Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Jumbled Day

This is one of those days that I have so many odds and ends of things to do that I can't seem to even capture them all to think about my day coherently. To make things even more challenging, I'm working on a 3-day nagging headache. It left me for a few hours last night, but this morning it's back again with a vengeance. Urgh.

There's school to do, of course. Except that the thought of reading aloud to the kids or even directing them makes me feel woozy. Today's pay day, so there's the budget to make out. We need groceries, or supper for tonight at the very least. Flute lessons, and a meeting to prepare for our American Heritage Girls ceremony next week. As I was going through my day this morning before I got out of bed, I pictured a nice quiet evening at home. Then I remembered that we have a roundtable discussion (homeschooling through high school) this evening for our support group. I have to be there to open up the building and get the discussion rolling. And sometime today I have to finish the hand-outs that I started yesterday.

And tomorrow afternoon I'm leaving the weekend. I'm going to Asheville with some college girlfriends to celebrate one's 40th birthday. So there's a gift to buy and clothes to pack. Part of me hates to be away this weekend, as we have dear friends in a crisis situation here at home. But we've been planning this for several weeks, and canceling is not an option.

But there's hot coffee, birds singing, a cool breeze, and the morning sunshine filtering through the trees. My two little sweeties just awoke and came in to kiss me before settling in for their morning dose of cartoons. If I could just give myself a lobotomy to remove this headache, I'd could be a conquerer. Scalpel, anyone?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday Memory: Gardening

I'm not sure if "gardening" is really the right term for this post. I really mean "flower gardening" as opposed to "vegetable gardening." But anyway. The past several days I've been working in our flower beds, clearing out leaves, snipping stems, and planting a little. And as always, I've been doing a lot of dreaming about what our flowerbeds could look like if we had lots of extra money.

My love for flower gardening is no doubt genetic and was well nurtured in my childhood. The love of soil runs deep in my genes, from six generations of fruit orchards on my father's side (and continuing still to my brothers) to my mother's careful and prolific cuttings. There have always been abundant flowers in my life. It was only natural that, when Dr. H. and I married, that I would plant a patch wherever we were. The picture above is of our apartment on Poplar Street in Johnson City, Tennessee. I'm pretty sure that the first thing I did when we moved there was to plant flowers there in the front. We lived there two years, and I remember the thrill of planting my little strip of impatiens and begonias each year.

Later we moved to Oxford, Ohio, where we had but a pot of impatiens outside our tiny apartment. And then to Ames, Iowa, where we turned a patch of weeds around our house into the most luscious flowerbeds I've had yet. That Iowa soil is truly amazing.

And then back to Tennessee. One of the things that I fell in love with when we saw this house where we live now was the flowerbeds. The former owners had some nice landscaping done, including two huge but practically empty flowerbeds. One had several gorgeous azaleas, and the other contained all kinds of lilies. I saw tremendous potential. In the nine years we've lived here, I've added a little every year. It's hard work, but I love it most days. My kids are fantastic sidekicks, and I hope I am giving the gift of flower gardening to them as my parents did for me.

So, I'm thinking of doing a Mr. Linky on my Monday Memories. Would any of my readers participate if I did so, or would I look like a big loser with one participant if I did this? Do you have memories that you might be inclined to share with more of a motivation?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Earth Round Up

What a fantastic day we had for our county's annual Earth Round-up. Our American Heritage Girls (and my one little Cub Scout) were assigned a 2.5 mile stretch of the bike trail in Townsend, from the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountain Nat'l Park to the Townsend Visitors' Center. We divided up, and some older girls started from the other end while we started at the other end. We only had about 10 people come out to help, but that was plenty to clean up this section of the trail.

The worst section of the trail was by a church. The trail and grassy area on both sides of the trail were littered with refuse from the church's little cemetery: plastic flowers and greenery galore and a couple of entire plastic floral arrangements. How embarrassing that the church can't clean up after itself.

As I pondered this, I thought about all the snarky comments this week on Facebook and on blogs concerning Earth Day. Apparently, Earth Day is looked down upon by many Christians. Sneered at, even. That puzzles me. Why would we not want to keep our world beautiful? Why would we not participate in a nation-wide event that promotes a cleaner world? I can't help but blush, begging the unbelievers to realize that not all Christians are so sanctimonious. Praying that a soul close to the Truth isn't turned away because he met a Christian who is more concerned with defending a 6-day creation than keeping God's creation beautiful.

So anyway, after we picked up a few bags of litter along our trail, we had a picnic on the Little River. We were all hot and sweaty, and the river was blissfully freezing.

Duncan, of course, had to get in anyway. He really wanted to take the plunge, but he could only get the courage up to go up to his waist.

