Monday, January 28, 2013

Greek Pasta Salad

I have miserable pregnancies.  When I got to the last trimester of my most recent one, my second daughter, Emmy (13), decided she could help me out by taking over the cooking - and boy did she take over.  She planned the menus, helped me with the shopping (which I did from one of those electric scooters), and cooked for all eight of us - every day for three months!  This kid was awesome!  She even made her dad's lunches for work and (along with her older sister) helped me get the younger kids to do their chores.  I would not have survived this last pregnancy without my two teenage girls.

Anyway, that really has nothing to do with the recipe this week, except to explain why I haven't gotten it up sooner.  Since I wasn't cooking, it was a little hard to blog my recipes - Emmy cooked things that I've already blogged or are so simple that there really seemed no point in sharing the recipes.

On to the recipe... 

My mom always made her macaroni salad the same way.  You know, mayo, relish, olives, tuna fish, etc.  A few years into our marriage, Rock and I discovered a pasta salad mix at the local Sam's Club (or was it Costco?)  and fell in love.  Unfortunately, they only carried it for a few months.  I had to come up with a substitute and this is it.  I call it Greek Pasta Salad as opposed to the American Pasta Salad from my mom (which I make as often as this one).  

Greek Pasta Salad
-1 lb pasta, cooked (I usually use the colored veggie pasta)
-1 can black olives, coarsely chopped
-4-6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
-Sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
-Balsamic Vinaigrette salad dressing

Toss the pasta, olives, cheese and tomatoes together in a bowl.  Add a cup or so of the dressing and toss again.  Add more dressing if needed.

(My family can eat the entire batch in one sitting.)


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Our Homeschool Journey

I started this post with the intention of sharing our planning methods for our homeschool after first providing a little background into our history and homeschool experience.  Well, it turned out a little longer than planned and I think now I'd like to let new (and not-so-new) homeschoolers know that no one starts out doing it all perfectly.  I've tried a lot of things in our homeschool and more than half of them didn't work.  But in the process of finding out what didn't work, I now have a much better idea of what does.
We started homeschooling our two oldest daughters in 2002.  Kjeri was 5, Emmy was 3, and Eli was about 3 months old.  I had decided to homeschool my kids long before they were born so the decision to start was easy.  It was how to do it that I had to figure out.  I found a website with a free curriculum guide (no longer free) that sounded good, so I ordered some books and got started.  Let me just say, if you are new to homeschooling, there is a huge learning curve for Mom.  I learned a lot that first year; I don't know if I can say the same for my girls.  The only things we are still using from that first year are Explode the Code, The 21 Rules of This House and Diane Hopkins' Language Arts program.
The second year I decided to try what they call a "canned" curriculum.  That means that you buy everything in one big package, all planned out for you.  I spent way more money than hubby thought I should and bought all of our books from Sonlight.  We didn't like some of the books and I didn't have enough experience to adapt the program to fit our needs.  I did, however, learn a lot about how I wanted to set up and plan our lessons.
Kjeri, Miri, and Emmy 2004

Kjeri was now in second grade and Emmy was ready to start kindergarten and I decided to try public school online for our third year.  I signed the girls up for the Utah virtual school using the K-12 curriculum.  I know a lot of people like it but it was way too structured and inflexible for us.  That was the year our fourth child, Miri, was born.
Miri and Kjeri 2005

For our fourth year of homeschooling, I had discovered that I really liked the Charlotte Mason method of teaching and in my research found a website called Ambleside Online.  It's a free curriculum that uses Charlotte Mason methods and a ton of public domain books that can all be found online.  I combined some of the stuff from that website and some of the things that I had liked from what we did in previous years.

During our fifth year, our fifth child, Josie, was born.

In our sixth year, Eli started kindergarten and I discovered Homeschool Tracker and Math-U-See.  Homeschool Tracker is a planning software.  It's a great program but it didn't work for us; I discovered I like to keep my records on paper.  Math-U-See, however, is awesome!

In our eighth year, Miri started kindergarten (now 4 kids in school), our sixth child, Sarah, was born.  I put just my oldest daughter back in K-12 (in Idaho this time).  It still didn't work for us.  

Sarah and Miri 2010

While planning for our ninth year of homeschooling, I got fed up with doing a halfway job of teaching history and science and that's when I decided to give in and fork over the money for two programs I had considered  in the past and decided we couldn't afford - Story of the World and Apologia Science.  I should have taken that leap years sooner.

Last year (number ten), Kjeri went to public school part-time and we kept using all of the curricula I had (finally) decided was going to work for us. We used the workbox method of organization.  And I found yet another method that wasn't a good fit for us.

This year, our eleventh(!) year of homeschooling, Josie started kindergarten (that makes 5 school-aged kids!) and child number seven, Will, was born.  I'm still struggling with finding a language arts program/method for the older girls but I spent a ton of time during the summer making planner pages, subject schedules, worksheets and activities.  I wanted the entire year planned out with as little paperwork required of me as possible while still keeping detailed records.
Eli and Josie 2012 - Yeah huh, the state fair is too educational!
So, that's where we are now.  I've created and collected a ton of resources, forms, schedules, and notes over the years and my intent is to share them here on this blog.  Hopefully, they will be of use to you in your own homeschool journey.

