Monday, March 31, 2008

Mystery Solved

We figured out what this PLANT is called -- or shall we say what this INVASIVE WEED is called.
It is Cypress Spurge -- commonly called Graveyard Weed. It has quite a story, likely originating in China and then brought from Europe in the 1860s as an ornamental plant. Since then it has ruined pastures nation wide -- it is toxic to cows and horses.
So --- when we clear the Ivy out of this particular flower bed, we will also clear out the Cypress Spurge as well.

Newest Additions To Beck's Bounty

Below: The children were down near the pond yesterday and found this little guy, now named Herman. He is a Slider turtle, and is sooooo tiny. After 20+ photos, with and without the flash, these are the clearest photos I could get of him.

There is a quarter and a ruler in 2 of the photos to show his TINY size. He was found on the road, with 2 siblings who we think were victims of vehicular homicide and another sibling that was dead without apparent injury. So, we thought perhaps Herman might do better with a full tummy and a bit of rest -- and now he is in an aquarium in our school room. His aquarium has pond water in it, along with a flat rock for basking, and some pond plants too so it hopefully feels like home to him. We will watch him for a few days, and then will put him back into the wild. So far he is eating well and seems happy swimming and basking.

APRIL 3rd UPDATE: Herman was released this morning at the edge of the pond where he came from. He swam away happily.

Below: Our next additions are 6 Pekin ducklings who arrived the day before Easter. They are all cute and yellow, and are very closely sized, so we have been unable to name them so far. That will take some time ....

(Above: Cherub 1 cleaning the duck box - not a fun job except that the duckings are so enjoyable to hold.)

The care and keeping of ducks --- well, they are MESSY, and if you would mind contant PEEP PEEP PEEPing, then they are noisy too. We do not mind the PEEPing. We change their box liner (a HUGE blue rubbermaid crate lined with newspaper) 2-3x per day so that helps keep the mess to a minimum. We think we have 2 drakes in the bunch, but time will tell if we are correct. They are so funny to watch -- tilting their little heads to watch us as we approach, peeping, chasing one another round and round the box, splashing in their waterer as they drink AND dip their feet in .... it has been quite funny ... good wholesome entertainment.

In a few weeks, we hope to release them on the pond .... once they have their adult feathers of course. We also hope that they will stay on the pond because they will go straight from the "box" they are being raised in to the pond --- so it will hopefully be a nice new permenant home. It will be so nice to watch them from our windows and during walks.

We will post an update on the Duck-Project Progress in a few weeks ....

The Eastern Bluebird

One of our family's favorite birds is the Eastern Bluebird. We enjoy watching them in the spring and summer, building their nests and raising their babies. This past weekend the older 3 Cherubs attended a Bluebird Program.

Below: A diagram showing how to sketch a cute little bluebird.

Below: A bluebird to color.

Below: This bluebird could be colored, but is actually a pattern for a stained glass piece -- there are kits sold at Hobby stores to do "stained glass" with glass, plastic, or paints.

Below: A pattern with plans for an OFFICIAL bluebird house.
There are quite a few various activities about Bluebirds here:

Below: An adorable photo of a bluebird perched on some forsythia.

Below: Another bluebird.

The Program: This past weekend, Dumma (grandmother of the Cherubs) came up from Atlanta and attended The Bluebird Program at our local library with Cherub 1, Cherub 2, and Cherub 3.
The TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) representatives gave a nice presentation that told all about the Eastern Bluebird. It's habitat, food, nest building, and much much more.

Five little bluebirds, hopping by my door

One went to build a nest, and then there were four.

Four little bluebirds singing lustily One got out of tune,

and then there were three.

Three little bluebirds, and what should one do,

But go in search of dinner, leaving only two.

Two little bluebirds singing just for fun,

One flew away, and then there was one.

One little bluebird sitting in the sun.

He took a little nap, and then there was none.

- Children's Nursery Rhyme

Above: After the presentation, everyone present was able to build their own Bluebird house. Here are Cherub 1, Cherub 2, and Cherub 3 working on their bluebird houses.

Above: And here are Cherub 1, Cherub 2, and Cherub 3 with their completed Bluebird houses.

The Cherubs had a GRAND time with Dumma on Saturday.

Our family has long been Bluebird fans, as I said previously -- several Bluebird families used to nest in boxes in front of our old house, and now we have a new family of bluebirds nesting at our new house. They are so funny to watch !!

Here are some links for more information about the Eastern Bluebird: (you can also HEAR Blue Bird’s song on this site, near the bottom) (you can also HEAR the Blue Bird’s song on this site too !)

The Bluebird (By: Emily Huntington Miller)

I know the song that the bluebird is singing,

Out in the apple-tree where he is swinging;

Brave little fellow, the skies may look dreary;

Nothing cares he while his heart is so cheery.

Hark! how the music leaps out from his throat,

Hark! was there ever so merry a note?

Listen awhile and you’ll hear what he’s saying,

Up in the apple-tree swinging and swaying.

“Dear little blossoms down under the snow,

You must be weary of winter, I know;

Hark, while I sing you a message of cheer;

Summer is coming and spring-time is here!

“Little white snowdrop! I pray you arise;

Bright yellow crocus! come, open your eyes;

Sweet little violets, hid from the cold,

Put on your mantles of purple and gold;

Daffodils! daffodils! say, do you hear?—

Summer is coming and spring-time is here!”

Friday, March 28, 2008

It Won't Be Long Now !!

The Farm Manager was kind enough to come and break up our garden at the beginning of this week. The children enjoyed watching the tractor.
And then, per our request, he enlarged it to nearly double last years' size.

Just yesterday, he came back with a different kind of tiller. With this one, he plowed the garden several more times to break up the bigger chunks of dirt. The garden is now all "broken" and tilled, so we will be heading out this afternoon to clear the "sod" pieces and rocks away.

Early next week we will use our little Mantis tiller to till the soil to a fine soft texture, raking and evening it as we go along.

