Ski Lessons at Ober Gatlinburg

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January is learn-to-ski month and we have taken ski lessons in January since 2015. We did not take lessons last year because, frankly, I was not ready to drive up Ski Mountain road six weeks after the devastating wildfires of November 2016.

Family skiing at Ober Gatlinburg

Our family skiing at Ober

But this year is a different story. We have gotten over the shock of the fire and we were ready to resume our skiing careers. Plus, our daughter is seven, which is the recommended age to start.  Continue reading »

For your information, they will take younger children, like five and six, but they prefer them to be seven and older. Our son got started at seven and he is 10 now. He loves it and is in the intermediate class. Our daughter is in the beginners.

The classes happen on Sunday mornings. Beginners is at 9:30 and Intermediate at 11:00. The class lasts an hour. The instructors are patient and courteous. Adults are encouraged to join the adult classes for their respective level, which happen at the same time as the children’s.

Mom and son skiing

As you can see, my son is almost as tall as I am and he is only 10.

If you can ski already, you just drop off your child with her class and go have fun on the slopes. There is a designated area where you have to pick up your child at the end of the class.

Our daughter made tremendous progress in just one lesson. She had had one lesson two years ago, so it was not much to build on, but she got over the initial apprehension of the entire routine.

These lessons are a bargain: $160 for four classes and this price includes rental of helmets, skis and poles. It also includes riding the aerial tram if you like that kind of thing. The only other expense is the parking fee, $5, either at the aerial tram or at the resort.

We do not ride the tram. I do not enjoy heights or being in tight spaces with lots of people. We park at the resort and because we get there early we find great places to park. By noon, the parking lot is full at the resort and they put signs at the bottom of the mountain for people not to bother to drive up. Instead, they ask them to park at the aerial tram station and ride the tram instead.

The following year, you receive five vouchers, for an extra visit to the resort, which you can redeem any day you prefer. By the way, you do not even have to sign up for classes for the fee of $160. If you are comfortable skiing, you just pay that fee and it covers your rental and all day fun on the slopes, skiing or snowboarding, but you cannot change the activity in the same day.

How to Plan for Middle School

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It seems hard to believe, but my son will be in middle school come Fall 2018. Taking advantage of our Christmas break, I started planning for next year. Here are the steps I took to plan for middle school:

Well-Trained Mind planning

My heavily underlined copy of TWTM with my planning binder underneath

  1. Begin with the end in mind. Thus said Stephen Covey, the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We don’t hear much about that book anymore, but people are still reading it. It’s #11 Most Read on Amazon. If you were to re-read it today, you would find it just as relevant today as before the internet, which is when the book was first published. So what is your “end” or purpose in homeschooling through middle school? Getting the child ready for high school, right? That’s my goal. For that, I need to follow some kind of bigger outline for the next four years, not just 5th grade.
  2. Settle on a philosophy of education. In K-4th grade, one can get away without a philosophy of education. The first years are all about reading, writing and arithmetic. If you can do some science experiments and throw in some history or geography, more power to you. But nobody needs a philosophy of education for that endeavor. Most textbooks are open-and-teach. Most home educators have no problem teaching the early grades because it’s elementary stuff. By the time your child is 10, though, things get serious. You have to come up with your overarching approach, your philosophy of education. Are you a conservative Christian who does not believe children should read fantasy books? Are you a secular parent who shuns science books written from a creationist perspective? Are you completely devoted to the Charlotte Mason method? These are questions you must answer. As for me, I still have a classical approach, with a slight nod to Charlotte Mason and the Moore Formula.
  3. Read up on the middle school years. For me, this meant reading the chapters under The Logic Years in The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. Prior to 2017, I had not read this section of the book. I could not go there in my mind, being knee-deep in the Grammar Stage with two very different learners. The section on middle school or the Logic Stage took me two afternoons to read, underline, and research. This was time well-spent. When I finished, I felt so energized because knowledge is power. I started writing things down at some point. Nothing big, just enough to know which curriculum to use for which year, how that will work with the other child (who is not in middle school yet), and how many subjects we can still do together. If you don’t know what to read, a little internet research will give you at least 20 blogs about middle school homeschooling. Let us be thankful to the homeschool moms who have gone before us and have given us pointers in these blogs. Let us learn from their mistakes, which they so generously share with us, out of the goodness of their hearts.
  4. Surprise consequence of getting a clear picture. Now that my middle school years were somewhat organized and on paper, I felt bad about the rest of this school year, when my oldest is still in 4th grade. So I went ahead and planned out the rest of the curricula for the upcoming semester. Oh, I had all the curriculum lined up and knew how to proceed, but did not take the time to write out what to do every day. Too much work, I thought. And then, I get frustrated because it will not work out in real life the way it is on paper. Never mind that, is what you should tell yourself. We make plans on paper so that we have a quick-reference tool in the middle of the semester, to know if we are behind or ahead. This kind of planning helps to know if we can relax on the day when the children seem out of sorts and beg for a small break, or a family emergency stops homeschooling in mid-sentence. It might even help if you had a homeschooling mom asking for advice on planning and then you can share some insights from your experience. Bottom line – write it all out!
  5. Buy some curriculum, if needed. Many times, we have accumulated curricula for when children are older. Go through those boxes and decide what you should keep and what you should give away or sell. Then, buy curriculum for next year or, better yet, see if you can attend a homeschool convention where they run special prices or if your particular publisher runs specials in April or July, for instance. I think I have all the curriculum I need for 5th grade except for grammar. I chose to go with Ms. Bauer’s top recommendation, Rod and Staff, in that area. Since they do not have their own website, I had to get it from Milestone Books. All that legwork needs to happen now, so that I can cast a glance at these books before we start 5th grade in August. It will be here before I know it.

Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 22

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Chapter 22 is titled “Revolution!” and it presents two stories about the American Revolution. The first, Discontent in the British Colonies, shows the reasons why Americans became more and more dissatisfied with England. The second, The American Revolution, presents the beginning of the War of Independence, highlights of it, and its outcome.

American flag craft

American flag craft made by my daughter

This is a rich chapter and we dwelt on the Review Questions to make sure most facts stuck. I read to them Longfellow’s poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” but decided against memorizing it. Not only is it too long, it is historically inaccurate. Longfellow took a lot of poetic licenses (artistic liberties) and only mentioned Revere, completely leaving out his worthy fellow rider, William Dawes. Also, he makes Revere into the recipient of the message by lanterns instead of being the one who actually gave the signal. And so on. Continue reading »

However, I believe we should memorize the introduction to the American Declaration of Independence, so I have made a copy and added it to our morning basket of memory work. Susan Wise Bauer has a very simple formula for memorization: have the child read the passage five times in the morning and five times in the evening. In a few days, the child should know it by heart.

American flag craft

My son putting together his American flag

I have not found success in having my children repeat something five times in a row. We do three times in the morning. No evening memory work – sorry, it just does not work for our family’s schedule. But I still find that they can memorize a poem in about five days of repeating it three times in the morning. It’s quite neat!

For a craft, we made the original flag of the American colonies. Who has talent to draw a star stencil? Not me. Who has the patience to cut out 13 stars for the original 13 colonies? Not me, nor my children.

Star Stickers for American flag

My daughter using star stickers on her flag craft

Instead, I gave them some of my sticker stars, which I use to reward their good paperwork. My daughter chose pink and purple stars, while my son worked with gold stars. Not exactly historically accurate, but they had fun and got a bit of artistic endeavor in for the day. Plus, they were proud of their flags.

How to Build a History Timeline

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My children are growing and it is time to start building a history timeline. After doing a bit of research, I decided I would like the notebooks from Homeschool in the Woods. We do not have a lot of wall space. Instead, we have lots and lots of windows. We already have paintings and pictures sitting in closets, for lack of space to hang them. So a keepsake notebook kind of timeline is what fits our family best.

Timeline notebooks

Beautiful timeline notebooks from Homeschool in the Woods

I bought each child a binder, the CD with all the figures, and the guide on how to place the figures. Looking back on it, I could have done without the guide, but when you don’t know how to even begin this project, you want to get all the help possible.

History Timeline Placement Guide

The placement guide helps you arrange the stickers on the page.

We are in the middle of volume 3, Story of the World, which means we started sticking our figures from 1700s on. We will continue through modern and contemporary history in volume 4 and then we will start with the Ancients all over again.

The best way for me to arrange these figures on the timeline was to buy Avery label sheets – a pack in which the entire 8.5×11 page is one big sticker. It feels like a waste, but it’s not. When you consider that we will be building this notebook for the next three years, the wear and tear on it becomes evident.

Timeline CD

The 2-volume CD contains PDF pages with figure for your timeline.

I have spoken with other homeschoolers who tried to glue pieces of paper and it either did not look right or they peeled off. Who wants to work twice when you could work once?

We have already started and I can see there will be some important places, people, and events that will be missing from the pack, but I can always research them separately. There are plenty for us to be busy for now and we can always add others later.

Well-Trained Mind Binder System

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We have been using the Well-Trained Mind binder system recommended by Susan Wise Bauer in her seminal book for several years now. It occurred to me that there might be homeschoolers out there who would like to see it in action. In fact, I have seen this question over and over in support groups for classical homeschoolers.

