Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Carnival of Homeschooling

up at Amy Bayliss's Life: One {Magnolia-Scented} Bubble Bath at a Time.   Right off the bat, I liked the "math mini office" idea.  Go check it out.

Pennsylvania Field Trip: Academy of Natural Sciences

Today was supposed to be our second day of homeschooling at home, doing math, English, Latin, and other (possibly more) interesting stuff. But we ended up having a field trip instead. Or, actually, in addition.

Early this morning I discovered that I was going to have to make a trip to downtown Philadelphia for a short but important errand. I do not like going downtown. But as I googled my route I noticed that I was going to be six blocks from a museum my kids have been wanting to visit for just about the entire three years we've lived here. So, I had to decide: leave the kids on their own for a couple of hours to do their math and other tablework without getting distracted or into a fight, or take them to the museum? Which would you pick?

Isn't this little guy cute?

The Academy of Natural Sciences is in the museum area of Philadelphia, near the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  It is a pretty nice area of town, as big old cities go.    It's full of dinosaur skeletons, from my little friend above, to a giant T. Rex.  There is an area for little scientists to have a go at digging for fossils.  My kids are too old for that now.  I can't say I miss it.

Isn't the cut-away of the nautilus just stunning?  I'd like to hang that on my Christmas tree.

Snail shells.

Among the permanent exhibits are wildlife dioramas, the "outside in" children's area, and a butterfly house.

It was hot and humid in there, but worth it to see so many butterflies up close.

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There are also temporary exhibits, Scout programs, a cafe, and a gift shop. I'm happy to say that my kids did not ask me to buy anything for them while we were there. Between the admission (butterflies are a few dollars extra) and the parking (parking in Philadelphia is just never cheap) they knew it was an expensive day.  But the museum is not overpriced.

And they thanked me for taking them! We ate our peanut butter sandwiches and graham crackers on the way home.  And when we got home they did as much work as they could squeeze in before soccer practice and dinner.

This is a nice museum. It reminded me of the San Francisco Academy of Sciences from my youth, but is nowhere as extensive in size or variety of exhibits. Still, it is a good way to spend a few hours and my kids learned a few things, in particular at the temporary "Creatures of the Abyss."  But go quickly if you want to see that; it's moving next week.  

Top Ten Tuesday: Cookbooks

My top ten this week is all about cooking.  My best cookbooks.  I cringe when I hear of people getting rid of their cookbooks because "every recipe is on the internet."   Is that true?  So what if it is?  I love cookbooks.  Don't you love cookbooks?

I do have a bookmark file of recipes too, and a binder full of recipes pulled from newspapers and magazines, printed off the 'net, and handwritten.  But I do love to sit down with a cookbook and browse.

1.  The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook/Dedicated to the Pure Joy of Baking: Anything you want to bake.  Great instructions for making yeast bread, and how to use alternate ingredients.  The best scone recipe ever. 

2.  San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook (Volumes 1 and 2)  OK, that's two books, I know.   Volume 1 is really the best, but I have to count Volume 2 as well because of Super Rica Rajas and its spinoff, Arroz con Rajas Y Crema.  Heaven on a plate.  Serve as a side dish to some healthful main course and finish off with the Spanish Flan from Volume 1.

3.  Madhur Jaffrey's An Invitation to Indian Cooking: The one that got me started cooking Indian food.  The seminarian owned this before we were married so it's a sentimental favorite too. 

4.  Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cooking:  We love Indian food the best.

5.  Wholesome Cookies by Jane Marsh Dieckman:  Out of print but worth picking up used.  It's just a little book full of good cookie recipes using whole wheat and other flours, fruit, granola... just a little more healthful than your everyday tollhouse cookie.

6.  Better Homes and Garden's Biggest Book of Cookies:  Just about every cookie you could want to bake.

7.  New Basics:  Just a great all-around cookbook.  I'm on my second copy; the first fell apart because I used it so much.

8.  Cook's Illustrated Magazines Best Recipes: Oh, the carrot cake.

9. Cover and Bake, also by Cook's Illustrated:  Quick and/or easy.  Crockpot meals too - good ones, which are not always so easy to find.

10. Flavor it Greek!: Purchased at a Greek Festival in Portland, Oregon; put together locally.  Eggplant salad, tzatziki.  Octopus recipes, too - maybe someday I'll try one of those.

More top tens at Oh Amanda Top Ten Tuesday.  Join the fun.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: August 30

This is the week we are really starting our schooltime in earnest.  We had a fun summer - a longer summer vacation than we've ever had before - but now it's time to get back on track.  Other activities are starting up too, though, so it's another week of mostly quick and easy foods.

I start off the week with a meeting at church over the dinner hour, so I'm leaving my little family with some frozen orange chicken from Trader Joe's, rice in the cooker, and frozen egg rolls from Aldi.  Healthful, huh?  They will love it.

On Tuesday soccer practice starts at 6, which is about when Dad gets home, but somehow we'll manage Curried Ground Turkey with Potatoes which I just discovered on Simply Recipes.  It sounds wonderful.

Wednesday should be a "normal" day with everyone home for dinner.  I'm planning on Santa Fe Chicken, which I found at Semicolon (of Saturday Review of Books fame), and tortillas.

On Thursday we'll have our weekly meatless dish, which will be some sort of pasta.  My basil plants are huge and fading a little, so I'll probably use that along with some garlic and olive oil.

Friday is field trip day, so we'll do burgers and hot dogs on the grill when we get home.  Potato salad or cole slaw, whichever seems easier that morning before we take off.

Yesterday at a picnic we had some fantastic grilled chicken that had been brined.  I've been reading about brining for years but have never done it; I think I'll try it with some thighs I've got in the freezer.  Maybe a couscous salad with this.

Still thinking about Sunday - it's a week away, after all - but I have a couple of beef roasts in the freezer so I could do that, or I might just go for ease and have bean (black or refried) bean burritos. No poultry!  We are having lots of poultry this week!  A local store had thighs and drumsticks 75 cents a pound which is a really good price around here. But they're all pretty different dishes so I don't think anyone will get too upset.

Visit Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie for lots of menu ideas.  Post your own!  Every mother/cook I know is always looking for new ideas.  Does anyone ever reach a point of saying "I don't need any more recipes?"

First day, play day.

The new books are ready; the daily routine/schedule typed up:  it must be time to "start school."  I dislike that term intensely but there really is no other name for the return to more focused study on "school" subjects: math, grammar, composition.  You know, the things my kids don't like.

(Don't take that to mean they don't like learning. They do. Love it.  But those school subjects get in the way.)

So today is the day, the first day of school.   And as it happens, my girl is spending it on a playdate.

Last night at church the mother of her good friend asked if she was free today. It took about 3 seconds to decide to say yes. I could have said no.  I could have told her that we are starting school.  (The friend goes to public school which starts next week.) Some might say I should have said no.  That I should have stuck to my schedule and put my kid's education first.

