Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We Found Cheesus!!!!

Look! It's a miracle and I'm not even Catholic!


While Josh was noshing away at his cheetos, he came across this odd shaped one. Me, always the imaginative one, immediately set out to identify this cheesometry baked snack.

Cheesus! The Jesus made out of cheese!

Paige even made him a little stand so we can see him properly.

Yes, I know. It's just a fluke from the baking process. I know it's not really Jesus. Jesus is in heaven waiting for his turn to flip our world over.

But as a Christian, my mind tends to wander to the divine, and if I see divinity in a cheeto, then so be it.

So for now, Cheesus will sit on his perch and watch me cook this wonderful food Jesus has blessed us with.

And maybe watch me eat a cheeto or two.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fossil Hunting

Here on base, in the wilds near the radar, is a nature trail complete with fossil beds in which to poke around. While in the midst of studying rocks and soil in homeschool, I decided a field trip to the fossil beds was in order.

In the "fossil bed" area, we found fossilized shells simply everywhere. Millions of them! Some were small, other the size of golf balls.

We also found dozens of bleached white complete shells. Where in the heck did these come from? They were scattered around over quite a large area and were about the size of an un-shelled peanut.

This part of Texas was mostly underwater millions of years ago in the Cambrien Period. Despite arguments from staunch Creationists that insist all the land is as it's always been and there is no continental drift, I so incredibly beg to differ. If there wasn't an ocean, sea, or lake over top of this earth in the past, how in the world did all of these shells get here?

(I won't go into an evolution/creation debate on this blog.) (Though it's tempting.) (I am a firm believer in God and educated in biology.) (I see God IN science.) (Anyway.....)

((After doing some research, I've discovered that the creationist explanation for why fossils are where they are is because during the Flood, the land was shifted, moved around, and redeposited in other places. As a Christian, I believe the Bible is the Word of God and so I know the Bible to be true. I believe there was a flood that covered the entire Earth.

So maybe they're right? Or not?)) (((There are books and books and books that refute, argue, and provide evidence contrary to every other piece of evidence. It's dizzying.)))

Paige, ever the resourceful girl, brought papers and pens for taking notes and jotting down drawings of our finds (alas, we could not take anything home with us). She also brought skewers, plastic kid knives, brushes, and a few hand trowels in case we needed to do some digging.

I think she was hoping for a pit, some dust devils, an hour of digging, and VIOLA! a brachiasaurus femur!

Well, we did none of the above, but Phoebe had a ball poking this weird, low-lying cactus with her green plastic knife.

She was not impressed by the shells in the least.

Josh remained interested for approximately six point two seconds. He would pick up an occasional shell or piece of rock that had shells imbedded in it, look at it for a fraction of a second and then throw it down again.

Phoebe didn't pick any shells, I don't think. As evidenced by this photo she was busy picking other things.

There were also numerous rocks with shells in them and even some impression fossils of plants and worms.

Ooh! It's me! Hi y'all!

Jerry's folks joined us in our fossil hunt. I got them all together for a nice desert backdropped family photo.

What exactly is going on here?

(No, Phoebe's not peeing. She had a momentary insatiable need to dance.)

(She's two. What can I say?)

Here's an example of little more modern type of shell. Hunting times are from 2000-0600 hours.

Overall the fossils were quite impressive considering we're in the middle of an arid desert covered with million year old shell fossils.

It goes to show, you just never know what you're going to find tomorrow.......

Friday, May 20, 2011

Our Homeschool

So, how's the homeschool going you ask?

Or maybe you don't ask. But you're gonna find out anyway!

We've been homeschooling now for about four months. Paige who was in first grade at the beginning of the year will be starting third grade in the fall, and Josh who was due to start Kindergarten will in fact start first grade.

How are my kids up a grade? Because they are so incredibly smart? Because I am such a perfect and smart teacher?


