Review: Classically Catholic Memory

We were so excited to bring both Classically Catholic Memory and Catholic School House to the Atlanta Catholic Homeschool Conference this past April. We were able to see the materials of both of these fine programs. And, it is nice to have truly Catholic options instead of “Catholicizing” other programs.

Both programs are set up to either use them as materials for an individual family or for use in a co-op setting. Both programs include Religion, Latin, Science, Geography, Language Arts (poetry memorization) and History. Catholic School House can actually be used as your primary curriculum at least in elementary by using the included supplements. You would need to add a math and phonics section and of course great books to read.

I will focus on Classically Catholic in this article because ultimately it is the program I chose to purchase for a variety of reasons. I already use a curriculum, Mother of Divine Grace so I really needed a supplement, not another entire curriculum. And, a local friend shared with me how she used the program in her home with her family.

As I said, I use MODG for my curriculum, but I have found that as my older children got older and entered high school, that I had less time to do all the memory work required for the little ones. Things like math facts, Baltimore Catechism questions, poetry and geography memorization just weren’t happening. Additionally, we never were successful implementing timelines. I have nine children that range in age from 17 down to 2. This upcoming school year, we will have 8 officially in school. So, I implemented family school several years ago to address these deficits.

The problem I encountered was one of planning … I didn’t. So, each day I kind of winged it. Ultimately, it would fizzle out; no memory work would be accomplished. So, in steps Classically Catholic Memory.

From the website:

Religion:  Each year provides various Catechism questions and answers and passages from Scripture.

Latin:  Each year provides various prayers and hymns.

History:  History sentences from one of four time periods:

  • Alpha Year:  Creation through the Birth of Christ (Ancients)
  • Beta Year:  The Time of Christ through 1500 (Middle Ages)
  • Gamma Year:  1500 through 1800 (Early Modern Times)
  • Delta Year:  1800 through Modern Times (Later Modern Times)

Science:  Science questions and answers from one of four science topics:

  • Alpha Year:  Life Science:  Animal Life
  • Beta Year:  Earth Science and Astronomy
  • Gamma Year:  Chemistry and Physics
  • Delta Year:  Life Science:  Human Anatomy and Physiology and Plant Life

Math:  Skip counting (every year)

  • Alpha and Gamma Years: Geometric Formulas
  • Beta and Delta Years: Conversion Formulas

Timeline:  The same timeline is learned every year.

Geography:  Countries, some capital cities, and physical geography of either one or two continents per year.

  • Alpha Year:  Asia and Australia
  • Beta Year:  Europe
  • Gamma Year:  North America
  • Delta Year:  Africa and South America

Great Words I and II:  Every year provides material that includes poems, historical documents, and speeches.

As you can see, a great amount of material is covered in a systematic manner. The only thing I will probably add is more Baltimore Catechism questions. But this is easily addressed. I plan to copy the questions out I want them to cover, divide them up over 4 years, and paste them onto each of the planner pages.

In particular, I am very pleased with the breadth of the geography and history timelines. I only have Alpha year at this time, but in week 10, they study China and will map Beijing, Kunlun Mountains, the Yangtze River and Gobi Desert among other things. The timeline will cover St. Thomas Aquinas, Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, The Plague in Europe, St. Joan of Arc and St. Catherine of Siena (additional items are covered). Finally, we will be able to work on our timeline as a family.

Latin includes the memorization of various prayers including the Table Blessing, O Come Emmanuel and the Hail Mary. It is not that it is particularly innovative in itself, but that it is included in a package – so no fumbling around for additional resources. Nor are there labor intensive organizational skills required.

Math includes working on the skip counting tables – yes, in a methodical manner. One of the shortcomings of homeschoolers that I have seen mentioned in various places is memorizing math facts. Additionally in this year, various geometric formulas are memorized.

The poetry sections, called Great Words, has two levels. I plan on using this section last so I can have the elementary age children learn the level 1 materials, and the middle and high school students learn the level II materials. Level II includes an excerpt from “Give me liberty, or give me death!” by Patrick Henry.

Finally, a section to not be missed – The Subject Summary at the end of the book. Yes, she in a few pages gives you the summaries for each area by week. So, in a glance you can see what materials are covered in 18 weeks in religion or the timelines. If you wanted to flesh this out even more, you could easily use this to plan for additional books to be read, art projects and music.

