A Victorian Celebration of Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Readers! I hope everyone was able to draw together with loved ones and enjoy the blessing of family. Now that the bustle of the season is fading away, I would love to share what we’ve been doing this past month.

A Christmas Carol

As previously mentioned, Amberly and Lea are taking a British Literature course this year, and each month there is a different theme or author. Their project was to create a family gathering to celebrate the culmination of a month of reading, studying Victorian recipes, planning a menu, and producing a feast of Dickensian proportions. There are few writers that conjure up the spirit of the holidays quite like Charles Dickens, and the girls set about creating a feast to mimic the Cratchit’s dinner in A Christmas Carol.

The Menu


Roast Ducks with Sriracha Orange Glaze
Turkey Breast
Onion, Sage, and Sausage Dressing
Mashed Potatoes
Duck Gravy
Cinnamon Apple Sauce
Roasted Carrots


Steamed Christmas Pudding
Mincemeat Shortbread Tarts
Tart Cherry Plum Cobbler


Hot Wassail
Cranberry Ginger Cider


Everything was made from scratch, though we didn’t necessarily follow all Victorian recipes. The British aren’t traditionally known for their fine cuisine, and it was important that the meal be enjoyable to all.

One of the most notable deviations in the menu was the substitution of duck for goose. This was done for a couple reasons. First, it was nearly impossible to locate a goose in the Springfield area. Second, the one goose I did find was over $90, and that certainly was not in keeping with the spirit of the Cratchit’s meal. Goose was traditionally used by the poor because it was cheap, unlike turkey, which was considered a luxury beyond the means of most. In the story, the Cratchit family had a roasted goose to feed their family, and at the end, Scrooge sends over a turkey to make amends.

The Main Event

The girls each prepared and slow-roasted a duck. The recipe they followed gave them step by step instructions, which included flipping the bird every hour and poking holes in the skin to drain off the fat. The result was that the birds were flavorful, moist, and tender. Not at all greasy. The last hour, they crisped up the skin under high heat, and added an orange Sriracha glaze that was to die for.


Deserts Make Life Sweeter

Another conspicuous difference in the menu was the Christmas pudding. Because it was such a prominent part of the dinner scene in the book, we knew it needed to be included, but it really just sounded disgusting. If you don’t know what a British plum pudding is, think boiled fruitcake doused in brandy, lit on fire. Yum, right? No, we determined that there had to be a better way. We found a highly rated recipe that substituted various dried fruits for some of the raisins and prunes, and we could steam in the Instant Pot. Amberly and I made miniature puddings ahead of time, and preserved with orange liqueur. They turned out really well, and best of all, didn’t have, as Dickens wrote, a “smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding!”

Lea’s dessert was a mincemeat tart which, while not part of the Cratchit’s menu, was a classic Victorian Christmas dessert. We looked at several recipes, and most called for canned mincemeat, but we decided to make one ourselves. We used a New England mincemeat filling as the starter, and adjusted from there. Ours did not include meat, and used butter in place of suet. We used a shortbread cookie crust rather than a traditional pie crust, and the results were delicious.

We managed to find British Christmas crackers as party favors, and used beautifully papered British chocolates and made Victorian paper cornucopia to decorate the small Christmas tree that was on display.

Overall, the dinner went really well. It was so fun to relax with loved ones and enjoy the fruits of our labor. The girls were exhausted at the end of the day, but deservedly proud of their accomplishments.

Thanks for following along with their project. Love to all in this new year. Hopefully 2017 will be filled with joy and prosperity to all of you! As poor Tiny Tim says, “God Bless us, every one!”

Catching Up



I realized today that it has been over three weeks since my last post, and I figured it was time to catch up on what we’ve been working on this last month. As I mentioned in the previous post, the election results took the wind out of our sails, but time marches on and life keeps going.

Everyone has had their own projects lately, so it feels like we’ve been operating in separate realms. I know this is only a season, but I’m looking forward to the holidays as a way to come back together to reconnect.

Because it’s been so long, I’ll use this post as a way to run through what we’ve been up to this past month.

Amberly and Lea


As I’ve hinted at in previous posts, the older girls had a special project for the month of November. They paused the rest of their studies to focus on National Novel Writer’s Month, or NaNoWriMo. This program runs the entire month of November, and the goal is to write a complete first-draft of a novel (aiming for 50,000 words) in one month. Amberly has attempted this on her own once before, but this year, they decided to collaborate on a project. They completed their novel, a children’s fantasy story, right on time. This book will become the focus of their creative writing class for the rest of the year, and they’ve already started the editing and rewriting process. They hope to be able to self publish by the end of the school year. The picture above is the cover Lea designed.

