Friday, January 30, 2009

Slavery Unit

We (the younger kids and I) are in the middle of our second year of studying American History. I use Sonlight 3 and 4 as a skeleton and add on lots of different materials. We did this with great success last year. (You can see the complete year here.) We finished Lewis and Clark back in September and then began reading about the westward expansion; however, I decided to plunge ahead with slavery and then the Civil War now, and then we'll spend several weeks later discussion the Oregon Trail, etc.

So here's what we've used for our unit on slavery.

From Sea to Shining Sea: Chapters 10, 11, 16 (This is our primary text.)
Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling (This is an excellent book; please don't leave this one out!)
Harriet Tubman (Animated Hero Classics by Nest Productions): I was not crazy about this video. I'm going to try to find and preview the movies Race to Freedom, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and/or A Woman Called Moses as the biographical, animated video fell way short of telling much of Harriet's story.
Frederick Douglass Fights for Freedom by Margaret Davidson (I loved this as a child and was thrilled to find it at our local library sale for a quarter!)
Uncle Tom's Cabin (Young Folks Edition): This is essential, in my opinion, because so many other books refer to Harriet Beecher Stowe's book as pivotal in the recognition of the evils of slavery in America. Although I had a copy of the book, this children's edition is available online, too.
If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine (I think this whole "If You..." series is fantastic)
Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson, ill. by James Ransome (nice picture book about one family's journey on the Underground Railroad)
Show Way by Jacqeline Woodson, ill. by Hudson Talbott (Traces the author's heritage from mother to daughter back eight generations, with a wonderful thread of quilting, piecing together, writing, and freedom. Love this one.)
Alec's Primer by Mildred Pitts Walker (Picture book retelling the true story of Alec Turner, born a slave in 1845, who was taught to read by his master's daughter. Ultimately Alec runs away from the plantation to join the army during the Civil War. We loved this story because it is based on a real person.)
The Wagon by Tony Johnston, ill. by James Ransome (Wonderfully poetic story of a child born into slavery and his subsequent freedom after the Civil War.)
"The Tale of 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'" from The Children's Book of America by William J. Bennett
Addy: An American Girl series
My America: Corey's Underground Railroad Diary (3 books in series)
I Have Heard of a Land by Joyce Carol Thomas (about the land rush in the late 1800s, post-Civil War)

In the Hands of a Child has a slavery lapbook. I downloaded this once when it was free from CurrClick, but I thought the information was too ponderous for my 2nd grader. I'd recommend it, though, for grades 6 and up. The Homeschool Learning Network also has a Harriet Tubman unit study for only $3.50. While I felt like reading the literature above was an excellent study of slavery in America leading up to a study of the Civil War, I think the lapbook and unit study would be an excellent addition for older kids.

Next up: the Civil War!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Homeschool Memoirs: Unit Studies


This week's theme at Homeschool Memoirs is unit studies. I love unit studies. The first couple of years of homeschooling, we fell into a nice pattern of doing Sonlight for 6 weeks and then doing a 1-4 week unit study. I loved this system. But as my oldest got older, unit studies became more of a once-a-year affair. Now I often rely on our co-op classes to provide a 10-week unit study!

One of my favorite things about unit studies is preparing them. I love to research dozens of websites and books, glean the best information, and compile it all into my own study. I'm weird like that. Here are some of the unit studies we've done over the years.
We're just finishing up a unit on slavery; perhaps I'll be inspired to post that one soon!

For more unit study ideas, visit the memoirs at the link above!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SmallWorld's WordSmithery: Powerful Words (Assignment 3)


Welcome back to SmallWorld's WordSmithery, where "creative writing" and "boring" go their separate ways. If you are just joining in, please go back and read Assignment #1: About and Journals and Assignment #2: Introduction and Good Words before continuing; otherwise, you'll be missing out on, well, the beginning. And you know what Julie Andrews/Maria had to say about that. (Hint: "Let's start at the very beginning...")

Anyway, this week we are going to talk more about the power of good words. Remember that, as always, this lesson is loosely scripted as a means to generate discussion and response with your student(s). I've also included the lesson and assignments on a file, linked at the bottom. I try to put the "speaking" parts in regular type and the answers in italics. And remember: parents/teacher: you should be doing the assignments, too!


USING POWERFUL WORDS TO CREATE INTERESTING WRITING

Last week we talked about WORDS being the very most important part of writing. We collected lots of really good words. Remember when we practiced nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs?

I. SYNONYMS and ADJECTIVES
A. This week we are going to talk about SYNONYMS and ADJECTIVES.
1. What is a synonym? Why are synonyms important? (Allow for answers: you can replace a boring word with an interesting one).
2. If you can't think of a synonym, where is a good place to look? (Allow for answer. Hopefully they'll come up with a thesaurus. Show thesaurus and explain how to use it. Ideally you should have one for each child.)
B. What is an adjective again? (Allow for answer: A word that describes a noun or a pronoun.)
1. Write on board/paper: Clean towel. Dirty towel. Smelly towel.
2. Let's think about synonyms for these words. (Write down words they come up with.) Now let's look in our thesaurus to find even more words. (Write on board)
* They love this exercise. You might want to do this with a couple more adjectives.

