Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Reading and 2013 Plans

The other day I talked about my Bible reading for 2012 and pondered plans for 2013.  Now it's time to talk about all those other books.

I'd set myself a goal of two books per month, one fiction and one non-fiction, not including reading for our homeschool.  That's not a very impressive goal, but even at that I didn't exactly make it.  I read 15 novels but only eight non-fiction books for myself.   But, as always, there is overlap in my worlds.  I picked up 1066: The Year of the Conquest for myself, but ended up handing it over to my fifteen-year-old to read and discuss with me.  So was it a homeschool book or personal reading?   I also read The Monk in the Garden to my kids, but I listened to myself as I read, so I also got the benefit of it.  (What, you've never zoned out reading a book to your kids?)

So, I can't say I did enough reading, with 33 books all told, but it was OK.   I did exceed my goal, so I'm happy about that.

My favorite non-fiction book for the year was The Brother Gardeners; my favorite fiction was either The Invisible Bridge or Jane Eyre.  I could break out categories (contemporary fiction, classics) but that requires too much thinking.

Now for next year.  I found a couple of flaws in setting a specific number of books to read:  I tend to shun very long books, and I tend to read too fast if I feel I am running out of time.  Jane Eyre is a book to savor, but I found myself getting impatient because it was taking me too long to finish.  So, I'm sure I didn't give every chapter the attention it was due. So for next year I'm not setting a goal for a number of books, but rather for time each day to read.  An hour a day of reading of my own sounds good for a start. Actually right now that seems like a lot; an hour goes by so quickly in this house!
 I will be doing even more reading related to homeschooling, but look at what's coming up in the Schoolhouse in 2013:  Beowulf, The Divine Comedy (well, at least Inferno because that's the most interesting and fun of the three), To Kill A Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, and others I would have to look up in my homeschool notebook, which has been nowhere to be found for the past two weeks. I've read all those before, but reading them again is not going to be a burden.  There's another plus for homeschooling teens - all the good books we get to read together.  I learn at least as much as my children do, of course. I know that's a cliche but it's true.

I also want to tackle at least one really big book next year.  For a long time I've wanted to read the unabridged Les Miserables.  I count that as one of my favorite books but it's been many years since I read it, and I didn't even know till two years ago that I'd read a heavily-abridged edition.  So I want to read it again for the first time. By the way, I feel compelled to say that my interest in Les Miserables has nothing to do with the movie. I saw the stage musical years ago and despised it.  I'm not a big fan of musicals anyway, but this book in particular seems ill-suited for that treatment. I know that I'm pretty much alone in that opinion, but there it is. 

My reading list can be found on my 2012 Reading page.  I'll set one up for 2013 when I finish my first book, which will probably be Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers. I don't expect to do any better on keeping my list updated book-by-book or month-by-month than I did last year, but as always I will give it a try.  I had to do a bit of catch-up today to get it done.  I also keep track of my books on Goodreads and am happy to see people over there too.

What did you read in 2012?  What are you doing to read in 2013?  What should I add to my to-read list?  It's already pretty long, but I'm always open to suggestions.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Reading: Bible in a Year

It's the season of looking back. And forward.  I don't make a lot of New Year's resolutions anymore.  In my experience and observation, change doesn't come about because a new year came around on the calendar.  Just look at the parking lot of the local YMCA or other gym in January, and then again at the end of February.  Hey, I can say that, I've been among them! 

But I did set some goals (or made some resolutions) for my reading and will continue to do that. I shouldn't need to set goals, after all, reading is something I enjoy and truly want to do.  (Compare with going to the gym which perhaps I know I should do, but don't want to do.)  But it still helps to have some goals or I tend to get lazy with magazines and websites and pretend that's real reading. 

My big reading goal for 2012 was to read the Bible in its entirety.  I did it!  This is the 2nd time in my life I've managed it.  It's hard.  It's not a lot of reading each day in terms of minutes needed to complete it, but some of it is hard to understand and, I'll just say it, boring.  Some of it even seems weird.  I used The Kingdom Bible Reading Plan that I found at the Desiring God site.  There are plenty of different plans around.  I liked this one because it has daily readings from four different books of the Bible:  Old Testament Law and Psalms, Old Testament Prophets, Old Testaments Writings (such as Job and Proverbs, among others), and New Testament.  Let's face it, a chapter or two a day of Leviticus is going to be easier to manage than four or five. It's also got a built-in "catch-up" feature, with readings scheduled for the first 25 days of the month.  Let's face it again, most people are going to get behind.

I did get behind, often.  Many months found me scrambling to finish on the last day.  I started one or two months already behind.  That  is one of the weaknesses of setting such a reading goal:  There were plenty of chapters I read quickly, even mindlessly, just to get it done and the box checked off.  That is not the way to read anything important! 

So I'm not going to try this again in 2013.  I still plan to read the Bible every day, or most days.  I've started using YouVersion (thanks to Sandy for reminding me of it) which I had always thought was just for mobile devices.  Imagine my surprise when I found that even desktop users can benefit from it. (Yes, I am not mobile yet. It has nothing to do with not wanting - not be be confused with needing - to be mobile, and I'm sure I will be soon.)  I've already signed up for a couple of short Bible reading plans.  I do like having stuff delivered to my inbox, even the Bible. 

A better goal for me this year might be to spend x amount of time reading the Bible via YouVersion plans, personal Bible study,  working with my kids on their Bible curriculum, and joining the study at my church.  I wouldn't mind an online study with discussion either, if I could find one that fit.   I'm thinking of keeping track (via a paper chart?) of my reading, so I can see just how much of the Bible I read in a year without a formal plan to do it.  It would also be interesting to me to see what books I return to again and again, and which I avoid.  I already know a couple. 

I read books other than the Bible, of course.  But it's time to stop typing and do a little reading.  I'll update my general reading goal results and plans later or tomorrow.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Christmas traditions, changing again

Can a tradition change?  If it changes, can it even be a tradition?

Three years ago I wrote about my family's new Christmas-tree-fetching tradition.  Now, we are making a new one.

For most of my life I heaped scorn on the artificial Christmas tree. I grew up with real trees and fake trees were just so, so... fake.  Like my aunt's white tree with the color wheel, circa 1962.   But it didn't matter how many nice, realistic, green trees I saw: they were just not right.

But a few years my kids ago we discovered that our kids are allergic to just about every tree there is.  We wondered about sinus problems in winter.  We took advice and started hosing down the tree to get some of the nastiness out of it before bringing it in the house.  Last year we decided it was enough:  next year, we will have a fake tree.

Just before Thanksgiving my girl and I went out and scouted trees.  After checking out a few stores and online sites, we ended up with a shortish (maybe a little too short), not-too-wide tree.  We set it up to make sure there were no broken branches or burned-out lights, with the intention of taking it back down till after December 1.  Who were we kidding?  Once the tree was up and plugged in, there was no taking it back down for a couple of weeks.  We left it in place, unadorned, till we returned home from our Thanksgiving trip.

Today it is fully decorated and looking gorgeous.  No one is sneezing.  We didn't have to hose it down, or mess with the heavy tree stand.  We don't have to water it.  We don't have to scream at the occasional spider crawling out of it.  (I am not sure that actually ever happened, but it might have.  Or it could, anyway.) We don't have to constantly sweep up needles. 

We are never looking back.  Our new tradition is born.  It's hard to think of a way to make "let's go drag the tree out of the attic" festive, but we'll find the way.

Do you have a real tree, artificial tree, or no tree at all?  Give me a link to your blog post about your traditions.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Almost perfect start...

to the Christmas season.  Well, as perfect as a day spent traveling can be.