But will it matter if she misses this first day?  Would it be just as well for me to focus on my boy today and let her enjoy a fun day with a friend?   This  friend will be mostly inaccessible once school starts.  They'll see each other on Sundays at church and maybe an occasional get-together on a Saturday.

Do I want her to enjoy homeschooling - and perhaps be a homeschooling mother herself someday?  Do I want her to see that one of the beauties of homeschooling lies in its flexibility?  Or do I want to be rigid and tied to a schedule that was created by me and thus is pretty arbitrary?   After all, why did I pick this day to start?

This is one of the ways homeschooling is harder than traditional schooling.  School starts, the kids go.  That's it, no wiggle room.  But one of the reasons we homeschool is to avoid that inflexibility. We want to be able to take advantage of opportunities.  I won't always say yes to impromptu interruptions to the homeschool day. But when I can, I will.  Without worrying that I will put my kids behind or somehow hinder their educations.

So one more playdate will be fine.  If you had seen the smile on her face when I told her what she was doing today, you would agree that "yes" was the right answer.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Good reading/viewing about the Restore Honor rally

One of these days I'm going to attend one of these huge rallies.  I am not sure why I want to, because I hate crowds; I guess I want to be part of something so huge just once in my life.

I love the woman at about 2:29 in the video.  Are there more people around like her?

Via Instapundit. 

Sunday morning linkage and a question

Just sharing some reading material::

From Challies.com "A Prayer for Public Worship."  This would be a beautiful prayer for a family, too.

From The Corner on National Review Online"Ground Zero Thought Experiment."  I'd been having similar thoughts on this topic myself. 

From Amy Carroll's Sharing Life blog:  "Make New Friends and Keep the Old."   I just discovered this blog today, thanks to a friend!

Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.

The question:  if you consider Sunday a day of rest, how do you handle meals?  Is it a casual day of easy-to-prepare food?  A leftover extravaganza?  Or do you have a traditional big Sunday meal?  I think the answer may lie in whether you find cooking pleasurable and relaxing, or a chore...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saturday morning journal

It's 7 am here in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and the sky is bright blue and cloudless.  It's going to be hot today but the morning air is cool and the grass is wet with dew.  The only reason I know that - the only reason I'm up and about so early this day - is that my dog needed to get outside.  My dog is pretty good, but he barks at the squirrels that taunt him from the trees.  So if he has to go out early in the morning, we take him out on his leash. .

Usually he and I go for a fast walk around the neighborhood, but his need appeared urgent so we just strolled around our back yard.  The grass needs mowing!  But its wetness felt good on my feet.   It was very quiet; other than birds I heard only the hum of traffic from the Turnpike.  No one was out and about; not even the squirrels were making noise.

This is the first day in weeks that I have no early-morning agenda.  The first morning I didn't wake up with a burden of things to go:  get the kids to soccer camp, call the health insurance company about new coverage, go to VBS.  My only pressing task today, other than catching up on laundry and supervising house straightening, is to make a batch of cookies for a picnic tonight.  My schedule is pretty much my own.

I hope to make a nice breakfast this morning and linger over coffee rather than choke something down quickly before running out the door.   I hope to be productive today, but not frantic.

What is your Saturday morning like?  Is it a time to sleep in and catch up on rest, or is it just as busy as the rest of your week?   Is it a time to clean the house in a frenzy because there's no other time to do it, or is a lazier time?

Leave me a comment and tell me about it, or put a link to your own post.  I've been having fun linking up to blog memes lately; maybe it would be fun to start my own.  But I need you to jump in!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Weekly Wrap-up: VBS edition

This was the week of VBS (Vacation Bible School to the uninitiated).  Our little church has one every year.  I will say straight up that VBS is not my favorite activity.  I don't know what my favorite church-related activity is, but I don't seem to have much of a heart for children's ministries.  There, I said it out loud.  Still, we participate because we love the church and thus we support the programs.  If I could not support the programs, I guess I would need to find a new church! 

Two years ago I ran the crafts, the seminarian helped with games and sound, my boy also helped with the games, and my girl was a student participant.  That was a harrowing week for me. 

Last year we had other things going on and just skipped it.  I felt a little guilty - there are never enough volunteers - but got over it.

When it was time to sign up for this year, we decided it would be a family event.  Both kids could be teen helpers. The seminarian could do sound again.  And I found myself saying I would teach pre-k and k.  It had to have been the Holy Spirit speaking through me because there is no way I would volunteer to teach the four- to six-year-old group on my own.  None. Ever.

Of course the week turned out to be fun, exhausting, annoying, boring, exciting, too loud... all together.  I received lots of hugs, had some nice talks with a little girl who is nervous about her new school, watched a sweet little boy run crazily around the play area yelling "my brakes are out!" so the big boys would chase him, and drank a lot of coffee,  Oh yeah, and presented the Gospel. 

And even though VBS was only from nine till noon, the rest of the day was shot.  We came home, ate lunch, washed the t-shirts, got ready for the next day, and vegetated.  I'm sure my kids will never recover the brain cells lost to VBS songs (Game Day Central, where heroes are made! - if you know that one, feel free to leave a comment thanking me for getting it stuck in your head again) and the hours of Xbox they played to decompress.

Want to hear a bright spot, though?  I decided to go to Costco to buy some drumsticks (the ice cream kind, not the turkey kind) for the volunteer staff. And they were on special!  A box of 16 ice cream treats for $5.99 instead of the usual $7.99!  That is an amazing price and I thank God for His providence in this small thing.

My kids were also thankful that we ran out of our usual breakfast food so they got bread pudding this morning.   It's not so very different from French toast, right?  Maybe a little more sugar.  And among the stale bits of bread in the freezer there was some whole wheat, so it's healthy!

See more Weekly Wrap-ups at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.   Post one of your own!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Giving up

I'd seen the Booking Through Thursday meme around and thought I'd try it out this week.  It's an easy question for me:

If you’re not enjoying a book, will you stop mid-way? Or do you push through to the end? What makes you decide to stop?

Oh, stop!  I often quit books if they are not holding my interest or are downright annoying me. If it's a novel, I will frequently just skip to the end, see if my predictions are correct, and move on to something new.  If it's nonfiction and a topic I am particularly interested in, I may look around in hope of finding something of value. 

There are too many books to waste time on bad ones.

Unless, of course, one is in school and the book is required.  Then you just have to trust the teacher that it is worth reading.  Or, find a teacher who doesn't assign horrid books.  I still have the (mental) scars from forcing myself through The Awakening in American Lit so many years ago.

What makes me stop?  A predictable plot where I can figure out what's going to happen too early on.  Recently I had a book from the library that I could figure out in the first chapter because there were too many clues in the blurb.  No, I'm not that clever.  It was just so obvious!   Cliched writing drives me away.  Too much bleakness, or what I call "family tragedy" books where there is just one horrible thing after another happening. 

