Monday, January 29, 2018

Ordinary Winter Days

A glimpse of life for our family these last weeks - or months - some of these are before Christmas.

First snow excitement.

Daddy's dish washing helper on a Saturday morning.

Winter evenings call for stories.

Our children surprised us with a Christmas presentation complete with a nativity play and music.

Cousins and toe socks.

Christmas Eve game playing.

All I wanted for Christmas is to sit with my husband by the fire. So grateful that Ed is feeling so well these past months.

Strict diets are no fun - especially at holidays, but I tried to supply some special desserts for Ed.

Birthday girls. Is there anything more fun than four-year-olds?

And how did our baby get to two years already?

Finally enough snow for sledding - but my daughter tells me we haven't had a snowman yet.

We took a weekend trip to visit Ed's sister in North Carolina. 

On the way down we stopped to stretch our legs on some of the trails in Richmond along the James River.

Still snowy but a lovely day for January.

In North Carolina we found cousins, a pond, a boat, a raft = hours of boy fun.

Warm enough for a January picnic along the Roanoke River.

Where there were more rocks and water for the boys.

I love looking at these pictures. So much fun, ordinary life; we don't take it for granted. (Though we have bickering and tears and frustration that don't get photographed. Lots of growth still needed at our house.) 

Thanks so much for your prayers for our family. I almost can hardly believe that our family has had such a happy, healthy winter. Ed just finished his seventh round of chemo. Whether it is God's grace, learning to deal with the side effects, or some other reason, it seems that every round gets a little easier. Other than a little fatigue, Ed worked right through the week. So thankful.

And special thanks for your prayers for my infant nephew. Parker will be three weeks old tomorrow. He is making slow improvements with breathing, though he is likely to be in the hospital yet for a while. I don't think we realized how close we were to losing him, and we are so thankful for God's healing in his small body. 

But a long hospital stay is hard on the whole family so please continue to pray for them. My sister-in-law said that she never imagined that you could experience such peace in the midst of a trauma like this. 

Truly God's grace does carry us when we are too weak to walk on our own.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Q/A: Homeschool Curriculumn

I'm often asked what homeschool curriculum our family uses. I hesitate to answer because I'm not saying that what I use is the best. I have little experience with the vast amount of homeschool curriculum choices available. I know how easy it is to hit the winter school slump and decide to throw out all your books and buy new ones. So writing about this topic, especially at this time of year, might only give fodder to a weary mom.

But I love reading book reviews and hearing what other families use. There is always a chance that I'll learn about the perfect curriculum that is fun, lovely, academically strong, easy to use, and of course, cheap. I've decided by now that the perfect curriculum doesn't exist, because they all require effort which can't always be labeled "fun."

We've been homeschooling for nine years now, and I suppose that puts me in the "experienced" category. For the most part we've stuck with the same curriculum for those nine years. We have some hard days including learning disabilities and motivational challenges. Every time I get that urge to dump all our books and try something new, I figure that we will bring our same weaknesses and character flaws to the next curriculum so we keep plugging on. There may be good times to change curriculum, but I don't believe in a magic potions.

So with that disclaimer, here is what we are currently using for our homeschool curriculum with students age 13, 12, 10, and 8.

Math grade 1

We've used Christian Light Education math since first grade with our first child. We now have a eight, seventh, fifth, and third grader. I wanted to stay consistent with a math program since math builds on previous concepts. I love how easy CLE's math is for me to teach. I knew that math was going to be my weak point in teaching and CLE has been perfect for me. I like the practical examples for using math to help answer the question "When will I ever use this?"

My children don't particularly like math - but I don't think they'd like any math program. Next year I'm thinking of switching my oldest to Teaching Textbooks since I'm not confident of my ability to teach high school math, but to my shock my daughter stated that she likes CLE math and doesn't want to change.


Our children use Daily Grams starting in 3rd grade. I love that each day has one worksheet with punctuation, capitalization, sentence combining, and other grammar skills so there is consistent practice. Daily Grams does not have any real teaching; it is basically a review worksheet book. But I teach each concept as it comes up in the worksheet. We add some basic review of parts of speech and last winter I did a two-month session on sentence diagramming for my two oldest children. This method of grammar has worked well for us but might not be ideal if you are less confident in teaching grammar.


I have some children that can spell as good or better than I can and others that trip over simple words. I think that for some students spelling will just come naturally and it is nothing that I have done as their teacher. I use a mix of All About Spelling and Spelling Power. I like that in both books I can work with the child at their own level. In the last few months I've seen a jump of improvement in my struggling spellers so I try to rejoice in their success and not think about their grade level.


