Primarily written by Adrienne, a homeschooling mother of seven, ages 10 and under. She chronicles life, laughs, struggles, and lessons learned as she raises a larger-than-most sized family and tries to figure out what she's doing day by day.

With occasional posts, Alexandra, Adrienne's older sister, writes of her ranch life in Nevada and raising four sons, ages 5 and under. Life is never dull and her boys have given her some pretty awesome stories to tell.

Stick around awhile, and you're sure to laugh, nod, smile, be encouraged, and see what life is like with a big (little) family.


Central confusion.

About a month ago, when I changed out winter clothes for summer clothes (What was I thinking?! Winter refuses to go away.) I rearranged Ruby’s drawers. With threats thrown out for the neatness to last longer than the next load of laundry, she’s taken her job seriously. Every time she puts her clothes away, she asks where each thing goes.

Tonight, as she held up a skirt, I said,

“Bottom drawer. In the middle.”

She walked toward the stairs, spun back around and looked at me quizzically.

“So if I go in my room, I open my…”


“Bottom drawer.”

“And then I put it on which side?”

“Middle Ruby. In the middle.”

Sheesh. I do not get paid enough.

Review and Giveaway: Purex with Crystals Fragrance

A few weeks ago, I was given a chance to review Purex with Crystals Fragrance. With fabric softener and a lovely fragrance that stays with the clothes long past wash time, I really enjoyed this review. The clothes came clean, smelled great, and static was kept to a minimum.

Want to try it out too? I have three coupons to give away, provided by Purex. Maximum value: $6. Just leave a comment here, comment on my facebook page, and like this post for three chances at a coupon for a bottle of Purex of your very own.

I’ll randomly draw three winners Wednesday, May 1, at 8pm CST.


The story of us. Part 5.

Read part one here.
Read part two here.
Read part three here.
Read part four here.

June 21, we celebrated Blaine’s birthday and having made it to the nine month mark. Now it seems funny, but at the time, I was pretty concerned with appearances and did not want questions as to the conception of my child.

June 25, labor began. I was admitted, confirmed to be in labor, and left to progress on my own. After several hours, I was moving along, and then it stopped. The next morning, when given the option to induce labor or go home, I stupidly made the decision to induce and get it over with. The doctor broke my water, began pitocin, and that night, Liberty Skye was born. You can read her birth story here.

And so, another of my plans was altered. A girl? First? Certainly we’d have a boy first. It’s the American Dream, after all. A girl first was not on my radar. I struggled with wanting the perfect life – and this was not what I’d envisioned. More money, peace in my home (and heart) and less struggling were what I thought I deserved. I wasn’t content. I had so much to learn. Apparently, I was one of those. You know, the ones that have to learn the hard way.

We settled into life with our first child. We moved from our apartment to a rented old farmhouse, where we burned wood for heat, got a Great Pyrenees dog who drove me nuts, and we worked towards buying our first home. Choosing not to heat the whole (big) house, Liberty’s bedroom sat empty and her crib hung out in the kitchen, closer to the wood stove. Flies and box elder bugs were abundant, and some unknown creature chewed on the floor boards from the dirt crawlspace. The pipes froze when it got really cold, and paint flaked off the living room walls and fluttered to the floor on a regular basis. God was working on me and this whole contentment thing.

Our marriage was rough. Blaine changed jobs, we’d been married a year by that point, and had a new, very crabby child who screamed day and night for the first five months of her life. I knew something was wrong, but the pediatrician kept saying it was normal. Finally, after many sleepless nights and at my wit’s end, I took her into the doctor’s office again, handed her to the doctor, and told him to figure out why she wouldn’t stop crying.


A day in the life: Wednesday

Yesterday I ran out of gas in the lawn mower. I had it straddling the ditch, stuck, one tire in the air, another in the mud, and the mower died. I couldn’t have planned that if I’d tried.

My kids now know what the N means on the shift column. Important lessons, folks.

I managed to load the kids into the van, run to town for gas, drop off library books (the day they were due!) and drop of clothes to be donated (that rode around for at least a month in my van first) and was home again in 20 minutes to rescue the lawn mower. Maybe, just maybe, the successes outweighed the failures.

Our Yorkie-Poo Brady is forever sleeping on my laundry. She sleeps in the laundry room at night, and she’s forever abandoning her bed for the basket full of laundry instead. It drives me crazy. I don’t leave clean laundry in there (Lesson learned!) but still. She’s a dog. No matter how hard I try to keep on top of it, she drops ticks. In my laundry. And if it happens to be her bi-yearly… oh, that can get ugly.

I figured out how to stop her. I had just checked her over for creepy crawlies, had Liberty give her a bath, so it was high time to make this discovery.

Don’t have any laundry left in the laundry room.

