Helpful homeschooling links

 

I led a workshop yesterday called, "Homeschooling children of different ages," and some of the moms there asked me to sum up my thoughts and send them some links, so here it is! 
First: The easiest things to teach, or or to "do," in a group of differently aged kids, are art, history and science.
The little kids will get something out of it, the older kids will get more, and some kids will get a lot out of reading books out loud. There are a few different curriculum that lend themselves well to different ages.

Story of the World: It's not really a curriculum, but it's sort of the "go-to" series of books for homeschoolers. Some people love them, some people hate them, but they're a good jumping-off point. The local store Launching Success has them, or you can buy them on Amazon. One of the best ideas is to buy them on CD and have them on in the background all the time. It's really just a bunch of interesting stories.
The best part about it? So many people use it that there are TON of resources and ways to use it. Here's a link to a website that has so many lapbooks, activities, movies and such that your kids will never be bored.

Sonlight is a Christian curriculum that now has a secular version. We love both versions, though we're not Christian. We have used it for years, though it's hard to really explain. It's really just an instructor's guide and a list of really, really good books about a certain time period -- the middle ages, colonial America, or ancient Greece. You can use their instructor's guide and stick to their timeline, or you can just use their booklist as a rough guide and go from there.
We're using Bookshark right now for my 5th grader for the Eastern Hemisphere studies, and even though he claims to be "anti-school," he loves it. The books are some of his favorites.

Unit Studies are another good way to bring a group of kids together. If you're all learning about outer space, or the human body, or sea creatures, it doesn't matter if your kids are two or 14 -- it's fun, and they'll be interested. There are literally thousands of ways to do unit studies, but this link will get you started.

Project-based homeschooling is another great resource. Kids who are a little older can spend every afternoon entertaining themselves with their projects. It's very child-led, and lends itself to work in almost every setting and with every curriculum.

Another favorite for people with young children is Charlotte Mason. Her books and method of homeschooling are gentle and easy to use with multiple children, and it gets kids outside every day for nature studies. There's a great resource at Ambleside online to get started.

Easy Peasy is a homeschool site that I want to love. Lots of people do. I find that it focuses on boring, workbooky stuff, and my kids hate it. But I keep going back to check it out, because it's free, covers everything from K-12, and would be a great way to keep kids busy if you were really at the end of your rope. It's super Christian in focus, if that matters to you.

This lady has the best homeschool stuff online, anywhere. She has a history curriculum that can't be beat, and an anatomy one as well. If you're just looking for a movie for your kids to watch so you don't feel guilty, or something to keep your kids busy without buying curriculum, start here. She has incredible resources. She has science, math, geography, and an incredible list of movies.

Online curriculum, games, and websites:
If you're going to buy any kind of online curriculum, start here.
The Homeschool Buyer's Co-op has everything, and they have cheaper than you can buy it on your own. It's also a fun place to check out free trials, see stuff you might not know existed, and wonder at how much amazing software is out there.
Headsprout is what all of my kids used to learn to read, and it works. There are other programs out there that probably work just as well -- we just got used to this one, and we like it. Don't pay full price for it. Wait until the Homeschool Buyer's Co-op has a sale!
Starfall is free, and a great reading/math tool for little ones -- probably up to about second grade. All of my kids have used it and loved it.

And, of course, if all else fails, there's Pinterest. You will get sucked in, and your day will be over before you get off, but it's a good way to find some new ideas.

Katie's hair

My sister Katie started chemotherapy today. she has a particularly aggressive form of cancer that needs an aggressive poison to get rid of it.

She will lose her hair in two or three weeks, and her toenails. Did you know that you lose your toenails to chemo? One more more unpleasant new fact I learned.

Everyone identifies with their hair -- it's part of who you are.

But with Katie, it's been central to who she is -- who can't describe Katie without using the words "fierce," and "hair." 

So, because I'm thinking of her today, as I knit a hat to keep her cold head warm, here's a story I wrote years ago. Before we knew it would all be poisoned away.