II. Poetry Reading
* Let's read a poem with lots of good synonyms: "Blood Curdling Story" by Shel Silverstein
Blood-Curdling Story

That story is creepy,
It's waily, it's weepy,
It's screechy and screamy
Right up to the end.
It's spooky, it's crawly,
It's grizzly, it's gory,
It's the awfulest story
(Please tell it again.)

III. JOURNAL WRITINGS
A. Activity : SHARING JOURNAL ENTRIES
1. Note 1: If you haven't been sharing your journal entries throughout the week, this is the time to do it! In the home setting, we share ours as soon as we write them; however, when I teach this class, we read the entries during class—IF the student wishes to.)
2. If you lost last week's journal assignment, please visit the link above to Assignment 2. B. Remember, sharing is never about criticizing or even offering suggestions. Sharing journals is just about listening, encouraging, and pointing out something good. ("I love that you chose the word 'hairy' to describe your father!")


IV. Class Activity: CREATING POWERFUL DESCRIPTIONS/SENTENCE STRETCHING
Let's look at this sentence:

A. THE MAN WENT TO THE BIG CITY.

That's not a very exciting sentence, is it? It doesn't tell us anything except that some man went to a big city. Let's change this sentence into one that gives us more information.
1. We'll start with the word "man."
a. What words could we use in place of "man"? Who is this man?? What kind of man was he? Is he a police officer? Teacher? Professor? Plumber? Businessman? Who is this man? (Allow for answers. Agree on the type of man this is. Cross out or erase "man" and replace with you new noun.)
b. What kind of [type of man] is he? Find some adjectives to describe him. You might look at your journal entries to see how you described your fathers. (Allow for answers. Agree and rewrite, for example, "An hairy professor")
2. Let's move to the word "city."
* Describe the city. You can name a big city (Chicago) or just give better description (the big, dirty city)
3. Now let's take the verb "went" and make it into a stronger verb. How did the hairy professor get to the Chicago? Did he hitchhike? fly? drive a 1960s Volkswagon bus? (Decide and replace word.
4. Here is our final sentence ____________ (write on board, for example, The hairy professor hitchhiked from Santa Barbara to Chicago.) Do you see how we transformed a sentence that told us almost nothing to one that gives personality to the man and tells much more about him?

B. More sentence stretching
(Practice changing simple sentences into ones with lots of detail. You can either do this together on your board/butcher paper, or you can have students do these individually. In a class, I divide kids up into groups of 2-3 and have them work on sentences together.)
1. We are going to take a simple sentence and work together to change this sentence into a better one.We MUST change the pronoun and the verb.
Here is an example:
The original sentence is: She ate dinner.

By replacing and adding words, this becomes: A hungry ballerina (that's the she) gobbled (that's the ate) her sloppy green soup (that's the dinner.)

2. Simple sentences:
* It fell down.
* He went home.
* They drink tea.
* She read a book.
* We ran away.

That's all for this week! Be sure to look below for weekly journal assignments and for the links to the printable files.

Journal Writings: Food Week

Use any kind of words you like: nouns, verbs, adjectives. Don't forget to make them strong!

Day 1
Pick 3 foods. For each one, write a sentence that describes the food in such a way that makes it sound awful.
[For example: Food=Potato chips:
The dripping grease of the chips sat in my stomach like a glob of playdough.]

Day 2
Write a mouth-watering description of your favorite dessert.
[For example, Chocolate Layer Cake has Moist but fluffy layers joined together with thick, rich icing.

Day 3
Write the menu for your ideal meal. Use at least one adjective for each food.
[For example: Tossed salad with ranch dressing; Stuffed baked potato with sour cream on the side; Hot garlic bread; Baked chicken with mushroom sauce; Steamed, buttered asparagus; Chocolate cheesecake; Frothy hot chocolate]

Day 4
Write a recipe for crocodile pie.

**********

Hope you enjoy writing with your kiddos this week! If you have questions, suggestions, or things that just didn't work for you, please let me know. I value your input! And if you're using the WordSmithery, please share my link on your blog page and let your friends know!


WordSmithery:
Click here for Assignment #1: About and Journals
Click here for Assignment #2: Introduction to Creative Writing, Featuring Good Words
(You are currently on Assignment #3)
Click here for Assignment #4: Similes

Carnival of Homeschooling

This week's Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Life on the Road. There is some great reading material there! I especially enjoyed this one at Principled Discovery: Christian Homeschoolers Have Left the "Battlefield" and one that I'd already read this week but was happy to see on the carnival from Two Kid Schoolhouse: Homeschooled Moms Need to Be Educated, Too.

