Wednesday, May 18, 2011


So after picking all those strawberries we set out to make this year's patch of strawberry preserves!  (That was the purpose of picking them!)  I refreshed my memory on the process.

We stopped by the store to pick up a few jars.  Treated myself to a new with an adjustable mouth for different size jars (this was a GREAT thing to have on hand!!!)

 We started by washing the jars & lids in hot, soapy water.

 Sterilized them by placing them on a cookie sheet and heating them in the oven until hot & dry.

 Put the lids in hot water to keep hot until I needed them.

Each of the children got a chance to mash the cut strawberries (after they were washed, capped and cut into fourths). Sweetie pie got the large glass measuring cup.

 Pretty Girl got to cut with me.

 The Boy having his turn at mashing with the potato masher.

Then we placed them into a large pot, added the pectin and sugar.  Stirred them continuously until they boiled.

Using the funnel (this thing is the BEST!) made pouring the hot mixture into the jars a breeze!  As you can see there is a good bit of foam still in the first four jars.  It didn't spoon off as nicely as it did the last time I did this.

I can't remember where I learned this trick.  I was to say I read about this on Gypsy Forest, but I've gone back to look for it and haven't been able to find it.  Anyway, instead of doing a hot bottle bath, as all the books say to do, I simply turned the hot jars over (after securely closing the lids) and allow them to sit this way for about 15 minutes.  The heat from the jar itself, along with the heat of the jam inside will make the seal that's needed to preserve the jam and eliminate any spoilage.  I think I actually left them this way for an hour (ran out to the post office).  When we returned, I checked the seal--and all of them are locked tight!  I'll leave them out the full 24 hours that are recommended in all the books before storing them in a dark, cool place. 

We have 11 jars of jam to enjoy for the rest of the year! Now, to make some bread....

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Strawberry Picking :: GA Style

We have had this field trip on the calendar for several weeks now and were thrilled at going to pick strawberries again this year with our homeschooling friends.  I was a bit annoyed though, that we were running late.  Turns out it was a good thing! One of the other mothers called me to say that she had arrive early and that the farms were closed.  It was rather random, as I had just spoken to someone at the end of last week.  Anyway, since I was still at home, I was able to find another strawberry farm within 7miles, contact the others attending and we were still able to pick!!

Now, our experience wasn't what we'd had in mind.  The people in charge there were politely rude.  You know what that is, the stiff smile, polite gestures but the overall rudeness.  Perhaps it was more sweet rudeness.  Either way, we made the most of our time.  Hopefully next time we'll get to the original spot, as they allow for 'fun' and 'tasting' of their fruit.

Yes, we were NOT allowed to sample any of the fruit we picked until we paid for it.  Now, I get the whole "this is not a meal" thing--but part of the fun of picking your own is the sampling and snacking!!  The kids did well--no one complained OR ate one strawberry!  The overseer, I mean, the man made sure of that!  We lived, we learned, we will do better next time.

But you can't tell that was going on from the photos! :D

Friday, May 13, 2011

What's Working For Us [At This Moment]

As I read different blogs, I really enjoy reading what's working (and what's not) for the different home schooling families on my blog roll.  Granted, I read a variety of blogs, whose authors uses a variety of methods.  I like all the variety.  I like learning from others, getting a fresh and sometimes different perspective on how to approach a particular subject matter, using an array of materials/curricula/etc.  I  like how it can often stretch my imagination of what could work for us.

I have learned and already implemented these new (and not so new) ideas & approaches to learning.  A few years back, before we 'officially' started home learning, I read a lot from parents who were using an unschooling approach.  These blogs assisted me in relaxing, being flexible, and just allowing our day to unfold--which is definitely a good way to be in general with home learning, no matter what method you use.  Being able to change, readjust, reformulate, let go of what doesn't work and move on to what does/will, is one of the benefits of homeschooling.

Anyway.  There are things we do daily, that are just part of our routine regardless of how the day unfolds.  There are other things that 'show up' only when they're planned. We are all learning to be a bit more structured in certain areas of our lives and to be more relaxed in others.  It's all a balance, right?

I am still using Saxon Phonics with Pretty Girl, and now Sweetie-pie, daily.  There are an assortment of phonics programs, books, kits, supplements to choose from.  I like the approach, how it includes spelling and reading and since it's working for both the girls, we are going to stick with it.  From a teacher perspective, phonics is phonics no matter how it's taught (alphabetically or another ordering).  I've been blessed with all the material for all the levels they have (K-2).  I did have to purchase the teacher's editions, but found them on ebay for pennies!  So, this is a keeper!