Well-Trained Mind binder system

My daughter’s binders

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So let’s start with a few pictures. Their binders sit on separate shelves in our school room. I am not a perfectionist when it comes to appearance. I don’t go all out when it comes to layout and design. A simple label on the outside of the binder helps us identify the name of the child and the subject matter. Continue reading »

If you want to beautify the binders, by all means, make them as pretty as you want. I grew up under Communism (think austerity measures) and don’t need things around me to be super-glitzy. As long as it works, I run with it.

We have four binders for each child: Science, History, Language, and Math. They also have an Art binder and a Travel binder. My son has two additional binders which are empty. He meant to do something with them and then forgot all about it. See? We are not perfect.

The Math is simple: we use Math Mammoth and every year I print out their curriculum, which I have in PDF format. Their math binders don’t even have a label. His is black and hers is purple.

Well-Trained Mind school binder system

My son’s school binders

Science is easy, as well. We take nature walks and if we find anything interesting to study, we use notebooking pages to draw or write about our findings. Sometimes I follow Handbook of Nature Study weekly challenges, and most of them come with their own notebooking pages. Other times we just study something out of an animal encyclopedia and we simply draw or narrate two sentences about a particular animal.

If we do science experiments, I have a simple page which details the scientific method used, as Ms. Bauer suggests. Those pages also go in the Science binder. I think I should also record the science books they read, but that’s a little too much for me. If you feel like it, that’s another thing you could put in their binder.

Well-Trained mind binders

Their binders sit on different shelves. He is taller.

The History binder used to have four tabs corresponding to the four volumes of Story of the World, which is our curriculum. What I have found over the years is that the binder gets really full by the end of the school year. There are maps and coloring pages, plus paper dolls and other paper crafts. At the end of the year, I simply get a new binder and take my tab page (which I created four years ago when we got started with this curriculum) to the front of this new binder, so I know which period we are in.

The Language binder is divided by tabs as recommended by Ms. Bauer. Our spelling curriculum comes with its own workbook, but we still find we created separate pages of spelling lists, so it all goes into the Spelling tab of the Language binder. When they memorize a poem, I have them write it out and it goes into their Memory Work tab.

It’s simple, really, and it’s meant to be simple, because you have to keep track of all this work. Ms. Bauer has a box – a simple, unassuming box for her children’s work, where all their work goes. Check out her YouTube videos about it. I do not think she has binders for her children. I might be wrong on this, but I have not seen anything about it.

I find binders easier to handle than a box if I should need to retrieve any of their work at a later date. It does not happen often, but it has happened enough where I know I could not function with boxes.

I hope this helps you visualize the binder system described in Well-Trained Mind. It works for us and it can work for anybody who is organized enough to put pages away once the student has finished with them.

For now, I am keeping the discarded binders and their contents in plastic bins, on shelves in our garage. My children are in second and fourth grade. Who knows if I will have enough room to keep all their work by high school? I think not. When I start culling, I will blog about it.

An important detail, or tip, shared at the end of the post, to reward those who have had the patience to read the entire post (or did you just skip to the end?): file the pages yourself.

Do not trust your child will put their work away if they are in grades K-6. They will learn to do it themselves after age 12, trust me. For now, for your own sanity, just file it yourself. It will keep things organized and give you a sense of accomplishment, too. One other thing done and filed away. Check. What’s next?

Homeschooling Through Holiday Cheer

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So, it’s the holidays. How’s homeschooling working out for your? Is the holiday cheer making it stressful beyond belief? I hope not. I sincerely hope you have found the breaks to the holiday madness and imposed some strict boundaries on your time.

Enjoying the Aquarium gift shop

Enjoying the Aquarium gift shop

A friend of mine who grew up in Western Europe lives in the States right now as a musician. She was shocked by how crazy it gets in December, with all the concerts in which she was asked to perform and all the other engagements she was required to attend. She is right. Continue reading »

This year, as usual, I slowed down homeschooling slowly but surely by the third week of December. We will take a break for sure, as Christmas comes, but we still need to cover a few items here and there. It helps to keep everybody fresh and I get time off to attend to extra duties in the kitchen.

Elves at the Aquarium

Elves everywhere

So what does this look like in practice? Well, one day, we went to the Aquarium just for fun. We took a bunch of pictures and spent some time reading the exhibit signs. We usually do not take the time to do that, as we rush in to our science classes there.

Even my son, who is older and not easily impressed anymore by cute decor, appreciated the Christmas decorations and agreed to pose for me in front of different exhibits. It was lovely to see he is still a kid after all.