I read loads of blogs each week and see some great material that ought to be submitted to the weekly carnival. Click on the picture link on my sidebar to submit a post of your own!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Memory: T-Shirts

Dr. H. and I have an obsession with t-shirts. Not only do we have drawers full of t-shirts in current use, but we also have actual boxes taped up and marked "memory t-shirts." These are t-shirts that are so worn out and ripped that they had to be taken out of circulation, and yet we couldn't bear to part with them because of their sentimental value. I have vague visions of a t-shirt quilt. Someday.

This evening I was suddenly taken with the need to open up the box marked "memory ts" in our closet. I'm glad I did; not only did I find some of our most memorable t-shirts, I also found a brick from Randy's dorm, Pardee Hall, which was torn down many years ago. And here are a few of the t-shirts I found in that box:

This is probably the oldest in our collection. A girl Randy dated in high school brought this back for him from Disney World. (It's okay, he can't even remember her last name. So he says.) We refer to it fondly as his "graduation shirt." He wore it to his matriculation and then every graduation ceremony since then, including mine and his and all of our friends' ceremonies, too. We'll have that dusted off for Jesse to wear next year at his graduation.



What do you do if your college doesn't have sororities? Make up your own. Ours was originally called the Utopia Now Women's Club, and we met every day at 5 p.m. in my dorm room. We wore our t-shirts frequently, especially when we were going out on the town. (This falls under the popular categories: why and what were we thinking?)



This was a fabulous night in many ways—the night before I graduated from college in 1988. We had a big party which included signing t-shirts. Dr. H. and I had been broken up for 7 months, and I was dating someone else then. (It's a long and sordid story, but you can read it here.) But on this particular night, Dr. H. sent me a message on my t-shirt. See it up there by the yin-yang? "Like the flower needs the rain..." Now what's a girl to do with a secret message like that? I knew him too well not to read something into that. Yep.


We were quite politically attuned back then. I find this one particularly relevant. It got worn a lot. I wish it weren't so worn out so we could start wearing it again.






And then there are the concert tees. This is just a small sampling of the numerous t-shirts on which we spent what little money we had. We would rather have spent $20 on a t-shirt back then than on food. No wonder we were so skinny.

I'm amazed at how powerful a piece of cloth can be. I felt that autograph t-shirt and pictured friends sprawled on the floor, markers in hand, and smelled the mustiness of that party house. The sorority t-shirt has me sitting on my bed in Sutton Hall with a hot cup of tea, waiting to hear the daily drama and making plans for that night.

That's one box that'll never go to Goodwill. Who'd want them, anyway?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Three Beautiful Things: Boy, Mother, Day


1. This morning: a little boy in blue-and-white striped pajamas with tousled hair, still in that sweet state of sleepiness, lounging on his top bunk before jumping out of bed.

2. My mother's soft, white hair.

3. A whole Sunday afternoon stretching in front of me with hardly anything to do or anyplace to go.


What beautiful things are in your life today?

“For every beauty there is an eye somewhere to see it. For every truth there is an ear somewhere to hear it. For every love there is a heart somewhere to receive it.”
(Ivan Panin, Russian mathematician)



Friday, January 23, 2009

My Dad, 84

My Dad turned 84 yesterday. It is hard for me to put an age with my father. Eighty-four sounds like an old man. My father is not even close to being an old man. Sometimes he likes to try out being an old man, by pretending he can't hear us or not standing during the singing at church, but at home he is strong, sharp, and brilliant.

Here is something I know: there are few men like my father. He is compassionate, witty, hard-working, generous, brilliant, and deeply spiritual. Here is another thing: I married a man who become more and more like my father every year. And that is a very, very good thing.








Tuesday, January 20, 2009

SmallWorld's WordSmithery: Good Words (Assignment 2)


Welcome to SmallWorld's WordSmithery! If you haven't yet, you really should read and complete Assignment #1 before continuing.

Do you have your journals ready? Do you have a whiteboard or a big sheet of butcher paper or poster board? Are you remembering to be excited so that your kids catch your enthusiasm?

This week's lesson is an introduction to creative writing. It's a little longer than most lessons will be because we have lots of basics to cover. I'd suggest about 30 minutes for the first part (or perhaps two sessions of 15-20 minutes each), and then I've provided four days' worth of journal writings.

How you do the journal writings is up to you. You may wish to work on them together each day and then immediately share your work, or you may prefer to work separately and then share the whole week's worth of writing at your next "big" session. Younger children will likely need help with writing. Let them dictate to you if handwriting is frustrating for them. Even preschoolers can join in if you help them. And if you are doing this with older middle schoolers and high schoolers, please adjust accordingly. These is really geared toward 3rd-7th graders. And don't forget, parents/teacher: you should be doing the assignments, too!

In a co-op setting, I teach the lesson (with lots of boisterous class input), send home the journal writings, and then we read the journals aloud (IF the students wish to) at the next class. I never force a child to read his or her journal, but within a few weeks, most kids are begging to read at least one entry each week. Give the journal assignments on a sheet of paper to each child (provided at the end) or give one assignment each day, as you choose. This program is meant to be totally flexible for your own family (or class) use.

