Monday, June 30, 2008

Out and About

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer. We left my husband at home and headed out of town for a few days. Here's what we've been up to.

Before we left: We did a neat "garden" craft for Unplug Your Kids that I'll have to post when I get home. I'm on dial up right now! :-)

Friday: Mainly just drove to my mom's.

Saturday: My brother came down. We were planning on camping in the backyard for National Backyard Campout (I'm not sure if I got the name right), but it stormed. Alexandra played with her cousin and the neighbor down the street and the cousins went swimming that evening (before the storms).

Sunday: My brother, sister and I went on a nature hike. It was great! We saw birds, dragonflies, a rabbit, a toad, a mouse!, and some animals in cages. I'll have to post photos when I get home. And, Alexandra and her cousin went with Grandma to American Girl place to have dinner and buy something for their dolls.

Monday: Our plan was to go to an Impressionist exhibit, but we forgot that most museums are closed on Monday! So, we ended up at the zoo. AND, I didn't have my camera! My favorite part was a "parrot" building where you could buy a stick with seeds stuck to it and FEED THE BIRDS!!! It was so fun! They actually landed on your stick and ate!!! They were beautifully colored parakeets. It was amazing!!! I can't believe I didn't have my camera. :-(

I'm not sure what we're doing the next few days. I'll try to get back on the computer in the next few days and check in. I'm not getting to read any blogs right now, but I'll catch up soon!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's My Turn!

I've REALLY been wanting to find a bird's nest, and was so excited to find one today! Alexandra was in a class and I noticed a mommy (or daddy) Carolina Wren bringing some food to the top of a column on the porch. The columns are plastic and hollow inside - at least to some point. I climbed up on the rail and tried to look inside. It was too dark to see anything. So, I grabbed my camera and turned on the flash. After about 7 or 8 photos, I got the above photo (using macro)! Can you find the 3 little birds??? I was acting like a kid in a candy store after finding these cute babies.


After reading The Latin Centered Curriculum, I have once again decided how important it is for ME to get a great education. About a year and a half ago, I read The Well-Educated Mind and had come to the same conclusion. At that time, I read Don Quixote which is a HUGE book. I read it with an online group and we had weekly discussion questions. I really enjoyed Don Quixote, and I really needed that group to stick with it.

I found a list of the first 5 books of the fiction genre from The Well-Educated Mind online, and decided to use these as my first 5 classics to read. The first book was Don Quixote, so I've completed that one. The second book is The Pilgrim's Progress, which I'm currently reading. I've decided not to study it and take notes and follow a group's discussion, etc. I'm just planning on reading it and enjoying it. So far, I'm about 1/4th through and really liking it.

So, my first 5 books will be:
  1. Don Quixote (done)
  2. The Pilgrim's Progress (reading)
  3. Gulliver's Travels
  4. Pride and Prejudice
  5. Oliver Twist
What are you doing to educate yourself?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Unplug Your Kids: OLD

Last week, I found a new blog called Unplug Your Kids. The goal is to "unplug" your kids and do something fun instead. Each week, she is giving a theme and you are to try to do something with that theme. We participated this weekend for the first time and had so much fun! I believe we'll continue doing this weekly - at least as often as we can.

The new posts are given on Monday and last week's theme (which you would post today) was "old." So, we pulled out a kit about "old", actually ANCIENT, Egypt. (The kit is a "Tresure Chests" called "Ancient Egypt" by "Running Press" which we bought used a couple of years ago.)

Here Alexandra is working with some of the hieroglyph stamps. She also worked on a necklace.

I worked on this grid drawing. It was harder than I thought it would be. We worked on this kit for about 30 minutes and it was so much better than watching TV or playing video games.
We also looked through some of the archives and tried some of their projects this weekend. This project was on the Unplug Your Kids blog under "sticky." We found some old containers and tore little pieces of masking tape and covered the containers. Then, we used shoe polish to "paint" it and give it this faux leather appearance. She found the original instructions here.
Morningstar Green Time had a project under "sticky" to make necklaces and Polly Pocket plates out of Elmer's glue.
You can use any container and use WASHABLE markers to color the bottom of it. (We used a mini muffin tin.) Then, you add a layer of Elmer's glue and let it set about 24 hours. It should be CLEAR when they're done. We LOVED watching the colors change!

Then, we pulled out our finished projects. Alexandra thinks she'll use them as plates, though we might make some of them into necklaces.

