Monday, September 29, 2014

My Youngest Daughter

Junebug, this is how I want to remember you in your grammar school years--missing those two front teeth, face covered in chocolate, and over-the-top excited over this quilt that I am making for you.

You were talking to me two days ago about something and you mentioned this simple fact:  "I'm your youngest daughter."  I wanted to cry because you ARE my youngest daughter and you're in the first grade and losing your teeth and doing things on your own...this quilt makes me think about you and how fast you're growing up while I'm stitching it together.  You've always been little, and the past few months have been a big ol' exercise in realizing that you're not so little anymore.

I started a quilt for you during your early months of life.  It's still unfinished.  Due partly to the disappointment I've always felt over that unfinished blanket, I agreed to make you any sort of quilt you desired when I decided to undertake this lofty "handmade quilt for every bed" goal earlier this year.

Of course, you picked out a beast of a design, and it took a bit of self-restraint to not talk you out of the idea.  In my mind, since you never had a baby blanket from me, I've "owed" it to you (and myself) to make you something truly beautiful.  This quilt will be beautiful, and it lies near the edge of the spectrum of my quilt-making abilities.  I might sigh over the time-investment of this project sometimes, but at the bottom of it all, I'm really excited about this project and so glad you asked it of me.  I'd never have chosen to make something like this for myself, simply because my creative abilities are needed for such a wide variety of projects.  Thank you, thank you for this experience.

My goals for September were to sew up ten new star units, and to piece the first quadrant of the quilt.  I did piece the first quadrant:

Penguin and you are not on the best terms today, so she wasn't too happy
about being roped into quilt-showing with you.  You're too excited to care.
And I completed NINE star units, with the tenth ending the month as officially being "in-progress:"

There are eighteen star units in each quadrant of the quilt, so I think I'll set a rather large goal for October:  Finish the needed star units for the second quadrant of the quilt, and also piece that second quadrant.  It'd be nice if I could attach the second quadrant to the first quadrant, but I'm not going to make that an official goal...just something to shoot for if I have the time.

This thing could be HALFWAY pieced by the end of next month!  Wouldn't that be awesome?!?!  If I keep to the insane schedule, all the star units could be pieced and attached by the end of February.  Then there's some little "filler" units to straighten out the sides, and then it's attaching a straight border, then quilting and binding the thing.  (And no, I don't know what I'm going to do quilting-wise, yet.)

Hurray for nearly attaining last month's goals!  I burned out a little on this in the last two weeks--I only started that tenth star unit on Friday, after nearly a week's break.  Whatever, it's for fun.

Here's to more crazy pictures of my Junebug next month, holding HALF of  her quilt instead of one quarter!

Linking up with Monday Morning Star Count

Friday, September 26, 2014

Weekly Report: September 15-19, 2014

This was a much, much better week.  I was actually driving down the road to Michael's work this afternoon, thinking about what a fantastic week it has been, when I saw a random generic car on the other side of the road flip on some windshield police lights and pull a U-Turn right behind me to pull me over.  Ladies and gentlemen, my fantastic week has ended with a $151 speeding ticket for going 70 km in a 60 km zone.  (And, to save you the trouble, I'll convert that for you right now:  10 kilometers = 6.2 miles.  One hundred and fifty-one dollars for driving SIX miles over the speed limit.)  It's things like this that make me want to punch optimistic, "count your many blessings" kind of people in the frickin' face.

Won't that make a fantastic comeback, though, to all those annoying people who are always saying to look on the bright side when you're feeling miserable?  "I'm sorry, but the last time I took a moment to count my blessings, it cost me $151 and landed me in traffic court."  Ugh.  UGH.  Ugh, ugh, ugh!

Shall we focus on the educating stuff, now?  Yes, let's do that.  The educating stuff loves me, and I need some love.

Super awesomeness of the week:  Junebug is definitely on the road to reading.  The secret:  Completely transparent bribery with candy.  I just couldn't get her to sit still long enough to read an entire page of anything; but I knew, when she would sit for a minute, that she could painstakingly sound out words.  I just needed her to sit.  And this girl will sit for candy.  So yes, she does her reading, which is a slightly higher level than I was thinking, and then she gets her miniscule box of candy and runs off to devour it.  Sometimes I switch it up and dangle a mini frozen yogurt bar before her.  The "good parent" side of me is sobbing, and the opportunistic achiever side of me is running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

More super awesomeness:  A friend from church invited us to her home this week, promising that we'd be able to really see some kangaroos up close because they're simply all over the place where she lives.  Man, she was not kidding.  We drove into her neighborhood, turned a corner, and:

There were kangaroos literally sleeping in people's front yards.  We saw a mama and a joey too, but I'm not that cool as a photographer whilst under pressure.  Oh well.  Cute little baby joey.

