Welcome to…

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For the past few months, I have been thinking it would be fun to name our homeschool.  When we are asked where our children attend school, we answer, “We homeschool” or “They do school at home”.  While there is nothing wrong with not having a named school, I thought naming our school would give the kids some pride in attending a school they helped to name.

Coming up with a name hasn’t been easy.  We wanted a name that was symbolic of our family and values, and that had a tie to our faith and home (since it’s the physical location of the school).  I put the naming project aside for most of the fall simply due to busyness and lack of inspiration.

Today, we were finishing up our math work and I felt we should try to brainstorm a few names together and see if anything stuck out.  Our list included Chicken Academy (J) and Monster Truck School (C), among others.  When I told the kids I wanted the name to reflect something about our family and home, C said “tree, we have lots of trees”.  And as it turned out, the perfect name was right outside the window to our school room.

When we moved into our house last year, I was certain the tree outside our living room was dead.  The bark was peeling off everywhere and it had a large crack down the middle.  But, come spring to my amazement, big beautiful leaves appeared and it was one of our favorite trees to picnic under.  We had some friends over in the early fall and when seeing the tree, Mr. Friend said it looked like we had a sycamore tree.  The peeling bark is just the way sycamores grow and wasn’t because the tree was unhealthy.  Hearing sycamore made the kids and adults remember the story of Zaccheus, who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus over the crowds (Luke 19).

So today, as we looked out at that tree, the idea for Sycamore Academy was born.  And with it, a school moto: planting seeds of learning, rooted in faith and love.  When I think of teaching my children, the idea of growth and image of seeds and trees often comes to mind. While we are planting the seeds, it will be up to them to continue to grow in knowledge, kindness, compassion, determination, and faith after their few years under our roof have passed.  And it couldn’t be more fitting that the sycamore tree helped a man see Jesus and come to love him, a hope we have for our children as well.

We still have to get N’s vote before we can finalize the name, but I am pretty sure he will love it. I am hoping to design a school logo for a print for the school room and shirts for the family.  And now, I am off to make lunch for the students and headmistress of Sycamore.  Have a wonderful day!

-L

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Lessons from the Kitchen

I consider myself very blessed when it comes to food. I come from a line of gardeners and cooks.  Many of my childhood memories center on the family kitchen. My siblings and I used to lay on the wood floor of the kitchen while my mom made dinner and sang opera, which was funny when we were small and slightly embarrassing as we got older ( I now subject my children to the same). Holiday meals revolved around the making of delicacies like pierogi, sour mushroom soup, and pork pie.  Bowls of blackberries we picked ourselves would be covered in milk and sugar and baked into cobbler.  In the summer, fresh salsa from veggies we grew was a family favorite. My dad would start his hot pepper plants in the windows of our family room in cold PA winters and watch over them like they were his babies.

From a fairly young age, my mom encouraged us to help in the kitchen while she slowly taught us the recipes that her mother had taught her and meals that were staples on our dining room table.  To this day, my husband’s favorite recipe is my mom’s chicken Marsala and no matter how hard I try, it’s just never as good as hers, though I think I am getting close.

Knowing how to grow and cook my own food is one of the best lessons my family taught me.  Now that my children are getting a little older, we have started some kitchen traditions of our own.  Tuesday is baking day at our house.  Now that we are on our more relaxed December homeschool schedule (which I LOVE LOVE LOVE), we have a little more time in the afternoon for fun projects.  I have tried to balance outings with fun stay at home activities like baking and crafts.  C and J look forward to baking time every week.  Muffins were the recipe of the week, banana and blueberry orange oat.

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In addition to Baking Day, C and J are now “in charge” of Friday dinners.  They pick the menu, write the list, go shopping ( with me of course), and help with the cooking.  J is only 4 but she is a great helper with measuring, mixing, and clean up.  C is 6 and I have started to let him do some careful cutting and helping to cook at the range.

These are some of the lessons we’re learning in the kitchen:

Math-On Tuesdays, we take our Math book work light because I know we are going to bake.  With fractions, conversions, weight, counting items to go in recipes, we are learning how math applies in everyday life.  C will now tell me how many times we need to fill the 1/2 cup measuring cup if we need 3 cups.  As part of our Classical Conversations  curriculum, both kids have memorized some basic unit of measurement conversions ( i.e. 3 tsp =1 Tbsp).  I love when they can make the connection to their memory work in the kitchen (I need to do a whole post about CC when I have time!).