A perfect way to spend a warm Saturday: blue skies, big smiles, surrounded by mountains, and a cold river to refresh.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Rambling

* We seem to be coming into a new season here in SmallWorld: Friday nights out. Not us; we're at home with our youngest. But more and more lately, our high-schooler and our middle-schooler are away on Friday nights. He's off to concerts and movies, and she's having more and more sleepovers to go to. It's an odd feeling to be home with just one, but I'm glad for our youngest. He's finally getting a bit of one-on-one attention. Of course like any third or subsequent child, he's asking about his siblings, wondering if he should save some ice cream for them, etc. He just can't quite revel in being the only.

If I think about it too much, I could get awfully melancholy about this season seemingly coming so soon. I could think about how quiet the house is with just one and ponder what it will be like to have a big house and no little people running about. But I think I'll just enjoy the sounds of Dr. H. reading to Duncan, and send a few prayers of protection around my others.

* Big news around here today: Jesse got the official word that his Eagle Scout project has been approved, and he can begin work on it! He and his fellow scouts will be tearing down an old fence at a local state historic site, the Sam Houston Schoolhouse, and replacing it with a new fence. Ten years of Scouting is close to coming to an end for our oldest, and if everything goes well, he'll be the first Eagle Scout in our family since my Dad achieved the rank over 65 years ago. I'm looking forward to my father being part of the ceremony next fall.

* Laurel and I have breezed through 22 math lessons in 4 days while Duncan has been at Montessori day camp. I'm thinking maybe I should send each of the kids to their grandparent's for 2 weeks at a time, and I could get 3-months' worth of school done with each of them in 14 days!

* Our last regular American Heritage Girls meeting of the year was yesterday. April comes in with such a flurry of activity as we finish our final badges, get service hours turned in, do our Boards of Review, place our gigantic badge and pin order to the national office, and then…it's all over so quietly. We still have our awards ceremony coming up, a Memorial Day service, our 3-day summer camp, and a Flag Day parade, but we can take a few deep breaths now anyway.

* And now I'm off to enjoy this quiet evening, watching the white petals of the dogwoods glow softly and smelling honeysuckle drift in the open windows. Life is good.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Three Beautiful Things: Check Mark, Exercise, Color

Beauty is not in the face;
beauty is a light in the heart.

~Kahlil Gibran

1. Big Check Mark:
Last night one of those big events happened: our support group's annual Homeschooling 101. Preparing for such an event is both physically and mentally exhausting, and I'm always so happy to check something so big off my to-do list! I love Homeschooling 101, though. I love looking out at the hopeful faces, seeing people laugh and become enthusiastic about homeschooling as they realize that they really can do it.

2. Exercise: My daughter has become my new exercise companion. This morning we had a fantastic walk/run (me) and bike ride (her). I will miss her little girl ways, but it sure is fun having an almost-12-year-old girl.

3. Color: My yard is the most beautiful palette of color right now. Purple columbines; white and pink dogwoods; white lilies-of-the-valley; purple irises; orange marigolds; and red, purple, white, and pink azaleas, all set against the greenest grass we've had in years.

What beautiful things are in your world today?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

SmallWorld's WordSmithery Week 6: Alliteration and Spring Flowers (or Fall Leaves)

Welcome back to the WordSmithery! If you are brand new here, I recommend that you go back and start at the beginning. My goal with the WordSmithery is to make creative writing exciting for writers of all ages. Here's what we've covered so far:
Lesson #1: Introduction and Journals
Lesson #2:
Introduction to Creative Writing, Featuring Good Words
Lesson #3:
Using Powerful Words to Create More Interesting Writing
Lesson #4: Similes
Lesson #5: Metaphors and Strong Verbs

I have a new feature since our last lesson: Share Your Writing! This is a place for you to share your kids' writing and to read other kids' writing to your own children. I encourage you to share there or link back to your own blog. My kids love to read what your kids have written!

And now for Lesson #6: Alliteration and Spring Flowers (or Fall Leaves) Poetry. As always, this lesson is loosely scripted. You might eliminate some things or add others as you go.

As you know if you are a regular here, 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! Here we go!

Alliteration and Spring Flowers (or Fall Leaves) Poetry

(Note: if you don't go through your journal assignments from the previous lesson on a regular basis, this is the time to share your journals! Remember: we only use encouraging words!)

