Monday, September 30, 2019


Here are the facts as I know them:

  • I raised two sons. (Well, I'm about half-way done.)
  • Now I am on two daughters.
  • My girls fight way more than the boys.
  • My girls squeal way more than the boys.
  • My girls argue over their room way more than the boys.
  • (We live in a three-bedroom house so they will never have their own room.)
  • We have come up with a little curtained partition in the girls room to give Abigail her own space.
  • (Hannah touches EVERYTHING!)
  • (Hannah thinks EVERYTHING she finds belongs to no one, and by default: her.)
  • (Hannah is prone to breaking and chewing on random things frequently.)
  • My girls are nearly wearing the same size clothes and shoes.
  • We have told the girls that the clothes and shoes ALL belong to us so there is NO arguing over them. 
  • (We let them have a few choice "favorites" that only belong to one of them.)
  • My girls love to pose for pictures and to dress up and to do plays and dances.
  • My boys have never done any of those things.
  • I love getting the opportunity to parent two sets of both sexes.
  • Girls seem harder ... emotionally speaking. 
  • These two ladies seem super loving, spirited, emotional, and dramatic. 
  • (I have NO idea who they got these traits from.)

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Painting Rocks with Ms. Leeann

Ms. Leeann is sooooo creative. And Friday was a GREAT day for creativity at our house. Two things were going on:

1. Hannah and Eddie had to drive 3.5 hours (7 hours round trip!) to pick up a new 15-passenger van that is joining their family. I decided with Leeann and our wwoofer Ana-Lisa here, we could handle all nine kids.

2. The boys spent the second half of the day playing PAINTBALL with the homeschool group. This meant that it was just the girls and the littles here while the three oldest boys and JB went and played. 

We therefore decided to really have fun being creative with them gone. So first up? Painting rocks with ms. Leeann. Here's just a smattering of what we did:

I love this picture of Kari. Kari is SUCH an artist. She is very different from all the other kiddos in such a wonderful way. When she started the handprint rock I told her, "I think that may be too hard Kari." But she just kept on with it. She's a gem.
Abigail appears to have inherited her father's love for the arts. (Her  mother has NO gifts in this area.) Seriously! None!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Everyone get on board!

We homeschool every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10a-3p. If you are here during that time, you are invited into our crazy. And we even want you to lead some of the crazy. 

Ms. Leeann and her husband Pete are in visiting for a few days. (A flashback to their last visit can be found HERE.) While Pete was recruited for some work making some sort of roofs for the flowerbeds, Leeann was recruited to hang with us IN the house. She taught the kids a lesson on The Scientific Method as seen below:

And here are some pictures she took of the view from her perspective:

Monday, September 23, 2019

Review: HiGASFY Art History Video Series

HiGASFY Art History Video Series allows you to add art education to your homeschool simply and easily. It is a subscription-based video series designed for students in grades 1-8. The letters HiGASFY stand for Have I Got a Story for you. For $15 a month your family receives access to the following art eras:
  • Renaissance
  • Baroque
  • Impressionist 
  • Post-Impressionist
The video program is lead by Mrs. Beth and her peppy side-kick Gasfy as pictured below in this screen shot I captured:

Beth is incredibly engaging and examines each of the art eras by introducing three different famous artists. Each of the four eras includes 12 videos which are each under 30 minutes in length. But I want to make sure I point out that while this IS a video series, each era also includes a "curriculum bundle." This includes 16 lesson plans to go along with the video series. Here is a snap shot of one of the lesson plans from the Renaissance era:

Let's look closer at the Renaissance lessons plans in bullet form below:

  • Lesson 1: Portfolio (no video)
  • Lesson 2: Introduction the the Renaissance
  • Lesson 3: Leonardo da Vinci
  • Lesson 4: Leonardo da Vinci
  • Lesson 5: Leonardo da Vinci
  • Lesson 6: Leonardo da Vinci
  • Lesson 7: Leonardo da Vinci
  • Lesson 8: Free Draw (no video)
  • Lesson 9: Michelangelo 
  • Lesson 10: Michelangelo 
  • Lesson 11: Michelangelo 
  • Lesson 12: Michelangelo 
  • Lesson 13: Free Draw (no video)
  • Lesson 14: Raphael
  • Lesson 15: Raphael
  • Lesson 16: Free Draw (no video)

The lesson plans include:

  • Suggested art activities
  • Vocabulary words
  • Writing assignments
  • Cross-curricular activities in Geography, History, and Science
Along with each of the lesson plans are FLASHCARDS that you can print and quiz the student on the different authors from that era. Is a screen shot of one of these below:

While I like the idea of the flashcards, to be honest, anything that requires substantial printing of color/ink is expensive for homeschool parents, so instead, I really like the PowerPoint "game" that you can download and quiz your student on different artists and their pieces. This is basically flashcards right on the computer screen.

(There is also a Biblical component that you can include if you'd like. This "allowance" means that non-Christian families can use this easily as well.)

I encourage you to download the FREE video lesson to see one for yourself by clicking here so you can see them for yourself.

We watched these with all nine of the kiddos in our homeschool. These children range in age from 5-14. I will say that I thought the videos were very well done. The only "small" complaint we had about the videos is that the character Gasfy was well-liked by the little kids. That may not seem like a "complaint"; however, here is where the complaint comes into play. The older kids found him "juvenile." However, the little kids were really too young to get much out of the videos. So the people who liked Gasfy weren't really the "right" age range. This is a very small issue, but I wanted to point it out nonetheless.

Here's how the grade-levels fall in our homeschool and how each of them did with the program:

  • 2 Kindergarteners: Loved GASFY but the program was mostly over her head. 
  • First Grader: Loved GASFY but the program was mostly over her head. 
  • Second Grader: Liked GASFY and was able to watch and get some stuff out of the program. 
  • Three Fifth Graders: Found GASFY "okay" and enjoyed the videos and got a lot out of them. 
  • 1 Seventh & 1 Eighth Grader: Found GASFY was too juvenile but enjoyed the videos and got maximum knowledge out of them. 

Here's what I do like. HiGASFY Art History Video Series an be as intensive or "hands-off" as you like. You can just let your kiddos watch the videos and leave it at that. Or you can use the lesson plans and PowerPoint/flashcards. It can easily be utilized without a lot of pre- or post-work from you the teacher.

Here's a video of my cousin, Hannah, doing the program with our nine kiddos:

And here's our dog Ritter listening to the program:

Our overall feeling about this program is that it is very well done and also VERY informative. I don't think I would want to pay $15 a month for an entire year to use this program. However, if you paid $15 for a 4 month period and spent one month on each era, I think it would be a very prudent financial decision.

You can also check out HiGASFy on:

Have I Got A Story For You Art History Video Series {HiGASFY Art History Video Series Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The military community holds strong

When we were stationed in the Azores, we made friends with many wonderful people and families. One of those families was the Steele family. Richard and Mary Kay have five children: four girls and a son, and while we only overlapped a year, there was an instant connection between our families. 

Fast forward about half a decade and Richard has retired from the military and he takes a job at a small country church here in Greeneville! We are now "neighbors."

(Okay so we live on opposite ends of Greeneville, but STILL! For country folks, that's neighbors!)

I am so so so SO excited to have the Steele family nearby. Two of their daughters are now married, one is in college, and one is still at home along with her younger brother. The opportunity to have this wonderful homeschooling family closely is simply a fantastic blessing. Mary Kay and I get along so well, and I've always really looked up to how they have raised (and are raising!) their children.

Yesterday, we had an opportunity to spend a day at the Biltmore in Asheville. The last time JB and I were there was in March of 2008! (You can flashback with me to that post by clicking here.) The kids had never been so we took an opportunity to go with a great coupon and event: learning all about sustainability at Biltmore.