That’s right, my friends. I hit the bottom of the basket yesterday. It hasn’t happened very many times in recent history, but I even had the kids’ clothes from the day washed. I started the last load after they changed into pj’s. And wouldn’t you know, this morning, Brady had opted for her own cushy bed over the cold, hard, empty laundry basket.

Score one for me.

We planned to make these yesterday. I found out, shockingly, I cannot braid six strands. Or five. So, we opted for three. I can do three.

They still turned out pretty fun. I ended up making seven of them. One for each of the girls, one for an anklet for Liberty, and two for Ruby and Charlotte’s baby dolls.


Getting Charlotte to smile though… that got interesting.


Babe, you’re old.

Liberty was asking what she ought to do about her history project for co-op. She’s supposed to ask an “older relative” about how the streams, rivers, terrain, etc. were back when they were young. She was confused on who she ought to talk to.

Eden told her to talk to Daddy.

Blaine was oh so thrilled when I told him.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Today we’re clearing off the school shelves, putting last year’s books in storage and getting out next year’s books. It’s almost fun. Folders are cleared out and put into manila envelopes, scores are recoded, and it all goes away. It’s a beautiful thing.

Actually, it’s not so pretty. I momentarily thought of taking a photo to go with my blog post, but my piles of books weren’t the most attractive thing I’d ever seen. I opted for no photos.

Our new books are all here. We’re gearing up to start again, and Sterling is really worried about Ruby. She’ll be doing Saxon Math 1 – the book he just finished.

“Ruby, you’ll have to do timed tests. You won’t know what to do. What’s 6 + 6?”

Her answers aren’t instilling confidence.


Sterling sighed, exasperated.

“Ruby! You have to learn this if you’re going to do that book! 6 + 6 is 12!”

Ruby scrunched up her nose at him.

“Oh. How do you write 12?”

He covered his face with his hands.


The conversation went on for many minutes. He doesn’t believe me that he began the year in the same boat. I showed him a place in his old book that had 14 written 41. He remains unconvinced. This big brother stuff is really stressful.


Goodbye, Monday. You’ve been swell.

Saturday, I went to the community rummage sales down the road from us. Got some good deals, nothing fabulous, but at the end of my morning out, I parked on the hill at a sale, and when I opened the door of the van, the wind caught it. I didn’t think a whole lot of it until the van door wouldn’t open when I got back to the van. Rummage sale: 2 glass baking pans and a shirt for Blaine. $3. Driver’s side van door: stuck.


The bumper was dented, the door wouldn’t open more than 2 inches. I’m wider than two inches. Climbing out of the passenger side puts a whole new spin on strange that I hadn’t considered. As if the 12 passenger van wasn’t quite odd enough.

Today, I took it to town with plans to stop and two different places for body work quotes. The first place offered to fix it, free, then and there. Um, yeah! He popped out the fender and told me if I wanted it perfect it would need body work, but it was functioning and barely dented and opening well. Sounds good to me. I took it to Blaine’s office to see what his thoughts on it were.

We decided to stop at the second body shop, just to get an idea of what it would cost to get the dents perfected. I got the quote, got groceries, and got a tube for Eden’s bike tire. Went to the bank. Door worked great.

I pulled into my yard, and the door wouldn’t open. What on earth?!

Climbing out the passenger door, I set to work changing Eden’s bike tire so we could continue to the park with friends for a ride, as planned. The tube I bought now in her tire, I put it back together. Forgot to put the chain on. Found out the front tire was also flat. It lost it’s air within two minutes of being pumped up. Perfect. Liberty tried to ride my bike. It’s 10 inches taller than hers. No go. Eden rode the scooter. She’s a good sport.

Van door opens better on flat ground, but still not right. Blaine to the rescue. It’s now more dented than when he started, but it’s fixed and he figured out why it didn’t stay fixed last time. Speculating on whether the door has been replaced in the past. That would explain why the key doesn’t work in that door.

(That’s a funny story. Blaine’s key never worked, and he didn’t have a key fob like I did, so we went to the hardware store to get a copy of my key made. We figured we’d use his old key as a spare, since it worked in the other doors and the ignition. The new cut key didn’t work. She cut another. Three keys later, it dawns on me I’ve never tried my key in the driver door, only the passenger. My key didn’t work either. We now have multiple copies of that key, none of them work in the driver’s door, and I can only imagine we’re on a black list at ACE.)

In other news, Blaine thinks the house is booby trapped. I think it’s just him. Things jump out at him constantly. You know, things like non-working keys, flat bike tires, and dented fenders.


The story of us. Part 4.

Read part one here.
Read part two here.
Read part three here.

Finally, I started to come around. I was huge, swollen, but no longer losing most of my food. My hormones stopped telling me how awful my husband was. I was starting to think maybe I hadn’t made a huge mistake in walking down that aisle. And steady as a rock, Blaine was there for me.

My due date was June 30, 9 months and 9 days after our wedding date, and it loomed in front of us. We joked that the baby had better stay put until Blaine’s birthday, June 21. It was our nine month mark.
June 6, labor began. I drove myself to the hospital and Blaine met me there.

