Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Washington, DC, here we come!

California State Finals Competition of National History Day, held the first week of May in Sacramento...

Ben researched, analyzed, and wrote a 2,500-word historical research paper on this year's theme: "The Individual in History: Actions and Legacies." The title of Ben's paper is "Caravels, Gold, and Holy Wars: The Actions and Legacies of Prince Henry the Navigator - Tradition and Reality." He did an excellent job when he finally got down to it!
This is a picture of Ben just before he went into his judging interview. His older sister, Deedee, who won the Paper Category of the California History Day competition last year with her paper on the White Rose group, took charge of getting Ben to his interview room in the huge maze of hotel hallways since I was busy with the group of drama students I'd brought to compete. Deedee talked with Ben about his paper for half an hour to "psych him up" for the interview process. Apparently, her methods (which, I modestly proclaim, *I* pioneered last year on her) worked wonderfully well... because Ben won!
Here's Ben (w/ his proud Mom) after receiving the Gold Medal for his paper and also a plaque for winning the Arab and Islamic History Special Award. On my serious boy, this is a *thrilled* look, btw. ;-) But even more excitement lies just ahead...
Next week, Deedee, Caiti, Ben, and I will be driving cross-country to DC for the National History Day competition at the University of Maryland, held June 13-18. We're also planning to do a lot of fun sight-seeing while we're there, even staying over a couple extra days. We're considering this a planning expedition, too, as the whole family (well, most of us anyway...) will be driving back to DC in late August. We're going to drop Deedee off at George Washington University for her first year of college, and then we're going to do all the sites and museums in DC (ok, a *lot* of them). We also intend to venture over to Colonial Williamsburg, visit with friends in Virginia (hi, Mel -- get ready!), and hopefully, stop at some interesting places on our drive home to California.
But first comes the National History Day Competition! Whether Ben makes it to the final round or even wins doesn't matter -- just going is an honor and such a blast! Deedee and I had so much fun last year, and I know Ben will be invigorated and inspired to meet all these other kids from around the country who love history and love learning. The atmosphere is amazing -- almost electric in its intensity at times. ;-)
While we're busy at the Univ. of Maryland, Deedee will be going through Orientation Week at GWU (nice of them to coordinate the schedules of these two events for us, eh?), and Caiti is taking a little vacation from Stanford and planning to enjoy herself immersed in the scholarly stuff at the Library of Congress.... When we get back to California, we'll be starting with the daily treks to the city pool (where Paul, Deedee, and Shannon work as lifeguard and swimming teachers, respectively), and then in July, we'll be heading off on a journey through the Gold Rush towns before we start on our in-depth study of the Civil War.
Hope you all are planning some fun adventures for this summer, too! Life is too short to sit home and watch TV. (Though I'm sure none of you waste time doing that much...)
Take care --

Friday, May 29, 2009

Memorial Day

Monday, May 25, 2009

Clam Beach on the far northern
California Coast

We decided to brave the two hour and forty-five minute drive on the steep, twisting, winding road through the mountains so we could spend a couple of hours at the awesome Pacific Ocean... before driving back home again! Clearly, Audrey had fun!

Waiting for the waves to come....

Deedee and Audrey enjoyed dancing in the water!

My two "look-alikes" were very much in tune with the music of the ocean...

Mom poses with her wonderful livewire Audrey...

...and then big sister Deedee holds Audrey up to smile for Mom.

Ben and Audrey had fun chasing the water and building sandcastles.

Audrey followed Ben around, doing whatever he did for a while.

Megan was carsick all the way to the ocean, but once she arrived, she loved it. The coldness of the water didn't seem to bother her at all. She just kept running in and out of the waves.

Here she is again laughing and enjoying her afternoon. ;-)

Jim was the first one to the water once we parked; he immediately ran all the way down to the beach and into the ocean up to his neck. Wasn't long before even his head was soaked!

Obviously, Ellie Rose was having a good time. She and Jim played for an hour and a half in the waves and finally came out drenched and COLD, but smiling!

