Divine Intervention: Our Big Fat Homeschool Makeover

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We’re back to school this week, and sitting down here to gather my thoughts and to write, to share about our homeschooling journey, especially after such a long blog break this summer, feels incredibly cathartic.

Some of you have asked how it’s been going since I shared about embarking on the homeschooling path a year ago, and you might have noticed that I’ve not posted much about it.  Let’s face it- it’s hard to share about struggles, and I won’t lie to you- we struggled.   There were tears.  There were triumphs too, and sweet hugs and math wizardry and wonderful stinky vinegar egg experiments, but yes, there were definitely tears shed by just about everyone at some point.  By the end of the year I was hanging on by a thread and couldn’t quite decide whether it had been a success, or a complete failure, or perhaps just par for the course of a first year rookie.  I have no doubt that I made just about every beginner mistake in the book.  Not enough planning, and then too much planning…schedule was too loose, then it was too tight…didn’t explore enough curriculum and then I got overloaded with too much curriculum…I expected too much, then too little…  In the spirit of Thomas Edison and his tale of failed light bulbs, I pretty much discovered 101 things that don’t work (at least for us).

Is there such a thing as a homeschool intervention?  I don’t know, but there is now.  A divine intervention is exactly what has unrolled these past few weeks, by way of encouragement from friends, a mild (ok, moderate) dose of venting, heart searching, and a handful of miracles.  At the heart of this intervention was my coming to grips with a very important reality for us right now (and maybe forever): LESS IS MORE.  By that, I don’t mean less learning, or less teaching, or even less time.  What I need this year is less stress, less pressure, less guilt, less confusion, less uncertainty.  I need simplification.

I’m starting to learn that keeping it simple is one of the biggest keys to less stress and more success for a family just starting out on a homeschooling journey.   It’s tough not to become overwhelmed at the mountains of fabulous curriculum to choose from in today’s market, not to mention the infinite number of ideas and resources just waiting to bury me alive on Pinterest.  The 926 unit study lap book ideas I’ve pinned, however adorable, are not doing me one lick of good.  What is, though, is honing in on a simplified, streamlined game plan that’s realistic for us.  Enter: A Beka Books.

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This traditional-style curriculum has been around for ages– tried and true if a curriculum ever there was –and I don’t know why I didn’t explore it from the start of our family’s adventure…maybe I thought I wanted something flashier or more exciting?  Trendier, maybe, than the A Beka I remember my mother teaching me from when I was a girl?  I don’t know.  All I know is that this summer, as I struggled with the decision to even continue homeschooling, and earnestly prayed for guidance, God pointed us toward A Beka with what felt like a dozen flashing neon arrows.

Two Sundays ago I sat in church, unable to concentrate on the message and literally wracked with terror at the reality that back-to-school had arrived and I was literally unprepared, undecided, and unenthused.  Late and lost.  But isn’t it in that last hour that God does some of His biggest works?  This has definitely been a reality in my life.  As we walked out of the sanctuary and I turned on my phone, I noticed a blog post in my feed that mentioned A Beka.  Hmm.  Not a minute later, I chatted with a friend, and veteran homeschool mom, and asked her what curriculum she uses.  A Beka.  Then bumped into another homeschool mom: A Beka.  Not only did this curriculum seem to be on the lips of everyone I encountered that morning, but on the way home I received a text from a friend letting me know about a live A Beka curriculum display event in my area.  It was the last one of the summer and it was the very next morning.  With no time to prepare, I hauled it over there, all 4 kids in tow, desperate for an answer to prayer and curious about this curriculum that somehow God seemed to be leading me toward.  As I picked up the first book and started flipping through it, literally, I think light shone down from the heavens on me.  I nearly wept.  Simple, sweet, straightforward books that all work together to create a thoroughly comprehensive traditional Christ-centered curriculum that’s incredibly easy to follow for both student and teacher, and with very minimal, if any, required prep.  Fool-proof…Amy-proof.

