Monday, November 30, 2009

Warning: Opinions Ahead

If you want to read a post about homeschooling or something pleasant, skip this one and wait a couple days. This post is a list of the random thoughts going through my head as I do laundry and other mindless stuff. (I spend a lot of time muttering to myself.) Seriously, if you are offended by opinionated rants, stop by on Wednesday instead...

Did you hear this statistic? 47 million Americans don't know where their next meal will come from. Do I even need to say that this is unacceptable? Schools are sending kids home on Fridays with backpacks of food, so the kids will have something to eat over the weekend. People who never dreamed of it before are seeking help at food banks. Wherever you stand politically, whatever you believe about personal choice and responsibility, you have to admit that hard-working people are struggling and it's not their fault. (I happen to believe that our former "leaders" should be in jail for robbing this country while making their rich friends even richer, but that's just me...)


Here is something troubling: Dude's scout pack just finished up their annual food drive, and donations were way down this year. I mean, way down--they went from 5 truckloads of food to three. Why?


Oh, how I wish Obama hadn't waded into the healthcare tarpit in his first year. We needed jobs, jobs, and more jobs. A public works program. If banks and car companies deserved a bailout, why not working people?


Why do people complain about tax-and-spend Democrats, but never about spend-spend-spend-and-don't-tax-the-rich-or-big-business Republicans?


Mr. and Mrs. Salahi: congratulations on being the tackiest human beings alive. I guess some people prefer negative attention to no attention. It was Michelle Obama's night to shine, not yours. You are the type of people who would upstage the bride and groom at a wedding, aren't you? The only people lower on the dignity scale are the Heenes, because they involved children in their scheme.


Speaking of tacky...Sarah Palin. Hey, how's that governorship going? Oh, yeah, you wouldn't know, would you? But I'm sure you're right: shameless self-promotion and going on a book tour are WAY harder than just being president. Please, keep talking.


I need to stop dwelling on this stuff. Time to go outside with the kids and dogs!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Greeting

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

For the past several years, we have celebrated Thanksgiving a day early. We cook and serve a meal for all the wonderful people who work so hard at our business. They bring their families and we have all the traditional Thanksgiving dishes in a rather un-traditional setting! We are very thankful for our excellent team of dedicated, hard-working employees. I hesitate to use the word "employee" because we have known many of them for years, and they are more like friends than employees. We fed nearly 70 people on Wednesday and everyone enjoyed the party.

This year was especially nice because Super and Dude are old enough to be really helpful. Forgive me for bragging, but my kids are so awesome! They helped with the grocery shopping, some of the cooking, and even some of the clean-up. They learned how to make gravy, cornbread and pumpkin pies. They peeled 2 GIANT bags of potatoes without a single complaint. It was truly a family effort this year, and that made it a more joyful experience.

After the big meal, we took a gang of kids to see Fantastic Mr. Fox. We all loved it! I was exhausted, but fortunately, our favorite movie theater has a coffee bar and really comfy seats. I could have dozed off, but I was enjoying the movie too much!

On Thanksgiving Day, we needed to relax and regroup. In the morning we sipped our coffee and watched the parade on TV. Yes, there were lots of dishes to wash and other chores that we had neglected during the previous days. But it felt like a day off, because we weren't on any kind of deadline. To be honest, our house is still chaotic at the moment. (Or, should I say, even more chaotic than usual.) In addition to preparing for the big party, we had to do some repairs and repainting in our living room. A plumbing problem, water in the ceiling, you get the picture. I could let it stress me out, but I'm trying to be mindful of all the people who do not have homes right now. It may be a crazy mess at the moment, but I'm very grateful for my comfortable home.

Two states away, my family is getting together today. I wish we could be there, but I just didn't feel up to a big road trip this year. We'll just have to wait for the reunion next summer. At some point today, my mother will call me and then pass the phone around so I can talk with all my aunts, uncles and cousins. I'm so thankful for my extended family; it's a tremendous comfort to know that I have so many wonderful, caring, supportive people in my life.