The other project they worked on during the month was studying to take a mock SAT. It’s early for Lea, but she’s going to take it as a way to gauge her preparedness and to design a study plan for the future. Amberly will be taking monthly mock exams until she takes the actual test later this year. The plan was for her to take the first exam this weekend, but I had some health issues come up, so she’ll take it this week.

My next post will cover their special project for the month of December, which will take place a week from Tuesday.

Joey and Evie


It seems like this was the month for health problems in our family. Joey has been dealing with a dental problem, and has spent the month on antibiotics. We’re still waiting for a referral to the oral surgeon, but hopefully we can get the whole thing resolved soon. Evie had a stomach bug the week of Thanksgiving. It started the day before Thanksgiving, and ended with her puking on the street as Santa passed at the very end of the Christmas parade. True story. It kind of reminded me of Mardi Gras. Thank God it was dark.

Both of the younger kids are hard at work strengthening their reading skills. Joey’s abilities have been growing by leaps and bounds, and Evie is so close to reading, she can almost taste it. They’re both pretty competitive, so they drive each other to try harder.

Joey has developed a fascination with George Washington after listening to the Hamilton! soundtrack a million and one times. We developed a unit study about Washington’s life. This includes reading several books, taking a virtual tour of Mount Vernon, and a copy-writing practice that has turned into a character development lesson, as well. Apparently, as a young man, Washington studied manners and behaviors of Society, and copied these maxims down. They have since been collected in book form, and Joey is following this practice. Each day he copies one of the rules down, and strives to implement that rule into his life.

The Grownups

Gordon has been hard at work finishing up his classes and preparing for his finals this week. He’s looking forward to almost a month off before starting up again in January.

I have been busy being mom and preparing for the holidays. Thanksgiving was so relaxing, and we completely skipped going out on Black Friday. Christmas shopping is complete (thank you, Amazon), and all that’s left is wrapping things up.

My new hobbies have been learning about essential oils (affiliate link), and playing with my new Instant Pot. I’m also seriously considering going to grad school, and have started the application process. The program I’m looking at is primarily online, so I’ll be able to work around everyone’s schedules.

So that’s it! Like everyone else, this is a busy time for us. I’ll post another blog after the girls complete their December literature project. To my readers, thanks for following us, and enjoy your holiday season!

Thoughts on the Future

Today is another Amtrak day for me, and I was planning on writing the newest blog post today. It’s so much easier to write when not having to constantly stop to break up fights between warring children. My plan was to tell you about Amberly and Lea’s November school projects. I started outlining the post in my head and couldn’t proceed. It felt hollow and completely unimportant in the wake of the election and it’s fallout this week.

I’m having a difficult time knowing what to write, mostly because I’m still processing. I went from incredulous to dismayed, scared, angry, and resigned throughout the course of the week. The most difficult part of this, for me, was trying to process while still being reassuring to the kids. I tried to console Amberly, two states away. She was distraught and fearful for her future. Joey was just confused that the “big orange monster” was actually going to be the president. I’ve done my best to assure them that things will be okay; the make-up of this country has not suddenly changed overnight. Inside, I’m feeling not so sure. I’m a worrier by nature, and the thought of a Trump presidency is terrifying. I worry about things on a national, global, and yes, personal level. I worry about food security, personal security, access to health care, and the freedoms we take for granted every day.

I feel incredibly sad right now. I’m sad watching the news, I’m sad reading my FB newsfeed, I’m sad talking to my kids, and I’m sad seeing how sad other people are in my faith community. It feels as though we have moved beyond rational thought and appropriate discourse in this country. There’s so much hysteria on both sides of the political aisle that there is no chance for compromise because we can’t even agree on the facts of an argument. This isn’t new, but this election has made it so, so much worse. We are an arrogant nation, and if we don’t change, our arrogance will be our downfall.

On a large scale, there’s not much a I can do. I am a tiny voice in an ocean of voices. I will do what I can, though, to make the lives I touch better. I am stepping back away from social media, news sites, political commentary, etc. It makes me angry and bitter, and those emotions are not conducive to healing. I will instead invest my time in nurturing relationships I have and building new ones. I will work ever harder to teach my children love and compassion. I will take up social justice projects where the opportunities arise. I will read literature and listen to music that touches my soul. I will learn alternative medicine techniques and work to heal my body and mind. Mostly, I will love and accept love, and try to focus on the blessings I have right now.

Homeschooling High School

I would like to preface this post by saying it’s unlikely that this is going to be edge-of-your-seat exciting. There just isn’t a real stimulating way to present this material. Previously, I talked about what homeschooling looks like for the two younger kids, but this week, I’m going to give an overview of what classes the older two are taking this year.

