Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!

We had a wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year.  Despite the fact that the kids and I all came down with nasty colds, we managed to have a joyful and peaceful start to the Christmas season.

Is Santa gone yet, Mommy?
Christmas morning dawned bright and early.  Henry was excited last year, but this year he was over the moon.  He darted into our room around 6:30 to let us know that Christmas had finally arrived.  We managed to convince him to lay down for another half an hour or so to let Oliver and Jane get a little more sleep.  Then, Matt held everyone back while I went downstairs to turn on the lights, put some cinnamon rolls in the oven, and, most importantly, start the coffee.

With everyone downstairs, we said our Christmas prayer over the white candles we placed in the Advent plaque the night before, oohed and aahed over little Baby Jesus in the nativity scene, and then sneezed and coughed our way through all of the presents.

The rest of the day was spent medicating everyone, wiping noses, playing with toys, and nibbling on the ham and its accoutrements.  

Henry's assignments for the week:
  • Lesson 46 - Showing time to the hour on a clock
  • Lesson 47 - Writing money amounts to 10 cents, ordering money amounts to 10 cents
  • Lesson 48 - Paying for items to 10 cents using pennies

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fourth Week of Advent

How did we get here already?

Our third week of Advent was certainly filled with plenty of joy.  First, I passed my three-hour glucose test on Monday morning.  I definitely did a lot of rejoicing all the way out to the parking lot from the lab.  Our biggest joy, however, came in the form of a visit from out-of-town friends.  We had a whirlwind of fun times: going out to dinner, heading down to St. Augustine (naturally), touring a Christmas light display/Santa's Workshop at a local church, and walking through a park decorated with over a hundred Christmas trees in a town just south of us.

Our Christmas wheat that we planted on December 13th?  No problems there.

I was planning on positioning our Nativity scene shepherd and lambs on the "grassy hill," but right now it would be more like a jungle.  I'll have to trim down a portion to make some space.  I'm still a little taken aback at how quickly this stuff grows.

Henry completed his last religion lesson of the season this morning, "Christmas is Jesus' Birthday."   His math for last week was fine and he passed his assessment easily.  This week, we'll complete the following lessons:
  • Lesson 43 - Acting out story problems using pennies
  • Lesson 44 - Identifying time to the hour
  • Lesson 45 - Identifying ordinal position to the fourth
Our final week of Advent is going to be spent scrubbing the house, baking a birthday cake for Jesus for Christmas dessert (I'm thinking red velvet), and just generally getting everything ready for the weekend.  I made a command decision to forgo the usual slaving away in the kitchen and opted to reserve a small ham and some sides from Honeybaked Hams.  I don't mind puttering around all day on Thanksgiving, but for Christmas it will be nice to just be able to sit back and relax and enjoy the day.

Saturday morning, we'll go get our Christmas tree and spend the afternoon decorating it and the inside of the house.  Our parish's Children's Mass is the 4:00 vigil, which will work perfectly for us.  We'll get home in time to have a light dinner and watch a Christmas movie before sending the kids to bed with visions of sugarplums and all that stuff.

Then, the fun begins!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review: BOB Books Set 1 - Beginning Readers

With Henry starting to read, we needed some more beginning reader books around the house.  The Hooked on Phonics Kindergarten level sets do come with a few books in each one, but I wanted some extra books that Henry could pull off the shelf on his own without jumping ahead in his lessons.  A quick scan of The Well-Trained Mind's resource list showed the BOB Books were highly recommended.

I ordered the first set of BOB Books, for beginning readers, and waited impatiently for them to arrive.  Once they did, I settled down with Henry and he dove right in.  The books themselves are the perfect size for preschool hands.  My only complaint is that they are printed on thin paper and the covers are about cardstock thickness.  Henry is careful with them, but there are other little hands trying to reach for them and I'll need to keep them out of reach.  This kind of defeats the purpose of having books around that Henry can grab at will.  It would have been awesome if they were printed as board books, but maybe it's a cost thing.

The twelve stories are cute.  They're short and sweet and funny.  Henry laughed out loud often.  Each book begins with a listing of the new sounds that will be covered in that book.  There are a few sight words (the, is, on) that I provided for him as he sounded out the others, but these are truly books that a beginning reader can read on their own.  The illustrations are simple, monochromatic line drawings.  They give a little hint on the corresponding sentences, but not so much that the reader just tries to make up the story based on the picture.

