Friday, August 27, 2010

What I thought was total loss ...

.... turned out to be a blessing!

It actually started last week when Dreamer awakened with a terrible 'cold'.  We've since been to the doctor and we now know she is suffering from some severe allergies, but at the time, it looked an awful lot like a heavy cold.  We had a very quiet weekend planned and thankfully we were able to get caught up on some home chores.

We were excited to be starting school, but I still had some planning to do.  Dreamer was signed up for a daily art camp this week and I knew we had some placement and assessment testing that needed to be tackled, so my plans were loose, but I hoped to add some fun to our first week of school.  Then I awakened in the middle of the night with a massive migraine and I knew our week was going downhill fast.  Thankfully, the Historian is home Monday mornings, so he adjusted his plan and took Dreamer to art camp.

The migraine totally destroyed most of the fun I had planned for the week, and I was beginning to think we were going to need a total 'do-over' for our first week of school, but I proceeded with the assessment testing while Dreamer did her art camp homework and the Storyteller did a lot of independent reading.   Not our best school week, but not a total loss either!

I have to tell you something about our Storyteller so that you will understand this next bit.  He has been talking in full sentences since 17 months.  Words are his friends!  He has always had an astounding vocabulary and been very bright, but he really really struggled with reading. We held him back last year, simply because his reading was so below grade level.  He has ADD and we have spent quite a bit of time doing professional speech therapy with him in the past, but that is mostly resolved. When I gave him the grade 2 reading comprehension test to do on his own last year he got 17%, but when I gave it to him orally he got 100% every time - in fact he passed the 4th grade test orally with a perfect score.

This week he passed the 3rd grade reading comprehension test with A 100% on his own.  Then he did the same thing for the 4th grade teat, and the 5th grade test resulted in a 95%!!!!!  He did these tests on his own - did all the reading and filling in the blanks by himself - and he took a little longer than the average student should, but he did it! Can you see why I am so pleased?  Now, we can concentrate on fluency and speed, but reading is no longer the struggle it has been for the past 4 years! Yeah!  Oh, and math - we can work harder in math now too!

Dreamer did very very well as well - she is going into 8th grade and she did the 8th, 9th, and 10th grade tests, just for fun and scored 95-100%.  These tests are not easy, they are not short - they are the State standardized tests from past years. I am so pleased with my children! I am grateful too - God uses these little things to bless my heart and re-affirm our homeschooling choice, especially on the hard days when I'm not sure we are making any progress at all!

We decided to celebrate yesterday.  We had already had a good day, since Dreamer's allergies are better with medication.  She is loving art camp.  I am loving getting some errands run during art camp. I went to Marshalls for the first time in 3 years and found some things I had on my thriting list forever - and they were very inexpensive! I have been looking to replace a large white platter that got broken years ago and found just the thing for $10!!!!  I'll still look for an ironstone one when I thrift, but this will do quite nicely in the meantime. We went out for dinner and to a movie and ended up being a bit early so we walked in the mall a bit.  I rarely get to the mall, but headed to the clearance racks at C.J.Banks right away and there was a nice long cotton denim skirt in dark blue - my size and on clearance with another 40%off - $19 thank you very much - it fits well and is quite nice! At the movie we had the theatre to ourselves - a private showing of Nanny McPhee Returns!  It was so much fun! Too much potty humor, as usual, but it was quite fun!  Hollywood, if you are listening, kids find lots of things funny, not just potty humor! Enough already!

We need to be leaving for art camp, but I just wanted to share our week of struggles and blessing with you!  Our computer is down again, so I am on the laptop - sorry for no pictures, but hopefully we will get the part we need to get the desktop back into shape - the keyboard went!

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Late Summer Cleaning Spree

I was going to entitle this 'The Urge to Purge" but decided that might bring up some unwanted associations!  I am on a Late Summer Cleaning Spree - and it feels so good.  It all started last week and I'm not sure when it will end, but I'm just going to go with it until every room in the house is lightened.
I hope. 
I was beginning to think we needed more storage space, but really, a good going through was all that we needed. I'm saving us from another minor home repair project for the 'to-do' list!