English/Grammar is one of my strengths (my husbands as well) and I rarely used a textbook while in the classroom.  We use a call and response method for learning rules and I've been pulling activities from several places--my head (smile), the Shurley Method (jingles & diagramming sentences--I used this method while a teacher), several teacher resource books (specifically for grammar practice) and an old language book that I actually used when I was in school many moons ago.  The good things about grammar is that it really hasn't changed.  The things that have changed are on the HS or College Level, so although we may not be doing the exact same things as everyone else, we're learning parts of speech/sentence, how to diagram sentences (which reinforces the knowledge of parts of speech/sentence), proper use of punctuation and subject verb agreement.  For now, I feel confident in what we're doing and the children enjoy the call and response way in which I lead them in learning.

I just finished reading the book Writing with Ease by Susan Bauer and decided that I liked how her suggestions gentle taught writing.  I took a weekend to hand-copy the pertinent information from the book so that I can use it with Pretty Girl in the fall.  I've been doing little bits of this approach already--sentence dictation, reading and asking comprehension questions, copying sentences from text we've already read (doubling as handwriting, some call it note-booking).  The plan Susan sets out in her book is a weekly plan making sure each piece is done strategically, building on the previous learning.  I think this will work for us since it takes the pressure of writing independently before the student is ready--which can be a source for early frustration with writing.  I want to avoid as much of that as I can! lol

Reading.  That's a big one, as it pulls together all the smaller parts.  Right now we're not using a specific series or curriculum.  I've been looking at several options and trying to decide which one will benefit us.  Presently, we've been using easy readers--the ones you can find anywhere, specifically the library! :D  I have a nice easy reader library here at home as well.  I'd like something a little more systematic, that may be because that's just what I'm used to.  Pretty Girl does do well with a predictable way of material being presented.  I've been using volume one of the McGruffy Readers, but don't really care of the images.  I have found a couple series of readers without images and will take a closer look at them at our upcoming homeschool conference this summer.  Reading is reading and so on some level, I question whether we really need anything specific.  One the other hand, there is something to be said about a systematic approach to reading, especially those children who learn best this way, as Pretty Girl does.  We'll see what I figure out from viewing them first hand.

Mathematics is still a very hands-on subject for us.  We have a nice collection of manipulatives, which I'm looking to expand a bit more for The Boy this fall.  Pretty Girl really likes having a workbook--so a workbook is what she has!  She does work in it daily.  I also give her a daily word problem from the book Read! Draw! Solve!  The approach is to draw out the problem to make it something you can visualize and then solve it.  Pretty Girl has liked this because she enjoys drawing!!  I've changed it up slightly now that she knows what key words mean addition or subtraction.  When I saw that she was spending more time on the drawing (wanting to color it, giving great details and features to people and animals) part of the problem, I now only have her do the drawing part of a problem once a week.  She breezes through them now and will ask to leave out the drawing step since she "has it" (her words) now.  I'm thankful it worked so well.  I remember loathing word problems in school.

We also use several board games with reinforce math skills.  One of our favorites is Chutes and Ladders.  It's good for reinforcing counting skills (like more board games generally can).  But I really like the numbers on the board.  We can do addition with each forward move; subtraction with each backward move.  The children also like the different versions of Bingo we can play with numbers, number sentences and other math concepts.

Science and Social Studies are learn directly through literature right now.  We learn and study based on our interests.  We spent a good part of this year reading about animals--mammals specifically--for science.  We've done experiments with water, magnets, plants, etc. using resource books from the library.  Social Studies was more of a discussion lead time, although I did read a lot about people and topics on community, cooperation, work.  Our homeschool group's geography club, Globetrotters, gave us direction in our study of the world--continents.  We did in depth study of a few countries in which we presented during our meeting each month.

I incorporate art and music this way as well--based on our interest or desire to hear something new.  Music is usually playing in the back ground of our days.  We've then read books about several jazz musicians.  I've found some great 'how to draw' books there as well.  We've just checked out one that shows how to use letters and numbers to draw just about anything (that children are interested in).  I've also picked of a few good ones at thrift stores.  The Boy enjoys art and drawing pirates, dinosaurs, sharks and reptiles.  He uses these books to help him illustrate the stories he composes (I write them out for him--we have quite a nice system! lol).