Yesterday while others were resting after the Thanksgiving feast, or enjoying Black Friday shopping, or just going about their usual business, we were northbound on I-81, returning to Pennsylvania from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  That's a 14-hour drive for us, with stops to stretch, use the facilities, and stop for coffee.  Of course, lots of coffee. 

(Just an aside:  the "Welcome Centers" (aka rest stops) along I-81 in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia are welcoming indeed.  We've stopped at all of them, I think, in the 5 years we've been making that trip.  They are comfortable, clean, decorated for the holidays, and just all-around pleasant places to stop.) 

But how can a day spent on the road be almost perfect?

We started off in good moods.  It's always hard to leave the grandparents after a too-short visit, but we were also ready to get home.  Our first-ever artificial tree is waiting to be decorated.  Our dog is waiting to be picked up at the kennel.  We have things to do at home.

We had Christmas music.  A mix of secular pop music tunes, Christian carols, some Freddy Clarke guitar,  and bits of Handl's Messiah.  All that was missing was Nutcracker.  I put the mp3 player on random play, and let it go.  I admit it can be a bit jarring to go from one of the solos from Messiah right into "Blue Christmas," but... it worked.

We had a Christmas story:  Jim Dale's reading of A Christmas Carol.  We've been reading this book together for years, and this time went with a new reader instead of Dad or Mom.  It was so good, and took up three hours of our time!

We found a great place for a quick, cheap, road dinner:  Sheetz gasoline and convenience store.  We felt a little guilty loving it so much, being the Wawa fans we are, but as far as I know, Wawa doesn't serve pizza by the slice, which is what half of our number were craving.  My BLT was perfect, and I hear the pulled pork sandwich is pretty good too.  About $15 and change, and we were fortified for the rest of the drive home.

I won't say the trip went quickly, because 14-hour drives just don't.  But it went as well as it could. We're safely, happily home, and in the Christmas spirit!

How about you?

Friday, November 09, 2012

Homeschool Moments: Political Education

A major election always causes a distraction from homeschooling, but it also provides lots of opportunities for homeschool moments.  I'm not just talking about teaching my kids how the electoral college works, or why it's important to be an educated voter, though.  This election cycle we ended up focusing on political discourse and how to converse with and about political opponents.

I know I'm getting old, but elections seem to be getting nastier and uglier.  This one was pretty bad.  On facebook, on blogs, in casual conversation, people spewed nastiness with abandon, never thinking that someone might disagree with them.  People posted assassination threats on twitter (were they joking? who knows?) and put up facebook statuses saying that "no real _______ would vote for __________" (fill in your own. I've seen it applied to both sides: woman/Romney, American/Obama.)  Or "anyone who votes for _______ is a __________ " (fill in your own profanity-laden description of a stupid person). 

So my young teens see this, because we encourage them to read the news, read political blogs, engage with appropriate adults on facebook. (Appropriate meaning people we know.)   We do have "safe" sites that have good articles to read, but no one can control comments, and telling kids "don't read the comments!" rarely works.  And so they are exposed to this spewing because sometimes even people we know and like find they can't follow that old adage "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." 

And we have to talk about why this is wrong and how to express their own opinions without denigrating and demonizing their opponents.

It's been quite an education for them. They are a bit disillusioned about a few people they like and respect but who couldn't keep from making nasty, unnecessary comments, or from using language that used to be taboo in polite company.   They're learning about media bias and about the way people form opinions and can't be swayed from them, no matter what evidence is presented to them.  They're learning about what's important to people (not always a happy lesson, sorry to say). 

They'll be able to vote in the next Presidential election, and the lessons aren't over yet!  But at least we have a little break from it now.  On to other things!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

We are still having homeschool moments...

but there are more "real life" moments going on right now.

The mystery sickness that seems to hit my kid every year at this time, the doctor visits that go along with that, and the difficulties of homeschooling someone who is sick. all. the. time.

The kidney infection that had me in the hospital for three days.  I know I'm not the only mom who has ever had the fantasy of a few days of leisure in the hospital with a non-life-threatening illness and a pile of books.  Lots of time to read, people bringing water and tea and food... Forget it.  The reality is nothing like the fantasy.

Then there was The Storm.  We were not hit hard; we just lost power for about 30 hours, and one of our trees fell, taking out the landline.  (Yes, we still have a landline.)  That was easily fixed, and the tree was no great loss - we hated it.  There are a few more old trees that we wish would fall down. 

After the storm, there was the flurry of appointment-rescheduling for the mystery sickness.  Then, my lithotripsy (aka kidney-stone-blasting) procedure which took most of a day. 

I really need to stop making blog plans.  Maybe I'd blog more!

Hey, it's NaNoWriMo month!  I'm not doing it, but my kids are!  There'll be at least one homeschool moment in November, as they share bits of their stories!  

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Saturday morning

Blogging commitments (though always self-imposed) never work well for me.

We do homeschool, after a fashion, pretty much every day, but I don't seem to have a notable homeschool moment every day.  Or, if we do, I tend to miss it.

I do read, but I don't keep my 2012 Reading page updated very well.  (I did update it today - with 3 months worth of books.)  I tend to do more of my book talking on Goodreads now, so come see me over there.

But it's Saturday morning and both my kids are out, my husband is sleeping and my dog is waiting patiently for me to let him out the back door. But I can't, because it's nut-gathering season, and squirrels are all over the place.  And he barks at them.  They never come down to play, but he can't stop insisting they do.

My girl is on a church youth group retreat.  Our junior high group is small - only two girls and three boys - but they have great leaders and enjoy themselves.  Two of the boys are new to the group this year, having moved up to 7th grade.  Last year there were three girls and one boy, so I wondered how it would go when that dynamic changed. I was happy that my girl said the boys were a lot of fun and that she was happy that last year's sole male had some cohorts now.  They will be home tomorrow afternoon.

I was up at 6am with my boy, who is off on a Scout event.  It's amazing how a boy who can sleep till 10 am with no trouble will jump out of bed at 6 am when he needs to. Mommies of late-sleeping kids, take heart! They can get up when they need to.

As always, I have a lot of things I'd like to write about.  But now it's time to go have a cup of coffee on the  back deck.  The husband has arisen.  The dog can't wait to get outside anymore. 

Have a lovely Saturday.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy

The Flight of Gemma HardyThe Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'd been looking for something to take me to another time and place, and this did it pretty well. Well, the time isn't so exotic - 1950s and 60s - but the place is Scotland, specifically the Orkney Islands which have long fascinated me, and Iceland. This has been called an homage to Jane Eyre, and I probably should have reread that first, but I knew the basic story - orphan girl becomes a governess (or the more current au pair) for a mysterious man with a secret. Chaos ensues.

All in all I'd say this is a very good book with some infuriating moments. First, it's got that first-person narration that I am really tired of. The main character, Gemma, was frustratingly stupid and naive at times, but I suppose that might be expected of an orphan with nasty relatives and a bad boarding school experience.

But the story was engaging and had me hiding from my kids to snatch bits of reading time. The ending was no surprise, of course.  But it wasn't a satisfying ending simply because there were too many loose ends left undone. Gemma had left a few people behind in her flight, and I wanted to know what became of them - or rather, what became of her relationship with them.  I suppose my desire to know what happened to all those other relationships means I was more engaged with the book than I had thought. 

The scenes on the Orkneys reminded me of our visit to Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, seven years ago. I loved that part of it.  I doubt I will ever get someplace so remote again, but... maybe.

I'll be looking for more books by this author. But first I need to go read Jane Eyre.

View all my reviews

Monday, October 01, 2012

Homeschool Moment: Haircut

My homeschool moment for today is:  leaving my kids home alone with their work, and walking out the door to go get my hair cut.  Alone. 

Sure, moms who send their kids to school get to do all sorts of things on their own during the school day.

