Thursday, August 27, 2015

Five Generations



Recently we celebrated my maternal grandfather's 83rd birthday.  It used to be that when we had big celebrations I was reminded how cool it is to actually have my grandparents.  My husband doesn't even have his parents anymore.  Now, I live in constant gratitude and recognize the extreme blessing to be able to say, "We have five generations here on this earth right now."

There is wisdom to be found in the lives of those that have gone before us.  When we have them in our presence it's like getting to interview a historical figure; no need to read the history book.  I've been planning for months to give my grandparents a list of interview questions.  I'd like to do a video interview with them, but I will be happy just the same if I can get them to answer the questions in any capacity at all.  They are a treasure to behold, and I desire to know all I possibly can from their experiences.  I'm sure they learned a lot of lessons in 80+ years.

"One generation shall commend your works to another, 
and shall declare your mighty acts."
~ Psalm 145:4

All of us really enjoy their company, and it is a treat to spend time with them.  I feel very blessed to actually reside just 20 minutes from their three season residence.  We don't get to the farm as much as I would like, but we do get to play host to all of the family gatherings.  Though it may be tiring at times, I consider it a privilege and an honor.  There are so many fond memories that include them throughout my life.  I remember just sitting on the front porch waiting for their motor home to turn the corner.  Peter Rabbit surely knows my grandmother personally for all the times I made her read me that story when I was little.  There was the sea shell collection that my grandmother started me on from their travels around the world, and the wisdom my grandfather would share as we walked his property with him pointing out various plants that were good and safe to eat.  He walked me down the aisle when I married my husband.  Currently, they play a very important role in our lives, the lives of our children, and the lives of our grandchildren.

Yes, my grandpa is Santa Claus!

Our family is truly blessed to actually have real, live elders.  It doesn't seem so common in our society anymore.  It saddens me to know that the youngest three of our children will not have any elders when they are our age.  If I am honest, they will be lucky to have us.  When we realize just how temporary our lives are it becomes a bit more important to make the best of our time.  We've been working on doing just that.

"Only take care, and keep your soul diligently,
lest you forget the things that our eyes have seen,
and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.
Make them known to your children and your children's children - "
~ Deuteronomy 4:9

Having already raised seven children to adulthood we recognize very clearly how fleeting time is and just how valuable our time together is.  In that knowledge, and the fact that our youngest three will be left with the absence of elders, it is more important to us than ever to be very conscious about the things we teach them.  We are a bit more purposeful with our time.  The things we do, the decisions we make, everything comes from a different perspective for us now.

There is no greater gift than that of family.  Life happens no matter what we are busy doing.  The memories we create now will outlast our life, so it is very good to create the very best lasting memories we possibly can.  I hope this party lives on for decades with my children and grandchildren.

This is just part of The Crew.
We are missing three children, two son-in-laws, and three grandchildren.
It would be a miracle to find us all in the same spot anymore.



Friday, August 21, 2015

Old Fashioned Tooth Powder and a Life Lesson



Things have been just a little on the hectic side this summer.  I've found it challenging to keep up with all my normal responsibilities.  I have to confess.  In many ways I am looking forward to the more structured routine that fall brings.  I always have a lot on my plate, but some seasons see the salad leaf falling to the floor, and this summer has been one of those seasons.  I think if we tried to cram anymore into these past three months my hubby and I would have just collapsed from exhaustion.  It's not over yet, but aside from one last celebration this Sunday all of the outside infringements on our calendar have come to a stop.

Insert BIG deep breath here.

The kids and I have squeezed a bit of fun as well as a lot of learning into the moments we found between the responsibilities   Of course, being the eclectic souls that we are, we live and learn every day.  Learning is a natural side effect of living when you try to squeeze life for all it's got.  One of our purposeful experiences we shared was actually connected to a review I wrote not long ago for The Old School House Review Crew and Funtastic Unit Studies.  We really did enjoy the unit very much, but I happened to leave out one experiment we did that I got a little chuckle out of.

