Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas card frustration

My kids have been participating in a project that involves making cards for strangers. The cards are to go into gift bags for shut-ins. Nice project. But it bothers me a little that they were told not to put anything, you know, religious on the Christmas cards they make. They are not making Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Solstice cards. They are called, by the organizers, Christmas cards.

Of course we don't want to offend. We know that not everyone celebrates Christmas as a religious holiday. I understand and am trying to help my kids understand the cultural, secular holiday of Christmas. We know that Santa Claus really is St. Nicholas. I know all about the early Christians co-opting the pagan festivals and all that. I know that Christ was almost certainly not born on December 25.

Still, in the US, in December, an awful lot of people, including nonChristians, celebrate Christmas. Even agnostics I know have Christmas trees and buy Christmas gifts. They even use the word Christmas. They know what Christians are celebrating. They don't believe in it, but they are obviously sharing in it.

So it's hard to understand how a card with a nativity scene drawn by an 8 year old could offend someone. Imagine: here's a group of people who for whatever reason can't get out of the house. They don't have a lot of visitors and depend on a charitable organization to bring them food. They get a special gift bag at this time of year because, um, it's Christmas. Does anyone really think these people are going to be offended if there's a typical Christmas picture and sentiment on the card? Should we really take care to hide the religious aspect of Christmas from them?

Religious freedom doesn't include being sheltered from any signs of religion. Religious freedom shouldn't mean that adherents of one religion have to hide all signs of their belief for fear of offending the unbeliever.

Do you think anyone worries about offending a Christian by sending a "happy holidays" card with a snowman on it?

Monday, December 10, 2007

They do grow up, sort of

My 10 year old boy is growing up, changing. He loves to show me his new armpit hair. He's also starting to get little breakouts. Zits! We had a short casual talk about body changes, emphasizing the importance of cleanliness as the body starts to produce more oil. He listened interestedly but had only one question about this body oil: "Is it flammable?"

That's my boy, always looking for an explosion - even if it's on his own head.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fear of offense part 2

I was asked what prompted my last post. That is one of those posts that had been brewing a long time. It's just something I see more and more when I talk to people, when I post on message boards, and read blogs. Of course Christmas brings it out more. A school changes the name of a gift-exchange program because "Santa" is a religious symbol and might offend. (Really, Santa a religious symbol? I can't comprehend the thought process.) People complain about store employees saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." (No cite on that one but I recall a lot of Christian indignation and talk of boycotts last year.)

As I think about this some more, I come back to two things:

1. Self-esteem. Has the emphasis on self-esteem killed discussion and debate? Are we afraid that if we say to someone "I disagree with your opinion" that we will harm their self-esteem? Or are people so fragile that any disagreement harms their self-esteem? Do people have to be right all the time in order to feel good about themselves? Why are people so sensitive?

2. Opinions can't hurt you. Really, there are few situations where someone's opinion can harm you. In everyday life, I mean, not extraordinary circumstances like, oh, giving a stuffed toy a name that's offensive to a huge group of angry people who like to execute anyone who they perceive as insulting them. (I wasn't even thinking of that when I was writing.)

Recently I was in a gathering of people, all Christians but with decidedly different views on various topics, including a hot one: the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Some drank, some didn't. When dinner came, some had cider, some had wine. A toast was raised and everyone shared. It was a wonderful dinner. Conversation and opinions flowed freely. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, even as people disagreed. It was a very satisfying event because it was full of good talk.

Friendly disagreements are part of what makes life interesting! Debate helps us think about our own position, figure out why we think the way we do, learn how to express ourselves to explain and "defend" our position, open our eyes to another point of view. If no one ever challenges our opinions or interpretations... we just roll along in life, dumb and happy, confident in our own superiority... and afraid to open our mouths if it means we might disagree. Ready to be angry if someone disagrees with us.

I'm not talking about that sort of brutal honesty that some people think is required. When your neighbor gives you a pie, and you hate it, but she asks if you liked it, you don't say "that was some nasty pie you gave us!" No no no. That's a whole 'nother topic - the art of social lying. (And man can that be hard to explain to kids.)

Why do you think people are this way? Do you think there's any hope for the future? Are people going to become more and more sensitive or will there finally be a backlash?

Discussion, disagreement, and the fear of offense

Is the world getting more sensitive? I don't mean in the caring, nurturing, sort of way. I mean in the "you offended me" sort of way.

Where did it start, this eagerness to be offended? This is a great time of year for offending people. Express your religious beliefs and bam! You've offended someone. Express your lack of religious beliefs and look out! You've offended someone back.

Of course it's not just Christmas, or religion, or politics. Any topic is dangerous. If people have an opinion, there will be disagreements, and the potential to offend.

Conversation isn't so interesting anymore, now that we have to be so afraid of offending one another. If someone makes an assertion, and we question it, we have either offended or have somehow shown that we are offended, thus shutting down the conversation. People don't want to disagree, for fear of offending. So. If we can't talk about anything even mildly controversial, what's left but the weather?

Of course some of this is due to communication via computer. If we can't see that someone is smiling as they type out a question or a comment, we do not know how they feel about it. Smiling and winking emoticons can help, but people are still unsure. So they shut up.

I am not easy to offend, and I enjoy a good discussion. Disagreement sharpens people. When someone questions me, it makes me think about my assertion or my opinion. That's how we learn! That's how we grow! But, not if no one will allow disagreement.

When I'm talking with someone, or reading a discussion on a message board, I make an assumption as I read: that the person is honestly talking/writing about something they believe, not that they are trying to annoy me. I assume curiosity, a desire to share information or opinion. I don't assume malice.

It makes life a lot more interesting. And more pleasant, since I'm not on guard, waiting to be offended. I can't do anything about those who are afraid to offend, but I try to conduct my conversations in a way that shows I welcome discussion. It doesn't always help, though.

Make it a point today not to be offended.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas and family disagreements

Leigh reminded me that not everyone has it as easy as I do with regard to families and disagreements over holiday issues like Santa:

Sigh. I let my mother bully me into doing Santa (dh really didn't care one way or another.). I completely regret it now, but I don't want to burst the bubble right here at Christmas time, kwim? When my oldest found out that Santa wasn't real, she was five...she just figured it out herself, and I confirmed it. My mom told her behind my back that I was wrong, and that Santa really was real...that I just didn't know what I was talking about. How's that for family controversy? LOL

Sometimes our families disagree with our decisions. I guess even when my kids are adults I will think they should do things the way I do.

My mother really blessed me (and released me from guilt) when I was getting married. She told me to start making new traditions with my new family. She said I didn't have to do everything the way she had, just the things I really liked. She advised me to take some traditions from my husband's family and incorporate them into our family. She told me that there would be Christmases when I would be away from her, and she might be alone, and that was OK. She told me that if I had kids, I would be their mother, not her, and she would try not to interfere.

I was 39 when she was telling me this, and she was 79. She only had 7 years to interfere in my married life. But she was true to her word!

My mother-in-law doesn't interfere either. Oh, I can think of a few times I might have annoyed her by doing something in a way she didn't like. But other people have voiced their (negative) opinions and occasionally tried to undermine our parenting. My husband and I always had unity of thought and confidence in what we were doing. So even in the face of criticism we were able to say "thanks, but we're doing it this way." And when we are confident and united, I think we will get more respect.

Now there will always be people who that won't work with, I guess. We have to do our best to love them anyway, and minimize their impact on our kids. Sometimes I guess we might have to be firm. We might have to contradict our parents when they tell our kids some things, and we might have to hurt their feelings. Around the holidays, that's harder than ever. So sometimes we might just have to let them win. Sometimes we have to pick our battles. When it's a minor issue, like Santa or no Santa, we can afford to be gracious.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Favorite Christmas music

Right now I'm listening to Adagio Trio's Winter Gift cd. It is gorgeous instrumental music: harp, flute and cello. This has a few songs I don't usually see on Christmas collections: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence," "Of the Father's Love Begotten." Perfect for a quiet night.

Other favorites:

"Tis the Season: Christmas Guitar" by Dick Freymuth. I really like guitar music.

"A Scottish Christmas" because we like Scottish music.

