Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The End of the 2014 Reading Challenge: Close But Not Quite!

I'll be finishing this up during January, but darn, I really did come close!

The 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge

  • Pick 14 categories for your reading
  • Try to read 14 books in each category
  1. Religion, Ethics, Spirituality, and Philosophy
    1. What Money Can't Buy: the Moral Limits of Markets by Michael Sandel
    2. The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person by Harold Kushner
    3. Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis
    4. How to Live in the World and Still Be Happy by Hugh Prather *(double dipper)
    5. Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction by Thomas R. Flynn
    6. When Spiritual but Not Religious Is Not Enough by Lillian Daniel
    7. Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away by Rebecca Goldstein
    8. Serving With Grace: Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice by Erik Walker Wikstrom (double dipper)
    9. Growing Souls: experiments in contemplative youth ministry by Mark Yaconelli (double dipper)
    10. Liberating Hope: Daring to Renew the Mainline Church by Michael S. Piazza and Cameron B. Trimble (double dipper)
    11. Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square by Paul Rasor (double dipper)
    12. The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossman
    13. Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
  2. Work-Related
    1. Serving With Grace: Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice by Erik Walker Wikstrom (double dipper)
    2. Leadership in Congregations by Richard Bass (editor)
    3. Teaching From the Heart: Theology and Educational Method by Mary Elizabeth Mullino Moore
    4. Growing Souls: experiments in contemplative youth ministry by Mark Yaconelli (double dipper)
    5. Liberating Hope: Daring to Renew the Mainline Church by Michael S. Piazza and Cameron B. Trimble (double dipper)
    6. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer (* double dipper)
    7. Hope on a Tightrope by Dr. Cornel West
    8. The Artist's Way for Parents by Julia Cameron
    9. Sticky Church by Larry Osborne
    10. Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square by Paul Rasor (double dipper)
    11. Universalists and Unitarians in America: A People's History by John A. Buehrens (double dipper)
    12. The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography by John Matteson (triple dipper)
    13. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown (double dipper)
    14. The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson (double dipper)
  3. Poetry
    1. Sands of the Well by Denise Levertov
    2. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    3. Rumi by Rumi
    4. The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath * (double dipper)
    5. The Collected Poems by May Sarton
    6. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
    7. Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems edited by Roger Housden
    8. The Crooked Inheritance by Marge Piercy (double dipper)
    9. Ten Poems to Change Your Life by Roger Housden
    10. Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation edited by Roger Housden
    11. Ten Poems to Set You Free by Roger Housden
  4. Self-Improvement And Lifestyle
    1. The Superior Wife Syndrome: Why Women Do Everything So Well and Why -- For the Sake of Our Marriages -- We've Got to Stop by Carin Rubenstein
    2. Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters! by Rachel Macy Stafford
    3. How to Live in the World and Still Be Happy by Hugh Prather *(double dipper)
    4. Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider
    5. The Backyard Cow: An Introductory Guide to Keeping a Productive Family Cow by Sue Weaver
    6. Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming by Amy Seidl *(double dipper)
    7. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer (* double dipper)
    8. The Weekend Homesteader: A Twelve-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency by Anna Ness
    9. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time by Brigid Shulte (Tripple Dipper)
    10. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown (double dipper)
    11. The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson (double dipper)
  5. Parenting
    1. How to Talk So Teens Will Listen, And Listen So Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
    2. Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein (double dipper)
    3. Mindful Parenting by Kirsten Race, PhD
    4. Before They're Gone: A Family's Year-Long Quest to Explore America's Most Endangered National Parks by Michael Lanza *(double dipper)
    5. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting by Jennifer Senior
    6. How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting by Milan and Kay Yerkovich
    7. Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast Moving World by Susan Sachs Lipman
    8. How to Be the Parent You Always Wanted to Be by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
    9. Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn (double dipper)
    10. The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
    11. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time by Brigid Shulte (Tripple Dipper)
    12. Slow Family Living by Bernadette Noll
    13. Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray (double dipper)
    14. The Sand Bucket List: 366 Things to Do With Your Kids Before They Grow Up by David Hoffman
  6. My Favorite Detectives
    1. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith *(double dipper)
    2. Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter
    3. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle * (double dipper)
    4. The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire #1) by Craig Johnson
    5. The Maltese Falcon by Dasheill Hammett * (tripple dipper) 
    6. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
    7. Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie
    8. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
    9. The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley (double dipper)
    10. Grave Secrets by Kathy Reichs
  7. Science and Psychology
    1. Back to Normal by Enrico Gnaulati, PhD 
    2. Situations Matter by Sam Sommers
    3. Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas
    4. Before They're Gone: A Family's Year-Long Quest to Explore America's Most Endangered National Parks by Michael Lanza *(double dipper)
    5. Ungifted: Intelligence Redifined: The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness by Scott Barry Kaufman
    6. Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming by Amy Seidl *(double dipper)
    7. The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim (double dipper)
    8. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time by Brigid Shulte (Tripple Dipper)
    9. Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (Double dipper)
    10. The Edge of the Sky: All You Need to Know About the All-There-Is by Roberto Trotta
    11. Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray (double dipper)
  8. History
    1. American Nations by Colin Woodard
    2. Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Geiger
    3. A History of US: Making Thirteen Colonies by Joy Hakim
    4. A History of US: From Colonies to Country by Joy Hakim
    5. A History of US: The New Nation by Joy Hakim
    6. Story of the World: Volume One: Ancient Times by Susan Wise Bauer
    7. A History of Us: Liberty for All? by Joy Hakim
    8. The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim (double dipper)
    9. Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (Double dipper)
    10. The Monuments Men by Robert M Edsel (Double dipper)
    11. An Indigenous People's History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
    12. Universalists and Unitarians in America: A People's History by John A. Buehrens (double dipper)
    13. The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography by John Matteson (triple dipper)
    14. The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley (double dipper)
  9. Books to Read Before You Die/LifeTime Reading Plan
    1. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (*double dipper)
    2. Very Good, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (it's not on other people's lists, but it's been on my TBR list since I was in college and I finally read it)
    3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell *(double dipper)
    4. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton *(double dipper)
    5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle * (double dipper)
    6. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (* Tripple! dipper)
    7. The Maltese Falcon by Dasheill Hammett * (tripple dipper) 
    8. Three Lives by Gertrude Stein (double dipper)
    9. The Years by Virginia Woolf (double dipper)
    10. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (double dipper)
    11. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Triple Dipper)
  1. Children's Lit
    1. Squire by Tamora Pierce
    2. Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce
    3. The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan
    4. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
    5. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
    6. A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean
    7. Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
    8. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
    9. Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan
    10. Shadow of the Serpent by Rick Riordan
    11. Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker
    12. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
    13. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood
    14. The Icebound Land by John Flanagan
  2. Books Made Into Movies
    1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
    3. Horns by Joe Hill
    4. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (*double dipper)
    5. Divergent by Veronica Roth
    6. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell *(double dipper)
    7. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
    8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    9. The Maltese Falcon by Dasheill Hammett * (tripple dipper)
    10.   Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    11. The Monuments Men by Robert M Edsel (Double dipper)
    12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Triple Dipper)
    13. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  3. Recreational Reading
    1. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
    2. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
    3. Allegiant  by Veronica Roth
    4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
    5. The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan
    6. The Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan
    7. The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan
    8. Erak's Ransom by John Flanagan
    9. The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan
    10. Halt's Peril by John Flanagan
    11. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  4.  Around the World/Book Lust to Go
    1. Book Lust To Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers by Nancy Pearl
    2. Three Apples Fell From Heaven by Micheline Aharonian Marcom (Armenia)
    3. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith (Botswana) *(double dipper)
    4. Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada by Will Ferguson (Canada)
    5. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (Denmark)
    6. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (England) (* Tripple! dipper)
    7. Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman (Finland)
    8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Guernsey)
    9. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee (Hong Kong)
    10. Caspian Rain by Gina B. Nahai (Iran)
14.  Women's Studies
    1.  The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
    2. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton *(double dipper)
    3. Bossypants by Tina Fey
    4. The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath * (double dipper)
    5. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (* Tripple! dipper)
    6. Three Lives by Gertrude Stein (double dipper)
    7. The Years by Virginia Woolf (double dipper)
    8. Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein (double dipper)
    9. Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn (double dipper)
    10. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (double dipper)
    11. The Crooked Inheritance by Marge Piercy (double dipper)
    12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Triple Dipper)
    13. The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography by John Matteson (triple dipper)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bringing Unit Studies back into our homeschool