 

****** 

Katie was eight, and my constant companion, and also my nemesis. The boys in the neighborhood loved her blonde hair, how she'd race them on her bike and would rather come home with a broken leg than come home a loser, and they begged to be honored with a game of poker.

      But she took no prisoners, and more than once we had a mother at the front door, demanding that Katie give back her son's $52 that she'd won, all in nickels and quarters.

      And when she turned her fury on a boy who didn't play by her rules, the entire neighborhood knew about it.

      She was pretty and she was fun, but after you had to climb the highest branch of the tallest tree on the street to get your jacket back, just because you teased her a little -- well, you'd remember it. Katie played HARD.

      The best part about Katie, though, is that she wasn't scared of anything.

      Not my mother and her fury, not my father and his scornful comments, and not the dark.

      So we played flashlight tag, climbed the fence into a neighbor's yard and played on their boat, snuck into the garage to look at Playboy magazines and went swimming in the middle of the night – because no one wanted to hear Katie call them a chicken.

        I was my mom's helper, though, and I liked to stay home and read more than I liked adventure, so a lot of the time Katie rounded up the two little ones for her projects and scoured the neighborhood for worshipers.

      And there were plenty – Katie's hair was the kind that stopped strangers dead in their tracks.

It was long enough to reach the center of her back, so thick it snarled and matted if not brushed all the way through every day, and so blonde it reflected sunlight. There was so much of it that you would be in awe of the thick weight of it when braided, thick and heavy and glittering. We'd go to get haircuts and the women would gather to discuss how best to cut it to show it off. Layered, like Farrah's, or long and straight?

        Katie's hair was her trademark and her weapon.

      I had to have my hair cut short.  I wouldn't spend time on it, and it wasn't blonde. It was a dirty blonde, with a hint of red. I called it strawberry blonde, though I wished it were "Titian" like Nancy Drew's. It was flat, though, and didn't do much without fussing with it. And I knew that smart girls like me didn't fuss with their hair. Girls who had to rely on their looks, like Katie, silly girls who like pink spandex pants and roller derby -- they fussed with their hair. So I didn’t fight back when my mom insisted that it be cut short.

      "It's a pixie cut," Mom said. "It'll be so cute. Like the lady who played Peter Pan."

      As if having thick glasses and being clumsy weren't enough.

      I had a pixie cut, and I bore it grudgingly. Katie had a crowning glory, and she reveled in it.

      She knew how to use a curling iron and a round brush to get her hair just like Farrah's. I could barely brush mine.

      Occasionally she'd offer to fix mine for me. After a couple of curling iron burns and a lot of fights, we mostly gave up. People stopped my mother everywhere we went to ask if Katie had an agent yet. And they asked me if I were a good big brother.

      Stupid fucking pixie cut.

      Katie embraced being female and being sexy in a way that mystified me and thrilled me by the sheer bravado of it.

      She had crushes on boys. She flirted. She kissed boys in the bedroom closet during spin the bottle, and she never backed down or ran away -- I did, every time, as she scornfully reminded me the few times I wanted to join in.

      She wore cute clothes, and made me be the minister in a marriage ceremony with Geoff, a boy who lived down the street.      Geoff was my age and smitten with Katie. I think we both simply acknowledged that she had us in her orbit, and we succumbed to it.

The last trip

We had grand plans for what we were going to do with my father’s ashes.

“Let’s sprinkle them at the ranch,” said one of my sisters. “He loved it there, and he was happy.”

“No, let’s go to New York City and put them on stage in the middle of a big production! That way he’ll finally get to be on Broadway!”

“Let’s put some in Mom’s breakfast! That way he can always be a part of her — it’ll be his worst nightmare!”

We joked a lot about Mom peeing on them. They hated each other so much, and he’d always said she’d live long enough to piss on his grave. Finally, though, we decided that maybe we’d take him to San Francisco.

