Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I'm super busy this week, so this post is mostly pictures...we've been wrapping up several science experiments that we've collected over the years and just never got around to doing.  Since we schooled over the course of the summer this year, as we finished one subject, we filled in with the collected science experiments!

Taking apart an owl pellet.  I did this in the 4th grade when I was fortunate enough to have a teacher that was CrAzY for all things scientific.  It was fun to share this with JP, even if he was several years older than the intended age group.  You can buy owl pellet kits HERE.

After picking off most of the outer material, he began to find bones and a skull inside the pellet!

Working on identifying the parts - a jaw.

Various biology experiments - a terrarium to both see plants growing, but also to understand the water cycle, and several sprouting experiments.

The garlic clove never sprouted, and only one of our wheat seeds sprouted (in the tubes in the middle container), and the two beans sprouted as well.  The wheat seed that sprouted was a surprise!  It was just a tiny little nub of green one evening, and the next morning was several centimeters long.  By the next day it was almost six inches long!

Day one of the terrarium.  It began to develop its own water cycle in less than 24 hours, and we had sprouts in less than 48 hours.  Unfortunately, there is too much moisture for us to see into the thing very clearly! I also have to say, I love how creative JP was in solving the issue of the round terrarium on the flat table.  He used Legos to build a stand to keep it from rolling.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The face of 14...

This past Friday, my baby boy turned 14 years old!!!

This what 14 looks like:

14 year olds express themselves, sometimes in ways that might drive some parents crazy, but not me.  In this case, my kiddo is taking after me in some very distinct ways!  When I was his age, I began experimenting with doing artsy stuff to my clothing, including drawing on my jeans with Sharpies, and eventually learning to paint on fabric.  As you can see, he's started with Sharpies on his favorite hat!

14 year olds are capable of doing a lot for themselves.  He's taken the lead in learning to cook over the past year, and recently cooked spicy Italian sausage, and has been scrambling his own eggs.

14 year olds also like to try new things with their physical appearance.  He knows that I won't let him get tattooed or pierced as long as he lives at home, but I don't mind hair dye and funky hair styles.  Most things you can do to hair are reversible!  You can just barely tell, but he has a purple tint here.  His hair has gotten significantly darker over the past two years, so next time he wants to dye it, we'll have to bleach first.

One thing that he hasn't lost as he matures into a young man is his love of drawing comics.  He draws them frequently, and several times per day he says, "I should make a comic of that!"

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Homeschooling (and tutoring) resource binder...

What is one thing your homeschool could not do without?  For us, that one thing is our resource binder.  It is the most value item I have put together!  My son uses it for his schoolwork, and I use it for my tutoring students.  We also both reference it at other times as well (converting units in a recipe...  looking up war dates...).   This is also a great idea for non-homeschoolers too!  Moms, dads, grandparents, caretakers, babysitters, etc. can all use this idea to help make homework and studying easier for kids in public (or private) school.  I can see even sending a modified version of this off to college with JP in a few years!

homeschool resource binder

Read on to learn more about our resource binder, and a little about how we organize our homeschool materials and days.

A long while ago, I posted about how we use an expandable file folder (you can buy one HERE). We are still using it, and probably will continue to do so for a few years to come (updating this two and a half years later, we are still using this multi-pocket folder and our resource binder!).

homeschool organization
That is the second best thing I've done for our homeschool.  The BEST thing I've done?  I put together a resource binder.  This is so simple!  I can't believe it took me so long to think of it!  If you haven't done this, I urge you to consider it.  It will save you so much time when you are trying to find information ("Hey, mom?  How many quarts are in a gallon?  When was the Battle of the Bulge?  How do you say "I'm hungry" in German?").  Instead of going to the internet, or searching through your bookshelves, this binder will contain tons of information, all in one tidy spot.

homeschool organization

Every "school" day, I set out a pile of book and materials that my son will need for the day.  The resource binder is always on the table, or nearby.  At the top of my son's pile will be either the week's master list of tasks (school, recreation, and chores), or it will be a small handwritten note like in the picture below.

homeschool organization
But, I digress...back to the resource binder!