Other than the sturdiness of the books, my one quibble is that the font is a handwritten one instead of Times New Roman or something like that.  I suppose it goes along with the simple illustrations, but I would have liked a more standardized font.  Regardless, Henry is enjoying his new books.  He loves that he can read them and he thinks they're funny.  That's good enough for me.

- Four out of five stars due to moderately high likelihood of complete destruction by younger siblings and non-standard font

Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 11 - 17, 2011

Rejoice: It's the third week of Advent!

Our Jesse Tree is filling up, Advent calendar is half open, and three candles are melting down.  Advent is halfway over and we're enjoying the wait.  After Mass this morning, we put up some lights outside, hung our wreath on the front door, enjoyed some homemade hot chocolate and decorated a gingerbread house.  After dinner, we tossed the kids into the van and drove around to look at Christmas lights.  It was a fun, fun day.

Henry completed his Advent (3) worksheets this morning.  The lesson was "Joseph, Jesus' Father on Earth."  His math lessons for this week are:

  • Lesson 40 - Naming a shape piece using three attributes (shape, color, and size), identifying a missing piece in a matrix
  • Lesson 41 - Making a pictograph
  • Lesson 42 - Assessment 3 - Matching sets and numbers
I also have a big test this week: my three-hour glucose tolerance test.  I'm really hoping that I pass it.  I'm going to use the three hours of solitude in the lab to get our Christmas cards ready to mail out.  Multi-tasking!

Tuesday is the feast day of St. Lucy.  We're going to plant some Christmas wheat.  Hopefully, it sprouts and grows enough to add to our Nativity scene by Christmas day.

The O Antiphons begin on Saturday evening.  In all of the Amazon shopping, there was a little promo for MP3 credits if you opted for no-rush shipping.  I used our credits to get The Great O Antiphons.  It's absolutely beautiful and I'm happy to have it for our final weeks of Advent.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas Day

We had a visitor last night.

St. Nicholas made his way in and took the letters out of the kids' shoes, leaving a couple of gold chocolate coins in their places.  Henry was very excited to see the treats this morning.  The chocolates have been eaten, of course.

EWTN will be airing Nicholas, the Boy Who Became Santa at 4:00 PM EST today.  Since we haven't added this set to our DVD drawer yet, I appreciate EWTN taking care of it for us.

We'll also wander around the St. Nicholas Center throughout the day.  There are plenty of games, stories, coloring pages, and more for Henry to explore.  It's a great resource for celebrating good St. Nick.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 4 - 10, 2011

Wow, our first week of Advent is already complete.  A watched pot never boils, but maybe the key is to have four or five pots going at once.  Between our Jesse Tree, Advent wreaths, and Advent calendar, the countdowns and daily tasks are making time fly.

We're officially on "break" now, so our weekly lesson plans are a little different.  Today, Henry completed his Advent (2) lesson from Who Am I?, "Mary Said 'Yes' to God."  His math for this week is:
  • Lesson 37 - Creating and reading an ABB color pattern
  • Lesson 38 - Identifying pennies, counting pennies
  • Lesson 39 - Matching a number card to a set of objects
And that's it!  Oliver has one speech therapy appointment this week and, of course, we're continuing with Baby Babble and Starfall for both of the little ones.

Today, we're making a batch of sugar cookies that we'll decorate with purple sprinkles.  Tomorrow is St. Nicholas Eve, so the kids will write letters/draw pictures to the Christ Child.  At bedtime, we'll roll them up and put them in their shoes at the foot of their beds.  St. Nicholas will come to pick up their letters and leave behind a treat.  I guess, really, Henry will write a letter and Oliver and Jane will scribble haphazardly on a piece of paper and wonder why they wake up to chocolate in their shoes.  But, that's how you make a tradition, right?

The 8th is the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  We'll color this printable from Waltzing Matilda

And that is our week!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Week in Review: Art is complete!

Our last week of instruction before our Advent semi-break is now complete.  Today, Henry finished up his last art lesson from Draw*Write*Now Book 1.  Last week, he drew the Three Bears of Goldilock fame.  Today, he drew the Gingerbread Boy.

