Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday Review of Books is up!

at Semicolon. 87 reviews as of 8:41am EDT. Wow, that's a lot of book reviews so early in the morning.

Sunday Scribblings: Regrets

Regrets is the theme of Sunday Scribblings this week.

I don't think about regrets very often. Why? There is no point to carrying around regrets unless there is something to be done with them. Sure, there are plenty of things I wish I hadn't done: I wish I hadn't made a bad marriage at an early age, I wish I hadn't embarked on some of the other relationships I've had. But, there they are; I can't change any of it. I might regret that I had my children so late in life, but if I hadn't waited for my husband, how would I have had them at all? I might regret things left unsaid to people who have gone, but... they are gone. I might regret lost friendships, but there is usually a reason for that loss.

But when I think of the word "regret" three rather inconsequential things come to mind:

I regret that I didn't go away to college. I went to a local school for 2 years, dropped out, then finally returned as a working adult. I graduated when I was 35, I think, or thereabouts. I loved college and I think I would have loved it more if I'd done it "right." However, I never regret the time I spent finishing, even though it was one of the hardest and loneliest times of my life.

I regret buying a pouffy princess-y wedding gown. I should have picked the elegant tea-length number I saw first. But no. I allowed myself to be talked into the princess gown. 'Cause every bride is a princess, right?

And, I never learned to swim well enough to be comfortable in the water.

So, what can I do with those regrets? That is one of the great things about having children: turning regrets into opportunities for them. I can...

... encourage them to go away to college, if that is their dream.

... teach my daughter how to withstand the wedding gown consultant sales pitch, and raise my son to choose a bride who can and will do this too.

... get them swimming lessons.

They may have their own regrets, but they don't need mine.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Art fiction: Luncheon of the Boating Party

"Art fiction:" quite simply, fiction based on a piece of art. I don't read as much of it as I would like; I don't read much fiction these days at all. The Girl With a Pearl Earring, based on the work by Vermeer, was a satisfying novel (less satisfying as a film). I had similar high hopes for Luncheon of the Boating Party. First of all, I was attracted by the cover. Yes, I know. But the cover picture, surely one of the most beloved paintings in the Western world, catches the eye and begs to be explored.

I dove into the book eagerly and became engaged in the story quickly. As I went on, I found I wanted to be able to separate the fact from the fiction, so I requested from the library Anatomy of a Painting, a short monograph on the work by Martha Carey (out of print) to read along. It confirmed much of the information the novel gave on characters in the story - the models for the painting. That knowledge added to my pleasure with the book - for a while.

But around 2/3 of the way through the book, I suddenly stopped enjoying it. The story no longer engaged me; it seemed to become a simple story of complicated relationships and unrequited love, against a contrived backdrop of the creation of the painting. I ceased caring about the characters; though I knew they were real people, they no longer seemed real enough to me. Actually, I wanted to know more about the real circumstances around which the painting was created - the fiction wasn't enough for me anymore. I wanted to know more about Alphonsine Fournaise, a pivotal character in the book, and surely in Renoir's real life too. I skipped to the last few chapters, got the resolution, and closed the book.

I am glad I finally read it. (I had gotten it from the library 3 times before I finally read it!) I'm also glad that even though I didn't read the whole thing, it enhanced my love of the painting and made me want to know more; my next Library Loot post will probably include a few books on French impressionism in general, Renoir in particular, which I may or may not get around to reading. I suppose that was one of the author's goals, though surely she would prefer one read the entire book.

If you like art fiction and stories about relationships, you might like this book. The author, Susan Vreeland, has other art fiction which I may check out sometime; her Girl in Hyacinth Blue is quite well-regarded.

While I was writing this I found this list of art fiction. More books to look for, always more books.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My thermostat is set to 62...

during the day, 59 at night.

We wear long pants, long sleeves, sweatshirts and socks to keep warm.

But why bother?

From NRO's Corner:

The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

“He’s from Hawaii, okay?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”

I don't really care if the President wears a jacket whenever he's in the oval office, though the formal touch is a nice one. I also don't expect him to work in uncomfortable temps. But, really. He lectured us on the importance of sacrifice, and specifically talked about room temperatures:

"We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times . . . and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK."

Great example there, Mr. President.

Unrelated to thermostat settings, I saw this gem about the stimulus bill today:

Those opposed to the bill say it includes too much wasteful spending, pointing to things like $335 million in funding for education on sexually transmitted diseases and $650 million for digital TV coupons.

A growing number of Republicans and Democrats say measures such as those don't create jobs.

The Democratic rationale is that healthier Americans will be more productive. And on the millions for digital television coupons, the hope is that money will go to new call centers explaining how the technology works.

