Book Club: The Whistler

Book Club with Lori

I mentioned last month that this month’s Book Club would be on The Whistler by John Grisham, and that Mr. Grisham is my favorite author. This is definitely still the case after reading his newest novel; I think it’s even better than some of other recent works!

Synopsis:

A high-stakes thrill ride through the darkest corners of the Sunshine State.
 
We expect our judges to be honest and wise. Their integrity is the bedrock of the entire judicial system. We trust them to ensure fair trials, to protect the rights of all litigants, to punish those who do wrong, and to oversee the flow of justice.

But what happens when a judge bends the law or takes a bribe?

Lacy Stoltz is an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. It is her job to respond to complaints dealing with judicial misconduct. After nine years with the Board, she knows that most problems are caused by incompetence, not corruption.

But a corruption case eventually crosses her desk. A previously disbarred lawyer is back in business, and he claims to know of a Florida judge who has stolen more money than all other crooked judges combined.

And not just crooked judges in Florida. All judges, from all states, and throughout United States history. And now he wants to put a stop to it.

His only client is a person who knows the truth and wants to blow the whistle and collect millions under Florida law. When the case is assigned to Lacy, she immediately suspects that this one could be dangerous.

Dangerous is one thing. Deadly is something else. (From the publisher.)

It took me a long time – in terms of days, not pages – to get going in this book (I even ran out of time on my library loan and had to return it, place a fresh hold, and check it out again several days later), but once I did, it was nonstop reading for me. There was one event a little less than halfway through that was enough to propel me through and make me want to just keep reading. I haven’t had that experience in a long time, so it was a welcome one with this book.

Discussion questions for this post are from Lit Lovers. Spoiler alert is in effect.

1. Talk about Lacy Stoltz. Grisham has been accused of ignoring strong females for his lead characters. Does Stoltz satisfy that lack? What do you think of her?

I’m unfamiliar with the accusation of Grisham not using strong female characters, but I suppose it makes sense; one of his other recent novels (Gray Mountain, published in October 2014) had a female lead. Perhaps if he was already “under fire” at that point, that might be the reason he chose a woman main character for that book.

Back to the question at hand, though. Lacy was okay. I neither loved her nor hated her; I was just ambivalent toward her. She wasn’t anything special. I think she reacted in reasonable ways based on the things that were happening to her and the people around her. I’m not sure that makes her “strong,” but it makes her a decent character.

2. Do you find anything enviable about Lacy’s life in the following passage? If so what? If you’re a woman, do you ever envision a life like Stoltz’s?

The truth was that, at the age of 36, Lacy was content to live alone, to sleep in the center of the bed, to clean up only after herself, to make and spend her own money, to come and go as she pleased, to pursue her career without worrying about his, to plan her evenings with input from no one else, to cook or not to cook, and to have sole possession of the remote control.

Generally speaking, I did not envy Lacy’s life in the least. She works too many hours for me, and it despite the relationship she has with her boss, colleagues, and colleagues’ families, it seems like it would be a lonely existence.

However… taking a look at the passage, I could see how it might be nice not to have other people to clean up after. That’s not enough to make me “want to be” her, though.

3. Had you figured out the whistle blower’s motive before the reveal?

No, but I didn’t really try to. That’s not my style of book reading. I tend to allow the author to take me on the ride they want rather than “spoiling” it, even just for myself. So I was perfectly fine to not try to guess who The Whistler was or why he/she was doing the whistleblowing.

4. How does Grisham ratchet up the suspense in The Whistler? What about that mysterious late night meeting near the Tappacola reservation? Realistically, why would Lacy and Hugo have gone?

The scene mentioned in this question is undoubtedly the point that made me want to keep turning pages. What happened “that night” when Lacy and Hugo went to the reservation was the moment I needed to keep reading. (I would have finished the book regardless, but this moment was the one that really was the turning point for me as a reader.) It was definitely the most suspenseful moment in the book (although there was another one involving the “whistler” and one of the antagonist’s hit men near the end was pretty good too). As for why Lacy and Hugo would go there that night, I think they honestly thought the man who called them would be a credible source in their investigation. I don’t think they suspected for even one second that it would be anything other than a reasonable “meeting of the minds” so to speak. Looking at it subjectively, after having finished the book now, I can see that it was probably a bad idea, though. I mean, who asks for a meeting at midnight? In an unfriendly “neighborhood”? No one. So Lacy and Hugo, being the intelligent people they were, should have known better. That said, without this meeting, and the unfortunate fallout that happened from it, the case never would have been solved. So despite the tragedy that occurred as a result of this meeting was absolutely essential to the story.

