Hidden Art Friday: The Door

When we bought our house, it was listed as having one less bedroom than it actually has. The reason is that the final bedroom is set up to be used as an office, which is how we will be using it (my husband finally gets his own office!), but because of that, they had removed the door. We had asked the previous owners if they had the door, and they said no.

Fortunately for us, they were wrong. It was in the basement, covered in 60s paint and a good layer of mold.


We tried chemical stripper first. What a smelly mess.


Then, our neighbor who renovates houses for a living and a hobby loaned us his heat gun. I’m in love. I’ll never use the chemical glop again.


(To be fair, this is after heat gun and power sander and hand sanding the corners. This is a job for somebody with lots of free time.) YouTube has tons of helpful and unhelpful videos about how to do this, if you’re truly curious. But if you run across a guy telling you to get chemical stripper out of detail work using kitty litter, DON’T DO IT.

After trying linseed oil on one of the edges, we decided to stain the door a little darker than the wood is naturally. We have no idea what kind of wood it is. We’ve heard that chestnut was used for a lot of these old doors in this area of the country, but ours is some kind of hardwood core with a veneer of something else. No clue.


We bought new hinges and new doorknobs, and my husband installed it.


Ta Da!!


I love it. So much. Which is good, because I think I put about 40 hours into it. The next one should go faster. Really.


I love it so much that I took the next door off the linen closet to try to get it done this fall while the kids play outside. Let’s see…if I do 2 doors a year and there are 20 doors (not including the beautiful front doors, which have been painted maroon)…

Posted in Hidden Art Fridays | 3 Comments

Beyond Monopoly and Candyland: Fun Games for Kids

Everyone who comes to our house comments on our board game collection.  We have shelves and shelves of games, and they’re way better than the old, tired, endless games from our childhoods.  Some board games go in and out of print quickly, but here are a few of our favorites that you can buy right now!  (Or forward the link to grandparents who need Christmas gift ideas…)

e2s board games

Go Away, Monster! is the first game our kids play, starting at age 2.  Players take turns reaching into a bag to pick out pieces to complete their little bedroom scene: a bed, a teddy bear, picture, and lamp.  But beware!  There are monsters in roughly the same shapes!  If a player picks up a monster, they yell, “Go away, monster!” and throw it in the middle of the table.  It’s really simple, taking 5-10 minutes to play, but little kids learn taking turns and how to strategize to find the missing pieces they need.  My three year old loves it and wants to play every night.

Catan: Junior is a kid-friendly version of the grown-up Settlers of Catan, the resource-gathering, trading, and building game that was the gateway game into Euro-style games for many of us! Kids collect resources like goats and gold nuggets and wood to build more pirate lairs and pirate ships that will help them build more things and win the game. My kids started being able to play on their own at around age 6. The younger ones play on a team with a parent or big brother.

My First Carcassonne is another kid-version of a great grown-up tile laying game, Carcassonne. In the kid version, players take turns laying tiles, and if you create a road with end points, you get to put your little colored pieces on every matching child on the road. First player to use up all their pieces wins. My five year old can play this, and I like that more advanced players can “help” out younger players by placing tiles where the little ones will get points. It’s easy to make sure no one gets too far behind.

Battle Sheep is sortof a take on something like Chinese checkers. Everyone has a stack of sheep, and you want to be the one to lay out the most sheep on the board before spaces run out. There is strategy to cutting other players off and how many sheep to use in each stack, so my seven year old doesn’t do too well at it yet, but my nine year old loves it and could beat me at age 8! The pieces on this one are particularly nice quality, and it’s actually fun for grown-ups, too.

Sushi Go! is our family’s current favorite game. Perfect for big kids and adults, you’re trying to get the most points by collecting different sets of sushi. Everyone has a hand of cards, you pick one, then pass it to the player on the left. By the time it comes back to you, someone else might have played the card you really wanted, so you’re making new decisions with each turn. My seven year old won the game her first time playing, and our nine year old has been hanging with us for a while.

Forbidden Island is our family’s favorite “cooperative game,” where everyone works together for a common goal, similar to the grown-up co-op game Pandemic. Each player has a special skill, and we all work together to collect certain treasures before the island we’re on sinks. Lots of strategy, but since we’re all working together and discussing, our seven year old can easily play her own role. Our little girls prefer to play on our teams and help turn over the tiles that are under water or rescued.