The children started this crazy need to thin out the house. As we were driving to the Quilt Shop last Tuesday, they sent me into shock when they both said that they were more than ready to get back to our regular school schedule!!!  I was amazed, but pleased at the same time. We all do so much better on a regular schedule, which is something I have failed to accomplish this summer.  Everything we have done this summer seems to have revolved around my physical therapy sessions - not quite as I had planned.  Last summer was the summer of the broken transmission - this summer is the summer of tendinitis. The summer has flown by, and my carefully made goals and ambitions barely got off the ground.  

As the shock of their announcement wore off, I realized that I never even started the whole house sorting  I hoped to do a little at a time all summer!  Panic!  Well, not really - but a huge incentive to look at the calender and make some plans.  We decided to start school August 23rd - one week from today.  
The cleaning and organizing started Wednesday. 

We've been through three closets and two rooms, and taken a van load to Goodwill - I feel lighter already!  I made a huge pile of rags with outgrown boys clothes - not good enough to give away! I even gave away fabric that I was given two or three summers ago and just really didn't like at the time - I didn't like it any better on Saturday, so I passed it along!  I got re-acquainted with my 'stash' and that was good thing - now I know what fabrics I have on hand and what I need to be on the lookout for. 

The children are invited to a friend's birthday celebration this Wednesday so I went through my stash and found some cute fabrics that worked up into a fun hobo bag. The soft railroad stripe denim is left from what I recovered our formerly pink (for Dreamer) car seat with 10 years ago - time to use it or give it away!  The red denim was left from making Dreamer shorts - 4 summers ago!

We decided it needed a pocket, because everyone loves pockets of course!  For safety, he'll probably wear it 'name turned about' like we do when going out in public, so the pocket is for 'show' too!

I had to show you the lining - I made a fun table cloth with this fabric years ago for patriotic celebrations - these scraps have been calling out to be made into something for a very long time!  

There are plenty of great tutorials out there for hobo bags - they really do only take about an hour, but that is if your children don't come up with all kinds of fun 'extra's' to make the project more complex!  I'm happy with how it turned out though, so hopefully the little boy who gets it will be too!  We'll head to the book store tomorrow and see if we can find any books to go in the new book bag. We'll let Storyteller choose since he's got the boy's perspective going on.

Today we've continued with cleaning, a little sewing and reading in between times.  The Storyteller has been outside as much as possible, of course. I don't have the energy for 'go go go', but I am really motivated to rest a while and get back at it!  I have times when I know we need to thin the house, but I am indecisive and end up just moving things to new places. Fruitless. This urge to purge has come with some decisive force - I am thinning ruthlessly. I am not keeping anything that I don't have definite plans for.  I may regret it later, but I doubt it. We truly believe that God will continue to amply supply our needs at the time of our need and we have no need to hoard things I am not using in the foreseeable future. We have seen God at work providing for us beautifully for many years - and there is no reason to believe He will stop now! 
We have 6 days before we start back to school.  Books are ordered, lesson plans are made.  Schedules are tentatively set. I am torn between continuing to clean and purge or just throwing our cares to the wind and making this last week before school all fun and games.  As usual, I've decided on a compromise - a little fun and some more thinning - though the worst rooms are behind us, unless you count the Grammy Flat!  We'll head to the library, meet some friends for a museum morning and birthday celebration, head to the pool with other homeschoolers, and take in some of the County Fair all between therapy appointments and de-cluttering the house.  It sounds like a great ending to summer and a wonderful beginning for the new school year!

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Recorded Books: The Secret School

 We recently finished listening to a wonderful audio book and I thought you might enjoy a quick review.  We love listening to great books on cd, especially in the van.  Over the summer we have enjoyed quite a few, but it just occurred to me that my thoughts on these audio books might be of help or interest to you!

The Secret School by Avi
Read by Johanna Parker
Audio book by Recorded Books LLC
Age recommendation: 9-12
3 CD's - 3 hours of listening pleasure (which means quiet in the van!)

In 1925 Colorado, 14-year-old Ida Bidson dreams of becoming a teacher, but she knows it won’t be easy. When the school board closes the town’s one-room school, threatening to keep Ida from finishing eighth grade and moving on to high school, it looks like her dream will never come true. Then she and her classmates come up with a plan for a secret school—with Ida as their teacher!
This is a heartwarming story that the whole family enjoyed.  Johanna Parker reads the story in a pleasant and engaging manner, which makes for easy listening.  While our almost teenage daughter was quite sure she was not going to be interested in such a simple juvenile tale, we certainly heard her laughs and giggles as she was drawn into the story.  Our 10 year old Storyteller was the one to beg for the story to continue each time we got in the van - he liked most of the story - except the part where Ida's mom points out that Tom is 'sweet on her'. Yuck.

