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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day: The Gift, the Giver, The Grace.



Gifts come to us in different ways, -sometimes grand, sometimes simple, sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected. The thing is, we don't always truly recognize them when they come, nor do we necessarily give them when they are needed most.  The author of one of my favorite books, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp, says it this way...
"You have got to figure out a way to stay fully awake. Time is blurring by and everyone is slipping past. How do we wake to the moments?" 

One of those "blurring moments" occurred today. 

Today, on Mother's Day.

I could have totally missed it, too, if not for the Holy Spirit prompting me to hear Ann's words, to heed Ann's wordsThankfully, I chose to stay fully awake, and I dare say that that choice resulted in one of my life's most precious moments, a gift I will take with me into always.

We had attended Sunday church service as a family, and were making our way home. Brandon, my 7 year old,...my baby,...told his dad he wanted to get me a gift with his own money for Mother's Day. We stopped at a local thrift shop so he could make his selection. I was not allowed to see, of course, but it turns out he chose a glass bunny figurine with flowers around it.

He was so proud. 

"Momma, can I wrap it for you when we get home? I hope you like it. I picked it out myself." 

He loves bunnies, that one, -still sleeps with an over-sized stuffed bunny most nights.

But being 7 years old, he is also squirmy and wiggly and on the move, and as such, was carrying his bagged bunny just a bit haphazardly. 
More specifically, he was swinging the bag back and forth, again and again. His dad requested to hold the bag until we left the store, which Brandon reluctantly agreed to. When we finally went to pay for a few other items, his dad returned his special bag to him, again reminding him to hold it carefully "so you don't drop it." 

A minute later, we heard the dreaded crash. My son stood there, partially in disbelief, mostly in agony, his chin quivering, tears filling his eyes. 

Now, I'd like to say I'm a "perfect" mother and therefore handled it in the most tender of ways. The truth is, I was not certain as to what exactly we should do. Brandon had not heeded  his father's instruction. In spite of the caution to hold his glass bunny carefully, he had not. And now...

It was gone. 
Broken. 
And so was his little heart. 
And so was mine, for him. 
What to do? What to do? 

I began, sympathetic and careful...
"I know, honey, it broke. I can't fix it,..." (because he was looking at me with pleading eyes, as if expecting that, somehow, I could do just that). 

He looked inside his little bag, trying not to show how upset he was, and sadly asked, "What should I do with it?"

My word, it's hard to be a parent, -to know when to be firm and when to soften; when to let natural consequences teach, and when to search for the deeper lessons. 
Had I not searched deeper, today, I would have missed the greater gift. 
But the Holy Spirit prompted my heart and, thankfully, I did search deeper. 

"What to do? What to do?"

I took my son, my immature, "still-learning-about-cause-and-effect" 7 year old son, by the chin and looked directly into his eyes. I  gently said, "I know you wanted to do something so special for me today, and that you're disappointed that it's broken. I wish I could fix it, but I can't." 
I hugged him tightly, kissed his tearful cheek and continued, "But the greater gift came from your heart, honey. You thought of me. You wanted to buy me a gift with your own money on Mother's Day, and I love you for that." 

I had also told his father in the check-out line, before I walked away from him, that at 7 years old, our son was too young and immature to "learn" that swinging the bag around, in spite of being asked not to, had resulted in a broken gift and a broken heart. "He'll only remember us saying, 'I told you so' if we handle this any other way but with grace." 

As I was hugging my son, his father walked up and handed me the car keys. 
"Take the kids and wait for us in the car." 
Then, to Brandon, he simply said, "Come with me."

Off they went, back into the store, where his dad simply reminded him that he must listen when we're guiding him. Then, "Let's see if we can find another gift for mom."

I am delighted to say I received another, equally precious bunny figurine from my son, who has a current love for all things bunny. Indeed, time is blurring past, but today, we "figured out how to stay fully awake", as Ann so fervently reminds us.  

And in staying awake, my gift was a little bunny. 

My gift was a tenderhearted little boy, who stills waves to his mom from the Little League ball field without shame, who covets my presence at every game and every practice.

My gift was his precious thoughtfulness. 

My gift was the voice of the Holy Spirit, guiding me where I often struggle. 