Norse myths unit study

I hit a wall a few months back, and was incredibly discouraged about my ability to work and homeschool my kids at the same time - it was all too much and no matter how hard I worked at it, I fell further and further behind schedule and felt like I was drowning. 

Some reflection led me to realize something that should have been obvious: I had gone on sabbatical from work this year and allowed the way we do school here to mushroom until it filled all that additional time and energy I had while not working.  Slow goal-creep had occurred until we were (rather ridiculously) trying to do two foreign languages per child (and they had selected different languages!), American History AND Ancient World History (once again different programs for each child), and on and on .... Basically each time I encountered something I thought we should be learning, I just added it right on top as if we could do it all at once.

No wonder I couldn't keep up with my own expectations. 

We simplified.  A lot.  I kept the core skills stuff in place: math, grammar, spelling, handwriting, reading, writing, typing.   Music lessons continue.  My daughter dropped her "extra" foreign language, while my son decided to continue trying to do Spanish with his sister and German on his own.  And then we just let go of all the literature, science, and history we had been studying. 

It's not that I don't think science and history are important.  I just couldn't maintain that we had to follow these timelines and programs, on top of everything else.  Instead we have turned to Unit Studies again.  And I'm turning the managing of the unit study over to the kids themselves.

Our interpretation of the unit study method:

  1. Ask the kid what they want to study.  Have them pick a topic for the next unit study.
  2. Acquire a rich variety of resources and supplies for them to use as they study this topic.
  3. Give them three weeks to study the topic, with a daily place holder of "Unit Study Time" on their assignments.
  4. On the last week of the month, there are no other assignments except for the essentials(practicing musical instruments for us), and all the time is spent on wrapping up the unit study and preparing for Presentations.
  5. Presentations must always consist of a written report And something else of their choice (a poster, a movie, a hands-on demonstration, etc).
  6. Get a real audience for the Presentation, even if it is only the Other Parent (the one that is less involved in the daily homeschooling) or a Grandparent.
Repeat, with a new randomly chosen topic the next month!

So far, this has been a Huge Improvement for us.  I have handed the responsibility for this part of their learning over to the children, to a fairly great extent.  They are studying things they want to study, so their motivation is their own and I don't have to supply it through my management.  It's more fun, and no doubt they will remember these topics and projects more because they had intrinsic motivation and applied meaning - all that good stuff we want to foster with our pedagogy. 

No doubt my children will have strange and unique educations as they wend their way through the paths of knowledge guided by pure whimsy and wonder.  But that will be just fine, I think.

(What have we studied so far?  Norse Mythology, "other alphabets" - which then settled into "Runes", Cooking, and Steampunk.  In January they have selected Marine Biology and Medieval Architecture.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Walking Challenge, a year in review

Black Friday Hike

Well, it has been the full year for our walking challenge, and here are the results: We FAILED.

The backstory:

Last Thanksgiving we went on a Black Friday hike with my mom and the kids, on a busy and popular trail.  The kids were, in my opinion, ridiculously lame about it and whined and sat down and claimed to be unable to walk on.  I have a crazy inner drill sergeant in my head (who yells, and I know that's not nice, but well ...) and before you could say "she's gonna blow!" there I was giving my children the full brunt of it.  "You think this is bad?!!!! Alright - if you can't handle this then clearly you need to WALK 100 MILES!"  Or something like that.  And so we had the challenge; we would walk 100 miles before the next Thanksgiving.

Here's the post I wrote about it last year, for the fresher perspective on how it went down.

I set up an excel spreadsheet and instituted a policy of one diet breaking treat for every five miles logged (diet breaking in the sense that I let the kids have gluten after five miles - our convoluted dietary story can be another post for another time).

We were amazing at first.  I was getting them out and making them walk local trails about three days a week, even through the cold winter weather.  Then it started to be an issue ... how much time did we really have for this? 

Then we ran out of local hikes that we hadn't done already, and that was a downer ... driving farther afield took even more time and then we couldn't do that on a weekday. 

All of these are nothing but excuses.  Excuses! screams my inner drill sergeant.  But you know what?  I'm OK with that.

We walked 50 miles together this year. Only half of the randomly selected huge scary goal I pulled out of my a$$ when my kids irritated me. We didn't count any miles I did by myself, and we didn't count miles done by bike.  We did some urban walking - especially when on trips to Portland and Boston - but mostly we explored all the walking trails in our town and did some close-by hikes.  And the kids got better at it.  They have more stamina, and they have a reference for long walks.  How long will this be?  Oh, about as long as the loop around the creek.  When will we get a break?  When we see a nice spot for getting out our sandwiches. 

