Monthly Archives: September 2011

Homeschoolers: Where do you fall on this scale?? (A poll!)

I’m constantly struggling with creating school in our home to be something my children REALLY enjoy;  I want school to be fun and profoundly interesting and meaningful to them, personally.  However, there are subjects or topics which I do feel are important for them to learn, even when my children have zero interest in the study.  I think that enjoying one’s studies enhances a lifelong love of learning, but sometimes, depending on the child or the subject, I’ve found that, at least for my children, love just isn’t enough, and I have to step up the rigor in their schooling.  Frankly, nobody around here likes that, myself included.  I see it as a necessary… well, not necessary evil.  Perhaps necessary character- and education-builder.

Where do you generally fit, on a scale of one to ten of rigor in homeschooling??

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Too familiar…

I’m trying to get beyond this, to mature out of it, to learn my lesson, to take it to heart, etc etc etc.  I just had an exchange with a friend, though, who was waiting on me for nearly two weeks to mail something to her.  I really had no good reason not to;  it was a simple matter, but I just didn’t do it.  I remembered at all the wrong times and forgot at the right ones.  And then she e-mailed me, asking a few questions, and I didn’t e-mail her back.  My thoughts were, “I’ll e-mail her to tell her her stuff is in the mail, and that I made the recipe she suggested and and and…” and then a day goes by, and three, and a week, and ten days…  Ugh.

I wrote to her, finally, after her prodding (she shouldn’t have had to prod):

I get stuck sometimes in really what amounts to too much idealism:  I’ll do thus-and-so right after I get all my ducks in a row, which should be ANY MINUTE NOW!  And that “any minute” turns out to be a much too optimistic estimation of my time and abilities, and in the meantime, I’ve left people in the lurch who were waiting on me.

I think that’s a pretty fair assessment of myself, unfortunately.  It has frustrated more than one person in my history, let me sadly assure you.

<sigh>

Freshman homeschooling angst

I love this!! from New Math by Craig Damrauer

I’m becoming more and more convinced that one of the major roles in parenting is to help children see the world in proper perspective:  to be more aware of others, to be aware of the potential results of personal actions, to discern what warrants a skeptical eye, to have a balanced view of self, to learn to look at things with God’s supernatural reality in mind and not just what presents itself as reality, etc.

My oldest son, Ethan, is 14 and has, four weeks into the school year, struggled with high school.  Not grade-wise;  he’s producing fine work.  Not with the content of his work;  he is enjoying what he’s learning.  It’s simply the volume of work, and how much it requires of his time and energy.

Our school day runs from 8:30 – 12:30.  If a reasonable amount of work is not accomplished in that time, I will often require that my children do the remainder of their work sometime in the afternoon, but my availability as a teacher is really limited after lunch;  they’re typically on their own for “homework” hours.  And, as I blogged briefly a couple of weeks ago, my approach for K-8 is very spiraling:  We cover topics repeatedly with increasing depth and complexity, so if one subject is not properly covered or grasped one week, or one month, or even one year, I don’t panic;  there’s always later.  That fairly relaxed attitude, combined with the fact that my children have done fabulously on standardized tests, has resulted in me really not having a rigorous approach to homework.

But… with high school, it’s different.  There are things that the state requires that my son learns (if I follow the track of high school diploma requirements — which is not actually necessary for homeschooled students where I live, but advisable).  And there are things that he needs to learn regardless of who is or is not requiring it.  And we can’t just catch up “next year.”  Our spiral is running out of room.  So, really, for the first time ever — other than math, which I’ve always insisted that they keep up on — I’m now communicating to Ethan, “If your stuff isn’t done in those four hours of ‘official’ school, you must get it done on your time.”

He’s having a really hard time with that, and feeling really, really, really, really overwhelmed, to the point where the entirety of his waking hours — from when his eyelids open in the morning to lights-out for the night — are heavy.  He hangs his head, he seems frequently on the verge of tears, he tends to pessimism, he’s on edge, he sighs incessantly, he needs lots of hugs (which is totally fine;  I’m thrilled that my 14 year old son wants hugs from me)…  Heavy.

I’ve told him that the mercy in me wants to just say, “Oh, it’s all right.  You don’t have to do it.”  However, I feel that it’s the right time to require him to manage his time, be consistent, persevere, work hard — even when he doesn’t want to, develop study skills, step up in responsibility, and any other number of practical skills and character traits that can be developed by hard work and persistence.

Plus, I just want him to learn.  I do, definitely, want him (and all my children) to enjoy school.  I want them to be excited about learning, and truly enjoy what they’re doing, and that desire daily factors into how we do school.  But, I would hate to look back on Ethan’s high school experience and know that my laxity as a teacher and a mother limited his options for college and/or career.  I don’t want to shortchange his education.