It's a little harder to to determine with nonfiction.  If I pick up a nonfiction book it's because the topic interests me.  So, bad writing would be the killer.  Or extraneous information unnecessary to the topic.  Once I started reading a terrific history book that I hoped to pass on to one of my kids.  Then suddenly the author threw in a graphic description of sexual activity that was just gratuitous.   That was the end of that book. 

Check out Booking Through Thursday.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Carnival of Homeschooling

is up at Home School Dad.  Check it out for some good homeschool reading.

I've managed to contribute to the last few carnivals.  I think I'm running out of things to say, but I guess I'll just wait and see if I can come up with something for next week.  Contributing to a carnival is fun and a little challenge.  Don't you need a little challenge once in a while?

Outdoor Wednesday: Late-summer hydrangeas

For so long I disliked hydrangeas. I thought of them as old-fashioned flowers for old ladies. Now I guess I am an old lady because I love hydrangeas. I really should cut more blooms and take them in the house. Even as they fade they are beautiful.

This year our neighbor decided to pull out a huge old bush. She gave it to us! We divided it and now have four more plants. They didn't bloom this year but we expect to have a lot next year. We added a soil amendment to make them blue, though I also love the pink ones.

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See more Outdoor Wednesday at A Southern Daydreamer.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Valley of Vision

Most people who believe in God agree that prayer is a good thing. Honest, sincere prayer is something we know we should do every day. Continually. Constantly.

I grew up in a church that taught us to read, recite, and memorize prayers written by others. I'm sure we were encouraged to pray spontaneously and in our own words too, but my memory is all about reciting others' prayers. Like most kids my age, I became very efficient at reciting them very quickly, which is to say mindlessly.

As my theology changed and I moved away from the church of my childhood, I discovered that people prayed in their own words, not someone else's.  So I turned away, mostly, from reading "published" prayers.  Somehow I got the impression they were inferior. I enjoyed listening to other people pray, and marveled at how eloquent they were. But I became tongue-tied when I was called upon to pray out loud and even silent prayer was hard for me. I wasn't eloquent, but awkward.  I didn't know how to pray.  I learned various formulae for prayer; the only one I can remember is ACTS: adoration, contrition, thanks, supplication. That helped a little, but all too often I find my prayers become a list of "please...," with a "thank you..." thrown in at the end. 

It is a struggle sometimes to really pray.  Not to mindlessly and quickly go through my list of requests, but really spill out my heart to God.  The good and the bad.  The thanks and the confession and the requests.  (Why are there always so many more requests than anything else?)

I don't know when I discovered The Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers. Probably the seminarian brought it home.  These are beautiful, eloquent prayers.  But not showy.  Maybe no one else knows what I mean by showy prayers.  Those are prayers that seem as if the person is praying for their audience and not for their God.  But not these.   Here is the prayer titled "Morning Needs:"

O God the author of all good, I come to Thee for the grace another day will require for its duties and events. I step out into a wicked world; I carry about with me an evil heart. I know that without Thee I can do nothing, that everything with which I shall be concerned, however harmless in itself, may prove an occasion of sin or folly, unless I am kept by Thy power. Hold Thou me up and I shall be safe.

Preserve my understanding from subtilty of error, my affections from love of idols, my character from stain of vice, my profession from every form of evil. May I engage in nothing in which I cannot implore Thy blessing, and in which I cannot invite Thy inspection. Prosper me in all lawful undertakings, or prepare me for disappointments. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny Thee and say, Who is the Lord? or be poor, and steal, and take Thy name in vain.

May every creature be made good to me by prayer and Thy will. Teach me how to use the world and not abuse it, to improve my talents, to redeem my time, to walk in wisdom toward those without, and in kindness to those within, to do good to all men, and especially to my fellow Christians. And to Thee be the glory.

 I find myself turning to these prayers often.  As I read them I know I am praying along with the writer, not just reading someone else's words.  I can feel the emotion of the prayers.  And they lead me to articulate my own praises and thanks and needs in a way that doesn't feel like a "to-do" list for God.   God doesn't need our to-do lists, but He does want to hear from us.

The funny things people say to homeschoolers

Tonight I ran into an acquaintance at the library.  I wasn't in the mood to chitchat with a near-stranger (we've only met once) but didn't want to be rude so engaged in a little small talk with her.  Conversation got around to school starting.  She knows I homeschool, and she asked one of the more popular questions:  "What program do you use?"  I hate that question because I don't use one program and it's hard to explain adequately before people's eyes start to glaze over.  But she didn't let me say much anyway before asking if I used one of the cyber-charter schools.  These are public schools in which the student participates at home.  I said I had not used a cyber-charter.  She responded, "Yes, I've heard that those programs are very demanding.  People say the work is hard and very advanced.."

What is the proper response to that?  I haven't avoided the cyber-charters because they are demanding. I don't even know that they are particularly demanding.  I've avoided them because they are public school and I don't want to do public school. (Even if they give me a laptop to do it.)  I know she didn't mean to imply that my kids aren't up to demanding work, or that I would avoid demanding work for any reason.  But it was awkward to hear and try to respond to.

Fortunately her kids came up with some questions about movies they wanted so she got distracted and I was able to exit gracefully. 

It would be easy to be offended but she wasn't trying to offend.  Still, those are the times I wish I was a quicker thinker and could come up with a snappy response.  Not to say snarky, or rude, but something to make the person think about what she is saying.  Because it is just mindless, thoughtless talk.  Sometimes it's hard to remember that.

If I had a Twitter account and an internet phone...

What would I tweet?

Forgot to buy Ivory Soap again.

VBS week. Inane songs stuck in head.

Chicken parts on sale at Giant 75 cents a pound!

Off to Dollar Store for school supply donation items for VBS contest.

Why no crayons at Dollar Store?

Checking travel kits for soap.

Why no Taco Bells in this fastfood wasteland town?

Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee is the. worst. ever.

Why didn't I buy soap while at CVS y'day? 

Thought-provoking, isn't it? I think it's best I stay in the 20th century with my plain old phone.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 websites in my homeschool

Top Ten {Tuesday}

The top ten websites we use to enhance our homeschool experience:

1. Animal Diversity Web: Loads of information on and photos of animals. Great for classification exercises.

2. All About Birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Everything you need to know about birds.

3. Explore PA History: Self-explanatory. Your state probably has a site like this too.

4. Encyclopedia of Life: More animals, and plants!

5. Usborne Quicklinks: Keyed to their internet-linked books.

6. Our local library database. We can request books from any branch in our county-wide system to pick up at our closest branch. Check out your own.