The friend's house was gorgeous--she and I sat on the veranda, enjoying the breeze as we sipped our waters, while the kids ran about the property and wore themselves out in the sun.  The kids went a on "bush walk" later on, and, upon returning, Monkeyboy sprinted to me to screech that they had seen three kangaroos right up close!  ("Right up close" translates into about eight feet, according to Bluebird's examples of how far away the marsupials appeared.)

I'll tell you other things about the week; but, really, how do you top kangaroos in front yards and right up close?

We swam.  Junebug swam across the deep end (~5.5 feet) of the pool without any assistance.  Two weeks ago she was afraid to sit by herself on the steps in the shallow end of the pool.  Monkeyboy can dive and scoop up rings from the bottom of the deep end.  Bluebird can swim two lengths of the pool, and Penguin can do all sorts of flips and twists off the side of the pool.

Two armed gunmen ran through the backyards of our neighborhood last weekend, holding up people at gunpoint and demanding clothing from their clotheslines in order to disguise themselves from the police.  They didn't come through our backyard, but were arrested quite near our house.  Our street was closed off with police cars, and policemen were on the streets, peering about and trying to catch sight of the fugitives.  I only know this from my neighbors, because we were busy swimming in the back yard.  Goodness me, what an experience that could have turned into!  But it didn't, so...moving on...don't fixate on this, Granny.

Look!  Pictures of Brookelets and the things they do!

Bluebird's fun with her spelling words this week.

My flowers for the week.
I was brave and purchased a "mix" that included fragranced flowers.
Never. Again.
My house was nauseatingly-perfumed all week long.

Penguin's learning about fractions.

Monkeyboy started insisting that he would write this week.

Junebug hates XtraMath.

Monkeyboy is a little monkey.
Happy end of the week to you!  I hope you have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Portrait of a Homeschooling Mom: Year Five, Sabbatical Year

I am 32 years old this year, in the midst of my twelfth year of marriage, eleventh year of parenting, and fifth "official" year of homeschooling.  I currently possess no church callings because we are still rather new in our home here in Queensland, Australia.  Seeing that we'll be leaving in a few months' time, I'm not sure I'll have a calling at all during our time here.

The sun here in Australia has brought out my freckles, which I had thought were but a memory of my youth.  I'm amused each morning by their return, and wonder if they'll fade when we return to the States.

A few years ago, while reading my scriptures, I came across the concept of the Sabbatical Year, which is intended as a year of rest and spiritual devotion.  The idea of the Sabbath DAY was a regular part of my week, but I was surprised to see mentionings of a Sabbath Year, and a Sabbath Month, as well.  Knowing how much I appreciated a day of rest each week, I pondered the idea of a month each year, and a year each seven years, to step back from daily life and really take time to focus on personal devotion, religious instruction, and exploring other areas of interest that had a hard time fitting into the hustle and bustle of one's regular schedule.

I did a little research and learned that the year 2014 would be an official Sabbatical Year, and wrote it on a little Post-It note that has stuck to the first page of my journal ever since.  For three years I've seen that little Post-It each time I went to write in my journal, and I would pause a moment to think about what I would actually do should I choose to pursue the idea of taking 2014 "off."  Would I send the kids to school and use the time to write?  Make all the crafts?  Re-decorate the house?  Embark on some deep spiritual journey?  Give more service?  Finally achieve a 100% rate of visiting teaching?

As 2014 approached, I really felt in my heart that I needed to take a break from homeschooling during the 2014-2015 school year.  I submitted the kids' names into the lottery for a local charter school, and was mildly pleased when, in February, they made the cut.  We toured the school, talked with the principal (who happens to live down the street from us), and I filled out the forms and placed them on the counter at home, waiting for a day when I had a spare half hour to take them into the admissions offer and formally accept the offer of admission.

Except that I just could not bring myself to do it.

We found out a few weeks later why, when Michael was asked by his work if we would consider relocating to Australia for five months.  Not much use in accepting an offer of admission to a school when you're going to be living on the other side of the world, now is there?

