Saturday, September 27, 2008

Look Who Won a Game of Chess!

Typical Saturday morning....we had pancakes for breakfast and then were hanging around having coffee and chatting. Ben asked Matt to play chess, and Matt agreed. I took out my Sudoku puzzle book, not feeling in the mood to watch....and what do you know? Ben got tricky and beat his old Dad for the very first time!

Which I consider to be a pretty big accomplishment for a boy who has only been playing for a year and who turned six not even two months ago--especially since he has a really brilliant Dad!


Daily quote

If you're playing a poker game and you look around the table and and can't tell who the sucker is, it's you.

--Paul Newman

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fun at the Farm

Yesterday we had a great day. We headed out to Harbes Farm in Mattituck with about 50 homeschooling friends, and it was wonderful. We went through the corn maze, had a hay ride and picked pumpkins, saw the farm animals, saw the bees and learned about honey, learned about the vegetables grown on the farm during the tour, and then had lunch (provided by the farm) and played on the playground. They have a terrific playground--a sand pit with excavation equipment, a dinosaur fossil pit where they can brush away sand to expose the bones, a trough of running water to mine for gems in, and then wooden equipment--a tractor, a pumpkin house, a horse and cart, bean bag toss boards, etc. It was beautiful though a bit cloudy (thank everything we hadn't scheduled it for today, while we're having some sort of monsoon!) and since we were leaving with 5 pumpkins, I decided to get a few of those gooseneck gourds and tiny white pumpkins with orange stripes and mums for the front then of course we went home and decorated for Halloween!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Daily quote

The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.

--Keanu Reeves

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Note My Daily Quote!

Yes--I feel like a user today, in both the computer and the drug addict sense!

I recently noted that I joined Facebook. Well. Let me just say, at first I was reconnecting with college and high school classmates, and finding out that practically my entire family is on Facebook too. This afternoon Matt was making dinner--he made Indian food that was to die for--and I was browsing around on Facebook, answering some messages I had, etc. I decided to search for other people I knew who might be on, and wasn't having much success.

That's when the thought popped into my mind. I went to grammar school with some kids who had really singular names. I mean, REALLY singular names. Why not search for them, rather than the friends with the last name of Jackson and Schneider? So I entered a boy I went to school with--Renato Stabile. POW! There he was, living in NYC, and I knew it was him because when I viewed his friends page---there was practically my entire grade school yearbook! And half of them had our group class photos on their profile pages!

I connected with four people this evening that I haven't seen since we were ten or thirteen years old! And sent friend invites to a dozen more. This is surreal and wonderful.

I am having so much fun!


Daily quote

Why is it drug addicts and computer aficionados are both called users?

--Clifford Stoll

Saturday, September 20, 2008


We got a new camera!!!! So, get ready for tons and tons of photos; we need to make up for the month+ we didn't take any pics!


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Facebook and Me

I finally caved the other day and joined Facebook. I'm not really sure why I did. I'd heard a lot about it over the past couple of years (though never anything very concrete...) and it sounded like something fun to do and a free way to find old friends--none of those classmate sites are any good. So I had a bit of free time and logged on. I've made a profile and contacted a couple of old friends. The easiest way to invite people you know to join is to have the site search your address book for email addresses it knows--isn't that scary? However, Facebook does not recognize Optonline addresses, which I have to say is a bit strange! However, it doesn't, and I'm not about to go sign up for a Yahoo account or something and import my address book there just to invite all my friends and relatives to join Facebook!

So I'm inviting you here. If you know me and would like to communicate via Facebook, then please join, or let me know of your existing account! You can invite me to be your friend, or comment here and I'll invite you, in the unlikely event that you know less about it than I do....


Daily quote

If you want to be happy, be.

--Leo Tolstoy

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wildlife Wednesday

Today we had a lot of fun. Lessons in the morning, and then we took off for Stony Brook Harbor to take an ecology cruise aboard the Ward Melville Heritage Organization's Discovery with folks from our homeschooling group. This cruise really reinforced in my mind that we're lucky to be living on Long Island. We saw many birds that I think of in conjunction with "wilder" places than here, including the great egret, snowy egret, cormorants, black crowned night heron, double crested cormorants, yellow crowned night heron, great blue heron, belted kingfisher, and even the green heron--I didn't even know there was such a bird! In addition we saw ducks, Canada geese, swans, gulls, plovers, peeps, turtles and terns. We also saw an osprey nest but unfortunately didn't get to see the osprey. It was just so wonderful to know that all these birds are living and thriving right here where we live.