5. Read other Grisham novels? If so, how does this one compare?

I’ve read (almost) all of Grisham’s novels! (I think the only one I skipped was The Pelican Brief. That, and the smaller, non-law-related ones and the children’s novels.) I think this one is reminiscent of the Grisham I came to know and love many years ago. A lot of his current novels have been “preachy” or just generally not as good as his novels from the 90s. This one was absolutely fantastic. Definitely my favorite one in a long time.

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Lori let me know just yesterday that she was unable to get this book from her library in time to read it (the hold list was too long), so unfortunately, she won’t be answering questions on it this month. I hope you’ll head over to her blog and read about some of the things she and her daughters have been doing lately anyway 🙂

We’re still deciding which book to read for next month’s installment of the Book Club, so I’ll make a new post when I know for sure.

Blessings,

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A Biblical History Novel (Peggy Consolver Review)

Over the past few weeks, Munchkin has been reading a new book from Peggy Consolver – Author. It’s called Shepherd, Potter, Spy–and the Star Namer, and it’s written in one of my personal favorite genres: biblical historical fiction. I’ve read quite a few books in this genre over the years, and when I saw this one come up for review, I immediately thought of my son. He and I looked at the website and book synopsis together, and he decided that he really wanted to read this book, so we requested it for review.

Shepherd, Potter, Spy, and the Star Namer review

The book tells the story of Keshub, a 13-year-old shepherd boy who wonders whether he’ll ever be good enough for his father. Set over the backdrop of the Old Testament battle of the Promised Land, this book provides a lot of action, intrigue, and adventure – perfect for a pre-teen or teen boy (or girl) to read about!

Shepherd Potter Spy reviewHere’s what Munchkin has to say about the book:

Shepherd, Potter, Spy–and the Star Namer is an interesting book. Chapter 6 was my favorite. It’s called “The Son of a King,” and it tells about how Keshub meets someone from the land of his enemies, who turns the prince of that area. The two become friends. I like this chapter because it was the most intriguing to me. I liked how Keshub turned a bad situation (the invading army and palace coming to town) into a new friendship by being kind and tricking the prince into being nice back which led to the friendship.

I also liked how the story of Keshub was laid over the top of the true biblical account of the battle of Jericho. It was interesting to compare the novel to the Bible.

Even though I liked most of this book, there were some things that I found difficult to understand. I think it would be better suited for someone a few years older than me.

In addition to the novel itself, Mrs. Consolver has created a study guide titled Digging Deeper into HIStory to go along with it. This would bring the novel reading to a whole new level, especially if you did it with a group of teens – it would make a great book club selection or youth group unit study. The study guide is available for $2.99 (Kindle) or $12.99 (paperback) and includes questions covering things like map work, reading comprehension, and historical compare/contrast.

Generally speaking, even though Munchkin found the book to be a bit advanced for him, I’m glad he had the opportunity to read it. It gave him a new perspective on the events in Joshua 9-10, and I think he’s a bit better for it. At his own request, we’re going to hang onto this book and he’ll read it again when he’s a couple of years older. We both hope it’s even better for him then than it was this time around.

Make sure to click the banner below for more reviews from Homeschool Review Crew members on this book.

Blessings,

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Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer {Peggy Consolver Reviews}
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The Smurfs are Coming! #smurfsmovie #FlyBy

smurfs 3I used to love the Smurfs when I was a kid, and I know they’ve had a couple of movies over the past few years, but I haven’t actually seen them. Despite that, I’m looking forward to taking Small Fry, my 4-year-old, to see this one when it comes out. He loves movies! I haven’t told him about it yet; I want a trip to the cinema to be a fun surprise in the midst of some not-so-fun stuff we’ve got going on right now.