This was not supposed to happen yet.

We were checked in on the maternity floor of the small Spearfish hospital. They kept me for observation and informed me that if I was in labor, it would be stopped. If they couldn’t stop it, I’d be sent to Rapid City, the larger town in the area. Spearfish doesn’t have a NICU and won’t deliver a baby less than 37 weeks. I was 36 weeks and 4 days. If I had been 3 days further along, they would have left me to labor.

But I wasn’t. A few hours later, I had dilated 1 cm, and a shot of awful was injected into me. I shook and froze and felt generally awful for an hour or so, but contractions stopped. I was sent home.


TOS Review: Fun Physical Activities for Young Children

My most recent curriculum to review with the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew has been Dr. Craft’s Active Play! Fun Physical Activities for Young Children from Dr. Craft’s Active Play Books. I used this with Sterling (5), Ruby (4), and Charlotte (2), although my older girls and Pierce couldn’t resist joining it a bit as well.

From their website: 8½ x 11 with 130 pages with DVD showing 30 physical activities
This book and DVD set:
  • Shows how to make physical activities irresistible.
  • Teaches academic concepts through physical activity.
  • Includes a chapter of physical activities for infants, 6 months to 15 months of age.
  • Includes physical activity ideas for school-age children.

Active Play! is all about getting your young children moving. With much information regarding the importance of physical activity for young children, it’s a great resource for ideas on how to do this. With 52 activities suggested, 30 of them demonstrated on the DVD, all using pretty ordinary household objects, (Laundry baskets get new life!) this book could be a valuable tool with daycares, classrooms, VBS, and birthday parties. It has a great list of all the activities and the skills they help practice.

With six super active children who don’t lack at all for physical activity, I don’t really want to organize their play. They’re pretty great at that all on their own. On a rainy day though, I might refer back to this book to see what might keep them busy and entertained inside the house. It’s full of great ideas that aren’t overly competitive – great when you have different abilities present. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. The activities are easy enough to set up that my older girls (9 and 8) can do it, and they love the play “teacher” – having them all playing together and helping one another helps all of them learn lifelong skills.

IMG_4410I took photos of the day we did “Matching Socks”. It was a favorite all around, with minimal prep for me and the kids had a blast on a sunny day. We grabbed a bunch of pairs of socks, left one of each pair in a pile and spread the other of the pair around in the front yard. Each kid grabbed one from the pile and set out to find it’s match as quickly as possible. Since our yard is a hill, we had a lot of tipping over as they bent for socks. Oh, the giggles. Even Pierce (18 months) gathered up socks. He didn’t quite get the rules, but he was very concerned that we’d scattered our laundry all over the yard. (Yes, he’s pants-less. I am so sorry. We’re approaching potty training, and I didn’t plan on him being included this go around – but he was having too much fun not to photograph him too!)


Dr. Craft’s Active Play! Fun Physical Activities for Young Children is available here for $39.00 plus taxes and shipping. It’s set up well enough to work for young new walkers and up, with older children helping with set up and helping the younger children. Each activity took us about 10 minutes to complete, but the kids chose to continue playing long after we finished the first round.

To read more reviews on Dr. Crafts Active Play Books from the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, click here.


Bird Accommodations

When we bought our house three years ago, it was immediately obvious that the people who owned it before us really, really liked birds. Really. With a grand total of eight birdhouses on the property, these birds were well cared for. After three years of working more on our own home and less on birds’ homes, the birdhouses were all in a pretty sad state of disrepair. Last Saturday, they all came down. These two were on 15 foot poles, way up in the air. Blaine pulled them out with the pickup for me. One came down with a crash and fell open.


Upon inspection, under all that old nest debris was wallpaper.
Yeah. These people were serious about their bird accommodations.




Spring 2013 Projects: Rock Wall

I married a man of many talents. He doesn’t cook or clean if he can worm his way out of it, but he fixes things and builds things and takes fantastic photos. These photos are mine, not his, so photography judgments aside, here’s the latest thing he’s made me.


After my meager attempts to begin a flower bed last year (See lavender and dianthus plans in the background.) Blaine jumped in and made me a real dirt flower bed. I only had to use the pick for one plant. (Near the back, where the dirt got thinner and the rock shelf we live on was arguing with me.) Every single plant I planted last year required the pick and a ridiculous amount of labor. Blaine, compassionate that he is (and lover of outdoor beauty – and me) maneuvered his pickup oh so carefully up the back pasture to get the rocks. If you could have been a fly on the wall during that ride… you’d have splatted against the windshield. It’s ridiculously rough, full of brush, and all uphill. Flooring the pickup and avoiding trees as he bounced up the hill, I gained a new respect for my husband’s driving abilities. And so, the rock wall was built.