All in all, the long drive through the switch-backs was worth it, and we had a blast! I'm sure we'll do it again soon -- well, maybe not that soon!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

To tell you the truth...

... I considered going back and carefully editing that Oct. 22nd entry to read tomorrow's date: Dec. 22nd. I should know better than to publicly announce my firm intentions to start doing something -- like revamping and writing more regularly in my blog.


I really have been busy -- mostly with Drama. All of the performances came off we
ll this month, and our production of Our Town was a big success. Shannon (as "Emily") looked beautiful in her wedding dress, but it was sad to watch her die.

Here are Jim (as Wally), Ben (as Professor Willard), Shannon (as Emily), Caleb C. (as George), and Deedee (as the Backstage Person Extraordinaire).

I must say, the youngest
kids' play, Saving the Barefoot Kingdom, was the surprise hit though. Especially the cute little dragon-boy.

(Jim is the old man in the green cape below.)

And here is one of our middle groups -- they performed a medieval comedy called, Because of a Fishbone, written several years ago by Deedee's best friend Annie (pictured with her just below)

As usual, Deedee was a huge help to me. (This is her with Annie -- looking both crazy and exhausted at the end of a long night.) I could never do any of the drama programs without Deedee. Which is why next year is looming so dauntingly.... but I do love our drama kids, and I'll post more pictures of them later now that I actually understand how to get them to my blog here. (I never said I was technologically talented.)

This week has been full with finally getting the tree and a few decorations up so that it looks like Christmas around here, and sending out some cards with a family newsletter, and (mostly!) helping Deedee with her many college applications (all coming due very soon...).

Caiti and Paul are home visiting for a while, so the house is full to the ceilings (nearly literally) -- and I must admit that it's also quite loud. With laughter and jokes and more laughter and shared memories and lots and lots of food and intense political debates and more laughter and more food and ... yeah, like that.

Hey, we even had some snow this week -- for a whole hour or so on three different days before it melted! Ellie Rose made a wonderful (actually, pathetically small and smooshed together and half-dirt, but pretend I didn't say that...) snowman. I give her extra points for ingenuity and optimism.

One of my blog categories is A Simpler Life. That's because a "simpler" life is something I strive to live. Hence, my mode of homeschooling -- the relaxed style. I've read books upon books on the advantages of simplicity. I believe in it. I long for it. And sometimes I live it. Usually.

But sometimes the simple life has heaps of deadlines and detailed requirements thrust upon it, and we have no choice.

For there to be major drama productions, there must be costume fittings, technical adjustments, and dress rehearsals. For there to be college educations and scholarships (at least in this family), there must be a season of tests and essays, auditions and apps. For there to be happy kids in a crowded house, there must be plenty of food, and thus, mother must routinely visit the grocery store.

But there are other times we make a choice to stray from the simple path for various foolish reasons. I am just as guilty as anyone else despite my self-proclaimed love of the "simpler" life. Yet knowing our weakness is more than half the battle, for we can only fight against what we know. Sometimes I'm tempted to buy just one more gift, plan just one more activity, say "yes" to just one more request on my time and sanity, but then I remind myself to step back and evaluate.

Am I being who I am called to be? Am I doing what I am called to do? Am I following the path that has been laid before me?

Because really -- it's just that simple.

Have a blessed Christmas season, friends.


A Recipe For You to Try....


3 Cups unbleached flour (I use at least half whole wheat)
3 tsp. baking powder (non-aluminum)
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 Cups brown sugar
3 Tbsp. instant coffee, dry
1/2 Cup butter
1/2 Cup shortening (non-hydrogenated)
1 Cup milk (nonfat)
1/8 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs, slightly beaten

(Sometimes I replace some of the butter/shortening with liquid Butter Buds or "Lighter Bake" -- which is made from prune butter -- or with applesauce.)

