Homeschool Chat: History - 4th, 2nd, 1st



While we are fully enjoying our summer break, over the last month I've been giving a little thought to our last homeschool year, and how I would like this year to look different.  I have so many thoughts swirling around in my head, and so many homeschool topics I'd like to cover, that I've been having a hard time knowing where to start when it comes to sharing on the blog.

Sometimes when I get stuck like this, it's best just to jump into writing out my thoughts and see what comes of it.  This week I want to break down what I am thinking we will be using for each subject, and then maybe next week I can get into more of my general strategy and feelings about our upcoming homeschool year.  So let's talk about history, shall we?

General Thoughts On Homeschool History

With everything that has been happening in America over the last several months, I think history is the subject that has been weighing on me most heavily.  It is a travesty, what has happened to American history education in this country over the last decade, and if you doubt it, check out this video of college students not being able to answer simple questions about the American founding.  In all fairness, there were several who did know the answers.  But all the people they interviewed here agreed that they didn't learn enough history in history class, and the two teachers in the video admitted that they don't teach much history in social studies classes, they teach current events.

There is a saying I'm sure you've heard - those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. (That's the idea, accurate quote is here).  It's a common saying because it is true.

It's more important to me than ever that my kids really know the history of America, and the world.  I want them to know the mistakes and failings of the past so they can do their part to not repeat those things, but I also want them to know the victories and heroism that is their heritage as Americans.  I want my kids to recognize the good and true and beautiful in our history, and aspire to those good qualities themselves.  That doesn't mean we ignore the sins and failings of historical figures, but I think kids are smart enough to be able to see both, to honor the admirable traits and accomplishments of our Founders while also recognizing that all - every one in our history - have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God in different ways.

All that said, my homeschool history philosophy is that I want my kids to be really firmly grounded in American history first.  Of course knowing world history is important as well, but I have a couple reasons American history takes precedence for me.

One is that my kids ARE Americans, and I think it's important for the children of every country to be especially well-versed in their own history. For my kids, they will need to know the purpose of America, why it was founded, what makes our form of government unique, our national symbolism, how the states came to be, what wars we fought and why, what we've accomplished and what things nearly ripped us apart - they're going to need to know all that to just be good citizens, and to have any chance of holding this country together in the future.

My other reason for emphasizing American history first is that it just makes sense to me.  It seems natural to start with the history of the familiar before branching our into unfamiliar territory.  And also, world history is really complex.  I believe the context of world history is very important, but it makes most sense to me to learn the most immediately relevant history first (for my American kids that would be American history), and then build the world context up after that.

Okay, sorry, that was long, on to my curriculum thoughts!

(From our last field trip before quarantine and all that.  We went to a railroad museum!)

What We've Used In The Past

Beautiful Feet Books

Over the past couple years we have used Beautiful Feet Books for our history curriculum.  I liked Beautiful Feet Books because it teaches history through interesting picture books and chapter books, which is way more fun and memorable than reading a dry textbook.

We did the "Around The World In Picture Books" set last year.  It was fun to give my kids an introduction to different areas of the world, and especially because I tried to incorporate Christian missionary stories in with it, which had a big impact on them.

However, I find the teacher guides for Beautiful Feet Books to be a little burdensome for my homeschool style.  I'm more of an open-and-go sort of homeschool mom, and the Beautiful Feet Books guides throw something different at me every day, which ends up making me rather scared to open the book.  Pre-planning might fix this, but like I said, I'm an open-and-go type of girl.  I don't like to have to pre-plan.

Toward the end of the year I found myself drifting back to unit studies about different parts of American history, rather than finishing out our "world tour".  We will probably casually finish that Around The World curriculum set this year, but I've realized I need to make some adjustments.

Christian Liberty Press

When we got in a history rut last year I picked up "American Pioneers And Patriots", and we did a pioneer unit study.  I loved that book!  Each unit was a story about a pioneer family, with suggested activities at the end, though we mostly made up our own related activities, including playing the old Oregon Trail online.

Story Of The World

We also used Story Of The World last year because our co-op was using it.

The positives of this curriculum are that it's very thorough.  Each year a different era of world history is studied, and most countries are covered.

The negatives to me are that it's alot of focus on world history, which I've already explained is not my preference for elementary school.  There are also some really brutal events in world history that are difficult to explain to my kids' age group.  Story Of The World includes overviews of some barbaric cultural practices that I would rather not cover with my kindergartener (think Aztecs).  And overall, jumping around to different areas of the world for each historical period is pretty complex information for a grade schooler to keep straight (sheesh, it's complex for me to keep straight!).

Story Of The World wasn't our favorite resource, and we probably won't use it again unless we rejoin co-op.

Oh yeah, we quit our co-op.  That's a different post.

What We'll Use This Year

Looking ahead to this year, I knew I wanted to go back to American history after our brief attempt at elementary world history last year.  I want to cover America's founding again, learn more about westward expansion and pioneers, and lay the groundwork for getting deeper into the Civil War and the 20th century with Wyatt next year.  I decided to change things up, and I'm putting together my own hybrid of a couple different curricula:




Beautiful Feet Books Early American Beginner

This was the curriculum I used with my kids two years ago, and that was a great year for history.  We basically read all the picture and chapter books in the order recommended by the teacher's guide, and that was it.  No random videos and library resources to plan for, no extra crafts or projects.  Just the books, and if I felt ambitious I'd help my kids record what they remembered into their individual history notebooks.  It worked well, and we all enjoyed it, so that's what we're going back to for Clyde (1st) and Gwen (2nd), and Wyatt will listen to the read-alouds too I'm sure.