There’s a lot of really neat stuff surrounding this new Smurfs movie (Smurfs: The Lost Village), which releases nationwide (U.S.) on April 7th. Let’s start with the trailer:

And synopsis:

In this fully animated, all-new take on the Smurfs, a mysterious map sets Smurfette and her best friends Brainy, Clumsy and Hefty on an exciting and thrilling race through the Forbidden Forest filled with magical creatures to find a mysterious lost village before the evil wizard Gargamel does. Embarking on a roller coaster journey full of action and danger, the Smurfs are on a course that leads to the discovery of the biggest secret in Smurf history!

smurfs 1In anticipation of the movie, there’s a great website for the Smurfs franchise. They’ve got loads of neat things on there to help you build excitement among your children before you take them to see the film. Small Fry is really into coloring sheets lately, so I printed out a few of those for him. He doesn’t really know what Smurfs are, and I haven’t told him we’ll be seeing the movie yet, but he doesn’t care. He just likes coloring!

The website also has some delicious-looking recipes. We haven’t tried any yet because we’re in the middle of a move, so we’re mostly using up the groceries we have rather than making new, “fancy” stuff. Once we get settled in the new place, though, I definitely want to make the Popsicles and Strawberry cake for our family.

For the older kids in your family, they also have “how to draw a Smurf” tutorials. This could be pretty fun for the 6-8 demographic. And besides all this fun stuff, there’s information about the movie itself.

smurfs 2Based on what I’ve seen, I’m excited to have a fun Mommy-Kid date with my son to see The Smurfs: The Lost Village!

Blessings,

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Our Great Republic ~ American History Curriculum (Memoria Press Review)

In homeschool circles, there are a few curriculum companies that show up again and again as “the best.” Memoria Press is one of those. I’ve reviewed products from them a few times (I’ll link to my past reviews at the end of this one), and have always been very impressed with the items we’ve received/used. This time, the (older) boys and I have been working through The Story of the Thirteen Colonies & The Great Republic Set ($48). As you might be able to guess from the title (of both the curriculum and this post), this is an American history curriculum. Memoria Press also included the supplemental 200 Questions About American History Set ($27.90).

MP history review

Each of these sets is fairly involved, so I think it will make more sense (at least to me) to take a moment to discuss what is in each of them before I move on to how we used them in our homeschool.

The Story of the Thirteen Colonies & The Great Republic came with three books: a textbook, which feels more like a novel in its size and page count; a consumable student workbook; and a teacher version of the workbook, which looks just like the student book except the answers are filled in and there are reproducible tests in the back. The student workbook is much more than “just” a workbook, though. It includes a wide variety of appendices with such amazing resources as the complete text of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, lots of maps, and tons of other great stuff that I (unfortunately) can’t remember offhand. (I can’t refer to our copy of the book, either, because it’s packed for moving.) I do remember pointing out a lot of this stuff to Seahawk, who was the main beneficiary of this book, though. It will make a fantastic resource for years to come.

The 200 Questions About American History Set includes two books: a student workbook and a teacher manual; and a set of flashcards. The flashcard set is like four sets in one, and I separated them into recloseable zipper baggies for ease of use. These four sets are: 150 Drill Questions (question on one side, answer on the other), 30 Dates and Events (date on one side, event on the other), 20 Notable Quotes (quote on one side, speaker on the other), and 44 U.S. Presidents (president number and years of presidency on one side, name on the other). The student workbook is rather thin, but it covers a lot of history in those few pages. It is basically a workbook version of the flashcards, which is nice if you want a consolidated place for your student to write down the answers to the questions as they learn them. It would also serve as a great tool for review as they get older. The teacher book is just like I described above, in the 13 Colonies set.

How We Used It

Normally in a curriculum like this, I would read everything aloud to the boys and they would answer the questions. The teacher’s guide suggested having students do at least of of the out-loud reading themselves, though. Because my kids don’t do enough of that (or any of that, really), I decided to go with the suggestion of the writers. Each chapter in the textbook, which is really a compilation of two books written by H.A. Guerber, is quite short (less than 2 pages) so this wasn’t a hardship for my boys.

We covered one lesson per week, working 3 days per week, and with as much great information as there is in each lesson, this was a good pace for us. We’d start on Monday by reading the chapters for the week’s lesson from the textbook. Most of the lessons covered 3 chapters, so that was perfect – we each read one aloud. After doing the reading, we went over the vocabulary and answered half of the comprehension questions from the workbook.