One final note, the science section is very well done. Not only is memory work assigned each week, for example memorizing the classification system, but detailed instruction is given in the Teaching Notes section. Generally 2 pages of instructions are included. Activities include for level II  dissection of a perch (note you would need to get a dissection guide). Each week, five different levels of activities are included.

For me, hands on science slips. So, I do hope this will allow me to do more hands on projects this year. She also includes in the back animal cards that you may print and cut apart. But, she does suggest purchasing them. A number of additional items for purchase are suggested. You definitely do not have to purchase them, but information is included. Such items are Micro Mounts that include a cricket, locust, beetle and crab.

In closing, I will update this entry later in the year after using the materials. I am quite optimistic that this will be the puzzle piece I have been looking for.

To order, please actually visit Ingatius Press.




How music made a great day!

I received “Making Music Praying Twice” this past summer. Since we were not in school, I did a simple review of the product – a first impressions. I had planned on beginning the program at the start of the school year not realizing just how intense the first month of schooling two ninth graders with Mother of Divine Grace would be. I have made it through nearly six weeks of school and decided on impulse to bring out the program today. I did not read the manual in depth; I did not gather any musical instruments or scarves or do any other preparation. I decided simply that since we were most of the way through the week I would follow the suggested Ordinary Fall week one schedule and this is how the time went.

As a note, the developer gives many different options of how to use the program:

  • a generic, fill-in-the-blank schedule if you are planning on doing the program daily
  • a generic a weekly schedule for a once a week music program
  • suggestions if you plan to use the program in an unstructured manner
  • blank lessons plans if you want to plan out a semester or year
  • 8 weeks of daily lesson plans that feature all the songs and activities for the season
  • 4 weeks of weekly lesson plans that feature all the songs and activities for the season.

So, you have the freedom to use the program as best suites your personality and your family needs. I chose to start with the first week  of the Ordinary Time (OT) Fall Weekly plan, again featuring all the songs and activities included for the fall. (She has the same type of schedules set up for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany,Ordinary Time – Winter, Lent, and Easter/Pentecost for an entire school year’s worth of music).

The first week had the following schedule:

  1. Good Day
  2. prayer – Father I Adore You
  3. sit and sing – The Blacksmith
  4. sit and spin – creative substitutions – Sissy in the Barn
  5. spoken rhyme – Humpty Dumpty
  6. Rhythm Patterns
  7. shaky egg activity – Hamaba
  8. free instrument time – Sing and Play
  9. scarf dancing – My Bonnie
  10. Tonal Patterns
  11. dancing with streamers – Looby Loo
  12. dance activity – Moroccan Melody
  13. Tonal Patterns
  14. prayer – Our Father
  15. God Bless

First impression-the printed material is very nicely bound books and the CD audios are clear and the vocals are beautifully done with both children’s voices and adults, male and female. Next impression-beautifully Catholic-I will explain more in detail.

So, as I said I did no preparation; therefore, I did not know how to implement the Rhythm Patterns nor the Tonal patterns, so I skipped them (I was pressed for time and trying to take advantage of a momentary surge of energy I was experiencing :-) Also, I had no musical instruments, rattles or shaky eggs, nor did I have scarves. But, it all worked out.

I popped the OT Fall CD in, and the first song on the CD corresponded to the first song, Good Day. My children’s eyes lit up as we used their names in the song. The song (and all the rest) were long enough for my children to catch onto the melody and even sing or hum along.

Next, we started on Father I Adore You which happened to be track 2. Again, there were enough stanzas that we could catch the melody and sing along. The music was beautiful and they even in later stanzas had the song in the round.

Now the pace picks up again and we moved on to The Blacksmith. My youngest followed my hand gestures as we hammered and tapped and clip clopped in rhythm to the music. Following this was the substitution song – Sissy in the Barn. This was a bit more difficult for me to follow. One stanza was written out with the notes and words. Then below that were a number of pictures; a man, a woman, a pig, a cow, a boy and a girl. The song used those pictures to substitute to make new verses. You could sing over them and make up your own as I realized later.

Humpty Dumpty was a rousing success. My learning challenged five year old heard the spoken rhyme enough times to catch on. And, we used hand and body motions to go along with the somewhat dramatic presentation (fell off the waaaaaaalllllllllll).

