2 Bigs + 4 Littles under 1 Midsize Roof = Life As We Know It
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Category — Homeschooling Life

Text Reflection


Kellen, who turned 16 just this month, has been on an amazing adventure this week — attending speech camp at his dream school: Patrick Henry College in Virginia. We hardly heard from him because 1) he had limited access to his phone, and 2) he was BUSY! Even with a three-hour time difference and scant communication, we could tell he was up both early and late. And we’re still waiting for details to go with the quick photos he managed to snap and send during a daylong field trip to Washington, D.C.

Although camp is over, we’ll have to wait a bit more because Kellen took a detour on his return trip to visit friends in North Carolina for a few days. So proud of how he’s navigated it all! I love our text exchange from this morning and wanted to remember it:







July 30, 2016   No Comments

Timeline: Comic-Style Collage

Kerrick8thGradeVerticalIt seriously cannot be true that my second-born is almost officially a high-schooler! And yet, here we are, preparing for Kerrick’s junior high graduation. Collecting and selecting the images for this poster was a challenge physically (the photos were in stored in various boxes all over the house and on three different computers) and emotionally (once I found the photos, it was a little tricky to focus through the memories-induced tears). But I managed to pull it all together and actually have a blast creating this comic-style print that I hope reflects who Kerrick is: a fun-loving, full-of-life, fantastic kid — a real Boy Wonder. I might not be quite ready to turn the page, but he can’t wait to see what happens next! 🙂




July 13, 2016   No Comments

Cool School Tools: Latin Binder Setup

Latin Binder

Whew! It’s summer! And although we homeschool year-round, the summer months are definitely more relaxed, as we work our lessons around swim team, vacation Bible school, and trips to visit grandparents. I also have a chance (finally!) to collect my thoughts about the school year that’s just passed and plan for the one to come. We’re finishing up a few loose ends and gathering supplies for a fresh start in the fall.

I’ve already decided that one cool school tool that we’ll be re-using next year is a Latin binder setup that includes the following:

• a 2-inch, three-ring binder (we like the Better Binders from Staples for their durability)
• 18 clear page protectors with a piece of paper or cardstock inside each to use as dividers
• Post-it brand tabs to label and stick to the page protectors (we use large tabs in red, blue, green, yellow, and orange — and small tabs in solid pink, blue, red, light green, orange, and yellow, as well as striped dark green, orange, pink, blue, red, and light green). The small tabs coordinate with the color-coded Latin flash card system that I also use with my middle school and high school students. (To download a free printable with instructions, click here. And to read about another “cool school tool” we use — a flash card kit — click here.)

The contents of the binder are divided into five major sections (we place a supply of notebook paper behind the first three tabs):
• Exercises — Behind this tab, students can write out the answers to assigned exercises.
• Derivatives — Behind this tab, students can record English words that are derived from the Latin words they’re learning.
• Rules/Charts — Behind this tab, students can copy grammar rules to remember and store any helpful Latin charts.
• Quizzes/Exams — Behind this tab, students can keep their quizzes and exams (great for review and tracking grades).
• Vocabulary — Behind this tab come all of the small solid and striped tabs (one for each of the noun/adjective declensions and verb conjugations, as well as pronouns and “other” words; see Kellen’s Latin binder in the photo above for an example).

NOTE: The small green tab labeled “Q et Q” in the photo above marks the page protector in which we keep extra blank parsing sheets. (To download a free printable of the parsing sheet we use, click here. And for more about how we study Latin around our house — including access to my LATIN EXTRAS ebook, click here.)

What about you? How do you use your summer to prepare for the new school year?

June 10, 2016   No Comments

Cool School Tools: Flash Card Kit


Although we homeschool pretty much year-round (with a few extended breaks here and there) the school year officially gets under way tomorrow for me and my two biggest Littles. (Truthfully, neither of them can be accurately called Littles anymore: Kerrick is beginning junior high, and Kellen is starting high school. But at least until they’re taller than my 5-foot, 4-inch frame, they’re stuck with the label.) 🙂 We’ll all be heading out the door to join the other families who are a part of our local Classical Conversations community, which meets one day each week — me as a Challenge A director, Kerrick as one of my Challenge A students, and Kellen as a Challenge I student.

