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Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Carter and Harrison dot com!"

A few years ago Carter and Harrison came to us with our tablet. They happily showed us a video they made with their Lego figures. Weeks before that they had built a roller-coaster in the front yard. Weeks after, they grabbed Kurt and took off for a few hours- returning as the proud owners of their own mini-golf course- all created from things found in the machine shed.

Their adventures became pretty entertaining, and I loved hearing about them and seeing them. However, it was not long before they told us they planned on putting their journeys online.

"What?"
"Yeah! We are going to put all this on Carter and Harrison dot com!"

At 7 and 5, my boys had plans involving the internet. I was horrified. My husband was elated.

They had come up with their own internet address?! When?! How?!

It took some convincing, but eventually I agreed to allow Kurt and the boys to create a website for Carter and Harrison. The site, it has been decided, will contain stories of their adventures, random homeschool info, recipes, links, videos, books, and pretty much anything the boys decide they want to share with their extended family and the rest of the world. The site will be kid-friendly, and will be monitored by their dad and me. However- the content will be all theirs.

They are very excited to roll out their new site. Today's post is already up! Click HERE to enter!





Friday, August 29, 2014

Fall 2014

I cannot believe summer (academically speaking) is already over! That just flew by!

Our summer was filled this year! Archaeological dig, Nauvoo pageant, frequent visits to the Temple, a mini-holiday in Chicago, trip to a theme park, homeschool lessons, fabulous visit with my parents, a book convention, my graduation, sleepovers, Cub Scout rank advancements, camping- wow! I am getting a little tired just typing all of this!

Here are some pictures of our adventures!


So much fun!

The boys have started the next year of homeschooling! We broke out the next level of books- always such a treat! Carter is in 4th grade, and Harrison is in 3rd! They are both excited! Their friends Julio and Jose come over and we all do crafts and read together- so it is even more fun than ever!

Yes- both are homeschooling this year.

Carter did attend the local private school. However, after a month, he decided he was finished. In his own words, "Mom, their work is a lot easier, but school takes too long!" There you have it!

We are continuing to use Math U See, Spelling You See, Getty-Dubay Handwriting, Usborne books, Breakfast Notebooks (here is a simple site explaining them- ours are filled with more advanced materials), Brain Quest Workbooks, and unit work. I CAN'T WAIT to get to our Charlie and the Chocolate Factory unit! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! We already finished sharks and are now on football (mostly health and fitness, but they all wanted to learn about football- so we are putting that in there too!). This will be the best homeschool year EVER!

That about does it as far as school updates go!




Thursday, August 28, 2014

Facebook

Dear Facebook,

It's not you, it's me.

We have changed. Grown apart. And I am through.

Remember when we first met? We would see one another occasionally. I remember I added everyone who ever requested me as a friend. I thought it was so fun! Friends I had known back in elementary school were now on my "friends" list! It was great! It was delightful!

Remember when we grew up? It was just a few years later that people got a bit more bold (or maybe I was paying more attention?). I remember posting something, and having people openly fight with me! It was so weird! I got dramatic too. Take that- world! That phase did not last very long- thankfully- and rather than debate and dramatize, I realized it was easier to "unfriend" and keep things positive. I refused to get into the drama.

That, for years, was my MO. Keep it positive. Pictures of kids, family, travels, adventures, cats, uplifting! I was determined to make Facebook a fun little place that would inspire and bring joy! Facebook is amoral- so I knew it could happen!!! I found that I could only handle having about 120 "friends" at any given time. I enjoy reading things my friends post, and 120 seemed my limit. I kept the 120 to people I could talk to, confide in, and trust. I wanted to be able to post things unfiltered if necessary- and I chose people carefully.

But you got smart, didn't you...

Your brilliant marketing geniuses added a trending feature. You tossed in more adds. You added a feature that posted similar articles below links my friends would post. You weren't happy with cute cats and little families- no... you wanted more.

Well, it worked.

