32 Years

 Today is my 32nd birthday.  It was a good day. Well, something bad happened, but I am not going to focus on that. I am going to focus on the happy and good things that happened today.

Like my older boys bringing this inside for me this morning. They've been keeping it hidden for 2 weeks. Strategically placing grass and arranging leaves so I didn't see it...and keeping me away from the plant in general. And here I thought that Cale was just being extra helpful this week- feeding and letting the chickens out first thing in the morning.

This monster is almost 4 lbs. Yesterday we picked what I considered a monster is is next to the huge one and a normal one. You can see Annika off to the side. This thing is almost as big as she is!

Paul brought me home beautiful flowers.  

Rylan made me an amazing cake. It's a copy cat recipe of the Olive Garden's Black Tie Mousse Cake. It looked great and tasted wonderful.  If you've never heard of or tasted the Black Tie Mousse Cake, here is the inside:

It's 4 layers....chocolate cake on the bottom, then chocolate cheese cake, then Italian Mousse and topped with chocolate ganache. I helped him with the folding in the mousse layer and spreading the ganache on the sides, but the rest was him. Cale and Cohen worked together to make pesto rolls for dinner tonight. It was a good day.



Lots of growing going on around here....I have a ready supply of calendula. There is a quart of olive oil being infused by calendula sitting on my windowsill right now.

I will never understand the growth habits of zucchini. They have the ability to go from too small to pick to huge in a couple of hours. And they also have the ability to camouflage themselves. I mean, really, we go through the garden every morning and every night. How in the world do we miss those monster sized zucchini?

We topped the basil a few days ago since it was trying to flower. Picked a whole basket full, which we turned into a bowl full of leaves and turned that into a quart of pesto. Pesto rolls are on the menu tomorrow!

This dog is growing too. What I mean is that her expertise in escaping a fence is growing. This barricade was #4 I think. I think we finally got her though. It looked like thunder yesterday and she couldn't scale the fence! I am sure it's only a matter of days before she finds a new way....

This girl....she's growing too. Probably faster than anyone here. Her feet can almost fit in her favorite shoes. She has a box of hand-me down shoes....these ruby reds come out often.

 And her grows straight down into her eyes. And tiny little rubber bands and a mirror to see her pigtails in were just the ticket to get it out of her face without her pulling them right back out. She's stealing my headphones in that picture. She's a Taylor Swift fan.

Her vocabulary is going up. She's nearly potty trained. She's trying to give up her nap- though I am resisting that one.  She's got a tiny turtle in her hands....which she laid down in the grass with until she finally allowed it to crawl away.

And these boys. They are growing too. Just over a week until 3 of them turn one year older....and I will have an 11 yr old. And a 9 yr old. And a 7 yr old....

Seems like these kids are growing almost as fast as those zucchini!

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Homestead Barn Hop 
Home is Where the Heart Is


Big and Little: How to Homeschool with Little Ones in the House


This post can now be found on the Free Range Life. You can find it here: How to Homeschool with Toddlers in the House



 Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero.
 - Marc Brown

A brother is a friend given by Nature. 


More About Birds

 I had my camera out with me the other day, taking pictures of the garden, kids, etc. Like usual I was brought chickens to photograph. That is our Silkie chick up there. That is one spoiled bird. She's a tiny one, and gets toted around a lot. I'll admit she's pretty cute. Her name is Silkie.....only it's pronounced Sil-UH-key

This is Einstein. Check out her hat. This is another that gets carried around a lot. I don't think the poor thing can see very well with all that in her face. She's never with the flock and always lost somewhere by herself. Then there is Lavender. I am sad about this one. I've always wanted a Lavender Orpington and finally got one. And then she crowed.

Since we've talked about breeding birds we might keep him and hatch some eventually. He's still a pretty bird, I just wish he was a she!

