Monday, March 16, 2015

Starting Whole 30

The Accidental CrossFitter Writes Again!

It's been nearly a year since I blogged about CrossFit, but I decided to live-blog my Whole 30 food journey, starting today.

I need to rein things in, clean things up, and I'm starting with food. If you are needing some help getting started with what to eat, Whole 30 is a great place to start.

If I get to eat like this every day, I think I'll survive the month!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Change of Seasons Part 3: Five Lessons I've Learned Using Tapestry of Grace

Has it really been four years since we started this journey? 

We are now well into our fourth year of the Tapestry of Grace curriculum. We started when my son was ten and is now 13. We are now finishing our last units in the dialectic level. We are beginning to get our feet wet with some of the rhetoric level work, just to see what it's like. My daughter was six when we started and is now 9. She is now in the upper grammar level work and will do a full year in that level next year. Depending on her reading level, we may even dip our toes into some of the dialectic material.

It just so happened for us that we began TOG in year three, which is the Early Modern history cycle. It was a great place to start, because we covered all the familiar U.S. history, and the literature and discussions were very accessible. We started out with an ambitious attempt at doing a co-op with several other families, which, for a while was very fun. Then burn-out set in. That said, I'll share with you the lessons I've learned using Tapestry so far, but as you read this, know that I have never communicated with Tapestry of Grace on any level about promoting their product. Ever. I am simply a satisfied customer, and I get emails from readers. I thought this might help.

Lesson #1: Don't try to be this guy on the first go-around.


There is so much in a week of Tapestry--so many books, so many cool craft ideas, so many discussion points, literature pages, writing ideas--the list goes on, and you cannot possibly do all of the things in one week. It is difficult when you start out at first to pare down the material. You paid for this whole big thing and you're only going to use the core history reading and the literature that week? Yup--that's right. BECAUSE you will come back around to it again. If you don't control your need to be super-mom, you won't come back to TOG because burn out will set in.

Lesson #2: Tapestry is a bit addicting.

I said in this post when we had first started that it appeared to me that TOG had longevity for its users. The initial cost outlay seems a little steep in the moment. However, since I purchased the digital edition, I own the rights to all the updates that they make until my grandchildren and great-grandchildren graduate from school, if for some reason I decided to homeschool them for my kids. Something tells me I won't sign up for that, though. Even so, I have now purchased every year plan and will not have to pay for any more TOG curriculum for the next 8 years, which I expect is how much longer I will be using the program. That means I will have ultimately paid once for curriculum that took me through 12 years of schooling two children, from elementary through high school. Now that we have nearly completed all four years of the cycle, I feel excited to get back to the first cycle that we did and, with more experience and knowledge under our belts, tackle the material again and from different angles. It will be interesting to see how much my younger one remembers (who will be 10) and how much more critically my older (who will be 14) will handle the content. Looking ahead, the content for high school is plenty rigorous and will be more than enough to cover all the history, geography, English literature / language arts, government, philosophy, and worldview, and art / music appreciation. Unless the Lord directs me otherwise, I plan to stay with Tapestry of Grace for the duration. It does not feel repetitive, and continues to challenge a student at an appropriate level as he or she develops.

Lesson #3: Tapestry is best done with a few friends or a co-op.

We have worked both ways--with a co-op and without. For the first year we were the guy above and we did a full co-op that met in our church, packed lunches and did sewing projects. Did you hear me? Sewing projects! With many kids and moms who hauled sewing machines in and wow. I was tired at the end. Since I was the overly ambitious coordinator of that group, I had to step back and evaluate for my family what was best. My little one was pretty overwhelmed in the group, as was I. My son loved it, and so I had to balance both of their needs with my stamina level and my ability to sustain a reasonable work load for a whole school year. The following year we met with just a couple of families every other week and added Apologia science to the mix. It was lovely. But not. quite. enough. So the following year we went back to every week with the same smaller group. Also lovely. Last spring our little group underwent major changes. One of our families had another baby, one family decided to put their older girl in Christian prep school, and we had a death in the family. This lead to major changes for the co-op this school year (2014-15), and our little group went their separate ways. We have been doing a tiny co-op with my daughter's sweet little friend for science, but have not really been tackling TOG in the same way, and I cannot deny that I miss it, even for her at the lower level. My older son has been keeping up with the Tapestry work, but without friends to meet with and have discussions, it has not been as rich or challenging. Good, no doubt, but just not the same. In January we made the decision to meet again, with just one of the girls from the former group, and once again, the content is richer and better and both students are really enjoying Tapestry once again. 