So, I’ve been pretty hardnosed about it.

Perhaps, though, I’ve been too hardnosed.

Yesterday morning, my husband Martin told me that the previous night (when I’d been out grocery shopping), he and Ethan had a heart-to-heart, and Ethan was pretty despondent about school, really feeling like he’s drowning and I don’t care.  😦  Martin suggested that I pray about how to handle it, and that perhaps I needed to ease up.

I prayed…  Not a 40-day intense time of prayer and fasting, but not simply a, “God help me.  Thanks,” kind of prayer…  Somewhere in the middle.  Well, “somewhere in the middle,” but on the shorter side of the middle, because after fifteen minutes of prayer, I had some guidelines in my head for a bit of a different approach.  As I told Ethan later that morning, I wasn’t claiming that they were totally inspired by the Holy Spirit, but they might be!  I also asked him to give the new system two weeks to see if it helped.

In short, the new system is this:

  • Maxing out his school day at 6 hours.  The four hours from 8:30 – 12:30, plus up to two hours of additional work in the afternoon and/or evening.
  • Requiring that he does the ‘hard stuff’ first.

Knowing my son, part of his battle is that while reading is a great deal of his schoolwork, he so prefers to just read that he’ll consume his schoolbook of choice (often a novel) all morning, getting himself a week or two ahead of schedule on that book, yet he’s four days behind on math, and three days behind in science, and he still has that writing assignment from Monday that is due on Friday, and here it is Thursday and he hasn’t even started.  Etc.

And with all that behind-ness, he just feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.  There’s no end to the school day, and no chance — so it seems — of ever getting caught up.  The new system gives him clearer structure to order his time, and gives him hope that the day won’t perpetuate forever.

He is doing Apologia Physical Science; Teaching Textbooks Algebra I; P.E.*; and Sonlight’s Core 200, which covers Church History, Bible and Apologetics**, plus English (comprised of Writing, Vocabulary, and Literature).

So, now, I require that he starts the day with his choice of:

  • Science
  • Math
  • Vocab
  • Writing

Once those for subjects are completed, he can do the remainder of his work in any order, at his discretion:

  • P.E.
  • Bible Memory
  • Reading — Literature
  • Reading — History
  • Reading — Bible & Apologetics

Ethan was pretty amenable to the plan, and felt cared-for, but still feeling overworked and somewhat distressed, and not convinced that it would have any effect on his schoolwork.

Well, at 3:30 p.m. that same day, he came back to me and said, “I’m all caught up.”  I replied, “That’s great!  You mean for the day?  It’s 3:30 and you’re done for the day?”  He clarified with a huge smile, “No.  I mean all caught up with all my assignments for the whole school year!”

Wow.  Awesome!

I was pretty giddy.  So was he.

I told him, “So… I guess last night was the dark before the dawn, eh?”

He looked blank.

“You’ve never heard that maxim?”

He hadn’t, so I explained.

I think this whole thing was a good experience for both of us.  For me, in that I still need to provide clear guidance and give him hope.  For him, that the work is doable, and that his emotions in a situation are not always a reliable indicator of reality.  Less than 24 hrs after feeling completely hopeless, the light was shining again, his face was beaming, and all of the despondency was behind him.

Now today, he’s in a new quandary, and dark clouds are again threatening.  But, I think we’ll get through this storm all right, too.

————————————-

*For P.E. (required by the state of Arizona for freshmen), Ethan is doing 20 minutes of activity four times weekly, and three times weekly, reading two pages of DK’s The Sports Book (which is a really engaging and well-illustrated book on how a wide variety of sports are played).

**Ethan is really enjoying Apologetics, to the surprise of us both.

Super-Simple GFCF Wholegrain Sandwich Bread (vegan, rice-free, potato-free)

In nearly nine years of almost daily gluten-free baking — both my recipes and countless others’ — this is the closest to bread perfection I’ve ever achieved.

  • This recipe consistently produces a slicing bread that is fabulous right out of the oven.  Go ahead and slather butter (or your spread of choice) onto a fresh, steaming slice;  the bread does not gum up when trying to slice it when it’s still hot.  (For honest disclosure, if you want VERY THIN slices, like ¼” thick, it is best to wait until the bread cools.)
  • No more collapsed loaves!!  The bread rises great and only falls/shrinks a VERY SMALL bit during baking.
  • No more brick-like loaves:  The top is actually ROUNDED!
  • This recipe produces a nicely-browned, crusty, chewy crust.
  • The taste is excellent — no overwhelming, odd taste.  It’s subtle enough to use for both sweet and savory.  Yet, it’s complex enough to not taste bland or dull.
  • The texture is both sturdy and elastic:  It stands up to spreading, but does not readily fall apart whilst eating the sandwich.
  • The interior of the bread is moist (but never gummy), and not crumbly.
  • The bread is also great for toasting (though unlike many other g.f. loaves, does not require toasting).
  • It is 2/3 wholegrain, high in fiber, but is light in color.
  • This recipe also produces a bread that is higher in protein than most gluten-free breads, more equivalent to wheat-based bread.  The only starch used in this bread is mung bean starch (see the simple flour mixture recipe here), which is remarkably low-glycemic, due to its very high amylose content (32% amylose in mung bean starch, compared to 0.5% in corn starch).

