Plot Roller Coasters: Kids Prepare to Write Fiction

I wish this post could be about how I prepare to help my kids write fiction, but I have to tell the truth.  This was my 13 year old daughter’s marvelous teaching idea that she prepared and carried out on her own.  She is already a wonderful, patient teacher, and she led this project.


As I told you a few weeks ago, the kids are preparing for NaNoWriMo, and have pledged to word count goals toward writing a novel in November.  I intended to do this project with them as I have in the past, but decided I would be neglecting to many other important projects if I started this one.  Therefore, Eden has taken the leading in helping the other kids sign up with the website and decide their specific goals.

She has been studying plot in her English program, and last year she also studied “plot roller coasters.”  Her great idea was to turn this into an interesting art project that would help them plan their writing for the next month.  This was made even better by the fact that the younger kids had their first visit ever to an amusement park this year, and were very impressed by the roller coasters.  After and while drawing their roller coasters, they were able to chart specific plot points on their diagram.


Apparently Max is planning more than one climax to his story, and the lines through the middle show where the characters are going back in time.


Lulu wasn’t sure she wanted her picture taken — she didn’t want anyone to read her work!

These lovely pictures have been taped on the wall where they can be viewed as they start our writing work in November. Some of the other things we have planned to help with National Novel Writing Month:

  • word wars
  • writing marathons
  • dares (from the website)

Stay tuned, I’ll show you what it looks like.  Have you signed up for NaNoWriMo?  Do you enjoy writing fiction or helping your kids create stories?  Please leave a comment below.


Hiking Anniversary Snapshot

Just one quick update.  Fall is hiking season, you know, which is why blogging is sparse.  Too much living to do much writing!  I did want to show you one of the places we’ve been recently.  We have a tradition in our family of hiking for wedding anniversaries.  My parents started it, taking us to Escalante area and hiking during April for their anniversary, and we have continued doing something similar for our  anniversary.  Last year for our anniversary, Shandy and I took the older kids to Druid Arch in Canyonlands.  Because the hike was long, we left the younger kids with my parents.

This year for our anniversary (18!), we all went together.  We drove through Moab in flash flood, then camped near the Canyonlands entrance.  The 17 mile hike was just as wonderful as we remembered it, and the little ones fairly dragged the rest of us the last part of the trail.

Here are a few “anniversary pictures” from Druid Arch.

I know many of you will think this is a strange, unromantic way to spend a wedding anniversary.  I don’t want to further disillusion you, but Shandy’s present to me was a framed collage of hiking pictures, and my present to him was a homemade cheesecake.  (I have a magnet on my fridge that says “Say it with carbohydrates,” and I do!)

How do you celebrate your wedding anniversary.  Do you have a romantic getaway, or do you plan something for the whole family?  Please leave me a comment.

UMTA State Composition Competition Winner

This weekend,  Eden and I drove up to Weber State University, where she received the Junior Division First Place Award for her Composition.


Her composition, called “Ode to Anonymity” was called simple but charming by the judges.  I was very thankful to her teacher for working with her toward a composition, and helping her notate and record her composition.


Eden was also asked to play her composition for the music teachers gathered for the luncheon and awards ceremony.  Hopefully, the recognition will encourage her to continue composing.  She thinks of herself as a music teacher and performer, but sometimes doesn’t wish to reach out into other areas.  This award helps her see that she does have that capability.

Following Good Advice: Teaching Kids to Write Nonfiction

I have been reading Patricia Zaballos’ blog for some time now, and was especially intrigued by a post about helping your child learn to write reports. Although my two older children have proved to be excellent writers, I think this is mostly because their wide variety in reading material has “rubbed off” on them. I really believe that it is possible to learn writing by osmosis. Apparently, reading Ms. Zaballo’s most recent post, that is something she believes as well.  However, never having given my seven year old any kind of writing assignment before, I wanted him to have a great first experience.  Since we have  been studying caves for our science projects, I assigned a cave report.

First, as this post suggested, I wrote down his thoughts about caves on sticky notes. I wrote one sentence per note, and allowed him to move around while he thought. I did this in several sessions, so that we ended up with a large number of notes, as you can see in the picture.  He was extremely proud to stick them together to show how much he had learned.

The following day, we put the sticky notes into piles. He was somewhat stumped as to how to group the information, so I guided him to make piles for “Caves we could visit,” “Cave formations,” “Animals that Live in Caves,” and “How to Explore Caves.” We then began putting the information in order inside the piles. I instructed him to think of the
thing that was most important, or that had the most information about it, and put it first in the pile, then following with things of less importance.

