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Nothing is set up at the new blog (I forgot how much trouble it is to customize templates, add links, put up widgets, fix things, etc. when setting up a blog!) but just so that I get word out to anybody who still subscribes via email or checks in, the new address (for now?) is….


I have the content moved over there (I think I got all 8 or so years?????) but nothing else yet.  I hope I don’t lose contact with those of you who were still out there.  I’ll miss this blog so much!

This is the week that Jack turns 12 (today), Victoria turns 17 (tomorrow), we are having a party to celebrate Victoria being declared cancer-free at 3 years (the next day), and Alex turns 8 (the next day).  Then we are getting ready for a family trip to Florida and the Wilder Pageant is starting up again (Daryl is Reverend Alden and the mayor again, the boys are in the mayor’s family and Victoria plays the Norwegian wife that the Ingalls Family buys the dugout from!).  I’m going to try my hardest to set everything up over there and get it going again, if only to start typing to myself like I did here all those years ago and keep this record of our homeschooling lives going.  :)

Moving On Soon

I got notice last week that homeschooljournal.net will be closing down and I’ll have to move my blog to somewhere new.

I’ve begun transferring it over to WordPress, but the blog name Magic and Mayhem is taken and there are a million little things going wrong.  So in the meantime, I will blog here, and when I have the time and energy I’ll do my best to set up the new one for when I’m out of time to post here any longer.

I’ll be sure to post the new address and give lots of notice once I get it just a little less messed up over there.  :)




We finally got a chance to check out Sea Life at the Mall of America (formerly known as Underwater World).





They host Homeschool Days once or twice a year, generally in the fall and spring.  If you visit during those days (generally a week long), the price is drastically reduced.  When we visited, it was $5 a person instead of $17 or $23 each!


The kids really enjoyed it, and they learned quite a lot.  We made the three hour drive up there mostly for this event, and it was well worth it.




That said, I would not recommend it at full price, especially for large families or those with limited funds.  While it was a fun visit, it would have cost well over $100 for our family and we were ready to leave in under two hours.

For the price we paid ($30 for all seven of us, since three year-old Fiona was free, I believe), it was a fantastic field trip!






We made sure to make some stops at places like the LEGO store while we were at the mall, too, of course!




A Little Fiona Update


Six things you can tell from this photo:

  1. Fiona is now a preschooler — three years old!
  2. Fiona likes to wear my glasses and steal my iPod.
  3. Daryl is extremely tolerant.
  4. Fiona picks out her own outfits.
  5. I have not become any less messy with five kids.
  6. Fiona rules the roost.

In other Fiona news…..  She can read and write a few words like MOM, counts pretty high and loves to do art.  Her big brothers and sisters all pretty much dote on her, and she is not shy about bossing them around!  She also adores them.  She is a Ham with a capital H.  She’s silly and loves to laugh.  She’s a mama’s girl who always wants to be with me.  She loves books, nature and chocolate.  She also loves to sing and write her own songs, which kind of never end.  ;)

Favorite foods (besides chocolate):  Organic tortilla chips with hummus or salsa, apples with peanut butter, burrito bowls, guacamole and rice.

Favorite shows: My Little Pony, Frozen, “Monkey George” (Curious George) and Barbie’s Life in the Dreamhouse.  That last one is thanks to a very sweet dad at a house we visited who put it on for her on their TV last year, thinking that it was a good show for little girls.  Now our whole family is cursed to forever watch Barbie and Ken’s highjinx.  It’s actually surprisingly mesmerizing in a really horrifying way.  ;)

She’s exhausting, delightful and nearly perfect in our not-in-the-least-bit-impartial opinions!


Daryl sent me a copy of this comic the other day and I thought it was a very good (if snarky) point!




Felt Foods!

While we were in Nebraska a few weeks ago, Toria happened upon a stash of felt that Tiffany wasn’t using.  With Tiffany’s blessing, she used some to make a little felt waffle for Fiona, dents and all.  And then a little felt strawberry, and then a felt orange wedge, and then a felt strawberry (complete with little embroidered seeds!) and then felt salad ingredients and felt pizza ingredients and on and on.

