30 April 2008

Ruffles, and Red, White and Blue

AnnaBeth's choir director asked that they wear red, white and blue to their next performance. Well, okay. Except that the only red clothing she has is Christmas related, and it's (finally) too warm for that sort of thing. And the only blue she has is denim, which really isn't so much "blue" as it is "denim".

So we decided to make a new skirt. And I figured that AnnaBeth wanted something a little flouncier than an A-line or simple gathered skirt. After much consultation she decided she liked Ottobre 3/2006 #35, which is an extravaganza of ruffles. She thought perhaps we should make some ruffles blue and some red, but I thought it might be nice to find some printed fabric.

A trip to JoAnn's yielded patriotic Hello Kitty (who knew?), as well as some white fabric with stars sprinkled across it.

This is what happens when you cross a need for red, white, and blue with a need for lots of frills:

I had purchased some red ribbon to sew on some of the outer, blue ruffles, but AnnaBeth decided against that. I think she was right, since that would've added too much weight to those ruffles.

This really weighs a ton -- it's got 2 layers. The under skirt is supposed to be white batiste with 2 frills on the bottom. I used white for the upper part, but the starry fabric for the frills. I hemmed the frills with my serger set for a narrow rolled hem, one using red thread and the other using blue. It came out looking sort of like ribbons:

That white fabric was stuffed in a drawer with a price tag of 47 cents per yard. I think it originally belonged to my mother-in-law's mother, who had purchased it way back when. You know, back before we called it "stash" and instead called it "sort of odd hoarding behavior, possibly brought on by surviving the Great Depression".

I'd thought I was being clever by ignoring Ottobre's directions about the size of the elastic in the waist -- I thought they wanted it way too small. But, no, they were right -- the skirt is so heavy that it drags right down onto her hips. But it seems to work in spite of my larger elastic.

I finished it this morning. She's worn in non-stop today. I hope it lasts until her performance, and doesn't end up mud caked or ripped by then.

28 April 2008

"Stitch It Together" Try-It for Brownies

Honestly, this would've been an easier Try-It for us to do at home, but that can't be said for everyone in AnnaBeth's Brownie troop. So, it ended up as a troop project. The girls made doll quilts.

We were instructed to get fabric and cut out 6 squares of 8" by 8", and a backing of 16" by 24" (yes, quick math show that this isn't really correct, as you have seam allowances, but I guess the woman in charge decided it was the easiest way to explain it to everyone, or maybe she didn't feel like doing the math herself -- I never know in these situations). We also purchased some buttons.

Those who were unable to purchase their own fabric had some provided for them.

We happened into a sale at JoAnn's on quilting fabric and buttons.

(Picture is yellow because it was taken on the dining room table in winter.)

At the meetings the girls sewed on the buttons on one square (task #2, Button Collage) and embroidered designs on another square or 2 (task #3, Embroidery). Did I mention that there are about 20 girls in our troop? So, that's 20 kids in 1st through 3rd grade who are trying to figure out how to sew on buttons and how to embroider (and we didn't have hoops, which added to the challenge). And, yeah, we have heavy parental involvement, but an amazing number of the parents have little idea how to sew on a button or how to embroider. It was ... intense. The troop provided the needles, thrjead, scissors, and embroidery floss (I think the floss was donated by someone who had gobs of DMC that the labels had fallen off of; actually, AnnaBeth took some of our from home so she knew she had a color she liked).

After decorating some of the squares with buttons and embroidery, the girls brought all 6 squares to the sewing machines. What sewing machines? Why, the ones lugged in by some of the moms. I took my old Viking, which is absolutely awesome for this task since it has a "low gear" in which you CANNOT sew quickly no matter how much you stomp on the pedal (another plus is its nice carrying case, but a minus is that it weighs about as much as my car). Working closely with the sewing machine mavens, each girl sewed together at least some of her squares. Well, if she wanted to. If she was really timid, she was welcome to just watch while being talked through what was going on. At least, the kids who were with me got talked through it -- my experience teaching Thalia and AnnaBeth to sew merged with my years of library reference work teaching university freshmen how to use the online card catalog, and I was in the ZONE about explaining what we were doing and why. (task #6, Patch It All Together) The seams were ironed flat by the adults; someone had brought in an iron, and a little ironing station was set up.

