Green and Pink Smoothies

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Lately, I have had a lot of fun making smoothies for us. That blender gets washed every day, I tell you. That’s because it gets used every day. It is such an easy thing to do and yet it took me a bit to get on the bandwagon of this food trend. You don’t need a cookbook either.

Raspberry and cocoa parfait

Raspberry and cocoa parfait (or smoothie)

A couple of years ago, I read a cookbook about kale. All the recipes included kale in some form. It overwhelmed me. I tried a few kale smoothies and other kale recipes, but I did not get inspired.

Well, something happened this year. Not sure what exactly, but one morning I just felt the courage to get the blender out and here’s what I put in it: 1 cup of rice milk, a cup of spinach, and one banana. Continue reading »

I could drink the resulting smoothie, but my children asked for it to be sweeter. Enter the second banana.

Kale Smoothie

Two bananas, some spinach, fiber, and milk

So with 1 cup of rice milk, 1 cup of fresh spinach leaves and 2 bananas I make enough smoothies for the three of us for lunch. There are days when I don’t feel like eating a salad, but I know I need my greens. By the way, I may have poured more than one cup of milk. If it gets too thick for your blender, just put more milk. You cannot hurt it.

Green smoothies (kale, rice milk, bananas)

Green smoothies (kale, rice milk, bananas)

Of course, you can do other combinations. For instance, I put one teaspoon of fiber (husks) in there one day. You could put flax seed etc. This recipe is just an example of how easy it is to drink your spinach (or kale) and not gag. We need our greens, friends!

Now, for the pink smoothies. I found a great recipe on Forks over Knives, which I modified slightly for my own taste. The taste is great and it is almost like a parfait. If you let it sit overnight in your fridge, it will thicken and have the texture of a parfait. Otherwise it will be a smoothie and you can just drink it. One thing is sure though: both are delicious.

Show these recipes to your children and record this as “Culinary Arts” or “Science” in your school records. “Cooking Lab” is another label, of course. In Tennessee, homeschooling legal requirements are not that stringent but I keep records of things we do for my own benefit.

Learning Chess

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Chess is a game I learned from my father. Chess was very common in Romania. Maybe you recall that the two best chess players in the world in the 80s were two Russians. Romania was never one of the Soviet Republics, but we were influenced by Russian culture to some extent, seeing that we had a long border with them.

Chess board with check mate position

My son check mated me for the first time.

And so lots of children learned chess from their parents. It was part of family time – a board game like any other. There were TV shows about it, too. One lady in particular, Elisabeta Polihroniade, appeared on the chess TV show and taught different moves and strategies. We thought she was cool.  Continue reading »

Looking back on it, through the glasses of American culture, I can see how all that was very nerdy and geeky – for an American looking in. For us, it was just a way of life. Grandfathers played chess outside the condo buildings where we lived all the time. Sometimes passers-by would stop to watch the game and the next move.

I was surprised to learn that my husband did not even know how the pieces move in chess. I made it a point to teach my children the game starting two years ago. I played with my son more than with my daughter. He is older and showed more interest in it.

For the first time, last week, he beat me. He check mated me early on in the game and I did not see it coming. I was so surprised, I moved a bishop to protect my king, thinking that it was not check mate yet. In my haste to defend myself, I moved the bishop in the wrong way. My son went, “Ugh, mom, that’s not how the bishop moves…”

We both laughed hysterically. I was so proud of him. That’s what I want to see – that my kids go way beyond where I am in my skills whether it is chess, music, reading, technology or whatever.

If you don’t know yet, chess has surprising health benefits and they mostly have to do with the brain. Should you want to know where to start, you can always start with a book for chess beginners and a Google search for chess clubs nearby, unless you want to play online with others. Being a homeschooling parent, I would think that you might want to play with your children though. Have fun in your chess adventures!

Daily Schedule Update

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As children grow, so do the routines and schedules we have with them. Homeschooling looks very different for everybody, but one of the most frequent questions I hear from moms is, “What is your daily schedule like?”

Boy and girl visit the dentist

A visit to the dentist interrupts the daily schedule.


We have school days Monday-Friday. We take the weekend off. I sneak in letter writing on an odd Sunday afternoon (they both have pen pals), or a home Spelling Bee or some other “school activity” which is fun for them, but I don’t tell them it’s school and I don’t record it as such.

They get a 10-minute break between subjects – they can play or practice their tae kwon do forms and moves or do something else that is physical (no computer). It’s like crop rotation. We have used the brain, now it is time to tax the body a bit.