Morningstar Green Time also had a terrific post under METAL. You use tinfoil and "draw" on it. We used a very dull pencil, but pushed pretty hard on it. This dinosaur was my favorite creation. I drew it by looking at one of Alexandra's old coloring books. These pieces look a lot better (I think) if you use some texture - like the polka dots and stripes on his "hair."
I also tried using a little color with a Sharpie. Morningstar had a lot more colors of Sharpies than we do and I LOVE the look of their projects.
We'd love to have you all join us as we "Unplug Our Kids!"

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Looking Back at 2005...

I guess I'm feeling kind of like a more seasoned homeschooler as we just completed our 3rd year. Just yesterday I was talking with a mom who has 2 upper-elementary aged daughters and they are just starting their homeschool journey. At the convention 2 weeks ago I ran into 2 friends who will both be starting homeschooling this year. And, at gymnastics, I made a new friend who I'm helping out as she starts homeschooling her 3 kids next year. So, having homeschooled for 3 years feels like quite a lot, though I know several women who have been homeschooling for close to 20 years!

Sherri, over at Our Place, just finished her 3rd year, too. She had a post reviewing their year and showing some "then" and "now" photos. So, I thought I'd do the same!

So, here are some photos from our first few months of homeschooing in the fall of 2005 when Alexandra was 4 and turned 5. I used to post small photos, so that is why they are small.

Painting like Monet
Dissecting an owl pellet
Making an ice snowman for FIAR
States of matter Wright brothers pretzle/graham cracker airplane
Lite Brite constellations
Model of earth layers
Cutting out a model of the eiffel tower

Model of Leaning Tower of Pisa during Galileo studies

Edible insect - yummy!!!
Hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane! Where did the time go?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Feeling Better

Alexandra is finally feeling better and we got to go to camp today. Yeah!!!

While she was in one of her camps, I went on a little nature walk. The camp is out in the country, surrounded by trees, and it was actually a very beautiful day.

Outside, I found 2 neat webs. They are webs of an argiope spider, commonly called a "banana spider" around here. One of the webs had a small spider, probably a male, sitting on it "eating", but it was out of my reach and the photos are blurry. This site gives some info about these spiders.

Inside, we ran into this "scary" insect. We were a little scared of the HUGE stinger. It turns out this is a type of Robber Fly and the "stinger" is an oviposter. Robber Flies eat other flying insects. I enjoyed reading about them at Wikipedia. And, check out this cool photo of a Robber Fly's head!!!

So, "no", they can't sting - but they can bit, though they are not aggresive. You can identify a Robber Fly by its "stout, spiny legs, a dense moustache of bristles on the face (mystax), and 3 simple eyes in a characteristic depression between their two large compound eyes. Others are fat-bodied bumblebee mimics. Adult robber flies attack other flies, beetles, butterflies and moths, various bees, dragon and damselflies, Ichneumon wasps, grasshoppers, and some spiders."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summer: Week 2

This week isn't turning out at all as we had planned. We were supposed to be enjoying a full day of mother/daughter camp. But, Alexandra is still sick!
We finally went to see the doctor today after Alexandra got laryngitis last night. She's had a sore throat, ear aches, fever for 3 days, and now the laryngitis! Well, the doctor said it's a virus (thankfully, not strep throat!) and she's cleared to go to camp tomorrow. But, we're too far behind in one camp, so we'll just be going until about noon. We're looking forward to it, though! And, I'm really tired of being trapped in the house for 4 days! :-)
While she was feeling better yesterday, we cleaned off our big school book shelf and organized one of our school closets. We've got LOTS of stuff to get rid of now! I did have lots of science & history kits on the shelf that we'd never used. I told her she could pull down 4 of them. The first one she chose was a bag of InstaSnow where you can make your own snow. She made it herself yesterday, and then started playing with it. I do NOT recommend playing with this stuff inside. :-) It was messy, but she enjoyed it. (We haven't gotten to the other 3 kits yet, and she's currently taking a RARE nap. Yeah! She really needs it.)

I also thought we might try (again) to learn how to play chess this summer. We got out the chess board and book (Chess Basics by Schneider) and she is almost begging constantly to play chess! I guess we have a keeper! In the Chess Basics book, there are lots of games to help you learn the strategy. For example, we've played some pawn only games and now are ready for some knight & pawn games. We both enjoy the games, but she really enjoys playing a "real" game of chess.