I would find myself, often, caught up reading interesting articles, stories, or blogs. Subscribe to Scientific American or Popular Science? Nah- all I have to do is read the articles online! Oh, look! Here is a blogger and early childhood expert telling people to do what I have always done, yeah! OH! Look at that AWESOME homeschool unit on Mummies!!! YES! A new recipe! Oh look! It is a whole BLOG of new recipes! YAY!!!! Wow! Did you know that there are entire sites with cute personality quizzes?! Which Disney Princess would I most likely be?!!? (Aurora.) Which character in The Breakfast Club am I most like!?!? (Claire.) What Hogwarts house would be my perfect fit!?!?! (Gryffindor, baby.) Oh yeah... you got smart, Facebook.

But the smarter you got, the less I enjoyed you. I started walking away feeling less fulfilled. I stopped hearing cute stories from friends or my favorite bloggers- because your filters stopped showing them, or your trending topics gave them something else to discuss. You stopped being fun.

So, I quit you.

I have thought about it for a long while- but needed to grab the courage and do it.

Well, this week I got the courage and I did it!

And you know what?

I got five different texts that day.

Three different the next.

I wrote six letters this week.

My house is clean, I have the next week of homeschool work all printed and sorted, and I baked cookies twice (chocolate chip- they are awesome). I sewed a new dress for Harrison's baby-doll, and am half done with a dress for Fina. A friend and I are working on making a free cookbook. I have had cups and cups of herbal tea, and I read my scriptures three-times-a-day instead of one. And I feel amazing.

I didn't think I was spending too much time on Facebook. And thanks to your marketing, I wasn't. Instead I was clicking links and reading and reading and reading mindless fluff. Was there an occasional inspiring link, message, or blog? Sure! But it seemed to happen less and less. If someone had asked me how much time I was spending online I seriously would have said 20-60 minutes. However, based on the large amount of fun crafts and the perfection of my house now, it must have been a lot more.

I remember seeing this a few years ago:



I remember I liked her message, but I didn't understand. Addicted to Facebook? Like, you are addicted to your friends? I don't get it.

But now I do.

I am not addicted to Facebook. I am addicted to information. And you, sir, were feeding it to me by whopping spoonfuls. And, like eating Cool Whip, it was unsatisfying, unhealthy, and unwanted in my life.

So, I am done.

See? It's not you. It's me. I need more. And my family and I deserve more. So, for now- we are going to part ways.

Kurt will keep his Facebook, and people can always reach me at home, phone, email, or by text.

My email is Mellissa.Smith@utah.edu

=)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I have a secret... (told in memes)

I have a secret.

But- it has to come out at some point, so here it goes:

My eldest son attends school outside of our home.

GASP!

It all started a few weeks ago....

We were in the car going to the grocery store. My middle son, Harrison, said, "Mom? I think I wanna go to school."

Although this is not exactly how the conversation happened, this is how I can best sum it up:


I was shocked. However, I was supportive. My eldest, Carter, laughed at the idea of going to school and told Harrison a sarcastic, "Good luck!" and we went about our errands.

While we shopped I thought hard about what Harrison said. We discussed reasons for why he might want to go to school, and I listened carefully.

I talked to my husband that night and we agreed that it would be a good idea for us to check out the local schools. We talked for something like five hours. It was a late night, but worth it. We discussed a lot: our own immediate reactions, our first thoughts, the best timing for the kids, the various pros and cons, the changes in our lives, etc. After those five hours, we agreed it was best to look into the schools before we thought or discussed further.

(Even though I am the one who did the homeschooling, 
Kurt was a very large part of the process!)

The next morning I visited two local schools (and by local, I mean both within 3 blocks). Both schools were excellent, but I felt one of the schools would be a better "fit" if Harrison did indeed end up going to school. There was a lot that went into that decision, but I will spare you. I went home and discussed my take-aways with my husband, and we talked a few hours, and then decided the next step was to show Harrison the school.



My husband went to work, and I took the children to the school for a tour. Harrison bounced from room to room, excited by the happy faces, bright colors, and all of the neat things he saw. Carter walked more slowly. He wandered the rooms, hands tucked in his jacket pockets, analyzing things without saying much. The kids toured the music room, gym, lunchroom, 1st/2nd grade room, 1st grade room (the classes are combined, but 1st and 2nd graders are separate in the mornings), and offices. The principal of the school was wonderful, and answered Harrison's questions and told him what to expect if he decided to attend school.