So here it is, our daily schedule as of 2017:

8:00-8:30 Wake up, make bed, dress up, start a load of laundry if necessary

8:30-9:00 Breakfast (we listen to their orchestra pieces while eating)

9:00-9:30 Devotional (includes Bible memorization)

9:30-10:00 Language Arts

10:00-10:30 Math

10:30-11:00 Piano Practice

11:00-11:30 Violin Practice

11:30-12:00 History/Science (alternate days) Continue reading »

12:30-1:00 French/Romanian (alternate days)

1:00-2:00 Lunch Prep, lunch and cleanup

2:00-3:00 Quiet Time (reading or listening to Adventures in Odyssey or playing alone in own room)

3:00-6:00 Free Time (they get 30 minute of videos if they finish their work, for instance)

6:00 Supper and family time (or make-up time, if something did not get finished)

7:00 Bath and reading

8:00 Bed time

Some late afternoons or evenings we have tae kwon do practice, piano lessons, or ochestra. One morning we actually have Skype violin lessons, so all this schedule gets shifted by 90 minutes.

We do many subjects together, but language arts and math require a separation, as skill subjects. So we alternate: when one needs me for math, the other one is doing a subject where he does not require my presence, like piano practice (I can always hear what they are practicing).

If they have a review lesson in math, for instance, they do not need me. They work on their exercises and then when I check their work we discuss mistakes, if any. It is all very fluid and things can interrupt the daily routine, obviously.

Phone calls, world events, family events, a headache, a bad night’s sleep – all throw off the schedule. It is just good to know what the goal is. We always come back to the routine above. All I can say is, I love how independent they have become. They still need me in the same room with them, or within earshot, but oh how much easier it has become now that they are seven and nine.

Museum of Appalachia

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Last week, we traveled to the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, TN. It is about one hour and 15 minutes from where we live, so it is a commitment to go there. Maybe that is why it has taken us four years to get back there to their annual sheep shearing event.

Boy and girl enter the Dan'l Boone cabin

Entering the cabin used in a recent TV show about the life of Daniel Boone

Every year, at the end of April, this museum welcomes over 650 children from different schools in the area and, obviously, homeschoolers, to teach them about how life used to be in Appalachia. Of course, one could visit any day of the year, but this is a special event. Continue reading »

One of the most important homes there is a log cabin built by Mark Twain’s father. Some speculate that Mark Twain was conceived in this cabin. The cabin was built in Tennessee and the family lived in it for several years before moving to Missouri, where Mark Twain was born just a few months after the move.

They have a blacksmith and people playing dulcimers, peacocks roaming the grounds, an screech owl on a leash with a trainer who explains about owls, a one-room schoolhouse and it respective outhouses, an old chapel, several homestead homes with old furniture and dishes, lots of acts on stage presenting music and skits, farmers shearing sheep (with electrical shears), apiarists who explain how honey is made in the US and how difficult it is to compete with honey from Argentina or China etc.

Children sample honey at the Museum of Appalachia

Sampling honey

Possibly the most entertaining event for us was sheep herding. Imagine a shepherd yelling short commands to his dog: “That’ll do!” or “Lie down!” or “Bring’em back!” or “Get some water!” or some others which are really hard to understand.

Sheep shearing at the Museum of Appalachia

Sheep shearing at the Museum of Appalachia

Imagine the dog actually listens to the shepherd and does what he is told. And finally, imagine that the sheep obey the dog who is herding them in this direction or that direction from behind. It was incredible to watch. The shepherd said it took him about two years to teach the dog to obey, and the same for the sheep.

He had two other dogs watching: one was a senior dog who was taking a break, and the other was a puppy in training, who was watching the proceedings and learning. We loved this part of the museum. If we go back there next year or whenever, it will be mainly to see this sheep herding business.

Wonderful Wednesday – Ornithology

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Growing up, I was never interested in ornithology. Honestly, I am still not that interested in it. I would have gotten more into it if it had not been for this one homeschooled kid who bragged about being an ornithologist.

Cardinal eggs in nest

Cardinal eggs in a nest by our house

I was a college student and he was still in high school. Somehow we were in the same place at the same time one day. He mentioned to me and a few others that he was an ornithologist. It was not a field that I particularly cared for, so I just sort of nodded politely. Continue reading »

He thought I did not understand the word, so he explained in a patronizing tone, “That means I am a bird watcher.” I almost said, “Hey, I knew what you meant! We say ‘ornitolog’ and ‘ornitologie’ in Romanian. It’s a Romance language and most Latin-based words in English are very closely related to what we say…”

But I figured he was too smug to listen to me at that point. Plus I make it a point to be humble especially when other people are not. Anyway, we all have days when we are not exactly at our most beautiful self, so I decided to not be less-than-beautiful back.

Female cardinal sitting on eggs in nest

Female cardinal sitting on eggs in a nest by our home

However, that distasteful episode sat with me for years. When I had my own children and the thought of homeschooling started creeping in, this young man with his ornithological pride and smugness came to mind and I thought, “There’s no way! I do not want my kids to end up like that! Watching birds and proud of it to the teeth! As if we got nothing better to do…”

God worked with me for two years and I finally relented, agreed to homeschool and the rest is history. Bird watching is something we do now and then, as we drive, hike, or look out the window at our house. We have not taken any trips specifically to bird watch. There is a birding park about 50 minutes from our house and I plan to go there one day, but I don’t have specific plans.