We went out together again this Black Friday.  The kids wanted to drive out to a cool trail we had done earlier in the year, but the website warned it might be closed for the season, so we opted for a close stand-by trail.  The kids weren't thrilled to be doing "this one again!", and my daughter bailed and sat down and we finished the last half-mile or so without her and then collected her again on our way back. 

But, folks, we did a 4 mile walk together without much fuss or bother.  I didn't freak out - I'd come to understand what motivates the kids and when they can't be pushed any further.  The kids whined but not too much.  They know the drill now.  And we talked about it and decided that this year we want to do another challenge - 60 miles, so just 10 more than we did last year. 

That, I think we can do. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Faith of a Naturalist: a Book Post

Darwin Book

Today is the anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin.  As I regularly make it a practice to find good resources for my congregation and put them into calendars that mark dates like these, last month I checked out a bunch of Darwin books from the library.  Many I was already familiar with (One Beetle Too Many and The Humblebee Hunter are my favorite picture books, and I really like the YA novel Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith), but I also received a stack I had not read before and I had to choose just one as I didn't have time for them all.  My choice was a fortuitous one, and I am happy to say that Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks by Lyanda Lynn Haupt is a most fascinating book.

Unlike other books about Darwin that I have read, this book focuses on the inner journey and his growth as a naturalist through the daily writings he kept on his trip aboard the Beagle.  Haupt is herself a student of ornithology, so she admits to focusing on his work with birds mainly because that was the part that interested her the most, but also because she thinks birds are one of the more accessible areas of nature study for the general public.  As I also like to casually watch birds, I found myself agreeing with her.

While there is a great deal of interesting science and history here, in the end it wasn't the science or the history of the book that was the real take-away for me.  Haupt describes what she calls "the faith of a naturalist" and uses examples from Darwin and from her own life and studies as well as a few interviews she conducts that were in some way related to her topic.  She weaves between the historical and the modern, the scientific and the philosophical, and it was a lovely and thought-provoking progression.

A few quotes:

In our own lives as homespun naturalists, the moments we do manage to spend becoming educated by our native places can wend their way into our daily lives, making it more and more difficult to see ourselves as individuals, self-sufficient and cordoned off somehow from our humus-y ground.  We begin to see, rather, our lives as embodied, unseparate, inseparable, rushing forward with the whole of wild life.
Yet it is here, in the spaces between what can be seen and what can be spoken, that the naturalist's faith often lies.  This is why it is called faith.  Intimacy, residence, patience, a sense of dwelling alongside wild nature, earthen insight, gratitude, affection, kindness, a kind of grace, a kind of joy - all of these unutterable things find a place in the naturalist's task.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Large Doses of the Outdoors


This year we found a wonderful program for my son to do, attending the "Environmental Connections Outdoor School" which is a once a week full day of nature study, free play, and exploration outdoors.  They meet in a local park, and they do have a picnic shelter with a roof but otherwise they are really outdoors all day, all year.

Yesterday was a rainy and blustery day, which my daughter and I spent indoors (at church and at home) and still felt the need to go out for steaming hot bowls of pho for lunch.  As we looked out the window at the rain, we said "poor buddy, he's probably all wet and miserable".

When I picked him up, however, the sight that met me was not a bunch of bedraggled children huddled under a picnic shelter.  Instead, the children were playing in a shelter they had built in the woods, playing tug of war with an ivy vine they found that was apparently indestructible, and sliding through mud puddles and pits.  Yes, my son was all wet and dirty, but he was decidedly Not Miserable.  In fact, he said he had the best day ever and couldn't wait to do it again.  He had spent the rainy day carving sticks, building a fort, dissecting owl pellets, hearing local history stories (about the first peoples of this land and the settlers who came later), and generally having a grand time. 

We all belong outside, but children especially should be outdoors.  The connection with nature, the survival and resiliency skills learned, the healthy benefits of fresh air and plenty of physical activity - these are precious and valuable aspects of outdoor education. 

I'm so glad that 20 % of my son's schooling time is now spent in this way!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Christmas just keeps running over Thanksgiving

ornament making at church

It's hard to keep Christmas at bay right now.  We've put away all of our Halloween decorations, and the little box of Thanksgiving decorations is always a disappointment to open compared to the multiple bins I have for Halloween and Christmas.  The kids are already working on Christmas songs for their music lessons, I've ordered my cards, made my plans, and we had an ornament making party for the Giving Tree project at church yesterday.

ornament making

I'm torn on this issue - on the one hand the Christmas Machine is just such a monster that it does need to be contained (and a simple Thanksgiving focused on gratitude for what we have is such a lovely thing it shouldn't get sacrificed to the beast) and then on the other hand the To Do list for December gets overwhelming and getting a jump on it makes it all much more manageable.

So I've done a few Christmas things.  But now,  to focus back on Thanksgiving and just tuck those things away!

Back to the Turkeys!

handprint turkeys

Monday, November 10, 2014

More Books (my new hobby seems to be posing books where I was sitting when I read them)

2014-11-08 14.04.31
Over an anniversary weekend away with my husband, I had some time to read in the Lodge lobby by the great big fireplace.

Last week I hit a milestone: 100 books read for the year.  And yet, that leaves 75 to go if I want to finish my 14 x 14 in 2014 challenge (and only 2 months to do it in - it seems not humanly possible).

Since the 100th book (which was Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie), I have read a few more:

  • Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot (Poetry category)
  • Slow Family Living: 75 Ways Simple Ways to Slow Down, Connect, and Create More Joy by Bernadette Noll (Parenting category)
  • Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems edited by Roger Housden (Poetry category)
And then, on my weekend away I finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Around the World in Alphabetical Order category).

This "epistolary" novel (meaning it is written in the format of letters and telegrams sent back and forth between the characters) is the story of the German occupation of the Channel Islands and how the people survived and recovered, as well as a most delightful love story.  I'm using it for the G letter of my Around the World in Alphabetical Order category.

The rules of the Reading Challenge do allow me to apply a book to more than one category, so if I pick the books with care I could finish the challenge in less than 75 books - but still I need to get cracking with my reading!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Years (A book post)

2014-10-13 15.08.18

Alas, I am accepting the fact that I am unlikely to finish my 14 x 14 in 2014 challenge on time.  It's a lot of books, folks!

But here's another one down: The Years by Virginia Woolf.  I love the way Woolf writes, and her descriptive turn of phrase kept me going through this sprawling and disjointed look at one large extended family through forty years.  Time passes without any explanation of exactly what happened in the mean time, leaving the reader piecing it together through passing remarks and a few recollections. 

Along the way, the characters spend plenty of time musing and philosophizing about the meaning of life and just what they want out of it, and this adds to the plodding sense of tragedy as the years roll by and youthful possibility is replaced by elderly regrets and "what-if's". 