Science-Baking has never been my strong point because it’s so precise.  I am a bit of a messy cook and love coming up with new recipes and combinations of flavors.  Cooking is very forgiving,  baking, not so much.  But it’s been so fun to teach the kids about why you need a certain amount of salt and sugar to help activate the yeast to make the bread rise.  It’s always good to have a recipe fail once in awhile so we can hypothesize about what went wrong and how we can make changes for next time.

Vocabulary and Talk time-The kitchen has a vocabulary all it’s own.  Words like “zest” are best learned in the actual zesting.  We also have lots of time for questions and answers and reading while our items bake or cook.

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Life skills-This one is actually the most important in my mind.  I am glad to be able to give my kids a rigorous academic education.  But it’s more important to me that they succeed in the world as independent adults than which college they get into or profession they pursue.  When you cook your own food, you gain a grasp of where food comes from and basic economics.  The kids help me price compare at the store to find the best prices on the ingredients we need.  I can also show them how much more economical and healthy it is to make our own baked goods then buying them at the store at a high mark up and full of preservatives (not saying we never buy premade cookies, but you get the point).

My kids are learning to buy fresh ingredients that our best benefit our bodies.  Ever since they learned about beta carotene in carrots, they always mention their improved eyesight when eating them, which makes me laugh. They are really hoping it will eventually lead to night vision.  I don’t have the heart to correct that yet :).

 They learn about how some things in life work best in an order when following a recipe.  And one of my favorite lessons yet, resourcefulness, came up yesterday when we were out of baking powder and had to look up how to make our own (baking soda and cream of tartar, easy peasy).

If you want to take the learning to a whole new level, plant a garden.  We spend the winter months pouring over seed catalogs and choosing which varieties of vegetables we will plant.  My husband makes scaled drawings of the garden space and where we will plant each crop. The kids loved checking our seeds each day to see if they’d sprouted. There is nothing like going outside and choosing items for dinner from your yard, for kids and adults alike.  Even at 32, I still find so much wonder in a tiny seed that grows into a mighty tree of kale or unruly vines of pumpkin.  Growing our own food is such a gift from start to finish.

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There is nothing like food made with time together and love, two precious commodities.  I hope these lessons will stick with my boys and girl as they go out into the world with the ability to nourish the families they make.

-L

Keeping the Holidays Simple and Meaningful

Just like many years before this, December 1st has arrived and I am in disbelief that another year has nearly come and gone.  We’ve already had our first snow, so the holiday spirit arrived early and we’ve been enjoying lots of hot cocoa while Christmas carols play in the background.

I am always so excited for the Christmas holiday season.  For me, each November brings memories of laughing family members, delicious foods made from scratch by the hands of my grandmothers, mother, and aunts. Playing cards with 3 generations after the Thanksgiving meal. Hanging ornaments on the tree and retelling all the stories surrounding each one.  Watching Christmas specials on TV.  Making Christmas cookies with my mom and carefully packaging them to deliver to neighbors and friends.  Candlelit church services and driving around to see all the homes sparkling with lights.

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Now that I have my own little family, making memories like these is very important to me.  I want my children to have holiday memories filled with family, friends, laughter, and experiences.  Not gifts.  Now, I enjoy getting a gift just as much as anyone else.  But gifts have become the focus of a season meant for reflection and thanksgiving.  And you’ll notice something missing from the list of my memories above.  I have almost no recollection of the gifts I received as a child.  There are a few special Christmas gifts I remember, like Rudolph aka “Rudy” the red-nosed tabby cat I received for Christmas when I was 5.  But for the most part, the gifts are not in my memories.  Because gifts were never the focus of the holiday for my family growing up, and they aren’t for my family now that I’m grown.  With the holiday season now upon us, I thought I would share some ways we are trying to keep the real meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas alive in our family.

