Mar 252016
This year's math curriculum .... a little worse for wear!

This year’s math curriculum …. a little worse for wear!

Despite all of the messy bits of March, including a monster cold that has overtaken all of us this week, we can claim victory on one to do list item . . . . WE FINISHED MATH!!!

For us, math is the most time consuming part of our homeschool schedule. The curriculum we are using has to be taught individually to each child. My eldest does 5th grade math, my second daughter completed 3rd grade math and my preschooler is making progress on his Pre-K/kindergarten math.

In general, the math curriculum is the one we struggle the most to finish each year. It is always a dash to the finish in June, with a lot of crunch time at the end. It is so stressful. Up until I got sick with flu and pneumonia in November, we had been doing so well to stay on track with the math. Then we didn’t do math for almost a month! When December rolled around, we doubled up and did twice the lessons each day so that we could finish the first half by Christmas and even proudly displayed our completed math books for Santa.

Celebrating Christmas and the halfway point in our math studies!

Celebrating Christmas and the halfway point in our math studies!

After Christmas, we had ski class to look forward to on Fridays so we knew we were going to miss math at least once a week. So, we kept going with the two lessons a day. There was often a lot of grumbling but here we are at the end of March ALL DONE!

Fifth grade math was the first year where math began to get hard for me as a teacher. There were several story problems I had to Google to find out how to solve them. Fortunately, many other parents had the same problem and there are many supremely mathematically skilled people on the Internet who are willing to give answers and excellent explanations! Singapore Math likes to throw in tricks from time to time and the problems I was getting stuck on were usually of the type where you thought you didn’t have enough information to solve the problem until you saw some hidden trick or pattern. People who are great at math have genius skills in seeing hidden patterns.

As a quick summary of what we learned this year.

3rd Grade Math = 681 pages plus 1 ½ notebooks worth of scratch paper

  • Multiplying up to the 9 times tables (I have noticed this is a huge difference between US and foreign math curriculums. In the US we tend to go up to 12 because we often need to know 12 times when we measure in feet. In other countries, 12 is less important, because their measurement systems are based on multiples of 10, so going up to 10 is enough. They have tricks for multiplying above 10 that they use instead of memorizing the 11 and 12 times tables.)
  • Adding, Subtracting, Multiplying and Dividing Numbers in the Thousands
  • Long division
  • Measurements in US and International Units (inches, feet, yards, cm, m, kg, lb, oz, etc.)
  • Money – Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing
  • Fractions
  • Telling time to the minute
  • Geometry – identifying right angles, calculating area, perimeter and volume
  • Story problems may require as many as 4 steps
One organizing trick for homeschool math papers that only took me about 4 years to learn is that if you can do all of the assignments, teaching and scratch paper in one composition book, you have a lot fewer papers to keep track of.  So, it takes a little time to copy down the math problems into the notebook but in the end makes a clean, neat record that is easy to store.

One organizing trick for homeschool math papers that only took me about 4 years to learn is that if you can do all of the assignments, teaching and scratch paper in one composition book, you have a lot fewer papers to keep track of. So, it takes a little time to copy down the math problems into the notebook but in the end makes a clean, neat record that is easy to store.

5th Grade Math – 621 pages! Plus 1 ½ notebooks worth of scratch paper

  • Multiplying and dividing by 2-digit numbers
  • Adding, subtracting, *multiplying and *dividing fractions
  • Order of operations – i.e. parentheses first, then multiplication and division left to right then addition and subtraction left to right
  • Perimeter, Area, Volume
  • Equivalent Ratios
  • Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing decimals
  • *Converting fractions to percentages
  • *Geometry – finding unknown angles in complex diagrams using principles of isosceles and equilateral triangles, parallelograms, rhombuses and trapezoids
  • Calculating averages – finding average, median and mode
  • Interpreting pie charts and line graphs
  • *Beginning Algebraic expressions, graphing equations
  • Story problems may require numerous steps, sometimes as many as 7 calculations!

*indicates concepts not taught in our local school system for 5th grade

The scratch paper also serves as a medium of expression for boredom and frustration!

The scratch paper also serves as a medium of expression for boredom and frustration!

The geometry and algebra in the fifth grade stunned me. My husband and I didn’t learn any of this until about 7th grade or so. I checked around with other smart parents and they say the same. We are pushing down so much material to the younger grades. My kids so far are handling it well but I consider them “above average” (a la Lake Wobegon). I hope there aren’t too many children out there who think they are no good at math when really they might just do better on the older, more relaxed schedule.

When I compare the curriculum we are using to the concepts taught in our local school district, it seems we map fairly closely up until the end of 3rd grade. Beginning in the 4th grade, Singapore Math seems to push about 1 grade higher than the school district. Many of the concepts listed for 5th grade math we covered in 4th grade.

I read an article recently praising the Finnish mathematical system for being less pressured. Yet, when I cross-referenced the Finnish standards with what we learned they seemed to be right on track with us for 5th grade math. So, perhaps the Finns slow down sometime after 5th grade but up until then I wouldn’t call their math education programs “relaxed.”

So, what now that we are “finished” with math? We will keep reviewing some things until we take our standardized tests for the year but we are moving on to focus on a kids JavaScript computer programming book. I know nothing about JavaScript but I am learning as we go.

Does our math experience compare to yours? What do you remember about your own math education? Please share in the comments.

Done!  I will be glad to store these books away.  One less thing to have to keep track of.

Done! I will be glad to store these books away. One less thing to have to keep track of.

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
Mar 022016
We all love the sunshine so much we don't mind squinting.

We all love the sunshine so much we don’t mind squinting.

As everyone knows, yesterday was Super Tuesday in Virginia. We are one of the 12 states that have a huge impact on the selection of the presidential candidates.

This year in our homeschooling, we are studying U.S. History. When the presidential primaries began, we started a chart in our living room to track all the candidates and their progress. Our household has a variety of political opinions so we aren’t all rooting for the same candidates.