It's not all tragedy or meaninglessness, however, as there are moments described where characters find themselves sublimely happy.  Those moments are the times when the characters are alone and truly living in the moment, enjoying the world as it is now rather than looking to the future or to the past.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why are we Overwhelmed? (A book post)

2014-10-21 14.43.57

My latest read, related to Maxed Out which I recently read and posted about, has been another book on that same theme of parents trying to juggle work and love and play called Overwhelmed

Although the topic is very much the same, the authors' approaches differed.  While Alcorn is a blogger and coming from the tech business world, Schulte is a journalist.  Those different backgrounds show in the work.  Alcorn's style is much more personal memoir, but Schulte only uses a few personal examples and many more interviews.

Overwhelmed starts off with the author's encounter with a time-use researcher, and then follows her to a conference on leisure and time.  She concludes that it is about the balance in life between Work, Love, and Play and that forms the structure for the rest of the book with solid sections devoted to each of those three spheres. 

The book deals with both men and women, mothers and fathers, although there is more focus on women and parents.  But this is about what is going on with all of us - everyone who is caught up in the culture of overwhelm and busyness. 

This is a well-researched, thought-provoking, and ultimately useful book.  Now I'm mulling over the balance for myself: Work, Love, and Play.  Can I elevate play to equality with those other two?  Woah!  Now that feels like a challenge.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

In our Homeschool: A Little Change Does Us Good

A few posts ago I lamented that things had become rough around here: kids fighting more with each other, kids complaining and being rude to parents, parents rushed and cranky and yelling at kids, and general deteriorating conditions all around.

At this point, as a veteran of many such episodes throughout my life as a parent, I know what these symptoms point toward.  We get like this with each other when the routine that shapes our lives is no longer working, and when no one is getting their needs met well enough to feel resilient to the little irritations that are an inevitable part of life.  When my children were very little it was easy - if we started to all feel cranky with each other it meant I needed to take them outside to a playground and run and play until they were exhausted, then bring them home and take advantage of their rest time to read a book or put my own feet up (or get some work done, but no matter what, it was Fill Their Tank, then Use that Time for myself).

Now that they are older it's not as simple as outdoor play until they drop.  They want different things now, like for us to play video games with them, listen to a story idea that they thought of as they lay in bed this morning, or help them sew a costume for their medieval role play game that they have made up with their sibling.  That's the kind of involved quality time they want from me.  But they also want space and autonomy now!

They want long stretches of uninterrupted time on the computer, or alone in their rooms with an audio book and their lego collection, or out in the woods pretending to stalk deer.  And they want to have a lot of choice about what they are learning and how and when.

The other part of the puzzle here was that I took a sabbatical from work this year, and during that time our expectations of what would get done in a normal "school" day (many of which are also "work days" for me when I am NOT on sabbatical) ballooned into a much larger thing.  Now that I'm back at work, the expectations for homeschooling time still stayed high - and it's been too much for me to really keep up with so I always feel rushed and harried and like I'm failing at Doing It All, Well.

So, clearly time for a change!

We have scrapped our old routine, and are instead doing:

1.  Morning Basket

2014-10-12 21.39.40

This is one of Charlotte Mason's ideas.  In our interpretation, it is a basket that I fill with different things each week, such as: literature to read out loud, poetry to read out loud, flashcards, sketch books and drawing exercises, educational board games, music to listen to, art books to do picture study with, etc.  These are all the lovely things that sometimes end up feeling like "extras" when we are too invested in "getting curriculum done", and they are also the sort of things that we would want to do together.  We sit down with our basket at the table and spend just about 45 minutes with the contents, give or take depending on the day.  We do it first thing after morning chores and breakfast, so we are all fresh and don't feel too rushed yet.

2.  Daily Files

Daily Work FIles

We had been using an assignment chart that showed all of the months assignments, but a few things were happening: they wouldn't check off something they had done, they would check off something they hadn't done, we would fall really far behind and I would feel the pressure to make them catch up, they would look at it and feel overwhelmed and not sure where to start and freak out.

The daily files are a nice solution to those problems: there is a file for each kid for Monday-Friday and I've torn out the pages from the math books, etc. and put them in for each day. I also write out a short checklist of things that need to be done that don't fit in a file (music practice, language CD's, stuff like that).  When the work is finished it is handed to me to quickly assess and then either recycle it or 3 hole punch it and add it to the growing portfolio of finished work.

They have a very simplified view of their work: what is in today's file?  So far they are cruising through this work on their own without it being a time burden to anyone. 

3.  Unit Studies

Instead of plowing through curriculum for science and history, we are going to do monthly unit studies for each of them, on topics of their choosing.  They will work with me to choose a topic, I will get a bunch of resources from the library for them, then they will work for about an hour a day for 3 weeks on studying the topic how they wish.  Week 4 will be Presentation Week, with a written report and one or two other projects being completed and presented by Friday of that week.  This autonomy and interest-based work makes them much happier, which of course makes us all much happier.  (Their topic choices for November?  He chose "written languages around the world" and she chose "Norse Mythology").

After only one week of the change, so far we are really happy about it!  Sometimes you just need a Change.

Monday, October 13, 2014

On the Homestead

2014-10-13 02.31.14-1

I bought this book with some of my birthday money: The Weekend Homesteader.  It is a series of projects to work through to develop your own sustainable homestead, and the most helpful part for me is that the projects are organized by month of the year. 

As I read through the book, I started to organize a To Do list for our place organized by month.  Some months just have less in them (December, January, and February) so seeing that I put some of the indoor projects we have been putting off into those months. 

October's Tasks:

  • Harvest from the garden and clean out the garden beds
  • Move the raised beds up closer to the house
  • Slaughter and freeze the meat birds we raised
  • Set up a hoop house over one raised bed
  • Plant garlic
  • Plant flower bulbs
  • Build the pig pen
  • plant winter greens in the hoop house (spinach, kale, hardy lettuce varieties)
  • harvest and preserve apple crop
Kids in the Garden

Another step toward getting better organized to be homesteaders was a conversation I had with my husband about our weekly schedules.  I work every day except Saturday (sometimes I have to work Saturday too, but not every Saturday) and Monday, and my husband works a normal Monday-Friday, so this means that the only day the whole family is together is Saturday.  If we are going to have a homestead, we need to do all that work on Saturday - so no scheduling other stuff or expecting to sleep in or have a lazy day.

If we get up on Saturday and the whole family gets to work, we can accomplish a lot.  We're calling Saturday "Farming Day" and making that our highest priority on that day, and it's actually nice to have the family out working together and getting lots of fresh air.

