Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Homeschool Curriculum 2014-2015 for 4th, 2nd, K, and PreK3

Several of you have emailed me with questions about what we use for our homeschool curriculum.  Here are our choices for 4th grade, 2nd grade, kindergarten, and preschool (3 year old).  As always, these are just the choices that work for us, for any variety of reasons.  If you are curious about a specific curriculum, let me know and I will try to answer questions!  (Most of these choices are not new for our family).

As a family, we belong to a Classical Conversations community that we love.  That being true, we will follow the Classical Conversations history cycle, which is American History and geography this year.  At home, we will supplement the CC work with Story of the World and SOTW Activity Books, My Father's World Adventures, and Sonlight Core D and E readers.  CC science work will focus on anatomy this year, and we will supplement that at home as well, with books and games.  If you are interested in learning more about CC, this blog does a fantastic job of explaining: Half-a-Hundred Acre Wood

4th Grade (Olivia, 9)
Classical Conversations, Foundations (US History, Geography)
Classical Conversations, Essentials 
Singapore Math 4, Khan Academy
IEW English (CC)
IEW Writing Through History (CC)
Sonlight Core D and E book list (assigned reading)
Spelling Workout C and D
Prescripts Cursive
Song School Latin
Keyboarding Without Tears
Apologia Zoology, with friends
Sonlight Core D and E read alouds
Artistic Pursuits
We Choose Virtue
Art Classes
Sewing Classes
Riding lessons

2nd Grade (Amelia, 7)
Classical Conversations, Foundations (US History, Geography)
Singapore Math 2
Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading, BOB readers, Reading Eggs
First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind 1 and 2
Writing With Ease 1 and 2
Explode the Code 2, 3
Spelling Workout A
Prescripts Cursive
Song School Latin
Keyboarding Without Tears
Apologia Zoology, with friends
Sonlight Core D and E read alouds
We Choose Virtue
Artistic Pursuits
Art Classes
Ballet Class
Riding lessons

Kindergarten (Charlotte, 5)
Classical Conversations, Foundations
Singapore Math 1
Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading, BOB Readers, Reading Eggs
Explode the Code 1
Handwriting Without Tears Printing
Apologia Zoology (sitting in)
Sonlight Core D and E read alouds
We Choose Virtue
Artistic Pursuits
Ballet Classes

Preschool (Henry, 3)
Confessions of a Homeschooler's Letter of the Week Curriculum
Sitting in on sisters' day :)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mental Illness As a Character Defect

With Robin William's recent suicide, there has been a bit of a conversation about mental illness.  A popular Christian blogger (who I will not link here, and thus give more pageviews) wrote an incredibly judgmental post that several people in my feed shared on Facebook, and I want to comment more about that here.  (If you are one of those people, I am sorry to mention it.  I am not picking on you, by any means.  But will you read here with an open mind?)

I have a lot to say on this, friends, because it is an intimate part of my life.  This isn't something I've written about much, because it's not my story to share.  But in so many ways, it is a part of my story too.  One of my sisters has struggled with severe mental illness since she was a child, and she continues to do so.  Our stories are so entwined for the first twenty years of my life that you cannot pick the threads of mine up without seeing hers as well.  This post is solely about my experience.  But it's not about me.  At all.  Those are just the parts that I can tell here.

Here is what I know:

I know that mental illness can take a middle-class, master's degree educated woman with a loving family, and make her homeless.  I know that making the decision to allow a daughter or sister to be homeless, and not allow her to simply stay with you indefinitely, can and will destroy a family.  I know that virtually every decision relating to a mental illness has the power to destroy us.  I know that it will ultimately always come down to a choice of which family members need and deserve protection more.

I know that mental illness has been a part of every Christmas, every birthday, every regular day of my life for as long as I can remember.   I know that there have been long stretches where I have spent several hours a day, everyday, in some way trying to help, or mitigate, or deal with the problems and effects of this illness in my sister's life.  And it's not even me that is suffering.  I know that someone who did not have any of those advantages, or love, or family that my sister has to begin with will hit ground zero even faster.  (And not that illusive "bottom" people are always talking about either.  Many mental illnesses have no bottom).