Third Day's "Christmas Offerings" because I like rock and roll. I also have a few of the "Very Special Christmas" cds, from back when those included artists like Springsteen and Tom Petty. I don't like all the songs so I don't listen to them all that often.

We also have "Elvis' Christmas," mostly for "Blue Christmas." E hates this so we don't play it too much when she's around. Wow, I can't even find the one we have on Amazon. I didn't realize Elvis had recorded so many Christmas albums. Or maybe they made new covers...

Not strictly music, we love "A Classical Kids' Christmas" for the story as well.

Of course, "The Nutcracker." I had the Andre Previn version on LP years ago; I miss it and should look for it again. The one I have is already in the car and I don't know which version it is; we love it, but...

Also already in the car:

Handel's "Messiah" - a highlights CD by Portland Baroque Orchestra. We also have a full version, but let's face it, the choruses are the best part. I love it hearing my kids sing along. "For unto us a child is born..."

Da Capo Players Christmas Fantasia.

James Taylor at Christmas. JT is a sentimental favorite of mine; there are some good songs but I dislike his rearrangements of some standards. I don't like my Christmas music messed with! I feel the same way about Steven Curtis Chapman's "The Music of Christmas." My kids like it a lot, and many songs are good, but his "Angels We Have Heard On High" just isn't right to me.

There are other Christmas cds here, by Mannheim Steamroller, Ray Charles, BB King. Some Renaissance and Medieval music, some cathedral choirs.

We like a lot of variety here! These were collected over many years; some were given as gifts. We rarely buy more than one a year. Oh, maybe in the first years of marriage when there were two incomes and no kids, we might have gone a little crazy. I guess we built up our library then.

I am missing an important piece of Christmas music: Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." I have to rely on the radio for that one. Maybe this year I'll find that one in the store and add it to the collection.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sprit of Christmas award

Sandy over at Falling Like Rain gave me a Spirit of Christmas award. But she is really the one with the right spirit, as you can see if you stop by to read her post Perfecting Christmas.

Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but I just don't get upset about having a perfect Christmas anymore. There are really just a few things I need:

- My family around me - husband and kids, and as much extended family as practical.

- Ingredients and ability to make a few holiday treats, like pumpkin bread and cranberry cheesecake bars... This year I may try my hand at English toffee again. It was always too damp in Oregon to make it work.

- My favorite Christmas music.

- A few good Christmas books, beginning with A Christmas Carol. We have started a tradition with Dad reading this aloud to all of us. Don't assume your kids are too young for it. Mine started hearing it around age 6. I think I'll look for the Mr. Magoo version on DVD at the library...

- The Nutcracker, in one form or another. This year, it'll be on DVD and CD. A live performance, maybe next year.

- A tree, maybe. I think I could live without the tree. For many years when I was single, my only decoration was an ornament bowl. Just a crystal bowl my uncle had sent me from Germany, filled with some sequin-and-bead ornaments I'd made, mixed with standard glass balls. I usually do some form of that every year now, along with the tree and the greenery and the wreaths and...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Santa or no Santa?

Every year someone I know struggles with the Santa issue. So many of us grew up with Santa as a fixture of Christmas, but now are not so sure about it. Christians argue about it: "Real Christians don't do Santa." "Real Christians teach our kids why we celebrate Christmas and aren't so uptight about a little fun."

When my kids were little we weren't sure about Santa either. But we ended up deciding we wouldn't lie to our kids. We didn't want them to ask us what other things we'd lied to them about. Not that we accused our parents of lying to us about the whole Santa thing, but... we just couldn't do it. So we were very vague and didn't explicitly say that Santa brought anything to them, or that Santa existed at all.

It didn't take our boy long to ask us directly, so we answered him directly. He was, oh, about 4, or maybe 5. It wasn't traumatic. And since he knew, we didn't bother to keep up a pretense with his sister, 18 months younger. I think it disappointed some of our family members, but it's worked out for us. We did tell our kids it was not up to them to tell other children, and as far as we can tell they never did.

A helpful book in this area is Santa, Are You For Real? by Harold Myra. It tells the story of St Nicholas and the way he evolved into Santa. It's a cute little book and helped my kids sort out fact from fantasy. It may not be completely accurate either. There is seldom a definitive text when it comes to legends. But it doesn't really matter all that much anyway, does it?

In any case, it's nothing to argue about or worry about. A little common sense is all it takes to figure out how to handle Santa appropriately for your family. Be confident in what you are doing and people will be less likely to criticize you for it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jesse Trees and Advent Wreaths

For the last few years, we have tried to put together a Jesse Tree as part of our Christmas celebration. The Jesse Tree tells the story of redemption via daily reading and ornaments to put on a tree. Now, it's always those daily readings that get to us. We'll get busy and miss a day. Or two. Then we're rushing to catch up. Who needs the stress? So this year we may skip the tree, though I will bring the ornaments from previous years out and see if the kids want to try again. They are old enough to run it, if they are interested. Or they may be too old altogether. They are pretty good at seeing Christ in the Old Testament so it's more of a reminder and a sort of funnish thing to do than a real lesson for them anymore.

Another area where we fall down in with the Advent Wreath. Literally. The last 2 years I made my own and while it looked nice, the candles didn't quite fit the holders so they were always falling over. I was also having a hard time finding the candles. This year, since we moved, I have no ideas where the various parts are, so I ordered a premade wreath with candles from the Current catalog. I also plan to skip the daily readings as I've tried to do in the past, and stick to Sundays only.

This year I just want to avoid getting trapped into doing something we can't keep up, then feeling bad or rushed about it. It's ludicrous to turn these methods of learning about redemption into an obligation, something to be forced into the day.

If my kids never make a Jesse tree, maybe my grandchildren will! Will it really matter? Will my kids end up in therapy because we never got a Jesse Tree done, or because their mother yelled at them to work on the Jesse Tree?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Toys your children can't live without

Are there some? Why is that? Why are there toys your children feel they must have? Or that you feel they must have?

Are you one of those parents who is running around, frantic to get the latest coolest thing for your kid? Why? How did a toy or other item get to be so important to you or to him?

Is it the marketing of the product? Did your child see the advertisements and decide he needed that toy desperately too? How did he become so susceptible to advertising?

Is it because "all the other kids have it?" Does your child feel she won't fit in if she doesn't have what all the other kids have? How did she come to feel that way?

Is it because you are afraid you will be considered a bad parent if your child does not have whatever items are "hot" right now? Is it because you don't want to disappoint your child on Christmas morning? How did your child grow to have the expectation that you (or Santa) would and could make all his dreams come true?

Are you buying your child things you don't really like or think your child should have, but feel like you have to give in to avoid a Christmas morning tantrum?

Toys and games are great. Stuff is great! Some things are useful, like Legos and Playmobil and dollhouses and building blocks. Some are just fun, like Nerf guns. Some are both. I can't say much about game systems because I don't have any experience with them. I imagine some games are both useful and fun. Some I've heard of seem to be neither.

I think giving and receiving presents is part of the spirit of Christmas. Christians celebrate the greatest gift of all, our Lord Jesus Christ. Folks who celebrate "secular" or the cultural holiday of Christmas are celebrating the spirit of love and giving.

But when a child claims they need, really need a certain thing, something is wrong. When a parent expends a frantic effort (and perhaps pays an inflated price) to obtain some desirable item, something is wrong.

If you have young children, don't let them get caught up in advertising and peer pressure so that they feel they need certain things to survive. If you have older children that are already caught up in it, look at the way you respond to advertising or to peer pressure. Are you coveting your neighbor's new living room furniture or cellphone? Do your kids see you pining for the newest coolest things? Are you discontent and showing it?

Start inoculating your kids against the "must haves" now. It might be painful at first, but eventually everyone will be more content and Christmas can be more joyful.

(This post has been in my head for a while but also partly inspired by this from the Headmistress at the Common Room.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Consumable gifts

The reason my last post included scented candles as something to resist this Christmas is simple: I have received a lot of scented candles as hostess gifts, and we can't use them. Allergies in the family make most scented candles unbearable for some of us. So, I end up giving most of them away.