This lesson is loosely scripted as a means to generate discussion and response with your student(s). I've also included the lesson and assignments on a PDF file, linked at the bottom. I try to put the "speaking" parts in regular type and the answers in italics.


The Power of a Good Word

Discussion/Introduction of Creative Writing:
A. What is creative writing?
1. What are different kinds of writing? Why is creative writing different from research papers, for example? (Allow for answers. These might range from fiction and nonfiction to more specifics. There are not right and wrong answers; you are just generating discussion)
2. Name some kinds of creative writing. (Allow for answers)
3. What are some specific types of fiction? (answers might include mystery, romance, adventure, comedy, tragedy, historical fiction, etc.) What are some genres of fiction? (novel, play, short story, etc.)
4. What are some types of nonfiction? (essays, memories, autobiography, biography, magazine article, newspaper, etc.)

B. Personal Discussion
1. What kind of books do you like best? Who are some of your favorite authors? What do you like about their books?
2. Discuss plays. Have you seen any plays? Do you realize that plays are written by someone? What about nursery rhymes? Do you realize that nursery rhymes are a kind of poetry?

C. WORDS
1. What is every piece of writing made out of? What is the most important part of writing? (Wait for answers. Often kids will say "sentences," "nouns," etc. before they get to the answer: WORDS.) Without words, you can't have writing. For today, we are going to be word collectors. Have you ever said a word just because you like the way it sounds? What are some words that you like the sound of? (Allow for answers. Write words on a board or in your journals.) Some words that I like are _________. (Think about this ahead of time. I like words like buttery, cranberry, cacophony, serendipity, crisp, and many more. Encourage them to find words that they like the sound of, not that they like to eat (pizza) or play with (Lego)!)
2. We're going to read a poem that has some really good words in it. This poem is called "Jabberwocky," and it is written by Lewis Carroll, who also wrote Alice in Wonderland. (You can read and/or print out the poem here. Be sure to read with lots of emotion!) What did you think about that poem? What were some words that jumped out at you? Did you realize that lots of those words weren't even real words, but ones that he made up? And yet we seem to understand the poem! (For "definitions" of the made-up words, check out this Wikipedia article.)

D. Part of Speech Review
1. Before we go any farther, we need to have a very basic grammar lesson. Give me brief definitions for these parts of the sentence
* Noun (A noun is the name of a person, place, thing or idea. Ask for an example of each.)
* Verb (A verb is a word that does an action, shows a state of being, links 2 words together, or helps another word. Ask for examples)
* Adjective: (a word that describes a noun or another adjective. Ask for examples.)
* Adverb: (an adverb is a word that describes a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Words ending in LY are adverbs. Ask examples.)
2. Parts of speech game: Write a letter (for example, W) on the white board, if you have one, or a big sheet of poster board or butcher paper. Tell kid(s) what part of speech to use, and have them shout out as many words they can think of that start with that letter. For instance, if you write the letter "W" and say "noun," then they can only choose words like: woman, wilderness, woods, worm (but not words like walking, wear, and wiggly). Do this with 4 different letters, using a different part of speech for each one. So, you might have W-Noun; B-verb; P-adjective; and C-adverb.
(If they still want to play, you can do the same thing with other letters, or here is a second part to the game. Try to make sentences out of the words you've used. For example: The pink worm barfed carefully.)

E. About Writing Journals
• The very best way to be a good writer is to write every day. Even if you only write one word everyday, at least you are writing something. We will be doing journal writing four days every week. These will be very short assignments. They are meant to be fun and to get you thinking about words and sounds and to give you ideas. But you don't have to write just what I give you to do. You can write anything you want in your journals! If you feel inspired to write a story or a poem, do it! If someone says something funny, write it down! If you have a weird dream, write about it! I won't make you share your journal, but you will always have a chance to share if you'd like.

F. Positive Feedback
• Now—one more thing—it is very, very important that we give positive feedback. It is absolutely NOT ok to snicker or laugh or say that someone's writing is silly. You can only say good things about someone's writing! So if your brother writes a story about a man named Bob, and your sister doesn't like the name Bob, she must not say "Bob is a bad name!" Instead, she can say it like this, "What about naming him Joey instead of Bob? He just doesn't seem like a Bob to me." Do you see how that's a nicer way to say something?

*********
Week One Journal Writings

"WORD" WEEK
Use any kind of words you like: nouns, verbs, adjectives

On Day 1 write:
3 words that describe your mother
3 words that describe your father
3 words that describe yourself

On Day 2:
Think of at least five words that, when you say them, might make someone feel SICK.
(For example: vomit, putrid)

On Day 3:
Think of at least five words that, when you say them, might make someone feel COLD.

On Day 4:
Pick an animal. Think of at least five words to describe the way it moves.
(For example: Elephant-lumber, tromp, stomp, sway, thunder)

*************

Hope you enjoy writing with your kiddos this week! If you have questions, suggestions, or things that just didn't work for you, please let me know. As I have only taught this in a co-op classroom setting, there may be some glitches to work out in a family setting. In other words, this is a work in progress and I value your input!

