Monday, February 26, 2007

Menu Plan Monday

This weekend we got a new grill - I am just beyond excited! Besides being great for our low-carb diet, it's going to save me tons of time in dishes! Needless to say, most of this week's recipes involve the grill!

Monday: Cumin-rubbed grilled pork chops, (and a couple plain pork chops for the younger boys) grilled potatoes, grilled asparagus (simple this time - I'll just brush them with olive oil, salt, and pepper), perhaps some bread and butter for the boys
***note - the pork chops were ok, nothing spectacular, but the simple grilled asparagus was fantastic!

Tuesday: Spicy Grilled Chicken, rice for the boys, salad

Wednesday: Grilled Flank Steak, noodles for the boys, grilled mixed vegies (some leftover sweet onions, portabello mushrooms, and asparagus)

Thursday: Sirloin Kabobs, bread and butter for the boys, salad

Friday: Grilled Salmon, rice for the boys, steamed broccoli

Saturday: Hamburgers, coleslaw, chips for the boys

Sunday: Not sure yet - probably yet more meat on the grill, lol!

I'm so happy to have a grill now! Looking forward to this week's dinners, that's for sure! Stop on over at Organizing Junkie for some more great ideas!

Here at the Dragon's Breath Grill...

We got a grill yesterday! We are all so very excited - it's been so very long since we've had a grill! Dh spent yesterday afternoon putting it together, I helped put the pavers down so there was a nice level surface, and then we had a celebratory Sunday dinner. Steak and salad, some grilled marinated onions and portabella mushrooms, with hot dogs for the boys. Yum! The boys (and the dog!) were fascinated, watching dh cook!

When dh put the marinated mushrooms and onions on the grill, there were some flames from the oils. N4 was SO excited. "Mom! Dad! The grill has dragon's breath! The dragon's fire breath cooks the food, that is so cool!!!" All night long he kept talking about the grill, and the dragon's breath that cooked our food. Way too funny!!

Oh - and A2 actually took a half-way decent picture of me and dh!

All in all, despite having an awful cold, we had a great day yesterday!

A little early spring nature study...

Yes, I know some of my readers have just experienced a near-blizzard (sorry about that, mom&dad!), but here in Georgia, it's spring! We took a walk down to the lake (such as it is) behind our property the other day - here are a few pictures...

On the trails behind our property:

A2, off exploring by himself:

Dh and J1, examing a quartz rock they'd found:

The guys exploring the creek:

S3 and N4 with the rocks - so many rocks!

Yesterday we were doing some yard work and came across a couple of lizard friends:

And finally - not exactly nature study, lol - here is a picture of the boys from Valentine's Day - they're just too cute! :-)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Out of the mouths of babes...

Ok, I just have to share some of the things the kids have said this week. First, the sweet one. N4, the youngest at not quite 4 1/2, had this to say the other day: "Mom, I love you SO much! You're my bestest friend!" Awww...melted my heart, he did!

On to the joys of living with a melodramatic pre-teen with a very large vocabulary:

"J1, please do this for me." I say. "But, mom! I don't want to do that!" he cries. "I didn't ask you if you *wanted* to do it, I'm telling you to just do it!" He sighs with resignation, "I know, I know, my fate is sealed, isn't it?"


"Mom, will you help me push my bed against the wall so my covers don't fall off?" "Sure, J1, if you get off the bed first." "Oh, you mean so you don't have to move my immense girth around, too?" Um, yeah, that would make it easier, wouldn't it?

Finally, the biggest funny of the week. A2, S3, and N4 were laying in bed tonight - they are sometimes allowed to play with their Ninetendo DS for a bit before lights out, and they were all quietly playing. A little while later S3 came out, and very seriously told us, "A2 and N4 both wanted to play Kirby Squeek Squad, so they took a vote, and it was a tie, so they asked me and I chose A2, and N4 slapped me!" I'm still giggling - we certainly had to punish N4 for slapping his brother - but we first had to contain our laughter over the image of the two of them taking a vote over who got to play! LOL!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Menu Plans, Lent, and low-carb...