At the end of the tour, Harrison told her he wanted to come. She said she would talk to the teachers, staff, and Priests and get back with us. We were about to leave when Carter said, "Where is my class?"

I felt a little like this:


After years of Carter insisting he wanted to homeschool, Carter wanted to attend school.

I was floored.

The principal was shocked as well, but did not skip a beat. She showed him the 3rd/4th grade class, and introduced him to the teacher. She answered his only question, "When do we start?"

I filled out paperwork and picked up uniforms the next day.

They changed their minds about fifteen dozen times over the weekend.

The kids started a trial on Monday. The school was so wonderful, and very supportive. We all agreed a trial was best. We woke up, everyone had breakfast together, and the boys showered and dressed in their uniforms. The boys went to school. I picked them up at the end of the day and they both expressed how much they enjoyed it! Their reasons varied, but the outcome was the same: school was great!

The evening was a bit more difficult. The kids couldn't wrap their minds around the concept of homework. "I was at school all day, and now I have to do more schoolwork at home?!? WHY?!" Kurt and I assured them it was a normal part of school, and we helped them complete their assignments. That evening, Harrison came to us and said he changed his mind and wanted to continue homeschooling. Carter changed his mind a few times as well- but he flip flopped both ways. They both agreed to try another day.



The next day Harrison told everyone he would not be attending any longer. He said his goodbyes. Carter asked to continue attending school.

It has been a few weeks, and Harrison is here (to my right, practicing the piano) and Carter is at school. It has been a difficult adjustment for everyone- from our patriarch to our toddler- not a single one of us goes untouched by this change. However, the fact that there are only six more weeks until the "end of the school year" made this a much easier decision! I am very thankful this came up when it did so they could get a taste of school without any large commitments. During this time both boys have had daily discussions about what they felt were the best parts of their day. 


Both seem to be settling into the fact that homeschool seems a great "fit" for Harrison...


While school seems a good "fit" for Carter....




I do not know what we will be doing this fall, but I know we will continue to homeschool during the summer, and Carter will be included in the lessons. Beyond summer will take more thought and discussion, and we will continue to allow the kids to offer their thoughts and input. 

I feel the need to express: We believe that homeschooling is an excellent academic opportunity. We also believe this particular school offers an excellent academic opportunity. There are positives and negatives with both options, so for our family, in this situation, at this time, we allowed the children a large "say" in the process. If we believed there was a "best" decision, my husband and I would make the decision- but as we see it, there are two wonderful academic opportunities, and we allowed the children to individually choose the one they felt was right for them. We are so fortunate not to have to choose a "lesser of two evils" but instead have a "best of two greats!"
Carter was welcomed in the school newsletter!

Carter walks to school. The school is just around the corner and a block down. Loves the walk!

Carter and Harrison play on the school playground (yes, that is a castle- it even has a bridge!) after school.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Vacation! (part 2)

Universal Studios!

Sorry it took so long to finish this update- we had a lot going on! More on that later... in the meantime, let's talk about Universal Studios! **Pretty much all of my pictures of Universal Studios are in the camera. We recently moved and I have not unpacked the camera yet, so more pictures will follow!

Universal Studios was a place I never cared to visit. I always saw it as Disney's weirdo fourth cousin or something. I just felt like it would pale in comparison, so why bother visiting? As a child I was never a huge fan of most of the Universal characters or experiences anyway, so as an adult I didn't think twice. But then... the game changer happened.... Hogwarts! (Dooo de de dooo deeee dooooo doooooooooooo, dooo de de doooo de doooooooooo- you totally just sang that, didn't you... it's okay, embrace it!)

Ah yes, Hogwarts. Hogwarts was the ONE and only place my mother requested to stop. That was totally cool with us, because we all wanted to visit too! Carter started reading Harry Potter right away, and we started to plan our trip!