Does this sound too good to be true??  Fair reader, it is not.  I have churned out dozens of these loaves in the last couple of weeks, and have yet to be disappointed (unless I veered from the recipe in order to tinker with it, unsuccessfully).

Rising dough. This is actually a large loaf; it rises even BETTER in a small loaf pan.

Finished loaf.

Sliced bread. I like the top a bit more rustic, like this. If you smooth your loaf out more thoroughly, prior to rising, the top of your loaf won't be quite as irregular.

I have not tried to freeze it;  we eat it too fast.  I’ve only eaten it when the bread is up to two days old, so I really don’t know how long it lasts, long-term.  If you make the bread and have any comments about preserving it, do let me know.

Another note:  This bread works best in a smaller loaf size.

Super-Simple GFCF Wholegrain Sandwich Bread

(click here for a simplified comment-free PDF of the recipe;  the following recipe is notated with suggestions)
Requires about 90 minutes’ time from start to finish.

  • 3¼ cups Simple Sandwich Bread Flour Mix
  • 1 tsp sea salt — not any less
  • 1¾ cup water, heated to 95° – 110° F
  • 1½ Tbsp granulated sugar (that is, 1 Tbsp + 1½ tsp)
  • scant Tbsp active dry yeast (that is, about 2¾ tsp)
  • 1½ Tbsp olive oil (that is, 1 Tbsp + 1½ tsp)
  • Spray olive oil, or about an additional ½ tsp
  1. In a glass or glazed pottery container, add sugar and yeast to the warm water.  Stir gently to moisten the yeast.  Set aside to proof for ten minutes.  At the end of 10 minutes, the mixture should have a fairly thick layer of small bubbles on top.
  2. Put the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven.  Turn the oven on to preheat to 350°F for ONLY TWO MINUTES.  Turn off oven.
  3. Line a small loaf pan (4½” x 8½”) with nonstick foil.
  4. With a whisk, combine flour mix with salt.
  5. To the proofed yeast mixture, gently mix in 1½ Tbsp olive oil.  Add to flour and salt mixture.
  6. With a whisk, very quickly mix liquid mixture with flour mixture.  Whisk briskly until well-combined and mixture thickens.  You may still see some very small clumps.
  7. Set the bowl aside to rest for five minutes.  After five minutes, whisk again until smooth.  (Without the resting period and additional whisking, you will likely end up with small clumps of garbanzo flour in your finished loaf.)
  8. With a silicone spatula, turn batter into the lined loaf pan.  Tap the pan on countertop to help it settle.  Spray top of loaf with olive oil (alternately, lightly drizzle the loaf with oil).  Using a clean silicone spatula, pat and form the loaf until the batter is evenly distributed and slightly rounded.
  9. Set the pan in the (pre-warmed) oven, uncovered, and close the door.
  10. Let rise for 20 minutes, remove loaf.  Set aside, uncovered.  (If your home is really cold, place the rising loaf in a protected area, like inside the microwave.)  Turn oven up to 400°F and preheat for ten minutes.  Place loaf into heated oven, on a rack in the bottom third of the oven, bake at 400°F for 30 minutes until nicely browned.  (For an extra-brown, crusty crust, bake an additional 5 minutes.)
  11. After baking, immediately remove the loaf from the baking pan — place it on a cooling rack or a wooden cutting board.
  12. Enjoy!
  13. Store lightly covered on the countertop for up to two days.  Beyond 48 hours, refrigeration or freezing is recommended.

NOTES:

  • Using the prescribed Flour Mixture, which includes mung bean starch, is an absolute MUST for the bread’s success.  I have tried nearly countless variations of potato, tapioca, and/or corn starch, in addition to numerous other flours — two kinds of millet, sorghum, three kinds of rice flours, potato flour — and NOTHING works like the combination of mung bean starch, oat flour, and garbanzo flour to allow the loaf to rise, and to produce the finished texture of both the crust and the interior of the loaf.
  • Due to variances in humidity in both the air and in your flours, you may find that you need to increase or decrease the water used in the recipe.  If the loaf does not rise well, increase water by 1 Tbsp.  If it rises so much that it spills out of the pan and doesn’t hold a rounded shape well and/or if it caves in or flattens out a little either during or after baking, decrease water by 1 Tbsp.
  • I have tried this recipe using raw milk (both cow and goat) in lieu of water, and it just works best with water.  If you want to try milk, decrease the liquid by at least 1 Tbsp.  The milk will make the loaf brown even more;  keep a closer eye on the time.  It also lends to a more yellowish color in the interior of the loaf, the color of potato bread.)
  • If you want to use a large loaf pan, the bread simply won’t keep its loft as well while baking.  However, it still is a serviceable, tasty loaf.  Use 4¼ cups flour mix, 1½ tsp sea salt, 2¼ cups water, 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 T yeast.  Let rise and bake for an additional five minutes each.  All other instructions are identical.