He’d said that he spent one or two of his happiest summers there, and that there was a bridge somewhere that he’d like his ashes sprinkled from.

He died two years ago.

We’ve talked about it, on and off. But there are four sisters, and we’re never all speaking to each other on the same day. And no one wants to get close enough to my mother to go and collect the ashes, and no one wants to be the one to make the decision.

In the end, we did what we always do when faced with the “What do we do about our parents” problem: We ignored it, and hoped it would go away.

All of these years, and we still haven’t learned a thing.

My father would have loved my little farm. 

We lived on a ranch for a while, when I was about ten. And he had the same obsessive need to know everything about a subject that I do — there’s no such thing as just getting a pig. You have to know about the history of pigs, you see, and what kind of breeds there are, and why some people prefer Hampshire to Duroc, and you have to be informed enough to have a strong opinion, so you can argue about them.

Neither one of us grew up on a farm, but we want the same God-given right all farmers have to walk into the feed store on a Saturday afternoon and argue about the merits of weaning an orphan calf at 39 days versus 55.

I went to visit my father when he was dying, knowing that it meant I’d have to see my mother.

That was huge for me. I still hadn’t forgiven him for being weak enough to re-connect with her. Re-connect -- I'm not sure what the proper term is. Get back together? They’d been married for twenty years, had four children together, divorced, married others, and my father had been through a Russian bride or two by the time my mother found her way back to him. “Hooking up” didn’t seem to do it justice.

In any event, they were now living together, which meant that all access to my father came through her, and that when I called to talk to him, she’d answer the phone.

“Hello, sweetheart!,” her cheerful voice would trill. “I’m so glad to hear from you!” And she’d pretend to be interested in my children and my life for a little while, and we’d pretend to be normal, and after the games I could talk to him. But she’d stay in the background, listening intently, and interrupting frequently. She’d want to make sure he didn’t say anything terrible about her, and that if he did, she could defend herself.

When it became clear that he was, in fact, dying, I went to Arkansas to see him. He was in a hospital, recovering from the latest episode of “old age and alcoholism.” 

He was full of plans to come and see the farm — he wanted to know which kind of pigs we had, and argued Hampshire versus Duroc. He was going to fix up the barn, and had plans to conquer the blackberry bushes. “Tame them with fire,” he said. “You’ve got to show them who’s boss. There’s a reason Americans took over this country so quickly — we’re not afraid to change the landscape. The Indians never learned the first lesson: You've got to get in there and destroy whatever you need to. Make it your own. It’ll grow back.”

We both knew he had a month to live, and that he’d never get out of the hospital, but he wanted to talk about the RV trip he was going to take to come visit.

“I’ll meet your kids in Florida, and we’ll go across the Gulf Coast. Do they like seafood? We’ll start in Mississippi, and we’ll eat fried catfish, and we’ll go fishing as we go along. We can pan-fry whatever we want for dinner every night. How old is that boy of yours -- 13? Can he fry trout?”

He wanted cast-iron cookware in the RV, not non-stick, because cast iron will last forever. After the Gulf Coast, he'd come up through Texas, “but you want to get across Texas as fast as you can — we'll only stop for gas. There’s nothing in Texas worth stopping for.”

Then we’d all go to the Grand Canyon, and up through the Rockies, and finally over to California.

I asked, stupidly, if he was up for all of this driving, since he hadn't been able to walk for at least a month.

He reached for the plastic jar of pee on the nightstand next to him, and said, “Don’t watch. I’ve got to piss.”

He pulled aside the hospital sheets and held his dick in the jar as he peed.

I mused about how many lives his dick had ruined, that funny, old, shriveled piece of flesh, as he said, “I’m getting stronger every day. I figure I’ll be out of here in two weeks, three at the maximum. I’ll fix up the RV, get it packed, and we’ll be on the road by fall. I want to travel out west via the south in the winter, when the roads are clear, and we’ll come spend the winter with you."

I was 44, and my father had never visited any home of mine. Not my first apartment at 18, not any the houses since.

