Monday, September 30, 2013

31 Days, 31 Printables {Day 1}: an Introduction

For the third year in a row, I am thrilled to be joining The Nester for the 31 Days Challenge. (Last year, I shared 31 Days, 31 Smiles: Having Fun With Your Kids Without Losing Your Cool and two years I wrote 31 Days For the Struggling Mama.

I am honored that you have landed here.  My name is Kristin, I've been married 12 years, and  this is our 7th year of homeschooling.  We have children in the 6th, 4th, and 2nd grades, plus a kindergartener and a preschooler to liven things up.  We pass our days with an eclectic mix of Charlotte Mason-style, unschooling, natural, and traditional learning. 

During the summer, I was searching online for something to explain basic animal taxonomy to my kids.  I wanted something visual and I wanted it to show how the animal kingdom splits into groups based on characteristics (backbone, no backbone, etc.).  I looked and looked (and looked and looked) and could not find what I wanted so I was inspired to create my own chart. 

A few weeks later, I went online to find a very basic Bible study, one that would help my kids navigate different parts of the Bible while improving their comprehension, too.  Again, I couldn't find what I wanted so I made my own.

I was inspired to create more printables and offer them here every day this month.  During the next 31 days, I will be offering free printables to use in your home and your learning environment.  You do not have to homeschool to benefit!  I will be offering printables on a variety of subjects from book reports to musical instruments to art to handwriting practice to routine.

My prayer is that you feel welcome here and you continue to visit after the month is complete.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Milestone Saturday

Monday, September 30 marks the 1-year anniversary of my running journey.  One year ago, I walked out of my house on a sunny fall morning and discovered just how far running was out of my comfort zone.  I found out how much muscle control and lung capacity it takes to run and keep running.  Only my sense of determination and a fierce competitive streak kept me from quitting on that first day.  One year ago, I couldn't run more than a minute at at time.

Today I ran my third 5K.

pre-race photo op;
 please excuse the grimace on Ben's face; he is not crying, but fighting the sun in his eyes ;-)

on the sidelines waiting for the race to begin

The weather today was ideal for a run.  It was sunny and in the low 70s with a cool breeze.  The perfect weather, and the fact that this was a free customer appreciation event, brought people out in droves. Between the walkers and the runners, there were over 300 participants-- my largest race, to date.

the starting line

The course was not what I'm used to since a large portion of it was run through a winding, wooded path.  By mile 2, I was feeling rough.  I kept thinking, "Why did I sign up for this?!"   but I kept pushing, completing the full 3.1 miles at around 29:30 (official results have not been posted yet).

That finishing time was a personal record for me!

racing the final .1 miles

How was your Saturday? 

Be sure to join me next week when I begin my October series, 31 Days, 31 Printables. 
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Friday, September 27, 2013

A Tale of Two Books

{I received free copies of these books from Bethany House in exchange for my review.  The links below are my affiliate links.}

Living within driving distance of "Amish Country," I have sampled a smattering of Amish and Mennonite fiction over the years. As the genre has expanded, and in an effort to keep my reading list manageable, I've stuck with a couple authors that I know I love and skipped the rest.
September in Amish Country

Beverly Lewis is my favorite Amish-genre author.  One of my pet peeves with Amish fiction, or fiction in general, is stilted or unnatural dialogue, but the conversation in a Beverly Lewis novel feels normal.  You can believe you are listening to characters talk they way you would talk to a friend. 

I also enjoy the character development in Beverly Lewis books.  There are not lengthy (tedious, boring...) descriptions of characters, but details are shared throughout the pages so that you gradually come to know the people you are reading about.

That being said, I did not love her latest book, The Secret Keeper.  The plot seemed a bit dry.  While I was interested in reading though to the ending, it did not grip me.  In fact, I was more than halfway through the book before I understood the direction the book was going, and even then I wondered how it was going to stretch out into the remaining pages.  Beverly Lewis often weaves a twist or conflict into her writing, but this book was lacking. I was expecting a big secret (hence the title), but the secret aspect of the story was disappointing.

Perhaps the problem was that this was a stand-alone novel.  Often Beverly Lewis publishes 3- or 5-book series that introduce and develop a plot in book 1. By the end of that first book,  some minor plot points are resolved without revealing what you really want to know.  Then  the book ends, leaving the reader hang until book 2.  Book 2 is more of the same... and by the time you reach the final book, you are 100% invested. 

Will I continue to read Beverly Lewis?  Absolutely.  Will I recommend this particular book to others?  Only if they are already Beverly Lewis fans.

tobacco drying in a barn: September 2013

Unforeseeable by Nancy Mehl was a more engrossing story.  It takes place in a conservative (think buggies and minimal electricity) Mennonite town.  When a body is found in a secluded wooded area, residents begin to fear each other.  The suspense builds as another body is found and the list of suspects grows.  Several side stories are woven through the books to give it a softer, personal tone. 