Have a blessed holiday season with your loved ones!

Sparklee Mom

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Super Awesome Book Report

The Cod's Tale by Mark Curlansky and S.D. Schindler

Without the cod, we might not be in North America today.

The cod was important to the Native Americans, the Vikings, the Basques, the Pilgrims, and even African slaves working on plantations in the Carribbean.

If you want to cross a big ocean, you need strong ships and food to eat. Cod is a good food source because it's common and you can dry it to make it last longer. Cod helped the Vikings and the Basques come all the way to North America.

When the Pilgrims got to North America, they thought they were going to hunt, farm, and fish. Their European crops didn't grow well, and they weren't great hunters. It's a good thing they had cod. You can use cod for fertilizer, food, and even medicine.

The Native Americans ate cod and other fish. They made fishing lines from vegetable fibers and fishing hooks from bones. They helped the Pilgrims survive in North America.

Cod are not very pretty. They are three feet long or bigger, grayish silver, with a feeler under their bottom lip. Cod lay a lot of eggs but most of them get eaten by predators. They live on continental shelves in cold water. Their biggest enemies are seals and humans. They are easy to catch because they'll eat nearly anything that they think is a living creature. People have found styrofoam cups in cod bellies!

The cod is getting rarer and rarer. Fishermen are using giant nets and catching too many fish at a time. We need to stop overfishing because otherwise we won't have any fish left. If we don't have enough fish, it will affect a lot of creatures' lives, including our own.

By Supersim and Dudeman

Our Reviews

Supersim: It was fascinating, but I kind of wanted more animal facts and less history. Four stars. I think we should put it on our Shelfari shelf.
Dude: I thought it was an awesome book. I didn't have any problems with it. I give it 4 stars.
Mom: I didn't expect to find it so interesting. I never realized how important cod was to our history. Five stars, because the book was great and the illustrations are, too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Today at the Super Awesome School

What can you make with two circles and a rectangle? A cylinder! Today we got out the geometric solids kit and talked about faces, edges, and vertices. We watched a Brainpop movie, took the quiz, and made construction paper cylinders. We looked around the house for examples of geometric shapes and found too many to list.

Then it was time for language arts. OK, kids, what is a prefix?

"It's a beginning that you attach to a word."
"It's something before the word that gives the word more meaning."

Name some prefixes that we talked about today: anti- , pre- , under- , over-, mis- , re- , dis-, micro- , pre- , and un- .

Our sentences using prefixes:

We shouldn't overfeed that squirrel. (We really were watching a squirrel--he visits our birdfeeder most mornings.) He certainly doesn't look underfed.
He ran across the railing.
We don't like to buy things that are overpriced.
Sometimes you have to reread things to understand them.
You shouldn't be dishonest.
If the dishes are really dirty, you have to prewash them.
Mom wants to declutter our house!
There's EVIL afoot! (A Spongebob reference, in case you didn't recognize it.)

We really enjoyed Louis Pasteur's Fight Against Microbes by Beverly Birch and Christian Birmingham. It's very well-written and wonderfully illustrated. Who knew that experiments with yeast, air and dust could be so suspenseful? I especially liked the scenes with Pasteur and his assistants gathering their specimens while wearing top-hats and tailcoats!

The kids were inspired to paint some creepy-looking viruses and bacteria while we discussed vaccines and pastuerization. Supersim pointed out that "antibodies" has a prefix!

History was all about Sumerian writing. Dad showed the kids a cool video and then they tried their hands at cuneiform. It was harder than we expected! At first the kids got frustrated because they weren't happy with the way their clay tablets looked, but Dad reminded them that Sumerian students had to go to school for twelve years to learn how to write!