One of the things that we all enjoyed about this story was the respect and honor that all the adults involved in the tale tale received from the children - even the ones who really didn't deserve it.  We liked the relationship between Ida and her parents and the honesty and love that is evident.  Ida turns to her parents over and over again when she is faced with problems she can't figure out, and while they don't tell her what to do, they offer their advice and support and allow her the freedom to learn and grow. We loved the work ethic exemplified by the children of the secret school, most of all by Ida who gives everything she has to ensure her students succeed - even when it seemed to be a detriment to her own ambitions.

All of the principle characters in this story display a love for learning, willingness to work hard, courage in the face of adversity, respect for authority, loyalty and compassion.  It is said that character is who you are when no one is looking and this group of children prove their character in every way. Even Herbert, the most contrary boy in school, loves and honors his embittered father despite everything he does to push people away.  When it seems like all hope is lost and the secret school will be shut down, making all of the children's hard work for nothing, the community rallies around and we enjoy an almost completely happy ending.

We borrowed this audio book at the library, along with several others.  I went to the Recorded Books LLC website and made a list of their Youth Library offerings and than requested the audio books I thought we'd enjoy. It sure would be so much fun to go shopping at Recorded Books, but since we don't have a library budget, that's probably not going to happen!  They do have a rental service called Recorded Books Direct and a monthly plan service called Recorded Books Unlimited which we might look into when we run out of recordings from the inter-library loan system.

I hope you enjoyed this review, and I'd love to hear about your families favorite audio resources!  sometimes we enjoy good books, and sometimes we just love a good story! We are big fans of  Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, Adventures in Odyssey and Lamplighter Theatre, which we listen to on our local radio station each Saturday. The children  have all but worn out the 62 Bible Stories Alive tape series by Kitty Ann Griffiths called A Visit With Mrs. G - Mum and Dad gifted us with the 'tape of the month' club years ago and it has been their most beloved, most cherished, most valuable gift ever, hands down!  We have loved many of  The Boxcar Children cd's from Oasis Audio, along with Jungle Jam and Friends adventures. These are just a few of our much loved audio resources.
 We'd enjoy being introduced to some of your favorites too!

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Camping: Oh! The things we did see!

I can honestly say that camping was a real eye-opening experience!  Let me tell you - we saw things this past weekend that we NEVER thought we'd see while camping!  We had a great time with our friends, and enjoyed a relaxed time away from home. We forgot a few things that we have put on a list for 'next time', and we learned once again that it's always good to 'pack' an extra measure of grace when leaving home. 

God provided a lovely weekend weather-wise, and we all came home safe and sound, so that was a blessing.

Now, you'll have to keep in mind that it's been over twenty years since I went camping!  It took me that long to nag convince the Historian that it was a good idea!!!  I have great early memories of tenting with my Uncle and Aunt in Champlain Park and traveling with my parents around the Georgian Bay in a runabout boat and tenting on the shores.  My parents had two orange canvas dome style tents - my sister and I called them 'the gum drop tents' and we tented all along the Trent Severn Waterway one summer.  When we were a bit older, Dad and Mum bought a larger boat that we could sleep in and we explored many lakes in Ontario.  As a teen I went on many out trips from summer camp, some hiking and many by canoe, almost always involving one or more portage.  Most of the time I was a camper, but later on, after many leadership training trips, I helped guide younger campers on out trips. We had some adventures!

I had entirely different expectations for this little weekend family adventure.  First, we had reserved a wee cabin.  It was clean and cute as a button, but hot and airless even with all of the windows open. We forgot our fan - it was a last minute grab that I didn't put on the 'master list', so that was a shame.  It was too hot for Storyteller to sleep up on the top bunk which was supposed to be a huge 'privilege' for him.  I could hear him up there panting and puffing and I invited him to share the double bunk with me.  He came down, dripping with sweat and in his sleepy stupor and gravelly voice said ' I'm just throwing out numbers here Momma, but it's at LEAST 15 degrees cooler down here' and he promptly fell asleep! Sadly, he was the only one who slept!