After completing the first book in the series, I think we can give it a thumbs up.  The course definitely teaches how to break down a subject into simple shapes, how to plan your drawing, and how to add backgrounds.  I don't think Henry is ready to move to the next book in the series, though.  There are some pretty complex pictures in that one right from the start.  I think we'll stick with the plan of having him revisit some of the pictures from this book, complete more freehand work, and work on his coloring skills with pre-drawn pages.  For the next book, I'm not going to bother with getting the official D*W*N workbook, either.  Regular paper is just fine for this.

Oliver's speech therapy continues to go well.  Next week, he has last appointment under his current referral authorization.  His therapist created his progress report to send to our pediatrician and insurance company and she is requesting approval for additional sessions.  I still haven't heard anything regarding the ABA therapy recommendation from his developmental pediatrician.  We have an appointment with our regular pediatrician in a couple of weeks, so I'll bring it up then.

In the meantime, I just happen to have a good friend who is an ABA therapist!  She recommended purchasing a VB-MAPP set so I can assess Oliver myself and begin some interventions on our own.  This is the same resource her facility uses to assess children and create their plans.  I'm going to hold off on it until after our appointment, but if it looks like the therapy is going to be a no-go, this will be ordered right away so I can begin using it at home.

Jane is walking like a champ.  She's also finally saying "mama" and she's added "thank you," although it sounds more like "day doo."  She only says it when I give her something, though, so I'm pretty sure that's what she means.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November 27 - December 3, 2011

This is our last "full" week since Advent has begun.  After this week, we'll just be doing math and religion until the Epiphany.

What we're working on this week:

  • Religion - Who Am I? Preschool Book B: Advent 1 - Preparing Our Hearts and Homes
  • Math - Saxon Math K: Lesson 36 - Ordering the numbers 0-10, identifying a missing number
  • Language Arts - Go for the Code: Letter c
  • Art - Draw Write Now Book 1: The Gingerbread Man
  • Music - We continue listening to our classical music station on Pandora while we do our schoolwork.
  • Good Books - Seasonal stories


Saturday, November 26, 2011


Advent begins tomorrow!  For the first time, I feel pretty prepared for everything.  We'll see how long that lasts.  Something always seems to pop up that I completely forgot about.  Such is life.

First, I got the vast majority of my Christmas shopping done yesterday.  It was all from the comfort of our home, online.  There was no way I was venturing out into the Black Friday madness.  Other than a few stocking stuffers, the gifts for our Angel Tree kid, and our Christmas cards, everything is ordered, paid for, and on its way.  We'll pick our Angel Tree kid off the tree at church tomorrow and I'll buy our Christmas cards sometime this week.  I won't mail them out until the 3rd week of Advent.  It seems appropriate to wait until Gaudete Sunday to spread some joy around.

Having all of this done before Advent begins means we can focus on the season itself over the next four weeks.  I set up our Advent table today.

It looks a little bare, but it will do.  Next year, maybe I'll do a big Advent calendar.  If I start working on it next month, I might have it done on time.

On the left is our Jesse Tree.  I bought a lighted willow branch (from Amazon, of course) that runs off three AA batteries and just stuck it in an old flower vase filled with purple tissue paper.  The branches were slightly smaller than I expected and the ornaments were a tad bit larger, so it may wind up looking ridiculous.  We're going with it.

For the ornaments, I downloaded the annual Advent guide from Faith Magazine, published by the Diocese of Erie.  The small ornaments are a 7-page PDF and I sent that to our local UPS store to be printed in color on card stock.  I also printed out their Advent reflections from home.  It's a really nice guide to the Jesse tree with an explanation of each night's ornament and the corresponding Bible reading.  I used some colored glitter glue to add a little accent to each ornament and I'll just cut one out each day, punch a hole in the top and string it with ribbon.  The reflections and first ornament are sitting on the table, ready to go.

We have our Advent calendar hanging on the wall.  There is no candy in it.  We have way too much from Halloween already.  In fact, some of that Halloween candy will probably migrate to the kids' Christmas stockings.  Don't tell them.

And, finally, we have our Advent... plaque?  I'm not sure what to call it exactly.  It's not a wreath.  Matt and I bought it when Henry was a baby from the gift store at the cathedral in St. Augustine.  The candles are in place and we still have the little pamphlet from the same gift store that has the weekly ceremony for each Sunday lighting.