As a few of my faithful readers (Hi dad!) will notice, I did not post my "menu plan Monday" post yesterday. The reason being that I am really struggling this week, what with the Ash Wednesday fast and abstinence and the start of Lenten Fridays. Dh and I have majorally went off our diet the last few days - in our infinite wisdom, we had a "Fat Friday", then a "Fat Saturday", yesterday was a "Fat Monday" and gosh, today really *is* "Fat Tuesday" after all! The good news is, I suppose, that all this higher-carb food has made us both feel just awful, and we're actually really ready to get back to our low-carbing ways. Our weight loss has stalled, but we haven't gained more than a pound or two back, so we should get right back on track tomorrow. But, as I have contemplated what's for dinner this week, I've run into a couple questions.

1) How do we fulfill our abstinence requirements (no meat other than fish) without breaking our budget while still following our low-carb plan for our health? I mean - fish is, in general, expensive! Sure, we can do salmon patties a couple weeks - but not *every* Friday for the next 6 weeks! I've got a low-carb tuna casserole that's pretty good - but I've still got two or three weeks of unknowns. And we're not even mentioning breakfast and lunch. Eggs for one meal - but what about the other? Hmmm....

2) If I splurge and fix a really yummy shrimp scampi, for instance - is that really a penitential meal? Fridays of Lent (all year, in fact) are days of penence - so simple meals are called for. That's fairly easy with bean soups, pasta, rice, etc - but low carb, plain, simple meatless-meals? Hmmm....

3) And, of course, my ever-present conundrum - whatever I fix has to be something the kids will eat, and is nutritious for them (the kids definitely don't need to go as strictly low-carb as my dh and I do - low*er* carb is good for people of all ages, but strict low-carb the way dh and I need to lose weight is *not* good for growing children, IMO. Plus - oh, the wails of horror if I told them no fruit or bread!! ;-) This is doubly hard with meatless meals - my kids aren't overly fond of fish. I can think of a few things - mac and cheese with our salmon patties for those who don't like them, for instance. But 6 weeks? Again - hmmmm....

I suppose, like most things in life, this is something I need to take one day, or at least one week, at a time. Living in the moment is definitely not my strong suit. Sounds like a good Lenten study to me! :-)

So, belatedly, here is my tentative, belated, "Menu Plan Monday"...

Fat Tuesday: We've got lots of errands to run, so we'll be going out to eat. Probably something really awful for us, too!

Ash Wednesday: Salmon Patties, Mac and Cheese for the kids, salad

Thursday: BBQ chicken, french fries for the kids, coleslaw (didn't get around to this last week)

Friday: Spinach Quiche (crustless), toast for the kids, cauiflower
***Maybe - cuz if I have an egg dish for dinner, what's for breakfast and lunch?

Saturday: Hamburgers, vegies and dip

Sunday: Steak Salad, bread and butter for kids

If you have any ideas, please feel free to share! Hope you all have a great rest of the week.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Menu Plan Monday

Sorry I missed last week's menu plan! I've been quite preoccupied while I work to eliminate, or at least reduce, high fructose corn syrup from my children's diet. I'm also still trying to come up with a good, workable plan for continuing a low-carb diet for my dh and I (we're doing quite well, I've lost 20lbs and dh has lost almost 35lbs! Woo-hoo!), while cooking nutritious meals that the boys will actually eat - and not cook two meals each night. Look for more details on both of these issues in the next month or so! Here is what our menu plan looks like this week...

Monday: Dh unexpectedly worked from home today, and it's a beautiful day. We're going to do a bit of yard work, then dh surpised me by saying we could go out to dinner tonight. Horray, what a treat!