Dreamer made her bed and her 'teen' sized sleeping bag just barely fit - these bunks weren't made for the big and tall crowd, but we managed! At least, no one hit the floor!  As far as sleeping went, well, we didn't!

We had a very large family occupying the two cabins next to us and they were up very very late - they quieted down around 3 AM - except for the baby.  I've never heard a baby cry quite like their baby - the next morning I was telling our friends how at first I thought there was a cat fight going on - until I realized they were comforting a fractious baby.  Later, the Historian mentioned that he thought there was a cat next door - until he realized it was the baby - so it wasn't a sleep deprivation illusion! Just about 4:30 AM the Historian made a trip to the restrooms and found our neighbors were still up - playing video games on a t.v. hooked up in their van. We never thought we'd see that while camping!

The next night was better because the campground host came by at 11pm and asked them to be considerate of other campers, so they shut down the party at 1pm, but of course, they still had the baby.  The folks in the deluxe cabin across from us also had a late night party which was quite loud. Hmm.  I went home with bags under my eyes and a greater appreciation for our quiet neighborhood.

We did remember to bring our folding table which was a blessing since we needed a 'kitchen' area.  It worked out really well. We 'hosted' two meals at our little cabin side picnic table and contributed to the other meals, and our friends 'hosted' the other three meals at their quieter, cooler trailer site down by the water. We had way too much food, but it was all good!
Speaking of food, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would see a FRY DADDY on our camping trip, but the crowd next door feasted on fresh deep fried chicken! The lady cut up many whole chickens, dredged them and fried them up right on the picnic table. The next morning she made fresh donuts in the same deep fat fryer!

I never thought we would see a 42" flat screen t.v. on our camping trip either, but there it was, lighting up the night as we traveled to the bathrooms for our nightly visits.  Yes, I did use the 's' there on purpose.  There is something about being 400' from the nearest washroom to make a little boy ... um ... nervous.  We went at least twice before bed and once in the night.  Maybe it was the novelty of the giant t.v.?

Speaking of the bathrooms, my definition of CAMP NAILS was radically re-defined on the first day at camp, in the bathrooms.  Two ladies were chatting about their camp nails, and naturally, I was curious.  Fancy tent pegs?  A new style of hot dog skewer?  I was washing my hands and glanced over just as one woman explained that she had gone to her nail airbrush artist that afternoon to get on her camp nails - which were 1" long manicured nails with tiny pictures of trees, cabins, bears and beer bottles.  Ahhhh.  Camp nails.  I remember when camping did not require a manicure - in fact, it was the fastest way to ruin one!

Sadly, another trip to the restrooms was the source of a terrible 'first sighting'.  It was a loud and angry domestic dispute by the owners of the giant t.v..  It was frightening and horrible and right in the middle were these two precious children - one in a car seat and one just being buckled in.  My friend Mrs.S and I took in the whole sad scene, but our children were completely oblivious to the disturbance, which was a puzzling blessing.  Puzzling, because they don't see that kind of behavior modeled in our homes, and they don't see it on t.v., since both families are NOT t.v. watchers.  The children  were just in their own little world of playing, talking and laughing - and really it was a blessing because it was extremely disturbing.  The mom drove off with the children and the man just shook his head and started throwing stuff in their fire pit.

We enjoyed the rest of the time, though I must admit the lack of sleep made for a pretty un-energetic time for our family.  We managed to get a little bit lost, explore a 'new' place for our family, play on an amazing new play structure, go for walks in a lovely setting,  see a beautiful colt, play in a big play barn, eat hot dogs cooked over the fire, play games, find some clay and make sculptures which were fired in the ashes, eat a yummy foil dinner cooked over the coals, swat a thousand tiny little flies that didn't bite but were getting on our nerves, make the best s'mores ever with dark chocolate, enjoy canoe trips on the river, spend quality time with friends, run, laugh, share some stories, have pancakes and sausage cooked outdoors, and meander home after a relatively painless pack up and tidy up!  We left our cabin and campsite cleaner than when we came, and took only our happy memories with us!

Which means I didn't break quite all of the camping 'rules', Dreamer!

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Flies don't wash their hands!

 You know, they really don't!