Once the stacks of sticky notes were made, we began writing the report. With me typing in a large font so that he could easily read the computer screen, I prompted him to tell me a topic sentence that would describe what the whole pile was about. We then went through the sticky notes one at a time, sometimes copying them directly onto the screen, at
others adding and revising before typing. I helped him put the paragraphs in a logical order, and his finished product was excellent.
Not that length was an issue, but in a size 14 font, he was very proud of his three page report. We taped it in the center of a large paper, and he made another poster (his second during this unit about caves) around the sides to illustrate his work, since he really enjoys making posters.
I was very pleased with the way this instruction worked step by step to help Max to success on his first report ever. Lucy, because she has more writing experience, insisted on working on her own, and the sticky notes were not quite as successful for her. She was not able to release herself from her sticky notes to fill out the report to a product that
really satisfied her. I would like to try this method again with her, insisting that she work right alongside me so that I can help her with organization and revision. I highly recommend reading the wonderfarm blog and learning from her as a writing instructor.
In other writing news . . .Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? Are you a winner? The kids and I are gearing up for their 3rd and my 2nd attempt at writing a novel in a month. Stay tuned for upcoming information!
How do you begin teaching nonfiction writing skills? Do you teach nonfiction or fiction writing first in your homeschool? Please leave me a comment below.

October Unprocessed Update

October Unprocessed 2012

I’m sure you’re dying to know how we succeed with our October Unprocessed week.  Truth be told—much better than I expected. My plans were not perfect, and we did have to make some adjustments, but for the most part we were totally unprocessed for the week.  Some of the changes we had to make:

  • We didn’t use homemade mayonnaise in our tuna salad (I ran out of time to make it!) So the mayonnaise was processed.
  • Bretton made foccacia bread and didn’t know white flour was forbidden, so the foccacia was only half wheat.
  • We ate tons of eggs!  Cheap, easy, real food: eggs.  We ate them fried, scrambled with veggies and on sandwiches.  Not only were they real food, they were organic from local chickens, so I felt like they were a healthy substitute for a few of the meals requiring more effort on my list.

Some things we learned:

  • In this guest post from the October Unprocessed website, I really agreed with the author’s viewpoint that if October Unprocessed helps us change just one unhealthy food habit, it has been worth participating.  Last year, Shandy completely stopped using nondairy creamer in his coffee, and has since weaned himself from whipping cream (expensive) to milk in his daily coffee.  That was a great change!  This year, I looked for a similar change we could make.  I decided that I would only have sugar (honey during October Unprocessed) in one cup of tea each day, and drink any others without sugar.  Not a huge change, but one I’m trying to make.  Eventually, I would like to stop using sugar in tea altogether.
  • We used nearly five pounds of honey during the challenge, which seemed astronomical.  During the week following the challenge, I kept meticulous track of the sugar we used, measuring a combined five pounds of brown, white and powdered sugar.  Since I make about 95 percent of our food at home, I figured that if we only use five pounds of sugar each week as a family, we would come in at about half the average sugar consumption for Americans (which is about 140 pounds per year.) Although we were gone for 2 days during the weekend, we didn’t even eat our five pounds!  Yay for us!  This was much better than I had expected. I am hoping to further reduce our sugar usage, but since doing this measurement, now feel it is not as critical as I thought.
  • We still are unable to find a good whole wheat bread recipe.  I made whole wheat hamburger buns during the challenge which were okay but not razzle-dazzle, and Eden made whole wheat sourdough rolls, also okay but not our favorite.  One guest post on the October Unprocessed website suggested making an exception for adding vital wheat gluten to whole wheat bread, but since we do have a local source for white flour, I will probably continuing adding about 1/3 white flour to our bread recipes unless we find a whole wheat recipe we like.

This was a fun assignment this year, and I think maybe next year, we will make the commitment for the month . . . depending on our sugar addiction!
Have you tried to do October Unprocessed?  How is your month going? Please leave me a comment.

Sunday Snapshot

Just one beautiful snapshot from our camping spot this weekend.  After downpours through Moab on Friday morning, we got to our camping spot just in time for this wonderful sight.

Hope you’re enjoying October.


Autumn Abundance #3: Pear Claflouti

Yes, this is the third fruit breakfast recipe I’ve shared with you lately.  It didn’t fit in our October Unprocessed week, but as I’ve said before, autumn tempts me into sweet, fruity breakfast that can rarely be enjoyed at other times of the year.  Hoot’n Annie pancake (with strawberries or apples), apple pan dowdy, and pear claflouti are the joys of living near orchards this time of year.

Pear claflouti is a tender baked custard, with pears, the riper the better, adding sweetness and flavor.  Try it with a little milk for breakfast hot out of the oven to enjoy your autumn pears.

Pear Claflouti

8 ripe pears, peeled and cored

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup flour

3/4 cup whipping cream

3/4 cup plain yogurt

1 1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

6 eggs

Grease a 9×13 baking dish.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Peel and core pears and place them in the baking dish.  Beat eggs until frothy with electric mixer, then slowly add sugar.  When eggs are frothy and thickened, add flour and beat until smooth.  Add yogurt, cream, milk, vanilla and salt and beat until smooth.  Pour over pears in baking dish.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees and bake until custard is set, about 20 more minutes.

Don’t  burn your mouth on the hot pears!

Hope you enjoy this recipe.  Please let me know how it turns out for you!

Happy Sunday

The autumn is so beautiful right now, I can’t believe my eyes.   Just a quick glimpse of what we saw on our way to our last week’s trail head:


Don’t sit there and look at your computer:  go outside and enjoy this beautiful weather.  It won’t last, you know!