Teddy bears at the Aquarium

Teddy bears at the Aquarium

By the way, the Aquarium is decorated very nicely. Maybe they do this every year, but apparently I just now became aware of it. The Christmas decorations at the Aquarium are lovely.

Another day, we just did our regular devotional and then science. Nothing else. Yet another day, we replaced our regular devotional with a time of playing our violins and singing Christmas songs. We have a book with Christmas duets. My daughter sang and my son and I played our violins.

With Santa at the Aquarium

With Santa

This is the first year we can do this, by the way. He was not that interested in playing the violin last year. He has had a breakthrough year in his appreciation of this instrument (as opposed to piano, which he loved from the start).

Santa's Workshop

Santa’s Workshop

As he sat down at the piano to try to read the same music he had just flown through on the violin, he realized it was harder on the piano. He was amazed. We also discovered he can transpose easily on the violin. He was proud to show me how, as I did not know. It feels so good when my children teach me things. It really does.

Children at the Aquarium

Children make the best presents.

My daughter will probably join us on the violin next year around this time. Right now, sight reading does not come easily for her. She is happy to sing though and she tells us exactly how many stanzas to play.

So take it easy and enjoy the holiday cheer, don’t be stressed by it!

Santa Hat Edible Craft

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‘Tis the season to bake goodies and make special Christmas crafts. Why not combine the two and eat your creation once you are finished? Enter the edible Santa hat craft.

Santa Hats - edible craft

Santa Hats – edible craft

What you need: your favorite chocolate (or carob) muffin recipe, whipped cream (or your healthy, vegan version of it) and strawberries (cut off the end with the leaves). If you are looking for a good muffin recipe, I added mine below, gluten free and vegan.  Continue reading »

Once your muffins have cooled, cut off the top, the famous muffin top, which is probably curved and cannot support stuff. Then, you add whipped cream and a strawberry. Be sure to consume it right away or store it in the refrigerator, otherwise the whipped cream will melt.

Next thing you know, you have an adorable plateful of Santa hats. Your kids will not know which one to eat first when they see them. Better yet, involve them in the making of it. It’s not that hard for an older child to help with the baking. Even young ones can help with decorating.

Edible Christmas Craft


Vegan, Gluten Free Chocolate/Carob Muffins



2 flax eggs (2 Tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 1/2 c water; let sit for five minutes)

1/2 c avocado oil (or any oil you like)

3/4 c soy milk

2/3 c raw sugar (or any other sweetener of choice)

1/2 cup cocoa/carob powder

2 c gluten free flour (I use Bob’s Mill or King Arthur, which already have xantham gum)

3 t. aluminium free baking powder

3/4 t salt



Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray a medium muffin tin with oil spray. I also had enough batter for a dozen mini muffins from this recipe, in addition to the dozen medium muffins. It’s cute to have two sizes of Santa hats.

Mix the flax seed with water and let sit for five minutes. Meanwhile, mix the oil, mix and sugar. In a separate, big bowl, mix the flour with baking powder, cocoa and salt.

By now your flax eggs should be good and ready. Add them to your wet ingredients, then pour into your big bowl with the flour mixture. Spoon into your muffin tins.

Bake for 20 minutes or so, until golden brown. Gluten free flour needs more time baking, so keep an eye on the clock and the oven. It is not unusual for it to take double the time suggested in recipes, depending on how slow your oven is and what flour mixture you have on hand.

Let muffins cool. Decorate while singing Fa la la la la la la.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 21

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This chapter dealt with four wars – three completely useless plus the Seven Years’ War. George Washington gets introduced to students for the first time and our kids perked up when they heard his name. They knew about Washington from other books.

Camo shirt and blanket

Camo shirt and blanket

The chapter has two stories, both complex and rather boring at times. The children let me know that several times. As they colored the governor’s mansion coloring pages, I read to them.  Continue reading »

We answered the questions and I helped them with the narration. I like how even SWB makes provision for narration in complex story lines by allowing us to direct the student to specific details in the story.

Williamsburg Palace

Coring page for the chapter

The map work was interesting, as we had to put pluses and minuses on different countries, with different colors, to represent the four wars which took place both in Europe and in North America.

Hammering Ferns

My son hammering fern pigment into his shirt.

The craft was elaborate, too. We had to hunt for a light green shirt, ferns, a hammer, and salt. It has been cold lately, so it was chilly in the garage, where my son had to beat down the ferns to get their green juice to ooze onto the shirt. My son got warm as he pounded the ferns, but I just stood there taking pictures, not very good ones at that, shivering away.

Our son pours salt over the t-shirt to set the pigment.

Our son pours salt over the t-shirt to set the pigment.