As I said, I skipped the rhythm pattern and even now, I am not sure exactly where it is explained or what CD I should use. I also skipped the free instrument time. But we did go through Hamaba that was based on a Gambian folk song. Next we sang My Bonnie. Although we did not have scarves to use, the children enjoyed swaying in time with the music. Looby Loo was a fun, full body experience that everyone enjoyed participating in (put your right hand in, shake it all about, etc.) The last song before finishing up was Moroccan Melody. The instrumentals and vocals were ethnic including perhaps a sitar and drums and finger cymbals (I am sorry but I am unfamiliar with the names of the instruments).

Finally, we came to the end. Our Father was sang without instrumentals in a very clear, beautiful female voice. It was sang again in almost a polyphonic chant perhaps.

The last song was a nice wrap up and in the style of the first song – “God Bless” where you substituted your family’s names.

Other songs on this particular CD included the Magnificat sung by a female singer with no instrumentals. As I listen, my nearly three year old is signing along, at least the melody. Holy God We Praise Thy Name is a male vocalist accompanied by a classical guitarist.

So, after one day, I am absolutely thrilled. I love, love, love the Catholic content and the following of the liturgical year. I love the ethnic music and exposure to different tonalities and instruments. I love the well laid out plans (although, I do intent on using the daily plans for the rest of the year).

Complaints / suggestions? Hmmm, none – I would suggest that you write the track numbers on the song books that accompany each season as the CD has no track names. And, I will have to search out the huge teacher’s manual for how to do the rhythm and tonal exercises, but I am comfortable leaving out this feature entirely.

Downside? Finding time for the little ones – but after one day, I see how much they enjoyed this, and my intent this year was to be more proactive in finding activities for the little ones. And, cost is a downside – yes, it is nearly $100. But, this is a non-consumable product and the quality of the printed material and the CD’s is top-notch.

I hope and will suggest to the developers that they try to attend some Catholic homeschool conferences so others can see this in action. This could even be a great vendor talk to offer.

I plan on updating this post as I move through the additional seasons.

Update: We begin again for the new year. The young kids are very enthusiastic about the music. I also shared this with a friend that has a large family with young children and she was very excited about it.

St. Nicholas Day – December 6th

Just a quick post to remind you that Saint Nicholas’ Feast Day is coming up December 6th. For all things about the man, saint and legend, visit the site, Saint Nicholas Center.

And, the way we celebrate is to give each child a special ornament. Someday (sooner than I want to contemplate), they will move out, have their first tree and a box full of childhood treasures for it. I know I will cry when these ornaments are no longer on our family tree. As an organizational note, I write their name and the year on each ornament and each child has a plastic box with all their ornaments. It makes for a lovely conversation looking at their first year or favorite ornament.

It is not too late for you to add this to your family tradition.

Physical Education

I have a week long free trial to GoTrybe. It costs $30 / year and you could have a membership for each child, but the representative at the booth said one per family is enough.

Now, I have to say on one of the banners last week, they talked about STDs – not graphic, but it was a bit disconcerting.

Anyway, what is so unique is you get to build a workout – you have a 3 minute warm up section and 38 different video clips to choose from, then you have 3 cardio sections to fill for 10 minutes total, then there is a strength section (8-12 minutes), and finally a flexibility section (3 minutes). The warm up and cardio video clips include just basic cardio, cardio groove, hiphop, kickboxing, and sports drills. The strength training section has some videos that include basic weight training, and finally the flexibility has basic flexibility and about 10 yoga clips – none seem inappropriate or spiritual.

When you complete the workout, you get points that are redeemable for online javascript games (kind of a funny connection) but you have to have loads of points before you can “buy” a game. There are also motivation videos (some baseball team members give short talks about eating and training), nutrition tips with a one or two question quiz, and wellness video clips.

The people on the video range from young adults who lead the moves, to gawky teens that don’t do the moves perfectly – so my guys all fit.

Downside – the video clips don’t have any information about what the workout is other than the title such as Cardio Groove- so you don’t know if the strength training clip needs weights until you start it. I am just keeping a log of what clips we like. Next downside, you can’t “save” your preferred workout – so every day you have to go rebuild it again.

How to make it work better? Well, my laptop has an S-Video out plug, so I was able to route the video out to the TV screen. There was  a bit of a learning curve to figure out how to make the TV display the laptop screen’s content. Basically, for my graphic card, I had to make a clone, but each card’s software is a bit different. That enabled us to do the videos in the living room with enough room for everyone to have a spot. I also connected up a set of USB speakers to the laptop to have the sound louder since my laptop does not have a sound out to 5.1 audio. I do not know if there is a cable to take the headphones out jack to the sound input for my TV.