How stupid do they think we are? Call centers? That will be needed for how long? (Maybe we are that stupid.)

Have you contacted your congressional representatives yet? This will help you. Do it today.

I appreciate the fact that some people are stuck now with old technology tvs. Where was my coupon when 8-tracks died?

Update: Can't resist posting this clip of Speaker Pelosi 'splainin' why $335,000,000 for STD prevention will help stimulate the economy (via NRO Corner)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling is up!

Tuesday is carnival day; I'm a little late. This looks like one of the bigger carnivals; as always I doubt I will get to read everything. I am looking forward to reading 5 Things to tell yourself when you're angry with the kids at and Read, Read, Read at Love, Life, and Everything in Between. (These look like interesting new blog finds all the way around.)

My Dining Room Table at Homeschool Through High School, and The Great Industrialists: Heroes or Villains? at were good reads too.

It's a snowy day here and I'm letting the kids take advantage of a little outside play. If that's the case at your house - or maybe it's a warm day, good for some sandbox time - take advantage and do some reading.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Homeschooling Moms need to be educated too

One of the many things that's been on my mind lately - competing with "What? These people need lunch again?" - is, well, my mind. Feeding my mind. Homeschooling mothers - any mothers - spend so much time thinking about educational activities for our kids we often forget to feed ourselves.

This was particularly on my mind for two reasons today. First, a friend on a homeschooling message board commented that her kids have been doing a lot of independent learning lately, so she's thinking she ought to figure out what she wants to learn for herself. Hmm, my kids still need a lot of my attention, but they are getting more independent all the time. Then, yesterday I attended a tea put on for the ladies in my church. One of the games was "quotation salad," wherein we were given baggies containing strips of paper with quotes from books to identify. My table of 8 women correctly identified 38 of the 48 quotes (and we won!). But when we heard the answers I was a bit annoyed with myself over some of the quotes I missed, either because I hadn't read the book or because I'd read it and pretty much forgotten it.

I thought about how much I used to read, how many books I have access to, and how little time I actually spend reading, other than blogs and message boards and cookbooks.

This is not about downtime or "me time" for mothers. This is about the necessary activity of keeping our own minds growing. In her article "Mother Culture & You", Karen Andreola shares this advice from Charlotte Mason:

"Never be without a really good book on hand," she said. "If you find yourself sinking to a dull commonplace level, with nothing particular to say, the reason is probably that you are not reading and therefore not thinking . . . If you will read and ponder your Parents' Review [a publication by Charlotte Mason] . . . you will find that it stimulates your educational thought in many directions and keeps you from drifting into mere routine . . . Do not think this is a selfish thing to do because the advantage does not end with yourself. . . The more you study on your spare time, the more there is in you to bestow upon your pupils."

When I find myself not taking time to read or learn something new, I start to feel old. Old and boring! Somehow I feel physically frumpy too. I wonder how on earth I will converse with my husband when our children are grown and gone and they are not the main topic of conversation anymore. At ages 10 and 11, do they even need to be anymore?

Some mothers I know take time to pursue a hobby, learn a skill, read a book daily during their children's resting or reading time. Other mothers read grown-up books on topics their children are studying - Mom learns at her own level while teaching the kids at theirs. More on "Mother Culture:"

Mother Culture is living the educational life with our children by learning alongside of them. A mother may enjoy learning new subjects with her children. When a mother experiences afresh the wonderful things brought forth in Charlotte Mason's wide curriculum - subjects I've discussed in more detail in past articles - she is learning a little more, exploring, and contemplating off to the side for her own benefit as well.

As a child, my least favorite class in school was art. I had no ability to produce art, and very little desire to try. I was ashamed of my creations. It wasn't till last fall that I tried to draw again. We went to a local arboretum with sketchbooks, mainly for the kids' use, but I brought one along too. If I want them to enjoy drawing, why shouldn't I do it too? It delighted my daughter - a natural artist, like others in her Daddy's family. My son too - who tends toward technical drawing and didn't really want to draw nature. It was a struggle for me to put that pencil to paper, but once I set my inhibitions aside and stopped being afraid of failure, it was such a refreshing way to spend an hour. We've done it a few times since and love those times together. I am no artist, still. But, I am learning. Maybe a drawing class is in my future, who knows?

Who knows what we can learn, or what we may enjoy learning, if we never take the time to try?

