Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sailing by Ash Breeze...

I love this saying. Sailing by Ash Breeze.

It sounds so peaceful, doesn't it? Sounds so romantic. But it's not. Not at all.

This term was first introduced to the kids and I when we read "Carry on Mr. Bowditch." It is the story of Nathaniel Bowditch who lived around the time of the American Revolution. He was apprenticed (indentured for nine years!) to a ship's chandlery, "where he kept books and sold marlinspikes, belaying pins, and hemp rope" (p. 66). He eventually became a navigator and captain.

This was in the days of ocean travel and trade, when ships were powered by sails. I guess you have probably heard of being "becalmed" which is a single word for "the wind isn't blowing and we are not going anywhere."

..."When a ship is becalmed - the wind died down - she can't move - sometimes the sailors break out their oars. They'll row a boat ahead of the ship and tow her....Oars are made of ash - white ash. So - when you get ahead by your own get-up-and-get - that's when you 'sail by ash breeze'." (p. 48) Sailing by ash breeze is really hard work--moving a ship by shear muscle and grit. The stuff sailing men were made of in those days!

It doesn't sound so peaceful and romantic now, does it?

I think a lot of life is like this. We think marriage and raising kids and managing a house will be fairly easy. I mean, if we are competent people we should be able to do it all. Right? But, sometimes it is just plain hard work. We are sailing along, everything is going fine, and then we are "becalmed" by hardships of one type of another, and now we need pure muscle and grit to get our job done.

I love this quote from Carry on Mr. Bowditch. Sam says, "Bah! Only a weakling gives up when he's becalmed! A strong man sails by ash breeze!" (p. 47)

You can do it! Whether you have just had a new baby, or an illness, or your income has changed for the worse, or you have to move, or you are having discipline issues with a child--you can do it. You can sail by ash breeze--I think we have all had to do it from time to time.

The sailing is over, the work begins.

Let me know if I can help or encourage you in any way. I have sailed by ash breeze many times in my life--it makes me appreciate the days when I can raise the sails and just sit back a bit and let the wind do the work.

Take care,

[As a note, Nat taught himself many languages, including Latin, by using a grammar, a dictionary and a New Testament. He also realized that the navigational tables of the day were wrong so he re-calculated them and wrote The Practical Navigator. It is interesting to note that a copy of Bowditch's The New American Practical Navigator is still carried on board every commissioned vessel in the United States Navy. And all this from a boy who dropped out of school at age 10!]

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Simple Things and the Whingdingdilly

Today I have been very busy doing simple things. I made a bunch of batches of soap a couple of weeks ago, so I was wrapping them in fabric and putting them on my inventory shelves.

I cut up some fresh juicy strawberries for a snack and even I, the chocoholic of chocoholics, had to admit they rivaled chocolate for tantalizing my taste buds. Of course, chocolate covered strawberries can be considered a food of the gods- but plain strawberries are fantastic. I also made a great big batch of granola-see recipe at the end of this post.

I was thinking about soap and berries and even tho much has changed through the years, really, no one has really come up with something better than soap to get you clean or something better than strawberries for a healthy snack.

So, why do the educators think they have to keep coming up with new ideas to teach kids all the time?

I mean, a combination of books, writing and ciphering have passed the test of time. Throughout the centuries, the three R's have formed the foundation of what an educated person needs to know. Once you can read and communicate, then there is nothing you can't learn, nothing you can't try. It is time tested and really very simple.

I think back to when my kids were little-I did then what I preach now-read, read, read. Read to your littles, read to your olders--read, read, read. When our three older boys were pre-schoolers it became the custom for each child to pick out a book for me to read to all of them. Whoever's book it was, that child sat on my lap. It worked great. The other two sat on either side of me and we enjoyed adventures with Dr. Seuss, Harold and his crayon, the Berenstain Bears and so many others. We found new authors and devoured books by them.

One of the gold nuggets we mined was the author Bill Peet. Once the head animator for Disney Studios, Peet wrote the most engaging picture books. I think perhaps The Whingdingdilly was our favorite, but later when I read Capyboppy to the kids, we loved that too. And, when the kids were much older I read them the autobiography of Peet, to everyone's delight.

Books stand the test of time-whether reading to our kids or reading to ourselves, they are simple things, but oh so enriching-just like soap and strawberries! Pretty simple stuff, but they can't be improved upon.