While doing his regular travel trips, Michael talked to members of the ward here in Bundaberg about schooling options for the kids and found, to his surprise, that not one of them suggested we enroll the kids in the public schools here.  In fact, I've yet to encounter anyone whose children don't attend a private school, which begs the question of who those public-schooled children belong to, because I see them heading off to school in the mornings.  Private school tuition for three children was a no-go for us on such short notice, and I wasn't entirely comfortable with the idea of my kids' first experiences with the school system being in a foreign country, so I decided to continue on with homeschooling, albeit a much lighter schedule due to packing restrictions that made it so we had to leave bulky curriculum choices at home.

Life as we know it is different here, and not just because of the differing surroundings.  We are taking it easy this year.  I'm not hounding the kids to be in their seats by a certain time, and I'm not taking away recess or cancelling field trips due to unfinished work.  We get one shot at exploring this country as best we can, so being behind on Spelling lessons just doesn't matter like it normally does to me.  But mostly, it's because this idea of the "sabbatical year" that's sitting in the back of my mind.  We're taking a year of rest, while at the same time doing enough to not merit a visit from Child Services.

What's interesting to me is the promise of God to those who keep the Sabbath Year, found in Leviticus 25:20-22:
20 And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase:
 21 Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years.
 22 And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store.
Obviously, this applies to agriculture, and the Brooke Family is not in any sort of business related to agriculture, but I realized a few weeks ago that we have reaped these same sort of blessings ourselves this year.  With this move to Australia and its consequential increase in cost-of-living, we were granted additional living allowances from Michael's company.  We are practically living off of a double increase this year, once you consider all those allowances.  Michael's not taking a sabbatical, so I know it technically doesn't apply to him...but at the same time, I was preparing for a Sabbatical year, and all this happened, which is pretty cool, and has given me more reason to believe that God has granted me the makings of a Sabbatical Year because I prepared for it.

Moving to another country and really immersing myself in the culture has been something I've wanted to do since I was a young child, (I remember talking about Paris with my little brother when I was four years old) and it's something I've fretted over since deciding to get married during my junior year of college and abandoning all thoughts of studying abroad.  Honestly, it has really bugged me that I've not traveled.  I've felt like something was missing from my life, and then I'd feel guilty about wanting more when I already had so much.  I've poured out this hidden corner of my heart in prayer over the years, and God came through in high style.  I asked for two weeks, he's given me twenty.  I couldn't have pieced together a more perfect sabbatical for myself if I'd been given the chance, and it's because of homeschooling that we were able to make this work for our family.  God's purposes are so mysterious, and then so abundantly clear.

In keeping with the idea that the Sabbatical Year should be used in drawing closer to God, I've tried to increase my spiritual works while here in Australia, focusing on some topics that have weighed me down the longest.  I'm happy to report that I'm receiving answers to those very focused appeals to Deity, and I'm rather excited about things that are being asked of me for this next chapter of our lives.  It's still too fresh and sacred to me to discuss openly, but I feel so much peace in my heart and a new depth of love for my Heavenly Father, who is so aware of my needs and desires, and has been crafting a perfect plan for me and my children all along.  Why was I so anxious all these years?  O ye of little faith...

Prayer works.  Blessings, no matter how far-fetched and antiquated they may seem, are available when we prepare ourselves to receive them.  God is aware of our deepest desires that we are afraid to speak aloud, and He wants us to be happy.  The desires of our hearts aren't silly, and He's willing to help us realize them if we'll be so trusting as to share them with Him.  It takes courage to declare a wish out loud, even when you're "by yourself" in an empty room, when you know it's nearly impossible to obtain the wish.  God simply requires that we speak it aloud to Him, and have faith that He will make it happen in His perfect timing if it's good for us.  What an experience these past few months have been.  I'm so thankful to have watched this unfold in my life, so grateful for the knowledge I have received, and so thankful for the new chapter that will begin when we return home.

What a year.

I started this "Portrait of a Homeschooling Mom" series last year.
If you'd like to see last year's post, click here.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Another Peek at the Peacock

 It's been three weeks since you last saw the proud little Peacock Stole-in-progress, and I'm happy to report that what you're looking at is what this looks like at THE END OF CHART #6.