And after that is finished, it will be time to plant. So ---- it' won't be long now !! (We are anxiously awaiting the Blackberry Winter - that is the official end of winter, and we will begin to plant after it is finished.)

We had a vegetable garden last year, and decided to enlarge it significantly this year -- with the economy the way it is, and inflation continuing to climb, it seemed only logical -- and gardening is enjoyable too with the fresh air and being up to your elbows in dirt and all-things-green. We do not use chemicals on our garden, so it is a very healthy and safe place to "play" (or work ??) ... and snack too.

I found this vintage World War 2 sign that was used to promote the Victory Garden years ago -- perhaps everyone should consider planting a garden this year whether big or small -- it is good for the body, good for the spirit, good for the land, and good for the tummy too.

This is all very exciting !! We have started getting seeds already and have begun to plan where we will grow which crops. This is also making a really nice addition to our study of Botany this year, so it is partially a school-project too.

More to come .....

Thursday, March 27, 2008

He Spied A Little Fellow ....

At the front of our yard is a small spring-fed pond, and it drains under the blacktop farm-road into a much larger pond. It is here that we have spent a fair amount of time watching -- seeing all manner of birds, plants, and bugs. We have even caught a few turtles and fish.

Last evening, Cherub 1 was walking along beside the pond and spied a brown furry creature splashing and swimming (playing ?) in the water along the edge -- when it spotted Cherub 1 approaching, it dove into the water's edge and disappeared from sight.

Cherub 1 raced to the house in search of our nature guide books -- to see what the brown fuzzy creature shaped like a beaver (but NOT a beaver) , had a rather blunt nose or "smooshed" face, and had a long naked gray tail that was thicker than a rat's tail. What could it be ????

After looking, he was not positive, but was fairly sure it was a Muskrat (photo of a muskrat below courtesy of

As we were discussing his discovery, I showed him this blog post ( ) by our friend MamaLion (Thanks MamaLion !) that included photos of raccoon tracks she found near their house -- and immediately Cherub 1 was inspired and quickly dashed back to the pond's edge with camera in hand for a bit of tracking before it got too dark to see.

He said "maybe if I find tracks I can be sure that it IS a muskrat ..."

It was not long before Cherub 1 found many little footprints along the water's edge where he had previously spied the little brown fellow. In the very wet sandy, rocky soil with the setting sun glaring down, however, getting a clear photo showing all 5 toe-prints was a challenge. He took twelve photos of the footprints from various angles and heights, and this was the best except that one toeprint is difficult to see unless it is quite enlarged:

In the end, the foot prints around the pond edge where he initially spied the little creature CONFIRMED exactly what he originally suspected -- there is atleast one MUSKRAT living at the pond. (It is more likely that there is more than one, but so far only one has been spotted.)

So, after the indentification and photographs -- out came the sketch pad and pencils, for a Nature Journal entry. Cherub 1 used several guides to learn about these interesting creatures, and then worked on his sketch for the rest of the evening. He found them to be fascinating creatures.

Charlotte Mason was a wise woman .... she knew beyond-a-doubt that children would be fascinated with the natural world if only their attention could "latch on". Every time our children have one of these AH HA moments with God's Creation, I am thankful for the guidance and instruction Charlotte Mason so long ago put forth for children ... for my children. They are so blessed by her "methods".

Monday, March 24, 2008

Our Cold Snap

Yesterday it was just over 60 degrees outside - and it was sunny. Last night the temperature dipped to 30 -- there was a heavy frost on the ground this morning.

And today, our high temperature has remained in the upper 30's and it has been cloudy all day. We have been having SNOW FLURRIES off and on all day. And tonight it is supposed to dip down in the high 20's and low 30's. YIKES !!

The children asked .... WHAT HAPPENED TO SPRING ?? (this is an annual conversation - they tell me that they enjoy hearing me tell the "story" over and over again, year after year.)


Folklore of the eastern United States tells gardeners not to plant until after the dogwood trees have bloomed because of this cold snap.

The Dogwood Winter generally arrives following an extended mid-spring warm spell and brings several days of cold, cloudy, disagreeable weather, often accompanied by frost and perhaps a flurry or two of snow. It usually occurs (here) during late-March and coincides with the blooming of dogwood trees, from which it derives its popular name.

The Dogwood Winter appears to be one of several weather "singularities" -- one time events common to North America, such as Indian Summer and January Thaw. It is commonly described as: "It's spring, then suddenly winter returns."

The American, or Flowering, Dogwood ranges from Texas to Minnesota eastward to the Atlantic shoreline from Florida to southern New England. And this beautiful small tree is native to Tennessee. It is often as wide as it is tall, and it favors the well-drained but moist, fertile sites of mixed hardwood forests and pine forest edges. At our old house there were many Dogwoods growing -- we always looked forward to seeing them bloom. At this new house however, there are none to be seen -- so we will have to add some this fall. We can see them as we travel around our area visiting, going to soccer, and running errands. They are BEAUTIFUL !!

We found it interesting that many gardeners believe that the safest time to plant cold-sensitive species, such as tomatoes, comes in the returning warm weather following Dogwood Winter. Native Americans also watched for dogwood blossoms as signs to begin planting crops. We begin planting hardy plants now, but we wait a few more weeks to put in the "tender" plants like tomatoes and seeds. We wait until the Blackberry Winter comes (and goes).

The dogwood's beauty and utility have long been celebrated in North America. Early colonists reportedly used every part of the dogwood except "the rustle of its leaves." Firewood, furniture, garden elements such a trellis', and more were the common uses.

After this cold snap, we will enjoy a gradual return to spring-like weather. Then, in a few weeks (usually 2, but it varies) we will have one more cold snap (although not quite as cold as this one) -- that will be the Blackberry Winter.

After that ... Spring will be here to stay ... followed shortly by Summer.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Painting by Fra Angelico (The Resurrection - 1400's)

Painting by Rembrandt (The Resurrection of Christ 1635-1639)

Above are two of my favorite paintings of the Resurrection of Christ. And all of the Cherubs actually prefer The Resurrection by Fran Angelico.