Results aren't official until they are recorded on our chart!

Results aren’t official until they are recorded on our chart!

I wrote up a short overview of the general ideas that guide the Republican and Democratic party. I read them to my girls. One of them got fired up about the idea of low taxes and announced herself a Republican. The other quietly said she was a Democrat. So, each girl is responsible for tracking the progress of her party. After each primary, they write down the percentages each candidate received and the number of delegates. When candidates drop out, we X them out in red crayon.

Our chart has each candidate’s picture, a picture of their spouse (and ex-spouses) and their children. You would think that this was a fairly mundane piece of information but there were some interesting stories generated pulling this together.

We also color in a map of the United States showing which states are next in the primary contests. It is a great way to review geography, math and history at the same time.

Yesterday, I took all the children with me to vote so they could see how the actual process works.

We observed some interesting organizational things about Virginia’s primary:

1) There were no political campaign signs anywhere to be seen! Not a single candidate had a yard sign or any presence at the polls. The only person at the polls was one person petitioning for fairer redistricting laws.

This lone "Vote Here" sign is all there was to be seen of campaign activity on Tuesday.  It kind of fits Virginia's reputation for understatement.

This lone “Vote Here” sign is all there was to be seen of campaign activity on Tuesday. It kind of fits Virginia’s reputation for understatement.

2) Virginia used to vote on touch screen computers but we have gone backward to paper! I was surprised to be handed a paper ballot, told to blacken in a circle and feed it into a machine. The machine told me my ballot had been received but did not confirm that it recorded my vote correctly for my candidate. One of the election workers said that the change to paper was due to a recent Senate election where the vote was very close. When the election workers went to verify the results, because they were all done on computer, there was nothing to verify. With paper voting, “at least there is a record” she said. She said the paper method will be used for the presidential election in November. I am not sure if this is an improvement.

3) As far as campaigning by any the candidates, we saw very little of anything! Here is what finally reached us:

Marco Rubio’s campaign blew up the phones. We got two Robocalls from Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina on his behalf. (While South Carolina is one of our neighbors, it was odd he didn’t use a Virginia endorsement.) The phones were ringing nonstop (which is irritating) but nobody left any messages (even more irritating!). So, we might have been called by other campaigns but only Marco Rubio’s campaign actually left messages.

The grand total of Hilary Clinton’s campaign efforts consisted of one mass mailed piece from Planned Parenthood.

I was hoping more of the candidates would mail things as it gives us free pictures of them and they make great teaching materials.

I was hoping more of the candidates would mail things as it gives us free pictures of them and they make great teaching materials.

Bernie Sanders campaign sent me a text on my cell phone (addressed to my husband) and I also received a few emails on his behalf.

Bernie's text to me.  I don't know how his campaign got my cell phone number.

Bernie’s text to me. I don’t know how his campaign got my cell phone number.

Ted Cruz showed up in one YouTube video advertisement.

And that was it! For such an important contest, it was surprising that there was almost nothing. Nobody campaigned in the Fredericksburg area. My experience has been that candidates largely ignore Virginia and then want to turn to us at the last minute when they discover we are almost always a battleground state that can go either way.

Here is how Virginia voted yesterday. Since we are a battleground state with a good diversity of opinion, there is probably a good chance that Trump and Clinton will go head to head in November.

2016-03-01-virginia-republicanresults

2016-03-02-virginia-democratic-results

We are having great fun learning about the election. The learning environment is even spilling down to my preschooler. At the polls yesterday, one of the election workers gave him a sticker that says, “I voted!” He really liked that sticker and has been sticking it to a lot of different things. Today, he brought me his own self-assigned copywork:

2016-03-01-ivoted-IMG_20160302_123801

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
Feb 292016

2016-02-14-kids-heart-IMG_20160214_134908

February was the month I felt my legs being swept out from underneath me over and over again. Just as I thought I had regained my footing, something else came along to counteract my best intentions.

When I last left you, we were in the eye of Snowstorm Jonas which dumped about 14 inches of snow at our house. My daughter tried skiing in the front yard. Fortunately, we didn’t lose power but we spent an awful lot of time shoveling our long driveway. A friend who lives at the top of a hill hosted a snow playdate at her house complete with hot chocolate, s’mores and a snow cave! After this, my kids insisted that we buy sleds so we are prepared for any sledding opportunities that may come our way.

Digging out took almost two days!

Digging out took almost two days!

"Skiing" our front yard.

“Skiing” our front yard.

Just as we recovered from this, my husband left on a week-long business trip to the west coast which took away an important source of help as well as a lack of sleep from trying to stay in touch via midnight phone calls due to the time change.

Just as he came home, we received the very sad news that our dear “Grammy” was unwell and then passed away. It was back out to the west coast for my husband, along with our daughter, while we toughed it out here. I set to work finally taking down our Christmas decorations (while I felt bad about being this far behind, I know of at least one other busy person who still had a tree up and I was still receiving Christmas cards in the mail from a few people. For some of us, Christmas is a long season.) My kids and I camped out in our sunroom to ease the hurt feelings of those who wanted to travel with big sister. We celebrated Valentine’s Day and did one of my favorite photo shoots of the year.

One night in January, I was cleaning up our Christmas boxes, cut some hearts out of one, covered a table in packing material and set out paints.

One night in January, I was cleaning up our Christmas boxes, cut some hearts out of one, covered a table in packing material and set out paints.

The next day, I found this!  The kids were hard at work painting.  My son liked to mix all the colors together to make "mud" valentines.

The next day, I found this! The kids were hard at work painting. My son liked to mix all the colors together to make “mud” valentines.

My daughter, displaying supreme organizational skills created this valentine's box with one section for cards, another door for candy and a flap on the back to open to get it all out!  I was impressed.

My daughter, displaying supreme organizational skills created this valentine’s box with one section for cards, another door for candy and a flap on the back to open to get it all out! I was impressed.