The troop provided batting. The completed 6 squares were laid on top of the batting and the backing, and sewn together (sometimes by Brownies, sometimes not) leaving a gap for turning. All quilts were turned, and the girls were given needles and thread to whip the gap closed (task #5, Sew What?)

Okay, admittedly some of these tasks aren't spot on how they're written in the Try-It book, but we took at least 3 meetings to do this, and the kids really did work quite a bit on stitching skills.

A finished product.

Thalia thought it was such a cool concept that she got some fabric to make one, too.

23 April 2008

And One Finished for Me

Long ago I became interested in A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver Van DeMille. I found the online discussion of the book tantalizing. A new look at homeschooling! Woohoo! It sounded like it was changing lives.

But, of course, I was too cheap to actually purchase a copy of the book. I found out what I could about the contents and the author, and had to be satisfied with that.

A few weeks ago I happened to look up Thomas Jefferson Education in our library's catalog. Hey, they had it! I placed a hold, and eagerly awaited its arrival.

And last week it finally came! And I got to read it! And it was ... really mediocre. Sigh. All my hopes for revolutionary thought were dashed. It was nothing new, packaged in a book that seemed like a cross between an extremely long magazine article, and a brochure for George Wythe College, which is the non-accredited school the author runs.

So. Set a good example for your kids by studying and learning new things. Classics are good. not that he ever defines what he means by classics. Mentors are good. Apparently we should all strive to become statesmen, although I don't recall that he ever explained what that meant, either. George Wythe College is (according to DeMille) a sparkling example of higher education.

I did get a kick out of this quote from page 125: "We are inundated with information, but most of it does us very little good." Umm, yep, that pretty much sums up my thoughts on this book.

22 April 2008

Another One Bites the Dust

I will never again teach First Language Lessons.

It's done. Finished. History.

Two kids worth of use, and it's looking rather battered. The protective coating is peeling right off of the cover. It has that look that a book gets when it's pulled off and replaced on a shelf a couple hundred times.

I'll admit that it's been incredibly boring at times. For some reason, it didn't seem quite so bad the second time through, though. Perhaps that's because I knew what to expect. Perhaps it's because I didn't have a toddler demanding my attention, leaving me feeling frazzled about getting through all the lessons in the shortest time possible.

We added Montessori grammar games. We made the chants into hand clap games and dances. We skipped lessons, particularly at the beginning. We sang the poems for which we knew a tune (All Things Beautiful, for example).

Overall, I've decided that I like slightly scripted lessons. They're a nice change of pace. When I'm feeling crummy I can follow the script, but when I'm perky I can go off in my own direction.

For the record, I think the book's cover picture is weird. I'll not be missing that at all.

16 April 2008

Homeschool Snapshot


Thalia decided she needed to work on fractions, percents, and decimals before moving into a pre-Algebra program. We got the Key to. ... series for her to work on, and she's been going through the books on her own. She likes the incremental pace; I think she also gets a kick out of how easy some of it is. I don't think she's learning anything new, but she's getting plenty of practice on concepts. RightStart was great on explanations, and then gave just a few interesting problems to work on -- Thalia apparently needed gobs of practice problems, which she's getting now.

In the meantime, I've been looking over pre-Algebra programs, and have decided that some of the main features of them are working on fractions, decimals, and percents, and making sure those are solid before moving on to Algebra. I think we'll plunge into Algebra once she's done with these books.

AnnaBeth continues in RightStart C. We are at about lesson 95. She's doing well with memorizing multiplication tables. Not that RightStart calls it that -- at this point she's just learning to skip count really, really quickly, according to the program. She's working on 4 digit subtraction, which seems to be going smoothly.


Thalia continues with Latin for Children, which she adores. She eagerly awaits Greek for Children, convinced that the people at Classical Academic Press will put together the Best Program Ever since they have the magic touch in language programs.

AnnaBeth was doing Prima Latina, but ... oh, lordy, those Memoria Press language programs just kill me. I dread getting out the book. And AnnaBeth wasn't exactly pushing for it. At first she was so eager to learn Latin that she insisted, and I just sort of went along with her enthusiasm. But bit by bit that enthusiasm eroded with the onslaught of B.O.R.I.N.G. lessons. Latin seems to be on hold for this child for a few more weeks.