If you try this loaf and have questions or comments — positive or negative — PLEASE comment below or e-mail me at karenjoy@onlysometimesclever.com.  I truly love feedback.

Cool! Lots of handy info on g.f. flour blends

Look closely at the “all purpose” one.  🙂  I actually make the same AP flour, but now add one part garbanzo flour… and I only use half of the xanthan gum as described in the original post.

Karen the Farm Lady tantalizes you…

I have been Farm Lady the last few days, barefoot in the kitchen, and I really love it. I’ve decided that I would gladly do a swap with someone: They can come daily and clean my home, and I will do all their healthy grocery shopping and cooking and baking, accommodating all their dietary needs or restrictions. I’m sort of joking, because I think in order for it to REALLY work, that person would have to live very close to me. Still. One can dream, right?? If interested, apply below in the comments. 🙂

It tastes as good as it looks!

I’m finally 100% happy with my bread.  Yes, it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, rice-free, potato-free, vegan, made with this homemade flour blend.  Now, I just need to post the recipe.  But that takes a while.  Saturday, maybe??  Monday??  Stay tuned.  My friend Kim (of Gluten Free Real Food) sampled the bread yesterday, and she said it was really good.  🙂

Yesterday, I turned all this basil (about ¼ of what I could have harvested from my garden) into little ice cubes, made by chopping washed leaves with a bit of olive oil in a food processor (a delightful, free hand-me-down from the afore-mentioned Kim), putting 1 Tbsp of the mixture into ice cube trays, and topping it with filtered water.  It made 40 “ice” cubes, which I will happily add to soups, stews, sauces, etc., in the dead of winter, and think happy thoughts about my garden.  I’m going to make some more this afternoon.

I look like an aging goober with really yellow teeth. Oh, well. At least I can grow some good basil.

I worked this morning in my garden, staking my tomatoes, weeding, and making a general assessment of overall garden health…  I was going to plant more carrots, but Fiala, my almost-three-year-old “planted” the seeds in the family room carpet yesterday.  I have determined that all — or at least most — of my garden problems were simply from the intense heat.  The days are still hot — usually hitting 105° daily — but the nights are relatively cooler — in the 70s or at least the low 80s.  Now,

  • my Mexican Grey Squash are growing very nicely.  I still haven’t harvested any mature fruit, but there are about six squash growing healthy and strong…  At least 2-3 of them should be ready to eat in another week or so.
  • My pole green beans have recovered from serious heat stress and are growing fresh green leaves and blossoms.
  • There are a total six green tomatoes on my eleven plants — don’t laugh!  Up until now, I have harvested ONE tomato, and it was really small.  So, I’m really delighted about my tomato plants — growing more robustly in the last few weeks than they have all summer.
  • I also have 7-8 volunteer tomato plants sprouting up… I’m not sure if I’m going to have room for all those tomatoes!  We’ll see.
  • My green chile plant is blooming nicely.
  • My Hopi Pumpkin plant is absolutely taking over the world — it’s about 10′ x 10′, and now it is finally producing some green pumpkins which are NOT dying, but actually growing bigger.  I hope I get to reap some before I grow terribly annoyed by the prolific/invasive grower and root it out.
  • I have carrots that are growing nicely.
  • Red chard growing nicely, too, though it seems like the bugs REALLY like it, so I’m going to have to spray it with some organic pesticide…  (I bought Raid Earth Options chrysanthemum-pyrethrin-based pesticide because I had a buy-on-get-one-free coupon.  For the record, it discourages bugs for about three days, and you can’t let any overspray hit bees, or it’ll kill them.  And, a garden needs its bees!!)

I’ve put up ten quarts of pickles in the last week or so, using cucumbers from the CSA/farm share to which I belong.  Four in the first batch, six in the second batch, which I canned this morning.  The first batch was WAY TOO SALTY, because of some vague wording in the recipe I was following coupled with me not being sharp enough to figure out the error.  The best part of the too-salty pickles is the cloves of fresh garlic I threw in.  YUM.  I’m going to have to pickle me some garlic!!  In the new batch, in each jar, I used ½ tsp dill weed, ¼ tsp each brown mustard seed, coriander seed, and black peppercorns.  No garlic this time — not enough to spare!  I look forward to eating my not-too-salty farm pickles.