Next time I'll start sharing our planner pages...

Enjoy your journey!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Is Homeschooling Hard?

***Originally published on September 28, 2010 on KaelMijoy***

Okay, a couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for something in the car in the parking lot at the grocery store ("there's a frog on the bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea...") and I started writing this blog post.  I'm typing it here without editing because I was feeling very passionate about homeschooling at that moment and I'm afraid it will lose something if I edit it. So keep in mind that it is probably not great writing but it most certainly comes from the heart...

Today at the checkout stand at the grocery store I mentioned to the cashier that I homeschool my kids.  She asked me, "Is homeschooling hard?"  I said, "It depends on the day..." and we went on to chat a little more about homeschooling in general as she went on ringing up my groceries.

Later, I got to thinking about that question -- Is homeschooling hard?  And my answer is, "Heck, yeah!  It's the hardest thing I've ever done."  Does that mean it's not worthwhile?  No way!  It's also the most rewarding thing I've every done.

I'm sure you can imagine all of the hard parts about homeschooling -- hours of planning, choosing just the right curricula, coaxing reluctant scholars into being enthusiastic scholars, wondering if they are learning enough, wondering if they are learning at all, convincing loving but skeptical family members and friends that you haven't completely lost your mind (and wondering if they're right)... the list goes on and on.

But the rewards are immensely greater than the sacrifices.

I have six children, four of whom are school-aged.  I have never experienced the teary goodbye with my 5-year-old on the first day of school.  The only bullies my kids have had to deal with were neighborhood ones.  None of them have ever been "behind" or "ahead" of the class -- each of them is the class.  No school lunches, long bus rides, cranky teachers (except Mom), or separation of church and school.

In history, we learn where the Native Americans really came from, the scriptures are history books, not just a collection of stories with a moral.  We learn that God created us, we are his children, and not one person on this earth ever descended from apes.  We learn about the Mormon migration right along with the California gold rush and we know that the pilgrims were thanking God, not the Indians, at the first Thanksgiving feast.  We are able to add eternal truths to all of the other subjects we study (particularly science), and gospel study is a school subject for us -- not just something for Sunday meetings.

But the rewards don't all belong to the children. (Although I benefit from the above as much as they.)  Do your remember the joy and excitement you felt when your child took his first step?  Imagine experiencing that feeling when he realizes that all of those letters on the page combine to make words, which make sentences and paragraphs and stories, which open whole new worlds!  There is one moment, you know, when it clicks in their minds and if you watch carefully, you might see it.

It's not just reading either -- how about that math concept she's been struggling with and all of a sudden -- "Oh my gosh, Mom, I get it now!"  And it's not just in academics.  What about when their pretend play is based on stories (not textbook chapters) they've read in history?  They're not playing "war," but "American Revolution."  Mummies are no longer scary Halloween creatures but the ultimate dissection project!

There's nothing that fills my heart more than looking out the back window and seeing my 13-year-old daughter sitting on the trampoline with her 1-year-old sister on her lap and all of the other kids jumping around them... or watching them all playing board games or building with legos together (while trying to keep the baby occupied enough to not make a mess of things).

Instead of worrying about my kids being overscheduled with sports, homework, music and dance lessons, and other activities, I sometimes wonder if they are underscheduled.  After all, they only have their church activities once a week and have friends over once in a while.  We eat dinner together every day and (oh, my gosh!) lunch and breakfast too.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, yes, homeschooling is hard (though not impossible) but isn't everything really worth doing difficult?  I've often told people, "I can't send my kids to public school -- I'd miss them too much!"  In my mind, that would be harder than homeschooling.

(I'm not trying to convince anyone else with this post to start homeschooling.  My hope is that others can better understand why I chose this method of education for my children.)


How to Teach History (my way)

***Originally published on August 25, 2011 on KaelMijoy***

We are starting our homeschool on Monday.  (My oldest is going to public school part time this year and that starts tomorrow, but that's really beside the point.)

I know I haven't shared much about homeschooling on this blog.  It really hasn't been as high a priority as it should have been the last several months. (It's amazing how much kids learn even when there isn't much formal education going on... also beside the point.)

Anyway, I thought it might be nice to share some of my thoughts and ideas about how I homeschool.  I'm not trying to convince anyone to do it themselves; I've just found that a lot of people are curious about how it works.  I've been homeschooling for going on 10 years now (wow, really?) and if I'm not an expert on the subject... well, I probably never will be.

So, I thought I'd start with my favorite subject- history.  I know, I know, for most people that's near the bottom of the list.  It's a miracle I don't hate it.  I probably had the worst high school history teachers in- well, history.  Except one, I can't remember his name but he was the football coach at New Plymouth High School.  I loved his history class.

Anyway, I digress (again).  History is one of the easiest subjects to teach.  Why?  Well, because all it is is a bunch of true stories all strung together.  It's the textbooks and the teachers that make it boring.  Be honest with me, is it really that important to know the exact date Columbus reached the Americas or would it be better to know why he was out there wandering around in the ocean.  Of course, it's important to know a general timeline for major events- it's probably a good idea to be aware that he sailed in 1492 and not 1942.  But isn't it the adventure, the excitement, the wonder of the event that a child will remember?  They can learn the dates later, when they've got the stories down pat.