It turns out that Chart #6, despite being a whole lot of rows, was pretty much just a eight row repeat that was easily memorized, so I took to knitting up eight rows a day for the last two weeks, instead of the formerly-planned-on fours row a day.  As a result, I've finished up this chart two weeks early.  Today I will venture into Chart #7, which has some stitch symbols waiting for me to learn.

The stole is at Row #204, and there's 304 rows per side, so we're getting close to being done with the first half!  (Yep, once I reach "the end," I get to pick up all those live stitches waiting on the lime-green yarn and literally knit all of this AGAIN.)

I love, love, love the peacock feathers part of this pattern.  The beginning charts with the diamonds were hard for me and I despised them, but once those are out of the way, this is such an enjoyable knit.  I really like the double yarn-over rows!  The peacock feathers are surprisingly simple and I still smile triumphantly each time another row of completed feathers emerge.  Pretty, pretty!

I talked to my granny (the $500 phone call that actually cost $17) after the last Peacock post went live, and she is beyond excited that this is finally happening.  She's never bothered me about it not happening, and I've apologized profusely over the years about it not happening, but both of us were eager to see for it to happen, so we're both just a little ridiculously excited that it is finally happening and not kicking my butt.  Yippee all around!

I've decided that I will not add beads to this project.  The idea has been swimming in my head for a long time, but I've decided that beads would just be a little too much.  Given also that it's a long rectangle, adding beads on the ends will add weight to the ends and I think it will stretch and distort the lace pattern.  The pattern is fabulous without any extras added to it, so we're going to stay the course and knit it as written.  Goodness, do I love the color.

Chart #7 is the beginning of a bigger pattern of peacock feathers, so next month I'll be able to show you something new.  Yippee!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekly Report: September 8-12, 2014

Another week in Australia is finished.  We had our “Home Blessing Hour” this morning so that the house is a little nicer for when Michael stays home tomorrow, and I’m sitting down to type this blog post after doing some grocery shopping and filling up the cupboards.  Life is good.

It was a rough week.  Homesickness is really starting to rear its mournful little head, and all six of us are feeling a bit melancholy.  I’m missing my friends, easy access to crafting supplies, and just plain being comfortable with my surroundings.  I phoned my granny for a chat, and the connection was cut about fifty minutes into the call, and then I didn’t have any more credit to call her back.  I started with $500 of credit.  It’s about $10 a minute to phone the States on whatever plan we have that I did not choose.  Didn't know that.  I have since found out that my phone call did not cost $500, but rather $17.  Michael has $500 of credit on his phone, I had $17.  Not so big a deal anymore.  $17 per hour to phone the States.  Much better than $500.  At that time though, I was not feeling good about the situation.

Michael scheduled to have internet installed at the house, and we received our brand new internet router in the mail, and I settled in to be at home between the hours of eight and twelve for when the technician came to hook up everything.  I promised the kids we could go swimming after the internet guy left.  Twelve ‘o clock rolled around—we had lunch, and still no internet guy.  I was not comfortable with answering the door in my bathing suit, so we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Michael phoned about six that evening to let me know that the internet company had just phoned him to let him know that there are no internet lines available in our area, so there will be no internet for us.  By six it’s practically dark here, so no swimming that day either.  I was bummed, and the kids were bummed.  Boo to that day.

So how am I updating the blog without internet?  Well, I’m writing up my posts in my word processing program during the week, choosing my pictures and saving them in a special folder, and then I pack up the kids and my computer and we head into town to Michael’s work.  Once there, I set myself up in his office and “borrow” his company’s internet to schedule blog posts for the week.  Michael takes the kids to the drive-thru and they come back and we eat fast food in his office while I finish up my posts and writing back to people who have written throughout the week.  It works, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.  Don’t get mad at me when I don’t answer an email right away, BECAUSE I CAN’T.  Sometimes I receive emails on my phone at the house if all the wires are connected, there are no solar flares and there’s not a cloud in the sky, and Zeus is feeling amicable that morning, but it’s a rarity.

The kids are not happy that they’re going to miss Halloween, and they’re starting to really miss our pets and their friends.  I was thinking about throwing our own Halloween celebration here, but the more I think about it, the more odd it seems.  It’s spring here, which is not the time to place pumpkins on the front step and serve spiced cider and pumpkin pie.  The whole concept is just completely out of sync with what’s going on weather-wise here.  Michael and I have an idea up our sleeves about Halloween—mostly just a diversion—that should satisfy the kids’ desires for something fun on October 31.