This isn't just for mothers, either. Everyone can get stuck in their own lives. What are you doing to stretch yourself, intellectually, artistically, physically? How are you growing?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Library Loot 1/24

We hit 3 libraries this week. Even though we can request any book from our county-wide system and pick it up at the library of our choice, I love to go to different libraries. It is such fun to browse different shelves and we always, always find something in the new or featured books. Even when we travel we visit libraries, though we can't check out the books. We just make note of them to get when we return home.

This was a big movie week. For some reason we ended up with 6 movies. There is no way we can watch them all before they are due. I think we'll stick with Kit Kittredge: An American Girl for this week because it had a long queue and I won't want to wait again. We also have Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front, and Nim's Island, and a couple others. I'll add them to the list to get again.

I picked up Gideon, the Cutpurse and The Hound of Rowan: Book One of the Tapestry on a whim to check out for my boy. The first is a time-travel book, a genre which he has enjoyed lately. Also The Cabinet of Wonders, which I think I found via this meme. All fantasies, whichi s not usually his thing, but they seem to be worth a look. The boy also grabbed Graphic War which has kept him quite absorbed.

My girl grabbed The Michael's Book of Paper Crafts, Mary Engelbreit's Sweet Treats Dessert Cookbook, The Most Wonderful Dollhouse Book, and Beading for the First Time. Yes, she is a crafty girl. Don't worry, she has plenty of real reading material from previous trips and in our own collection.

As always I picked up quite a few that I won't finish before they are due: Anathem by Neal Stephenson, which I saw on the new shelf and brought home for the seminarian; he likes this author but doesn't have time for reading right now so there was no sense in me bringing it. I still need to read his Baroque Cycle but they are just too big, too much for me at this time, when I have to snatch little reading breaks. Also Liquid Land: A Journey Through the Florida Everglades, Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe, and Homeschooling, A Family's Journey.

Wildlife of Pennsylvania and the Northeast rounds out our picks for this week.

Not enough books? Go to A Striped Armchair to find more Library Loot.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Where is your life?

Last summer, in this space, I pondered joining Facebook. Several friends had asked me to join them there, enticing me with the idea of finding long-lost friends and easily communicating with current friends, both online and real life.

Since then I've thought about it off and on, and have watched as some of my friends from message boards and other groups have enthusiastically joined in. Then I asked a real-life friend, whose computer discipline I admire, if she had joined. She hadn't, but had been able to check it out via her husband's page, or something like that. And she said "It was fun, but an hour went by in a blink. No thanks."

And that started me thinking about where my life is, and where it should be.

No Luddite here - my computer is nearly always on. Banking, library searches, homeschool recordkeeping, bill-paying, calendar-keeping - it's all here. I have a few friends with whom I communicate with via email almost exclusively. Talking on the phone is difficult because it seems it almost always rings at the wrong time - whether I am calling someone else or they are calling me. But email is never intrusive nor does it come at the wrong time. Some friends from my old home in Oregon are still in my life because of email. But when I think of those friends and what I miss most, it's the time they spent sitting around my kitchen table, drinking coffee or tea or wine and talking: about homeschooling, theology, life. Sure, now we email because we are 3,000 miles apart. But before that, we emailed to set up playdates for the kids and coffee dates for the moms.

There are also the friends I've never met in person but "know" and communicate with via message boards and blog comments. A few of these I've had the great pleasure of meeting, but most I have not. Maybe someday. I wouldn't want to give these relationships up.

But when I am fellowshipping with people over the 'net, I am not doing so with people right here.Why are my husband and I spending more time emailing each other funny or annoying articles from our separate computers than we are sitting next to each other on the couch? How come I'm not spending more time reading to or playing games with my kids? Why aren't the elderly ladies that live on my street over here being served tea and cookies more often? Why don't we know more people in our homeschool group?

Ever tell your kids, when they come to you while you're in the middle of posting on a message board or commenting on someone's blog (or whatever), to "wait a minute till I get this done" - as if it's an essential activity and more important than them? Of course our kids don't need our attention every minute, and moms especially need to be able to say "not now" without feeling guilty. The kids need to see us doing more than tending to their needs and desires. But, how much and how often should they see us "hanging out" with people online?

Sometimes women blog/email/talk about their lack of ability to get their housework done, homeschool the kids, cook a decent meal, etc. They are overwhelmed! So busy! Then in the next breath (keystroke?) we are hearing about all the fun of social networking sites and how addicting they are. (I am sometimes one of them.) Does this make sense?

The other night I spent about 2 hours in Starbucks with a real life friendly acquaintance. I wouldn't call her a friend at this point. This woman is hurting over all sorts of things and needed to talk. And talk. And keep on talking. It wasn't the most satisfying evening ever. I might have had more fun on Facebook connecting with people I haven't seen since high school graduation. But wait, I was an outcast in high school - what do I want to look those people up for anyway? Why would that be a better use of my time than listening to someone cry out for help across a cafe table?