Some gift items I like to give to hostesses, or have been happy to receive:

a small potted plant
a box of tea, coffee, or hot cocoa mix
a bottle of wine (sparkling cider for nondrinkers)
some homemade sweet bread, wrapped ready to freeze - mini loaves are great
a small ornament for the tree - if appropriate
local farmstand jams, jellies, honey...
coffeehouse syrups for Italian sodas and espresso drinks

One year someone gave me a little pot of pansies. They brightened my kitchen windowsill for a few weeks, then I planted them outside. If I thought about it, I'd bet that cost less than a dollar, but boy it sure was a nice gift. I remember it and the giver after at least 3 years. The only reason I mention money is because hostess gifts can really stress people out if they have a small gift budget. I don't live like the frugal ladies, stashing thrift-store finds all year long. I don't have the space, the initiative, or the kids to go thrifting and stashing. (I don't like to torture my boy any more than necessary.)

Some homemade gifts we've seen in craft books or on the internet: felted soap scrubs, bath salts, glycerin soaps, lip balm...

Most people appreciate some good chocolate. Make mine dark, please! Of course you have to know if that's appropriate for the recipient. But if it's someone you don't know - for example, at your husband's (or your) work colleague's open house - most anything will work because they can pass it on if they don't like it. In my experience, an alcoholic beverage would be the only thing that could offend.

What other consumable gifts have you enjoyed giving or receiving?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

This Christmas, resist one thing

So many people are already talking about how overwhelmed they are with Christmas shopping: how much they have to do, how much money they expect to spend. I overheard one woman tell another that she had only about $1000 to spend on her kids this year. She has 3 kids, one of whom is a toddler. Her kids already have every toy I could imagine. Others talk about getting out for black Friday shopping early to get some deals on the popular toys this year. They are worried that they will miss out on some toys their kids are dying to have. They don't know how they will survive the holidays.

Then there are the women who are anxious about what they might expect from their husbands or boyfriends. They want jewels but can't come right out and say so, so they drop hints. Ladies, men are basically clueless about gifts and hints. I am not male-bashing - my husband would tell you that. So many women will wake up Christmas morning full of anticipation and will be upset that their man didn't catch the hints. "I shouldn't have to tell him what I want, he should just know!" Please.

It's Thanksgiving in America but so many people don't seem very thankful, just worried about making this a perfect Christmas for themselves and their families.

I wish this Christmas season everyone would resist one thing they think they should do or buy. One thing to say no to: One toy. (How many will your child really appreciate?) One scented candle for an obligatory office or hostess gift. One trip to the mall. One party invitation. One new pair of boots for a Christmas party. One expectation of a gift from someone else. One oblique hint for a gift. One new decorative item for the tree or the dinner table.

I'm not a proponent of a plain, oversimplified Christmas. I like to buy gifts, decorate the house, wrap with beautiful paper, etc. But every year the stakes seem to get higher and the obligations mount up. Then we find ourselves with no time to really enjoy our families. After the gifts are open, our kids are discontent because even though they received so many things, there weren't enough. Or the thing they couldn't live without wasn't there. Then there are the people who overspend and get depressed in January when the bills arrive.

But if this year you say no to just one thing, you will make it a little simpler, a little calmer. Then next year you can find something else to say no to. And so on, till you reach the point where you truly enjoy the Christmas season instead of just surviving it.

What one thing will you resist this year?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

2007 Reading

Bumped to the top so I can find it and keep updating it.

The Ravenmaster's Secret - Elvira Woodruff
Henry Reed, Inc. - Keith Robertson
Little Pilgrim's Progress
Three Tales of My Father's Dragon -
Ruth Stiles Gannett
The First Marathon: The Legend of Pheidippides -
Susan Reynolds
On Noah's Ark - Jan Brett
Mirette on the High Wire - Emily Arnold McCully
Fantastic Mr. Fox - Roald Dahl
The Water of Life - retold by Rogasky
In process - Midshipman Hornblower - C. S. Forester
Pennsylvania - Capstone Press
Dear Fish - Chris Gall
Aliens are Coming! - Meghan McCarthy
All the Tintins
Flying the Hot Ones - Steven Lindblom
The Ballad of the Pirate Queens - Jane Yolen
Hank the Cow Dog and the Case of the Hooking Bull -
Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang
Quiet Hero: The Ira Hayes Story -
S. D. Nelson
Abridged version of Around the World in 80 Days - Usborne
Across the Blue Pacific - Louise W. Borden
The Glorious Flight - Alice and Martin Provensen
The Green Men of Gressingham - Philip Ardagh
Various books and website on aviation, particularly fighter planes, for Student Showcase
Great Illustrated Classics version of The Last of the Mohicans - James Fenimore Cooper
Why Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? - Jean Fritz
Kathleen Stinson Otero: High Flyer - Neila Skinner Petrick
Hank the Cowdog: The Case of the Hooking Bull - John R. Erickson
Started but did not finish: The Fighting Ground - Avi
Started but did not finish: The Arrow over the Door

July 2007 (now keeping track by month due to PA homeschooling requirements)

Akiko and the Alpha Centauri 5000 -
Mark Crilley
It's a Dog's Life - John R. Erickson (Hank the Cow Dog)
Pick of the Litter - Bill Wallace


The Sands of Time - Michael Hoeye
The Castle in the Attic - Elizabeth Winthrop
Knight's Castle - Edward Eager
Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius - Frank Asch


Winter at Valley Forge (Landmark)
Hero of the High Seas: John Paul Jones and the American Revolution - Michael Cooper
Partial: The Wind Masters - Pete Dunne (Peregrine Falcon)
The Snake Scientist - Sy Montgomery

Rats! - Jane Cutler
George's Marvelous Medicine - Roald Dahl
Tree Castle Island - Jean Craighead George
The Witches - Roald Dahl
Dr. Dolittle -Hugh Lofting
The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle - Hugh Lofting
Tree Castle Island - Jean Craighead George
Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder



Snakes - Maria Mudd Ruth
The Palace at Versailles - Linda Tagliaferro
The Stone Age News - Fiona MacDonald


James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl
Tut Tut - Jon Scieszka
Summer Reading is Killing Me! - Jon Scieszka
Marco? Polo! - Jon
Hey Kid! Want to Buy a Bridge? - Jon



Men of War - Patrick O'Brien
Dogs - DK Eyewitness
Stone Age News - Fiona MacDonald
Aztec News - Fiona MacDonald
various books on aviation (partial)
Pony Express (Landmark)


Several "Time Warp Trio" books



Hero of Trafalgar: The Story of Lord Nelson - A. B. C. Whipple (Landmark)
Watt Got You Started, Mr. Fulton? - Robert Quackenbush
You Wouldn't Want to Live in a Wild West Town! - Peter Hicks
The Bermuda Triangle: Strange Happenings at Sea - David West
The World's Greatest Fighters - Robert Jackson (partial)


Twig - Elizabeth Orton Jones
Little Pilgrim's Progress
Across Puddingstone Dam -
Melissa Wiley
Down in the Bonny Glen -
Melissa Wiley
George Handel - Mike Venezia
The Water of Life - retold by Rogasky
The Golden Key - George MacDonald
On the Far Side of the Loch -Melissa Wiley
The Ballad of the Pirate Queens - Jane Yolen
The Bobbsey Twins and the Mystery at Snow Lodge - Laura Lee Hope
American Diaries: Agnes May Gleason - Kathleen Duey
Beyond the Heather Hills - Melissa Wiley
The Bobbsey Twins' Wonderful Winter Secret - Laura Lee Hope
The Great Good Thing - Roderick Townley
Various Tintins
Strawberry Girl - Lois Lenski
Abridged version of Around the World in 80 Days - Usborne
Nothing Can Separate Us: The Story of Nan Harper - Tracy M. Leininger
Unfading Beauty: The Story of Dolley Madison - Tracy M. Leninger
Meet Felicity - and the rest of the series.
The Ordinary Princess - M. M. Kaye
The Light Princess - George MacDonald
Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine
Cinderellis and the Glass Hill - Gail Carson Levine
Why Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? - Jean Fritz
Toliver's Secret - Esther Wood Brady
American Quilts: Ida Lou's Story - Susan E. Kirby
The People in Pineapple Place - Anne Lindbergh
The Prisoner of Pineapple Place - Anne Lindbergh
Molly Pitcher, Young Patriot - Augusta Stevenson (COFA series)
Standing in the Light - Mary Pope Osborne
Five Smooth Stones - Kristiana Gregory
Winter of Red Snow -
Kristiana Gregory
Standing in the Light - Mary Pope Osborne (Dear America series)
Nellie's Promise - Valerie Tripp (American Girls)
The Borrowers - Mary Norton
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Beverley Cleary