I wondered how my children would do with a grandfather they'd never met living there for months.

We talked about what needed fixing at the farm — there’s a dairy barn from the 1940s that always needs work, and two ancient chicken coops, and the endless blackberries.

He asked me, again, about my husband  — “Is your husband the one named Mark, or the one named David?” and said he’d like to get to know my kids. “Two boys and a girl, right? One of the boys is the good-looking one, who looks like me?”

Yes, Daddy. He’s almost as good-looking as you were.

He took on a serious tone. “No one is as good-looking as I was.”

“Did you really name your little girl Scout? Did you want her to hate you? It’s the name of Tonto’s horse in the Lone Ranger. It’s a horse’s name, for fuck’s sake. What’s wrong with Margaret or Katherine or any name that’s not for a pet?”

I tried, a few times, to talk about the reason I was there, and to discuss his death.

He wasn’t having it. “We’ll talk about all of that when I come to Washington. We’ll still have time.”

“Well, at SOME point you’re going to die. You're 80 years old. What do you want to happen when you do die?”

“I guess I’ll be worm food, and I won’t care. Just don’t do some big slobberly funeral for me.”

I pressed on.

“Do you want to be buried? Do you care where?”

“Just burn me up. Do whatever you like with my ashes. There’s a bridge in San Francisco where I was homeless for a while. I always liked it there, and you could dump them near there. Let me tell you what kind of tires I’m going to put on the RV. As soon as I get out of here — I just need a couple more weeks of therapy — I’m going to put a special kind of suspension system on the RV. It’s supposed to make the ride more stable.”

I had to leave, to take a plane back to Washington, to the farm, to my children, to my real life that he’d never seen, never been a part of. To the husband he couldn’t name.

“Please, Daddy. I have to leave. Isn’t there anything you want to say to me? Anything you regret, or that you’re happy about, or a story you want to tell? I’m pretty sure I won’t see you again. And I’m going to miss you so much.”

“Can you just cut the bullshit? I’ll see you in Washington at the farm. Go on, get out of here. And, Meagan?"
He looked at me, straight on, and we both knew it was the last time I'd see him, and he still wouldn't say it.

But his voice broke, just enough that I cried all the way to the airport. "I adore you,” he choked out. "I'll see you in a couple of months."

It’ll be two years in October, and we still haven’t done anything with his ashes.

My mother, without the tether to sanity that my father provided, has been from Arkansas to San Diego to Arkansas again, fleeing the demons that don’t seem to accept old age as a reason to slow the chase.

She’s been kicked out of yet another apartment, been into and out of a mental hospital, and still, maddeningly, passes all of the tests the doctors can give her that would take away her freedom to roam.

This last thing though, that I heard, through my mother, to a sister, to another sister, to me, via a text, would have made my father laugh.

My mother didn’t show up for a court date, and the latest landlady was mad, so she threw all of my mom’s possessions into the dump.

Including what was left of my father.

“I wouldn’t have expected any different,” he’d say. “It was just worm food. Besides, at least this way your mother can’t hold me hostage anymore.”

The end of the farm challenge

I read this a long time ago, and it's always stuck with me. I have no idea how accurate it is, but the idea behind it resonates:
Do you have more than one pair of shoes?

Peonies. I'm a little obsessed. 

Peonies. I'm a little obsessed. 

Do you have more than one choice of food at each meal?

Do you have access to your own means of transportation?

Do you have more than one set of underwear?

Only ten percent of the people who have ever lived on Earth can answer yes to three or more of these questions.

We're seven weeks into the farm challenge.
I have spent $23 on groceries. I bought almond butter for Sander, because he was miserable, I bought a bag of mini-marshmallows so I could make cupcakes for a friend's birthday, baking soda because I needed it, and, last week, creamer, because my creamer went bad and I won't live without coffee.

We also went out for dinner two or three times, but I don't count this as part of the challenge because it wasn't part of my grocery budget.

