I’m back!

I gave up my laptop for Lent, and essentially that meant giving up blogging too.  Honestly I’m not even sure I’m going to get back into it – I haven’t missed it that much, and it’s not like I’ve built up much of a following.  I’ve also cut down on the number of blogs I read, which has honestly been pretty refreshing – there are so many great blogs out there, but it can be overwhelming trying to keep up with all of them every day!

I must confess that I wasn’t entirely technology-free during Lent – my husband got me an iPad2, so I had that to keep me somewhat connected, and we do have a “big” computer in our bedroom that I use to pay bills, etc.

I still feel like I’m working to find my place in the homeschooling world – we’ve enrolled in Classical Conversations for the fall, and we’re still participating in an extracurricular co-op one day a week.  I recently attended the local Catholic homeschool conference, but I came away from that experience reaffirmed in my belief that I am not conservative enough to really fit in there.  Politically I identify as a Libertarian, and for the most part I describe myself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal – I just don’t fit in with the uber-conservative homeschool crowd where the women focus on “dressing modestly” and the idea that I support gay marriage (and think the entire concept of the “homosexual agenda” is utter crap) and go out with friends at least two nights a week in order to keep my sanity (and my husband – gasp! – supports this idea, as he knows I need my own outlets) would be frowned upon – especially if they knew that at least one of those outings is a weekly D&D game that I just adore.

I am Catholic, but I’m a geek girl too, and I don’t see that as something to overcome.  I’ve never been a cookie-cutter anything and I’m not planning to start now.  I guess if I do continue writing in this blog, the focus may change slightly – it might become less about just the homeschooling and more about my story.  We’ll see.

Bible & Saint stories

In addition to our daily story book, we also read a Bible or saint story every day.  We read through the bedtime Bible book that I had initially selected in the fall, and rather than start over I began looking for something different to borrow from the library.  The bedtime book was a great general overview, but didn’t focus much on Jesus’ ministry and teachings, so the first books I got for us to read were Mary Hoffman and Jackie Morris’ Miracles and Parables:

These books were perfect for teaching the kids more about Jesus’ ministry.  Each contains about seven or eight stories, with citations showing what book and chapters of the Bible the story came from.

Now that we’ve finished these two, we’re moving on to saint stories.  I’m planning to use Carole Armstrong’s Lives and Legends of the Saints:

I like how she has associated each story with a piece of great artwork – it will not only expose Little T and Mr. S to the stories of Catholic saints, but will also have the added benefit of giving them a glimpse of some significant works of art.

In my research, I’ve found several great books that I just don’t think we’ll have time to get to during this school year, but I wanted to record them here for posterity’s sake!  Ruth Sanderson’s Saints: Lives and Illuminations and More Saints: Lives and Illuminations are two that I hope to use next year.

And two stories of specific saints that I also hope to use in the future are Kathleen Norris’ The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica (illustrated by Tomie de Paola) and Bryce Milligan’s Brigid’s Cloak (illustrated by Helen Cann):

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Still more fairy tales

Yes, we’re still reading fairy tales!  Next week will be our last week of fairy tales for a while, but the kids and I are enjoying reading them.

Our first book this week is Rachel Isadora’s The Princess and the Frog – I apologize for the tiny picture, it’s the only one I could find online and I’ve already returned the book to the library so I can’t take my own photo:

Isadora’s illustrations are soft watercolors, which is sweet but frankly I prefer more detail.  (Her style works better for me in The Little Mermaid, which we also read this week, possibly because I can imagine things looking slightly blurry underwater.)  The story is the familiar tale, minus any menacing elements – the princess drops her ball in a well, the frog retrieves it, and she is obligated to keep her promise to let him stay in her home.  The spell is broken and voila, he’s a prince!  Cue happily ever after.

Our next tale was Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rumpelstiltskin:

His oil paintings are just gorgeous, and the book is also appealing because of the beautiful language he uses to tell the story.  I think Zelinsky is my new favorite children’s book illustrator!

Our final fairy tale this week was another of Rachel Isadora’s – this time the aforementioned Little Mermaid:

She’s managed to retell this sad story in a beautiful way, though of course the mermaid’s visit to the sea witch may frighten some little ones, and the fact that her sisters try to get her to kill the prince in order to save herself in the end is a bit gory; but the ending is sweet, and the scary parts were not overwhelming, even for my sensitive boy.

