August 31, 2012

Great Books On Tape

 We have had a really good run of books on tape lately.  Sometimes they are hit and miss--one child really likes it but the others don't, or I love the book but the reader is so bad I can't stand to listen.  These are all fantastic!  I know you've all read Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare (of The Bronze Bow and Witch of Blackbird Pond fame).  It is a great book and the reader did a great job with it.
Heat by Mike Lupica was Cowen's favorite.  Everyone really enjoyed it, including my hubby, but Cowen loved it.  With a great, deep love.  As soon as it ended he asked to listen again.  I guess I'm behind the times with Mike Lupica.  I saw the book at the library and grabbed it because of the cover.  I thought it would be more about immigration issues, which interest me as I'm an immigrant.  It wasn't so much about immigration, but once I started reading I couldn't put it down. While it was on my shelves my sister came over and said that Lupica was all the rage.  She has a 12 year old boy, so maybe he helps her stay abreast of authors who write for boys.  Or maybe Lupica is crazy famous and I'm just getting sadly out of touch.  

The point--read this book, or listen to it.  The reader was fabulous.

I almost turned off Juliet Dove, Queen of Love by Bruce Coville after the first few minutes when I realized that it was an audio cast and not just one reader.  I usually hate casts.  However, while I'm still not in love with casts, this one did a great job and I enjoyed it.  I especially loved listening to all my little children say randomly, "Juliet Dove, QUEEN of love," in drippy voices.  Hilarious.  There are two magical mice in the book, Roxanne and Jerome.  You will love them.  Or, at least, you will love your children's imitations of Roxanne.  Hilarious I tell you.  Cowen didn't want to listen to this one but even he was won over and loved it by the end.
The reader did a great job with Ella Enchanted.  My children were riveted the whole time.  The first time we put it in we weren't driving very far so we only got to the second chapter or so.  I couldn't stand it and came home and read the whole thing.  It had been a few years.  Love this book.  All my children loved this one.
I will not lie--I did not like the cast for these books.  The person who did the dragon voice was terrible. Awful.  Bleh.  However, the story is so much fun and my kids enjoyed it so much that I forced myself to overlook the one really terrible reader and that it was a cast.  We immediately listened to the second in the series when the first ended, so again, worth listening to (if you like silly stories, that is).
Dave at Night by Gail Carson Levine (who wrote Ella Enchanted) was a big surprise.  I expected to like it because of the author, but I was still surprised by how good it was.  The reader was AMAZING and since I hadn't read it before (I usually only pick books I've read so I won't be disappointed) I was as enthralled as my children.  There were several times we sat out in the car or "accidentally" missed the turn to our house so we could listen longer.  We also broke my cardinal rule of audio books stay in the van and we listened to the end in our house because we couldn't stand to wait for our next outing.  Stellar.  Just loved it.

August 30, 2012

First Day of School 2012 . . . Again!

 Yes, we did officially start school the end of May.  We did all the normal homeschool back-to-school stuff.  We actually did some homeschooling too!  But then my garden went crazy and I became a bottling maniac (80 quarts of green beans alone) and school went to the wayside for a month.

Because of that, I thought we needed some official "back-to-school" activities again to get us in the mood to jump back in.  Also, my kids are doing Harmony's Options Day program at a charter school this year, so we wanted to gear up for that as well.

As part of the ceremonies, Grandma came over and gave back-to-school haircuts (which are different from other haircuts, obviously).  No, I look nothing like my mother.  Don't rub it in.

 Gratuitous picture of Lady Harriet because she's beautiful and I adore her.

 We also picked some clothes from the kids' drawers that looked nice enough to qualify as "school clothes" and put them all in a special drawer.  Hopefully the kids will look less homeless than normal when they attend their charter school.
 We already had backpacks from a long ago attempt at emergency preparedness, so we only had to buy some binders, scribblers, pencil cases, etc.  Oh yes, and the most exciting item of all--the lunch box.  The excitement over the lunch boxes was incredible.

The kids attended their first Monday at the charter school this week.  It is a one day a week program where all the classes are extra-curricular in nature.  I had the opportunity last year to put them in a two-day a week program, but I turned it down because it was all core classes, especially history, and you all know how much I love to teach history.  I wasn't willing to give it up.  But pottery--more than happy to pass the buck on that one.

