March 17, 2017

Battling Pests, and How We Do Bible Time Together


If you're used to big box stores like Costco, it could be a bit of a shock to find that in Madagascar it's pretty normal to buy flour and sugar in one kilogram bags from a store. For those of us who bake bread on a regular basis, it means we are buying many small bags of flour each trip to the grocery store.

There is a chinese store not too far from my house, and I saw they were selling large 50 kilogram bags of flour. That's more like it! With a little bit of cost savings per kilo, I decided to buy one of these large bags and save myself from the hassle of buying many tiny bags each week.

It turned out that I just traded one slight inconvenience for another grosser one. The bag is already crawling with bugs, and their larva. So our baking routine now involves sifting every scoop of flour...

Up close and personal with the bug larva in our flour


We are at a pretty neat stage right now with our Bible time as a family, in that everyone is at an age where they can share the reading aloud and engage in some discussion. The best book I have found that really helps teach foundational doctrines is Leading Little Ones to God. I have looked at many devotional books, and none really come close to giving the types of age-appropriate explanations this book does. It goes over things like Who Is God, How to Become a Child of God, What Does a Child of God Do.... it gives explanations for glory, holiness, sin.... It's just a really great book.

As much as I have questioned including Bible reading as part of our school, like another thing that has to be checked off, I hope it is helping to develop good habits for life. I am praying that their hearts follow in due time--that part is not up to me.

Each of the kids has their own Bible, whether it's the full version, or a Beginners Bible. My 8-year-old son loves his NIV Adventure Bible. My 10-year-old daughter is working through a Kay Arthur inductive Bible study for kids on the Gospel of John and she's really enjoying it.

The kids always have verses they are memorizing. Some of my kids like to sing their verses, while others aren't so keen. It is quite amazing to me to see my young ones memorize longer Psalms or other longer whole passages. It also helps me keep my memory sharp as I listen to them recite the same verses over and over. My three older ones work on the same passages, and my kindergartener is working through Sing The Word from A to Z, which are 26 verses that begin with each letter of the alphabet. 

I have implemented various reward systems for memory work and it has been a great motivator over the years. This year we're doing a candy system *gasp* ! And I'm encouraging the kids to review verses (for rewards) to keep all of their work fresh in their minds. This also helps them review verses they didn't have perfectly memorized when they "passed" them the first time round. Again, this is an area where it's pretty rote, and I'm praying all of these "seeds" will take root in their hearts as they grow and mature in their own personal relationships with Christ.

Ongoing Projects

My husband and I spent a couple of evenings with a stapler and the fabric my daughters and I bought, and we recovered our sectional. I love how this turned out! The contrasting brown cushions with the lighter seat material really work in this room. And the fabric we chose for the seats is a light brown speckled pattern, so I think it will help hide dirt well. We hired a lady to sew the piece onto the armrest on the far left. I'm so glad we went with recovering it instead of making a slip cover, which we'd originally considered. I think we would have been constantly readjusting a cover and frustrated with how it sat. This looks tidy and fresh.


This Bird of Paradise is another one of my favorite flowers in my garden! This one I have in a pot on our back terrace and it opened literally overnight. So fun to see.

On My Side Table

My reading has slowed way down this month. I just finished My Life In France: Julia Child

Television programs have kind of taken precedent in my evenings.... it's just mindless, and I've enjoyed relaxing in front of the tv more, recently. I do have a growing list of novels I want to get into over the upcoming months however. 

Now, less mindless... I am involved in a ladies Bible study at my house by Jen Wilkin. There are about seven of us working through the Sermon on the Mount together and it's pretty heavy, so that is taking up some of my free afternoon moments. If you're looking for a Bible study to do, I highly recommend Jen Wilkin. Her book Women of the Word is so good at pointing us toward digging more in our Bibles for ourselves for the purpose of heart transformation. 

March 10, 2017

Cyclones, Being Indoors & a bit on Our History Studies


In Madagascar during January through March, we usually experience a few cyclones. We live on the high plateau in the center of the island, so we aren't usually too affected by these storms. But we hear about the devastating events on the coastline, and our mission flies different relief organizations to bring aid into damaged areas. Cyclone Enawo is the first cyclone of the season, and this week we were watching its approach to the east coast of Madagascar. On the high plateau, cyclones bring lots of cloud, higher winds, and more rain. Now that we are accustomed to endless blue skies and lots of sun, this cloud-cover brings along with it nostalgia of living in the Lower Mainland in British Columbia. Gray and gloomy days are nothing out of the ordinary there!