America's Story 1 + BFB Early American Intermediate

With three elementary school students to do lessons with this year, I knew I wanted something a bit more independent for Wyatt when it comes to history.  The curriculum I settled on was America's Story 1 by Masterbooks.  This curriculum comes with a student book and a teacher's guide - the student book has colorful pictures - including famous American art - and engaging text that covers the founding to the Goal Rush.  The teacher's guide includes student work pages, and guidance on creating an American timeline project and a "book of prayers for our country" project that I'm excited about.

As an extra, I also decided to buy only the chapter books for the next level of Beautiful Feet Books American History to read over the school year.  My idea/hope is that Wyatt should be able to read through the weekly America's Story lesson by himself, and probably also accomplish some of the projects independently (with a little help from me).  Then he and I will either read the BFB book recommendations together (aloud), or I'll assign some of the easier books for him to read independently as we go.

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Overall, my plan for history this year is more complex than in previous years, but I feel good about the resources.  Despite my current plan requiring more work to accomplish than usual, I feel that I've landed on a curriculum combination that will actually get done.  Will we be spending more time on history than we have in the past?  Yes, and I feel really good about that.  This is the subject I want to focus on most this year, so it's fitting.

What is your style for teaching history?  Have you used any of the curricula I've tried?


A Summer Fun To-Do List



I've said it already, but I'll say it again, I feel like this year it's more important than ever to make good use of the summer.  I don't know about you, but the last three months have really worn me down.  it feels like the world is alternately going insane or falling apart.  For every disappointment and stress that I've felt, I'm sure my kids have had their own version of it, despite how hard I've tried to shield them from things.

So I want summer to be a break from all that.  I want to try not to allow the things that we can't do to discourage me from doing the things we can do.  I want all the summer memories, and maybe the fact that some of the memories will be different will just make it stand out more for my kids.

So these are a few of the things I'm working into my summer planner.

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Teaching Games

As homeschool students, maybe it's even more important for me to put some effort into teaching them childhood games that remember - where else are they going to get them?  These are a few on my list:

Trampoline Games - You know "crack the egg", "pop the popcorn", "fly high".  Basically torturing an unsuspecting child in the middle by seeing how high you can launch them.  Any others I'm missing?

H.O.R.S.E. - We have a basketball hoop, and it needs more use.  Is there a more fun way to practice spelling?  I remember as a kid sometimes playing E.N.C.Y.C.L.O.P.E.D.I.A. instead of H.O.R.S.E. to make the game last longer!

Catch - Like serious catch, with baseball glove and ball.  I want my kids to be comfortable with the basics of sports, even though I'm about the least sporty person you'll ever meet.  I'm sure it won't take much for my kids to surpass me, but I want them to learn.

Hand Clapping Games - If you are a girl, I'm sure you remember doing hand-clapping games as a kid, right?  I need to brush off that knowledge and teach my kids some (especially my girls - seems like that was mostly a girl thing in my memory anyway?).

I found this article with a bunch more old-school game ideas, so I might add a few more as we go!



Crafts And Activities

I am not the most crafty mom either (ie. not crafty at all), but these activities looked doable, and like they would keep my kids busy for quite a while.


Spray Bottle Sidewalk Paint - I found this recipe here.  There is also a similar squirt-chalk recipe, and I already got cheap squirt bottles to use at Dollar General!

Tic Tac Toe Rocks - On Pinterest I saw smooth rocks painted colorfully with tic-tac-toe symbols on it, along with a little wooden tic-tac-toe board.  Sure you could play tic-tac-toe on paper, but I thought it might be fun to break out the paint and make a board like that with the kids.

Homemade Bouncy Balls - This recipe looked really interesting - they are not like true bouncy balls, but this would be an interesting science experiment to try this summer.

Ice Cream Playdough - This ice cream/frosting play dough recipe looks exciting.  It looks like really ice cream!  And it's edible, so if Georgie tries to eat it I won't have to worry.

Puffy Paint Ice Cream Cones - My kids would have so much fun with this puffy paint picture project.

Homemade Bubbles  - I saw this fun idea for homemade bubbles in a drink dispenser - this would honestly keep my kids busy all day!

Glow Sticks In The Kiddie Pool - Every summer I get a kiddie pool, which is always a winner for any hot days we have at home - but I really like the idea of putting some glow stick in the water once it starts to get dark!

Make Bird Feeders - I'm thinking the toilet-paper-roll variety.  You know, you roll them in peanut butter and bird seed and tie a string through it.  Keeping it simple.

Treasure Hunt - I found these cute treasure hunt printables, and I think it would be fun to buy some candy and make the kids search for it one day.  It would be super simple and cheap, but I know my kids, they'll probably talk about it for the rest of the summer.

Origami "Fortune Teller" With Boredom Busters - There are directions to make one here, and this boredom buster list gave me some ideas.  This would be our go-to for the inevitable "I'm bored".  The rule might be that my kids have to do whatever they get, even if it's a chore!

Reading Challenge - We are doing our library's reading challenge, but I also challenged my big kids that they would get a little prize for each set of five books that they read.  They've been working hard to get their prizes!

Bible Memory Verse Challenge - This one is still in the works, but I'm thinking of coming up with a chart, and for each set of five verses that they memorize, they'll earn some special treat or prize.  I have memory verse cards they can work off of, and some fun Bible memory verse apps I found.




