My Creative Boy

A little stick figure named Sam started showing up on the pages of Isaac's math notebook last year.  Sam would often leave little messages for me that I'd find when I went to correct Isaac's work.  Sometimes I'd comment back.  Well, it wasn't long before there was a whole repertoire of little stick figures parading through his math notebook.  Now Nitram, Scarecrow, Joe, and Robber have joined Sam.  (I'm sure there are others, too.  Those are just the ones I'm most familiar with.)  They all have very distinct personalities.  And fonts, now, too, apparently.  (See two of his math lessons below.) 

I love my Isaac so much.  I wrote this post about him when he was two years old (!), calling him my dawdler.  He still is my dawdler.  I can give all the kids a 10-minute we're leaving soon warning.  Then a 5-minute better have your shoes on and be by the front door! warning.  Then, when it comes time to actually leave, I'll find everyone at the front door except for Isaac*, who will still be doing whatever he was doing before I gave the 10-minute call.  He just gets a little lost in his world; in his drawing or creating or building with LEGO bricks.  I used to think he was sluggish or lazy, and that this was a sin issue. It has taken me years to understand that it is just his personality.  This is the way God created him, and this is a gift.  (An exasperating gift, at times (for me), but a gift nonetheless.)

His mind is always busy creating and imagining.  He creates a story out of everything.  His math pages look too stark for him with simply numbers on them.  So he enlivens the pages up with characters, fonts and borders.  And dialogue.  And an ongoing story.

I can't wait to see what God has in store for him in the future.

*and Audra, who is EXACTLY like Isaac in this way.

The New Ungame

Did anyone else have parents that pulled out The Ungame for Family Nights?  I'm quite sure The Ungame was my mom's favorite game.  In fact, she would probably still pull it out at family gatherings if she could be sure we wouldn't all tease her.  (Maybe she just has the questions memorized and sneaks them casually into conversation. ;))

Anyway, if you've not heard of The Ungame, it was a game created in the 70's that consists of cards with questions on them like: "If you could choose to be any type of tree, what type would you choose to be, and why?" 

Not really.  

I totally made that question up. 

Fast-forward to our family vacation in August.  We were going to be spending 5 hours in the van each way, so rather than just rely on the individual snack bags I'd packed for them and our standby games (the ever-popular slug-bug game, ABC game and the license plate game), I came up with some road-trip activities.  I made little travel books for each of the kids, with pages and pages of games.   In my search for games to fill our book, I stumbled upon some great questions, here (from a mom who wanted some conversation starters for their dinnertime), and here.  I used some (not all) of their questions, and made up some of my own.   Then I cut them into strips and put them all into a plastic jar with a lid, and we took the jar with us on vacation.

Every so often I'd pull out the jar and pass it around and everyone would pull out a question.

Silly questions like:

-Would you rather wear your shoes on the wrong feet or wear your pants backward?
-If snow could fall in any flavor, what flavor would you choose?

And more thoughtful questions like: 

-If you could be an Olympic athlete, in what sport would you compete?
-If you could jump into any book and be a character in it, which book would you choose and why?
-If you could travel back to a specific moment in history, what would it be?
-If you could invent something that would make life easier, what would it do?

Maybe it's just my kids, but they LOVED those questions.  They always wanted to answer each others' questions and then pass the jar around again to draw another question.  We still had leftover questions when we got back home, so I just shelved the jar.  Last night after dinner was over, I asked a random question for everyone to answer and they were all asking for another question.  It was then that I remembered our jar, so I scurried off to get it, and we passed it around the table.

It occurred to me then that our little jar of questions is pretty much the The New Ungame. :)  Oh well. 

"My Word Book"

"Tommy's new words are written in his 'note-book' in print hand, so that he can take stock of his possessions in the way of words." ~ Charlotte Mason 
Mason goes on to describe that these are words the child knows and is able to "pounce upon anywhere".

That quote from Charlotte Mason, recalled to me through Laurie Bestaver's book The Living Page is what made me want to put together some sort of Word Book for the little girls this year.

It was a scene from a movie, though, that gave me the inspiration for what those books might look like.

{ photo from the movie The Book Thief }
In The Book Thief, (an excellent movie based on the book), Liesel is captivated by books but doesn't yet know how to read.  Her adoptive father immediately recognizes this and creates a word bank of sorts for Liesel in the form of a chalkboard wall that wraps around their basement.  As Liesel learns a new word, she runs downstairs and carefully writes her new word upon the wall.  It was a good visual to me of someone taking "stock of his possessions in the way of words."


