Friday, August 31, 2007

Curriculum Review: First Language Lessons

I was so happy, when going through my shelf of curriculum, to see that it's Duncan's turn to start First Language Lessons. I love this introduction to language arts by Jessie Wise of The Well-Trained Mind fame. The book covers two years--targeted to first and second grades--and is non-consumable, so is a great buy even at its brand new price ($18). Of course, you can purchase this used for much less.

The approach is a gentle one but very thorough. The first page starts with a definition: "a noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea." Over the next several weeks, this definition will be thoroughly explained, piece by piece--person, place, thing, idea. Throughout the two-year program, all the parts of speech will be covered, prepositions and helping verbs will be memorized, the basic rules of capitalization and punctuation will have been taught, and grammar will have taken root in the child's mind. Gently.

Poetry memorization is also a central focus of the program. On the second day, they learn Christina Rossetti's "The Caterpillar" and practice it for weeks. By the end of two years, they will have memorized 10 poems--or at least heard these 10 poems read over and over again! The poems do get harder as they go along, so I can't honestly say that Laurel memorized all of them. But she remembers the first few quite well, and I think it's always good to have a few poems tucked under one's belt. Also included are beginning storytelling and narration skills, although these are light and not at all overbearing. Writing exercises and enrichment ideas are included as optional activities, so you could definitely use this for two or more kids at different levels. And one of my favorite features: each lesson takes about 10 minutes.

First Language Lessons
appeals to me because it is such a gentle introduction to grammar. I love grammar. I love the written word and what you can do with language. I balk at programs that force dry chunks of nouns and verbs down a child's throat and chuck complex sentences at their little heads. No wonder so many grow up to proclaim, "Ahhh! I hate grammar!"

Jessie Wise now has First Language Lessons Level 3, a follow-up to her first for the next level. I wish that had been around for Laurel but will absolutely plan to use it for Duncan.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


August 29, 2007

I've recently been reconnected with my preacher from back in college. I went to this beautiful stone church on campus, Hopwood Memorial Christian Church. Dr. Street was a professor at Milligan as well as the preacher at Hopwood, and I'm quite sure I've never enjoyed a preacher as much as I did Jim Street. Enjoyed, and learned. Jim Street was a big country preacher from Georgia with an accent as thick as molasses and a mind like....hmmmm... who's the smartest guy I can think of? Well, anyway, he was brilliant. He'd suck us in by telling these stories of women named Loretta at the grocery store as if he were Flannery O'Connor, and then POW! He'd hit you over the head with Jesus. Epiphany.

So this week he's been running a series called "A Life Well Lived," which is a favorite topic of mine, and I just really love today's post. Here's an excerpt:

"Jesus ate with folks...while they were yet sinners. That included the tax collectors and the self-righteous Pharisees.
He didn't say to Zacchaeus, "When you get your act cleaned up I'll come home with you."
He didn't say to Matthew, "When you quit collecting for Uncle Charlie I'll let you follow me."
He didn't say to that bad girl: "When you quit a-whorin' you can wash my feet."
Nope ,he welcomed people right where they were.
Now think about it: What if we were more like that. We would be free of the burden of judgment. We'd be released from our fears of them. We could relate to anyone- whether good, bad or indifferent- because they are the beloved of God and not because they measure up to our own self-burdening standards."

That's a reminder I can never hear enough. The whole post is here.

Turn Around: Happy Birthday to my Princess

August 29, 2007

Where are you going, my little one, little one,
Where are you going, my baby, my own?
Turn around and you're two,
turn around and you're four,
Turn around, you're a young girl going out of my door.
Turn around, turn around,
Turn around, you're a young girl going out of my door.


A few years before Laurel was born, Nanci Griffith came out with the album "Other Voices, Other Rooms" which consists entirely of Nanci covering songs written by some of her favorite singer/songwriters. Randy and I both sang our voices hoarse night after night as we walked our babies to sleep. Laurel took a lot longer than Jesse. It was this song that I remember most singing to Laurel, and it seemed that every time I'd look down at her, she'd be staring back with her big brown eyes, studying me. This is only half the song. The other half I'll save for many years from now.