Jill's Famous Granola
[well maybe not famous, but Bob eats it every morning for breakfast]

Mix together in a big bowl:
6 Cups of old fashioned rolled oats
6 Cups of rolled 7 grain or more rolled oats if you can't get the rolled 7 grain
3-4 Cups of nuts, seeds, coconut, any combination. I like to put in at least 1 C of raw sunflower seeds and 1-2 cups of unsweetened coconut. Then I add slivered almonds, chopped/broken pecans and or walnuts.
1T ground cinnamon

Mix together in another bowl or large measuring cup:
1 Cup oil [not olive, it is strong, I like organic virgin coconut oil, but canola or corn is fine. It should be liquid, so if it is semi-solid, heat it up]
1 Cup honey or maple syrup
1 T vanilla

Pour honey/oil mix over rolled oats mixture and stir well.
I put a large piece of parchment paper in a huge pan, but you could use two 13x9" pans. Line with parchment paper if you want a quick clean up. Pour in granola. Bake at about 300 degrees for 30-60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. I put my big wooden spoon in the oven door, so it is open a little bit. This lets the moisture escape, making a nice crunchy granola.

When lightly brown, remove from oven and let cool a bit. At this time you can add dried cherries or raisins. I usually grind up 1/2 cup of flax seed and stir this into the hot granola.

Store in a air tight container after it has cooled. It will keep for a really long time, but Bob always eats it pretty quickly, so I really can't judge how long it will really keep.



Saturday, April 25, 2009

Allowances, the Nitty-gritty...

After reading my posts on kids, chores and allowances, I got this email from my cousin:

"Hi Jill,

"Thanks for telling me about your blog. It's great!! I look forward to reading each entry. "I'd like to draw on your 125 years of parenting and ask you a question. "I didn't have an allowance growing up and I didn't have chores. Let me clarify that I wasn't lazy and always helped my Mom and Dad. If money was ever needed for something, they would pay for it. If I ever got money (gifts), I would save it. Till this day I don't like spending money (I don't even like to shop!). My question is, how should I implement chores and allowance with my kids (9, 6, and 3). They do some things around the house, but I feel like they should be doing more. Since I don't have past experience with it, I'm lost. "Thanks for your help Bluegrass Mom!"

I thought others might be interested in this as well, so today and tomorrow I will speak to her questions:

Glad to hear from you. I sure don't want you to think that everyone has to have an allowance and chores to be successful--I mean, you are doing all right :), but I really do think it teaches so many things like responsibility, self worth, management, team work and so much more. So, here goes my suggestions--take what fits, toss what doesn't.

And, I don't like to shop either!

Well, first things first--and there are really two issues here. Allowance and Chores. I guess I will start with allowance. For a three year old, maybe none. I think we usually started with allowance at about 4, but you can use your own judgment. Let me give an example for your nine year old. Take a few days to write down everything you pay for for your nine year old now.

Let me offer some suggestions:

  • Gifts: birthday gifts and Christmas gifts for family members. Let's estimate $5.00 for each gift, times number of family members to buy for times 2 [how many gifts each]. So, for a family with 3 kids and 2 parents, this would be $5x4x2=$40 per year. Divide that by how many times you give allowance. In this example, let's say you give allowance every 2 weeks. 40/26=about $1.50.
  • Church offering and dues to any activities: like scouts, etc. Let's say $2.50 every 2 weeks. Perhaps you don't have dues in the summer, if so, figure that in. [An alternative is things like dues could be taken out of a family "dues" can. Mom and Dad could fund with change, so that child can take dues out of it. The can could be for milk/lunch money too, if you do that.Whatever seems to work for your family is fine.
  • Spending money: Figure what you normally hand out--candy bars, little toys when you are at Wal-Mart, garage sale money, soda--think through what you buy for the kids and how much your normally spend for this type of thing. Let's say $1.00 every two weeks.
  • Money to save: Do your kids save up for bigger things like a team hat [Scotty used to spend almost all extra money on Packer's hats], new baseball, craft items, etc.? If so, add that amount so they actually have some money to save to buy bigger things. Let's say $1.00 each payday.
Anything else you can think of. I can't think of anything else, so let's add it up.

Every two weeks:
$1.50+$2.50+$1.00+$1.00=$6.00 [if you don't have a dues can]. If this sounds about right, then that would be for one child, let's say the 9 year old, then you would scale down for the 6 year old, perhaps $4.00 per week.

Every birthday the amount is raised, more privileges, more responsibility.

The other thing is you don't just hand this money over. You can use the envelope method or the three bank method, or whatever works, but you help your child to distribute the money in the category it is for. So, the gift money goes in a gift envelope to accumulate, the spend money in a spend bank, and so forth. This helps them budget and limit their spending.

[Kari, 8th birthday, growing in responsibility]
I know when Scotty started getting his clothing allowance monthly [he was about ten or eleven] he could not use the money without getting approval-otherwise it would have all gone for hats. We had to set a limit of 2 hats a year with clothes money. So, make adjustments as you see fit.

Tomorrow I will speak to the question of how to figure out and assign chores.

Take care,

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Favorite Homeschool Websites and Books...

Helpful Websites:
  • Organizing Your Homeschool (Podcasts that I did with two other ladies. You can go here to get to the Sonlight podcast page. Scroll down to see Organizing Your Homeschool Podcast)
  • Homeschool Laws (Find out what the homeschool laws are in you state)
My Favorite Homeschooling Books:
Click on any of these books for a more detailed description or to order:

My favorite Parenting Book of All Time:Articles
For more of my Pre-School thoughts and suggestions:

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Making School Plans for the fall?