Miriam's Classes:
Lego Robotics
Advanced Piano
Beginning Spanish
Musical Theater

Cowen's Classes:
Beginning Piano
Lego Robotics
Nature Studies
Super Heroes (study real people like George Washington)

Emeline's Classes:
Seasonal Science
Nifty Numbers
Fun-tastic Fitness
Alphabet Adventures
Bitty Broadway
Crafty Classics

Emeline is in kindergarten this year, so she is in a tracked program, meaning the 5/6 year old kids stay together all day with the same teachers.  I think that is very smart.

This is the first year my children have attended any physical school and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.  Like any school program, I'm sure my children will like some classes more than others and some teachers better than others, and have all sorts of opinions by the end.  I just think it is a great opportunity for them to do some fun things that we otherwise couldn't afford to do.  Never mind the driving that would be involved!  I am cautiously optimistic that this will be a fantastic experience for all of us.

It also allows me to have my OB appointments on Monday so I only have to find a babysitter for two children, instead of 5.  Yes, I'm pregnant.  No, it wasn't planned.  Yes, I was a little bitter and angry about it.  I'm starting to feel a little better (hitting 12 weeks always helps) and my attitude is adjusting accordingly.  To say this pregnancy threw a wrench in my summer would be an understatement.  I turn into the wicked witch of the west when I'm pregnant and I so wanted to work on creating better habits for myself.  No yelling, smacking the children, sleeping in, etc.  I was doing SO WELL until morning sickness hit.  Then I was back in all the same ruts.

This summer played out kind of like this: mom sleeps in until 8:30, children get up around 7:00.  In that 90 minute span of time the children create destruction.  They get into food and smuggle under their beds, causing mom to have to clean carpets.  They break into locked closets and pull out myriad games and spread them all over causing their dad to have a nervous breakdown, books strewn about, clothes strewn about, etc., etc.  So about what you would expect from 5 young children left to their own devices for 90 minutes.

Then I would get up, see the chaos, cry, yell, punish, threaten, eventually feed them when food didn't sound too disgusting, and by 11:00 am we'd be ready for the day.  Every night I swore I would get up.  Every morning I slept in.  Add in the heat and let's just say things got downright unpleasant.

Being a mom is so hard.  I don't think we acknowledge that enough.  Recently I submitted a name to the bishopric for a new 2nd counselor and they said she was too busy.  Let's examine this further.  This sister is a new teacher getting ready for her second school year teaching a new grade.  So, she's putting together a new curriculum.  Way time-consuming, I know--I only taught one subject two years in a row when I taught professionally.  It is definitely work.  Her hubby is going to school and working full-time.  My hubs did that.  Yep, it was awful and he was always gone, and it really took its toll on our marriage.

But here's the kicker.  She has no children.  None.  Zip.  I was busy as a single woman and young working wife.  I did 5 years worth of school in 4 years at BYU while working the whole time.  I know single busy and young wife busy.  It doesn't compare.  It just does not compare to Mom busy.  I threw a little fit (remember the wicked witch of the west thing) and reminded the bishopric that when I was called as RS president I was the mother of 5 young children, one an infant, worked outside the home part-time, AND homeschooled.  They didn't seem to worry about MY being too busy.

My tantrum worked, I suppose.  They "revisited the name based on our conversation" and extended the call, which was accepted, but I still felt pretty angry about the whole thing.  Sometimes it feels like nobody understands the sheer magnitude of what we try to do every day.  When I first took the pregnancy test (at my husband's insistence, I was still in denial) I said to my sweet hubby, "I am so overwhelmed by this."  He said, with perfect sincerity, "Why?"  At the time I was ticked at his insensitivity, but now I just think he was honest.  I don't think he understands.  I don't think anyone really understands until they have been there.

Homeschooling adds that extra element on top of other mom things.  Finding a babysitter for 5 kids is harder than finding a babysitter for 1 or 2.  Grocery shopping with all of them.  Never, ever having a moment to yourself.