I loved the plea on my other daughter's box "Please give candy."  And another "mud" creation from my son.

I loved the plea on my other daughter’s box “Please give candy.” And another “mud” creation from my son.

We hung up all the creations on our mantel and I just loved looking at it.

We hung up all the creations on our mantel and I just loved looking at it.

Since we were in mourning for Grammy, I found black outfits for all of us to wear.  They ended up working out great for our photo shoot and symbolized both great heartache and great love.

Since we were in mourning for Grammy, I found black outfits for all of us to wear. They ended up working out great for our photo shoot and symbolized both great heartache and great love.

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The next day, we received another 5 inches of snow in a surprise storm! My children were so excited to use their sleds. Our driveway does not have that much of a slope to it but I served as the “horse” pulling them down the driveway over and over. By the end, we had a pretty good ice track set up. Fortunately, there was no shoveling to be done as the next day it all melted away.

Add another 5 inches to our snow totals.

Add another 5 inches to our snow totals.

2016-02-15-snow-trees-DSC_0829

2016-02-15-welcomemat-snow-IMG_20160215_164825

There is not a single picture of the baby enjoying snow.  He cries every time we put him down.

There is not a single picture of the baby enjoying snow. He cries every time we put him down.

Not even the sled was enticing!

Not even the sled was enticing!

My husband and daughter arrived safely home . . . . but then all the children came down with the flu! It passed irritatingly from one child to the next in the most drawn out fashion. I got tired of cleaning up vomit in the middle of the night. Fortunately, I avoided most of the illness, having already been hit hard with the flu last fall. I ended up with a small chest cough and made sure to rest as much as possible so I didn’t end up with pneumonia again. It seemed to work but it did nothing for my productivity.

And then to top it all off, at the end of the month, we had a tornado alert! We hid out in the basement for an hour or so. The wind and rain were not so bad for us but our neighbors to the south were not so lucky.

From snow to tornadoes!

From snow to tornadoes!

In the midst of all this February turmoil, however, Grammy’s death gave me pause to think about life in general and I realized that while it is wonderful to be organized and maximize your time and do great things, in the end all that is really asked of us is that we wake up every morning, breathe in, breathe out and just exist. That is enough. That is valuable. We do service to those around us just by being here. Anything else we do is a bonus. We would do well to remember that about ourselves and about others as well.

So, that was February. I was going to end this essay by saying that things are now on the right track for March as the weather is so balmy and spring-like and the increased sunshine does wonders for my energy level. After taking my minivan in for an expensive servicing, I cleaned it out and detailed it this weekend (a hateful task as only a minivan owner can sympathize). It was wonderful to sit in my “new” car today. . . . until I turned on the AC to hear a terrible noise. So tomorrow, we are back in recovery mode.

March is supposedly “in like a lion and out like a lamb.” So far, the lion part is right.

How was your February?

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , , , ,
Jan 222016
To health!

To health!

I completed the juice challenge! 5 days of nothing but juices. Generally, it went well! I was so busy making and drinking juices that I didn’t have much time to think about hunger or food. It was difficult to drink that much juice each day.

Each day was organized similarly: 1) drink lemon water, 2) make two juices for the day, divide each batch in half and drink 4 servings throughout the day, 3) have coconut water mid-morning 4) end each day with vegetable broth and the “pear pie” juice which is so sweet and delicious it tastes like a sinful dessert.

Each day started with warm lemon water.

Each day started with warm lemon water.

Each day ended with a Pear Pie smoothie which really tasted like a cookie.  The cinnamon was wonderful!

Each day ended with a Pear Pie smoothie which really tasted like a cookie. The cinnamon was wonderful!

Pear Pie Smoothie (I blended mine with frozen blueberries rather than juicing.)

Pear Pie Smoothie (I blended mine with frozen blueberries rather than juicing.)

Day One

Joe's "Mean Green" juice.  A classic.  I am probably the only one who is not crazy about this juice.  For a green juice, it isn't bad, just not my favorite.

Joe’s “Mean Green” juice. A classic. I am probably the only one who is not crazy about this juice. For a green juice, it isn’t bad, just not my favorite.

Ingredients for Sunny Citrus Beet Juice

Ingredients for Sunny Citrus Beet Juice

Sunny Citrus Beet juice.  I generally like purple juices.  This one wasn't bad but the grapefruit made it a bit sour for my taste.

Sunny Citrus Beet juice. I generally like purple juices. This one wasn’t bad but the grapefruit made it a bit sour for my taste.

Day Two

Ingredients for Morning Green Glory Juice.

Ingredients for Morning Green Glory Juice.

Morning Green Glory Juice.  This was my least favorite juice of the challenge.

Morning Green Glory Juice. This was my least favorite juice of the challenge.

Ingredients for Radiant AntiOxi Orange

Ingredients for Radiant AntiOxi Orange

The Radiant Anti Oxi Orange Juice to go (as I was on the way out the door to lessons for my kids).

The Radiant Anti Oxi Orange Juice to go (as I was on the way out the door to lessons for my kids).

Day Three

For this day, I got to test what this juice challenge would be like for someone with a full time job outside the home. We were spending the day skiing so I had to make all the juices the night before and store them in portable containers. It was a lot of work at night when I was tired but generally it worked out fine.

Ingredients for Carrot Apple Ginger juice, one of our family's favorites!!

Ingredients for Carrot Apple Ginger juice, one of our family’s favorites!!

Ingredients for Pear Power

Ingredients for Pear Power

Pear Power Juice, a curiously delicious mix of pears and basil....very gourmet!

Pear Power Juice, a curiously delicious mix of pears and basil….very gourmet!

Day Four

Ingredients for Chard Rock Cafe juice.

Ingredients for Chard Rock Cafe juice.

Chard Rock Cafe juice.  Not one of my favorites but the oregano was interesting to taste.

Chard Rock Cafe juice. Not one of my favorites but the oregano was interesting to taste.