Now don't go getting defensive on me and say "well just because it doesn't work for you..." Of course there are good reasons to communicate with people via various online methods. Social networking sites are great for far-flung families or friend groups, people with specific interests... lots of reasons, good ones. Just be honest with yourself about it. Some people are better at finding balance than others. Of course. And some of us might just be older and uncomfortable with increasing technology in our lives. Why, in my day, we just had newsgroups! And we used them to set up pub get-togethers!

But, really, think about it: is there a person in your real life who would like you to step away from the computer right now?

Maybe someday I will take a deeper plunge into online life. (Indeed, now that I've complained about it, I'll probably find myself doing it sooner rather than later.) But right now real life is more appealing and more important.

Where is your life?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Even the best GPS can't get you to 222 North 20th Street...

if you tell it to take you to 222 South 20th Street.

But it sure can correct the problem fast and get you back on track!

We ventured into downtown Philadelphia today for the Franklin Institute (science museum) monthly free evening. We have only been there once since we moved here 1.5 years ago (yeah, can you believe we've been here that long?) and the kids have really wanted to go. Admission is pretty pricey, and then of course there's the parking, and the hassle of getting there, but we heard about the free evenings and decided to check it out. After attending four free evenings, we can "earn" a year's membership.

Now we hadn't gone downtown since an incident last fall wherein we drove around for 4 hours and went home without reaching our destination. A couple people suggested a GPS. Well, thanks to some deep discounts and Christmas, we have one now.

Gladys is very helpful and fun to have around. And it's amazing how they managed to make her voice sound annoyed when she says "recalculating" whenever we don't do as she says. We've had her along many times but today's trip downtown was the real test. It all went well till I realized my mistake on the address. We were only 4/5 of a mile off, but that can take a long time during rush hour.

After leaving the museum we rejoined her in the car and joyfully asked her to take us home. We had a few bad moments when she had trouble finding the satellite, and then a few minutes later when she was telling us to make turns we'd already taken. But she regrouped quickly and we found our way home without any trouble.

Oh, and the parking was actually easy, and only $9 - pretty good for the area. I'd told the kids I wasn't buying any food so the boy filled my purse with provisions (about 18 rolls of smarties leftover from something) and we hit the water fountains periodically. And then as we left they thanked me profusely and repeatedly for bringing them. That was probably the closest I'll ever get to them rising up and calling me blessed. How can I not do it again? Especially with Gladys along to help me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History class today

Of course we watched the Inauguration.

I was disgusted upon hearing people booing outgoing President George W. Bush when he walked in. What classless fools. Didn't they get the memo that the Dalai Lama loves George Bush? At least the newscasters tsk-tsk'd about it. Was this before or after one of them said breathlessly "This is really happening!"

I liked Rev. Warren's prayer and was amazed that he actually invoked Jesus' name. I was just not expecting a Christian prayer.

Aretha sounded pretty good, but old, eh? My girl marveled at her hat.

According to my clock, the new President is late taking the oath of office - as required by the Constitution. I guess the show is more important? Does this bode ill for this Presidency? The music is nice. But, it would be nicer if they'd start things off properly. For all I know, no inauguration has ever happened right on the minute.

My boy enjoys the 21-gun salute.

I still can't buy the word "humble" from him.

Ooh, some claps when he thanked President Bush.

"The way we use energy strengthens our enemies..." - why don't we use some of our own while scientist work on new technology?

"The time has come to set aside childish things..." like "The Pledge?" Or booing outgoing Presidents?

"Pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off?"

Nasty attitude toward George Bush, et. al.: "ready to lead again," "choosing hope over fear."

"Roll back the specter of a warming planet?"

"We can no longer ignore suffering outside our borders?" Do we do that now? I don't think so.

This moment will define our generation? It's a big moment. But, really, can we get over this and get on with business?

Time to turn off the tv - the kids are giggling over the poem. Where is the meter?

Update re: the close of the prayer:

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus, who taught us to pray:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Here is a transcript. Some interesting comments, too, at the site.

Carnival of Homeschooling

It's been a long time since I've paid attention to the Carnival of Homeschooling, much less contributed to it. But, since I decided to try to turn this back into a homeschooling blog (well, not exclusively), I decided to start paying attention again.

Here it is, at I put in my post about my boy growing up and fitting in.

As usual, I haven't read it all, and probably won't get to, but I did particularly enjoy this post on the questions homeschoolers get. But as always, lots to read at the Carnival. I'm happy to get getting back to it.