In light of all that, I really made such a huge effort this past Monday to be happy for my children.  To send them out the door with a smile and a lunch, and be there with a smile to pick them up.  I did it.  It was hard, but I was up at 6:30 am and we were out the door early enough to make an emergency stop at the eye doctor's to replace Miriam's lost eye-glass screw that Cowen had knocked out when they were rough-housing when I told them to kneel for prayer.  I was on the ball I tell you.

Tuesday I also got up early.  I was nauseated all day but we got our studies done--even Miriam's three new subjects, and I was cheerful and pleasant.

Wednesday I slept in.  Grr.  The day did not go well.  This morning I slept in.  Today was worse.

Who know what tomorrow will bring.

Because of the events in our life and how I've been feeling, I just want to shout out to my homeschooling sisters--you rock.  You really, really do.  And just because I choose to blog about the best things that happen at our homeschool, never think I've created some utopia at my house because I haven't.  I'm just hanging in there one day at a time.

Good luck to you this year.  Good luck to me.  Good luck to us.

PS We did eventually want another baby--I just thought I would give myself a little breathing room this time around.  Best laid plans.

August 20, 2012

Millie Fierce--A Review

I was sent a copy of Jane Manning's book Millie Fierce.  The book is about a little girl who is a little shy, a little introverted, and because of that she sometimes gets overlooked by the other kids and some adults.  After some girls are really mean to her (they smear her chalk drawing on purpose) she decides she's had it and becomes "fierce."

But being fierce doesn't work out for her either.  "Fierce" in this book basically translates to ill-behaved.  She steals the birthday boy's piece of cake, for example.

I thought this book was . . . okay.  My children loved it, the illustrations are great, and it led to some really interesting conversations with my kids.  We talked a lot about how poor behavior is not a good way to get attention.  However, we also talked about how some kids are quiet and some kids are louder and we can't overlook people just because they are quiet.

The part I didn't like was that the girls in the beginning were mean to Millie.  I wish she had just been "overlooked" because my kids aren't really familiar with the idea of overlooking other people because they don't put themselves forward as much.  That was a great discussion topic.  That topic kept getting derailed though because my kids thought Millie was justified in her poor behavior because the other kids had been downright mean.  See the different levels of morality there?

Also, I don't like using the word "fierce" as a description of ill-behaved.  That isn't what the word means and I do want my children to be fierce when the situation calls for it.  My brother was awfully fierce when anyone bugged me on the school bus or harassed me at school.  If a boy starts trying something with one of my daughters I want her to be exceptionally fierce.  You get the idea.  I don't want to force my children to be extroverts or noisy, but introverts can and should be fierce when the need arises.  I just thought the book's message could have been more clear cut.  She wasn't noticed, she decided to be naughty to get attention, she did get attention, it was the wrong kind of attention, and she decided to go back to being nice--if overlooked.  But it wasn't that straight forward.

In sum, my kids loved the book and pictures and it led to several really good discussions about all the topics I just wrote about.  However, it wasn't one of my favorites.

{Disclaimer: I received this book for my family for free.  I received no other compensation for this review and all opinions are my own.}

August 14, 2012

Ancient Egypt Books

 It has been Mummy Madness around here.  My children adore studying ancient Egypt.  There is just something really cool about it, I guess.  They have been playing Egyptologist and archeologist and "tour guides through ancient Egypt" and several other Egyptian-themed imaginative games.

In all honesty, I didn't put together much of a unit.  I've bottled 71 quarts of green beans, 10 quarts of chokecherry jelly, and 11 quarts of beets so far.  My pears are coming next week and hopefully my tomatoes produce fruit worthy of the lush and extensive foliage on the tomato plants.  

In other words--school has taken a back seat to home production.  I'm so glad it happened during Egypt because my children were interested enough to educate themselves.  I only read half of the books I checked out.  Miriam read the rest to the kids.  I only did two crafts/activities but the kids have spent days devising their own activities.  I really like self-directed learning!

The top mummy was made by my hubs.  He helped with the mummy making.  The idea came from here.  Miriam wanted to add "amulets" to the "linen" so the mummies would be more authentic, so I pulled out some craft beads.  