7. English for Everyone: Grammar and punctuation worksheets, free!

8. Khan Academy: Math help!

9. National Geographic: photos, videos, articles.

10. Google Maps, because we need to find those field trip locations!

Go visit Top Ten Tuesday and see more lists or post your own.  But first, what are the favorite sites in your homeschool?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Not Back to School Blog Hop: A Day in the Life

This is the last week of the Not Back to School Blog Hop but the first I'm participating in. Week 1 was curriculum - I didn't have my plans set yet. Week 2 was schoolrooms - I don't have a schoolroom. Week 3 was school photos - I don't do school photos, since we don't go to school.

But a day in the life? Sure, we have days!

I was trying to figure out how many years I've been homeschooling. I could say 13, since that's the age of my oldest, and I've been reading to him and teaching him almost since the day he was born. I could say 8, since he would have gone to kindergarten at age 5. Or I could say 6, since I had to register him as a homeschooler when he was 7.

During all those years we have tried many schedules. Schedules never work for us. Routines do, most of the time. They work pretty well when our outings are predictable; they rarely are. They work best when we stay home, but we can't do that every day.

Rather than use a strict schedule I use time blocks to keep to our routine and fit everything into the day. Here is some inspiration for thinking of your own time blocks at HomeGrownKids blog.
This year I will probably have to set up different time blocks for different days, to accommodate outside classes and club activities. But this is my first run at a typical day at home:

8:00 - 9:30 am: breakfast, Bible discussion, cleanup, and grooming. (I encourage my kids to be up and about before 8 am, but if they are, that is their free time.)

9:30 - 12:30: tablework time where we do our basics: Bible Study workbooks, Math, English, Latin, Science or History (alternating days for those). There will be interruptions: the dog will need to be let out and back in, the phone will ring, I'll need to make a call, etc.

12:30 - 1:30: lunch, cleanup.

1:30 - 3:00: continue with Science or History, experiments or other projects, typing practice and other computer work, piano practice.

3:00 - 3:30: chores (more or less).

3:30 - 4:30: assigned independent reading.

4:30 - 5:30: free time. I might read aloud during this hour, or we might do separate things.

5:30 - 7:00: dinner prep, dinner, cleanup.

7:00 - 9:00: showers and free time - reading aloud, watching a movie, playing games, etc., together or separately.

Throughout the day there will cleanup times and time for moving laundry (from the hamper to the washer; from washer to dryer, from dryer to sorting table which is really a couch...).

If we have to go out we try to pick up where we left off. It doesn't always work that way. If there is an early morning orthodontist appointment that results in pain for a few hours, we are likely to throw the routine aside for the day and concentrate on reading. It's important to remember that a routine is a tool. If it causes strife we need to fix the routine, not the people subject to it. Grace and love in our relationships with our kids is more important than fitting in the required number of math problems!

See more "Day in the Life" posts at the Not Back to School Blog Hop at Heart of the Matter.

Menu Plan Monday: August 23

It's another wild week here so meals are going to be simple. May I just say I am really looking forward to cooler weather? We are not hot weather food people. Everyone is missing soups, stews, risotto, chili... tired of grilled food and other meals designed not to heat up the kitchen.

We stuck pretty well to the meal plan last week; I did swap a few things around but we ate the things I'd planned to. Last week I thought I would add lunches into the plan but I did not. We are all working at our church Vacation Bible School next week so lunch will either be sandwiches or the McDonald's down the block from the church.

Monday: Tuna casserole. This is no one's real favorite but we like it well enough, and it's good to have on a day when I don't have time for something long-cooking. We will be out of the house most of the day so I need something fast. We'll have either cauliflower, broccoli, or salad with this.

Tuesday: Corned beef, potatoes, carrots. A winter dish, to be sure, but one my boy has been craving and asking for. I don't have cabbage but no one will really miss it but me. This meat has been in my freezer since March when this cut goes on sale. So it's time to defrost it anyway.

Wednesday: Greek Chicken - just baked chicken parts with olive oil, garlic, oregano, and lemon juice - along with some sort of vegetable, hummus and pita bread.

Thursday: Grilled salmon if I get to Trader Joe's before then. We really like the wild salmon they keep in their freezer section. But that store is hard to get to, so we haven't had it in a while. I'll try to stock up.

Friday: Pizza. Possibly homemade; more likely a take-and-bake from Walmart or Aldi.

Saturday: Out at a picnic. I don't know what I'm supposed to contribute yet. I hope it's dessert.

Sunday: I don't usually plan for Sunday. I try to get the kids to eat a lot of snacks at church so we can skip lunch and just have a large-ish early dinner. I like the idea of a rather formal Sunday meal but most often it turns into leftover extravaganza. We go to church both morning and evening, so the day is a little compressed for a large meal that entails a lot of work. I don't love doing the roast-in-the-crockpot thing. If I have one in the freezer, or find a good deal this week, I might do a pork tenderloin with mustard sauce.

I just realized I don't have a meatless meal this week. Oh well, better luck next time. Or, if I don't make it to Trader Joe's for salmon, I'll just make pasta with a simple tomato sauce.

Find more menu inspiration at Menu Plan Monday, hosted by Laura at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Where are the Christian nature writers?

For a long time I've been looking for something that doesn't appear to exist: Christian nature books. We love reading natural history books - authors like Edwin Way Teale, Jim Arnosky, Bernd Heinrich - and enjoy their books so much. My kids still love me to read those sorts of books to them. But I wonder why there are no nature books from a Christian point of view?

While going through a box of books yesterday I came across something I'd forgotten: John Stott's The Birds our Teachers. This is a small book inspired by references to birds in the Bible and full of beautiful pictures of birds. Short chapters make it a natural for devotional reading - I'm going to start reading it to my family this morning.

You see, He is making the birds our school-masters and teachers... in other words, we have as many teachers and preachers as there are little birds in the air. - Martin Luther in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, 1521

The chapters focus on a particular attribute and a bird that the author (who coined the term "orni-theology") links to it: "The Feeding of Ravens: Faith," "The Metabolism of Hummingbirds: Work," "The Song of Larks: Joy." Photographs and bird facts a sprinkled throughout.

It's a book anyone in the family can enjoy and browse through. Young children aren't going to "get it" reading it on their own but they would enjoy the beautiful bird pictures.

In the introduction the author expresses my complaint:
As a matter of fact, Scripture bids us go beyond birds and include in our interest everything God has made: "Great are the works of the Lord, studied by al who delight in them." (Psalm 11:2 NRSV) Since "the works of the Lord" refer to his works of both creation and redemption, it seems to me that nature study and Bible study should go together. Many Christians have a good doctrine of redemption, but need a better doctrine of creation. We ought to pursue at least one aspect of natural history.
This book is out of print, but I saw it on Ebay and Amazon.com. I have no idea how we came to own it! I'm glad it turned up yesterday.