A cool school tool I recommend for all of my Challenge A students (who will make a staggering 1,500-plus flash cards this year) is a flash card kit containing the following items:

• a hand-held hole punch (with a fairly large hole)
• 3-inch-by-5-inch index cards (blank on one side, ruled on the other)
• colored pencils (specifically pink, blue, red, orange, light green, dark green, yellow — to coordinate Latin flash cards with the tab colors in their Latin binders, which will be shown in a future post)
• flash card rings (because they don’t tear up the flash cards, we especially like the flexible wire rings with a sliding ball-and-socket clasp that pilots use for their log books)
• a flash card template (an extra flash card — preferably a color, to help distinguish it from the other cards — with a pre-punched hole in the upper left corner and the upper right corner trimmed off at an angle to help them color-code their Latin flash cards; see Kerrick’s terra, terrae card in the photo above for an example)
NOTE: I make a template for each of my students at the beginning of the year and explain how to use it both during our class time and in my ebook, LATIN EXTRAS. Click here for more details.

Students store their supplies in a zippered pouch like the one shown above — or even just a quart-size Ziploc freezer bag.

While our flash card kits are ready to go, we have a few more preparations to wrap up before tomorrow morning. Wish us well, won’t you?

How are you preparing for your school year? What cool tools do you make and use?

August 19, 2014   1 Comment

Timeline: Face Race

My latest attempt to stop time (or at least slow it down) has — surprise! — completely backfired. 🙂 If anything, this life-in-pictures project celebrating my oldest son’s 14th birthday (today) and his junior high graduation (in two days) has only served to remind me that we are like-it-or-not living at warp speed, indeed. This portrait collection is a more formal flashback from year one to now. I’m also busy working on another print (as a gift) that gathers candid shots of extracurricular activities — and praying that I can keep the hyperventilating to a minimum as I once again watch the years go racing by. 🙂

July 9, 2014   No Comments

The World on a String

The seventh-grade homeschooled students I tutor once a week for a program called Classical Conversations are learning to draw the entire world from memory this year — and label at least 200 countries, capitals and features. It’s no small feat! They’re halfway there, so I thought I’d give them this little memento to help keep up their momentum. I photocopied a world map onto 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper and cut it into half-inch horizontal strips, making sure I preserved one strip in particular with the words “The World” printed on it. I played with that strip to form a circle (secured by tape) that would neatly fit the inside diameter of the clear glass ornament. Then I curled each of the remaining strips around a pencil, smoothing the curl out a bit before pushing each strip individually into the ornament and inside the band formed by the first strip. Each time I pushed in a new strip, I shook the ornament and all of the strips naturally curled around each other to form a jumbled globe shape that I thought looked really fun. My handy husband shortened up and sharpened some Christmas pencils and drilled a hole through each one so that I could tie it on — along with a little jingle bell — with embroidery thread. I hope my students enjoy the ornaments. I liked them so much that I made one for our tree, too. 🙂

December 6, 2011   No Comments

A Half-Dozen …

… Homeschooling Life musings to share (answering prompts from The Homeschool Mother’s Journal):

1. In my life this week I was once again reminded that time simply won’t stand still, no matter how much I might like it to. Ever since my oldest son (Kellen, now 11) was of kindergarten age, we’ve participated in C.A.S.A. Vida, a once-a-week enrichment program for homeschoolers offered by local a public-school district. Two years later, he was joined by his younger brother (Kerrick, now 9). And this year, as the traditional school year began, I realized that we had approached some major milestones. Thursday marked not only the first day of Kellen’s last year of the program (which ends after sixth grade), but also the first day of the first year for his younger sister (Kennah, 5), who shares the same beloved kindergarten teacher that her two older brothers had. I managed to keep myself busy while they were gone all day — especially with the help of my littlest Little (Keillor, 3) — but all I could think of was how empty our house (and my life) would be if I they went away to school every day. Author Elizabeth Stone likens motherhood to having “your heart go walking around outside your body,” and that is exactly how I felt as I watched Kennah — dwarfed by her brand-new, sparkly-pink princess backpack and matching lunch box — walk into the classroom with the other kindergartners. Of course, she had a terrific time and can’t wait to go back. And of course, I know I need to let go a little. But that doesn’t make it easy. I don’t even want to envision what it will be like when Keillor heads down the same hallway two years from now — though I’m betting the backpack in that picture will look a bit different. 🙂