After composting all year, we had a nice pile of rock-free dirt. We moved it down to the front of the house and today I planted flowers. Very fun.

The new rock wall looks remarkably like this one, that he built for me last spring:


(Don’t mind the perennials. Spring is still working on springing. I should have wrote this post in a month.)

It also looks a lot like this one, built last summer around the non-bearing cherry tree Sterling insisted his Daddy needed for Father’s Day:


We seem to have a theme going on. And a lot of rocks.

TOS Review Crew: MathRider

For the past month or so, I’ve had Liberty, Eden, and Sterling using MathRider as part of a review for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. MathRider is an “intelligent” math game download that teaches and reinforces multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction with numbers 0-12. I’m able to enter each of my school-aged children’s names and capabilities and MathRider takes it from there. Once they are doing well with one area, I can set it up for them to move on to a harder set. It keeps changing it’s expectations based on the kids’ performance, and expects them to do as well or better as they have in the past.

Liberty has LOVED MathRider. She finished her 4th grade math book for the school year right about the time we began using MathRider, and she asked if she could do MathRider each day in place of her finished textbooks. She’s advanced through many levels now and continues to ask to use it. It got to the point I had to tell her enough was enough – she’d gladly play for hours! Her times have improved and she’s gotten better at the math facts she’d already learned. The program tells her when she’s answered a question faster or slower than she has in the past and stops to correct any incorrect answer immediately. It awards “points” toward their level goal where appropriate.

Eden just finished 3rd grade math and doesn’t enjoy it so much, but still wanted to play MathRider after watching Liberty play. Something about making math a game made life so much better. She has timed tests in her regular math curriculum each day and, in playing MathRider, her times on those timed tests improved! She was thrilled, and I’m thrilled for her. She asks to play each day as well. All the kids crowd around the computer, enamored with the story line – and quite frankly, if they want to watch math facts float across the screen and yell answers at the player, I’m good with that! (Ruby, age 4 and not yet learning math, has been hilarious. She hollers out any and every number she can come up with. I figure it’s good for learning dedicated attention – right?!)

Sterling has just finished kindergarten, but he did first grade math this year. He knows his math facts but has a hard time coming up with the answers quickly. He’s gotten frustrated with MathRider because he isn’t fast enough in remembering the answer and typing it in, but we’ll keep on this one. I’m certain he’ll get better and faster at it with a bit of perseverance.

I can pull up the statistics and see where each of my kids have improved – and things like Liberty and her obvious liking for doing division problems over anything else, while Eden chooses subtraction most often. It shows their “mastery level” and where they were when they started.

Regarding system requirements, from their website:

“MathRider uses the Adobe® AIR™ runtime. This means our Math game runs on Windows and Mac. Your computer requires about 80MB of available hard disk space. Your monitor (and graphics card) need to support at least a resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels.”

There is a 7 day free trial available for MathRider. To purchase, MathRider is $47 and includes free updates for life. This allows for 8 players who each create their own “rider” and settings. The game constantly adjusts itself based on your child’s progress.

Read more reviews on Math Rider at the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

Things I wish I knew 10 years ago.

As we wrap up our school year, (Ours goes May-April. I don’t really know why. It’s just the way it started years ago and here we are.) life gets a little easier. With many subjects finished for the year, our school days are shorter and the weather outside is nicer. It makes for a cleaner house and more laundry. Who wants to fold laundry inside on a nice day?! Baskets litter the living room, and just when I get it all folded and put away there’s more to fold. Around and around we go.

Today: Things that make my life easier.

I sweep. The kids follow me with a little broom and dustpan and clean up the piles. The baby has less chance of crawling through them this way.

The kids all have laundry baskets with their names on them. Laundry is folded into them, and each big kid takes care of their own basket and their buddy’s basket.

The Buddy System: Liberty and Pierce are together, Eden and Charlotte, Sterling and Ruby have each other. After much deliberation, putting the two middles together works phenomenally well. They aren’t old enough to be responsible for a little one, but are old enough to take care of most things themselves. They keep each other in check.

The buddies help each other out. Charlotte needs to go potty? Eden helps with that. Pierce needs to be washed up? Liberty’s all over it. Sterling has a job he finds daunting? Ruby will pitch in. Buckling up in the van is so much faster when I can put them all in, close the door, and kids set to buckling seat belts for one another. It’s spread the extra workload I can’t do fairly evenly and strengthened the sibling relationships. Ask Charlie who her buddy is and she’ll pipe right up and tell you. The hollers from the bathroom when she needs wiping assistance is pretty hilarious. “EDEN! You. Are. My BUDDY! I need HELP!”

If you finish your job early, it’s beneficial to you to help someone else out. This lesson was long in coming, but they are finally getting it. Free time begins when everyone is finished. Help them, you get out sooner too.

The One Finger Rule: touch that item on the store shelves, go ahead. With ONE finger. Decide to straighten rearrange destroy the shelves with that one finger and your privilege was just revoked and your hands are now in Pocket Detention.