Have you found any Christian nature writers?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The messy family reforms: Backsliding

Hard to keep a house clean when I'm never home. There is a reason I am called a homemaker or a housewife.

But we're doing better. OK, it took a few days to get the camping equipment out of the living room after camp. And it's a bummer to return home to dirty dishes when we have to run out the door to youth group bowling right after dinner or soccer camp right after breakfast. Everyone's trying to help, pretty much, or at least not actively fighting my efforts.

On a related note, someone asked me how I find time to blog. Most of my composition goes on in my head while I am cleaning or walking the dog. And when I sit down at the computer I am one fast typist.

Bet you did not know that I took 2nd place in my school district's shorthand contest in my senior year in high school. (Bet most of you don't even know what shorthand is.) We had to take dictation and transcribe it. Mrs. Gunn had all her money on another girl but she choked and I took the trophy. Still have it in a box somewhere, I think.

Friday, August 20, 2010

This is how education should work

A local Catholic school closed down this year. Teachers, put out of work. What will they do? I suppose some found other schools; most likely some retired and some are probably still looking for work. One entrepreneurial art teacher decided to strike out on her own.

This teacher connected with local homeschoolers (via yahoo groups) and surveyed the market for art classes. There is definitely a market for art classes! She secured the space. She set out her curriculum, prices, and schedule. Some people jumped right in. Others said the price was too high. Others said it all sounded great but didn't fit their own schedules. The teacher negotiated prices, juggled schedules, and now, there is a new homeschool art opportunity in town. And a teacher can teach without a school.

A former writing teacher turned homeschool mom offers composition classes in her home. She solicits new students by those same yahoo groups, by word of mouth, and probably by other means.

A group of parents and former teachers started a learning cooperative that turned into a school of sorts. Most people wouldn't think of it as a school. Parents can sign their kids up for a single class, or multiple classes. They can go one day a week, or as many as they want (up to five). There is a variety of classes to choose from, but they don't claim to provide a complete curriculum for any grade.

There are lots of other classes available to local homeschoolers; these are just some that I know about. My kids are participating in the art and writing classes.

But, you say, you have to pay for those classes! Public school is free!

Public school is not free. Public school is very expensive; parents just aren't paying for it directly, and they are subsidized by all the taxpayers in their district and/or state.

But imagine if all those tax dollars were set free. Imagine your property tax bill reduced by the amount used by the public schools. Imagine that you could use that money - your own money - to educate your child(ren) the way you wanted to. They way you thought was best for them.

Imagine if teachers were set free to teach the subjects they love in the way they want to teach them. To children who want to be there. Or, at least, to children whose parents want them to be there, to learn that specific thing from that specific teacher.

Most people I know - homeschoolers and traditional schoolers alike, send their kids to music lessons. Piano lessons around here seem to range from $30 to $60 per hour. No one really thinks that the schools should provide "free" music lessons. It's a cost of parenthood. So are sports league. This is a very sporty area; most everyone we know plays in multiple sports. Parents have to pay. It's not free, and they don't expect it to be.

But art, composition, math, science, social studies? Should be free.

The art classes cost $13 an hour; it will be less with the sibling discount (still being negotiated). If more people sign up, she will be able to lower the prices. She needs to be paid for her supplies, her space (maybe that's free, I don't know) and for her time. When you look at it that way, $13 an hour is pretty cheap. The writing class costs $15 an hour, but the instructor also offers a sibling discount so for us it's about $9 an hour.

Per-pupil spending in my district is about $7500. I haven't figured the exact cost of homeschooling my kids each year but we would have to take a lot of classes, and buy a lot of books, to reach that cost. Even public school kids buy their own supplies - and many classroom supplies too, such as disinfectant wipes and toilet paper. Of course I don't have a chemistry lab in my house, or a soccer field in my back yard - or enough kids in my family to put together two soccer teams for scrimmages. That's why homeschoolers often outsource their lab sciences (I saw one offered recently for $230 per academic year) and sign up for soccer leagues ($90 per season plus shoes and shinguards).

So why not just set all the teachers and students free to find ways to teach and learn?

Of course the argument is that people wouldn't use that freed-up money to educate their kids. They'll spend it on junk food, energy drinks and lottery tickets and let the kids play video games all day. That's what I've been told would happen.

I don't think that's true. I think most people want a good education for their children. There are always parents who don't care, but their kids aren't doing well in school anyway. Those kids might do better with targeted occupational training, rather than being forced to sit through English Lit. (Do they teach English Lit in high school anymore?) And people are used to getting something for nothing. Not everyone would see that they have more of their own money to spend on their own children.

Of course we can't just blow up the public school system overnight. (I don't mean that literally.) But I think the growth of homeschooling is evidence that many people want something different than what the schools are offering.

Not in my lifetime, probably. I hope in my kids'. I'm thankful that today we have the choice to do what we want to do. I'm thankful for those teachers who see homeschoolers as a market for their talents.

Weekly Wrap-up: Soccer week

While everyone else is starting school up, we're still in summer camp season. This was soccer week.

Let me tell you about these cleats.

My boy signed up for a township soccer league last year, but he had a bad season; he was sick through most of it and missed all but one game. This year he opted not to play - too many other things going on - but wanted to go to the soccer camp he'd attended last year. I wondered about the cleats. Was I really going to have to buy cleats for one week of use?

There was no way last year's cleats could fit. We'd had to buy new sneakers, church shoes, and hiking boots. Still, just before he left for Scout camp, I had him try them on. I knew he was going to say they were too tight.

To everyone's surprise, they fit. He outgrew all his other shoes - why not these? I asked him if they'd seemed loose last year. Not really, he said. Maybe a little... I checked again - are you sure they fit? I didn't want him complaining of sore feet on the second day. They were and are fine.

God stretched the shoes. That's the only explanation I can come up with.

Oh, but he's complaining about his feet hurting anyway. It's not the shoes, he says, but the wear and tear from Scout camp and now soccer camp. His feet may never be the same, he says.

We dipped our toes into the homeschool waters by doing some math review. We usually don't need a lot of review because we usually don't take the whole summer off. This was the first year we took such a long break. My boy feels some motivation/pressure this year to bring himself up in math. I attribute that to his involvement in robotics club - not because he's lacking any skills needed for it, but he's around mostly older boys and he's seeing the difference.

(This is one of the great things about homeschooling. He would be going into 8th grade if he'd been in school, and would be in the junior high robotics club if his school had one. But his group has both middle- and high-school kids in it. I love the large age range and the fact that there are older boys for him to look up to.)

We don't buy many DVDs but after enjoying the Planet Earth series (received as a gift a few years ago), we eagerly bought the newest David Attenborough set, Life. With everyone exhausted after four hours of soccer, we have been enjoying this.

For some reason my children chose the reptiles episode as the first to watch so we spent most of the hour going "ewww" and "gross" and making other noises of disgust. But they also got a kick out of the pebble toad and the pygmy gecko which led to a little googling which is another reason I love homeschooling.