But with young teens in the house, I get the best of both worlds:  I get to homeschool my kids and hang out with them most of the time, but I also get to walk out the door - alone - for a haircut.  Or a cup of coffee with a friend.  Or a trip to the library.  No, never mind the last one - the kids want to go to the library with me anyway.

Sometimes it seems that as homeschoolers, we are trapped at home with our kids. But once the teen years hit, they can be home alone. 

And they even - mostly, anyway - do their work!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Teach Your Children Well by Madeline Levine, PhD

Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic SuccessTeach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success by Madeline Levine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this book up at the library after hearing the author speak on an NPR talk show.

As I read the introduction I thought, "Hmm, maybe I should buy this book, it seems like something I'll want to read more than once." But I waited to see how it went before making a commitment to it.

The premise of the book is that there is more to success than high grades and "fat envelopes" which I assume to mean acceptance packages from elite universities. I didn't need any convincing on that, but I wanted to read a book with that perspective, since it seems sometimes that I am surrounded by people will high-achieving children bound for academic (and financial) greatness. Ive been bothered by parents' insistence on rigorous STEM education, for example, for their kids regardless of the child's interest in and aptitude for it.

After the introduction, there is a discussion of the developmental stages in kids' lives: elementary, middle, and high school ages. I skipped the elementary school section since I am out of that. I found the middle school section to be pretty accurate.

But then I got to high school. The author's attitude toward teen sexuality stunned me. As in, sex seems to be nothing more than a pastime to be enjoyed (responsibly, of course) by teens ages 16 and above. There was no mention of love or committed relationships; I think the word the author used was "affection" in describing teen sexual relationships.

I nearly stopped reading the book at that point; I didn't want to go on when I have an area of strong disagreement. But I carried on anyway.

After the age/grade sections, the author goes on to discuss skills and attributes kids need to be given/taught to be successful. These are qualities such as resilience, creativity, work ethic... nothing to argue with there. Each section has a do/don't list for parents to guide them in helping their kids.

Mostly the advice is good though there's nothing I've not read or otherwise come across before. I do have two other disagreements about the book, though. One is the near-absolute absence of God, religion, spirituality in the book. I think "religious practices" gets a nod as something that might be important to some families, and "religion" appears in a list of life priorities for the parents to rank. I get it that this is a secular book, not written from a religious perspective. But it seems odd to leave the religious/spiritual aspect out completely.

And, I was surprised that the book contained no reference to homeschooling at all. Again, I get it that homeschoolers are not the target audience, and that we are a minority in the US. But when talking about school problems, school reforms, etc., it seems odd not to mention (at least) an educational segment that is growing each year.

Three stars is a bit higher than I'd like to rank the book. I'm not going to buy it and I'm not likely to need to read it again. Two stars seemed too low because much of the advice is sound. 2.5 stars would have been more accurate.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Homeschool Moment: New carpet and Playmobil

The giant bin of Playmobil figures has been in the dungeon for a while.  No one's played with it for a few years now, but of course Playmobil is a legacy toy, not to be donated or given away, but saved for the as-yet-hypothetical grandchildren.

But yesterday, after the new carpet was installed in the boy's room, he stood in the vast expanse of emptiness, with wonderful softness underfoot and asked:

Can we get the Playmobil out?

So we did.  And after reading history, doing some math and Latin, after piano practice and Python programming online class... my teens played with their Playmobil.  It was so fun to hear them exclaiming over old favorite figures.  And renaming some:  the old Roman Centurion was rechristened Rory*.  

The only downside?  We may never get the furniture out of the living room and back into the bedroom.  

*Doctor. Who reference.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Homeschool Moments: Atlatls and Watercolors

This new blogging endeavor is not going so well.  We do have at least one homeschool moment a day, but sometimes I forget to look for it... or forget to write about it.

Today was a good one to remember.

The Scout is involved in a project for an upcoming district-wide (council-wide?  I never know) campout and is in charge of teaching/demonstrating the use of the atlatl.  This is an ancient hunting device consisting of a throwing arm and a 5- 7-foot-long dart.  (I keep mistakenly calling it a spear. It looks like a spear to me!) He and his dad have been kicking around ideas, doing some research, and taking frequent trips to Lowe's for lumber.   Today he spent refining his throwing arm and preparing two different types of darts for his Scout meeting tonight.  He also worked up his (simple) budget proposal.  

I might have to have a big atlatl post at some point.  But that was today's highlight. 

While the boy was working on darts, my girl was out on the porch working with watercolors.  She's been focusing (haha) on photography lately but suddenly got the urge for watercolors.  We had an A C Moore (craft shop) coupon and got something a little better than the kiddie set she'd last used.  So yesterday and today she's been outside, in the cool fall air, working on watercolors.

We've also managed to do things like math and Latin, too! 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Homeschol Moments: Tower and Trebuchet

We had two good ones today.  Maybe I should cheat and save one for another day.  Or go backward in time and date one yesterday.

We're doing medieval history this year, which is always a treat.  We've been watching a documentary series on the Tower of London, appropriately called The Tower, together.  Though the tower was built in the middle ages, this dvd doesn't just cover those days.  It's been such fun to watch and relive our own visit to the Tower back in 2005.  My kids were pretty little then, but they have some memories.  Of course the boy remembers the armory best.

Then tonight after my girl left for her church youth group meeting, my boy and I sat down to watch Castles of War, a DVD I picked up from the library.  It's a bit cheesy for a documentary, put on by the Travel Channel.  It was a fun 45 minutes, though, particularly for the running commentary by my local weaponry expert.

Lots o' forts and weapons today...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Homeschool Moment: Porch School

It's not really a porch, and more than a moment.  This is the golden time in Pennsylvania - the humidity is (relatively) low, the temperature is perfect, and there is sunshine on the back deck.  (Deck school seemed to imply school on a boat.)   So why not haul the math, grammar, and some reading - oh, and I see the camera made its way out there too - for a little porch school after lunch?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

September 6 Homeschool Moment

Talking about the effects of the Norman Conquest on Western Civilization with my 15-year-old as we drove to a doctor appointment.  On the way home, having the same kid explain how an Icee is a great model of how oil sands work.  I just have to trust him on that.

He's been reading 1066: The Year of the Conquest, which I read in anticipation of this year's history studies.  I thought I had written something about it here, but it turns out I did that on goodreads.  Looking for it reminded me that I need to update my monthly reading.  Anyway, I handed it off to him and he's been enjoying it too. It's a fun popular history, not academic at all, and gives a good overview of the time period.

It is so fun to share "adult" books with my kids now.  It's fun to hear him speculate on what his world would have been like if Harold had defeated William.  Maybe someday he'll write an alternate history novel about it.  Could happen!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

September 5: Homeschool Moment

Wondering if I can count the time my daughter spent doing her nails - ombre fall colors and glitter - as art for the day.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

September 4: Homeschool Moment

Sitting at the table with my daughter, looking with dismay at her math book for the first time in who knows how long.  She is supposed to do some averaging. 

"It's hard."

"OK, well, which part is hard?"

"It's all hard. The division is hard."

"Really, this dividing is hard? How about you just try this first one."

"Huh.  Why did I think that was so hard?  OK, I'll just finish up the rest of these now... you can go away now."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A new endeavor

Inspired by my friend (and with aplogies for stealing her idea, sort of), I'm launching A Homeschool Moment, in which I will describe one nice moment of a homeschooling day.

I know, it's not very original. And it's not likely to include pictures!  Well, maybe sometimes.

And today might not be the best time to start, since I am leaving my family for a few days and thus won't have any homeschool moments with them till next week.

But let's see how it goes, OK? 

A homeschool moment

Today: sitting on the back deck in the shade, reading Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England aloud to my children, while my daughter painted my toenails.

