Monday, March 31, 2008

Day 2 of Home Education Week!

Profiling home educators:

Describe yourself, your family or one of your children. What is it like to be home educated in your family? What is “normal” for you?

Hmmm. I will describe my boy, my firstborn, as he is my greater homeschooling challenge and thus my greater homeschooling joy. (For now. I have my suspicions that my girl will become the greater challenge around age 12. Just a guess.) He is one of those all-boy boys.

When did we figure out that his brain worked a little differently from what we expected? Was it the morning the first words out of his mouth were "Dad, how long is the USS Nimitz?" Or was it when we realized that we could give him harder and harder jigsaw puzzles to work on, but he would still finish them in a flash, picking up pieces and placing them so easily.

This is the boy whose first comfort object was a book, not a blankie. Usually a book about trucks or heavy construction equipment, when he was a little guy. He always had books in his bed and we read for hours every day. At almost 11, he still likes being read to the best, and assures me he will want me to read to him forever. I believe him.

So when he struggled with reading on his own I was surprised, and dismayed. How can it be so hard to teach this book-loving boy to read? Math facts were hard too, even though he could have intelligent conversations with Daddy about math concepts I can't even describe here. He couldn't remember 5 + 7 but he could recite long answers from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. In 16th Century English! Somewhere we ran into a book, Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World, and saw some lights coming on. We changed our homeschooling methods, including doing the unthinkable: I gave up on phonics and let him sight-read. By the age of 8 he was reading pretty well; now he is a strong reader, leaning toward nonfiction, specifically military history and weaponry.

But because he didn't learn phonics, he can't spell at all. He hates writing: a few sentences tax his patience. But a few months ago he stunned me by saying, "Mom, can we re-do phonics? Because I never got that and I need to know how to spell." So we found some middle-grade phonics workbooks and he works on them, not quite joyfully, but eagerly because, of course, he has decided he needs to learn this thing. And that's really what I always wanted: a child who would be motivated to learn the things he needs to know.

So, what is normal? Reading aloud, a lot. Answering lots of questions. Biting my tongue, sometimes, when I get frustrated over my boy's trouble with those basic skills that ought to be simple. Listening to him rattle off facts about an airplane, a battle, a submarine, and knowing it's right because he's always right on this stuff. Calming myself down when I want to get nervous about skills. Feeling euphoric when he makes connections and I see his learning.

See more posts on this topic at Principled Discovery.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Was there life before homeschooling?

Dana at Principled Discovery is hosting Home Education Week. Each day she has a topic for our consideration. Today: life before homeschooling:

Share your personal history…before you were a home educator. What was life like? Think about things you miss and things you and your family have gained.

It's hard to remember life before homeschooling. When my first child was a baby, we started talking about homeschooling. Actually my husband did; I'd never heard of such a thing and I was dubious. After I started doing some research, I starting thinking a little more positively about it. I did "preschool" at home with some friends, a couple of whom decided to homeschool too. I read to my kids constantly. So it felt natural when we just skipped the kindergarten roundup and stayed home.

I do remember the day homeschooling clicked for me. Our family was visiting Bonneville Dam, on the Columbia River in Oregon. We wandered around the exhibits, sometimes having to wait because it was a crowded Saturday. Then my lightbulb moment: if we came here during the week, we'd have the rangers and exhibits all to ourselves! Wow! We could learn so much more!

It's hard to say what I miss since they've never been to school. I guess I might miss some free time in the middle of the day, but as my kids get older and more independent, I am finding more bits of time, and would find more if I was better at planning ahead and staying on track. So we're all learning here. What have we gained? Closeness as a family, a love of books and reading, a simpler schedule, no packed lunches. (Now that I pack lunch for my husband a couple of times a week, I know I could not have handled all those packed lunches.) I'm sure there are schooled kids who are close to their families, and love books and reading too. So I don't know about that.

I do know my kids have retained their childhood innocence more than they could have at school. There are ugly things about the world that they don't know yet. (They will, but in our time, not someone else's.) They are not subjected to peer pressure to conform with (ugly) fashion and (ugly) behavior. They aren't plugged into ipods and gameboys like so many school kids I see.

I feel very confident that life with homeschooling is the life for us, at least for now.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

More on Sheltering Children

Related to the Friday Heart of the Matter meme on sheltering our children, I've been thinking about inappropriate sheltering. There are a few things I wish homeschooling parents would not shelter their children from: religions, mythology, evolution, creation.

- "You read to your kids about Buddha? Why do they need to know anything about Buddhism?" Really, I have been asked that question. My kids did not become Buddhists. Nor have they converted to any of the other major religions we've talked or read about.

- Some parents don't want their kids exposed to any mythology. I can't imagine forbidding the Greek and Roman myths. We have read and re-read, and listened and re-listened to the D'Aulaire's Greek myths. My kids don't pray to Zeus. They do love the stories and they love knowing the allusions to them in literature. But then, I have also heard of homeschooling parents who don't expose their kids to literature other than the Bible, because "it's a waste of time" and "all trash." I am very thankful that my mother didn't feel that way.

- I know parents who expect their kids to grow up without ever hearing the basics about evolution. Imagine going to college or into your first job and hearing about evolution for the first time. Regardless of the parents' beliefs, the children should have a working knowledge of these basic concepts. Why do parents want to hinder their children and make them look ignorant? Rebecca at The Upside Down World put down some interesting thoughts on that topic recently. I don't really agree that parents should not teach Creation Science or Intelligent Design if that is what they believe, but I do think parents put their kids at risk if they don't expose them to different ideas. I think kids who suddenly have these "secrets" exposed to them when they hit college age are at great risk for losing their faith, and for losing trust in their parents.

Sheltering is good, hiding is not. Kids have to know the world they live in. Yes, we are not to be conformed to this world, but we are to live in it effectively. Our children won't be effective if they are ignorant.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Only 40 more days!