Out Of The House

I still am trying to plan a few days to get out of the house, even though we are kind of limited on where we can go.  These were a few ideas.

Nature Hikes - We are lucky enough to live down the road from a state park, so we are going to work in regular nature hikes.  my kids love hiking in the summer especially and looking at all the mountain plants and flowers!  Gwen requested we bring notebooks next time for recording our observations, so that's what we will do.

Play In A Creek - I know a little picnic spot with a creek, but we haven't been there in ages.  I'm putting a day for wading in the creek on our calendar.

Drive In Movie - This is a "maybe", but even though our theaters are all still closed, I heard that some drive-in theaters are open.  Maybe this is the year to give it a try?

Swimming - I really want to try to go swimming at least once this summer (aside from the fact that pools are requiring masks only while walking to the pool, but not at any other time...honestly, what is even the point? These mask rules are so often nonsensical.)

Park Days - I had grand plans for a million park days this summer, but I think we're going to trim down and only go every couple weeks.  Maybe I'm just turning into a home body with all the weirdness out there?  But the kids are park-deprived, so we will definitely make an effort to visit a few of our favorites!

Historical Sites - There are a couple historical sites in our state that I really wanted to visit in the spring, then everything shut down.  We are going to try to make a day trip or weekend trip out of them this summer instead!  Possibly in August, so we can count them as days for next school year.

Fishing - I should also mention that we plan to squeeze a few more fishing days in this summer!  We just don't know where yet.  Maybe someday we'll actually catch a fish.

Stargazing - We finally got our big telescope set up, and we are ready to schedule a summer star-gazing night!  We go somewhere away from all houses, usually with candy or Sonic slushes in tow, and see what we can see.



At Home

Porch Camping - We do this every year, and it's always a highlight.  Derek will set up our tent on the porch, complete with air mattresses and sleeping bags, and we all sleep out there at least one night.  We usually leave it up a couple extra days too, and the kids play or read out there.

Trampoline Sleepover - Derek suggested that he might string some battery-operated lights on the net around our trampoline, and I was thinking we could let the kids have a sleepover out there (one of us will sleep out there with them).  Will we sleep well?  Probably not, but it will be a fun memory!

Campfire - If our fire ban ever gets lifted, a campfire is the first thing on our to-do-list!  With marshmallows and smores and Rolos, of course.

Regular Game Nights - I want to schedule a weekly or bi-weekly game night, where we play a board game together as a family (with possible the little ones being on our "teams", since they get distracted).

Regular Movie Nights - We want to start introducing the kids to some of our childhood favorites!  We watched Pollyanna the other night, and a John Wayne movie is next one the list.  For movie night we pile in the living room with pillows and blankets, and have cheap pizza and candy while we watch together.



Food Treats

Firework Fruit Kabobs - I was going to make some variety of a red/white/blue fruit Kabob for the 4th of July.

Special Kid Drinks - My first variation is koolaid ice cubes in Sprite, and it made the kids' day!  But I think even lemonade or infused water in the drink dispenser would be a refreshing summer touch.

Popsicles - We might possibly make some homemade popsicles, or I might make my life easy and just give them an otter-pop on every hot afternoon.

Spaghetti Salad and Broccoli Salad - Every summer I try to make one or both of these salads a few times - they are our traditional summer foods in my family.

Mocktails - This is more for me and Derek, but in the summer I like to try new fruity non-alcoholic drink recipes after the kids go to bed!

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That is my full summer list!  I rarely get to every single thing I have planned for the summer, but just having it written out on our calendar motivates me to at least try to make some of these ideas happen. (You can read more about the mechanics of my summer planning here.) It's taken me some time to get organized since we've been back from vacation, so this morning I'm working on mapping out when I want to do all this.  We still have two months of summer fun ahead of us!

Do you plan any activities to make summer feel special?




The Kickoff To Summer



Despite today feeling decidedly fall-like outside, Summer has actually begun!  The start to summer has looked different this year for all of us.  Usually the kickoff to Summer is the library used book sale, which didn't happen this year, and another major annual event, our local homeschool conference which I've enjoyed for the past three years, was also cancelled.  But we've still managed to have some fun and get in the summer spirit anyway!  Here's what we've been up to.



A Bad AirBnB Experience

Alright, you have to allow me to tell this story before I get to the fun stuff.  The last week of May we took off for a road trip to the Gulf Coast!  Coronavirus tensions were higher then, even though it was just a few weeks ago, so we packed up all our food and activities in the van, and planned to drive with as few stops at possible.  I figured when we got there we'd check into our AirBnB and just keep to ourselves and enjoy the beach.

I decided to book an AirBnB since when we were planning our trip it was still questionable whether hotels were open or not.  I figured it would be nice to have a whole house to ourselves anyway.  

We arrived at the house at maybe !0:00 PM local time, and basically got the kids settled and went right to bed.  When we woke up the next day, we started looking around...and realized the house was not really clean.  I guess since you pay a cleaning fee on the AirBnB website, I always just assume they hire a cleaning lady, and I also assumed they'd be extra thorough in cleaning since they had just allowed rentals again after the virus shutdown.  And the "recent reviews" said it was "sparkling clean".

Well.  The host basically admitted to me that all they did was steam mop the floors and clean the bathroom.  There was clutter on top of the cabinets and in all the closets, the closet door was hanging by a hinge and a light fixture was broken, there was dead flies and dust on all the windowsills, thick grime in the dishwasher, grease splattered in the microwave.  Dust on all the shelves.  At first we thought we could maybe do a quick dust job ourselves, but the more we looked around, the more grime we found.  So I requested a refund (only got a partial one), and we decided to look for a hotel instead.  The host was rude about it.  