Forbidden Desert is the sequel to Forbidden Island, and this time we’ve crash landed in a desert and have to find the missing parts of our plane before we die of thirst or get covered in sand.  The game dynamics are a little more complicated than in Forbidden Island, but players still work together using different skills (someone can hold extra water, another might be able to clear extra sand each turn).  Again, if playing with advanced players, my kids can play their own role starting around age 7, but it’s fun with all adults, too.

Ticket to Ride is an adult game that our 9 year old started playing with us this year.  You all have train routes you’re trying to build across the country, and you have to collect the right color of train cars to build each segment.  There’s a lot of strategy in where you build your roads (especially if someone else builds where you were wanting to go) and what you collect, but an advanced kid can handle it.  It’s also a pretty straight-forward game to play when friends or family come to visit.  And now there’s a kid version available (see below)!

Takenoko has to be the cutest concept of all the games we have. You’re trying to grow bamboo to feed hungry pandas, achieving goals for types of bamboo farms, size of bamboo stalks, and colors of bamboo collected.  You’re building out the board and collecting resources, and the cute little panda gets to move around the board.  Our son started playing with us at 8, but the girls just love sit on our laps and play on our team since the strategy involved is definitely more for older kids and adults.

Zooloretto is another big kid to adult game. This time, you’re building a zoo, so you’re trying to collect the right kinds of animals and put them in trucks that you’ll end up taking to put in your own zoo pens.  Other people can steal your trucks as you’re filling them, though, so there’s strategy in how full to fill a truck, when to take it, and what kinds of animals to collect (because you don’t want all animals that other people are trying to collect).

And Target is getting into the board game space with some exclusives.  We picked up a kids’ version of Ticket to Ride last time we were at the store, and the kids loved it!

Ticket to Ride: First Journey is a simplified version of the adult game, with shorter routes and easier goals. A perfect introduction to the game that our seven year old played easily and our five year old played with a bit of help.

Most of these links (except the Target one) are to Amazon, and if you click through our links, we’ll get a little percentage of commission to help cover the hosting fees for the website.  However!  If you have a local game store, please go there and support them.  They provide such an important resource to go touch and feel a game and discuss it with knowledgeable (and always geeky) staff.  We buy most of our games from Valhalla’s Gate in Columbia, Missouri while we’re on vacation.  The staff there have been invaluable in helping us find the right games for our kids’ ages and interests.  There are many great game stores around, and Barnes and Noble actually has an increasingly decent selection, so I usually go there to buy presents for birthday parties since we don’t have a designated game store nearby.  


Posted in Gift Giving | 3 Comments

Homeschool Specifics

Following up on yesterday, I promised to share what curriculum we’ve used for each grade.  Remember, no one is going to do it just like me.  Use what works for your kids!  As a general intro, I am a big proponent of lots of memory work in the early years (when the kids are little sponges–in classical education, we call this “grammar stage”) and limited written work.  Though I’m listing a lot of subjects, we don’t do every subject everyday (many of the minor subjects are once a week or a unit study for a couple weeks once a semester), and a lot of our subjects take 5 minutes to do.  In general, I spend an hour on schoolwork per grade, per day.  So my Kindergartner will have maybe 30 minutes of sit-down time in a morning, my second grader will spend about two hours on schoolwork, and my fourth grader will be spending about four hours per day.  Listening to or reading books doesn’t count toward that time, nor do extracurriculars like art class or ballet.  For PE, the kids have done swimming lessons, play soccer, and run around and ride bikes with the neighbors, or go on family hikes on the weekends.

We do a four day week since we attend Community Bible Study every Thursday.  It’s a full “classroom” morning with teachers other than mom, the kids doing the pledge, Bible memory work, games, crafts, their own Bible study on the same topic the adults are studying, recess, and snack.  After CBS, we always go have a picnic lunch at the park with friends and spend a good couple of hours playing outside with two to twelve other families.  By the time we get home, we’re too tired to do much formal school, so I don’t plan much. We do a 36 week school year and take the summer off.  We do history, Bible, science, and fine arts all together.  For clarity, I’ll put down what we did with our oldest for each of those areas, as the younger ones just came along and do whatever he is doing in those joint subjects.  We’ll rotate back around in another couple years and repeat it all so that the little ones get it again.