I. Alliteration
We’ve talked about a lot of different tools that writers use in the past few lessons: adjectives, synonyms, similes, metaphors, strong verbs. Here’s a new one for you today:
A. Alliteration: What is alliteration? (Answer: When words start with the same sound in a sentence.)
1. Example: The shining sun shone on the silent seashore.
2. Tongue twisters are usually alliteration. What are some examples of tongue twisters? (Here are some examples. Take plenty of time to let the kids say these; this is fun stuff!)
• Six sick slick slim sycamore saplings.
• Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers?
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
• A big black bug bit a big black bear,
made the big black bear bleed blood.
• Friendly Frank flips fine flapjacks.
B. Now let's practice our own alliteration. I’ll start and you'll add on, and we'll see how far we can go building on a sentence. (Example: start with the word "very" and have each child add on a word. Keep going until you have at least 4-5 words. Very victoriously, Valerie vaulted.)
1. Fat 2. sneaky 3. Wanda 4. tornado

C. Individual activity: Let’s practice some alliterative sentences. I will give each of you one word, and you must add on to it. You should start each word with the same sound but you can add words likes to, on, in, a, the, etc. (You can choose your own words or here are some good ones: banana giraffe muddy concrete ship thistle neighbor) Share after they've had a chance to do this.

D. Remember, alliteration is just another tool that writers use—another way to make your writing interesting. That doesn't mean you always have to use alliteration, but making careful choices with words turns mediocre writing into exciting writing!

II. Spring Flower Poems (note: you can change this to fall leaf poems or even snowflake poems depending on the season)
[Note: This project could require some preparation on your part, depending on how you do this. You could use construction paper for each child as a background and then cut out flower petals (or leaves or snowflakes) and glue onto a flower stalk, or you could just draw or have your kids draw a simple flower—with room for writing—on paper. I like the look of the construction paper flowers the best, but see below for an example of one done on regular paper. The flower centers were done in a Word doc and the petals were added by hand.]
A. Now we are going to have a chance to make some beautiful spring (fall/winter) poems. I’m giving you each a sheet of paper with two flowers (leaves/snowflakes) on it. On one flower (leaf/snowflake), write something with alliteration about spring or flowers. Let’s work on some examples, and you can put these words together. (Brainstorm together about flowers and spring, spring colors, types of flowers, etc. (or leaves and fall, autumn, red, orange).

B. With the other flower (leaf), I’d like you to write a simile about spring (fall) or about a flower in each petal and then do another poem in the middle. Let’s brainstorm. Here are some examples you might finish: The flower is pink _________ ( as bubblegum.) The flower flutters like a butterfly. Spring smells like_________ (candy) and tastes like (cheesecake)

(At this point, let the kids take off with their own creativity. They can even write adjectives or snippets of poetry on the stems and leaves, or make clouds in the sky and use alliteration, etc. The possibilities are endless!)

That's it for this week's lesson! See below for the weekly journal writings!

Weekly Journal Writings

Day 1
Practice alliteration (same starting sounds) with these words:
• flowers
• candy
• dinosaur

[For example: Phillip gave fifteen floppy flowers to Felicia.]

Day 2
Pick one friend or family member and describe him/her using only the first letter of his/her name.

[For example, Tracy: titillating, tough, terrific, teasing, etc.]

Day 3
Draw and describe an imaginary pet that you would like (or not like) to have.

Day 4
Write about where you would go in a time machine.

Day 5
Describe today’s weather using strong, exciting verbs and adjectives.


Missed the previous weeks? Click on the links below for the whole WordSmithery experience!
Lesson #1: Introduction and Journals
Lesson #2:
Introduction to Creative Writing, Featuring Good Words
Lesson #3:
Using Powerful Words to Create More Interesting Writing
Lesson #4: Similes
Lesson #5: Metaphors and Strong Verbs

And don't forget to Share Your Writing! Also, I like link love. If you are using WordSmithery and have a blog, please take a minute copy the WordSmithery logo on my sidebar and point your readers to my blog!

All material on the page copyright 2009-10, Sarah Small.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Our Daily Wildlife

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that we've been having some odd wildlife encounters lately. To set the scene a bit, I need to say that we live on a rather busy street, across from a golf course and just 2 minutes from the closest Super Walmart. We're not exactly in the country. But I've been feeling lately like a country wife with a barn full of mice and a field full of critters.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when the cat found a little skink in our bedroom. You know, skinks are pretty cute outside hanging out on rocks, but frankly the thought of a skink scurrying around under my bed just disturbs me greatly.

A couple of days later, we looked out the back door and saw a headless squirrel: the first hunting trophy of our half-grown cat. That thing was nearly as big as the kitten himself! And about that same time, my friend Donna, while waiting for me in our driveway one afternoon, watched a 'possum climb a tree outside our kitchen window.

I have a thing about 'possums. I understand that I'm supposed to think they are cute. I've gone to all kinds of wildlife programs that include rescued 'possums and "aren't they just the cutest things?"