They are a subtle shade of pink. 

She's wanted to do it for a long time.  Paint the toenails, I mean.

She loves listening to me read Bede, too.  It's more entertaining than you'd think.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Science books for non-Science-y People

Just some quick notes on a couple of  books and authors I've been enjoying recently:

In anticipation of my daughter's summer botany study, I read Andrea Wulf's The Brother Gardeners, about early American and English botanists who brought us the English Garden.  I enjoyed it way more than I expected to, and just grabbed Founding Gardeners from the library in the hope of starting on that soon.  Then I will read every other book of hers I can find. 

But first I have to finish Summer World: A Season of Bounty  by biologist Bernd Heinrich.  This is not my first of his books. Last year I read Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival and The Geese of Beaver Bog to my kids.  We loved both books, but really clicked with Geese because of the relationship between the humans and the birds.  I also saw, and grabbed, The Trees in my Forest  from the library yesterday. I'm going to try to preview that quickly to see if it's suitable for Eleanor.  Science books are tricky for her; she needs to read more nonfiction in general, and she enjoys the topics of birds and animals, but sometimes it just gets above her head. So we'll see. 

I am not a "science person" but I love reading about natural science when the book is not technical.  There is a bit of evolution and technical talk in Heinrich's books, but not so much that I can't read them.

Of course my very favorite natural history writer is Edwin Way Teale. We still read his seasonal travel books.  We've never managed to read one in full during the season, but we just pick  up where we left off last time.  It's time to pull out Journey into Summer, isn't it? 

I am linking my books to rather than Amazon these days.  I find their reviews more helpful, generally, and everyone knows where to buy books.

What science books for non-science-y people do you recommend?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The thrill of the plan

Seems like I'm always engaged in homeschool planning.  Does a day go by that I don't think about curriculum?  You wouldn't know that answer to that unless you are a homeschool mommy; if you are, you know it's "no."  I'm always looking around and thinking.  I love that part of homeschooling best.  That seems wrong:  I should love implementing the plans more than making the plans.  But that's not the way it works for me, and from my reading around the homeschool boards and blogs, I'm not alone.

But I'm making progress on planning the continuation of my son's freshman year in high school. Is that a little confusing?  The typical academic year setting isn't working for us. Some of you might remember that last year was supposed to be James's freshman year, but he got sick and we got sidetracked.  But he continued to do some high school level work, so we're just going to go on with freshman year.

Since my daughter (legally entering 8th grade) is doing some high school level work, we might call it her freshman year too.  I'm not sure about that yet.

There seems to be two schools of thought on homeschooling high school.  One is that it has to be completed in four academic years, just like a "regular" school.  Five years  looks bad on the transcript. It might make the kid look like a slacker.  Or it might look like his mommy is trying to pad his transcript.  Colleges want things to look typical.

The other thought is: what does it matter, four years or five?  Does it even matter when the student does certain things?  Just do a transcript by subject and be done with it.  A subset of this says that the person with an unorthodox view of high school, transcripts, and credits is likely to apply to schools that will be accepting of unorthodoxy.  Schools that understand homeschooling is not "regular" school.  So quit worrying about it already.

We don't even know what college will look like in four years, so it makes more sense to do things the way they work best for us.  Which is why we homeschool anyway, isn't it?

So, the plan, as it is today.  Details may follow.

English:  Both kids are well on the way to a high school credit here, thanks to the speech class they took last January through May and some books already read, discussed, and written about.  We're using Easy Grammar Ultimate 9th grade, and Progeny Press literature study guides for Lord of the Rings, Beowulf, and a few others.  Oh, and the kids will go through Bravewriter's Help for High School.   Don't forget NaNoWriMo in November!

History:  This will require a post all its own, but we're doing Medieval history using an actual high school textbook (Glencoe World History) as a spine.  I'm also looking at an actual school syllabus for this, from Oak Meadow school. We'll do extra reading as outlined in The Well-Trained Mind.  Some of the reading will overlap with English, of course.

Latin:  Yes, we're going back to Latin.  We faded out with Getting Started with Latin - not getting a full start, you might say.  But we're moving to Visual Latin which is generally considered middle school, so adding their recommended supplement of Lingua Latina.

Math:  Continuing with Algebra 1 for James; Eleanor will continue Life of Fred Decimals and Percents, and Key to Percents, with the goal of getting quickly to and through Pre-Algebra before summer. 

Science:  As always, my most difficult area.  Eleanor is doing a little botany study this summer but I'm not sure what to do with her after that.  Seems like she's done a lot of "life science" and next year she'd be doing it again as Biology 1. She is not a science-y girl at all.  James has started Biology 1 using Biology: The Science of Life (from The Great Courses) but with the wrong book, so we're rebooting that.  I'm thinking of CK-12 Flexbooks  or the textbook our local high school uses.   Right now he's previewing both so we can get the right level for him.

Those are just the basics but doesn't that seem like enough work?  James is heavily involved in Boy Scouts.  If things go as planned, he will reach Life Rank this summer, which means lots of merit badge work and a big project for Eagle.  I think that's an elective right there.  Others may disagree, saying that it's an extracurricular and so shouldn't count.   When I start thinking too hard about that, my head starts to hurt.  (I have never figured out how something a person learns doesn't count.  Have you?)   I want Eleanor to focus on improving and expanding her art, and writing.

Will it all work?  Will I change my mind?  Will someone get sick again?   Check back to find out!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Crazy Summer

Wonder when I will give up my fantasy of schooling all year 'round, taking short breaks throughout the year instead of one long on in the summer?

I really rebel against the idea of the September - June academic year.  But I can't seem to stop following it.

Since we had such a bad start to our 2011/2012 academic year, I wanted to keep going even after the portfolios were turned in and our 180 school days fulfilled.  We can start counting days on July 1 and I love to start filling in that attendance chart - even as I lament that fact that I have to "keep attendance" at all.

It's already been a busy summer but not with school work.  Busy work:  doctor's appointments, housework, yard work (why is "housework" one word but "yard work" two?), Boy Scout merit badge work and meetings, get-togethers with friends.   There hasn't been time for school.

But, that's OK, we need a break, right?  July and August could be our big school months. Except they won't be.

My boy has three trips to go on this summer; my girl has one. Both are helping out at our church Summer Bible Camp (aka VBS). So, I find that in July, we have five uncommitted days when both kids are home. It's true that the afternoons of the Summer Bible Camp week are free (mostly), but having helped at such events before, I know that the afternoons will be better suited to swimming and lazing around than doing any sort of academic work.  

The first two weeks of August are full of camp for both kids.  So, as I see it, summer school can start around August 14. Or maybe the 20th, after they've recovered from camp and I've recovered from camp laundry. What was that about not following the academic year?

The mind is a funny thing. (Or maybe it's just my mind that's funny.)  I knew it was going to be a busy summer, but until I looked at the calendar, in "month at a glance" view, I didn't realize just how packed it was. 

But it's not that bad.  Camps count as school time in my homeschool.  My son's church youth missions trip will definitely count.  So my son is all set with summer school - just not the way I'd envisioned it.

And my daughter, who has fewer camp opportunities than her big brother, has a project that she's going to start on real soon now.  We've put together a casual Botany study, using a few books and a lot of colored pencils.  While the boy is away, she and I will be found in gardens and at the kitchen table, learning about plants. 

Not a bad summer school plan after all, huh?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The photo-less blog

After hitting "publish" on my last post.  I wondered if I should have added photos for all those books.  Nearly every personal blog (as opposed to news-type blogs like Althouse and Instapundit and such)  I come across now has scads of photos - sometimes more photos than text.  Cooking blogs document every step of the recipe with a photo. Book blogs show the cover.  Family blogs have photos of the kids and pets. 