Being cooped up inside while living on a tropical island feels just wrong. When we are so used to making outside our second living space, after a mere day of having doors and windows shut, it begins to feel rather 'cabin-feverish.' How did we manage 9 months of this in our previous life?


Over the years I have appreciated how Sonlight covers history and social studies. They cycle through world history and american history. Starting Kindergarten through Grade 2 they sweep through world history and cultures, and then in Grades 3 and 4 focus on American History, and then return to study the history of the Eastern Hemisphere in Grades 5 through 7. Through high school you can choose to focus more on American History or dive into church history or more world history. Even though we are Canadian, I enjoy many of the american topics we've studied over the years.

Currently I'm working through world history and cultures with my younger three kids.

We are using "Core A", typically to be used in Kindergarten. I chose this because of my youngest child, and I thought we could embellish the already rich curriculum to make it a bit more challenging for my 2nd and 3rd Grader. They are doing timeline work, and notebooking pages, answering questions in written form from the study guides included in the Instructor's Guide from Sonlight.

In these early years the read alouds usually don't correlate with the period in history we're studying, but starting at Grades 3, the readers and read alouds definitely add to the topics. I also love this aspect of our history program. It feels very cohesive and rich.

Ongoing Projects

I unofficially began working on my pre-furlough To-Do list by cleaning out my sewing desk, and reorganizing yarn, fabrics, and other crafty things in my closets.

As well, last weekend I took the girls with me to find fabric to recover our sectional upstairs. The faux leather has seen better days, for sure, so I sewed new pillows for it, and I will hire somebody else to help sew covers for the seats and the armrest.

While reorganizing my fabric closet, I found leftover sheer material for some curtains I had sewn over 5 years ago, so I quickly made some sheers for the upstairs school room as well. It definitely feels brighter up there now!

March 3, 2017

Daily Rhythms & Our Growing Love For Poetry Tuesdays


We are now two full weeks back into the normal swing of life since Dad returned from being away for a week. For the most part, our days are ticking by without too much out-of-the-ordinary. As we are now into March, I'm trying not to think too far ahead about furlough in two short months. This will be our third family trip back to Canada, and along with this kind of trip there comes a lot of clearing out the old to make way for new things we need to bring back here with us. A fair amount of planning and organizing has to be done before we hit the ground in Canada. My To-Do-Before-We-Leave-For-Canada List will be written in due time.

Photo Credit: Hamilton Beach

For now, I am enjoying the normal rhythms of life here: Listening to the birds of the Madagascar summer sing outside my bedroom window, and stealing away a few moments in the sunshine with my ereader every now and again. I hear Malagasy children's voices across the lake in our backyard and smell the neighbors' and helpers' afternoon meals wafting into my house in the heat of the day.

I'm saving a cool drink for the late afternoons to share with my husband when he returns from work. Then we spend some moments together on our back deck debriefing about our day before the dinner and bedtime rush ensues.

Living in the southern hemisphere means we see the sun setting before 6:30pm year round. So we spend much of our evening in the dark, and our bodies feel as though it should be much later than 8:00 when the time comes. Typically we are turning our lights out by 9:00 or 9:30. Being a homeschool family makes the quietness we have after our children are tucked in that much more special, and time I want to make as much of as I can. The children are with me all day long, so that hour I have in the morning before they wake, and the 1 or 2 I can have in the evening after they're asleep is really important to both my husband and me. I'm so thankful our time overseas is helping cultivate our friendship as husband and wife as we stand together in so many unique experiences.


"I love poetry days," says my 8-year old son. 
Music to this homeschool mom's ears - let me tell you. I wouldn't be as surprised to hear one of the girls say this.... but my sword-wielding, rough-and-tumble, full-of-pranks son??
Besides some poetry lessons being incorporated in our Language Arts, we try and have a Poetry Tea Time every Tuesday. This is a highlight for my kids, and I was surprised to hear my 3rd Grade son verbalize that he really likes poetry tea time.