Bob , Kari and I have been out working at the farm burning the tons of trees that came down in the ice storm this past February so that he can mow the quickly growing spring grass. We have to clean up the old dead wood so that he can get on the tractor and mow all the energetic new growth that is bursting forth. In order for the new grass to really flourish, the old trees have to be removed--and that takes a lot of work.

Along this same line, I think this is a great time of year to look at our schooling and our parenting in the same light. What can we get rid of that is hampering growth [either in us or in our children]? What do we need to clean up so that maximum learning can take place? I know when I was homeschooling my kids, this time of year was always exciting and scary at the same time. We were trying to finish up the current studies and books which frankly, by this time of year, we would like to just get rid of--but we were already looking forward to next year and making plans.

I think sometimes we forget that homeschooling is NOT like marriage. You can change curricula, you can change tactics, you can re-group or try something different [maybe a different schedule, or a different math curriculum, or group kids together in a new way]. Maybe re-arrange work/study places or bedrooms in order to make a more growth-friendly environment.

Just like late winter and spring are great times to look through seed catalogs dreaming about summer gardens; NOW is a great time to plan for our fall schooling. It is time to re-evaluate and decide what worked and what didn't and then make adjustments. You can clean out the old dead wood so that you can make room for new growth and learning in the fall.

But, it might be that if you take the time to contemplate this past year, you may realize that it went very well--the kids grew in many ways and you need to keep on doing what you are doing. Perhaps you don't need to cut up the dead wood and burn it, because maybe you didn't have an ice storm and the new grass has never been healthier. If so--congratulations!

And, if you have questions feel free to contact me via I look forward to hearing from you.

Take care,

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I was homeschooled but my parents didn't know it!

Ahh, did that catch your attention?

Growing up the daughter of a history, shop, and drafting teacher and his wife, I had a wonderful childhood. My two sisters, brother and I have memories that we will cherish forever. My dad always wished he could have lived in the age of Buffalo Bill, and we were taught the meaning of holding a hand of "Aces and Eights,"(the dead man's hand) at an early age.

I never thought of our extensive family trips to historical places as anything but fun, but I dare say that looking back, most of what I really know, in my heart, was a result of "homeschooling."

Back in the 60's and early 70's the concept was unknown.

Perhaps because of this upbringing, I don't think much of what I learned in school really stuck. What I knew of nature, or how a piston works in a car, or how to doctor hurt animals, came as a direct result of my father's innate teaching ability and his desire to spend time with us. And the more domestic skills were taught by my mom or my patient older sister.

As for history, we climbed the ancient pyramids in Mexico City and saw their marvelous construction, and horrible sacrificial sights first hand. The Alamo, Little Round Top, where Custer made his Last Stand, a Pony Express Station, ruts formed by constant traveling along the Oregon Trail, the Alaskan Highway, old gold mines, Kit Carson's grave, I've seen them all. History and a lifelong love of learning coursed through my veins, as did the love for teaching.

I knew how to paddle a canoe, pack a backpack, cook over an open fire, read a map and plan a trip, build a doghouse, sew my own clothes, garden and so much more by the time I was a teen. The rich environment of this upbringing is probably why I loved to learn, loved to read and loved to find out the how and why of how things worked and why people acted the way they did. It also gave me a lot of self confidence--maybe too much!

I thought I could do anything--actually I knew I could. I could climb mountains, take shop class with only me and a room full of boys, be on the homecoming court and president of the student council--all at the same time. I wanted it all--and I am sure that the homeschooling my parents gave me is what enabled me to try anything!

I think this is still the case. Whether you homeschool or not, you can instill confidence in your children by introducing the to the things you love, by letting them try everything, by working and playing hard, by getting them interested in things bigger than themselves.

If kids can feel self sufficient and know where to turn to find answers, they will succeed in anything they set their hand to. Spending time with your kids-homeschooling them--whether they attend the neighborhood school or not--is the key to a successful family and creating successful citizens.

I was homeschooled-and my parents never even knew!

Take care,


The Great Experiment Works!

When we began homeschooling in 1990 it was a pretty scary thing to do. It was THE Great Experiment. It was fairly uncommon and in many places it was just starting to come out from being an underground activity. When we withdrew Cris from school, the administrators told us that our son would never get into college and might never be admitted to public school in later years if we changed our minds. They sent us a very intimidating letter that I wish I would have kept just so you and I could both see how ridiculous it was.

I will admit that homeschooling can be pretty intense and intimidating--but so can parenting! But, if you are reading this my guess is you are a parent or would like to be one some day and you are willing to undertake the task, no matter how hard. And rest assured, parenting and homeschooling are so worth it--they are hard but oh so rewarding. Does anything worthwhile come easy? I don't think so.