I like photos.  Well, I don't like all the photos on the cooking blogs. I don't need to see a picture of melting butter, or a bowl full of dry ingredients.  Sometimes they are pretty and artistic, but more often a distraction. May I just see the recipe, please?   I do like photos of places visited, gardens, homes, family members, artwork. Stock photos stuck onto a blog post for no apparent reason (other than to have a photo) don't do much for me though. 

Do photos enhance your blog-reading experience?   Are they necessary to your enjoyment of a blog? 

June reading

June was a much better reading month for me. Must be because we practically abandoned homeschooling. I started and finished three books, and read parts of several others (some by design).
  • The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  Another highly-satisfying book by Kate Morton.  The story is complex, the narrative jumps through time with abandon but it is so well-done it is never hard to follow.   Watch for the mention of Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden.
  • A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly.  I was attracted to this book by its setting: The Adirondack Mountain region of New York.  Long ago, before I was 10 years old, my family camped in those mountains many times, and though I don't really remember those trips, I have always been fascinated by the region.  A Northern Light is a coming-of-age story about a poor young farm girl who longs to go to the city and become a writer.  I enjoyed it, though at times I had an uneasy feeling that it was going to turn into something like The Awakening which is on my list of worst novels ever.  It didn't get quite that far, I'm happy to say.  This is considered a Young Adult book.  "Young Adult" is a broad term.  My 13-year-old browses the YA section now, and this book (among many others) is not for her.  Some of the incidents and language are just a bit too adult.  Maybe for a 17-year-old. And up!  It could easily fit in the adult section of the library.
  • The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf.   I'll be looking for more books by this author.  I never knew that the English Garden full of colorful flowers was mainly the product of plant imports.  John Bartram of Philadelphia figures heavily in this book, which annoys me only because I've lived here for five years and have never made it to visit Bartram's Garden, a park on his old estate.  It's a fascinating look at plant importation and the people who dedicated their lives to botany.  Lots of fun information: did you know that at the time of the famous mutiny, the Bounty was carrying a load of plants from the south seas to England?

  •  I kept up with my daily Bible reading and am actually a bit ahead. I find that even when I don't have time to read all 4 chapters I want to read at least one every day.  My habits are changing, slowly.
I read parts of a few books which I'm looking at for homeschool history:
  • The Middle Ages by Morris Bishop.  I saw a brief mention of this on the Well-Trained Mind forums, and picked it up from the library.  It is a narrative history of the period, not too detailed, with a nice flow and interesting anecdotes.  I think my kids will love it. I'm reading it for myself now and will get them copies for their own reading once we get into schooling mode again.  (Which is suppose to be Monday but won't be.)

  • The Civilization of the Middle Ages by Norman F. Cantor.  Previewing this one for school as well.  I think I may use this one as a read-aloud.  I'm trying to get away from reading aloud so much, but this seems better suited to reading together.  We'll see.  This is the recommended "spine" for medieval history in The Well-Trained Mind.  I'm not doing history exactly "the WTM way" (as they say) but want to use this book as part of our study.

And I read about 100 pages of The Street of a  Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama which I had to abandon.  I love this author's books (Women of the Silk was the first one I read, and it's just wonderful), but for some reason this one didn't work for me.  But 100 pages takes some time, and I'm accounting for my time here, so there it is.  I'm going to start another book by Ms Tsukiyama as soon as my library request is fulfilled. 
My Goodreads account is filling up with books to read, and more appear every day.  What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

PSA: Best granola bar recipe

Everyone needs a good granola bar recipe.  And I have the best one.  It's the best because it is simply a basic framework upon which one can build whatever type of granola bar one wants.

The basics are butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder, and salt. And two cups of granola.  As you'll see from the recipe (which I have linked below), "granola" has a pretty fluid description.  And that's the beauty of the recipe.  Define granola as you wish, and make the bars. You have to love them.

Since I try to keep a variety of nuts, seeds, and grains around, I can have a lot of fun with this recipe. Last week my "granola" consisted of rolled oats, sunflower seeds, flaxseed meal, pecans, Bob's Red Mill High-Fiber Cereal, Bob's Red Mill Oat Bran cereal, and chocolate chips.  Oh, and some cocoa powder.  Yes, you might call that a brownie. But a somewhat healthful brownie.  They were delicious.  I had wondered if I should have increased the sugar to offset the bitterness of the cocoa, but as it happens, my family is losing our taste for super-sweet foods, so they were perfect.  They made a great take-along snack for our little vacation.  

There is a sweet story to go along with the recipe at The Baking Circle, the King Arthur Flour baking blog.  This recipe has been around a while - I found it in my KAF 200th Anniversary Baking Book which I have owned forever.  I use it so much the book just opens at that page.  I'm glad to have found it online because one day that book is just going to disintegrate!   But I suspect that when it does, I'll just buy another, because besides the best granola bar recipe, there is much to love in that cookbook. 

Go ahead, make your family happy and bake some of those bars today.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Vacation! And,questions I'd like to ask.

We went on a short vacation earlier last week.  My little family spent 3 days just 2 hours west of home, in Harrisburg, PA.  We had a tour of the state capitol, visited Gettysburg, and went to Hershey Park which is a huge amusement park in the town where Hershey's Chocolate was born.  I guess they traded factory jobs for hospitality jobs in Hershey.  Which is better, I wonder?

We had a nice time.  My kids are a pleasure to travel with, and have been (mostly) all their lives.  They don't nag us to buy stupid stuff.  They don't ask to play the games so they can win a giant, ugly stuffed animal.  Now that they are teens, they don't try to look as if they are not with parents.  You know what I'm talking about. I remember trying to cultivate that look of boredom and detachment when out with my folks. Now I wish they would have slapped that out of me.  But they did not.  And I probably wouldn't either.  I'm happy I don't have to! (Yet?)

It's easy (and fun!) to watch other people and criticize what they do.  I'm sure I've had my share of public parenting failures.  I remember a couple quite clearly. But now that my kids are somewhat grown, I can step back and view others.  I do have to wonder what parents are thinking sometimes.

When we went to the State Capitol for our tour, we dressed up just a little bit.  Not church or party dressed up, but not shorts and t-shirts dressed down.  We were not too surprised (but dismayed nonetheless) to see kids dressed sloppily (as opposed to more casually) there.  But the real stunner was the kid hooked up to his mp3 player, obviously listening to it and looking at the screen during the tour.  What an insult to the tour guide, not to mention the surroundings. The tour was interesting, the building beautiful.  Everyone isn't interested in art, I know. But a person can zone out on a tour without appliances.  The few minutes we spent listening to House business was not terribly exciting, though we did learn why the Piper Cub should be our state aircraft.   But at least my kids listened respectfully to that, rather than their playlists.

I had to wonder why a parent would even allow a teen to do that. I'd like to ask the parents: "is it that hard to ask your child to be polite and put away his ipod?" 

The next day we visited Gettysburg battlefield.  We may have had a bit of a parenting failure of our own there:  we didn't arrive early enough and nearly ran out of time.  My husband and I have a way of doing that.  We knew we needed a couple of hours for the visitor's center and Cyclorama, and James wanted to show us a specific part of the battlefield he'd seen on a Boy Scout hike there.  We should have known that, once there, we'd want to spend more time and see more.  But it worked out.

The visitor's center there is wonderful, and the video presentation well done and interesting.  But it is about a war.   So it was a little disconcerting to hear a little voice, like that of a 4 or 5-year-old, saying "Daddy, this is scary!"  I'm not complaining about hearing the voice at all - I know little kids can't help but speak up sometimes, and normally it wouldn't be distracting.  But the film was so obviously not for such a small child.  I couldn't see the family configuration so I don't know if there were two parents or one; several children or just the unhappy little girl.  I would have loved to ask the daddy: "what were you thinking, bringing this little one in here?"