2. In our homeschool this week I began teaching my third child to read — something that in my pre-parenthood days I never imagined I would do. What’s interesting is that — thanks to my retired-teacher mom, who saved some of her favorite curriculum from her teaching days — I’ve been using the same program that was in vogue at my small-town public school when I was learning to read: Open Court (the 1973 version), which differs from most other reading programs in that it teaches long vowel sounds before short. It’s so fun to see the light come on in their little brains when they start to understand the ways that letters work together to express words, sentences, paragraphs, stories and ideas. Kennah’s first reading words (which form her first oh-so-simple reading sentence) are “See me.” (The accompanying illustration shows a clown looking into a mirror as he gets ready for a circus performance.) Can’t wait to hear her read the rest of the story.

3. Things I’m working on include our homeschool room, which I’ve spent much of the summer purging, cleaning, organizing and streamlining. I’m still not finished — there are a few more big piles to tackle as I decide what works, what doesn’t, what’s worth keeping and what to pass along (there’s that “letting-go” thing again!). But it’s a much neater and more welcoming space for all of us to use as we get back into a regular school routine. I’m also gearing up for another year of tutoring for a tuition-based homeschool program called Classical Conversations. This is my second year tutoring seventh-graders in six different subject areas: math, Latin, writing/literature, geography, science and rhetoric. I’m pretty sure I acquired as much knowledge as much as my students did last year, and I can’t wait to do it all again. This week, I’ve been busy reworking my personal stash of Latin flashcards to make them more user-friendly. Though it’s not a part of the curriculum, I’m throwing in a phrase supposedly uttered by Michelangelo toward the end of his life (and that I’ve adopted for my class motto): “Ancora imparo,” which means “I am still learning.”

4. I’m reading two books: Lumber Camp Library, by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, and The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande. The first one I’m reading alongside my sixth-grade son, with plans to discuss its characters, setting, plot and theme using a simplified version of the Socratic method as outlined in Teaching the Classics, by Adam and Missy Andrews. The second I’m reading as part of my Classical Conversations training, with the idea that I’ll gain some wisdom for handling conflict effectively and from a Biblical viewpoint.

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

5. I’m grateful for the encouragement of a new friend, Sue (a k a The Homeschool Chick), to get back to blogging. Her prompts — shared every Friday in The Homeschool Mother’s Journal on her site, www.thehomeschoolchick.com — helped me pull this post together. I’m sharing it in today’s link-up, along with some other homeschool moms who’ve written about what’s happening right now in their lives.

6. A video link to share that pretty much sums up my thoughts at the end of this momentous week is Stephen Curtis Chapman singing Cinderella (who, incidentally, is the favorite princess of my own little growing-up-all-too-quickly princess).

August 13, 2011   6 Comments

So Long, Summer

While the heat is still with us—and will be for several more months—the dog days of summer are drawing to a close. We started our full homeschooling schedule last week, and this morning, Kellen and Kerrick bid their best canine friend (our puppy, Sweetie) farewell before heading out to the first day back to their once-a-week, school-away-from-home program. As you can see, Kerrick was a little more broken up about it than Kellen was. 🙂 Regardless of seasons and schedules, we plan to continue the dog days around our house—spending plenty of time taking Sweetie on walks and teaching her tricks, as well as digging deeper into the stack of dog books on our read-aloud list. We just wrapped up Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls (look for a future post on that experience), and next on the list is a little-bit-lighter title: The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog, by John R. Erickson. I’m pretty sure our dog days will last well into winter. 🙂

August 12, 2010   2 Comments

Happy Valentine’s Day…

…from Kellen (who created an army of candy-covered robots)…

…from Kellen (who created an army of candy-covered robots)…

…from Kerrick (who assembled button-candy cell phones with sweet text messages)…

…from Kerrick (who assembled button-candy cell phones with sweet text messages)…

…and from Kennah (who combined beauty and brains—in the form of fancy folded cardstock rings wrapped around rolls of Smarties) in her creations.

…and from Kennah (who combined beauty and brains—in the form of fancy folded cardstock rings wrapped around rolls of Smarties) in her creations.