I've used various writing resources and haven't found my perfect curriculum. Maybe I'm too opinionated about what constitutes good writing. It is a little frustrating to tell my children, "Your book says...but I don't agree." But it does give some good conversation about writing. Right now I'm just assigning writing projects and teaching writing skills as I think of them or as they come up. I love writing, but my haphazard method probably lacks. This year we've been working on short research papers.

Bible 7

We begin using CLE's Bible curriculum in about 3rd grade. I like to keep my children together for convenience when possible so they don't always use their own grade level but sometimes combine with a sibling. My older children are learning to use the Strong's Concordance this year which I think is valuable.

Changing frontiers

I wrote about our history study in a previous article so you might already guess that this is my favorite subject. We are presently using CLE's Changing Frontiers with the whole family. We love reading stacks of books and immersing ourselves in a time period. We've been studying history in a four-year, chronological rotation. This year we are studying the time period from the Civil War to Modern Times.  Next year we'll return to Bible and Ancient history to begin our third rotation through history.


We study science together as a family using Apologia's Young Explorer series. In past years we've studied Astronomy, Anatomy, and Zoology. This year we are using their Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics book. It has been the perfect introductory course for our family. Next year my older students will need to enter high school courses and we will no longer study all together. I'll miss it.

Extras -
Spanish - Rosetta Stone
Keyboarding - Bruce's Unusual Typing Wizard - a free online typing program

I'd love to hear what curriculum you would recommend.

And if you are that weary mom in a winter slump, my best advice - bundle up the children, and yourself, and go for a walk. We've been trying to walk a mile every day and it makes a huge difference in my view of life.

This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Lift Your Glad Voices

I always thought that survivor guilt was silly. Why waste time on guilt that you survived and another didn't? But sometimes emotions don't make sense.

I thought I was prepared, but Jess' funeral was harder than I expected. Ed and Jess share the same disease, yet Ed is feeling remarkably well while Jess' 25 years seem pitifully short. And only God knows the number of Ed's days.

I know that in God's time even several hundred years of life is ridiculously brief. Eternity is endless, and Jess gets a head start in enjoying the glories of God's presence. Jess' goal was to be faithful until death, and she made it. The rest of us have more living to do - which means more pain ahead.

But "Jesus hath cheered the dark valley of sorrow...For Jesus hath risen, and man shall not die." (From Lift Your Glad Voices)

Yesterday was Ed's 41st birthday. I told him that I hoped he'd have a really good year. His immediate reply was that whatever happened, he was going to have a good year. Ed has taken Jess' death even harder than I have, but he also has a firm faith that God will carry us like He did Jess.

I searched online to find some of the music that was sung at Jess' funeral. She loved to sing, and the words of these songs share Jess' message to us who are still living.

"The Lord is My Light and My Salvation" - Jess' favorite song

"Somewhere in the Skies"

"By His Hand" - Jess' Testimony

"Lift Your Glad Voices" - Maybe the last song that Jess sang in her earthly body

If you are reading by email or feed reader, you may need to click over to the Home Joys blog to view the videos.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

My Jesus, As Thou Wilt

I know that I have shared a lot of hymns in the past few months, but sometimes my own words are inadequate.

Last May, a few days after Ed's brain surgery, our friend Jess and her parents came to visit us. Jess was so encouraging as she shared her experience with a benign brain tumor eight years ago. We were able to ask questions about her surgery and treatment. But, as any friend of Jess knows, just her presence was an inspiration.

A few months later, Jess was at our church on a Sunday morning. She planned to travel with some friends to share in a singing program after church. But part way through the service, Jess walked out. Her confusion caused her brother to take her to the hospital where she learned the monster was back. Her brain held many inoperable tumors which were diagnosed as glioblastoma, the same kind of aggressive brain cancer Ed has.

Jess was only 25 years old, but she had impacted our church in a huge way as nearly every family in our church has at least one child who had been a student in Jess' second grade classroom. I don't think I exaggerate to say that everyone loved Jess. She added so much joy to so many lives. The last months have been difficult as we watched Jess decline quickly. And, on Tuesday, Jess left her earthly body and the pain of this earth for her "inheritance incorruptible."

With Ed, Jess, and some other circumstances, our church has had a challenging year. Our faith in God has been tested. It is hard to look at a situation such as Jess and not wonder "why." So many prayed for healing for Jess, included dozens of children with their childlike faith, yet God did not answer with physical healing on this earth.

Yet we also know that God is so much bigger and wiser than us that He can take what we call a tragedy and turn it into good.  The God who can turn a cross into victory is certainly capable of redeeming even this. Maybe some day we will look back and see that Jess' death had a larger impact on the children and our church than her life had. But we don't know the answers now. The only way I have found peace to these unanswered questions is holding my hands up to God and say "Thy will be done."

But still it is hard. Ed is feeling so well now that we almost forget cancer sometimes, but some day we may be in the same grief as Jess' family.