Every year, I’ve used this really basic daily planner to plot out our school year, one for each kid.  For subjects like history or science where we want to do specific things in specific weeks, I write that down at the beginning of the year for the whole school year.  For subjects like spelling or math where we just do the next lesson each day, we wait and jot down what page we did.  The kids and I like checking off boxes when we finish subjects, and a quick glance at the kids’ planners can help me determine when we’re done for the day.  Thanks to my planners, I can look back and tell you what we did on any given day in our homeschool (or if we took the day off or went on a field trip).  I’m always intending to keep track of what books we read in a given day or week or school year, but we read too many.


Fourth Grade

Bible: continuing to memorize the gospel of Mark (chapters 8 and 9), CBS study on Daniel and Revelation

History: Middle Ages and Renaissance using Veritas Press’ Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, Story of the World Vol 2: The Middle Ages, and tons of historical fiction, biographies, and Dover coloring books

Language Arts: All About Spelling 4, First Language Lessons 4, Writing and Rhetoric: Fable, Sentence Composition for Elementary School

Math: Saxon 6/5, Beast Academy 4

Latin: Latina Christiana

Science: Oceans theme using a Magic School Bus Oceans activity guide, a membership to the Aquarium of the Pacific, several ocean life documentaries, and Dover ocean life coloring books.  We’ll also be reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

French: my old junior high textbook (Dis Moi!), DuoLingo, and Mango French, as well as watching Jacques Tati movies in French, but I’d like to get him into a class to practice conversational skills

Music: We’ll be spending the fall semester studying about medieval music and musicians, using materials from my neighbor who is a music professor.=)

Art: T is in a weekly art class where he has been working in pastels and will be shortly moving into watercolors.

Art History: We’ll be spending the spring semester studying Leonardo Da Vinci and visiting all of the art museums in LA that have Renaissance art on display

Geography: an old geography workbook (a hand me down from our babysitter’s family), probably just a page once a week


Third Grade

Bible: gospel of Mark (7 and 8), CBS study on the minor prophets

History: Greece and Rome using Veritas Press’ New Testament, Greece and Rome and Story of the World Vol 1: Ancient Times

Geography: maps of the areas we’re studying using Story of the World’s activity guides

Language Arts: Writing With Ease 3, All About Spelling 3, First Language Lessons 3

Math: Saxon 5/4, Beast Academy 3

Latin: Prima Latina

Science: Astronomy using Real Science 4 Kids Astronomy, various books and documentaries on astronomy, and Dover coloring books

French: DuoLingo and Mango French on the computer, watching classic French movies like The Red Balloon and White Mane.

Music: studied Handel, Schumann, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms using First Discovery Kids Music (only so-so), The Story of _____ in Words and Music series (excellent), and Opal Wheeler biographies

Typing: BBC Dance Mat Typing online


Second Grade (our second time through!)

Bible: gospel of Mark (5 and 6), CBS study on Mark

History: Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia using Veritas Press’ Old Testament and Ancient Egypt and Story of the World 1: Ancient Times

Language Arts: Writing With Ease 2, First Language Lessons 2, All About Spelling 2, Classically Cursive

Math: Saxon 3 (E is working at grade level with math, but T and S are a year ahead)

Latin: Song School Latin, Getting Started With Latin

Science: Physics using The Way Things Work tv series and simple machine experiments.

French: DuoLingo, Little Pim French videos, (pretty babyish, but they’re free streaming on amazon prime), First Thousand Words in French book with mom

Music: Intro to Mozart, Chopin, Purcell, and Debussy using biographies, CDs, and attending a concert!

Art History: Studied the Impressionists and visited several of the LA art museums to see their paintings in person.

Typing: BBC Dance Mat typing online

Geography: Evan-Moor daily geography pages, once a week


First Grade

Bible: gospel of Mark (3 and 4), CBS Study

Social Studies: we spent a month at a time reading books about and making notebooks about the countries where we support missionaries.