Today we completed 140 of the 180 days of education required by our state. Only 40 more days of keeping my log of educational activities, of trying to figure out how to "count" something we do. I guess E is doing science right now, as she is planting some chive seeds in a little pot she found on the porch. And J is doing PE as he and Dad are having some batting practice.

After we complete our 180 days we'll take a couple of days off to celebrate, then start up our regular activities again. 'Cause even if the state of PA says we've learned enough for this school year, we know we haven't.

Our legal school year ends on June 30 so we'll start counting for next year on July 1.

I still think having to record days and educational activities is just dumb, but I'm getting used to it.

Heart of the Matter: Sheltering our children

It's The Heart of the Matter Friday meme: share your thoughts on this quote:

Clearly there is an appropriate kind of sheltering. When those who are opposed to homeschooling accuse me of sheltering my children, my reply is always, 'What are you going to accuse me of next, feeding and clothing them?" ~R.C. Sproul Jr

Sheltering our kids - always a hot topic for people unsure or critical of homeschooling. What are we sheltering them from?

Well, there's the obvious - bullies, fights, cliques, sexual abuse from teachers or fellow students. When a homeschooling parent mentions them, people nod and say. "yes, yes, those are problems. But still..."

How about all that wasted time? There is so much time wasted at school! Time wasted lining up, calling roll, waiting for other students to finish the work, waiting for the teacher to finish disciplining someone. Of course at home we waste time too. It's 7:18; I should not be typing here but should have my kids up and about and ready to hit the books, yes? But the wasted time here is not spent sitting doing nothing. A child needs to wait for me while I move some laundry around - he's reading a book, she's drawing. Or, better yet, they are helping me do it, learning those important but overlooked home skills. Sometimes the wasted time is intentional: "go outside and run around with the dog" means "blow off some steam, get some energy out, then come in and let's read." From my experience in school, waiting time is dead time, daydreaming time, misbehaving time. Yes, people shrug, "that's just the way it goes."

I'm also sheltering my kids from being put in a box. Not a literal box; the grade level box. My boy would be in 5th grade. He is doing 3rd grade arithmetic, though he understands high-school (or beyond?) level math concepts. His grasp of the basics does not yet meet his conceptual understanding. His reading level is probably about 5th grade, though if he is allowed to read about a subject that really interests him, he can read books found in the "adult" section of the library. My daughter would be in 3rd grade; she's doing 2nd grade math facts but reading 5th grade level books. Both of them are used to reading/listening to me read history and science books that aren't even in the elementary school curriculum. The boy asked some question recently about the Chechen Republic's relationship to Russia and the former Soviet Union. What grade do they teach that in?

How about sheltering my kids from an artificial environment? At what other time in their lives other than school are kids massed with their own age group almost to the exclusion of all others?

Guilty of sheltering them from absurd "zero tolerance" policies that make a child defending himself equally culpable as the bully attacking him, or equate an aspirin with illicit drugs.

I am sheltering my kids from the values taught in school, both implicitly and explicitly. Peer pressure to express their individuality within the strict confines of what is in style, inappropriate sexualization, a diminishing of Western values in honor of tolerance and diversity... yes, I will gladly shelter my kids from all that. This is, I think, the biggest fear of homeschooling opponents. They are afraid parents will pass on their own opinions, ethics, and morals. But that is the job of parents, and that is how a culture survives. (Will our culture survive?) That doesn't mean we teach them a narrow view of the world. We don't exclude other viewpoints; we simply emphasize our own, and we teach them why we believe the way we do.

Sure, there are dangers that we may shelter our children too much, or inappropriately. But I think that is a topic for another post.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling is up!

At Phat Mommy. As usual, lots of reading. I was very pleased to read Time Yourself at The Reluctant Homeschooler, since I have dealt with the same problem. Shabby Chic Homeschooling is a great one for homeschoolers who feel like they don't fit in to the "correct" homeschool lifestyle. Who hasn't felt that way? Hey, you don't even have to be a homeschooler to feel like a freak sometimes. And I submitted my post on the book North With the Spring.

Homeschoolers and people just curious about homeschooling can learn a lot about at the carnival. Though I have grown tired of the word "diversity" it really does show the wide range of homeschooling philosophies and methods. Everyone should support freedom in education, whether they homeschool or not, or have kids or not.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring Reading Thing 2008

Yes, I'm joining the Spring Reading Thing 2008. A reading challenge? Am I crazy? I don't have time to read. Actually, I've found that when I really want to, I can indeed find time to read. The challenge runs from now till June 19 (spring, get it?) You can do it too. Go over to Calapidder Days (I don't know what that means but I bet you can find out over there) and see what it's all about. Even if you don't want to participate, but need some new reading ideas, go take a look. I am #164 on the list of participants. That's a lot of book lists to browse.

Is it cheating to use books I need to read for my class? No. (At least I don't think so.) So:

- Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
- The Plague by Albert Camus
- Seeing With New Eyes by David Powlison
- The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
- The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett
- Flying Cloud by David W. Shaw
- The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
- The Pope's Rhinoceros by Lawrence Norfolk
- Faith at Work by Carol Ruvolo

A couple of these books I've had for 10, maybe even 20 years, but have never read them. Maybe they'll be terrible and I'll wonder why I've packed and moved them so many times!

I'm going to start with An Uncommon Reader because it looks fun and is short.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

World War II is not an era that is particularly interesting to me. My knowledge of the fall of France comes from the movie Casablanca. My 10 year old son knows much more than I do! So I am not sure why this book interested me. Perhaps it was the author's story: an accomplished and well-regarded writer, Irene Nemirovsky was killed in Auschwitz. Years later, two pieces of a planned suite of stories are found and published to great acclaim.

I don't even remember where or when I heard about it; someone's blog, I suppose. Anyway, it is a wonderful book, or, I should say, two short books. The subject is bleak; the writing/translating exquisite. Even in the time of war, death, and occupation, there is hope, love and laughter.