It's actually super simple. One day a week I make them tea, we have some cookies or cinnamon toast, or other little snack. I gather some poetry books I'd like the kids to see that week. 

While they are having tea I read them a poem or two that I've chosen (looking them in the eyes as much as I can, with as much drama as I can muster! haha). Sometimes I try and have a discussion question ready, but other times we just enjoy the selection without any grilling at the end. Then everyone else chooses a poem (or two, or three) and they take turns reading them aloud to each other. My non-reading child chooses a poem, and I read it on his behalf to everyone. It has been fun to hear my children revisit favorite Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes or other favorite poems over the weeks.

The whole thing takes about 20 minutes. (Let's be honest here, maybe it's the tea and cookies that makes this such a pleasurable experience for my boy. :)

That's it. Simple, fun, memorable.

In the Kitchen

Jumbo Chocolate Muffins 
These muffins are definitely a treat - and are probably just named "muffins" to trick you into thinking you're not eating cake.... but they are pretty much a cupcake without the icing.

2 Cups Flour
1 Cup sifted cocoa powder
3 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
2 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 Cup granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup oil
1 Cup plain yogurt
1/4 Cup water
1 TB vanilla extract
3 ounces chopped milk chocolate

Preheat oven to 190 degrees celsius. Grease 12 muffin tins with oil.

Combine dry ingredients and set aside. In a separate bowl, whip eggs with sugar until completely smooth. Add oil into egg and sugar mixture and combine well, then add yogurt, water and vanilla.

Combine dry ingredients with wet, and stir until there are not dry spots. Fold in chopped chocolate.

Fill muffin tins. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 180 degrees celsius and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. Check doneness with a toothpick. Leave muffins to cool in the tins for 10-15 and carefully spoon out. The tops become quite crusty and will easily lift off the bottom half of your muffin.


The Lobster Claw, once again - completely open... almost finished. This has been a lovely flower to watch and has stayed in bloom for a very long time!

On My Side Table

I quit on Emily of New Moon. Despite how much I remember enjoying Anne of Green Gables, after getting about fifty percent through this one, I just couldn't keep going.

My Life in France: Julia Child has been a delight to read. I may even try to find this cookbook she published, or see if I can find some early cooking shows of hers from the 1960s on YouTube.

The kids and I are listening to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz together from the library. This is the first time I've listened to an audiobook alongside them, and it's been a really nice change! The last time I read this book aloud was 5 years ago during my oldest child's kindergarten year.

It was especially funny to hear them discuss the needs and desires of the Tinman and the Scarecrow---which is better? A heart or a brain?

February 24, 2017

A Few Games We Love To Play!


This week I celebrated my birthday, and my kids were way more excited about it than I was.

My oldest found me on the couch reading early that morning, and sent me back upstairs so she could bring me breakfast in bed. It was so cute and special, and I felt very spoiled by all of my kids!

The kids have used their spare time this week (due to our planned school break) to build Lego, do Playmobil, make Rainbow Loom crafts and play outside. The weather has been overcast, and rather gloomy looking for the most part, but still plenty hot enough to play in the sprinkler and jump on the trampoline. We've made a bit more time for seeing friends, and I've had a couple of coffee dates, sans enfants.


School break this week has been very relaxing, and fairly uneventful.

I spent a chunk of time making a summary of the kids' work over the past 10 weeks of school for our teacher in Canada. This was actually a wonderful time of reflecting on all of the work we've accomplished over this second term!

Our family spends a bit of time playing board games. We've collected a few great games that I would highly recommend.

Bohnanza was a bit complicated to teach our children, but even though the recommended age is 10+, our 7 year old caught onto the idea. Sure, she doesn't have the strategy completely down, but it's a fun game to play as a family.

Catan Junior is a great alternative to the original Catan. All of my children enjoyed learning this one, and I even prefer it over the original. It's a faster paced game, not very complicated, but still a great game that teaches simple transaction skills. My kindergartener enjoys playing this with me while we are helping the others get school done.

Sequence Junior
This is another "junior" version of a simple adult game we used to play. This is also a faster paced game, super easy to teach, and actually really fun!

Other popular Games around our house:
Go Fish

Our game with my kindergartener in the middle of school with the others.


This is a White Spider Lily I have in my garden that blooms at this time of year in Madagascar. I find this bloom so strange. Spindly, and sadly soggy after a good rain. It has become a lily, though, that reminds me Easter isn't far away now.