Foreign Language

Thalia also continues in Rosetta Stone Spanish. She's bored with it. I've been looking for something else to mix it with, but so far haven't found anything that seems appropriate. What she'd really like if Spanish for Children by Classical Academic Press, since she considers them the source of all Perfect Language Programs. Maybe we'll take a look at it when it's published.

AnnaBeth is taking another try at French. A couple of years ago we tried The Easy French. Since she didn't yet know how to read we simply listened to the tapes. Not much stuck, frankly. We just started the program again, this time with reading and writing. AnnaBeth is excited about this. I'll be interested to see how well we learn to read French with the little Spalding-type phonogram cards they provide.

Reading and Writing

We just got our copy of Lightning Literature 7 last week, and Thalia immediately started in. I got a copy of the Harold Bloom's book Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children from the library so she could read Riki Tiki Tavi. She keeps taking the book and wandering off with it, reading other things. Sheesh, that child loves to read. She also likes Lightning Lit, it seems. I think she likes having a mental checklist of what all needs to be covered, and being able to see how she's progressing; having a workbook provides that.

Analytical Grammar is on order. Right now she's not doing any other grammar program; way back when we dumped Rod and Staff 5th grade and never replaced it with anything. It's time to focus on grammar again. Simply doing dictation and looking up rules as needed really didn't seem to help with usage rules, either. I think Analytical Grammar gets into some usage. I hope so. We'll see.

In the meantime, AnnaBeth is 4 lessons away from completing First Language Lessons. She's very excited. We already have a copy of the Level 3 book and workbook ready to start next week. And she's very excited about that, too. Yes, both my kids are excited that their new programs contain workbooks.

AnnaBeth also is working on cursive in the Handwriting Without Tears workbook, which she really enjoys. She does this pretty much on her own. Every so often I'm supposed to come up with a list of words for her to write in cursive. That's pretty much the extent of my involvement.

No one works on spelling on a regular basis.

We are in the final week of Ambleside Year 1, which we've been using for read alouds. We continue to slog through all of the LIttle House books. We are currently in The Long Winter, with its continuous blizzards and continuous discussion of whether or not the train can make it through the Tracy Cut. Why did these people ever move from The Big Woods? Life was good back in The Big Woods; they should've stayed there.


Science is a motley assortment of classes at the Science Center, the zoo, and Girl Scout badge work. We're trying to come up with something more systematic for next year for Thalia. She'll be too old for Science Center classes, and the Cadette Interest Projects aren't so science-y (insert snide comment here about how Girl Scouts comes up with what to put in their books -- use your imagination). So. Middle School science -- the bane of so many homeschoolers. Umm. Well. Ahem. Moving on.


Let's just call our history program "interest led". "Erratic" would also be a good word to use. Thalia is interested in Greeks and Vikings. AnnaBeth is interested in Egyptians. So sometimes we read about these things, or listen to audio books, or watch programs about them. And sometimes we don't. Okay, moving on.

Oh! Wait! Those Ambleside readings have a bunch of history! Okay, then, we've been doing history of Britain, as well as some Vikings and some early Christian church.

Other Stuff

Piano. We have an excellent piano teacher. The kids are learning so much from her. Heck, I am learning so much from her.

Phys Ed. Last week feature workshops with John Carey. Who'd've thought we'd be doing workshops with a World Champion who starred in Lord of the Dance. Irish Dance is so weird. AnnaBeth also continues to work her way through the YMCA swimming program.

Hmm, I think that's what we do for homeschool these days. It's hard to say -- the homeschool stuff is so embedded in life that you can't really say "okay this is school" and "this over here is just living our lives". But these are the things I keep track of in our notebooks in order to comply with Missouri homeschool law.

07 April 2008

The Little Sock That Nobody Loved

In February I cast on a sock for MrV, using KnitPicks Shine in Cocoa and Yarn Harlot's Earl Grey Pattern. At first it was fun -- the yarn is a wonderful chocolate brown, the pattern is easy, the knitting just flowed along.

Then March came, Gloomy, wet, cold March. Life revolved around delivering Girl Scout cookies (in snow, rain, and cold) and schlepping kids to dance classes and performances (in rain and cold). We had to put one of our cats down. I got sick. March tried to suck away my will to live. It succeeded in sucking away my will to knit.