Lesson #4: If the Shoe Fits, Wear It.

I get emails from readers asking if I think TOG is a good fit for a particular family. First of all, that is a very personal decision, so I don't know. I have heard people say that Tapestry is overwhelming or too much work for them and they couldn't possibly slog through it all. See Lesson #1 of this post. I can't really imagine not recommending Tapestry. My daughter started when she was six. It was a good fit. She learned a ton, and had fun doing it. My son started when he was 10. He learned a ton and had fun doing it. Four years later we're still using the curriculum, learning a ton and having fun. I suppose it all depends on what you're looking for. TOG isn't an all-in-one curriculum, but it's a lot-in-one. Here is what it won't do for you:
  • math
  • science (though science could easily be scheduled to cover topics that correspond to the particular period in history that you are covering)
  • spelling
  • foreign language
  • grammar (though if you use Writing Aids, some grammar is covered)
  • for myself I supplemented writing in the early years, as I didn't find the Writing Aids to my liking. I find it very useful in the dialectic / rhetoric years.
Also, if you feel like you need scripted lessons, it does not provide that, but it does provide excellent discussion guides and teacher notes so that you can confidently lead your students in socratic discussions. So if you are wondering if this is a good fit for your family, I can't see why not, but ultimately you will be the judge of that. Check out their free downloads and give it a test run.

It might not be a fit if:
  • you are not interested in Christian content. It's loaded with it. It's called Tapestry of Grace, folks. That means that the focus of the whole curriculum is how God's hand has been working in and throughout all of human history. There will be Bible.
  • you need a scripted curriculum. Some moms who are not yet comfortable in their roles as educators desire a curriculum that tells them exactly what to do. That is fine, but TOG is not that. Now, please don't email me for a recommendation because I do not know what curriculum will do that. I only know what I use.
  • you are mostly focused on STEM or really hate learning history. This program is very geared toward the humanities and demands a significant amount of time toward that end. If you desire to weight your child's education toward a STEM-heavy program, TOG may not be the right tree.
  • you are Catholic. I could understand where a Catholic Christian might need to supplement the curriculum, especially in year 2. Our family is Anglican and it was very nice to spend an afternoon with one of our priests, dialoguing about how our church and doctrines fit into the Reformation and church history. For Catholics this would be even more challenging...I might even bark up a different tree.
It may be a fit if (and these would be true for our family):
  • discipleship is foundational to your educational philosophy.
  • you have read The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and agree with it, but have trouble implementing its concepts.
  • you desire a classical base to your child's education.
  • you think the concept of using history and / or literature is a good foundation for a lifetime of learning.
  • you would like suggestions and reading lists for the scope of history that needs to be covered.
  • you have no idea what to do for crafts (me) or, you enjoy crafts and the more the better (not me)! (smh)
  • you enjoy engaging your kids in socratic discussions.
  • you enjoy learning and are filling gaps in your own education as you teach your children.
Lesson #5: Get Organized

I won't lie--Tapestry of Grace requires a bit of organization. It is worth time spent in the summer and winter breaks to get the reading lined up for the term, set up a calendar of what will be covered when, and do some reading ahead of time. They have a number of online resources available to help you plan your school year. It is also worth it to set up books on reserve as far ahead as your library will allow so that every one else in your town who is doing TOG doesn't also reserve them in the same weeks (or if they do, you beat them to the punch!) It also helps to be able to delegate household tasks, cooking and cleaning, as well as to eat a healthy diet and work out regularly. Just kidding, sort of.  This is all good stuff, but there are weeks when the train will get completely derailed, but it's fine. REMEMBER!  It will all be covered again later and one week missed or delayed is not the end of the world. That said, a bit of planning ahead of time will minimize those occurrences and will leave those "less-than-optimal" weeks to sickness or life events that cannot be avoided. 

All in all, Tapestry of Grace is a phenomenal program, but I wouldn't call it "plug and play." There is a bit of settling in and tweaking that goes along with using it in a way that suits your family. Give it a try, give it time. TOG is like a lake that, even though you can see the other bank from where you stand, is very deep and very rich in the crossing, and you find that the journey is more rewarding than you anticipated. 