We got some historical background on the area, too. We heard stories about some of the mansions that are situated along the creek, complete with widows' walks dating back to sea captain days in the 19th century. We saw the horse show grounds where Paul Newman and Jackie Kennedy showed horses. We heard stories about the flu epidemic of 1918 and how folks from the city, desperate to be away from crowds, built cottages by the sea that ruined others' views and kept them off the beaches--and how they were ordered off the land. We heard about weddings, slaves, the Underground Railroad, erosion, tides, salt marshes, and we learned that the Audubon Society formed right here in Suffolk County in response to spraying of DDT! People noticed that the ospreys were sitting on their eggs far longer than they should have been, and when the eggs were examined it was found that the DDT had softened the eggshells to the point that they wouldn't hatch. A grassroots society was formed that eventually got DDT outlawed--so it was illegal to spray it here before anywhere else in the country! Eventually the Audubon Society was formed and it became illegal to use DDT across the nation.

It was great to see all these kids, ages 4 through high school, answering the naturalist's questions, pointing out birds, looking through binoculars and getting so excited to see everything. Emma didn't stop talking about it, and even hoped to dream about being on the boat tonight. We had such a good time, in fact, that we decided afterwards to indulge Julia's long-held desire to visit a favorite place of ours, Quogue Wildlife Refuge. She has always loved it there, especially for the "peeper pond," as she calls it--a small pond full of reeds, lily pads and frogs ranging from tiny to bull. Since she was a toddler she's loved to go and catch as many frogs as she can, hold them, watch them and then set them back into the pond.

We unfortunately missed out on the nature center because we waited till the end of our visit to go inside. I don't know what I was thinking--I knew it closed between 4 and 5. I adore this nature center because the building is set over a huge pond, and there's a large room where you can sit comfortably inside and watch everything going on outside--which is especially nice in the cold weather. They even have binoculars all over for anyone's use. There are also the requisite shells, bones, fish, small animals, crafts, coloring sheets, stories, etc.--including a blind mouse that someone rescued which does nothing but run in circles all day as if it expects to get somewhere.

However, in addition to two stints at the peeper pond, we took a hike around the big pond, collected fallen pine cones and colorful leaves for an autumn centerpiece--I was shocked to see some of the trees starting to turn already!--and then visited the small zoo they have for rescued animals that are hurt enough that they can't be released into the wild again, and the butterfly garden and land tortoise exhibit. We saw frogs and snapping turtles, dragonflies and holes that could be for rabbits, snakes or chipmunks, white toadstools, and in the zoo visited fox, bobcats, a screech owl, a Great Horned Owl, a barn owl, Peregrine falcon, a red tailed hawk and a bald eagle. It was a really fun and educational afternoon. Tomorrow the kids will put some of what they saw into their science notebooks. Julia is absolutely in her element with this way of studying science!


daily quote

A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

--John James Audubon

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Week One Complete....

Well, we got into our routine this week, and so far so good. My worries at the beginning of the week that we'd never get finished were of course unfounded. Friday we were able to take it easy because we worked hard in the first four days. We even kept up with chores, had daily bike rides, play time, and found time for a picnic with friends at the zoo on Wednesday. Plus we took a walk on the beach for Julia and Ben's science lessons, and baited a tree with "bug bait" (beer mixed with sugar and flour and painted on the tree) so we could go out after dark and see moths, beetles and --ew--- earwigs up close and personal.

The kids are really enjoying notebooking. They have been reading about Ancient China and then making scrapbook-type pages in their history notebooks with various interesting reports and pictures. Various ones were about farming, clothing, burials and tombs, calligraphy and paper making. Julia and Ben notebooked their science lessons too. They had fun using different paper to make water and sand, then drew animals we'd seen, shells and seaweed and pebbles we'd brought home, etc. Even Emma got in on that one.