And that's what is going on here on the Homestead!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Does anyone actually read Gertrude Stein? (A Book Post)

Three Lives by Stein

I am still plugging away at my 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge, but with the realization that time is short I'm looking for more books that are "double dippers" and apply to more than one category of the fourteen. 

Since one of my categories is "Books to Read Before You Die" and another is "Women's Studies" I took the step of flipping through the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die looking for books written by women.  It's a depressingly smaller list - and forget about the selections from pre-1800. I was very discouraged as I flipped through the book and then it randomly opened to a page on Gertrude Stein.

Of course I know who Gertrude Stein was - she's notorious as part of that ex-pat group from pre-WWI, and as a lesbian.  But although most people I know seem to know who she was, no one seems to actually read her writings.  Her books were not part of any college course I took (including the Women's Lit class) - does anyone actually read Gertrude Stein?

I chose to read Three Lives and had a mixed experience with it.  Her narrative style, which avoids sticking to a plot line and instead seems like the sometimes repetitive descriptive style that would come from verbal communication, was refreshing and engaging for me.  This book is really just a trio of character sketches, describing the lives of three unrelated women: one controlling spinster german servant, one black woman, and one young german girl who was brought over and married off into another german family. 

I loved the first sketch, of "Good Anna".  Perhaps I just felt a kinship with her:

"She worked away her appetite, her health and strength, and always for the sake of those who begged her not to work so hard.  To her way of thinking, in her stubborn, faithful, german soul, this was the right way for a girl to do."

But when I got to the second life, that of Melanctha, I just couldn't tolerate the racism enough to actually finish reading it - so sadly I don't know what ended up happening to Melanctha.  I know the time period being what it was that I should try to read this in the context which it was written, but I just couldn't do it.  Boo to that.

And then, soured by that, I didn't enjoy the third sketch as much either.  By the time I skipped to that, I was spotting more racism and was irritated by the attribution of personality traits to the "natures" of various ethnicities. 

So, mixed results but at least now I can say that I actually have read Gertrude Stein!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The path can be rough at times


I'm going through a rough patch with my kids and our homeschooling.  The going has gotten tough, so the tough get ... cranky?  tired?  ... creative?

These times come and go, and I know what I really need to do is shake our routine up, put in more fun, change the schedule, or something like that.  But I'm too tired to be creative right now, and I wish they would just ... just conform to the routine we have right now and stop making waves. 

Of course, that's not going to happen.  My children are not exactly great at conforming or not complaining to me when they are unhappy (that's not to say they can't cope in social situations where they have to conform for others - they can - but with me they are going to complain eventually).

Big breath.  In. Out.  Ok - I can do this. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why Are We Maxed Out? (a book post)

Maxed Out

I took this book to the middle school Con (conference/weekend at camp) that I chaperoned last weekend: Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn.  The title of the book on my lap started some conversation among the parent chaperones taking a brief break on the porch of the dining hall (2 other moms and a dad).  Why do we feel so maxed out?  What forces push us into pushing ourselves to the brink?

I noted that often it seems to be a sense of competiveness that does me in - I simply have a hard time seeing anyone else do something (anything) without an inward thought of "I should be able to do that too".  The mom who is also incredibly fit and athletic?  I should be able to do that too.  The other mom who does lots of volunteer work?  I should be able to do that too (along with the fitness, this is additive and I don't give up the old goals as I pile on the new ones).  Clearly, this is unsustainable!

Another mom noted that she doesn't feel competitive, but rather overwhelmed with all the possibilities.  There were so many options available in life, and it made it hard to choose just enough without ending up with too much to do.  The other mom disagreed with both of us and noted that for her it was that there were just a lot of obligations and not really anyone else to do them.  Kids have to be picked up if there is no bus, family members have to be cared for, chores have to be done, money has to be earned and managed. 

In a somewhat stereotypical turn of events, the dad in the conversation didn't really relate to these notions of pressure that we moms were talking about.  I'm sure many dads do feel maxed out, but at least in the circle I talk to it seems to be based on actual external events far more than it is for us moms.  We seem to be doing it to ourselves in addition to taking on the external realities.

The author of this book is the creator of the blog "Working Moms Break" which I've been reading for some years now.  The blog talks a lot about the realities of balancing work with motherhood and on trying to make American work-culture more family-friendly.  The book is much more of a personal story, though, with only short side-bar conversations about the big picture of what is happening for other parents and how American parenting and working compares to other parts of the world.  And, as a personal memoir, of course the issue for the reader becomes how much you can relate to the point of view of the author. 

Just as I found when I read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean InI could relate to some aspects of Alcorn's tale but not to others.  It would be easy to pick apart this story and call the author out with phrases like "just suck it up" or "plenty of people have it worse than you, so stop complaining".  But that's not the point at all - this is her life and I really can't judge another person and how they feel.  Alcorn was driven to panic attacks and illness by her efforts to be a working mother and had to step back for the sake of her own sanity, basically.  I have been there too, feeling like I was drowning and just desperately needing a way out.  I have struggled with the constant back and forth of "maybe I should just quit my job" when the juggling act gets too frenetic or exhausting.

Ultimately, Alcorn's story doesn't give me any answers for my own situation, anymore than Sandberg's did.  Whether I respond to the pressures by leaning in or by admitting that I'm maxed out, I think the real issue is not whether I measure my life against another woman's but whether I can STOP DOING THAT.  It's their life, and this is my life.

I'm sometimes Maxed Out because I try to be Everything to Everyone and because society is only too happy to let me do that.  I'm also maxed out because there are real barriers out there (sexism, opportunity costs, or as the narrator of a nature documentary I watched as child noted "it is harder for the female members of the group to keep up while also carrying the young")  I can Lean In and push harder against the barriers, but here's another truth I have learned in my life - at some point will and desire are not enough.  At some point the sacrifice of yourself and your health are too much. 

We need to keep talking about this, and the personal narrative has its place in the conversation.  Alcorn's is a perfectly decent addition to that part of the discussion: well-written, representative of a slice of the population, and trying for some objectivity.  It could be a great spur to conversation, such as the one I had on the porch.  If nothing else, bringing the pressures out and talking about them takes away some of the sting.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Fun Five: Five Fun Extras in Our Homeschool Last Week

Education is not all just math pages and history books.  There is learning that takes place off the page, out in the world, and sometimes spontaneously.  Play and Imagination, Nature and Friends, and Fun are all part of everyone's education, and here is what that has looked like in our homeschool recently:

1.  We went to see the salmon run and harvesting at a local river

Salmon jumping

2.  Chores on our little hobby farm always provide opportunities for real world learning


3.  The kids go to work with me at church, and sometimes they get to help with things like creating a Spirit Play story basket.