Ingredients for Anti Aging Beet Grape

Ingredients for Anti Aging Beet Grape

Anti Aging Beet Grape Juice.  I liked it!  Sweet.

Anti Aging Beet Grape Juice. I liked it! Sweet.

Day Five

Ingredients for Calcium Rich Cucumber -- one of my favorite juices!

Ingredients for Calcium Rich Cucumber — one of my favorite juices!

I always make this one as a smoothie by blending the frozen pineapple rather than juicing it.

I always make this one as a smoothie by blending the frozen pineapple rather than juicing it.

Ingredients for Micronutrient Madness

Ingredients for Micronutrient Madness

Micronutrient Madness Juice.  You could probably make this more orange by peeling the cucumber before juicing.

Micronutrient Madness Juice. You could probably make this more orange by peeling the cucumber before juicing.

Unlike last time I did a juice cleanse, there was no nausea in the early days. I am not sure if that is a sign that I am getting healthier or if drinking electrolyte juices like coconut water and vegetable broth really makes a huge difference.

I lost a total of 7 pounds at the end of the juice cleanse, including 2 inches off my waist, which was a great reward for my efforts.

2016-01-15-juicechallenge-before-after

While juice cleansing may not be to everyone’s taste, there are a few things I learned from this experience:
1) Having a lot of water/fluid in your body really does decrease hunger.
2) It still continues to be a challenge to find time to cook healthy foods, whether juices or meals. No matter which healthy eating plan I try, I have to plan on at least 30-45 minutes per meal. Until there is an affordable fast food option for clean eating, I have to figure out how I can work more cooking time into my schedule.
3) Setting a good example for my children really did show results. When they saw me eating all this fresh produce, they were more tempted to try fruits and vegetables themselves. They discovered they liked Bolthouse Farms’ Amazing Mango juice, they juiced their own fresh orange juice and ate more butternut squash soup than I have ever seen them eat before.

Fresh squeezed orange juice!

Fresh squeezed orange juice!

My son began raiding the fridge for any products with sugar in them and decided he quite likes kefir!

My son began raiding the fridge for any products with sugar in them and decided he quite likes kefir!

Babies like Pear Pie smoothie too!

Babies like Pear Pie smoothie too!

We made this gluten free banana pumpkin bread.  The kids said it was not great but did eat it because it was the best "sweet" we had in the house.

We made this gluten free banana pumpkin bread. The kids said it was not great but did eat it because it was the best “sweet” we had in the house.

This child has never eaten so much butternut squash soup!

This child has never eaten so much butternut squash soup!

I wish I could say the juice cleansing was sustainable and I continued to juice and eat healthy after it ended. Unfortunately, once the restrictions were gone, it was back to feasting as usual! It is very hard to “juice” in the cold of winter. I think my best bet at this point is to try to plan out a week of soups. If I am following a prewritten plan, I seem to do much better than just winging it and “trying” to eat healthy.

So now for this weekend’s challenge…..a blizzard! I am finding it hard to take seriously all the snow drama. It is so over the top!

2016-01-20-snowdrama

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Sorry folks....all that's left is the skim milk and the fancy organic stuff.

Sorry folks….all that’s left is the skim milk and the fancy organic stuff.

Maybe this storm really will give us two feet of snow. Maybe it will paralyze everything for a week. But maybe it will also be less than predicted. Maybe we will be fine.

Let’s hope! Be warm and stay safe to those affected!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , , , ,
Jan 112016
A grocery cart of healthy food to shop our way into 2016!

A grocery cart of healthy food to shop our way into 2016!

We had a marvelous Christmas and enjoyed ourselves immensely . . . perhaps too immensely. The scale is now telling me that I have gone a little too far with my celebrations and it is time to make some changes.

I had a good experience with Joe Cross’ juice cleanse program 2 years ago and have been following the Reboot with Joe blog ever since. Joe has a team of professional nutritionists who post just about every day with a juice or healthy meal recipe or dieting and exercise advice and motivation.

Joe’s team posted recently that they were offering a free 5-Day Juice Challenge Program. Sign up began in December. So far, I am very impressed with the organization of their program. They started sending emails weeks ago just to fire people up a little, introduce the recipes and the juice regimen so people could get used to it. They sent out a condensed grocery shopping list this week too which was so helpful! You were supposed to be eating clean up to this point, with less sugar and refined carbs but I just couldn’t make myself do that so I am going in “dirty.”

I am the only one in my household properly doing the juice challenge. I am attempting to put my children on a healthier diet for these 5 days, dairy-free, gluten free, low to no added sugar, etc. So far, they have a good attitude about it. It’s only 5 days. But they are making plans for what they want to eat come Saturday!

As with any dietary change, the first step is . . . organization! It was time to clean out the fridge. I purposely went light on the grocery shopping for the last week so the fridge started to get leaner. Yesterday, I went through it properly, making meals out of usable leftovers, throwing away spoiled food, washing down the shelves, etc. It took some time but it is SO much easier to start a new cooking regimen when you know exactly what it in the fridge, especially when it is going to be jammed with fresh produce.

Fridge before and after packing with fresh produce.

Fridge before and after packing with fresh produce.

I then went grocery shopping. I was surprised to learn that we have slowly adjusted our diets after all the dieting experiments I have done. We aren’t perfect by any means but we actually had some of the fruits and vegetables on hand that we needed for this challenge! Below is our grocery cost for this juice challenge.

My grocery shopping bill for the juice challenge.

Another organization step key for any diet changes is to remember to weigh in! This is for motivation. Take an accurate weight and measurements and take a photo of yourself in a close-fitting outfit. The hardest part of dieting is always the “maintenance” phase afterward. A good before and after set is a helpful motivator to remember what works for you.

So, here we go! If you are joining in the juice challenge, juice on! Good health to you in 2016!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , , ,
Nov 292015
Celebrating his first Thanksgiving in the kitchen!