On Wednesday, we’d finish the comprehension questions. I liked taking a break between the reading and the questions because this helped to assure that the boys were retaining what we read. If we’d answered all of the questions within moments of doing the reading, it would be easy to forget what they’d read quickly.

On Fridays, we did the enrichment section of the workbook. This was sometimes short, sometimes a bit longer, and includes activities such as finding places on the map (related to the reading done), adding a date or dates to the timeline (I had each boy do their own using some of Will’s comic strip-sized art paper), and a writing assignment. The writing assignments were quite interesting, and I’m pretty sure the boys enjoyed them too. An example of one that they seemed to especially enjoy is (and this is not an exact quote): You were a founder of the colony of Roanoke. After some time away, you’ve come back and discovered the entire civilization missing. Write a journal entry describing what you see and how you feel upon your return. I didn’t give the boys a certain amount of time to write; I just let them write until they were done. Some of the assignments took longer than others, but all were quite interesting.

Seahawk did the workbook because he’s more firmly in the age range for this product, which Memoria Press pegs as “middle school years.” I didn’t want Munchkin to miss out on the information, though, so he sat with us (and read a chapter a week out loud) and chipped in with answers when he knew them. He also made his own timeline and did the writing assignments.

The 200 Questions About American History Set, being a supplement, was just that for us. I looked at the workbook each week, and we answered the questions that were relevant to the section we read. We haven’t done much with the flashcards yet, but we might use them more once we’re settled in our new house.

My Opinion

I really like teaching this product. The curriculum goes perfectly with the text, and there’s enough “extra” stuff (like the writing I mentioned above) to keep it from feeling dry and boring. There are also lots of pictures in the textbook to illustrate times and concepts. Having the teacher book and the student books match so closely is really helpful in guiding your children to getting the correct answer – or even expanding their already correct answer to make it more detailed and relevant. Overall, this product is a definite winner for teaching American history thoroughly!

As mentioned previously, I’ve reviewed for Memoria Press before. Check out what I thought of their 5th Grade Literature set and the history curriculum Famous Men of Rome.

Blessings,

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Other members of the Homeschool Review Crew are writing about Memoria Press this week, too. Some are reviewing the same sets that I am, and others are talking about learning Greek or teaching The Iliad and The Odyssey with their older students. Click the banner below for more information.

First Form Greek, Iliad/Odyssey and American History {Memoria Press Reviews}
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Video of the Week: Dancing Baby

We spent a Monday evening a couple of weeks ago doing family movie night with one of Will’s and my favorite movies from our teen years: That Thing You Do! It’s such a great movie, and even a music non-lover like me really enjoys the songs along with the movie. Dragonfly loved dancing every time any of the songs would start – he was so cute!

 

A post shared by Wendy Robertson (@ladybugdaydreams) on

Have a great weekend!

Blessings,

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Creamy Chicken and Pasta (Recipe)

We recently got a Costco membership as a belated anniversary present to ourselves. One of our first purchases was a book entitled A Year of Recipes. The premise is that there’s a new recipe for every single day of the year (including February 29th). Some of them aren’t super helpful when it comes to mealtime because they’re desserts or require some specialty ingredients, but a fair number of them are easy to pull off with little or no notice. The recipe I want to share today is one of those.

In the middle of packing up the house for an upcoming move (this week!), I wanted to make something for dinner that would use up some of the food we have on hand. The one for the specific day I was cooking (Saturday the 25th) was this one. I was quite skeptical based on the ingredient list (it seemed too basic), but when I tasted it, I was absolutely sold on this recipe. It was so delicious, and it’s going to make its way into our regular rotation of meals.

pasta dish

I had to make a few alterations to the base recipe in order to use up stuff we already had (sherry for white wine, ditalini for penne, and green beans for peas), and the recipe I’m including today is my modified version rather than the official one from the book.

Creamy Chicken and Pasta ~ serves 6-8

  • 4-6 chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 pound bite size pasta
  • 3/4 cup cooking sherry
  • 1 pound frozen green beans
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley flakes
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Cut chicken into strips (or cubes) and cook over moderately high heat until cooked through. Add the cooking sherry and cook over high heat until the liquid is mostly evaporated.
  3. Add the green beans and cover the pot. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until the green beans are hot and tender.
  4. Add the whipping cream, cooked pasta, and parsley. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes to soften the parsley and thicken the sauce.
  5. Serve hot with the side dish of your choice.