Stupid celeb tricks: I pledge

MySpace Celebrity and Katalyst present The Presidential Pledge

So, was the eeevillll President Bush preventing them from doing all these things before?

See Breitbart's Big Hollywood for some good commentary.

Also see Iowahawk for a, um, transcript.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Growing up, fitting in

My Boy Scout got back today from the long-awaited Winter Campout, his first. He wanted to go last year as a Webelo, but he got sick and didn't make it. As a Webelo, Dad has to go along; as a Scout, he is on his own.

Well of course not exactly, but he was picked up and returned home by one of the troop leaders. He did most of his prep work and packing on his own; OK, some. He impatiently listened to my lecturing on being careful, staying warm, blah blah blah. When his ride arrived, he headed out without a backward glance, which is good since I was crying a little.

He came home today while we were at church. He let himself in, played with the dog, and had showered and gotten into unsmelly clothes by the time we got home. He'd had a great time.

There were times when it seemed this boy would never be able to do things like this. Give him a house key? Money? And expect him to fit in with a group? No way. A bit socially awkward even at a young age, he seemed to get worse rather than better as he grew. Oh, by around age 6 he figured out that his friends didn't want to be hugged to the point of falling over every time they saw him. But sometimes it seemed as if he would never fit in.

We worried, too, that when he got into groups of schoolkids, he'd be an outsider. He can't talk much about tv shows, current movies, or video games. But he can talk about planes and ships and exploding things quite well and those seem to suffice. He doesn't keep up with pro sports, and he's not very good at playing them, but he seems to be able to hold his own. I admit I marveled sometimes when, seeing him with his Webelo troop, it was obvious that he fit in. He wasn't a social outcast. He wasn't a freak. For all his early reading troubles, he read aloud at least as well as the boys in his den. He could ask and answer questions properly. He wasn't one of the ones often reminded to "ask serious questions, not goofy ones."

It seems that he's fitting into Boy Scouts well too. He does the work that's required of him. He holds his own. He's about as goofy as the rest of them. (Fortunately Boy Scout leaders know boys are goofy.) We're told he's well-behaved, helpful, and respectful. He fits in in all the right ways, but so far, not the wrong ones.

My unsocialized, homeschooled, geeky boy is becoming a young man. And a good one at that.

Yeah, all moms worry about that kind of thing. Maybe homeschool moms do a little more than others; we have more critical eyes on us. If our kids fail, academically or socially, we can't blame the school, the teachers, the lack of funding. Just ourselves.

So far, so good. We have a long way to go, but... we're getting there.

Sunday Scribblings: Pilgrimage

Every now and then I come across someone's Sunday Scribblings and think "hm, maybe I should do that sometime." Well, it's Sunday night, and the topic is Pilgrimage, and I have been thinking abut that very thing. Serendipity.

I've spent most of my life 3,000 miles away from my hometown, and last visited there in around 1982. Now I'm living, probably temporarily, only about a 6-hour drive away. So while we're here I'd like to take my kids to see my old home: the house I lived in as a kid, my church, the old cider mill (which is still in business), and some of the surrounding area, including Niagara Falls.

I'd also like to bury my parents' ashes there. They are currently residing in an urn in my possession. My sibs and I have talked off and on over the past 7 years, trying to decide what to do with them. Scatter them in the Pacific Ocean? Bury in a cemetery - but where? No one lives in any city with any connection to our folks anymore. Our Dad's first choice was to be scattered over the city of Reno (he liked to play the slots) from a small plane (he used to fly), but that seemed expensive and impractical, if not possibly illegal. Throughout all the dithering, I've held on to them.

Now, I'm thinking about taking them to my, and their, hometown to be buried there. The sibs can come out, and maybe we'll reconnect with some long-lost cousins too. After a brief ceremony at the cemetery, we can all go to Niagara Falls, just like when we were kids. (My brother would like to send the ashes, urn and all, over the Falls, but I am pretty sure that is illegal not to mention impossible - or impossibly dangerous - to do.)

I figure that the way we manage things like this, it'll take a year to plan, so I'd better get on it now.

I think that would count as a pilgrimage.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Library Loot: a new meme for me

Sarah at SmallWorld Reads pointed me to a new meme: Library Loot. Since we take great joy in hitting our local library frequently and always come home loaded up with stuff, I'm happy to take part in this one.

Currently we have 72 items checked out; I won't go into all of them.

Right now we are listening to the audio of Around the World in 80 Days, written by Jules Verne and narrated by Jim Dale (of Harry Potter fame). Actually since it lives in the car, I also carry on with our own copy of the book when we have time to read in the house (which we've been short on lately). I'd missed this as a kid and am loving it now. (Another perk of homeschooling, people - exposure to lots of great books that the kids might get into in school, but the parents may miss forever.)