Hershey Park is a nice, clean, wholesome amusement park.  There are a lot of roller coasters.  I limit myself to coasters that don't do anything extreme, such as go upside down. If I have to go on one, my preference is for the old wooden coasters, but I don't really like those anymore either. James wanted to go on them all, but Eleanor was hesitant.  He didn't want to ride alone. Finally we forced/shamed/begged her to go on one of the looping ones, and she came out all smiles.  She said "I'm so glad I went on that!  Now I can go on any roller coaster!"  Yea!  The two of them took off, leaving Dad and me to wander.  I was left happy in the knowledge that I never have to go on another roller coaster again. 

Hershey is so nice and the crowd so civilized that I didn't see much to criticize.  There were the usual screams for candy or toys.  The clothing wasn't bad, even at the water park; apparently the dress-code rules posted outside the park are enforced.  So I am limited to just one question to a young mom:

"If you didn't want people staring at your legs, why did you have big skulls tattooed on them?"

Maybe they were temporary tattooes, and she was conducting a sociology experiment with her preschoolers.  Yeah, I think I'll go with that.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

My dog's got a prozac problem

That pretty much sums up life in the schoolhouse right now.

It's Saturday morning. This has always been one of my favorite times of the week.  I get up early, and usually have the house to myself for at least an hour or two, with no immediate obligations of my own.  This is when I have the urge to blog (not that I've been giving in to that urge much lately).

But it's already 10:30 am here, way past my usual quiet time.  I didn't get my nice Saturday morning and let me tell you, I'm a little crabby about it.

Our dog has been suffering an odd side effect of prozac:  sleeplessness.  Odd, because prozac is supposed to help calm the nerves, which, one would expect, might help one... sleep.

The past couple of nights he's been wandering the house, pawing at the side of the bed, looking for something to do and someone to hang out with.  It's been... unpleasant.  I admit I have a hard time getting up nice and early when my sleep is interrupted by an insomniac dog.  For about 2 hours.

Our dog Max was a rescue dog.  He came to us about 4 1/2 years ago, and is a pretty good dog (not the most obedient) but, as rescued dogs sometimes do, has always had some issues.  Lately, they've been getting worse.  He has always loved long walks, though sometimes sounds (like doors slamming, kids yelling) can make him turn around and head for home.  Lately, that's been getting worse -  sometimes we only get to the next driveway before he decides he's had enough.  He's not a big dog, but when he digs in and refuses to go, there's no moving him.

So, the prozac. 

Otherwise?  Life is fine.  Homeschooling is over for now; our evaluations have been completed and I just need to turn our portfolios in to the school district.  As usual, we ended with a fade-out rather than the decisive "OK, we're done!" moment I always long for but have never achieved. We had another tough year, frankly, and it's hard to figure out exactly how to write about it.  Sarah at Smallworld has a great post up that relates to that problem.  It reminded me of Sandy's post in a similar vein from a while back.

We don't always want to show our ugly parts to the world, do we?  But, as a homeschooler and a mother and the owner of a dog who needs prozac, I appreciate the rare glimpse into a life that is more like mine - one that is not perfect, not always pretty, and sometimes hard.  So I guess I should return the favor.

But not today, because it's late and my time is up. 

Saturday, June 02, 2012

April and May Reading

Though I've practically given up on posting, I haven't given up on reading.   It looks as though I reached my goal of one fiction and one nonfiction per month, but actually I read only one book in April. The other three were from May.  But, hey, I am doing some reading.

  • A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead.  The only book I finished in April! Nonfiction, it tells the stories of many French women who were arrested and send to prison and work camps for their efforts to resist the Nazis in World War II. Compelling reading.
  • The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin.  This small book is not an organizational how-to, but rather an exploration of why we can't seem to get organized.  I have to admit it wasn't all that helpful to me - I really wanted it to be!  But none of the causes of chaos the book addresses really fit me.  I'm not a perfectionist, and I don't hold on to possessions.  (Those are not the only problems she addresses.)  I think some people might be helped by this book, but I am not one of them.
  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta  Sepetys.  The story of a family in Lithuania, deported to Siberia during Stalin's purges.  I wanted so much to like this book too, but it didn't grab me the way I thought it should.  The story is important - so much of World War II is devoted to the Holocaust, but there are other stories too. 
  • The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.  I had rejected this book once, but picked it up again based on Sarah's review.  (Actually, I got this again after reading her review of The Forgotten Garden which I had also rejected.  But this was available at the library that very day, while there was a queue for the other.)  Other than the slightly-annoying first person narration, I enjoyed this gothic-y story and am glad I picked it back up!  
I've also kept up on my daily Bible reading, or perhaps I should say my monthly reading.  I don't always read it all every day, but an occasional marathon at the end of the month keeps me on track.  I do find I am looking forward to reading it more.

For schooltime I am reading The Fellowship of the Ring alongside my children (we read and discuss and they do some writing using a Progeny Press study guide) and I am reading aloud The Ecclesiastical History of England by The Venerable Bede.  It is more fun than you might think.

I started and rejected a few other books but can't even remember what they were. 

And there are a few books lined up for June, so I'd better go get started.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Random homeschool mom post

It has been so long since I've written a blog post that I didn't even know Blogger changed the dashboard.  I am not sure I even know how to edit and post anymore.

I'm late on my monthly reading post.  That's probably because I haven't been doing much reading.

There's a blog post in my head titled "Homeschooling can break your heart" but I can't get it written.  I love homeschooling. But it can be heartbreaking.  I think a lot of people don't know that, particularly if they read a lot of homeschool blogs.  (Hint:  a person can know that homeschooling is their right choice for her family, but still find it difficult and tedious and yes, heartbreaking at times.)  Sandy is one of the few bloggers I've come across who will admit that homeschooling can be hard.  (Notice she didn't use the word heartbreaking.) I will, though, when I get some time to do it.

As we get deeper into high school, I find myself visiting the Well-Trained Mind forums more often.  It is very helpful. But it can be dangerous for those of us who tend to compare our kids unfavorably with others who seem to be doing better. (Or compare ourselves with homeschool moms who seem to be doing better.) Sometimes it seems as if every child of every mom who posts there is an exceptional student, or at least well above average in everything.  If I read one more post by a mom who has to slow her kid down because he/she is advancing too far in math too soon, I think my head will explode.  As with every other resource, we have to search to find what's helpful. And there is much that is.

We have to remember (I'm speaking to myself here, but some others might need to remember this too), that though there are some near-universal standards for "a good education," there are many different ways to achieve that.  If I try to keep up with my highly-structured, rigorous homeschool friends, I get frustrated because I can't do enough.  If I try to emulate my relaxed, almost-unschooling homeschool friends, I get panicky because my kids don't seem to be natural self-educators, at least not in the areas they need.  (It's true! My kids don't wake up in the morning anxious to get to work on algebra!)  After all these years, you'd think I could find my own way and be comfortable in it.  It just isn't always that easy.  But it's still worth doing, isn't it?

Maybe I should go read now.  If I finish a book on May 10, can I count it for April?  I thought not.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

March 2012 Reading

One quarter of the year complete!  Already!
March was another not-so-great reading month.   That is, if I only count the books I completed:

  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.  Fun read; I had my kids read it too; then we watched the movie.  Enjoyable for all. 
  • True Grit by William Portis.  I'd been thinking about watching this movie with the family; then saw a piece about what a wonderful book it is.  I'd say it's a pretty good book.  There are some great lines by the narrator (Mattie Ross, an old lady telling the story of her life as a 14-year-old girl out to avenge her father's death) which I wish I'd written down. 
  • Setting the Records Straight!  by Lee Binz (TheHomeScholar).  This is a wonderful, helpful, calming book for the homeschool mom who is nervous about high school.  Credit, transcripts, course descriptions beautifully explained.  