The Gathering Storm follows several people/groups as they prepare to leave Paris: a wealthy family, a working-class-couple, a priest, a soldier, an author. The narrative flows between groups, telling of their experiences as the Germans take over.

The second part, Dolce, focuses on a village occupied by Germans, and the complex interactions between residents and occupiers. There are a few overlapping characters but each story stands on its own.

There is an unfinished feeling at the end of the book; maybe I felt it because I knew there were more books planned. There was also an appendix with the author's notes for the stories.

There are plenty of reviews to read for more detail; over 300 reader reviews on Amazon! This book is really worth reading.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Barbie invades the frozen food aisle

Well, for all I know there have been Barbie frozen foods for a long time. But today as I was wandering around the store, the Barbie Eggo Brand frozen waffles caught my eye. Yes, frozen waffles with pictures of Barbie and other cute Barbie-ish things on them.

I couldn't find evidence of Barbie waffles on the Kellogg's website, but I did find the Barbie Sparkleberry Printed Fun Pop-Tarts. I don't think I want to know what a sparkleberry is.

Really, people eat this stuff?

Drop Everything and Read Day

Drop Everything and Read Day is celebrated on April 12, children's author Beverly Cleary's birthday, each year. It's just a day to celebrate books and encourage reading. Most homeschoolers don't need any extra encouragement to read, but it's fun to have a special reason for celebrating books.

This year April 12 is a Saturday, which is a bummer for us. I see there's a Girl Scout thing on the calendar, and J is sure to have a baseball game. Still, we will read that day, but not as much as I would like for such an occasion. But, I may declare the Friday before as our day to "just read." Every now and then we - I mean I - just read for as many hours as I can stand.

If you like a little incentive, see Becky's Book Reviews: D.E.A.R. Reading Challenge.

Saturday Review of Books

The Saturday Review of Books is up at Semicolon. I browse this occasionally and this week finally jumped in with my thoughts on The Misadventures of Maude March.

It's a good place to kill some time finding new books, even if we should be reading the books we already have stacked up...

Have you met Maude March?

Prissy Maude March and her dime-novel-loving little sister Sally are orphans living with their strict Aunt Ruthie somewhere on the edge of the western frontier. When Aunt Ruthie suddenly dies, the girls embark on a wild-west adventure, heading to Independence to find their long-lost uncle.

I had picked up The Misadventures of Maude March (by Audrey Couloumbis) on cd on a whim at the library. What a great book! It's funny, exciting, and though it's about two sisters, great for boys too. (You know how boys sometimes don't like "girly" books.) We were thrilled to find a sequel (Maude March on the Run!) and read that through quickly. I found myself trying to read in the same "voice" as the narrator (Lee Adams) which never works, of course. My kids did not care. After we finished this book, they wanted me to read the first one all over again. (I didn't.)

My 9 and 10 year olds could read these on their own. But they make great read-alouds. There is one mention of a "fallen woman" in the first book; in the second a short scene takes place in the local house of ill-repute. My kids didn't know that, but I did. Of course these were women with hearts of gold.

The ending of the second book left it wide-open for another installment. We'd be happy for this to become a long series.

Friday, March 21, 2008

What I wish I'd known....

Today I came across an interesting meme at The Heart of the Matter, a new blog to me. (Thanks to Smallworld.) This week the topic is:

What You Wish You Had Known Your First Year of Homeschooling.

I can't really say when my first year of homeschooling was. Was it when I decided to homeschool? Was it when my kids "should have gone" to kindergarten? Or when I had to register them with the local school district at age 7? I guess it doesn't matter, because the answer would be the same no matter what:

I'd have calmed down about the reading.

Both my husband and I could read before we went to kindergarten, and both love books. So we assumed any kids of ours would love books and would be early readers. Well, they both love books, always have. Our boy's first comfort object was a book, not a blankie. And if we had to punish the little toddler, afterwards he would cry "read a book, read a book!" That was how he could be sure he was still loved.

But neither kid took to reading early. The boy and I struggled mightily for a couple of years before I gave up on the conventional methods and let him read easy books. By 8 I could relax a little because he could read, some. Now by almost 11 he is doing pretty well. He can't spell, because he never got the phonics down. But recently he asked me to "redo" phonics with him because he sees the lack of it hindering him. Since he is doing it because he wants to, there is no struggle and we're progressing OK. He is "behind" in writing but otherwise doing pretty well. I managed not to kill his love for books and learning.

My 2nd child wasn't interested at age 6, and I didn't really care because I was still struggling with her big brother. At 7 she taught herself to read. I guess hearing his phonics lessons was enough to get her started, and she's never looked back.

So, if I could have those years back, I'd just keep reading to them, keep letting them love books and language, and sit back till they were ready to read. I should have known it would happen.

Go over to Heart of the Matter and see what others have to say.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

North With the Spring - Edwin Way Teale

One day while browsing the shelves of the tiny bookroom at our local nature center, I came upon an intriguing group of books by an author I'd never heard of. That's not surprising; there are a lot of authors out there and while I'd like to think I am well-read, I don't even know what I'm missing. But there was something about these old-looking hardbacks; I had to pick them up. Edwin Way Teale was a naturalist who, with his wife Nellie, traveled throughout the US in the 1950s; he wrote about their adventures in 4 seasonal books: North With the Spring, Journey into Summer, Autumn Across America, and Wandering Through Winter.

North With the Spring
is our current "natural history" reading. I love reading to my family, and they love to listen. Most mornings, after we finish up our catechism and while we are lingering a little too long over breakfast, we read a chapter. We had actually started reading Wandering Through Winter but, spring came too soon and we weren't in the mood for winter writing anymore. That's OK; it's on the shelf for next year.