July 2007 (now keeping track by month due to PA homeschooling requirements)

Emily's Runaway Imagination -
Beverly Cleary
Dick Whittington and his Cat -
Marcia Brown
Ramona the Brave - Beverly Cleary
It's a Dog's Life - John R. Erickson (Hank the Cow Dog)
Caddie Woodlawn - Carol Ryrie Brink

Too many Beverley Cleary books to keep track of
More American Girls
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren
Pippi in the South Seas - Astrid Lindgren
Ramona the Pest - Beverley Cleary
Ramona's World - Beverley Cleary
Ramona and Beezus - Beverley Cleary



Honey Makers - Gail Gibbons
Bees - Deborah Hodge


The Penderwicks - Jeanne Birdsall
Everything on a Waffle - Polly Horvath
The Trolls - Polly Horvath
Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle - Betty MacDonald
Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Dr. Dolittle -Hugh Lofting
The Cabin Faced West - Jean Fritz
Baby Island - Carol Ryrie Brink
Everything on a Waffle - Polly Horvath
Into the Labrynth - Roderick



The Palace at Versailles - Linda Tagliaferro


Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle - Betty Macdonald
The Trolls - Polly Horvath
The Happy Yellow Car - Polly Horvath
The Pepins and their Problems - Polly Horvath
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH -
The Hundred Dresses - Eleanor Estes
The Moffats - Eleanor Estes
Tut Tut - Jon



Aztec News - Fiona MacDonald
Stone Age News - Fiona MacDonald
Pocahontas - D'Aulaire
A Look At Saturn - Suzanne Slade
Pony Express


Several "Time Warp Trio" books
Return to Gone Away - Elizabeth Enright
The Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum
Mary Poppins - P. L. Travers
Mary Poppins Comes Back - P. L. Travers
The Moffats - Eleanor Estes
The Moffat Museum - Eleanor Estes




Ginger Pye - Eleanor Estes
A Room With a Zoo - Jules Feiffer

Read-alouds General

Secret Water - Arthur Ransome
The Big Six - Arthur Ransome
Missee Lee - Arthur Ransome
The Picts and the Martyrs - Arthur Ransome
The Children of Green Knowe - Lucy M. Boston
The Treasure of Green Knowe - Lucy M. Boston
Great Northern? - Arthur Ransome
The River at Green Knowe - Lucy M. Boston
A Stranger at Green Knowe - Lucy M. Boston (audiobook)
An Enemy at Green Knowe - Lucy M. Boston (audiobook)
Gone-Away Lake - Elizabeth Enright (a re-read from a few years ago, still great)
The Stones of Green Knowe - Lucy M. Boston
The Tale of Despereaux - Kate DiCamillo (audiobook)
The Swing in the Summerhouse - Jane Langton
The Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart
The Astonishing Stereoscope - Jane Langton


Justin Morgan Had A Horse - Marguerite Henry


Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens


Uncle Remus Tales - Julius Lester
Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West - Marguerite Henry
Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
The Misadventures of Mad Maude (audiobook) -


Through the Lookingglass - Lewis Carroll (partial)
Maude March on the Run -


Psalms (last 1/2)
Hurlbut's Story of the Bible (for a change of pace and to catch up on stories we may have missed)

Read-Alouds History

Story of the World #3
Madeleine Takes Command - Ethel C. Brill
The Story of William Penn - Aliki
Isaac Newton - Kathleen Krull (Giants of Science series)
Peter the Great - Diane Stanley
Struggle for a Continent - Besty and Giulio Maestro
The Sign of the Beaver - Elizabeth George Speare
Mr. Revere and I - Robert Lawson
Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia - Margaret Cousins
Daniel Boone - John Mason Browne (Landmark)
Sybil Ludington's Midnight Ride - Marsha Amstel


Johnny Tremain - Esther Forbes

Ben and Me - Robert Lawson
American Revolution - Bruce Blivens (Landmark)


George Washington, Spymaster -Michael L. Cooper
George Washington's World - Genevieve Foster
Story of the World, chapters 22 - 24
Amos Fortune, Free Man - Elizabeth Yates
By Wagon and Flatboat - Enid Meadowcroft


Stowaway - Karen Hesse
Sightseers Guide - Paris 1789 - Rachel Wright


Eli Whitney - Jean Lee Latham


Read-Alouds Science

Leonardo the Beautiful Dreamer
Along Came Galileo - Jeanne Bendick
Isaac Newton - Kathleen Krull (Giants of Science series)
Benjamin Franklin's Adventures with Electricity - Beverley Birch

Pasteur's Fight Against Microbes - Beverley Birch
The Chemist Who Lost His Head: The Story of Antoine Laurent Lavoirsier - Vivian Grey
Sugaring Time - Kathryn Lasky



The Pilgrim's Progress
Celebrating the Sabbath -
Bruce A. Ray
Rascal - Sterling North (making a study guide for the kids) (March)
My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult (March)
Praying Backwards - Bryan Chapell (March)
The Red House Mystery - A. A. Milne (March)
The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards (March)
Upgrade - Kevin Swanson
The Swallows of Kabul - Yasmina Khadra
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Scattered - Gabor Mate
Brick Lane - Monica Ali
Garden Angel - Mindy Friddle
The Girl with the Pearl Earring - Tracey Chevalier

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not cooking on Thanksgiving?

This will be the first year since 1995 that I will not cook Thanksgiving dinner. I am only contributing a sweet potato dish and some wine.

I'm not sure I can handle it, having Thanksgiving dinner at someone else's house. Three years ago we had dinner for 24. Two years ago it was about 20. Last year it was family only and boy were we lonely.

This year we are in a new city and planned on an "orphans" Thanksgiving. Lots of seminary students would need a place to go, we figured. But we were invited to another family's house.

So. I'm not cooking. I have to decide on only one dish. But there are so many sweet potato recipes! Do I want to go goopy and sweet, or savory? The twice-baked with sage, or the butter-pecan? I can't go too goopy and sweet. I just can't. No marshmallows, please.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Why I will never be a seamstress.

Sewing is one of my pleasures. I do like to sew. Right now doll clothes are my specialty. They are not very high-quality. Just because I like to sew does not mean I'm good at it. I make a lot of mistakes. A while back I related my problem with keeping right sides together. But, I keep trying.

My little E is having a trousers crisis: we can't find any that fit her. So we decided we should make some simple elastic waist pants for her. We planned to start with some pajamas for practice. I had a large piece of flannel purchased for some long-forgotten project. One of the nice things about flannel is that both sides feel nice. Both sides look the same, too, if it's a solid fabric. This had a faint print of blue flowers on white. The wrong side of the fabric was just white. This is important to know. This is foreshadowing, folks.

Since elastic waist pants require only 2 patterns pieces, and I have sewn before (but not pants), I didn't bother to look at the layout instructions. We just pinned and cut. Then it was time to put the piece together. I remembered to put them right sides together. But they didn't go together. If you know how to sew pants, you know the problem. I can't exactly explain it. But I had positioned the pattern pieces in such a way that they simply couldn't be pinned right sides together.

I really try not to get frustrated and burst into tears in front of my children. It was hard not to. But I explained, as calmly as I could, the problem. I showed E that we could still make the pants, but they would be, uh, mismatched. Part of the pants would be all white; part would have the blue flowers. At that point I couldn't tell exactly how that would work out.

She cheerfully accepted the idea of the funny pants and we pressed on. Got the pants finished before bedtime, all except for the hem! They fit perfectly. They are cozy and warm and comfy. The front of the pants is white; the back has the printed side out.

For wearing at home, mismatched pj pants are fine. It would have looked better, and more intentional, if the front of one leg and the back of the other matched. But I couldn't have planned it that way.