My gift was in discovering that I could, in return, be the giver of gifts. 
I gave my husband the message of grace, which he so lovingly applied to a tender and fragile moment. 
And we gave our son grace itself, -the room to grow and make mistakes,  and the opportunity to be redeemed. 

I have failed so many times as a parent, sometimes blindly, sometimes sinfully. But at the end of all my shortcomings, Jesus still redeems me. 
He always does. 

My ultimate gift, this Mother's Day, was to gain a much deeper understanding of the grace and mercy of a Savior who loves me unconditionally, even when I am immature and impulsive, and perhaps especially when my attention is captured and I am broken.

Parents, may you receive grace, that you might pass it forward, and may you be fully awake (lest you miss your many gifts received) when you do.

Eph 4:7
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift.
Blessings,
Toni
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Monday, February 24, 2014

10 Things You Need to Know About Tapestry Crochet (a.k.a. graphghan crochet)

I recently ventured into my very first tapestry crochet project. Now, I've heard it called Tunesian crochet, but it's definitely not.  But I'll warn you, it goes by a g'zillion names. You may find it called graph-ghan crochet, fair isle crochet (it's not fair isle, at least not in terms of what this means in knitting), mosaic crochet, color work crochet, jaquard crochet, or  even hard crochet. 

Don't let that last name scare the jeebies out of you. If you know your way around a hook, a skein of yarn, and the basics of crochet, then you've got this. 
Really.



What I've found to be the greater problem is that information on this technique is not well compiled. It's kind of, well,...fragmented? Yes, that'd be it, fragmented. I had to learn bits and pieces, here-n-there, some folks doing a better job than others at being an authority on the subject, before I felt confident that I had the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed.  

But enough about that. 

If you would like to give tapestry crochet the ol' college try, then there are some things you might like to know.

10 Things You Might Like to Know

  • For your first try, a two color project (no more) is best. 
  • A symmetrical project is also a first project "best." 
  • I highly suggest you learn how to work with bobbins, as opposed to carrying your yarns. With just two colors, carrying works great. But as you ease into 3 or more colors, the bobbins will keep your individual colors "pure" (no background carried color visible in the stitches) and you'll avoid unnecessary thickness and bulk being added to your project.
  • Bobbins do NOT need to be made on cardboard or store purchased bobbin "thingies." Figure eighting yarn on your fingers, then cutting it free from the skein/ball and taking the cut end and wrapping several times around the middle (and tucking the end under that wrap) will work just fine. You would then pull yarn from the starter end when adding the bobbin to your ongoing work. I can explain more on this if needed.
  • Learn to always pull the unused colors to the official back side of your work.
  • If you desire to make squares (a la granny square work), I would suggest patterns no larger than 31 stitches by 31 rows (all single stitch) The above project is 160 stitches by about 120 rows, by the way. 
  • Knitting fair isle charts and/or perler bead charts make for great free patterns.
  • Think of this type of crochet as a true art form; it cannot be rushed.
  • You Tube videos will help you master the technique. 
  • A cotton washcloth with symmetrical pattern might be a good first try.
I hope these pointers help, and please leave a comment below to let me know if you've tried this type of crochet, link to your work if you have a link, and/or let me know what you make in this technique.
Live wise in Him!
~Toni~

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Classical Conversations: What about Memory Master?



Last week was the final day of class on our local Classical Conversations campus. For those who are unfamiliar with Classical Conversations (CC), it is an excellent option for homeschoolers, which adheres to the classical method of education. This was our first year with CC, though we had homeschooled for 8 years prior to joining.  Looking back, it was a terrific year.  Our 11 year old son and 10 year old daughter were even successful in their first attempt at becoming a Memory Master.

What is Memory Master?

So, what is required of a "Memory Master"? Well, alot. My kids had to recite the entire history timeline from the age of ancient empires to 9/11/01.  They also had to name all 44 presidents, recite multiplication facts through 15s, correctly define 4 math laws, equivalent measurements (eg. liquid, linear, metric), 4 geometry formulas, answer questions about 24 science facts (eg. What are some types of ocean floor? What are some plant systems? What are 4 kinds of volcanoes?), 24 history statements (eg. tell me about the Songhai....about Nepoleon...about the split of the Roman Empire.), Latin noun cases and Latin noun declensions 1 through 5, defined preposition, helping, and linking verb and gave lists of each, and had to both point to and name 24 geography sets (eg, Show me the Roman empire, show me Ancient Africa, show me the countries of S. America, show me East Asia, what is each continent's highest mountain?).  My kids worked hard for this achievement, but truly, all the kids in CC are required to work hard. The academic bar is raised, while the environment is one of helping the kids to believe they can achieve those high goals.