Both girls are in high school this year, although Lea was taking some high school courses last year as well. Chronologically, Amberly is a junior, and Lea is a freshman. Their coursework meets the requirements that most colleges and universities require of high school students, even though both Michigan and Illinois have very few homeschool requirements. I do keep transcripts, their work is graded, and I will issue their diplomas based upon their completion of these classes. Yes, this is legal, and it will count as a valid high school diploma. No, they will not be taking the GED test, because it’s not necessary, and can actually be detrimental. They will be taking the SATs, as the Midwest is currently transitioning to the new SAT vs the ACT, and I’ll talk more about their testing later.


Much like public school, the girls have core classes that they must take, as well as electives that they can choose. All of their curricula is chosen to help them learn in the way that works best for them, and support their interest and passions.


Note: All math is taught to mastery, which means that they take as little or as much time as necessary to learn the material.

This year, Amberly is taking advanced algebra, and she’s drawing from multiple sources. She is primarily using All In One (AIO) high school for her class, which sets her pace and gives her the basic course outline to follow. When she finds a topic that causes her to struggle, she uses Khan Academy or YouTube videos to help clarify.

Math has always been Lea’s strongest subject. She completed pre-algebra and algebra in 8th grade, so she started geometry this Fall. I don’t anticipate it will take her much beyond the first semester to finish it, so she’ll move on to advanced algebra when she’s ready. She primarily uses Khan Academy, particularly the mastery challenges, because it allows her to move swiftly through material she already knows, and gives her more practice to master new materials.

Language Arts

This year, both girls are taking British Literature. I found an online course for literature using Dr. Who. I adapted it to fit their grade levels and added new materials to take them through the full calendar year. So far, it’s been a lot of fun! They read the assigned books, watch documentaries about the authors and literary analysis videos, write reader responses, and complete hands on projects. After completing the writing assignments, they watch the corresponding Dr. Who episodes.


Amberly has chemistry this year. We’re pulling from several different resources and textbooks, and lab work is included. This summer, I plan to have her take a lab course through the community college to get her further lab experience.

Lea studies biology, and is using the AIO high school as her main course. She also has a lab component to her course. Thankfully, as the labs get more in depth, we are able to order supplies from Amazon.


This year, both girls are working on American history. We use documentaries, original documents, text books, and other writings to get a rounded view of history. They are currently reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States 1492 to the Present.

Foreign Language

Amberly is taking French 1 using Duolingo this year. Lea is taking Latin 1 using William Linney’s Getting Started with Latin and Linney’s Latin Class online.

Foundations and SAT Prep

Foundations is a course offered through AIO high school that teaches character development along with success strategies and study skills. The girls alternate Foundations with Khan Academy’s SAT math and reading prep each day. They will both take full-length practice SATs the end of November, and will continue studying until they take the actual tests.


Creative writing, cartooning, computer programming, sewing, and cooking are all examples of electives the girls have taken and are continuing with this year.

I know this hasn’t been a real breathtaking post, but I did promise to share how the older kids do school. Next time, I’ll write about what makes this month so differen. I’ll also write about an impressive project they have coming up. Again, if you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

Time Flies When You’re Building Memories!

What a whirlwind couple of days! They say that time speeds up as you get older, and I think that’s especially true when you have kids. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind that you forget that you’re making memories. I want my children’s memories of this season to be happy ones. It takes an extra effort to stay in the moment when you’re so busy, but it’s so worth it to try!

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!

Amberly and I went to see a live performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Hoogland Center in Springfield. We had a wonderful time, and Amberly really seemed to find her people. She thrives on nerdy fandoms, and had a blast watching all the people come into the theater in cosplay. We got seats right in the front row, where you can literally rest your feet on the stage. We were able to see and interact with the performers face to face. This was her first time ever seeing Rocky Horror, and she fell in love. We plan to make it an annual event, no matter where we are.

Fun at Rocky Horror

A Wrench in the Works

We spent Friday packing and preparing for the girls’ trip up to Michigan to see their dad and attend a cousin’s wedding in Wisconsin. As luck would have it (or not), we had some car troubles that complicated matters a bit. Apparently the van sprung a leak in a low pressure power steering line, and Gordon lost his steering capabilities on the way to class. We persevere, however, and things worked out.