Have you figured out where I'm going with this?  The best way to learn history is to read about it.  And get this:  The books you read don't even have to be non-fiction!  Of course, you have to be aware that the historical fiction is not completely factual but in most cases, the people, places, and events give a pretty good picture of what that time was like.

The first of the Tennis Shoes books.
  I read this for the first time when
I was about 12.
Most of you have probably never heard of my favorite historical fiction writers because they are both LDS (Mormons, which I am).  One is Chris Heimerdinger and he wrote a series of books called the "Tennis Shoes" series in which characters travel back in time to various Book of Mormon and Bible locations and times.  They meet incredible people from history and witness events that we can only dream about.  The first book is for 11-12 year olds and each book in the series is a little more advanced reading than the previous. By the 11th one (so far), they get pretty deep.  I understand many of the scripture stories way better than I ever would have had I not read those books.

My point here is not necessarily to sell you on Chris' books (although I highly recommend them) but to illustrate just how great an impact good historical novels can have on one's understanding of history.  Of course, reading some of the non-fiction is a good idea as well, just to clear up any question about whether certain events really happened.

Now, all of this isn't to say that I just pick up school books that take place in another time at random.  There actually is a series, written for homeschoolers that we use that took me 8 years to find.  It's called "Story of the World."  The history of the entire world has been broken down into 4 years worth of lessons.  Each year is broken down further into major events, and those are broken down into individual stories.

We are studying Ancient Times this year...
A couple of times a week we read aloud one of the stories together.  They are easy enough for the youngest kids to understand but have enough "meat" to keep the older ones' attention.  I check out books from the library for more about the time period/place we are studying. (Everyone reads those on their own time.)  We have activities for the little kids, supplemental (required) reading for the middle ones, and research assignments for the older ones.

Of course, my enthusiasm for the subject probably helps a lot with being able to keep their interest but all in all, I think we've finally found what works for us in history.  Now, if I could just learn to love science...

I hope this wasn't too long-winded and that you were able to get something out of it.


There's a Budding Novelist in My House!

***Originally published on September 20, 2011 on KaelMijoy***

When I got up this morning and sat at the computer as usual, the word document that was open on the screen caught my eye and I started to read.  I realized at once what it was, and as I read, my mouth fell open in wonder.
My oldest daughter, Kjerstin, who is 14 years old, has been making up stories her whole life.  When she was 4, I remember going to the grocery store and having to stand next to the car with the door open for several minutes so her imaginary ducklings could all (it varied, but there were usually about 20 of them) get out of the car.  If we closed the door too soon she would get upset because it wasn't safe to leave ducklings alone in the car.  At about the same age, she started telling us her dreams.  Okay, so we weren't dumb enough to believe that she could remember hour-long dreams in minute detail- but we did realize that for her it was a good excuse to tell stories.  I admit, I got sick of hearing about them before she was done, but I just let her keep talking.

A couple of years ago, she started writing her stories down.  She now has 5 (I think) notebooks entirely full of stories.  There are several short stories and 2 novels.  I've never read any of them.  She says she wants me to wait until she has them typed because I won't be able to read her handwriting.  She has, however, read them aloud to her siblings and they absolutely love her stories.

I've read bits and pieces of her work now and then so I knew she was good.  But I didn't realize how good she was until I read the document on the computer screen this morning.

In her last drama class, the students were assigned an essay.  They were to write about their personal experience on the stage.  I imagined the assignment to be a lot different than what she came up with, but maybe I missed something when she told me about it.

Anyway, as you've probably guessed, the word document I read this morning was her drama essay.  I haven't edited anything here- just copied and pasted and added the title.  I think it's safe to say that, if she continues writing, someday you'll all have heard of the the famous author, Kjerstin Robinson.
Kjeri's Drama Essay

On stage the lights shimmer in white brilliance. It is empty for now. A soft murmur of voices came from the rows of seats lining below the anxious actors. The soft music starts and the velvet curtains slide open with a heavy swish. As my fellow actors and actresses step on stage I can smell their fear, see them with shaky hands as they step up to take their place. Not me. I hear my queue so I gently walk onto center stage. With confidence that only I could produce I delivered my lines perfectly. No fear came through my voice and that confidence permeated the air around me, influencing my fellow performers into a sense of comfort. My acting partner and I swept off the stage. I was born to act, nothing could stop me. I quickly changed into my next costume. I stood behind the red curtain and peeked into the crowd. They all laughed at a joke from on stage. “Our turn.” My actor whispered in my ear then we marched on stage. I felt happy and content up there on stage. I could do this forever. I fall onto the ground, but not before being caught by an actor and carried off the stage. I leapt from his arms and turned to watch some more of the play. “Go on Ian, get out there.” our play director said, pushing him back out. The performance was finished with much applause and cheering as all the actors and actresses stood in a line and bowed gracefully. It was over and I was tired but I could not wait for the next time I was in the spotlight.