"Why do you look for the living amoung the dead ? He is not here -- He is risen !"

Hallelujah !!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Does It All Mean ?

I know that a picture is worth a thousand words. But OH MY !!
(I generally refrain from blogging about such things as the below .... but here goes ... so watch out !)

When I saw THIS image, the voices of the many politicians and even more newcasters and commentators and experts (and nearly everyone these days)
that I have heard these last few months literally flooded back into my mind .... the economy, corporate financial news, the stock market, fires, floods, natural disasters, protests, Special Interests, droughts, the value of the dollar, the war, sales tax, buy outs, corporate bankruptcy, federal taxes, the price of milk, the candidates, the current administration, Republican, Democrat, the oil price per barrel, debates, gas prices at the pump, state taxes, government waste and abuse, tax and spend, The Issues, economic stimulus packages, healthcare ... coupled usually with a lot of fingerpointing ... and the list goes on and on and on .....

I do not want to even pretend to know what it all means .... but I do know what all of these things really mean to our average American family, and most other American families as well ....

(hint: the photo is above.)

This might just be a great year to stay closer to home instead of going on a far-away vacation ... a great year to plant a vegetable garden and eat a few more meals at home ... a great year to walk or ride a bike rather than taking the car ... a fantastic year to open the curtains and let the sun's light in instead of flipping the switches on ... a wonderful year to watch what we use and try to recycle instead of throwing so much in the trashcan ... a great year to be creative, making the best of what we have ... a good time to begin using our resources wisely and frugally. These are just a few of the "lessons" that can be learned right now.

It seems to me that as a society, we could all benefit from some instruction (or just a refresher) in doing more with less. On some level, it seems that we have all (collectively) made this "bed" and now must lie in it --- we shopped, we tossed away, we prefered new, we charged and took out loans on top of loans, we chose convienence over what-to-do-with-waste, we elected, we embraced complacency, we chose synthetic over natural, we chose placing blame over accountability and responsibility, we chose to be busy with accomplishments instead of being knitted together as families and communities and a nation, we chose quantity over quality with regard to time and resources, we chose limited over renewable, we lost sight of what real NEED is .... we as a nation have chosen to focus on so many False Gods, rather than keeping our eyes on Our Father who blessed us with this awesome nation and all it has to offer, and we have in many ways lost sight of the intention and spirit of our founding fathers. What a mess we are in .... but there is hope .... hope in the lessons we CAN learn if only we are willing .... hope in Him ....

I think "this" economic sitaution is quite possibly here to stay for a while, despite the Economic Stimulus packages and rate cuts and buy outs and every other "solution" that has been offered so far. Why do I think it will remain this way for a while ?? Simply because we as Americans do not always accept a need to change WILLINGLY -- the old addage is "What goes up, must come down", right ?? Who knew that this statement was not only about Newton's Law of Gravity ?? Hummm. Well, maybe this "down" will teach us as a society to mend our dead-end wrong and misdirected ways a bit ?? Step by step we can change this path ... with His guidance.

One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all .....

In our own house, we will buckle down and do the best we can do ... always with prayer ... and with our eyes FIRMLY on Our Father. We will remember the lessons from History ... will focus on God's instructions ... and will remember our Founding Fathers who acted in the spirit of those brave few that came to found this great nation in His Holy Name.

The other old addage that comes to mind just now ... Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it (George Santayana) ... it seems the only "groups" that see a need to get serious and make some changes are the faithful, and those who remember well the Great Depression and World War II either by living through it or living in the aftermath. Hummmmmm .....

Getting down from my Soap Box now ...

It's Official !

Today is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The Earth is tilted on its axis, so as it travels around the Sun each pole is sometimes tilted towards the Sun and sometimes tilted away. It is this tilt that causes the seasons, as well as the shortening and lengthening of daylight hours. On this day, the north and south poles are equally distant from the sun, so we will have almost exactly the same amount of daytime as nighttime.

Emily Dickinson said, "A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King."

**From Writer's Almanac

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Good News To Share Regarding TN Bill 2795

The below email was sent this evening from Lana Thornton of T.H.E.A. --- and there is GOOD NEWS to share .....

<< Hello Tennessee Homeschoolers,

HB 2795 and its amendment were both voted down (KILLED-DEAD) today in the Special Initiatives sub-committee, as Rep. Hardaway attempted to withdraw the bill.

Powerful testimony by Dr. Charles Walker, Director of Tennessee Association of Christian Schools, TACS, and Chairman of the Tennessee Advisory Council for Non-Public Schools, by Debbie Landers, Executive Director of Tennessee Association of Non-Public Academic Schools, TANAS, and a member of the Tennessee Advisory Council for Non-Public Schools and by Dee Black, HSLDA attorney for Tennessee nailed the coffin shut on this horrendous legislation.

Briefly Dr. Walker and Debbie Landers informed the sub-committee that the amendment to HB 2795 was unnecessary because an Advisory Council of Non-Public Schools has been is place since 1986. This nine member Council is appointed by the Department of Education to meet with and discuss issues of concern to non-public schools in Tennessee.

When asked if the homeschoolers had a place on this Council, Debbie Landers answered, "Yes", that she was that representative. TANAS schools umbrella homeschoolers and have done so since the homeschool law in TN passed in 1985. About 50 % of the TANAS schools are church-related schools which umbrella home educators.

After Dr. Walker's and Debbie Landers' testimonies, the sub-committee voted on the amendment and it failed to pass. So then the original bill, the horrendous testing bill was in play and was under consideration.

Dee Black's excellent prepared testimony informed the sub-committee that HB 2795 violated the exemption provision of homeschoolers to text-specific tests which passed with HSLDA's efforts as a part of No Child Left Behind. Dee informed the sub-committee that if HB 2795 passed, Tennessee would be liable to have Federal education funding curtailed.

He also told them that this bill could be considered unconstitutional based on the violation of our 1st Amendment right of religious freedom because these tests would mandate that homeschoolers would have to use public school curriculum and not religious-based materials for our instruction.