Fiona ended up with an entire set of darling felt food, and Toria made a set for Tiffany’s two year-old daughter, Millie, too.

She made so much that we had to run out and buy her more felt.

It was a darling project and both girls loved their new play foods.

(No, she doesn’t need glasses, she just likes to swipe my reading glasses!)

I’ll have her share some tips when she’s back from Oregon, and I’ll post better pictures then.  Fun stuff!


Travel 101

Toria’s off in Oregon again with fantastic friends that she’s visited before.  We all miss her like crazy but I’m glad she gets to travel so much and spend time with friends far away.  This is one of the benefits of homeschooling, that she can go out there when fares are $209 (round trip!) because it’s the middle of nothing, instead of paying $800 to fly during spring break or summer vacation.  Not only that, but her incredibly generous host family helped buy the tickets to get her back out there again.  Good thing they like her so much!

Of course, $209 fares also mean crazy long layovers in Denver (and no luggage!), but she brought some books and she’s good at making the most of things!  :)   And another benefit of homeschooling is that we’ve made friends from all over, and we have friends in Denver who are hosting her overnight for her even longer layover on the way back.

As for the rest of us, we’re having a good time ourselves.

It’s winter, which means not much is going on, but that also means we get to hole up inside and wear fleece pants and t-shirts all day, find time for family games and catch up on our junky TV fixes.

Considering how crazy busy our summers and falls are, there’s something to be said for lazy days inside.

We also just got back a week or two ago from two weeks in Nebraska with Tiffany and gang, which was marvelously fun.  Another homeschooling family that we adore came up from Texas and we got to see them for the first time in a few years, which added to the fun.


We’re also saving and planning for other trips in the coming months, both near and far.

…Because we can all live with the same couches for twenty years, thrift stores clothes, gathering and preserving our own foods, doing without X-boxes (I think I spelled that badly!) and iPhones and all sorts of other modern luxuries, but we consider travel an educational (and quality of life) expense to make happen whenever possible.  :)

Now if only I could find a way to work out a field trip for those studies on Rome……..






Sorry to be such a lax blogger lately!  Life has been frantic, as usual.  I’m still working on balancing the blogs with my columns with homeschooling 5 kids and all of my home duties.  At least it keeps life interesting!

Here are a few ways we’ve learned through life lately…….

1.  We’ve had our first real snow and cold of the winter.  Toria and Alex went out and built an impressive snow fort with blocks made from a 5 gallon bucket.  The walls are about 18 inches high now (it’s got a huge circumference, like igloo sized!) and I think they’re hoping for a huge snowfall and help make more snow.  I personally am not! Perhaps I’ll ask them to figure out its square feet once it’s done.  Tricky, eh?  ;)

2.  The kids all fell in love with a free math site online (I wrote about it here) and they all begged to upgrade to premium memberships, which would have cost a fortune.  I found out that there’s a group rate that’s far cheaper and ended up taking over a group buy that was a monumental amount of work but I was able to get all four of my big kids premium memberships.  Even my teenagers wanted in on it even though it technically goes to 8th grade (it’s a lot like Pokemon and they have fun doing it with their younger siblings).  I figure extra math practice never hurt anybody. They are now spending a ton of time doing math willingly so it was worth it to me!

3.  We went to Sioux Falls yesterday to look for new (to us) winter boots for the kids and to run errands.  We have a zoo membership, so Daryl took the kids to the zoo while I was at an appointment.

4.  Fiona napped in the car on the way home and that always means she won’t fall asleep at bedtime.  She was up until some insane hour (2 a.m. or so!) and Toria took her downstairs and read her dozens of picture books so that Daryl and I could sleep.  Bless her heart, she came down from her bedroom and held out her arms to our bouncy Fiona, and told me “I stay up later anyway, Mom, and you have to get up early.  This way you can get some sleep.”  Sometimes teenagers are pretty awesome!