You should see my crew in the morning doing kickboxing – my 4th grade loves the aggressive nature and I think it moves out some of the pent up energy. We do one workout as a family, but as long as you don’t care who gets the points, each child could design and do their own workout.

I think this would be an easy way to add physical education to our daily program and I joined last week.

Review: Faith Facts for Young Catholics

I was asked by Sister Kieran Sawyer, SSND to review a program she developed called, Faith Facts for Young Catholics: Drills, Games, and Activities for Middle School Students” and the “sequel” to it, More Faith Facts for Young Catholics: Fun Ways to Teach the Basics of Our Faith.

I appreciate the paragraphs she wrote in the Introduction (bold text added for emphasis):

“The faith formation of our children includes three distinct but interrelated process: developing their personal relationship with God; deepening their sense of belonging in a Christian community; and increasing their understanding of and allegiance to the institutional church. A firm knowledge of the basic faith facts is an important aspect of all these processes, especially the third: coming to know and understand the formal church with its scriptures, sacraments, moral teachings, prayers, liturgical celebrations, hierarchical structures and history.

Faith facts give young people the vocabulary they need to think and talk about the deeper matters of personal, communal, and institutional faith. A facile knowledge of the faith facts is an important component in developing for them a sense of Catholic identity. The facts also provide a structure within which they can organize the vast array of truths that make up church doctrine and church traditions. To use an old phrase I learned from my father, memorized facts provide ‘pegs to hand your knowledge on.'”

The books are designed primarily to work in a classroom setting. For homeschoolers who belong to homeschooling groups and co-ops, the games and activities are well suited. For families who will use the resources in their individual families, some adaptions will be necessary.

First of all are the Faith Facts Study Cards. The cards are printed on card stock; each set in a different color to make it easy to keep them sorted. Furthermore, each card has a number printed on it, so you can keep track of where you are at on memory work, or you can easily assign a set of cards by number for you child to work on. The description from the website follows:

Study Cards
Faith Facts Study Cards Every middle school catechist needs these — 400 study cards, each with a faith vocabulary word or phrase on one side and the definition or explanation on the other. The cards are printed on heavy card stock and packaged in small baggies. There are four sets of 100 cards: Set A (green) is the easiest, with Sets B (pink), C (blue) and D (yellow) being successively harder. Set L (orange), the last 20 cards, contains questions with long or multiple answers (eg: Name the 12 apostles, Recite the Hail Mary). Games for teaching with the study cards are found in the Faith Facts Books below. The games and the cards were created by Sister Kieran Sawyer, SSND.

I think the price is reasonable for the number of cards you receive and the ease in which they are organized. In the green set, some examples include:

  • #13 – Baptism – The sacrament through which we become members of the Church and adopted children of God.
  • #14 – Benedict XVI – This person was gorn in Germany and baptized Joseph Alois Ratzinger. He was elected Pope in the year 2005.
  • #47 – Holy Communion – Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine.
  • #73 – Matrimony – The sacrament that unites a baptized man and woman in a lifelong bond of faithful love.

Other definitions include those for Peter, diocese, bishop, Lord’s Supper, Sign of the Cross and soul.

In the next level of cards (pink), examples include:

  • #25 – consecration – The solemn prayer during hte Mass when the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
  • #64 – mortal sin – A very serious offense that destroys our relationship with God.
  • #88 -sanctuary – The main area in the church building where the altar is placed.
  • #95 – Sunday obligation – The expectation that Catholics are to participate in the Eucharist every Sunday (or Saturday).
  • #96 – tabernacle – The special locked cabinent, often made of gold, where the Blessed Sacrament is kept in a Catholic Church.

In the blue set of cards, examples include the following definitions:

  • #21 – College of Bishops – All the Catholic bishops of the world, in union with their head the Pope, who is the bishop of Rome.
  • #22 – communion of saints – All the followers of Jesus, living and dead, including the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven.
  • #90 – transubstantiation – The special word used to name the changing of ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at the consecration of the Mass.
  • #91 – vestments – The special clothing worn by the priests and other ministers for liturgical celebrations.

In the yellow deck, definitions are included for words like fidelity, excommunication, prudence, St. Augustine, St. Dominic, inspiration and logos.

All the decks are organized alphabetically for ease in working on specific definitions.

Alone, you could use the cards simply for memory work, taking perhaps ten cards at a time and drilling them for a week. In a 36 week school year, you would have worked your way through nearly all 400 cards and exposed your family to the “vocabulary” of the Church.