Today we bought some corduroy to try again, this time to make some pants she can wear outside the house. I'll be checking the instructions for the pattern layout this time!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's 7:30 am...

and all over my neighborhood 8 year olds are struggling to get ready for the bus which comes at 8. 6 and 7 year olds too. Even 5 year olds! Babies, getting on the bus at 8 am. That bus won't bring them home till 4 pm. Even the littlest ones stay at school all day long.

From 8 am till 4 pm - almost an adult work day - these children will not have a moment alone. They won't have any privacy. They might have a little time to do just what they want to do. Or maybe not.

When they get home at 4 some of them will go into their houses and work some more. They won't have time to play.

It's 7:30 am. I just walked by my8 year old daughter's room. She is awake, snuggled up reading Mary Poppins Comes Back. She started it yesterday and she'll finish it today. In a little while she'll get up and we'll read together during breakfast. She'll do her "tablework" and I'll read to her and her brother (who is still asleep, fueling that big growth spurt he's going through right now). We'll read together, do a science experiment or two, work on booklets the kids are making for our reading group next week. She'll have lots of time for reading books of her own choice and doing crafts.

If the little girl down the street didn't have so much homework, maybe she and my daughter could play for an hour between school and dinner. But she will, and they won't.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

NEA comment on kids' names

Joanne Jacobs had a little piece this morning about comments made by Reg Weaver, head of the NEA. He links unusual kids' names with poor schools. It'll be interesting to see the backtracking on this one, 'cause you know it's going to be all over the blogosphere (if it isn't already).

The original article (to which Joanne links) was in the Tulsa World.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Education, Interrupted?

Last week we had an experience at home that had me thinking about homechooling vs. conventional schooling again.

Our laundry room got flooded. It wasn't as bad as it sounds. A washing machine hose wiggled out of place and a rinse cycle went all over the floor instead of down the drain. It has happened before; we thought we had the problem resolved but... guess not!

So it was sometime between math and doing our discussion questions on the week's chapters of Little House on the Prairie when we discovered the flood. It was an extremely inconvenient time - we were on a tight schedule to finish our tablework, eat lunch, and get to a homeschool program at a local library. But the laundry room is also a storeroom, and it was packed, and it had to be emptied...

My kids really sprang into action. We carried stuff out to the back yard. Wet lawn chairs were set up to dry. Cardboard boxes of powdered detergent were taken into the kitchen and the dry contents dumped into bowls and labeled. The mop, and then the shop-vac, were put to use. Then the kids went into the dungeon (a 4-ft tall crawlspace that we use for storage) to check the damage in there. They got towels and helped clean that up too.

By the time we were done there was just time to jump in the car and eat lunch on the way to the library. During the weather program my mind wandered. What an interruption to my kids' "school" day! I pondered a bit. If they'd been at school, they wouldn't have had their day cut short. I'd have taken care of it by myself. They would have done all the things they were supposed to do. They wouldn't have had McDonald's for lunch on the road. They'd have had a normal day and wouldn't even have to know about the flood.

But wait a minute! I'd have had to do all that work alone. It would have taken forever! They wouldn't have had the experience of jumping into some hard work that needed to be done in a hurry. They would have missed out on some real life. I was proud of them for working so hard, for responding so well to the situation. They felt a sense of accomplishment for providing so much help. I don't know for sure, but maybe more than they'd have felt coming home with a gold-starred math worksheet.

Used to be that it was normal for kids to be home with their families, experiencing real life and doing real work. Now it seems like an interruption to the more important work of going to school.

I'm glad my kids were home that day. And I'm glad for that minor, non-life-threatening emergency that showed us all that when they need to, they can step up and get some work done.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Clothes shopping Q & A

Q. What do you get when you mix a tall, thin, long-waisted girl with the current style of low-rise pants?

A. A shopping ordeal.

My poor little E is in desperate need of some new jeans or other pants. But we can't find any that fit her. Today we went to 3 stores in search of something - anything! - for her to wear to play in the yard, go hiking, etc. Leggings get too wet and aren't that warm. Dresses and skirts are too full and get in the way. Jeans are OK by me, but... they have to fit, they can't have rhinestones and they can't have words on them. (Especially on the backside.) We both prefer that they not be pre-faded and ratty looking before she's even worn them. We found... nothing. Not even in the boys' department!

I rant about girls' clothing periodically - I guess every time I try to shop. It's time again.

We did a lot of talking as we shopped. My girl asked me why girls' clothes are so ugly and uncomfortable. We talked about the fashion industry, and the fact that fashion designers and manufacturers have to make people feel they need new clothes every season so they keep buying new stuff all the time. We talked about people feeling like they need to be fashionable and stylish. And that some women, for some reason, like their young girls to dress like grownup women, with high-heeled shoes and low-rise pants, glitter and rhinestones and shirts with seaming to show off non-existent bustlines. She didn't ask why she doesn't see me in clothing like that.

We also talked a lot about standards. Kerri blogged about this recently so it was on my mind. My standards for dress are pretty strict; at least that's what people tell me. I don't expect anyone else to follow my standard. But I'm not going to lower it because the stores carry stuff that doesn't meet it. We'll find a way to do without the jeans, or whatever. But the standard is set. If we relax it for the sake of convenience, or fashion, it wasn't much of a standard, eh?

I suggested maybe we give up on pants and wear skirts and dresses. I could make her any number of skirts she wants. But she didn't like that idea. She's uncomfortable running and playing in a skirt. I reminded her of some girls we know who never wear pants. She acknowledged that but said she's still not sure about it. She just feels more modestly dressed in pants on certain occasions. I can't argue with that.

Another standard we have is dressing for church. We dress "up" for church. No jeans or sneakers, no pants for me. Well, I've worn pants when I've had nursery duty. Easier for getting down on the floor with a 2 year old. Now I don't care that other women wear pants or that men wear shorts in the summer or kids wear jeans or sweats and sneakers. But I was brought up to understand that when I am going out to worship God it's worth the effort to do more than pull on the first pair of sweats that I find. I am sometimes amazed at the ratty clothes people wear to church. I have to remind myself that the important thing is: they are in church. They didn't sleep in and stay home!

I know there are places to get more modest and appropriate clothing. Lands' End and LL Bean come to mind. They are great, though even they can't help with the fit problem. My girl has a nonstandard body. But their clothes come closer. I sometimes balk at the cost, though.

Wonder if I have enough corduroy to whip up a pair of elastic-waist pants for her... it's time to crank up the sewing machine.

Adventurous? Really?

When we lived near Portland we used to go to the Audubon center a lot. You know, John James Audubon, the bird artist. The center there is in the middle of Forest Park, and it's just a great place to visit. Lots of stuffed birds to look at. I know some find that gruesome, but I think it's great to see those birds up close. We also enjoyed visiting the birds in the rehabilitation center.

So when we moved it seemed perfectly natural to seek out an Audubon center here. Well, we hit the jackpot - Audubon's first home, Mill Grove, is just a beautiful 40-minute country drive away.

Last week we decided to go, and put out a message on our homeschool group's website for some companions.

Well, we got a great response, and 3 other families joined us. Many more had interest but not the time. We're going to try to set up a "real" field trip/class there soon. It was very similar to the center in Portland - the rehab center, the stuffed birds, the hiking trails. This center had a lot of prints that I'd love to spend more time studying. My kids and I will have to go again, alone, without the distraction of friends.

The funny part was the reaction of people. They were amazed that I was going out and about so much after being here only a few months. I got that reaction, too, at the first "park day" we went to, less than one week after arriving in town. (We had joined the group before moving. I do thank God for yahoo groups and other ways to connect with people long distance. Truly. It is a real blessing to be able to scope out an area and acquire some acquaintances immediately upon arriving in a new town.)

Anyway, I don't think that's very adventurous. I think that's just, I don't know, normal. We moved, we need and want to get to know the area and get to know some people, so we get around. We'll be attracted to some places that the "natives" or other long-time residents won't think of. There are places near Portland that we never got around to visiting. But I figure we're not going to get to know the area or find any friends if we stay home all the time and are hesitant to try to find our way to new places. But, it seems that most people don't think that way.