No. I cannot find even one thing that is cute about a 'possum. They look like big fat rats.

So a few days ago, as Laurel and I were finishing math, we looked out the door and saw our Mighty Hunter with a very large mouse in his mouth. Once he had our attention, he tossed it up in the air and caught it a few times, did a few victory somersaults with it, and then deposited it on the welcome mat. "That sure is a big mouse," said Laurel. I was thinking, "Gosh, that almost looks like rat, but not quite." Then it dawned on us: it was a baby 'possum!

We both screamed. I don't know why. I am the kind of person who screams at mice. I've even been known to stand on a chair and scream. I wish I could claim to be a snake-loving, rodent-loving woman, but I just can't help myself. I scream at dead baby 'possums. And then I wait for my husband to come home and take it off the welcome mat.

But we're not done with 'possums yet. Perhaps they aren't very bright critters, but this evening the dog began barking hysterically. Sure enough, out the back door was another baby 'possum, this one heading straight for the house. And then, of all things, the dang 'possum perches itself right at the dining room window, in the exact place that our cats sit when they want to come in the house. Can it not smell danger? Can it not smell all kinds of hungry non-woodland creatures just looking for sport?

It just sat there at the screen, looking at it with its beady black eyes. Looking almost cute. Until it started climbing up the screen. Do you see that tail and that twitchy nose? I'm quickly thinking: "Do we have any holes in the screen? Could this 'possum GET IN THE HOUSE?" I didn't scream screamed just a little. My daughter calmly grabbed the camera. She knows a blog-worthy moment.

Meanwhile, the Mighty Hunter waits.

Living Lovely with Family

Today's Living Lovely with Family at Mt. Hope Chronicles asked for ways we celebrate milestones: "achievements, graduations, birthdays…how do you mark milestones with your children?"

Achievements: We don't do much except verbally congratulate our kids. We've never been much into rewarding them with "things" for jobs well done. Most of the time, it seems that the achievement itself is enough for our kids. For example, our daughter will be moving from one level in American Heritage Girls to the next level in a few weeks. Her celebration will be walking under the archway, having her vest taken off by us, and having the next level girls put on her sash. Then again, our oldest son will be getting his Eagle Scout next fall. That will be an achievement we mark with a ceremony and reception completely focused on him. But we haven't reached that milestone quite yet...

Graduations: Here in the South, we have kindergarten graduations. I'd never heard of such a thing until I moved here and I did roll my eyes secretly when I heard of such a thing, but I have to admit it's really sweet. Our homeschooling support group has a fantastic graduation ceremony each year. The picture above is from Duncan's two years ago. And next year we'll graduate our first high schooler! I have no idea how we'll celebrate that milestone. Where I grew up in upstate New York, graduation parties were the thing. It was unbelievable. Pretty much every weekend of the summer, someone was having a graduation party. These were huge parties with the big white tent and huge amounts of food—and were basically open to anyone who even remotely knew the graduate. (Of course at a small school, everone knows everyone anyway.) Those were awesome parties. I believe it's customary here to do something on a much smaller scale. I'll be looking into that.

Birthdays: First of all, we do not do school on birthdays. That's a big celebration. And we have one very important tradition. On the night before the birthday, Randy and I print out about a dozen of the birthday child's new age (16 was the most recent) in big, colorful numbers and tape them all over the house. This started sometime when our oldest was little, and we can't seem to stop. Even right now there are a few "16s" left around from Jesse's birthday 3 weeks ago. It's a common in March, August, and December for visitors to ask: "Why are there numbers all over your house?" Another birthday tradition is to take the birthday person out to dinner at his/her favorite restaurant. Since we rarely eat out, this is a huge treat for everyone. And of course I make a cake and the kids usually have a friend party.

And that's seriously about it. I lack a certain amount of sentimentality about milestones, I suppose. I don't get all teary-eyed at "significant" birthdays, and we're just not into rewarding our kids materially for every achievement. We think they're great; we tell them we think they're great; and most importantly, they know we think they're great.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday: A Green Day, Filled with Flowers and Frolicking

A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown,
Who ponders this tremendous scene
This whole experiment of green,
As if it were his own!

~Emily Dickinson

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rainforest Lapbooks

We've been thoroughly immersed in slavery and Civil War these past few months, so the kids requested that we add in a unit study for a little levity. We settled on a rainforest theme, and we've had a blast these past several weeks.

I used two primary sources for ideas and templates for the lapbooks, and some the kids created on their own. Jimmie's Rainforest Lapbook, like all of Jimmie's lapbooks, is phenomenal. She has loads of fantastic resources and photos on this site. Homeschool Share has a fantastic literature-based study of The Kapok Tree, including lots of great templates. Our lapbooks were not as detailed nor as complex as the two above, but we had all had enough of the rainforest and were satisfied with the study.