Bird nest

Bird nest at our house

Meanwhile, we watch the humming birds, blue jays, cardinals, robins, crows and different birds of prey flying around our house. This year, we spotted a family of cardinals making a nest (especially the female) and then we saw them with a little one, teaching him to fly or supervising his moves at least.

Crow on the ground

Crow in our yard

The female has started sitting on the eggs. When she flew away for a few minutes, I was able to take a picture of the three speckled eggs sitting in her nest. She is back at it again and we try not to bother her. It looks like we have 11-13 days of waiting before the eggs will hatch. I am having the kids keep a log so we can make it into a science learning experience.

After all, it’s right in our front yard. But I am not smug about it. There is a difference between sharing and bragging. I do not intend to brag about anything, especially not about ornithology.

When Pollen Stops Learning

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Where we live, flora abounds. We live five minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an international biosphere. They say there are more species of flowers blooming in the Park than in all of Europe combined. That’s a lot of pollen.

Skype violin lesson

My daughter plays a piece by heart for her violin teacher, via Skype.

We drink plenty of fluids and limit our desserts, to help the immune system fight all the pollen. When we feel a tingling sensation in our throats, we drink even more water and start taking Vitamin C and oregano oil (one drop mixed with a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil). When our eyes start getting itchy and watery, we even take over the counter allergy medicine to keep the symptoms from ruining our quality of life.  Continue reading »

All this to say, we are careful what we put into our bodies. We want to treat our bodies with respect and, by the way, this is part of anatomy and physiology for their age. How do you deal with sickness? How do you prevent it? How do you keep it at bay? If you will, when a homeschooled child gets sick, all the days could count as science. It is a practical, hands-on course in what they should do one day when their child or friend or spouse becomes ill.

We went on with allergy symptoms for about two weeks but there were no signs of infection. Until we had sore throats and a cough that would not go away. So I took them to the doctor. It was a lovely new clinic that opened up five minutes from our home and my daughter exclaimed as we left, “This was the best doctor’s visit I have ever had.”

Skype violin lesson

The teacher allowed them to do a lesson sitting.

There was no wait time – other than my having to fill out three pages on a clipboard. The lady was efficient and sent the prescription to our pharmacy online. We did not even have to carry a piece of paper to them. By the time we got to the pharmacy, the prescription was already in line to be filled out.

I have never had to cancel school for one whole week due to sickness. It was strange, but I think the kids loved it. They listened to Adventures in Odyssey a lot – we have about 45 CD sets. They have heard it all before, but it was about two years ago, so some of the material was a bit over their heads. Now they can experience it all over again from a different perspective.

The only activity I did not cancel was our Skype violin lessons. Our teacher is an internationally renowned concertmaster and it is hard to re-schedule. Besides, the kids were allowed to sit during the lessons and they actually did very well. They just had to take some breaks to blow their noses. But here’s my point: if they have enough energy to sit and program with Scratch, – which they asked to do while they were sick, – they have enough energy to hold the violin up and play a little for their teacher.

Even though I was ill too, I got a lot of things done around the house and I really should not have, to conserve my energy. By the third day, I had no energy but to stay in bed and read. So I read. I finished one book which I have dragged on and on for months, and a couple others which were due back to the library very soon. I hope to start school tomorrow, but we will see.

Ijams Nature Center

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In Knoxville, a rather large city, there are many places where you can experience nature in a surprising way. Ijams Nature Center is one of these places but it is one of the top places, as voted by local residents. We have wanted to go to this 304-acre urban greenspace for some time, but something always prevented us from actually making it over there.

Ijams Nature Center

Ijams Nature Center

Finally, a friend invited me over there. She has three daughters about my children’s ages and we all loaded up picnic food in the cars and went to visit after church. The place is free to visit, but there are paid activities inside. We just wanted to let the kids walk around and experience the nature. They have play areas made out of natural materials – branches, leaves, or wood. It’s called a playscape. Continue reading »

They have picnic tables everywhere. One could hike the trails, look at the animals they keep in there, the frogs in the pond, the birds flying all over etc. There is a boardwalk on the banks of the Tennessee River. They have a quarry and birding trails. One visit clearly cannot cover it all.

Boy and girl enjoying Ijams Nature Center

Playscape at Ijams Nature Center

And that’s the point. We want to go back there on a regular basis. It is so peaceful. Of course, the place can be rented for different events – weddings, birthdays etc. The scouts use it on a regular basis for their activities. It’s just a wonderful natural setting and lots of people visit, but never to an overwhelming degree.