My keys are on a string. This helps me find them quickly in an overcrowded diaper bag. It also provides a leash. Any child who repeatedly has obedience issues must hold on to the string that dangles from my keys in my pocket. Letting go is not an option.

Time stamps. Kids are up by 7am. Breakfast must be finished and cleaned up by 8am. School starts at 8:30. Lunch is at noon, unless you have had a bad attitude and haven’t tried your best. Attitudes result in all school being finished before lunch. Supper is at 6pm. By setting times for certain non-negotiable moments in our day, we keep on task.

My list. It’s the “If nothing else happens today, these are the bare minimums necessary” list. School, food, at least one load of laundry washed and dried, and the house straightened. If these things happen, we’ve had a successful day. More is obviously great, helpful, and necessary to run the house, but we won’t fall apart and tomorrow won’t be an awful day of catch-up if we’ve done these things.

What things make your days easier? What rules do you have in your house?

TOS Review Crew: Progeny Press’ Dragon’s Hoard

As a member of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, I’ve been given the privilege to review The Hall of Doors series The Dragon’s Hoard by Rebecca Gillenland from Progeny Press this month. I also received and used the Hall of Doors: Dragon’s Hoard Study Guide. Liberty (9) and Eden (8) each used a copy of the study guide.

Written for upper elementary grades in the spirit of The Hobbit, The Dragon’s Hoard was much enjoyed by all of my children. Sterling (almost 6) and Ruby (4) thoroughly enjoyed listening to the story alongside Liberty and Eden – although I didn’t have them do the interactive study guide with the girls. The girls begged and begged for me to read them more. I was impressed with how well they learned and retained what we’d read. After making two copies of the downloaded study guide, each girl was on her own for answering questions in the space provided in the PDF file.

The interactive study guide did a great job of picking the story line apart, asking the student to evaluate the characters and their motives. Fear, worry, and courage were main themes in the book and further discussed in the study guide. The study guide did a great job of giving scripture references to look up and evaluate the characters and their responses to situations that arise in the book. It also includes a word search and cross word puzzle and many ideas for further study, book reports, field trips, art, and further reading.

The Hall of Doors: The Dragon’s Hoard was easily read in an hour and a half, but the study guide slowed them down and sent them back to the book often. I read it aloud the first time, but both Eden and Liberty were able to read it as well, and did as they went back to the book to find answers in the chapter-by-chapter study guide.

The Hall of Doors: The Dragon’s Hoard book is available here for $6.99. The Hall of Doors: Dragon’s Hoard Study Guide is available here for $15.99.

Read more reviews from other the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew members here.



Skip the self-control and use determination.

I work hard at teaching my children self-control. Since it’s a lifelong skill necessary for a Godly life, it’s a lesson I begin to teach early. Their first lesson in this is to be taught to stop crying on command. Each of them have learned this, some younger (and more readily)than others.

Pierce has been a difficult student. He’s finally learning this lesson, and I’ve had a few times, mid-tantrum, when he’ll obey and stop fussing. After six children, I have my first tantrum-thrower. All out, drop to the floor, express-my-displeasure tantrums. It’s been a learning experience on how to deal with these. Highly unpleasant.

This morning, when he wanted to play with a loud toy and we were doing school, Sterling took the toy from him and placed it up, out of Pierce’s reach. Pierce hit the floor. I scolded him and told him to stop fussing, and seconds later, he got up, dusted himself off, and went on his way, happy. Score one for Momma.

And then. He came back with a stool and took it over to the place where the toy sat, out of his reach.

Perfect. Give Momma’s point to Pierce.

While he never got onto the stool, and after many tries, he gave up and went to find something else to play with, I didn’t really win.

We’re still working at this lesson. Obviously.


The story of us. Part 3.

Read part one here.
Read part two here.

Finally, my shell-shocked brand-new husband came around. And then… he jumped into action. We had to leave New Jersey. We had to move to a cheaper area. He called his brother in law from South Dakota and asked for a job with his construction company.

Early December, we packed everything we owned into my little Ford Escort and my father-in-law’s Ford full size van (not all so different from my current family van) and headed west. We didn't own much, but we had what we needed. We arrive in Belle Fourche, South Dakota a few days later and moved into an apartment picked out by Blaine’s sister. Rent was 1/3 of what we’d paid for the house in New Jersey.

We settled into life there. South Dakota is my home, and despite being 6 hours away from my parents, it was still home. We found a church, a doctor, and had almost instant friends. I couldn't find a job in my pregnant state, but I started working a bit for my brother-in-law in his construction office.

I proceeded to have my worst pregnancy ever. I vomited 5-10 times a day for 7 months. My feet swelled. My hands swelled. By 30 weeks, I couldn't wear my wedding band. I was miserable. Our new marriage was off to a rocky start. I was less than agreeable and I didn't like my husband very much.