But now, I think, I'm done. The original challenge was to last until June 1, and was going to include one bulk food buy. But then I was overwhelmed with how many people pitched in to help, and who traded food with me, brought gifts, and were exceptionally kind and supportive. So I decided to see how long it would last, and how long I could go without buying ANY food.

And, honestly, we could keep going. Probably for another month if we REALLY got creative, or were really in a situation where we couldn't buy food.

But here's the deal: I am coming at this challenge from a position of privilege, and I know this. I was able to feed my family for seven weeks on $3 a week. Not because I'm poor, but because of the incredible waste inherent in our society, and because I've had the privilege of NOT being poor for a very long time.

Most of the food we ate was from the Gleaner's Pantry. This means that I had to have a car to get there, plan ahead and have lots of free time to glean (a minimum of two hours a week, but I'm a board member and a driver, so we probably put in 4-8 hours a week, depending on the week.)

I have THREE refrigerators. I have TWO kitchens. I have a deep freeze in the basement. I have 200 jars for canning. I have a ten-acre farm that produces apples and goat milk and eggs and berries and herbs. 

One milking from Zenora. We're getting about a gallon a day. 

One milking from Zenora. We're getting about a gallon a day. 

If I lived in an apartment with a tiny refrigerator and worked 45 hours a week and took a bus to get everywhere, there's no way I could do this. I wouldn't have even tried.
This challenge took time and energy and commitment. I know that, in itself, is a privilege. To be able to have the luxury to choose what to eat every night is a gift that quite literally, millions of people around the world never know.

But I'm ready to get back my brain. We're almost out of almost everything: Gluten-free flour, coffee (about a week's left, I think,) creamer, sugar, meat. A farmer friend has half a cow for sale. I want to buy it and put it in my now-empty freezer. 

Mark, however, still doesn't have a job. We still have no income.

So I'm going to use the lessons I've learned from the challenge and try to stick with them. I'm only going to buy the basics. I'm still going to can, and glean, and make what I can.

But it's taking me hours to make dinner: I'm spending time gathering eggs to barter for the beef, then going to gleaners for veggies and making the bread. I'm done.

We have two weeks of birthdays coming up: Sawyer's turning 15, and Scout's turning 5. I want to make cakes that have real ingredients and not whatever I can barter for. I want to buy potato chips. I want to choose what we have for dinner -- we haven't had chicken in weeks, because we had beef in the freezer.

And I want to cut down on crappy filler carbs. Sandwiches and rice and pasta and muffins and cookies are fabulous for a teenaged boy. I, however, have gained seven pounds and my pants are tight and I'm over it.

So, tomorrow I will go to the store. It won't be the huge "Whoo-hoo, we're employed again" trip that I was hoping for, but it will be enough.
And I'm slowly learning that enough is more than OK.
Enough is plenty to be thankful for.

An evening in May

This is what a Wednesday night in May looks like at Stone Soup Farm. 

No stories, no writing. Just pictures from a beautiful spring evening. 

The fuzzy chickens are silkies -- they're pretty useless, but awfully cute. 

The fuzzy chickens are silkies -- they're pretty useless, but awfully cute. 

Scout was helping to set up the new raised beds. 

Scout was helping to set up the new raised beds. 

The trampoline gets quite a workout. 

The trampoline gets quite a workout. 

This is Shadow.  He's also useless, but cute.

This is Shadow.  He's also useless, but cute.

sime of the starts that will go into the garden. 

sime of the starts that will go into the garden. 

Goat art.  They've eaten the brush as high up as they can reach. In the little shelter is an old iron stove that was used for canning in the 1950s.

Goat art.  They've eaten the brush as high up as they can reach. In the little shelter is an old iron stove that was used for canning in the 1950s.

This was a brush patch last week. They've done a pretty good job clearing it out! 

This was a brush patch last week. They've done a pretty good job clearing it out! 

Our newest baby -- Chewvaca! He's awfully sweet. 

