Archive | January, 2013

Traveling Families

28 Jan

I have an acquaintance here in our town that, together with her husband, made the decision last year to travel the United States for a year as a family. They sold their house and most of their belongings, bought an RV, and pulled their two elementary school age boys out of public school. They have been on the road ever since! They are homeschooling the boys, and learning by seeing and doing. They are experiencing the world first hand, and it is inspiring.

I recently discovered a blogger whose family has just embarked on a similar journey, although for them it is traveling around the world. They have four young children, two elementary school age and two younger, and will be home-schooling them as they travel. I will be following their adventures on their blog.

I find this life-style so attractive and inspiring. I love traveling, seeing new places, and experiencing new things with my family. I have issues with the public school system in Texas, and in the United States in general, so home-school (or some other alternative) is more appealing to me than in the past. However, I don’t know if we could ever take that leap ourselves…seems so crazy to even think about!

Are you a family that home-schools your children while traveling? Would you be interested in this kind of life adventure?

Homestudy Field Trip – January

26 Jan

We went on our first home-study field trip this week, to the Fort Worth Stock Show. I grew up going to the Fort Worth Stock Show year after year, but my girls have only been once before so I thought it would be good to visit again.

We wandered through the animal barns looking at pigs, cattle, sheep, horses, llamas, and even a few bunnies and roosters. We watched a Mustang trainer’s competition, and we walked the aisles of vendors selling all kinds of western and farming wares.

I brought along a few age appropriate worksheets I had printed for the girls, and we took a break at one point so they could work on them.

photo(13)

photo(12)

The girls had fun, and hopefully learned something along the way. I already have plans in the work for our next field trip!

Scrap Paper (Repurposed Paper)

22 Jan

My girls love to draw, write, color, and create. I love that they are creative, and I want to always encourage their creativity, but they were going through my printer paper faster than I was comfortable with.

I read a tip on a blog somewhere about saving mail and other papers that had only been printed on one side, and printing coupons on the backs of those papers to help keep printing costs down. I decided to take that idea and make it work for us in a different way, so I started a scrap pile. I save anything that has been printed on only one side, unless it has sensitive information on it (which I shred). My girls know to use the scrap paper unless they are making someone a birthday card, or writing a letter, and then they use the printer paper. After a paper has been used on both sides it gets put in the recycling bin.

This little tip has helped us reduce, reuse, and recycle!

stick_figure_reduce_reuse_recycle_t_shirts_invitation-r59de9552107c49df9bfab9b32d6fc118_8dnmv_8byvr_512

2013 Goals Update: Learn Spanish (with my girls)

15 Jan

I have wanted to learn Spanish for a long time. I have attempted to learn several times, and know some basic words, but never fully learned the language. One of my goals for this year is to REALLY learn Spanish with my girls!

Last year a friend passed along a DVD that they were no longer using, called Kids Love Spanish Vol. 1: Basic Words. The three of us are going to watch a little of the DVD each day after school until we have learned all the words really well. We started today in fact! My girls liked the DVD, so I went ahead and ordered the complete set Volumes 1 – 7. That should give us a good base to start with, and they are fun and easy for the girls. You can find out more about these educational DVDs here.

kidslovespanish

Homestudy Field Trips

13 Jan

fieldtrip

I have been so inspired lately by a few of the homeschooling moms that I know. Homeschooling, at least for some, has come a long way from when I was a teen. I was home-schooled from 7th – 12th grades. My parents bought the American home school curriculum because it was recommended to them, and I was put on cruise control and expected to learn on my own. I received my high school diploma two years early, not because I worked hard and applied myself but because it was just that easy. I definitely feel like that portion of my education was poor.