Tuesday: Creamy chicken over rice (kids) or cauiflower (mom&dad), side salad

Wednesday: Happy Valentine's Day! Steak, mini lobster tails (on sale for Vday!), salad, low-carb chocolate cupcakes

Thursday: BBQ Chicken, coleslaw, french fries for the kids

Friday: Shrimp Scampi, rice for the kids, salad

Saturday: Pizza for the kids, chicken wings and vegies&dip for A2, mom and dad

Sunday: Roast beef, potatoes for the kids, "Just like Stuffed Baked Potatoes"

Make sure to drop by Organizing Junkie for more great ideas!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Living with a future giant

All of our kids are tall. In particular, the oldest is literally off-the-growth charts tall (and the youngest is rapidly on his way there). Because we homeschool and haven't been involved in that many outside activities, it often escapes our notice just how tall they really are. But sometimes, we get smacked in the face with the realization. Like today. J1 needed new shoes. I was, quite frankly, shocked. He needed a men's size 9 shoe. His feet are officially, significantly larger than mine. He turned 10 less than a month ago!

When we took him out for his birthday, we took a picture of him and us.

We're all wearing dress shoes, so we're all about 1/2" taller than reality (that's right, I *never* wear heels! :-), but the picture shoes the proportion between me, dh, and J1. Neither dh nor I are short. In fact, dh is 6'1". I'm really thinking that at J1's next birthday, he'll be as tall as I am, maybe taller. I'm just not ready for my 10 year old to have bigger feet than I do, and I certainly won't be ready for my 11 year old to be taller than me! Not to mention - I can barely keep them all fed now - whatever will I do in a few years when all these boys hit their real growth spurts?? :-)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Term II for A2

I've been holding off on writing this post, as I feel as if I've been holding my breath. I think that it's time now, though.

As you know, I have struggled mightily to figure out the best way to teach A2. He's just so different from my other children (more like me than any of them, which is perhaps why it's so tough for me! ;-) I've talked before about how he shares so many of the visual-spatial learner qualities, and I've been working through what that might mean for me as his mother and teacher. I'm still not sure!

I have always found that I rely heavily - almost exclusively - on my instincts as a mom, especially a homeschooling mom. I tend to do a lot of research, lots of reading, lots of prayer, and then internally filter it all and just let what needs to happen, happen. And that's what's been happening with me the last month or so as I've searched for the best way to teach A2.

A2 is 7.5 right now. With a late-July birthday, he is technically in 2nd grade - but gosh, even if he was in an institutional school, I probably would have "held him back" a year. Especially as a young boy, I just haven't felt he's been ready for formal learning until very recently. (Interestingly enough, though the progression was much different, my oldest didn't really "get" the whole school/learning thing until about this same age.) And, wonder of wonders, since we've started back to school, things are going really, really well. I am definitely feeling more confident that his reading, writing, and math skills will be at least consistent with his "held back a year" status - in other words, I now expect him to complete first grade work by the end of the year. For awhile, I wasn't sure that would happen. I also am more confident that he will be ready to attend First Communion prep next fall. So, let me share with you what we're doing, and what is working.

I think the main thing that is helping is A2 is getting short, focused, individualized lessons. In reading, math, handwriting and religion, I am working with him one on one. I originally wanted to teach my younger 3 all at once, but I found it to be just too chaotic, the youngest two kids were fine with it, but it caused A2 and I a lot of stress. Taking an hour or so to work one on one with A2 makes such a huge difference for both of us. Consequently, I am not doing much with my youngest two right now, but that's ok. Technically S3 is only kindegarten age this year, and is definitely ready for first grade work, so I'm not worried.

A2 usually chooses to do math first. We've switched to MCP Math (we had been using Singapore). I found that Singapore teaches a lot with pictures - which I first thought would help him. But I discovered that he was content to just use the pictures to solve the problems - he understood the concepts of addition and subtraction, certainly - but he couldn't move into truly solving the addition problems without pictures. MCP math, so far, has a more natural (for him) progression from pictures to problems alone, and he's doing really well. He's got the addition concept down, is ready to start memorizing facts, and we'll move into subtraction next week. I'm also really pleased because he is starting to write the numbers himself (when both he and J1 first started math, I would write for them, or do the lessons orally - they both struggle with handwriting, and their knowledge and abilities far surpass their abilities to produce writing on their own, so we accomodate them for a couple years). This past week I've been able to tell him to do this column of problems while I go do something else, and when I'm not there he works quickly and accurately. I'm definitely going to increase his independent work in the upcoming weeks.