A GREAT VICTORY for which we give GOD our praise and thankfulness!! Thank you all for your calls, e-mails, and prayers.

A WORD OF CONCERN: Rep. Hardaway railed on the homeschoolers saying that he had received hateful calls and e-mails. Rep. Tommie Brown of Chattanooga also told of disrespectful letters coming to her home. When homeschoolers offend and anger TN lawmakers, it is harmful to everyone. As Christians, we are to respect our elected officials and should never be degrading to others. >>

A Fun Spring Poem


She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
"Winter is dead."

-By: A.A. Milne (When We Were Very Young)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

From Kay Brooks of TN Home Ed: Update On TN Bill 2795

It's become obvious to even the most hopeful among us that Rep. G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) is not a man of his word. Despite assuring the public, Special Initiatives sub-committee members and the Chair of the House Education Committee that he would communicate with them and the homeschooling community regarding changes he was making to HB2795 he still hasn't done so. He has ignored phone calls and personal contacts. The result is we're just a day away from the next scheduled sub-committee hearing for this bill and the new wording is not public information. He fully expects us to get a copy of this legislation cold and deal with it immediately. Well, we shall.

You are, again, encouraged to call the
Special Initiatives sub-committee members and voice your concerns regarding this bill. Most of them have expressed surprise at Hardaway's actions and do not see the need for the state to test all children in this manner. They, and their staffs, are also frustrated but the process must run its course.

If you can make the trip to Nashville come. The committee meets at 11:45 a.m. in the
Legislative Plaza. This committee usually meets in Room 29, however, it may be moved to Room 16 again to accommodate a larger crowd. HB2795 is early on a short agenda so don't be late. If there is no way you can make it to Nashville you can watch streaming video via the Internet from the legislative website here. In the meantime, make phone calls, send faxes, contact their district offices. Focus on Rep. Hardaway, the bill sponsor, and Reps. Brown and Towns who enabled this legislation to even be heard three weeks ago.

I believe we need an even bigger turn out than we had three weeks ago. If our effort is smaller, it will give the appearance that we're already tired of the battle and don't have the stomach for a full scale assault. Let's ensure that's not the case.

If you pray this is certainly the time for that.
Kay Brooks

ALERT: Mandatory testing legislation info:

Numbers provided by HSLDA---At this time we are requesting that you continue to contact onlyRepresentatives Hardaway, Brown, and Towns to express your oppositionto House Bill 2795. They appear to be the only legislators present atthe hearing who are supportive of this legislation, but they have beenable to keep it alive. They need to hear from you some more!

Action Requested:
(1) Please call or write (both would be better) RepresentativesHardaway, Brown, and Towns with this message:"Please oppose House Bill 2795, which would impose public schooltesting on non-public school students. This bill would effectivelydestroy non-public education in Tennessee by requiring privateschools, church-related schools, and homeschools to adopt the publicschool curriculum for their instruction programs.

"The contact information for these Representatives is set forth below.

Representative G. A. Hardaway
Nashville Office (615) 741 5625
Memphis Office (901)949-1000

Representative Tommie Brown(615) 741-4374

Representative Joe Towns, Jr.(615) 741-2189

From Claiborne Thornton of THEA: Update On TN Bill 2795


*House Ed. Comm. Vice-Chair, Tommie Brown(615) 741-4374

*House Ed. Comm. Secretary, Joe Towns, Jr.(615) 741-2189

*Jim Coley(615) 741-8201

*Ron Lollar(615) 741-7084

*John Mark Windle--Chair of the Subcommittee(615) 741-1260

Best regards,
Claiborne Thornton

DIRECTIONS to Legislative Plaza:

Legislative Plaza (see the map link below) is the under-ground office complex consisting of many of our lawmaker's offices and the Committee rooms used to make law in TN. These offices/rooms are under the fountain-covered plaza across Charlotte Ave. from the Capitol Building. The plaza shares the block with the War Memorial Building.

Here's a link to a map of Capitol Hill :, click on the map to enlarge it. For our purposes this map is upside down.If you park in the Sheraton Garage (which is located on the corner of 7th & Union), you can self-park and save some money or use valet parking. You can also park in the corner lot at 7th and Church to save even more money. Whichever you do, you can then walk through the lobby of the Sheraton and exit onto Union, turn to your right and walk to the corner of 6th & Union. Cross Union at the corner of 6th Ave. & Union. Walking along 6th Ave. beside the Legislative Plaza, you will quickly find the entrance "tunnel" to Legislative Plaza on your LEFT. Since 9/11, the only entrance to the Legislative Plaza is this secure entrance on 6th Ave. To reach the LP entrance, which is just past the corner of 6th and Union, go under the granite "tunnel" to the glass doors into the entrance with the magnetron. After you've passed through the magnetron, turn to your RIGHT and go down the hallway to LP 29. The full House Education Committee meets at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesdays in LP 16 and often goes over, cutting into the 11:45 a.m. beginning of the Special Initiatives sub-committee meeting. Often when the House Education committee runs over, the sub-committee is moved to a different room, to room LP 29. Right now the Legislative web site lists the meeting room for this sub-committee as LP 29.

INFO on Additional & less expensive Parking:
A very convenient parking facility is the Main Library Garage located at 151 6th Ave. N., charging $6/day for parking. on the map this garage is located behind the Main Public Library. The drive in entrances to the garage are on Sixth and Seventh Avenues between Church and Commerce Streets. They charge $6/day which is a good price in the downtown area. If you park there you are less than two blocks from the Legislative Plaza. You can walk through the Main Library to reach Church Street, and then walk up Capitol Blvd. to Union, go to your right to the corner of Union & 6th, through the granite tunnel to the glass doors into the Legislative Plaza. (see more directions below) The second covered garage is the McKendree Center, 140 6th Avenue N., charging $8/day, $4/hour, $2 each 1/2 hr. $8 - 1&1/2 hr to close. $8 daily max., also 2 blocks from the Legislative Plaza. On the parking map it is the purple block located next to and just south of the Main Library and next to the larger purple block which is the Main Library Parking Garage mentioned above. McKendree takes only cash or check payment, no credit or debit cards. There is another garage at 145 7th Avenue N., charging $5/day. It takes only credit card payment. You can find these and many more on the map at: On this map the blue spots are surface lots and the purple spots are covered garages. For more info on downtown parking locations, see:

We hope to see you there! And if you can not come, pray that this bill dies, that it will be voted on and that it will fail. Pray that the sponsor will not be able to keep it alive.
Thank you! >>


The new Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival is ready ....