Here's the kicker guys.  I was going to leave a review to let other people know that the place was not actually clean, but then I realized that your review is not published on AirBnB until or unless the host decides to review you as a guest.  So basically I could write a negative review, and the host could just decide not to publish it.  Which explains why all the available reviews claimed "sparkling clean" when it was clearly not sparkling clean.

Let's just say I don't trust AirBnb anymore.

Update: Did a little more research, and it looks like only the HOST will not be able to see your comments until after they review you?  If so, that's much better.  The wording in the AirBnB emails is confusing.

A Lovely Gulf Coast Vacation Anyway

Once we left the nasty AirBnB, (and once I got antibiotics for an ear/throat infection that developed while we were down there - another long story), we actually had a really wonderful trip!  We enjoyed a really nice hotel in Houston for a great last-minute deal, saw a movie at one of the theaters that was open in Houston, went back to a hotel in Galveston as soon as one opened up, and spent a ton of time at the beach.  I even finally figured out how to handle my curly hair in the humidity on this trip (the trick is to not try to straighten it, and just not care at all).  It was so fun and refreshing to go somewhere that felt almost normal, and I was sorry to go home.  I'll share more pictures and all the details in another post soon.



A Birthday Fishing Trip And Date

One thing that is not cancelled is birthdays!  And mine is in June.  We threw around a few ideas for things to do on my birthday, and we finally settled on going fishing.  I love going fishing, and feel like I could really get into it if we had more time/resources.  As it is now, we almost never catch anything because 1) the fishing is not that amazing in our state unless you have a boat, and 2) we have a bunch of noisy little kids with us every time.  But I think the experience of getting outside and enjoying nature is what makes it fun.  







We still really want to catch a fish sometime though.  I think we are going to try another state park soon that has a smaller pond with fish in it.  The fish in this lake were out the in the deeper water where our lines wouldn't reach.  We saw them jumping a couple times.  Or maybe we should just invest in a pair of waders so we can get out there further.  We will catch a fish someday.

Derek also took me on a birthday date!  We went mini-golfing, and then got take-out and ate it in a park while the sun was going down. It was lovely!



Back To Church And Playgrounds

Another great development is that our church was finally allowed to reopen.  It's different than normal, but it's just so good to be with other believers and worship together in person again.  Online church is fine in a pinch, but I strongly believe it's not a substitute for meeting with other Christians in person.  There's a reason the Bible says not to forsake the gathering together with other believers.  Anyway, that's been a nice bit of pseudo-normalcy lately.

Playgrounds also opened this month, so we've been taking advantage!

Nature Hikes

It's been interesting and kind of fun to me to see how everything being closed has allowed people to get back out into nature a little more.  During the little kids' nap time the other day, I took the big three on a nature hike, and there was so many people on the trail!  But I love how even when nature is a bit more crowded than usual, there is still so much space for peace and quiet and exploring.  Seriously guys, try to get outside more.  Also, state parks are hidden gems.





Summer Planning

Every year I pull out a calendar and a list of things we want to do during the summer, and I start plugging things in.  I have a process, because I want to make sure all of the things we most want to do during the warm months actually happen!  I wrote all about my planning process (including some ideas for stuff to do this year) on Rooted Family if you're interested.

Anyway, I have my list of ideas gathered (it took a little more research this year than normal), and sitting down to plug my ideas into the calendar is on the to-do list today.  I really believe that simple little bits of fun can really make the summer memorable.  I started freezing koolaid ice cubes this week so I could make the kids colorful summer drinks (just add Sprite), and it turned out really well.


The kids were so excited when I ave them the drinks.  The girls adorably clinked their glasses together and said "Cheers!"  And Wyatt actually wrote me a card to thank me for the summer treat.  That whole "the way to a boy's heart is through his stomach" thing is a cliche for a reason.  They made my day.



That's pretty much everything we've been up to lately!  Keep an eye out for a vacation post, coming up soon!  

And don't forget to read my post on planning an epic summer on Rooted, especially if you are discouraged about the summer not feeling normal.  You can still make it memory-filled, even in this weird time.


Shouts And Whispers



9:32 AM.  Some spunky spider threaded a silvery strand from the porch railing to the chair last night, and I'm sitting here looking at it as I try to figure out what I exactly want to write today. The wind is picking up, and I keep watching the thread in the sunlight, thinking surely it will break in the gusts.  But it hasn't.  Spider silk is strong stuff.

I didn't start this trying to draw an analogy here, but its kind of like the country right now isn't it?  Some days the events in the news are so crazy, it feels like the entire American civilization is hanging by a thread.  Maybe one day the last gust of wind, the last crazy event, will break it.  I hope our traditions and values, the things we used to all unite around as nation, will be like that thread, strong enough to string our country together amidst all this chaos, but if not...well, it's a good thing that we believers in Christ don't have to place our hope in men, isn't it?