5.  I suggested to Toria and Anna that they could each self publish a Kindle book for a homeschool project this semester.  It would give them writing experience but also work experience and a skill that they could use well in life to earn extra money.  I gave them the task of researching how to do it and left it completely open as to what sort of book they want to publish.  Anna is really excited and is planning on doing a book of her poems and may illustrate it with some of her poetry.  Toria is thinking of converting a public domain short story into a play.

6.  Toria and her dad volunteered at a haunted house set up as a fundraiser in a nearby city for most of October, every Friday and Saturday with lots of extra days thrown in.  It was an elaborate, impressive set-up in an old high school that is now a community center.  There were three floors of haunted areas and the basement was full of prom zombies.  Daryl played a homicidal principal in one of the offices, and Toria and a friend played dead girls (they would do things like twitch or suddenly turn and look at people as they went by).  They had a blast, and they helped with the clean up and the planning meetings for next year’s event.  Toria made friends, she helped a great organization, and she got some pretty crazy work experience.

7.  I’ve put out the art box again, and it’s been a big hit. The basic premise of the art box is that I keep a box or tray of art supplies that the kids can use to do anything they like.  Its contents change all the time so there are new things to do.  I also keep out a glue gun and the kids (other than Fiona) know how to safely use it.  Jack has made billions of adorable little creations out of odds and ends (he uses everything from little wooden shapes from the thrift store to knobs to broken toy bits).  I have to get some pictures of his creations, because they’re so fun. Toria made sweet little paper stars and multi-media collage projects, among a hundred other creations.  Fiona mostly sticks little foam stickers all over things and cuts everything up with scissors.

8.  We adopted a kitten and named him Boots.  Our other two cats were rescues as adults from a shelter, but this little guy needed a home and I broke down and said yes.  He is a real sweetheart, patient with all of the kids loving on him and playful.  His mother is a Siamese and we were surprised that he didn’t look Siamese at all, so we researched cat genetics and found out that the Siamese traits are recessive so a part-Siamese cat will almost never look Siamese (and will typically be black and white or all black no matter what the other cat looked like).  It was fascinating!  We learned so much and I had no idea about any of it.

Siamese cats have a unique coat pattern. The gradual shading of the extremities is caused by a recessive gene with temperature-sensitive expression. The resulting pattern is essentially a heat-map of the cat’s body…

The albino mutation in Siamese cats results in a defective form of tyrosinase which does not function at normal body temperature. Therefore, dark coloration can only appear in parts of the body that are cooler than the core body temperature. The extremities are always the coolest parts of the body. The face is also cooler because of air passing through the sinuses. The back is warmer than the extremities, being closer to the body core, but it is also exposed. The result is a medium degree of tyrosinase function, resulting in a medium degree of shading

You can read this article (read the comment too!) for more about the genetics and science of Siamese cats.

Wikipedia also has some interesting info like this:

All Siamese kittens, although pure cream or white at birth, develop visible points in the first few months of life in colder parts of their body. By the time a kitten is four weeks old, the points should be sufficiently clearly distinguishable to recognise which colour they are. Siamese cats tend to darken with age, and generally, adult Siamese living in warm climates have lighter coats than those in cool climates.

We will be fostering his Siamese mama for the next week before passing her on to some friends who are coming down for Thanksgiving and will be adopting her.

9.  I’m still involving the kids in as much cooking as possible, hoping they will enter adulthood really knowing well how to cook most foods from scratch.  We were talking last night on the way home from Sioux Falls about a conversation I had with a massage therapist earlier in the day about how she needed to switch her diet on her doctor’s orders and was going grain free.  I told her that soups and salads were good, easy meals sometimes where you didn’t miss grains and she said she couldn’t have soup.  I asked why not, and she said her doctor said it often has added flour.  I forgot that most people don’t make their own soup these days, but this lady is close to retirement age and had never made homemade soup!  I told her how to make an easy broth and she was excited to try it, and then I gave her tips on easy soups to make from there.  I consider cooking an essential homeschooling skill that is so important.  Homemade foods are generally ten times healthier, cheaper and tastier.  I have a Pinterest board of cooking and foraging with kids posts that Daryl has written up.

