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!