I know that treatment does not cure mental illness, often.  I know that someone can spend fifteen years in various hospitals and leave no better.  I know that trying harder is not the answer here.  I know that even with insurance, inpatient mental health care costs many, many thousands of dollars, every single time.  I know that most mentally ill people have declared bankruptcy.  And sometimes their families have too.  I know that when a mentally ill person loses health insurance, they lose access to any kind of continuous care.  I know that a mentally ill person will lose their job, over and over and over, when their illness becomes evident.  I know that person will lose friends who she adores, and sometimes even family.  I know they are often driven to things and places that they will never be able to talk about.

I know that magic pills are not magic for everyone.  And neither is going to church, or the Bible, or prayer.  I know that a whole lot of people can be praying the same prayer without noticeable effect in this lifetime.  Which is not to say that prayer doesn't work.

I know I am scared every time the phone rings.  I know the exact sound of my parents' voices when something bad has happened (again).  I know that I fear for the future of my children.  I know that mental illness runs in families.

I know you can learn to tolerate a lot of fear and messiness, if there are huge amounts of love there too.  And there are.

I know that God allows children to get cancer, and that he takes the lives of infants that are precious to their mothers, and that he allows some people to suffer from mental illnesses.  And I don't know why.  I have no clue, and I promise that is something that I have many questions on.  But I do know that all those things are exactly the same.  EXACTLY the same.  In the same way that only the worst person would blame a little girl for having cancer, and suggest that if she just worked harder, it would disappear, only the worst people should say that to someone struggling with mental illness.  Let me be clear on this.  Does that mean I approve of killing yourself?  Absolutely flipping not.  Does that mean I approve of all the actions of mentally ill person that come with illness and addiction?  NO.  Trust me, I am angry at those things too.  I have been furious, for years at a time.  (Being angry is ineffective too).

But guess what?  Love, real love, (you know, like the kind described in the Bible), does not leave the wounded and suffering alone to die.  Real love does not blame them for their suffering.  Real love does not call a disease a character defect.  Love says "I hate this disease and I don't approve of those choices, and there are days when I don't recognize you anymore.  But I remember everyday who you really are. I will not allow you to harm others,  but I WILL stand here with you, forever.  I will not abandon you and then blame you.  I will love you, in the best and most humanly-flawed way I can.  Period."

I know that this is not easy.  I know that this is hardest thing I have ever walked through with someone, ever.  I know that I am scarred and haunted by some of things we have been through and choices we have had to make.  I know that I want to give up sometimes.  I know that I want to blame.  I know that I want to scream try harder, do better, stop hurting yourself.  I know that I am making mistake after mistake.  I know that I say wrong things and misunderstand and wallow in ignorance myself.  I know that she might tell this story very differently than I do.

But I also know DAMN WELL that this isn't a choice.  NO ONE would chose this.  No one.  And to suggest that it is a choice is just so profoundly and astonishingly ridiculous that I cannot even fathom how anyone could think so.  Anyone watching this would know better.

And I know I am proud. I am SO proud of my sister.  And I love her.  And I never, ever want to do without her.  Ever.  There is so much love and laughter here too (especially humor of the dark variety).

I know that people with mental illnesses are judged and stigmatized, even at church.  Maybe especially at church.  And I see them facing life with courage and hope.  And I see them not giving up.  I see them starting again, over and over.

I know there is hope here.  There is HOPE here.

I know that people who have no clue what this is like should not be writing blog posts.  And I know that we need to be very, very careful what links we share on our Facebook pages.  And I know that as Christians, we are called to do better than this judgement of one another.

If you are looking, here is a much more compassionate and real blog post by Ann Voskamp on Christians and mental illness.  (Be warned, she has music on her page).

If you must make a choice, and you don't know that answer, choose kindness.

We are all just walking each other home. (Ram Dass).

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


I am so excited to introduce you to the new look of Chickens in my Kitchen!  If you've noticed that the blog has been down this month, this is why.  We have been working hard to make it so adorable!

If this is your first time visiting, welcome!  Manda Julaine Designs is responsible for the gorgeous of the new blog design.  I just LOVE it, and I hope you do too.  I had been muddling along, figuring out how to make headers and attempting to teach myself coding and design from internet tutorials since I began the blog.  Ya'all, I love taking pictures, but that kind of stuff made me cry.  Every.single.time.  Needless to say, it was time to make an investment in a professional makeover.  Amanda is incredible to work with-not only is she a very talented designer and was AMAZING at bringing my ideas to life, she also has a trojan work ethic.  She finished this blog design on the deadline despite having a newborn who unexpectedly came five weeks early.  I highly, highly suggest her services for blogs, Christmas card design, baby announcements, business card design....anything, really!