Armed with my computer, a classic typeface, our printer and some scrapbook paper, I made "My Word Books" for my pre-reading girls, ages 5 and 6.  (Remembering my book-binding class from college, I also sewed the pages together and taped over the remaining thread, though it's not a necessary step.)



My plan is that as they learn new words throughout the course of our school year, we'll pull out their little books and they will carefully copy down the words they now recognize.

For now, they've just copied down everyone's name in our family.  :) 

Audra's word book
Perhaps you're not of the mind to sew together pages and don't have years of scrapbook paper on supply as I do.  No problem!  You could easily make one buy buying a blank book (Moleskine, perhaps?) and a set of alphabet stickers and you're set!

Lines from My Journal This Evening

It's a bit after 5 o'clock.  Mark came home about an hour ago.  He gathered the kids to clean the living room with him and then took them all to the library.  

I get to stay home.

I should be making dinner but he told me to rest, so I am.  

I came outside with my James study, my Bible, journal, pen and book.  I parked my chair on the sunny swath of grass, on the far side of the yard, by the raspberries.  I can hear the breeze rustling in the big tall trees in Ashley's yard.  The birds are chirping.  Our birds- the chickens- are looking at me curiously.  A squirrel is making his way to the top of the playhouse roof, and making quite a commotion as he goes.  It's warm out here.  The overcast day of earlier has been transformed into blue skies and full sun.  

I yearn for quiet amidst these crazy days of school, and I am thankful for this gift of it.  I am also thankful for this day with my kids.  For our walk about the neighborhood this morning, searching for Fall treasures to draw in our nature notebooks upon our return home.  I am thankful for You, God, gracing me with compassion for a sobbing child at the end of our walk, when that precious-to-him chestnut, all in its protective shell, was jostled and clattered across the sidewalk.  Thank You for giving me kindness in that moment, taking the usual place of impatience.

I am thankful for my fiery girl, always moving, always talking, with her constant questions.  But who, when asked, "Come, sit with me on my lap for a second", sat down without hesitation.  And stayed.  I'm thankful for the weight of her sturdy little-girl self, thankful for that wild hair of hers that brushes my face whenever she's near.  Thankful you saw fit to make this amazing girl my daughter.

I am thankful for good books to read aloud, for colored pencils scattered across the floor, for dishes piled in the sink, and for tissues littered everywhere- traces of two little girls with colds.  

I am thankful for the sounds of their voices.  For getting to hear the word mommy all day long.  For the privilege of doing this.  

I am thankful for my beautiful, competent Ella, who is pining to make dessert for us all tonight, who volunteered to help Audra build a fort this afternoon, who diligently practices her piano.  She loves and serves and sees what needs to be done and does it.  She is a treasure.

I am so grateful, Lord.  Thank you.  You are a good Father.

Books and Podcasts: What we're Reading and Listening to

Little boy Isaias (from the archives)

Isaias, now 9, just finished reading:
Mattimeo (Brian Jacques)

He is currently reading: 
Farmer Boy (Laura Ingalls Wilder) 
Young Music Makers (Ireene Wicker)

Little boy Isaac~ in his dressing-up-like-a-cowboy phase
Isaac, now 10, just finished reading:
Wild Trek (Jim Kjelgaard)

He is currently reading:
Red Cap (G. Clifton Wisler)

Cute little Ella-girl (with bangs!)
Ella, now 12, just finished reading:
The Princess and Curdie (George MacDonald) 

She is currently reading:
Betsy-Tacy (Maud Hart Lovelace, on audio)
A Wind in the Door (Madeleine L'Engle, on audio)
The Savage My Kinsman (Elisabeth Elliot) 
{my reads}
I just finished reading:
A Praying Life (Paul Miller)
I am currently reading:
A Mother's Heart (Jean Fleming) 
How Should We Then Live? (Francis A. Schaeffer)
Teaching the Right Brain Child (Dianne Craft)

{reading aloud}
We are working our way through The Bronze Bow (Elizabeth George Speare), which is excellent.  We all love it.  We're also reading The Story Book of Science (Jean-Henri Fabre) and The Heroes, or Greek Fairy Tales (Charles Kingsley).  In the evenings, Mark is reading aloud Mary Emma & Company (Ralph Moody), as we work our way through the Little Britches series. 

Occasionally Mark and I will work on a puzzle while listening to a podcast together, which has been so enjoyable.  Other times I've snuck in a listen while I've been cooking or on the treadmill.  Here's the list of what I've listened to:

from Sarah's inspiring Read-Aloud Revival podcasts:
Episode 1: Reading Aloud to Older Kids
Episode 2: Engaging Conversations- How to Talk to Your Kids About Books
Episode 8: Every Book is a Mystery
Episode 10: The Art of Choosing Books

Andrew Pudewa: Nurturing Competent Communicators
Andrew Kern: Teaching Literature Without Killing the Book or Student

Many thanks to Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things for this post of her favorite podcasts.  :)

Okay, now tell me.  What have you been reading or listening to?

