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Thursday, November 14, 2013

November Grays

This week has been colder than November ought to be. Even with the heat on in the house, I am still freezing. I enjoy the light in the mornings while I run with friends, but I am awfully sleepy by 5pm when it's getting dark. I wasn't ready for winter to hit so early. I'm beginning to wonder if we moved to Canada and someone forgot to tell me.

It's been gray and windy. The gorgeous flame of fall seems to have passed in one windswept day. The grayness seemed to seep into my bones, leaving me tired, lonely, and feeling worn out.

But in the midst of the gray, here's some color...

Visiting the approximately 6700 flags placed as a memorial for all fallen soldiers since 9/11.  

Enjoying the sweetness of Bible study with a new group of ladies after a very trying day. Oh, the Lord was good that evening (and all the time!).  

Little Bear praying for a missionary couple for the week as part of Awana. He wrote a letter to them today to encourage them. I told him he should include a Bible verse that would help them feel encouraged and to know that the Lord is with them. He went off in search of his Bible and wrote Deut. 31:8. "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged." We didn't help him with it all; the Lord put the verse on his sweet heart, and he poured it out to them.

The prayers of a sweet friend when I was so overwhelmed I couldn't pray for myself.

Starting this timeline with Little Bear. He was in love.

A cold morning run with a friend who had been away.

Long, trying days with Curly. Knowing that this too shall pass but most important is for him to know he is loved.

Tiny Dancer charming the girls at the college while we waited for Little Bear's piano lesson. She was sporting one of her creative outfits, and they were eating it up. She's gone dressed as Yoda, a ballerina, and sometimes just like this. 
So many patterns, so little time.

Curly being excited about math as he works on his own pet shop. He is so excited to work on this every day. 

A doctor's cure on the most stressful day... 
Did you know there's a Dr. Pepper museum in Waco, TX? Neither did I!

Sometimes I get so bogged down in the big picture. I can't see the forest for the trees, as they say. But this week the Lord showed me the trees. And while the forest can be scary sometimes, the trees are beautiful.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fall Love

You just can't beat the beauty of fall. All of the colors: the leaves, of course, but also the sky. The sky has such an assortment of colors this time of year, and it feels like you can almost touch it. The way the sun shines through the leaves at just the right moment so that it looks like the tree is ablaze. Amazing.

And besides the beauty, leaves are so much fun to collect and play in. Walking through a pile of them on the side of the road, kicking them along and enjoying the awesome crunching sound they make.  No kid can pass that up.

Fall. It's my absolute favorite time of year.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Readings Around the House

The Star Wars obsession continues. I kissed Tiny Dancer while she was sleeping last night and found no fewer than four Star Wars books in her bed with her. The current favorite around here is this:
She's really taking off on her own reading, so there is an endless flow of books going through her hands at the moment.

Little Bear is in love with these Charlie Brown books.  
For school, he's reading The Kitchen Knight and Roland Wright: Future Knight among others.

And Curly is reading The Song of Roland (Eleanor Clark, out of print), Adam of the Road, and The Illustrated Book of Myths

 I can't seem to settle on anything for myself at the moment. Anyone have any suggestions? I love to read and am not liking feeling lost!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Trick or Treat!

Yesterday started off with a bang for us. Tiny Dancer came downstairs with a belly ache. She didn't really eat dinner the night before, so I thought maybe she was hungry. She did eat a little breakfast, but then minutes later was curled up in a ball on the couch. That should have been my clue. But it was expected to be a busy day, so I was trying to get dinner in the crock pot. Next thing I know, she says she feels like she's going to be sick. I ran to get the bucket, but I just couldn't make it in time. I'll spare you all the gory details; let's just say it wasn't pretty. I made her a little bed on the couch, hoping she would get better by the evening.

The rest of the morning was spent doing school. The boys wrote stories to go with The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Curly even said math was fun yesterday. It was just a worksheet full of math problems decorated with a picture of a pumpkin. Math is the dreaded subject for him. So... if I put a picture on the page, it's suddenly a good time?

By afternoon, the little lady was riding her scooter with no further instances, so she was ready to go trick or treating with the boys.  
The Star Wars theme continues in our lives. Actually, they got tons of compliments on having coordinated costumes. Take advantage now, folk, because it's not likely to happen again.

This pumpkin is not impressed.