Next we usually do Phonics. I'm still using Explode the Code. It's not going wonderfully, there is a lot he just doesn't get - but he gets enough of it that I think it's useful. And, the best thing is that he volunteered by himself to start doing some writing. When we first started, because of the abovementioned handwriting issues, I would write for him or skip some of the more writing-intensive exercises. I never asked A2 to start writing, he just grabbed the pencil from me and did it on his own. That's really all the handwriting instruction I'm doing right now. And I'm not correcting his formation and neatness at this point. I'm simply trying to encourage him in his efforts, because I think that's what he needs. I think he'll be ready for a workbook of the "this is how you do it" variety next fall, once he gains a little confidence.

By this time, we've been working anywhere from 20-40 minutes, and A2 is ready for a break. When we get back together, we start with religion. With A2, he is most impressed and open to a "just the facts" kind of approach. Some kids get a lot out of the crafty projects and worksheets that are available for this age group, but A2 just zones out with that sort of stuff. I've been going through the Baltimore First Communion Catechism with him, and he listens intently, asks intelligent questions, and is pretty good at memorizing what he needs to know. We also do bible reading and saint stories separately with his brothers, but I like working with him one on one for the catechism questions. Finally, we work on reading. Wonder of wonders - guess what is working for him?? Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons! I have had this book since J1 was about 4 years old. I have periodically taken it out to try with each of my older 3 children, and it has just never "clicked" with any of us (including me!) So many people keep recommending it, that I felt compelled to try it one more time. And it's working really well!! I'm not following it quite exactly word for word, and I'm mimizing the writing required (though we are doing a bit of that, too). We're on lesson 8, and A2 is putting sounds together well, memorizing the letter sounds, and he is doing it all without complaint - even enthusiastically. He is reading quite a bit on his own, most definitely, but I think this will help him gain the knowledge he needs for fluency. I'm so excited for him!

And that is what we're doing every day one-on-one. We have bible stories, saint stories, and a read-a-loud with his brothers on most days, too. One thing I've found really helpful with our read-a-loud is that I read it during the day, and then at dinner dad and I ask questions about the chapter. When we first started doing that, A2 couldn't answer a single question. Now he's paying more attention and doing fine. I never had to do that sort of thing with J1, he was such a listening/oral kind of learner that he would just spout out narrations without us ever asking for them, lol! Not so A2, he needs a bit more encouragement, but he's doing fine.

As far as other subjects, like science and history - he is a sponge when it comes to those subjects, and learns so much from movies, games, and listening to us talk. He regularly spouts information about animals, for instance, and I have no idea where he learned these things. "Mom, when whales blow water like that, they're actually clearing out their lungs so they can breathe air when they're at the surface. Did you know whales breathe air like we do?" I didn't teach him that, have no idea where he picked it up!

He amazes me constantly with the knowledge that he has, the insight he shares. He is a fascinating, unique child, and I'm so glad he's mine!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Cute boys

We were almost late for church this morning cuz the boys just looked too cute today and I had to take a picture!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Term II for J1

J1's in a major acceleration mode right now. Keeping up with him and what he needs is suddenly a major challenge for me! Here's what we've got so far...

Religion: We're continuing with 4th grade Faith and Life, and the Baltimore Catechism. He reads one chapter of the Baltimore Catechism each week, and one night during dinner we review, discuss, and quiz. We're big into dinner table school here at the AAA house! He is, very reluctantly, continuing to narrate each chapter of Faith and Life. He really despises narration (though he does quite well), and it's really the only thing I'm making him do this term that he doesn't really want to do. I did offer him a choice - either write a narration each week, or I'll look into some other kind of writing program, and maybe additional grammar instruction. He's chosen to keep doing the narrations, and I'm letting him complain about it a bit! :-) Finally, J1, me, and dh are going to read 2 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles each week, and discuss it on Sunday afternoons. I'm looking forward to that, myself!