We are not "that" family.

For those who "do" CC and perhaps are curious, I'd like to share a little perspective on our family's path to Memory Master. To be sure, we are not "that" family. You know, the stereotypical "perfect" homeschool family that is gifted with uber intelligence, incredible homeschool organization and implementation, "whittling canoes out of birch bark," as one CC mom hilariously stated (conveying that they were not "that family" either.)  I mean, yes, my husband and I definitely value academics.  But our children, while always usually interested in learning, are not what I would describe as "hit the floor running" passionate about their school work. Sure, they're bright and capable. At the same time, they can be "average students" with regard to focus and motivation. 

Additionally, there are some unique health/cognitive challenges that are part of our homeschool picture, including mild Autism and mild Cerebral Palsy. I share this to make the point that, as I see it, Memory Master is not an unachievable goal. Likewise, I'm sure we all realize it is not a badge of honor which proves one student's value over another.  It is simply a great academic goal to strive for, if a student so chooses.  

How does one approach the goal of Memory Master?

If you're wondering (as I did) how other CC families approach Memory Master, allow me to share our approach. I'm sure there are several ways to do it.  This is just what worked for us.
  1. We were disciplined.  As our CC year progressed, we very regulary reviewed previous material. There is a great explanation and video at Simply Charlotte Mason, which, while provided for scripture memory work, can be modified for CC memory work. If you are unsure how to approach regular spiral review of the memory work, perhaps the video suggestion could work for you.
  2. I chose to do our memory work  last each day. I know many families like to get it done first, but I found that by saving it for last, we could take as long as necessary to learn the current week and complete our spiral review. I could even bounce back and forth between dinner prep and some of the work. No clock ticking as other subjects waited.
  3. I looked for opportunities to do extra review (emphasis on extra). My kids are competitive swimmers and we spend an insane amount of time at the pool each week. There is a 30 minute block of time where all 3 of my Foundations students are free to practice memory work at the pool. I tried to make good use of those minutes.
  4. I made sure my students were up for the challenge. I did not require my children to attempt Memory Master, but I did encourage them to think about it. I took the time to explain that it was in line with our family homeschool goal to "strive for excellence."  Here, the emphasis is on "strive", because I told my children that hard work toward the goal and increased confidence in their memory work was, in itself, success. Measure the journey, not the outcome. My 5/6 year old kept pace with his two older siblings throughout the year, and I'll encourage him to consider Memory Master in years to come.
  5. Do the time. We were not "casual" about getting memory work done.  It was a very important part of our school year (it's the "nuts and bolts" of the grammar stage, after all.) We purposed to accomplish our memory work each week, to know it well, completing no less than 30 minutes of memory work per day (necessary from around week 6 on).
  6. We committed to rewarding the effort. I sincerely believe this served as both a motivator and a stress reliever as our kids worked toward their goal. My husband and I wanted them to know we were truly proud of the journey, not just the outcome. They were content, knowing they could choose a book at Half Price Books and "any piece of candy you want" (a huge treat) after testing, regardless of the result. I believe that last part ("regardless of the result") took some of the pressure off them. They could count on us, in advance, to be proud of their efforts. Really, I think this helped them to just chill.
At the start of our year, I would not have pegged my two kids to accomplish this goal.
"We're too new."
"They're not motivated enough." 
"There are too many health/cognitive challenges in the way."

I'm glad I didn't listen to me in the end.
I'm glad our goal to "strive for excellence" prevailed, because if I had relied only on how I felt, if I had not honored their desire to try, I would have denied them the lessons of the journey.
Live wise in Him!
~Toni~
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Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Polish girl's pizza

(photo pending)
Really, who wants to eat the "same old, same old" pizza?  I know my family likes variety. 
We have only purchased grocery store pizza a few times.
Ever.
I just prefer to make my own at home.  It's what my family prefers to eat.