Planning a Multi-Disney-Multi-Universal week was a lot of fun. As a child I would watch my father pour over guides, maps, and even catch a program or two (generally Rick Steves- love that guy!) and spend hours upon hours planning a trip, so for me it felt like a torch and some big shoes were passed!

One of the first things we planned was where we would visit each day. Some parks close early on some days or during some events of the season- it is really important to check the hours! We had to work around Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween (where additional purchases are required to stay and ride the rides in Disneyworld park), a few random early close days (some parks would close as early as 6 on certain days), and factor in our personal endurance (5 days, 4 parks, 3 kids) to come up with our perfect schedule. I also looked online to find trackers that estimated park attendance on various days, based on several factors (such as advanced ticket sales, local events, past history of business that week, etc) for each individual park, as to maximize our time spent on rides rather than in lines. Cross checked that with days that offered shows, theater events, parades, or park-closing entertainment we wanted to see. I put into account parks we wanted to close (Disneyworld fireworks are a MUST SEE for us!), and what parks open the latest the next day (I knew if we stayed at Disney until 10pm we wouldn't want to be up super early the next morning). I read blogs on what time was best to be at the gate, and what order to do the fastpasses and rides, what time of day to see each show, etc....Overkill, you say? Well, we rode everything, multiple times, and saw everything we wanted to see. So I would say the planning was well worth it. I also loved the planning, and grew more excited with every day- so for me (and hopefully the family!) it worked great! This was the most research and planning I had ever done, and it was the best of the park trips we have ever experienced. So- I highly suggest pre-planning. A little homework now can save you a lot of hours later!!!

We opened the Universal Studios park. We had planned on doing a bell-to-bell at this park, so we had a full day planned. Universal Studios now has two different parks, and we planned on visiting the original park first because ... I won't get into the factors (did you not see the algorithm logic above?)... but there was a method. Anyway, we opened the park, and this was the day we decided to test out Universal's drink and meal plans.

The Universal drink plan is awesome. While none of our party are huge soda drinkers, the selection at the park was great and there were many stops for us to choose to refill. It was a good value, and we ended up doing it again at the other park on our other Universal day.

The Universal meal plan is hit-or-miss. We weren't sure how it would work for us because so many of us are gluten or dairy-free, but decided to give it a try after reading favorable reviews online. Basically, a select number of restaurants offer a select menu for those on the meal plan- and there are GF and dairy-free options available. We calculated costs and this plan did end up saving us money, and none of us were hungry during the day- so it was a good value. *HOWEVER* it is so close, that if you are itching for off-menu items, it could end up costing more than it was worth. That said- we only ate one lunch and one dinner- and it is unlimited, so if you are super hungry it would have saved you a lot more! Just something to consider. The servers were super nice and careful about our GF needs, and none of us experienced symptoms of contamination- so that was EXCELLENT!

Before entering the parks we all looked over the maps and listed things we wanted to see and do. We always made sure to do those first, so that we didn't have to worry about missing anything. Minions, Transformers, Men in Black- we did it all! We ended up seeing and doing everything at the park, and some multiple times! The park services offered Harrison and Fina birthday buttons, and many ride attendants waved us to the shorter line and wished them a happy birthday. If you have a birthday in your party, take the extra few minutes and get a button!

Universal offers a pass that allows riders to go on shorter lines. We debated getting the pass, but because all of our readings speculated a low turnout we did not pick one up. It worked out well because the only thing we actually waited in line for was Minions, and sailed onto rides the rest of the time because of birthday buttons, or lack of crowds! (If you go in the summer, consider picking up the Unlimited Express addition if you hate lines!)

We stayed for the show. It was pretty neat: water, lights, movie clips, etc. If we are being honest I would say it was the least impressive show of the trip- HOWEVER- it is hard to compare clips of ET to a half hour of fireworks and a flying Tinkerbell- you know? So the show was good- and worth it I think- but was not something I would consider necessary. (Just my personal opinion.)