Our newest baby -- Chewvaca! He's awfully sweet. 

Leah. An angora goat. She needs a good shearing. 

Leah. An angora goat. She needs a good shearing. 

image.jpg
Our baby goats. Boy and girl twins. 

Our baby goats. Boy and girl twins. 

8 p.m. and beautiful out. 

8 p.m. and beautiful out. 

This is the garden where we're going to put the stuff that chickens will destroy: Lettuce, tomatoes, flowers. 

This is the garden where we're going to put the stuff that chickens will destroy: Lettuce, tomatoes, flowers. 

Running low

We've been doing the farm challenge of buying no food for three weeks now.

If we were just doing my original plan of going until June 1, this would be easy -- I've got it. But since I've decided to stick it out until July 1, things might get tough.

Coffee seems to be everyone's common ground. No one wants to see me run out of coffee -- my sister sent done for my birthday, a friend dropped some off, and I'm trading some tomorrow. And I have enough creamer stashed away to last until July. 

It's the other stuff that's starting to dwindle, though. We're out of chocolate chips, though I have lots of cocoa. Sugar is down to about three pounds. Out of soy sauce, which couldn't be awful. I traded a friend for a small bottle, but that won't last long. 

All of these are either staples or luxury items, depending on your point of view. You can certainly eat lentil soup and veggies every day and not need soy sauce or chocolate chips. But if you're trying to live for months, spices and chocolate are important! 

We're doing lots of veggies and lots of peasant food. The other night I had a soup with mushrooms, broccoli, yellow squash and onion, blended up with beef broth, and it was great.

We did a fancy fondue for Mark's birthday, which is where we used up a lot of stuff. Beef, pork, meatballs, mushrooms and cubes of bread, all fried in hot oil at the table and served with six sauces, and a chocolate fondue at the end with bananas, strawberries and marshmallows. We won't be eating that well again for a while!

Overall, though, we're in good shape.  plain, boring food: Oatmeal and eggs for breakfast. Leftovers for lunch. Veggies and rice and meat for dinner, or a crockpot something. I'm dying for something more exciting, and I guess I have to do that myself. I think I'll do some kind of Indian food tonight, just to spice it up a little.

Trading

We're at day 16 of the "buy no food" farm challenge, and so far, so good. We were a little worried because the boys and Mark are off on a camping trip this weekend, and that usually means at least one trip to the store. The boys and Mark are all gluten-free and dairy-free, and camp food is usually noodles, meatballs, pancakes and all sorts of stuff we have to put and replace with fussy GF versions so my kids feel like they're eating somewhat the same food as everyone else.

however, we've lucked into a great Boy Scout troop that has realized that if our three campers plus three other campers can't eat gluten, that's one-third of the people going. So they put them all in one group and they're bringing GF food for everyone and we don't have to worry about it. That's the first time in ten years of Scouts that food hasn't been a serious issue.

We have a ton of food, still, and we're eating lots of veggies from Gleaners. I've had people emailing me and asking what I have to trade. Pecans are a hot commodity. My aunt sent me a 30-pound box of pecans for my birthday, and I'm very happy at the bargaining power pecans have.

Clearly, we still have plenty of eggs, too. 

Clearly, we still have plenty of eggs, too. 

I got one pound of organic coffe last week, and someone else is bringing over another pound this week.

Mans someone emailed me and said they were looking for strawberries. No dice, I said. We've been out since September.  he said he had blueberries for me I came across them.

i thought that was a funny thing -- to keep on the lookout for strawberries. As if that would happen. 

Then another lady emailed me. "I have three gallons of frozen strawberries," she said, from their garden last year. "Got any pecans?"

So today, I gave up some of the strawberries and kept some. And now we have a gallon of blueberries in the freezer as well, and the kids are having organic fruit smoothies every morning. 

I almost feel guilty that this isn't harder. 

Maybe in two weeks,  when the meat starts to runs out, I'll be changing my tune.