The photo above is of some peanuts Alexandra is growing. One of the weekly classes she is taking this summer is about botany & gardening. For the first week, she learned about the parts of a plant, the parts of a flower, and about George Washington Carver. She planted a raw peanut in this pail and it is doing really well!

We also have been reading more Polacco books (which we first encountered because of Author Fiesta). We are both LOVING her books! She's amazing and I almost always have to cry during part of it. We read two books that are about Jews during WWII. They are beautiful, sweet, sad stories.

And, lastly, I found another good reason to sign up with Google Reader (or something like it). A friend recently had her blog deleted by the place where she hosts it. I was able to help her recover some of her posts because they had them saved at Google Reader back to January 2007! So, if you ever lost your blog, this would be a good way to recover some of it!

Hope you all are enjoying your summer. I'm off to read now (I have been reading SO MANY books the past few weeks!). I hope to post about some of the books soon, as many of them are about eduation.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What We've Been up to this First Week of Summer

Yesterday, we finished our first week of summer with a trip to our local waterpark. We were there about 4 hours... and we both got small patched of sunburn. Alexandra's shoulders are burned and my back is burned. I guess I just didn't get enough sunscreen on those areas!

Well, early this morning, Alexandra woke up with a sore throat and stuff nose... and she felt hot. When we woke up, she was had a fever. So, we've been hanging out at home.

We had started growing this sweet potato about 3 weeks ago and have been shocked by its growth! This photo was taken earlier this week and the vines are now 32 inches tall! It's been growing in a large cup with water with toothpicks poked into it to help it "hang" on the lip of the cup.

Alexandra went to a second week of classes for homeschoolers, including her photography class. This week, they were learning about taking macro photos and they took a walk outside to photograph flowers. This is her shot of hydrangea.
And, this was her camp this week... basketball! She really enjoyed it and wants to play this fall. I was very proud of her as she learned SO much this week. She couldn't even dribble the ball when she started her week! (And, I was proud of her for sticking it out - she was the only girl in the group with 8 boys.)
Her she is taking a free throw. Oops! It missed...

And, I really want to do more cooking with Alexandra this summer. One night this week, we made bran muffins from scratch. We used my grandmother's recipe which uses All Bran cereal. They turned out really good, though a little dry. And, Alexandra is doing really well measuring, stirring, etc. I think the only thing I did was to help find the ingredients, read the recipe (which I know she could do), and take them in and out of the oven.

Sago Palms

I love sago palms (which I recently learned aren't a type of palm, but a Cycas revoluta. They are related to the conifers and gingko trees.). We have a total of 5 of them in our yard. We planted our first one about 10 years ago.

A couple of months ago, I noticed the "old one" had some horrible "disease." It had this growth all around the inside and I was so sure it was going to die. But, it recently produced more leaves, so I wasn't sure what was happening.

Then, about a month ago, one of our palms in the backyard started to develop this unusual growth (above). (I took this photo last week after I noticed it had started to fall over and was sad I hadn't photographed it earlier. The cone is over 2 feet tall!) So, I started doing some research, mainly on this site.

First of all, you can not tell a male or female sago by looking at it until it is mature. Most sagos must be 15-20 years old before they are mature enough to bloom, and they also must be established in your garden or landscape.

Continuing from the site: In late spring, a mature male Sago produces a golden cone, shaped like a giant pine cone which may grow over 2' tall as shown in the photo above. A female produces a huge golden flower which slowly opens when it is fertile, then closes, and begins to produce viable seed if pollination from a male sago was successful. (I also read on the site that when the pollen is ready it will produce a sweet perfume odor! I guess I missed that...)

So, the photo above (of a sago we planted only 4 summers ago) is of a male sago with its cone. This will only happen very 2 to 3 years. The other years, it'll just produce more leaves.

The "diseased" sago we have in the front yard was actually a female with seeds! We must have missed seeing the flower last spring, as the seeds appear the following spring. You can grow new Sagos from the seeds, but you're supposed to gather them in January through March.

The site also said that rarely a male Sago will have more than one cone. We saw a Sago with 2 cones near one of Alexandra's classes last week, but I didn't get a photo. Too bad!

Another cool site with a photo of a male and female Sago. And now, some more photos.

This is our large female - she's about 6 feet tall!