No. Not really. Yes my kids are smart, and yes I think I am a pretty good and intelligent teacher, but those are not the main reasons for our success. They are academically advanced for their age simply because homeschooling works.


Like a dang charm.

Here's a rundown of our homeschooling experience:

1. Why homeschool?

We decided to homeschool simply because the local public schools are sub-par, and even the local private schools are awful. If I wanted my kids to actually get an education, and not a free government supported daycare service, I was going to have to teach the kids myself.

2. How can you stand to be with your kids so much?

My kids are high energy. Paige is wild and has a flair for attitude. Josh is at times whiny with a flair for moaning and groaning. Phoebe is two. Nuff said.

The main issue that has to be addressed BEFORE, or soon after, beginning homeschooling is discipline. You must have children who obey your rules and house laws or homeschooling will be impossibly difficult. The first week of school our kids huffed and puffed, whined and rolled their eyes, or worse, every time I mentioned school or chores or anything.

After a week of that crap I put my foot down and they put a book up. What?

Now, some of you will think this is harsh. Maybe it is. But I don't think so. Jerry and I decided that what we needed from the kids was FIRST TIME response. Meaning, when we asked them to do something, they were to do it the very first time we asked them, with no complaining or whining. No more, "Josh, go clean your room", followed, "Oh MOM! I'm sooooo tired! I can't do it! WAAAHHHHHHH." The consequence to NOT responding to our requests the first time we asked was to hold a heavy book over their heads until they were uncomfortable.

I'll let that sink in.

Before beginning this training technique, I sat the kids down and explained to them what I expected from them, what they were and were not allowed to do, and what would happen if they were disobedient. I also explained that when we adults disobeyed OUR given laws, like speeding or stealing, we were made very uncomfortable with things like fines, fees, or jail-time. Therefore, our job as parents is to teach our children to learn to obey laws and rules, even if they seem stupid, so they won't have to suffer bad or uncomfortable circumstances later in life.

Within 24 hours, and maybe 8 times holding the book over his head, Josh stopped complaining. He stopped complaining about ANYTHING. When asked to clean his room he would say OK and go clean his room. When told to do this or that for school, he would do it. Quietly.

It was, and is a miracle!

Paige took about a week to train because we had a few more years of built up disobedience to carve through, but eventually she came around and started responding the FIRST TIME.

Even now our kids are (mostly) FIRST TIME responders, and when they do relapse into their nastier habits, a good session with the book sets them straight again for a long while.

Sound barbaric? It's better than spanking or yelling or threatening. Time-outs didn't work, taking away things they liked didn't work, bribing didn't work.

The book works.

Without well-disciplined children, homeschooling would be a stressful nightmare for everyone involved.

3. How do you know what to teach?

That's a good question. When we first started, I looked and looked for a curriculum guide so I could make sure I was teaching the kids appropriate material and neither going too fast nor to slow. Guess what? There is not one set of curriculum for any grade. One school teaches this, another teaches that, etc.

You can buy what is referred to as an "umbrella" curriculum from companies such as Alpha Omega, Calvert, or Abeka. These umbrella curricula have all of the lessons and subjects laid out for you, worksheets are included as are tests, answer keys, and even line by line teaching. There is basically nothing for you to plan or design.

And there is no flexibility or creativity.

I am too much of a micromanager to go for something like that. Instead, I bought some grade appropriate workbooks from a teaching supply store and sort of planned my curriculum to follow their layout. I did that for math and science primarily. For language arts for Paige, I used some great workbooks I got from my aunt who taught English as a Second Language classes. I started at the beginning with capital letters and just kept going; through parts of speech, synonyms, compound words, etc. Josh was easier. His job in language arts was to learn to read. I taught him using a dry-erase board, BOB books, and oodles of patience. He's doing really well.

4. What's your day look like?

If you know me, you will know that I tend to do things differently than the norm. So instead of the typical homeschool curriculum schedule where the student does each subject every day for a short amount of time, I have established a schedule more like a college schedule.