Last week Ed was singing My Jesus, As Thou Wilt. (From my comments it may sounds as if Ed is super into music, but he claims he can hardly carry a tune--which isn't true. But Ed has a huge number of hymns in his memory and can usually recall one that applies to any situation.) I wasn't familiar with this hymn, but I've been thinking on these words a lot this week.

My Jesus, As Thou Wilt
by Benjamin Schmolck
Hymns of the Church #927

  1. My Jesus, as Thou wilt! Oh, may Thy will be mine!
    Into Thy hand of love I would my all resign;
    Through sorrow, or through joy, conduct me as Thine own,
    And help me still to say, “My Lord, Thy will be done.”
  2. My Jesus, as Thou wilt! Though seen through many a tear,
    Let not my star of hope grow dim or disappear;
    Since Thou on earth hast wept, and sorrowed oft alone,
    If I must weep with Thee, my Lord, Thy will be done.
  3. My Jesus, as Thou wilt! All shall be well for me;
    Each changing future scene I gladly trust with Thee:
    Straight to my home above I travel calmly on,
    And sing, in life or death, “My Lord, Thy will be done.”
  4. And here is the music if you'd like to listen.

Monday, January 15, 2018

What's For Lunch?

A new year means a fresh chance to get organized.

And no area pays back better, in my opinion, than meal organization. Whether it is planning grocery shopping or making menu plans before 5:00 - any time I spend streamlining food prep is time well spent.

In recent months I have gotten some bad habits. Far too often I ran to the store for one or two items that I forgot the day before or scratched my head in late afternoon trying to figure out what to eat with minimal time to prepare.

So it won't be hard to make an improvement at my house.

To start I made a list of ideas for breakfast and lunch. We tend to cycle through the same meals. A simple card on the fridge is helping me be more efficient in planning ahead so we don't fall into the rut. Just a little forethought this morning meant that I had tortillas and cheese out of the freezer so we could make breakfast burritos this morning.

Several months ago I wrote an article for a homeschool magazine on lunch. I'm sharing it here and hoping to put more of the ideas to practice myself.

What's For Lunch? Tips for the Homeschool Mom

The clock strikes noon. The children push aside their math books and dash for the kitchen. I open the fridge and wish for lunch to appear. Even half-dried leftovers will be accepted with gratitude. But I've learned that wishing doesn't fill plates or stomachs. I hear that lunchtime is a challenge for many of us homeschool moms. This is a list compiled from my own experience and the suggestions of other moms to help meet those hungry groans with a smile instead of panic.

Leftovers. Make extra food the night before and serve the leftovers for lunch. As my family has grown, this has become a challenge, but I often make a huge pot of soup or chili in the winter. Cook extra rice and make fried rice. Bake extra potatoes and make hash browns. Grill extra chicken to serve on a salad.

Shop. Plan for lunch when shopping. If I plan on having taco salad Tuesday, I can have the ingredients purchased and the meat thawed.

Rotate. Write a weekly plan. If I know that we will have macaroni and cheese every Thursday, the work feels half done.

Slow Cooker. If I think ahead, I can use my slow cooker. I like to cook dried pinto beans with garlic and onions and serve them in tortillas with cheese for bean burritos. Baked potatoes in the slow cooker can be served with leftover chili or taco meat.

Freeze. Spend a day making lunches to freeze. Options include hot pockets, calzones, and burritos. Freeze par-baked pizza crusts. They thaw quickly and can be topped and baked in minutes.

Pack. Even if you are eating at home, pretend you pack lunches. Make sandwiches in the morning, stock your fridge with baby carrots and your pantry with granola bars, cookies, or a salty snack. On nice days, my children love to pack a lunch and eat outside.

Breakfast. Waffles, baked oatmeal, eggs and toast, french toast, or one of the many make-ahead breakfast casseroles are great options for lunch as well as breakfast.

Emergencies. Sometimes I didn't plan for lunch and find the refrigerator bare. I like to stock at least one emergency lunch in the pantry that doesn't need thawed and can be prepared in less than fifteen minutes. Favorites at my house are canned tomato soup or salmon cakes from a can of salmon. Another winner is quesadillas which can be made with tortillas, refried beans, and shredded cheese.

Delegate lunch to a child who could use some kitchen experience. The year I graduated, my mom assigned me the job of making lunch each day for the family. She could focus on homeschooling while I gained valuable homemaking skills.

Take a poll to find your children's lunchtime favorites. Tape the list to the fridge. Stock your pantry with a few basics. Prep your lunch at breakfast (that's the tough one). Then you can smile when you hear “What's for lunch?”

What are your ideas to streamline meal planning?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Lead, Kindly LIght

This morning at 5:30, I laid in bed luxuriating that I didn't have to get up yet. I listened to Ed in the basement directly below our bedroom getting his router started before he left for work. (If you deduce from that sentence that Ed is feeling terrific, you are correct.)

