Thursday, August 29

Marine Biology Unit Study

Tidal pools teeming with life...more starfish and sea stars than we could count, beautiful purple and yellow razor clams and even the occasional crab and jelly! With quick and dramatic tidal changes, the coolest life is found on the seaward side of the rocks where the retreating waves create depressions in the sand that stay full of sea water and support the mini ecosystems there... (description of a tidal pool)
After completing The Good & the Beautiful Marine Biology science unit, the boys set off for a little further exploration.  This involved extra readings, hands-on projects, and videos.  Naturally, all good explorers need costumes!
The boys created a food chain for both land and sea.  I particularly liked the double-arrow, where the humans eat the sharks...and the sharks eat the humans.

Marine Life Resources

Make / Do
After getting a taste of Marine Biology through this elementary unit and various field trips, the kids decided that it was a topic they wanted to explore more in-depth.  Thankfully, this is something that's offered with our SchoolhouseTeachers membership, so we were able to pick up two full-length courses - at the middle and high school level - for further exploration in the upper grades!

Marine Biology (6th-12th grade) introduces students to the diverse and incredible world of marine life through videos, slideshows, research projects, online resources, and downloadable materials. From the very small to the very large, students meet marine creatures that boggle the mind and defy imagination.

Red Wagon Marine Biology for High School (11th-12th grade) is taught through online pre-recorded videos. Text instructions along with additional videos, experiments, and online reading teach students about the marine world created by God. Beginning with a discussion of the ocean water and an overview of the types of organisms living in the oceans, this course moves on to discuss in more detail algae, protozoa, plants, and various marine invertebrates and vertebrates. Students are taught about marine ecosystems, tidal zones, estuaries, coral reefs, and more.

Horseshoe Crabs

Wednesday, August 28

One Big Crazy-Happy Family!

We've been blessed with an academically gifted child and a special needs child, allowing us the opportunity to gain wisdom and insight from a variety of specialists and fantastic folks...teaching us the fine art of patience...driving home the point that everyone's plan looks a bit different...and giving us a love for the homeschool life!

So....come on in and meet the kids!

Big'Un -- The one who writes Modern Mythology posts and runs Sparks Forge & Armory...
At the birth of our first child, my husband and I happened to be living with his parents.  Neither of us had the slightest idea what to do with this tiny little bundle that we were now responsible for, and we were incredibly lucky to have them around to teach us.
 He grew.  He grew and he grew and he grew.  (The Very Hungry Caterpillar)  And we started to feel more confident, but the game kept changing.  We no longer lived with his parents, but they were close enough to provide guidance.  Though far away, my parents were available daily, via phone, and we put that speaker phone and unlimited long distance to good use!  
Soon, he grew to be a happy, healthy three year old!  Through minor surgery, a bout of RSV and rotovirus requiring ER trips, and getting his head glued back together (he's very proud of his Harry Potter scar today), we managed to protect and nurture this little boy.  We were so confident in our abilities that we created another one!  (Learned our lesson on that one....they're all different!) 
Nearly ten eighteen years in, we still look to our parents for guidance and welcome the advice freely offered.  We know that we are good parents, but we are better parents because we seek out and listen to the wisdom of our elders.  We're far from perfect (so far, that we can't even see the road sign from here), but continually strive to better ourselves.

Years later, I watched my sister struggle as a new mom, without the benefit of a hands-on teacher at her side, and it reinforced just how fortunate we were in those early years.  She has the phone-connectedness, but there's nothing like a hands-on teacher, by your side, to boost your confidence.

Why am I telling you this?  It's because, if you are a new homeschooler, ASK for help, ACCEPT help, and AVOID self-judgment.  You don't have to take everyone's advice to heart, but you never know what sorts of ideas might be tossed out there, or lifelines thrown, if you'll just ask.

The first year is a steep learning curve, like the first year with your new infant (because even babysitting doesn't prepare you for the full weight of parenthood).  It will get easier, as you build up confidence in your abilities.  They're your children.  Just as you know what's best for their health, and how to soothe their ouchies, you are going to know how they learn best....and you're going to be invested enough to tailor that teaching specifically for them.