I'll tell you about someone adventurous. A few years ago when I was planning a women's weekend retreat with my small church, we got a call from someone new in town. She'd never been to our church but wanted to come to the retreat. Wow, that really put us in a tizzy. Why would she want to spend the weekend with a bunch of strangers? But she came, and we loved her, and she and her husband started attending our church immediately. Their church-shopping days were over right then.

So I don't think going on a day trip to an unknown place in a town 40 miles away is so very adventurous.

And I wouldn't say that people who don't like to do that are wrong. Some people are more comfortable at home. Some people can't get around easily. I don't think what we do is "the right way" but I also don't think it's remarkable.

How adventurous are you?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Kerri tagged me today. [Actually it's a couple days ago now as I haven't had time to finish this post.] I know I have inadvertently ignored some other tags recently so I will do this one as quick as I can.

Seven random things about me:

1. I can't stand drying dishes. They must drip dry.

2. I used to be a Renaissance "faire junkie" in northern California; would dress up and go every weekend with a friend.

3. My son and I wear the same socks. I buy the 12-pack of white athletic socks from Costco and when we wash them, he takes half and I take half. (Inspired by Kerri's sock comment.)

4. My mind goes blank when I try to think of interesting things about myself.

5. I like to drink tea in the morning but like coffee in the afternoon or at night.

6. In 2005 my family spent a month traveling in England and Scotland.

7. I became a mother at age 41, gave birth to and nursed two babies, then immediately started menopause.

I'm so out of the blogosphere now that I couldn't say who to tag. So, if you are reading this, and want to do it, please do! But let me know so I can read it. I've fallen out of touch with some of my favorite reads.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Nostalgia at the bookmobile

Today when my kids and I walked out of the rec center where they take a PE class, we saw the Bookmobile in the parking lot. Immediately I was flooded with memories of the Bookmobile coming to my elementary school. That was a long time ago...

Of course we went in. My kids had a hard time imagining the library in a bus. As we stepped in I remembered the thrills I used to get way back when. They were thrilled too. So many books in such a little space. Of course we all checked something out. When we got our library cards when we moved here, we were given key tag cards along with our "regular" cards. So we always have access to the library now.

It's funny how those little things can bring up such memories. For a few minutes today I was back in West Seneca (NY) in the parking lot of Fourteen Holy Helpers School, climbing the big steps of the Bookmobile.

I'm glad my kids got to experience it too!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Post-wedding lawsuit

Saw this article today while scanning the headlines. Seems a bride in NYC (who happens to be a lawyer, imagine that) is suing a florist for giving her inferior flowers of the wrong colors for her wedding. The damages she's seeking: $400,000. The flowers themselves cost over $27,000!

"The use of predominantly pastel centerpieces had a significant impact on the look of the room and was entirely inconsistent with the vision the plaintiffs had bargained for," the Times quoted the lawsuit as saying.

In her suit, which outlines numerous "distressing and embarrassing" offenses, [the bride] accuses [the florist] of "unjust enrichment."

A florist should not use inferior flowers, "dusty vases with no water" and should use the colors contracted for, of course. (Though I seem to remember my florist telling me, and maybe I even signed something saying that I understood that the exact flowers in the exact colors might not be available. Flowers not being a manufactured commodity and all.) I suppose I'd be mad too, and want my money back, complain to the BBB or other appropriate entity, and tell everyone I knew not to use that florist. But embarrassed? What's to be embarrassed about? Distressed? I dunno, I was kinda busy at my wedding, enjoying my guests, the music, and my new husband. I didn't have time to be distressed over the flowers. What is the true damage that has been done?

Here's another reason not to envy the wealthy who can spend $27,000 on wedding flowers: we have less to lose if things go wrong. We haven't invested so much emotionally if we haven't invested so much financially.

I feel bad for a couple whose married life starts out with a lawsuit.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Is this blog still alive?

Well, maybe it's gasping for air. Lots of things to say, no time to think them through or actually write about them. I may write about my saga with the water company. And life in a neighborhood (new to us since we haven't lived in one).

But here's a question if anyone is still checking in here:

How is it possible to be unhappy yet still content and confident that life is as it should be?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Nightgown too short? Add a ruffle!

About 3 (maybe even 4) years ago I made my little E a summer nightgown. It's made from some cute pink ballerina fabric, and she wears it all summer. I try to have it in and out of the wash the same day - though she does have other summer pajamas to wear when it's not available.

Well, it's really gotten too short for her. And worn out - the hem was falling down; not from the thread coming out, but from the fabric wearing through at the crease.

She really didn't want to give up her nightgown. So, yesterday we dug through the fabric stash, found some pink fabric, and added a ruffle. She'll be able to make it through the rest of the warm nights this year. Then into the keepsake clothing bag it will go.

It's amazing to me how she can keep growing up but now out. She is 8 1/2 years old and above-average height, but she still wears a size 4T dress as a top. I love it because it's long enough to cover her belly even when she plays on the monkey bars.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A prize for being honest

Last July when we were moving, we didn't shop for souvenirs or gifts much. On our second-to-last travel day, we stopped in a little country store in a tiny town in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania. We bought a few little things -souvenirs for the kids, a few little gift items. The two ladies running the shop carefully packed our purchases for us, wrapping each in bubble wrap and tissue paper.

The kids got their things out right away but it took many, many days for me to open the bags and go through the stuff. I hadn't remembered buying so much! I found the things I was expecting, then unwrapped 3 or 4 more little bundles, each containing a little raccoon figurine that we hadn't bought.

Then I remembered how cluttered the counter had been, and how one lady had been ringing us up while the other asked which things went in our bag. She'd put in some extras.

The little figurines weren't all that cute, to my taste. E loved them, of course. But there was the problem of payment. I knew I hadn't been charged for them. I didn't want to call up the shop and figure out how to pay for them - I didn't want 'em! So what to do? Frankly, I wanted to put them in the donation bag, get them out of the house and forget about them. But of course I couldn't do that...

It took almost 2 months before I found a box the right size. I wrote a note, packed the figurines up, sealed up the box. Then it sat by the door for a while till I remembered to take it to the post office. Finally I was able to forget about those little raccoons.

Till today, when a small box from that store arrived in our mail. Inside was a card, thanking us for our honesty in dealing with their shop. The box was full of hard candy. Old-fashioned penny candy - mints, a candy necklace, and the dots-on-paper candy.

Of course my kids were thrilled. E marveled, "Wow, we got a prize just for being honest."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Sometimes I hear someone talking to their children and comparing them unfavorably to another child. This really makes me cringe, especially when it's me who's doing the comparing. What does that sound like to the child?

"Lucinda, if you practiced your piano for 2 hours a day like Trina Snarkton does, you'd be a much better player" can become "I wish you were more like Trina Snarkton " which isn't all that far (to a young mind) from "I wish Trina Snarkton was my daughter instead of you."

Imagine if our children did that to us: "Mom, I wish you played dolls with me more, like Mrs. Jackhammer does with Cosgrove." Or our spouse: "Honey, why do you always wait till April 13 to do the taxes? Norton Fladwhopper has his done by March 1 every year!" What's the likely response? A defensive "I'm not Mrs. Jackhammer." A muttered "Maybe you should have married Norton Fladwhopper instead!"

Imagine the wrath of a wife hearing from her husband "Dear, you ought to make your apple tartlets like Felicity Warfnoggle does!"

We all have room for improvement. We all know someone who does something better than ourselves, our spouses, or our children. We need to give encouragement, not unfavorable comparisons, if we want to see improvement. If we see someone with a quality or characteristic we'd like our child to have, we can talk to him or her about it without bringing in the person who has the desired quality.

Oh, can you tell we've been listening to and reading Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lately?

E's library adventure

Last night my little E had a fun adventure at the library. I missed it (I was at a grownup lecture!) but got to hear all about it.

Our local library has book discussion nights for the 8-12 crowd. This month it was for the book Everything on a Waffle. She read the book, loved it, and was looking forward to the discussion group. Daddy took her to the library and she found the meeting room and the librarian.

She was the only kid there. The entire time.