Click here for the beginning: Assignment #1
Click here for Assignment #3: Using Powerful Words to Create More Interesting Writing
Click here for Assignment #4: Similes

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday Memory: High School Sports

Facebook continues to stimulate a flurry of remembering. These past several months it's been college friends sharing memories; now, suddenly, my high school classmates are getting in on the Facebook frenzy. It seems like a new classmate or two join every day. Yesterday I dug a box out of storage that hasn't even been untaped since we moved from Iowa over nine years ago. Most of my high school photo albums were in the box, so I had fun posting a bunch of photos on Facebook.

I think the one above cracks me up about the most. This was a cheerleading competition during my one-year stint as a basketball cheerleader. (I am the one who felt it necessary to make our short skirts even shorter; please excuse me. Modesty was not one of my stronger suits back then.) But what really cracks me up is that I even was a cheerleader. I'm quite sure I was dreadful. Admittedly, I am not the cheerleading type. But it was tremendously fun for the most part, and I'm glad I broadened my horizons a bit that year.

My real sport was swimming. I started swimming competitively with our junior varsity team in seventh grade. We had an amazing swim team for all six years, from JV to varsity. We weren't necessarily a team that other teams feared, but we were very close and had a blast. Without a doubt, swim team was the best experience of my high school years.

During my junior and senior years, our relay got to go to sectionals in Rochester, NY. That's our relay team my senior year. I don't remember much about sectionals except that the day was a fresh spring one, with just a hint of winter still lingering. I also remember that we got to eat at T.G.I. Friday's afterwards, and I thought that was pretty awesome. I have no idea if we did well or if, more likely, we got blasted by the bigger Rochester schools, but the feeling of camraderie still sticks. And that's the meat of memory.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Introducing SmallWorld's WordSmithery



Welcome to SmallWorld's WordSmithery! I've mentioned before that creative writing is one of those areas in which parents struggle teaching. I love teaching creative writing. I often teach this class at our support group's weekly enrichment classes, and I love most of all getting students in my class who come with this caveat from mom: "He hates writing. He doesn't want to be in this class." Almost without fail (I can think of only a couple of kids who were immune to my charms), that I-hate-writing kid becomes hooked.
At the WordSmithery, I share some exercises for teaching creative writing at home for all ages. I said all ages. Yep, that is one of the key factors here. You, the parent, must also participate. Writers need to share, and a workshop format works best. Trust me.

The assignments will be given each week, and for the first few weeks, it's probably best to follow in order. Join in anytime, but be sure to look on the sidebar for consecutive lessons.

So here we go with Assignment #1:
Buy a writing journal for each person. You really should make this an exciting event. Let your kids pick out a special spiral-bound notebook, an actual hardback journal, or let them make their own. One easy way to personalize a journal is to buy a composition notebook like the one in the photo and decorate the front and back with scrapbooking paper, photos, magazine cut-outs, etc. You can use Modge Podge or just a gluestick. Don't forget to make yourself a journal, too.

That's it! Next week, we'll start finding words to put in the journal.

Click here for Assignment #2: Introduction to Creative Writing, Featuring Good Words
Click here for Assignment #3: Using Powerful Words to Create More Interesting Writing
Click here for Assignment #4: Similes
Click here for Assignment #5: Metaphors and Strong Verbs
Click here for Assignment #6: Alliteration and Spring Flower (or Fall Leaves) Poem
Click here for Assignment #7: Writing About the Weather (Form Poem)
Click here for Assignment #8: Form Poetry
Click here for Assignment #9: Poetry Collage
Click here for Assignment #10: Writing About Self
Click here for Assignment #11: Advertising, Part 1

Got something to share? We love to read what your students have written! Please share their writing here at the Share Your Writing space, or leave a comment and link back to a post on your blog.
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Friday, January 16, 2009

This Week in SmallWorld


The bad thing about vacation is that it is so difficult to return to normal life. Not that my normal life is difficult, but getting back into the swing of things just takes effort. The younger two kids and I left Sunday afternoon for Pigeon Forge for the fabulous annual Wilderness Wildlife Week there. We'd been invited by a friend to spend a few days there with her and her kids in their time-share condo. How could I resist? The views were spectacular, as was the company (and the hot tub).

I wanted to get there Sunday afternoon to hear journalist Fred Brown talk about his book, The Serpent Handlers. I read and reviewed this fascinating book on my SmallReads blog last summer, so I was thrilled to get to hear Mr. Brown talk in more detail about his experiences with snake-handling churches. Weird stuff.

We spent the next two days alternating between swimming at the pool and attending workshops. Someday I'd love to attend all the "grown-up" workshops like "Appalachian People & their Herbs" and "The Art of Dowsing: Do You have the Gift?" and go for a hike or two, but for now we just focused on the "Kids Track" workshops:
* Wild Ones Among Us
* Hug-A-Tree and Survive for Kids
* Wild World of Animals
* Learn About Bears through Activities for Kids (their favorite workshop by far)
* Hidden Treasures from around the World and Beyond: Gems, Minerals and Florescent Rocks

They got a good dose of wildlife and wilderness in this week, for sure! While we were in Pigeon Forge, Jesse was invited to go to Nashville with a friend and see the Broadway on Nashville production of The Wizard of Oz. Poor Dr. H. was quite lonely. Well, except for the night when some guys came over and greatly entertained him by playing Guitar Hero.