I want to encourage you that the GREAT Experiment works! I remember when our youngest started college after being homeschooled forever--I looked at Bob and said, "The Great Experiment worked!" Whew! What a relief!

Let me say, that academically and socially our kids did fine as they went on to colleges, universities, jobs and marriage. I am proud of each one of them for their character, good work and family ethic, and on a lesser note, that they keep my computer running! No kidding, what would I do without my computer kids to keep me up to date and on line? But I digress...

But, more than this, is the close family we have. I LOVE that our kids get together all the time for movies, picnics, concerts, lunch every Friday and on and on. They really encourage and support each other. Kari told me the other day that one of her roommates commented that Kari has so many brothers, couldn't the roommate "have" just one to be her brother.

Of course she was just supposing, but Kari said, "No. I need all of my brothers. I need each one differently. I couldn't spare one--I need them all."

And that is why I think the Great Experiment Works!

In this day of fractured families and everyone out for themselves--with all the texting and declining of face to face interpersonal relationships, homeschoolers are bucking the trend. I know my kids are family oriented and really like each other.

I think by each family making the sacrifices it takes to homeschool their children, they are investing not only in the next generation, but investing in generations to come. If we can raise committed family members I think we can be ambassadors in this world by showing people that families can get along and enjoy one another. It gives dysfunctional families hope that in-tact families really do exist outside of Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet.

I know when Kari was in college, sometimes she would bring friends home for a meal to show them that old fashioned families really do exist. They thought she was making it up when she said we had supper together every night, that we talked and laughed with each other, that we used the TV very little--that we had a white picket fence and that her parents really did love each other. Sometimes I feel like we are so normal, and then other times I feel like a cultural oddity.

I know many families who don't homeschool that have great relationships that are rewarding and functional --but I know even more homeschool families that are this way. Homeschooling gives children [and parents] more quality and quantity time with each other. The older children help the younger and everyone realizes they are an important part of the family. And if you read aloud regularly to the whole group, they share common literature and stories which help bond them as they get older and leave home.

I think it is easier to have the kind of family you always dreamed of when you homeschool--mostly because you have more time to spend with your children.

So, my science lesson for you today is that our hypothesis was proven correct--Homeschooling works to prepare kids academically, socially and it promotes strong happy families to boot! What could be better?

Take care,

[Photos from top to bottom: Chad and his wife Molly and Cris' wife Jen using a cross-cut saw on a family outing to a Maple Syrup Farm; Chad and Scott ready to take part in the Fourth of July parade; Our picket fence; our family a couple of years ago--out on our farm for a picnic.]

Monday, April 13, 2009

Inverse Parenting OR Parenting is not as easy as it looks!

Something has been bothering me for a long time and it is what I call "Inverse Parenting." You see it all the time, but I don't know that it really has a name. I thought about this when my kids were little but felt like I needed to try it for a long time to see if my theory was correct. I am not sure this is scientific at all, but my kids are 19-31 [four sons, one daughter] and it has proved true with us.

Good parenting should look like this...Hold your babies close and as they become aware of more, make sure to impose limits and teach right from wrong. Make sure they will mind know when you say they need to do something they do it, they don't say "no" and get away with it.

You will have to be diligent as "folly is bound up in the heart of a child."But you must be in control, and they must learn to be under your authority.

They will likely be under some authority all their lives, so they may as well learn when they are young.

As the children grow, you can begin to let go, so by the time they are early teens, they have more privileges, can make more decisions, have more freedom. This should increase with age until the child is an adult. At that time, they become accountable to God.

But, what I see is INVERSE PARENTING. This looks like the whole world revolving around the child. The parent asks the child's opinion on many things, lets the child say things that a child ought not say, like "I hate you," or "You can't make me," or "I won't eat this," and so forth. A child may do this and not get away with it, but in inverse parenting the parent looks the other way, or tries to talk the child through it, or thinks it is cute.

As time passes, the child usually becomes more demanding, less respectful of all authority and the parent finds that when the child becomes a young teen they are harder and harder to manage. At this time the parent tries to pull in the reigns, be more strict, set firmer limitations at the very time when they should be letting go. I have seen this over and over again with so many families that I know. And rarely does it work.

These children usually go through a very rebellious teen time, and many times do come out OK in the end, but they sure upset the family in the process. It is so much more enjoyable for the whole family and society in general when the child is obedient in young years. Good parenting is much more likely to produce likable teens and responsible adults than inverse parenting.

I know it is not easy to be consistent with young children. I know it can drain you to correct them and train them-but the rewards are great and I think you owe it to your children.

Take care,

[Various pictures that make parenting look fun and easy!]

Friday, April 10, 2009

Keep your preschoolers home....

Remember my posts Play is Work and Does Your Child Need Preschool? Now I have a bit of scientific evidence to back me up.