My three oldest kids went with friends for the evening. Charlotte and Ruby crashed on the IMG_4291couch at 6pm and haven’t moved since. Blaine’s at a meeting. Pierce and I got to just hang out, just the two of us, for hours. That was amazing. Turns out, he’s really, really funny and super affectionate with 100% attention from Momma. Unfortunately, 100% of Momma is a near impossibility 99% of the time. But it was fun while it lasted.

I made this for supper tonight. Oh, so good. So good. Pair it up with this and you’ll be so impressed with your cooking abilities you’ll never want to eat out again. On the second recipe, cut back on the salt by a half teaspoon or so. It’s a bit much. On the first recipe – I’d double the recipe to feed eight, try skipping the bacon for frugality’s sake because I don’t think it would be missed, double the kale and add an extra quart of stock if I had to do it again. Which I will, because it was amazing.

I got caught in a rainstorm coming out of the grocery store tonight. Charlie was sleeping, tied in my mei tai on my back. I pulled the hood up on the sling to cover her head and we made a mad dash for the van. I got the kids in, groceries in, and climbed in the back to take Charlie off my back and that’s when she woke up. Her only waking comment: “Why are my legs wet?!” Baby Girl, you missed all the excitement. She whined the whole way home about wet pants that she hadn’t peed in. Bonus: my jeans were drenched. My shoes, sopping. My hair hang in clumps around my face. But my back was dry!

And… there’s the van pulling into the drive. Everyone’s home. Realization of the night: the clocks tick. Two of them, opposite each other. I didn’t know. What a fun thing to find out, for no other reason than it was quiet enough to hear. Amazing.

TOS Review Crew: Leadership Garden Legacy


I’ve been reading and preparing to do a review on Leadership Garden Legacy for many weeks now. We mainly studied U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS: Growing my Leadership Garden by Debra J. Slover with it’s complementing download Activity Guide and MP3 file but I also received and read the paperback book U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within.

I was excited to begin this curriculum. Becoming leaders, standing up for what they believe, and being strong in their faith and beliefs are all qualities I want in my children. Growing into adults who won’t be pushed around but choose to stand up for what’s right is part of my goal for my children. But the further I got into this book, the more I wasn’t sure this was quite what I’m after. I’m not all about building self-esteem – they get their worth in Christ. It is God who has given them their talents and weaknesses, and their purpose is to glorify Him. So, with that in mind, what is the purpose of “Growing their leadership gardens”?

Should we grow our talents and recognize our weaknesses? Most definitely. If we’re doing it for the right purposes. Those purposes aren’t outlined in this curriculum. We’re pointed toward leadership, but the purposes, beyond “sharing what we have to offer with the world” wasn’t clear. Not being driven by our fears was one of the main points – and I agree, we shouldn’t let our fears rule us – but why? My take would be because fear is a form of worry, and worry is sin.

In the book, the main character, Hugh, is taken from one area of Leadership Farm to the next, meeting animals that have a lesson to teach him. He receives a gift after he finishes his instruction, with this message:

“This collar and bell symbolize your unique power to take the action you need to make the difference you desire. The bell will remind you not to let fear and doubt block your purpose and aim. Then what you have to offer the world will never be lost.” – p. 118

Scripture isn’t mentioned anywhere. While many of their points don’t disagree with Biblical standards, some of them are questionable to me. This book isn’t quite what I expected from what I read on their website. It never mentions any religion or god on the website or in the book, so that part wasn’t necessarily expected, but the book came across as almost humanist. It was hard to understand and every time I was reading it aloud to my children, I kept wondering if I was in agreement with what I read – I couldn’t really tell.

When Hugh tells of a time his mother was under threat of a coyote attack and Hugh ran away scared, Blossom, the cow who was teaching him a portion of his lessons at Leadership Farm, states,

“On the farm, we don’t believe in bad people or bad animals. All people and animals are programmed by nature to survive. Coyotes are predatory animals, and, unfortunately, sheep and cattle are some of the things that they eat. It’s their nature, but it doesn’t make the coyote bad.”

Later in the story, Blossom also says,

“When you decided you were a coward, and chose not to go back to your pasture, that choice made you into a victim. You lost valuable personal power…”

These were lessons I’m not looking to teach my children. I could argue my point, but suffice it to say that, while my children thoroughly enjoyed the story of Hugh and the animals he met, I don’t agree with everything taught in the Growing My Leadership Garden book. It did, however, spark many interesting and beneficial discussions about what we believe and what was good and bad about the lessons presented in the book. In the end, it was a great time of learning and growing as we talked about the characters and how we ought to live and lead in our own lives.

The adult book was also somewhat confusing. It covered some interesting points, but it always walked the line on whether it was simply a self-help book or a book to teach me how my own sin causes problems in my relationships with others. It never names it as sin, but calls bad habits ‘weeds’ in our ‘leadership gardens’.