Our resources included:
Zoo Life with Jack Hanna: Wonders of the Rainforest
National Geographic: Wacky Rainforest
Animals of the Amazon (Coyote Creek Animal Safari with Karla Majewski)—kids loved this
Magic School Bus: In the Rainforest

Story Books
The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry*****
The Umbrella by Jan Brett
"Slowly, Slowly, Slowly," said the Sloth by Eric Carle

The Giant Book of the Jungle*****
A Walk Through a Rain Forest by David and Mark Jenike
Jungles (Usborne)
Usborne Discovery Snakes (internet linked)
Usborne Rainforest Wildlife

*****There are bazillions of books out there about the jungle. We just used the guidebooks we had at home and the few story books from the library. If I could only use two books, however, these two would suffice!

Since we couldn't go to Papua New Guinea, we settled for taking a field trip to the nearby Rainforest Adventure in Sevierville.

We rarely do a lapbook as our "main" course. Lapbooking for us is usually a way to get in a little extra science or to make a complicated subject come to life. Lapbooking is a fantastic way to make a unit study more memorable. If you have no idea how to start, check out my Lapbooking Resources post. I am by no means a lapbooking expert, but I can point you in the direction of a few!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Presidential Soapbox

I don't get on too many soapboxes, but I've got to get this off my chest.

Here's the thing. I'm really, really tired of hearing kids say, "Obama." I'm really, really tired of hearing kids spit out the name "Obama" with a sneer of disgust on their little faces. I'm really, really tired of hearing 10-year-olds say things about how dumb "Obama" is and I'm tired of kids making Obama jokes and I'm tired of kids showing disgust for our president.

'Cause you know what, parents? It's President Obama, or Mr. Obama. You are teaching your kids that it's okay to disrespect someone if you don't like them. Wouldn't you be horrified if your kid referred to me as "Small" or to your preacher as "Smith"? I don't get it. Or what about that old man down the street who is grumpy to you and your kids, who has been hostile to you about homeschooling? Do you tell your kids it's OK to refer to him as Mills, instead of Mr. Mills, and that it's okay for them to spit his name out like a rotten peanut? Somehow, I don't think so.

Don't we teach this passage from Matthew 5:43-48 to our kids? Don't we sit down with them after they've had a little episode at church or playgroup with another kid or with their siblings and say to them, "Listen, honey, to what Jesus says!":
You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Once I was a den mother for my older son's Cub Scout pack. I'll never forget the chills I got when a little boy, maybe nine-years-old, opened with prayer: "Dear God, please help us to hunt down Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden and the other bad guys and kill them 'til they're dead."

Those were not happy chills. I caught his (devout Christian) mom smiling proudly, indulgently, when he finished praying. I have to wonder: what kinds of conversations go on at dinner tables in Christian households in our country? Why do parents express their disdain for our president in front of their children, who then parrot their parents' sentiments, often verbatim, inappropriately? Why do we allow our children to be disrespectful in regards to the president of our country, but slap their hands when they pick at their siblings?

I'm just asking. And let me tell you: it's true that little pitchers have big ears. Next time you are listening to the news and want to snap off the TV with disgust and mutter "Obama this and that" under your breath, be a grown up and practice what you preach.


Good Friday, Between Thunderstorms

A Prayer in Spring

By Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Living Lovely with Family

Today's theme at Mt. Hope Chronicles' Living Lovely with Family is budget vacations, and that's something I'm quite familiar with. For years and years, our vacations consisted of doing only one thing: visiting friends and family. Our only cost was gas and food for the road.

When Jesse was three, Dr. H's uncle got married in Hawaii, and that was an amazing vacation. Between Randy's uncle's frequent flier miles and the generosity of his parents and grandpa, we paid not a dime for the trip. That's what happens when you are poor graduate students with the most adorable little boy.

Hawaii was an exception, though. The rest of our vacations were really spent making the long drive from Iowa to Indiana, New York, and/or Tennessee. (Traveling with two kids in a two-door Toyota Tercel without air-conditioning is really not much fun.)

After graduate school, though, when Mr. H. became Dr. H., we bought a van and drove from Iowa to New Orleans. That was probably our first "non-family" vacation, although it was for a friend's wedding.

We'd both been to New Orleans before separately (him in college for fun, me pre-kids for business), but it was totally different—and quite wonderful—as a family vacation. We had a great time.

Since then we've taken two family vacations to Disneyland (one included a few days at Tybee Island) and last year's family vacation to Williamsburg, and the rest: back to the budget vacations.