Speaking of hatching, I mentioned our broody birds last time.  Black Hat was sitting on 6 eggs. One hatched.  Here she is with her little puff ball. She's a good mother and I love the sound of mother hen's clucking! Based on feathering I'd say this one came from a Black Australorp's egg.  We've got the peafowl eggs in the incubator now, they are at about day 11. Hatch day is around August 8. We had another bird go broody and we encouraged her once we saw the signs. I think we are finally sure of her broodiness to give her our beloved peafowl eggs. We'll make the swap later today, put her clutch in the incubator and give her the peafowl ones and hope for the best.

The turken went broody again in the old, run down chicken shed. We've tried to break her, but she hasn't gotten it yet. If she'd sit in the house we'd let her, but she wants her unsafe ledge. Last time we broke her by carrying her and holding her upside down for awhile.  It didn't work this time.

I hate to say it, but some birds just aren't pretty. The turken is one of them. The guineas are not much better. Though they are still adolescents.

Their feathers are pretty though.....wonder what I could do with them?

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Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways


On Writing Your Own Science Units

I love science and so do my kids. It's one of those things that happens naturally in our life- through the garden, the critters and just experiences in general. We supplement too- when we go to the library our first stop is always the non-fiction section where the boys and I pull off any books that strike our interest. We also do units on various topics throughout the official school year. Over the years we covered many topics, most of which came from units I wrote myself. I have yet to find a premade curriculum that is secular, well written and hands on that I can get on board with.

So, how do you write your own science unit? It's not too hard. It just takes a little time, a few trips to the library, a few google searches and some creativity.

Step 1: Pick Your Topic

Good books are the backbone to a great unit
     Every summer, when I am planning the next school year, I spend some time looking over various lists and websites to come up with topics for our next science units. You can go about this a few different ways. You can ask your kids. What do they want to learn about? You can look at your state's curriculum standards and pull main topics that are in line with what would be taught if your kids were in public school. You can look at What You 1st,2nd, 3rd...Grader Needs to Know type books. Once you have your list- or even just one topic- you are ready to move on.

Step 2: Plan Your Days

     Once you have your topic you need to plan out some specifics. How long are you going to spend on this topic? How many days a week are you going to devote to science? How many hands-on experiments or demonstrations do you want to include? Will there be book work too? Do you plan on doing any big projects? It is important to get these little details down first, as it will help you immensly when it comes time to actually write your lessons.
Add other subjects into the mix too
This year I have 12 total topics, each lasting between 2-6 weeks. Some of these topics are related, but I wanted to separate them on paper. I am planning one major project per month on a certain topic. An independent project that my boys will choose  and execute themselves. I am also planning one research paper this year- I have chosen which topic it will be on, but the kids will narrow it down from there. In the past I have planned hand-on activities and experiments everyday, and I have come to realize that it just isn't feasible. So in my master plan this year I have indicated 1 lab per week to take the stress off me coming up with so many activities. We will fill the other days with reading, notebooking and any other activities I happen to find.

Step 3: Go to the Library

Food projects are always a hit!
     Books, they are the next best thing to actually experiencing science. You can go with a list of books you want or you can do what I do and just basically clear the shelf of every thing on a certain topic. I currently have about 20 books on rocks and minerals sitting on my floor. You want story-like books, like the Jump into Science, series. You want encyclopedia type books like the DK Eyewitness Books. You want resource books like Janice VanCleave's Science for Every Kid series.  Don't forget to check your shelves at home too, or borrow from friends with resources.

Lapbooks are a good way to review and solidify your material
Step 4: Divide into Sub Topics

     Now you are ready to really start planning. I like to do this part using the books, but online can be helpful too if that is more your style. You need to come up with a list of subtopics to fill out your weeks. I am currently working on a Rocks and Minerals unit. Some of my subtopics include the rock types, properties of minerals, rocks in the real world, etc. Your encyclopedia type books are helpful since most of the time they are already divided up. I like to cross reference all my books and mark down page numbers for similar topics in different books. You need to think about your overall goal. What do you want your kids to take away from this? What would the most important questions be? Those are your subtopics. Some topics will be covered in a day, some more than one.