Her business website is over at http://www.mandajulainedesigns.com.  Go visit and check out some of her other work, all of which is just beautiful.

I am so glad you are here.  I think the blog design finally reflects the feeling that I want to create at this little space.  Thank you Amanda Stichter!  You are amazing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Life In A Country Song, Part Deux

And we're back to LIACS with a request.  My sister is absolutely positive that Seth secretly wrote this song (spoiler alert: he didn't).  As always, lyrics in black, my commentary in blue.

Seth and me in college.  Aw.

Ladies Love Country Boys, by Trace Adkins (Let's start here....is Trace a real name?  Seriously?)

She grew up in the city in a little subdivision (Kinda)
Her daddy wore a tie, mama never fried a chicken (dead on.  My daddy is a lawyer and my mother has never fried anything in her life)
Ballet, straight-As, most likely to succeed (*blush*)
They bought her a car after graduation (bought it myself, but whatev)
Sent her down South for some higher education (If you count Champaign as South, which I absolutely did when I went to school there.  I thought it was the smallest town in the world.  Compared to where I live now, it's NYC.  God laughs.)
Put her on the fast track to a law degree (Guilty again)

Now she's coming home to visit (Indeed)
Holding the hand of a wild-eyed boy (No one has ever accused Seth of being wild)
With a farmer's tan (but he sure does have a farmer's tan all the time)

She's riding in the middle of his pickup truck (I do love me a good truck ride)
Blaring Charlie Daniels, yelling, Turn it up! (Nope)
They raised her up a lady but there's one thing (Phrase heard most often in my childhood: "sit like a lady"  You can't make this stuff up)
They couldn't avoid 
Ladies love country boys (It's so true)

You know mamas and daddies want better for their daughters (Not true.  My family would trade me in for Seth in a hot second.  They adore him)
Hope they'll settle down with a doctor or a lawyer (Yes, true)
And their uptown, ball gown, hand-me-down royalty (Eh)

They never understand why their princess falls 
For some camouflage britches and a southern-boy-drawl (Bwhahahaha)

Or why she's riding in the middle of a pickup truck 
Blaring Hank Jr., yelling, Turn it up! (Still no.  My classical country interest in limited to Johnny Cash)
They raised her up a lady but there's one thing 
They couldn't avoid 
Ladies love country boys 

You can train em, you can try to teach em (How exactly?)
Right from wrong but it's still gonna turn em on (Heart wants what it wants, eh?)

And they go riding in the middle of a pickup truck 
Blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd, yelling, Turn it up! (O/3 here)
You can raise her up a lady but there's one thing 
You just can't avoid 
Ladies love country boys 
They love us country boys (I really do)

There you have it!  The song my family thinks most describes my life.  Ha!

P.S.  Grammar police are hitting the roof on this one!  Sorry!

Friday, May 30, 2014

For My Father

My Dad's birthday is today, and you guys know he is one of my favorite people ever (and several of yours too!)

He will be enormously embarrassed by this. But.

Instead of getting you another button down shirt, I thought I would write this for you. (Oh wait, I did buy a button down shirt.  Whoops).

Corey and Griffin

Dear Daddy (Am I getting too old to call you that now that I have gray hair?  Surely not),

I know we are not a demonstrative family.  I know too much emotion makes you uncomfortable (hence the Door County restaurant recommendations as you walked me down the aisle, ha!).  But I also have always known how much you love us.  Because I've watched you.

I've watched you leave work early in the afternoon every Wednesday of my whole childhood, an entire fifteen years worth, to sit in rush hour traffic for two hours one way, so that you could spend 90 minutes with Kiernan and I, and then drive the hour plus back home.  You never missed, not once.  Not when you had a big case going to trial.  Not when our mother spent 20 of that 90 minutes yelling at you about something.  Not when you were locked out.  Not even when we were awful teenagers.  I know you must have been so tired of that drive.  You must have made sacrifices at the office.  You must have been so frustrated.  But as a child, I never knew, because you never complained.  All I ever knew was how much you missed us.  I watched, and I learned love, and endurance, and the importance of priorities.