Reading and listening to beautiful writing is very important for children. It helps them learn to speak well; eventually, perhaps, to write well. My kids have always scored above their "grade level" on the "language expression" and vocabulary portions of the few standardized tests they have taken. (And thank goodness because their grasp of proper punctuation is not so great.) This is just because we have always read to them, and try to read superbly-written books as often as possible.

Nature or natural history writing interests all of us. We love the descriptions of the plants, animals, and geography. Good writing of this type nearly always draws us to the encyclopedia or the internet for more investigation. That is what education is all about, isn't it?

North With the Spring begins:

Bare trees imprinted the black lace of their twigs on a gray and somber sky. Dingy with soot, snowdrifts had melted into slush and were freezing again. Behind us, as we drove south, city pallor was increasing. Tempers were growing short in the dead air of underventilated offices. That quiet desperation, which Thoreau says characterizes the mass of men, was taking on new intensity. February, at once the shortest and the longest month of the twelve, had outstayed its welcome. The year seemed stuck on the ridge of winter.

Starting in the Everglades, the Teales make their way up the Eastern Seaboard to Maine, with a few westward diversions. He writes about the Great Smoky Mountains, Kitty Hawk, Virginia in May, Manhatten, Cape Cod.... At Lake Okeechobee in Florida, they watch flocks of glossy ibises return to their nightly nesting place:

Now the vanguard of returning birds appeared out of the glowing pink of the sunset clouds - a long line of black dots approaching low over the water. The dots grew in size, took shape, became a skein of dark birds. They passed us silently, flowing over the obstruction of the cattail ls and canes as though each bird were a link in a pliant chain. The whole line of birds seemed a unit, an entity, rather than a group of separate individuals. Against the luminous sky each glossy ibis was imprinted sharply. Over the island they curved into a great wheel and poured doward in a spiral to alight in the willow trees.

Teale also wrote Springtime in Britain, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm, and many others. A Walk Through the Year has short, daily readings based on his wanderings on his farm.

Some links:

Journey North has a short excerpt from North With the Spring and some observation questions about earthworms. has a bio and bibliography.

Our Land, Our Literature discusses his memoir of his childhood, Dune Boy.

The Teales' farm, Trail Wood, is owned by the Audubon Society of Connecticut. I'd love to visit. Maybe now that we're on the east coast for a while....

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

One of those great homeschooling days

This is not typical, but days like this happen often enough to make it worthwhile.

Up at 7, with the dog and kids, walking/running the neighborhood.

Catechism and discussion of 6th commandment (it's more complicated than you think).

A chapter of North With the Spring, read aloud. Words to bring tears to your eyes.

Math, grammar, even phonics without complaints! Ever since I told the big complainer that he'd have no computer game time if he complained about these basics that we have to do, we have gotten a lot more done in a shorter amount of time! Shazam!

Animal classification - looked up a few animals found while reading On the Banks of Plum Creek (oh yeah, they did their reading in that after breakfast cleanup; we just do 3 chapters a week). In the process, of course, they had some short diversions in the pages of the encyclopedia, on the Animal Diversity Web, and on the Encyclopedia of Life website. Read about grasshoppers in Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study. We read about the order Mammalia in the Audubon Nature Encyclopedia. We are loosely following The Prairie Primer and getting discussion and activity ideas from that book, so we also discussed idleness, work ethic, and wheat growing.

J went outside to work on some kind of rocket involving matches, paper clips, and something else. (Under strict instructions not to light said matches alone.) Then moved to playing with the dog, then had a little baseball practice with Dad (who is on spring break and outside fixing the roof). The rockets never did work; it's a little too windy outside today.

E wrote up a recipe for a bready sort of thing, then put it together on her own. It turned out horribly - I should have been paying closer attention when she rattled off her list of ingredients; if I had, we might have added some leavening. No matter; I do hate to waste a cup of flour and an egg (the other ingredients were in negligible amounts), but the lesson, of course, was priceless. Yes, I'm living a MasterCard(tm) ad.

We read a picture-book bio of Charles Dickens and talked about the way his life affected his writing. We had read Oliver Twist a few months ago so the image of the orphan in the workhouse was familiar to them. Took a virtual tour of the Charles Dickens Museum in London. Decided that The Pickwick Papers should be our next "pleasure book" to be read aloud. I am not sure I'm up for that right now. It took a very long time to get through Oliver.

In between we had teatime, and did some house and dog chores. The kids had time to play some more with the dog, get in some more baseball practice, and do some "geological exploring" which was really just messing around in the mud.

Just before bed we read a bit of Tom Sawyer.

Yes, these are the days that get me through the tough ones. The days everything clicks, the kids improve their skills (even if it is almost imperceptible), greatly increase their knowledge and understanding of the world, and take great joy in life.

Carnival of Homeschooling

The 115th Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Janice Campbell's Taking Time for Things that Matter. This is a new site to me and it looks like there's a lot to see.

As usual I haven't had time to look over everything at the carnival yet, but I really enjoyed The Headmistress's post on Initiative (something we can use more of around here) and "Which of these is not like the others?" at No Fighting, No Biting: It's always nice to come across some other counter-cultural freaks.

Oh, and ButtonWillow Cottage is one of the prettiest blogs I think I have ever seen.

Thoughts on the movie "Wit"

The class I'm auditing requires reading, talking, and viewing movies, and then writing about the book, conversation, movie. Because I am only auditing, I don't have to turn in any writing. But, I hope to sign up as a "real" student next semester, so I'm trying to keep up with the assignments.

The movie "Wit" was assigned as part of the unit on anxiety and depression. It's a difficult movie to watch - a stern college professor is diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, agrees to go through clinical trial, and becomes the property of the hospital and the researchers. Emma Thompson is wonderful as the main character, of course. But the character, Vivian, was hard to empathize with. I had a hard time caring a bit about her and whether she lived or died, whether she was comfortable, well-treated, in the hospital.