Yes, I know. They are elementary students. But whatever. If the goal of secondary education is to get them into and out of a good college with good grades and thus a good job, why not teach them the same way a college does?

Here's what our weekly schedule looks like:

Monday: spelling, writing, American History, music.
Tuesday: reading comprehension, math, science, science lab
Wednesday: grammar, world history, art
Thursday: reading comprehension, math, science, Spanish
Friday: Co-op*

Wow, that seems like a lot! How long do you "do" school every day?

Typically we start after chores and breakfast, usually around 8:30 or 9 am. We work for 30-45 minutes, take a 15-20 minute break, then work for another 30-45 minutes. We usually stop for lunch around 11:30- 12:00. After lunch we get going again around 1:00, and finish our day usually no later than 3:00. That's about 4 hours of school per day.

4 hours and you're done and you're kids have learned A LOT!

(I could go on and on but I won't.) (Did I mention I typically don't get out of bed before 8 am?)

5. What about socialization?

Yes, we're together a lot. Yes, I have less free time than I did before. Yes, I sometimes lose my mind. But not usually.

Because we live in an area with TONS of homeschooling families, there is an awesome homeschool cooperation started by three awesome moms. We meet most Friday morning for classes. True classroom classes. Each mom is expected to teach or be a helper for at least one class. I taught an Eric Carl class to 5-6 year old kids. We used these books to teach about science, art, manners, and community. The kids also took classes like Spanish, Odyssey of the Mind, American Girl classes, and music.

Over the past four months we have gotten to know very well most of the co-op families. We micromanaging mothers are all very much alike so we are a happy, mostly content group. There are 50-60 kids in the co-op and they all have a ball together.

Also, since we are done with school so early in the day and as they have NO homework, the rest of the afternoon is theirs. On most days, after school, Paige and Josh head off to a friends house or their friends come here to play. They play from 3 until 5 or six. EVERY day.

We also have more time for sports and activities like baseball and scouting simply because the kids have NO HOMEWORK.

On a whole, I think our homeschooled kids are MORE socialized than public school kids.

We also take off from school whenever we want, for vacations, field trips, sick days, or I-don't-feel-like-it days. Since the kids are so far ahead already, it's no big deal if they get one or two days or weeks behind. They're still ahead!

6. How do you know what grade to teach them?

In getting ready for the Fall, I have been giving the kids some of the placement tests that the umbrella curricula have created. Even though each curriculum teaches slightly different things in very different ways, you can get a great idea of how your kids stack up to other kids using a more rigid curriculum.

Paige placed into 3rd grade math and 4th grade language arts.
Josh placed into 1st grade.

We will continue to homeschool this Spring until the end of May, and then do some summer bridge workbooks throughout the summer to keep the skills they have gained and get them ready for next year. We'll begin again sometime at the end of August.

So, that's it in a very long nutshell!!

I'll be writing more about it later. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them here on my blog or send me an email at moobellies@yahoo.com

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Gardening in Zone 9.5

For the past few summers I've been wanting to have a small, raised garden. So when we were offered this house and discovered a preexisting raised garden in the backyard I was thrilled! It's fate!

We live in Zone 9 or 10 (can't tell from those highly accurate colored lines on the back of the seed packs), so when we started planning and planting our garden in March I was afraid we were too late. By mid-March it's 100 degrees. But I figured if it's too hot we'll try again next year.

As a homeschooling family, I used this as a learning opportunity. In the days leading up to planting time, the children learned about seeds, plants, weather, and soil science.

When planting day arrived, the kids helped purge the flower bed of rocks, mix in gardening soil, and even gross themselves out by hand-mixing in a bag of manure. "EWWWW!!! Poop!!!"

But when it was all mixed together and planted, the garden was looking good!

I bought two Roma tomato seedlings, one jalapeno plant, one red bell pepper plant, and one cucumber plant. To increase their interest in this "family" project, I let each kid pick one small pack of flowers from The Home Depot to add to the flower corner of the garden.