Celebrating his first Thanksgiving in the kitchen!

What a grand weekend it has been!

There has been so much to worry about in the news lately with the Paris shootings and the escalating situation in Syria. While consciously, I know that I am in little danger, you can’t be exposed to news like this and not internalize it in some way. A few days after the Paris shootings, I woke up one morning from a dream in which gunmen were chasing me and I was trying to find my children and escape.

Thanksgiving weekend was a welcome respite. I needed that time to reconnect with family, reaffirm that everyone was safe and free my mind to focus on fun things like eating and shopping.

Thanksgiving came by all too quickly for us. I was ill with the flu and pneumonia the first part of November and lost about half the month in recovery. My wonderful sister came to the rescue and invited to host Thanksgiving at her house. I told her I wanted to contribute something to the feast.

“Bring whatever you like but ZERO pressure!”

For our family, Thanksgiving has become a cooking holiday. We don’t live near much family so we end up cooking a lot of the meal ourselves. It has become one of our new traditions to try out new recipes and the kids have taken to becoming dessert chefs for the meal. I asked my girls what they wanted to prepare and we settled on pumpkin pie and chocolate-something.

My need for safety and reassurance permeated my cooking as well. I decided that I should learn to make an apple pie. I don’t think I have ever made one before. There is nothing more American than apple pie and I wanted a reminder of tradition and all the things that make the U.S. a great country.

The day before Thanksgiving was pie day. While I was originally going to work with each girl individually to make her recipe, my eldest son announced that he was going to be cooking too. So, we shifted to brother-sister teams. Each brother-sister pair made a pie and then I, along with my chef-in-training son made the apple pie. Fortunately, all came out delicious!

Pumpkin pie can be a controversial flavor but my daughter and I love it!

Pumpkin pie can be a controversial flavor but my daughter and I love it!

First up, team pumpkin pie!

First up, team pumpkin pie!

The finished pie ready for baking!

The finished pie ready for baking!

I used some of the leftover pumpkin puree to make a version of Gwyneth's sweet potato pie smoothie.

I used some of the leftover pumpkin puree to make a version of Gwyneth’s sweet potato pie smoothie.

My son also liked the smoothie.

My son also liked the smoothie.

Next up, team chocolate chip!

Next up, team chocolate chip!

All the children loved working with the stand mixer.

All the children loved working with the stand mixer.

Pie ready for baking!

Pie ready for baking!

My son's enthusiasm for cooking was so fun to see.  He thought rolling pie crust was awesome!

My son’s enthusiasm for cooking was so fun to see. He thought rolling pie crust was awesome!

My homemade pie crust.  Not that difficult to make and tastes like a butter cookie when baked!

My homemade pie crust. Not that difficult to make and tastes like a butter cookie when baked!

Lattice-topped apple pie...a classic.

Lattice-topped apple pie…a classic.

The finished pies and salad.  I learned a trick from my sister-in-law that pomegranate seeds on your Thanksgiving table add instant elegance.

The finished pies and salad. I learned a trick from my sister-in-law that pomegranate seeds on your Thanksgiving table add instant elegance.

We loaded up into the car and drove to my sister’s house. She prepared a huge feast of numerous delectable dishes as well as a gorgeous 20-pound turkey! We ate to grand sufficiency and had a wonderful time.

Our gorgeous and delicious feast!

Our gorgeous and delicious feast!

Yum!

Yum!

Below are links to the recipes we tried this year. All were supremely delicious!

Have any Thanksgiving memories or recipes to share? Please comment!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Nov 012015
Giving a first lesson in using the machine.

Giving a first lesson in using the machine.

As I hope to explain soon, it has been an eventful last few weeks around here. As is our tradition, it was time to make the Halloween costumes. This year it was pretty much a miracle that they got done. Despite having my flu shot earlier this month, I came down with full blown flu. I couldn’t get out of bed for two days. In moments of wakefulness, I got done what I could and in the end it all pulled together but it was looking pretty uncertain there for a while.

This year’s costumes:

The children started putting in their costume requests around July. My eldest daughter, who always likes to be something pretty, said she wanted to be a peacock. “That could be cool,” I thought. Then a few days later she said she changed her mind and wanted to be a phoenix. A phoenix! The use of this word made my homeschool heart beat proudly. She is a new Harry Potter fan and this may have been part of the inspiration.

I had just finished a massive cleanout of the kids closets and knew that the old cherry costume from our Mario brothers costumes was ready to be cut up and reused. So we did. It was starting to look a bit like a baseball mascot. My daughter informed me that we needed feathers. I came up with a streamer like feather design using scraps of orange, yellow and red fabric. The feathers really made the look and made the costume so much fun to wear as well.

The finished Phoenix!

The finished Phoenix!

We tried to set up the costumes in pairs, so for the baby, we decided he would be Harry Potter to go with the phoenix. Fortunately for me, the site MyFroggyStuff just happened to post a Harry Potter costume tutorial for a Barbie doll. I used the ideas to make the cape, scaling them up for an infant. All the other pieces we found in the closet. And the glasses are the baby glasses my daughter had to wear. (We just used them for the picture and then took them off.)

Baby Harry Potter

Baby Harry Potter

This was a nice costume pairing as this sister would truly do anything for her little brother, even being his protective phoenix.

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When it came to the next pair of costumes, my daughter informed me that she wanted to be an “snow pea” from the Plants Versus Zombies video game. She has a tendency to pick humorous botanical-themed costumes. If you haven’t seen it, Plants Versus Zombies is really quite clever. The characters are very imaginative and they all have different powers. You have to choose your plant defense line carefully, kind of like a game of chess.

I knew I would need to do something special for the large head. For some reason, papier mache was my first thought. I built a frame from strips from a Little Caesar’s pizza box and then got to the mache part with magazine strips and a final coat of paper towels (a tip I saw online). I told my husband, “You know you live in suburban Washington when your papier mache frame is made of Little Caesar’s pizza boxes and The Economist magazine.