Her coldness was an important part of the movie, as was her treatment at the hands of the medical establishment. Coincidentally (haha), the main researcher/doctor assigned to her case was a former student of hers. He remembered how tough she was. This led him to conclude she was tough enough to withstand the treatments he was giving her. She had treated her students in much the same way as her doctors treated her: no mercy, no kindness, no compassion. As she progressed in her illness, scenes of her coldness toward her students came back to her. I could not be sure if she really felt regret over that, though. It was easy to see why she had no visitors; though she claimed not to want any, it was clear there was no one who would want to visit her.

Only twice did I feel like crying (and I am a crier by nature). The first was when her former professor came to visit after learning about her hospitalization from Vivian's office and read a children's book to her as she slept. It was a sweet moment. The second was the scene wherein Vivian and her nurse shared a popsicle and discussed her code status: did she want to be revived if her heart stopped? These other women, the elderly professor and the nurse, were the only touches of humanity in the movie.

The end really showed the coldness of the medical profession. I had a hard time believing that hospital personnel are capable of such "noncaring" toward the people they are caring for. Maybe "caring for" is the wrong term here. There did not seem to be much caring.

Oh, Vivian's subject was "Metaphysical Poetry." John Donne. So we had the opportunity, repeatedly, to hear:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Yes, it seemed a little contrived. Though I suppose there are worse things to be reciting as one contemplates one's own (imminent) death. But then again, this is pretty good:

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.
Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you.
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made."
(Isaiah 43:1-7)

Or this, short and sweet: "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5b

Monday, March 17, 2008

Do these people know me or what?

Gifts received recently:

- tea
- dark chocolate
- books
- a teapot
- a nifty beaded plant-hanger thingy
- salt and pepper shaker set
- more tea
- cds

See some themes here?

Thanks y'all!

(No, this is not the official thank-you card.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Christian and a homeschooler, but not...

a Christian homeschooler.

It is so nice to be able to put people in a box. It helps us make sense of people; it helps us to figure them out. It helps us to judge them and decide if they are like us or not. It helps us decide if we should like them or not.

The term "Christian homeschooler" creates a certain image in the mind. People tell me they picture a mom in a jumper (the homeschool uniform) standing by the whiteboard in front of her large family. They're crackin' the books, doing "school at home" which is like school, only with Christian textbooks.

Nothing wrong with that image, really. I guess some Christian homeschoolers are like that. We're not like that.

We do try to start our day reading the Bible, and my kids memorize their Catechism. Or try to. We sometimes slack off on the memorizing because we're discussing the concepts. Sometimes we read the Bible at breakfast, but as often as not we are involved in some other kind of conversation and don't get to it till later. But we do it. Usually. Somewhere in every day, we pray. At some point, Biblical application to life comes up. Always.

We do math from a workbook, too, and I guess the publisher is a Christian but it's not a "Christian" math book. We had one of those once, and there was nothing particularly Christian about it except the occasional use of Christian people or symbols in word problems. 5 (loaves) + 2 (fish) = what?

We tried reading some Christian fiction once too, but the story was badly written and the only thing Christian about it was the fact that the main character prayed. Once in the 150-page book. So we read the classics - Mark Twain, Dickens - and lots of fun stuff, like the Swallows and Amazons series.

We own a set of children's encyclopedias which are not Christian. This caused great concern for a guest once. She thought we should not have such books because they contained evolution. Not all Christians are like this, but she didn't think kids should be exposed to the concept of evolution. Ever, as far as I could tell. Wow, imagine going off to college or otherwise into the adult world, not having a clue about evolution. I don't teach my children about evolution as fact. But they understand the basics of the concepts.

Our history curriculum is often criticized by Christians because it does not portray Christianity as "right." It pretty much treats all religions equally. But it's a good curriculum and I am certainly capable of going into more depth on certain aspects of it. I certainly don't want to paint a rosy picture of the Crusades, for example, or ignore that time completely. I certainly don't teach them that all religions are equal, but I'm not going to skip over Buddha, Confucius, and other non-Christian people, as some of my acquaintances do. These people existed in history. Knowing that they lived and what they did does not mean we believe in what they taught.

Some Christian homeschoolers are like me. But some are also driven by fear - fear that their kids will be exposed to something different and will lose their faith. They cite statistics that show some high number of kids in college have a crisis of faith and leave the church. I think kids are more likely to have a crisis of faith if/when they figure out their parents kept a lot of information from them.

I'm happy with my homeschooling plans, most of the time, and they seem to be working out for my kids, most of the time. If only people wouldn't try to hard to fit us in a box! There are so many different ways to homeschool; that's part of the beauty of it. We should try to see that all homeschoolers don't have to fit the same box.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Can we change team names, please?

Last night I got the call from my boy's Little League coach, informing me of the practice schedule and the team my kid is on. I'll complain about the practice schedule another time. Now I'm focusing on the team name.

Let me just say here that most of my life I lived in the bay area in California, and spent many, many happy hours at Candlestick Park watching the San Francisco Giants. They were my team. Still are, I guess. Though I still love baseball, it's not a big part of my life right now. I hope to go to a Phillies' game someday. Or at least some minor league games. Anyway, if you asked me what my team is, I'd say the Giants.

So I was really unhappy to learn last night that my son's team is - you know it's coming, don't you? - the Dodgers.

For the first time in my life I am going to be expected to yell "Go Dodgers." Will motherly love prevail?

Scrappleface on Pastor Wright

Don't usually get into the satire sites much, but my husband left this for me to read and I think it is just too funny:

Video: Obama's Pastor Teams with Veggie Tales

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, recently-retired pastor of Sen. Barack Obama’s home church in Chicago, announced that he’s teaming up with the producers of the Veggie Tales children’s videos to promote his own brand of biblical race relations for boys and girls.

There's more.. The last line keep cracking me up.