I hope this has helped answer some of your questions about Tapestry of Grace. If this didn't do the trick, feel free to email me, or check out their own reasons to love the curriculum.

Has He Ever Steered Me Wrong?

Very early in our homeschool journey, I adopted the following verse as one of our key verses for our family:
Psalm 144:11-12
"Deliver me and rescue me from the hands of foreigners whose mouths are full of lies, whose right hands are deceitful.
Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace."
Throughout the nine years that we have been homeschooling, I have prayed continually and fervently for the Lord's guidance, wisdom and provision. God has answered my prayers 100% of the time, with clarity and peace. He has never left me in the dark concerning the next step, which curriculum I should choose or what decisions I should make about staying  home vs. going to a brick and mortar institution. He has communicated his answers to me through that deep inner peace that cannot be explained in human language. Every time I have come to a point of feeling anxious, wondering if I was doing okay by my kids or comparing myself to other moms who have the appearance of having it all together, I have been comforted and reassured, and even chastised by his constancy. 

Answered Prayer--Again...
On Wednesday morning during my quiet time I found myself again with my head in my hands earnestly seeking the Lord's heart for what he would have me do next year for my son, who will start high school in the fall. I asked him to show me clearly what I should do. I was feeling weary and stressed and wondered if I would be able to get through the next couple of days, as it felt like my calendar was all backed up with no margin--a place I never like to be, but often find myself.

My son woke with a cold that morning, and by that evening I could see that the calendar would need to be cleared so as to care for him, rest, and allow us all to recover, as we all seem to be fighting something. Thursday came without much to do, then, so I sat down and started reading about homeschooling through high school. Within a couple of hours I had a tremendous sense of relief. A plan had emerged, and it was very clear to me what course of action I should pursue to get the boy through his freshman year of high school studies. Even better, it became apparent that at the end of this academic cycle, he will already have completed most of the things typically covered in 9th grade and he will start with 10th grade material.

Today, as I have battled my own headache and sore throat, I have had the luxury of time and headspace to think through decisions for next year, talk things over with my husband who ended up taking leave today to work on taxes, and discuss scheduling with my friend who will co-op with me on various subjects. 

I can hear the Lord, in His quiet way, speaking to my heart... "Have I ever steered you wrong?"  
Isaiah 41:10
"Do not fear for I am with you, Do not be dismayed for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand..."

It occurs to me that my God entrusted these precious children to my care for this season. Incredibly, He loves them more than I do or could even hope to, in spite of the fact that my love for them often brings me to tears and leaves me feeling utterly undone. Why, when He loves them as he does, would he guide me in a way that would be contrary to their best interest or their God-given nature?

So here we go! We will take the plunge into the rhetoric stage years with God as my guide. Stay tuned. We'll be live-blogging the journey!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Week of Feb. 23: In Which We Are Crazy Busy

This week was busy. Between the gym, two co-ops, chiropractic appointments, snow disruption, music rehearsal, music lessons, skiing, and the start of the CrossFit open competition season, we have been running all week...but it's all good stuff. There was no time to reflect or think about much of anything deep this week, so I'll just give the rundown of our best moments...

The "LGs" (Little Girls) dissected flowers for Botany...

and labeled them...

and diagrammed them...

our family went skiing on Friday--conditions were perfect!

and our cheeks got very pink...

Both kids competed in the CrossFit Woodbridge Open...

Workout 15.1

40 lb. clean and jerk for my Little Miss!

All in all it was a good, but exhausting week. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Week of Feb. 16: In Which We Finally get a Snow Day

Finally. It snowed this week! I find winter to be a bleak experience in the absence of snow, and finally this week we got a sled-able amount. Is that a word? I don't care...

We even had plans to go skiing at one of the local ski resorts on Friday, but the temperatures plummeted into single digits and below-zero wind chills...We'll shoot for next week.

And isn't that the absolute joy of homeschooling? We can just decide what we do and when, and I don't have to write a note, check a schedule, make sure homework is made up--nuthin. We just go and when we do, we get the place to ourselves, practically. No lines, no crowds. It is this lifestyle that makes it very hard to choose another path. Sure, we talk about it sometimes, that maybe it would be better to go to school for x-reason or y-reason, but when we weigh the pros and the cons, the pros in  favor of homeschooling always win, and lifestyle is one of the heaviest factors on the list.