Now for the rest.

I started several books that I didn't finish, for various reasons.  I picked up (at the library) A Ship for the King and A Game of Thrones to preview for my son.  But, I gave up because neither of them are genres that interest me, and who has time for that?  The kid is on his own.  Gillespie and I, and Bellfield Hall: Or, The Deductions of Miss Dido Kent were recommended to me didn't hold my interest.  

As part of the Hillsdale College Constitution 101 course (free, no credit), I've been reading The Federalist Papers and other documents related to, well, the US Constitution.  

Right now I'm in the middle of A Train in Winter which is a stunning book on women in the French resistance in World War II.  I'd have finished it if I hadn't been distracted by the books I couldn't carry on with.   I'm also reading The Joy of Calvinism which is a bit of a stretch for me; I'm going slowly, asking my resident theologian a lot of questions, and generally trying not to just rush through the book so I can say I finished it even if I have no idea what it says. 

And once again I'm up-to-date on my Bible reading, though I will admit the last day of March was pretty heavy. 

I've been told it's bad form not to include links for every book, but the unlinked books are easily found on  Linked books will send you to a non-Amazon source. Yes, there are other places to buy books! 

What are you reading?

Can't we do better than this?

Yesterday my boy had his first day of standardized testing for the year.  (He goes back today for round two.)  A local homeschool evaluator organized this group testing at a local private school during the spring break. Though classes are not on, there are students and staff around; the campus is quiet, but not empty. 

This campus is a beautiful place.  It's quite small. There is a lovely old house that is used as the administration building, some other old and pretty buildings, a couple of new, ugly ones, and well-cared-for grounds with gorgeous, beautifully-shaped, mature trees.  At least one tree is a memorial.

Yesterday afternoon, the testing organizer sent out email to all the participants, asking that everyone please obey the traffic direction signs on campus.  Apparently people had been driving out the entrance, or in the exit, or otherwise not following the clear signs.  Like I said, it's a small place; it's not complicated.

A few hours later I received a second email, asking parents to keep their kids from climbing the trees.  She understood that the trees are inviting, and would be tempting to kids who just spent hours in a chair, but... the school asked that the kids stay out of the trees.

I mentioned this to my husband, who had picked James up after the testing.  He said he'd been surprised to see a kid playing on a ripstick in the driveway, right by the entrance.  He was astonished that a parent would let a kid play right there where cars come in off the street.

So, we have homeschool families coming onto private property (invited, to be sure), ignoring the traffic signs, playing in a (potentially) dangerous place, and playing on and endangering the trees (not to mention themselves). 

And this school should open its door to homeschool testing in the future because... ?

Sometimes we homeschoolers are our own worst enemies.

Monday, March 19, 2012

February reading

When I fell into this current blogging slump I figured I'd at least keep up my monthly reading posts.  Imagine my surprise to discover I'd never posted anything for February.  I think I've set a new p.r. for blog-forgetting.  But I see what happened:  I updated the 2012 reading page, and left it at that.

I'm still not happy with my reading.  I know I could read more; it's not a matter of not having enough time, but rather not making time for good reading.   Just this week I've added more walking into my day, so unless I move to audio books (which is not a great option for me as I can't concentrate well when I'm walking), there will be less time available for reading. 

There is also the problem of scattered reading.  I have so many books out from the library right now, and I've started several.  That is not an efficient way to read.  I need to pick one, and either finish it or reject it outright.  I don't have any trouble rejecting a book quickly; I don't slog through 100 pages or 1/4 of the book or whatever bars people set for rejection.  If it's not a book I need to read for some purpose, why torture myself? There are plenty of enjoyable books to read.  Sometimes they are hard to find, though.  

But, here are my February books.
  • The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. Comments here.
  • The Little Russian by Susan Sherman.  An interesting though not compelling look at the life of a Jewish woman in "Little Russia" spanning the years before and after World War I.  It would have been better if I'd been able to muster any sympathy for the main character.  
  • Heroes of the City of Man by Peter Leithart.  I read only the portion pertaining to The Iliad.  It is a masterpiece.  I had my kids read it when we finished our read-aloud of the epic and they found it challenging but not difficult to read, and agreed that it enhanced their understanding of the story.  I've had several of Leithart's books for years but have not really used them.  I think I got them during a big buying spree at Exodus Books one day.  We will be using Ascent to Love when we read Dante next year.  I wish he had a book on Lord of the Rings, which we'll studying soon.
  • I kept up with my daily Bible reading!  That is not always so easy for me, particularly when I have other good books going.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

High School here we come... er, are!

2011/2012 was going to be my son's freshman year. He is legally in 8th grade, because of his age (7) when I registered him as a first-grade homeschooler.   He is high school age, though, so he identifies himself as such now - his friends of the same age are in high school, so why not?  Since his legal standing as a homeschooler is really irrelevant, I planned out a year of  high school.  I thought it was a great plan! 

But he got sick last summer, and it took a long time to sort things out.  Though he's been pretty much well since around Christmas, it still feels like we're all just getting over it.  Up till last month, he was still seeing various doctors regularly, and we were all, I don't know, sort of worn down by it all.

I had thought I'd just put those plans off, and start up when he was well again.  But during the months of sickness, I realized that some of those plans weren't so great after all.  Books didn't work for us as I'd thought they would. Other opportunities started to present themselves.  I had to change things around anyway.  So I was thinking that we'd just consider this the end of 8th grade after all, and start high school in September.

But no. After a little reading, I discovered that we're in it.  We're doing high school.  Not completely, with both feet.  But we have one foot solidly in the high school door right now and that door is opening for the other foot. (Not slamming shut, as I'd been thinking.)

Last month I put out a call her for high school help. I'm was having trouble finding much about high school in the blogging world.  Among other things (which I'll list below), The HomeScholar was mentioned.  I've been glancing at Lee Binz's work for a while now, but hadn't really gotten into it too deeply.  I finally took a closer look, ordered one of her books, bought and watched one of her (very inexpensive) "webinars," and that's when I finally clued in that we are doing high school work today.  Now. 

I feel so much better.  I had been confused - dare I say intimidated? - by credits, and grading, and all that schoolish stuff that I've mostly forgotten since my own high school graduation.  Lee cleared a lot of that up for me. 

The speech class my kids have been participating in since January?  Part of an English credit.  Those studies we did on The Iliad and Animal Farm?  Those are part of it too.  Algebra I counts for a math credit, of course - that's a no-brainer.  Biology - check.  I need to amp things up a bit in that area, but we're on it.

We won't have a full year completed by June.  But we are not as "behind" as I'd thought.   And I have some clear direction for moving on.


Here is the resource list I've compiled from comments, emails, and my own research.

Lee Binz, The HomeScholar

Debra Bell's The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Teens - tech stuff: programming, robotics.  Cool!

MIT Open Courseware for high school,

Dual enrollment at local community college.

The Great Courses (used to be The Teaching Company) - we are using a few of their courses right now; my kids respond well to them, mostly.   Watch for sales!

Khan Academy - we use this a lot for algebra help.

Carnegie Mellon University Open Courses.

National Christian Forensics and Communications Association - speech and debate.

Hillsdale College's Constitution 101 Course - this is a 10-week, free, no-credit course that's going on now.; we're on week 4. I think it will continue to be available after the ten weeks are up, but if that interests you, you should check now to be sure.

College Plus - I haven't looked at this too deeply yet, but I know a few people who've had a great experience with this, and one person who did not (though I don't know why), so it's on my list for exploring.