Here are my overall take-aways:

I will probably never skip this park again. Seriously, it was that amazing! The rides were fabulous! Thrilling, exciting, amazing! There was an excellent mix of roller coasters, themed rides, and children's rides. No one was bored!!! The park was much larger than I realized, and I was pretty tired in the middle of the day, but MY DAD (grandpa of the kiddos!) practically skipped us from ride to ride! Men In Black? SO fun!

The fact that we had a 1 year old with us was a non-issue! Universal Studios was AMAZING with littles. Dare I say it- it was actually BETTER for the adults than Disney! Allow me to explain: Disney is cute, and wonderful, and has lots of stuff for kids. (I ADORE Disney!) However, Universal Studios rides were amazing for ADULTS too (the graphics, the quality of the rides themselves- just felt better... almost sorry to say it- but it is true!)- and they have this unique way of handling littles: Most of the themed rides that did not allow littles had a special system. Families could all be in line together (no more waiting outside with baby!), chatting in the lines, seeing the neat sights along the way (lots of neat things to see in the line area- we didn't spend much time there because we went on a day with low crowds- but still! I would have hated to miss seeing a lot of those things!), and then at the end there was often a special room where someone could stay with the littles while the rest of the group rode - there might be movies playing, there may be interactive decorations on the walls- they were all different! AND THE BEST PART: The family members who rode leave the ride- swap guardians of the littles- and then EVERYONE gets to reride (I think they said up to 5 people?!). So in our family- I would sit with Fina, Grandpa and Grandma would ride with the boys, and then Grandma would stay with Fina while I rode with Grandpa and the boys AGAIN! The boys LOVED riding everything twice without waiting in line again!!!! It was SO awesome!!!

Yeah- so... Universal is not Disney's weirdo fourth cousin. Universal is also not Disney's twin. I would say Universal is Disney's sibling- and they are different, but they are both fantastic. I will not be skipping this again!



Saturday, September 14, 2013

Vacation!!! (part 1)

Disney and Hogwarts trip with my parents! It was SO MUCH FUN! I mean, CRAZY amounts of fun! Seriously fun-tastic! Truly! AWESOME! Here is the beginning of our trip! We flew down and joined my parents in Orlando! (As with other trips, I dressed the boys in identical clothing, to help identify them should we become separated. This trick has helped me numerous times, when one would wander off a bit further than the rest of us, and would help me be able to accurately describe clothing in the event of an emergency- as I have a copy of the clothing on my other son!)


The boys were ready to fly!!! The fear on Harrison's face? He didn't want to have to put away his electronics! LOL!


Seraphina's first time in a stroller! (She liked it more each day!)


They loved riding the "subway" in the Atlanta airport!


Dinner with Grandpa and Grandma!!!! We ate at Uno's! They had gluten-free pizzas! Yum!

We had plans to visit Disney's Hollywood Studios the next day. Seraphina wanted to go extra early, she just wouldn't sleep!!!


In the morning, we were at Disney's Hollywood Studios right when it opened. My parents pulled into some great rock-star parking, and we walked to the park! I had read blogs and talked to other people who had visited the parks, and we decided to hit all the rides first and do the shows second. The boys and I headed to the Tower of Terror while my parents (bless them!!!) went with Fina and picked up Fastpasses to the Buzz and Woody ride (the most popular ride at any of the Disney parks right now).

Carter was very afraid of this ride, but thinking of how his cousin rode it made him find courage! It was a lot of fun!

Harrison, Grandpa, and I rode the roller-coaster next, and then my parents took the boys on Star Tours!


(Carter took this picture, and the one following)

We then headed over to Pizza Planet to celebrate Harrison's birthday!!! The Disney cast members were so awesome! They had given Harrison a birthday button, and everyone who saw him wished him a happy birthday! They gave Carter a button too, so he wouldn't feel left out! Seraphina got a birthday button as well (for her actual birthday, lol)! Pizza Planet was excellent, and the manager came out and worked with us to be sure that our meal would be gluten free! Harrison has been asking for a birthday party at Pizza Planet ever since he first saw the Toy Story movie. He adores Buzz Lightyear, and this was his dream come true!!!