My biggest problem with the book, though, was the dialogue.  As I said, unnatural conversation rubs me the wrong way.  Nancy Mehl relies too much on conversation to explain her characters' background information which comes across as phony.  For example, instead of explaining that a character moved into town two years ago, in the middle of a conversation someone will say, "Remember when she moved here two years ago and how we didn't know much about her until she opened her button shop?"  I don't know.  It just feels off. 

Will I read more from Nancy Mehl?  Probably not, because my book list stays too full as it is.  Will I recommend this particular book to others? Maybe, if I know they enjoy the genre. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Are You a Morning Glory or a Night Owl?

Okay.  So I know most moms of little ones are awaken much earlier than they wish to be.  I also know that most moms of little ones stay up late, either catching up on the things they couldn't get done during the day or caring for little ones who would rather not sleep.  My youngest is 3 and the oldest is 10, but I still wake up at night to care for kids.  A few weeks ago, they went through a particularly wakeful spell and between the two youngest, I got up 6 times in the same night! 

Okay.  So forget the circumstances you can't control.  If you follow your natural tendencies, are you a morning glory or are you a night owl? 

I feel like I'm on the fence.  I have very little trouble getting up in the morning.  I'm one of those people who can begin a conversation within minutes of waking, much to my husband's chagrin.  I don't drink coffee, but as soon as my feet hit the floor, I'm ready for the new day. However, I also like to stay up late.  I love a quiet, peaceful house and I get my best blogging inspiration after 9 o'clock.  That's when I do most of my blog reading, too. I could easily stay up until 12 or 1 am if I let myself do it. It becomes a problem, though, if I get up early and try to burn the midnight oil so I've had to compromise. 

During the spring, summer, and fall, Brian has to leave early for his drive to work.  He has a physically demanding job so he is tired in the evenings.  Though, beyond a doubt, he will tell you that he is a night owl, he has to get to bed by no later than 11 to ensure enough rest.  I've adopted his schedule by default.  I wake up about an hour before he has to leave and slip out of the house for an early morning run.  It's the best way to kick-start my day because I always have more energy when I do.  It's hard to get lazy once I get a disciplined start to my day.  I like it so much, I've even chosen to get up early to run one day on the weekend instead of sleep in!   {Weird, huh?} By nighttime, my body is tired, I've accomplished much, and I'm ready to fall into bed for a few hours of earned rest! 

What category do you fall into? 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Muffins For Breakfast

 Alternately Titled: Breakfast in the Freezer

I've starting running again in the mornings.  My leg injury took about 6 weeks to heal after I finally took a break from running, acknowledging that I was truly hurt and not just being a wimp.  Now I get up early about three or four  mornings a week to fit in a run before Brian leaves for work.  Most of the time the kids don't even know I'm gone.  That's really saying something since for years I struggled to get a start on the morning even 15 minutes before my kids, and every.single.time I would creep out of bed and look back to see big baby eyes looking up at me.   

But I digress.

By the time I get back from running and clean up, I am hungry.  Muffins in the freezer are doing the trick.  I have been trying various muffin recipes and popping them in the freezer until we want or need them.  Truly, they don't last long, but they last a little longer than if they were sitting out on the counter. 

First up was my mom's recipe for Bostonian blueberry muffins.  Maddie is not a picky eater.  She will eat anything without complaint, but she does not care for fruit that has been cooked.  However, she liked these blueberry muffins.  I liked that the whole wheat flour makes them heartier and healthier than most muffins. 

Owen requested  chocolate chip oatmeal muffins next, a family favorite that we got from an online friend (and now real-life friend, too!), Michelle.  I agree with Owen.  What's not to like about oats and chocolate?!  They were a lifesaver on the morning when I went for a scheduled 2 mile run and then needed to clean up and feed everyone breakfast and still be out of the house for the day by 9:15.

I was anxious to try baked oatmeal cups.  This recipe was combination muffin/ mini-baked oatmeal.  Owen was my kitchen helper and we doubled the recipe.  Together, we brainstormed topping ideas with ingredients we had in our kitchen. We tried:

chocolate chip (the #1 favorite of the kids)
cinnamon chip
chocolate chip/raisin
cinnamon chip/raisin
peach/cinnamon chip
chocolate chip/coconut (my favorite)

These were a big hit, but when I make the recipe again, I'll reduce the butter.  They were a tad too greasy.

Next on the list was PB&J muffins.  I love that it made 3 dozen muffins (plus 6 mini muffins with the last of the batter).  I also love how they had pretty rounded tops with a delicately cracked surface.  Pretty muffins just taste better.  ~smile~

I packed a few of these muffins for our morning of travel on our vacation.  I pulled them out of the freezer early on the morning we left and by mid-morning snack time, they were ready to eat. 

My most recent venture was pancake and sausage muffins.  These muffins are meant to be eaten dipped in maple syrup.  How fun!  However, a couple of my kids don't like syrup and Brian eats breakfast as he drives to work so dipping wasn't practical.  I added about a tablespoon of honey to the batter for sweetness.  

