March 29, 2014

Medieval Historical Fiction Novels for the Intermediate Reader

(I had to find an historical redhead since that is most apropos for my house.)

Although we haven't gotten through as much of the Middle Ages as I had hoped, we have still had a delightful time with what we've studied.  As I've mentioned before, Miriam (age 10, advanced reader) is assigned extra books to read for all of our units.  I recently made her stop reading long enough to attach a rating to each of the books she's read for history so far.  I thought it would be helpful to see which books she liked the best.  


Mostly she likes every book and is irritated when her mother presses her for details.  Despite their uniformity, her ratings might be useful to you, so here is the first installment (she has two books left from the Viking unit so I'll be posting those shortly).  I'm including links to amazon only to facilitate your reading more reviews if you are interested.  I haven't read most of these books and have only Miriam's limited reviews to pass along so I thought amazon readers could help provide more insight.

400-600 AD

The Story of the Champions of the Round Table by Howard Pyle.  Miriam: "I liked it.  Four stars." A collection of King Arthur stories.  

Augustine Came to Kent by Barbara Willard.  Miriam: "I really liked it. Four stars."  

Now, when Miriam read the book she was super excited about it, told me the whole plot line, then told me to read it.  Which I did.  I thought it was a perfect historical fiction for an intermediate reader and a great introduction to Christianity during the Middle Ages and how different areas of the world interacted.  This is the story of Augustine leading a group of Christian missionaries into Britain and establishing their religion there.  

The White Stag by Kate Seredy.  Miriam: "I liked it.  Three stars."  This is about the Huns and Magyars during the collapse of the Roman Empire.  

700-900 AD

The Story of Roland by James Baldwin.  Miriam: "I liked it.  Three stars."  This is about a French baron, Roland, during the time of Charlemagne.  I was excited to find something for Miriam to read about Charlemagne because the pickings are slim.

The Edge on the Sword by Rebecca Tingle.  Miriam: "I loved it!  Five stars!"  This has, obviously, been one of Miriam's very favorite assigned books.  It is about the daughter of King Alfred--a Saxon king.  Apparently the main character is the "greatest woman in Old English history."  According to amazon reviews this is a good pick for boys despite the female protagonist because there is a lot of military strategy involved in the story.

That's it.  I will try and ask for Miriam's reviews as she reads the books, instead of months later, to get a fresher perspective.  Right now she's in the middle of one of her last two Viking era books.  I'll post about them soon.

March 24, 2014

Putting the Pieces Together Again

Sometimes I feel really stupid writing about, or even feeling like, my life is challenging.  Seriously, I have first world problems and I get that.  Yet even with first world problems, sometimes life can be challenging and lately it really, really has.

Actually it has been really challenging since November.  In November my baby brother (youngest of 10 children) was married.  That was awesome.  Family came from all over the place and there was nonstop partying from a week before the wedding on the 12th until Thanksgiving.  I think most of us can admit that partying, while awesome, is also exhausting.

Then I had a miscarriage.  I've been pregnant 10 times and have six children so I've been down this road before.  This time, though, I was 10 weeks along instead of six weeks along and that really affected my emotional response to the whole thing.  I was pretty sad.

In early December, a few days after the miscarriage, I took a trip to Vegas with my hubby and a bunch of family members to celebrate my dad's 60th birthday.  We took him to the Rodeo finals because he's always wanted to go. It was really, really fun and I am so glad we went but it wasn't exactly restful.

After that I returned home to my children and tried to find the Christmas spirit.  I never did.  I bled all through December and into January and wound up getting some extra ultrasounds before everything finally cleared up.  It was a sad holiday season for me and I felt guilty on top of being sad because I didn't do nearly as many Christmas things with the kids as normal.  I put together our traditional Christmas chain with a Christmas activity written on each link, but while we managed to take off a link every day, we only did about a third of the activities.  My children noticed.  I was more than ready to put the Christmas decorations back in boxes on New Year's Day.

After Christmas, my husband and I tried to decide whether or not to move or remodel the kitchen and whether or not we wanted another baby.  Very big decisions.  We talked and thought and prayed and went back and forth and everywhere in between.  We decided yes to baby and then couldn't figure out the best plan for the house.  Our house is small--only 1600 square feet with four bedrooms.  We didn't want seven children with four bedrooms, but we really liked our $700 house payment.  We literally changed our minds daily.