Have you found yourself looking up, or printing out a page of math formulas for area and perimeter, a list of writing prompts, maybe a sheet of Spanish verbs?  Or, any number of other materials?  Do you have workbooks with glossaries in the back that just get tossed when the workbook is done? 


Here's what you need for your resource binder:
  • a big 3-ring binder.  Mine is 2 inches, but we will upgrade this year to a 3-inch so we have room to grow. 
  • a bunch of page protectors
  • a 3-hole punch (THIS is the best one I've EVER owned!)
  • dividers to section out the binder
That's it!  Pretty easy materials to come by.  All of those pages you've printed out with math formulas, timelines, foreign language rules, and so on get popped into sheet protectors, organized by subject, and put into the binder.  Glossaries from workbooks go in the binder too, as does anything else you think you might reference on occasion.  Several items made their way into the binder because my son asked for them (the Russian alphabet and Roman numerals lists below are two examples).  Easy peasy!

Here's a glimpse into our binder, with just a few pages from each section.  By far, the math section is biggest.

homeschool organizing
The first section of our binder happens to be science.  I bought several study guides for various topics and included them in the binder.  Here you can see the Physics and Rock Cycle study guides.
homeschool organizing
One of my tutoring students had Earth Science last year, so I photocopied all of the charts and graphs at the beginning of the book to include in our study guide.  My student was glad I'd done that since he misplaced his book at one point, and needed the charts to study for his year end exam.
homeschool organizing
For our math section, before my son even starts a math workbook, I pull out the glossary and put it into the binder.  I also made him a big chart of unit conversions for both metric and non-metric measures (I use this one A LOT when I cook!).
homeschool organizing
At some point, the lad asked about Roman numerals, so I printed this from somewhere online...I forget where, but HERE is a good one.
homeschool organizing
When one of my younger tutoring students was struggling with area and perimeter, I found several printables and they made their way into the binder.  The ones pictured came from, but that is a pay-for-membership website (although for elementary age students, it is worth the fee!). 
homeschool organizing
I hand wrote the formulas for surface area and volume because I happened to have them in front of me in a book that I didn't want to tear apart. 

homeschool organizing
More printables from - math symbols and various math properties.
homeschool organizing
In our writing/ELA section, we have lots of writing prompts.
homeschool organizing
Proofreading/editing marks.  I use these with tutoring students, and in the two college English courses that I teach.
homeschool organizing
Instructions to write formal and friendly letters.  We also have printouts on how to organize various types of essays, ways to brainstorm, and more.
homeschool organizing
In our social studies section, we have a timeline of wars involving the U.S.A.  This one is from the Department of Veteran's Affairs. 
homeschool organizing
Two side-by-side charts showing the states in the U.S.A.  One side has them in alphabetical order.  The other has them in the order in which they joined the U.S.A.
homeschool organizing
JP asked for a chart showing the Russian alphabet.  So, we put that in our foreign language section.
homeschool organizing
A German grammar study guide...
homeschool organizing
Many pages of Spanish verbs.
homeschool organizing
And, at the very back, empty sheet protectors!
As I write this, my son is at the table doing a math worksheet on surface area and volume.  He is referencing the formulas I wrote out earlier today...which I promptly popped into the binder!  Later this week, I plan to add to the social studies section.  I'll be including a printout of the Declaration of Independence, a copy of the Constitution which I got for free in the mail thanks to the ACLU, a list of the presidents of the United States, and several other tidbits.  I'm putting together those materials for a tutoring student who will have U.S. history this year, so I figured I might as well add them to our homeschool resource binder too!

Like this post? Check out these additional posts about homeschooling:

Please note, some links contained in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. Should you make a purchase through these links, I may receive a commission.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mini-goals and mini-rewards...

I have been playing little games with myself today in order to motivate myself and get stuff done.  Our sink was overflowing with dirty dishes, the living room is a mess, and I have a ton of work to do for tutoring, not to mention several personal goals that I've been ignoring.  Sigh...  What to do, what to do?  I know! Make it a game!

Now, before you get all excited, these aren't really fun games...more little mental tricks to keep me going, and allow me to feel like I'm accomplishing my tasks.  I have been bopping between several chores, tutoring tasks, and personal goals today by assigning a mini-goal for each one.  Once the mini-goal is accomplished, I switch gears and set a mini-goal for something else, and so on until I'm back where I started.