Making a Spirit Play Basket

4.  At a UU Middle School CON this weekend my son got to build and launch pop bottle rockets.

Bottle Rocket Dude 2

5.  At the same CON, there was also tie dye, board games, archery, challenge course, capture the flag, worship, social learning, boating, and beach combing.  Lots of fun learning for him!

Boating at Camp

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Update on What I'm Reading: End of Summer Edition


The very last of the Beach Reads for this year: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.  Of course i had heard of this book and movie, but I hadn't read or watched it.  I'm quite glad that I finally checked out both the book and the movie.  The book was wry and dark and very entertaining, as I tried to follow along as Sam Spade unraveled the web that an alluring woman pulled him into when she walked into his office one day.  The movie, starring Humphrey Bogart, was charming.  Bogart did such a good job of walking the line between charming and horrible misogynist - it was a masterpiece. It was also a Triple Dipper on my 14 x 14 Reading Challenge, since it fit into three categories: My Favorite Detectives, LifeTime Reading Challenge, and Books Made Into Movies.

I need more double and triple dippers if I'm going to finish this challenge in time!

Other books I've finished:

  • The Artist's Way for Parents was one I read for work.  I was never a follower of the Artist's Way, but I know it has influenced and inspired many people.  So when I heard there was a new edition for Parents, I knew I should check it out and see if it was worth recommending to the parents in my congregation - and it is.  It's still not really for me, but I can see how it could be great for many folks.
  • How We Love Our Kids takes the notion of Love Styles/Languages and applies it to parenting.  I found many of the ideas really intriguing - heck, I'm already a fan of the whole Love Languages Idea - but I also noted that personally I had a hard time deciding which type I was based on these descriptions.  I felt a resonance with several of the Parenting Types, and that was somewhat contradictory.  None-the-less, this is a thought provoking book that challenges parents to move beyond the love style they inherit from their family of origin, work with the love style of their parenting partner, and try to honor the inherent love style of the child they are parenting.  Whew - that's a tall order but imagine the possibilities if we could all pull it off!
  • Hope on a Tightrope is an older book, but after the recent (Ferguson and after) conversation about race in america I found it once again poignant.  Dr. Cornel West is an amazing writer, and this book is the short and sweet version of his thoughts - full of bold inspirational quotes this is a very quick and easy (but not simple to mull over) read.  
  • Fed Up With Frenzy is another call for slower and simpler parenting, but this one has a serious flaw: after just a brief introduction it proceeds to a long list of things (slow things) to do with your kids.  As a Fast Parent, this could be read just as MORE to do!  Then in the back of the book there are chapters about EveryDay Slow and Slow Parenting - but by then it would be too late for most readers.
  • Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto was a pick for my "Around the World in Alphabetical Order" category.  It is a tense atmospheric drama set in an institutional hospital in Finland, but it suffers from a long build-up and weak ending.
  • The Collected Poems of May Sarton was my latest for the "Poetry" category of my reading challenge.  I hadn't ever read Sarton before, but she is a UU author and so I looked this up.  I loved her poems, with such imagery!
More reading adventures ahead: So many Books, So Little Time!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Is There an App for Life?


While I don't think there is an App that can live my life for me, I have found an app that is either A) Ruining my Life or B) Making Me Win at Life.

The argument for A) Ruining My Life:

  • I'm constantly aware of how far behind on my chores and To Do's I am, and feel a sense of panic if the OverDue section gets too large
  • I can't ever relax quite as well since I know I have a Lot to Do!
  • It adds to my phone addiction to also have my To Do List and Life Management Tools on the phone

The argument for B) Making Me Win at Life

  • If I've put the chore or the task in my app, I won't ever get too far behind on doing it - so those nagging nasty chores that are easy to ignore actually get done
  • My house is cleaner, my work is more organized
  • I can sleep better at night without having a mental To Do List - once it's in the phone I don't have to keep trying to remember it

It's a fine line between productivity and work-obsessed, a fine line between organized and fussy.  This app, for me, is right in that zone between those things - but so far it tips just to the good side of things. How do you manage your life's To Do's?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Shifting from Summer to Fall

goodbye to summer

It is clearly turning to Autumn here, although we are still having a warmer and dryer than normal September here in the PNW.  But the trees are turning, the geese are flying overhead, and the school buses are once again driving down our rural road.  It's Fall.

Letting go of Summer is bittersweet, as always.  I always find myself regretting that I didn't do more during Summer, and not because I am a slacker and don't take advantage of the season.  The problem is that Summer just seems like such a season of Vast Possibilities.  I expect that I will Camp, Hike, Garden, Read a Whole Stack of Books, Travel, Do Home Improvement ... all while Living Slow With My Feet Up.  Clearly summer (which realistically is only 2 1/2 months long) cannot live up to these contradictory expectations.

Then there is Fall.  Even when the weather is still nice, there gets to a smell in the air.  This smell is the smell of Better Get Busy.  In contrast to Summer which seems endless while you are in it, Autumn comes with a ticking clock and is clearly an end-between time.  It is a time of preparations.  Preparations for the coming Winter, of course.  If that home improvement project didn't get done during the summer, now there is a rush to finish it before the Winter comes.  And if you want to camp or hike this year, better do it Now before the snows in the mountains.

The sense of Time Slipping By, of Opportunity that must be Grasped Now, is actually more comfortable for me than the seemingly endless Forever of summer.  In this season, I am not tempted to put my feet up but am instead filled with crisp industry.  Now I know that the winter is coming, and that will be a time of enforced quiet and rest.  Before that happens I just need to get stuff done!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why Blog?


I haven't been blogging as much lately, and part of that is that I just haven't found myself with the time on my hands that blogging requires.  I blog because I have more to say than I have people sitting around wanting to hear.  In other words, it is an impulse born of both idle time to think and a certain amount of loneliness.

Both of those things have been lacking in my life of late.  I'm booked up, my plate is full, my calendar is full, my To Do list is long, and I'm hardly ever alone.

And, then, like many bloggers who have focused on their parenting or their homeschooling I see it changes as the kids get older.  Privacy of course, but also the stuff we are doing is just less cute and photogenic.  I still want to blog, but the blog is about me.

Me?  What me?  Where is the me in the center of juggling work and homeschooling, chores and errands, hobbies and learning and the slim chance of a small social life or a bit of alone time with my husband.

Maybe that's the best reason to keep trying to blog.  Maybe it can hold me accountable to myself; maybe it can keep me paying attention to myself.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What I've Been Reading: Some Nice British Ladies and a rugged Wyoming Sheriff


I've been enjoying more good books in the last two weeks!