She and the librarian had a great time together. They talked about the book, of course, and other books, and Oregon, and who knows what else. At some point the librarian asked her "Are you homeschooled?" I was dying to know the context for that question, but E didn't remember. After a while they came out and fetched Dad and J, and chatted and ate the cookies. When it was time to leave, they were sent home with some of the caramel apples provided for the occasion.

When they picked me up at my lecture, E was glowing. She had had such a great time! She told me "I never felt so comfortable talking to an adult before, except [our former church choir director and her husband]."

Today she told me she might like to be a librarian when she grows up, and work with kids. And she can't wait to go back to the library and see her new friend.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling is up!

The 92nd edition, in fact, today at Tami's Blog. It is huge! You'll have a good time with your cup of coffee this morning. I'm looking forward to reading the ones about teaching math, after another difficult math day at my house.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Christmas magazines

It's the season - Christmas magazines are all over the grocery store checkstands. I am always so attracted to them. But at $5.99 a pop for some, they are a little pricey. It burns me up a bit to think of how much money the publishers are getting for all that ad space, yet they still charge such a high price for the mag. But, in years past, it didn't stop me.

Last year I went through my collection of Christmas magazines and pulled out all the projects and ideas I could ever think of implementing. I tried to think ahead to my little E and what she might like. It was amazing how little I actually pulled out. I put it all in a binder in sheet protectors.

Now when I am tempted by this year's magazines, I have my book all ready. It's already out; not because I'm ready for Christmas projects but because I get itchy looking at the magazines on the racks.

I might get the Family Circle Christmas issue again this year though. In my experience (and to my taste) they seem to give the most bang for the buck. BH&G is always so beautiful but I find little to actually use there. It's a pleasure to look through the magazine, but there's not so much real content, and it seems like things repeat. How many different ideas for a mantel swag can there be, anyway? I am also looking forward to the winter issue of Seasonal Delights. Since I don't have a color printer I won't be keeping any of those beautiful pages in my binder. I'll have to start my online collection this year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How many hours of education a day?

In my new state we have to keep track of school days (180) or hours (900 for elementary students). Some people I've met take this very seriously and diligently track hours for each of their children. Imagine trying to log hours for 4 children, individually! One woman told me she does this; she hates it and finds it frustrating, but says she can't think of a better way to fulfill the requirements of the law. Some homeschooling moms just print a grid of 180 squares and write in the date every day till it's filled up. (The lady with 4 kids shuddered when I told her that.)

Most people probably fall somewhere in between. I came to the conclusion that if we do math, I count the day. I know that if math gets done, at least 5 hours of learning is going to take place in my house that day, or I'll make it up some other day. Because, of course, learning goes on all the time. We can't really stop it, if the kids have interesting stuff around to read and do and look at.

But even that's not an accurate method. Today we are all feeling a little under the weather, so we made a blanket nest on the family room floor and I've been reading. We did our Bible and Catechism reading, and then read By Wagon and Flatboat, a historical novel set just after the American Revolution. Both of my kids could read this book on their own, but it makes a good read-aloud too, and there are lots of opportunities to stop and talk about slaves, and flatboats, and hospitality out on the frontier. ("People just let strangers stay in their house?") And the ever-popular topic: who were the bad guys, the Indians or the settlers?

By about 1:30 we'd gotten in the 5 hours that could call it a day, at least. Because even when I stopped reading for a few minutes - to make soup, or call to complain about an incorrect phone bill, or get some more tea - the kids were doing something. E draws constantly, even while I'm reading. J reaches for his new airplane book, Paper Pilot, reads it and works on a model from it. In fact, he was reading it even before he got out of bed this morning; he brought it to me and read some interesting facts about one of the planes. (He'd be mad that I've already forgotten the plane and the facts; he, on the other hand, will never forget them. ) E has been reading one of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books; not great literature, but a kids' classic anyway. Oh, I guess she finished it because now I see she's reading The Hundred Dresses which will surely start some more conversation.

In a couple of weeks we'll attend a reenactment of one of the Revolutionary War battles fought nearby. I'll count that day too, you bet. Even if we don't do any math.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Small things that bring happiness

Sometimes a very small thing can bring big happiness. Or big convenience. Or both.

I've complained a lot about the kitchen in my new house. The sink setup is pretty dippy. It's a double sink, but both are small and they occupy a corner. And, there is little counter space (8.3 linear feet - I measured - in 4 separate chunks) which doesn't leave much room for my drainer. Even with a dishwasher I do a lot of handwashing, and since I hate to dry dishes, I like my drainer. It was a dilemma - counter space, or drainer?

Enter a small thing that brought much happiness: my $3.99 "double sink drainer." This little wonder has made dishwashing and food prep much easier. It also helps my kitchen look nicer because the draining dishes are somewhat hidden in the sink, not in full view on the counter.

I never knew such a thing existed before I discovered I needed one!

What small thing has brought you happiness? Or convenience? Or both? It doesn't have to be something you bought. But I bet we all have some small thing that has made life easier or more pleasant in one way or another.

Blogging slump

Right now I'm in one of my periodic blogging slumps, wherein I wonder: what is my purpose for blogging? I wonder what I could be doing with the time I spend thinking about and then typing up posts.

Hm, I can't think of one more thing to say right now. Think I'll go empty the dishwasher. Whoa! That was thought-provoking, wasn't it?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Which came first?

I realized last week that I don't own a copy of Pride and Prejudice. Horrors! I wanted it as I've started reading Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen by Peter Leithart. I couldn't believe I've never owned a copy.

Well, of course this something I need to own, but I requested it from the library so I can start reading right away. I received a "Modern Library" edition. I think these are such nice books: clear, readable typeface, just a pleasure to hold. But I am a little confused. There is a heading on the cover: The Companion Volume to the A&E (written as their logo)/BBC Presentation.

Huh? Did I end up with an adaptation, based on the TV show? How can they call a classic novel, written well before TV, movies, etc., a "companion volume" to the tv show? Isn't it the other way around?

I wrote to Modern Library asking them if this is an adaptation. I don't think it is. I think they are just trying to capitalize on Austen's popularity right now. I won't buy their edition. That cover annoys me. (Jut as classics given the Oprah book club stamp of approval do. Or "Now a Major Motion Picture!") It's the book snob in me. I guess I don't want people to think I bought a book because a tv show made it attractive to me. Fortunately there are other publishers.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reusing dryer lint?

A few weeks ago I picked up a book on frugal living from the library. It didn't seem to be very well edited; there was a lot of repetition in it. For example, twice within the first couple of chapters the author assured the readers that this wasn't one of those frugal living books that talked about reusing dryer lint. I guess I should have been relieved to read that. But I was just curious: for what purpose do people reuse dryer lint? And, if they are reusing it, for what purpose did they use it the first time?

I'm afraid I didn't get far enough into the book to learn the answers. If anyone reuses, or just uses, their dryer lint, please enlighten me. I'd love to know what I'm missing out on. I just throw my dryer lint away.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Celebrating the first day of school

I came across a discussion of the first day of school on a moms' board I check out now and then. Someone asked for ideas for celebrating the first day of school with their kids. I was surprised (I probably shouldn't have been) how excited some of the moms were about getting their kids out of the way and on to the school bus. I suspect they were not quite as delighted to say goodbye to their kiddies as they made out to be - I know how people can get carried away with the joking - but some of the comments were pretty shocking to me.

I do enjoy some time away from my kids. But I can't imagine being so excited about having them away from me all day, 5 days a week, institutionalized. OK, I realize that people who send their kids to school don't think of them as institutionalized. But the comments about having parties to celebrate getting the kids out of the house (and out of their daily lives) really hit me the wrong way. Wonder how the kids would feel if they heard that?

Then I started to wonder how they'd feel if, say, their husbands were so gleeful when they left on a solo shopping trip. Or if their older children talked about how excited they were to move out of the house to get away from their mother.

Think it would still be funny?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Local school advertises for homeschooling!

Seen on the local middle school marquee this week:

Welcome back
Fits day of scool
September 5 2007

Those are not typos. It's been like that all week. Has no one cared to fix it, or has no one noticed?

Learning to multi-task

"Tablework" just doesn't go over well here. Math worksheets, cursive practice, spelling words - ugh! Who wants to do that when there are great books to be read, experiments to perform (can we skip the lab sheets today puh-leeeeeze?) and life to enjoy?