We have August in upstate New York in my hometown: swimming, sailing, hiking, canoeing. Sounds like luxury and worth hundreds of dollars, I know, but for us it's just the cost of gas and road food, just like it was years ago. My parents are wonderful and gracious, and I wouldn't trade this budget vacation for anything.

Our other regular vacation: camping.
We live at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We camp. We hike. We eat a lot of s'mores in the summer. We create a lifetime of memories.

I'd like to do the Grand Canyon and New England and the Black Hills. Backpacking through Europe would be amazing, and I dream of us breathing deeply in Scotland. But for now, I'm happy with mountains and lakes. And maybe one big trip every couple of years.

Do you have vacations to share? Be sure to visit Living Lovely with Family and share your stories!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

WordSmithery: Week 4 Enrichment

My kids love doing our WordSmithery journal writings, and we've been doing Week 4 (similes) for a couple of weeks now. Today we did Day 3: "Pick a color. Tell in a sentence or group of sentences what this color looks like and sounds like." So we all three picked different colors, and then Laurel got the idea to do all the colors of the rainbow. We divided up the colors, added "tastes like" and "smells like" and spent a few more minutes each writing on our own. (Duncan dictates his to me, so I actually write it for him.)

When we'd all written our "colors," I lightly sketched a rainbow on a piece of poster board, and we wrote our poems in the stripes. And ta-da! Our shape poem. The kids don't know they wrote a shape poem; that lesson comes in a few weeks. But they had so much fun writing this and can't wait to show their Dad our creation:


Red tastes like lollipops
and looks like a dozen roses;
Orange looks like the Vols
and tastes like juicy oranges.
Yellow smells like daffodils
and tastes like bananas;
Green looks like a fresh cucumber
and sounds like peepers in a pond.
Blue looks like the sky in the afternoon
and sounds like rushing waters;
Indigo sounds like the hour before dawn
and smells like ripe plums.
Violet smells like a garden in spring
and tastes like grape popsicles.

I love when my kids get so enthused that they create their own enrichment activities. Maybe you'd like to add this to your Week 4!

(If you'd like to share your kids' writing, please leave a comment at Share Your Writing or post there on your own blog and leave us a link!)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Three Beautiful Things: Spring Colors

Pink dogwood



We awoke to a dusting of southern snow this morning, but it quickly melted and left everything fresh and green.

What beautiful things are in your world today?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday Memory: Little Flower

My little girl has a double flower name—Laurel Rose—so it was only appropriate that her first portrait—back when we lived in Iowa— was made with the only flower available at the time, a daffodil. I'd much rather her have had a pink rose, but you take what you can get in Iowa in the "spring." (Iowa doesn't have much of one.)

I've had this 8-month version of my little girl on my mind a lot lately. Laurel (who is now fairly close to 12) and I work in the church nursery on Wednesdays, and there is a sweet 2-year-old girl there who reminds me so much of Laurel at that age. It's one of those uncanny feelings. Same intense look, same little shudder of excitement, same shyness with a yen for adventure barely beneath the surface. And same chubby cheeks and lack of hair! I remember people used to say, "Oh, she'll get it all in when she's about three and she'll have the most gorgeous hair!" It was true.

I miss my baby girl, but I sure am having fun with her now. And I can still catch her eye across a crowded room, and know that we are somehow still attached.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

WordSmithery: Share Your Writing!

If you've been doing my WordSmithery for awhile now, you've hopefully discovered that one of the best parts is sharing what you've written with each other. When I teach creative writing at our co-op, we take 15 minutes at the beginning of each session to share what we've written during the week at home. In the home setting, we each write in our journals and then share what we've written right away. (And yes, I do the assignments too!)

This space is now dedicated to a broader sharing of writing. Anytime you want, post something in the comments here that your kids (or you) have written based on my WordSmithery lessons, whether it's in the course of the lesson itself, in a journal writing, or for an assignment. If you can, write the week number from which it comes. My goal is eventually to have samples for each week, so that your kids can hear other kids' writings, too!

If you just want to post something that your student has written outside of "class," that's fine, too! But do share!

(See the comments for examples!)

Friday, April 3, 2009

National Poetry Month: Reading Poetry with Children

Whatever you do, find ways to read poetry. Eat it, drink it, enjoy it, and share it.”
~Eve Merriam

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? I find it hard to call myself a "writer" but that is what I am at the core, and even more specifically, I am a writer of poetry. Sadly, poetry is terribly misunderstood because most of us read so much incomprehensible poetry when we were in school and learned to dislike it. During this month, I'll be tossing out poetry suggestions every now and then. For now, here is a repost from last year about poetry for children:

Before I list my favorite books written specifically for children, let me emphasize that you don't have to stick with "kids' poetry" when reading to your children. In other words, some poets write specifically for a younger audience--much of Jack Prelutsky, for example. But poetry doesn't have to rhyme and be about cute kitties or dog poop to appeal to children (although rhyming bodily functions certainly can heighten a child's appreciation of poetry).