What if you want to step it up a notch? Then look to the two books that go along with the Faith Fact Cards. As I stated earlier, the activities are geared towards classroom. One fantastic idea that this set off for me is a Catholic Knowledge Bowl. Each family that wants to participate would purchase the set of 400 cards and work on them. At the end of the school year, families from your homeschooling group could get together and have a competition by giving out the definitions and having students compete to provide the correct word.

In the first book, Faith Facts for Young Catholics, these are some of the activity directions that are provided:

  • Sacraments – Drill One and Two
  • Ten Commandments – Drills One through Four
  • Review Card Drill
  • Parts of the Mass
  • Seven Gifts Memorization Game,
  • Prayer Relay
  • Several sports analogy games,
  • Twenty Questions
  • Complete the Passage
  • Scripture – Drills One through Three

All told, there are are 25 activities listed. In the resource section, you will find blackline masters for making copies of the forms needed for the games, the scripture passage cards and more.

I found the the scripture passage cards to be very useful – on one side is the beginning of a scripture passage like “#1 – My God, my God” and on the other side of the card, “1. why have you forsaken me.” (Ps 22:1) and “15. See, upon the palms of my hands” with the other side saying “15. I have written your name. (Is 49:15)”.

Another useful section is the Gospel Trivia Cards that include 36 cards with a question about a biblical passage on the front along with the location of the answer and then on the back the answer.

In the next book, “more Faith Facts for Young Catholics“, Sister Kieran provides another 13 activities including: Tick Tac Toe, Musical Flash Cards, Apostles’ Creed Games, Old Testament and Gospel Trivia, Bible Book Games and Catechism Categories Game.

A particularly useful feature of this book is the Flash Card Categories section. Sister Kieran offers 13 suggestions for categorizing the cards including Old Testament Men, Old Testament Women, Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Apostles. In the resources section you will find 103 Flash cards to duplicate and cut out.

And the Old Testament (30 cards) and Gospel Triva (30 cards) cards (black line masters in the resource section) are also quite useful. They include:

  • 5. Name both parents of John the Baptism. LUKE 1:5-23
  • 28. On what day of the week did Jesus cure a man’s paralyzed hand? MARK 3:1-6
  • 25. Two of the apostles were sons of a man named Zebedee. Name the sons. MATTHEW 10:2

This is such a great activity to foster independent work that familiarizes your children with the bible, the ability to look up passages and to be exposed to particular biblical fphrases. I can see giving a card to each child at the beginning of the school day for them to look up and write out.

And, finally, definitely not to be missed is the the “Who, What, When Study Cards”. This part of the resource section includes 16 black master pages starting off with 4 pages of a time line.

The next section offers 40 cards of events / people including Edict of Milan, St. Benedict, Crusades, Gothic Cathedrals, Council of Trent, First American Bishop, First Vatican Council, Rerum Novarum, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton  with a description of the term / person on the front and a date on the back.

Following the cards is the actual sequence of the 40 cards mentioned previously. Again, my mind is just churning on how I could use these as an independent activity for my children.

I found this to be a very well done package of resources. I believe you could use the Faith Fact cards independently of the books. But, I did find especially the second book to be filled with some very unique resources and ideas. I have a large family, so I could use the activities right here, but they do especially lend themselves to co-ops and larger group settings.

Catholic Memory Work

In a previous post, I discussed this book:

I wanted to offer an update of how well this book works with children. Memory work is a difficult subject for me to tackle. At this point, I have 5 school age children in 4 different grades – that is a lot of material to memorize.

After copying the picture of the room that is used to work on the Ten Commandments, I sat the children down and said that we were going to learn all the commandments. The rolled eyes and groaning voices clearly indicated what they thought about it. But, ten minutes later, the oldest four could recite all Ten Commandments in order without the image. My youngest school age child (a first grader), could recite them using the image. Success!

Feeling proud and inspired with confidence, the next week we tackled the Seven Deadly Sins. A bit of difficulty was encountered because some of the words were difficult – avarice and gluttony. But, they knew what the idea of the sin was – the boar roasting in the fireplace was about eating too much – gluttony. The money tree outside the window was wanting to much money (avarice). This lead to a lovely discussion of sins – gluttony was not just about eating too much, but was about too much of anything and how these types of sin snare us and lead us away from God. Success!

Last week, we mastered the Seven Cardinal Virtues – again a success.