So, the starting point....

I've been doing several tasks at my desk, which is really just a table and camp chair in the living room.  As you can see it has been semi-taken over by my son's crap (Legos, video gaming headphones, and so on).  But...I've also been trying to centralize all of my tutoring supplies, and have a plastic crate on its side as a makeshift bookshelf on my desk.  (Yeah, we have virtually no real furniture, and it's going to stay that way until we are able to move out of this dump of an apartment into something nicer.)  Our lovely pooch got all excited when I busted out the camera, so I purposely shot the pic so she'd be in it.  See the SAT world history subject test book on the floor?  One of my tasks today is to create ONE timeline from the book for my tutoring student who will be taking the SAT II in December.  He is away on vacation for a few weeks, so I'm creating some additional study materials for him (and by extension, for my son!).  That brings me to mini-goal and mini-reward #1...

Mini-goal and reward #1:  Condense 5 mini-timelines from the study guide into my larger timeline.  After those five are done, spend no more than 5 minutes on social media.

Mini-goal #2:  Go to the kitchen and wash at least 5 dishes/items in the sink.  Individual silverware pieces are NOT individual pieces!  5 pieces of silverware = 1 item.  After those 5 are done, clean a 2' x 2' section of the kitchen counter.  Then, refill coffee cup, and read a blog post.  This is a good one:  You Gotta Give it Away - Dreams of My Home by Rosalind at A Little R & R.

Mini-goal #3:  Sort the recycling from the trash, and figure out what the mystery odor is in the kitchen.  Use the old ratty kitchen sponge to do a preliminary cleaning of plates on which JP has made cheesy pizzas, and thus also made the plates impossible for me to use in the process thanks to my dairy allergy.  Throw away disgusting sponge, put plates back in sink for a real washing with a new sponge.  Check supply of paper plates for future cheese related episodes.  Reward:  More coffee, and another blog post to read.  I really like this one by Gabriela at Luminous Fire - Good Thing We Took Our Rain Jackets.  So full of beautiful pictures!

Aren't you glad I am showing you clean counter space, and not a picture of my sorted recycling and trash?

Mini-goal #4:  Go back to the desk, and practice some Spanish using Duolingo.  Duolingo is a mini-reward in and of itself.  I think it's fun, and much easier to use than Rosetta Stone although it has a similar methodology, plus it is FREE.  Today, I practiced plurals.

Now, I'm starting over with the timeline, then into the kitchen again, but this time to bake some lemon-zucchini bread which I found on Pinterest!  Due to a dairy allergy, I am making some substitutions. The original recipe HERE. UPDATED - a review of the recipe linked here.  Um...we didn't really like it.  The glaze was too tart, and the muffins were...odd. :/

After the zucchini bread, I plan to work on a post about our homeschooling curriculum choices for this coming school year...I keep promising to do that!  Today, it is on my list, and I WILL get it done (I think...).

Ok, so those aren't really games, but they are larger jobs, broken down into smaller tasks, with tiny rewards along the way.  I am in a bit of a funk today, and really needed to break things down to much smaller steps in order to accomplish anything today.  And, the next time you are feeling so down, lame, tired, or whatever that you just want to say, "Chuck it! I'm going back to bed!" instead, choose one chore or task, and break it down into several smaller steps.  Choose one tiny step, and accomplish that itty bitty goal.  Give yourself an itty bitty reward, then move on to another itty bitty goal with an itty bitty reward.  Eventually, you will have accomplished something larger, and will hopefully feel good about the results, even if you still feel like going back to bed!

There was a time in my life many years back, when JP was quite young, that I felt stuck in every possible way.  Even the simplest of tasks felt impossible and not worth doing.  So, I would just set myself to one TINY task.  Usually it involved cleaning a 2' x 2' section of the kitchen counter.  I would do that, give myself a little reward, then come back to do another 2' x 2' section.  Over the course of a the morning, my depression would ease a bit, though wouldn't go away entirely (2 years of therapy, and a year of anti-depressants helped it go away...mostly).  At the very least, I felt like I'd accomplished something, even it if was something small. 