Step 5: Find the Activities

Doing is the best way to learn
     This is where the internet comes in handy. Grab your resource books and pull out all those fun experiments to help illustrate your subtopics. Go online- browse Pinterest for activities, search for your unit keywords, etc. Pin, bookmark, cut/paste any and all ideas you find. Find notebooking pages, lapbook templates or create your own, find inspiring journaling ideas. Look for interactive websites to help teach your subject. All of this might not make it into the final lesson plan, but you will be glad you saved the all just in case.

Don't forget a few fun art projects!
Step 6: Write the Lesson Plan

     There are many sites that offer free unit lesson plan printables or you can make your own with Word or simply jot it all down in a notebook, but you need to get it all down somewhere. Get a spread sheet going with labeled days and the topics and assignments to go over that day. Enter all information you think you will need.  Add pages to read aloud, pages to read silently, journal work, hands on activities or demonstrations. All of that information you gathered in step 5 needs to be organized and divided into the correct subtopics. It's up to you how in depth you go and how many activities you do.

And that's the basics. Now I am off to follow my own advice and finish writing my own units for the upcoming school year!

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The Long Road Up

A few months ago I posted about one of my sons and his struggle with anxiety. We had a rough couple of months, but things have finally started to look up. As a parent there is nothing harder than watching your child in pain and struggling. You want to jump in and save them and take their pain as your own. But the truth is you can't. You have to tread water right there along with them, help them stay afloat and guide them to safety. That isn't easy. Even for me, who has experienced similar pain, the path isn't cut and dry. As you maneuver your way through you have to come up with a new normal. You have to help your child find a healthy new normal, because just like adults kids get stuck in bad habits and thought patterns.

At our low point, my anxious son was sleeping on the floor in my room every night. He wasn't sleeping and when he finally did sleep it wasn't restful. He was so stressed out that his body couldn't calm down at all. When he tried to sleep his body fought back with terrible hypnic jerks that woke him up and started his panic. These jerks made the cycle worse. As they occurred and interfered with his sleep he grew more and more exhausted, which in turn made the jerks worse. His interest in things was down. His mood was down. He lost weight. He got stuck in a cycle that had me researching things like Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome. It was a tense time for us, always waiting for when the next cycle might hit.

But we got help. At the end of 2011we found a program called Turnaround. It's a CD based program written for children who suffer from anxiety. It gave us a starting point. It made him think about what was happening to him. It helped me talk him through his anxiety more effectively. It helped him to realize that he isn't alone in this- he isn't weird. And it gave my husband some understanding about a world he had no experience with.

We started positive reinforcement. An incentive for staying in his own bed at night and calming him self down. Something to work towards to help him break the bad habits he admitted he was forming. His currency? Music. He earned one song from iTunes for each night that he was in bed by 10pm. But he couldn't get them until he had earned 4. It took a week to get the first set. And 2 more to get the 2nd set.  As he progressed I changed things- if he came down in the middle of the night and didn't go back to his room he didn't earn. If he didn't stay in bed he lost a song, etc. At one point he got into negative numbers. And once he was so far back we had to wipe the slate clean and start over. But he broke his cycle. As he got to bed earlier, his body got rested and his jerks stopped. He had interests again. He played again. He smiled again. Things were looking up.

Over the past couple months I have been guarded. I know better than to say he's cured and move on with life. I know there will be setbacks. I know he will struggle with anxiety, and most likely depression, in his life. I know he will enter another cycle at some point. But although I knew this,  I can't help but get that sinking feeling when signs start to show. When he ends up in my room at night again.