10. We got this free poster through the mail and I’m putting it up along the basement stairs.  I’m a big fan of sneaky homeschooling with posters.

And the kids have done lots of reading, watching documentaries, playing with friends, painting, photography, computer games, LEGOs, drawing, thrift store shopping, nature crafts, listening to music, blogging, decorating, researching, talking, and son on.


History Fest 2014

Another History Fest has come and gone, and it was another magical week for our family.

This is something I posted to my homeschool email list about this year’s event and it sums it up well…

I’m home at last from History Fest today.  Most of the family has been going since Wednesday (and helped set up Tuesday) but I stayed home with Fiona until today (her birthday) because it’s such a long day that starts so early.  We have to leave at 6:45 a.m. before the sun is up.

Every time I go I am just dumbfounded at how amazing it is, and the awesomeness of Jack McGowan and the mass of people who help make it happen.  It’s like we have our own personal Walt Disney, except he’s an Irishman and he does it for free, for the love of kids and because  he’s a bit of a big kid himself.  It’s just INCREDIBLE what he’s created there and what he continues to build and dream and make happen just about every week.

Last year, the EPA or some crazy organization suddenly announced that his History Fest buildings (a saloon, chalet, places like that — wooden structures built to be used for special events like History Fest of Boy Scout events, stuff like that) were on the flood plain because his land is between a fork in two rivers, and that the whole county would lose flood insurance by the government if his buildings weren’t moved.  They gave him something like 90 days to move 5 huge buildings and all of the outbuildings to another part of his property.  Keep in mind that History Fest is a nonprofit thing he does on an old sheep farm that the owner has let him use next to his house for years.  It started as a project he did at a local park because he thought the Mankato kids ought to have something like the Renn Fest to learn about history, and it just grew and grew and grew.  He’s a retired guy who owns a water conditioner business (that’s still big in Mankato), so this is not someone with the means to just move 5 buildings in 90 days.  He’s like 70 years old (though he’s tough and sprite!).  And we did it.  We moved all those damn buildings with help from all sorts of people and a construction crew that volunteered a bunch of it and donated money and Sentenced to Serve workers who did their time there and Jack busting his butt every day up on some ladder or using the backhoe or doing what needed to be done.  I was in one of the buildings today and realized I helped smooth that dirt floor and carry the log sections of floor back in.  That’s a pretty neat feeling.

And the owner of that sheep farm finally officially gave the land to Jack for History Fest and the finished buildings are even better now that they’re moved to their own little village area… and somehow Jack has managed to build even more amazing contraptions and improve even more buildings and do even more great stuff, out of the scary situation of thinking it was impossible last summer and the government was going to shut it down…  It’s done, and even better.

To give you an idea of how magical this place is, down by the river there’s a troll tunnel (marked with a painted sign) that goes all the way under the hill and comes up through a brightly painted grate in another part of the land.  He built a concrete troll tunnel for children to climb through!!!!! And there’s a giant piece of a house with a gas pipeline that goes on fire that the kids get to put out all day with water pumped through a fire hose from the river….. and there’s a trebouchet (sp?) that launches pumpkins into the river…. and he gives pianos to anybody anywhere who wants a piano (we got one last year and I love it)…  and there’s an ENORMOUS sandbox that’s always filled with buried treasures like dragon tears and coins… and so much more.

Daryl plays a gambler in the saloon and teaches kids card tricks and how to play chuck-a-luck (a fun dice game in a spinning cage).  He’s a hoot to watch — he really is great with kids.  But I found out today that Jack built the saloon because this lady Annette came to play the piano for history fest a few years ago and there wasn’t a good building for her to play in.  He asked where he ought to put another piano and she said, “Well, if you had a saloon….” and she said, “So Jack built me a saloon.”  Just like that!  This giant building with a bar and tables and stage and fun props (old time guns, funny signs…).  It’s just so amazing.