I'd like to insert something I wrote on Instagram a couple weeks ago, for posterity or for any of you who don't follow me over there.  This is the bottom line to me:

I had some things I wanted to share this week, but all that is on hold for now, as Instagram was dominated yesterday by black squares. I don’t like getting involved in these things online, but this morning all my thoughts and feelings and discouragements coalesced and clarified. So against my initial instinct to swear off social media and just pray and cocoon with my kids (which still might be what I end up doing), I have a few things to say..First, to those putting your hope in social media campaigns, or conversations, or human organizations, or a political party, or violence, to spur on whatever change you think needs to happen, I think you will be disappointed..I like how someone else (@stopandconsider on Instagram) put it: “The spiritual oppression that all men are under is sin, and from that all the physical vestiges of oppression find their power. The only way that is changed is by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, who died for sinful men to reconcile them to God.”.
The solution to ALL our sin, the sins hidden inside us as well as the sins of murder and theft and racism that dominate the news, is CHRIST, crucified to pay the penalty of death that WE deserved. He is risen to conquer death, heal our souls, and give us victory over that sin..
HE is the One who sets us free, changes hard hearts, and brings peace to our sinful souls and broken world. If you don’t know that peace and reconciliation with God - I pray, I beg you, to seek and find that Truth...And one more thing - if we as Christians are trying to participate in this conversation on racism, rule of law, etc, and we leave out the Gospel, I’m sorry but we are doing it wrong. I’ve been personally convicted of this. What eternal good are we doing if we aren’t taking care to point others to Christ through this tragic situation? What lasting change can be made if we don’t preach the Gospel of Christ, which has the true power to change hearts and save eternal souls?.
It’s time to turn our eyes back to Him, our only true Hope amidst the chaos.

The events of the last few weeks have kind of been the last gust of wind for me, to turn my eyes back to what really matters.  These verses in 2 Timothy have been swirling in my brain through the turmoil our nation is facing - reminding me that this is my duty, this is my call:

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching...But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:2,5

Paul was writing this to Timothy, who was a young pastor.  But when I read those verses to apply them personally, I am reminded to keep my mind on the gospel, and my energy focused on my kids. There are so many voices shouting on social media right now, it's hard to hear anyone, and the limitations of trying to speak the truth online become ever more apparent...but I can preach the Word to my kids.  I can be faithful in my efforts to convince, exhort, rebuke, and train them.  I can show them how to be watchful in all things by showing them what God's Word says about what is happening in the world, I can present examples of how to endure afflictions while giving thanks to God, I can do the work of an evangelist by pointing them to Jesus's atoning work on the cross always.  This is I can fulfill my ministry, the most important one, which has always been to shine the light of Christ in my home to my children, to write the Truth on their hearts.




(A couple photos from my birthday fishing trip last weekend.)

So maybe that's why I have been quiet on social media and my blog lately, because I have been mulling over how I can do better at this.  How I can lead their hearts to Jesus, pray for them better, train them in righteousness, and prepare them to stand firm amidst the persecution they will no doubt face someday.  

I feel more urgency for this than I used to.  I don't want to waste too much time shouting into the noise on social media, when my greatest impact will be whispering truth into the hearts of my children.

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Anyway, I meant for this to be a light, catch-up post, but I guess I needed to get that off my chest first.  You all know I like to have fun, and sharing it all on here is part of the fun for me, so those posts are coming too!  Thanks for hanging around while I sorted through my thoughts over the last month.

And oh yeah, it's summer.  The sun is shining on my legs, and I can practically feel the Vitamin D being manufactured, boosting my mood.  The birds chirp from the trees all around, the table umbrella is spinning as the breeze picks up, and I hear some shouting from inside the house that I should probably go attend to.  Before I close my laptop, I look up again, and that silvery thread connecting the chair and the railing is still dancing in the wind.


Currently | May 2020


Currently...

Making...chocolate chip cookies.  I have a grain mill on my counter, and I usually try to grind fresh flour when I make baked goods - it's healthier because you get more of the nutrients from the grain that way, and I actually like the texture of the freshly ground grain in our muffins or whatever. But I finally realized that I have to give up on using the home-ground flour in our chocolate chip cookies.  It was just not working.  I reverted back to good old store flour when I baked yesterday, and the cookies were magnificent.  Yes, that is a very big word for a cookie, but I stand by it.

Learning...more about America.  That sounds like a loaded answer, but what I'm actually referring to is Hillsdale's free online courses, and if you've never checked them out, you should!  I'm doing the course called "The Great American Story: A Land Of Hope", and it's cool to get such a condensed overview of our history.  They have all kinds of courses though, including ones on the Supreme Court, economics (timely right now), the Constitution (also timely), the World Wars, Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Winston Churchill, and a bunch of different ones on literature.  I'm really enjoying the one I'm taking.

Dabbling in...gardening.  My lavender and basil have still not really sprouted, but Derek got a greenhouse set up on our porch, and he is growing vegetables!  I'm very excited to see how they do in the greenhouse.  Where we live, a greenhouse is pretty much required for any serious growing.  Maybe it will help cure my black thumb.

(In the greenhouse.)

Missing...the library.  Our state has been gradually opening up, and I'm getting more and more irritated that the library is dragging its feet.  I understand they don't want to open the building yet, but I see no problem in allowing people to pick up holds curbside.  They won't even allow us to return books yet, and I've got about a hundred picture books sitting in bags on the floor, just waiting.  How hard can it be to wipe down the returns or let them sit in a room to isolate for a day or two?  Other county libraries have been partially open for weeks and they make it work.

Reading...about ten books at once.  With the library still closed, I've been scrounging my shelves and the Kindle books on Amazon for my next read.  I have a terrible habit of reading a chapter or two of any book that looks interesting until one sticks, hence why I have so many going at once all the time. I'm currently working through Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (it's really fascinating), The Two Towers (it's a re-read, I've been reading a chapter each night), Unknown Valor by Martha McCullum (just started this one), and The Underground History Of American Education by John Taylor Gatto (also fascinating, and perhaps a little terrifying).  I'm going to start The Lake House this month though!  I mean it this time.