We used printouts from the downloads available for the kids, and the kids especially enjoyed making color wheels with their strengths and weaknesses. Sterling, (5) Eden, (8) and Liberty (9) were the ones I had do the activities. I had to answer the questions for all of them to fill them out though; they didn’t understand the questions. In the end, the “answers” were pretty spot on for each of them – we had to laugh at how pegged it had each of them and what they struggle with most.

This set of books was disappointing. It had good points and bad, but overall, I’m not planning to go over these materials again. I wish it had been written from a Christian perspective. It had great potential, but in the end, it didn’t come from the point of view that I do as far as our self-worth and our struggles. It did, however, create the opportunity for great discussions in our family.

For children ages 5-12, I received:

U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS: Growing My Leadership Garden ($18.95)

U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS Activity Guide & My Leadership Garden Journal – PDF Downloads ($8.95)

U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS Audio Book MP3 Download ($8.95)


For high school students and adults, I received:

U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within ($18.95)

The Leadership Garden Guidebook ($18.95)

U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within – Audio Book MP3 Download ($14.95)

Toolkit bundles are offered at a discount here.

A “Spring Special Discount” of 20% is currently available on all the ‘Empowerment Tools’ for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine community. Enter the discount code: TOS-SS20D at checkout to receive this discount. This code expires on May 31, 2013.

Read what others thought about Leadership Garden Legacy here.


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Heavy thoughts for a Monday.

As I walked through a grocery store tonight, I ran into a friend. She also has six children. After commenting that we look an awful lot alike when it comes to family size and mentioning how people never fail to comment, we went our separate ways.

Less than three seconds later, I was cornered by a perfect stranger who was asking my children if they were all brothers and sisters and if they all have the same mommy and daddy. Oh. My. REALLY?!!!!!! And then it occurred to me.

We’re not normal.

I know, I’m a little slow on the uptake, but bear with me. I haven’t slept well in, oh, about ten years.

I’ve always wondered at the attention we draw. I’m not nearly so outgoing as I’ve been forced to become in recent years, so this has rather bothered me. I can go grocery shopping at midnight without my children, but even that gets interesting. Something about buying 6+ gallons of milk and 12 loaves of bread makes people look at you funny. I’ve been asked if I was having a party before. Dude, you have no idea. Every day is a party at my house.

We don’t just draw a crowd. We are a crowd. No matter how well behaved the kids are – and sometimes, they just aren’t – we’re still in the way. People are in a hurry, and I’m the huge roadblock at the end of the aisle.

But where they see it as inconvenient, I see these as blessings. These are my blessings, my heart, worn outside of my body for all the world to see, to critique. Eden, she’s the one who will never run out of energy and is always willing to run anywhere to get something for me – and run she will. Ruby will make you laugh, every time. She says everything I say, and usually the first clue I’m saying something too much is when she starts saying it too much.

Charlotte is quiet and reserved and such a love. She’s vibrantly passionate about her hugs. Liberty is my right hand, learning to do everything I can, and becoming one of my best friends. Sterling is quiet and purposeful and his Daddy all over again. Since I fiercely love one, I also fiercely love the other. Pierce is stubborn, willful, and determined in all he does. He’s blazing through life with a temper that will either serve him well or get him into trouble – or both.

But my point is this. Before telling a momma she has her hands full, before you question her judgment in the choices she’s made, realize that whether she has one child or ten, these aren’t inconveniences to be merely be amused by, to comment upon, and shake heads while walking away, saying how glad you are that you aren’t me. I’m glad you aren’t me too. These are children of God, after all. I’ve been blessed enough to get to teach six of them about the Lord who created them, died for them, and rose again to give them life.


The story of us. Part 2.


Read part one here.

I stared at that little bottle of awful and shook my head. Surely not. Surely this is all for nothing, and I’ll have suffered without cause.

October 21. I am SOOO tired. And late. I stopped to buy a pregnancy test on the way home on my boss’s suggestion. I spent $6 on stupid, certain nothing was to be learned by the thing. After all, we can’t afford a baby. We weren’t ready. We had plans.

I went home, made supper, and left my new husband painting the kitchen to take the test. Almost instantly, two lines appeared.


He came into the bathroom, paintbrush in hand. I’m pretty sure from my tone he knew what was next.

“There’s two lines.”

“I don’t see two lines.”

“There’s two.”

“I only see one.”

He stared for a few more seconds, and the line kept getting darker.

“There’s two lines.”

He walked back to the kitchen with his paintbrush and went back to painting. He didn’t say another word for what seemed like hours.


TOS Review: ABeCeDarian Company

As part of the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, I’ve received the ABeCeDarian Company’s reading program to review. I received the student workbook and teacher’s manual A-1, the student workbook and teacher’s manual A-2, the student workbook and teacher’s manual B-1, the ten story books, and ABeCeDarian Aesop.