Keep the focus on thanks…

For the Thanksgiving holiday, we have started a few family traditions to keep our focus on being thankful for all we have.  We ask the kids to name one thing they are thankful for each night before their prayers.  I can tell when they are really tired, because the answer is always “our house” or “Mom and Dad”.  These are great things to be thankful for.  But occasionally they really blow me away with their answers like when one child said they were thankful they knew how to read or thankful we gave them a brother.  This simple and quick routine keeps our minds on giving thanks for what we have, not coveting what we don’t.

Keeping with that theme, we don’t shop on Black Friday or Thanksgiving.  I know the argument can be made that you can save lots of money on gifts you will give to those you love.  But it just doesn’t sit well with me that we have made a holiday celebrating consumerism exactly one day after we are supposed to be thankful for all we have.  I don’t agree with retailers being open on Thanksgiving or the wee hours of Friday, so I choose not to buy things during that time.  Yesterday, I asked the cashier at Target if she had to work Friday. Her response, “Yes and Thursday night”.  Her tone was not happy when saying this. We talked about how it took time away from enjoying a day with her family and she wished stores weren’t open Thursday.  No great deal is worth this in my opinion.  And for those who are wondering, we don’t shop online those days either.  It’s really not that hard to take a 2 day hiatus from buying things.  It also keeps our lives simpler.  I recycle the Black Friday flyers before they even come in the house and delete the emails without reading them.  Same goes for the toy catalogs. It’s a time saver I am happy to have.

And giving…

Our biggest holiday challenges revolve around gift giving and receiving. We are trying to find ways to limit the gifts coming in and to make wise decisions about the gifts we give.  There is a lot of money spent in the last two months of the year.  It’s heartbreaking to read of the credit card debt people go into over the holidays.  All for gifts that will likely be forgotten by this time next year.   My husband and I forgo getting each other gifts most years and have a special date instead.  We encourage relatives to donate to our children’s college fund or help pay for an experience like a zoo trip, museum outing, baseball game, etc. in lieu of another toy. We do realize gift giving can bring great joy, but it must be kept in check. Because we don’t want to be completely hard-line about no toys, we ask grandparents to limit gifts to a “want, a need, and a read”.  Three gifts because that is the number Jesus received from the wise men.  Our children have been more than happy with the few gifts they receive.  We also put more emphasis on fun family activities during the holidays like baking, visiting family, driving to see light displays in our jammies with hot cocoa filled Thermos, and remembering where we got each ornament on our tree (we buy an ornament on each vacation).

In years past, we’ve rung the bell for Salvation Army.  It was freezing, but we had fun singing carols to passers by while our children learned an important lesson about serving others.

To encourage a spirit of giving in our children, we make homemade gifts like ornaments, cookies, etc. for friends and family. This year we are excited to make some gifts using essential oils to pamper the special people in our lives.  We try to limit gifts for family members to something they actually need and is useful.

One of my favorite traditions is choosing a gift for Jesus.  A wise older mom from my church shared this idea with my MOPS group a few years ago and it quickly became a treasured tradition in our house.  In years past, we have chosen to give clean water in His name through Compassion International.  It’s so much fun to give the kids the Compassion Catalog and let them choose their gift to Jesus.

This year, we decided to take the giving a step further by sending a Christmas email instead of cards.  I generally spend between $50 and $100 on Christmas cards and postage each year.  While I love sending and receiving cards, the reality is they will end up in a recycling bin in a few weeks.  It’s like throwing money away.  So we are sending an email with pictures and a year in review letter and using the money we would have spent on cards to buy a small brood of hens for a family in need. The gift of livestock not only provides food, but a source of income which can make a world of difference to an impoverished family.

Remembering the Reason…

All our efforts to promote thanks and giving during the holidays point back to one thing : Jesus.   We have chosen to make a Jesse Tree this year to help us celebrate Advent by retelling the story of Jesus’ lineage and keeping us focused on Christ. By keeping our eyes on Him, it’s much easier not to get wrapped up in the consumerist chaos of the Christmas season. He is our reason to be thankful and our inspiration to give generously to those who need it most.  He challenges the very idea of what a gift looks like: the world expecting a King receives a baby born in hay. The best gifts live in our hearts and minds, not on our shelves.

I’d love to hear how you are keeping your holidays simple and focused this year.  May your Christmas by Merry and Bright!

-L