They organize all sorts of programs for different groups and they also offer summer camps. There’s something for any nature enthusiast out there. If you are ever in the area, you should definitely consider visiting Ijams.

Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 15

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Chapter 15 dealt with three things, all of them happening in the New World. First, we looked at the Wampanoag’s war against the English colonists, also known as King Philip’s war. Such a mess! It is one thing to inspire the children with stories of brave explorers who sailed across unknown seas in search of a shorter route to India. It’s another thing altogether to talk about the aftermath of such explorations and colonization attempts.

But history must be taught, no matter how painful and sad it may have been. Since history repeats itself, we want to make sure that we learn what happened in the past so that we may not repeat others’ mistakes.

Boy and girl in camo

Having fun in camouflage outfits

The second story dealt with the French having trouble in New France, today’s Quebec. One trouble was the lack of women and the other was the attack of the Iroquois. Since we are vaguely making plans to visit Montreal and Quebec City one day, we made a mental note of Marie-Madeleine de Vercheres and her statue which we should definitely see. Continue reading »

King Louis XIV paid women to cross the ocean in order to live in New France, where they could meet lonely soldiers, settle down and have families together. Somebody should come up with a similar idea for the Chinese these days, but that is another history lesson for another time.

The third story was about William Penn’s holy experiment or the beginning of Pennsylvania. We talked about Quakers and I showed them the oat box – Quaker Oats – which has a man in his characteristic Quaker suit and hat on the label. We eat a lot of oatmeal for breakfast. The children are very familiar with that box. Now they know what the man represents.

My children are going through an army phase, so it was very easy to get them dressed in camo for this chapter’s project of blending in.

Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 14

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Chapter 14 covers the very interesting country of Prussia in early modern times. With my renewed interest in all things German, thanks to Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, who hailed from the small German principality of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, this chapter provided a lot of information we all received eagerly.

German flag

The flag of Germany today still reflects the colors of the old flag of Prussia.

I told the children about the three colors of the German flag, which can be found in the coloring page from Story of the World, on the Prussian emblem. With everything going on now in the European Union, reading about how these countries used to be really puts things in perspective. Continue reading »

I have friends and family who live in Germany and I feel very concerned for them. They have so many Muslims there, it is only a matter of time before a larger terrorist attack will happen in Germany. That is my sad, sad prediction.

For our project, we studied a bit of German. Now German is one language I have not attempted to introduce because I simply think we are doing enough languages. But I used to study German and I know a smattering of expressions, so I found it easy to follow Susan Wise Bauer’s list of German words.

If you don’t know how to pronounce German, never fear. She provides a pronunciation guide for each word. No excuses now. We found it fun because the children remembered how Mr. Weenie in Open Season used to say “Nein! Ja!” and eat yet another biscuit.

For a quick, funny example of the German accent in English, there is another scene where Mr. Weenie teaches a friend to say “I am wild” which sounds like “I am vild” in English. Mr. Weenie’s “I am vild” is – well – wild.

We talked about the national anthem of Germany which is the melody of the Christian hymn “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” The words were written by John Newton on a melody by Franz Joseph Haydn. This song is called Austria because it was originally the national anthem of Austria. We noticed how the colors of the modern-day German flag (red, yellow, and black) were used on the old Prussian flag.

National Gallery Library

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Did you know that the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has a library and all of us may borrow books in the mail from there? I just got my first volume and we are enjoying it immensely.

An Eye For Art - a book we borrowed from the National Gallery of Art

An Eye For Art – we borrowed it from the National Gallery of Art

The process to sign up for this library is as easy as 1-2-3: (1) you create an account; (2) you choose the learning resource you want to borrow; (3) you click “request this resource” right there on its page.

There are no late fees and the borrowing times are generous. We just received our book and we do not have to return it until December. Yes, you read that right. Continue reading »

You can also ask for resources ahead of time, to have them staggered. The process is very intuitive as you work your way through the borrowing windows.

Many resources are available as downloadable images and PDFs. You will find that you may not need to borrow physical books that often, but, of course, it depends on your needs and your children’s ages and level of interest in art.

There are CDs to borrow, too, and DVDs with all sorts of art documentaries. One other resource I would recommend are the videos on the YouTube channel of the National Gallery. You will learn so much about the two buildings in D.C., who donated the land and the money, how and why it is not part of the Smithsonian Institution, and about the collections themselves.

Our family lives about eight hours away from the National Gallery. We have already visited the Smithsonian in D.C. and walked past the National Gallery, but, alas, we only had time for the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum. The next time we visit D.C., which I hope is later this year, we will definitely have to go into the National Gallery.

There are collections we can view ahead of time on their website, so that the children may feel excited about seeing these masterpieces in person. Also, there are treasure hunts. These Family Guides which you can print at home or request when you get there will enhance your visit as you go from gallery to gallery.