First, I read a book that was assigned for a Retreat I attended: Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer.  I love the way Palmer writes, and his whole message of living an authentic life resonated as well.  This is a short and highly accessible book of wisdom on that age old questions: how to live a life worth living?

Then I finally got a copy of one of the first Longmire Mystery: The Cold Dish.  I have really enjoyed watching Longmire on Netflix, so I wanted to read one of the books for my reading challenge category of "My Favorite Detectives".  But my local library system does not carry any of the Longmire books - a strange hole in their collection.  So I had to bite the bullet and buy the book.  But then it sat there and sat there, because I frequently have a book that is almost overdue from the library and then that gets the priority for my reading time ... and a book that I own can be read "anytime" so it falls to the bottom of the priority list.  Once again, I had to just choose to set other things aside and give this book my time, and I was so glad I did!  Although it is slow paced, and the ending did feel a bit anticlimactic, the charming character of Walt Longmire is just as human and lovable in the written version and the Wyoming setting is also a real character in the story, telling it's own tale as the action unfolds.

And then I fell in love with some very nice British ladies in Cranford.  I had never heard of this book, or its author Elizabeth Gaskell, but I found a reference to it in 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.  To be honest, I'm feeling the pressure at this point with my 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge, so I was perusing the 1001 Books looking for women authors so that a book could count as a "double dipper" between my "Books to Read Before You Die" and "Women's Studies" categories, and then I realized that this book could be a Triple Dipper.  It also served as my book for "E" in my "Around the World in Alphabetical Order" category.  The value of the book was not just in its versatility for my challenge, however - it's a genuinely charming and lovely book.  The genteel society of Cranford are almost all ladies - the book states at the beginning that men are all absent or dead - and the ladies like it that way.  They live quiet lives of poverty, glossed over by nice manners and a genteel refusal to acknowledge their own monetary state, liberally sprinkled with eccentricity, foolishness, and social niceties taken to their ridiculous conclusion.  Gaskell paints the characters with a mix of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and deep love, which makes for a charming blend.  There is evidently a miniseries that I will have to watch now.

The "D" book for the "Around the World in Alphabetical Order" was also read this week: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.  I'm basing that category on the Nancy Pearl book: Book Lust To Go, but for "D" she only lists books about Detroit.  I wasn't all that interested, so it was lucky that my mother came to my rescue and suggested Number the Stars for "Denmark". I hadn't ever read it before, and what a sweet and hopeful story it is!  Lowry looked for a story of the good and the bravery that humans are capable of, and tells a positive story of the Nazi Holocaust, with a happy ending!  Very nice.  I've had a run of holocaust books, lately, and this one struck nice harmonies with The Book Thief.  

I also listened to two more books of the Ranger's Apprentice series with my kids in the car.  Audiobooks in the car are still a wonderful thing for us, even though the kids are starting to want to listen to the pop music station more as they get older.  There's only so much pop music you can listen to on a long drive - but a good story will keep your attention and help cover those miles.

And that's what I've been reading!  My 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge can be viewed here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Not Back to School Blog Hop: School Rooms


Where my kids learn: all over the house (and out in the world too).

The theme of this week's blog hop is "School Room Week".  Ha!  We don't have a "school room" anymore, so I should be disqualified from this one, eh?

When we first moved into this house in 2011, the fact that it had an "extra" room meant we could finally have a school room.  Our school year started off in that room that year.  But then it became clear to me pretty fast that we didn't really like to be constrained to just one room, and that the kids distracted each other a lot when they had to work too close together.  Then I couldn't really multi-task my housework, either, when we were in that one room.  Oh, and the lighting wasn't great either.

So we started to drift out of the room.  Into the dining room.  Into the kitchen.  Into the living room.  Into the "music room".  We would set up a card table for art wherever the light was best for that time of the day.

It's not as picture-worthy or aesthetically pleasing but here's the truth of how we live as homeschoolers:

The "school room" is renamed "the den" and my husband and I are trying to find the perfect way to set that room up as our offices and my craft room.  It's also still great storage for all the stuff and books that just keeps accumulating.  But the stuff we are currently using has moved out of that room.


Milk crates for each child keep their books accessible and portable.  The crates live in the dining room, but get carried all over the place depending on where we feel like working.


Shelves in the living room house the library books (mine have overflowed onto the floor because I have too many!).


Clipboards for each child keep them organized with their daily assignments.


A file of photocopied worksheets also goes on that clipboard.

And that lets us stay organized and drag stuff all over the house at the same time.  It is a bit messy, but it works for us.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Curriculum for 2014-2015

2014-2015 Curriculum

This week has just plowed me down and under!  It's been good stuff, but it's still ... a lot.

So I wanted to take part in the 6th Annual "Not" Back-To-School Blog Hop, with the theme this week of "Curriculum Week".  I even found the time to drag all the books out and take a picture of them.  I even started this post a couple times, but then would be interrupted by a call from my Mom, or by an animal emergency on my homestead.

But now I have a bit of time, so better late then never.

For the 3rd Grader:

For Language Arts we will continue with Explode the Code and Language Lessons for Little Ones, as well as just reading lots of books from the library.

For Math she is doing both Dreambox Math and Math U See (Beta level).

For Science we are doing REAL Science Odyssey: Chemistry

For the 6th Grader:

In Language Arts he is doing Language Lessons for the Very Young, Word Roots, Easy Grammar Plus, and The Reader's Odyssey is the method we are using to go through recommended reading lists for literature.

For Math he is using Math U See (Delta Level) 

For Science he is also doing Chemistry, but for him it's Real Science 4 Kids

For the Combined 3rd and 6th Grades:

They are both using Story of the World for World History (although they are off from each other by about 25 chapters).

For other History we are also all reading aloud The History of US and The Story of Science.  

For foreign language we are finishing up Puertas Abiertas and then we will have to find another program since this one still hasn't come out with a Level 2.

We are drawing using Mark Kistler's Imagination Station.   

And for writing we are using Don't Forget to Write as well as just writing lots of essays, reports, lab reports, and book summaries, etc.

Add in music lessons, family PE class, field trips, and horse riding lessons and we are pretty much good to go!

Monday, July 28, 2014

What I'm Reading: Plath, The Book Thief, and All Joy, No Fun


A glimpse into my recent life as a Reader.

The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath were interesting.  As the collection is organized chronologically, I wasn't sure whether I was just warming to her as I plowed through the collection or whether I was noticing her own maturation as a poet - but the beginning of the collection did not impress me and I had to read many poems before I started to warm to them.  Her reputation is so huge, but I've never read the actual poems before, so it was good to actually go to the source material.