Speaking of Emma--the girl is an animal! She worked no less than two hours every day, and completed three entire workbooks! She paid attention in the science lessons, and did art with the kids as well. We made egg tempera paints (ground chalk mixed with egg yolks) and she painted right along with the big kids. We also did circle art--I never knew this but Boticelli made it popular to paint in a circular we traced white paper circles from bowls, cut them out and glued them to white paper, then the kids were able to use markers, pencils, paint or crayons to make pictures that would work in a round frame. Emma was the only one who made three!

Rachel's math and science lessons seem to be going very well. She and Matt worked every evening after the others were in bed. It seems that biology and algebra aren't as difficult when you have a Ph.D. explaining them! Who knew? (Though Rachel did confide that Dad gets a his explanations!) She is also enjoying the French lessons on the computer---last year our library had free subscriptions to Rosetta Stone, and we were crushed that they didn't this year. I always thought that was the best language program around, and it's so expensive that it was great to get it for free. However, this year they have free subscriptions to Mango Languages--which I'd never heard of but we're finding to be far superior to Rosetta!

She also read "The Call of the Wild" and "A Night to Remember" (about the sinking of the Titanic) for language arts this week, which she enjoyed. Next week she'll read "Born Free" and "Never Cry Wolf"--plus we are beginning our Shakespeare lessons and so will read aloud together from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and then she'll do various projects. However, we'll only cover one act per week because otherwise I'd never have the time to sit and read it with her!

Ben has done some complaining that his work is too easy--specifically what we do in workbook format (language arts and math) though he does enjoy his reading comprehension book, which tells a story that gives the answer to a question such as why don't fish sink? how do birds chew their food? or why do bats hang upside down? He also likes a crossoword puzzle workbook I found, which is designed to help their logical thinking develop as they not only figure out the answer to a clue, but how it fits into the puzzle, and what to do if you don't know an answer. I agreed with him that some of his work is very easy (mostly because they assume a 6 year old doesn't read very well....) but pointed out that it's good to review and it would also show me if there was something we'd missed covering last year. He seemed satisfied with that. He likes the notebooking (science and history), he likes health--I found a book that uses science experiment-type activities to teach concepts, he likes music and art and reading.

Julia is the one who likes the notebooking the best. As our family artist, she spent hours this week getting everything just so. I was proud of how she worked till she was satisfied, rather than doing the bare minimum to "be finished". She, as usual, finds her language arts/writing/reading to be easy, easy, easy. She loved the beach walk and the big hunt, too, and of course the art projects. She also did music with Rachel--piano DVDs and then playing the piano. And I was happy to see her take a more serious interest in math this year--in the past she has been good at math till she doesn't understand a concept--then we get to have a big to-do with me explaining that it's OK, I'll help her, she'll get it, etc. This year, when her book mentioned decimals, it didn't send her into a tailspin of worry--she just listened to my explanation and then said with a big grin-- "OH! I get it!" and did the rest of the problems.

I don't expect the year to run as smoothly as this every day, believe me! But the fact that our first week was so pleasant is really nice. We all got up and dressed early (for us!) and sat together without much snarking, and got our work done in a timely manner, and then had fun the rest of the day. Pretty much everything homeschooling is supposed to be!

Only 37 weeks to go!


Daily Quote

The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.

--Robert M. Hutchins

Monday, September 8, 2008

First Day of School!

The first thing I want to say about our first day of school is--I am completely exhausted! Remember, please, that legally I am homeschooling "only" three children. Well, Miss Emma has other plans! Not only did she insist that she needed "real" schoolwork--she was not going to be put off with coloring books like last year, thank you very much!--but she worked for two and a half hours!! She was an animal! I kept telling her that it was okay, she'd done a fantastic job for her first day and now she should go and play...well, that just wasn't cutting it. She kept demanding more and more and more.

We were all up early--I got up at 8:15 (which for me is akin to dawn!) and Rachel was up around 8:30. I had stressed the importance of this to her, since she has more work this year. Towards the end of last year we were letting lessons slide till 11 am or sometimes later, and it really made the whole day a mess. So as usual, I am starting the year with the best intentions of working all morning and being done by lunchtime or so. I made coffee and some breakfast, but didn't bother with getting dressed or making beds at all. The kids were ready to start!