There are no yarn shops in or near our town.  And guess what?  Knit Picks doesn’t ship internationally.  And, as you know, I can’t browse the internet for Australian yarn shops for yarn either.  I need sock yarn.  And needles.  I can’t sit still in the car, so I want to start a pair of socks because lace knitting and hand sewing are both a no-go for me with the motion of the vehicle we have here.  But I can rock the plain knit that’s required for a sock.  That’s all I want.  But no.  No yarn for me.

Which, you know, is probably for the best because, unbeknownst to us when we signed the rental papers, this house doesn’t have a dryer.  Every single thing I wash has to be line-dried.  My apologies to those of you who love the smell of laundry dried on the line, or love the idea of being so green and environmentally responsible, but I would never, ever choose to line dry my clothes.  EVER.  And now I’m forced into the practice.  I will concede a little bit and say that the sight of white bed linens waving in the breeze beneath palm trees is a rather idyllic scene that stops me in my tracks for a moment.  That is pretty.  But I have to start doing the laundry EVERY DAY by about 7:30 so that I can hope to get through the minimum three loads each day before bedtime.  (And, to stop the “Good gracious, what are you washing every day?!?!” questions, I will tell you:  1st: Bedding, 2nd: Cold clothing, 3rd: Towels [remember that pool in our backyard?] or Whites or Warms)  Six people make a lot of  laundry, especially now that those “babies” and “toddlers” are getting to be rather big kids.

Deep breath.

Alright, so that’s all out there.  This move isn’t perfect.  And that is totally OK.  There are so many things that make it OK:

It's not quite the type of picture I want to use to share
what the sunsets are like, but it's pretty nonetheless.
The sunsets here are amazing.  On those drives into town to do my frenzied blogging, I sometimes feel like I can barely breathe because my heart is so full with the beauty of the sunset over the sugar cane fields.  We get gorgeous sunsets in Utah, but they’re different here in a “liquid gold” kind of way.  That’s the best description I can give you.  I hope to schedule some time to try to capture it on film so I can at least try to convey the beauty to you all through photos.

The break from the internet is actually kind of nice.  I’m slowly falling more and more out of the Facebook loop, and the world is not ending.  When I am able to log on, I’m mostly annoyed that I’m wasting my time reading stuff that doesn’t matter to me.  How much time have I wasted scrolling past people’s random quiz results, political rants, and complaints about how long their work days are?  (But then there’s a crafterly friend who posts a work-in-progress, and I’m all like, “Woot, woot for Facebook and its awesomeness that allows me to stay updated on my friends’ projects!”)  And my “blog post evening” is something the kids and I look forward to—it’s like a family date at Michael’s work!  The kids think it’s awesome to hang out in Dad’s office, mostly because he keeps a stash of snacks and treats for them and lets them watch funny cat videos on You Tube while we’re there.  I’m not sure how much he enjoys it though…we’re quite an intrusion into his space.

The pool is wonderful, and the kids are practically swimming already.  I see nothing but good from this, as long as I keep everything locked down and safe.  It’s nice to have “fun time” scheduled into our school day a couple days a week, where I’m not drilling or supervising skills that the kids don’t like doing.  We’re just playing together.  We don’t get a lot of that at home.  It’s always reminding them to practice piano, to do their chores, to clean their rooms, to get ready for practice, to re-do that assignment because it’s sloppy, to please brush their hair and teeth, etc.  Without all the outside commitments we normally have, there is time to play in the pool for an hour or two in the afternoon.  I’m not saying I want to permanently change things around to allow this all the time (musical instruments and sports are good things), but it’s nice to take a break and be able to just hang out for a season.  I’ve felt like the “little kids” portion of our lives together has been slowly sealing off, so it’s nice to take a breather before we plunge into the “big kids” part with all its hormones and drama.

No yarn shop…sucks.  All I need is sock yarn and needles.  I’m not going to pretend to be a bigger person over this.

This part is going to sound boastful:  I’m realizing that I’m good at my job I’m here with no dryer, no cookbooks, and hardly any curriculum, but it’s all working out just fine.  I can work the extra time for laundry into my day; and, oddly enough, the laundry being harder to do has made me more consistent about making sure it’s done.  You skip a day this way and it hurts, badly.  Laundry is just too easy at home, I guess.  It turns out that I’m a good cook and that the past eleven-and-a-half years of cooking has settled somewhat permanently in my brain.  I can recall recipes without needing to look at them, and I’m using techniques to make food, rather than blindly following a cookbook.  I feel like some sort of Kitchen Wizard!  And school is going just fine with our pared-down school day working off of the barest offerings of curriculum.  I spend a lot of time mentally berating myself over what I don’t get done, and how what I do get done doesn’t measure up to my own expectations.  But I’m looking around here and seeing that, perhaps, I’m better at this than I’ve led myself to believe.  It’s a nice feeling to feel successful.