(Burning my Mother's Day candles.)

Loving...the way my kiddos have been handling this whole thing.  I know our routine didn't change as much as others', but we still haven't been able to go to a lot of the places we would normally go either. But they've mostly rolled with the punches and they've been finding all kinds of things to do around the house; they play elaborate, imaginative games with their stuffed animals or cars.  They cheer when we announce a movie night, dive into reading books they wouldn't normally pick up, and are particularly sweet little lights in my life right now.  Have there been alot more household messes to clean up?  Yes.  Has there been occasionally disappointment when I have to tell them that we are, yet again, staying home?  Yes.  But overall, they've handled it all very well.

Bummed about...the homeschool conference being cancelled.  They held out as long as possible, and maybe I should have seen it coming with all the other things being cancelled, but I thought there might be a chance since it wasn't scheduled until later in June.  I think it's unfortunate they had to cancel it with so many people considering homeschooling more seriously as a result of this pandemic.  I'm seriously considering hosting a miniature homeschool conference in my house with my friends instead.  We are almost to the phase that allows more than ten people to gather, so it would be legal and everything.  We could watch a session or two from an online conference together, bring curriculum to allow others to look through it and get ideas, and make it a potluck!  I'm mulling it over.

(Gwen took this picture of me at sunset the other day.)

Excited about...our last day of school!  We are officially on summer break this week, and Wyatt in particular is excited about it.  The kids have been asking me to buy a kiddie pool, though it's not quite warm enough for one yet.  I think this summer in particular it will be important that I plan some fun things for us to do together, since our usual go-to's (zoo, parks, library programs) are in flux.  I want them to have fun and feel as little as possible of the lingering effects of this shutdown craziness.  Summer is NOT cancelled.  I refuse to let it be.

How is the summer looking for you right now?  Any plans to still make it fun?




Recent Reads - Spring 2020



A while back, I decided to take a step back from Goodreads.  For a long time I enjoyed recording the books I was reading on that platform, but in the last year it's become the source of more stress than it's worth. People get nasty on there if you are critical of a book they like!  You would think readers would be a little more understanding that not everyone is going to like the same books, but not so much.

I also don't think Goodreads is a great medium for theological/political/sociological discussions, and there is a lot of that happening as well, many times in a not-so-nice way.  I've also become unsure if I really want a database of all the books I've ever read on the internet.  Do I really want all the tech giants and government having instant access to that information?  Based on how things have been going in this country for the last couple months, I think no.

Bottom line: it's just been adding too much drama to my life.  Instead of recording what I'm reading publicly on Goodreads, I've been keeping a private record of the books I'm reading in my bullet journal.  But I know alot of my blog buddies are also readers, so I wanted to share some of what I'm reading with you all too!  Here are some of the books I've been reading in the first part of this year, along with brief thoughts.



(Some affiliate links below, just to help bolster my book funds!)



I picked up this book because everyone says King is such a wonderful writer, but I'm not into horror.  This is one of his few non-horror books, so I wanted to see what all the fuss is about.  The story is about a man who stumbles across a unique way to travel back in time and tries to stop the Kennedy assassination.  I'll say this, King does know how to drive a book forward!  Once I was into this book, I could hardly put it down. However, would I recommend it?  Probably not.  Way more sexual content than I expected, which I skipped past as much as possible, but still - ugh.  Some graphic violence is described, which was disturbing.  I was not satisfied with the ending.  It could have been great if it wasn't for those things.



I already did a full review of this book here.  This book is a historical defense of Reformation doctrines and their existence before the Reformation.  If you're a Protestant whose ever wondered where the Gospel was before the Reformation, this is your book!  Short and sweet, and interesting.



This was a present from my longtime penpal Felicia!  I started this book on Christmas, and got sucked right in!  A bunch of funny Christmas short stories, with lovable, relatable characters.  I laughed out loud reading this, and might have teared up a couple times too.  I bought two more Vinyl Cafe books after reading this one, I loved it so much.  Highly recommend!



Only $2.50 on Kindle!

It's quite possible I read this as a teenager, but I didn't remember it so I read it again.  Agatha Christie is the queen of mystery, and if you've never read one of her books, you should.  In this one, a bunch of people are mysteriously summoned to an island, and one by one they start dying off.  From the author's foreword, you know they are all going to be murdered, but the question is, how?  Definitely one of Christie's more disturbing stories, but I couldn't help but appreciate how she pulled off a murder mystery where every character is murdered. If you don't know Agatha Christie already, I wouldn't start with this one though.  I like her Hercule Poirot books best.


This is actually a middle-grade graphic novel (ie. comic book), but it looked fun so I thought I'd give it a try.  It's the story of two girls - quite, shy Emmie, and popular, outgoing Katie.  Everything always works out for Katie, and not so much for Emmie.  One day an embarrassing note gets delivered to Emmie's crush, and everything comes to a head.  Interesting twist at the end!  I thought it was really cute.  I feel like there might have been one reference to a sex-ed class (?), so maybe parents just be aware of that, but nothing explicit.


I'm a big Ken Ham fan, and this book was written with his brother.  It has advice for parents interspersed with some biographical/memoir type content about the Ham family and how Ken Ham started his young-earth creation ministry.  I really enjoyed it!  Alot of the same info as some of his other books, but I liked having more of a biographical look at the Ham family.



Only $3 on Kindle!