Our Amtrak Adventure

Today was our travel day. Joey, Amberly, Lea, and I took the Amtrak train up to Chicago to meet the girls’ dad. The train was packed with people wearing Cubs gear. Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not a sports fan, but it’s hard to deny the energy surrounding the World Series this year. The excitement is electric, and it’s fun to watch people be so excited about something. It was a thankfully quiet trip up. Union Station was beautiful as always, and not overly crowded, which is nice. We had a nice relaxing visit, and the girls were off to Michigan about an hour before Joey and I came back down.

A Slimy New Experience

Because we had time to burn, Joey and I decided to try something new. The Cajun (Asian) restaurant in the food court sells Bubble Tea, and we ordered an almond one. It’s really difficult to describe this concoction. It was a sweet, milky, smooth slushy drink. The bottom third of the cup was filled with black, squishy, quarter-inch tapioca pearls. The fat straw was perfectly sized to allow these pearls up one at a time, so each drink provided an odd mouthful of fruit snack-like chews and sweet slush. I liked it okay, but Joey was in heaven–except for the brain freeze.


Visiting an Old Friend

When it was close to boarding time, we went down to the boarding lounge. One of the perks of traveling with young kids is priority boarding. We were hoping to see our friend, Amos the Amtrak pigeon. He’s been there every time we’ve traveled through Chicago. To our surprise, Amos’ clan had expanded, and there were now four Amtrak pigeons. Someday I’m going to get motivated and write a children’s book about Amos, but my hands are full at this point.


Away We Go…

When it was time to board, one of the wonderful Red Cap employees offered us a trolley ride, so that was a new experience for us too. Joey was so excited, I was afraid he was going to vibrate off the seat! Now we get to sit back, relax, and watch the sun set on this beautiful stretch of Illinois. Life is good!

Excuses, excuses…

I’ve been feeling so guilty lately that I haven’t gotten another blog post written this week. I was all set to write about our trip to the Illinois Military Museum last Tuesday, but life happened, as it’s wont to do.

We’ve had a series of minor medical crises in our house, and I’ve personally been feeling under the weather. I’m sure all parents know that when you’re sick, children don’t stop needing attention. Groceries don’t magically appear, and the toys do not put themselves away. I’m so thankful that we have several adults in our family to help share the workload when we’re all feeling rather poorly.

In addition to just existing this week, school marches on. We are also doing a lot of preparations for a very busy schedule in the next couple months:

  • Amberly and Lea have a trip to Michigan and Wisconsin coming up in the next week.
  • We are working on assembling Halloween costumes before they go.
  • Their school schedule will be drastically different in November (more on that in an upcoming post, I promise).
  • We are planning for the holidays and a massive literature project the girls are working on for Christmas.
  • I have been trying to organize my time and energy to actually finish the several Christmas gift projects for the kids that I’ve been juggling.

So there you have it: my list of excuses for not getting a blog post done this week. Basically, I didn’t wanna, and you can’t make me. We have some fun times ahead, though. I’m really looking forward to sharing these with everyone. Enjoy your week!

What the Heck Do We Do All Day?


Marching to Our Own Beat


Homeschooling is such a generic term. Each family must choose their own methods of providing a safe, supportive, and challenging learning environment according to their own beliefs and values within the boundaries of state law. It’s unlikely that any two homeschool families educate in exactly the same way.

We take a multifarious approach to homeschooling. By this I mean, I can’t make up my mind which method is the best (Libra parenting–the struggle is real), so I’m willing to try just about everything to see what works best for each individual learner.
I’ve been homeschooling for the better part of eight years. During this time, we’ve tried lots of different curricula, and have really come to enjoy the eclectic approach. This post will cover the topics and resources used for the younger kiddos. I’ll cover the older kids in a later post.

An Overview

First off, like many homeschool families, I don’t put a lot of stock in pre-determined grade levels. Kids develop at their own pace, and each have different strengths and weaknesses. We may be using second or third grade level curriculum for some subjects, and Kindergarten or first grade for others. That said, Joey is six and is in first grade. Evie is a precocious four, and works on whatever she’s interested in at the moment. She usually follows along with what Joey is doing.

Joey is an active boy, and meets most of the checklist criteria for ADHD, though we’ve never had him formally tested. We work on school throughout the day and night, depending on his attention span. The subjects we cover are: language arts, math, science, social studies, foreign language, character development, and other interest-led topics as they come up.

Language Arts

We are a family of readers, and have always worked to provide a literature-rich environment. We own more books than many small town libraries, and there’s always reading material available. Thrift stores and yard sales are a great place to find affordable children’s books, and many communities, including ours, have neighborhood little libraries. We have read-aloud time several times a day.

In addition to physical books, we have access to tons of digital books. One of the best children’s apps I’ve seen is Epic! books. It’s amazing, and has an ever-expanding library of books, educational videos, and audio books for kids from baby to teen. It’s very reasonable at $4.99 a month, and we use it multiple times a day.