To note, the mnemonics need to be practiced frequently – we have a mini-contest on Fridays – the prize is candy for those that are able to recite all the memory work we have completed.

What’s for supper?

I am using this post as a way to keep track of the recipes that I’ve tried and my family actually enjoys. With eight children, that is no small feat! Please note that the recipes are approximates, I don’t really measure much except when I bake. And, once again, self disclosing, there are assorted children who will not eat certain meals. So, I let them opt for peanut butter and jelly. I know other families do this differently, I just do not have the energy to fight the battle over more than a single bite of everything. I have seen the tastebuds of my family mature as they get older, even with the boys who are particularly picky. So, we will see in about ten years if I have a family that will eat a wide variety of food.

Chicken Parmigiana ~
Chicken Enchiladas in Cheese Sauce ~
Mediterranean Chicken ~
Super Bowl Nachos ~
Beer Brats
02/14/08 – Chicken Parmigiana – Tonight’s meal was another hit. I dirtied up a few too many pots and pans – but the extra cleaning involved was worth it. I used a pound of skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into cubes. I tossed them with a cup of flour in a plastic bag, poured them in hot oil and panned fried until they were crispy. In the mean time, I made a simple tomato sauce – large can of sauce with a can of stewed tomatoes and assorted seasonings including onions and garlic – just typical sauce. I prepared a half a package of angel hair pasta and got out some mozarella cheese and we were ready to assemble. Throw the pasta in the bottom of a 9X13 pan, top with tomato sauce, add chicken and then finish it off with a layer of cheese. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until the cheese is bubbly. If you want to stretch the meal since chicken – well – really any kind of meat – can become expensive, you can cube the chicken up a bit smaller and cook more pasta and divide over two 9X13 inch pans. Still tastes great.

02/13/08 – Chicken Enchiladas – My most picky eater actually asks for this dish. I think it is the sour cream in the cheese sauce that makes it a hit for all eight kids – plus us grownups. Start with a pound of skinless, boneless chicken breasts – you can either poach the chicken in water or fry in a pan, but let it cook and then shred the meat. Return to the pan and add a can of Rotele – yes – my favorite, name brand condiment and cook until the liquid has evaporated. In the meantime, add 1 1/2 cups of cheese – a blend of mozarella and cheddar is fine – or even just cheddar along with a few tablespoons of flour and 8 ounces of sour cream, slowly heat until the cheese has complete melted. Warm up a pile of torillas (my family prefers flour instead of corn) so they are soft and easy to roll up. Place a generous spoonful of chicken in the middle of the tortilla, roll up and place seam side down in a 9X13 inch pan that has been sprayed lightly with oil. I can squeeze about 16 tortillas in the pan. Then simply pour the cheese sauce over the tortillas and pop in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

01/28/08 – Mediterranean Chicken with risotto – In an attempt to lose weight this summer, I tried the Sonoma diet. Well, it was not an effective weight loss diet for me – mostly because the food was soooo good. But, I did learn how to put together some nice tastes and use my bucket loads of tomatoes. Now, in the winter tomatoes are pricey and generally flavorless, but I did happen upon an nicely priced container of grape tomatoes at Trader Joes – ok, another asides, they have some of the nicest speciality items and organic products at prices I can afford once in a while. I chopped up a whole chicken into pieces along with an onion and four cloves of garlic and half a container of the grape tomatoes, and tossed the whole mixture with 1/4 of a cup of olive oil, some sea salt, freshly ground pepper and a bit of fresh rosemary. After placing the chicken in a 9X13 pan, I took about 2 ounces of feta cheese and crumbled it over the chicken, threw it in a 400 degree oven and backed for about 45 minutes to one hour. The only thing I wished I could have added was about 1/4 of a cup of an olive tamponade that I found at our local Trader Joes. The price is better than buying a jar of kalamata olives and it is so much easier to use and keeps for a long time in the refrigerator. I had about 8 ounces of risotto left, so I cooked it according to the directions on the package with two chicken boullion cubes, some garlic powder (hey I ran out of time), Italian seasonings and a tablespoon of butter. It is only the second time I have prepared risotto and I found I had to constantly stir it to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