I think we all did pretty well, given the fact that we studied cuneiform for one whole hour instead of twelve years.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Terrific Tuesday

Today we talked about the difference between formal and informal language. If you met the President, would you say, "Hey, what's up? How's it going, bud?" Of course not! What if your best friend said, "Dude! Let's catch a flick!" What if the Queen of England offered you a cup of tea? There are times when informal language and slang are appropriate, and there are times when more formal language should be used.

We also discussed "clipped words" like limo, vet, sub, and dorm. I really, really don't like to use a lot of workbooks and worksheets, but Dr. Fry's Vocabulary Fun isn't too bad. I don't know where the "fun" from the title is--there are no pictures or games--but the lessons are quick and interesting enough to keep the attention of my worksheet-weary kids.

Then the kids settled in to work on their books. Super finished an ongoing project about one of our dogs meeting and rescuing a chupacabra. Don't ask me where that came from. Dude started a new book about Surtur, a Norse god. (He was inspired by one of his favorite Mythmatical Battles cards. By the way, I would like to thank whoever blogged about this wonderful game. I apologize because I can't remember where I read about it, but we LOVE Mythmatical Battles!)

We started math with a "quick six" problem set. Since we did a lot of computation yesterday, I thought the kids would like to do some geometry today. But Dude wanted to play Mythmatical Battles, and Super was really into working on her book. Once she finished writing, I made her join my team (we were Norse and Dude was Egyptian today.) But Dude still won, as usual.

After a snack, we sat on the couch (we had to evict two dogs first) and read Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac and Greg Shed together. What a good book! And the illustrations are beautiful. I drive my kids crazy when we read together, because I'm always stopping the story and asking them, "What does he mean by that?" and "What do think she'll do next?" In this case I really wanted them to understand the tensions between the native peoples and the English, so I asked them to imagine how Squanto must have felt when the ship he was "visiting" set sail for Spain, and how the Pilgrims might have reacted when Samoset walked into their village. After a few more interruptions, Dude finally said, "Mom! Can we JUST READ THE STORY?"

Then Dude wanted to look at How Nearly Everything Was Invented with me, while Super offered to wash dishes. My kids will do anything for extra electronic time!

In the afternoon, Dad took over and they continued their unit on Mesopotamia/Sumeria. Today's theme was professions. They talked about doctor/priests, lawyers, tar-gatherers, slaves, and others. They read You Wouldn't Want to Be a Sumerian Slave and watched a truly frightening video about how people still gather tar with their hands today. Dad highly recommends this website. And this one. Coming soon: a sugar cube ziggurat and cuneiform tablets!

Hope your Tuesday was terrific, too!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hooray for Monday!

We started the morning with some handwriting practice. The kids HATE it, and I don't blame them, but they need it! They both developed really bad habits in early elementary, since handwriting was never officially taught in their school. Supersim's first grade teacher told me at the time, and I quote: "With all the curriculum we have to cover to get them ready for second grade, we just don't have time to practice handwriting." Um, maybe I'm way off base here, but isn't legible handwriting one of the things kids need in second grade? And in life?

Anyway, we use a variety of practice sheets for handwriting; our current favorites are the A-Z animal books from LightHome. I only make them spend 15 to 20 minutes on it, as long as they are doing their best effort. And we do handwriting no more than twice a week because I don't want them to get so burned out that they just zoom through it.

I wanted to show the kids how punctuation and the use of onomatopoeia can add interest and excitement to a story, so we read Jan Brett's Hedgie Blasts Off! I got the idea of using great children's literature to demonstrate great writing from Mastering the Mechanics by Linda Hoyt and Teresa Therriault. It's an excellent resource for teaching writing effectively. Supersim is learning how to use quotation marks and the correct places to use commas; Dude is learning about complete sentences and using exclamation marks for emphasis and excitement. (The Jan Brett book was his request.)