This costume was the one that didn’t look quite right until the very very end. I wasn’t sure I really liked my mask at all …. until I painted the eyes on, and that made all the difference! The snow pea was a hit everywhere we went.

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Once my daughter indicated she would be a snow pea, her brother indicated he was going to be a gargantuar, one of the biggest, scariest zombies. The gargantuar looks a bit like Frankenstein. He carries a “bonker” sort of weapon and usually has a small imp riding on his back. This was a big challenge. I made him a papier mache Frankenstein hat, painting it for a red headed Frankenstein. We transformed one of our stuffed animals into the imp and made a “bonker” from one of his plastic golf club toys.

When it was all done, my son informed me that he didn’t want to wear his costume! We came to a compromise that he had to wear it for some pictures and that he could just wear parts of it for trick or treating. My son’s photo shoot was hilarious. He has internalized every motion of the gargantuar including how slowly it moves, when it bonks and then it walks forward. It was a perfect imitation!

The gargantuar!

The gargantuar!

Closeup of gargantuar and imp.

Closeup of gargantuar and imp.

It was so fitting that these two chose to be enemies of each other. Their relationship can sometimes be tense and here it was playing out in the Halloween costumes!

As for me, I ran completely out of time for my costume. I wanted to do a good job as “Phryne Fisher” of the Miss Fisher mystery stories. Sadly, I ran out of time and just got the wig done. My neighbors always find it amusing when I dress up too and they all said I was pretty unrecognizable! If I had more time, I would have done a better job accessorizing and styling but illness was limiting my energy.

My sad Miss Fisher.  May have to try this again some year.

My sad Miss Fisher. May have to try this again some year.

All of our Halloween costumes were scrounged from things we already had on hand. I didn’t buy anything. So the costumes effectively cost us nothing!

I realized that our tradition of making our own Halloween costumes has a lot to do with a deep part of my parenting philosophy for my children. Specifically, there are two key messages I am trying to get across to my children:

We want you to dream unique dreams for yourself.

Once you have a dream, your dad and I will do whatever it takes to help you make that dream come true.

Even though my girls know who Elsa is and other popular characters, those aren’t the first ideas they think of. They don’t ask for a prepackaged costume from the store. They seem to enjoy being part of the creative process of making our own. I am so proud of them for this. It makes me feel like I am doing at least one part of my job right.

Hope you had a wonderful Halloween!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Sep 202015

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In my focus on proportion this year, I am looking to identify the areas of my life that have an outsized impact on the final result. The areas where you get the “biggest bang for the buck” so to speak for your time and effort.

When it comes to fashion, this year has shown me that shoes are one of these proportional differences. If you wear the right shoe, you can be forgiven almost any other fashion flaw.

The shoes above are one such example of the “right shoes.” I say this not to pat myself on the back for having good fashion sense but because every time I wear these shoes, someone stops me tell me how great they are!

I didn’t start wearing them on purpose. My flat summer sandals gave out under the strain of this summer’s activities and completely fell apart. I ransacked my closet for a replacement pair and only came up with the cute high heeled sandals.

“Oh yeah….I forgot about these.”

They were an impulse buy on clearance at Target a few years ago. I have worn them a few times but once you stop wearing heels all the time, it is hard to go back to wearing them while toting children and their gear. I actually looked around for something else more practical but finding nothing, put them on and ran off to the pool with my kids for swimming lessons.

The reaction was immediate.

“Why are you dressed all fancy?” a fellow mom inquired.

I explained that except for the shoes, I was dressed exactly the same as I had been all summer long.

“Well, you’re making all the rest of us look bad,” she humorously responded.

Later, shopping in Walmart with all of my children a woman called from behind,

“I just ran all the way from the parking lot,” she panted.

I paused and wondered if I had dropped something and she was going to return it.

“I just wanted to say . . . ‘You go, mama!’ Look at you, all fashionable. You should be glamorous with all those children!”

After thanking her profusely for making my day, I realized the only thing she was referring to was the shoes! (Unless you think navy shorts and an Old Navy tee would get me on the cover of Vogue.)

After checking out, a retired woman commented,

“You are awfully brave to wear those shoes with all those children!”

I could go on and on. These shoes really are magical. If they were still available, I would buy 10 pairs so I would never run out.

The great thing about shoes is that you don’t have to be any particular size and shape to wear fun shoes. Good shoes look great on all figures. The internet has opened up a world of affordable and fashionable shoes in many comfort levels.

The lesson for me is: resolve to wear good shoes!

What aspect of your appearance seems to make the biggest difference for you? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
Sep 092015
Everyone deserves a great spot to work!

Everyone deserves a great spot to work!

One of the biggest complaints I read about organizing blogs is that all they seem to do is ask you to buy more stuff. It is true that sometimes strategic purchases will give you a huge boost in your organizing efforts but organizing also takes place when you purchase nothing at all! In this post, I wanted to highlight a recent project I completed for my kids that cost me absolutely nothing.

In our home office, we dedicate a portion of the space for use by our children. Just like adults, kids today need a desk, chair and computer to do their work. Our office is mostly comprised of IKEA furniture and it has served us well for many years. But the kids section in particular has become quite hammered. Their desk has scuffs and paint stains. Their chairs also are covered in paint and the seats are torn in spots.

The well-worn office chairs.

The well-worn office chairs.

I walked into the office one day and decided I had just had it with those chairs and desk. They needed upgrades….now! I wondered if I could just staple some new material over the chair seats. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the chair covers were really just drawstring cases.

The underside of the chair showed that it was a drawstring casing.

The underside of the chair showed that it was a drawstring casing.

This was even better for me. I didn’t need to learn to use a staple gun. I could just fall back to my old reliable sewing machine!

Stripping the chair.

Stripping the chair.

Dissecting the chair back.  You pop off the plastic back and then there is another drawstring casing to unravel.