o1/27/08 – Superbowl Nachos – This meal was inspired by Rachel Ray – yes – the girls and I watch a lot of the cooking channel. Again, it was a Superbowl show. She had made a healthy chicken chili, but I opted for the handy ground beef. So, I fried up a pound of ground beef (ours if grass fed, very lean) with a half an onion and 2 small chorizo sausages removed from the casing. Once it was cooked, I added a package of taco mix and a can of Mild Rotel – not to get too off track, but this nifty little item has really jazzed up a number of my dishes including chili. I let that cook down, and then a put a thin layer of shredded cheese in the bottom of 9X13 pan. I threw the meat mixture on top of that and then added about 1/2 of an 8 ounce container of sour cream in dollops over the top of the meat. Semi-crushed corn chips were added as the next layer. Finally, another layer of shredded cheese was added to the top. I baked it in a 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes – basically, until the cheese was a bit browned and melted. Everyone truly enjoyed this dish – it was such an easy way of making nachos and by putting the meat on the bottom, the chips stayed nice and crisp through the entire meal.

01/26/08 – Brats cooked in beer w/ grilled onions and green peppers – oh my gosh, we’ve had grilled brats before, but this was simply the best. I watched Paula Dean’s Superbowl program for the idea. I took a package of brats, simmered them gently in one can of beer. As they were simmering, I sliced up one large sweet onion and a large green pepper and cooked them on my large griddle w/ a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Once they were softened, I threw them in with the brats and cooked down the whole mixture for about 15 minutes – the liquid had disappeared. Then, I took the entire pan and dropped it back on the griddle to crisp all of it up. I grilled the hotdog buns and threw it all together with a big bag of chips. Not an especially healthy dinner, but fun!

Laundry Anyone?

Ok, on all the general homeschool lists I belong to, laundry is a common topic that comes up often. So, I am going to share the system that works for my family. First of all, I have confess that I am not a laundry zealot. I do not fold underwear nor can I remember the last time I ironed anything (hey, isn’t that what the wrinkle release spray is for?). Furthermore, most of my children’s clothing is well loved (i.e. hand me downs), so I do not have “issues” with colors bleeding onto whites.

After having one to many mountains of laundry, I had to find a different way to cope. I enlisted all the children in the sorting of laundry, but since I found it such a distasteful job and overwhelming to boot, I postponed doing the laundry until I had several loads of whites to do, multiple loads of colors and then of course towels and sheets added in.

The kids all tried to be helpful to begin with, but the mountains of laundry invariably led them to decide (well it was mostly the little boys) that it needed to conquered. So, as socks were flying to each child’s pile, someone would take the initiative to climb the mountain of clothes and then the true bedlam began.

At this time, I had been “flying” ala my modified FlyLady – so I decided that the kids were old enough to be responsible for their own laundry. So, I found a set of plastic shelving and 7 laundry baskets (the 2 youngest boys where the same size) that would fit on the shelves and we began.

Dirty clothes had to be put in each of their individual baskets – this eliminated the need to sort laundry. I experienced, a major epiphany (a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience)

When the basket is full, the child places laundry soap and color safe whitener and washes their clothes and then places them in the dryer. If someone complains about not having clothes to wear – the short answer is “do your laundry”.

In addition, I pair up the older children with the younger ones and they assist in measuring the laundry detergent and moving the wet clothes to the dryer. They also lend assistance in getting the clothes in the drawers.

Ok, this is the next thing I have to ‘fess up over. I have given them folding lessons, but their drawers do not look perfect … it’s ok for me. It might not work for you, but it does for me.

The final key to the laundry solution was offered on one of my favorite homeschool lists. She uses the same system and suggested that when they do their basket of laundry, have them throw their towel and sheets in at the same time.

Now, if you need, you can have two baskets for each child, one for colors and one for whites. As I stated ealier, I have no concerns over colors bleeding into whites. Once in a while I may run a load of white soaks to get the last traces of Georgia red clay out. But for the most part, the detergent and color-safe whitener seems sufficient. And, since we run the clothes on hot (remember nothing is new or shrinkable – hey we live in the south and have no sweaters!), I feel like all the germs are washed / killed.

The magic of a clean kitchen sink

I stumbled on to when I was pregnant with my fourth child. My house was in a shambles – I had 3 babies 3 and under and expecting my 4th. I really wasn’t homeschooling as the kids were still very young, but I knew we were going to homeschool.

One morning, things came to head – I had been nursing a baby, my oldest son was playing with a friend outside and the doorbell rang. Rushing to the door, I threw it open expecting to find my son. Well, it wasn’t my son, but a neighbor who stopped by – and I was not in a state of dress appropriate for answering the door – and it was nearly noon. I was mortified.

