The Grade of Two.

It typically happens that each fall, my blog gets all schooly for a while, as my brain is filled with homeschool thoughts and therefore that’s what comes out.

But for some reason, that hasn’t happened this year. So either I’m not focused enough on educating my child or I’ve just learned to compartmentalize and not bore you all with educational details.

After all, we all graduated and fled school for a reason, right?

But those of you who are homeschool moms have been checking in with me to see what we’ve been doing this year, what curriculum we’re using, and how many times I’ve locked myself in my bedroom so far.

So here’s an update for those of you who care.

First Day of Second Grade

We started our year off with a celebration of crepe paper and using up all my color printer ink.


Like last year, Ali got a First Day of School present.


Unlike last year, Noah did not. Sending him to preschool has its perks.

Her present might have been more for me than her,


as I find rainbow looming quite therapeutic after a long day’s school.


She then got to peek at her schoolbooks for the first time – it never hurts to wrap those like a present, too.


We are now eight weeks into the school year, and I’m fairly happy with all of our choices.

Despite a few somewhat annoying stories last year, I decided to go almost entirely with BJU curriculum this year, with the exception of Horizons Spelling and Handwriting Without Tears.


The English is fantastic, covering a lot of gaps in last year’s learning with regards to proper sentence building, as well as teaching a good bit about how to write stories. Reading is the same as last year – the stories are better this year, and the reading comprehension encouraged by the workbook is excellent. History and Science are okay – I don’t know that I’ll ever find an elementary history and science book that I’m really excited about.

Math was my big decision this year. Ali has always been good at math, but super slow. And slow math is tedious math. I wanted to find a happy balance this year – a book that taught her mental strategies without being completely based on manipulatives, because I knew Noah would lose those and I’d get tired of finding them within the first two days.

Plus, my brain just doesn’t work that way.

The BJU Math seemed to hit that balance well, and I have really liked it. It has taught Ali some fantastic mental strategies without relying on visual cues, and it seems to be going much better so far this year.

…although I could do without them over-spiritualizing it.


It’s MATH, people. I love Jesus but let’s not make Him cheesy by inserting Him into our word problems.

After sharing the above picture with my neighbor Renee, she texted back a revised version of the problem:

“Anna handed out 15 tracts. Four of her friends are allowed to watch Glee. Three don’t say swear words but never go to Church. Five were baptized as infants, Four walked the aisle when they turned eight. How many are going to heaven?”

Everyone needs neighbors like mine.

Handwriting is still a struggle, and I am in the process of enrolling Ali with a Handwriting Without Tears expert to help with that – updates to come later. Her spelling, however, has progressed beautifully, giving me hope that she also is a natural speller.

For Geography, we have a few iPad games, and have also really enjoyed United States Top Trumps.


Top Trumps is a simple and fun British card game with dozens of different genres. A blog reader, Jennifer, sent Ali her first Top Trumps cards (they were the Hello Kitty variety), and we got completely addicted to the game. I was pretty excited when I found these on Amazon with all sorts of interesting state facts so I had an excuse to play and call it school.

For bible, we’re doing several different things (NOT including math), but a lot of it revolves around Awanas at our church, as Noah is in Cubbies and Ali is in Sparks this year.


They’re both learning a lot, and as an added bonus, Chris and I have every Wednesday evening to run together while they’re enjoying their classes.


Ignore the bad running selfie – just note the blissful happiness of a couple finding one hour a week alone together.

I’m still using and quite happy with my ever-evolving planning spreadsheet (if you’d like it, email me – I share), and yes – I work really hard to keep my achievement stickers in such tight order.


Also, it should be noted that I always fill out my planner AS we’re doing school, not beforehand. I don’t believe in erasing, and can’t handle the pressure of pre-planned achievement.

Since Noah is going to preschool three days a week, I find myself out of the house more than usual, so Ali has gotten to experience school in alternate locations, such as the Vestavia library,


The downtown library,

Birmingham Public Library

And Birmingham’s hippest coffee shop, Urban Standard.