This Week for Dinner

{breakfast one day last week: buttermilk pancakes with mini chocolate chips}

This is kind of a cheater blog post because it's 10:30 on Tuesday night and the post I intended to write today (Books and Podcasts: What We're Reading and Listening To) will take too long to write, so I'm going with meal plans instead.  Mark had the day off today, and I had grocery shopping to do, and we hosted a huge small group at our home this evening.  It's been a busy day!

Here's what we're eating this week.  And next:

Week 1
Monday | Slow Cooker Mexican Pulled Pork (w/ tortillas, avocados, sour cream, salsa)
                     *I've used this recipe several times and we love it!
Tuesday | Chicken Caesar Salad and bread
Wednesday | Green Enchiladas
Thursday | Pulled Pork Sandwiches w/ coleslaw
Friday | Cauliflower Soup   
                *This is one of our very favorite fall soups and I'm so excited to be eating it again!
Saturday | Potato dish with sausage
Sunday | Nachos

Week 2
Monday | Mozzarella Meatballs, rice (because it was in the loop last time but we had a rough day so we picked up pizza instead!)
Tuesday | Man-Pleasing Chicken (if you haven't made this yet you are SO missing out)
Wednesday | White Chicken Chili
Thursday | Beef and Bean Burritos (These were on the rotation last time, too, and were such a hit (and so easy for me) that we're doing a repeat on these again.)
Friday | Chicken Mirabella
Saturday | Meatloaf, potatoes
Sunday | Goulash


Chores for a bunch of kids

In years past I have asked my kids in advance what one chore they'd like to keep, and what one chore they'd like to be done with.  Then I try to accommodate their requests.  That just sounded like too much work this year, so I ended up assigning chores based on abilities and what would generally be most helpful.)  Here's our system for the year, inspired by a pin I saw on someone's Pinterest board:


(All you need is some cute washi tape, some craft sticks, a sharpie marker, and some jars.  :))

I assigned a color to each child, and then wrote their chores on their sticks.  After each meal it's chore time at our house.  Ella (12) generally gets down the appropriate jar, pulls out the sticks, and when they're completed, they go back into the jar.  (Our first thought was to turn the sticks upside down (colors down) when accomplished, but they always end up pulling all the sticks out to read their chores so this is now what we're doing and it's working great.)

{ morning chores }
Just to give you an idea of what each child is doing each day, here's a breakdown:

Audra (age 5), is responsible for getting herself dressed, putting away the silverware, wiping the kitchen table after each meal, helping to fold laundry each day, and brushing her teeth.

Adelia (age 6), is responsible for clearing the kitchen table after each meal, putting any books back onto the bookshelves, setting the table for dinner (with Isaac), helping to fold the laundry each day, and brushing her teeth.

Isaias (age 9), is responsible for emptying the dishwasher, picking up 5 things in the living room (2x/day), making lunch every day (with Ella), taking the garbage and compost out, cleaning the kitchen in the evenings, carrying the hampers upstairs, helping to fold the laundry each day, and brushing his teeth.

Isaac (age 10), is responsible for refilling the wood/kinding boxes OR (when it's not cold enough out to light a fire) cleaning the back porch.  He's also responsible for picking up 5 things in the living room (2x/day), sweeping the kitchen floor, taking dirty laundry downstairs, setting the table for dinner (with Adelia), cleaning the bathroom, helping to fold the laundry each day, and brushing his teeth.

Ella (age 12), is responsible for the chickens, picking up 5 things in the living room (2x/day), sweeping the kitchen floor, making lunch every day (with Isaias), flex chore (see below for details), cleaning the kitchen in the evenings, helping to fold the laundry each day, and brushing her teeth. 

~whew!~  I think I remembered them all!

New to us this year: 
-LAUNDRY:  I am doing all the laundry, except the folding and the putting away.  Ella is really my best laundry helper, but I'm giving her a break this year.  Isaac was my additional helper last year, but he usually likes to run a load of towels and fold them, thereby choosing only the easiest loads.  ;)  It was also challenging for him to figure out how many clothes to do per load, so often we had either WAY too large a load (and our clothes were not getting clean), or way too light of a load (why bother?)  So everyone is on folding duty in the evenings while daddy reads aloud, then they'll put clothes away before bed.