I knew things had to change. A friend had mentioned FlyLady and that led me to an internet quest and six years later, I have a house that while not picture perfect is acceptable for company that might want to drop in. And, I am always dressed as soon as I get up – well except for the week I give myself after having a baby. I have permission to laze around in a nightgown and robe and focus on establishing the newborn nursing relationship.

So, what did FlyLady do for me? Well, she broke up household management into tiny steps – one of the first being to get dressed and put on shoes in the morning. Another important step is to go to bed leaving the kitchen sink clean and sparkling.

I have to say, that there seems to be something magical that happened when I started clearing the kitchen sink. The clean seemed to expand in a circle from the kitchen. The reality is that I simply started to develop house cleaning routines. I was able to face my problem head on. Prior to FlyLady, I did not clean until I realized something was dirty. And, when I started to clean, I didn’t want to stop until the entire house / job was complete – hours and hours later generally. Then the vicious circle kicked in. The next time I finally realized that the bathroom was dirty – I was nearly paralyzed with the fact that it was going to take hours to finish and therefore did not want to even begin.

FlyLady helped me to break up housekeeping into “zones” and small steps – generally 5 – 15 minutes at a time. And, I had permission to stop at the end of the time period. And, since we worked on a zone a week and there was a weekly “houseblessing” there was never a huge crisis cleaning awaiting me.

Last year, I took FlyLady to the next step – I assigned my older children their own zone in the downstairs. The zones rotate each week – the living room being the least favorite since it is the area that the babies drag out all their toys. They are responsible for dusting and windows and floor cleaning and the daily toy / trash pickup for that zone. In the kitchen, the zone person will unload the dishes and ensure that the table is cleaned off after each meal. I have no arguments over who is responsible for cleaning up or having heated discussions over whose turn it is to do the dishes or clear the table. And, the zone only lasts a week!

Finally, one of the most important lessons FlyLady taught me was to tackle my clutter. Clutter is a killer to my home. Clutter and the need to hold on to “things” with the idea that I might use them at a later date interferes with my peace. I have pared down clothing and towels and books and papers. I have places in my house were there are not “things” on the walls and on the floor so that my eyes my find a place to “rest” … to not be stimulated.

My system isn’t perfect and I know so many other lovely mothers whose house are in much better shape. But, I finally have peace … and the ability to have company drop in unexpectedly!

Family School Time

On one of the lovely Catholic homeschool lists I belong to, I was lamenting on the fact that somehow I never managed to get to our memory work – things like poetry recitation, Latin drills, state cards and the rest. Providentially, a mom suggested “Family School Time”. Unfortunately, I cannot recall her name in order to credit this to her, but it has been a life saver.

We first move through our family prayer time. The details of which can be found in the next post.
Then, we move on to our scholastic memory work. Our schedule has us review the days of the week on Monday’s and Wednesday’s and the months of the year on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s – can you see my cheeks red from embarrassment that my 7th grader couldn’t remember the months? We follow this with the state and capital reviews (5 new ones per week and reviewing the rest). Remember, that I have all my school age children attending Family School, so even if my first grader isn’t working on the states, he is being exposed to it.

We work on addition facts on Monday, Multiplication facts on Tuesday, Subtraction Facts on Wednesday, and Division Facts on Thursdays. This ensures that even if children have moved past the “learning facts” stage, they still have a refresher. Finally, we work on our family poem. This year, I am attempting some Shakespeare with everyone.

After the poetry work, I dismiss the little ones. The have a short break while I work on the Latina Christiana I vocabulary words and chants with my three oldest children. I go through 5 lessons a day, so that by the end of the week, they have another chance to be exposed to all the those words.

My fifth grader is then dismissed and I work on the Latina Christiana II vocabulary with my oldest two who are in seventh grade. I have let the vocabulary slip with my oldest, so our goal is to review two lessons a day and then the current lesson’s words.

So, now I’m sure you’re gasping thinking of how behind I must be on our schedule. But, in reality, I have finally fit in all the drill work that I find necessary and with relief, we can move on to individual subjects. I find this system works for me because this type of memory work is a bit tedious and I do best just getting it finished (I hate having it hang over my head) and by requiring everyone to attend, the little ones are getting a head start.

Oh, and one other point to note, we do have additional memory work that is required in the syllabi we use. But, since I’m being honest, it doesn’t happen with as great regularity as the Family School memory work does.