And so now we are back, trying to remember all the things that go into our daily lives. We have been reading about slavery these past couple of months (with a break in December for more light-hearted reading). This week we finished both Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman and If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad. I've got another stack of books about slavery to tackle before we move onto the Civil War. I've been contemplating renting the Roots miniseries, but I can't remember if it's appropriate for the kids at 8 and 11. I remember watching it when I was about Laurel's age, but I watched a lot of things I should have (remember my post about Let's Scare Jessica to Death?) so perhaps that's not the best guideline. Anyone?

Jesse started his class at the local community college yesterday. He's actually taking English 1010, the basic composition class, which is kind of weird for me. I feel rather territorial about teaching writing and grammar to my children, but I also recognize that having him write for someone else will be an excellent experience. Well, that and he gets college credit.

And that about sums things up. It's cold here, but our house is warm and toasty. We have plenty of food and blankets and a good gas furnace. We have hot tea and fuzzy slippers and each other. And, of course, we have memories of five winters spent in Iowa, where today's 20 degrees in Tennessee is a balmy day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Three Beautiful Things: Three Days of Mountains


I can see the Smoky Mountains in the distance from my front window every day, but for the past few days I've been staying over in Pigeon Forge on the 4th floor of a condo with a fabulous view of the Smokies. More on that trip later. For now…


Day 1, Evening




Day 2, Afternoon




Day 3, Sunrise

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Something to Fill the Time

while I'm gone. Heidi's doing this on her blog, and it looked fun.

(Items in blue are ones that I have done.)

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band (does marching band count?)
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea (would a lake count?)
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty (I don't think I have, but I've been there)
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train (going from Germany to Italy)
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping (no comments, please!)
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors (in Germany, but I'd love to go to Scotland, too)
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language (sort of, by living in Germany)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person*
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (but I've been at the foot of it!)
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Gotten flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book (but I've published in a book!)
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating (does fish count? then, yes)
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee

(Feel free to play along! It's always good to have a certain amount of frivolity on one's blog. Leave me a comment to let me know you've posted your list.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Three Days Without

Tomorrow I'm going on a mini-vacation. Every year Pigeon Forge holds a fantastic Wilderness Wildlife Week, with dozens of free workshops, concerts, and lectures focused on the Great Smoky Mountains. The kids and I usually try to make it over to Pigeon Forge for a day, but this year we are staying in a hotel (with a pool) for three whole nights.

I haven't quite absorbed that I'll be gone for three nights and almost three entire days. I haven't packed a thing except a bag of assorted food items and our swim suits. I'm not used to random vacations. I won't be able to check my email for almost three whole days! But I am grateful for a little time out of my ordinary life. My college friend Dee Ann's funeral is tomorrow in Kansas City, and the sadness lays heavy on my heart. I wish I could be there.

While I normally run from self-help books, I finished reading what turned out to be a fantastic book recently: Joyce Meyer's The Secret to True Happiness. I am giving away my signed copy of this book. If you would like a chance to win it, go read my review here and leave a comment. I'll pick a random winner when I return from my mini-vacation.

Until then, remember to relish your daily life.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Just Call Me...

"Jerk."

I had one of those amazing parenting moments this afternoon. When we finished our reading, I decided it would be a fun idea to end the week by playing Wii Sports for PE for the day. Isn't that a great idea? What kid wouldn't love a chance to play the Wii under the guise of education?

So it all started out perfectly for about one minute, when Duncan and Laurel starting bickering about what mode to play in. Good grief! Within five minutes, exasperation erupted on all parts. Duncan ran to his room, sobbing, and because this is what moms do best, I instructed both of them that if they couldn't play the Wii nicely, then they should clean their rooms!

I may have shouted, or at least spoken forcefully. I went off to do laundry, thinking about how ungrateful these children are. And then I heard Duncan talking aloud in his room, as if he were having a conversation. I eavesdropped outside his door as he was saying,
"She hasn't been nice to me all day! And only me! She is nice to everyone but not to me!"

I wasn't sure whom he was speaking about at this point, me or his sister. But eventually I heard:
"My mom! I am talking about my mom and she has not been nice to me all day! She doesn't have anything nice to say to me!"

And then,
"My mom is being a…a… a JERK! She is being a JERK!" (but it's more like "juk" because he doesn't say his "Rs" quite right yet).

And here's the part that really got me:
"She always says to me 'speak kindly' but SHE isn't speaking kindly to me!"

Ouch. Well, "ouch" tempered with a little bit of amusement (just a little bit) and a little bit of "Hey! Yes I was nice to you today!" Another more detached part of me was thinking how interesting it was to see him being so dramatic and that neither of my other kids ever had loud conversations with themselves. And still another part of me thought, "This doesn't sound like him. Where did he pick up this kind of drama." And jerk? I can't think of us ever using that word. I'm always amazed at how their personalities can show surprising characteristics.