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From the thick, perforated pages and bright happy illustrations, to the concise, user-friendly lesson plans- it’s everything I need and nothing I don’t.  Our disorganized all-over-the-place tornado (or at least what felt like a tornado to someone who hangs all of her clothing in color order and runs screaming from cupboards filled with matchless Tupperware), had finally started to calm.  I could see the light at the end of the tunnel with each sweet, simple page of straightforward, traditional instruction, already mapped out for me, lesson by lesson.  Done.  I might be a hot mess in dog-hair covered yoga pants, with a crying toddler on my hip and a mug of lukewarm coffee in my hand, but gosh darn it, I can do this.

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One thing I’m particularly excited about (the frosting on the cake, really) is the inclusion of cursive handwriting practice literally from kindergarten on.  I know we live in an age of computers, and are likely to continue in that direction, but no one could ever dissuade me from my love of a beautifully penned word. To me, it’s like art.  We could probably get by without it, but who’d want to live in a world void of that beauty?  The cursive writing in A Beka is modeled in all subjects of learning, including this charming writing practice tablet that’s infused with character-building messages.  This is the stuff that makes my old fashioned heart go pitter patter, and I love that my kids actually begged me to let them start early (who are you and what have you done with my children?).

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It just occurred to me that this might be starting to sound like a sponsored post- believe me, it’s not!  I’ve received no compensation from A Beka for this post- I’m just sharing because I’m excited at what feels like a fresh start for us and a clear answer to prayer.

Hallelujah!  I’m so happy to be out of my first-year-failures funk and to be starting a fresh new year with a new plan that I think is going to simplify our schedule and keep things organized and achievable.  SO happy, in fact, that I decided to celebrate by refreshing the kitchen table area where we do most of our schoolwork.  A fresh coat of yellow with a bit more a greenish tint than we had before (fits better in our home), and I’m really loving it, along with that new Amy Butler valance (shhhh, don’t tell anyone that I haven’t actually sewn it yet!  It’s just yardage draped over a rod right now…there’s a 72% chance I might just leave it as-is).

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I also asked the hubs to devise some cute art holders out of metal clips and scrap wood.  This is what he came up with and I adore them!

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Here’s our materials area, with the little Raskog Ikea cart I picked up last year (I love it so much!).  Like I said, I’m a bit of an organizing junkie, so starting the year off with a place for everything, and everything in it’s place, is a little slice of heaven for me.

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Here’s the other side of that grey buffet table…you can see my un-sewn valance a little better (it’s passable, right?), along with a cute vintage globe I found at Goodwill.  ALSO- my girls and I did a really fun little makeover on that rack holding our apron collection.  I’d been waiting for the perfect project to use those Cotton & Steel picnic baskets in, and I think I definitely found it.

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Here it is before…  I think someone gifted this to us years ago, and I’ve always loved the functionality of it, but it never matched our decor.  After a decade of it hanging in the kitchen and wanting to redo it EVERY single time I looked at it, a makeover was long overdue.  Well, Mr. Kitchen Rack, your day has finally come.

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We fussy cut our favorite baskets, glued them down, then painted over the whole thing with Mod Podge.

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Makes me smile every time I see it.

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Well, that’s our little overhaul in a nutshell!  It’s going to be a great year, and I’ll definitely keep you posted on how the A Beka is working out.  I know we’ll have ups and downs, no doubt, but I’m feeling blessed by the renewed optimism, and by the gift of a chance for a better year.  2015-16 or bust!


The Appliqued Curves Method- New Quilts & A Tutorial

Well, I finally got that Apple Blossom mini quilt that was featured in McCall’s Quilting a few months back, put together into a full quilt pattern for you!  One task down, 963 to go.  This had definitely been near the top of my to-do list for awhile, A) because I adore it, and B) because I received so many lovely comments and requests about it!  Thanks guys!!