Two books on paper quilling: Paper Quilling for the First Time, and The New Paper Quilling. This is my girl's new fave craft and she is putting together a presentation for our homeschool reading group on Monday. If you have a crafty girl, or are one yourself, check out paper quilling. She has made some beautiful designs without a lot of expense or a long learning curve (read: frustration).

Treasure Island, which is to be our next car book. As with Around the World... I will go between the borrowed audio in the car and the owned hardback at home.

Luncheon of the Boating Party, a novel for me, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir: The Luncheon of the Boating Party: Anatomy of a Painting (out of print) to go along with it. I'll probably go through at least some of the 2nd book with the kids, along with some other books on Renoir, at some point. Oops, this isn't supposed to be about what I'm doing with books, just what the books are...

Since we are studying World War II in our history we've got a boatload on that topic; some are yet to be read and some are ready to go back. They include: Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows (Dear America series), One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping: The Diary of Julie Weiss, (also Dear America), The Story of D-Day, a Landmark book by Bruce Blivens, The Journal of Ben Uchida, Citizen 13559, Mirror Lake Internment Camp (My Name is America series) and Weedflower by Cynthia Kakohata. These are all books the kids will read or have read on their own, not read-alouds. I picked up Farewell to Manzanar for myself, but I don't know if I will get to it.

The boy has a few books about Chuck Yeager, which he was to read and present at our reading group. But preparations for the Boy Scout winter camp took over, so he gets a pass this month. He'll read the books anyway.

Since we've had some flurries lately, we picked up The Snowflake, Winter's Secret Beauty for browsing.

Last night my girl and I were wandering around our "usual" branch and came upon a stack we'd never noticed before: the oversized books! What a treasure! We picked up The Comics: Since 1945, a huge coffee table book that's making her laugh and bringing back some memories for me, Blue Planet, a gorgeous DK book about the oceans, and The Illustrated Book of Guns which the Boy Scout will devour. We decided we will allow ourselves 2 oversize books per visit from now on.

The seminarian doesn't have too much out from the public library right now, just The Basic Writings of Neitzsche.

Then there is the usual assortment of cookbooks, craft books, fiction, nonfiction, art (Oh, Carrier War: Aviation Art of World War II kept the boy occupied for quite some time). I usually pick up a few books for the kids each visit - things I'd like them to read if they find them interesting, or books featured in the library, or found on a blog. They greedily pick up a lot on their own, too. I grab several for myself each time, too, but I don't get a lot of reading done - if a book seems worthwhile, I just add to the "to be read" list. Maybe someday, eh?

Next week I'll just follow the rules and post what we pick up then. Till then, if you are looking for some reading ideas, head over to Library Loot at A Striped Armchair.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Relevant and irrelevant noise

This week we had a bit of a breakthrough in the war on AD/HD, math facts, and getting work done in a timely manner. We went to the library and learned something about noise.

The boy has some serious problems with distraction. He is easily bored and thus easily distracted from boring things. Maybe this is part of his problem with mastering math facts - they are boring, no? I've often wondered if that was the entire problem - math facts are too boring to memorize. A child who can memorize a good portion of the Westminster Shorter Catechism with little trouble ought to be able to master 7x6, right? At one time, after an intensive week of "Catechism Camp" he was able to recite the first 36 answers, including:

Q. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.

They aren't all that long and hard, and I'm pretty sure some (maybe most) of those first 36 are gone now, possibly replaced by boring math facts.

But anyway, math facts must be mastered if one is to get to interesting math. So one day we found ourselves with several needs: to take the Girl Scout to her meeting 20 minutes away from home, to avoid driving back and forth, and to get some work done. So we stopped in to a library close to the Girl Scout meeting location.

The boy sat himself down at one of the study carrels, those desks with walls around them. He set to work on his math. He was done in record time, with a higher percentage of right answers than normal. And way less trouble and frustration than normal. Then he did some reading and answered some comprehension questions on a book he's reading. And then he did some grammar work. All in a fraction of the time this takes at home.

When I asked him what was different he said "it's so quiet." But of course it wasn't all that quiet. There were people talking, and walking around, and tapping on keyboards and dropping books.

The difference, we think, was that the noise was neither relevant nor interesting to him. Not like, say, the dog scratching to get out the back door to chase squirrels. Or the many other noises at home. Or, just imagine the noises at school! Think a classroom of 30 kids has some relevant or interesting noise going on? The poor kid's head would explode!