So with schools being cancelled and the government allowing Dad to be home to telework, we have had a very loosey-goosey school week. It has been week 7 of the winter / spring and it occurs to me that from past observation, we have the stamina to stay very focused on lessons for about six weeks at a time, and then we really need a lighter week or even a break. I have seen folks that schedule lessons for six weeks on, six weeks off, and work year round. I like this idea a lot and have considered it myself, but we have consistently been wildly unsuccessful at schooling through the summers, so I'd have to tweak that idea a bit.

All in all it has been a restful, snowy, very cold week. Next week we pick back up with our co-ops and goals. Happy snow day to all!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Our Family's List of Best Books for Boys

Finding books that boys can really love these days seems like a momentous task, what with video games and media distractions. Teaching a young man that reading is something to be valued is a delicate skill, it seems, but it can be done. Spending time together reading, both parents modeling a love of reading and books, limiting screen time, and allowing for boredom are all critical in developing a love of reading in a boy.

A friend posted this link of 40+ books for boys on Facebook today. I found the list interesting, and it causes me to worry that I've missed some great reads, but we also have a sizable list of our own that I would add. That said, it must not be that difficult to find books that boys love, after all! My 13-year old son has become a bibliophile. Both his dad and I have shared with him our favorite books, and these have become some of his as well. He has also forged a selection of his own favorites, mostly those that were not available when we were kids. I have asked his input on what he would include in a list of books that he couldn't put down, and he listed many of these. Others I have chosen based on my own observation, but he didn't think of them when he was naming books. A few would seem atypical for boys, but we listened to them together and there was no prejudice of them being books "for girls," namely books in the Little House series or The Secret Garden (which he added, not I). Because I have both a son and a daughter, if one wants to participate in a book being read aloud, they must accept the fact that it might not be their first choice. There have been some surprising likes along the way as a result. 

*I'm not providing you the links. You know how to use the internet and your local library. I will be here all day making links and you'll never get to read the list.

That said, here is the list of books my son has loved.

The Chronicles of Narnia (series): My "share" with my son. He has loved every volume except for The Magician's Nephew, which gave him nightmares. He has never wanted to go back and read it again. 

Alice in Wonderland: This is the book that launched my son into reading. Seems a strange choice to me, but I handed him a leather-bound volume that I said had belonged to my grandfather, and his eyes grew wide at the thought that I would let him hold such a thing. He read it cover-to-cover over the next week or so, and took very good care of the book.

Ralph S. Mouse (series): Another of my childhood favorites which has become a favorite of both of my kids. 

Henry Huggins (series): We love Henry. And Ribsy. And his bike. And his paper route. And his guppies. Ramona...ugh!

Ramona (series): Wait...we LOVE Ramona! All of our family loves Ramona. Even when she's pestering Henry.

The Wizard of Oz (series): Son read all of 14 books in this series front to back. Completely enjoyed them.

Frindle: A boy decides to change the name of a pen from "pen" to "frindle" and it catches on. Sounds innocent enough until the school is in an uproar and this new word spreads across the country...

Half-Magic: Laugh-out-loud funny (I know because my kids were cracking up) story about some children who find a magic coin that turns out only to be half-magic. The results of their adventures with this particular magical device are hilarious.

Little Britches (series): Another family read-aloud favorite. Especially good for boys to see what it means to be a young man in a time of need. 

Misty of Chincoteague: Local and true, another favorite for both son and daughter. "The only horse story I ever liked," he added.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane: Lands in the category of very different, thought provoking, and good material for discussion. A toy rabbit is separated from his owner and goes on a lifetime of adventures. Watch out, Mom, you may cry at the end.

The Tale of Despereaux: Like Edward Tulane in that it is thought provoking and very different. A mouse falls in love with a princess?? Yes, something like that...

The Secret Garden: Magical. Listened to this together and enjoyed it completely. You will feel a great need to plant things in the spring, and the beautiful story will remind you to never give up hope.

Around the World in 80 Days: Couldn't stop. Fantastic book. Leaves you with a book hangover. A man takes up the challenge to use all the modern means of travel at his disposal to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less. Wonderful character development.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch: Another family favorite read-aloud that leaves you feeling more able to take on the world. The story of colonial-era navigator Nathaniel Bowditch who, despite being indentured and severely disadvantaged proves himself a math genius, educates himself by learning several languages and re-writes the books on navigation. His work set the standard for accuracy in navigation and is still used and studied today in modern times.