-LUNCHES: Ella and Isaias are making every single lunch.  Lunch is my least-favorite meal of the day, and they are loving the freedom to make what they want.  So thankful that God plopped this idea into my head.  :)

-FLEX CHORE:  Ella's flex chore came about because I couldn't narrow down what I wanted her to do each afternoon for her chore.  I realized that I wanted to have the freedom to change it up, as per our household needs on any particular given day.  So she reports to me and asks me what to do, and I wing it based on what is most needed at that moment.  She's done all sorts of different things: wash the eggs, make a quick batch of granola bars, puree fruit and get it on the dehydrator for fruit leather, wash dishes, etc.  I love this flexible chore.

My Plan vs Reality

Hello, friends~

I am trying to be disciplined about blogging twice a week- on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  So I'm stopping in to get a post up for Tuesday even though I posted about marriage yesterday.

We started school really late this morning.  I was really tired.  One of the girls had been up (and in our room) multiple times during the night and I have a really hard time falling back to sleep which meant that I got very little sleep.  So Mark kindly set the alarm an hour LATER than usual to wake me, and then I tried to get all my stuff done and allowed the kids to sleep in.  A good choice.  I think we all needed the extra sleep.

So our day today turned out a little like this:


See all those blue numbers in the margins?  A little different from my plan.  Sometimes things don't go according to my neat plan for our day, but I've learned over the years (thank you, God!) to be flexible.  We completed most of what we had scheduled- everything was just bumped a little later and I skipped copywork/cursive. 

The schedule above is what we're currently operating from- but I will likely tweak it as we work out the kinks during these first few weeks.  (I've already re-copied it once.)  It's housed in a sheet protector so that I can happily check things off as we go, wipe it clean the following day and start over again.  I keep it on a clipboard and have it with me or in a central spot during the day.

Just wanted to give you a peek into our imperfect day ;)

Hope you and yours are having a good day!

L'Engle on Marriage


I just finished reading Madeleine L'Engle's book Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage.  I really enjoyed it, mostly because it's about marriage and I love being married to Mark.

Here is just one of the quotes I copied down into my commonplace book:
I loved my children, but I hungered for adult conversation.  One day after a rare evening alone I wrote: I keep thinking about the evening we had together last night, my darling husband, alone by candlelight and firelight, and the way we were able to talk.  We are practically never alone together and this is a bad thing.  No matter how much we love our children there are many things we cannot talk about in front of them, things that we need from time to time say.  Let us try to remember for their sakes as well as ours that every once in awhile for our development we must be alone.
Amen to that.  :)

(This desire for conversation- just the two of us- is why Mark and I stay up so late every night.  Of course, now that our older kids stay up later, Mark and I have to stay up even later than we used to in order to get time together alone.  But it's worth it.) 

Madeleine adjusted her hours to her husband's work schedule.  He was an actor, and theatre hours meant that her husband would get home at 2 am.  She simply adjusted her schedule (and even her kids' schedules, after they had children) so that she would be awake when he arrived home, thereby allowing them to have time together.

It's a good reminder to me that prioritizing our marriage- and specifically, time alone together- doesn't come without sacrifice, but it is so important.   

Our two-week meal plan

Meal plan (week 1 of 2)

I made a two-week meal plan and did all the grocery shopping a couple of days before we started school.  Do not underestimate the value of simply having a plan.  It's a huge thing for me to know what we're eating each day; to already have those decisions "checked off" in my mind.  I am so lazy with meals during the summer, and have been totally out of the routine of this helpful habit, but we're back at it!  We'll all be happier and healthier for it.  :)

On Monday (Mark's day off) I wasn't sure what we were eating for dinner; I just had a bunch of things I wanted to prep:
-make a huge pot of marinara sauce to use for 3 different meals (as pizza sauce one night, with the ziti recipe a few nights later, and I froze some for sauce to go along with mozzarella meatballs for next week).
-bake some bread (4 loaves)
-prep some ground beef for two meals
-make a breakfast casserole for the first day of school

I didn't prep the ground beef but I did everything else.  I'll list what we're having, here, with links to the recipes if applicable.

{ dinners }

Week 1
Monday | we ended up having Salmon, corn on the cob, and applesauce
Tuesday | French-bread pizzas (The kids thought these individualized pizzas were fun!)
Wednesday | Bacon-wrapped chicken, green beans
Thursday | Taco Salad, with amazing creamy-lime dressing that I love so much I could drink it
Friday | Sausages & vegetables, roasted
Saturday | Tara's Ziti
Sunday | Beef & Bean Burritos

Week 2
Monday | Crockpot Honey-Sesame Chicken, rice
Tuesday | date night!  (WOO HOO)!)
Wednesday | Refried beans & cornbread
Thursday | Roasted Red Pepper Pasta
Friday | Mozzarella Meatballs, rice
Saturday | Slow Cooker Mexican Pulled Pork, tortillas, avocados
Sunday | no plan- maybe some leftovers???