Stay tuned for more fairy tales next week!

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More fairy tales

This week we continued reading fairy tales.

We started with Marcia Brown’s Cinderella, which won the Caldecott medal in 1955.  Unlike the Disney movie, this telling of the traditional story emphasizes the relationship between Cinderella and her sisters and downplays the stepmother’s involvement.  In fact, the father isn’t even dead in this tale – he just doesn’t seem to pay attention to the fact that his second wife has basically enslaved his daughter.  Anyhow, we enjoyed the narrative and the watercolor style of the illustrations.

Our second tale this week was Jerry Pinkney’s version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl.  Andersen’s tales are generally more than a little dark, and this story is no exception; but this gentle retelling softens the story enough that I was comfortable reading it to my preschoolers.  Even though the little girl does die in the end, the overall message of hope is beautifully illustrated both in text and pictures.

Our third and final story this week was Jane Ray’s The Twelve Dancing Princesses.  This is one of my favorite stories, due in part to Robin McKinley’s masterful retelling of it in The Door in the Hedge, her collection of fairy tales retold for a teen or even adult audience.  Jane Ray has made this story palatable to young readers (mainly by eliminating two key elements of the original tale, namely that the underground princes are demons and that the king has any suitor who fails to discover the princesses’ secret beheaded – but the story loses none of its charm without these factors).  Her illustrations give the story an almost Persian feel, and are simply lovely.  This is easily my favorite of the three books we read this week.

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Fairy tales

This week we started reading fairy tales – there are just so many great ones to choose from!

The first fairy tale we read this week is Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky.  The illustrations are absolutely stunning, which is to be expected of a Caldecott-winning book!  Each page features pictures that look like Renaissance art, and the narrative is as beautiful as the illustrations.  The kids loved it as much as I did.

I was a little leary of reading my kids the story of Hansel and Gretel, as it is a bit dark – but this beautiful book tells the tale in a gentle manner that makes it palatable even for preschoolers (though Mr. S did hide behind me when I got to the part about the mean witch).  It remains true to the version recorded by the Brothers Grimm in their tome, and the illustrations are simple and eloquent.

Unfortunately our third book this week was a bit of a disappointment.  Lauren Child is probably best known for the Charlie and Lola books and tv show, and this book (The Princess and the Pea) retains those types of illustrations; but the text is a bit over the head of the average preschooler, and its tongue-in-cheek manner is almost more suited to the tastes of adult readers.  It was funny, but I don’t think Mr. S and Little T could appreciate the depth of the text, and it felt like the story dragged on a bit longer than was necessary.

More fairy tales next week!

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Valentine books

It’s February, and we’re getting hyped up for Valentine’s Day!  I managed to get quite a few  Valentine-themed books from the library, but I was disappointed to find that only a few of them were both meaningful and appropriate for my kids’ age level.  Oh well.

We read our first Valentine story book today – The Story of Valentine’s Day, by Clyde Robert Bulla and Susan Estelle Kwas:

This book is chock-full of interesting details about the history and traditions of Valentine’s Day.  It was a little too long for Mr. S and Little T’s attention spans, but with some minor editing it made a great intro to our Valentine’s Day unit!

Tomorrow and Friday, we’ll be reading stories about St. Valentine.  There really isn’t much in the way of picture books about him on the market, probably due to the vagueness and violence that plague this particular saint; but I did find two that I enjoyed (and was able to get from the library).

Saint Valentine by Ann Tompert is a little above the preschool level, but does a decent job of telling the story of the man who was martyred for his faith.

Robert Sabuda’s Saint Valentine is definitely my favorite of the two.  The illustrations and storyline are, in my opinion, much more approachable than the first book, especially for younger kids.

I’m a little disappointed that Tomie dePaola doesn’t have a St. Valentine book – I just discovered him at Christmas, and love the illustrations in his books!  Oh well, we’re already looking forward to reading his St. Patrick book in March!

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More snow books

We’re finishing up our winter unit featuring snow books and crafts this week.  I really wasn’t too thrilled with my book selections last week, but this week I’m quite happy with the ones I chose!  Here they are:

Snow by Cynthia Rylant is beautifully written and illustrated.  Seriously, it reads like poetry, but the language is plain enough to appeal to kids.