This last bit isn’t really farm-y or even food-y.  BUT, I’m pleased with myself, because it is a cheap way to make my home more pleasant.  🙂  My sister, who teases me unmercifully on topics ranging from my horse teeth to my hairy toes to my crunchiness and everything in between (I love her dearly and she keeps me humble), bewailed my sadly scentless laundry.  I explained that we couldn’t do scented detergents or fabric softener because of Fiala’s skin issues.  When she mourned for me, it really got me thinking about ways I could make my laundry smell pleasant and fresh without hurting Fiala.  A few weeks ago, I was at Trader Joe’s and noticed their filter-paper enclosed lavender dryer sachets.  Voila!  Perfect.  The $3.99 price tag made me grumble, but four packets which each last 6-10 loads… I figured the package would last me a month.  Well, my local natural foods market (Sprouts, which is taking over the West — you may see one near you soon!  It’s a good thing.) is running a 25% off their bulk products this week.  They have a lovely wall of half-gallon jars full of spices and herbs, and I thought, “I wonder if they have dried lavender flowers?  I could make my own dryer sachets!”  Turns out, they DO carry lavender!  Even on sale, it was $13-something per pound, so I tentatively filled up my little plastic ziploc baggie with what I figured was more than enough to make four sachets to do a little price comparison.  The total cost???  FIFTY TWO CENTS.  That’s it.  And when buying lavender as an herb, it was taxed at the grocery rate (1.8%) instead of the general merchandise rate (≈9.8%, depending on the municipality).  And, I already have a little cotton drawstring bag that I’m planning on using.  So, I’ll have my gently lavender-scented laundry now, at 1/8 the cost.  Ha!  I feel pretty good about that one.  Because I get excited about weird stuff like that.

And now, this post is so long, I guess I could have used the time it took creating it to have done the bread recipe.  :\

Simple Sandwich Bread Flour Mix (gluten-free, rice-free, potato-free)

Mung beans.

I know, you’ve always wanted to try them.  You have a deep-seated curiosity about them.

No?

Well, let me pique your interest.

Have you ever made gluten-free bread that looked like a brownish brick?  If you’ve done any g.f. baking and you answer, “No” to that, I’ll know you’re lying.  😀

I accidentally discovered the secret to lofty, round-topped, well-rising gluten-free bread, and it arose (ha!) from me trying to make a bread for my nearly three-year-old daughter, Fiala, who is still highly allergic to just about everything on the planet.  The only grain she can tolerate is oats.  I’ve known for a couple of years that she can handle most legumes, and I’ve long been making farinata and other quick breads from garbanzo bean flour.

Recently, though, on one of my frequent forays into a local large Asian market, I noticed a package of mung bean starch.  I’d seen mung beans elsewhere in the store.  You can buy them in their tiny, green-skinned natural state:

Mung bean, Vigna radiata

Or shelled and split:

They look like smaller, oval, split yellow peas.

Have you ever bought bean sprouts?  They were probably from a mung bean.  Have you ever eaten cellophane noodles (also known as bean threads or saifun)?  Those are made from mung bean starch.

Mung beans are used a LOT in Asian cooking.  The Wikipedia article is quite interesting, noting the many cultures who use mung beans, and the wide variety of foods made from mung bean — whole, husked and split, flour, starch — from savory to sweet.

So, anyway.  I picked some up, and with fairly low expectations, crafted a Fiala-safe bread using little more than oat flour, garbanzo bean flour, and mung bean starch.

Surprise!

It rose very well, browned amazingly, sliced PERFECTLY — even right out of the oven, and tasted great.

I haven’t quite abandoned the idea of making bread from my other all-purpose flour mix, but for now, I’m very satisfied with the tasty bread made with this simple mix.  And the bonus is that EVERYONE in my family — all seven of us — can eat this bread.

Since this is already so long, I’ll have to post the actual bread recipe sometime in the near future.  In preparation for the recipe, though, whydontchya make the flour mix?

Mung bean starch (also known as green bean starch) can be a bit hard to find online…  I buy it for about $2.10 at a local Asian market for a 1 lb package.  Here it is on a site called Grocery Thai for $5.95 for a 500 gram (17.64 oz) package, almost triple the price of my local store.  If you find a better supplier at a better price, PLEASE leave the URL in a comment.

So, the only bummer about this mix is that, as one of the ingredients is a bit obscure, if you don’t live somewhere close to an Asian grocery, it may prove to be cost-prohibitive.  😦

Without further ado, here is the flour mix recipe:

Simple Sandwich Bread Flour Mix
makes approximately 12 cups

4 cups mung bean starch
4 cups garbanzo flour
4 cups oat flour
2 Tbsp xanthan gum

Whisk to combine all ingredients thoroughly.  Store in an airtight container in the pantry (no need to refrigerate).