Along those lines, I highly recommend A Treasury of Poetry for Young People. This contains poems selected with a younger audience (5th grade and up) in mind by some of the best-known poets: Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. There is a two or three page introduction of each author before his/her section of poetry. The illustrations are simple and beautiful. Notes at the bottom of each page give a very brief commentary on each poem. For example, at the end of the familiar Frost poem "The Road Not Taken," the note simply states: "We all know the feel of a cool autumn day, when we can shuffle our feet through fallen leaves and kick up the smells of the season. This is a poem about such a walk, about coming to a fork in the path, and about making choices in our lives."

For a wider variety of poets, I recommend the Poetry for Young People Series. These books are also published by Sterling Publishing, like the one above, but each books features a different poet. Scholastic often has these titles in their monthly sale fliers for home or school. Featured authors include: Robert Browning, Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and all the ones mentioned above.

One more collection I really love for kids: The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems, edited by Donald Hall. This one takes a chronological approach to American poetry, beginning with the Native American cradle song, "Chant to the Fire-Fly" and ending with the contemporary poetry of Sandra Cisneros and Janet S. Wong. I love the diversity offered in this collection: poetry isn't all written by white guys and reclusive women. And one of my personal favorites is included here: Nikki Giovanni's "Knoxville, Tennessee." Even if you don't live around these parts, you and your children can surely relate to Giovanni's ode to the pure bliss of summertime.

Of course, you can get out your old copy of The Norton Anthology of Poetry and just pick out age-appropriate poems from some of the world's best poets of all time. What? You don't have an old Norton's Anthology? Run to your nearest used bookstore or Goodwill and pick one up. Please. You never know when you might need to read T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock":
I grow old. . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trouser rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think they will sing to me.

But I digress. Moving on to poetry written specifically for children, I must present my four favorites: Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Eve Merriam, and Valerie Worth. Does anyone not know Shel Silverstein's works? Silverstein, who died in 1999, is the king of children's poetry. His website is great fun, and you can read all about his works there. You local library will have every book; better yet, buy at least a couple. No family library can possibly be complete with A Light in the Attic or Where the Sidewalk Ends. If your kids hear the word "poetry" and cover their ears, try reading "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out' to them. They will want to hear more.

Jack Prelutsky also has a gift for luring children in with the absurd. He knows how to engage children with the silly, absurd, and irresistibly disgusting:
Slime, slime,
Savory slime,
you're luscious and succulent
any old time,
there's hardly a thing
that is nearly as grand
as a dollop of slime
in the palm of my hand.

Prelutsky also has a great website, where you can read all about him and his books and get teaching ideas, too.

The poet Eve Merriam loved language--loved the sound of words alone and in combination with other words. When I read her poetry, I imagine how carefully she chose each word. From her widely anthologized "Lullaby":

Purple as a king's cape
Purple as a grape.

Purple for the evening
When daylight is leaving.

Soft and purry,

Gentle and furry,

Velvet evening-time.
I have a cassette tape of Merriam reading some of her poetry; when my oldest was little, this was one of his favorites. Check out your local library or for poetry by Eve Merriam, including You Be Good and I'll Be Night and A Sky Full of Poems.

One last poet who might be less familiar but who also takes great care in crafting poetry: Valerie Worth. In the wonderful All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, Worth turns every day things--animal, vegetable and mineral--into exquisite works of art. This is a fantastic collection for teaching personification, metaphor and simile, and for emphasizing the power of observation and the craft of language.
The sun
is a leaping fire
too hot
to go near,
But it will still
lie down
in warm yellow squares
on the floor
lie a flat
quilt, where
the cat can curl
and purr.

This is just a tiny taste of the wonderful feast that is the world of poetry. Surf the internet and shuffle through the library bookshelves. If you had a bad experience with poetry in your own schooling, try again--with your child. I promise, you'll both find something you love.

(And check out my FREE creative writing workshop—SmallWorld's WordSmithery— on the sidebar!)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Living Lovely with Family

This week's theme at Mt. Hope Chronicles' Living Lovely with Family is annual traditions. We have a lot!

January: My Dad's birthday. For some reason his birthday, more than anyone else's, always merits a good family party. Usually my two Tennessee brothers (I also have two in New York) and their families come over to our house, and we have a rousing night of card playing.