I just read a fascinating article which pretty much proved what I have said for years, preschools are not better than staying home with mom or a loving nanny or grandparent.

  • According to researchers at Stanford and the University of California.Drawing on a massive, national database of over 14,000 children from diverse backgrounds, researchers examined the effects of preschool attendance on interpersonal skills, self control, and rates of aggression.
The results were remarkably clear:

“We find that attendance in preschool centers, even for short periods of time each week, hinders the rate at which young children develop social skills and display the motivation to engage classroom tasks, as reported by their kindergarten teachers” (Loeb et al 2005)."

Ahh, social skills are hindered! What? I thought homeschoolers were the ones that have the poor social skills! I mean, isn't that the main argument against homeschooling?

And this:
  • Similar results were reported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD), which conducted a rigorous longitudinal study on the effects of childcare on children under 5 (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development 2003).

Over a thousand children were tracked from infancy to kindergarten by investigators at over 20 prominent research universities.

Researchers found that the more time kids spent in non-maternal care during the first 4.5 years of life, the more behavioral problems they developed.

Problems included defiance--like talking back, throwing temper tantrums, and refusing to cooperate. They also included aggressive behaviors--being cruel, destroying toys and other objects, and getting into physical fights.

Pretty interesting stuff--actual studies with lots of kids--and I have a lot anectodotal evidence to back this up--I think I will post some in the next couple of days. :)

I have posted about this very thing but this is the first really great evidence that actually proves what I know is true in my heart.

Children need to be home. They need to be in a small one-on-one relationship with a loving caregiver, like a parent,or grandparent or even a loving nanny. Did you ever notice how God gave us children one or two at a time--not litters? [At least before science got involved in the business of artificially induced pregnancy!] I have to think that God knew what he was doing when he put babies, mostly one at a time, into families. Perhaps that is where they thrive and develop best?

Keep your preschooler home. For kids, play is work. They don't need socialization with a bunch of age-mates, they need quality and quantity time with a loving caregiver who models what true socialization is.

Take Care,


For more of my Pre-School thoughts and suggestions:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Money Bag
A Memoir of a Grandparents' Legacy

This is a paper my daughter Kari wrote about my parents and one of the memories they left her. I thought this might inspire you to think of memories and traditions you can leave to your children or even the generations following them.

by: Kari Evely

As a young girl, the smell of wood chips and citrus fruit would invade my nostrils at the mere mention of a trip to Florida. When confronted with the prospect of journeying to this southeastern state, I suppose most young children would experience a different aromatic sensation, like salty ocean breezes, or fried seafood. But for me, Florida meant spending time at Grandma and Grandpa Maynard’s house, picking oranges and grapefruit in their backyard, and making things out of wood in the workshop attached to the house. The drive from Kentucky to Florida was about fifteen hours, but I never minded it very much, because with each passing mile I felt myself getting closer to my grandparents, and time spent with them was worth the wait.

When palm trees began to overwhelm my field of vision, I could tell we were getting close. The most frustrating part about that long drive was that all the way through Georgia, a region that seems eternal to a child on her way to Florida, I kept waiting for the “Welcome to the Sunshine State” sign, which I felt would signify an end to my journey. Yet when I finally saw it and was filled with an overwhelming sense of excitement, there was still a good four or five hours of the trip remaining. I would start to keep a sharp eye out for Grandma and Grandpa Maynard’s house shortly after entering the state, and I was usually asleep by the time we actually reached their neighborhood.

But the long hours of driving were forgotten as soon as we reached the one story house with rocks in the front yard and a circular driveway in the center, which was home to a maroon General Motors Suburban. As we drove up to the house I always thought about the key hidden inside a fake rock near the front door and was reassured by its unseen, yet reliable presence, although I cannot remember an instance in which the key was required to enter the house, since Grandma and Grandpa were both always there when we arrived, greeting us with enthusiasm and food.

Looking back on those trips to visit my grandparents, I must confide that I cannot remember any one specific trip that sticks out more distinctly than the others. Memories of those childhood visits are not arranged chronologically or alphabetically, but rather, they are made up of meaningful moments, smells, and traditions. Although these memories do not serve as a complete history of time spent with my mother’s parents, those that I have are vividly clear, and continue to shape me.

Even as a child, I could see that my grandparents were in love with each other. They were practically inseparable, and they always put the other person’s interest before their own. My grandmother took care of both of them when it came to food, clothes, and all other issues requiring domestic common sense. My grandfather set adventurous goals for them both and saw to it that they were carried out; things like driving to Alaska and planting a garden.

For my entire life, my grandfather was never in good health. He suffered from diabetes, multiple heart problems, and something I’m not sure of that took his once booming voice and distorted it into a small, raspy one. I never got to hear what I imagine was the clear solid voice of a general, but my mother insists it was grand. Despite his poor health, Grandpa Maynard was full of life and kindness, and he never let his physical illness undermine his mental agenda. He was always willing to teach my brothers and I new crafty skills as well as lessons in character.