Because today she's 10. Just ten. Still a girl on a swing in a flowered sundress with soft round cheeks and big brown eyes. And already 10. Already thinking about clothes and earrings nearly as much as baby dolls. My little one, 10.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Second Day Back

August 24, 2007

Splash Country. We needed a break after all that work on our First Day Back.

Note to Self

August 14, 2007

Return to previous resolution to go grocery shopping early in the morning without the children.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

First Day Back

August 22, 2007

So yep. In spite of my ardent protesting that school should simply not be done in the summer and my Yankee nature which urges me to wait until after Labor Day, we started school today. Really, what else can one do going on two weeks of temps at 99 degrees or more? (How do you make that little degrees symbol, anyway?)

So, holding to our tradition, we started the day with measuring, weighing, and recording such things in our annual "All About Me" books. Normally I print these out from Enchanted Learning but this year they just made their own. You can only do the same exact book so many years in a row, right? (AKA, I haven't paid my EL renewal yet.) But really I do like their totally home-made ones better.

So here's how First Day Tradition goes: We all head upstairs to our measuring chart and, well, the kids all get measured. Like last year, Jesse was the grand winner, as he's grown 3.5 inches since last year (that makes a total of 7.5 in two years). He is now over 5'9" tall. Laurel and Duncan each grew between 1.5 and 2.5 inches. Interesting to note that Duncan at six-and-a-half is the same height as Jesse at seven-and-a-half. After this, we head downstairs to weigh in. (I, of course, excuse myself from this.) Duncan went from 50 to 55 pounds; Jesse and Laurel stayed about the same.

After this, we open up our Big Box of Books (above) and look through all kinds of books that the kids have created: "Me" books, unit study books, miscellaneous books. And then they make a book for the current year. Jesse, of course, passes on this activity, but I still record his data.

We always have a new box of supplies with which to start the year, so Duncan and Laurel ended up painting and decorating even more after their books were done (below).

Jesse's carefree days of glue and paint appear to be over. He spent most of the day working on either is Algebra 2 or Biology assignments. Both are classes he takes from homeschooling dads in our support group.

This afternoon was a momentous occasion, probably more so for me than for Laurel: my little girl began flute lessons, using my very own flute.

I love this flute. It is a part of me. To pick it up feels as natural as picking up a baby. I began playing when I was 10-years-old. I remember the first couple of weeks, working so hard to get a semblance of the right embouchure (lip shape) in order to produce a sound. My sister-in-law, Anna, sat by me every afternoon on our scratchy brown loveseat and helped me. (A question: How do you let go of a sister-in-law whom you've known since your first memory? I've struggled with this since my oldest brother and Anna were divorced 25 years ago.) In high school I earned the coveted spot of first chair, first flute and piccolo. Anyway, I was unexpectedly sentimental when Laurel carried my flute into her first lesson. Her teacher is absolutely wonderful. She is a fellow homeschooling mom, and her son is Jesse's guitar teacher. And how awesome is this: they live 2 minutes away, and Laurel can have her flute lesson while Jesse has his guitar lesson! And to top it all off, the 5-year-old grandson is there for Duncan to play with!

It was a good day all around. But boy! We need a break from all this school, so we're off to Splash Country tomorrow for homeschooling days. We believe very seriously in the importance of good, solid socialization.

Monday, August 20, 2007

On Becoming a Handyman

August 20, 2007

Something remarkable has been happening around here. Are genes catching? Can a geneticist discover the latent handyman gene? The list of projects that Dr. H.has accomplished around here this past week is astounding:
* He fixed the switch for the bathroom lights. We no longer have to shower in the dark.
* He did this amazing double-light project in the bedroom closet, so I can actually see my clothes!
* He replaced the broken knob on Jesse's door with a shiny new one, so now Jesse can come downstairs! We've missed him! He's been trapped upstairs for several days now.
* He fixed the light in Laurel's bedroom. (I supposed I have to mention that it stopped working later that night.)
* He unclogged the drain in the basement and reattached the air-conditioning pipes.

All that, and he folds laundry, cooks a mean fried rice, and does dishes. I am soooo keeping him. And no, Neal, not the shelf. Yet.