In years past, we did make classic pepperoni, but as our kids have gotten older, they are not big fans. "It's too hot.  It's too spicy."  You know the drill.

So, what kind of pizza do we enjoy?  Well, the closest  to traditional would be spinach pizza with very light cheese (we all kind of have an aversion to too much cheese, especially Olivia, Cierah and me.)  And we also enjoy barbecued bean pizza. 
Yep, you read it right.
Have you had Bush's Grillin' Beans?  Oh. My. Word.  Good stuff.  We use the Grillin' Beans in place of sauce and toppings, adding pineapple and light cheese, plus a tiny bit of oregano.  Sooo good.

But perhaps the most unusual (yet VERY loved and requested) would be...Pugush.

"What's pugush?", you ask.

Well, ask five people and you're likely to get five different, albeit slighly similar, answers.
For our family, pugush is a simple recipe, handed down from my mom's 100% Polish side,  that I would affectionately rename "Polish Perogie Pizza" if I could.  Have you ever had cheese & potato perogies?  If so, consider that you could enjoy them "on a pizza."  That, my friends, is Pugush.

Here is my recipe, tweaked just a tiny bit from the recipe my mom handed down to me.  I would encourage you to give it a try.  It's very filling, so perhaps just some lovely fruit like blueberries or fresh strawberries served as a side?

PUGUSH (Polish perogie pizza)  Makes 1 large rectangular pizza
************************
Potato topping:
7 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled, cut into 1" cubes, boiled until tender.
8 oz extra sharp cheddar OR colby jack, shredded.
4  tbsp margarine (or any butter/substitute you prefer)
1 medium/large onion, finely chopped for saute
1 can evaporated milk (can use skim)

Dough: (you can substitute any pizza dough you prefer)
3-¾ cups flour
1-½ tsp. salt
1-½ tsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. oil
1-½ Tbsp. quick rise yeast
1-½ cup warm water

Peel and boil potatoes until soft/tender for mashing.  While cooking, grate cheese and sautee onions in butter over low/medium heat with lid on pan, stirring frequenly to prevent burning (can add more butter if needed.)  Sautee until translucent/tender.  When potatoes and onions fully cooked, add onions/butter to potatoes, then add 1/2 can evaporated milk and mash as for mashed potatoes. Continue to add milk and then salt to taste, until a spreadable mashed potato consistency is achieved (dont' overthink it.) Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375ยบ
In a large bowl, place first 4 ingredients of dough. In separate, smaller bow, add warm water and yeast, wisking well to incorporate.  Pour this into the larger bowl and stir with a large spoon until hand kneading is necessary.  Knead for approximately 4 minutes on flat surface.

Spray pan with cooking spray, then work dough into pan (I use a rolling pin for this, as the dough does not spread very easily).  Prebake for 3 minutes.
Spread cheese/potato mix over dough carefully, then bake for 15-25 minutes (check bottom of dough.  Pizza is done when dough is lightly browned to the middle.)
Cool 5-10 minutes, then slice and enjoy.


Live wise in Him!
~Toni~
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mondays aren't so bad.


Mondays are a crazy blur of discombobulated oxymoronic organized chaos.  Oh my word, it's not easy getting 6 people out of bed, dressed, fed, and hair "done" for school photos. (You know, "done", as in actually brushed and then rebrushed 14 times before we leave the house, not including the additional hair Mulligans on the way to school.) 



It's even more difficult to grab 4 backpacks (one on wheels because my oldest has to bring ALL her curriculum with her for the school day), a canvas bookbag crammed to full-over with teacher guides, tin whistles and more, a lunchbox full of drink bags, and the day's potluck donation. Add 3 swim bags and a purse that could rival a crane ball as a weapon, and you get a glimpse into the crazy pace of it all.  But "it all" is our life, and truth be told, we kind of like it a tad chaotic. Okay sure, could do without the tin whistles serenading us "cacophany style" down the road, uh hem, but other than that, it's reeeally okay.