Elsewhere, we have our Nativity scene stable set out with only a lonely cow inside.  A shepherd is tending his little flock close by on the table.  Tomorrow, we'll set Mary and Joseph and their donkey on our little altar in the kitchen.  They'll begin their month-long journey to the stable from there.  Each night, we'll move them a little closer until they arrive on Christmas Eve.  The Wise Men stay in the box until Christmas Day when they begin their journey, arriving on the Epiphany.  (They travel a lot faster because none of them are pregnant.)

Today, Henry and I are going to make a construction paper Advent wreath and candles to hang on the board in the schoolroom.  Our other plans for Advent?
  • December 6, 2011 - Feast of St. Nicholas: The night before, the kids will write their letters to the Christ Child and put them in their shoes at the foot of their beds.  St. Nicholas will take their letters and leave a few gold coins in their shoes to let them know he came.  
  • December 8, 2011 - Feast of the Immaculate Conception
  • December 13, 2011 - Feast of St. Lucy: We're going to attempt this Croatian custom of planting Christmas wheat this day.  Wheat we have in plenty; we'll see if it grows in time for Christmas!
  • December 17 - 24, 2011 - The O Antiphons: Each evening, we'll recite one of the O Antiphons, the seven Messianic titles of Christ.
  • December 24, 2011 - Christmas Eve: This is when we'll go get our Christmas tree, decorate it and the house, and get ready to welcome in the Christmas season!
I think that just about covers it.  Of course, there will be plenty of cookie making and gingerbread house decorating and all of that fun stuff, too.  We're so excited to get started!

I've shared/linked up this post on RLS's Preparing for Baby Jesus Advent Link Up.  You can check out what other families are doing for Advent by clicking on the button here:

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Dinner is eaten, kitchen is clean, kids are in bed... Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 20 - 26, 2011

What we're working on this week:

  • Religion - Who Am I? Preschool Book B: Thanksgiving
  • Math - Saxon Math K: Lessons 33, 34, and 35 - Ordering the numbers 0-10, counting backward from 10; Assessment #2: Identifying and naming shapes; Identifying ordinal position to fourth
  • Language Arts - Get Set for the Code: Complete letter d; Go for the Code: Begin letter c
  • Art - Draw Write Now Book 1: Three Bears
  • Science - Science is Simple: Bird shapes and colors
  • Music - We continue listening to our classical music station on Pandora while we do our schoolwork.
  • Good Books - The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh: Section 2, Chapter 9


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Getting Ready for Advent

While our Advent break doesn't begin until the end of the month, Advent itself is only a week away!  Last year, we embarked on the annual last-minute scramble to find purple and pink candles for our Advent display.  This year, I'm working smarter (being lazy) and ordering them online.

Advent Calendar - Mary with Baby JesusI'm also finally getting an Advent calendar for the kids.  One year, I would love to create a beautiful, reusable Advent calendar, but it's not going to be this one.  Instead, I found this pretty one on Amazon and it's already on its way to our home.

Other plans for Advent?

Our Who Am I? workbook has worksheets for each Sunday of Advent that Henry will work on.  We're also going to make a construction paper Advent wreath to put on our classroom bulletin board.

Still mulling over a Jesse Tree.  I've found some nice PDFs of the different ornaments, but I'd need to have them printed and then mount them to something sturdy myself.  We'll see.  I may have to save that for next year.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Week in Review: Henry Reads, Three Little Pigs and I'm Really Trying Not to Throw Up

Ugh.  I am hanging on by my fingernails this week.  While I have blessedly avoided actually throwing up, I'm pretty much in a constant state of queasiness.  Add in the typical first-trimester fatigue and you can imagine what things are looking like around here.  Suffice to say, we've had quite a few pajama days and more than a few frozen pizzas for dinner.

12 more days until Advent break, 12 more days until Advent break, 12 more days until Advent break...

I'm looking forward to the break; can you tell?

So, this week did go well.  Henry made a big leap forward yesterday and has started to truly sound out words.  Or, as he put it, "I'm READING, Mommy!!!  I'm READING!!!"  On a whim, I brought up a blank Word document and began typing in simple words like rat, cat, bat, hat, etc.  He was able to sound them all out and read them all.  He is very, very proud of himself and, of course, we are too!  It's really an amazing thing to see that little light bulb go off in their heads.