Mary Kay and her youngest daughter, Melody, joined us for the day. (Grampa and Grama came too but they wandered and did their own thing away from us slow pokes :)

Here are a few pictures from our fun day together:

Sisters on a random statue!
Melody and Mary Kay
I mean: who doesn't have a pipe organ in their dining room?
Our rapidly growing family!
The five "kids" (Melody is 17 so she barely qualifies!) with some big growth on a tree :)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The perfect words

Yesterday JB was home for our school day. Some days he is at work, and some days he is here with us. He will help with school work, take breaks with the kids, or do farming or other needed home chores. 

While I homeschool with my cousin Hannah, we are usually split up. She is upstairs with the three little kindergarten-age kiddos, and I'm downstairs with the six older kids. As the kids age, I imagine this will change, but for now, the three "littles" really need to be separated from the rest of the group.

Homeschooling can be really wonderful. Incredibly rewarding. But sometimes it can be super hard. All the kids go through different emotions. Sometimes those emotions are fun. They are excited about an accomplishment. Pumped that they got something right on the first try. Or eager to try a new thing. 

But there are tears sometimes. Frustration. Disagreements. I am especially butting heads right now with Sidge who is so "precise" that he doesn't want to go one minute over or under on an assignment.

Yesterday was a pretty good day. But it was a heavy-question-day. All six kids, working on separate assignments, had various questions for me, and they seemed to go on all day long. I felt there was a constant line waiting to talk to me. And I was weary.

About three-fourths of the way through our five-hour-day, John gave me "the eye" and called me over to him. "I need to talk to you," he said.

Sometimes when he does this, he tells me, kindly, I need to go easier on this kid or that kid or I need to take a five minute break or lower my voice. But this time he simply said, "You are doing a really good job."

Could I have heard any sweeter words? 

No one really tells moms they are doing a good job. And homeschool moms can feel especially overworked and unappreciated. 

A small encouragement. It was huge to me.

Who can you encourage today?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Some Snaps of Our Life

I often have a bunch of pictures that don't go with anything that I still want to remember and share. So here is one of those totally random posts with lots of who-knows-what all combined together:

Grabbing some of our favorites at Yoder's: chips, bread, and jam! I love having Yoder's so close to our house. Bread and jam are our ALWAYS purchases. And we also love these healthy chips with only a few ingredients!
Abigail looking like a puppy during some hang-out time with Anni. I continue to be so blessed by the amazing people that God has brought to do this life here with us.  
Aunt Hannah teaching an art history unit at co-op with all 9 kiddos! (Eoin is under the table I believe!) I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to homeschool with another family. I am honestly not sure how I ever did it by myself!

A quote that has really spoken to me this week. 

John finished reading Harry Potter 3 with the kiddos. I've been reading (and LOVING!) them too. We spent a lazy Saturday watching movie 3 in the living room. He'll stop reading now for awhile as he thinks Book 4 is to scary for the girls. (The boys have already read them all independently.) 

Abigail and her friend Eliza accidentally dressing alike for co-op this past Monday. Our homeschool co-op is such an incredible blessing in our life. I truly can't imagine not having them to help me along in this journey.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Watching your children grow

Abigail and her friend Eliza at ballet way back in year 2 -- and this past year!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

To raise girls

Abigail and Hannah wear close to the same size shoe. (And clothes too for that matter.) Abigail's feet are just a tiny big bigger. We've been having a lot of arguing between the two of them over clothes/shoes and have decided that they can each have some special items they don't share, but that otherwise, if they aren't wearing something, the sister may borrow it. It belongs to God. Or us. They didn't buy it. So they can share it. (We are trying to prepare for years of this as it appears they will be close to the same size for quite some time.)

Before church on Sunday, Hannah and Abigail came running to me, Hannah holding a pair of black, high-heeled shoes. They were both exasperated and nearly crying.