Monday, March 17, 2008

Saint Patrick's Day

(Above) The "image" most often associated with St. Patrick's Day ... the Irish ... Ireland ... the SHAMROCK (or clover).
(Above) Picture of Saint Patrick.

From Catholic Encyclopedia:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How We Plan For The Next School Year ?

We usually take a month or two off from school for summer vacation each year -- we play, we take daytips, we travel a little, we camp a few times, we head to the lake, we go swimming -- the traditional "summer" activities. Then soccer season begins in August and ends in October -- Fall arrives. So as Fall begins and soccer comes to an end, I begin to look forward to a restful winter. The leaves change and CALM is the overall mood. Next, the holiday rush comes with Thanksgiving and Christmas, and goes. Now it is winter -- and my thoughts turn to the gardens as the garden catalogs come in the mail. So we all sit together some evenings and plot out our flower and vegetable gardens for the springtime - dreaming of GREEN during the dreary winter afternoons. Finally, February comes, it seems to bring the BLAHs .... blahs at home, blahs with school, and in our area this also means lots of rainy days .... but it is restful. It is during February that we begin to think about our next school year - the children talk about things they find interesting, studies they want to pursue, and the older children seem to think a lot about where they are heading academically with regard to their futures (careers, etc). So, when late February and early March come, we start working and playing outside on nice days (aka Spring Fever) .... and on not-so-nice days I sit at my desk working on mapping our next school year.

It is my understanding that most homeschool families wait until summertime to plan next's years courses. And I tried this in our early years, but it made me feel rushed and my plans were never very solid. For me, the call of OUTSIDE and SUNSHINE and WARM WEATHER, the call of the cool water at the lake, and the beautiful wooded hiking trails of the mountains is so intense that if I wait that long to plan, I will never get the planning done because I will be up to my neck in dirt and all things green. HA !! So, I start planning much earlier .... in February and March. The other bonus to starting early is that all of my technical plans are made before the Homeschool Expos begin .... so I know roughly what I need for whom, and what I would like to study through the next year. When I attend these Expos, I know what we will use and when we will use it. Occassionally I make a last minute change when I find something else that I think will work better at the homeschool Expos, but generally I stick pretty close to my plans. In all honestly, one of the smaller reasons that I do this is because when I am surrounded by so many great books and great resources, I have to fight those little voices inside myself, each of which is screaming BUY IT and BUY THEM ALL. HA !! (I am a book junkie.) I have found that having a written plan of resources we will need and will use keeps my impulse buying to a minimum ... although I always buy a few things that were not on my list. (hee hee hee !) This also keeps my dear husband happy. DadToCherubs never ever complains about what we buy and what we use -- but he does complain when we spend money on things that go un-used or get forgotten on the shelves. (And I will admit that it frustrates me too when this happens.)
So -- how do WE handle our homeschool planning --- really ?? First, we consider which "grades" everyone will be in next fall, and what their "needs" will be. Next fall we will have 6 official students -- in grades K, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 9. Yikes !! Along with 5 elementary and middle school age students, we will have our first "official" highschool student. I will admit that at first this thought alone was a bit intimidating -- however I believe we can handle it with Prayer and guidance from Above.

I have planned at least a few of the K, 3rd, 4th, 6th, & 7th grade years multiple times through the past few years, so it is merely a matter of finding what will fit nicely for each student, and adding some of their individual interests in as well. That is easier than it sounds, I promise. (I will describe in more detail exactly WHAT we will use for everyone next year in a later post - once I finish working it all out.)

I will admit that I was a bit worried about this highschool year coming up ---- I have heard many many parents fret and worry excessively over the highschool years. I have seen special books on the topic, special workshops and programs for parents of new highschoolers -- so why is there all of this concern ?? I started to worry myself about it all -- caught up in the flow of Highschool Planning. Honestly though, when I got to the point of really looking at it all in black and white, I was unable to figure out what all of the frenzy and worry was about. So I asked a dear friend (Thanks MamaLion) to be sure I was not missing a part of the big picture for high school, the WORRY point, perhaps some detail that I was yet blissfully unaware of . Well, it seems that there really isn't one, even though so many people stress over the highschool years. We have a list of required credits and basic parameters from the state (actually I got it from HSLDAs website under our state name I believe), and for safe measure I also got a list of requirements and credits for graduation from our state education website. And I looked at basic requirements of a few of the major colleges and universities nationwide. Next we (DadToCherubs, Cherub 1, and myself) sat down to figure out what exactly we needed to do ... what we would do and in which year we would do it, and the general direction we needed to follow. So far it was pretty straight forward .... so again we are not sure what all of the panic we have heard of and witnessed is about .... but we will admit that it is a little MORE concerning that the other homeschool years ... but not too much so ...
Now, after we have figured out what grades we need to "teach", I make a list of subjects that each child requires, beginning with core academics. This list is VERY vague in the beginning and is roughly a checklist --- english, math, phonics, science, bible, etc. I write "subjects" these in light gray. Then, I go back over that completed "subject" list with a blue pen -- to plug in the actual courses / books we will use or topic to be studied. I write them overtop the original vague subject name in gray --- for example, I write MATH in gray on each child's list. Then I write SAXON 2 or TEACHING TEXTBOOKS 7 overtop for the appropriate child. Very simple, very easy, and relatively low-stress. Many of the "subjects" will be figured out when both steps on this simple list is finished. However, when these lists (both entries) are finished, I will have gray subject names that have no resource (or topic) written overtop --- like SCIENCE --- or COMPOSITION. And so now I can clearly see (per child) which subjects I will need to find resources for. For us, there is no point in stressing about every single subject for every single child because that is simply overwhelming -- some things are just simple, and somehow the literal writing out of these things and the plugging in of resources keeps us focused on what Iwe really need to "think" about or search for, rather than "sweating" every detail of every year for each child. DadToCherubs is often involved in this part of the process -- making suggestions, helping map it out so to speak. And he is a big fan of KEEP IT SIMPLE ..... saying that you can see where you are going educationally if you get the basics handled in the simplest manner possible. (I am so blessed to have a husband who particiaptes and brings his strengths "to the table". I am always thankful for this !!)
Through this process, DadToCherubs and I spend a lot of time pre-reading snippets of books -- Ambleside recommendations, House Of Education recomnedations, Mater Amablis recommendations, other titles and resources recommended by friends, found in catalogs, and found on websites. And also I spend a fair amount of time with homeschool catalogs and doing online searches. At this point, my night-table is COVERED with books I am reading (and lots of post-it notes on and in them too !), and my desk is a pile of catalogs, scribbled notes, and post-its too. And DadToCherubs' has a pretty hefty pile of books that he is looking through as well -- I could never do this without him.
What I had always envisioned was this (above) when I thought of lesson planning .... a few papers, a pen, and calm security. However, several years of the pencil / paper method proved that I am not THIS person, no matter how hard I try. HA !! We needed a new approach. We tried word documents, pre-printed planners, excel documents, and a few computer-driven software type planners -- nothing worked. But we kept trying .... (and we finally found one that works for us, but I will write more on that later).