Monday Memory: Our First Year

August 20, 2007

It seems only appropriate on our first week back to the books that my Monday Memory should feature our first year of homeschooling. I hardly took any pictures then (I think our camera had issues), but here is one of Jesse, grade 2, decorating Australia. This was a peanut-butter cookie shaped like Australia, with candies to designate the cities, etc. Boy, was that unit study fun! Our first year was certainly a learning experience. My memory is filled with a mixture of joy, stress, loneliness, exhaustion, and pure content. We had just moved to a new city and bought our first house (joy), just started homeschooling (stress and joy), and I was pregnant (joy) and had Jesse and a toddler (exhaustion and joy). I had absolutely no friends here (loneliness), but we got together with our college friends (who lived 2 hours away) once or twice each month (joy). I was still experiencing euphoria that we lived in Tennessee (and not in Iowa). And so even though I was tired and stressed, I was very content--especially when Duncan came home on December 31st. There's nothing like the feeling of contentment that comes with homeschooling while a baby naps on your shoulder...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Girls' Night Out

August 18, 2007

I've had two Girls' Nights Out in two nights. Thursday night was our support group's Moms' Meet and Greet, which was absolutely fabulous. I remember that feeling of being a new homeschooling mom and becoming part of a support group--the combination of anxiety, joy, and excitement. We have an awesome group of moms (and families) in our group, and I truly hope that all of these women who attended will find such an amazing group of friends as we have been blessed with through the years.

And I've read several blogs today about last night's much anticipated High School Musical 2 premiere. HSMomof2 wonders if she's raising freaks; PartyofFive and her crew sing their hearts out, while her husband Mike ponders his place in this dancing family. Here in SmallWorld, Laurel and her friend Bess have been planning for literally months for their HSM2 party. Just before the show last night, the girls started arriving with snacks, PJs, and pillows. We let the girls use the apartment (my parents' winter home, which is attached to our house) for the great event.

Laurel and Bess had various HSM paraphernalia just in case the girls weren't excited enough, including movie posters (one on the door, above), plates, and napkins. They even decorated a cake for the occasion. While the little girls settled in to watch the movie, a few of us big girls watched from our living room. Sadly for the dads, they were relegated to the kitchen and its tiny TV to watch pre-season football. I tried to be sympathetic, but really. Football vs. a classic like HIgh School Musical? That's kind of a no-brainer (no pun on either football or HSM...).

The girls were transfixed with Troy, Gabriella, and Sharpay, who looks dazzling on the screen above. Apparently there was a good bit of dancing and singing going on over there. I wish I had a Nanny-cam so that I could have watched the girls watching the movie!

When it was over, they all ran outside in the pajamas to play a heated game of flashlight tag before their parents arrived to take them home. As cheesy as the movie is, I'm glad the girls had that evening to share. I hope Laurel will treasure the time with her friends, feeling secure and optimistic that life will always be filled with singing, dancing, and happy endings.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The World in Detail

August 15, 2007

Seriously, I am not stalking Lynn Freeny, but he keeps saying these really profound things. From yesterday's Early Morning Walk: “Artists see the world in more detail than the average person. A good way to explain what I mean by this is when someone walks by a tree; they see a tree. When an artist walks by the same tree he or she sees a one of a kind object that has lines, patterns, and shapes.”

I can so relate to that, except that I see early morning walks in words. I walk through a spiderweb and think “caught in a gossamer cobweb.” I see the big orange ball of a sun looking heavy in the sky already at 7:30 a.m. and think of the weight of an August afternoon, crisped grass and the cool of pine trees. I write bits and pieces of essays and nonfiction here and there, but in my heart I am a poet, and I can't help but love the language of life.

I had a friend from college who moved to Kansas after graduation. At the time I was living in Iowa. I was expressing to her my desire to get back to Tennessee. I missed, about as much as anything, the sheer beauty of the mountains. She said, “Oh, I could live anywhere. I don’t care what it looks like outside.” That, I can’t imagine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

One Word

August 14, 2007


Post A Comment!.....


Tuesday, August 14, 2007 - Didn't you tell..

Posted by partyoffive (

...your mom NOT to say "when it rains it pours?"

Permanent Link Edit Delete

Tuesday, August 14, 2007 - One picture

Posted by genevieve1642 (

One word, .....why?

The girl picture is on the Morton salt box, right?

Permanent Link Edit Delete

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 - OH MY GOODNESS!