Little'Un -- Who keeps us on our toes and runs Xander's Farm...
We make no bones about the fact that our son was born with special needs.  It's changed how we live our lives.  It's changed us as a family.  It's made us a stronger family.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  -Nietzsche (not Kelly Clarkson)

Unlike most babies, you won't find many pictures from his first year of life.  I won't get into specifics, but it was very touch and go, and there were times when we specifically didn't take any pictures because, if he wasn't going to make it, we didn't want pictures around.  It was a crazy time and, with hindsight, I'm not sure that we would have approached it the same way now. 
They say that "with hardship comes intimacy."  Experience tells me that hardship will break you down into itty-bitty bits and spit you out.  Our family fell apart in crisis.  It's true.  For two years, we lived in a constant state of crisis, and it was only through the grace of God and our family support that we stuck together.  However, that intimacy that they speak of (whoever this "they" is) came later.  Now, when we face hardship, we know we can do it together.  Because we have before.
Fast forward four years.....those who didn't know his past would only think that he had some minor difficulties to overcome.  Those who did know the entire story were AMAZED at his progress.  I remember the doctors at the hospital telling us, multiple times, "This little boy is a fighter!  He should not be here.  He is very stubborn!"  We laughed and cried at the time over these statements, but would fully embrace them as a preschooler.  When I approached my wit's end with his stubborn behavior, my husband would remind me of the doctors' statements.  The same behavior that I was eschewing was the very reason he was still with can you be mad at that?

Like every child, he has his "quirks."  For starters, Southwest Airlines.  There's not a person in the world (including the CEO of SWA himself!) that loves those planes more than my son!  For his birthday, my husband made this plane out of Styrofoam.  Three and a half years later, we're still the crazy family with the airplane tied to the trees in the front yard!  Ice storms, tornadoes, heat still hasn't fallen apart!  (Updated: It took seven years for that blasted plane to finally die! 😏)
 By the age of four, he was an old pro at surgery.  This picture makes me proud, and breaks my heart, all in one moment.  He's so brave about the medical procedures.  He shouldn't have to's not supposed to be like that for children.  Recently, he's begun to notice that other children (like his brother, specifically) don't have to go to the doctor all of the time.  They don't have to get poked, and have surgery, and see a million different specialists.  He wants to know why he has to...and I don't have a good answer.  Again with the heart-breaking...

I know that God has a plan for him.  He brought him back from death, the night he was born.  He gave us the strength we needed as a family.  Our son is the most compassionate, caring, joyful little boy, and I can't help but attribute part of that to the struggles that he's overcome.  I have no idea what the future holds, but I can't wait to see!
School IS very difficult for him.  He's very intelligent, but his brain works differently.  He's a few years behind, but making steady progress, and he definitely forces me to stretch my brain to come up with new and creative ways to teach!  It's not always easy, that's for sure.  Luckily, a couple of years ago, fate found me a partner-in-time.....she has children the same age, and is going through similar struggles.  We live several states apart, and accidentally bumped into each other on a homeschool facebook group, but the connection has been such a blessing!  We support each other, lift each other up, and kvetch to each other daily.  When you have a special needs child, you HAVE to have support, whether from a group of folks or just one person who really gets it!
Before we decided to homeschool, his "file" had over a dozen different IEP labels on it, half of which were malarkey.  Here's what we know for sure - he has a history of serious health issues, and some lingering ones today (some of which are side effects of NICU drugs......we no longer blindly trust someone just because they are wearing a white coat!).  He has a pretty good little speech disorder, as well as auditory processing, sensory-motor, and fine-motor disorders.  As his mother, I believe the one accurate label handed to us was Dyspraxia.  ALSO - he is quite the little drummer!  He snuggles better than any child I've ever known.  He finds great joy in helping out around the house, and cannot let a person be until he sees them smile.  He has this innate empathy and compassion that transcends everything else......well, everything except sibling rivalry. 

Some days, it's a hard row to hoe, but we wouldn't have it any other way.  I'm glad to have a front row seat as we see how God brings him forth into this world.

Other family members you might see featured include....sisters & cousins!

Tuesday, August 27

Jackfruit BBQ Recipe

A summertime shopping trip turned into a geography lesson...and a super-yummy experience!