This is supposed to be a very tall coffee cake, so it is baked in a small pan (8 or 9" square). However, I usually double the recipe and bake it in a 9x13 pan to feed my hungry crowd. You can also make the original recipe amount and bake it in 9 x 13 pan and just have a shorter coffee cake. I *do* think it tastes better when it is taller for some reason. The best thing about this coffee cake (other than its scrumptious taste!) is the velvety texture -- very different and very good.

Mix the 6 dry ingredients together. Cut in the butter and shortening with 2 knives or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles pea-sized lumps. **Set aside** 1 Cup of this dry mixture for topping.

Now mix well together the milk, baking soda, and eggs. Stir into the dry mixture all at once with a wooden spoon just until combined -- don't overmix. Pour into greased pan, and sprinkle with reserved topping mixture.

Bake at 350 F for 50 to 65 minutes, depending on the pan and amount of coffee cake you made. Judge by the color (rich dark brown) and the usual "knife" test (coming out clean from center poke).

Enjoy! It's a little messy, but it will melt in your mouth.....

Favorite Read-Alouds for our Family..... in no particular order, and some are for older children...

  • Little House series (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  • American Girls History series (various authors)
  • Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss)
  • Little Britches (Ralph Moody)
  • Mama's Way (Thyra Ferre Bjorn)
  • The Time Travelers (originally titled -- Gideon: The Cutpurse) (Linda Buckley-Archer)
  • The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society (Stewart Trenton)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (Bk. 2 -- Stewart Trenton)
  • Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyan)
  • Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
  • Deltora Quest series (Emily Rodda)
  • Cheaper By the Dozen (Frank Gilbreth and Elizabeth Gilbreth-Carey)
  • Chronicles of Narnia series (C.S. Lewis)
  • A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle)
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Rick Riordan)
  • Lord of the Rings series (J.R. Tolkien)

Our American History Journey

After years of studying world history intensively (while inevitably reading American historical fiction and biographies on the side because we just couldn't help ourselves), two years ago we decided to actually tackle our country's history from start to finish in a more "formal" manner. Of course, "formal" doesn't mean much around here.... ;-) Mostly it denotes that we have a chronological outline to follow. However, it does not preclude tangents. We love tangents. Fortunately for us, (for many reasons), we live in the United States, and our country's history is relatively short -- so there is plenty of time for those interesting tangents!

Also fortunately for us, we have found fantastic guidelines and enrichment ideas in the American Story themed units from WinterPromise.

I discovered the WinterPromise company a few years ago when it first started, and I love it! It's exactly the type of curriculum I'd write if I was publishing one myself. ;-)

Actually, for many years, I've cobbled together just such a program for my own family. I've gathered what I consider the "best of the best" from many sources to make our learning interesting, thought-provoking, and fun. Now, WinterPromise does most of the work for me. Though, of course, being who I am, I can't resist tweaking things around a bit and adding this and that.

Still, WinterPromise is the only "curriculum" I recommend to homeschoolers who are not completely satisfied and excited with what they are currently doing. It's the kind of program that can be used in entirety or just in bits and pieces for enrichment. Plus, WP engages every learning style, and that element alone makes learning something all kids can enjoy!

So, as to American History, we began our journey in the fall of '07 with the explorers to the New World, and in May '08, we came to the end of our first homeschool year in a very long time (in other words, since the older kids were little...) that was focused on American history. It was enlightening, and it was great fun. We have a lot of wonderful memories, pictures, and stories.

This past year ('08/'09), we spent September through November studying the election process in an in-depth manner to coincide with the landmark campaign and election of our first African-American president. In December, we spent some time on the Gold Rush days of California, and then when January arrived, we decided to detour a bit. I made a big commitment to become the official National History Day County Coordinator, and 5 of my kids chose to compete in various categories. In addition, I actively recruited homeschooled students from my drama groups to participate with us in History Day.