Monday, August 26, 2013

Time4Learning

When we moved to Iowa, the laws (at the time) stated that I needed to have a supervising teacher oversee our homeschool progress or I needed to subject my children to standardized testing. I decided to go with a supervising teacher, and happily I was connected to a teacher who used the Portfolio Evaluation method, rather than monthly check-ins. I knew that homeschooling was a good fit for my family, I knew that the laws regarding what I needed to complete were in place, and I knew I had my ducks in a row, but trying to put it all together seemed like it would be a mess.

Insert Time4Learning!

Carter started Time4Learning at the beginning of 2nd grade. Carter loved it right away! After a few months, our homeschooled kindergartner, Harrison, asked to "play" Time4Learning too! We have now used it for over a year and we hands-down LOVE it. Here is why:

The (not-so) basics:

Time4Learning offers the fullest Language Arts curriculum I have seen in one location. This one program offers reading, phonics, vocabulary, grammar, writing, and more all themed and put together in an order that flows and makes sense. The programs I had used through other sites, other purchased curricula, or created myself, did not have the complete package that Time4Learning provides. Language Arts is not just a simple grouping of lessons students get to "click through," or can tune-out, but is an interactive and engaging set of lessons, complete with fun characters and themes! There are even separate Language Arts Extensions that go beyond the already thorough work offered in the program, giving students access to an even greater amount of learning!

Science, Social Studies, Math? Oh yeah! Time4Learning offers those too! The math offered by Time4Learning is not a series of memorized digits or formulas, but is presented with logic and practical application in mind. The Science and Social Studies subjects have fun, animated themes, and printable worksheets to enhance lessons.

As the parent, I get access to spelling lists, lesson plans, grades, and time logs, all with the click of a mouse. I can see what the kids have been working on, for how long they have been working, and their mastery level! This made the Iowa portfolio such a breeze! All I had to do was selected which reports I wanted, and click print! **We had other things in our portfolio, but the easiest part was the Time4Learning sections!

We get instant access to multiple grade-levels. With a single click, my 2nd grader was able to access 1st grade or 3rd grade work. Excellent for a chance to offer more of a challenge, or to review a sticky concept at a simpler level. So handy! Time4Learning also allows me to set the grade levels of subjects individually, so when a child finishes a given subject before the others, he is able to go up in that subject and continue to be challenged without changing the level of the other subjects. Time4Learning also allows me to change overall grade level if I want, anytime I want- no waiting for a new school year! Harrison started first grade this past winter!

One of the characters is named Harrison.... he is a harry purple puppet. This is just plain cool, and anytime Harry Harrison comes on the screen and his theme song plays, it is a guarantee both of my boys are singing at the top of their lungs, and paying attention! **There are a great deal of characters, and they change with grade level, so the chances of a child finding a favorite are pretty darn good!

There is a lot of flexibility. I need flexibility, and so do my kids. One of my sons loves workbooks and worksheets, and the other hates them. One of my sons loves to color and draw, the other would rather gag. Time4Learning allows us access to printable materials that can be cut, pasted, colored, and completed, but is also set up to allow these to be an *option* for kids who don't need or care for them. One of my children has nearly every worksheet printed and completed, and one of my children hardly ever completes worksheets (unless we are using them to reinforce a lesson or concept). This allows us a great amount of flexibility within the program, and makes it easy to tailor the curriculum to fit each child's learning style.

The price cannot be beat. At just $19.95 per month (with $5 off for additional students), this program is priced right! This program does not require any additional purchases, have hidden fees, or contracts. For less than $20 a month, I have access to full curriculums from pre-K to 8th grade, my records are all kept for me, and grades are completed for me as well. SPECTACULAR DEAL. (High School is $30 per month, for those with students who are ready for 9-12 grade work!)

I am very happy with Time4Learning, and it will continue to be in our homeschool for years to come!

As a member of Time4Learning, I have been given the opportunity to review their program and share my experiences. While I was compensated, this review was not written or edited by Time4Learning and my opinion is entirely my own. For more information, check out their standards-based curriculum or learn how to write your own curriculum review.