She is a fan. Especially of the chocolate milk.

Also, Ali and I have started running together one day a week, and she’s shocked me at how good she is.


She can run ten minute miles, an entire mile without stopping, and so far up to three miles with a few breaks. And we’re enjoying the activity, as well as the fact that we’re making multiple scientific discoveries along the way, such as this mutant giant caterpillar,


And this mysterious but amazingly in-tact jawbone.


We always research our finds afterward and even take them with us if they’re not alive.

Since we run to a candy store (bribery is powerful, people), we left the jawbone on the trail where we found it to pick up on the way back. The sweet girl at the fancy candy store in Mountain Brook Village didn’t bat an eyelash when I asked “can we have an extra bag? We found a cool jawbone we want to pick up on the way home.”

That find was especially interesting, because who knew that you could identify its animal of origin just by the number of different kinds of teeth?

I didn’t.

I sent a picture of it to a Veterinarian blog reader, Elizabeth, and to our local Science Center, McWane. Both returned the same answer:


Elizabeth even sent us textbook information about animal dentistry so that we could study more deeply, thereby making science way more fun than usual.

And really, I was quite relieved that it was an Opossum. Because the alternatives seemed much more disgusting.

Dog? Gross. Cat? Tragic. Opossum? Awesome.

In conclusion, I’d say the year is going fairly well so far. As would, apparently, Ali.


(I ignore spelling mistakes when surrounded by loving sentiments.)

Oh – and the answer is three. I’ve locked myself in the bedroom three times.

As always, I am open to any and all homeschooling questions. Feel free to ask yours in the comments.

Off to the Races.

“Hey Eli, would you like for me to tell you where to stick it?”

These are the jewels that you hear when you travel with a three-year-old and a six-year-old boy.

(No, Noah had no idea what he was saying. Yes, he said it in the kindest, sweetest little boy voice ever. Yes, I laughed heartily.)

So. Boys.

If you take them to a Mexican restaurant, there will likely be double dipping.


If you let them loose in a double hotel room with a balloon, it will assuredly feel like you’re trapped in a two-foot box with 563 espresso-hyped hamsters.


But then, if their granddad shows up, they will miraculously become still, tiny little angels.


My sister-in-law Lindsay and I ditched our three daughters and took our two sons to the races in Atlanta. My Dad is a Tech Inspector (i.e. he takes the cars apart before and after the race to check for cheaters) for a series of races formerly known as American Le Mans but recently purchased by NASCAR and given the unfortunate name of Tudor. Unfortunate when two small boys are involved, anyway.



But regardless of unfortunate naming choices, our sons experienced ecstasy that day.

They got to walk through Pit Row with my Dad,


Where racing teams told them secrets,


Taught them how to cut zip ties,


And in general enthusiastically entertained our children.


There were cars to BEND OVER and look into (you really don’t realize how small race cars are until you see them next to a three and six year old),


Lifts to ride up and down,


Selfies to photo-bomb,


Other people’s selfies to watch happen,


And drivers to avoid.


Dad yanked this driver(?) out and said “stand here with my grandsons.”

Driver(?): “But I’m not important!”

Dad: “I know that, but they don’t know that!”


Poor driver(?). I think he’s important, too.

Noah remembered from last year where our team allegiances lie, though. He even remembered how to copy my sing-song fan-girl voice really well, going super high at the end of, “We’re going to go see Patrick Dempseeeeey!!!”


But, alas. Another year, another lack of Dempsey in our lives. He was there somewhere, though. Just not there with us.

Meanwhile, back at home, Chris was convincing Ali to go running with him on the coldest day of the year so far,

Ali Running

And my brother JC was attempting to figure out how to manage curly hair.


We had the better end of the deal.

We found a place by the fence to sit for a while,


Which really ended up in us doing everything we could to contain our sons.