Language Arts: Writing With Ease 1, First Language Lessons 1, All About Spelling 1, finish Ordinary Parents’ Guide to Teaching Reading (we didn’t start spelling until we finished phonics, as they’re essentially approaching the same subject from opposite directions)

Math: Saxon 2 (or in E’s case, 1)

Science: Anatomy using My Body book (reproducible pages of various organs sized to put on a kids’ outline) and Bill Nye videos on various body parts

French: French for Little Boys/French for Little Girls coloring books, Little Pim French videos

Music: read about the orchestra and studied Peter and the Wolf, The Seasons, and Pictures at an Exhibition

Art History: Discovering Great Artists and artist biography videos


Kindergarten (Our third time around!  Ideally, only 3 days a week)

Bible: gospel of Mark (1 and 2)

Social Studies: memorized order of US Presidents using flashcards from the Target dollar spot, memorized States and Capitals using the Geography songs CDs

Language Arts: Ordinary Parents’ Guide to Teaching Reading, Zaner-Bloser handwriting

Math: Saxon 1 (at half speed if, like for our second child, the concepts don’t click right away)

Read millions of quality books aloud.  Play and move around as much as possible.


Preschool (only when the little ones are asking to “do school” with the big kids, I just mainly keep these on hand to occupy them during our school time)

Bible: My ABC Bible verses

Social Studies: geography map puzzles

Language Arts: Target dollar spot handwriting books to trace letters, alphabet puzzles

Math: legos and duplos, Tangoes Jr., puzzles

Read millions of quality books aloud.

Encourage lots of open-ended imaginative play with dress-up clothes, play kitchen, wooden blocks, etc.


Note: I’ve used our amazon affiliate links on most of the items above, so if you happen to want to order any of them, we get a small percentage if you click through and order from our link.  It helps offset the cost of hosting this blog.  Certainly there are plenty of other places where you can get most of these things (and I bought most of them used myself).

Posted in Homeschooling | 1 Comment

Avoiding Burn-out as a Homeschooling, Stay-at-Home Mom

I’m working on a list of all the resources we use to homeschool each year, but I realized there was a big something I didn’t talk about yesterday: burnout.  As a second generation homeschooler, I’ve seen a ton of moms nose dive a couple years into homeschooling.  They try so hard to do everything perfectly, then when kids are sassy and math books aren’t completed, they blame themselves for not being good enough.  They feel like total failures when they stick their kids in school, and many even enter the workforce because they feel that the only way to justify staying home with school-age kids is to be homeschooling them, and if you’re not, you need to “earn your keep.”  And of course I know a lot of stay-at-home moms who are trying to be SuperMom and are just burning out of being home.

Not all of us struggle with burnout to the same degree.  I love being home with my kids, even when they’re crazy, my husband is totally and completely supportive of my desire to be a homemaker, and I taught in a classroom before having kids, so homeschooling comes naturally to me.  Of course I have my Jonah Days like everyone else, but instead of fantasizing about putting the kids in school and heading back to work (which doesn’t sound appealing to me even when the five year old has spilled milk all over the living room rug), I just let them trash the house and curl up with a 19th century novel for a day or two until we regain our equanimity.  BUT…I think I’ve also been able to steer clear of some big pitfalls that usually lead to burnout.

First of all, we don’t try to replicate a classroom here at home.  I have the confidence to do this because of being a second generation homeschooler, but a lot of my friends struggle with thinking it’s okay to “only” spend an hour of one-on-one formal school time with their 1st grader and let her play and read the rest of the day.  Believe me, speaking as a former classroom teacher, even five minutes of one-on-one time per subject is more than your kid would be getting in the classroom unless he is way behind.  Your time with your child (or even a few kids) is so much more efficient than their public schooled friends are getting.  You don’t have to spend seven hours a day “doing school” to give your child an excellent education.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m really opposed to sitting kids at desks for hours a day, and while it is of course a good idea to teach your children to sit still for a developmentally appropriate amount of time, this can be accomplished at the sidelines of their sister’s ballet class, in the living room during family worship time before bed, in church (our fidgety 9 year old son has been sitting through the entire 90 minute worship service with us for years), on field trips, etc.  School skills like learning to wait in line can be learned at the grocery store checkout or outside the bathrooms at a baseball game.  Personal responsibility can be taught by requiring your child to keep their room clean, fold their own laundry, bring their own water bottles in the car on park days, and bring their sports equipment to practice.