We ate this meal with glazed carrots, but it would be equally delicious with “normal” pasta sides: salad, garlic bread, etc.

Blessings,

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Journeying with our Sons into Manhood (Manhood Journey review)

Today’s review is a guest post by my husband, Will. Enjoy reading his thoughts instead of mine for a day 🙂

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For a lot of parents, there’s a big challenge in knowing the right way to pass on your values and beliefs to your children. Manhood Journey & City on a Hill Studio hopes to help bridge that gap with the Manhood Journey Father’s Starter Kit. The concept is straight forward: they’ve built a weekly curriculum that takes the key concepts that are important in spiritual formation, and they focus them down into a form that’s easy to use as conversation-builders and study groups.

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I was immediately impressed with the packaging. The size of the books was great, and the package looked great and felt great. It made me want to open it immediately.

Inside were five items: A book by Manhood Journey Co-Founder, Kent Evans entitled Wise Guys. Along with this book were the Embarking Group Discussion Guide and The Embarking 1 on 1 Discussion Guide. There was also a DVD of introductory videos and a pack of ten “Maprochures,” which are helpful in recruiting dads to join your group and to help the groups select which modules they’d like to do.  

The Group Guide encourages the leader to use the material as a foundation and then adjust it to fit the specific tone of the group, so I spent quite a bit of time mulling over the content from the first session and working out how I would present it to our boys. The session was built around an analogy of Big Rocks and Small Rocks, paired with a few Bible verses to draw deeper meaning from the “word picture.” This was great. As I presented the concept, the boys’ eyes lit up with understanding. Then I presented the scriptures and challenged them to meditate on how they were all connected.

I let them perk on the ideas overnight and we arranged a time to continue our discussion. Then, I helped guide them through refining their insights.

If you can get a larger group together on a regular basis, this will be a good tool to use as the foundation for that group. I also find that it’s flexible enough that you can make it work on your own with your own children if that’s all you have.

My only critique of the program is that some of the references to pop culture feel dated. I’m sure that some of the parents would get the references, but I’m not sure many of the kids would. I think if you are using this with your own children, you may find that it’s useful to adjust things so that they relate to a younger audience. I’m not referring to the meat of the program (which is excellent) only the supporting examples. For instance, one of the goals of the discussion is to create a “porch moment” like on The Andy Griffith Show when Andy and Opie would talk about the day’s events. If you’re familiar with The Andy Griffith Show, you’ll get it. But you might find that a more modern example (or skipping the pop culture reference altogether) would be better in your specific group.

Based on the Starter Kit, it seems like a great tool for helping fathers open a spiritual dialogue with their sons.

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As always with Homeschool Review Crew reviews, there are several others talking about this product this week. Make sure to click the banner below for more information.

Blessings,

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Manhood Journey Father's Starter Kit {Manhood Journey & City on a Hill Studio Reviews}
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How Dad Helps in Our Homeschool

A lot of homeschool families rely on one parent (usually Mom, but not always) to do the bulk of the schooling with the kids, and ours is no exception. However, we do have one “advantage” over others in that my husband is self-employed, and works from home most of the time. This means he has the opportunity to be more involved than he might otherwise be if he worked a traditional job. Here are some of the ways Will helps us out in this adventure we call homeschooling.

He takes the little boys out during school hours.

This might not seem like a way he’s helping with our homeschool, but it totally is. While Small Fry is nearing school age, and therefore isn’t usually too much of a distraction, Dragonfly (at only 16 months old) definitely causes problems sometimes. Sending him away with Dad for a few hours in the mornings assures that I can help the older boys with some of the complicated things that they need help with. While Will doesn’t do this every day, I always appreciate it when he does have the time to make it happen.