I mentioned already that I've planned by the week this year, rather than daily. This will allow the girls to decide how they want to complete their schoolwork--whether it be concentrating on one or two subjects each day and doing a week's worth of work, or spreading everything equally across the week. It will also be handy when we have activities--such as tomorrow, when our homeschool group is going miniature golfing, and Wednesday when we have a picnic at the zoo with friends. We can work a bit less on days when we're busy, and more when we're home all day. The problem I didn't see is how nervous it would make me! I had Ben work for quite some time, because he was fresh and ready and raring to go--but we didn't complete much of anything, which makes me start thinking, what if I planned too much? What if we get to Friday and can't complete it all? Logically, I know that what will happen is that by Friday we'll be checking things off all over the place, finishing up subject by subject. Still, it's in my nature to worry that I'm not doing enough!

Ben did phonics, reading comprehension, an experiment for health class about sweating, art work, math, and two crossword puzzles in a language arts book. Emma did mazes, puzzles about animal babies and reality vs. fantasy, made a book about the farm, practiced writing lowercase "f" and finding words that begin with the letter, and did some writing of numbers. Julia and Rachel did their own thing, but I checked spelling, grammar, math, health, reading comprehension, and heard about witchcraft on Long Island in the 17th century and burial practices in Ancient China. Rachel also was reading "The Call of the Wild" for quite some time, and she is working with Matt on algebra right now. So I think it was a full day for everyone!

The most exhausting thing is trying to juggle everyone! My friend Kelly put it quite nicely when she said it's like keeping plates spinning in the air...I am trying to explain a concept to Ben, but then Julia has a math question, and Rachel wants to tell me about a woman they found in China who was so well preserved that she still had fruit seeds in her stomach, and Emma wants to know when I am going to help her with the next page....and then the cycle starts all over with different questions, desires and demands! It is very tiring, so much so that by the time we finished lunch and everyone was done for the day, I just wanted to go back to bed! But I had to hang laundry on the line, make the beds, do the dishes, oversee chores for the kids, fold laundry from the dryer, go to the pet store for crickets, Staples for a pencil sharpener that works, slog through my email, open the snail mail, put a turkey in the oven for dinner, and ride bikes with Ben like I promised....well, I did all that, and I also got to chat with a friend on the phone, post this to the blog, and make three loaves of banana bread.

But I am tired!!! Did I mention I'm tired???


Daily Quote

So you eat, you sleep, and then this wonderful child comes out, but you don't feel like you have any control over that process, over her, over her character and who she is.

--Suzanne Vega

Friday, September 5, 2008

Peach Pies

On Wednesday we went peach picking....we enjoyed the peaches fresh from the trees, we made a fruit salad yesterday to take to the beach for our traditional Not Back to School party--we always do something fun the first day the schools are in session. We also ate a few here and there other than that. However, I knew we had so many that peach pies were in order.

I began with my buttery tart crust recipe--it's delicious and so much easier than regular pastry that must be rolled. I mix it in the food processor and then just pat it into place in the pans. Then I peeled and sliced peach after peach, filling my biggest bowl. I used some lemon juice, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, a half cup of flour and about 2 cups of sugar, then tossed it all together. I topped them with streusel, made with brown sugar, flour, butter, oatmeal, cinnamon and cloves. Popped them in the oven for 40 minutes, and now we have four gorgeous pies...well, actually we ate almost a whole one for dessert. But at least two will go into the freezer, to be savored when there are no peaches to be found. A bright spot in the dreary winter....

I have to say, these peaches are lovely! I was looking at the deep rosy color in the bowl, marveling at them because supermarket peaches are nothing like this color. Nor do they taste as good. But since they are also about half the price--I guess that orchard peaches are a once a summer treat!


Daily Quote

Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.

--Ludwig van Beethoven

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Want to See a Good Movie?

Matt and I joined Netflix a few months ago, and are enjoying it immensely. I finally got tired of saying, "No, I haven't seen that...or that..or that," because we may see two movies a year in the theater, and they could both be kids' movies. We love it because there's no hassle whatsoever. For $8.99 a month on a credit card, we just get movies in the mail. I have our queue lined up (the only part that takes a tiny bit of work--but it's fun too! And they will also give you recommendations of movies they think you'll like based on your ratings of watched movies and a quick questionnaire you can take) and they mail the top selection. We keep it as long as we like, then put it in its return envelope and put it in our mail box. Two days later we have another movie. So much easier than the whole video rental store thing!