One more note about ingredients:  I can find ALL of my flours at the Asian market:  Garbanzo flour is also known as besan or chana dal and is widely used in Indian cooking.  Oat flour can be found in the African foods section, called oat fufu (don’t laugh!).  Both area also produced by Bob’s Red Mill, which probably has better standards regarding cross-contamination for gluten concerns, and are produced in the States.  Inexplicably, the mung bean starch (made in China) is found in the Middle East aisle in my local store, but you may find it in the Korean section.  If your local Asian grocery has English-language-challenged employees, you may want to print out what you’re looking for in several different languages, so you can ask for help.  🙂  Bob’s Red Mill also makes xanthan gum, though I buy mine in bulk at a natural foods grocery for about half the price of Bob’s.

OK.  A second “one more note”:  This flour would be considered corn-free, if it wasn’t for xanthan gum, which is usually made from a specific bacteria that is cultured on corn sugar.  So, if you’re corn-allergic, depending on your sensitivity, you may be able to use this flour mix and the bread.  I haven’t tried the mix with guar gum (made from a legume/seed).  If you do, let me know!

Stuff that is interesting to me. :D And hopefully to you.

  • For those of you curious — or even better, praying — my mom was moved yesterday to a rehabilitation hospital.  While there, she will receive 3+ daily hours of various kinds of therapy — occupational therapy, physical therapy, in addition to respiratory therapy and whatever else is deemed helpful.  So, her stay in the “normal” hospital was just under two weeks, which is better than pretty much everyone anticipated.  For those of you who are praying, please continue to do so, especially for my mother’s mind.  Her memory is shoddy, her processing very childlike, and while she knows she isn’t as sharp as she once was — and she once was VERY sharp! — it is quite an adjustment for both herself and those who love her.  We’re hoping that the general befuddlement is primarily caused by the abundance of meds she is taking, and not anything more permanent.
  • This past spring, I checked out several books from the library on homeschooling high schoolers.  I read none of them.  I don’t even think I really flipped through any, not with anything resembling thoroughness.  I did get a printout from my local school district about graduation requirements, and have roughly — very roughly — mapped out a Plan of Action in my head.  And, I’m coming up with a more structured grading system for Ethan, my freshman.  None of this has been any kind of difficult.  It dawned on my yesterday, though, why homeschooling for high school can be so daunting:  There aren’t any do-overs.  I take a very spiraling approach:  We cover various topics repeatedly, with increasing complexity.  If my third grader doesn’t “get it”, who cares?  We have fourth, fifth, sixth… for him to learn.  Now that my oldest son is in 9th grade, though, I am really getting a sense of, “The buck stops here.”  We can’t pass on anything.  We can’t just say, “We’ll try again next semester.  Next year.  A couple-three years down the road.”  There are certain things he’s expected — and beyond that, things he needs — to learn for each year of high school, and if we run out of time at the end of the day, when do we make it up?  I still haven’t figured that out entirely.
  • Motivated Moms.  I’ve been doing this scheduling system for a bit more than a month.  And while I have yet to actually accomplish in a week all that my schedule is telling me I’m to accomplish, I’m still getting way more done around the house than I had previously.  Not only has it produced a better organized and cleaner home, but having my daily list of things to do has nearly done away with that really debilitating feeling of, “I am barely keeping my nose above water!”  That alone makes it worth it.
  • My garden is still producing really big plants that bear no fruit.  Or very little fruit.  Still…  I’m persisting, and hopefully, learning more, week by week.  I keep losing seedlings, though.  Here in the Phoenix area, September has been unseasonably, miserably hot (minus the last two days, which haven’t hit 100°, bless God); daily highs have been in the 105°-110° range.  This means that any seed that is directly sown into the garden needs to be moistened 4-5 times DAILY so that the sprout doesn’t die.  And, forget one time, or be away from home too long, and you lose your 15 linear feet of carrots.  😦  So, I think I’ll hold off from seeding anything additional for another couple weeks.
  • Taboo Crunchy Subjects.  Thank you, Mama Birth, for blogging my thoughts.  I don’t agree 100% with her assessments, but like her, I have noticed an increasing level of both fear and inflexible vociferousness in the supposedly touchy-feely natural-living/crunchy community.  It’s a bit disheartening, I must admit.  Personally, it is my goal to be a leader, to have some hills on which I’m willing to die, to have some moral absolutes, to learn from others’ mistakes and my own, to continually go “further up and further in“, YET NOT BE A JERK.  Even better than that, to be actually loving.  AND, to not be motivated by fear. (Which is a whole ‘nother topic in itself, and one on which I keep meaning to blog, but the whole subject would be such a huge one for me to tackle, I don’t know if I have the time or the emotional fortitude to do it justice.)  I don’t know if I’m achieving that balance, but it’s my goal.