Dissecting the chair back. You pop off the plastic back and then there is another drawstring casing to unravel.

Save the old chair cushions to use as patterns.

Save the old chair cushions to use as patterns.

I happened to have some heavy duty canvas fabric in my stash. The only problem was that it was white! I am a bit nervous using white for these cushions but my husband advises that we can always bleach them when they get dirty.

To make the new cushions, I laid down the old cushions on the fabric. I measured how far it was from the edge of the cushion to the end of the drawstring casing and drew a line that far out on the fabric. I then added another inch for seam allowance (but wish I had added an inch and a half).

Next step...sewing.  (You must sew the drawstring in as you go.  It is too hard to thread it in afterward.)

Next step…sewing. (You must sew the drawstring in as you go. It is too hard to thread it in afterward.)

Pulling the drawstring tight and fitting it back on the chair takes a little muscle power. The heavy upholstery fabrics don’t like to be gathered. I also found it was necessary to salvage the cord IKEA had used for their drawstring as I didn’t have anything that heavy duty.

Over time, the foam chair cushions became less comfortable so I added in some more padding.  I found some floral fleece in my stash, cut it to fit and then added some scraps of fleece right in the middle of the chair for added comfort.

Over time, the foam chair cushions became less comfortable so I added in some more padding. I found some floral fleece in my stash, cut it to fit and then added some scraps of fleece right in the middle of the chair for added comfort.

Stretching the cover back on the chair back.  Sometimes I had to use the pliers to pull it tight!

Stretching the cover back on the chair back. Sometimes I had to use the pliers to pull it tight!

My fabric would not pull as tight as the original IKEA fabric but it pulled tight enough. If you wanted to be a perfectionist about this, you would buy fabric with a little stretch in it (but then it wouldn’t be a “use what you have” project!).

I needed my husband’s strength to pop the plastic back of the chair back on and screw back in the screw but all the rest I could do myself.

Before and after comparison of the recovered chairs.

Before and after comparison of the recovered chairs.

Next, it was on to the desk.

The desktop before.  Functional but battered.

The desktop before. Functional but battered.

First step was sanding the laminate finish to smooth it out and to help the paint adhere.  We used about a 150 grit sandpaper. Then mask off the area you want to paint with blue painter's tape.

First step was sanding the laminate finish to smooth it out and to help the paint adhere. We used about a 150 grit sandpaper. Then mask off the area you want to paint with blue painter’s tape.

Next step...painting!  Kids love to help paint.  We used an exterior grade latex paint we happened to have in the basement.  Two coats.

Next step…painting! Kids love to help paint. We used an exterior grade latex paint we happened to have in the basement. Two coats.

I learned a trick from a Home Depot employee years ago. I wanted to stain wood a color that wasn’t available in the rainbow of stain colors. “You could always paint it,” he said. I explained that paint would likely wear off my project due to heavy use. “Why don’t you paint it and then coat it with Polycrylic for protection?” Well, I tried this and it works beautifully! This is a great technique because you can use any color in the rainbow of paint colors. If you want more of a wood stain look then dilute your latex paint with water to make more of a wash.

Next step.  Sealing with three coats of Polycrylic, sanding each coat in between applications.

Next step. Sealing with three coats of Polycrylic, sanding each coat in between applications.

The last step....score the edge of your masking tape with a ruler and razor blade and carefully peel off the tape.  You don't want to ruin your finish right at the end!

The last step….score the edge of your masking tape with a ruler and razor blade and carefully peel off the tape. You don’t want to ruin your finish right at the end!

The "new" desktop.

The “new” desktop.

Before and after comparison.

Before and after comparison.

Overall, this project saved us about $100 over buying a new desk and chairs. It also put to good use some of my excess crafting materials and was environmentally friendly. The only thing that got tossed into the landfill was the old, dirty seat covers.

Putting it all together!

Putting it all together!

My children seem to appreciate the new desk and more comfortable chairs. They are also proud of the work they put into it as well.

If you want a similar boost for your office, start with a simple cleanup! File away all of your papers to get a clean desk surface. This alone makes the biggest difference. Then, take a look at your desktop, would a coat of paint and some Polycrylic revitalize the surface? Reupholstering chairs is a bit more complicated but if you know how to sew (or if your chairs can be staple-gunned) give it a try!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Sep 052015

After our hike on the dry rocks, I opened the van door and buckled my son into his car seat, I noticed some blue specks on the car mat. Detritus in the minivan is not that unusual so I didn’t think much about it.

I walked around to the other side of the car to buckle in my other son and then I saw it.

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My passenger side window was gone. Tiny shards of glass made a raggedy edge around the frame and a pile of glass was on the pavement. My windshield had a huge spiderweb-like crack right above the steering wheel. It looked so angry.

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In that moment, I was mostly confused.

How did this happen?

Why did this happen?

I didn’t feel afraid, just more annoyed that it was going to take a lot of work to get out of this mess.

My first call was to 911.

“Was anything taken from the car?” the brusque dispatcher inquired. As I was talking to the dispatcher, an African American woman in the parking lot came up to ask me what happened.

“Ma’am, was anything taken from the car?!?” the dispatcher became more insistent.

I said I couldn’t exactly tell because I was unable to reach in through the glass to check certain areas.

“All right, I’ll send an officer then.”

Car vandalism must be so common in Richmond that the police don’t even respond unless something has been stolen from your vehicle.

I chatted with the woman in the parking lot briefly and then called my husband working at home.

“There is an emergency! We need your help!” were my first words to him.

Once he confirmed that we were all unharmed he sprang into calm action and said he was on his way to get us but that it would be at least an hour with traffic.

The woman in the parking lot began chatting with me again. She said that she used to live just down the street and was visiting from Chicago. She was there with her two children and two of her friend’s children. She asked if someone was coming to help me and I told her my husband would be there in an hour.