We finally decided for sure to stay in our home and remodel the kitchen--until Heavenly Father started a whole chain of events that convinced us that we were supposed to move.  We found a house that we wanted but needed to get our own house on the market.  We spent two weeks sleeping very little while we tried to make our house look like eight people didn't live in it.  Then the showings started and I really hit the stress zone.  I found it extremely difficult to keep my house clean all the time and then take the kids and leave the house for hours at a time.  We went to parks and museums and my sister's basement and it was very disruptive to our life and schooling.

Our house sold and we have the house we want under contract and everything is sort of slowing down like I should be able to breathe again, but there is a lot of fall out.  We haven't done any schooling in ages.  I've regained ten pounds that I worked so hard to lose after Oskar was born.  (I'm a stress eater.)  My children have no schedule to speak of and I haven't put myself to bed at a reasonable hour in months.

And so my first world problem is this: trying to pull ourselves together for the next month in order to achieve a little sanity before we pack and move and unpack.  After that it will be another challenge to figure out new chore charts and a new routine and logical rules for the new house (things like how far the little kids can bike away from the house will have to be thought out and taught).  All the while school is needing to get done.  I'm exhausted and still pretty sad about the baby and happy about the new house and unenthusiastic about the amount of work that still needs done before life can resume a neat little routine (my mom used to tell us that hard work never killed anyone, except the ones it scared to death; frankly, I'm scared).

Mostly, I am disappointed in myself that scripture study and FHE has gone by the wayside and I'm struggling to make those things happen again.

On the other hand, God is good and kind and everything worked out beautifully for us to get a large home at a very reasonable price with plenty of bedrooms and in a location that I'm pretty excited about. Our house sold in three weeks--allowing us to meet the contractual deadlines for the house we wanted.  Friends and family helped us pull our house together so it could be shown and brought us food and babysat my children.  I am confident that if we are supposed to have another baby, we will.  If we don't--well, I've been blessed with six gorgeous, healthy, wonderful children and my cup runneth over.

Eventually, I'll pull our lives back together.  It just might take more time than I'd like and more work than I want to do and more emotional energy than I feel I have.  One day at a time, right?

March 21, 2014

Cell Unit: Intro to Microbiology

If I should ever recover from the battle of keeping my house clean to sell (done with that now--our house sold!), I am going to start doing some homeschooling that doesn't include Real Estate 101 as the only primary subject.  Right now we have a two week breathing space before packing, moving, and unpacking, which is the perfect amount of time to start and finish the unit on cells that I already have put together.  While this is hardly an exhaustive microbiology unit it is perfect for the amount of time we have.  I'm hoping to keep the microscope handy and let the kids look at slides anytime during the two week period.  I might also add in some other fun activities as we go along.

24 March 2014: Monday

Read Cells: The Smallest Unit of Life
Read first five pages of Cells: Images
Watch Bill Nye youtube video about cells:

Look at some slides under the microscope

25 March 2014: Tuesday

Read rest of Cells: Images

Read Cells: Animal Cells and Plant Cells

Learn how to make our own slides and look at water from the fish tank under the microscope.

26 March 2014: Wednesday

Read chapters one and two of Cells: Organization and Function 
Read first half of Hidden Worlds: Looking Through a Scientist's Microscope
Look at more slides under the microscope.

No school on Thursday

28 March 2014: Friday

Read rest of Hidden Worlds: Looking Through a Scientist's Microscope
Read rest of Cells: Organization and Function
Read Cells and Cell Function pgs. 12-15
Play cell matching game found here: (these were used as flashcards but I think they will work well as a game for my kids)

31 March 2014: Monday

Read Cells and Cell Function pgs. 28-29 and do the enclosed yeast experiment (more on this later)

Start new sourdough starter

Read Cells: Growing and Dividing

Play Parts of a Cell matching game again

1 April 2014: Tuesday

Read Alexander Fleming and His Great Discovery
Read Our Food!
Read Yuck!