Are we back at the bottom? No. 10 steps forward, 1 step back. And that is okay. It's part of the journey. We'll make it to the top one of these days. Together.

linked to the Encourage One Another Link Up


The Many Sides of Calendula

You can now find this article on The Free Range Life. You can find it here: The Many Sides of Calendula. If you are interested in my article on how Calendula can be used for your health you can find it here: The Healing Properties of Calendula


The Bird Boys and Other Fowl Updates

 My boys love their birds. I think I may have mentioned that before. They spend more time with their chickens than they do their dogs or other cuddly pets. And if you think you can't pet a chicken, don't tell them that. Our newer chicks are now out and free ranging with the rest of the chickens. They still have separate coops, and I am wondering how I am going transition the old birds to the new coop. I have a feeling they will just go back to the old one every night.

We've had a couple broody birds over the past few months. Muh- yes, Muh, said like Duh! Is what they named the poor bird. Sat on eggs for the whole 21 days, a few exploded on her and had one partially formed chick. But she wasn't a very good sitter and left them often. The turken, named Turken Lee Jones, goes broody, but only in the old, broken down chicken coop in the goat's yard. She refuses to sit on eggs in a safe place. Then there was Black Hat, Lakin's crazy chicken. After attempting to break her since her choice of laying spots was the tool shed we finally gave up and gave her some eggs. She's due to hatch any day now.

The guineas are out and about too. I can hear them squawking right now. We started with 10. We had to cull one because of a nervous disorder. And on the 3rd night out we didn't make it out to make sure they all got inside before dark. About 5 min after dark we went out and couldn't find them. They had scattered. Armed with flashlights we found them- in trees, under bushes, etc. But we only found 6 of the 9. Hoping for the best we went back inside. Only one remained in the morning, and we found 2 piles of feathers. So we are down to 7 guineas. I think we have 3 girls and 4 boys.

And, then there are these 4, who I am not sure I have ever mentioned. They are Timber, Maple, Twinkle and Hank. They are Swedish Blue and Swedish Black ducks. I am not sure if they are hens or drakes yet, but so far I am leaning towards hens. They are about 7 weeks old now.

And finally, thanks to a customer at Paul's work, we have these in the incubator. 2 peacocks eggs. I am not sure what type yet, and it can be hard to hatch them out of the incubator. If we get another reliable broody chicken we might move them to under her. I am excited to see them hatch and what breed they are!


Review: A+ TutorSoft Math Curriculum

It's almost time to start the new school year, and for many homeschooling parents that means it's time to re-evaluate curricula to see what is working and what needs to be changed. Over the past 6 years I have tried my fair share of math programs. Some worked well, some were not so good. Eventually we came to a place with Rylan where the current curriculum is really working, but Cohen and Cale are still searching for that math program that clicks with them.

Recently I was given the opportunity to try out A+ TutorSoft's Interactive Math Curriculum. I chose to try out the 4th grade program since Cale was currently in that level and Cohen was coming up on it fast. I received the Premium Edition of the 4th Grade Math Full Curriculum CD.

First off, here is a little bit about the A+ TutorSoft's Programs (according to their website):
  • Multimedia Lessons that use all three learning modalities - Audio, Visuals and Text
  • Interactive Quiz for each lesson with instant feedback and step-by-step instructions
  • Lesson Plan
  • Curriculum Book on CD
  • Printable Worksheets and Exams
  • Parental Guides - Solution Guides with step-by-step problem solving instruction 
Everything you need to teach is on the CD, from the textbook to the tests. They even include a simple lesson plan to follow. No prior knowledge is needed by the parent since answer keys are also included. I was excited to try out the program and see how it worked in our homeschool.

The program was very easy to install. Just put the CD in and follow the prompts. There is a short tutorial when you open the program, which  you can choose to listen to or just explore everything on  your own- I did the latter. The one downside I saw right off the bat was that the the CD-rom was only compatible with Windows, so using our iMac was out. Luckily we have a PC in the house as well, so it wasn't an issue. But I do believe it is something the company should look into changing.