As much as I wish my parents had left me in public school, now that I have my own child in the public school system I am becoming more and more aware each year of the inadequacies and I want more for my girls. Unfortunately I do not see a fix for the public school system in our state, or our country, anytime soon. Private school is not an option at this point because we simply can not afford it. There is a charter school near us that is widely renowned, and has one of the best curriculum in the country, but unless you live in that town the only way to get into this school is through a yearly lottery system. Last year we entered our oldest in the lottery, and the number she drew was 63. Needless to say, she did not make it in. This year I entered both girls in the lottery because our youngest will be entering Kindergarten next year. We should hear what numbers they drew in the next month or so.

Until something changes I am determined to supplement my girls education where needed. Last year, when my oldest was in the 2nd grade, six of us (moms) were so unhappy with the Math lessons our kids were getting at school and decided to supplement. We all purchased 3rd grade Math textbooks through Amazon, and one of the moms taught weekly Math lessons out of her home, with the kids completing daily homework at home. Our six kids excelled in Math at school due to this!

One of the things I have been disappointed in is the steady decline of good educational field trips. I realize it is a huge undertaking to take 80 children (this is roughly the number of children in my daughter’s grade level) somewhere, but I feel like they are missing out on fun hands-on learning experiences. Since I do not foresee a change at the school anytime soon in this regard, I have decided to conduct home-study field trips on my own with my girls. Once a month we will go on a field trip to a new place, or a place we haven’t been in awhile, where they can learn and have fun. I will post the field trips we take, in hopes that they will inspire you as well.

Pampers Gifts to Grow Reward Program

10 Jan

Pampers and Huggies both have reward programs, where you earn points for buying their products. I was a Pampers mom when my girls were little(r), preferred them over other diaper brands hands down, and I saved the reward codes from packages of Pampers diapers and wipes since I bought that brand most often. I remember using my reward points to get a few small things when my oldest was little, but somewhere along the way I stopped entering the codes and just stashed them in a bin in our office. The cool thing is that they don’t expire! They have expiration dates on them, but they have always extended it and I was able to enter codes that had long expired.

I have been working on cleaning out and organizing our office, and finally entered in all the Pampers codes I had saved. I ended up with 6234 points in my account! I was able to order the biggest item they had for 6,000 points, a PlasmaCar for my girls! We do not have one of these, but a few friends do and they look really fun for the kids. They can actually hold up to 220 lbs, so my husband and I could try the car out if we wanted. I am so excited for it to arrive, I think the girls will have fun with it. Best of all, it was completely free…even shipping! With the remaining 234 points I made donations to Graham’s Foundation, March of Dimes, P&G Disaster Relief Fund, and UNICEF.

If you have little ones in diapers I recommend using one or both of these reward programs, you never know what cool prizes you can get, even years down the road!

pampers

Movie Marathon 2012

6 Jan

Last year. while on winter break, my husband and I decided to catch up on some of the movies we had missed and still wanted to see. We took turns picking the movie, one per night, for two weeks. This year we decided to make it a tradition, and I thought I would share our choices with you.

MV5BMTU3NjM3Mzg0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTk4MDI3NQ@@._V1._SY317_My husband went first, picking Our Idiot Brother from 2011 starring Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer. This movie is rated R.

The storyline: Ned lived a happy life growing organic vegetables on a farm with his hippie girlfriend and his dog named Willie Nelson, but an unadvised incident with marijuana at a farmer’s market lands him in jail. When he gets out of jail, he is off to live with his sisters. While Ned is still happy, his sisters are much less so after he manages to screw up one marriage, one job opportunity, one budding relationship and one domestic partnership. He sees those problems as breakdowns in communication, but his sisters see him as an idiot.

My review: This movie was ok. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great. I probably will never watch it again, but I really don’t re-watch movies unless I love them.

MV5BMjc0NzAyMzI1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTE0NDQ1Nw@@._V1._SY317_CR0,0,214,317_ My pick the next night was Dark Shadows from 2012 starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Eva Green. This movie is rated PG-13.