Johnny Tremaine: The story of the American revolution from a handicapped boy's perspective. A great way to experience the founding of our nation.

By the Great Horn Spoon: I can't say too much about this book, but my son gave it an excellent review. Takes place during the California gold rush.

The Sign of the Beaver: Another of my son's favorites. Asked for more like this when he finished reading it. It's the story of a solitary boy who befriends an Indian boy and his grandfather. He has to make a difficult choice when it appears that his family may not return to him and the Indian boy offers his family and friendship.

Farmer Boy (and other Little House Books, but especially this): Another family favorite read-aloud. We love the Little House books, but Farmer Boy had some especially funny moments that endeared it to all of us.

Swallows and Amazons: The story of some children's adventures sailing during their summer holiday. Kid-power all the way. This story was the kind that leaves kids wishing they could have a boat and an island of their own, and will inspire them to build forts and seek adventures, real or imagined. This is the first in a series, but we have only read the first one together.

The Great Brain (series): Dad's share. This was my husband's favorite book series when he was young, and he read them to my son. As a result, these are some of his most cherished books, and he reads them over and over.

Moccasin Trail: One of our family's all-time favorite read-alouds. I sat one day and read for three hours, pausing only to use the rest room. We could not put it down. It is the story of a boy who is separated from his family and is rescued by Indians, and that is all I will say because I refuse to spoil it. A great book for brothers to experience together.

Harry Potter (series): Harry, of course. No introduction necessary. Four Harry Potter fans live here. Yes, I cried at the end. I don't know if my son did or not.

Percy Jackson (series): Percy is a demigod but doesn't know it. He must save the world. How it happens in modern times is quite fun. Both kids have loved Percy.

Heroes of Olympus (series): More Percy

The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Odyssey told to young people with beautiful illustrations. 

Black Ships Before Troy: The Iliad told to young people with beautiful illustrations.

Stories from Shakespeare (various authors) and real Shakespeare productions: My son loves Shakespeare, especially Hamlet and Henry V, which is is favorite. We have never shied away from it, have approached the stories like any other, and have ventured into watching the actual productions together. Anything done by Kenneth Branagh is amazing, but I highly recommend Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V. Attention span required. 

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Bilbo, Frodo and all the gang. We are huge LOTR fans from the youngest to the oldest. If reading LOTR is a little too heavy for your kids, I highly recommend the unabridged audio version available on Audible. Even my daughter listened at the tiny age of 8, and amazingly she loved it. Both of my kids have gone through the series more than once, not to mention seen all the movies.

Mysterious Benedict Society (series): A somewhat dystopian series that challenges the mind of anyone, let alone a kid. Invokes the question of what it means to be intelligent, what it means to be human, and how do we prevent tyranny? A savant is solicited for his intelligence but finds himself up against another great mind that seeks unjust power.

Eregon (series): Dragons and fantasy. Son loves it. I have not read it, but can attest to his enthusiasm for this book and this genre.

Animal Farm: A story of barnyard animals. But not. Wicked political satire that had my son and some of his friends saying, "Wait, that's just like what is happening today with (insert political situation x)!" Read as a history assignment two years ago, but still discussed over dinner even now.

Joyful Noise, Poems for Two Voices: Poems written from the point of view of insects that are read together. We have had so much fun reading these together, and it conveys the notion that poetry is neither boring nor inaccessible. Even bugs can write it! Some are funny, some are beautiful, some are sad. My daughter and I began reading these together the other day, and she's hooked, too.

Where the Sidewalk Ends, Runny Babbit and anything by Shel Silverstein

Comics: Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, The Far Side

Off with their Heads! and Remember, Remember the Fifth of November: British history in engaging  story forms, not unlike Horrible Histories. I purchased these in England but a quick search shows me that you can get them here.

Horrible Histories: "History with the nasty bits left in." This is a British series that is very engaging and quite funny with disgusting historical truths and amusing illustrations left right where they belong--on the pages of a boy's history books. 

The Dangerous Book for Boys: A handbook on how to do boy stuff, be a gentleman, an adventurer, and a friend.

The Guinness Book of World Records: Every guy needs this book so he can one-up his pals with weird information.