So --- there is essentially a TO DO list -- the Gray list of subjects overwritten with Blue resources for the "main" subjects.

Next, I make a larger version of this exact list (on paper - one list per child) with which I will spell out in more detail those singular resources. It is also on this larger list that I will begin to fill in lists of titles for Literature, supplemental books and resources (when reading about Colonial History, include D'Aulaire's Ben Franklin, Pocahontas, etc) that will work with main plans .... and I also begin to pencil in "ideas" ---- disect a flower during chapter 3 --- chart weather for the month of January --- fly a kite during Ben Franklin lessons -- sketch appraoching storm clouds and other cloud formations, visit the Ranger Station to learn about the scheduled burns, visit IMAX theater when the planetarium show is playing in March, etc. (and somewhere around this point in the process the "goals" for each subject and each child begin to "appear" - sometimes I will write them out, but usually I just make sure the end-result goals match the objectives I had planned originally for the year.)

It all begins to come together in a "rough" but simple format -- far from complete, but definately "workable". And it is slowly becoming more detailed and more exact. As I work on these lists, each list begins to settle into Terms .... Term 1, Term 2, and Term 3 .... so at this point our next year is basicly planned. All that is left is to plan the day-to-day, what to use, and what to use with or after it , which days to do science, which days to do history ....

The last step in my late-winter / early spring Lesson Planning Projects for March (or very-early April) is to make detailed shopping lists that are relatively place specific (with pricelists and item numbers if they are needed - also ISBN numbers help for bookstores !) --- for example, our Rainbow Resource catalog will have a TO ORDER list -- there will also be a handwritten list of websites with item numbers and products to be ordered --- and there will be a Barnes & Noble list, an list, and a homeschool Expo list of course. With the Homeschool Expo list will also be a WISH list .... things I would love to find, but do not know "exactly" what they are yet --- for example, I am buying a Microscope this year, and would I love to find a pre-made slide set (for plants maybe ? or cells ? Or maybe a veriety ?) and a basic instructional HOW TO book to go with it (learning to use the microscope for children, or some such similar subject), but I do not know exactly what I want yet so I will browse at the Expo for something to meet this need.

In May I will ponder the plans I have made ... thinking them over, reviewing them with DadtoCherubs, and usually we end up making a few subtle changes (usually adding and consolidating supplemental resources, or projects I want to add, and such) . The focus in May is usually finishing up the current school year (paying special attention to anything that we need to re-cover next year such as more mathfact practice and such) ... and we dedicate a lot of time to planting our garden, tending to our yard, and enjoying Spring.

This year, in June, I will go to a Homeschool Expo in Georgia. And in early-July there is a Homeschool Fair in Knoxville and finally there is a HUGE Homeschool Expo in mid-July in Chattanooga. The weekend of the Expo in Chattanooga is known in our house to be SCHOOL SHOPPING WEEKEND - Dad is in charge, and Mom is out shopping (one of my most-detested yet unavoidable activities is shopping, so I like to go and do it all at one time.). I attend the Expo, and then the next day I head to WalMart, Staples, Art Supply stores, and the teacher supply stores to get school supplies like notebooks, pencils, paper, and crayons, along with sketch books and art supplies, plus other "school" stuff we will need. And finally, on the Monday immediately following the Expo, I will place the orders from my remaining TO ORDER lists - via email or phone or online -- ordering the things I could not purchase in person. (I wait to "order" just in case I find what I am looking for at the Expo - no shipping and sometimes the sales at the Expo are better.) At this point, all of our school supplies and materials for the next school year are IN our house, or will be in just a few days. In late-July I will look through all of the books and resources we are planning to use (even the ones we owned previously already on the shelves). I will put the supplies together, and will make all of the final necessary notes (such as read half a chapter at a time instead of a whole chapter, or make flashcards for this chapter, and such other necessary reminders.) And I will check to be sure that our school room and our home library are in good order -- ready to be used.

So -- at this point, with some last help from FedEx and UPS, we will have all that we will need. And the weather outside will be scorching hot in the afternoons, so we will begin spending a bit of time each day inside away from the heat. It is during these "inside" times that the day-to-day and month-to-month plans will be worked on - usually during the last two weeks in July. Our lesson plans (daily, monthly, by term, etc) will be completely finished by the end of July. DadToCherubs is always kind enough to read over what we have planned, just for a "second opinion". And finally - it is finished.