It was our first time trick or treating in our "new" house. We closed on Halloween last year, but we didn't move in until two weeks later. We weren't sure what to expect in a new place. It was definitely different. It's a smaller neighborhood, so it didn't take as long. There were also a lot less people out and about. And we really didn't know many of the people we did see, aside from our immediate neighbors. Every year prior to this, we have walked around with friends. This was our first year just the five of us, and it was a nice change. Other years I felt like I didn't really get to see my kids because they moved at various speeds in the pack. This year we moved a little slower and had more time together. Days where all of us go out are numbered, so I was thankful for the change. 

After collecting the loot, we returned home for a viewing of Toy Story of Terror! Super fun.
This clip has my favorite scene: the Pez dispenser throwing up.

Now that Curly is ten and in fifth grade, I can see where certain things won't last forever. I'm trying to cherish these moments while also training him to independence.

What did you do for Halloween?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: Institute for Excellence in Writing: Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons

Curly loves to write and has a talent for it. He has been writing stories since before he could actually write. He used to dictate long, elaborate stories to us when he was three and four years old. I still have the old notebook full of these early stories, and they are a lot of fun to read now. His ambition is to be an author someday, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he achieves that goal.

Because he is a gifted writer, we haven't focused much on a formal writing program in the early years. I let him write what he enjoyed, sometimes with a prompt from me. Then we would go through the editing process and create a final product. Last year, I decided we needed some more structure to take his writing to the next level. We floundered a little bit. We tried Writing with Ease, but it is very repetitive, and he was bored and frustrated by the interminably slow progress through the book. We threw in a book full of creative writing projects, and while he enjoyed that, it still wasn't what I felt we needed.

Our homeschool evaluator recommended the Institute for Excellence in Writing, but the sticker price was a bit too high for me. She then recommended their history-based writing lessons, and they have been a perfect fit.

We are using the Medieval-based book because that is the time period we are studying this year. I purchased Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons in Structure, Style, Grammar, and Vocabulary from Rainbow Resources. I picked up the student book, the teacher's manual, and we downloaded the Student Resource Notebook e-book free of charge. All of the books can be purchased at

There are 29 lessons in the book; each one takes about a week. The first five have taught how to create a key word outline and produce a written piece from that. Topics have included the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mohammed. Future assignments will include formal essays, narratives, critiques, creative writing, and the super-essay. Lessons are divided into Parts A (grades 3-5) and B (grades 6-8) , depending on the level of the student.

What I like:

As we are a classical schooling family, it fits perfectly. We are learning about the Middle Ages in history and reading works from or about that time in our literature. It makes sense that our writing should focus on the same topics. For example, this past week, we were studying Charlemagne, and Curly's writing assignment was on... you guessed it. Charlemagne.

The lessons are well laid out. He can work through the numbered assignments for the week on his own.

The lessons build on one another. Lessons 1-5 focused on using quality words (There is a list of banned words he may not use, like said, went, interesting, and big.), titles, dialogue, emotion, and the five senses. Now he is expected to incorporate those ideas throughout the rest of the book AND add in the new material. He is now learning about opening sentences and clinchers.

Each week's lesson comes with a grading rubric. He can see up front what is expected of him that week. He is responsible to make sure everything that is in the rubric is in his piece. On the final draft, he is to highlight different words or phrases to be sure he has included them. This helps him to be very sure he has done all he can to have a well-written assignment. There is a different rubric for level A and for level B.

There are five vocabulary words each week, with periodic quizzes. The words are printed on little cards with a picture to help. On the reverse side, there is a definition and synonyms. The words are relevant and required for use in the assignments.

The Details:

Title: IEW Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons
Age: 3-8 grade, leveled
Length: 29 weeks
Price: $49.00 for the student/teacher combo pack
          $29.00 for student book only, $24.00 for teacher book only

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Disney Memories

Last week we were treated to a trip to Disney World by my parents. It was fun and exhausting! Disney World is a vacation like no other I have been on, in that it doesn't really feel like a vacation at all. I kept my children awake way later than I would ever dream of on any other vacation. We ate every single meal in a restaurant.  We walked miles and miles per day. As I said, it was fun AND exhausting! 
Little Bear's favorite ride is the "golf ball" ride. He particularly likes the technology activities.

I could write pages and pages about our trip - how much fun we had, what we did, what we would do differently, and those may be worthy posts someday. But today I thought it would be fun to write some of the highlights of our trip.

So, here they are: the good, the bad, and the funny...

The Good:

This is her first princess sighting. Can you see the huge smile?