I kinda miss Veggie Tales. We watched them a lot, but the kids are over that now. I wish we'd kept a few of the classics around. This morning I found a few great clips. My personal fave was that classic power ballad, My Cheeseburger, sung by Mr. Lunt. The Larry Boy theme had a pretty good r&b groove, too.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

This is just sad... and lovely too

For some reason I followed a link, and then another, and ended up at The Anchoress, reading Failure to love is killing Europe.


Over at
the Corner, they’re quoting Bruce Thornton: [Europe is not reproducing because]
“children are expensive. They require you to sacrifice your time and your interests and your own comfort. If your highest good is pleasure, if your highest good is a sophisticated life, then children get in the way. Why would you spend so much money and so much energy on children if your highest good is simply material well-being? That’s sort of the spiritual dimension of the problem.”

And lovely:

I’ve realized over the years that anti-life action, abortion, euthanasia, are all failures of love, and failures to be willing to open yourself up to all the ache and beauty that love brings. People don’t mind the beauty but they don’t want the ache, so they settle for a beauty less vibrant but safer.

"If your highest good is pleasure." Imagine a life like that.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sweet Baby James turns 60

Whenever I hear the song "Fire and Rain" I'm transported back to 1970, specifically to my room in suburban San Jose, CA. That's where I listened to that song, and the album it came from, every day after school. Multiple times a day. I was one of those awkward, shy, ugly (glasses, braces, stringy hair, fat - I had it all, baby!) smart kids who spend a lot of time in their rooms. James Taylor's music brought comfort and soul to my life. I bought every album, even the ones from before he became a star. Then I bought them again on cd. I saw him in concert a few times. My husband really endeared himself to me when he took me to one while we were dating, even though he never really was a fan.

When my kids were babies we sang "Sweet Baby James" to them, with a minor change:

...And as the moon rises he sits by his fire,
thinkin' 'bout his sister and drinking root beer..."

Not that we have anything against bottles of beer, but it just seemed simpler at the time. They were thrilled the first time they heard the real song.

I don't seem to listen to JT much these days. Most of the cds are still packed away, and there's not a lot of time, even for background music. But on the rare occasion I'm listening to the radio and one of his songs comes on, I can sing along perfectly. I know every nuance, every bit of background vocal.

So today while I was out on a quick library and grocery store stop - alone - I was pushing radio buttons till I heard an announcer wish JT a happy 60th birthday. Then "Fire and Rain" - what else? - started up. And there I was, 14 years old again, singing along just like I did every day, all those years ago.

The "Abercrombie and Fitch Emergency Room"?

Sounds ludicrous, doesn't it? From this morning:

A children's advocacy group wants to keep a children's hospital from putting clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch's name on a new emergency room.

Because they sell icky clothes and have icky advertising. I am not a fan of A&F myself. But, you know, anytime people give money to something, it's common practice to put the name up somewhere in honor of the donation. The bigger the $, the bigger the sign with the name.

Still, I am often reminded of this:

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

"Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Matthew 6:1-4

I wonder how many companies give in secret. I wonder if A&F will turn out to be one of them.

Carnival of Homeschooling is up!

Go spend some time at At Home With Kris. The carnival seems to be getting bigger each week. I was particularly interested in the long list of reasons to homeschool at WWH - Freedom from Hayes Homeschool. Probably because many of those are my reasons too. Predictions from 1900 at A Mountain Homeschool is a good read too. I always find new blogs to add to my reader list when the carnival comes around.

There is also a whole section on the California homeschool ruling if you are interested in that.

One of these days I'll try to write something to submit again. It is a good exercise, and risk-free. There are no rejection notices from the carnival!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Playing nice: homeschoolers out and about

Today we were out buying Easter shoes - every year at this time I realize my girl needs nice church shoes and it always turns into a big ordeal, but as usual I digress - around 10 am: school hours! The gal at Payless was very helpful, looking for sizes and generally being nice. Though it is not always this way, my kids were polite, pleasant, and helpful today. They "showed well."

As we were paying, the clerk asked "no school today?" She was not confrontational, just curious. Maybe not even that; maybe just chatty. It must be boring there in the shoe store during school hours. So I just replied "Oh, we homeschool. We did some work this morning, and we'll go home and do some more after this."

I don't remember what she said, but she responded pleasantly and positively. Maybe it was just "cool." Which can also be interpreted as "dismissively." Anyway, the point is:

- she wasn't rude

- we weren't rude

- we didn't assume she was being confrontational about homeschooling and didn't feel we need to defend our right to be out buying shoes during "school hours."

- she might, if she has any memory of us at all, remember homeschoolers in a positive way.

Isn't that be better than remembering us as being rude and snarky for daring to ask why two obviously-school-aged children are out messing around when it seems they should be in school?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Just one of those socialization experiences...

kids need in order to get ready for adulthood: getting your lunch money stolen at school. Right?

But what if the victim can't speak up for herself, and what if the thief is a teacher's aid? Funny that this is in California. I assume the judge that sentenced the thief is not the one that says parents don't have a right to educate their children at home.

Via The Common Room

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Hostile Homeschoolers

This post has been rattling around since the California homeschool ruling and was helped along by Falling Like Rain's post "What Will Two Cents Buy Me in California?"

Most homeschoolers have encountered hostility somewhere along their homeschooling road. Sometimes it's from family members, sometimes from friends, even strangers get into the act. It should be expected, at least till homeschooling is considered as much of a default option for education as public school is. So, not in my lifetime!

But there are a lot of hostile homeschoolers too. Since I've been reading about the court decision in California (saying that homeschooling parents need a teaching credential), it's really ratcheting up.

From snarky comments about teacher union reps to anger over "stupid judges," there's a lot of righteous indignation out there. And I wish people would tone it down, because that attitude is harmful to homeschoolers. In particular, Christian homeschoolers should absolutely not be indulging in insulting, hostile commentary. Really, what kind of witness do you think you are when you make insulting comments about "ignorant public-school supporters"?