Happy Sunday, everyone.  Leave me a comment to let me know how you are enjoying autumn!

Unschooling Rules #37: Be the perfect enabler.

From Craig Aldrich’s Unschooling Rules:

Feed passions and embrace excellence.

Enable your child to follow his dreams.  This will cost time, effort and money.  Do it well.

I already told you about the bluegrass workshops we attended this summer.  While 3 hours of classes every day for 2 weeks was a big time commitment for the whole family, it was totally worthwhile in the enjoyment and growth the kids experienced in playing their instruments.

I have found, however, that it is much easier for me to be an enabler for things I view as interesting and important:  music, of course, museums, theater, hiking.  It is much more difficult to help the kids follow their interests when they do not coincide with mine.  This is something I intend to work on, as well as making sure each of the kids are free to follow their own interests, not just follow the interest pre-imposed by the rest of the family.  In order to work on this goal, I have begun trying to think of things Max and Lulu may not have been exposed to, and finding ways to allow them to decide if these things are interesting to them.

I have only shared 4 of the 55 rules found in this book, and even more encouraging than the rules is the application that accompanies them.  Another of my favorites list 15 better models for schooling than public schools.  Get the book.  Read it.  E-mail me and remind me to read it!  It will help us do our best for homeschooling our children.

Have you read this book?  How  do you become the perfect enabler?  Please leave me a comment below.

Planning a Family Style October Unprocessed

October Unprocessed 2012

Maybe you still remember that we tried to do October Unprocessed for a week last year, and by the end of the week were having such sugar fits that we fell off the wagon big time.  Well, this year we’re up for a new challenge.  We’re trying for the week again, and this time I’m making some good plans to keep our sweet tooth satisfied without sacrificing real food eating.

Here’s our menu plan for the week.  Yes, it is a three-meals-a-day at home meal plan, and I’m hoping to have leftovers for Daddy to take to work.

Monday:  bulgur as hot cereal with honey and  butter (this is a common breakfast around here, no big change), egg salad with homemade mayo on homemade wheat bread (I often make homemade mayo, and the bread is left over from Lucy’s last breadmaking project.)  Dinner will be a challenge, because we will be out of the house most of the day.  I’m thinking some roasted tomato sauce from the freezer with whole wheat pasta and baked delicata squash.

Tuesday:  baked oatmeal with apples using honey as sweetener, egg quesadillas on corn tortillas.  Dinner:  Eden is in charge of dinner, and she will be making a riff on chicken pot pie using fresh vegetables, leftover roast chicken, and topping the mixture with homemade whole wheat biscuits– Yum!

Wednesday:  Polenta as hot cereal and maple syrup for sweetener (another common breakfast, although we usually use sugar syrup made with mapleine — real maple syrup is a splurge for our family.)  Lunch will be leftovers from Monday and Tuesday dinners, and during the day on Wednesday I will be making whole wheat hamburger buns for our meal on Thursday.  Dinner on Wednesday will be Indian spiced lentils and rice with naan.  I need to investigate our yogurt and decide if I can use the kind of yogurt I usually buy, or if I need to make my own for this meal.

Thursday:  Eggs and toast (are you noticing an egg theme?  This is an easily available real food for us. Ours are even local and organic!)  I will grind some peanut butter when I go to the natural foods store today so that we can have our favorite pb&j for lunch tomorrow.  Thursday’s lunch will be leftover lentils and rice.  Brett is making hamburgers for dinner on Thursday, with homemade buns and mayo.  I also think we will be having baked sweet potato fries.

Friday:  Bulgur or cracked wheat cereal again today.  We usually eat more oatmeal than bulgur, but none of us like oatmeal without brown sugar, so we’re skipping it this week.  For lunch we will have a pb&j without the j, using a banana instead for our real foods week.  Dinner will be roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and roasted beets fresh from our garden.

Saturday:  Chicken in a basket for breakfast after my long run (eggs cooked in a hole in the toast, in case you wondered!)  We’ll probably have leftovers or pb& banana again for a quick lunch, because Saturday and Sunday are usually big evening meal days.  I will make pitas in the afternoon, and Shandy and I will work together to make falafel for dinner.

Sunday:  Apple pan dowdy made with honey sweetened apples and whole wheat dough.  Only one main meal on Sunday, probably roasted pumpkin garlic lasagna or butternut squash ravioli.  It will be a ton of work, but so delicious.

Some compromises I’ve decided to make:

  • What happens away from home doesn’t count.  Our family usually eats 3 meals together 7 days a week at home.  If a teenager escapes for a soda, I am going to look the other direction.
  • Coffee is probably processed, and it will have to escape the ban.  Shandy can’t live without it.  However, he has totally weaned himself off of powdered creamer since last year, so that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about — and he says he’ll drink coffee with honey for the duration.
  • Remembering that this is only a week, but the lessons learned can last much longer than that, I will be looking for small changes we can make continuing toward a less processed normal diet.

Are your plans made for October Unprocessed?  Are you excited and a little scared?  Let me know in your comments below.