And get their eyes to rest on the racetrack for at least two seconds together.


Thankfully, there was a bounce-house at which we ended our day.

Which, by the way, my experience at the bounce-house was a highly improved activity with earplugs.


Correction: ALL of life with boys is highly improved with earplugs.

Case Closed: The Mystery of Fred.

I am not the kind of person that can leave a mystery unsolved.

Uncle Joe had to be found.

Dr. Pepper TEN needed to be explained.

It was an absolute must that I tracked down my twin.

When someone hacked my PayPal account, it wasn’t good enough to just fix it. I needed to find the people who did it. And report them to my Sheriff’s department, their Sheriff’s Department, and the FBI.

Even recently, there was a naked man on the loose in Birmingham…taking selfies at a busy intersection…with a camera on a tripod.

And what did I do? I had to figure out who he was.

And what followed? A really bizarre twitter conversation between me and an extraordinarily strange person.

(He would like to clear up the report that he was using a tripod. It was actually a GoPro Camera on a Monopod. He also didn’t run away into the woods – he had a getaway car. Because these are the important facts of this particular event.)

But it doesn’t matter if the answers are boring or weird – mysteries beg to be solved. And I cannot rest until they are.

And so, the mystery of Fred the Cat has been eating away at me since he showed up at our house in February – no way to be solved, no clues to run on, no tags, or anything else that could bread-crumb me to his secrets.

He comes and goes regularly, visiting other houses where he takes on other identities. Despite the fact that the neighbors that called him Cocoa moved away, leaving him down one food source, he looks healthier than ever, clearly getting fed by who-knows-how-many suckers taken in by his charm and boyish good looks.


And my children adore him. Fred, the friendliest cat that ever lived. Fred, the glorious companion to Ali’s childhood. Fred, the only cat that will climb a tree on command. Fred, a member of our family.

Fred the Cat in a Tree

But despite over half a year slowly ticking by, we still had no clues as to where he came from or why he so purposefully chose us as his family. (I know he has many families but he makes us feel like we’re the most important to him. The boy is a charmer.) We even took him to the vet after he had gotten hurt during some spring storms. They treated his wounds and checked him for identity microchips, but still nothing.

Until two weeks ago.

When the neighbor’s nanny, a good friend of mine, casually said, “Oh! I meant to tell you. I know where Fred lives.”

The earth ground to a halt and my heartbeat attacked my ears.


How could this be afterthought kind of news? This is groundbreaking!! This is the mystery that has eaten away at my soul for eight long months!!! THIS IS….okay already tell me what you know.”

She has a friend further down the street that has also fed Fred for over a year and a half (calling him by an unknown third alias), and long ago, Fred had a collar, so she knew where he actually lived, a block away.

She has even taken Fred back to his house when he had vet appointments, and because…Fred’s real owner was unhappy with the neighborhood status of Fred’s meal plans, as we are all as a group keeping him from staying home.

(The owner would likely be super-thrilled to know that I also treated her cat to a $200 vet visit, kept him inside for 24 hours to let him heal, and applied antibiotics to his eye for seven days. Oops. Sorry, neighbor.)

The problem is, the other non-owner neighbor will take Fred back home, but by the time she gets back to her house, Fred has beat her there.

Because Fred likes neighbors. Fred likes multiple meals. Fred is clearly an extrovert. And a player.

Oh. And….Fred’s name is Mowgli.

Fred lounged in the monkey grass on the edge of our lawn, indifferently listening to his life story.


We tried yelling the different names in his general direction.

“Hey Fred!”

“Hey Mowgli!”

“Hey Cocoa!”

“Hey Cat!”

He responded to them all identically. Which is not at all. Because he’s a cat.


So he will remain Fred at our house.

The mystery is solved, but the exultation of finally knowing the truth is, I must admit, somewhat overshadowed by the sadness that he is not indeed our cat.

Although I seriously doubt that stops him from acting like it.