Of course our daily routine plays into the overall learning that takes place in our home.  The field trips and outings we have done this year also add to our experience as well.

I've decided that we will continue our 'school time' throughout the summer.  We spent 2 to 4 hours daily on our structured learning time, more flexible on some days than others.  Since I'll have to report both girls in the Fall, I will use that time to 'start' the new things I'd like to implement.  The things I've shared above are things I'm planning to keep in our daily learning time.  There are a few other things I'm planning to add.  Until then, I'll continuing reading, investigating, talking to those who've used the materials.  Once I get to view the materials this summer I'm looking forward to moving on the choices I'll be making for our learning experience at home.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Finding Our Way

I've been away from my computer/the internet for a good while now, on a regular basis.  I've gotten really involved in life here.  I've missed reading the many blogs that I follow, of feeling connected to many of you who've become my support system online.

There are days I feel very overwhelmed with all the things I feel like we need to be doing and are doing.  I've revamped our 'out of the house' schedule and am now tailoring our 'in the house' schedule to better meet our ever-changing needs.  I'm reevaluating my decisions regarding homeschooling (how we do it, what we do, what we use), allowing for what each of us needs at this time.  I'm contemplating how we could better do things, making the day go a bit smoother, less stress for me (yeah, it's true!), finding activities that will work for each of my children on the multiple levels they function on. 

For the past month, we've been doing a lot better about involving everyone in chores.  I am thankful that these 'little' jobs make such a big difference on the amount of time/energy I spend in doing them alone.  Last year I spent a lot of time looking and finding ways to limit our consumption and creating of waste.  This still remains a priority for our family.  However, some of the things I was able to do previously, without a whole lot of drama/stress/etc. on my part, have now become that.  I shared with a dear friend the other day that MY SANITY costs and there are definitely times when that--the care of me--is going to come first.  So one of the first things I've put into place is everyone's involvement in keeping our kitchen in order.  We are blessed to have an energy-efficient dishwasher with several cycles/options for washing.  With everyone rinsing and loading after each meal and selecting a short cycle wash, we're using less water and no one person is stuck with washing all the dishes (nor am I in the kitchen all day!!).

Another thing that is helping with keeping me OUT of the kitchen is that I let the girls make lunches.  They take turns and make several different lunches, that have been planned at the top of the week, for each other.  Although they take longer in prep time than I, they are building up their skills and really pitching in.  They are also learning to appreciate what I do (smile)!

I've also started doing less laundry.  Yeah, you read that right! lol!  Everyone has their own clothes basket in which they put their dirty clothes.  I assist on 'their day' to wash their laundry, but after the clothes have been washed, they must either put in the dryer or hang up themselves.  They then collect their dry clothes, fold them and put them away.  This is another area in which I've been pleasantly surprised!!  This method is working for us and actually limits the questions of, "Mommy, where are my socks?" or "Mommy, I don't have any clean...."

We've also made a little chart to keep up with whose turn it is to feed the pets and other wildlife in our lives (birds, squirrels).  We rotate daily as they each like frequent turns at each job.  There are the dogs: food and water, the Koi in the pond and the bird and squirrel feeders--which don't need daily attention (thank goodness!).  Although I do have to oversee all of this, for all the obvious reasons, we're developing patterns/rhythms for the days that will come when I won't have to.

Now that we're settled (for the most part) in our new home, it's easy to give each of the children responsibilities for keeping different area in order as well.  Years ago I remember joining The Fly Lady's email list and reading her blog/website.  Several of her tips I've kept although I don't get those 10-minute reminders flooding my email account anymore! (smile)  Taking 10-15 minutes two times every day, once in the morning, once in the evening for us, and "restoring the environment" makes for a space where company can actually 'drop in' on us unannounced!  (However, I phone call and plan prior to your arrive is appreciated! lol)

After working hard to purge and organize our classroom, our learning time has definitely worked better for all of us.  Everyone has there own designated area/space/drawer with all the supplies they need.  It makes it easy to see who needs what at the end of the month when we restock.  The children have done extremely well (better than I'd hoped) in keeping our bookshelf in order.  I gave them lessons on how to restore things and did set limits on just how many books they could take off the shelf at a time.  I just think we were all excited about things being in a order that worked for all of us.  There are shelves they can't bother books on (top two rows) and after getting detailed explanations as to why, I've had no issues.