The National History Day competition encourages children (6th-12th grades, and in CA, 4th/5th grades, too) to learn to research and analyze history as they prepare different sorts of projects (papers, documentaries, posters, exhibits, websites, or performances) for their county, state, and even National competitions. There is a different theme each year, and this year's theme is "The Individual in History: Actions and Legacies." I ended up with 20 students participating in our county's HD event, and it was so exciting. The kids chose to study the following individuals in history:

Samuel Morse
Louis Braille
Joan of Arc
Laura Bridgman
Helen Keller
Elizabeth Blackwell
Gen. George S. Patton
Amy Carmichael
Sarah Emma Edmonds
John James Audubon
Janusz Korczak
Gen. George H. Thomas
John Hart
Prince Henry the Navigator

Do you know who all these people are?! Do you really understand the legacies they have left to this world? These kids certainly do!

Several members of our county's team made it to the Finalist level at the California State competition, and a couple won special awards, and my son Ben actually won the gold medal in the Historical Paper category and will be competing at the National level in less than two weeks!

So this past semester was given over to establishing our county's History Day program. A couple of my own kids' "individuals" fit into the time frame we had reached at that point in our history study... mid-to-late nineteenth century. My 9 yo's Poster was on Louis Braille -- though not American, he did have a profound effect on America with his Braille language via Dr. Samuel Gridley-Howe who brought the 6-dot system back to the U.S. to use at his School for the Blind (Laura Bridgman being the first student he taught using Braille's methods). Interestingly, Jim's group drama about Helen Keller meshed perfectly with his Louis Braille studies, and we were all surprised to learn there was a *lot* we didn't know about the famous "miracle" child.

My 11yo Ellie Rose did her individual drama performance on Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman doctor, so that fit in perfectly with our studies, as we came to realize more fully how difficult such pioneer work was in the second half of the 1800s. We also learned that there was more than one side to the whole women's rights issue and found that a fascinating tangent to explore.

Ben's paper carried us back in time a bit to mid-to-late fifteenth century Portugal and Africa where Henry the Navigator was carrying out his military crusades and sponsoring exploration expeditions. Through his research, Ben discovered (and then enlightened us to the fact!) that those expeditions were actually what directly led to the explosion of the Atlantic Slave Trade in Europe.

Shannon's individual drama focused on Amy Carmichael and her work with the children in India (especially the temple girls). Her research highlighted for us what it means to take a stand against the status quo (in this case, both the caste system of India and the "traditional" ways the European missionaries of that time interactede with the people of India) in order to do what is right and best for people in dire need.

Deedee's paper on Janusz Korczak, the famous Polish Jewish pediatrician who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw ghettoes during WWII and was executed alongside his children at the Treblinka concentration camp, also inspired us to really think about what it means to make a difference in this world. Korczak's many books on children's rights live on to proclaim to the world that children are people NOW and deserve respect and fair treatment.

I will continue to coordinate the History Day local contest each year, and my kids will continue to participate in various categories, but there won't be the same need to give it so much time as the county program is now up and running. Therefore, we can get back to the second half of our American History studies! I'm really looking forward to starting things off with a bang as we take two great road trips.

On our first trip, in July, we'll drive through the old Gold Rush cities and experience firsthand what we studied last December. Then in late August, we'll be driving back to Washington, DC. to drop Deedee off at George Washington University for her first year of college. We plan to stick around a while and see all the memorials and museums, soaking in all that glorious American history. We'll also head over to Colonial Williamsburg for a couple of living history days before starting back home (though I hope to make some interesting stops on our way back to California, too...).

As I have time, I plan to post some of the activities, websites, and books we use and love this coming year in relation to our study of American history -- picking up with the Civil War in September and carrying on through WWII by the end of May, if all goes as planned. I will *try* to do this on regular monthly basis! We will be using the WinterPromise American Story 2 as our core guide, with supplements from all over the place, including the following great website:

Please check back regularly if you are interested in updates on our progress, and feel free to comment or email with any specific questions you have about our studies.

Hope this helps or inspires someone else out there to wade into history with relish!