The storyline: In the year 1752, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, set sail from Liverpool, England to start a new life in America. But even an ocean was not enough to escape the mysterious curse that has plagued their family. Two decades pass and Barnabas (Johnny Depp) has the world at his feet-or at least the town of Collinsport, Maine. The master of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy…until he makes the grave mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). A witch, in every sense of the word, Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death: turning him into a vampire, and then burying him alive. Two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared little better…

My review: This movie started out with potential, but got stranger and stranger until it finally jumped the shark, it was as if the writer/director didn’t know quite what to do with the characters after a certain point. I love Johnny Depp, he is one of my favorite actors, and he played his role well as usual. Unfortunately in this case, that was not enough to save this one. Will not watch again.

MV5BMTk4ODQzNDY3Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODA0NTM4Nw@@._V1._SY317_My husband’s next pick was The Dark Knight Rises from 2012 starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, and Anne Hathaway. This movie is rated PG-13.

The storyline: Despite his tarnished reputation after the events of The Dark Knight, in which he took the rap for Dent’s crimes, Batman feels compelled to intervene to assist the city and its police force which is struggling to cope with Bane’s plans to destroy the city.

My review: Movies based on comic books will never be my first choice, but I thought this movie was well done. It did not disappoint based on similar movies I have seen. I would watch it again, but only if someone else picked it.

MV5BMTk4MDQ1NzE3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjA0MDkzNw@@._V1._SY317_My next pick was Seeking a Friend for the End of the World from 2012 starring Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, and Melanie Lynskey. This movie is rated R.

The storyline: An asteroid named “Matilda” is on a collision course towards Earth and in three weeks the world will come to an absolute end. What would you do if your life and the world were doomed? One man decides to spend his time searching for his long lost love from high school during the coming catastrophe.

My review: This movie was quirky, sometimes funny sometimes heavy, sweet and sad. I even cried at the end. Though strange at times, this was a good one.

MV5BMTEwMTc3NDkzOTJeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU3MDI4NTAwNzc@._V1._SY317_My husband’s next pick was Moonrise Kingdom from 2012 starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, and Bruce Willis. This movie is rated PG-13.

The storyline: Set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s, as a young boy and girl fall in love they are moved to run away together. Various factions of the town mobilize to search for them and the town is turned upside down — which might not be such a bad thing.

My review: This movie was shot to look old and vintage, which was ok. Other than that all I can say is that it was too weird for me. I am not a fan.

MV5BMTM2NjgyMjI3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDkxMjIyOA@@._V1._SY317_My next pick was The Words from 2012 starring Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid, and Olivia Wilde. This movie is rated PG-13.

The storyline: Layered romantic drama The Words follows young writer Rory Jansen who finally achieves long sought after literary success after publishing the next great American novel. There’s only one catch – he didn’t write it. As the past comes back to haunt him and his literary star continues to rise, Jansen is forced to confront the steep price that must be paid for stealing another man’s work, and for placing ambition and success above life’s most fundamental three words.

My review: There were three story-lines through-out this movie, I could have done without one of them, but overall it was good. I liked it.

MV5BMjIzOTgyNjEzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzY1ODY2Nw@@._V1._SY317_My husband’s next pick was Safety Not Guaranteed from 2012 starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, and Jake Johnson. This movie is rated R.

The storyline: Darius is a young intern at a Seattle-based magazine and jumps at the chance to investigate the author of a classified ad seeking someone to travel back in time with. Along with Jeff, the staff writer, and Arnau, a fellow intern, the three go on a road trip to a coastal town. While Jeff just wants to chase after his high school crush and Arnau wants some kind of life experience, Darius spends her time with Kenneth, a man who believes that he has built a time machine. The closer they become and the more they understand about each other, the less clear it becomes if Kenneth is just crazy or if he actually is going to successfully travel back in time.

My review: This was another quirky one, and a little sci-fi, but I liked it. The ending was not what I expected.

MV5BMTcyMDI2NjU2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjA4MzQzNw@@._V1._SY317_My next pick was Friends with Kids from 2011 starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, and Maya Rudolph. This movie is rated R.