My only question now is whether I should bother putting him through level 2 of the Hooked on Phonics pre-K program.  I don't think he really needs half a year of looking at capital letters again.  I think I will skip him to level 1 of the kindergarten program once we come back from our Advent and Christmas break and see how he does.  I will keep going with Explode the Code so he can work on his penmanship and increase his letter/sound recognition, though.

Math is still great.  Henry really enjoys the Saxon lessons and I'm really glad it's Angelicum's chosen program.

Art for today was the Three Little Pigs.  He was a little disappointed by the lack of the wolf, but he got over it.

Oliver's therapy appointments went well this week.  The therapist said he used the words up, in, open, and out appropriately during the sessions.  At home, he's been a bit more quiet as far as formed words go, although he did repeat close one time for me.  At this point, the therapist is very comfortable with saying it's most likely a processing/developmental issue and not a motor/apraxia type thing.  He is making progress so we will continue with the therapy, but it could be a long haul or it could be a sudden leap for him to really talk.  We'll just have to wait and see.

Jane is walking for real!  She still crawls when she wants to move quickly, but she can take a good amount of steps forward, some backward, and can scoot sideways and turn when she's feeling particularly motivated.  She's also got some molars coming in, poor baby.  I feel bad for infant/toddlers.  It's always something for those little guys.

Mystery Baby 5, as stated above, is doing its best to eliminate my appetite, but everything else seems to be going fine.  Since Matt is military, I got to go to the base hospital to do the mandatory new baby orientation.  I confess I rolled my eyes at the idea.  Here I was hoping that they were going to tell me about the completely new and exciting method of being pregnant and giving birth, but apparently it's the same as 14 months ago (and millennia ago, also).  At least I got all my paperwork filled out and all of my labs done.

10 weeks down, 32 more to go!*

* Yes, I said 32.  Henry was born at 40 weeks, Oliver was induced at 37, and Jane was 40 weeks + 3 days.  I'm just going to tell myself that I'm going to go to 42 weeks so I don't get despondent at the end.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

November 13 - 19, 2011

What we're working on this week:

  • Religion - Who Am I? Preschool Book B: No lesson this week
  • Math - Saxon Math K: Lessons 30, 31, and 32 - Identifying triangles and squares; Naming a shape piece using three attributes (shape, color, and size); Ordering the numbers 1-10, identifying a missing number
  • Language Arts - Hooked on Phonics: letter Z, letters V, W, X, Y, Z review, "The Cereal Box" story and Unit 3 review; Get Set for the Code: Complete letter h, begin letter d
  • Art - Draw Write Now Book 1: Three Little Pigs
  • Science - Science is Simple: Bird food
  • Music - We continue listening to our classical music station on Pandora while we do our schoolwork.
  • Good Books - The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh: Section 2, Chapter 8


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Week in Review: First Math Test and The Little Red Hen

It was a busy, busy week.  We went on a mini-vacation to Orlando halfway through, so school got front-loaded and back-loaded and jammed into any available time for completion.  But it was completed!

Henry passed his first math assessment with flying colors.  Considering that it pretty much consisted of counting to eight, we didn't go all out on the celebration or anything like that.  Regardless, I was happy to see that he is at least where he should be in his lessons.

Art for the week was the Little Red Hen.

Oliver's speech therapist was on vacation this week, too.  No therapy and also no new words.  In fact, he was pretty quiet this week.  He really enjoyed our trip and was amazed by the different parks, though.

Jane is Jane: feisty and prone to temper tantrums.  And my goodness, she is already tormenting her brothers.  I think it's a good thing that she will not be the baby of the family.  We're really starting to work on teaching her to play nicely with others.

She needs all the help she can get!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

November 6 - 12, 2011

What we're working on this week:

  • Religion - Who Am I? Preschool Book B: God Cares for Us and All He Has Made
  • Math - Saxon Math K: Lessons 27, 28, and 29 -Assessment #1 (counting objects; matching sets of objects using one-to-one correspondence), identifying ordinal position to fourth, and covering designs using pattern blocks
  • Language Arts - Hooked on Phonics: letters X and Y; Get Set for the Code: letter h
  • Art - Draw Write Now Book 1: Little Red Hen
  • Science - Science is Simple: Exploring winter birds.
  • Music - We continue listening to our classical music station on Pandora while we do our schoolwork.
  • Good Books - The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh: Section 2, Chapter 7

Friday, November 4, 2011

Halloween, All Saints, All Souls, Rabbit... and Baby Number 5!