February 17, 2017

Planning Breaks & When Dad's Away People Get Sick :(


Right before the weekend I came down with some kind of flu--low grade fever, headache, stomach cramps and all-around fatigue.

School migrated to my bed where we did our read alouds and I tried to help each one with math and writing as they needed.

Camped out on the bathroom floor
The day before my husband was scheduled to fly away for week-long meetings, my oldest daughter came down with the same sort of thing, but more severe. So while he was packing and holding his breath, I was starting to dread what could be a long week ahead of us with everyone else taking turns with this bug. Seriously, my least favorite thing as a mother has always been nursing sick children.

Sure enough, when we came to Tuesday, my youngest was also throwing up. Thankfully it started in the afternoon, so by the time we were ready to go to bed he was over the worst of it.

Ironically, I scheduled a break to happen next week (officially), so we pushed through this week. And peoples' illnesses didn't interfere with our school schedule too much this time, thankfully.


So, as I said before, Next week we have a school break! Yay!  ☺

We do not school through the whole year. Approximately we work September-May, and during school break time (June/July/August) I spend some weeks penciling in our schedule and where I hope we will be curriculum-wise. We take furlough every other year during Canada's summer months, so in the past we have returned to school in October and worked until July. Those furlough years were two of our tougher schooling years.... maybe mentally I have something against doing school in July? I don't know.

Most of the planning is done for me by the Sonlight IGs, but I like to map out where the kids will be in their math, and science, and Language Arts as well. Also, I like to make a list of read alouds for the year, but this is flexible as our mood might change throughout the year. The plan is really just a guideline, and a tool for me to measure our productivity.

In the yearly plan, I like to schedule in our breaks. This gives everyone something to look forward to, and it kind of feels like a reward after some good weeks of hard work. I also like to plan our breaks to help us avoid taking forced breaks from burnout or frustration (sometimes we still need a day or two off to regroup). It feels so nice to take a break because it was planned, rather than take one to save us from pulling our hair out!  ☺

I try and work a 30 week school schedule. Thirty weeks is plenty for our family for a school year, and after this amount of time we are really ready for what's next! Sonlight IG's go for 36 weeks, and I can't say I have ever officially finished any of their years... and that's ok with me. I'm not letting a curriculum be in control of what's best for our family.

So What is Our Break Plan?

I roughly work on a 7 to 8 weeks on and 1 week off rotation. We typically take most of December off as well. The other weeks line up closely with Easter and/or "Spring Break." 
Knowing a week off is in sight helps motivate the kids to know they need to push hard for 1 or 2 more weeks. It also helps me keep going when things are feeling a little stressful. 
Having a week off has really proved successful in giving everyone a necessary breather so they come back to routine refreshed and ready to give it another push for a season.

Ongoing Projects

Before we moved to Madagascar, we had the opportunity to live in Quebec City for 5 months to begin learning and focusing on French. Language learning, I've discovered, is definitely not my strong suit, it's a lot of hard work, and I find it really frustrating most of the time. But I have tried my best to continue learning bit by bit, and I think my french has improved significantly over the past 5 years. Albeit, I have a long way to go!

We have a membership on Audible and have been growing our collection of audiobooks over the past 18 months (mostly with children's literature), and I recently discovered some language learning resources on there. So I purchased Power French 2 Accelerated, and so far I really like it. There are some good explanations in there, lots of practice exercises, along with memorization techniques.

For awhile I have also tried to catch the French Your Way podcast. I really like this podcast, as it's short, and she tackles some language concepts I have struggled to understand. 


Lots of bananas in the yard right now. We usually cut these down when they look like this, and then we hang them up under cover to ripen. Usually a bundle will take approximately 2 weeks to ripen.

On My Side Table

Emily of New Moon: L.M. Montgomery

For me, there's no shame in admitting I love children's literature. After my recent stint in War World II with Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian, I was ready for something a little lighter..... ? This classic has also been sitting on my ereader for eons. 

For something completely different, I decided to pick up Julia Child's memoirs: My Life In France. So far this has been a fun read--beginning with her own language conundrums and desire to improve in the French language.

February 10, 2017

Reading Aloud & Playing in the Mud


This past weekend we were able to get away for a few nights to a cabin on a lake.