Oh!  Also noted on that plan-- in pencil, so you may not see it- is our breakfast rotation: 

Mondays | oatmeal
Tuesdays | eggs & meat
Wednesdays | smoothies & muffins (this week I made these)
Thurdsays | oatmeal
Fridays | pancakes
Saturdays | make-your-own
Sundays | cereal

I have assigned Ella (12) and Isaias (9) to be in charge of lunch.  Ella is full of ideas and loves being in charge of this, with an assistant.  And I love not being in charge of one more meal. (Though I do make myself available to help, if needed, for now.)  This is just one of the many great things about having older kids.
If you've tried any great recipes lately, DO SHARE in the comments.  I love meal inspiration!


First day

from L-R (Audra (K), Ella (7th), Adelia (K), Isaias (4th), and Isaac (5th)

We've wrapped up our first day of school and it was great.  I feel so grateful, every single year, for the freedom and privilege to get to do this homeschooling gig.  I love these kids and I'm so thankful for the time with them and the time we get to spend learning alongside of one another.

My prayer this morning was that our day might go God's way, not mine; that His agenda and plans would reign and that I would invite the interruptions He ordained for our day.  I prayed for myself: for patience and calm, graciousness and a kind tone, and I also purposed not to raise my voice. 

Here's the breakdown of our day, for anyone interested in every detail:

My goals for myself prior to 8 o'clock were these:
-wake by 6:30
-spend time with Jesus
-exercise (treadmill, 20 min)
-start a load of laundry
-breakfast prep (I had a breakfast casserole in the fridge that I'd made the night before that I just had to put in the oven)
-make Mark breakfast, coffee, and pack him a lunch

By 8:00 I'd done everything on the above list except for the load of laundry.  We officially started our day with devotions (during which time I was able to shower and throw in a load of laundry).  I decided that having headphones & CD players in the devotion bin was a brilliant idea because the younger girls chose those and were quiet for a solid twenty-five minutes.  As in, utterly quiet.  The house was really peaceful as I showered, got dressed, made our bed, did a load of laundry and set the table for breakfast.  It was quite nice.

We ate breakfast at 8:30- potato/bacon/egg casserole (link above) and yogurt- and did Bible time (we're reading through Proverbs this year), followed by memory work (we're currently memorizing Psalm 19- we've already been working on it for a few months and we're almost done!).  Then I introduced our new chore system/assignments (photos & details coming soon to a post here on the blog), and we cleared the table.  I showed them their new binders (another post, coming up).  Then we did a drawn narration from our Bible reading and we listened to classical music while we colored (Composer Study... check!)  While they were coloring I loaded the dishwasher from breakfast.

After chores, Isaac practiced piano for 30 minutes while I did Kindergarten with the girls.  Adelia zipped through everything and did the bare minimum while Audra was careful and tedious and wanted all the time in the world, and then more time, and more work to do.  *grin*   I love them both so much.  Ella and Isaias looked at their new assigned reading lists, chose a book, and headed outside to read.

After Kindergarten time, we read some picture books, and then I planned to start our new read-aloud while the kids played quietly on the floor (Audra: duplos, the older three: LEGOs, and Adelia: on the move.)  But there was an argument over a bin of toys and some tears and so we got a late start, but ended up reading one chapter.  Then I read the introduction from Kingsley's The Heroes to kick off our history for the year, while the kids either finished playing or colored.

Then the older three did math at the table for 20 minutes (give or take) while the younger girls played outside (and in, then out, then in, then out), and when they were finished with math it was about 12:30 and since that's all I had planned for our first day, we decided to go on a bike ride.  Actually, Audra and I walked while the older four rode, and then we headed back home for lunch by 2:00 (which Ella and Isaias prepped).  Now we're having quiet times and Ella is going to practice piano soon.

I plan to do Kindergarten on M-W-F, so we wouldn't usually do it on Tuesdays, but since the girls had been anticipating it and our first day landed on a Tuesday, I went ahead and did it for today.  On our schedule I also have cursive (older three) and spelling (Isaias) happening on Tuesdays and Thursdays, in addition to what we did today, but I skipped those for today, knowing it was our first day back into routine.

Mark will be home sometime after 4 and I have a meal planned for tonight (and for the next two weeks.)  I find it so helpful to start the year organized in the meal-planning department.  (I'll post my meal plan on Thursday.)

How was your day?