Tiny Dancer was enthralled with the princesses and Minnie. We don't watch much in the way of princess movies or read princess books here, but she was overjoyed to be part of it nonetheless. She was ecstatic to see Cinderella Castle (Did you know it's not called Cinderella's Castle? I did not!) My mother treated her to a morning at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I can't even think about how much money people spend in there, but I will say she had a wonderful time. And she was very pleased with all the compliments she received throughout the day. Although, she actually had more people call her "princess" and fuss over her when she was just wearing her tattered Cinderella dress. 
My little "ladybug" is on the right, next to the trainer. You can't quite see him, but Curly is in the back, just over her shoulder.

Using the force.

Defeating Vader.

Curly and Tiny Dancer took part in the Padawan training at Epcot. Curly was in a portion of the show where he not only fought Darth Vader but also had to use the force to hold back the Storm Troopers. And the Jedi trainer called Tiny Dancer "ladybug." ;) He said she was wearing a polka dot dress to prove her power. She carried a stuffed Chewbacca all through the airport on the way home. You know, princess one minute, Jedi the next.

Two thumbs up after riding the Tower of Terror.

Curly tried his first thrill rides and loved them. He worked himself into a frenzy before each one, and then would come off the ride begging to do it again.

He had a little crush on the step-sister. He does like the brunettes.

He was so strangely captivated by this lamp. He made a video of it??

The biggest cupcake ever.

Little Bear fell asleep curled on a bench in the Hollywood Studios. Too much fun for him!

The Toy Story Mania ride is the best ride in all of DW, in my opinion. I wish the lines weren't so crazy!

Papa took part in the show at the Backlot Studio tours. He had tons of ice cold water dumped on him, and we had so much fun watching!

Her favorite ride.

We have amazing table manners.

Wearing my Figment shirt from when I was seven.

Tiny Dancer was at just the right age where she super excited about absolutely everything she did and saw.

Little Bear loved seeing the behind the scenes at the Studios. He loves technology, so this was right up his alley. 

The bad...

There wasn't too much bad other than waiting in much longer lines than we expected. We had heard repeatedly before we went what a great time this is at the parks because the crowds are low. They most definitely were not low, and the crowds were frustrating after a few days.

We ate dinner at Chef Mickey at 9:30 one night. A huge mistake. I will not eat that late on a major vacation again. (See, I tell myself not to say "never," so I had to work my way around that wording!)

The funny...

My mother called 911 from Tom Sawyer island. Completely by accident. They called her back three times before she realized her phone was ringing. She couldn't figure out who was on the phone when she finally did answer, and she kept insisting they had the wrong number. She had to apologize quite sheepishly. :) We had a good laugh after the fact, imagining a SWAT team piling in to the island.

Curly nearly choked at the Crystal Palace. This was not a restaurant we particularly enjoyed, and we were more than ready to leave. As we were getting up, Papa bumps into the waiter and says, "Sorry, buddy!" as if the poor man were his son. I had to seize the opportunity to tease him for this, of course. As I was mocking joking, Curly took a huge drink. He heard my merciless teasing good-natured humor, and started laughing. Next thing you know, he's knocking the table over as he's choking. I mean, the whole thing is tipping and plates are sliding. (Because I am such a good mom, I am rolling my eyes. I mean, he does have a flair for the drama, so I thought he was being dramatic!) My mother is freaking out, hubs is running to him, and out of the corner of my eye, I see a man rushing at the table. This kind man jumps into action, checking to see if Curly is okay, repeatedly asking, "Is he okay?" He finally says, "I'm a doctor; is he okay?" Can you picture this scene? Of course Curly was okay. He WAS choking, but he was not in any real danger. I am grateful to the kind man who left his family in a heartbeat to rush to the aid of my son, while on his own vacation. I just still think it's funny. See what a good mom I am? I take his pain very seriously. Very.

On a more ironic side of funny, I bumped into an old friend from elementary school/high school at 40,000 feet! What are the chances? We live almost 2 hours from the airport,  and we don't live in the same town. But there we were on the exact same flight. I didn't even see her until I was returning to my seat after taking Little Bear to the bathroom (Did I mention he used the bathroom on the airplane three times in each direction? That kid has a thing for bathrooms. I really do think he's part dog.) An older woman called me by my maiden name, which I haven't heard in about a million years, and I saw my friend sitting by her own mother. How unlikely! We were staying at the same hotel, but we never did see them again.
Taste testing sodas from around the world.

All in all, it was a great trip. We are hoping to go again in the future. It will be nice to go without a stroller, with kids who can walk longer and stay awake later. I need to remember to write down what things did/didn't work for us because there is no way I will remember in the years to come.

 It was fun making these memories as a family!