Family outing on the cheap, plus thoughts on art, and a little kindergarten vanity.

On Labor Day, using the Culture Pass* I’d checked out on Friday, our family went to the Phoenix Art Museum, which I’d not visited for five years, and had missed.  Normal admission price for our family of seven would be $32.  ($10 for adults, $4 for children 6-17, free for children 5 and under.)  With the Culture Pass, we paid $12, as Martin and I were free.  Very do-able.  I packed a picnic lunch, which we ate outside in the very warm, dappled shade, next to a creepy sculpture-fountain of a woman “bleeding” water out of cut-up forearms.

When I was in college, I saw a woman wearing a tee that said, “Art Can’t Hurt You” and while part of me understands the sentiment, I actually don’t agree with that.  Art encompasses a wide range of experiences and emotions, including ones that hurt.  However, I don’t get weird about it.  We acknowledged to the little girls, “Yeah… that’s sad.  And creepy.  I wonder if the artist was sad?  It’s painful to look at, huh?”  and we just let it go at that.  Actually, the older boys were more creeped out than the girls, because I think they grasp the concept of mortality and emotional pain better than the 2- and 5-year-old girls.

Anyway.

The whole thing made for a cheap and VERY enjoyable outing.  I’m so glad my hubby was along;  his presence allowed us to stay a good five hours.  If it was just me and the five kids, I’d have been done after, oh, three hours or so.

I really don’t have very many pictures.  When I’m involved in something, I find that I rarely remember to document the process;  I’m too busy enjoying.

We headed first to the Western American Art exhibit, at my insistence.  I don’t consider myself a cowgirl — at all — but I love, love, love Western art.  My all-time favorite painting at the Phx Art Museum is Ed Mell‘s Sweeping Clouds.  Looking up Ed Mell, I just now discovered that I don’t care for all of his paintings, but I sure do love the one hanging in the corner of the PAM.  Western art in general, and that painting in particular, reminds me of the very best things about living in Arizona — dramatic scenery, a sense of solitude, unique aspects of nature, the vibrant colors of the desert, and the best skyscapes of ANYWHERE….

Not my pic. I'll admit, I stole it from a Russian website and am now uploading it here. I didn't want to link to that site, because it seemed a little fishy.

Other highlights included the installation of Yayoi Kusama’s You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies which is essentially a dark, mirrored room, about 20′ square, with a reflective floor and ceiling, and thousands of computer-programmed LED lights of varying colors hung at all heights.  It’s kind of hard to find your way in, orient yourself, and then find your way out again.  It doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy, but I LOVED it.  So did all the kids, especially Fiala.  We went through it probably five times or more… probably spent a good 30 minutes total in that little room.  It was what the best installations are:  Unique, an experience, a wee bit unsettling, but also thoroughly enjoyable.

In the kids’ art room, the girls and my 12yo, Grant, went to town, drawing and playing for upwards of 45 minutes.  I stayed there with them while Martin and the other two boys visited the Modern Mexican Painting exhibit.

It's inspired by Escuelas de Pintura al Aire Libre, the open-air painting schools of Mexico.

 

Fiala, very intent.

 

Audrey, candid.

 

Audrey, posing, now that she realizes Mom is snapping pics. Goober. Cute little goober.

So.  The Phoenix Art Museum.  You should go.  And pick up your passes from the library.  🙂

————–

*The Phoenix Library system has a great program called the Culture Pass.  There is a little kiosk inside each library branch that has cards which you take to the desk to “check out” a free pass, good for 2-4 tickets, to be used within the week, to various cultural attractions around the area.  For our one-income family, this is a fabulous way to make often-pricey museums an extremely reasonable outing.

 

From the boy who hates to write…

I know I’m biased, but my 14 year-old son Ethan wrote something this week that brought tears to my eyes.  It was jaw-droppingly gripping and well-written.  We got done reviewing it together, and I asked, “Can I post this on my blog?”  He laughed, “I knew you were going to ask that.”

Ethan says that he hates to write.

Toward the beginning of last year, his 8th grade year, I assigned him a “mini” research project.  We went through the process of deciding on a topic, learning the construction of research papers, crafting an outline, procuring the appropriate books, doing the reading, learning how to use the books to get the best info… on and on.  Well, his three-page project grew into five pages.  Then ten.  Ten and he still wasn’t done.  He kept writing more, but with absolutely no joy, and only when I twisted his arm to write.  I was desperately and unsuccessfully trying to get him to rein it in;  he would get so bogged down in the details, it was like he was trying to write another book…  His actual writing is excellent, but his self-editing skills were nil.  And with a paper so long, of course there were many opportunities to discuss better grammar, or spelling, or sentence construction, or topic sentences, or better vocabulary choices, and on and on and on.  And, any time I had a correction for him in the process, well… we’d both end up in tears, because he’d get SO discouraged.  I felt like Bad Homeschool Mom.