After a snack break, it was time for math. As much as possible, we're trying to avoid worksheet fatigue, so we use a variety of techniques for math. We use lots of math manipulatives, including Math-U-See, and we read math storybooks and play the games in Family Math. Today we read Life of Fred together and the kids worked out the problems on their individual dry-erase boards (more fun than paper.) Then we tried out multiplying two and three digits by one digit.

Later, we pulled out the microscope and looked at random stuff, which is always a good time. Sugar crystals are pretty; shavings from the pencil sharpener, not so much. We were all pretty icked out by the chicken we'd had for lunch. Then we sprinkled some dry yeast on a slide; the little pellets look a bit like Cheetos when they're magnified. We dropped in a teensy bit of warm water and watched the show!

Finally, we did a bit of fingerprint art, Ed Emberly-style. It was a great day of home education, in my opinion. We learned, we had fun, and we enjoyed our time together. What more could we ask?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Snowy Day Activities

Supersim has a sore throat and bad cough, but thankfully no fever.

It's REALLY cold and miserable outside so we are having a cozy day indoors, doing some fun crafts, baking goodies together, reading The Twits by Roald Dahl, and planning our week. I'm sure some kitchen-cleaning and laundry-folding will happen eventually, but I'm going to need a lot more coffee to get moving on a day like this.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

One more photo before they go in the trash

"Dog mouth" and "bathroom floor" are now tied, but the nastiest by far are the "dirty hands" potatoes. It's hard to see in these pictures, but they have specks of black mold and are almost liquified. I hope this drives the point home to my kids!

Now, pardon me while I go clean the bathroom floor and brush the dogs' teeth.

Friday, November 13, 2009

My husband brings a lot to the table

The Gorton's fish filets, rice, and sugar snaps were gourmetfully prepared by me. But the artful presentation award goes to Dad.

(As a matter of pride, I would like to add that I did make homemade pumpkin bread today.)

Dad says: "Yeah, but did your pumpkin bread have a face?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gross! (But cool.)

The pictures don't show it that well, but there is a BIG difference between the "clean" potato and the "dirty" potato. The "dirty" potato is darker, looks sort of crusty, and has some yellow-orange spots. By far, the darkest potato is the "dog mouth" one, but it doesn't have any crust or spots. Interestingly, the "bathroom floor" potato isn't as gross as "dirty hands."

Lovely day for a trail ride

Those tiny white dots in the distance are the kids, after they took off and trotted ahead of me. I don't ride. I just take pictures and yell, "Wait up, kids!" We saw a red fox near the trail, but he was too far away to get a decent photo. I did get a few shots of the last of the fall leaves.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Germy Monday

We read Cell Wars by Francis L. Balkwill and Mic Rolph. Dudeman was having a squirmy day, but reading the book Star Wars-style helped a lot. After the first few pages, he settled down and we were all rooting for the neutrophils, lymphocites, macrophages, and antibodies. (And humming the Star Wars theme song!) After working on their science notebook pages, the kids watched a BrainPop movie about the immune system and took the quiz.

Then we visted this awesome website:

Finally, we tried a cool experiment to test the importance of hand washing. While I sliced and blanched a peeled potato, the kids got their hands as filthy as possible. They touched doorknobs, dogs, the soles of their shoes, and even the dust behind the TV. Then they each handled one potato slice before dropping it into a plastic bag. Dudeman rubbed another potato slice on the bathroom floor. Supersim let one of the dogs lick one (it's the one with the bite out of it.) Those went into their own plastic bags.

Next, they washed their hands thoroughly with lots of soap and hot water. They handled another potato slice with freshly washed hands before dropping it in another bag.

We'll check on them in a couple of days to see what happens...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

This Week at the Super Awesome School

In spite of several disruptions this week we did get some schoolwork done. It's never as much as I planned, but that's why I plan everything in pencil. My plans are always based on the assumption that we'll have a routine, uneventful school week, and of course that never happens. This week brought us unexpected visitors, a zillion boring-but-necessary errands, and an opportunity to get H1N1 shots (and you can believe we dropped everything for that!)