Yesterday we tried as best we could to duplicate the library conditions. I removed a wall map that his work table faces. We had a silent half hour with no one talking, just working. He put on the noise-canceling headphones.

It worked a little, but not as well. Still, we are on to something. The AD/HD doc listened to our story and agreed. We need to play around with it and see what we can do. In this small house it's hard to find a really quiet place.

Probably we'll find ourselves spending more time at the library. Oh darn.

Friday, January 09, 2009

New year, new plans

Homeschoolers love to mess around with their schedules and routines. At least, most every homeschooler I know does. The typical school year of September through June isn't necessarily meaningful to everyone.

We start our academic year on July 1. This allows us a full year to document 180 days of educational activities by June 30. I try to get 90 days in by the end of December so I have flexibility with our time all year long.

It can be hard to document learning experiences. Today my Boy Scout spent a few hours helping build a fence for someone's Eagle Scout project. I am not sure exactly what he did but he worked hard. The fence was to keep deer out of a garden at a nature center so I suppose it would count as community service. Of course there was the magic "S word" involved too - socialization. Though he said they were working too hard to talk much. Anyway, I didn't count the day, even though he also did some math, some typing practice, a little programming, piano practice, and some reading. Hm, maybe I should count it after all. My girl did a lot of reading, played piano and did and some art and craft work. But no math. Usually I count a day only if some math is accomplished; for some reason it seems more "official" that way. Really, it's a silly thing to have to do. But, that's the law.

So a few people have asked about my plans for this year. Besides running from July through June, I try to accomplish certain goals during each calendar quarter. For the 2008/2009 year, I had planned:

- Continue with our math curriculum, Math-U-See.

- Continue World History with Story of the World (this incorporates geography). We are on track to finish this 4-year plan soon though it's taken us a little over 5 years. We keep getting stuck. Right now we're in World War II. Do you have any idea how much there is for kids to read about World War II? Anyway, when we finish that up, finally, I'm going to read aloud A Little History of the World for a review, and then have the kids do a history project of their choice. Then, we'll start the chronological history all over again!

- Science - "living books" study on insects for Q1 and Q2, then a somewhat more structured biology study for Q3 and Q4. (More on that another time.)

- Art - study an artist each quarter, and "do" art and crafts.

- Music - continue piano lessons, study a composer each quarter..

- Participate in a homeschool writing group to improve composition skills. (This includes spelling, grammar, punctuation.)

- Participate in a homeschool reading group to encourage reading (as if that's necessary) and develop oral presentation skills.

- Finish reading the "Little House" series using The Prairie Primer as a study guide. My boy is so done with that now, so my girl will press on alone. He will be reading other books more appropriate for him using study guides I either buy or make. His current book is The Winged Watchman, a story of Nazi-occupied Holland. Next up will be Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers. And so on. I am working on a list now. When my girl is done with the "Little House" books, I want them both to go through The Phantom Tollbooth, The Chronicles of Narnia, and then The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Ah, but I am getting way ahead of myself. Both kids will also read other books: fiction, biographies, science, history books of interest; no study guides or book reports required.

- Read aloud one "big" classic per quarter. In Q1 it was Robinson Crusoe and in Q2 it was A Christmas Carol, which I normally would not count as we read it every Christmas, but...

This was the summer of the learning disability testing and diagnosis (cue ominous music here) so we didn't do nearly all we wanted to do. The summer and fall are a blur of tests and appointments and therapies.

Now, we are in the beginning of Q3 and our plans are pretty much the same. We are still dealing with the LD appointments but have a good routine going now so it's not so disruptive. Also, the therapies are helping so we are able to get more done when we are home. We're out of the house for 9 hours a week for these appointments, which is a big chunk of time out of the homeschool week. Audio books are helping. Treasure Island, which is to be our classic this quarter, can be read by someone else and listened to in the car (though right now we are enjoying Around the World in 80 Days). "Music Masters" and other cds about classical music can fill in on composer study.

So, that's the basic plan, so far!

Mocking the Millers

Most Christian homeschooling families are familiar with the "Miller" books. These storybooks, written from a Mennonite perspective, aim to teach Biblical lessons via stories. We have a few of them; I've read the stories to the kids and from time to time my girl brings them out to read.

The kids in the Miller family rarely fight or disobey. But when they do, Mom Miller never yells or scolds loudly, but corrects them in a soft, gentle voice. And Dad Miller is stern but not mean; "sober" is the usual description of his manner when disciplining the children. Just about every story ends with the family at evening devotions, and the Bible verse of the night always, always fits whatever bad thing happened during the day, whether one child wrongly accused another of stealing stickers, or someone ate too much candy, or was lazy, or...