Slide 7 with border

The full quilt measures 60″ X 60″, and it pays homage to the historic orange peel and drunkards path designs that I so adore…

Apple  Blossom Full Quilt Photo Edited

…BUT (here’s the kicker) without all the stress of what can sometimes feel like tedious, advanced techniques.  I know, I know, curves can be fun (they really can!) but sometimes you just need to mix things up a bit when it comes to construction techniques (or at least I do).  Just like the 2, 4, or 8-at-once half square triangle methods that are so much fun because they feel new and, well, different (than perhaps the traditional method many of us were taught), I think the same applies to curves.  Using different techniques to achieve the same piecing look is part of the fun of quilting- having the freedom to choose not only the look of the design, but the method in which you achieve that look, is exhilarating.

The traditional, most common method of piecing curves pairs a pie shaped piece with an L-shaped piece- opposite angling curves carefully matched, pinned, and stitched…tried and true, but sometimes it can feel a little awkward (or exhausting if you’re not in the mood to get fussy).

I decided to use a different applique-style technique to make my curves for this Apple Blossom quilt (which I chatted with Pat Sloan about on her American Patchwork & Quilting podcast last week).  Essentially it’s just the use of freezer paper machine applique to achieve curved piecing.  Other than some visible stitching along the edge of the finished curve seam, which I happen to love because it’s sorta folksy and adds pretty texture to the seam, the final result is identical to the traditional curved piecing method.

Let me show you what I’m talking about.  Here’s the Appliqued Curves Method in a nutshell:

Curved Applique Collage

1.  To start, you need 2 same-sized squares- one for the wedge and one for the background- in the size that you want your unfinished curved unit to be (so if you want a 5″ finished unit, your starting square size would be 5.5″).

Trace & cut out a wedge shape from freezer paper.  There’s no need to build the curved edge seam allowance in for this method as we’ll be adding it on in a later step.  You should simply cut the curve wherever you want the final seam to be.

2.  With a hot iron, press the freezer paper wedge, waxy side down, to the wrong side of the wedge fabric square so that the corners align.  Thanks to magic of freezer paper, the paper will stick to the fabric, but is totally repositionable in case you need to adjust (score!).

3.  Trim the fabric square to a generous 1/4″ outside the freezer paper curve (perhaps I should just say 3/8″ but I’m afraid monkeys might fall from the sky…let’s just go with a healthy 1/4″)

4.  Peel freezer paper off of wedge fabric piece and flip the paper over so the waxy side is facing up, and align the corners.

5. With the tip of the iron, press the seam allowance over the curve of the paper.  The seam allowance will stick to the waxy side of the paper (Ahhh…I like where this is headed).

6.  Now take your background square and wedge piece (including the freezer paper), both right sides up, and align the corners.  Press so the waxy side of the paper sticks to the background square.  You guessed it- it sticks.  Sweet.

7.  Time to applique.  Machine stitch the wedge to the background square along the curved edge, using the    finishing stitch of your choice.  I love a nice, neat blind stitch or a blanket stitch for this, though a zig-zag works too. Keep the stitch as narrow as possible, catching only a couple of threads on the finished curved edge.

applique stitches

8.  Trim away the backing fabric along the seam allowance with scissors (best done in bed while watching a good movie!).

9.  Carefully pull out freezer paper, supporting seam with fingers.  You can reuse these paper templates quite a few times before they start to lose their stickiness.

And that’s the appliqued curves method!  Fun right?!  It might be more steps than the traditional piecing method, but I’ve gotta tell you- it was a breath of fresh air for me.  I had just finished a project with a tons of curves, and was getting ready to stitch up the super curvy Scenic Route quilt from my new book, and just craving a different technique- just for the fun of it.  After playing around a bit, this is what I came up with for that quilt, and it was so much fun to make!






Different method, same result.  I’m hooked!  I hope you enjoyed this fun little tutorial, as well as the patterns for these fun new patterns!  If you end up trying this method out, would you post it on your social media with the hashtag #appliquecurvesmethod ?  I’d love to see what you stitch up!

You can purchase a downloadable copy of the Apple Blossom pattern HERE, and the Scenic Route quilt pattern is available in my new book, along with 15 other fabulous projects HERE.

Thanks for stopping by!  Happy sewing!


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