A true cowboy at heart, Grandpa Maynard would take us camping, teaching us how to set up a tent, make a fire, and open a can of beans with a pocketknife. He took us hiking and canoeing, and taught us to make fisherman’s knots so our scaly catches wouldn’t get away. He showed us how to plant carrots and pick oranges without damaging the tree. We would play poker for hours on end with Mexican pesos, eating pork rinds and popcorn with Mexican seasoning on it, while sporting silly hats, which were required of everyone sitting at the table. Grandpa would let us pick out patterns for projects we could make in his workshop, showing us how to use his scroll saw, sander, and a thousand other hand and power tools, treating us as equals while still watching out for our safety.

Of course nobody is perfect, and Grandpa Maynard never made this claim. He would swear like a sailor when he stubbed his toe or hit his thumb with a hammer, and after these profane rants had gone on for a while, Grandma could be heard quietly saying, “Oh, Howard,” not so much in the spirit of a reprimand, but rather a reminder that children were present. Also, Grandpa was a terrible driver, and it’s a wonder he didn’t get into more accidents than he did, especially considering that he and Grandma took annual four to six month road trips, pulling a huge, silver air-stream all over the country. He would do things like change lanes abruptly, almost knock another vehicle off the road in the transition, and then say, “Can you believe that guy? Doesn’t he have anything better to do than be in my way?” He was a real menace when it came to parking his big Suburban, usually bumping the car positioned in front of him, which indicated to him that he’d gone just far enough. Yes, my grandpa was far from perfect, but he lived his life to the peak of his ability.

Although more subtle than Grandpa, Grandma Maynard was equally self-sacrificing and generous when it came to her grandchildren. She would always wake up early, make coffee, fold clothes, and do a million other household tasks, before I’d even woken up. As soon as I opened my eyes she was there, asking me if I wanted a strawberry pop tart with icing on top, which she knew to be my favorite. Throughout the day she tirelessly made us snacks and meals, and taught us the most effective techniques in squeezing orange juice from the fresh oranges we picked. I never particularly liked the sour taste of grapefruit, but I acted like I did, because Grandma would carefully slice one in half and cut every individual section of the meat, making it fun to eat, as if the rind were a disposable bowl.

Another thing I remember about Grandma is how she would always take me shopping during the visit closest to my birthday, encouraging me pick out something girly that I would enjoy without worrying what my brothers would think. Being the only girl of five children, I was constantly attempting to prove myself a tomboy, running the risk of being severely teased and embarrassed if I were to do something scandalous, like wear an article of pink clothing or play with Barbies. It would have been easier on Grandma if she had just handed me the money and patted me on the head, but she always set aside time for our shopping excursions and I loved her for it.

One of my strongest memories concerning my grandparents is tied to an old fashioned white burlap sack that was originally made for rough riders to carry money from place to place on their horses. Looking back I’d say it was probably a replica, but if you had asked me at the time, I would have sworn its authenticity up and down. We called it “The Money Bag,” and excitement would overtake my brothers and I upon glimpsing the plain sack. You see, it was a game we were privileged to play.

Just before we would come for a visit, or before they left to come visit us, Grandpa would take “The Money Bag” to the bank and buy change to replenish what we had taken the last time we’d seen him. Each visit, he’d get out “The Money Bag” once and only once. Then beginning with the youngest, each grandkid was allowed to stick his or her hand in the burlap sack, with the goal of pulling out as much change as their hand could hold. Any change that fell out of your grip while transitioning the handful from bag to table did not belong to you, and it was required that the fallen money be put back in the bag. In other words, you could only keep what you could hold in one hand.

For weeks before a visit I would practice stretching my hand as much as I could, willing a larger grip. When Grandpa would pull out that bag my heart would begin to race. It was hard to breathe as I awaited my turn, and even harder when my hand slowly became immersed in the cold, hard coins. Forming my hand into a claw, I tightly grasped the change, but not too tightly, having learned from past experience that too tight a grip could be responsible for a loss of coins on the way out. There is great strategy involved in such a practice, and concentration is key. Once my hand was out of the bag, the pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and occasional half dollars sparkled and gleamed in the daylight. Setting the bright array of coins carefully onto the table, Grandma would help us count our haul, carefully writing our names and the amount we had obtained on zip lock baggies to put our treasure in, so as not to confuse our winnings with another sibling’s.

Grandpa was careful to include equal amounts of all different coin denominations, never being too liberal with pennies. Depending on what age or hand size we were at the time, we would acquire anywhere from 4 to 18 dollars, which when you think about it, isn’t very much. But the amount is not what made it great. This “Money Bag” tradition was held sacred to all who participated, not because it was a good way to make fast cash, but because it was unique; and since it was designed especially for us, it made us feel special.