Meanwhile, The Book Thief took me a ridiculously long time to finish because I bought it on my kindle ... which the kids keep "borrowing" and not bringing back to me.  When I did get a chance to read it, though, I loved it.  Narrated by Death and set in Nazi Germany, the book could have been one huge cliche.  It escaped that fate, however, and managed to both surprise me and bring me to tears.  So, so good.

And finally, I managed to finish All Joy, No Fun this week.  The author set out to write a book about parenting with a different question: instead of asking what effect it has on the kids, what effect does modern parenting have on the parents?  Riffing off a study that showed that parents had lowered rates of happiness and well-being compared to peers without children, the book explores many of the issues of modern parenting through both qualitative case studies and reviews of more quantitative data.  There are some very thought-provoking things in this book if you are a parent, especially a parent of the middle-class variety (which the author does state in a disclaimer was her primary focus).  I was left with some deep musings about the modern phenomenon of the "useless" child - the child who does not contribute to society or the family through labor of any kind but is instead the receiver of care, goods, resources, etc.  I might have more to say about that in another post.

The reading continues!

Friday, July 25, 2014

A New Family Fitness Plan

Family PE Class

I would really like for my kids to grow up fit and healthy, and I know that a big part of that is building habits.  My husband and I have very different fitness habits - he grew up without any exercise habit and never participated in sports while I grew up with heavy participation in dance and a daily home fitness routine.  Although we are both capable of falling into a slump of inactivity for months on end, I'm still about 300 times more likely to choose to exercise than he is.  The habits I built early on in my life are still pretty easy to pick back up again.

But despite knowing what did work for me, so far in my kids lives I've focused more on giving them what I didn't have in my childhood - team sports.  As a homeschooled child, I didn't have easy access to school sports, and my parents don't enjoy sports so they didn't go out of their way to find them for me as a child.  Dance, gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, and martial arts were all physically demanding activities that filled my time as a child, but I never had a team and I never was very good at the hand-eye coordination needed for ball sports (you'd think rhythmic gymnastics would have helped - it should have - I wasn't very good at it).  I felt like there was a lack in my own life, so for my own kids I've made sure they had a chance to try out team sports while they were young.

It may have been a good thing to get the early exposure, but it hasn't taken off with either of them.  My son has said flat out that he is "done with sports" as he enters middle school.  My daughter still has some sports on her (way too long) list of extracurriculars she wants to fit into her schedule (and out of my educational budget) but her interests are veering toward theater and arts and we all agree the money and time would be better spent giving her those opportunities.

Hence the need for fitness that doesn't cost anything and can be done on our own, or in other words we're going back to my roots.  Using my exercise habits and history as a model, we are getting up a bit earlier at least three mornings a week for a Family PE Class at 6:30 am.  This early hour lets my husband participate and still have time to shower and rush to work on time.  For 30 minutes we are doing a little cardio, a little calisthenics, maybe some yoga, and some stretching.  I'm making each morning a bit different by adding in things like:

  • Running laps around our house (opening all the gates made an awkward but adequate loop path)
  • trampoline jumping 
  • rotation stations with hand weights and resistance bands (I only own one set of equipment, so we had to rotate)
  • Videos
  • Grass Drills, army style
  • Crazy Dance Party
  • Playing the Fit Deck game 
The beauty of this is that not only is it free, but it's getting the whole family more fit at once.  It's time we spend together, we're modeling the good habits, and it's the sort of habit that the kids can carry on in their lives no matter where they live or what resources they have access to.  Going to a gym is very nice, and I've always enjoyed when I have a gym membership and when it has been convenient to find time to go there, but you can't top working out at home for convenience and likelihood that you'll actually do it.  

So now I'm adding fitness coach to my job description as a homeschooling mom!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Plastic Free Challenge: Week 3

plastic challenge week 3

For the month of July I signed on to the Plastic Free July challenge.  The idea is to avoid all single-use plastic that just goes straight into the trash, and what you can't avoid keep for a "dilemma bag" and display.

Here are the results of the third week of the challenge, minus the plastic trash that was generated by my family eating at the local summer fair this week.  I just didn't much care to keep the dirty forks and cups in my purse for hours just to bring home and wash later for display.  I think we used three disposable forks and two straws and plastic lids and one snow cone cup on that day, and the rest was paper (which was collected for compost at the fair).

So my family of four made this much plastic trash this week:

  1. The vacuum bag that we sealed one of our home-raised turkeys in last fall for freezing.  When we thawed out and ate the bird this week the bag became trash.
  2. One bag that held cotton candy (from that day at the fair).
  3. The plastic seal from a tub of salsa (I can get salsa in glass jars, but we really like this local salsa company that packages its fresh salsa in plastic tubs.  Local, fresh, and organic or packaged in glass?)
  4. The end of the plastic wrap on a brick of cheddar cheese (the rest of the wrapper will probably appear in next weeks photo).
  5. A package of mini-marshmallows that were used in a chemistry lab by my son, building molecules out of marshmallows and toothpicks.
  6. The packaging from a new set of headphones I bought this week.
  7. Two plastic lids from sodas.
  8. Four plastic coffee straws that I didn't notice my kids sticking into their reusable cups at the coffee shop.  They really like to drink out of straws, so I've started saving and washing out straws, but these little coffee ones are too small to really wash out.
  9. Four bags from pasta we cooked this week.

In the spirit of full confession, my trash this week also contained two styrofoam carry out containers and two of those weird foil/plastic/I don't know what this is bags that chips come in.

Overall, though, I do think we are reducing how much trash we put out, and it's definitely making us think about it more.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What I'm Reading: Finding Higher Ground


Climate change is a depressing topic, let's be honest.  Whenever I read another book about it, I typically feel guilty, sad, mad, fearful, and depressed.  And yet, I can't stick my head in the sand and pretend this isn't happening - it's real, it's here, it's happening, and what are we going to do about it?

Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming by Amy Seidl was a different kind of climate change book.  Here, there is very little doom and gloom and more tales of fascinating adaptations that are already taking place in the natural world, and the challenge for more adaptation in our cultural world.  Seidl tells us about drought resistance evolving in plants, about changing migration patterns for birds and butterflies, and about folks experimenting with rice farming in Vermont.  She looks at solar energy and local food sheds, and challenges the reader to think of their own higher ground.

A quote from the book:

But higher ground also lies in territory beyond these pragmatic actions.  it is in our determination to care about what we love, to protect life that is threatened, to grieve for what is lost, and to believe that we can endure the Age of Warming.  The biological and cultural environments that we have depended upon in the past will undoubtedly change.  But the adaptations we bring into existence will be the very makings of our persistence.

I highly recommend this book!