Our 2008 school year will begin on Monday August 11th ......

As I said above, I have spent more than a few years making word and excel documents for lesson plans, and trying all number of pen&paper lesson plan approaches -- nothing worked. So last year we took the plunge ($99 for the year) and subscribed to a brand new organizer that was database driven -- Simply Charlotte Mason's Organizer. DadToCherubs and I played with the 30day free trial -- making up plans, printing, checking off, skipping days -- just to see how it worked first. Then, after we officially "subscribed", I spent 4-5 days total in early August entering in all of the materials we were going to use for the year for each child. I planned out which subjects we would do on which days, and tried to keep the days fairly even with respect to the workload. In the end, it was all set up and was ready to use -- and all we had only to wait for the year to begin (in late August last year) to see how it worked. I will admit that I was biting my nails -- I so wanted this program to work, to limit planning time needed, to keep records. I wanted the WORLD ... but did not know how the experiment would ultimately work until we tried it IN our homeschool day to day. And to top that off, it was pricey at $99 for the year. DadToCherubs was fairly confident it would work ... but I suspected he was being overly optomistic. It was a new innovative approach to lesson planning ... and it seemed that it was more in-line with the type of schooling we actually do .... so we took a risk ....

Other than adding the SCM Organizer just last year, my approach to lesson planning has not changed in the last 5+ years. I have always made progressive lists, and plotted it out on paper in the planning stages. However, with the word and excel planning systems, and with traditional lesson-planner books, I would normally spend every Sunday evening planning throughout the whole school year, trying to accomplish it all ... reworking plans because we had gotten behind or had forgotten some element of the plans. I would stare at the bookshelves and see resources that I had SO wanted to include (but they had been forgotten or missed). The children occassionally had to wait because even Mom was not sure what was to be done next .... it was not a good situation. I needed a planner that would hold all of the info in order, day to day, for a year ... and one that would flex with us if we got behind for sickness or wanted to explore a rabbit-trail that came from our lessons. So it was with these "dreams" that I subscribed ....

Well, it is now mid-March of the school year that I planned out last August ... we have used this SCM Organizer all year. Every day I open the organizer and print the DAILY LESSON sheets for each of our children (you do not have to print, but we are "list" people so we choose to print them), and we print one entitled FAMILY on which are the things we all do together (bible, scripture memory, math drills, artist study, etc). And every afternoon I check the WORKED ON or FINISHED boxes for each of the subjects / resources that day for each child (and for the Family category too). And on the first school day of every month, I print a REPORT of the previous month -- it shows the days we did school, and what each child did in detail. DadToCherubs and I sit with each child and go over these REPORTS every month -- it gives us all great satisfaction to see "in print" what we have accomplished and the progress we have made -- it also shows clearly when more progress is needed in certain subjects. Then we file these reports away in a notebook -- TA DA ! -- our official records for the year are all in one place, in a nice neat format. (I also note in the margins of these reports any significant breaks in the "attentence" -- such as our 10-day trip through NewEngland, or the 2 weeks off we needed when we all had the flu, and such. This is so that I can remember the cause of these "breaks" should anyone ask ... although I doubt anyone will. I also add in anything "out-of-classroom) that we do such a field trips, hikes, camping trips, speaking with experts, etc -- these details often get forgotten with time -- it is nice to have a firm record of them at our fingertips. All of these reports and info will be nice for transcripts and college application requirements - to have handy a list of what we did, what we used, and when we did it all --- so anything pertaining to "reporting" is not a concern anymore either. Yeah !!)

This school year was a bit unusual because we had 4 terms -- we usually have 3 terms as Charlotte Mason recommended. This year, Term 1 was spent finishing much of last years work, because after our housefire in March we did not have the resources, nor did we have the mental or physical strength to focus on school. So we worked from August to just-before-Thanksgiving finishing last year's work. After Thanksgiving, we began Term 2 -- this is when we began our "new" school year. Through it all we have had a few odd sick (or busy) days, and 2 sick weeks (flu - arg !!). We took a few little trips that were not "planned" like our ski trip, and of course had our 10-day trip to NewEngland that we had actually planned for. We have had a few stumbles academically, and needed to slow down and take more time here and there .... but that is one glorious part of homeschooling, that we CAN slow down or make changes to suit the child. And of course there were those rabbit trails we HAD to explore !! At this point we are just finishing Term 3 and are ready to begin Term 4. (We should finish completely in July -- only because our days in June and July are much lighter to allow for SOME summer vacation fun too.)

So --- how did it go ?? How did the plans work out ?? How was everyone's progress ?? This has been BY FAR the BEST school year we have ever had, even with having 4 Terms instead of 3 !! HOORAY !! We have gotten so much more done than in any previous year, and everyone learned by leaps and bounds this year. The children seemed more confident this year -- it was always clear that there WAS a plan and a PURPOSE. I have not felt pressure to "keep up" because my plans flexed with our lives - this was wonderful ! Some days we got more accomplished than others, and some days we got less accomplished. But I did not have to rework plans, and did not feel that pressure to keep things "on track" so that our lesson plans did not get all messed up (thus having to rewrite them - ARG !!). I did not spend much time at all working on lesson plans -- I spent an afternoon during Christmas Break tweaking things a bit, and also made a few other minor adjustments just a few weeks ago to shift work around to make "lighter" Fridays so we could do CoOp classes and take a few more daytrips. The Sunday evenings of planning are long gone, as are the "what's next" concerns.

Will I plan this year as I planned last year - technically speaking -- with progressive lists ?? Certainly. I have finished planning and making lists for our 3 younger children already -- the shopping / to-order lists for them are ready. At this point I am still searching for a few materials that we will use to fit the "subject" areas for the 3 older children - then I will detail those plans and make my shopping lists for them too. (eventually all of the shopping lists are combined for ease of use)

Am I worried about having 6 students this year, all working on their own levels ?? A little bit - I always worry about having enough time for everyone (esp the non-readers and the new readers), but I think that is a Mom thing more than a homeschool thing. HA !