But anyway. Mostly I felt chastened because he was right in one level: I wasn't being kind to him. And so after a few minutes, I went in to him and crawled next to him on his bottom bunk. He moved as far against the wall as he possibly could to avoid touching me. We prayed, I apologized, we hugged, and he smiled. This evening we spent a couple of sweet hours together, just the two of us, playing games and reading. I asked him if I was still a jerk. He said, "No, Mama! You are NOT a jerk!"

Phew. Being a parent is a never-ending learning experience.

Anyone else had a bad parenting moment this week?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Reads and Reviews of 2008

There's only thing I want to do this evening: curl up with my soft blanket and read a book. I'm halfway through The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and it really is as good as everyone says—so far, anyway. If you're looking for something to read, check out my Year of Reading at my SmallWorld Reads blog. You can see the best, the worst, and everything in between. While you're there, check out the best of 2007, too. That was actually a better year for amazing books! And if you still can't find anything to read there, here's my To Be Read list AND Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books yearly round-up.

Now there's no reason to say, "I just can't find anything good to read..."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Relishing Day-to-Day Life



"
To live is so startling it leaves little time
for anything else.

~Emily Dickinson

That's what I'm doing today—relishing. I live a very ordinary life, even more so than Amy Krouse Rosenthal, author of Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, a book I adore. This week I am relishing my daily life even more than usual, acutely aware of how precious each day is.

I love to do Three Beautiful Things posts every now and then, and here's the thing: it's always the simplest things that are so beautiful. Having a friend die makes everything stand out in full color, even on these gray, rainy days we've been having. This is what I do; this is who I am. These simple things have made up the bulk of the past 15 years, and I relish them with a grateful heart. Because really, you just never know.

Loading the dishwasher.


A little game-playing before breakfast.


A little sunshine after days and days of rain. (Yes, Donna, I have proof.)


Loads of laundry.


Chasing a cat off the piano.


Doing school.


Fixing lunch.

Hugging and kissing my little boy.


Connecting and reconnecting, by computer, phone, and cell.


Grocery shopping.


Even a messy room, evidence of a child who loves to play—and who has plenty of toys.

Here's the thing: you can look at any one of those things as an annoyance. What? More loads of laundry? "Kids, pick up the horrible mess in your rooms!" I hate grocery shopping!

Or you can choose to relish the day-to-day life. You pick.




Homeschool Memoirs: Happy New Year

I'm glad for today's task at Homeschool Memoirs: "post about what you did for New Year’s and what your traditions are each year."

I've done this post already, and not coming up with anything clever suits my mood today! Friends, food, and bags-around-the-clock: you can read about our New Year's Eve here.

(For more New Year's Eve traditions, click on the Homeschool Memoirs link. And for more great reading, the 158th Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Why Homeschool.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Monday Memory: In Memory of Dee Ann


In the shuffle of our daily lives, with meals to fix and homes to clean and places to go, our mortality jumps out at us and our memories demand attention. The news spread across our Facebook college connections yesterday that Dee Ann had died, suddenly and shockingly. We gasp collectively and grasp for understanding. How? What? Huh? We search 20 years back for memories, sifting through mind-pictures of talks on sweet spring nights on the steps of a dorm on a tiny campus where everyone knows each other, beneath the shadow of Buffalo Mountain.

You can remember the smell of the lilacs and the voices yelling out across campus, cars driving in and out and the way the steps still held the warmth of a southern April day. You remember the way she tossed her hair and her soft, musical voice and the way she laughed, as close to a "tinkling laugh" as you've ever heard.

One day she showed me her heart-shaped engagement ring and I felt the hard slap of jealousy, as my own love-life crumbled around me. And I remember during our senior year when she announced, "I can't do this anymore" after her broken engagement, and she left college mid-semester. When she came back next semester, I could see she was newly reckless and fragile, and I could know her better, then, with cracks.

And then years of Christmas cards and photos and a visit during our Iowa years, when our children were small. Then nothing for years, during a time I later found out was a crumbling in her life. I thought of her sometimes during those quiet years but not enough to make me pick up the phone and find her. Because we have all the time in the world, and eventually we'll reconnect.

Except there are two children left without their mom, a man left without his friend and former wife, a daughterless mother, a sisterless brother. Just like that, without time to make a video telling her kids how much she loved them or to even sort through her old letters and memorabilia. Without time to reconnect.

It is this photo, taken on our graduation day, that hit me full force yesterday. My husband in his Mickey Mouse t-shirt, and these two funny, sad, clever friends who were quite evenly matched with their quick-witted quips and sarcasm.