From their website:

“ABeCeDarian Company publishes and distributes the ABeCeDarian Reading Program, a research-based, explicit, comprehensive, multi-sensory decoding program developed by Michael Bend, Ph.D. The program efficiently addresses the key areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency.”

When I first got this curriculum, I spent a few evenings reading through the introductory materials. There’s quite a bit of it, and to fully understand the methods and thought and to be able to teach it properly, reading that is necessary. It was a bit intimidating at the beginning – I rather like to just jump in – but in the end, I learned a lot in what I read! By the end of the intro, I couldn’t wait to get started. I wanted to see what it could do!

Words like “graphemes” and “morphemes” and “phonemes” scared me just a bit – but everything is clearly explained and makes sense upon reading the beginning instruction. It includes handwriting instruction as well, and one thing I really, really appreciate is having that combined. They are learning to write the things they are learning to read. That makes so much sense! It doesn’t teach letter names. At first this made me wonder, but calling each letter by it’s sound makes it easy for remembering – and really, in the end, it turns out my kids learned the letter names all on their own. ABeCeDarian states that they do need to learn those names eventually, but early on, when so much remembering is required of your young student, learning the letters by only their sounds simplifies things greatly. I rather agree now. It’s just simple. Something tells me that even if I never teach them the letter names, they’ll pick that up anyway. I can’t picture Ruby at 25 telling someone how to spell water and saying “It’s spelled wuh, aaaaaa, tttttttttttt…. you get the picture. (Come to think of it, I can’t picture Ruby at 25 at all. That’s a strange thought!)

I started Sterling (almost 6 and just finishing kindergarten) in B-1. He was reading well, had made it through my set of 40 little readers, but had little formal instruction beyond me explaining the rules of phonics as we went along. I know. It’s awful. But he hated the phonics curriculum I had used with my older girls and I was tired of the tears. We dropped that, did our own thing, and it rather worked. But I digress.


From day one, Sterling was excited about ABeCeDarian. It was simple, to the point, and the work was right up his alley. His favorite part is the sentences that he has to read, choose the correct word that’s missing out of the two offered, and write it on the blank. He gets excited every time we get to that page each day. He sorts words that all have the same sound by the way that sound is spelled – ow, ou,… each word goes under the category for that letter blend. He does it like a pro. There’s been no tears, and when I asked him yesterday if he likes the ABeCeDarian Company’s reading program, he announced, “I love it the best. It’s my favorite subject in school. It works really well.” High marks from Sterling, I assure you!


Sterling is 12 lessons into B-1. He’s still excited about it. He’s learned a lot and is reading faster now than when he started – he’s barely sounding anything out anymore. The AbeCeDarian Aesop is interesting and fun. I had to read all the stories in it to him right after he read the first – he wanted to know all the stories. Now, he sits and reads it on his own after his lesson, rereading the stories he’s already read.


After Sterling’s animosity towards our old way of teaching phonics, I started Ruby doing a different curriculum in January. She’s 4 1/2 and was reading short 3-4 letter words and sentences of short words when we started ABeCeDarian. When we received ABeCeDarian, I jumped from her old curriculum to ABeCeDarian’s A-1. She’s gained confidence and is easily reading the words introduced each lesson – and remembering them after sounding them out just a few times. She’s taking the little letter cards (part of a free download to be used with level A books) and putting the letters in order to spell the words I ask her to spell. She loves the “spelling tests” best – the words she’s been working with, she’s writing them all on her own when I tell her the word. Fun stuff! She’s so proud, she’s learning, and we both love it.

It’s not tedious. We spend 15-20 minutes on it most days. Both Sterling and Ruby are asking to do ABeCeDarian. When we finish one lesson, they ask to do another. We’re most definitely going to finish this curriculum and use it again when Pierce and Charlotte are older.

I have run into one error in the A-1 book. Lesson 12 had a different word list in the teacher’s manual than in the student’s workbook. Really not a big deal – once I realized the error. Poor Ruby sounded out ‘mop’ over and over and I kept telling her it was wrong. Oops. I was wrong!

After using a few different curriculums, I have to say this one is my favorite. I can’t wait to see where it takes us. They have upper levels as well, and from just looking at them on their website, they also look fabulous. ABeCeDarian goes all the way through level D for 5th-6th graders. A placement test is available here.


Level A is written at a kindergarten level, although some younger students might do well with it. For Level A, The A-1 and A-2 student workbooks are each $12.25 and the A-1 and A-2 teacher’s manuals are each $28.50. The set of ten story books are $21.50.


Level B is written at a 1st grade level. For Level B, the B-1 student workbook is $10.25, the B-1 teacher’s manual is $25.50, and ABeCeDarian Aesop is $2.50.

To read more reviews of the ABeCeDarian Company curriculum, check out the Old Schoolhouse Magazine’s review crew blog.