One of the things that is most fun to me about guiding young ones into being more experienced older ones is the process of discovery.  It seems the older we get the more we take for granted the knowledge that we have.  We all started at the beginning, however, and that means everyone has to first taste the lemon to learn that it is sour.  Everyone finds out what hot is "the hard way", and we all learn the lesson about bringing our coat with us by spending a fall evening shivering.  It's just how the process works.  Somewhere out there I am sure there were moms like me who got a little pleasure out of that first sour lemon pucker.  In fact maybe you are one of those moms like me right now.

If you are, or if your mom was a little more like me than you are, then I am sure you'll understand the element of fun that I experienced as my children learned what old fashioned tooth powder tasted like.  We learned about caring for our teeth.  Part of that lesson was to make homemade tooth powder like they used to back in the day before back in the day.  If you bake at all you've likely tasted baking soda somewhere along the line.

This was our recipe:

4 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Flavoring - we used strawberry extract

The kids dampen their toothbrushes and then brush their teeth with it.  Watching the process unfold was marvelous.

Look how innocent she is.


They're realizing something is up.

Race for the water!

She ran to the kitchen so the little ones could use the bathroom faucet.

Not sure this one needs a caption!
Too bad I didn't have them get a picture of me.  I astonished them with my ability to thoroughly brush all of my teeth using the toothpaste powder.  I was SUPER salty!  Seriously not sure why we bothered with any flavoring.  It just made it a pretty, pink color.  LOL!  What they didn't know is that I was keeping my tongue out of the way so that none of it got on my taste buds.  That's the only way I could pull it off.

Thinking about this experiment with the kids got me to thinking about how we start out with no real knowledge.  Then, through different experiences, and trial and error, we slowly learn how to navigate various situations safely and make it through circumstances that may not be ideal with as little discomfort as possible.  The more we learn the better equipped we are for facing the challenges before us with a good attitude, the stronger we become, and the better able we are to make a difference in the lives of others.

I've really been trying to be more present in the moment, whatever it may be, and get just as much out of what is going on as I possibly can.  In so doing I am able to give to others, especially my family being as I spend the vast majority of my time with them, in a way I wasn't capable of before.  Allowing myself to let go of all the things tugging at my time, and be 100% involved in what I am doing has been very freeing.  I sure wish it was something I had mastered earlier in life.

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 
‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 
For the Gentiles seek after all these things, 
and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, 
and all these things will be added to you. 
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, 
for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. 
Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. 
~ Matthew 6:31-34


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Horizons Preschool - A Review

It's difficult to believe that I am in preschool again.  Well, not me really, but we all know that when we are homeschool families at least part of the fun is doing each grade level multiple times.  That is, if you have multiple children at multiple age levels like we do.  The last time I really "did" preschool was when my now 21 year old first began his homeschooling journey with me.  It was fun!  I forgot just how fun those lower, single digit, wee ones can be.  Of course my kids are cool.  They have great imaginations, and they are well on their way to becoming lifetime learners.  But, the fun part of life kind of got overshadowed by the necessary parts of life.  You know.  The messy stuff.  Family drama, big life changes, growing pains, dirty dishes, injuries, and entrepreneurship.  When the opportunity to review Horizons Preschool Set by Alpha Omega Publications came across my desk I was unprepared for the journey I would set out on.  I mean who knew preschool curriculum could spur a reevaluation of priorities and our approach to life?  I know I didn't.

Technically our homeschool won't be back in full swing until October this year.  Can I tell you just how happy I am about making that decision last fall?  This is a routine that will likely see us through many years.  I say likely, because you know as well as I do that things have a way of changing when we least expect it.  This summer has been BONKERS.  We've not even had a few weekends free from commitment or strenuous activity.  There's a lot going on in the Smith Household this summer.  Reviewing Horizons Preschool with Bella was like a breath of fresh air while cleaning the chicken coop.  Taking time to work one on one with her gave us all an opportunity to slow down, even just for a bit.