Secondly, we are really selective about our out-of-the house activities.  Susan Wise Bauer (my homeschooling hero) has a really good little video talking about co-ops and why she doesn’t recommend them very often.  I wholeheartedly agree about this.  Almost all of my local homeschool friends participate in Classical Conversations, the hottest fad in homeschool circles today, but I see them spending so much of their precious time and energy preparing for tutoring areas outside of their expertise (just in order to afford their kids’ tuition) and giving up a whole school day each week to expose their kids to subject matter that I easily cover with mine at home during the course of our normal school day.  I can’t tell you how many friends have been fried by co-ops over the years, and CC (or similar co-ops) would not be a wise choice for my family.  On the other hand, I’ve found a local Community Bible Study branch that has a thriving homeschool contingent, tons of supportive, like-minded women, excellent teaching, and the accountability I need to be in the Word regularly.  That day out of the school week is totally worth it for us.  We tried some extracurricular PE and Science classes a few years back that were pretty much a waste of time for our kids, so now we just address those needs through sports (swimming, soccer, or ballet) and field trips with other like-minded families.  Plenty of home days are necessary for our little homeschool of two extroverts (my oldest daughter and me) and three introverts (the other kids) to maintain our equilibrium.

Third, I try to make my expectations realistic.  I have to remind myself that the school year is not going to go exactly how I’d planned, that we might not get to the last five lessons in the math book, that someone is suddenly going to decide he hates French after loving it for three years, that we’ll hit a month-long slump in the spring, and that by the end of the school year, we will all just be counting down the days until we can take a break from it all.  Having been a classroom teacher, I can attest that all these things happen to kids in public and private schools, too, and teachers look forward to summer just as much as homeschool moms.  This year I am trying to be proactive about that by planning to finish some of our formal subjects early and planning lots of fun activities (and field trips and documentaries) for April and May.  One of my main goals in homeschooling is to teach my children to love learning.  My mom totally succeeded in this with me, and while I’m sure there were plenty of days when I was crying as she made me finish a math test or whining because she required me to write something in cursive, what I remember from my childhood were the books we read aloud and discussed together, her letting me spend a whole year delving into my passion of Native Americans and pioneers (probably sparked by reading the Little House books), and the way learning and discussing what we’re reading is just a part of my family life, even today.  Because I’m a type-A perfectionist, I do have planners that I’m currently filling with lessons plans for each of my kids, but I also try to remember that education is a life thing, not a check-the-boxes thing.  (But stay tuned tomorrow for the boxes we check.)

One last thing that I learned from my mom and tell all my struggling friends is that this is a lifestyle that needs to be taken year by year and kid by kid.  We’ll make mistakes, and we’ll wish we’d made them on plastic kids, not flesh-and-blood ones, but over 13 years of formal education, it will likely be okay, especially if we’re persevering with the hard work of parenting (regardless of where our kids are sitting at 9 am on a Monday morning).  My brothers and I did a combination of Christian school, public school, and homeschooling, depending on what my parents thought each of us needed each year.  It takes so much of the pressure off of me to know from experience that there is no one perfect way to raise kids.  There may be times, due to family stress, health issues, pregnancy, or whatever, that we won’t be able to do our ideal schooling plan.  As I look ahead to fostering and adoption, I realize that I may be outsourcing a lot more than I’d like in the next year or two, and while that’s a bummer, there will be positive aspects that I can’t imagine right now with our relatively quiet life of four biological children.  Even Susan Wise Bauer talks about how for some kids, a classroom setting may be better at some point (I believe she was speaking of one of her teenage sons), in case you needed a homeschool guru to give you permission to reconsider your plans.  I tell young moms that if your school situation isn’t working for your family or your particular child, it’s not admitting failure to try something else.


If you’re a homeschooling veteran, what have been the best ways you’ve combated burnout?  If you’re considering homeschooling, what seems most daunting to you?

Posted in Homeschooling | Leave a comment
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