Perhaps we're all just growing up.

I'm also putting perimeters on our involvement in our community.  It's been exciting to be 'back home' and we've jumped right back into the flow of things--connecting with old friends, participating in our local homeschool group, joining in library events, making friends within our neighborhood.  For awhile there, we were spending most everyday OUT of the house.  Which was fun, at first, but then became a struggle.  I've helped to start a friends' group for our neighborhood library and although that hasn't put me out of the house more, it has changed my computer time--I do things for the group, which can be time-consuming, and then don't find my way here!  That seems to be the nature of the beginning of things, I guess. 

I also organize our local homeschool group.  Since being back in the area, I've sought to reconnect with those I know and make connections with those who have joined during my absence.  That has been interesting!  Many of the mothers that I started out with are no longer homeschooling.  I've talked with others who would like to see the group be more this...or more that...learning, anew, that you can't please everyone; realizing that I don't really want to.  I've also made some wonderful new connections with others who are looking for similar things as I.  This has taken a lot of energy and time as well.  I'm making plans with several mothers who are committed to developing a supportive community and putting some things in place to make that happen.  Having others to encourage me and be of encouragement to is something I need as a woman, mother and homeschooling parent.  I'm thankful to be finally in a place where they can be a positive thing!

We have joined some new friends in our neighborhood in working in/on the community garden.  This is the third one to be started in the neighborhood--there are waiting lists to join the other two. So I jumped at the opportunity to meet/work/get to know our neighbors while growing food for the late summer/fall.  We have finally found a day that works for us and have been going regularly to weed and check on our crops!  Another homeschooling family joins us there too.  The peppers, squash, tomatoes, and beans are growing nicely--plants that is, no fruit just yet.  But just wait!! :D

Our personal garden is coming along.  I have vision of grandeur that haven't quite come to fruition.  I don't have everything in the ground yet. Mainly because we have puppies (that need forever homes) and I don't have chicken wire to cover/separate everything just yet.  Our little plants are fairing well and I may even do some containers to house the others permanently.  Either way, I am making plans to do some canning later in the year.  We have a field trip to a strawberry farm next week to pick a gallon or two of berries.  Remember last year?  I sure do!  I'm on our LAST jar of strawberry preserves so am looking forward to doing this again with the children.  I also want to can some green beans and tomatoes (mainly sauces).  We'll see how our growing season goes!

I guess it's all a balancing act, really.  There are ebbs and flows to life.  This is definitely a flowing time for us.  I'm choosing to enjoy this time/space knowing that the ebb will come.  It's funny how you can get caught up in living in the other time/space, missing that time, wishing you had it back, instead of living in the present.  I have to remind the children of this as well.  I remind them of days gone by when they were 'tired of just being in the house' or 'wanting to be with friends,' etc.  It helps to remember these times as it gives perspective.

Right now, I'm looking out the window at what my children have created--a tent and pretending they're living during the frontier days.  And isn't that just how it should be?  Enjoying the sunshine, being present in the moment, creating, imagining, exploring, dreaming....

I think we're all learning as we find our way.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Is it Monday????

So I guess we've made it through the day, most of it anyway, and I'm just now realizing it's Monday!  This can be a good or bad thing...depending upon what Mondays are like at your house. (smile)

I must say that we had a very productive lesson time today.  Pretty girl made it all the way through her lessons and independent work without ONE issue.  This is a BIG DEAL for us.  Sweetie pie had some challenges but we all made it through.

We got some work in after lunch working in the community garden just around the corner from our house.  We walked.  The boy found his sticks.  And we weeded in several of the beds.  Crops are already growing well.  It was a lot hotter out once we got to the garden, so only stayed about an hour instead of our usual 2 hour work time.  I guess we'll have to either go out earlier or later in the evening.

I was in the midst of meal planning for this week when I realized it was Monday.  Not a bad Monday, if I do say so myself.  (and I do!) lol

I am definitely tired!  Spent several evenings up late reading and planning, talking and thinking.  Being in the sun also took some out of me as well.  I'm looking forward to my 'clock-out' time.  I may treat myself to an early bedtime tonight.  [I always promise myself this, but don't always follow through.]

How has Monday treated you?


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