Alpha Omega Review

I have to say that I really love the way this program is set up.  We've used Alpha Omega Publications in the past, but I was completely unaware that they had a full curriculum for preschool available.  And, honestly, had I not been given the opportunity to review Horizons Preschool we likely would have stayed the course without a boxed curriculum.  Since my curiosity got the better of me it looks like Royal Academy will be using a curriculum for one child for preschool.  We're rather eclectic around here.  So, saying that this curriculum will fit with our style is saying quite a lot really.  There are several things I love about it.

It's easy to use.  There are two teacher guides and two student books, part one and part two.  There is also a consumable resource packet as well as a sing along music CD.  These resources all work together quite nicely.  (Before we even began the curriculum Bella had listened to the CD several times.  It gets listened to quite often outside of our designated work time.)  Everything is laid out in the beginning of the first teacher guide.  There really isn't much to getting started.  It can be as simple or as complex as you would like; appealing to all the teaching and learning styles.  There are optional resources indicated in the guide should you choose to expand on the provided curriculum.  A modified program is also illustrated for those that have less time available or those that choose to take a more relaxed approach, like myself.  Everything is laid out simply for you, and it is completely adjustable to meet any routine or approach.

It's well rounded.  This is a full, Christian curriculum that encompasses every subject.  It's all there; Bible, social studies, science, language arts, phonics, reading, writing, math, shapes and colors, stories, music, arts, and physical education.  This program is so thorough that it is even able to be used in a formal schooling situation or even a daycare.  Everything is there to help you plan ahead, prepare your class room or learning environment, and have your resources prepped before you begin.

It's fun!  Each lesson is designed with a nice flow to keep the young ones engaged in what they are doing.  There are times for paying attention, singing, talking, thinking, using fine motor skills, dancing, making music, and playing.  The need for movement is surely not ignored here.  If we all lived like we were still in preschool what a fun world it would be!

It's simple.  Getting a new curriculum can be overwhelming.  If you're anything like me you have to keep your eyes from glazing over when you flip open the cover and see all the reading that you need to do before you begin the journey.  With Horizons Preschool I felt kind of like that, at first.  Then, once I started reading I quickly began to see just how simple it is.  Don't get bogged down in the details!  The 44 pages before the first lesson are basically just resources you will reference throughout using the program.  You don't need to read it ALL right now.  I mean, you can, but it's okay to take in the format and dig right in.  Fortunately, we have been homeschooling for MANY years.  So, I didn't have to worry about any resources.  If you're new to homeschooling you may want to take a peek at the weekly supply lists to be sure you have everything you'll need for the first month or so.  Even if you are new, I'm sure you will be pleasantly surprised at all the things you already have in your home.

Alpha Omega Review
I am happy to discover that Horizons Preschool is a nice fit for Bella.  We enjoyed the few weeks that we explored the curriculum.  Together we did many fun things.  It gave me a chance to gauge her readiness and current knowledge base.  It gave her a chance to be the center of attention when it came to our homeschool.  So far most everything we plan and focus on is based on the needs of our oldest.  So, the younger two get "pulled" along with her.  Of course, they do activities and course work at their level, but it's not based on them.  Now, we have a chance to balance the scales a bit.  This coming year will see Harmony, age 10, on to more independent work which will free up time for more individual instruction with the younger two, ages 4 and 5.  It's rather exciting!

One of the things Horizons Preschool focuses on is colors, and one of our first activities was a nature walk.  It was a rare opportunity for Bella and I to have some fun one on one time since the older two were away from home when we did this.  We are blessed with a country home, so our nature walk was around our property.  The first week focuses on red, green and blue.  Bella had fun walking and running looking for things that were these colors.  We took the camera along to document what we found.