I heard Ed singing snatches of Lead, Kindly Light. This meaningful prayer hymn written after the author had a lengthy illness. Corrie ten Boom's sister, Betsy, sang Lead, Kindly Light while being herded into a German concentration camp. Titanic survivors sang this hymn while in a lifeboat awaiting rescue.

This morning we got word that my newborn nephew had just been airlifted to a larger hospital because of his breathing difficulties. To begin the day praying/singing this song for my brother, his wife, and little baby was a reminder of the blessing of the Lord who is the Light for our journey. (You can follow my brother's Instagram at German Barn Builders for updates on their baby.)

"He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." John 8:12

Lead, Kindly Light
by J. H. Newman

  1. Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
    Lead Thou me on;
    The night is dark, and I am far from home,
    Lead Thou me on;
    Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
    The distant scene; one step enough for me.
  2. I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
    Shouldst lead me on;
    I loved to choose and see my path, but now
    Lead Thou me on;
    I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,
    Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.
  3. So long Thy pow’r has blest me, sure it still
    Wilt lead me on,
    O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
    The night is gone,
    And with the morn those angel faces smile,
    Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Off the Shelf: Middle-Grade Books

I know how hard it is to find good reading material for my children. Here is a collection of thhe favorite books that I have read aloud or pre-read for my children in the past months. The first five are nonfiction and the remaining books are historical or realistic fiction. All of these are at our public library and should be easy for you to find.

An Indian Winter by Russell Freedman, illustrated by Karl Bodmer
Learn history from one who was there. Taken from the travel journals of a German prince and illustrated by a Swiss painter, this book records their historic journey into Indian country in 1833.

See the Great Blizzard of 1888 through the eyes of the ones who were there to live through one of the worse natural disasters in the US.

Imagine traveling down and un-mapped river to explore the famous canyons of the west. This book allows you to travel down the terrifying rapids with the ten men who first explored the area.

From first-hand accounts from two young men, one fighting for the north and one for the south, learn about the Battle of Gettysburg and its impact on the Civil War. I also read Murphy's excellent book on the Battle of Antietam.

Sometimes a true story is as exciting as any made-up tale. Such is the story of Manjiro. Shipwreck was only the first of his adventures which took him from his Japanese homeland to America, from whaling ships to the Gold Rush, and finally back to Japan where he helped end the isolation laws.

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
Manjiro and his friends were shipwrecked on an island near their homeland of Japan. Rescued by a US whaling boat, visiting New England, becoming a gold digger, and finally returning to Japan, this historical fiction tells the same amazing story of an amazing man of the previous nonfiction title.

Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan
In 1914, Katya is enjoying a comfortable life as a friend of the Tsar's daughter, but times are changing. As Katya becomes aware of the plight of the common people her life too begins to change. An excellent historical fiction depicting life in a crumbling Russia.

Black Radishes by Susan Lynn Meyer
Gustave is dismayed when his parents decide to leave their home in Paris. Couldn't the French army protect them from the Nazis? Inspired by true stories of Jewish children in France in 1940.

Tua and the Elephant by R.P. Harris
When Tua finds an elephant that needs help, she embarks on a journey through her city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Travel with Tua through the night market, a Buddhist temple, the river, and finally, to the elephant refuge. While not exactly realistic, this book can give your child a fun introduction to life in Thailand.

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
Paul and Maureen want a pony of their own and choose Phantom, a wild pony of Assateague Island. Join in the fun of pony penning day, pony races, and the special bond between the people of Chincoteague and the island ponies. This special book is a classic for a reason.  

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
Imagine you are thirteen and engaged to marry a boy you have never met. And then find that your new in-laws are dishonest and you are alone in a strange city. Follow Koly's story from India and be inspired by her courage. 

El Guero: A True Adventure Story by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
His comfortable life as the judge's son ended when his family was sent to exile, El Guero's adventures were just beginning. A picture of life on the Baja peninsula of Mexico in the late-1800's that is a family favorite.

When the Sirens Wailed by Noel Streatfeild
Three children are sent out of London along with thousands of other children to escape the bombing during World War 2. They face uncertainties with pluck and creativity as they try to reunite their family. Realistic details stem from the author's own memories as a volunteer worker in war-time London.

Peddler's Summer by Jane Flory
Life with eight girls and no Pa has not been easy, but they survived the winter. Now Amanda has a chance to travel through western Pennsylvania for the summer with the peddler earning money and making new friends. A sweet story of a simpler era.

The Heart of a Chief by Joseph Bruchac
Chris dreads the first day of sixth grade. He is sure that the town kids won't like a boy from the reservation. But Chris soon finds that he can make a difference, in school and at home. A realistic portrayal of the challenges of modern Native Americans.

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