Handmade valentines are a tradition at our house (though I admit that sometimes we all look longingly at the hassle-free boxed cards at the store—complete with elaborate treats or cute tattoos). These are the designs the kids chose this year (from one of the places we usually look for ideas, www.familyfun.com). With a little (OK, a lot of) encouragement from me, they worked really hard for several days to cut out, color, glue or tape and address each one. Kellen, Kerrick and Kennah were so proud of their painstaking efforts and excited to give the end results to their friends. And the projects did kick some character-building qualities—creativity, problem-solving and stick-to-it-iveness—into high gear for each of them. It was enough to warm this crafty mom’s heart—at least until this time next year, when we get set to do it all again. Gotta L-O-V-E it!

February 14, 2010   7 Comments

A Half Dozen. . .

. . .things that changed my life in 2009:

1. Preparing and eating real food. Although my interest in the real-food movement actually began in 2008—when I first encountered such books as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma—my personal journey began in earnest this year. I read more books, including Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and Nina Planck’s Real Food. I looked for and found local sources for grass-fed beef and lamb, pastured chickens and eggs, raw dairy, and in-season fruits and vegetables. I learned how to sprout grains and beans, as well as soak and dehydrate nuts and seeds; I tried my hand at making butter and cheese; and I converted the recipes for many of my family’s favorite dishes to meet real-food ideals. My husband and children went along—warily but willingly—on the journey with me, as we cut back on the refined flour and sugar in our diet and incorporated such new and strange (at first) staples as fermented cod liver oil and kombucha tea.

2. Reading some great books. Clearly, I’m a believer in the statement “You are what you eat.” And by now, you’re probably getting the idea that “You are what you read” would be another suitable credo for me. Simply put, books are—and always have been—a big deal in my life. I can recall at least one engaging novel I read in 2009—The Girls, by Lori Lansens (a diary-style portrayal of the life of conjoined twins)—but for the most part it was a nonfiction year for me. Aside from the above-mentioned food titles, the rest of what I read mostly revolved around marriage and parenting. Favorites here include The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood, both written by homeschooling mom of four Sally Clarkson. I can so relate to the personal challenges she recounts—from the physical and emotional strength required to be a 24/7 caregiver, nurturer and teacher, to the doubts and feelings of inadequacy that often creep in from a culture that places almost no value on those roles. What I so appreciate about Clarkson’s writing is her ability to transcend all of that—and to help me do it, too!—by putting those roles into an eternal perspective. Her books gave me a renewed sense of purpose that I continue to cling to on those difficult days when I desperately need a good answer to the question, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” Another author who struck a similar chord with me this year is Gary Thomas, whose book Sacred Marriage has garnered him speaking engagements at churches worldwide. Shawn and I were able to attend one here in Arizona in September, and since then I’ve added a few of his books (including Sacred Influence and Sacred Parenting) to my list. Sacred Marriage (subtitled What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?) intelligently and thoughtfully exposes the ruse of romantic love as a means to (elusive) fulfillment and instead challenges those of us who choose marriage to see the difficulties it inevitably brings as a way for God to shape our character and for us to demonstrate our commitment to Him. I haven’t delved into Sacred Parenting yet, but from all indications, the theme continues on its pages. In a particularly powerful essay Thomas uses to open a book of devotions based on Sacred Parenting, he writes: “I’d like to suggest a motto for Christian family life: ‘God is in the room.’ While God is always there, so often we act and think and behave and speak as if he were not. . . .Think of how differently we might treat our children in those frustrating moments if we responded to them with the knowledge that God is in the room. If we truly believed that the God who designed them and who is passionate about their welfare was literally looking over our shoulders, might we be a little more patient, a little more understanding?. . .Tell it to yourself, every morning, every noontime, every evening: God is in the room. Tell it to each other, every time you’re tempted to yell, or to criticize, or ridicule, or even ignore each other: God is in the room. Tell it to your children, throughout the day: God is in the room. Let’s keep telling it to ourselves and to each other until we practice it and live it, until we live and breathe with the blessed remembrance: God is in the room.”


3. Having a homeschool room (where I especially need to practice the above-mentioned motto!). When we added two bedrooms and a bathroom onto our small home last year, we decided to convert one of the existing bedrooms into a homeschool room. It meant that our four children would have to double up and share the remaining bedrooms, but we were all OK with that. Shawn outfitted the room’s closet with plenty of shelves to store books and supplies, and he built new cases to replace the broken ones on three cast-off desks from the charter school where one of my sisters works. A bulletin board, dry-erase board and world map later, we were in business! And we haven’t looked back to the days when books, papers and manipulatives almost always covered the living-room floor and the dining-room table. Sure, we sometimes still “do school” in those other rooms, but having a place to put everything away when we’re finished—and a door to close when we haven’t had time to tidy up the mess—has gone a long way toward keeping me sane (see No. 2) and all of us organized and on track.