Another activity that we did was also fun for both of us.  It was a lesson on The Trinity.  I just love a good object lesson!  This one is so simple that it left me wondering why on earth I hadn't thought of it myself.  You get an egg and crack it into a container showing the child the three parts of the egg and explaining how the three parts make up the whole.  It was a wonderful lesson for both Bella and myself.  She loved it!  We even saved her egg so she could scramble it up for breakfast the next day.




I think Bella may enjoy using the scissors the most.  She's all about writing, and she loves to learn to write new letters.  When given the opportunity, or when the mood strikes her, she loves to pretend she's writing words by writing the letters that she does know over and over again.  Here's a quick peek at the fun she had doing the hands on activities the past few weeks:



Learning about the number one.

Did I mention she likes to cut?

Cutting triangles from construction paper.
Yes, standing does help.

Avery had to join in the fun!
He did all the blue triangles for Bella.

This made me smile.
The assignment was to draw a picture of your family.
Bella made us all into balloons.

The dry erase board is wonderful for teaching letters.

Now that we've had the opportunity to give Horizons Preschool a trial run in our homeschool we are even more excited about our upcoming school year.  Between now and October I will be doing a lot of planning, and working this curriculum into our routine will definitely be part of that process.  Bella is excited about preschool, and so am I!

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Thursday, August 06, 2015

Enter the Double Digits!



Time flies!  Really.  Even when it seems like it's dragging by it's really just an illusion.  You blink, and years have passed.  It's like a flash in the pan.  Seems like just yesterday the girls came to live with us, and we were celebrating Harmony's 7th birthday.  Just this past weekend we celebrated number 10!  How does that happen?

She's grown SO much in form and in spirit.  That little girl that moved in with Nana and Papa a few years ago with all that anger and hostility is quickly (sometimes it really does not seem to be quickly) growing into a more mature young lady.  How can that be?  We've seen enough children through to adulthood by now that we know it really is just a short period of time before they're off and on their own dealing with their own challenges and triumphs.  For now, we're going to enjoy them right where they are, and spend as much time in the present as we possibly can.

Her party was a blast!  Believe it or not we had a house/yard full, and it was pretty much all immediate family.  And, because this mama has no fear we pulled off a double party that day.  You read that correctly.  We celebrated Harmony's 10th birthday from 1-4 p.m. then we followed it up with a little farewell party of sorts to see our Navy son off for his first overseas deployment.  Still can't believe he's on the other side of the world.  Sniff, sniff.  Unfortunately, we didn't get too many pictures from our son's portion of the party, but it's all good.  We have our super fond memories.

With our first batch of children we had birthday parties each year.  Most of them saw their way straight through the public school system, and it was a nice way for me to see the friends they were choosing away from home.  I liked having a little glimpse into their school life.  As the younger portion of that batch grew older and we morphed into a homeschooling family our outlook on birthday parties changed.  Now, with this current batch of wee ones we are taking a totally different approach.  Of course we celebrate as a family each year with their choice of meals and dessert on their actual birthday, but at ages 1, 7, 10, 13, and 16 we will have an actual party with games, friends, and party food.  We all seem to enjoy it much more this way.

Since Harmony turned 10 this year, she got her party.  Unfortunately, her two best friends we unable to attend, but fortunately we have a HUGE family.  So, she got her big party, and it was a blast.  Here are some highlights:

Had a blast making these owl cupcakes!

All the kids got to make nature sun catchers.
All ages love to blow bubbles!

Lawn twister was a blast.

These always take WAY LONGER to fill than you would think...

...but they're SO MUCH fun!

All the kids have been liking soccer lately.

Waiting for cupcakes.

Past, present, and future.

Birthday Girl!

The matriarch and patriarch of our five generations.

Ice cream and four wheelers!

Best buds forever.

And, there were chickens.

Doesn't this just warm your heart?
Silly...

...silly...

...and more silly!


We thoroughly enjoy the natural progression of our family traditions.  It's fun to join the kids in their journey and watch the way they naturally create them along the way.  What traditions have developed over time in your family?  We'd love to hear about them!