Math: This is where the acceleration is happening big-time. He really struggled with careless mistakes as he finished up the Saxon 5/4 book, and I came to realize that he was just hopelessly bored. So, after much thought and discussion, we skipped Saxon 6/5 and went directly to Saxon 7/6. On Monday, he completed lesson 1, and did quite well. On Tuesday, he was assigned the second lesson, and after reading it over, he came to me, saying that he really already knew this stuff, and could he skip ahead? I was a bit suprised, but, well, why not? So we sat down and went through the book, talking about what he knows and what he might need to cover (he hadn't really been exposed to the "order of operations" concept, so he did that lesson, for example.) I've assigned him a few problems to make sure he *really* knows the lessons that we skipped, and he's done really well all week. Next week he'll start lesson 20. I'm beginning to suspect that we'll skip ahead a bit throughout this book, and I won't be surprised if he's ready to start Saxon 8/7, or possibly even Saxon Algebra 1/2 (pre-algebra) next fall. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that, as I thought I'd have a bit more time before he started upper level maths! Now, at some point he will probably hit a wall, and perhaps even need to take a break from math for awhile - that's just how his brain seems to work. He needs lots more input, more information, more challenge, for a year or two, then he just sort of locks up, and needs time to process it all, apparently. He'll start back in at a normal pace after awhile, and then 6-12 months later will start flying again. I find it fascinating to watch how he learns!

Latin/spelling/grammmar: This is another area where we're accelerating rapidly. J1 was just completely bored with Latina Christiana, and dh and I debated heavily over what to do instead. We decided to start Henle Latin, a high-school Latin program. Dh and I would learn it with J1, and we'd go slowly if neccessary. Monday evening, we started out, and I was a bit concerned. J1 was completely and utterly confused. Genitive singular? Nominative? Direct objects? I worried that perhaps he just didn't have the grammar background to do this, and maybe my plan to incorporate grammar into our Latin study wasn't a good idea. J1, dh and I all agreed that we'd keep at it for at least a couple of weeks. The worst that would happen was we'd put Henle aside for a year or two - just no big deal. The next night, I had a homeschool moms winter tea to attend, so dh worked with J1 after dinner. Apparently, the light dawned, and J1 understood what this whole "declension" thing was all about, and now he's very excited to keep going. I do think it will be a challenge for him, but I also think it's going to be a good thing. Oh, and I'm using the derivative words for each lesson as our spelling/vocabularly words for the week. He got 100% on his spelling test yesterday - words like "glorious" and "sylvan" and "Pennsylvania". I definitely think this is going to work!

Science: We're starting our unit on Nutrition, using CHC's "My Temple of the Holy Spirit" and Janice VanCleave's "Food and Nutrition for Every Kid". I really like "My Temple of the Holy Spirit", part of CHC's 4th grade lesson plans, because it is truly faith-filled, and very pro-life. The first section of it is about human anatomy (and is completely age-appropriate, which can be hard to find!), which we completed before Christmas. The second section is about nutrition. J1 is a bit disappointed, because he has indicated he "knows all this stuff" already. I told him he could read ahead as much as he wanted, and whenever he was done with the readings we would do some experiements. We'll keep track of everything he eats one day, analyze it nutritionally, see what we find and how we can improve. Then, we'll design a menu one day that is complete, nutritionally, and he can compare how he feels after different meals. We'll talk about exercise, and calories, and how it relates to weight and health. J1 tends toward carrying too much weight, but he's also very agreeable to dietary changes and wants to be healthy, so I think this will be good for him. After we've completed our unit on nutrition, he'll start a unit on survival skills and first aid, with a book on the history of medicine thrown in. He's excited about that!

History: We're taking a couple extra weeks to continue studying the Civil War. Dh has found a map of local area battles, and next week we're going to visit a few historical markers, take some pictures, maybe make our own map of where battles occurred around our home. We're watching "Gods and Generals", "Gettysburg", and Ken Burns' Civil War to round out our studies. After next week we'll continue our study of post-Civil War America.