Quite the week in our little household, I will say.

First, we got ready for Halloween.  Henry used's pumpkin maker to design our pumpkin this year and I did my best to faithfully render his choice.

I'm pretty sure this is almost identical to the one he chose last year.  Maybe the nose is different.  For whatever reason, he thinks these eyes and mouth are the spookiest.

Halloween itself was very exciting.  Matt took Henry and Oliver trick'or'treating with some friends in the neighborhood while Jane and I passed out candy to the crowds.  And there were some serious crowds!  We had huge groups of kids come all at once with big gaps in between.  It was kind of strange, but efficient.  We ran out of candy after only two hours, but Henry and Oliver came back with a wagon-load of their own.

Oliver was Superman, Henry was a skeleton, and Jane had on a tutu.  We had some fairy wings for her, but she opted not to wear them.

Our All Saints' Day pretzels came out great.  I used this Good Eats recipe, but divided the dough into 16 pieces and formed figure 8s.  These were seriously the best soft pretzels ever.  I can tell I'll be making these again.

On All Souls' Day, we remembered our family members who have passed away: my parents, my husband's mother, and our first little boy, Evan, who died when he was eight months old, just four months before Henry was born.

We looked at their pictures, said prayers for them, and talked about our lesson from last week, After Death there is Life.

We also said prayers for all our other family members and friends who have passed away, as well as the poor souls who have no one to pray for them.

Things Oliver said this week: fly, brothers, good job, Halloween, and up!

Henry's art lesson for this week was a rabbit.  The humor of this is significant because...

We are expecting our fifth child!  It's funny to think about it, but I've been pregnant for at least part of every year since 2006.  I'm due mid-June, so it was a bit of a relief to realize that we'll have this school year wrapped up by the first week of June.

If everything goes well, we'll have a couple of months to settle our newest member in before beginning kindergarten in the fall.  And, this time around, we've decided to not find out the baby's sex until it's born.  At this point, we have plenty of stuff for either a boy or a girl, so I think it will be fun to wait for the surprise.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October 30 - November 5, 2011

What we're working on this week:

  • Religion - Who Am I? Preschool Book B: God Should Come First in Our Lives; All Saints' Day (11/1): Bake soft pretzels in the shape of figure 8s to represent the saints and martyrs; All Souls' Day (11/2): Remember our deceased family members
  • Math - Saxon Math K: Lessons 25 and 26 - Creating and reading an ABB color pattern, creating a bar graph
  • Language Arts - Hooked on Phonics: letters V and W; Get Set for the Code: Complete letter j, begin letter h
  • Art - Draw Write Now Book 1: Rabbits
  • Science - Science is Simple: Exploring winter birds.
  • Music - We continue listening to our classical music station on Pandora while we do our schoolwork.
  • Good Books - The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh: Section 2, Chapter 6

Friday, October 28, 2011

Week in Review, Swan, Schedule


There really wasn't too much going on this week.  Henry was not very interested in school, I'll say that.  I think we're both about ready for a little break.  I have our lessons planned through November, but our semi-vacation will begin at Advent and run until Epiphany.  While we'll continue our math lessons and our religion lessons, everything else will be put on hold until the new year so we can focus on the coming Christmas season.

Looking at our remaining work, there's really not much left to preschool!  There are only five more art lessons in the level one book.  Henry's doing well, but I think he would benefit from going back and starting over at the same level.  As the pictures get more complex, his frustration at not being able to get his drawing exactly right is starting to increase.  He's doing a lot of erasing and the fun level is decreasing, so I'd like him to step back a bit and also do more freehand work where he's using his imagination and drawing things from memory.

Henry will finish up the second book in the Explode the Code primer series the day before Thanksgiving.  He has one more book left, Go for the Code.  He'll also finish up the first level of Hooked on Phonics the same week and begin the second (and last) pre-k level.  The second level is pretty much a review of the first, but the games and stories are different.  These final books will take about 13 weeks to complete.

Epiphany is on January 6th, although it's transferred to Sunday the 8th.  From there, we'll have six weeks of instruction before hitting the week of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  We'll go on break again (in everything except religion and math) through the Octave of Easter on April 15th.  Seven more weeks will take us to an end date of June 2nd, which will work out very well.  The Saxon Math year ends in June; there are only four lessons that month, so we'll be done by June 8th.