He’s really interested in history…

…and he shares this passion with the boys. My husband absolutely loves reading old books and learning about bygone eras. His current favorite is the French Revolution, and they’ve been doing a lot of studying together about this time period. Together, they’ve been reading Les Miserables, watching the film version of the opera in spurts, and learning everything they can about Napoleon. This included watching a 4-part documentary that they found on YouTube. Past units they’ve worked on together include WWII and the US Civil War.

dad and boys bigger

He’s teaching them the “family business.”

Our family business is pretty non-traditional. My husband works in publishing both as an author/illustrator and as a graphic designer creating books for other self-published authors. He also puts out his own newspaper with content that he creates himself, including selling the ad space. On some of these outings (to deliver the papers or sell ads, mostly), he’ll take one of the boys and teach him what needs to be done and how to do it. Learning by example is a great way to understand things.

On the other side of things, he’s passed his love of drawing on to the children. They are all most comfortable with a pencil or crayon in their hand. This is definitely something they get from their dad. Sometimes we all work together to write the jokes for his comic strip, and this too is valuable life experience for the boys.

He encourages me when I’m feeling down.

This is another thing that might not seem like it really is related to our homeschool experience, but it’s definitely a helpful thing when things aren’t going perfectly. Knowing that my life partner is supportive of this endeavor we’re on is vitally important in our success. He’s a constant reminder that what we’re doing the right thing, even if it sometimes feels like we’re floundering.

He helps come up with big projects for the boys.

Because our two older boys are getting to the point where they need to learn to be self-starters, I often assign them bigger projects to help teach them time management. This is always in addition to whatever regular schoolwork we’re doing at the time. Sometimes I’m not very creative in coming up with what those projects should be, so Will is always helpful in coming up with ideas.

He’s a good disciplinarian.

I tend to be kind of a pushover sometimes, but not my husband. He can definitely be playful, but he takes his job as Dad very seriously. He knows that we’re not just raising “our kids,” but rather “someone else’s future husband.” We want our boys to be good husbands one day, and having a firm upbringing is part of this. Having such a strong leader in our family is a real blessing for both me and our boys.

These are just a few of the ways my husband helps out in our homeschool and our home lives. He’s a fabulous person to be married to, and I’m grateful for him every day.

How does your husband help you in your homeschooling journey? I’d love to hear your experiences, so leave me a comment below.

Blessings,

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This post is part of the roundup “Dad in Our Homeschool” through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Dad in Our Homeschool

Kids in the Kitchen: Mixing a Marinade

kids in the kitchen

When my older two boys were little, I wasn’t very good at involving them in the cooking. It’s something that I knew I should have been doing, but it was just never something that “fit in” to what I was doing at the time.

Now that I have a “second chance,” so to speak, with the little boys, they get involved a lot more. Especially Small Fry (4). He absolutely love helping out in the kitchen. And if it’s a meal where there’s not much for him to be helpful with, he at least likes to stand on a chair and watch, so he’s still learning. I understand now that I really missed out in my impatience as a younger parent; having kids help in the kitchen is a lot more fun than it is work. I never expected it to be such a blessing, and I know that I’m giving him something that will last a lifetime. With the older boys, it will be an uphill battle from now on teaching them to cook. It’s something that will have to happen, because I’m sure they’ll be living on their own at some point and they’ll need that skill.

But for now, I’m going to enjoy having my littles in the kitchen with me. Even if just doing tiny tasks like dumping in the premeasured ingredients or mixing up a marinade.

How do you get your kids to help in the kitchen?

Blessings,

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Elementary Science: Growing an Avocado

avocado pit growth

Munchkin is finishing up his science class for the year this month (he’s been working double time to be able to complete the program before our subscription runs out, which is why he’ll be done in March instead of June). One of the things he was instructed to do to learn about plants and roots was to grow an avocado pit. I’m sure this has been done in countless homeschool (and maybe non-homeschool) homes over the years, but it was our first time doing it. Luckily for him, we actually eat avocados now! Until about two years ago, we didn’t eat them. Ever since I tried one a couple of years ago, though, I realized how delicious they were, and now we eat them regularly. (By “we” I mean everyone but Will and Seahawk. They just won’t be convinced.) So having a pit handy to grow was pretty painless.

It took a very long time – long enough that he’s out of that unit now and onto other studies within the course – but it was neat to see the pit grow anyway. Our only regret with this experiment is that we don’t live in a climate warm enough to support an avocado tree!

Blessings,

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