I watched you when I moved in with you guys as a teenager.  You sat me down and told that you weren't going to make up a whole lot of rules, because I'd had enough of that in my life, and I was a responsible kid.  You told me that I was expected to do well at school and to never drink and drive.  And beyond that, you trusted me.  And that was more effective than a book full of rules, because I wanted to be worthy of your trust.  I watched, and I learned respect.

I've watched you put us through college.  You gave us money to go get dresses for sorority formals, big dates, rush.  You bailed me out when I overdrew my checking account.  Again.  And you never complained once.  But Rohini told me that you didn't buy yourself a new suit for work the whole time we were in college, so that we could have all those silly dresses.  I watched, and I learned selflessness and sacrifice.

I've watched you as you disagree with some of my adult choices.  I know you must still see me as a baby, no matter how old I get.  You line up all your arguments to see if you can change my mind, but once you know that you can't, you never mention it again, even if it becomes obvious that you were right.  (The longer I live, the more I see how often you have always been right).  I watched, and I learned acceptance, and humility, and grace.

I watched you sit through Notting Hill, at the theater, seven times.  Once on a trip to Europe.  And you never even tried to change our minds about the movie choice.  And I learned cheerfulness.  And perseverance, ha!  And patience again.

I've watched you always keep learning.  Your "to-read-for-fun" pile looks like a college syllabus.  You have always made it to the gym, no matter what.  You are still friends with your college roommates.  I know now that those things don't just happen, they take a real effort.  I watched, and I learned to make sure I keep something just for me, to remember who I was before all these babies.  And those things have rescued me many, many times over.

I can't tell you how often I ask myself how you would handle a situation, especially with my kids, and then try to follow your example.  You are so much better than I am at relaxing and knowing what is important.  I don't remember you ever raising your voice, not once.  Watching you parent Aidan and Indira is one of the greatest gifts of my life, because I get to see you how much you love us, and them.

When I was growing up, Jeanne always used to say "You're just like your father."

I would be so lucky.

Happy Birthday Daddy.  I love you with my whole heart.  You are one of the best men I know.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When I Was a New Wife

I was at a party the other day, and ended up talking for a while to a girl who was about to get married.  She was so sweet and earnest in her anxiety about being a good wife and what that might mean, that she made me remember when Seth and I were newly married.  I had very different ideas of what it meant to be a good wife at that time than I do now, with all my infinite wisdom gathered during eight years of marriage.  (Kidding, people, kidding.  Like Grandpa said, 8 years is a long way away from 65 years like him and Grandma).

Back when I was a new wife:

* I ironed our sheets (yes, really).  I wanted to do everything Martha Stewart said a good housekeeper did.  I thought that she knew everything about running a home.  Now I realize that she is a good businesswoman, not a good home-maker.

* I thought that I was too special to do my husband's laundry (I'm ashamed to admit this, but it was true) or clean his bathroom.  I thought he needed to be responsible for his own needs.  I didn't realize that he was responsible for almost every important thing, outside our house, and that his work allowed me to be responsible for things inside our house, which is exactly where I wanted to be.

* I used to change out our seasonal decorating on the first of every month.  On the dot.

* I thought budgets were for uptight, annoying people who never had any fun and wore ugly clothes.  And yet, despite the money we were making and having several less kids than we do now, we sometimes ran out of money at the end of the month.  Huh.

* I got bored at home sometimes.  BORED.  I am never bored now.  There is almost always something that need my attention.  Sometimes I get restless, or lazy, or I don't want to do the work that needs to be done, but I am never bored.

* I was annoyed when my husband came home 15 minutes "late" for dinner.  Now, during picking and planting, he isn't home for dinner or weekends for weeks at a time.  Lesson learned.

* I thought I was literally always right.  Yes, seriously.  I thought I should always get my way (because I was right.  Obviously).  Now I realize that when we have a difference of opinion, my ultimate goal is a happy life for my family.  Don't get me wrong, if I think my way is best for everyone, I will still make sure Seth knows it.  But back then, when I said "best", what I meant was best for me.