And all the people involved are amazing too.  I love being a part of it.  We have sassy trolls who fight children with foam swords and shields (the children always win!), and SCA knights who battle and teach the kids everything authentically, and presidents Lincoln and Jefferson and Roosevelt, and a blacksmith and a 1600′s Scottish camp where they make bread in a real stone oven and wooden stilts and carts everywhere for children to climb on, and horses and goats and sheep, and people teaching you how to spin alpaca and sheep wool and then how to weave it, and gunfights and soldiers and pirates and our fantastic friend Susan Hynes who dresses all in period black with her temperance sign about the evils of alcohol who yells at that awful JD Wyatt (my hubby) and his hooligan children who steal her sign and give her grief.  :)

Tonight was the pot luck for the volunteers and reenactors and there was a guy doing balloon animals for the kids.  He’s one of the reenactors and he did these massive balloon hats and 8 silver swords for Alex plus giant horns for his head, and just dozens of crazy balloon creations for all of these elated children.  And the trolls were still in character, giving me grief for having “a little fishy” (I was carrying Fiona’s balloon goldfish on a pole) and the pirates and settlers and everybody filled the hall and they’re just all such neat people and it’s such a magical thing to be a part of.

Anna was chatting with a friend tonight and said she had such a great day, and she told me afterwards, “It must have sounded like I was on a drug trip!  I was talking about getting so many pictures of the belly dancers and that the pirate captain told terrible puns and taking Fiona to sit with the buffalo and jousting with my brothers.”  LOL  I am just so happy that my kids have been able to grow up being a part of this.  :)   And now I’m off to sleep!  Tomorrow morning we’re heading back for the public day (the weekdays are for school kids — SOTH and HS) and it will be another full day!

I just had to share it with you all though.  I wish I could bring you all and your kids, and that everybody could come experience it.


and here’s a blog entry about it

Jack McGowan gave an interview to the local news about why he does History Fest and it sums up his funny spunky personality so well.  You can also see my hubby playing the spoons in the beginning of it!

I am so happy to be a part of this magic, and so glad that this is one way my kids are growing up experiencing history class.  :)

You know we’ve never been the school-at-home types around here, and that certainly extends into spelling.

My own personal philosophy when it comes to spelling, after having helped four kids learn to read and then master spelling, is this:

Although reading and spelling seem to go hand in hand, most children fully grasp reading long before they’re spelling well. This is normal, and is not in any way an indication that your child will be a poor speller later on.

You can both suffer through spelling programs and curricula, but it’s not necessarily something your child needs. It’s quite likely that your child will get good at spelling at about the same age whether you use those programs or not.

(You can read the rest of the article here: 12 Ways to improve your child’s spelling)

With all of the kids, I have noticed that they learn to read well and then it is still a couple of years (minimum) before they are naturally spelling well.

With my teens, I also noted that they eventually became very good spellers with very little assistance from me — as long as I was willing to be patient (and a little bit creative in working it into life).

In the elementary years, spelling was the only subject Victoria ever scored at grade level in.  She scored far above grade level in every other subject — even math, which she claimed she hated.  And even then, she only scored at  grade level one year.  That year, we did this a couple of times and by the next year she was above grade level again.

We also do a lot of this silliness, both online (and in emails) and in homeschool journals.  It’s always worked like a charm.

And then we do random spelling, such as calling out words for the kids to spell on car rides.

Right now, we’re working on spelling with Jack.  Spelling was his only grade level subject in his last standardized test (Minnesota requires them annually, though only we see the results).  So September is spelling month.  We’ll continue on into October if he still seems to need it and is enjoying it.  If he’s tired of it by then, I’ll just deploy sneakier methods.  ;)

We’re already having him play some spelling games online and trying out some spelling apps on the iPad, and I’m narrating spelling words for him to spell the same way we did with Victoria.  And I’m encouraging lots more writing (wish lists, stories, anything that comes up).  He’s already improving by leaps and bounds.

I am so glad that I haven’t been tied to daily spelling work with four kids for all of these years!  I find this so much easier for all of us.

I’m still looking for the lazy homeschooler’s answer to all those laundry piles, though.


For more on the subject, see….

20 Fun ways to practice spelling words

Dozens of free spelling games online!

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