Those internet troubles and line-dried laundry opened the doors of two of my neighbors’ homes.  One of them had a package that the delivery man left with me (because he saw me outside, hanging my laundry), and when I took it over to her that evening she asked me how I was adjusting.  It was the same day as the no-show internet guy, and I was really upset about it all, so I just said, “The no internet thing has been tough.”  She could not believe we had been here this long with no internet; and, even though we had met for the first time only two minutes before that moment, marched me over to another house in the cul-de-sac to meet another neighbor who was more “tech-smart” than herself.  They could not believe we had no internet, and a heart-warming twenty minutes of introductions and talking began.  They are super friendly, and they’ve been looking forward to us moving in.  They’ve loaned us scooters for the kids, and they have grandkids who will be visiting soon that really want to play with our kids.  They’ve offered their own computers and privacy to Skype with our family back home should it all become too much.  They’re wonderful, wonderful people.  Maybe that’s why we’ve had to have such hard luck with this “no internet thing”—not having internet makes it more likely that I’ll leave my house and talk to other people in real life.

There’s always that point in a big trip where you get really, really down, and I think we’ve reached that point.  However, I’m not worried because the low point is the low point—things will probably start perking up a bit soon.  Adjustments won’t seem so hard, and the different nature of various things here might just start to become automatic.  It is drop-dead gorgeous here, so whenever it really starts to feel like too much, I go outside and look up.  There’s something about palm trees and the sun burning down from a bright blue sky that just calms you.  I remind myself to take a breath and feel grateful for the tropical landscape outside my door because it’s temporary, just like the interruptions and challenges in my regularly-scheduled day.  Take a break, because this trip is a special opportunity to actually take a break, and those don’t happen to everyone.  Be thankful, be calm, re-focus.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2014-2015 School Pictures

Miss Bluebird is in the fifth grade this year, heading out into the world of more independent work, and also more…work, period.  Her end-of-year test results were phenomenal last year, so what we’re doing is working splendidly.

According to the educational philosophy that I follow, she’s entering into the Dialectic, or “Logic,” Stage of development, which is characterized by the compulsion to point out the errors in everything.  (I’m finding this to be an apt description of life with Bluebird at the moment.)  This is the time to start a formal study of logic and reasoning.  I’ve started her on Mind Benders books, and she’s almost done with the entire year’s worth of workbooks at this point, a mere ten weeks into the school year.  Sigh.  It’s always like this.  I’m trying to decide whether or not to order more Mind Bender books (Read:  HUGE shipping costs), order the more formal logic texts (shipping), or wait until we get back to the States to move ahead more with any of this.

She’s doing her math mostly on her own each day, and doing well with that responsibility.  I’m trying to give her more writing-intensive assignments, as I think our studies haven’t involved enough writing.  She was full-on writing phobic during her early years, and I backed off in order to keep everyone alive.  I can see where that wasn’t a good idea; and yet, at the same time, I don’t think it will be too taxing for her to get back on track.  No more excuses, it’s the fifth grade.  She seems to have accepted this mandate, although she’s really not happy about the “everything needs to be in cursive from now on” rule.

Due to the restrictions of space, we did not bring all of our curriculum to Australia.  We left Latin and Grammar at home, along with most of our books because I planned to do a lot of writing (which can count as grammar-in-action) and I assumed I’d be able to find books at the local library to meet our needs.  However, we have next-to-zero access to the internet, so being able to browse the online catalog and reserve the needed titles is severely limited.  It’s impossible to do all that on the fly while at the library because I have a four-year old boy, so Bluebird’s literature selections have been widely varied thus far.  (Still crossing my fingers for some internet at home…)

Goals for this year include learning to swim (we have a pool at our house here in Australia, and I’ve devoted considerable time in our regular school day to being in the pool because it’s that important to me), becoming a more proficient writer, improving fine motor skills, and improving in the areas of spelling and math computation.