These mummies are boys.  The one on the right is a ninja mummy and was preserved in the high kick position.  None of us are quite sure the point of all the eyes, but I think my son was going for a scarier visage.

The female mummies are a little more decorated.  Lithia (on the left) is quite a flirt.  She was stepping out with the mummy in the top picture.  My hubby kept saying things like, "So, Lithia, been dead long?" And, "Want to visit my pyramid?"  It was hilarious.

You might also want to check out these learning options:

Now some books!  Keep in mind that there are more ancient Egypt books at the library than any other location during antiquity.  I looked through far too many.  I still checked out more than we needed but it worked out because the kids loved looking through them.
Tutankhamun's Tomb: The Thrill of Discovery is a GOLD STAR BOOK!  It is a compilation of the pictures taken by Harry Burton, the official photographer of the Tut dig.  It was so exciting for the kids (and me!) to see pictures that were taken at the actual dig.  The book is laid out beautifully and is very well-done.  Loved it.
Drawing History: Ancient Egypt by Elaine Raphael and Don Bolognese is about what you'd expect from a drawing book.  The drawings were too hard for most of my kids but that didn't stop them from trying.  Miriam chose to make a sarcophagus and mummy for her extra project.  As part of that she used this book to draw a bunch of things for her mummy to take with her into the afterlife.

Miriam had to read 4 books for her special project.  One of those was Who Was King Tut?  I only skimmed it so I can't say much but Miriam said it was "awesome."
You can't go wrong with Magic Tree House.  Miriam read both the fiction book about ancient Egypt, Mummies in the Morning and the non-fiction research guide Mummies and Pyramids.  Yes, Miriam read all the Magic Tree House books a few years ago, but I don't mind having her read below her reading level when the information is provided in an interesting and accurate manner.  These books are really well done.

All Aboard Reading: Mummies was a really good choice for my younger kids.  They lost interest in some of the longer, more involved mummy books, but they both really liked this one.
Love DK books.  We didn't read it but Miriam and Cowen looked through it at all the excellent pictures.
I was really impressed with the two Beginning History books we read: Egyptian Pyramids and Egyptian Farmers.  The information was right on target age-wise, there was just the right of text per page, and they covered a surprising amount of information.  Definitely some of the best books we read.

I'm sure most of you have read Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs.  It is a really good book because of the history, but also because you can talk about the difference between passion and obsession and taking care of yourself, etc.  Good one.

The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw is the other book Miriam read for her special project.  Yes, her readings were all mummy/burial practices oriented.  She loved it.  It is a book I used with my 10th graders for history.

You Wouldn't Want to be an Egyptian Mummy!  Disgusting Things You'd Rather Not Know by David Stewart was Cowen's and Miriam's favorite book.  I read through a lot of books about mummies and some of them I rejected because of the unnecessary gore/pics.  This book is gross because getting your brain pulled out through your nose is gross no matter how you phrase it, but it wasn't unnecessarily gruesome.  I thought it was age appropriate for my middle elementary aged kids.
Mummy Math: An Adventure in Geometry was a lot of fun.  It is a fiction book that talks about shapes.  I happened to have a bag of wooden shapes that included the shapes discussed in the book, so I pulled the bag out and my kids spent a happy 30 minutes looking at the shapes and finding the ones that matched the ones in the book.  I love unintentional math lessons.  This book lends itself well to intentional math lessons as well.
The 5,000 Year Old Puzzle: Solving a Mystery of Ancient Egypt.  This was my children's other favorite book.  It is a combo of fiction and non-fiction and it was really fun to read through.  Then again, I have a daughter obsessed with solving mysteries but I think all kids would like it.
I didn't read Focus on Ancient Egyptians  by Anita Ganeri to my kids.  I intended to read it but then I got busy and forgot about it.  Then, one day, Miriam discovered it.  She loved it.  It is organized like an encyclopedia with short entries on various parts of Egyptian life.  Surprising me, it became the "go-to" book.  Or, as Miriam called it, it became the "tour guide."  Whenever they packed a suitcase (literally) to visit ancient Egypt, "tour-guide" had to go with them.  It was a huge hit.