The paper, I’m ashamed to say, never got done.  It was mostly my fault, because the whole thing had just ballooned into an awful scramble of flawed teaching, sensitive adolescent feelings, and LOTS AND LOTS of words.  At some point, toward the end of the year, I just decided that it wasn’t worth it, and we’d tackle writing next year.

“Next year” is now this year.

This year is only one week old… but on Sunday evening, as we discussed in greater detail what his freshman year would look like, to his great disappointment, I told him, “You’re going to do a lot of writing.  But, you’re going to do it in much smaller chunks, so that neither of us gets bogged down.  It’s my goal to encourage you greatly, because you really ARE a good writer, but you so dread the process that it hangs like a sword over your head.  I want, by the end of the year, for you to become a confident writer, who writes with relative ease, and isn’t frightened by the writing process.  And I will stay on top of it, helping you along the way, and not giving up.”  He seemed only nominally assured.

The Newbery Honor book by Patricia Reilly Giff

Ethan is doing Sonlight’s Core 200 this year, and really enjoying it.  I’m glad that he found the first assigned novel, Pictures of Hollis Woods, so interesting, because his writing assignment was based on the book.  The book is a compelling story of the history of a foster child.  Each chapter begins with a word picture, painted from a memory of the main character, a girl named Hollis.  The writing assignment detailed:

What is your favorite picture from Pictures of Hollis Woods?  Why?  What qualities make it your favorite? …  Using that picture as an inspiration, write a picture of your own… make sure your picture reflects the same qualities you value in your favorite.

Though the assignment was only asking him to think about it, I suggested to Ethan that he write out his reflection on his favorite portion of the book, describing what it is about it that made it so striking.  Then, for him to pick ANY memory of his own that stands out like a snapshot in his mind, and to note various things about the memory:  what was happening, how he felt, what the weather was like, why it stuck with him, etc.

His notes were:

I think I would say my favorite picture expressed in this book is the thirteenth picture.  However, it is not my favorite because it’s funny, or pleasing, but very sad.  Now, I do not mean to be morbid in any way, but this picture really provoked my emotions more than any other contained in this book.  It just really got me thinking, “Wow, how could this happen.  How could a girl, an orphan at that, be so hard-hearted to the one and only foster father who truly loves her.”  And just the way this book is written puts you smack dab in the middle of this clash of emotions that really seems to make the characters come alive, it’s just stunning and it makes you feel like you’re standing right there the entire time.

Notes:  Arizona Snowbowl
on ski lift
traveling up
about 8? (years)
11 – 2 (time)
tingly feeling
bundled up
very cold
legs feel scratchy from blanket

And here’s what he wrote:  (I very lightly edited it with him, altering a few points of punctuation, and crossing out a total of seven words, adding five that he chose from my suggestions… )

He was tired of looking through the wreckage of this house.  He decided to look in the last room of the house then leave for good.  The man did not enjoy the findings of this particular abandoned abode;  the only thing of use that he found was a thick folder full of paper.  He sighed, thinking, “Only good for starting fires.”

Later, at his camp, the man spread out his findings of the day before him:  a rusty kitchen knife, four cans of food, some ammunition, three burnt and water damaged books, and the folder.  The man was intrigued most by the folder.  He picked it up, but it crumbled in his hand, spilling papers all over.

One caught his eye, different from the others.  It wasn’t just a bunch of letters he couldn’t read, but a picture seemingly drawn by a child.  It was a family, a mother and three young boys, riding up a mountain on some kind of lift.  The mountain was spectacular, hundreds of feet tall, grey, and covered with pines and what stuff the man determined was snow, based on what the family was wearing.  The sun was high in the sky, making the ground glisten, and the man quickly lost himself in his imagination.

He found himself looking through the eyes of the oldest boy, cold, but wearing a strange fuzzy sweater with a hood attached.  He was also wrapped in a blanket that looked itchy.  The man felt a strange, excited, tingly feeling inside and opened his eyes back to the world around him.  He sighed, looked down at that wonderful picture and gently folded it, putting it in his pocket.  “More precious than all the fire starters in the world,” he thought.

Is it just me??  Or is that not REALLY GOOD?  Mystery, unanswered questions leaving the reader wanting more, very evocative, very creative.  He inserted his own memory into a really compelling fictional account.  A short-short story.  I thought it was awesome.  Plus, I was so excited that he (we, really) got through the assignment with triumph.  I didn’t have much to do with the story at all, but it still felt like an accomplishment.

🙂

It was a good first week of school.

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