Posted by sharonkay (

I thought these kind of things only happened to us! Soooo Sorry.

If you need a recommendation, I am a Consumer Reports Junkie, and have an online subscription. How to get the most bang for your buck. Sorry so many bucks are leaving your house recently. Aren't you glad you know Dave!?

Permanent Link Edit Delete

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 - I love that picture

Posted by QueenoftheHill (

Your one word says it all. So sorry.

Sure it is a goner?

Permanent Link Edit Delete

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 - I am so sorry.

Posted by arajbrown (

Do you feel like your in a bit of a hurricane instead of pouring rain??

Permanent Link Edit Delete

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 - Untitled Comment

Posted by skdenfeld (

For your sake, I wish you were kidding. Yikes, I feel ya sister!

Permanent Link Edit

On Being Published

August 14, 2007

I finally received my copy of the latest The Old Schoolhouse magazine, in which I have two articles. It seems so long ago that I wrote those, and, in fact, it was a year ago that I inquired about writing the article (pp. 166-169) about our Around-the-World summer camp (last summer). The AHG national office asked me to write the article (pp. 156-159) on AHG and Homeschooling, and of course I was happy to oblige. Who am I to turn down a writing request? The funny thing about writing for publication, though, is that you spend so much time (physical and mental) on the writing process that the actual publication itself is somewhat anti-climatic. My own eyes have been on the articles countless times, although it is satisfying to see the pages all nicely laid out. One thing I have learned, though, with my poetry publications, is that the real satisfaction comes a few years down the line when I'll pull this mag off the shelf, read these articles again and say, "Wow! I wrote that?" It really is fun to be published!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Back to Homeschool Week

August 11, 2007

We're not really back to school this week--in fact I protest starting in early August !--but on our support group's yahoogroup we've been playing along with the "Back to Homeschool" blogs that are circulating in the 'sphere this week. I've enjoyed reading thoughts from members in various stages of homeschooling, and I've posted along each day.

Day 1: What led to your decision to homeschool?
Why do you do what you do? What brought you to homeschooling? What factors played a part in your decision?

We are entering our 8th year of homeschooling. The kids are now in 9th , 5th and 1st grades. We always had homeschooling tucked away in the back of our mind after having met (and been impressed with) a few homeschooling families in our early years of marriage and parenting. However, we ended up sending our oldest to PS kindergarten. We lived in Iowa at the time, and the situation was ideal. He attended a neighborhood school a couple of blocks away. Iowa is one of the smart states that still has 1/2 kindergarten. (Incidentally, they are ranked always in the top 5 of best education systems in the US.) Jesse went to school for 2.5 hours in the afternoon, and it was just like I remembered kindergarten: a time largely devoted to exploring and playing. His teacher said, "If they learn to write their names at the end of kindergarten, that's great. If not, they'll learn it in 1st grade. There's no hurry." I loved her.

The next year we moved to Knoxville, and our son attended public school there. The whole experience was completely different, and we knew within two months that we'd start homeschooling. We went from having an incredible relaxed, flexible family life to being ruled by the school system. We were even told that we should not go on vacation during the school year, as this disrupted the class. When we volunteered (and we weren't asked to volunteer, we just volunteered to volunteer), most of the time we had to sit outside the classroom and cut things out. My son never had less than 30 minutes of homework, which was sheer torture in its busy work. And I was horrified that they actually spent a portion of their day practicing how to fill out bubbles in preparation for the 2nd grade TCAPs. Anyway, those are just a few of the MANY things that knocked some sense into us, and we began homeschooling when we moved to Maryville at the end of his 1st grade year.

But in the years since, I've quickly learned--and learn anew each year--that homeschooling is so much more than a disappointment or a disgust with the public schools. It is a lifestyle choice. Yes, our experience with public schools played a part in our decision, certainly, but the root of our decision was a desire to keep our family intact and to enjoy our life. Below are a few more reasons:

Family: Probably the most profound reason why we homeschool is our desire to truly appreciate and celebrate the daily sanctity of family. No one besides our Lord can know our children better than we do. Why give away their best hours to someone else? We feel so strongly that our family is a gift to nurture and enjoy. We don’t have to conform to the standards of an individual or an organization whose values we don’t support. We want a more relaxed, less hectic lifestyle. We want to watch ants carry a dead wasp or watch birds on a sunny afternoon or read for hours on end. Our children are able to bond more with each other and with us as they spend time together playing, working, and helping each other. Our time with our family is so short and so precious.