Let' s keep the level of discourse up here. If someone asks you about homeschooling, assume goodwill and curiosity on their part. If the grocery clerk asks "what, no school today?" you don't have to go off on the fact that education isn't limited to "school hours." Just answer the question, politely and positively. Keep the negativity off the blogs, too, please.

You want the nonhomeschooling public to have a positive view of homeschooling? You have to give it to them. How are you doing on that?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Wherein I swear at my children

It was one of those chaotic days we have around here so often. Nothing was getting done, for no particular reason. The house was badly cluttered. Dinner was haphazard and I was late getting it started. So the kids and I decided to play a game. I didn't want to play the game but in the midst of a crazy day, sometimes that's the best thing to do.

It was a card game about inventions, and I was playing a card with a question about early bicycles. I don't remember which child had the question, but he or she got it wrong. I read the correct answer off the card and J piped up, "That's wrong! The first bicycle was a vockilipsie!"

"A vockilipsie?" I thought to myself. "What the hell is a vockilipsie?" Then I realized I'd said it out loud.

Oh, my kids were delighted! They could not stop laughing. Every now and then one would get enough breath to say "What the bleep is a vockilipsie?" and that would send them both off cracking up again. I apologized, and said that was not an appropriate way to use the word hell. They just kept laughing. And argued over who would get to tell Dad. (I said I would.) Then we had to figure out what a vockilipsie actually is. It is a velocipede. (More about J and phonics another time.)

When Dad got home I told him. He laughed too, of course. We both knew it could have been worse. Later, J sidled up to me and whispered, "did you tell Dad about the incident?" I assured him that I had and all was well. I think he was disappointed that I didn't get computer time taken away from me as punishment. (He would have.) But he recovered quickly and went off cackling and chanting "what the bleep is a vockilipsie?"

You thought this was going to be more exciting, didn't you?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Unwanted fashion dolls around? Get a dog.

For a long time I've wanted E to give away her Kellie dolls. They are like miniature Barbies in training. Kind of cute. But she rarely plays with them and I find them "around" too much. Today she got them out for some sort of game with all the fashion dolls, including "Soldier Barbies" which is what she sometimes calls the GI Joes - much to the annoyance of her big brother. But the dog got one of them and chewed its foot off. He also made the doll's hair - these dolls have very long hair, like all good Barbies - all icky with dog spit.

I'd rather they went to a friend or to charity. But, the trash can works too, if my goal is to get them out of my way.

Of course E is going to give the doll a haircut before she tosses it. What is it with girls and cutting their dolls hair?

Oh, they just walked in to show me that they've dismembered the doll. Should I be worried?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

We're so mean

I just can't resist reading all the blogs detailing Michelle Obama's complaints about the US. My favorite so far is at Jammy Wearing Fool. There are some great comments there too.

Of course I have a hard time mustering any sympathy for her hard life, her student loans, her high summer camp expenses for her kids. I don't have anything against people with a lot of money, but I have no respect for wealthy people who "talk poor." I don't think Republicans do that. There are a lot of rich conservatives, but I don't hear them pretending they are struggling.

Anybody know where I can get a "mean people suck" bumper sticker to send her? I live kinda far from Berkeley now.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Anticipation and disappointment in suburbia

Today was going to be a big day in our house. Our local big/cheap grocery store chain opened a new store nearby. The ad came in last week's mail - 4 full-color pages of grocery seduction. This was to be a "Giant Store like no other!" Gorgeous produce. Succulent meat. A Cheese Shoppe - not just a shop, but a shoppe! So elegant! Bulk bins! (I have documented my disgust with the local bulk bins before.) Then the invitation to find a printable coupon and store tour on the website! The kids and I raced to the computer and watched the video. Hmmm... looks great: cooking classes, community events, a nutritionist, bulk bins! (But no alcoholic beverages - in this backwards state those can only be purchased in "special" stores.) We printed our coupon, cleared the calendar, and made our plans.

But things happen around here, and we didn't get out at 10:30 as we'd planned. I wondered briefly if arriving there around lunchtime would be a problem. Didn't that ad say there was a food court? Ah well, it should be fine. Armed with our list, coupon, and directions, we headed out. Only to find a completely full parking lot. Cars parked in the fire lanes. Cars going around and around, waiting for someone to come out. And it was a big, big parking lot. It looked like Christmas Eve at the mall.

What the heck? What are all these people doing here? It's a grocery store grand opening, for crying out loud, not a major cultural event! Of course it made sense for us to be there - we're just a penniless suburban homeschool/student family out looking for some cheap thrills (and bulk spices). And samples, we were really anticipating some good samples. But don't these other people have better things to do?

So, defeated, we headed home. We knew that even if we scored a parking spot the lines would be too long. The samples might be all gone. (Thank the Lord we had eaten peanut butter sandwiches before we left the house.) The bulk bins emptied out by the hungry hordes who should have been working, or something, instead of hanging out in a grocery store.

Such is life, here in suburbia.

UPDATE: No wonder. I saw an article about it in the local news. There were musicians, clowns, and "local dignitaries" there today. We ended up going there tonight after dinner; it was still crowded but manageable. Nice store, but then new stores always are. The bulk bins were a disappointment. But the kids informed me that they saw a whoopie cushion for sale in the canned bean aisle. Hardee har har.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Scholastic Books and the Carnival of Homeschooling

It's been a while since I've paid attention to the Carnival of Homeschooling, much less submitted something to it. I would like to start again since it is a great source of information, inspiration, and all-around good reading. In this week's edition at (Palm Tree Pundit), this post caught my eye right away: "Why I wouldn't use Scholastic for Homeschooling" at Notes from a Homeschooling Mom. I have had "issues" with Scholastic for quite a while now. So much of their material seems to be spun off from tv and movies; rarely does anything in their catalog interest me anymore. And, they publish a fair bit of trash too, which seems odd for a publisher of educational materials.