Anyway, here are some highlights from the week...

Since we have been on such a candy binge lately, I thought it would be fun to learn about its history. We read Sweet: The Delicious Story of Candy by Ann Love and Jane Drake. We liked the chapters about the earliest known candies, and the cool timeline running along the bottom of each page. After reading about candy around the world, we had to google "Jeddart snails" and "Edinburgh rock." Unless you're from Scotland, now you will have to google them, too!

The kids loved My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, so we read the sequel, Elmer and the Dragon. We hope to read The Dragons of Blueland soon. We also read Cynthia Rylant's wonderful book, The Van Gogh Cafe. (If you haven't read it, go get it RIGHT NOW. Well, read the rest of this post, and then go get it.)

One afternoon, it was warm enough to sit in the hammock and read Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. Every time we got to the end of a chapter, the kids said, "Keep going! Keep going!" We read eleven chapters in one sitting!

We are still working on quick recall of multiplication facts. There are lots of tricks and gimmicky gadgets out there (and I have spent money on many of them) but the truth is, the only way to learn them is to practice them. Unfortunately, there is no way to make that fun. We've tried saying them out loud together, starting at a whisper and then getting REALLY LOUD; we've recited silly poems; we've pulled out the Math-U-See blocks and skip counted together; we've said them in silly voices; and we've made various math fact crafts. We are all royally sick of multiplication, but I have to admit, my own recall has improved with all this practice! (When I was in elementary school, I could never remember 7 x 8 or 7 x 9 for some reason. But ask me now, Mrs. Garrett!)

We also took the Math-U-See blocks outside and did some perimeter and area calculations on the front porch in the sunshine. I threw in a bit of subtraction and division practice, too.

Yesterday, we tried our very first independent day. I made a checklist for each child and prepared some activities for them (a modified version of the workbox system.) There were a few worksheets, but I tried to make it mostly hands-on projects. They made pictures with their magnetic tangrams, used the geoboards to create symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes, designed their own cornucopia and wrote about it, and did some independent reading. It worked pretty well--I was available if they needed help, but I was also able to work on some projects of my own.

Last night Dudeman's friend slept over and the kiddos stayed up way too late, so today was fairly low-key. We had planned to rake leaves, but, you know... I'll pencil it in for tomorrow!

This is not our cat

My mom took this photo of my aunt's cat, and I just love it, so I'm posting it. As far as I know, the cat is not homeschooled.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Snap Circuits Are So COOL!

This one was really fun until the little flying saucer went up so high, it hit the ceiling, banked off the banister and disappeared somewhere in the living room. Seriously, we have looked everywhere. We even moved the couch and found things we weren't looking for (and didn't really want to find.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Project Feeder Watch

Hey, all 2 of you who read this blog! (Hi, Mom!) Don't forget to sign up for Project Feeder Watch. It starts on November 14th. Go to or click on the link under Sparklee Faves. Cornell will be grateful for the info, and the birds will be grateful for the winter meals!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Today at the Super Awesome School

Calendars; El Dia de los Muertos; "No!" by Thomas Hood; division with tiles; multiplication practice; function machines; Van Gogh; piano practice; Sweet! The Delicious Story of Candy by Ann Love and Jane Drake; Elmer and the Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Whew!

El Dia de los Muertos; The Day of the Dead

Where do people celebrate this day? In Mexico and other Latin American countries.

What do people do to celebrate this day? They celebrate by playing their family members' favorite music and eating their favorite foods. They go to their graves to set up flowers. And they make shrines in honor of their loved ones that died.

What do they put on the shrines? A glass of water for the spirits who had a long journey home, so they'll have something to drink. Paper flowers to blow in the wind. They want something to represent all the elements of the earth: earth, wind, water, and fire. Also their favorite food or things they liked. And a picture of the person.