Learning. As far as learning goes, our values about learning were quite different from those of the local school system. We want to teach our children creatively. We want them to love learning—not look at learning as a chore that must be completed, day after day, year after year. We wanted to be able to spend weeks on a certain subject if we were enthralled by it, or to spend only a day on a topic or a process that we found unnecessary. For instance, in PS, a child might spend weeks learning a math process that we spend one hour learning. Homeschooling allows us to teach very specifically to our own children without having to teach to the middle—or to the lowest—end of the class. If you haven't read John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down, I highly recommend it.

Time. Too much of the precious time allotted to childhood is wasted in school buildings! How much time is spent engaged in meaningful learning in a typical day at a typical school? How much time is spent with discipline issues, waiting in various lines, waiting for the teacher, waiting for the next activity, waiting until everyone else is done…. Also, I think about how much learning my kids do OUTSIDE during the day.

Identity: I want my kids to have a clear sense of who they are. Not who they are as defined by their teachers or their peers, but who they really are. It is so much easier to be a confident, secure adult of you can bypass all the junk that goes on in school.

Socialization. My children are socializing with the real world—with people of all ages, in all walks of life. They are not stuck with a group of 20-30 of the same kids every day—kids their own age. Their friends are our friends' kids. We have family friendships. We look out for each other and for each other's kids. That is pure joy.

Shelter. One of the remarks I hear occasionally during discussions about homeschooling is whether or not I’m concerned about the fact that our children are sheltered too much from reality. I explain that "shelter" has developed a negative connotation. To be sheltered is one of our basic needs. Think about how God promises us shelter--how he shelters us in the cleft of a rock or under a wing. Providing shelter is a good thing! Yes, I am very concerned about sheltering my children from the reality defined by the culture of school.

Faith Heritage. Finally, we homeschool for our faith heritage. We want our children to learn to serve others and to engrave the Word of God on their hearts by acting it out daily. We want them to grow to be servant-leaders who will make a difference in the Kingdom of God.


Day 2 ---How do you homeschool?
Scheduling, classical education, unschooling, getting the kids to help with chores, how to be "mom" and "teacher" at the same time, special needs, teaching an advanced child, how to teach the tough subjects, teaching high school, teaching with babies and preschoolers in the house, budgeting for homeschool supplies, notebooking, etc., etc., etc...

Homeschooling is different every year. We tweak a little here and there, add a few things, drop a few things. Often I forget things we used to do until one of my friends reminds me (Mystery Folders** is a good example of that). Occasionally I forget subjects altogether until someone reminds me (spelling would be a good example of that). Also, we start off with a bang and eventually fizzle out, so that by May we are pretty much just finishing our Sonlight read-alouds. (I'm really not kidding very much about that.)

* As far as scheduling, I can probably only say truthfully that 90% of the time, we start our day with Bible reading. After that, it all depends Moods. I make weekly assignments for my older kids (5th and 9th grades). They each have a spiral notebook, and on Sunday night of each week, I make out their weekly schedules. They have the whole week to do their assignments. If they finish everything before Friday, lucky them! (That rarely happens.) If they don't finish, this gets tacked on to the next week's schedule. (That rarely happens.) They LOVE having their own list of things to do, and it makes life so much easier for all of us. That way, if I am working with one of them, the other doesn't stand around and say, "What should I do next?" There are several things I have to help them with, of course, especially my 5th grader. (My 9th grader pretty much works all on his own.) But, when I'm not available to help her, she has plenty of things she can do independently. My first grader needs a lot more one-on-one from me, and when the other kids need me, he takes a break. Also, since we do Sonlight, we do a huge amount of reading aloud together. I try to keep outside lessons (sports, music, classes, etc.) after 3 p.m. so that we can do our at-home stuff from 9:30-2:30. Or something like that. (And that time includes lunch break and outside time, etc.)

* Teaching an advanced child: That's one of the reasons we homeschool. I saw a school career filled with much boredom coming up for our oldest. Homeschooling allows us to teach based on their skill level, not their age level.