Year after year, the “Money Bag” ritual endured. As I grew from a child into a teenager, the money itself did not seem as wonderful, but I still noticed a sparkle as I pulled a handful of loot from the bag, the tradition never growing stale. Some of the rules changed over time. For instance, as my brothers’ hands grew bigger and bigger, Grandpa was forced to make a twenty dollar limit. But reaching into that burlap sack was always something my brothers and I looked forward to, and we felt great pride when we would tell our friends about the tradition and they would stare at us unbelievingly, wishing their grandparents would let them dip their fingers into a big bag of money.

Time passed and Grandpa Maynard’s health declined more every year. He and Grandma were no longer able to gallivant around the country, and although my family still visited them in Florida, the visits became infrequent as my brothers and I grew older and developed lives that involved active social calendars and school events. When we did see them, Grandma was preoccupied with worry over Grandpa, and Grandpa was tired and unable to participate as actively in our lives as he had in the past. The poker games continued, but they were far shorter and less lively than the ones we were used to. However, even in his ill, exhausted state, Grandpa still made it a priority to get change from the bank to fill “The Money Bag” whenever he was going to see us. Seemingly small, this gesture reminded us of all the things he used to do with us, and still would be doing were it not for his stubborn body. And so this single tradition reminded us of how much he loved us, and it continued until his death.

My grandparents were such a complement to each other, that when Grandpa passed away, Grandma was unable to live without him. Technically, she lived for a few years after his death, but to all of us who knew and loved her it was obvious that she died the same day he did. With both my grandparents gone, there was no one to carry on the tradition of “The Money Bag,” and I pushed it from my mind, not meaning to forget, but doing just that.

Years have gone by since I lost Grandma and Grandpa Maynard, but last Christmas they came back to life. One of my older brothers got to thinking about “The Money Bag,” and realizing how much it had meant to him. How much it had meant to all of us. So he began searching websites until he found what he was looking for; a company that manufactured moneybags just like Grandpa Maynard’s. He ordered not one, but six moneybags: one for each of us kids, and one for my parents to share. On Christmas morning he had all of us simultaneously open our identical presents, and as each of stared in awe at our burlap bags, all of our memories of Grandma and Grandpa Maynard came flooding back. The bags we were holding represented our childhoods. The camping, the woodworking, the oranges, the bad driving, the pop tarts, the shopping trips, all came back to us in a flash, and all we could do was stare at those bags and marvel at the people our Grandparents had been.

At that moment I truly understood the notion that the people we love never really die as long as we still love them and hold onto memories of time spent with them. Whoever I am now, and will become in the future, owes a lot to the things my Grandparents taught me. The knowledge and experience they bestowed on me, and the example of pure love they displayed for each other, are things that will always be a part of me and will continue to shape me in the years ahead. Someday I hope to be to my grandchildren what my grandparents were to me, and you can rest assured that when the time comes, I’ll be at the bank filling my moneybag for them to reach their hands into; and I’ll be careful not to include too many pennies.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Novel Idea--Learning through Books...

I love books!

I once cut out a comic that has a tiny little pastor sitting behind a small desk that has a looming book case behind it, towering above the pastor and the small lady he is talking to. We can only guess what she said, but he says,

“Books are not things of this world.” [Amen!]

Because of my love for books, I guess it was a no-brainer that when I got more experienced as a homeschool mom I branched out into designing my own literature unit studies with my kids. The year I did this the kids were in 9th, 7th, 5th and 1st grades, with a 3 year old thrown in for good measure! We did a study of animation and read biographies of Walt Disney and Bill Peet—and did some animation besides. We did a Robert Louis Stevenson study and read his biography and a few of his books—anyone for buried treasure? And we did a few other equally intriguing studies as well. WE all loved it!

But the planning about killed me.

So, the following year it was back to textbooks. A few years later I discovered a curriculum that was literature based, but had daily lesson plans. Amazing! I mean, I literally wept for joy. And that started my love affair with Sonlight Curriculum.

There are a lot more literature based curricula out in the market place now, and people ask me all the time why Sonlight is better or how it is different. I am not an expert on all curricula, but I can tell you how Sonlight is unique.

~Reading Great Books inspires children to do their own hands on activities such as drawings, writings, making pyramids out of sugar cubes and constructing beaver dams out of sticks and mud and so on. After reading a book on Samuel Morse my kids actually made a working telegraph system that ran between their bedrooms! I stayed out of their way and was called upstairs to stand in amazement when they sent messages the 40 feet-from one end of their attic bedrooms to the other.

Many curricula have plans for moms to spend lots of time and money preparing coordinating hands on activities. And some people like that. But I believe we just need to provide a learning-rich environment and great books—that's all you need. The kids will take it from there.

~Sonlight's goal [and my personal goal] is that of creating Ambassadors for Christ that are equipped to reach THIS generation. With Sonlight's broad base of books and their detailed IG teacher notes, children are taught to "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

I know with the well rounded education they get from Sonlight that our children have been prepared to go to a our state universities, sit with people of varying backgrounds; not be judgmental, but seek to understand where the person is coming from, then show Christ's love to that person--as an Ambassador.