The set up is simple and user-friendly. There are 16 chapters, each with multiple lessons. Each lesson has a lecture with example problems and a short, interactive quiz. These quizzes are multiple choice, and automatically graded. There is instant feedback and explanations if the question is answered incorrectly. If you feel more practice is needed there are optional worksheets to print out for each lesson. Each chapter has a test that can be printed out as well.

So what is my take on the program? To tell the truth, at first glance I wasn't too impressed, but upon further inspection and usage I can see many good things about A+ TutorSoft's Math Curriculum.

Here are my Pros:
  • The explanations are thorough and I think the student would learn well from them
  • For those who prefer mastery programs, this would be great. Each topic is covered thoroughly before moving on
  • The immediate feed back on the quizzes is a definite plus. Understanding will happen much quicker than having to wait for the parent to grade the work
  • Having everything in one place. I don't have to keep up with a text, a workbook, an answer key or a teacher's manual. It's all there on the CD
  • All types of learners can benefit. You can listen to the lectures or read them in the text.
  • The price is right. Compared to other CD or online based curricula, this is a steal 
And here are my Cons:
  • As I mentioned, it is only compatible with Windows 
  • There is no built in review. I do like a mastery approach, but there was no review at all. I would like to see some on the exams at least 
  • I didn't like that all the problems were multiple choice- quizzes, worksheets and tests. 
  • The lessons were a sometimes a little slow. I am- and my boys can be too- a little impatient. So when I know the answer to something I want to answer right then. We didn't like having to listen to all the multiple choice before clicking on the correct one. 
And the opinion of my 8 yr old? He didn't like the voice on the lectures. He thought it sounded too much like a computer talking as opposed to a real person.  He liked it, but not as much as the one we were taking a break from.

The Bottom Line?

Both of my boys- Cale, who is going into the 4th grade and Cohen, a rising 2nd grader, need extra help on their facts. Their current math program didn't spend enough time on the multiplication and division facts to provide mastery. I think A+ TutorSoft's program will be just what they need to get them back on track and sharpen their skills. For us, it wouldn't work as a stand alone program, but definitely works as a tutor on certain aspects of their math education.

Disclaimer: I received this product for free in exchange for my honest review.  I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are my own

My Junior Botanist

On the Fourth of July we took the kids to the North Carolina Arboretum. I've been wanting to visit for a while now and thought it would be a pretty day for it. It was a beautiful place, full of gardens and trails and flowers.

I wish I could show you tons of pictures I took of the Arboretum and my kids, but I can't.  You see about 5 minutes into our tour Rylan's camera batteries died. And because he was one of my main motivators to go to the gardens, I handed over my camera to him. These first 2 pictures are mine, but the rest were taken by him.

Last year my dad went on a few hikes with us in the spring and shared his knowledge of the Smoky Mountain wildflowers with the boys. Rylan soaked it up. He has 2 wildflower guides now and still brings  them out to identify flowers he finds- such as the Butterfly Weed in the alpaca's yard or the various members of the mint family sprinkled throughout the grass.

And since we moved he has been carrying around my dad's old Tree Identification Book, published in 1958, attempting to identify every tree on our property. This past week he has also gotten 2 other tree guides from the library in hopes of finding the few trees he just can't seem to name. So he was pretty excited when the first tree out of the visitors center was this one:

We have one in our back yard. And now he knows what it is. 

 The gardens had an amazing Bonsai exhibit, which was really neat to see.

Rylan hooked on to the Maple Family. And he keeps asking if he is allowed to pick up seeds off the ground to bring home.

He was very happy to see some of the trees he's been seeing in his books. He is tired of Red, Silver and Sugar Maples....

He wants to see and grow the more fancy ones, like the Chalkbark Maple and Paperbark Maple.

So I did come home with a camera full of pictures. Zillions of pictures of trees, bushes, barks and identification labels. And anything else he happened to find interesting.

What are your child's interests? How do you help them to explore them?

linked to Weekend Whatever