Make worksheet cells--plant and animal--found at  You'll notice the link to the animal cell in the description of the item.  Here's the link in case you can't find it:

2 April 2014: Wednesday

Make individual pizza cells:

crust = cytoplasm
pineapple = lysosome
onion = golgi body
olives = chromatin
ham = nucleus
orange cheese = nucleolus
pepperoni = centrioles
crust border = plasma membrane
spinach = smooth endoplasmic reticulum
spinach + sausage = rough endoplasmic reticulum
sausage = ribosomes
mushrooms = mitochondria

(Since I'm basically a very lazy person, I'll probably simplify our pizza instead of copying exactly any of the excellent examples I found online.)  Here's a few examples that I liked:;

Make big plant cell out of paper to use as place mats while we eat our animal cell pizzas.

March 18, 2014

Dyeing Silk

 Each Christmas my husband's grandmother has me choose presents for the children.  I think of it as the "bonus present" for the kids and I have a tendency to buy presents I think my children will love but am not positive are worth the money.  Experimental gifting.

This year, I jumped on the bandwagon and had great-grandma get the kids silk, which we dyed on Christmas Eve.  It was actually the perfect day to do it because the kids loved the whole process and it helped the time go by faster for them.
 I'm sure you've seen this idea floating around the internets.  I purchased the silks at  I bought each child three silks: a really long skinny one (I wish they had a bigger square or rectangle option), a cape-sized one, and a slightly smaller than cape-sized one.  Harriet and Oskar each received a handkerchief sized one instead of the long, skinny one.  Here's the order form I used:  The actual sizes I ordered were 22 x 90; 44 x 44; 35 x 35; and the small ones for the two youngest were 30 x 30.
 We did the whole "kool-aid as silk dye" approach instead of spending the money for a traditional fabric dye.  I highly recommend going the cheaper route.  The kool-aid dyeing process was extremely easy, surprisingly fast, and resulted in lovely colors.  We played around with mixing the colors and learned quite a bit.  One thing we learned is that blue overtakes green very quickly so the greenish-blues we were trying for usually turned out bluish-green instead.

 Cowen had a fun time being the photographer for me.

 We also learned that any color that involved even the smallest amount of red required four times the amount of rinsing time.

 Harriet's purple--the first silk we did.
Light blue.
 Light green (my favorite of all the colors).

 The dye came off our hands in a  day or two--sooner than I expected.
 Eli with one of his silks.
 Some of the colors: dark green (green mixed with blue), orange, light yellow (a favorite of almost everyone), pink, purple.

There are numerous places online where you can find precise instructions on how to do the dyeing.  Basically you take two to four (there are disagreements about this--we used two for most the projects but sometimes two and a half for fun color combos) kool-aid packets, dump them in water mixed with vinegar, stir it around, add the silk, stir that around, cover the whole thing with plastic wrap and microwave for two to four minutes (there are also disagreements about how long to microwave).  Then you rinse and dry and then rinse again.

It was easier than it sounded.

Here are some of the websites I looked at before I started:;;; (this one is the most helpful because it has a color chart).

The big question is, of course, did the children like their present?  That's a hard one.  The boys, Cowen and Eli, wore the silks pretty much every day after we made them until I packed up all the toys earlier this month (we're trying to sell our house).  So yes, the boys love them.

The girls, on the other hand, didn't use them nearly as much as I expected.  I had hoped that the long silks would be useful in tent building because I am tired of my quilts getting dragged all over, but they were too skinny to work well.  Harriet wrapped her doll up a few times and the girls made little doll clothes and houses.  They were used, just not as much as I had anticipated.

Granted, we made the silks on Christmas Eve, got a bunch of new toys for Christmas, and then packed them away in early March.  The long-term play value of the silks is still largely undetermined.  I'd have to say that I personally think the long skinny silks were a waste but the two large squares are a great investment.  Just for dress-up purposes alone it was well worth the money and time.  See Eli below.  Seriously awesome.

So try it!  You can use science as an excuse to go kool-aid crazy--chemical reactions and all that.  As a side note, I really liked wrapping a silk around my head as a turban.  Wearing a turban may lead to singing "Arabian Nights" often and loudly.  You've been warned.

PS Trying to sell the house is why I've disappeared again.