See more weekly wrap-ups at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"The ultimate achievement of life...

"The ultimate achievement of life is how you feel about yourself."

I heard that statement on a radio show yesterday morning. I was in the car between errands, so I didn't hear too much more than this. Enough to know that that topic was philanthropy; the speaker was a wealthy man extolling the virtues of giving.

So, is that true? Is "how I feel about myself" the "ultimate achievement of life?"

Of course the man on the radio was talking about giving away money to charitable causes. I suppose he does have something to feel good about, if the goal of giving is to feel good about oneself. I didn't hear if he felt that was the objective of giving: to feel good. I always thought the objective of charitable giving was to make someone else's life better, not my own. Of course I didn't hear the entire interview; most likely he has other motives than his own self-esteem.

I suppose a suicide bomber feels good about himself just before he kills innocent people. He's reached his ultimate achievement. Probably an abortion clinic worker feels good about herself for steering young women toward killing their unborn babies. That's her job, and she must believe that she is doing a good thing.

Are we the best authority on what our life's ultimate achievement is, or what it should be?

Pennsylvania Field Trip: Morris Arboretum

The Morris Arboretum in the suburbs of Philadelphia is a great place for a homeschool field trip. It is 92 acres of cultivated gardens, historic structures, wetland areas, a creek. A former estate, it is now run by the University of Pennsylvania.

There are 13,000 labeled plants: trees, shrubs, flowers. There is a rose garden, an herb garden, a fernery (a wonderful place to stop to warm up on a cold winter day), a Japanese overlook, and many other beautiful spaces.

It is a wonderful place for drawing, photographing, identifying plants, watching insects, listening to birds.

You can get ideas for plantings in your own garden.

This is a Bald Cypress tree. I'd never seen cones like that!

This is the "Summer Palace," a structure fashioned of branches. It was installed last year and will stay in place until the weather removes it. Click to enlarge for the full effect.

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There are secluded spots for sitting and resting, or reading - silently or aloud.

I didn't get a picture of the "Out on a Limb" exhibit which is a wonderful spot for kids. They can get up in the trees, sit in a birds' nest, climb like a squirrel. Or the Garden Railway, which we visit every summer. They have classes, concerts, and other special events for families. Signs and activities around the gardens add to the educational value of the visit.Visit their site or their blog for more information.

If you are going to be in the Philadelphia area, it is worth a visit. If you live here, go soon!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Does your husband "add value?"

Dr. Helen is talking about about this article in the Dallas Morning News:

Essay: Christine Wicker asks why women are walking away from marriage

A lot of midlife women in my acquaintance are leaving what appear to be perfectly good and loving husbands. Or thinking about it. Or cheating on them. Or wanting to. Or staying married and faithful but buying their own houses, which they either live in or keep as a bolt hole.
This article is sad, frustrating, and even funny. Here's the funny part:
"More traditional women may wear rose-colored glasses, but they also benefit from a sense of male and female roles," said sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, who conducted the research. "They don't expect their husband to act like a woman."
Traditional women (like me!) are wearing rose-colored glasses? Wrong. We are not the ones who were duped into thinking that the world revolved around us, and that our minute-by-minute happiness is the most important and desirable accomplishment in our lives. We know better:

From the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

But what does that mean, relative to the article? It means that a life centered on self - myself - my happiness and what I want, is an empty life. But you don't have to care about the Catechism, or be Christian, or even believe in God to know that. We receive satisfaction by focusing on others, not on ourselves. We can never satisfy ourselves by doing more for ourselves. There will always be something lacking.

This is sad, frustrating, maddening:
... Dr. Susan Love, author of Dr. Love's Breast Book, as writing that many women find an affair is "part of the healing process" after a cancer diagnosis. She also quoted Sheila Kitzinger in Woman's Experience of Sex as saying that these wives may begin affairs thinking that "it was all well and good for a husband of 35 years to still love them without a breast, but they needed to feel they were still sexually attractive to feel whole again."

Infidelity - adultery, if I may use an old-fashioned term - as part of the healing process? What are these people thinking? (Yes, I'm shouting.) It's not enough that her own husband loves her? Is anything ever enough for these people?

If this is how most people are starting to think, our culture is doomed. I really wonder sometimes what life will be like for my children when they are adults. Will my son find a wife who won't spend all her time calculating what value he adds to her life? Will my daughter find a husband to love and cherish her?

Hard not to feel anxious for the future.

Works for me: Readerware

Once upon a time, our books were a disorganized mess. We had lots of bookcases but had no idea what books were on which shelves or even in which room. There was no rhyme or reason to the placement, and no one seemed to think it made sense to put a book back on the shelf from which it was taken.

We spent a lot of time looking around for books.

We are a little unclear on when we actually did something about our problem by getting Readerware, a book cataloging tool. Was it just before we moved, in anticipation of packing, moving, and then trying to find large numbers of books in a much smaller house with much less bookcase space? We are not sure. In any case, we got it, and it works for me. It works so well I don't know why everyone who has a large home library doesn't use it.

It's very easy to use: type in or scan (it comes with a barcode scanner) a book's ISBN. Readerware finds the book information and loads it into the inventory. Pre-ISBN books can be entered manually. Set up a location (kitchen bookcase, office bookcase, E's room - you get the idea) for each book and you are done. When you need to find a book and it's not where you thought it would be, just search the database and - if you've kept it in its assigned location - you will find it.

The system could be better: it could attach a little beeper to the book so that if someone moved it to another area without updating the inventory, it could be found. But who wants a beeper attached to their books?

Updating locations is really easy. It's all easy.

When we started packing to move, we numbered each book box with large, easy-to-read labels and moved books into the boxes. We tried to put similar books together as much as possible - 107-Box contains mostly ancient history; 127-Box is full of keepsake books. It doesn't really matter, though; it was more important that the boxes be full to the top, as they were going to be stacked.

No, we don't have 165 boxes of books. We always start our numbering at 100. I don't know why.

I don't remember how we decided which boxes would go straight into the dungeon (crawlspace) and which would stay accessible for unloading into bookcases. But now books move in and out of boxes all the time.

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Some boxes got pretty beat up in the moving process. Some got too crushed and had to be recycled. That was mostly because they weren't filled tightly.

When I need a book for homeschooling, or sewing, or cooking, or just something to read, I search by title, author, or subject and find my book. I update the location of each book I debox. If I'm smart, I find books to put into that box, after updating their location too. When we decide it's time for a book to leave permanently, we change the location to "out" rather than delete it altogether. I used to delete the books, but then I'd start thinking about something and... "don't we own this book?" "Yeah, I think so." "But it's not in Readerware." "Did you get rid of it?" So now we keep track of the discarded books too.