4. Finding financial peace. No, we didn’t win the lottery, receive an unexpected inheritance or invent the Next Big Thing and suddenly become fabulously wealthy. (I’m sure I would have remembered if any of those things had occurred this year!) 🙂 What we did do was solidify our financial philosophy as a single-income family with a tight budget and a desire to live relatively simply and to be completely debt-free. Toward both of those ends, we’ve begun a serious campaign to get rid of things that we don’t really need or especially love, and to pay off everything we owe (which is really just the mortgage, a car loan and a credit-card balance). Our champion of sorts in the process has been Dave Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover, host of radio broadcast The Dave Ramsey Show, and creator of such catchphrases as “Sell so much stuff the kids think they’re next,” and “Live like no one else, so that later, you can live (and give) like no one else.” Shawn and I completed his 13-week Financial Peace University course at our church this fall and discovered that we were actually in decent shape with regard to some areas of our money, but that we needed to make a few changes and do a better job in other areas. Above all, the class helped us talk things through and agree on some goals to keep us focused. We’ve even gotten the kids on board, switching their “allowance” (which implies entitlement to free money) to “commission” (which solidifies the concept that money is earned).


5. Receiving an iPod Touch. As a lover of all things Apple, I’d had my eye on an iPhone for awhile, but because the only cell-phone carrier to offer it doesn’t provide good coverage in the areas I travel most frequently, I’d pretty much ruled it out. As a second choice, I liked the iPod Touch, but without the phone functionality I couldn’t really justify buying one. “Sure, it’s cool, but would I really use it?” I wondered. Shawn surprised me with one on Mother’s Day, and that question was quickly answered in the affirmative. The marketing lingo “There’s an app for that” became a reality for me as I started to use the iPod Touch for all things usual (checking e-mail and Facebook, surfing the Web, and keeping the kids entertained with movies, music and games) and unusual (recording Kellen’s first piano recital and watching TV—mostly late-night online streaming of current episodes of The Office and Parks and Recreation). And sometimes it’s an absolute sanity saver: It makes multitasking a cinch, as I can use it while I’m cooking (see No. 1) or folding laundry. And at the risk of sounding like a really bad homeschooling mom, I occasionally use it to tune out the constant din created when 2 Bigs + 4 Littles almost always occupy the house under 1 Midsize Roof (see No. 2). Whenever I need a little break, I simply pop in the ear buds and download a podcast of The Dave Ramsey Show (see No. 4) or listen to my current playlist faves (the cast recording from the Broadway musical Wicked, or the new Sidewalk Prophets album, These Simple Truths. To hear the Sidewalk Prophets song Just Might Change Your Life—which is, after all, the theme of this post, click the play button of the audio player below.)

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6. Starting this blog. I’ve only been a blogger for half of the year, but the impact of finally finding my voice—I’ve never been much of a first-person writer—as well as the guts to share it here—I worried whether I had anything relevant to say—has been huge. I’ve “met” so many other bloggers who are living inspired—and inspiring!—lives, and I’m writing more frequently than I have in a long time. And I can’t leave out the incredible learning curve I had to conquer just to set up the blog and publish a post! When I first started, I didn’t know a tag from a category or a plugin from a pingback—and HTML code? Forget about it! (Click here to find out about the Beginner to Blogger course that helped me get up and running.) Not that I’m all super tech-savvy now. I have much more to learn, for sure, but I’ve come a long way since I began, well, at The Beginning (my first post).

Please note: It is my goal to provide a top-quality, content-driven, ad-free blog. That said, I do occasionally include affiliate links in some of my posts. For example, if you click on any of the book or CD covers above, you will link to Amazon.com, where you will have an opportunity to purchase the items—and if you do buy them after clicking through from my site, I will receive a small commission to support my work here, as well as my own book-buying habit. :-) Seriously, though, I’d be just as happy if my recommendations inspired you to check out the title from your local library or borrow it from a friend.

December 31, 2009   5 Comments