During our breaks, we'll focus on the Image of God lessons that are specific to the holiday seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter.  We'll also do more Good Books reading and we'll be doing arts and crafts projects which reflect the seasons, too.


Ollie was pretty quiet in his speech therapy sessions this week.  He's also showing a lot more frustration with his inability to communicate, something his therapist said we should expect.  She requested a list of his favorite snacks and printed out a sheet of pictures of them.  However, I really wanted something more expansive and realistic than the small black and white clip art pictures.

Since I am a sucker for resources, I ordered a Picture Exchange Communication System today.  It includes 120 full-color laminated photographs that cover foods, family members, feelings, toys, activities... you name it.  It's used with ABA therapy, so if we ever get our referral for that, this will come in handy, I'm sure.  I'm hoping that this picture system will help eliminate the frustration that Oliver is showing and allow him to communicate what he wants until he's able to do so verbally.

This week, and for the rest of the month, we're focusing on the color orange.  We went through the playroom and put all of the orange toys into a bin that I've left out for Oliver to sort through.  We're doing the orange section of each day.


Jane's walking a little more, but not consistently.  Her main problem is that she starts clapping for herself as she's walking, which throws her off balance and makes her sit down. Complete goober!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Red-shouldered Hawks!

We spotted juvenile and adult Eastern Red-shouldered Hawks yesterday and managed to get a picture of both:

Maybe they're related.

I love the fall weather.  The birds are coming back and we can actually stand being outside to watch them.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October 23 - 29, 2011

What we're working on this week:

  • Religion - Who Am I? Preschool Book B: After Death, There is Life
  • Math - Saxon Math K: Lessons 22, 23, and 24 - Creating and reading an A/B color pattern, acting out story problems, placing a tag on a pictograph, identifying the most and fewest on a graph
  • Language Arts - Hooked on Phonics: letter U, review R, S, T, U; Get Set for the Code: Letter j
  • Art - Draw Write Now Book 1: Swan
  • Science - Science is Simple: Use Marble Run to create marble drops.
  • Music - We continue listening to our classical music station on Pandora while we do our schoolwork.
  • Good Books - The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh: Section 2, Chapter 5

Week in Review: For the Birds


The Matrix

 Henry did very well with his lessons this week.  Math continues to be the favorite.  In our longest lesson yet, Henry sorted two shapes in two sizes and three colors into a matrix and then used the matrix to determine which piece was missing when I took it away while he had his eyes closed.  It was really neat to watch him go from randomly guessing to actually using the matrix and getting the answer right each time.

His art lesson this week was birds.  This was the first time that he had to draw more than one subject and it's also the first time that his lesson was presented as a tableau.  He's had other ones that show background in the completed picture, but in order for his drawings to make sense, he really needed to include the tree and branches.


In the Fortress of Solitude
Oliver had two speech therapy sessions this week.  The last one was his first time going back to the office on his own because it was the first time I had to bring Henry and Jane along by myself.  He gave two looks back at me as he walked through the door to make sure it was okay, but was just fine other than that.  His therapist said that he said "no" and "out" during the session and that it seemed like he was using them appropriately.

At home, we've heard him say "all done," or maybe more like "aw dn."  The first time he said it, he was at the table and pushing his plate away.  The second time he said it was when I was trying to get Matt to agree that's what he said (Matt was talking to Henry and didn't hear it the first time).  So the conversation went like this:
Oliver: Aw dn.
Me: Yes!  You're all done!  Good job, Ollie!... Matt, did you hear him say "all done?"
Matt: Are you sure that's what he said?  Maybe you're imagining it.  I don't think he-
Oliver: Aw dn!
So, then we both agreed that he actually said it.


Daddy's Girl
Still a little goober.  Still waving and saying "hello!"  And she's definitely calling Matt "Dada" now.  She only says something that sounds like "Maaaaaaaaaaaa" when she's wailing, but that's par for the course.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Making Apple Butter

Last year, I made apple butter for the first time.  I'd never really had it before, but I came across a recipe that convinced me to try it.  I'm so glad that I did, because I think the apple butter is the main reason my husband remains married to me (other than his eternal love and our kids and all of that stuff).  We ran out of the last of the batch a month ago and I've endured mournful faces from Matt every morning that I've made biscuits since.