• On Valentine's Day we have two traditions. First, I always create a scavenger hunt for the kids that leads them through the house, with little piles of candy here and there. (Jesse no longer participates but appreciates his candy in one lump sum.) And for Valentine's dinner we always have spaghetti because that's what Dr. H. and I had on our first Valentine's day together, when we were poor college students.

• Generally during the last week in February, the daffodils are in flower at Cades Cove in the Smokies. We pick the perfect sunny Sunday, pack a picnic, and take a drive around the loop.

Easter: I used to do a fabulous Easter egg hunt at my house. It was so much work that I decided just to do it every-other-year, and I think this is probably the year I should be doing it (actually, I think I was supposed to do it last year). It really was fun, but now we usually just have one family over after church and have the kids hunt some eggs.

Family Trip: Our new tradition is to take a family trip in May. We like to do this during the second week of the month, after classes are done at UT but before the school are out for the summer. The first year we had a fantastic, amazing vacation at Disney World, and last year we went to Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. This year we are planning a much smaller scale trip to a few Civil War sites in Nashville and Chattanooga.

4th of July: Dr. H. and Jesse have been gone for years during the 4th of July because of Boy Scout camp, so the kids and I generally head over to my brother John's house for a cookout and insane fireworks. My brothers should not be trusted with explosives, but it does make the evening exciting!

• New York: For probably nine or 10 years, we've gone to my hometown, where my parents still live half the year, in upstate New York during the first two weeks of August. Swimming, sailing, bonfires, and the comfort of my parents. It's a vital part of my summer. I thought last year would be our last one, as my parents put their house on the market, but it still hasn't sold. We may still have another vacation there!

• Scouting Family Camp-out: This is a new annual tradition—just started last year—but we have our reservations in again this year. This is for our Boy Scout, Cub Scout, and American Heritage Girls families. We had a fantastic time last August and look forward to it again this year.

October: Soup and Pumpkin Party. This is one of my absolute favorite annual traditions. We have a bunch of friends over—around 50—and have a night of soup (everyone brings a pot) and pumpkin carving. Probably more than anything else—possibly even more than our Christmas traditions!—our kids will remember this chilly autumn evenings spent in the midst of dozens of friends, the warmth of soup, and the smell of pumpkin guts.

Autumn in Cades Cove: For years, the kids and I have taken one perfect day in late October or early November to drive around the Cades Cove loop. We take our school books with us, find a warm spot, and read. The kids climb in the barns, and we stop and visit each old cabin, even though we've seen them all dozens of times. Somehow this closes off autumn for us and allows us to welcome in winter.

Christmas and Thanksgiving have loads of traditions of their own. We always have Thanksgiving at one of my brothers' houses and then have Christmas here at our house. We always go to our city's Christmas parade and come home with sacks full of candy. We always cut down our Christmas tree at the same tree farm, and it's usually a balmy, spring-like day. And we absolutely must make and decorate a few dozen sugar cookies, besides all the other cookies we make during December.

What yearly traditions do you have? Share your thoughts at Mt. Hope Chronicles!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

March at SmallWorld Reads

March was a pitiful month for reading. I've posted only six entries at SmallWorld Reads and finished five books.

Books Reviewed
Tramp for the Lord
The Bookseller of Kabul

Finished but not yet reviewed: New Moon, second in the Twilight series. (I wasn't crazy about Twilight but my friend begged me to keep reading. I'm glad I did. More later.) Also Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, which I really enjoyed. A mostly off-topic note here: Jesse is taking English 1010 at the local community college. They do the "common book" method there, where all English 1010 classes read the same book (in this case, Persepolis) and each instructor teaches it in their own way. He wasn't crazy about the class at first partly because he was hoping for more literature, but he's ended up really enjoying this thorough approach to one text. And I've been absolutely thrilled (and gratified) with his writing for the class. Phew! That boy can write an essay!

Kids Books Finished: We finished reading Carl Sandburg's amazing Abe Lincoln Grows Up. Since then we've been reading various short books about the Civil War along with Irene Hunt's Across Five Aprils.

Favorite Book of the Month: Paula by Isabel Allende

Books to Movies: Gone with the Wind (As part of our Civil War unit. I've been watching it since I was a little girl, and for the first time I watched it with my kids. Loved the book, love the movie, love that my kids loved it!) and Twilight (I really, really liked the movie. Bella was perfect.)

Currently Reading: The third book in the Twilight series, I say with a slight blush.

Sunday Scribblings:
Dear Past Me, Dear Future Me

And most weeks I perused Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books, my favorite place to glean new titles.

I am quite sure that April will be a better reading month! If you are looking for something to read, I've got loads of reviews on my sidebar at SmallWorld Reads, from this year's books to ones reviewed in the past few years.