It was such a relaxing time. We played games, ate snacks, and watched a few movies. Because of the lack of rainfall, the lake is severely low. This lake would normally be way over our heads, but the kids were able to walk across it almost at waist-depth. It was fun to watch them play in the mud. They loved feeling it, hearing it squish around their toes and feet, and seeing themselves covered in it.
They spent the time out of the mud, collecting branches and dried pine needles to build a fort. And we had a small campfire on the last night and made bannock. My kids aren't quite at the 'bannock roasting' stage however, as I found myself left with 5 sticks of bread to try and cook on my own. haha. I think we'll bring marshmallows next time.  :)

Seeing my kids have enough free time to invent their own games and to make fun times in the mud makes me so thankful for the simple life they have right now in Madagascar. Even though I go through stages where I wish there were more structured activities for them to take part in, I'm mostly thankful our calendar is free and open, lending itself to lots of creative playtime and practice at making up good games when boredom strikes.

It may surprise some people to hear that I believe it's good for my kids to be bored sometimes. They must learn how to manage their own time well, and that boredom should not lead them into trouble. It also seems that some of their most creative moments are born out of having plenty of unstructured time of their own.


Current Read Aloud - one we've
enjoyed in the past
A mainstay in our homeschool has been our Read Aloud time. This is where we share a Bible Story or devotional, read a chapter of a novel, and cover a history topic. I have also been thinking about adding a bit of poetry to this time of day. (More about how we incorporate poetry another time.)

We probably spend up to 40 minutes reading aloud together during this time. They have definitely grown into it. And I find their attention spans differ depending on what novel we have on the go. 

Reading aloud has taken on different forms over the years. I've had to adjust the format depending on my kids' ages or attention spans. For a season we would pile into my bed and read aloud before the kids' bedtime. This worked well to keep little wigglers quiet and still. There's something about being under blankets that's calming. For a little while I read aloud during lunchtime. (Mouths full of snacks or lunch also help keep talking to a minimum.) But nowadays, we find ourselves reading aloud in the morning. On the mornings we don't have french lesssons (Tue and Thu), we begin our day with reading. For the other mornings, we get straight into math and phonics while each child takes turns with their french tutor, and then after french, we have a bit of a break and then dive into our read alouds. They are all in a drawing stage (or coloring). I usually let them choose something to print off and work on while I read. At other times, I've let them build Lego quietly, but that's tricky as searching through Lego pieces can get loud... if they want, I let my non-readers look at other picture books while I read.

Some of the books we've enjoyed this year
Reading aloud is probably my favorite part of our homeschooling day. The kids have really grown up with it since we have been reading out loud every day for the past 6 years, so they are very used to it. But we still have days where I'm constantly interrupted with questions about everything except the story or book we're reading! Or where one child needs to go find their coloring book, and then another needs to pee, and yet another wants to go and get a drink. Ah! It's definitely not picture-perfect, by a long shot.

But I value this time of reading aloud so much. I think it has helped to improve my children's attention spans. It has given them practice at sitting with a quiet activity (like building puzzles, drawing or coloring) while listening to someone talk. And the stories have led to building some great memories together. Because we have shared novels together over the years, we have created some points of discussion or even laughable memories. We have re-read some books together, and I love watching their faces as we near a part they remember fondly. I also love the sense of suspense I leave them with after ending a chapter. "Please keep reading, Mom!"  or  "What?! It's finished already?" is music to my ears.  :)

Some of my favourite titles over the years have been:




Wild Decorative Ginger
This has to be one of my favorite plants in my garden--Wild Decorative Ginger. They give off an amazing perfume-smell that fills the living room when I bring them inside. I love how we get to enjoy them two seasons. I get some blooms in November, and then they bloom some more during February and March.

On My Side Table

I wasn't recommended this book. It has just been sitting on my e-reader for a really long time. After I finished Chris Bohjalian's Sandcastle Girls a couple of years ago, I found this title of his on the library. I have spent a lot of time in books set during wartime so far this year it would seem..... 
  • Going Solo
  • Inside Out and Back Again
  • The Pearl That Broke Its Shell
and now this one set in Italy during the final year of WWII. This is strange for me because I don't particularly enjoy movies set in war times, but I seem to be able to handle books a bit better.