This system even lets you keep track of loaned books. It won't get them back for you when you want them, though.

This is something that works for me just about every day. If you have a lot of books, and can't always find them, check out Readerware.

And check out more Works for Me Wednesday posts at We Are THAT Family.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Notes From a Homeschooling Mom. Check it out.

Top Ten Tuesday: in my freezer

Top ten helpful things I try to always have in my freezer:

Top Ten {Tuesday}

1. Ginger root. The fresh stuff, only not fresh, because.. it's in the freezer. I buy a big bag of the roots for a buck or two at the produce market, put it in a ziplock, and keep it in the freezer. When I need some, I pull a piece out, peel the skin and use my microplane grater to get the amount I need.

2. Pecans. We buy the 3-pound bag at Costco and use them in cookies, pancakes, apple crisp... almonds are nice too.

3. Whole bean coffee. The seminarian likes to grind it fresh before every pot. This is another thing we buy at Costco, and once we open that big bag, we store it in the freezer to keep it fresh.

4. Orange juice concentrate. Two of our number drink a glass every single morning. But sometimes we make this nice "Orange Breakfast Nog" from my ancient BH&G plaid cookbook - the one held together by a rubber band: 1.5 cups buttermilk, 1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 or 3 ice cubes. Blend everything but the ice, then add the ice and blend again. (I usually skip the ice.) If you don't have buttermilk, regular milk is OK but not as good - you lose that nice tang. Sometimes I use yogurt. If I have vanilla yogurt, I leave out the sugar and the vanilla extract. This makes two 10-ounce servings.

5. Chocolate chip cookie dough. I don't always have this, but I try to. Just make a batch of your favorite cookie dough, form into little balls, and freeze. Then, hot fresh cookies whenever you need them. Yes, need.

6. Toasted wheat germ. For the Sunday pancakes, mostly, and sometimes cookies and bread.

7. Loaves of bread. In cooler weather I like to bake bread. Or, I buy the French bread from Costco and freeze a few of those. I don't like running out of bread.

8. Blueberries. I buy a 30-pound box every year.

9. Salmonburgers and "meat burgers" (as my kids call them) from Costco. Pull 'em out and grill 'em.

10. Bits of stale bread for bread pudding and to grind up for crumbs.

What's in your freezer?

Top Ten Tuesday can be found at Oh Amanda.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Facing realities of life

Yesterday afternoon my Boy Scout came home after eight days at camp. He had a great time. He was also exhausted, sleep-deprived, bug-bitten, blistered, sore and achy.

But he cleaned up and went to church yesterday evening. I am not sure how much he got out of the sermon, but he was there, he sang, he bowed his head and I assume he prayed. Maybe he was praying it would end soon.

He didn't want to go, but he went without too much complaint. On the way home we talked about the lack of time to recover from one thing before it's time to move on to the next. I remembered returning from vacations and having to get up for work the next day. I didn't want to go. Sometimes the jobs were even ones I hated. But I went.

He went to bed early, because this morning I had to wake him up at 6:30 for soccer camp. This afternoon, he has to go to the orthodontist to get new braces put on. No downtime.

It turns out he didn't make it to soccer camp. He got up all right - the smell of bacon was irresistible (at camp all they got was turkey bacon which he described as disgusting). But everything hurts and he can't stretch his legs. I cut him a break: he'll start soccer camp tomorrow. This is just a fun day camp; he's not playing in the soccer season this year. He enjoys the camp and I am all for increasing his soccer skills. Still, I wonder: should I have forced him to go? He won't always have the option of staying home when he's feeling sore and tired from a previous activity. But isn't soccer camp supposed to be fun?

Still, he's getting a taste of what real life - adult life - is like. We don't always have down time between activities. We have to be ready to get up and do the next thing. Sometimes it's hard. Next summer he will be old enough to get his working papers and get a job. It's time to start learning the realities of real life. Kid life is coming to an end.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

This is another easy food week. We are still having summer camps and it's too busy for me to plan really nice meals. But fall is in the air and soups and stews will be coming back soon.

Monday: Salmonburgers. I try to always have a bag of these babies in my freezer. (I buy them at Costco but I've seen them in lots of stores.) They are a great emergency or busy day dinner with coleslaw and maybe some oven-fried potatoes. (I often skip the potatoes since I serve them on a bun. My family does love their carbs, though.) A little dill sauce goes well with this: equal parts mayo and either (or both) yogurt and sour cream; lemon juice, fresh or dried dill, salt and pepper to taste. Delicious and easy.

Tuesday: Randy's Famous Sunday Night Fried Rice with tofu. With egg rolls if I get to Aldi, which has our current favorite frozen version. This is becoming a weekly request.

Wednesday: Tacos or burritos: whatever combination of spiced ground beef, cheese, refried beans, tortillas, tomatoes, lettuce, and salsa that people want. And some salad and/or fruit. This is also a weekly meal for us.

Thursday: Some sort of chicken. I have drumsticks in the freezer so that's a good bet. Probably oven-fried or maybe grilled. Potato salad, I think. Probably this recipe which I've been making for years from a magazine clipping in my recipe binder. Happy to see it online.

Friday: Pasta, garlic bread, salad.

Saturday: Sandwiches: roasted red peppers, fontina cheese, basil, garlicky olive oil. Assemble the sandwiches, brush with the olive oil, bake. An old favorite from, I think, Bon Appetit magazine long long ago. Oh, the kids will have their without the peppers. Probably a green salad with this.

Now that I've been planning dinners for two weeks, I should add some lunch plans. For some reason lunch is hard for me. I think it's because for so many years I worked and always ate lunch out. So I haven't fully adjusted to making lunch at home, even though I haven't worked for about 13 years. Lunch always catches me by surprise and thus is likely to be some variation on bread and cheese with some veggies and fruit so I can pretend it's a balanced meal. I do make the seminarian's lunch most days now, and I need to sharpen up a bit. Leftovers don't always work. Tonight's salmonburgers don't lend themselves to microwaving the next day even if there were substantial leftovers. Any stray bits go to the dog anyway.

Find more menus, or post your own, at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Purple coleus

Taken at the arboretum today. I just love the colors and the texture. So lush!

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Linked to Outdoor Wednesday, a weekly blogging opportunity I just found (via Smallworld At Home). Lots of beautiful photographs to see there!

Why camp counts in my homeschool

August is the big camp month around here. This summer my kids have each been to one sleep-away camp, have a soccer day camp next week, and are helping out at our upcoming church Vacation Bible School. I always count camps as school time for them. Some people disagree with this idea. After all, school kids go to camp too, and it doesn't count for them. Somehow it seems unfair to count camp days in my required (here in Pennsylvania) 180 days. Camp is fun! It's not school.

But here are some of the things my kids did or will do in camp this summer:

Swam, hiked, played sports.