*On that same note, I had no idea how selfish I am until I got married.  Oh my lord, the selfishness.  Poor Seth.  He is not naturally selfish. At all.  He is a patient man.

* I thought people really wanted you to bring fancy food when they asked you to bring a dish to pass.  After a few rounds of things like seared tuna crostini that got politely pushed around the plate, I finally figured out that what people really want is what their mother would have made, just better and fresher.

* I scrubbed my kitchen floor on my hands and knees, even when I was hugely pregnant.  Now I give the kids a couple of Clorox wipes and let them ice skate around.  Good enough is good enough.  Five children will really beat the perfectionism out of you, I promise.

*I was scared my in-laws (the nicest people in the world, I promise) couldn't love me the way I was, because we were so different. (Did I understand this about myself at the time?  Of course not).  So I had a massive chip in my shoulder, and I pretty much dared them to challenge me with my sweeping pronouncements about how Seth and I were going to live our life. And they never did, not once. Thank God they saw through my stupidity and loved me anyway, because they are two of my favorite people in the world, and they are truly my family too now.

It has been an adventure.  :)

Long story short, be gentle with yourselves, new brides.  You will make plenty of mistakes, and you will do plenty just right too.  There is no one way to be a good wife, but there are lots of ways to be the woman your family needs.  You will find your way.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Life in a Country Song

Okay so some of you probably know that despite my city roots, I am a big country music fan.  I thought it would be interesting to compare country song lyrics to my reality here on the farm, so this is Day 1 of a new series.  I'm taking suggestions for other songs, if you get the itch.

Pie is apropos of nothing, except people in the country love pie.

First choice is: "Where I Come From" by Montgomery Gentry.  This song hit number 8 on the Billboard Charts, so obviously it spoke to a lot of people.  But it is accurate?  Official lyrics in black, my commentary in blue.

"Where I Come From"

Don't you dare go runnin' down my little town where I grew up
And I won't cuss your city lights (not true, they still will.  People around here tend to think the city is where you go to get raped and killed.  On Michigan Avenue.)
If you ain't ever took a ride around
And cruised right through the heart of my town
Anything you say would be a lie (Nah, you could take a pretty decent stab at it and get close)
We may live our lives a little slower (Good gravy, yes)
But that don't mean I wouldn't be proud to show ya' (definitely true!)

Where I come from
There's an old farm boy out turning up dirt (Yup.  Everyday.  Toddler boy and country boy heaven).
Where I come from
There's a preacher man in a cowboy shirt (Yes again.  People here don't wear suits much.  Or ever).
Where I come from
When a couple of boys fight in the parking lot
No, nobody's gonna call the cops (Totally 100% true.  Our little town has one officer.  No one would bother to call for a fight that everybody would know all the participants in anyway).
Where I come from

See that door right there, man I swear
It ain't never been locked (we don't even own housekeys.  Seriously).
And I Guarantee that it never will
That old man right there in the rocking chair
At the courthouse square I'll tell you now (there are actual downtowns here, which is awesome)
He could buy your fancy car with hundred dollar bills
Don't let those faded overalls fool ya
He made his million without one day of schoolin' (This took me an embarrassingly long time to learn.  People in Chicago with money are easily identifiable, if you know what you're looking for.  People here, you will never ever know by how they live, what they drive, what they wear....etc.  Make no assumptions)

Where I come from
There's a pickup truck with the tailgate down (yes)
Where I come from
The pine trees are singing a song of the south (not exactly south)
Where I come from
That little white church is gonna have a crowd (always.  It's the first thing people ask, "Where do you go to church?")
Yeah, I'm pretty damn proud of where I come from.

Where I come from
There's a big ole' moon shining down at night (the sky here is incredible, truly).
Where I come from
There's a man done wrong gonna make it right (yup.  If you live in a small town, it will become very important to correct your mistakes, because everyone knows everything).
Where I come from
There's an old farm boy out turning up dirt
Where I come from
There's a preacher man in a cowboy shirt
Where I come from
When a couple of boys fight in the parking lot
No, ain't nobody gonna call the cops

Yeah, that river runs across that Oakland rock
Where I come from
Where I come from

Song accuracy to my real life in a small town: 95%.  Only because we're not from the South.  :)  Nice work, Montgomery Gentry.