These are her seeds. I had to pull up the layer of new leaves to see and photograph these.

I pulled a couple of her seeds to look at - and to test! If the seeds have been fertilized, they sink. If they are not fertilized, they float. Ours... floated. :-(
While reading about Sagos, I learned that insects and the wind "can" pollinate the Sagos, but most commercial growers actually break the male cone off, hold it over a female flower, and shake it. :-) Too bad our male and female didn't cooperate this time!
I wish I had a photo of "newer" leaves - these are almost uncurled. We love to look at the new leaves. And, they're soft where the older leaves can stab you if you aren't careful.

Above is a closeup of the male cone. It kind of looked sticky and did not smell "sweet." And, it looks like pollen sticking to the cone.

This is the view when you look straight down on the male Sago Palm (near the base of the cone.) Neat, huh? I think it kind of looks like Medusa's hair.

And, this is how I thought Sagos reproduced before realizing there were male and females. These are "baby" sagos which I learned our called pups. (See this site) I loved visiting this site and seeing how you can grow your own Sagos from pups! Unfortunately, it looks like we should have removed our pups earlier this spring. I might try it anyway.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

First Week of Summer

We've had a busy "first week of summer." Alexandra is in camp and I've been running lots of errands. I think June is just going to be a very busy month for us, and then July is pretty empty... at least for now!

Yesterday, while Alexandra was in class, I went out to take a nature walk with my camera. I've missed my nature walks! Another mom (actually a grandmother) of one of the students noticed me and pointed out a dragonfly. I took some photos and then sat down to talk with her. So, I didn't really finish my walk, but did enjoy my time outside. (I really got a pretty good photo, but you'll have to enlarge it to see it well.)
I'm still doing a lot of reading/studying about Classical education and am still not sure how we'll approach next year... but I'm pretty sure "we" will be studying Latin. And, I received Deconstructing Penguins in the mail yesterday and am considering using it as the basis for our book club next year. It teaches 2nd-5th graders about antagonists, protagonists, setting, character, etc.
I've run across some new blogs that are giving me lots of new ideas. I really intend to do lots of crafts & cooking with Alexandra this summer. So, I need to plan some of those activities. I found a "new" blog yesterday called Unplug Your Kids. She has a weekly "unplugged" craft challenge and then people come up with a project and post a link to their blog. (It's a lot like Barb's weekly Nature Challenges.) There are some GREAT ideas here and I can't wait to try some of them out!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Book Review: Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire

I just started reading Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 for the third time in about 6 months! It is an amazing story about a public school teacher who is doing amazing things within his classroom "of immigrants and children of immigrants." This book challenges us to set high standards for our kids and gives lots of ideas of how to creatively teach our children.

NPR has a brief interview with the author, Rafe Esquith. And, the kids have their own website called The Hobart Shakespeareans. Yes, these 5th graders put on a Shakespearean play every year! And people from all over the world come to see them perform. They also travel around the United States as part of their education. Part of this comes later than 5th grade - kids who maintain an "A" average and go to Saturday school get to travel with Mr. Esquith to visit colleges while they're in high school.

I'm just amazed at this man and what he is doing for these kids. It makes me feel like I'm not doing enough! But, the book also encourages me as to what kids can do and gives specific ideas for how to do it.

Update: Alexandra and I watched the DVD "The Hobart Shakespereans" this week, and really enjoyed it. It was great to see Rafe "live" and just added to my amazement of this man and his kids.

Update: I reread most of the book today. I'd forgotten that he sometimes uses offensive language and calls a list of writing instructions he made up "the Bible." I still think the book has tons of good info in it, but wanted to make you aware!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

School's "Out"

We had our "last day of school" on Thursday. This is how our week went:
  • Monday: We had a regular school day and Alexandra started some a new class at the gym - a cheer class. I also worked out.
  • Tuesday: We went to a music program, had lunch at McDonald's, and then saw the Geopalooza exhibit at our museum.
  • Wednesday: Alexandra tried a day at a new "enrichment school." It was very inexpensive and she had fun - she took a photography class, a Bible study/character class, and a tea party/book club "class." I enjoyed the few hours by talking with other moms.
  • Thursday: Alexandra loved the classes so much she went back for another day. She did a plants/gardening class, an arts & crafts class, and a writing class. I enjoyed this time by reading. Afterwards, we had lunch, went shopping in some little "shops", and bought some fudge - yum!
  • Friday: We went to our homeschool convention. I wasn't sure I wanted to go. Our dog has been sick for several days and the house was a mess (because of her messes - I'd spent hours cleaning the "spots", but they still looked BAD.) But, my husband encouraged me to go.... and I'm so glad I did! I ran into some "old" friends and went to some lectures that were so encouraging and enlightning.
  • Saturday: Bought a new carpet cleaner which I LOVE!!! (It's a Bissel SpotBot) and we cleaned the carpets. It worked!!! I finished a novel I've been reading and we played at the pool tonight - I just waded and blew up a new pool toy, but Alexandra and my husband went swimming.