Perform community service. Our local school district requires 20 hours per school year. My kids will get 20 hours in one week. (Service at a church counts.)

Help teach and care for younger kids.

Acquired emergency preparedness skills such as: evacuating an injured hiker, mobilizing a group to help in a disaster, attracting and communicating with a search and rescue plane.

Learned how properly to start and put out a fire. (Including, in one case, a large bonfire.)

Acquired skills in leading a group of peers.

Worked in teams to improve the camp.

Worked in teams to do daily chores around the camp, including kitchen and bathroom cleanup; set duty rosters and followed up to be sure work was done.

Learned about nature: local animals and plants.

Learned how to track animals and humans through the woods.

Did arts and crafts.

Engaged in healthy competitions, separate from sports events.

Developed problem-solving skills.

Learned how to deal with a peer who is violating a camp rule.

Learned a little cooking.

And don't forget socialization!

Some of these things are easy to compartmentalize into school subjects, others not so much. But they are all things kids have to learn somehow, someday. OK, maybe not the animal and human tracking. But it's an interesting skill, anyway, and who knows if one of my kids is going to become an FBI agent? Remember, it doesn't matter how or where these skills are learned, at camp or at school or at home. It's the learning that matters. So I happily count these days as part of our academic year.

What did your kids learn on summer vacation?

Weekly Wrap-up: Girls' week edition

This was the week the girls took over the house.

I have one girl and one boy. They are only 18 months apart and they mostly get along really well. Mostly. When one goes away, the one left behind gets a little lonely. But the girl feels it more. She needs contact! So with the boy away at camp we tried to plan as many events with girlfriends as we can. This week that meant two sleepovers and an all-day tea party.

But how do I keep those girls occupied? We are not mani-pedi sort of folks so the spa treatments are right out. Better for us are craft opportunities:

A visit to a garden for sketching:

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And movies. Lots of movies.

Our house is small so the only place to have a sleepover is in the family room in front of the tv. There is something glorious about lounging in front of a movie late into the evening with no parents around to say "don't sit so close!" and groan at the lame plot lines. The girls can giggle and talk through the movie because no one cares about the dialog; they've seen it all before.

Next week the boy will be back and while there will be visiting girls in the house sometimes, it won't be quite the same.

Find more weekly wrap-ups at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gorgeous writing by Rebecca West

A book to savor, to read slowly and leisurely, to focus on the language, and on the people and places the author is writing about.

I don't even know how long I've owned this book, or why I bought it in the first place. I know I've moved it a couple of times. And I don't know why I finally decided to start it.

But I am so glad I finally did. There is so much beauty in this book. And, a surprising amount can be found online. While searching around for references to a gorgeous section I read last week - and want to quote in full here but can't, it's just too long! - I found some excerpts from the archives of Atlantic Magazine. This passage is in part II, section X; you should really go read the whole thing. I could not help but emphasize my favorite parts.

We drove through a landscape I have often seen in Chinese pictures; wooded hills under snow looked like hedgehogs drenched in icing sugar. On a hill stood a little church, full to the doors, bright inside as a garden, glowing with scarlet and gold and blue and the unique rough warm white of homespun, shaking with song. On the women's heads were red handkerchiefs printed with yellow leaves and peacocks' feathers, and their jackets were solidly embroidered with flowers, and under their white skirts were thick red or white woolen stockings. Their men were just as splendid in sheepskin leather jackets with applique designs in dyed leathers, linen shirts with fronts embroidered in cross-stitch and fastened with buttons of Maria Theresa dollars or lumps of turquoise matrix, and homespun trousers gathered into elaborate boots.

The splendor of these dresses was more impressive because it was not summer. The brocade of a Rajah's costume or the silks of an Ascot crowd are within the confines of prudence, because the Rajah is going to have a golden umbrella held over him and the Ascot crowd are not far from shelter, but these costumes were made for the winter in a land of unmetaled roads, where snow lay till it melted and mud might be knee-deep, and they showed a gorgeous lavishness, for hours and days and even years had been spent on the stuffs and skins and embroideries which were thus put at the mercy of the bad weather. There was lavishness also in the singing that poured out of these magnificently clad bodies, which indeed transformed the very service. Western church music is almost commonly infantile, a petitioning for remedy against sickness or misfortune, combined with a masochist enjoyment in the malady; but this singing spoke of health and fullness.


From this divided congregation came a flood of song which asked for absolutely nothing, which did not ape childhood, which did not pretend that sour is sweet and pain wholesome, but which simply adored. If there be a God who is fount of all goodness, this is the tribute that should logically be paid to Him; if there be only Goodness, it is still a logical tribute. And again the worship, like their costume, was made astonishing by their circumstance. These people, who had neither wealth nor security, nor ever had had them, stood before the Creator and thought not what they might ask for but what they might give. To be among them was like seeing an orchard laden with apples or a field of ripe wheat endowed with a human will and using it in accordance with its own richness.

This was not simply due to these people's faith. There are people who hold precisely the same faith whose worship produces an effect of poverty. When Heine said that Amiens Cathedral could only have been built in the past, because the men of that day had convictions, whereas we moderns have only opinions and something more than opinions are needed for building a cathedral, he put into circulation a half-truth which has done a great deal of harm. It matters supremely what kind of men hold these convictions. This service was impressive because the congregation was composed of people with a unique sort of healthy intensity.

This book will be on my reading list for a long time. It's very long and it's not to be rushed. The chapters are fairly short yet complete episodes in West's travels with her husband, so it's not hard to read in small bits of time. A better knowledge of the history of Yugoslavia would be helpful to me, but I'm learning as I go along.

Here is some more from this book, posted last month (see how slow I am reading this). I'm going to be talking about it here a lot, I think.

Linked to Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.

Box Day

Today was Box Day! We haven't had a really good Box Day here at Sage Garden Homeschool for a while. And to be truthful, this is not the result of one Box Day but a couple. Still, it is always fun to get a Box!

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This isn't everything we'll be using for the upcoming academic year but these are the things I am most excited about. What are the kids most excited about? Hmmm....

Carnival of Homeschooling

I forgot to mention that the Carnival of Homeschooling is up, as it is every Tuesday. This week it is hosted by Renae at Life Nurturing Education which is a great blog even when it's not hosting the Carnival. Stop by.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Messy Family Reforms: Project Five

Bookcases! We love bookcases because we love books. But bookcases can become messy too.

It's just another handy place to put stuff.

But it's pretty easy to straighten up the books and move the things that don't belong. A few photos are fine, but there's probably a better place for the tape dispenser. And that clown toy? A keepsake that we bring out when we babysit. We haven't babysat for about three months now. I think it's safe to put the toy away.

Much better!

There's even room for a few more books! Need to do something about that nest of cords under the piano though.

I love the way photographs show things that become invisible to us when we're in the room all the time. I should walk around with a camera more often. Or, maybe not.