(Some stories do deal with more serious matters, such as the death of a young girl. But we're not talking about those now.)

So the other day we were having a Bad Morning and all was chaos. Naturally, my girl brings out a Miller book and starts talking about how nice and calm and soft-spoken Mom Miller is, all the while glancing at me out of the corner of her eye meaningfully. Right, Mom Miller I am not.

The boy, always eager to mess up a cultural reference, starts in on Dad Miller. "Yeah, and Dad Miller must have ESPN to always know what verse to read at devotions!" No, I assure him, the Millers would never pay for premium cable, nor would they appreciate being linked with extra sensory perception. He slaps himself on the forehead in that "I coulda had a V8" way and joins his sister in mimicking the younger kids of the family. They agree that if the Millers ever visited our house "they'd be horrified!"

Yeah, well. I bet the Miller kids make their own breakfasts and help take down the Christmas decorations, too. Before January 9.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The season of celebrations

The Christmas season just ended yesterday, did you know that? Epiphany, traditionally celebrated as the day the three kings or wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus. We celebrated in a small way: a rousing chorus of The Twelve Days of Christmas and a cake with a bean baked into it. The person who gets beans either has good luck through the year (of course we don't believe in luck) or is the king/queen of the celebration, depending on what tradition we follow. We just like cake. No one got the bean and the rest of the cake is going into the freezer for reasons that will be clear momentarily.

Actually, some Orthodox Christians are celebrating Christmas today. But we close Christmas on January 6, for two reasons: we're not Orthodox Christians, and because today we celebrate another birthday, my little girlie's, who is 10 today. Yes, we will be making another cake.

When I was pregnant with her I prayed that she would not be born during the Christmas season. Well, that prayer was answered; she is out of it by one day.

But it sure makes for a long season of celebration.

I like having the Christmas tree up through Epiphany. But my girl has told me that it's too depressing to take the decorations down on her birthday. So, I'll start tonight after she goes to bed and finish tomorrow. This was to be the year I really organized the Christmas stuff, but I think once again I'll be so sick of dealing with it I'll just get it all in the boxes as fast as I can with no thought to organization. Next year, right?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

If you're tired of reading book lists...

hang out here! I don't have any.

Wow, I envy the people with the extensive book lists. Smallworld Reads sure does - 59 books this year! Color me green with envy. (I mean that. That is not a snarky comment.) And there promises to be many many more at the Saturday Review of Books special list edition today.

Let's see... I can remember reading 5 or 6 novels, a boatload of learning disability books, some books of the Bible, a snippet of a few church history books... do you know how hard it is to read Augustine's Confessions at night when you're falling asleep in your tea?

Of course I don't count the books I read aloud to the kids, even though some of those were fabulous. Or the books I preread for them, even though there have been some good ones there too.

I just went back and looked and I have precious few posts with the tag "books" and have written very few "reviews." I did find that I signed up for a reading challenge but did pretty poorly on that.

I think I would like to change that this year.

But no lists for now, just a few recommendations. No links, because... you know how to find them.

Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson, two great kids' (8 - 12ish) books.

A Thread of Grace and Voyage of the Narwhal, two great adult books.

The Mislabeled Child, about learning disabilities.

Praying Backwards, by Bryan Chapell, about, you know, prayer.

If you do like book lists, come by this time next year, maybe I'll have one then.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

I can't seem to shut up.

When one has a venue in which to "publish," pontificate, rant, etc., it's hard to let it go. So I'm back already.

I'm living the January 1 cliche right now - it's a new year, time to reflect, regroup, plan, set goals...

This blog has "schoolhouse" in the name but since the run-up to the election I don't think I've blogged - or thought? - a whole lot about homeschooling. I guess I could go read some archives and see. I've enjoyed reading other bloggers' "recaps" of their year in blog posts. Would that be too boring if I did that here, my two remaining readers? Rhetorical question, I don't really want an answer.

Since one of my goals this year is to cultivate mindfulness - actually it's my only goal because it encompasses everything - I am trying to put more thought into our school days rather than just go along in the books, chapter by chapter. I'm going to separate the kids' work more. What was I thinking when I figured an 11 year old boy would want to do an in-depth reading of the "Little House" series? Well, it was OK when we started a year ago. But here we are, reading By the Shores of Silver Lake, and he's bored. So my girlie will continue with that, and he will move on. Yesterday I read and made up a "study guide" for The Winged Watchman, an exciting books set in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation. That should hold his interest better than Laura's struggles with mean Nellie.

In other words, maybe this will become a homeschooling blog again.