The storyline: Julie and Jason have been best friends for years with no romantic interest in each other. He sleeps with someone new every few days, and she’s looking for Mr. Right. Now in their thirties, they notice that their friends seem to lose all their good qualities when they have children – child rearing and the spark of Eros don’t seem to co-exist. So, they decide to have a child together, share in child rearing, but pursue their own romantic lives. Things go well until he meets Mary Jane and she meets Kurt. Both seem like perfect mates. What could go wrong?

My review: Funny, sad, and at times true to life. The ending was a bit predictable, but I still enjoyed it.

MV5BMTQzODg3MzUyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzI1MzUyNg@@._V1._SY317_My husband picked to watch the Cowboys game, so I picked two movies in a row. My next pick was The Odd Life of Timothy Green from 2012 starring Jennifer Garner,Joel Edgerton, and CJ Adams. This movie is rated PG.

The storyline: After receiving bad news from a fertility doctor, Cindy and Jim Green try to bury their dreams of having a child by writing out all the great traits their child would have and putting them in a box in the garden. During a freak storm in the middle of the night, they awake to find a boy named Timothy, with leaves growing from his ankles, standing in their kitchen calling them mom and dad. Cindy and Jim are thrown into the midst of parenthood and over the coming months, Timothy will teach them more than they could have imagined about being parents and raising a child, no matter how he comes into their lives.

My review: I loved it. I probably went through a whole box of kleenex…have them ready. This movie was sweet and family friendly.

MV5BMTk2NDEwODU5M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDMwNzc0Nw@@._V1._SY317_My husband’s next pick was Bernie from 2011 starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey. This movie is rated PG-13.

The storyline: We meet Bernie Tiede (1958- ), a chubby undertaker, who takes pride in his work. He’s a Gospel-singing tenor. In a series of interviews with townspeople, mixed with flashbacks, we follow Bernie: he arrives in Carthage, Texas (pop. 7,000), where old ladies adore him; he befriends a wealthy, mean-spirited widow named Marjorie Nugent; they become companions in both daily routines and expensive vacations. Among those interviewed, only her stockbroker and Danny Buck, the local district attorney, are unsympathetic toward the sunny, sometimes saccharine Bernie. Marjorie changes from sour and alone to happy with Bernie; then she gets possessive. What will sweet Bernie do?

My review: Based on a true story, the subject matter is disturbing but the movie is interesting, even funny at times, and the performances were great. Also, this one is based in a west Texas town, and it is always interesting to watch a movie set in or based on the area of the country that you live in.

MV5BMTY4Njk3MjE2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzg5OTIyOA@@._V1._SY317_CR0,0,214,317_I couldn’t decide on a movie this time, so I went with one that my husband wanted to see that I thought looked interesting. We chose Liberal Arts from 2012 starring Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, and Zac Efron. This movie is rated PG-13.

The storyline: When 30-something Jesse returns to his alma mater for a professor’s retirement party, he falls for Zibby, a college student, and is faced with a powerful attraction that springs up between them.

My review: This one was good. I love Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother, and I thought he, and the other main characters, did a good job in this movie.

MV5BMjAxNjUyNjUwN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDgwOTIyOA@@._V1._SY317_CR0,0,214,317_My husband chose to watch the Cotton Bowl game on his night, so I picked the next movie. My pick was Lawless from 2012 starring Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, and Guy Pearce. This movie is rated R.

The storyline: The three Bondurant brothers run a bootlegging operation during the depression, up in the mountains of Franklin County, Virginia. Crooked Special Deputy Charles Rakes is after a share of the brothers’ profits. Compounding their troubles, the local competition is elbowing in on their activities. Forrest’s boisterous defiance and Cricket’s knack for moonshine production help the brothers gain a local monopoly. When Forrest is wounded as tension with Rakes escalates, Jack, initially the timid one, must prove his worth against gangster Floyd Banner’s mob, and we see him metamorphose into a cocky exhibitionist in his attempts to woo the off-limits preacher’s daughter, Bertha.

My review: I liked it! This was based on a true story, a book called The Wettest County in the World, written by Matt Bondurant the grandson of Jack Bondurant.