But April eventually arrived, and I made it to the toe of the sock:

Before I grafted the toe I had MrV try it on.

Question 1: "What am I going to wear these with?" Uh, I thought the brown would go with those brown pants you really like. But, honestly, now that it's knit up I don't much like how it looks with the pant fabric.

Question 2: "They seem sort of short in the cuff. Can you make this part longer?" Now, these socks were knit from the cuff down. I have several thoughts swimming through my head at this point. One is that I think knitting socks from the cuff down is stupid, I'm not sure why I did it, and the fact that MrV wants me to add to the cuff proves that every knitter who gets sucked into this method is an idiot. But, let's face it, everyone knows that I would have no problems with the concept of cutting off the ribbing of the cuff, putting the stitches on needles, and knitting up to make the cuff longer. Then again, I really don't like this sock, loaded as it is with memories of gloomy, cold, wet March. And, finally, there isn't enough yarn to make this cut-and-knit-the-other-way worthwhile. So I answer, "No." I tell him they are knit from the cuff down, and imply that is the fault of the universal obsession with knitting socks from the cuff down that is the problem.

Question 3: "Are you mad that I don't like them?" No, I'm grateful I found out before I knit the second sock. If I'd knit both sock and then watched them languish, then I'd be upset. Particularly because I don't especially like this sock, either.

So, what to do with the rest of the yarn? What to cast on next, to wipe away the bad taste of this sock? Alas, I have no time to play around with yarn. I'm schlepping kids to special dance workshops taught by Mr. Famous Dancer every. single. day. And doing the laundry associated with all of this dancing.

But today is a bright and sunny day, the dance workshop will be over in a few more days, and I have a box of bamboo yarn to play with. Life moves on, better than before. It just doesn't move on wearing this sock, which shall be frogged.

02 April 2008

Theater Badge

I ended up being in charge of the Theater Badge for Thalia's Junior Girl Scout troop this spring.

I looked into taking the troop on a field trip to a theater department in a high school or at the YMCA in west county, but the trips didn't really sound all that exciting for the amount of time, trouble, and money to get the kids to the place. Also, Thalia pointed out that this crowd really likes to do crafts, and thought we should make sure we had a chance to make masks (option 1 in the badge book).

So we ended up doing the badge at our usual meeting site, which meant that I actually had to be in charge of everything. Me, leading theater exercises? Actually, it turned out fine -- this is a great group of girls.

We used the theater exercises in the badge book -- Mirror Mimic, Character Charades, Belt it Out, and How You Say It (I modified this to be a Sentence Game). I mixed in some other theater games like Zip Zap Zop and Human Orchestra. I got a lot of ideas from the book On Stage: Theatre Games and Activities for Kids.

Next up we worked on the Mix It Up, Make It Up activity of the badge. This is a costuming activity. I had brought a couple of big bags of cloth -- sheets, capes, old curtains, fabric remnants -- as well as belts, a huge bag of safety pins, and other costume-y odds and ends. I announced that we were going to play Project Runway -- working in pairs, they were to design a costume for a fairy tale, then have one person of the pair walk it down the "runway" while the other described what the character was. I assigned the pairs (on advice from Thalia), and the girls got to work. There was much giggling, and some very creative outfits were produced. The teams switched roles, then, for another go at the runway.

Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for -- I passed out the paper plates and announced that we were making masks. Aside from the usual markers, glue sticks, construction paper, tape and yarn, I had raided our home craft supplies to come up with feathers, crepe paper streamers, sequins, pipe cleaners, and random shapes cut from foam sheets (I really don't know why we own some of this stuff, which represents several years of accumulation).

The girls cut holes in the masks for their eyes, I tied yarn on the sides so they could tie the masks onto their heads, and they all started creating.

These are just the ones from Thalia and AnnaBeth (who had tagged along). The group had an amazing assortment -- they showed fantastic creativity. We had a bird, a Yeti, a Greek mask representing Dionysius. Some girls worked the entire time on one mask; others finished quickly, and I suggested they make another.

Once all of the masks were finished we sat in a circle and they introduced their masks -- they put them on, and acted like the character of the mask.

Overall I thought it was a pretty successful meeting.