And there's lots more to see at the Carnival!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Are women bigger liars than men?

Dr. Helen has a post up about women and lying this morning. I'm sure this one will generate a lot of comments. Dr. Helen's is the liveliest blog I know of - her provocative posts start a lot of discussion in the comments section.

Dr. Helen links to this New York Post article about a book that "proves" women lie more than men. Huh. The survey was conducted via a Craigslist post looking for women to talk about their lying. But even if this was a good way to conduct a survey, there is no equivalent survey of men. I mentioned this to my kids this morning and the first question was: "Did they interview 500 men too?" Bingo! That led to a discussion of surveying methods. I think I can log "logic" in my homeschooling record book today. Anyway, it's really a silly article and seems to be just something to stir up trouble between men and women.

My favorite "lie" is this one:

50 percent harbor "mixed feelings about mothering." One told Barash, "I look at these children and I crave sleep and free time. They wear me out and make me jealous of working women who have no children, no husbands."

What's dishonest about that? That's actually being honest about feelings. I love my children but there have been times I craved sleep and free time. The other night one of my kids and I were up from about 2 am - 4 am. Yeah, you bet I was craving some sleep. I am pretty sure my kid knew it too.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pinewood Derby

Yesterday was the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. For those unfamiliar with scouts, this is a Big Day in the life of a Cub. Several weeks before the big day, the boys get a car-making kit - a block of wood, some axles and wheels, and they (um, and their Dads) design a car to race. There are some exact specifications that must be followed. The only one I am sure of is the 5-ounce weight limit.

So my boy (with lots of help) made his car; I think Dad had as much fun as he did. Friday night they had to take them to the meeting place to be weighed and impounded for the night. This was to prevent any funny business to make that car go faster down the ramp.

The Webelos races was scheduled for 11 am. We arrived shortly before 11, to be told that they were running a few minutes behind. At one point I realized I’d forgotten to remind him not to cry or get mad if he lost. (My boy still needs those reminders.) At another point Dad (ever the optimist) realized he’d forgotten to remind him not to gloat if he won. At noon his den’s turn came. He won all 6 races! Which meant he advanced to the finals.

Talk about mixed emotions. Our girl was bored. (I admit it - I was too.) We had lunch waiting at home. And a dog, trapped in the house.

Oh well, the hotdogs were cheap and everything was going so late we didn’t have much longer to wait. The finals came up. We made it through the first round. (Yeah, now it's we. The little sister is not so bored anymore.) Now we could see the boy was getting tense. The final round was not like the others; there was no clear winner showing up. Then there had to be a tie-breaker! Oh, the suspense!

Finally it was all over. My boy had won third place! He was very happy and very relieved. He has a nice little trophy and, of course, his car. He and Dad are going to build a special shelf for it. (That’s because his dresser and bookcase are all covered with stuff and it just seems easier to build something new than clean them up.)

Four hours later we got home to a very happy (and ready to go outside) dog. The boy was tired, but happy and relieved that it was over. The tension was too much for him, I think. We also discovered the onset of nervous perspiration. He swore he deodorized that morning. My boy is growing up!

News flash: imaginative play is good for kids

My nephew sent me a link to an interesting article about kids and the importance of imaginative play. (Which is really cool because I would not have thought he'd ever read my little mommy-blog.) This wasn't news to me, or to most mothers I know. Kids should be allowed to be kids, and have opportunities for "open-ended play" which really just means messing around. I did learn about "executive function" which is the ability to self-regulate, and one of the benefits of imaginative play, but I probably could have guessed that it seems to be on the decline as kids do not have as much time to "just play" anymore. And then there's this:

...good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, "Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain."

So all that academic work preschoolers and kindergarteners are doing may be more harmful than beneficial, after all. Again, something a lot of mothers already know.

My kids have always played imagination games. Even at 9 and almost 11, they run around in the yard playing pirates, or set up elaborate fantasy-lands with their Playmobil figures and Legos. They have a lot of fun (till they disagree and start to fight - such is the life of siblings).

But not all kids play that way anymore. We have some friends who get itchy when they're here because we don't have a gaming system. Some think imaginative play is too babyish. But often they'll get into it if there's no other choice, and then end up having a really good time.

One day my boy and a friend were outside with string setting up snares in the yard. They weren't serious about it (they knew the snares would not actually trap anything), but they attended to the project with an air of seriousness. I think the snares were for the little sisters, but they said rabbits. It doesn't matter; they were involved, having a good time. But a neighbor kid came over - he's a year or so older - and told them their project was stupid. He wanted to talk about his cell phone, and the cell phone he hopes to get someday. My kid could not care less about a cell phone, but his friend got a little into it - he' s much more culturally savvy than my boy. My kid was frustrated but could not tell the boy to take his cell phone and get out of our yard. I went back in the house - best to let the boys work stuff like this out on their own. I wasn't paying close attention but the next time I looked out, the neighbor boy was coming over the fence with some rope. Guess he got into it after all.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Last night I finished the first required reading for my class: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. My class is all about people - observing, listening, figuring out how they think. So we're reading books about humans and the human condition - listening in, so to speak.

Gilead is a father-and-son book. An elderly preacher, dying of heart disease, writes a long meditation on his life, for his young son. In it he recounts much of his life and describes some very complicated father-son relationships: his own father and grandfather, and his best friend and his son. There is also a good bit of musing on faith.

Some of the reviews I read called the book "slow" and "tedious." It is certainly not a page-turner. But it is beautiful and it has a lot to say about relationships, life, disappointments and how we respond to them. As my professor said, "this is one to read slowly, put down and contemplate. Don't try to read it all in one sitting. Roll it around in your head before you move on. There's a lot here." I'd agree with that assessment.