I'm REALLY looking into switching to a more classical approach next year. I read The Latin Centered Curriculum this week, and am making lots of plan changes for next year. I'll write more when I have my plans better formulated.

Alexandra has camp next week (just 3 hours a day) and I plan on working out more (this week didn't go so well) and working on some projects around the house. And, I'll be planning for next year!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Great American Backyard Campout

I'm really not much of a camper and haven't been in MANY years, but I think we are going to try our first campout... for the Great American Backyard Campout which takes place June 28th. We already had plans to be at my mom's that weekend, so I think Alexandra and her cousin might really enjoy it. And, I'm hoping my brother has a tent and can help us out. Alexandra will be SO excited.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Author Fiesta: June

On her blog, Author Fiesta, Cay Gibson just revealed the new author for the month of June: Mem Fox! I'm familiar with Mem Fox from her book, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. We also own, and have read many times, Time for Bed. And, I've heard of Koala Lou and Possum Magic, but we haven't read these books.
We will also try to study a little about Australia while studying this author, since she's from that country. I was so surprised (and a little jealous) to find out my brother is headed for New Zealand tomorrow and then to Australia in a few days! So, I'll have him send me some photos and tell us all about it when we see him later this month. (His job takes him "all over the world.")
So, I hope you can join us as we learn about Mem Fox and read some of her books!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Schlessinger Holiday Videos

Today, we watched the Schlessinger Memorial Day/Veterans Day video. There are at least 22 of these videos for different holidays and we've enjoyed every one we've watched.

I loved that Alexandra pointed out when she heard "Taps" being played - something she had not heard of until we did the lapbook last week.

It was neat to learn more about Arlington National Cemetery and how Robert E. Lee. had been a US officer. When the Civil War started, he resigned to go fight for the South. The North, regarding him as disloyal, decided to make his farm a graveyard for Union officers. And, this was the start of Arlington National Cemetery.

We also saw how to properly fold a flag and that it ends up as a triangle, which reminds us of the hats worn by the Patriot soldiers of the Revolutionary War.

Anyway, I just really recommend these holiday videos - they are enjoyable and educational. I'm off to request the one for Independence Day!


After watching the hummingbirds at my sister-in-law's a few weeks ago, I decided to do a very short study on hummingbirds last week. We read 2 books: The Hungry Hummingbird by Sayre and It's a Hummingbird's Life by Kelly.
The book by Kelly had some really interesting facts:
  • "The female buils (her nest) by stitching the walls together with spider silk, gluing them with salive, and stamping a soft cottony down into the lining with her feet." She adds lichen and moss to camouflage the nest.
  • "Each egg weighs less than one-half a gram."
  • Mother hummingbirds eat 2,000 insects every day!!!
  • Hummingbirds can't smell and depend on their eyesight to find food.
  • Hummingbirds only have a few enemies. "Some frogs and large fish ahve been known to leap up, catch a hummingbird, and pull it underwater." Other things that eat hummingbirds sometimes: small hawks, kestrel, praying mantis (I found several photos online, including this one IF you want to see it - it's not as grusome as others: ), and dragonflies have been known to try to eat them!!! I had trouble believing this one, but also found this fact on EEK!
  • They travel from Florida across the Gulf of Mexico in about 25 hours flying at a rate of about 25 mph.
  • "Sometimes balloonists hang feeders from their baskets to give the voyager (hummingbird) a much-appreciated snack" during their long trip.
We also made what we called hummingbird nests, but their usually called bird's nests. Ours are made of melted chocolate chips (in microwave), chow mein noodles, and then a candy egg. We actually didn't care much for the taste, but they were fun to make... and cute!

And, we did this grid drawing of a hummingbird. I thought Alexandra's turned out great!
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