That's why our picnic basket holds a number of different 'food covers'. I don't like flies on my food. Over the years I have found some covers more successful than others - the umbrella style often works best, but I have always disliked cheap lace, so I used them the least!  As I was going through the picnic basket before our annual Father's Day Picnic, I noticed how yellowed and  gross our food covers were.  Some I discarded as beyond all hope, but others had some potential and today I took an hour to add some cuteness to our camping/picnic gear. I'm so glad we are going camping - it forced me to take an idea and make it work - and there will be no flies on our food!

I purchased these on 'clearance' at Meijer's I think - can't beat $.69!  Just sitting in their packages, they were beginning to yellow.  Have I mentioned that I don't like cheap lace?  

This is what they look like opened up - they keep the flies off, but they aren't very pretty.
Especially if you don't like lace.

I took off the lace and made a pattern with the pieces I took off - basically just a rounded triangle.  I added seam allowances, but not much since I planned to use my serger.  For fabric, I chose bandannas, but anything would have better than that lace!  Did you know you can buy a 4 pack of extra large bandannas in the men's wear area next to the tighty whities and superman boxers?
$2, thank you very much!

Now, that's better, don't you think?

I should have taken more pictures of the process, but I was on the phone with Mum while I did this, and I am not the best at multitasking! I preserved the bandanna hem and was able to just get one cover out of each. If you have specific questions, let me know and I'll try to answer - I used hot glue to re-attach the plastic tip covers to the four corners, but other than that it was a quick and easy project - cheap too!

I have very little leftover, but I've saved those scraps because I just got Sandi Henderson's new book 'Sewing Bits and Pieces' at the library and there is lots of inspiration for all kinds of things to do with very little scraps! This is one book that I've put on my wish list for sure!

Back to our packing up!

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Monday, August 2, 2010

A well spent week!

Are you looking at your calender and wondering where summer has flown? We sure are, but we are determined to enjoy the last month of summer to it's fullest.  Last week was fun but hectic!  On Monday at noon my family rolled in - Dreamer from her two wonderful weeks with Poppa and Grammy, and the Historian and Storyteller from their quick trip north to get her.  I was so thankful to have everyone home again! I didn't have much time to spend praising God for their safe travel because we had to gulp down lunch and be out the door by 12:45!  The Historian had to rush to work so that his co-worker could rush to a family funeral and we had to get to soccer!  It was quite crazy, but everyone made it to their proper destination just in the nick of time.

Dreamer with Coach Hazel from Scotland

My sweet friend Laura told me about how much her children enjoyed  Challenger Sports British Soccer Camps and so we signed up Dreamer at the last minute for a camp not far from us.  I am so glad we did!  From the very first day, though she was very tired, she learned so much and had a great time.  It was an usually small camp session, but the Coaches worked hard to make sure the kids had a great time.  Dreamer has always loved soccer and enjoys our Homeschool Soccer League each fall, but this was a great time of skill and confidence building for her. The coaches were excellent and very enthusiastic - we were so pleased with the whole experience.

 Dreamer with Coach John from Wales

Storyteller was really regretting not signing up by the second day - he watched the kids working hard in the hot hot sun but having so much fun! I have a feeling that he'll want to take part next year if there is a camp in our area.  Our homeschool soccer league starts at the end of this month and we have both children signed up because it is great aerobic exercise for them and even though soccer isn't Storyteller's favorite sport, he usually has fun once he get there!  He spent his afternoons at a ball diamond just on the other side of the park but within my sight, and I enjoyed quiet afternoons under a beautiful pavilion enjoying a book or pleasant conversation.  

This week is quiet until Friday when we leave to go CAMPING!!! The kids have been so excited about this all summer!  We are going with an experienced camping family to a place close to home and we are going to be in a little cabin equipped with bunk beds and nothing else. Our friends have a camper and tent and are quite used to camping weekends all summer, but this is a first for our family, so it's quite the novelty.  Thankfully it is just for 3 days, so hopefully it will be restful and not drain me too much! That's the plan anyway!

For today and tomorrow we need to tackle the mountain of laundry, run to the library, water the garden, pick some tomatoes, vanquish the dog hair, sanitize the bathrooms, plan the weekly menu, clean the fridge, run to Wal*Mart for some things and pull some weeds. 

All in slow motion!  After all, it's August!

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