* How to teach tough subjects: Learning along with the kids is one of the fringe benefits of homeschooling. And for those tougher high school courses, BHEA's enrichment classes are awesome.

* Budgeting for supplies: Dave Ramsey is king.

* Notebooking: Each child has a 3-ring binder with sheet protectors in which we keep a sampling of their work. We also have an art notebook, a nature study notebook and a geography notebook. All work is dated on the back, and the binders keep going until they are filled up.

* I don't have babies and preschoolers anymore, but here are things I used to do.

Day 3---Getting out there...
Extra-curricular activities, community involvement, volunteering, sports teams, music lessons, co-ops, making sure your kids have opportunities to be social, etc., etc., etc...

We are blessed in our area to have ample opportunities to get kids involved in as much or as little as you want. This is one of those issues that becomes an intensely personal choice, and we've probably all seen fellow homeschoolers be defensive on one side or another. There are some folks who prefer to stay home and keep activities to a minimum, while others like to go full-force. And this is definitely a "whatever suits your family" kind of thing!

I don't know why we do stuff like this, but I have, on more than one occasion, heard from moms who are torn because another homeschooling mom told them that "they do too much." Likewise, I know many families who bask in being home as much as possible and rarely take part in outside activities but have been criticized by others because they don't do field trips or classes or what-have-you.

That said, we like to do stuff. We also like to stay at home. My balance is to 1) limit outside activities to after 2:30 p.m. preferably; 2) limit evenings away; and 3) not sign up for every single field trip. One thing I love is that many of our regular activities meet only twice a month (Boy Scouts, American Heritage Girls, Cub Scouts, horseback riding lessons, piano lessons), so this frees up the calendar quite a bit. My kids love enrichment classes (especially the younger ones; as they get to high school, classes become more work!) and look forward to Mondays tremendously. Sports are weekly but seasonal (except year-round swimming) and some other lessons are weekly, but it's all just part of life. For us, those outside activities are all considered part of the learning process.

Day 4---Curriculum
What curriculum do you use? Where do you buy it? Have you found a "gem" that you must share with others? Was something in particular a complete failure for you and your kids?

We discovered Sonlight before I even started homeschooling. My plan was to create our own literature-based, chronological curriculum, and then someone directed me to Sonlight. Why reinvent the wheel? We are going into our 8th year with Sonlight. I modify a lot, and I learned early on that one doesn't have to do everything listed in the instructor's guide. But it suits our family exceedingly well.

I have 3 children in 3 very different places: high school, late elementary, and early elementary. I have always taught to the oldest and let the younger ones absorb when it comes to Sonlight read-alouds. This year the oldest will be working totally on his own, and I'll be focusing on the younger ones.

Here is our agenda for the year.

Saturday, August 11 ---If I had only known...
What have you learned on your homeschooling journey? What would you/did you change? This is an opportunity to encourage others who are just starting out or who are struggling with issues that seem unsolvable. It is also a perfect opportunity to tell us about one of those days made you want to throw in the towel. A funny story? Perfect!

I will steal Dr. H's motto for this one: Hike Your Own Hike. "Hike Your Own Hike (or "HYOH") comes from Appalachian Trail thru-hiker-ese and means simply, follow your own path, in your own way, at your own pace." Do what works best for your family.

And some other things I"ve learned:
* Talk to people. We have 200 families in our support group.. I've never met a homeschooler who doesn't LOVE to talk about homeschooling. Ask questions, ask to see curriculum, ask how they do it all.....

*.... But don't get stressed out by what someone else is doing and you're not. The X family might spend 7 hours/day doing school and you only spend 3.5. Someone's 5-year-old is reading at a 10th grade level and yours can't read at all. You might love a textbook approach and everyone else seems to be doing unit studies. Hike your own hike. Know your own kids.

* Be flexible. You don't have to do every problem in a math book. You don't have to do 3rd grade work in the 3rd grade. It's OK to do 2nd grade math and 8th grade reading if that's where your child is. You don't have to stick with a curriculum that just isn't working. You don't have to do school from 8 a.m.-12 p.m. Do evening school if that works better for your family. Be flexible but....