Jackfruit BBQ
  • 1 jackfruit, sliced, peeled, and diced finely (see video)
  • 3 Tbsp PS Flavor smoky southern spice
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 cup Lillie Qs hot smoky sauce

Combine all ingredients thoroughly in a skillet.  Heat on high and cook 20 minutes, stirring regularly.  Serve warm with some cole slaw and buttered biscuits!

Monday, August 26

Intro to Freezer Cooking

Freezer cooking is one of the easiest ways for us to have healthy, home-cooked meals in the midst of the chaos that we call home. 

One day each month is devoted to cooking (sometimes even less than that), and we have quick-and-easy breakfast, lunch, and dinner options for those days when life is just too hectic.

These are some of my favorite tools to help with freezer cooking. They're not required, but they certainly make the process much quicker and smoother.

  • Pyrex glass containers are my favorites for freezing food. They come in many sizes, are easy to stack, dishwasher safe, and affordable. You can find them on sale all of the time.
  • Aluminum baking pans are great for potluck suppers, helping neighbors, or any other time when you may or may not get the dish back. They're reusable and affordable, so we use them as often, if not more, than the glass dishes. 
  • Immersion blenders are perfect for so many things. I mostly use mine for soups and jams, but you can use them for any blended recipe. Be sure to look for one where the blending part is stainless steel and not plastic.
  • A KitchenAid stand mixer is a big investment but they are very useful! I use mine for everything from cookies to bread dough. They come in a lot of beautiful colors, so you're sure to find one that you love. I love our retro red one!
  • Waxed paper is a must when it comes to freezer meals because it keeps the food from sticking together. Be sure to look for one that is unbleached and uses a natural based wax.
Freezer Cooking Through the Year
Printables are another great way to stay organized when freezer cooking! We have several master forms included in Freezer Cooking Through the Year and Another Year of Freezer Cooking.

This book includes :

  • the whats and whys behind freezer cooking 
  • how-to tips and tricks
  • pantry freezing guidelines,
  • printable planning sheets 
  • more than thirty kid-friendly recipes!

Thursday, August 22

Top Ten Subscription Boxes for Teens

Hands-on projects are a great educational tool, and with the advent of the subscription box phenomenon, there are so many fabulous ones now available!!  We've tested out about forty of them, and here are our top ten coupons & bonuses.  😎

You may also be interested in the Top Twenty Educational Subscription Boxes (No crossover recommendations)

Craftsman Crate  (See a full review here)  This is the perfect box for teen guys who want hands-on projects. It's also a convenient way to try out new hobbies, use your hands to create, learn skills you can keep using, and have fun, too!  Comes with real tools, complete kits, and a new project every month.  There are also video reviews for this box on our YouTube channel.

The Nitty Gritty
  • Each box makes four generous adult servings
  • The Cost:
    • $33.77 / month   (price drops with 3, 6, and 12 month subscriptions)
  • Boxes ship for $12.14
  • Use coupon code FIRSTTEN to take 10% off
Owl Crate  When you join Owl Crate, you’ll get a cool themed box of high quality young adult books and bookish items. There are two young adult options - writer and artist.  YA Artist subscription comes with one new YA book and a new art medium every month! The YA writers subscription includes one YA book and writing materials that will inspire any modern day writer!

The Nitty Gritty
  • The Cost:
    • Writer's Box  $30.83
    • Artist's Box  $40.83
  • Boxes ship to US for FREE
  • Use coupon code IMAGINATION to take 10% off
 Creation Crate  Learn how to program and build electronics with new and more challenging projects delivered to your door each month!   Creation Crate uses hands-on projects to teach 21st century skills! Users receive a new project/course every 30 days with access to an Online Classroom. Projects become more challenging as you learn new skills. All projects and courses are approved by

The Nitty Gritty
  • The Cost:
    • Original Crate  $29.99 / month
    • Updated Crate  $39.99 / month
  • Boxes ship to US for $.99

Salty Owl  Salty Owl Box is an innovative activity box that is made for families with kids 9+. An art project, a new game, a unique snack, a recipe, and a monthly movie pick does the prep work for you. All the materials, instructions and inspiration you need is shipped to your home.