So, I powered through this book on audio because I was trying to win a free gift card as part of a promotion on Audible - and I should have got the prize, but Audible decided I didn't qualify.  I tried calling customer service, but they refused to help me.  I was incensed and quit my Audible membership - they basically tricked me into staying a member for two more months to get a gift card I "didn't qualify" for! Even though I did.  So I have bad memories associated with this, ha!  But that aside, I did enjoy this audiobook.  Ember Falls is book two in the Green Ember series, which is a middle-grade fantasy story with noble, warring rabbits.  I'm enjoying the story, but find that alot of it is told in conversations, and I am not quite sure I like how that translates to audio.  This second book was a little slow-moving to me, but I still want to finish the series, until the "Green Ember rises, or the end of the world!" (I might have got that phrase a little wrong, but it's impressive I remember it at all considering I listened to it three months ago.  It stuck.)



Really interesting book about parring down your schedule and learning to say no to things that are not the best use of your time.  I read this after reading Digital Minimalism and Reclaiming Conversation late last year, and it was a nice way to round out all those ideas about trimming distractions from your life.  I'd recommend it if you frequently find yourself overwhelmed with tasks that are not the best use of your time and that you didn't really want to do in the first place.  This book will be a good shot in the arm.



I picked up this book after Andrew Pudewa mentioned that it had interesting points about how to evaluate children's literature to determine if the underlying messages are ones that you want your kids' reading.  This book really made me think, and it did indeed have alot of great tips for choosing books for your kids that are in line with good character values.  The discussion on dragons in children's literature was especially interesting. It's written from a Catholic perspective, so I didn't agree with all the theology in it.  But I did appreciate how it made me think deeper about the kinds of books I want my kids' reading, and I'll probably return to it for ideas in the future.



This was a thriller I listened to on audio when I needed a distraction.  It's a story about a girl who disappeared, and years later her mother is still trying to figure out what happened to her - things start to come together when she starts dating again.  I didn't love this one.  I listened to the end just because I wanted to finish it, but there was definitely some sexual content (thank goodness for the button to skip ahead 30 seconds).  I also hated the ending.  Not that I was expecting a happy ending exactly, but it was bittersweet in a disturbing way, and left me with kind of a yucky feeling.  I kind of wish I had quit this one.  Maybe I'll just stick with Mary Higgins Clark books when I want a thriller in the future.  More modern thrillers rarely work out for me.


I started this book last year, and just finally finished it this spring.  Tripp gives advice in this book to all Christians on how to counsel and encourage others in a biblical way, by asking good questions and pointing others to scripture.  It's solidly grounded in the Gospel, and the advice later in the book was really thought-provoking and helpful to me in some of my relationships.  This is a book I'll probably be reading again, because I need reminders.  If you want some help on learning how to encourage others in the Lord, this book is for you!


East Of Eden by John Steinbeck

Only $1.50 on Kindle!

I've got probably an eighth of this book left, it's been taking up a large portion of my reading time for the last two months, but I think it will be worth it! The story is a generational story about two sets of brothers with a Cain-and-Abal type relationship.  I'm very invested in the characters, and I'm going to be kind of sad when I can't read about their lives anymore.  One content note: there are "houses of ill repute" involved, so some sexual references in the plot line, but nothing too explicit.



That's where my reading life stands as of Spring 2020!  

I've decided to change my strategy for how I'm picking books for the rest of this year.  When I was trying to write my post about my favorite books from 2019 (back in January), I found myself really unsatisfied with the group of books I had to choose from.  Then I looked over my last couple reading years and realized I haven't loved very many of the books I've been reading for a while now.  I decided to try to read more books that I like this year, and less books that end up being duds.  I may write about my strategy in another post, but I'm pretty satisfied with the books I've read so far in 2020.  There are alot of good ones on this list!  

Here's to hoping 2020 will be a great reading year, where my "Favorite Books Of 2020" post will be difficult to write because I have so many I love, as opposed to so few!

What has been your favorite book of the year so far?

Cold Coffee And Sunshine



My coffee is cold in the cup next to me as I sit down on my couch today, laptop perched on my knees.  I haven't sat down just to write in a while!  My fingers actually feel stiff and slow in typing.  I'm asked often how I make time for my blog with the kids and everything, and the truth is that Derek usually gives me an evening or a whole afternoon at the library, and I knock out a few posts at a time.  I obviously haven't been able to do that for a while.  Even now, when our state has been slowly reopening for a couple weeks, our libraries are still closed.

But today, Derek and a friend are outside, building a treehouse for the kids.  The weather has been just lovely for a few weeks now, which feels like another bit of God's grace to us amidst all this turmoil in the world.  We may not be able to go to the park, but the mountains are unseasonably warm, and hot pine needles smell like summer.  I can hear the kids shouting as they play on the driveway.  And I'm sitting here, with my cold cup of coffee that I'll probably re-heat again in a minute, and a wilted little wildflower on the armrest of the couch, presented proudly to me by my golden-haired four year old a little while ago.  The darn woodpecker is attacking the side of the house again, and the hummingbird feeder is swinging outside the window.  It's a nice Saturday morning, and I decided today was the day to catch up the ole blog.  I should make this happen more often.

(Hi!)

Speaking of the treehouse, the kids are so excited for it.  It's really more of a playhouse than a treehouse, a little shed on a raised deck, with an even higher balcony-porch that wraps around a tree in our yard.  Derek wanted to make something sturdy and enduring, something they can enjoy now and when they are teenagers.  I think it's going to turn out great!  We are also toying with the idea of making a teepee further down the hill, but we can't quite figure out where to get or how to make a full-size teepee covering.