I found many curricula try to advance their own agenda, but with Sonlight the information is given to you and then it is up to you to interpret it to your kids. The study notes constantly remind us to measure what this person or nation did by looking to God's word. The notes are very balanced and lead kids to learn how to think critically and not to believe something just because it is in a book.

~And, I think the thing that makes Sonlight head and shoulders above any other curriculum is the Instructor's Guides [IG]! If you are convinced that the literature approach is the way you want to go, look at Sonlight’s Instructor's Guides. They are amazing--and another benefit, you can get all the books from Sonlight so there are no fruitless trips to the library and/or the book store. The editions match the IG right down to the paragraph and page number. The IGs save you so much time, and are so complete, they are unparalleled.

And that is why if you love books, love creativity and want to raise ambassadors for Christ who can think critically, Sonlight is the perfect curriculum.

Take care,


[Pictures, top to bottom: A picture of the kids the year I wrote my own unit studies-here we are at Gettysburg; the other two pictures are ones I like of the older boys reading to the younger kids.]

Sunday, April 5, 2009

When Family Disapprove of Homeschooling...

I was going to post this at a later date--this is something I wrote a few years ago, but a friend of mine asked me to encourage a discouraged homeschool mom whose family disapproves. So, I thought I would post it now so she could read it. Perhaps it will encourage others as well.

When Family Disapproves, by Jill © 2003

I come from a family of teachers, in fact I have a teaching degree but chose to stay home and have a large family (5 children) instead of working. My parents were opposed to homeschooling from the start---and that was in 1990. We treated homeschooling as the proverbial "Elephant in the Room" -- we didn't talk about it. My dad did teach the boys drafting and woodshop, but my parents felt the kids needed a classroom setting in order to be able to go on to college, etc. At that time we were in a church of about 3000, and we were the only home educators in our church.

I was raised with the premise that education is your salvation. It is how my dad pulled himself out of poverty, so it is no wonder they were skeptical. Although Christians, they did not understand any of our convictions for educating our 5 children at home.

After SEVEN YEARS, my dad came and sat at the table where I was checking over some math papers and said, "You know we never approved of you homeschooling the kids. (Long Pause) But I see what great kids you have, and the closeness they have, how well they are doing and want to tell you your sacrifice was worth it. You have done a great job and you made the right decision."

Sometimes you just have to live it out---you can't talk it out or prove it with statistics, you have to live it out, just like your faith---day by day. My dad died a few years later, and oh what a sweet memory the above is for me. How glad I am that we stuck to it, that we lived it out, that we were kind and gentle with scoffers. Hopefully you will be able to tell your own stories of acceptance in the years to come.

Take care,

ESL thoughts...

This weekend I attended the Indianapolis IAHE Homeschool Convention. I had many moms ask me questions about teaching adopted international children. Most of these moms had adopted older children [6-10 years old] from countries such as Ethiopia and other African countries. They wanted advice about where to begin with Sonlight.

I am not an ESL expert, nor have I adopted an international child, but through the years I have talked to many parents who have successfully used Sonlight in this situation. I know there are attachment issues and so on that parents need to deal with, but I am not speaking to this. What I want to offer is some help for actually teaching your adopted children when they are ready to begin learning to read, after perhaps a year of aclimating to their new family and culture. Teaching English as a Second Language can be challenging, but many have gone before you and done a terrific job of it.

My best advice is to start with P3/4 or P4/5. These contain great literature and have lots of pictures. Your children can infer a lot about the story by looking at the pictures and they will also have a lot of opportunity to gain a foundtion in American cultural literacy. By reading and discussing the many fairy tales, nursery rhymes and classic children's literature in one of these cores they will learn about your beliefs and about how the English language sounds when used in rhymes and tales, all while enjoying the brightly illustrated books.

God made us to enjoy stories-just look at the Bible--it is full of them. So, regardless of age, everyone can enjoy the antics of Harold and the Purple Crayon and Leo the Latebloomer. Also, in order to play the games that come with P3/4 a child does not need to have a great vocabulary. They can be enjoyed in any language and will improve spatial and reasoning skills.

For beginning readers, I suggest starting with Language Arts K and the matching K Readers-Fun Tales. An older child who is ready to learn, will probably catch on quickly and progress much faster than a young child. The Sonlight readers are engaging and fun and would be perfect for ESL students.

Also, ESL moms have told me that using Explode the Code works well too. If you are using Language Arts K, then you would want to use Explode the Code books A, B and C. They are scheduled in the LA instructor's guide and will help reinforce phonics in a fun manner.

I am sure you can find other advice that will be helpful too, but I just wanted to give parents an idea of where to start. Let me know if you have other questions or suggestions. I am always looking to learn more so that I can help and encourage others.

Take care,