If I missed something you sent me, please excuse my sloppiness/forgetfulness... and send it again, OK? And I can always use more.  I'm still surprised by the lack of homeschool high school blogs.  Even the "big" blogs with lots of writers seem to focus on the early years most of the time.  So, I'll keep looking.  And if you find anything good, pass it on!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Beautiful World War II story of love and family.  Not a romance, though the love story is the centerpiece and it is compelling.   Wonderful characters, beautiful scenes of Paris, brutal scenes of war.  While I was reading it I felt it was a bit long, but when I finished I couldn't think of what might be left out.

Andras is a young Hungarian Jew, on his way to Paris and architecture school when he is given a package to deliver to an acquaintance in Paris.  And a mysterious letter, to slip into a mailbox.  The connections he makes through those items change his life.  Dramatic?  The Invisible Bridge is much better than that.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A miscellaneous post

The other day I had a great idea for a post.  I didn't record it, and now it's gone.  That happens from time to time - wonder why I don't just start a draft with my idea so when I have time to sit down and actually write, the idea is still there?

Not that I have time to write today. But my kids are sleeping late after a long day - we'll call it a field trip - to New York City.  We've lived 90 miles from the city for 4 1/2 years now, and yesterday we finally got there. The impetus:  a nephew of mine, who lives on the west coast, came east for business.  He spent a few days with us, then needed to get to NYC to get home.  We gave him a ride, and he took us around the city.  It wasn't the most educational trip - we got just an hour in at the American Museum of Natural History - but it was fun and we got some great falafel and pizza, as well as spectacular views of the city from "The Top of the Rock" (Rockefeller Center).  The forecast had been for clouds all day, but the sky was blue and the sun shining on us as we enjoyed the view.

That nephew is a musician and while here, he helped us buy a guitar.  I always felt that James (who did not respond well to piano lessons) would benefit from having a guitar around.   I looked around for a used one for a few years, but nothing ever came up,  and I didn't know if I'd feel like I could choose a good one anyway.  But with a guitarist around, it's easier, so we now have a guitar in the house.  We're going to try the self-teaching route - we bought a book and dvd, and I have requested a bunch of stuff from the library - to see if that will work out.   Keeping the pressure off is a key to this particular child, so... we'll see how it goes.  I think I'll try my hand (heh) at it too.

A few months ago I had posted about James's mysterious illness.  It disappeared, finally, as mysteriously as it appeared.  I might write more about that later.  Let me just say that our doctors were great, but they still just don't know everything about our bodies.  We are trying to make up for what is basically a lost semester. I might write more about that later too.  Maybe that was even the lost topic!  I may never know.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Homeschool high school: looking for books, blogs... inspiration

All around me, the moms of rising high schoolers are bailing out of homeschooling.  Their kids are going to school, or they're signing up for the public cyber-charter school (popular here in Pennsylvania).  There is something about those choices that intrigue me:  having someone else take over high school.  

But the truth is, I don't want someone else to take high school over for me.  And so far, my kids don't either.

So, I need inspiration.  And help!  What are the best resources - books, blogs, commercial sites, Facebook pages - for homeschooling high school?   

Leave a comment with your faves - help me fill my reader and my bookshelf.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January reading

Once again I began January with a vow to  improve my reading life.  I managed to (slightly) exceed my goal of one nonfiction book and one novel for the month of January.  Yes, it's a pretty low bar, but since I am accountable to no one but myself in this, I decided to help myself be successful.  Here's what I read/am reading:
  • The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden; illustrated by Barbara Cooney.  A beautiful picture book.  Cheating?  This is a favorite Christmas read-aloud that we didn't get to till January 1. 
  • A Praying Life by Paul Miller.  Comments here.   The link is to Westminster Bookstore which is where I acquired this book.  I buy as many books as I can from them, and I'd like other folks to do the same.  They have very good prices, fast and cheap shipping, and wonderful employees. (And yes, I do receive a bit of compensation if you visit their site from here.)
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell.  I read this along with my son as part of his schoolwork.  I must say I love having older kids to read and talk about great books with.  The picture book days were fun, sure, but these days are so much better. 
  • The Iliad by Homer (tr. Fagles). Reading aloud to my kids as part of their schoolwork.  Still going; it's lengthy and I can only read aloud so much in a day!  Should be finished next week.  The link is to Exodus Books, which is where I acquired this.  It is my favorite homeschool store, located in Oregon, and I miss it so.  But at least I can order online. 
  • The School of Night by Louis Bayard.  Fiction, for me!  This was sort of a historical thriller.  It was good, not great; suspenseful, funny (not laugh-out-loud funny).  Very blurry line between historical fact and fiction; I had to look up the time and method of Walter Raleigh's death to be sure I hadn't been wrong about it all these years.  Some forehead-slapping moments when something was revealed that I should have seen coming.  
What you don't see here are all the books I started and couldn't finish.  I don't have enough time to read all the good books I want to, so I will reject a bad one pretty quickly.

I'm fairly happy with the amount of reading, but of course I would like to do more.  After a few months of reaching or exceeding my initial goal, I hope to increase the amount of nonfiction and set specific goals for types of book (biography, history, science...)  But for now... at least I'm reading.

Any recommendations?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Prayer. Public or private, either way, prayer is something that should be so easy and yet can be so difficult, even intimidating.  There are so many books on prayer!  Some promise to teach us to pray in a specific amount of time. Some promise to revolutionize our prayer life (whatever that means).

I have often been intimidated by public prayer; when I have to pray aloud in a group I feel like a little kid among a bunch of grownups; everyone else is so eloquent and I am... not.  Even my private prayer often sounds like a task list for God.  Please do this and this and this.  Even when my request are good and right and not selfish (I'm not asking for a new car, though I may ask that my old car continue to work), it seems so hollow.

And there's the distraction!  My brain can go from earnest prayer to my daily to-do list to some random pop song without even slowing down.  Most mornings I take our dog for a walk and try to pray as we go, but it's hard to have a conversation, even with God, that's interrupted constantly... Lord, I do praise you as our soverei-- Max, leave it!... uh... thank you for... Sit!  OK, let's go... uh... ugh, I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer... Lord, please help... Max, leave it!... Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'...

But I determined to "fix" my prayer life and looked for some books.  A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World looked promising, and it seemed providential that we already own it.    It didn't promise to revolutionize anything in my life, so I started in.  This is a book about private, not public, prayer. 

The author endeared himself to me right away by talking about distractions.  I am not sure that I agree completely that being distracted is OK, though I do agree that it is normal and that our distractions may lead us to pray about something we hadn't been thinking about when we started.  Of course God sees our hearts, and hears the prayers we never manage to articulate perfectly, or even at all.   He reminds us to pray like children.  As I said, I am often intimidated by the prayers of others and even feel that my private prayers should "sound good."  My husband had to remind me that there's a difference between personal prayer, or even public prayer in, say, a Bible study setting, and prayer from the pulpit, which is somewhat prepared ahead of time.  But no matter:  we don't have to be eloquent with God.

This is not a book of method, though there is a section in which the author shares some of his own.  It is about cultivating a life of prayer in which we allow our prayers to shape our actions and our desires.  Prayer is often a long-term proposition.  Mr. Miller uses many stories of his family, including life with a disabled adult child, to illustrate this:  some of his prayers for his daughter took 20 years to be answered in a way he could see.  But of course God had been answering them all along.

A Praying Life didn't make me jump up and say "Oh! This is what I've been doing wrong!"  It did help me see that I am not doing everything wrong, though certainly there are some things I could change.  It's an encouraging, useful book, probably one to reread from time to time.

Read the table of contents and forward to the book here.