Do you have a favorite muffin recipe to share?

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Stacks

{This post contains my affiliate links.}

This is the stack of books I'm anxiously waiting to begin as soon as I finish this eBook which I've been meaning to read for at least a year!  Seems my stack is always growing, but that's a happy thing.

Unforeseeable (fiction) by Nancy Mehl
One Crazy Summer (juvenile fiction) by Rita Williams-Garcia
In the Midst of Life (non-fiction)by Jennifer Worth 
Bread, Jam and a Borrowed Pram (non-fiction) by Dot May Dunn
The Secret Keeper (fiction) by Beverly Lewis

And this is the stack I have to read aloud with the kids:

Tumtum & Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hallby Emily Bearn  (We're actually about halfway through this 3-in-1 500-page volume!)
Beezus and Ramonaby Beverly Cleary
Emily's Runaway Imaginationby Beverly Cleary
The Doll Peopleby Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin

I'm making fantastic progress on my reading list  this year.  I've read 2 books more than I had read at this time last year and I've finished a few books that had been hanging out on my list for far too long. 

What's on your to-read list?  Do tell!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Family Vacation: a picture taking observation

We took our semi-annual "summer" vacation last week.  Vacation with five kids, aged 3-10, is busy.  It also takes major coordinating to pack enough clothing, snacks, money, and necessities for seven people!   It took me two full days to prepare to leave and another full day after we got home to unpack and do laundry.  If you're keeping count, that's three days of work for a four-day vacation. 

Brian says it takes major coordination to load it all into the van, too.  It's like a life-sized jigsaw puzzle. 

I guess that explains why we were too busy experiencing this vacation to stop and take pictures.  We made many memories, but we came home with only 35 photos. 

We managed to capture a little scenery... kids posing...

...and kids trying new things.

We snapped kids smiling...

...and squealing...

...and being silly.

There were photos of kids with animals...

... photos of animals alone...

...and  a photo of a creature looking at me!

See the way his head is turned?!

Among the 35 photos, though, Brian appeared in 1 photo...

...and I appeared in only 1 also. 

At least there is some proof we went on this trip! 

Seriously, though, I'd rather watch my kids explore and learn and love and live than have a million photographs.  To watch their eyes soften as they pet a baby goat or their eyes light up as they see a mountain lion for the first time (in a zoo!)-- that's better than a picture. To see the thrill of a first roller coaster ride or have them experience the awe of God's creation-- it's precious.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Picture Book Look at Grammar

{This post contains my Amazon affiliate links.}

Someone asked me when we begin formal grammar instruction for our kids.  I had to think about it for a moment because...confession...this is our 7th week of our 7th year of homeschooling and I'm not sure we've ever begun formal grammar instruction. 

I'm a believer in organic learning-- learning that occurs naturally in everyday situations.  Rather than focus on teaching grammar, I hope that my children will learn correct punctuation and sentence structure by reading, writing, and listening. 

{Okay.  Another confession.  I thought we'd approach spelling the same way and so far, it's working for two of my children.  A third child, though, is such a struggling speller that we've begun to work more intensely in that area with writing and dictation exercises.  Still trying to keep that organic vibe going, learning as naturally as possible.} 

One of the most most effective ways my kids have learned parts of speech is through those silly books of Mad Libs.  One year at Christmastime, we kept a book of holiday Mad Libs at the dining room table.  Two or three nights a week after dinner, we would fill out and read aloud one page.  When Owen was only 5 years old if someone asked, "What's a noun?" he could instantly reply, "Person, place, or thing."  Or if someone said, "What's an verb?" he would spit out, "Action word!" 

More recently we found a series of fun grammar picture books at our local library called Words Are Categorical by Brian Cleary.  In our house, where we read all the time, nothing is more natural than enjoying a book.  Though the topic sounds dull, these books are anything but! The author has written a book for almost any part of speech you can think of.  Each book is written in poem form and is chock full of crazy illustrations, too.  There are books about the basic parts of speech like A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink: What is a Noun? and Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What Is an Adjective?.

There are also books featuring more complicated parts of speech like How Much Can a Bare Bear Bear?: What Are Homonyms and Homophones? and Stop and Go, Yes and No: What Is an Antonym?.

The Words Are Categorical series was simplistic enough for my almost 5-year-old to enjoy, but zany enough to hold my almost 11-year-old's attention, too. 

We've shared some laughs over another series of grammar picture book, this one by Lynne Truss.  Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why, every punctuation mark counts!, The Girl's Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can't Manage without Apostrophes!, and Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!  are the kind of books to read out loud once with your kids and then have them read themselves to absorb it all slowly.  Because a large portion of these books involves word play and observation, I've only used them with my older children (4th grade and above). 

How about you?  Do you give your children formal grammar instruction?  Is there something my kids might miss out on if I don't take a more structured approach? 

{This post contains my Amazon affiliate links.}
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