“This is not what Richmond is all about.,” she sighed. “I am going to wait with you. In case you need it, here is my phone number. If I still lived here, I would take you to my house to wait.”

I thanked her for the offer, told her it wasn’t necessary and that we would be OK waiting alone.

“Nope. I’m still going to wait with you.” she insisted.

When it comes to survival advantages, some people are strong, some are clever, and some are beautiful or charming. My survival advantage seems to be that I am completely nonthreatening! I don’t seem to scare or intimidate anyone. People want to trust me . . . and it appears help me! I am not sure that I would volunteer to allow any stranger into my home, yet here was this woman offering this to me!

At this point, I got back on the phone to start the first of many phone calls with insurance and towing. My vandal left my car not only damaged but undriveable due to the smash right in the middle of the driver’s viewpoint.

Half an hour passed. She and the children were still there with me waiting.

The police arrived. An African American officer got out of the car. At first, you could tell he was surveying the scene quickly not sure what was going on. In 3 seconds, he took it all in. Glass damage . . minivan . . .white woman . . . preschooler and baby, mom and other kids. You could then see him noticeably relax as though he was saying to himself, “Got it. No immediate danger. Just be the face of safety and reassurance and take a report.”

I asked the officer if I had made a mistake by visiting a “bad” part of town. He said the area wasn’t known to be dangerous. I asked if this looked like bored kids or something more sinister.

“Well, it could be bored kids. We’ve had a couple of these types of incidents in the last few weeks. But it’s also that times are hard. Sometimes your parking change is enough to feed someone who is hungry.”

I thought the officer had quite a humane perspective on crime. He helped me inspect the car and we learned that the parking change (probably the most stealable item in the car) was still there. The glove box had been opened but it wasn’t clear that anything at all had been taken. There was a piece of plastic on the floor beneath the steering wheel that might indicate the vandal was trying to steal the car but nothing to point to for a motive for this theft.

*Later, we figured out that I had a tote bag of library books in the front seat that was taken. It was zippered closed so you couldn’t see what was inside. A toiletries bag containing a toothbrush and feminine supplies was stolen from the glove compartment. Not an impressive haul.*

He took a report, wrote down his contact information (he had taken so many calls that day that he was out of business cards) offered to call a towing service and left.

“I’m sorry this happened to you,” he said.

It began to rain lightly. I again told my friend and her kids that they didn’t need to keep waiting. It could be a while.

“We’re fine,” she said. “We will keep waiting with you.”

My son began to fuss a bit. Her teenage son pulled out his basketball and began to bounce it back and forth with him. The gesture was so touching.

The minutes ticked on. My husband was getting a rental car that took forever to process. He called to arrange delayed pickup for the girls at art camp.

I was constantly on and off the phone with different car repair and insurance companies.

“I’m sorry this happened to you,” the African American glass repair insurance agent said.

Time ticked slowly on. I still had to wait for a tow truck and my husband. My new friend from the parking lot got on her phone as well.

“I have to leave,” she said. “But don’t worry…..someone else is coming to wait with you. She’s an older woman and she’s bringing snacks and water. She will wait with you until your husband gets here.”

I told her this was too much, that it really wasn’t necessary.

“No,” she insisted. “We are not going to leave you here alone.”

About 15 minutes later a white woman who appeared to be a young grandmother arrived. She hugged my new friend and introduced herself as a friend of a friend. She then hugged me and was especially kind to my two boys.

“I have snacks and water in my car. You can come wait there.”

It began to rain harder. The tow truck arrived. She held my baby and entertained my son with music from a Christian radio station while the tow truck driver helped me unbuckle car seats.

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She let us load the car seats into her car. She let me charge my nearly dead cell phone with her car charger. We talked about her grandchildren and how she got the call to help.

“I’m not sure what I’m asking you to do,” the woman who called her had said.

She just knew that she needed to bring food and water. She was going to meet a total stranger in a parking lot and wait.

About two and a half hours after my initial phone call, my husband arrived with the girls. We thanked the woman and loaded up into the rental car.

This whole experience was simply extraordinary to me. One person decided that crime was not OK. While she couldn’t fix what had happened, she was bound and determined to make sure that I didn’t stereotype Richmond as a crime city. She bravely trusted a stranger and did what she could to help. She called in reinforcements who did the same. To this day, I don’t know if I could do what these women did.

We have lived in Virginia for 12 years now and have always felt somewhere in between locals and transplants. This experience was almost like a big welcoming hug from the state saying, “You’re officially one of us now.”

I kept thinking of the Charleston 9 during this experience for some reason. The brave example of those families forgiving even in the face of tremendous personal loss was inspiring. I was so overwhelmed by the undeserved kindness that had been shown to me.

“I’m sorry this happened to you.”

What a powerful phrase. It was very comforting to hear this from people. It was as though people were saying, “You didn’t deserve this.” “It wasn’t your fault.” “We want things to get better for you from here.”

After being the recipient of so much kindness, I can’t help but feel an obligation to pay it forward. But how?

Recently, Virginia has been in the news for a horrible shooting of two young news reporters as well as the indictment of a white police officer in the tragic shooting of an unarmed teenager. Yet, there is no violence in the streets and no noticeable increase in racial tensions.

My experience has taught me to be very careful about using race to define any situation. While I cannot fix either of these situations, I feel a strong obligation to do something to make things better.

For now, I pledge to donate to these victim’s charitable causes and to express remorse. I promise to promote stories of harmony among people (like this one) whenever I encounter them to help put into perspective all the stories of hostility and discord that the news media is sure to promote. I also want to support any effort to get help to mentally ill people with violent tendencies and to improve police training for arresting and subduing suspects.

Any effort any of us can make to promote seeing the best in people could make a huge difference.

The defining moment of my summer was not about violence or crime or some sad story about insurance deductibles and monetary loss. Instead it was an inspiring story about gaining awareness of the personal power we all have to fix seemingly impossible and complex situations.

Did you have a defining moment this summer or this year? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
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