Am I worried about keeping everyone on track ?? Not at all.

Am I concerned about having an ALL WORK AND NO PLAY school year ?? No - but we did have a year like that a few years ago and it was awful !! I believe we will have a nice balance of academics and creative learning (projects, trips, rabbit trails, etc). Too many intense academics (work, work, work) is frustrating for our children, but not enough means minimal progress and preparation for later education. So we strive for balance.

Am I worried about getting all we need to accomplish done ?? Not at all. It is quite simple once the "core subjects" are in place. It becomes obvious quite fast when there is an "overload" in any area, or if an area is not being covered well enough. Overloaded studies does not mean educated minds - in our house it usually means S-T-R-E-S-S and usually results in getting even less accomlished. DadToCherubs said once that the old addage applies here -- KISS -- Keep It Simple Stupid. (HA !)

Will I stress about our oldest child beginning highschool ?? Not at all. The credits are all mapped out -- and it really is not an overwhelming amount of coursework as long as the materials selected match the goals and the purpose. Again, I have to say that I believe that too much is NOT a good thing.

Will I spend the $99 (per year) and subscribe to this Simply Charlotte Mason Organizer again this year ?? ABSOLUTELY. This was the BEST homeschool-money I have ever spent -- it met our needs and more. It kept us organized daily weekly and monthly. It produced detailed records that go above and beyond - and they are better records than I have ever kept before. It enabled most of our students to work independently in many (if not most) subjects - this allowed more time for Mom or Dad to spend with each student when there was a need rather than constantly being pulled form one child to another giving instructions and hand-holding or spoon-feeding materials and project steps. This independent learning is also a critical skill for life --- to be Lifelong Independent Learners -- and also is critical for the college years. (We do check every single piece of work done by every single child on every single school day -- we read or hear each narration or each reading, we check each grammar or math lesson, and such. And the children make all necessary corrections before they are "finished" for the day -- this keeps us moving forward, and also keeps the childrens minds and educations progressing correctly. DadToCherubs is a great help with checking over lessons and hearing narrations.) It kept track of what we did, when we did it, and what we used to do it. It kept Mom stress-free about plans. It gave us more school and free time time -- because Mom was not working on plans for tomorrow / next week -- because Mom and Dad were available to deal with arising issues or difficulties having a firm plan in place of what should be done -- because each child was ultimately responsible for completing assignments and lessons, so if he/she fooled around, it took him or her longer to finish thus not delaying anyone else. It kept each child "on track" knowing what to do next, day to day, and week to week. It helped the parents to hold each child accountible consistantly, thus encouraging each child to BE accountible consistantly. It made it possible for Mom to know exactly what everyone was doing each and every day - so it reduced stress "across the board". And, it caused us to use all of the resources and extras that we had planned - it was great to know we did not "waste" anything we purchased or planned last summer. Plus, we had more time -- to learn, to play, to explore rabbit trails, and to be a "family." (After listing all that we felt this one tool helped us accomplish, I guess that $99 is not that much at all. HA !!)

**After receiving many questions and hearing of many conversations concerning lesson planning, I decided to post HOW and WHEN we plan our homeschool years for those who struggle with these areas -- I think struggling with planning a school year is VERY common for many many homeschoolers. I was one of those who struggled, for sure !! And I promise that I am not am employee or sales-person for Simply Charlotte Mason (there are no kick-backs either - HA !) -- I am just a VERY satisfied customer and a very now-happy-and-organized homeschool Mom who wants the "world" to know the great differences this Organizer has made in our lives.

The link to the Simply Charlotte Mason website is here: Click on the ORGANIZER to learn more about this product, and be sure to watch all of the demos which will show all of the incredible features that are possible.

Palm Sunday

Triumphal Entry of Jesus in Jerusalem
John 12

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Spring Has Sprung ...

... and so we have a new color scheme. I just love the bright green hues of early springtime.

Nature Study Using Bird Feeders

Photo 1: Brown-headed Cowbird. (Molothrus ater)
Photo 2: Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

We have two bird feeders just outside our school room windows. And we have one feeder hanging from the Holly tree in the back of our house, and another hanging from the giant Hackberry tree in the front yard. We love watching the birds ! Throughout this past year, on rainy or cold days when the weather was not nice enough for nature walks, we have watched our bird feeders for our Nature Studies. Of course, we can also all say that we have spent a fair amount of time watching the feeders "just because" too.

Lately, we have seen more than a few "new" birds visiting our bird feeders ... birds we have not seen since late last summer or late last fall. Cardinals, Blue Jays, Robins, and more. And in the last week or two, we have been seeing plenty of Blue Birds (they are actually building nests in 3 of our birdhouses - HOORAY !!), Robins, Swallows, Chickadees, Titmouses, and the list goes on and on ....

But this morning we spied two "new" friends taking turns perching on the feeder ... friends whom we had not seen on our feeders before (but we had seen each of them down by the pond last summer) .... one is medium sized, mostly dark colored, with a very bright striking "swoosh" of red and yellow on the top part of the wings .... and the other is a dark brown-black all over with a brownish head that is almost chocolate colored.
So .... out came the Identification Guides and the Field Books ...

The one with the red and yellow "swoosh" on it's wing is a:

And the dark colored one with the chocoate colored head is the infamous cowbird. This species we spotted is the Brown-headed Cowbird. (Molothrus ater) There were several of these fellas hanging out with several redwinged blackbirds that were in the yard today eating lots of birdseed. We saw only male cowbirds, we think. My guess is the females are around here somewhere dropping thier eggs in the nests of the other birds. The lady cowbirds have other birds raise their young - it is because of this they are considered a parasitic species of bird. This is difficult on the smaller birds and usually they end up sacrificing some of their own. Because cowbirds are a large bird so the smaller (mother) birds work very hard to feed the larger babies sometimes to the neglect of their own.
Brown-headed Cowbird. (Molothrus ater)

National Geographic's 2007 Award-Winning Photographs