Other house projects-in-progress involve a lot of plants.  Derek decided to try to grow our own flowers for our outdoor pots this summer, and he's been baby-ing little flower sprouts for a few weeks now.  The flowers we chose don't seem to be happy, and we aren't quite sure why.  The vegetable plants he got from a coworker, on the other hand, are thriving.  He ordered a greenhouse, and I consented to have it set up in corner of our back deck.  Our deck is a little funny, with a long, semi-narrow strip right off the back of the house, which takes one step down to a wider area where we have our table set up.  So the greenhouse will be on the upper section of the deck, next to the house.  I was hesitant to let the greenhouse live there, because I want the deck to feel clean, but I think it'll be alright. I'm planning on hanging some flower baskets on either side to make it look...fancier?  More lush?  I'm also a little concerned about the draining, but Derek says all the plants will be in trays.  The greenhouse may move to the side of the house if our plants outgrow it.  It's a pretty small greenhouse.  We are gardening newbies (though Derek has a greener thumb than me), so any tips are appreciated!

I've been trying to grow herbs in our kitchen windowsill as well, and the basil and chamomile is thriving, but the lavender and rosemary have yet to sprout.  Did I get dead seeds?  Do they just need longer to germinate? Or did I drown them?  I don't know.  I'm disappointed that the two herbs I wanted the most seem to be rebelling against me, but I'll give them a little more time.

Derek is still working from home, from the closet-office, and he probably will be for a while.  Our governor is encouraging those who can work from home to do it, and I can't say we completely mind.  Working from home cuts out two hours of commuting time for Derek, which means more time for movie nights and house projects.

Homeschooling exclusively at home, on the other hand, is getting wearisome.  We are itching to go on a field trip, or a library trip, or a park trip, or something.  Over the weeks when we were required to stay home, and there was nowhere to go anyway, I did lessons with the kids on the weekends to knock out a few extra days of our school year.  So we are on track to finish our required number of days by the end of this week!  I would love to do a field trip to celebrate the last day of school, but I'm pretty sure most of those type of places will still be closed.  Maybe a "field trip" to Barnes and Noble for some books to read over the summer, perhaps?  I just saw that our local Barnes And Noble is open, and I'm extra excited about it.

Speaking of books for the kids to read, Gwen is reading pretty solidly now, so I went ahead and ordered some of the original American Girl books on Ebay.  I was aiming to gather the Felicity and Addy series, and just happened to also get the Josefina series in the process.  Probably my three favorites of the original American Girls, so that worked out!  Did any of you read American Girl books as a kid?  Which were your favorites?  I never did get one of the dolls.

As our state and county has started opening, we've enjoyed visits with my sister and parents last week.  It is so good to see family, and especially to be around people who feel similarly about this whole crazy mess the world has gotten itself into.  As I've been following the virus news and shutdowns the last few weeks, I've been reminded of the fact that an economic depression is going to have horrible ripple effects in so many less fortunate countries too.  I read in an article that the number of people in the world who face starvation is expected to double this year as a result of the economic shutdowns around the world.  Double.  That just breaks my heart. What have we done to ourselves? Opinions run the gamut about this whole situation, and I am trying not to get into mine here, but it can't be denied that some of our actions in response to the virus have been much more devastating than many expected.

(On a related note, my friend Bethany - another childhood penpal! - is trying to sell bows to help with relief in the middle East during this coronavirus crisis.  She's sold out for now, but it's a cool thing she's doing, and you might consider following if you are interested.)

Anyway, to try to get back to a happier topic before I close this out, I'm still working through East Of Eden by John Steinbeck.  It's a long book, okay?  I'm most of the way through it though, and I still have no idea where it's going. How's all this going to end?  I'll probably go curl up with it on the porch as soon as I'm done typing this.  When I finish that book, I'm going full-steam ahead on The Lake House by Kate Morton.  I also started Unknown Valor by Martha MacCallum.  The cover caught my eye, and I kept seeing it everywhere, so I grabbed it at Sam's Club last week.  I'm already getting sucked into it, so that's my current nonfiction read!  What have you all been reading?  I have a full post on what I've read so far this year in the works for later this week!

I'm typing this on Saturday, you'll probably be reading this on Monday, which means Mother's Day was yesterday.  Our plan is to drop by Derek's mom's house in the morning, and then I think Derek has a picnic lunch planned for me and the kids.  They went Mother's Day shopping for me this week, and the kids are so cute, telling me not to look in their closets so I don't see the presents they got me.  Then I'm hoping to see my mom for dinner.  It should be a lovely day, and the first Mother's Day in a while when we'll get to see both our moms on the same day.

I'm feeling especially blessed by my mom this year, as I've seen her here and there during the shutdown, and she's dropped off little notes for the kids, and I've made more of an effort to talk to her on the phone regularly.  I've never been good at making those phone calls, I've never been much of a phone-talker.  But I'm starting to change my tune.  It's undeniably better to hear someone's voice and have a real conversation than to poke out characters for a text bubble.  And I've especially missed getting to see Derek's mom - we've sent letters to her, and Derek continues to talk to her regularly, but I hate that we had to miss seeing her on Easter.  I have a really wonderful mother-in-law, and it's not lost on me what a blessing that really is.  It'll be good to see her face.

The sunshine on the porch is calling my name, so I think I'll go grab that book now.

How have you all been?  What have you been up to?  Any restrictions lifting in your states yet?  Or for international friends, how are things going in your country right now?


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