Well, this week, Publix had Honeycrisps on sale, so it was Apple Butter Making Time 2011.

We begin with 12 pounds of apples.  You can use whatever you like, but Honeycrisps are the best apple ever created.  Quarter them, core them, and plop them in a big stockpot.  Pour 3 quarts of apple juice or cider on top.  Last year, I used regular old apple juice, but this year I went for the Ziegler's Honeycrisp Blend apple cider (also at Publix).

As you can see, this process started around 0800.  In the picture to the right, the apples had been simmering for about 20 minutes.
When the apples started to get mushy, I took out my 7 quart cast iron Dutch oven and poured in 6 cups of sugar (use 7 for tart apples), 2 tablespoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ground cloves, and just a touch of ground nutmeg.

The cast iron is well-suited for this, since it distributes the heat so evenly.  The apple/cider mixture starts out pretty soupy, but it's a thick and bubbly mess by the end that has to be stirred constantly.  Cast iron helps keep the butter from accumulating hot spots when you have to fill a sippy cup or change a diaper.

Here is the apple and cider mixture transferred to the Dutch oven.  As you can see, many of the apples are already falling apart.  If you like a chunky apple butter, you can just keep it as is.  The larger pieces will keep breaking up as you cook, but you still wind up with some bits in your final product.

You can see that the mixture fills the 7 quart pot to the brim.  A few inches of cider remained in the stockpot, but that's fine.  The point of this is to cook the liquid out anyway.

Since we prefer a smooth butter, I use a stick or immersion blender and puree everything right in the pot.  If you don't have an immersion blender (and you should, because they are so convenient!) and you like smooth butter, you can ladle the apple/cider mixture into a blender in batches.  Blend each portion, then add it to the pot with your sugar and spices.

Now begins the long, slow process of evaporating the water from the mixture.  This isn't something you can do haphazardly or inattentively.  Fortunately, my dear husband took the boys to an RC airfield for the morning to watch a mini airshow.  Jane was content playing and watching videos while I stirred.  And stirred.  And stirred.

You can see how much lower the mixture has gotten in the pot.  And this still wasn't done yet.

How do you know when it's done?

Well, some instructions say it's done when the mixture "mounds on a spoon."  I seek further clarification because maybe what somebody else sees as a mound, I see as a plateau.

So, instead I use the saucer test.  Plop some butter on a cold saucer.  If liquid pools, it's not done.  If it doesn't, it's good to go.

Not done

See?  Much easier to determine.

Once you get pretty close to done, fill your canning pot with water and start heating it to a boil.  Do yourself a big favor and run your tap until the water is hot before filling the pot.  You'll cut a good half hour off your wait time.
Wash your jars with hot soapy water and rinse well.  There's really no need to sterilize the jars since you're going to be filling them with apple butter that is the approximate temperature of molten lava.

If, by chance, some stray bacterium manages to survive the apple butter scalding and boiling water processing, well, I think it deserves to live.

Fill the jars almost to the top.  You need to leave 1/4" of headspace in order to get a good seal.  

After they're filled, take a clean, damp cloth and wipe the rim of each jar.  If there's any butter on them, the lids won't be able to seal properly.

Place your clean and unused lids on top and then lightly screw on the bands.  You should turn them just until you feel resistance.  Think benevolent dictator.  Firm, but not overbearing.

This allows the steam to exit the jars.  If the bands and lids are too tight, you won't get a seal because you won't create a big enough pressure difference.

When the water is boiling, use a jar lifter to place the jars in the rack in the pot.  Make sure they're standing up straight and covered by at least an inch of water.

The water will probably stop boiling when you add the jars in.  You need to process the butter for 20 minutes, so don't start your timer until the water begins boiling again.

This gives you plenty of time to scrub apple butter off your stove, counter tops, surrounding appliances, overhead vent grating, cabinets, and floor.

Also, scrub out your pots and ladles and spoons before the apple butter hardens.  Much easier that way.

Treat any burns received from spattering apple butter at this time, too.

In the end, it's all worth it.  Seven glorious pints of apple butter!  This should be enough to make it until next fall as long as my husband doesn't go crazy after a month of withdrawal.

These bad boys will sit out overnight to cool down.  I'll check the lids to make sure they all sealed in the morning.  They should be fine, though.  I counted seven audible pops as each lid vacuum-sealed.