling water, about 1/2 way up the ramekins. Be sure the foil caps do not hang down in the water.

Put in oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven, remove Monkeys from water bath, put on cooling rack and remove foil caps.

They will be gooey to the touch. Cool uncovered for 1 hour. Top with whipped cream or ice cream before eating. We eat them right out of the ramekins, but you may want to unmold them.

Monkeys can be made four hours ahead and kept in ramekins at room temperature. Dip in hot water for 10-15 seconds to unmold. If you leave them at room temp, you can eat them the next day. I usually put it in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it up a bit.

These desserts are delicious. They are basically individual chocolate souffles.

If you have questions, let me know.

Take care,

To check out my Pumpkin Scone recipe on my other blog.