* Have a plan. It's frustrating for everyone if you don't know where you're going ultimately. Hikers have a goal. Very few ramble along a trail without any definite ending. That doesn't mean you have to have a mission/vision statement--although I know many families do--but you should have a general plan for the year, the week, the day--and even 12 years down the line. But be flexible.

I have to say with all honesty, and I know that some of you will want to throw tomatoes at me, but I have never had a day when I wanted to throw in the towel. That doesn't mean that I haven't had bad days when I've thrown towels or pretended to smack mosquitoes off my kids' heads ;-), but I've never wanted to pack them off to school. I think that's largely because my oldest was in public school for a couple of years, and no one is interested in returning to that life. We like our life. I feel tremendously blessed, each and every day, to be able to homeschool.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Low Angles

August 8, 2007

We must remain as close to the flowers, the grass, and the butterflies as the child is who is not yet so much taller than they are. We adults, on the other hand, have outgrown them and have to lower ourselves to stoop down to them. It seems to me that the grass hates us when we confess our love for it. Whoever would partake of all good things must understand how to be small at times.
~Friedrich Nietzsche

Doing my ritual morning blog-and-coffee hour, I was struck by the following statement (ostensibly regarding photography) by Lynn Freeny. As a visual artist, he claims he doesn't have a way with words, but I think this is profound: "The most boring angle is eye level because we spent our whole adult life seeing things at eye level. Small children with a camera get some of the most interesting images just because they see the world at a very low angle."

That's exactly what I was thinking that same thing this morning on my walk, except that I don't have such clarity in the mornings, so I'll rephrase. I was more feeling that this morning on my walk: how when you're a kid, you can feel that promise of a hot day in the morning, and shiver with anticipation. You can imagine hunkering down in a quiet patch of dirt under a tree and staying cool. You know there will be popsicles, and maybe you'll get to play with the garden hose. You know the way the sidewalk will feel under your bare feet. It's the very low angle of the world.

But I'm on my walk, cognizant of the sunrise and the hot day coming, but instead of popsicles I'm thinking of who I need to call, and what bills I need to pay, and what I need to clean, etc. Eye level stuff. And yet--and yet I can't help but thrill in this season of life, this busyness and demands of running a family and being a grown-up. What I have to do is remember the balance--the bending low to greet the child's morning angle, the rising up to embrace eye level.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Little Closer to Getting Organized: Our School Year

August 7, 2007

So today I finally sat down and ordered the rest of our curriculum for this coming year. (I wanted to see just how much money we could spend in two days. See yesterday's post.) That's the biggest step to getting things organized in my head, and now I have the basic list of what everyone is doing:

Jesse (9th grade)
History (1 credit) and Bible (1/2 elective credit): Sonlight Core 100 (American History in Depth)
Science (1 credit): Apologia Biology (This he takes with a bunch of other kids in our support group from an awesome homeschooling dad who is also a public school science teacher. They meet Tuesdays and then do the rest of the work at home.)
Algebra 2 (1 credit): Saxon Algebra 2 (This is also an outside class taught by a homeschooling dad. They meet Fridays and do their weekly assignments at home.)
English 1 (1 credit): Survey of American Literature (Taught by me at our group’s weekly enrichment classes on Mondays. We’ll meet for 2 hours each week and read and discuss 9 novels; have units on poetry, short story, nonfiction, and drama; and round it out with writing, grammar, and vocabulary. He’ll also continue with Spelling Power at home.
Geography (1/2 credit): Trail Guide to U.S. Geography
Other: He’ll also be doing some ACT prep (1/2 credit) by doing Wordly Wise 10, Word Roots, and at this free prep site, and he’ll do some computer courses online to get another 1/2 elective credit. He’ll also continue in Boy Scouts and with his guitar lessons.
So at the end of this year, he’ll have 8 of the required 21 credits (he had a math and science credit last year).