Rest in peace, randy and Dee Ann.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Year in Review: My Favorite Posts

I've spent a few hours here and there over the past few days skimming posts from 2008. I wrote somewhere around 235 posts in 2008, although that's not exactly accurate because I didn't include my book review posts. Sometime in late spring I began SmallWorld Reads and moved my book reviews and book talk over there. I moved my blog (post by post) from homeschoolblogger.com to blogspot in July, and I must say I'm enjoying blogspot much more.

I love blogging. People often ask, "How do you have time to blog?" The answer is, simply, that I make time. I've kept journals since the age of 9. I have stacks of pretty journals—hard cover, squishy covers, spiral-bound— in a box in my closet. Someday I will read through them all and remember where I was when I wrote in each one. My written journaling became quite sporadic the older I got until I was journaling only once a year or so. Blogging has reawakened that love—that passion— I had of recording daily life, with the added bonus of photos. And so, my favorite posts of 2008…


January:
Favorite "this is my life" posts: Is This Normal? and In the Bathroom
Favorite Monday Memory: Brothers Again
Biggest Event: A Momentous Day
Post that Makes Me Choke Up: Birthday Boy
Best Homeschooling Post: Snorkeling and Such
Best Photos: Baby Photo Contest

February:
Favorite "this is my life" post: Reading Through the Decades
Favorite Monday Memory: Flips and Such
Biggest Event: Tell Us Your Love Story Contest
Post that Makes Me Choke Up: The Lost Ones
Best Homeschooling Post: To Test or Not to Test
Best Photo: Our Love Story

March

Favorite "this is my life" post: A Bouquet and Other Such Frivolity
Favorite Monday Memory: Little Niece
Biggest Events: Fifteen Years Ago I Became a Mom and Nineteen (19) and Exciting News
Post That Makes Me Choke Up: Snapshot
Best Homeschooling Post: Lapbooking Resources
Best Photos: Cades Cove Day

April
Favorite "this is my life" post: A Corner of the House
Favorite Monday Memory: Grandbabies
Biggest Event: In Just-spring Mudluscious Poetry Contest
Post That Makes Me Choke Up: Can Someone Please Tell Me…?
Best Homeschooling Post: What I've Learned from Homeschooling
Best Photos: Meeting Abigail

May
Favorite "this is my life" post: A Splendid Day for Bad Mom and Gobs of Chocolate
Favorite Monday Memory: Crossing Over
Biggest Event: Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown
Post That Makes Me Choke Up: To War
Best Homeschooling Post: Revolutionary War Lapbooks
Best Photos: Monday Morning in Our Own Small World

June
Favorite "this is my life" post: I Got Distracted and Summer Projects
Biggest Event and Post That Makes Me Choke Up: To Mexico, At Last
Best Homeschooling Post: Our Year of American History
Best Photos: In the Smokies

July
Favorite "this is my life" posts: Summer Project Completed and About Me
Biggest Event: Moving to Blogspot Housewarming Party
Post That Makes Me Choke Up: On Moving and Memories
Best Homeschooling-ish Post: What's for Supper?
Best Photos: Camping Is Good for the Soul

August
Favorite "this is my life" posts: On Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson and On Being in My Hometown and Three Beautiful Things
Favorite Monday Memory: The Reunion
Biggest Event: 60 Years
Posts That Make Me Choke Up: My Daughter, Eleven and Today's Treasures
Best Homeschooling Post: Playing School
Best Photos: My Daughter, Eleven

September

Favorite "this is my life" posts: Botany with a Botanist and Girls, Boys, Crockpot
Favorite Monday Memory: Engaged
Biggest Event: Linda Hobar seminar
Post That Make Me Choke Up: On Facebook and Reconnecting
Best Homeschooling Post: On the Trail with Lewis and Clark and National Punctuation Day
Best Photos: Summer Photo Essay

October
Favorite "this is my life" posts: I Like My Friends and I Survived the Fall Festival
Favorite Monday Memory: In Memory of randy landry
Biggest Events: Alumni Weekend and Soup and Pumpkin Party
Post That Makes Me Choke Up: In Memory of randy landry
Best Homeschooling Post: Platitudes and Misconceptions: Why Aren't You Using Your Degree?
Best Photos: Young Archaeologists

November

Favorite "this is my life" posts: I Was a Census Enumerator
Favorite Monday Memory: In Iowa
Biggest Events: The Miracle of the Flower Petals and Veterans' Day Parade
Post That Makes Me Choke Up: Our First Ceremony
Best Homeschooling Post: Let's Play a Game
Best Photos: At the End of a Week and The Miracle of the Flower Petals

December
Favorite "this is my life" post: Mother/Daughter/Grandmother Tea and Birthday Party Day
Favorite Monday Memories: Scary Movies and Total Money Makeover
Biggest Events: Waterpark Day and Christmas Highlights
Best Homeschooling Post(s!): Carnival of Homeschooling
Posts That Make Me Choke Up: First Christmases
Best Homeschooling Post: Chores
Best Photos: Christmas Tree Day


Lots of you have participated in the First Sentence meme; if you're feeling extra ambitious, you might do your own favorites post! I can say that I truly enjoyed going through this past year of our life in SmallWorld and being reminded of how truly blessed I am.