Other reading resources we use are BOB books, Hooked on Phonics digital edition, Time 4 Learning, Mrs. Karle’s Learn to Read free, Easy Peasy, and sight words. I believe strong readers can learn anything, so we spend a lot of time reading.


My favorite math curriculum is Life of Fred. It teaches math concepts in story-format. It helps kids to understand why math is done, and introduces logic-based thinking. For more drill-style practice, we use Time 4 Learning and Khan Academy. The kids use manipulatives, puzzles, blocks, and tangrams to build their spatial and problem solving skills.


For science, we do a lot of interest-led learning depending on whatever they’re into. We’ve researched dinosaurs, volcanoes, marine creatures, and insects in depth over the last year. We work loosely within the scientific method, and have done notebook entries with experiments and nature study.

Social Studies

We cover a variety of topics in social studies. My aim is to help him see history as a fascinating study, rather than a compendium of names and dates. We have been watching Liberty’s Kids on YouTube lately, and are learning about the Revolutionary War and the creation of the United States. We’re reading biographies, original documents, and fictional accounts. An awesome side note is that this study fits perfectly with my latest obsession-Hamilton the musical-so we’ve been listening to that a lot as well.

We recently incorporated world history into our week, and are reading The Story of the World, book one, which begins with the transition from nomadic peoples to early agricultural settlements. It’s written in an informative storybook format, which appeals to the kids. We often use chapters as part of a bedtime story routine.

Geography comes in the form of additions to history lessons, and from the various trips we’ve taken. Again, I’m more interested in applicable lessons than rote memorization.

Foreign Language

I believe it’s incredibly important for kids to be exposed to many different languages early on. They may not necessarily learn those languages extensively, but it helps form those language pathways in their brains.
Joey and Evie are learning Latin this year, and we plan to continue throughout their school years. Because so many languages, including English, are built from Latin roots, they will be able to take the information and apply it wherever they like as they get older. We’re starting with Song School Latin, by Classical Academic Press. The songs and chants seem to help the information stick in their brains easily.
Joey is also learning the Greek Alphabet using the book Greek Alphabet Code Cracker, from the same publisher.

Character Development

This is probably our most compelling reason for homeschooling. We read stories and do activities to promote character development. This year, we’ve embraced the Random Acts of Kindness movement and try to incorporate this into our lives. We’re working on manners and trying to raise our kids to be compassionate, confident, thoughtful individuals.

Whew…so there’s a snapshot of what we’re covering this year. This is neither all-inclusive nor strictly followed every day. I’m not a rigid schedule kind of person, and some days flow a little better than others. We school year-round, so there isn’t that drive to get everything done in a six hour day. Any questions or comments, feel free to post below!

Here I go…

img_1884Welcome to the Back of Beyond! I’m Laura Davis, and I’ll be writing a lot about my family. We’re a close, geeky (but not in a hipster kind of way), homeschooling family of six. My husband is Gordon. Our two teens are Amberly and Lea, and our two younger kids are Joey-6 and Evie-4. We like to travel, eat great food, and learn about the world. Our goal is to eventually travel the country full time, but for a multitude of reasons, are currently stationary in Illinois.

I have to be honest; until recently I didn’t really get the whole blogging thing. I felt like I had enough reality just living my life. Why would anyone want to read about and watch someone else living theirs? Then I found myself trying to keep my eyes open reading homeschool mom blogs, and watching grocery shopping vlogs at 1 am. I realized that it was comforting reading accounts of other families-some similar to mine, some different-going about their daily lives. It made me feel not so alone. Other people have lots of kids, struggle to feed their families, fight to teach their ADHD kids to read.

We really are such a voyeuristic society. We like to watch “reality” television where people work through conflicts, try to lose weight, show off their special talents, succeed in some cases, fail miserably in others. We relate to strangers we will likely never meet. We interact via these new platforms, become invested in these lives put on display, and yet so many times we feel all alone. People are more isolated than ever before, but we find ways to connect through blogs.

One of the downsides of reading blogs is feeling like you can’t measure up. It’s human nature to try to present our most polished selves to the public. We don’t want to open ourselves to criticism and rejection. I personally struggled with the idea of starting a blog because I felt insecure about my progress in life–that feeling of sucking at adulthood. Then I realized there are lots of people in that boat, and those are the readers with whom I want to connect. That said, I reserve the right to block or delete comments from people looking to criticize my life choices. If you disagree with my methods, don’t use them. I won’t judge you, please do not judge me. Beyond that, feel free to follow along on our meandering journey!