One last thing about Egypt (sorry for the excessively long post).  One day I was canning and the kids were getting restless so I looked up ancient Egypt on youtube.  There is a whole national geographic video about how scientists took out Tut and examined him with new technology to figure out how he died.  It lasted 90 minutes and my three oldest children were riveted.  Science and history in one!  Wahoo!  You can find it here.

There are lots of ancient Egyptian videos on youtube, including other BBC and National Geographic movies.  Awesome.

August 12, 2012

Must Read Books!!!

 My niece (age 12) called me the other day to tell me that she had just finished the book By These Ten Bones by Clare B. Dunkle and she wanted another book exactly like it to read.  I'm the go-to aunt for books.  I told her to read The Hollow Kingdom by the same author because it is amazingly, fantastically good.

So she checked out the book from the library that day.  When she called to tell me that she was reading it, I started thinking about it--which led to me picking up the first one around 7:30 pm and staying up until 3:00 am when I finished the third in the trilogy.  Yeah, I really love these books.

The first book is The Hollow Kingdom and it is far and away Dunkle's best book (that I've read).  By These Ten Bones is also fantastic (about werewolves) but the incredible goblin world Dunkle creates in Hollow Kingdom is just so much fun.  Besides that, the goblin king is the love interest and he is awesome.  Makes you want to rush right out and marry a goblin.
 The second book in the trilogy is Close Kin and it is about elves and goblins.  The main elf girl is a rock star when most elves are kind of wimpy so you want to read the book just for her.  Her name is Sable.  You will love her.
The third book is called In the Coils of the Snake and it ties everything together by finding a leader for the elves and getting them squared away.  It isn't my favorite.  In fact, you can read the first book as a stand alone and you'd be fine.  I like them all but the first, like I said, is in a whole different caliber than then second two (although I love Sable enough that I reread the second book on a pretty regular basis as well).

So rush out and get them--from the library if you want, but you'll buy them once you read them.  I guarantee it.  I adore Dunkle.  Much like Megan Whalen Turner, I eagerly await and read anything she writes.  Usually long into the wee hours of the morning.  I'm just chock-full of self-discipline like that!

August 7, 2012

Book Review: Woodrow for President

I was asked to be a part of another blog book tour advertising/reviewing the book Woodrow for President by Peter and Cheryl Barnes.  

The book follows the life of Woodrow G. Washingtail, a civic-minded mouse who eventually becomes the president of the entire mouse nation.  This book does two things: 1) it discusses what qualities are required in a public servant, and 2) it outlines the election process.

I really liked that Woodrow was depicted as a mouse who takes care of his family and serves in the community.  He never ridiculed his opponent and each mouse who ran was treated respectfully.  That might sound silly but no one party was presented as the "best" and no one candidate treated as "superior."  I like that sort of even-handedness.

The reason this book is valuable though, is that it goes through the election process.  Now, you all know me and know that I would prefer a straight-forward non-fiction with photos about something like this, but I have to admit that my kids really liked this book.  They loved the pictures and they liked the rhyming text (the part I disliked most--I don't enjoy non-fiction in verse form), and they loved that the characters were mice.  I was clearly outvoted.  My 7 year old son declared the book, "Great."  

Back to the point though.  You are walked through the election process with Woodrow, from local elections to primary elections, to debates, putting together a campaign, getting volunteers, national conventions, election day, the inaugural address, and even the inaugural ball (my favorite page--I like to see what all the mouse ladies wore to the ball).  Then at the end of the book there is a small blurb about each of the main ideas, for example: primaries and caucuses, political parties, political conventions, etc.  

You could easily make this book the core book for a small (or large) unit on government or elections.  Since this is an election year, that might not be a bad idea.  

At the end of the book there is a "Contract to Vote."  I'm sort-of crazy about voting and take my children to every election and make them wait in line with me and then wear an "I voted" sticker for the rest of the day.  I took the opportunity to go over the importance of voting with my kids, yet again, because of the voting contract in the back of the book.

Although there were things I didn't like about this book, my children all thoroughly enjoyed it and loved the pictures.  It is a very kid-friendly way to introduce the political process to youngsters.  Good job, Woodrow Washingtail!

 {Disclaimer: I received this book for my family for free.  I received no other compensation for this review and all opinions are my own.}