Laurel (5th grade)
History and Bible: Some Sonlight 3 (American History) combined with lots of hands-on, supplemental material including activities from the Pioneer Sampler, Colonial Kids, and various History Pockets; the American Adventure books and Dear America series; and the American Girl: Kit class (taught at our Monday enrichment program).
Geography: Trail Guide to U.S. Geography and Which Way USA (Highlights).
Science: Nature studies and a monthly science day with friends as well as monthly classes through Oak Ridge National Laboratory (hopefully).
Math: Saxon 5/4.
Language Arts: Easy Grammar 5/6, Spelling Power, Wordly Wise 5, Writing Strands (maybe—Jesse didn’t like this, but Laurel might. If not, I’ll go back to Spectrum), A Reason for Writing, Word Roots, journaling.
Art: Enrichment class on Thursdays.
Other: American Sign Language, Hands-On Shakespeare, and sewing at our enrichment class program; piano; swim team (twice weekly), dance, and horseback riding; and of course American Heritage Girls.

Duncan (1st grade)

History and Bible: Same as Laurel
Geography: Trail Guide to U.S. Geography and Which Way USA (Highlights).
Science: Hands-on science, Animal Habitats, and Wilderness Wildlife classes at our Monday program. Also nature studies at home.
Math: Saxon 2
Language Arts: Explode the Code, early readers, and First Language Lessons; handwriting, journaling.
Other: Book Cooks at Monday Fun; soccer and swimming; and Cub Scouts.

I'm probably missing something critical, and I'll probably discover all kinds of goodies that I picked up at McKays Used Books sometime during this past year, but for now, I am moving onto the next stage: cleaning out the cabinets.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Another One Bites the Dust

August 4, 2007

Does this picture look familiar? Remember that little red car that keeps on ticking? Fortunately, Randy and I are not lacking in the good-sense-of-humor department. We are laughing all the way to the bank as we now seek to purchase not one, but TWO VEHICLES.

Who remembers me saying quite recently that Randy should not be out driving after 9 p.m.? The Tercel sputtering and dying by a gas station, of course, is much, much, much less traumatic than the van being totaled two weeks ago. And so we can laugh and be thankful, once again, for God's watchcare and for good friends who are there to help. I'm thinking Dad2Three, who at this moment is retrieving Randy and Jesse from the side of the road in Oak Ridge, has Superman costume somewhere in his closet...

Think he's got any vehicles under that cape?

Post A Comment!.....


Saturday, August 4, 2007 - well

Posted by onfire (

I still think us NOT visiting for a chocolate party at the home of the Queen, and seeing all your smiling faces over thanksgiving is much, much, WAY more tragic.

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Saturday, August 4, 2007 - Untitled Comment

Posted by anotherblogonthefire (

Was Randy driving with his gas cap open again?

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Saturday, August 4, 2007 - I must say...

Posted by sharonkay ( guys do have a good sense of humor. Hang in there! Yeah, maybe you just got some bad gas? We can hope right?

My First Blog Upon Returning Home, AKA The Blog In Which I Showcase My Brother's Wedding


(Read by Jen to Stephen)

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse. ...

Waiting for the Bride: The Judge, the Dog, the Groom

The Duet:
In which Jen and Stephen sing together for the first time, the song that Stephen sang for my wedding 18 years ago.

The Coin Toss: Which determines that Jen must first say her story of Stephen, which was breathtaking. The poem "Litany," which is interspersed here, she also read (with some modification).

Introducing the Farmer and His Wife: Stephen Cummins, owner of Indian Creek Farm and Cummins Nursery, and Dr. Jennifer Schwarz, assistant professor of physics, Syracuse University

The Getaway Tractor: Equipped with balloons and bubbles

The Great Balloon Release

... It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.

You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.

Billy Collins, “Litany” from Nine Horses. This poem originally appeared in the February 2002 issue of Poetry.

(And if you want to see more photos of this tremendous occasion, you can view my whole album here.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Homeward Bound

August 1, 2007

My brother Stephen and I were in college together for two years, and during that time we made many trips from New York to Tennessee and back again. It was always his tradition to begin the trip with Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound." Back then we drove a brown Datsun that had a state-of-the-art cassette player. (That meant you could flip it automatically from Side A to Side B without ejecting it.) Playing "Homeward Bound" wasn't a one-way deal. We were homeward bound whether we were headed south to Milligan College, Tennessee or headed north to Geneva, New York. And nearly 20 years later, I'm still feeling homeward bound either way. Good thing Dr. H. stuck the Simon and Garfunkel CD in the van for me 'cause I'm leaving one home and headed to my other tomorrow.