Geography: As part of our American History studies, we're also studying American Geography. J1 will memorize the states and capitals, and be able to locate all the states on a map. He'll also learn a bit about each state and region, using CHC's Catholic Geography Bee book.

Handwriting: Continuing with Seton 4 Handwriting. I love this series, because it incorporates such lovely artwork and copywork of very faith-filled passages.

Art/Music: J1 is continuing his piano lessons, and doing quite well. Right now I'm teaching him myself, using "Teaching Little Fingers to Play" and we'll move into the next book soon. Our art study includes Seton's handwriting book, and CHC's Learning to Appreciate Art. J1 really likes art history, and we might have to continue our studies next year. Actual art, as in drawing, etc, is much more difficult - for J1 *and* myself! It's definitely one of our weak points.

Reading: J1 continues to be a voracious reader. Since Christmas, he's read 6 more RedWall books. He's only got 3 books left in the series, and I'll probably let him finish it before I nudge him back into reading more of Sonlight's American History book list.

This term, I've minimized busy work/work book type things. I've tried to let J1 move ahead in areas where he needs to, and/or wants to, and I've tried to combine some subjects to improve our efficiency. So far, one week into it, things are going well. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A family picture!

As anyone with lots of little kids knows, it can be incredibly difficult to get a good family picture. Last week when we went out for J1's 10th birthday, our friend snapped one shot of us before we went out to dinner. That one picture turned into the nicest family picture we've ever had. Just thought I'd share!

"Term II"

I absolutely believe in a more "holistic" concept of education, where I consider every day, all day, to be educational, in general we school year-round, with breaks from more "formal" learning periodically, and I just don't think that "school" is only when we sit at a desk. However, it's hard to not use traditional school-ish words and concepts in talking about our homeschool. Since we're just coming off our month-long Christmas "break", I am, in my head, thinking of this period of more intense, more book-type learning, as the "Term II" of our homeschool. I plan to write in a lot more detail about what we're doing (the main purpose of this blog is, after all, to be a record of our school year) but I thought I'd start out with a few general comments.

I really like the ebb and flow of our "school-year", which is, basically, the entire year. It works for my family to take a month off around Christmas, and then school up through the 4th of July. My children do much better when they get the chance to have their periodic "brain breaks". It's been kind of a tough week, transitioning back into a more formal learning period, and I'm very glad the breaks we take aren't any longer than a month or so!

Our binders are still working quite well. When I'm busy teaching 3 children, it is such a blessing to be able to just grab the child's binder and jump right into things, rather than having to dig for this book or that book.

I've made a bigger effort to include some read-a-louds in our day. During lunchtime, I've read to them a chapter or two each day -right now we're reading "Mr. Popper's Penguins". Dh will talk to them at dinner about the book, so it's sort of a natural "narration" exercise for everyone. Next week I also hope to add in some time for religious books, 3 days of bible reading and 2 days of saint stories.

I'm excited about how our "life skills" studies are progressing. This "term" I hope to teach J1 how to make scrambled eggs, and his favorite meal of "pasta and sauce". I think that I will also have him plan, make a shopping list, purchase, and cook a whole day's worth of meals. I'll assist him, of course, but he'll mostly do it on his own. J1 is also learning about nutrition this term, and survival skills next "term" (ie, after Easter), and those definitely count as both science *and* life skills! A2 is starting to learn to cook, too - today he did about half the steps of our mac and cheese lunch by himself.

He's so very earnest!

I'm very much concentrating on J1 and A2 this term, and S3 and N4 are having to wait - though they are *very* eager to do some "book-learning", too. I do feel I need to give A2, in particular, my attention right now, so I've started using educational computer games more for my little guys. S3 is all done with the Winnie the Pooh Kindegarten disc we had, I think I'll get a "1st grade" sort of program for him (and A2) this weekend. I'm betting he flies through it. N4 is also doing quite well in the Kindegarten disc, and the 3 younger boys are all working with the Singapore Math CD game we have. N4 and S3 are also playing more together while we're doing school stuff with the older boys - and gosh, they're awfully cute!

In the next day or two, I hope to write in more detail about what J1 and A2 are up to right now!