We decided it was enough after a couple of minutes. Then, we soaked it in salt water. I decided one hour would be a good soaking period, as we were not given specific instructions. We put the T-shirt in the dryer afterwards.

The redcoats learn to camouflage in North America.

The redcoats learn to camouflage in North America.

I think it turned out OK, but I wish we could have put other leaves besides ferns – maybe rhododendron. There are not that many other leaves around, now that it is December. Also, there was just so much salt, you can see some white streaks here and there on the t-shirt. Oh well.

The kids loved the story of the redcoats learning to camouflage themselves in the forests of the American colonies. We pulled out our play camouflage blanket and took some silly pictures.

Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 20

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Chapter 20 dealt with Ch’ien Lung (Qianlong) in two different stories. The first focused on his interest in books. Ch’ien Long was a patron of the arts in general, but he really, really liked books. He knew there were lots of books all over China and he wanted them in one place, for posterity. Yes, it sounds like he wanted a library.

Chi'en Lung (public domain picture)

Chi’en Lung (public domain picture)

He sent men all over China to gather up these volumes and split them into four categories. Then, he ordered them copied so that he may have nine copies of each. Of course, they copied them by hand. Continue reading »

Why of course? He lived between 1711-1799 and Gutenberg invented his printing press in 1440. The Chinese actually invented a printing process with wooden blocks back in 868. Well, I guess Ch’ien Long wanted things done the hard way, the beautiful way, the long way.

It took years and years. The bad part? He had certain books burned – the ones that spoke against the Manchu. Freedom of the press did not quite enter the picture for this Chinese emperor.

Dragon paw prints over the eight provinces of China

Dragon paw prints over the eight provinces of China

The second story was about the accumulation of land. Susan Wise Bauer places the reader on a dragon who flies all over the different parts of China at the time. It was neat to direct the kids over their maps. Then, we made eight pages with the names of each province and applied a dragon paw print over each.

We did not stick these on different doors in the house. I was afraid the paint might come off. But I was glad my son took the time to improve his dragon paw print and made me six different designs. I printed two others from the internet. We made sure our dragons had five claws, as the activity books points out.

One new thing we are doing is a timeline. Until now, I felt my children were too young to bother with dates. Well, they have grown some. It’s time for a timeline. I will tell you about that project in a separate blog post.

The Nutcracker Ballet

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For the past five years, we have been attending The Nutcracker Ballet by the Appalachian Ballet Company. The shows always take place at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium.

Mom and children at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium

With my children at The Nutcracker in 2017

It is fun to establish Christmas traditions and then, as the years go by, compare pictures, especially when children are involved. Seeing their growth, one gets a sense of the passing of time. It’s shocking sometimes to compare “then” and “now” pictures and see just how much they have grown. Continue reading »

The Nutcracker is special for me because my mom took me to see it when I was a small child in Romania. We saw it once and it was enough to leave a lasting impression on me. When I had the opportunity to take my children there, I did not hesitate.

Scene from The Nutcracker Ballet

Scene from The Nutcracker Ballet

The music, the costumes, the beautiful smiles on the the faces of the ballerinas, the Christmas decor, all of it spells “Christmas is here” for me. One can tell the artists work hard every year and it’s good for my children to see children involved in an art that we do not necessarily want to pursue. It opens them up to different avenues of expression – at least as spectators.

Year after year, we go to see The Nutcracker and it does not get old. My son does not enjoy ballet per se. He enjoys LEGO bricks and computers. He does not necessarily care for people prancing around on stage. But, year after year, he likes the music and he enjoys the whole experience a little more. He makes me laugh with some of his commentaries after the show.

Grandma and granddaughter at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium

My mom and my daughter at The Nutcracker in 2012

“Mommy, the prince’s costume was really tight. I did not like it. You could see, like, everything. It wasn’t modest.” Me: “You mean, the Nutcracker himself? I know, son, I understand how you feel. They are called ballet tights. They help him be safe as he jumps and twirls in the air or as he lifts his partner. There’s nothing fluttering about his legs to trip him over.”

And then I had this idea… “You know, your sister really wants to study ballet. But the studio is about one hour away from our house. If I will start taking her there for lessons twice a week, we might as well sign you up for ballet lessons, too.”

You should have seen his face. “I am NOT signing up for ballet, mom!” I laughed. He realized I was kidding. Anyway, I had fun with it.

Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece touches me to tears every year. My daughter asks why I tear up and I reply, “Because it is beautiful.” Artistic beauty creates an artistic emotion in me and all I can do is cry for the sheer joy of it all. Everybody should see The Nutcracker at least once in a lifetime.