Before we know it, my husband and I will have that quiet house we almost wish for (before we push the thought away, knowing it will slither silently upon us all too soon). So for now, we drink in our Mondays as sweet as a gift from God himself, because we know that they truly are.  Hubs spends his morning in our 5 year old's kindergarten class, while I spend mine in our 9 and 10 year olds' class.  I excuse myself for an hour of their class time so I can attend Latin class with my 13 year old. I do love me some Latin. Salve!

I'm so thankful to be able to attend school with my children; to be surrounded by like-minded families who are there to edify and encourage one another's children in their academic and personal endeavors. I'm thankful for the tudors and the many mandatory hours of training they participate in on behalf of my children and the other children in our school. I'm thankful for the leadership of our wonderful director too. And at the end of the day, I'm thankful that 6 people, 4 backpacks, a lunchbox, and a wrecking ball purse make their way back to our aging van so we can grab an early dinner and settle in to an evening of swim practice at the natatorium.  The ebb and flow of family life is exhaustingly exhilerating (that's alliteration, by the way) and I wouldn't trade it for any other life. Okay, Martha Stewart's might be a teensy bit tempting. Just sayin'.
Live wise in Him!
~Toni~
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Monday, September 3, 2012

"Can I join Classical Conversations with an older child who has never been in the program?"

Challenge A (a first time CC student's experience)

Okay, so! We are "up and running", as they say.  We have officially completed our first two weeks with our new Classical Conversations(CC) community.  Specifically, my oldest child has completed her first two weeks. Her siblings have been "doing school" lightly all summer long, and have completed math, reading, copywork/handwriting, math drills, typing, and some grammar review with me each day since their older sister began her new schooling with CC.

If you are an "on the fence" parent (wanting to try CC but hesitant to jump in with older children who have never been in Foundations and/or Essentials),  here is what I want say to you.  Ready?  Don't miss it.  Here it comes....................I want to encourage you, ENCOURAGE you, E-N-C-O-U-R-A-G-E  YOU that your child can succeed and that you will not feel unsupported in your endeavor. 

Seriously, I cannot say enough good things about our local community and the parents, tutors, and highly committed director who are making this transition as painless as possible for my family and me.  I have   sincere encouragement and support and so does my Challenge A student (who has never had Foundations, never had Essentials, and has had only minimal exposure to Latin prior to our joining CC.)

She loves the familiar layout of her days at home (which, with the exception of one adjustment I had to make to her schedule, follows the order of her full day at CC each week; the continuity at home is great for the students.)   I will say she works hard.  We are up at 7:30am and her schooling starts at 8am sharp.  She works a full hour per strand ("subject"), and must stay on task if she wishes to avoid homework or keep it to a minimum.  She finishes her schooling at 2:30pm, completes chores for 15 minutes, then must address any homework promptly, since she's a competitive swimmer and puts in 90 minutes at the pool 5 days per week.  As I said, she works hard.

But the point here is to encourage you.  Do you want the benefit of an intimate group of Christian peers, iron sharpening iron, for whom the academic bar has been raised while full support is given in teaching them to believe they can reach that bar?  Do you want your child to learn to think critically and analytically, and to learn to express their convictions intelligently and persuasively?  Do you want them to be able to regularly practice (and constantly improve) the skills of oral presentation in front of a group of adults and peers alike?  Do you want them equipped to research and to formally document that research according to college standards? Back in the day, I dreaded "term papers" because they were always a "heavily weighted beast" of a foreign object that I had to somehow navigate successfully to the expectations of a teacher or Prof. (with little training or practice in the "how to" of producing such papers.)  Not so with CC.

With CC, beginning in the Challenges, the students get plenty of practice in research, writing, and speaking.  Oh, the absolute joy it brings me to know my daughter is gaining this advantage in her education.
In two weeks, she has already written FOUR papers.  And she has already orally presented two of them. (Keep in mind, she had not previously had public speaking opportunities, other than National Spelling Bee and end-of-year presentations with another homeschool group we participate in.)  Next week, she will orally present the other two papers (using only notecards and a key word outline for one them.)   Sound like too much?  It's not.  Seriously, it's really not.  The students are given much direction, plenty of encouragement, and PLENTY of grace as they learn.  It's such a huge blessing on them.