I enjoyed our movie marathon this year, and last, and I hope we continue this tradition…it is a great way to catch up on movies you missed through-out the year!

Happy New Year + 2013 Resolutions

2 Jan

Happy New Year! May 2013 be our best year yet!

I always write New Year resolutions, do you? I never end up completing them all, but I do complete some of them and I would like to think that my life is better for it. Setting goals, big and small, and accomplishing those goals, is good for my heart and my spirit. My goals for 2013 are listed below, and I have arranged them by area (of life). I have also written out steps for how I will accomplish these goals this year, but those I will keep to myself.

Financial

1.Pay off all debt except student loan and home mortgage (this includes two cars, a line of credit, and credit cards)

2. Make a decision about what I want to do (for work), and work towards putting myself in that position

Physical/Health

1. Convert to clean eating, while spending wisely to save on groceries

2. Exercise 2-3 times per week (30 minutes or more)

Home

1. Finish girl #1’s room re-model

2. Start (and hopefully finish) girl #2’s room re-model

3. Continue improvements to yard and landscaping

4. Start a garden

Spiritual

1. Find a church home

Personal

1. Learn Spanish with my girls

2. Read (books)

3. Volunteer (more often)

4. Be a better wife/mother/daughter/sister/friend

5. Simplify my life

Standardized Testing & My 3rd Grader

1 Jan

standardized_testing.htm

This year my oldest has to start taking the STAAR test, with the 3rd grade subjects being Mathematics and Reading. The STAAR test is the standardized test used in Texas public schools, this test replaced the TAKS test last year and from what I am hearing is much harder. Since we are new to this I am still learning the ins and outs of it, and what it means for my child, but already I have some concerns.

My understanding is that my child’s STAAR scores accumulate from the 3rd grade on, and after graduating high school her cumulative score will determine whether she will be eligible to attend a 2 year or a 4 year college (in Texas. I am not sure how this will effect out of state schools). This article talks a bit about that. In addition to this, if my child fails to pass the STAAR test in any given year, she will not be eligible to move on to the next grade level or graduate high school.

The problem with this test is that even if a child is a straight A student, a model student, if they are not a good test taker they could fail. My daughter worries, and gets stressed during tests…yes, even in the 3rd grade. Last week they took a benchmark test in Math, to see how they would do if they took the STAAR test right now. The test was two hours long, and my daughter cried at her desk because she said she wasn’t sure on some of the answers. She has always been a straight A student, she was tested last year and placed in her school’s GATES program (gifted and talented), I have her do workbooks in the summer so that she doesn’t lose any ground when she is out of school. None of that matters if she gets stressed out while taking this test, and therefore does not receive a good score.

Another issue I have with the current testing, is that on test days the entire school is on lock-down. No visitors allowed in the building. The kids each lunch in their classrooms, have recess in their classrooms, and they have to be quiet all day. This applies even if they are in a grade that doesn’t test (Kindergarten through 2nd). This feels like punishment to the kids, and I don’t blame them…it sounds like punishment to me. I have already decided that on test days I will keep my youngest home from school while she is in Kindergarten through 2nd grade. She starts Kindergarten next year and does not have to take the test until the 3rd grade.

The school’s rating also depends largely on their students test scores. This has created an environment where teachers teach what the kids need to know in order to do well on the tests so that their school receives a good rating. I have even heard that teachers at some schools are threatened with job loss if their students don’t preform well.

This article talks about how the for-profit company that the TEA has hired to grade the STAAR tests hires some of the temporary workers through Craigslist ads. Really?! How about hiring actual teachers or professional tutors? People who actual understand the tests and know how to properly grade them.

I am not an expert on this subject by any means, we are just figuring things out as we experience them. I understand their must be testing in order to access what the children have learned, but I think it is time for some changes to the system we are currently using. There is a lot of parents, and even educators, pushing back right now, which will hopefully bring about the kind of change that is needed.