Anyway, the point of this is that the other night Matt and I saw "The Orphanage," which is actually in Spanish with English subtitles. Normally I don't like subtitled movies because I always feel I'll miss something so I keep my eyes mostly glued to where the subtitles come up--and then I feel like I miss the actors' expressions, body language, etc. However, I'd heard about this movie and I really wanted to see it, so I was prepared to swallow my dislike of subtitles.

The movie is a suspense/horror movie. However, it is very well done. It isn't horror in the sense of gore or gratuitous violence--rather, it is a ghost story with very creepy music, set in a gorgeous but frightening castle-like house by the rocky coast of Spain and it kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. It has a very clever plot which I can't really talk about or it will spoil the movie if you ever see it--but suffice it to say, you won't guess the mystery. It centers around a woman, Laura, who spent her first years in this orphanage but was adopted (I'm guessing she was 7 or 8...) and left. Years later, she and her husband come to live with their son, Simon, in the same orphanage in order to run a home for disabled children....there are a few mysterious things about Simon, and then things start to happen....

See it! I really think I may buy the DVD at some point; I liked it that much.

And on a tangent about Netflix---I was browsing the documentary section yesterday because I am feverishly planning schoolwork for the kids. After just 15 of the 71 pages of documentaries Netflix carries, I added 65 titles to my queue! They really have a stunning variety!


Daily Quote

Comedy is tragedy plus time.

--Carol Burnett

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Beautiful Ocean, A Poem by Julia

Another inspired bit of poetry by my girl....

The Beautiful Ocean

The aqua waves, the fishes' scales
That shine like diamonds and little fan tails.
Lots and lots and lots of fish,
and colorful pebbles--all you wish.
Lots of conch shells, all you want,
slippery seaweed, cool and slimy from back to front.
Little hermit crabs, and little sea snails,
dive down deeper, then it's dolphins and whales.
Glistening tide pools, a soft sand bar
a coral reef and a big sea star.
Cool and slippery, baby seals
and hidden in rocks, shy moray eels.
Sunken ships and pirates' gold,
about this ship then tales were told.
The screaming gulls, the giant clams
that make huge pearls out of sand.
Mysterious squids that are simply gigantic,
ocean turtles you'll find in the ocean Atlantic.
A million grains of sparkling sand,
ocean birds singing across the land...
I love the ocean, I love the sea,
I love the ocean....
and the ocean loves me.

Daily Quote

Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

--George Carlin

Monday, September 1, 2008

Lesson Planning

So I have been kind of steadily working on my lesson plans for the first six weeks of school. I am pretty much finished with Julia's and have just one more book to work through for Ben. Then it will be time to tackle Rachel's plan. Definitely the most difficult, because since she's in 8th grade there's much more work to be done. For instance, in addition to regular old history she is required to have NYS history and me forgetful, but I'm just about positive I NEVER studied New York history at all. I do remember a Constitutional Law class as an elective in 8th grade, but the Constitution itself was just part of American History. Anyway, so I got her some books about Long Island history to cover that requirement for now.

I also have to decide what to do with Shakespeare this year. I got some Barron's Shakespeare versions-- Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I loved these versions because it has the original text on the left and then a modern translation on the facing page, which is perfect when reading alone. I also got a small workbook with questions, quizzes and essays on Shakespearean works--but each play in it only has two or three pages of work. I'll have to decide what exactly I want to do with studying those.

Of course, Matt will plan math and science for her, so at least I don't have to worry about those. Algebra and biology--what fun! It's going to be a challenge to get him to sit down and plan those lessons.....we've spoken a lot about his procrastination skills. One week to get it done!

As for Emma, I have some workbooks I found that the other kids never got to or never finished. She is begging for work, so I figured these would be a great start. I indulged her desire to "do school" on Saturday morning, and sat down at the table with her, a pen and some crayons, and a reading readiness book that claimed to be geared for K-1st...she did 27 pages in one sitting! With NO trouble at all. If this is what passes in school for K-1st work, then that is just pathetic. Since then she keeps asking to do more school work, but since Matt and I painted this weekend (second coat of the exterior is about halfway done!) we never went back to it.

So, here comes the final week of summer vacation. I am so sad!!!


Daily Quote

Happiness isn't happiness unless there's a violin-playing goat.

--Julia Roberts