If you've thought about Classical Conversations but have reservations about whether your children can succeed when jumping in later rather than earlier, please feel free to ask me any questions you might have about our experience.  I will continue to post as we move forward in the months to come.  But as far as our coming out of the proverbial gate, I do believe we're going to have a great run.  I'm very, very pleased that we stepped out in faith and joined CC and that CC has embraced our family as well.
Live wise in Him!
~Toni~
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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Preparing for Classical Conversations Cycle 1


So, the summer continues to fly quickly by (as summers are known to do). We've had dance recitals, visits with family, a few hikes through canyons and creek beds, chances to chase fireflies, fireworks (in spite of the drought), cool-offs at the Splash Pad, swim meets, and more. Oh, the sweet blessings of summer.


At the same time, I often feel like there aren't enough hours in a day to plan for our coming school year. Then again, it seems there is oddly little planning I can actually do because our new Classical Conversations venture must, to some extent, simply unfold. I'm trying not to worry too much (as if I'd have any real clue of what specifically to worry about). It's just that I'm so used to planning out our year, hour by hour, day by day, week by week. But this year must simply unfold a bit first.


So, what have I been able to do to prepare? Well, in late June, I attended the 3-day parent Practicum organized by Classical Conversations. Oh my word, I was so inspired, challenged in my thinking, and enlightened. Inspired that the classical model will be good (no, great!) for my children. We have incorporated classical elements into our homeschool learning for years, but I'm excited to make it our main focus moving forward.(I'd be here all day if I ventured into my convictions.) Challenged by parents who in turn challenge their children to their fullest potential. No backing down or "watering down" the hard work of,...well disciplined, hard work. And oh, the amazing things their students are able to accomplish when the bar is raised. (They in fact demonstrated the result of their year-long CC work for us.) Enlightened to the model and method of Classical Conversations as it relates to a classical education.


My oldest daughter will enter the Challenge program without the benefit of Foundations or Essentials. This summer, she has been listening to the Foundations Latin memory work on her mp3, and has been doing daily drills and some accelerated math as well. She has also read all the books assigned in her Challenge level for the year, so she will have a first-run familiarity with them before she has to officially read and discuss them in class. I know she will have her work cut out for her in adjusting to her new schooling, but I also think she will be motivated and encouraged by the friendships she'll form with her peers at CC.


My two middle children have been writing out the definitions of the eight parts of speech, as well as the list of prepositions used in CC (thankfully, they're coming off a year of heavy work with prepositions and prepositional phrases, so the list is merely a longer version of one they had previously memorized at home.) They are also continuing with math and daily drills.


My 5 year old has begun his Kindergarten math curriculum (we use Math-U-See), and is doing some light phonics and sounding out C-V-C words. All four are reading at least 30 minutes per day, the middle children read a page out loud to me, and the youngest listens to stories and sounds out some words in the text as we go.


So, what else can I do to prepare? Well, I'm reading Leigh Bortins'The Core, a book I would highly suggest any "homeschooling" parent read. (To be sure, all parents, who take a committed interest in their children's educations, homeschool to some extent, regardless of the schooling option they've chosen.) This book is literally filled with terrific practical suggestions on how to take advantage of the way the brain learns, to challenge our children to their fullest potential in their school work (or after-school work), and on how to make learning a priority in daily life at home.


I'm also tracking down resources to supplement our weekly history and science focus at CC. We already have many on hand (ie. Story of The World volumes and Mystery of History volumes). But we will also fill our book basket with living books from the library so the children can "sample and feast on" a variety of coordinated books each week.


I've already met several wonderful people from our CC community this summer, and have joined a book club based on The Core, to gain insight from others in the group as well. And yet...our new venture must simply begin to unfold.


And so we anticipate as August 20th quickly approaches. Olivia will begin Challenge A on that day. I plan to sit in on her first two weeks, to get a feel for her days so I can better assist her in adjusting at home. After that, my time will be divided to my other children's classrooms as well. Her siblings start 3 weeks later. We've officially made the transition to year-round schooling, so we'll all be busy doing something of educational value in the midst of our waiting.


If you are using Classical Conversations for the coming year, especially if it's your first year, I'd love to hear how your plans are going. Leave me a link in comments and I'll be sure to visit.


Live wise in Him!


~Toni~

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