Penguin is in the third grade this year.  She’s supposed to start Latin, but yeah…we’ll pick that up when we get back home.

She’s on track in just about every subject, and her end-of-year test scores were very good last year.  We’re just going to continue the course.  I’d like to include more writing for her as well.  Writing’s important, and I’m sensing that we should put a little more effort into her reading comprehension skills, which will mean being better about narrations and dictations.

This kid is easy to teach.  She listens quietly, asks questions when she doesn’t understand, ploughs through her work on her own without needing reminders to focus, tackles her chores, and then heads out to play.  No drama, no obstinacy.  With Bluebird being so intense at times, and Junebug apparently lacking any sort of ability to sit still, I am so incredibly grateful that Penguin is such an easy student to work with.

Goals for this year include learning to swim, becoming a better writer, and improving in the areas of reading comprehension and math computation.

Junebug is a first grader.  I keep thinking she’s in Kindergarten, and I have to remind myself to expect more out of her school-wise. 

None of my kids have been reading by the beginning of the first grade, and Junebug is no exception.  She has actively fought me on learning to read, and I’ve backed off until now.  It’s first grade now, and that means learning to read whether you like it or not.  We’ve really gone head-to-head on this, and I think she’s finally accepting that this is going to happen.  It feels like we’ve actually made some progress in the past couple weeks, for which I’ve breathed many a sigh of relief.

She does fine in all her subjects, so the main focus with her is getting her reading as soon as possible.

Goals this year include learning to swim, learning to read proficiently, and cleaning up her letter formations.

And then there's The Boy, Mr. Monkeyboy himself.  He's in his last year of preschool, and he loves school so, so much.

We're working through Saxon K, and it's way easy for him.  We're also doing Letter of the Week and beginning phonics.  I'll ask him to do a lot of cutting and coloring this year, in preparation for beginning penmanship next year.  And, of course, lots of read alouds together.  Gotta get those snuggles in before he grows up too much!

Goals for this year include learning to swim, learning all the sounds of the alphabet, and finishing Saxon K.

I've got my hands full, but it's all good.  Happy New School Year to you all!

Want to take a trip down Memory Lane?  Click here for last year's Back to School portraits.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Penguin's a Paper Piecer!

Penguin adores paper-pieced hexagons, so much that she’s taken on the goal of making her own needle case out of the shapes.  She came across a little packet of pre-cut hexagons and hexagon templates at the local quilt shop a few weeks back, and set off determined:

I think she’s doing some pretty good work, especially when you consider her age.  When she assembled this full hexie “flower,” she was over-the-moon proud of herself.  (Her “pleased” smile is so adorable!)  She could barely contain her excitement as I carefully tied off her thread, and then she asked if I’d take her picture and post it on the blog so family could see her work.

So there you go, family and friends, Penguin is officially an EPP-er!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Weekly Report: September 1-5, 2014

We’re ambling along.

Since we have no access to the internet at our house, the kids do a couple different keys of their Math Wrap-Ups each morning instead of their usual XtraMath.  Junebug is studying her +2 math facts at the moment, so she goes through that particular key a couple times each day.  It’s working out rather well.

A big moment this week:  Junebug read a traffic sign all on her own!  We were heading into town to pick up Michael from work, and as I got onto the highway on-ramp, Junebug squealed in the backseat, “That sign says ‘Exit!’”  When we arrived into town, she again squealed, “That sign says ‘Stop!’”  Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’ve arrived at the place where the phonics start making sense.  (Which is good, because I was arriving at the place of “When is this going to start making sense with this kid?!?!”)

Math takes up all my time these days, which I was expecting because I have a kid in Saxon K, Saxon 1, AND Saxon 3.  That Saxon 1 & 3 combo is awful.  I remember when we went through it with Bluebird and Penguin two years ago, and I knew I’d despise it when it happened again with Penguin and Junebug.  Oh, the time spent on this everyday is just demoralizing.  The last time through, it was because Bluebird fought me on every. single. little. thing.  This time, it’s because Junebug will. not. sit. still.  Junebug’s also not reading yet, so I have to read every question aloud on her worksheets.  I know I’ve had to do that with both Bluebird and Penguin before, so I’m trying not to get hung up on it, but man, lots of time spent on Junebug’s lessons each day.  The girl can’t sit in one spot for more than seven seconds. 