But there are things we have to do. Though I am an unschooler at heart, I know there are things my kids can't or won't learn without just sitting down and working. I try not to exasperate them too much. I try to explain the value of learning these things. Usually they get it, even if they don't want to admit it.

But today, a small breakthrough. J has learned enough cursive that he can use it to copy out his spelling words. (He has "issues" with phonics and spelling and so we don't do traditional spelling tests. For now it's just copywork.) So I wrote out his word in manuscript and in cursive. It took a while because I had to do my best cursive, which is not great. (I still remember missing an A+ on a spelling test because of my inferior "r." I never did master that letter.)

He was thrilled to discover that if he wrote out the words in cursive, he would not have to do a cursive worksheet today. Either way, it's practice, isn't it? I told him he just saved himself about 15 minutes of schooltime. Which, he was quick to tell me, he already cancelled out by dawdling over his math. OK, another breakthrough! Could it be that he is finally grasping the concept of time and the passage thereof?

Holly doesn't have this phone number anymore.

Everyone has this experience, I'm sure: after they get a new phone number, they get a lot of calls for the person who previously had the number. We're getting a lot of calls for Holly. It struck me this morning that it's kind of sad, isn't it, that Holly changed phone numbers almost 2 months ago and these people weren't notified. Most of them sound like friends by the say they say "Holly?" when I answer. And some sound very puzzled when I tell them I'm not Holly. Even disbelieving: "This isn't Holly?"

Our last phone number, which we had for 9 years, had been the number of a woman who rented out a vacation house. We got calls for her for years. But they were people looking for a cabin to rent, not people who knew her.

I don't mind getting wrong numbers unless the caller seems to think it's my fault they misdialed or the phone number changed. At least Holly's friends don't slam the phone down when they hear "sorry, Holly doesn't have this number anymore."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

More on The Garden Angel

Who would have ever thought the author of a book I posted some rather off-the-cuff comments about would come across my little homeschool mommy blog and then leave me a note? Well, now I know better.

So, a bit more about the book The Garden Angel. Because although my little "review" will not have any effect on Ms Friddle or her books, I don't want to leave a bad impression. She was kind enough to respond to me, after all! And so graciously.

Yes, it was fluff - which is what I wanted and needed in a book at that time.

The characters were annoying at times. Maybe they were meant to be. Of course we all know that I am easily annoyed, and perhaps annoyance is better than indifference. I did care enough to finish the book, after all. I have sometimes rejected a novel after 2 pages.

This book was uplifting and did not contain the bleakness I so often find in contemporary fiction. It's true I didn't like the ending. I had set up the ending I wanted fairly early in the story. It didn't happen that way.
I wanted one particular character to "get hers" and it didn't happen - I like bad behavior (sin, if you will) to have consequences. Maybe, though, the author would find that that more contrived than the ending she gave it. It's her book, after all, and I suspect she was happy with the ending.

Even though I doubt she will read this, I thank Ms Friddle for reminding me that real people write books, and real authors might come across even this little mommy blog.

Summer reading

Seems like I used to do a monthly reading post. Well, June and July were a blur of packing and moving and unpacking, and August was little better. Still, we read some books.

First, the audiobooks. These were a life-saver during the move. I don't think we'd have made it across the country without them:

- Time Stops for No Mouse by Michael Hoeye. This was a gift from some friends, and I admit I did not hear a word of it - the kids listened to it on their own, while Daddy and I were working. They enjoyed it so much they both read the sequel, The Sands of Time, on their own. I know this is against the mommy rules - letting kids read/listen without previewing the books or listening along. But I'd heard enough good things about the books, and I trust my kids to let me know if something's amiss, so...

- Urchin of the Riding Stars (Mistmantle Chronicles Book 1) by M. I. McAllister. This cd set was loaned by a friend. We all enjoyed it very much. A squirrel epic of bravery. Epic of squirrel bravery? What's with all the fantasy books involving small forest animals anyway? I'll look for the further books in this series soon.

- A "Hank the Cowdog" book, the name of which I've forgotten.

- The Fellowship of the Ring by oh, you know. Actually, we didn't finish this. Started listening to it late in the trip, and tried to finish it at home. The kids say they enjoy it but not at bedtime. Hard to go to sleep after an encounter with a Balrog! And they don't ask for it any other time. So we've shelved it for now. Plenty of time.

Now "real" books. Hm, not many:

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. A fun romp, meant to be full of messages about media and government and letting your mind go soft, but we just read it as fun.

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson. For history (though we didn't learn much from it). Fun.

American Revolution by Bruce G. Bliven. A Landmark book I read for history. Very good overview of the war. The most exciting moments came when we read of the soldiers marching up Skippack Road - we drive on that road frequently!

J's reading had been picking up but is dwindling a bit again. Well, that may not be exactly true. He often has his nose in a book but he is a "browser" and will look through nonfiction books with lots of pictures (think DK "Eyewitness" series) and will read the parts that interest him. I don't try to log those. But I don't nag him about it either. I'm starting to assign him books to read now; he just finished The Winter at Valley Forge (a Landmark book; I can't find it and have forgotten the author's name) and is now reading Hero of the High Seas: John Paul Jones and the American Revolution by Michael L. Cooper.

But for fun he read:
Akiko and the Alpha Centauri 5000 by Mark Crilley.
It's a Dog's Life by John R. Erickson (Hank the Cow Dog).
Pick of the Litter by Bill Wallace.
The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden - his kind of book: he received 3 copies of it as gifts!

E is a reading machine. I can't keep up with her. Only difference between her and me at about her age: she's not into Nancy Drew. This is just some of what she's read:

Emily's Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary
Dick Whittington and his Cat
by Marcia Brown
Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary
It's a Dog's Life by John R. Erickson (Hank the Cow Dog)
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

More American Girls
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pippi in the South Seas by Astrid Lindgren
Ramona the Pest by Beverley Cleary
Ramona's World by Beverley Cleary
Ramona and Beezus by Beverley Cleary

Too many Beverley Cleary books to keep track of

She needs some new challenges. These books are fine, but pretty fluffy. Last week she complained of having nothing to read. I gave her Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, and Black Beauty, but she wanted none of those. So we have to work on the classics. She does want to read Alice in Wonderland but I want the pleasure of reading that one to her!

Oh, both kids are now reading Little House in the Big Woods. We are using The Prairie Primer this fall, making a notebook so we have something tangible to show for our efforts this year. New state, new rules, you know! Also I think everyone should read the "Little House" books and they are not ones J would pick on his own. We're just reading a few chapters a week and doing some of the activities. E would fly through them if I let her. She's read several of the prequels by Melissa Wiley and Roger Lea MacBride.

As for my own reading... well, I'm even behind in my daily Bible reading - I use Tabletalk magazine as a devotional aid (what a weird term) and am just now on July 10. To the kids I've been reading an old story Bible I found in our books. They're enjoying it and we're filling in on some of the less-familiar stories. So I am not living a Bible-less existence, even if my own reading is poor. I did read two novels for fun:

Garden Angel
by Mindy Friddle which was complete fluff and annoying at times, but I finished it. Annoying ending, too. For more on this book, please come here.

The Girl With The Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier which was just wonderful. I don't usually go for best-sellers because I am usually disappointed. But I kept seeing that picture and finally picked it up at the library. What a wonderful book. I had some moments of annoyance with the main character - a maid in the house of the artist Vermeer - when she seemed weak and didn't do what she ought. Then I remembered how powerless a maid in such a house is. I had a hard time giving up my reading moments once I got into the book, but I didn't peek at the end, as I sometimes do when trying to decide if I want to bother finishing something. Very good, satisfying ending, though not what I expected.

The ending of a book is very important to me. I am very dissatisfied with contrived "happy" endings. I am thinking of the otherwise wonderful book Time of Wonder (about the village that quarantined itself during the time of the plague) which was so good but spoiled by a contrived ending. A bad ending will truly ruin a book for me.

Now I am starting to read Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen by Peter Leithart. I've had the book for quite some time and had intended to reread the novels mentioned before reading it. I've changed my mind and am reading it and the novels as they come up.

So, that's our summer reading. Hope to have a long list for September!