Abigail: "I had those in my hand and was going to wear them, and Hannah took them from me."
Hannah: "I wanted to wear them."

I settled down the fight, had them both be quiet, and went on with: 

Me: "Aren't they technically Hannah's shoes?"
Abigail: "Yes, but they are too big for her."
Hannah: "But I want to wear them."
Me: "Okay, if they are too big for Hannah, Abigail you wear them. And Hannah you find something else."

Abigail tries on the shoes. 

Abigail: "They are too small."
Me: "Okay, then they should fit Hannah. She can wear them."
Hannah: "I don't want to wear them."


I see the next fifteen years of my life flashing rapidly.

First Day of School

Tomorrow we will return for Week 2 of our wonderful homeschool: Heritage Home Scholars.

I meant to post these pictures last week with my four kiddos preparing for their first big day:

  • Isaac (5th grade) is taking: Adventure Time (PE type class), American History, Inventions, and a Grammar class. 
  • Sidge (5th grade) is taking: PE (with me!), American History, Spanish, and Chemistry/Physics
  • Abigail (2nd grade) is taking: PE (with me!), Music (she's holding her ukelele), Marine Life, and Girls Club
  • Hannah (Kindergarten) is taking: PE (with me and Abigail!), Magic School Bus, Lego Math, and Girls Club. 
We love our co-op. As the kids get older, their classes require work throughout the week in preparation for meeting on Mondays. (We meet from 9-2 on Mondays for 20 weeks of the year.) It's a chance to listen to other parents/teachers, spend time with other kids, and learn new things I'd never be able to teach them at home. I am so blessed by this group.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

We Bought a Farm: The Highs (and Lows) of Raising Animals

I've heard it said that if you are going to raise animals, you have to be comfortable with those animals dying. 
It is true. I know that. Processing day is always bitter-sweet on our farm. 

But this year it was even more bitter than usual.

The night before we process our birds, we always bring the chickens out to a "holding area" near where we are going to process the birds. (Jacob and Tijmen named this area the "Thunder Dome" so that's what we call it now.) 

This time we made a poor decision. We moved the birds at 3:30 in the afternoon on a 99 degree day. (It is abnormally hot here for September this week, and this particular day just happened to be one of the hottest we've had all year.)

It's funny how you can look back at something and see the error of your decision but fail to see it ahead of time. (Thus the famous saying "Hindsight is 20/20.) At the time, the heat crossed all of our minds, but we had the Kotynski family with us so we thought, "Well we have a lot of people! It's a good time to do it, and we can do it fast!" So we went for it!

And a few hours later, when we went down to do a check on the birds, we found that we had lost TWENTY birds to heat/stress. We can't be sure what killed them, but we have to think that the combo of a very hot day and moving them across the farm in that heat in a hot truck contributed to their death. They had plenty of water and shade, but it wasn't enough.

I can't tell you how hard it is to lose animals. But it is especially hard to lose animals right when they have finished their job and you are getting ready to process them. Those birds would make us about $25 a bird. And then you factor in how much it cost to feed that bird for eight weeks and the cost of buying the bird. That's about $13. So all said and done, their death cost us about $38 x 20 birds. This means it was about a $760 error!

But money is only a small part of what you feel badly about ...

Not only that, but their death was probably not a nice one. That also makes us sad. We strive to give our animals only bad moment in their life. I hate losing animals unexpectedly and unfortunately. This seems odd when you consider that we are raising our animals for meat for us to eat. I can't really explain how it feels. Farming really changes your perspective on so many things. 

All that aside, processing day was a HUGE success. We processed right under 100 birds in 2 hours! We had them in the freezers before lunchtime. Considering that the first time we processed we had four people and it took us until about 1am to process 82 birds, this was incredible speed. We have really refined our process!

Here are a few videos from processing day: Video 1, Video 2, Video 3.