The Nitty Gritty
  • The Cost:
    • $39.99  (price drops with 3, 6, and 12 month subscriptions)
  • Boxes ship to US for $5

Matter Box MATTER is a subscription box for curious minds. Each month, you'll receive a collection of materials, objects, specimens, or artifacts that have been carefully selected as some of the most interesting pieces of matter in our accessible universe. Part museum, part laboratory, perfect for quarantine! Feed your curiosity or spark someone's else's.

The Nitty Gritty
  • The Cost:
    • $39.99 / month (price decreases with 3, 6, or 12 month subscription)
  • Boxes ship to US for $4.90
  • Use coupon code SCIENCE for 25% off
Palatteful Packs  Each month, you will receive a selection of art supplies. You’ll get to try a wide range of products, from pens to paint. You will receive everything you need to create a work of art. The supplies in the box are ideal for beginners, professionals, or anyone in between.

The Nitty Gritty
  • The Cost:
    • Petite Pack  $22.32 
    • Premier Pack  $32.49 
  • Boxes ship to US for FREE
  • Use coupon code 10HOORAY to take 10% off

Teen+ Comic Crate  Teen+ Comic Crate has comics with detailed artwork, advanced language, violence, and occasional profanity/suggestive themes. Examples of Teen+ Rated comics include Avengers, X-men, Justice League, Wolverine, and Wonder Woman.  Comic books are a great reading experience for all types of readers. Reluctant Readers enjoy comic books because the short bursts of text and vivid images are easier to read than the solid text in a prose book. English Language Learners can match the text to the images in comic books to help decode and understand the text.  

The Nitty Gritty
  • Also available - PG and G Comic Crates
  • The Cost:
    • $30.00   (price drops with 3, 6, or 12 month subscription)
  • Boxes ship to US for FREE
Adventurous Mailbox (See a full review hereCombining mystery and intrigue with world geography and world cultures, Crameye and Neva are on a race to stop the spies!  This subscription includes an online Teacher's Corner with a full language-arts program to accompany it (not required) as well as a curriculum on computer coding.

The Nitty Gritty
  • The Cost:
    • $54 for the digital package
    • $90 for the physical package + shipping
  • Use coupon code HSRange to take 20% off
Brick Loot : The perfect box for Lego enthusiasts, each month you will get unique items including LEGO, LEGO compatible products, and brick items.  These are bricks that you won't find in any store, and they're pretty unique! Some of the themes we've received in the past include Ancient Mythology, gaming, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars....the list goes on...each box is uniquely fabulous!

The Nitty Gritty
  • The Cost:
    • Month-to-Month Plan: $29.99  (price drops with 3, 6, and 12 month subscriptions)
  • Boxes ship mid-month ; $6 shipping to USA

For Parents
Adults & Crafts Crate Adults & Crafts is a thoughtfully curated craft subscription box for adults & teens to create fun and trendy projects! Every month is a different craft to allow you to learn a new craft technique like wood burning and engraving. Create beautiful products like wine carriers, epoxy resin coasters, & more! Perfect for a friend hangout or date night!

The Nitty Gritty

  • The Cost:
    • Monthly : $34.95  (price drops with 3, 6, and 12 month subscriptions)
  • Shipping is $6.95 to US
  • Use coupon code GETCRAFTY for free shipping!
Faithbox - Embrace Your Faith Today!
Faith Box  Each Faithbox is based on an uplifting theme and includes a daily devotional book, Everyday Faith, plus inspired content and tools to help you end the month more centered in Christ than you began. They also include amazing products and books that have a positive impact on the world!

The Nitty Gritty
  • The Cost:
    • Monthly : $34.95  (price drops with 3, 6, and 12 month subscriptions)
  • Shipping is FREE to US
  • Added bonus : Every box that you purchase provides three meals to hungry kids via their Rice Bowls partnership.
  • Worth noting : They offer a 'bulk box' program for churches and ministries.
Takeout Kit  Because life gets busy, and sometimes we just need a shortcut.  This box puts it all at your fingertips AND gives you a global experience at the same time, allowing you to cook your way around the world!  With each kit you’ll learn the culinary history of the dish, discover amazing new flavors, and follow easy instructions to craft your delicious global-inspired meal.

The Nitty Gritty
  • Each box makes four generous adult servings
  • The Cost:
    • $31.99 / month
  • Boxes ship to US for FREE
  • Use coupon code WELCOME5 to take $5 off