*All photos shot by Leah Lauzon and edited by myself.















Friday, July 31, 2015

Funtastic Unit Studies - A Review




I love unit studies!  So, signing up for this review from Funtastic Unit Studies was an easy choice on my part.  Life has been hectic around here.  We've been bouncing from event to event ever since the beginning of June, and we're still going strong.  My fantasy of a calm and relaxing summer is yet to be realized after 18 solid years of homeschooling.  I'm not so sure of those pictures we always see of people lounging poolside or ankles crossed in the sand.  You know the routine; a big summer hat, sunglasses, and a tall glass of fresh lemonade.  Um...yeah...not the case around here!

Believe it or not, we pulled off our unit study during fair week.  Anyone that's ever lived and breathed 4-H fair week knows exactly what kind of feat it is to do much more than keep you kids clean and fed during fair week, but school?  Funtastic Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers is awesome like that!  Everything is laid out for you from beginning to end.  You know ahead of time what you need and what to expect.  I planned ahead, and it was awesome.

During the previous school year we studied all about human biology.  Of course, part of that study included nutrition.  That's why I was excited to do the unit on health as a follow-up.  I really love the way the table of contents are set up.  This unit study book is geared for ages 4-13, and my crew falls right in that age group.  It can be challenging having kids with such a gap.  Five years can be tough to cross sometimes, and this helps us bridge the gap perfectly.  Each unit is labeled for either ages 4-7 or 8-13.  The unit on health is geared for the 4-7 age group, but my 10 year old enjoyed it just as much as the 4 and 5 year old.

Of course, hands on activities, especially those that involve cooking, are super appealing to my brood.  This particular unit went well with our current activities as well.  There is always some sort of information about germs and health available at the fair.  The kids get their eyes checked every year for free, too.  With the concern about the avian flu there was more literature available than normal from the local extension office.

We learned about how germs spread, the different types of food pyramids (there are MANY now), healthy eating, and exercise.  We made the recipes together and had a wonderful, healthy lunch all at their hands as the kids did most all of the work.  It was exciting for them to use the hand mixer.  Everyone had to take a turn!


While we ate our yummy lunch we had the opportunity to discuss what we had learned and how it applied to life.  I am so glad we had this experience when we did.  Part of me thought I was crazy for planning a unit study smack in the middle of fair week, but I'm glad I took the chance.  What better time to learn about health?  What I thought was a touch of insanity on my part turned into perfect timing thanks to the ease of using Funtastic Unit Studies.  It was exciting to have seen the cows at the fair, "milked" the model cow, and made cheese at home.  I never knew it was so easy, and neither did the kids!  Avery enjoyed stirring the milk until it came to a boil, adding the lemon juice, and watching the curds separate from the whey.

Harmony was our master carrot shredder for makig our Healthy Carrot Spread.  Bella has to get her hands in wherever she can manage, and she's proven herself to have quite the arm.  She stirred up our dip all by herself.  We were a little short on cream cheese so we combined some sour cream with the cream cheese, added shredded carrot and shredded cheese, and some salt and herbs.  If you know me at all, you know I cannot follow a recipe to save my life.  So, I just had to add a little zing to the spread.  I'm sure you understand.


When it was all said and done, we had a wonderful week learning about all things health.  The kids take washing their hands just a little more seriously now, and we created some great memories.  Then, we shared a wonderful lunch with our Navy son who's home on leave.  The kids were super proud to serve him food they'd actually made all by themselves.  We served up the Carrot Spread on local Rye Bread, the curds (which I seasoned with a little salt and dill) on crackers, and added some yummy red grapes.  It was a perfect lunch!



Getting a taste of using Funtastic Unit Studies has us excited about what's coming up for us this next school year.  Having this new resource at our fingertips is a true blessing.  There's nothing more likely than simple planning and easy to use instructions to earn a resource a spot on my actively using shelf.  Simply click here to access two PDF unit studies, and some other fun freebies, for your family to enjoy.


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