The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett is a retelling of the classic tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, set in the great white North.  Brett is an amazing storyteller and illustrator, which is why our third book this week is another of hers!

The Mitten, also by Jan Brett, is another lovely tale featuring animals and snow.  I may have to do an author study on her in the future, she has so many incredible children’s books on the market!

Next week we’ll start two weeks of Valentine’s Day books and crafts, and after that I’m thinking of doing a unit on fairy tales – Cynthia Rylant has rewritten several that I’ve discovered lately, including Snow White and Hansel & Gretel, and if they’re anything like Snow we’re sure to love them!

Getting organized

I was completely unmotivated and overwhelmed last week.  It wasn’t just school that had me down, though I wasn’t feeling much inspired by that – we just had so much going on and I didn’t feel like I had any time to relax or get myself back on track!  Tuesday was the first day back for our arts co-op, so Mr. S was excited to see his friends and Little T was slightly less excited about trying something new.  All the moms in the co-op are required to volunteer three or four times a quarter, and I got to do it last week – so instead of having a little downtime while the kids were occupied, I spend the morning shepherding Mr. S’s class (about 12 4-6 yr olds) to their classes and helping the teachers enforce a bit of classroom management.  It was fun, but exhausting!  Then on Wednesday, a church group I belong to had its monthly  meeting, and on Thursday I had arranged for us to visit a local Classical Conversations group to see if it’s something we want to participate in next year.

All three days, we had fun activities, but all three days we were running late and I felt disorganized.  On Tuesday, we didn’t get out of the house early enough to go to 9am Mass with the group before classes; on Wednesday, we were 20 minutes late for the meeting, which is problematic because I’m the group’s secretary and have to take minutes (fortunately, there’s a little extra time built into the schedule for socializing); and on Thursday, I felt rushed and forgot that I was supposed to bring our lunch so we could stay and socialize with the other families after the academic portion of the day ended.

I’m definitely not a morning person, but I hate feeling disorganized even more than I hate getting up early – so I decided it’s time for a change.  The only day we don’t seem to run late is Sunday, and that’s because I teach PREP (Parish Religious Education, for those of you whose churches might call it something different) at 8am, so I know I have to set an alarm and get up before the kids.  I’ve decided to try doing that during the week as well.  I was not excited when the alarm went off at 6am this morning, but it was nice to have time to work out and have a cup of coffee before the kids woke up.

Hopefully I can keep it up, and it will make our schedule feel less hectic going forward!  I’ve always been good at organizing some aspects of our life – for instance, I generally stay at least two weeks ahead when it comes to lesson planning – but I really need to be a better steward of our time.

Back to the grind

After taking four weeks off for the holidays, it’s been a little tough getting back into the routine this week.  Fortunately I had the foresight to do some lesson planning before we went to Florida for Christmas and New Year’s, so at least I didn’t have to do more than print out the craft instructions and make sure I picked up all the books I reserved from the library, and we were good to go!  The kids were excited to get back to school, and I’m rediscovering my enthusiasm too.

Back in December, I decided that after the holidays we’d spend a few weeks talking about winter and reading winter-themed storybooks, many of which are related to snow.  This turned out to be perfect timing, because Sunday night we had the biggest winter storm that Georgia has seen in years – nearly six inches of accumulation!  So in addition to reading snowy books and doing wintry crafts, we’ve been playing in the snow every day.  We even got to build a huge snowman yesterday!  Unfortunately we built him on an incline, so he fell over after an hour, but considering that I grew up  in Miami and DH in Puerto Rico, you can’t fault us for not having the mechanics of snowman construction down pat.

Anyhow, I do want to share the books we’ve been reading this week:

Jan Brett’s books are always well-told stories with beautiful illustrations, and Annie and the Wild Animals is no exception!


Kazuno Kohara’s Here Comes Jack Frost is my new winter favorite.  The blue and white illustrations are just gorgeous, and the story is simple but fun – perfect for preschoolers!


Snowmen at Night is the weakest of my selections for this week, but it’s still a cute story.  I read it to the kids on Monday as we were sitting outside in the snow, and we’ll read it again tomorrow before we make our snowman craft.

I need to get back in the habit of blogging – I do this mostly for myself, as a record of our homeschooling journey, but I’ve gotten out of the habit of both reading blogs and writing these past few weeks.  Need to reestablish my habits in the New Year!

Wordless Wednesday – books we’re reading

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