Off to work on that timeline, then mix up the lemon-zucchini bread, then walk the dog while the bread bakes!


UPDATED:  Nom nom nom!!!!  I have the lemon zucchini bread baking now, but I decided to go the cupcake/muffin route instead of baking a loaf.  And, oh my goodness!  Do you like mushrooms?  Do you like breaded mushrooms???  Droooooooolllllll....try these!  Super duper easy!  For the inspiration,  WITH dairy, recipe visit  HERE.  For a dairy free, but still cheesy tasting, version, keep reading:

Breaded Mushrooms

8oz pkg whole mushrooms, cleaned (mine were HUGE, so I cut them into quarters)
2 eggs
generous handful of breadcrumbs (I didn't measure them, sorry!)
1 Tbsp so of nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

If you haven't cleaned your mushrooms, or cut the big ones into halves or quarters, start by doing that.  To clean the mushrooms, just wipe them with a dishtowel.

Put the two eggs into a little dish, and whisk.

In a shallow bowl, or on a plate, mix the breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and pepper.

Dunk the mushrooms in the egg.  Then transfer the egg coated mushrooms to the breadcrumb mix.  Your fingers will probably get all goopy and gross - wash your fingers off as needed in order to keep handling the mushrooms without accidentally pulling off the breadcrumb coating.  I found that it works best to drop the egg coated mushrooms into the breadcrumbs and press down a little.  Then flip them, and press again, flip and press again, until the mushroom pieces are well breaded.

Place the breaded mushroom pieces on a lined baking sheet (I just used a piece of parchment paper).  Bake for 8-10 minutes at 450F.

Allow to cool, and enjoy!

In the process of making the lemon zucchini muffins and breaded mushrooms, I completely destroyed all of my kitchen counter cleaning and dish washing progress!

Thursday, August 2, 2012


I've been so busy the past few weeks!  I can't believe how time flies by.  Before I know it, August 24th will be here, and on that day my baby will be turning 14 years old!  He is growing up so fast, and is just 1/4 of an inch shy of being taller than me!  He's a good kid though, and I am so happy to be his mom.

I had a whole idea for this blog post, but my mind is basically fried at the moment!  So, instead of a long post about whatever subject I had originally planned (I really can't remember!), here are some pictures and little blurbs about the past week...

I love that you can find poetry AND art in the New York City subway system.  This was posted in a subway car.
Gorgeous walk home from a tutoring student's house.
Even though my son loves the dog, and he takes good care of her, she glues herself to my side on days when I'm gone longer than usual.

I tried to get a better picture of this little bird.  I was sitting outside the school where I teach and the little guy kept hopping up to me.  I am sure that if I'd put my hand out, he would have hopped into my palm!  I normally don't like birds (allergic!), but this guy was so cute!
I am now the proud owner of a New York Public Library account!  My county's library system can go suck it (excuse the language!).  After the getting kicked out of the local library system, I found out that you can get a NYPL account if you live or work in the NYC area.

When I see things like this, I really wish I wasn't allergic to dairy products!  These cakes look amazing!  They are at the bakery and cafe in the building where I teach.
This week, I had my short story literature class read "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin.  It is such an amazing story!  I started the class tonight with my favorite passage from the story.  For our discussion, we spent some time comparing "Sonny's Blues" to "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver.  We talked about how the narrators of each story end up seeing their situations, and life in general I suppose, in a new way.  We talked about different ways of seeing from the literal to the figurative too.
For each story my class reads, they have to identify the point of view, main characters, setting, tone, themes, and symbolism.  They were struggling with "Sonny's Blues" a bit - it is the longest story I've had them read, and most have only been speaking and reading English for 2-3 years.  I have a wide variety of ability levels in my class.  So, today, I wrote a lot on the board, and had them copy it down.  We are going to talk more about it next week.  I also told them, "If you ever see me take a picture of the chalkboard, you better have that information in your notes!  Those pictures will likely be the basis for most of your final exam questions!"   ........but, can you believe that my school doesn't have dry erase boards?  I learned not to wear black to work pretty quickly. :)