Thankfully, Bluebird is pretty much self-contained, math-wise.  She heads off to her room or the living room and just sits down and reads over her Saxon 6/5 lesson herself and then does the assignment.  Once you get past Saxon 3, your teaching schedule opens up considerably.  I grade her stuff once a week, and she’s sitting in the 88-95% range on her assignments.  I will happily accept that.  (Actually, I might break into a little song and dance if I think no one’s watching…)

We had an amusing moment when Penguin discovered that her penmanship assignment for the day included a picture of a kangaroo and the word “Queensland” for practice

Random aside:  Yes, we’ve seen kangaroos.  Quite often, actually.  I originally thought they were like deer in the USA, but I’m starting to believe that kangaroos are far more common than deer.  We see a few of them every week, usually in little herds of three to seven.

Sadly though, we also see lots of them in various states of decomposition on the side of the road; and we happened upon a very fresh accident a few nights back where the fresh ‘Roo was lying in the middle of the road and the smell of burnt tire rubber was heavy in the air as the driver of the offending vehicle stood on the side of the road looking very, very horrified.  Penguin was quite distressed by the scene, and the rest of the car ride home had us discussing the event, until a kangaroo jumped out in front of our car while we were at a stop sign and hopped nonchalantly past us, across the street and into the night.  Penguin cheered up considerably after that close encounter.

Monkeyboy is enjoying preschool.  He’s also started drawing pictures; his latest fascination being the members of his family.  I about died from the cuteness of his portrait of Penguin:

Bluebird’s latest fascinations are making fun of my yarn habit, and Vikings:

And, not because it’s important, but because it makes me happy, my flower bouquet from this week:

There’s a little stand beside the road going into Bargara that sells flowers only on Fridays.  It warms my heart to see that little family out there, so I’ve decided to try my best to treat myself to a bouquet each week.  These were fragrance-free lilies, which I loved because I think perfumed lilies smell like pee.  I’m looking forward to the selections in the coming weeks!

I hope your weeks were lovely, and that your weekends are wonderful!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Vera Scarth-Johnson Wildflower Reserve

If you can believe it, I have managed to take the kids on a nature hike that they have declared “even worse” than the anti-climatic trek at Sharon Gorge.  This time it was to the Vera Scarth-Johnson Wildflower Reserve, a spot that I really thought would be rather idyllic and gorgeous, but alas, I was quite wrong.

You see, the problem is that it’s winter here.  I keep forgetting that, and I’m pretty sure that all these flowery descriptions of these trails are based upon what you’re going to see in the spring and summer months.  What we’re seeing right now is that lovely gray (but kind of green) and mostly dead (but not really) end-of-winter scenery that my kids aren't really excited about.  I’ve made a mental note to return to this spot in another month or so, as I have great faith that it will be much more pleasing to the eye at that time.

Nevertheless, we did go on the walk, and there were some interesting and new-to-us species of flora all around us.  Namely, the weird “scruffy clam cone” trees:

I’d tell you what they were if I had regular access to the ol’ internet, but I don’t, so we all get to remain puzzled as to the species of tree.  It was a weird landscape to behold, lemme tell ya—the white sand trail and these stark trees standing against the piercing blue sky while a lonely wind pushed around it all.  It was weird to be in a place that felt so desolate and so barren, and yet be surrounded, almost suffocated, by all these plants.  It was a very eery place.

We saw some flowers...

Once again, there was the promise of a river at the end of the trail; and it was a promise I dangled out in front of the Brookelets while they complained incessantly about the boring-ness of the landscape and how long the trail was, and how thirsty they were, and, and, and…I reminded them that the last river had been quite pretty, and that the view across the river had been rather lovely, and that it would be cooler by this next river and a nice little rest before we headed back.  We came to the end of the trail and saw this:

And that is how you score an “even worse than the last one” grade—when you promise your kids a river, make them walk through a mosquito-infested patch of scratchy trees, and end up presenting them with a scorched expanse of shrubbery where the river was supposed to be.  You’re welcome.  Enjoy it.  Love, Mom.
The odds of the next hike being better are enormously in my favor, don’t you think?

Although we did find a burrow of some sort, and I earned even more demerits by not allowing them to crawl into the hole, or throw rocks into the hole, or poke sticks into the hole.  You’re welcome.  Enjoy full use of your limbs and eyesight.  Love, Mom.

All in all, I enjoyed the little hike, and I’m immensely interested in finding out what those scruffy clam cone tree things are.