I also planted a "box" basil plant and a small sprig of rosemary. I planted 6 green bean seeds as well.

The best part of the planting experience? The clean up!

Here's our garden about a month later. (Please ignore the weeds slowly creeping up into the garden. They didn't last another day after this picture was taken.) The cucumber plant sends shoots and feelers all over the place, the green bean seeds took off and are thriving in this desert heat. The tomatoes are huge, and the basil is shrubbing beautifully. (The basil is called a "box" basil because it grows in this awesome, compact, tight shape instead of all over the place. It's really very attractive as a shrub. And you can add it to your spaghetti!)

The flowers are doing alright despite my having to experiment with watering schedules. I have a soaker hose wrapped around the base of the plants so if I need to water in the heat of the day I won't wet the leaves and burn them. Luckily, however, we have an old-growth oak tree in the best spot of the backyard so our garden gets direct sun in the morning and late afternoon, but gets shade during the hottest part of the day.

That is a baby green bean. For a vegetable, these baby green beans sure are cute! They start out about the size of a tic-tac and then grow from there. We have about 30-40 beans growing.

We're still waiting for them to ripen. (I tried to eat one of the largest and seemingly most mature bean. YUCK!! The inside was all clear and starchy. I guess they're not ripe yet!)

This is a female cucumber flower. The female flowers have what looks like a baby cucumber growing behind her, and if the flower is pollinated by a male cucumber flower (from the same plant) the cucumber will continue to grow. No pollination, no cucumber.

We're having problems with cucumber reproduction at the moment. I get quite a few females and a ton of male flowers, but even with hand pollinating using a paintbrush, all of the baby cukes wither and fall off. I suspect the tiny yellow gnats that live in the flowers are eating the pollen. I'm working on a solution.

The jalapenos were the first to get going. We have three almost full peppers just getting ready for their cream cheese filling and bacon-wrapped bake in the oven.

Tomatoes. Ahh, tomatoes. Even dummies can grow tomatoes. Even me!

Well, kind of.

The plants are growing like crazy, and at first there were dozens of flowers and baby tomatoes, but then the flowers fell off and no more came to replace them. I added some tomato fertilizer and the flowers came back, but after these first three early fruits, none of these new flowers are turning into tomatoes.

I've read that if the flowers aren't agitated enough they won't self-fertilize. What to do? Use a vibrator! I kid you not! So every few days I go out with my, well, the tomato's vibrating toothbrush, and vibrate the stems, leaves, everything.

With all of the vibrating going on in my backyard, copulation shouldn't be this difficult!

But that's part of the fun of a garden. Who knew there were male and female cucumber flowers? Who knew tomatoes all go gaga for a good vibrator? Who knew unripe green beans are so dang disgusting?

The Gerber daisies are happy. As are the marigolds and basil. I'm happy, too. Dirt under your nails is good!

Do you have any good garden stories? Are you currently growing anything? What's worked well in your gardens before? Any tips for my fertilizing problems?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Debut Sea World Stage Show!

Ah, Sea World. Who doesn't love to see the amazing sea creatures up close? Witness the beauty and splendor of a graceful and elegant dolphin or sea lion as it catapults itself into the air? Gawk at the penguins, sting ray, and sharks?

After all of that eye feasting, there's always a good restaurant right around the corner to fill your bellies with bodily nourishment as well.

I've heard it somewhere that a popular Mexican restaurant chain serves a 900 calorie nacho salad bowl. Wow. That's a lot of calories for a salad.

Oh, well! I walked twelve miles around Sea World, held a sleeping fat baby in my arms for an hour, and lost ten pounds of sweat while riding a deathly scary roller coaster. I deserve a good nacho salad bowl!

Oh, look! There I am again!

On second thought, maybe I shouldn't have eaten the entire salad.

Does this nacho salad make me look fat?