Friday, September 6, 2013

A Garden Recap

Well, the August rain has left us high and dry, making September the hottest month of the summer.  It seems like a good time to talk about the garden.

This spring my good husband doubled the size of our vegetable garden.  So as not to give you too large of an impression, here's a good indication of the new size:
April garden prep
We've got heavy, clay soil so he added a lot of amendments, most notably a truckload of composted horse manure.

Here's the same garden on June 1, looking nice and orderly planted with tomatoes, peppers, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce and eggplant.

In less than a month, the horse manure was working its magic and our tomato plants were laden with fruit (the zucchini in the background is struttin' its stuff too).

Those tomatoes deserve a closer look.

By July, we were seeing red, and soon we had harvested enough tomatoes to can.

Besides tomatoes, we had a bumper crop of peppers, zucchini, green beans, okra and egg plant.

 Only the cucumber plants failed to produce.  We planted three different plants two different times, but none of the plants thrived.

Now, it's September and the garden is looking ragged, but everything is still going strong except the lettuce, beans and zucchini, which have been pulled up..... make room for the next generation:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Our Curriculum: Part 2 - Writing, Spelling and Grammar


For writing, we'll continue with Writing With Ease ("WWE").  Level 3 for the boy and Level 1 for his sister.

When doing Level 2 with my son, I took a beautifully composed, cohesive program and completely mangled it.  You see, I had heard on-line complaints that the dictation exercises were just so hard.  Since All About Spelling ("AAS") contained dictation too, I decided to avoid the heart ache and skip the dictation sections for WWE and rely on AAS.

But then it slowly dawned on me that writing a simple sentence using a controlled set of words like, "The snake is in a coil" (an actual sentence from AAS Level 2) is a far cry from writing a dictated passage from WWE.  Here's a sample from that program:

Gold!  Gold!  It was almost as if someone had cried, "Fire!  Fire!"  Thousands of people rushed west to hunt for gold.

That's a whole 'nother ball game!  Both are useful exercises, but each has a different focus.

So, after going through the program sans dictation, we went back and added all those exercises interspersing with narration exercises from Story of the World.  The extra practice was good, but it sure took a long time to get through WWE Level 2.

I'm happy to have begun Level 3 and Level 1 for each child, respectively.  A fresh start is always good, and this time, there will be no shortcuts!


All About Spelling Level 3 and 4 for him and Levels 2 and 3 for her.

Grammar and Other:

Classical Conversations Cycle 2 memory work, which focuses on memorizing parts of speech and various definitions and lists for both.

Michael Clay Thomas' Island Level for grammar, poetry, vocabulary and extra writing for him.

Poetry memorization through the Institute for Excellence in Writing's Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization for both.  We've started the Level 2 poems.

All of these, except the Michael Clay Thomas ("MCT") series, are tried and true programs for us.  Not having taught these subjects prior to teaching my kids, I feel all of it is somewhat a roll of the dice, so I'm anxious to see how it all turns out.

See Part 1 here.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Month in Books - August

Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey

This book is another reminder that I've got to slow down and digest books.  I'm too anxious to get to the next one to fully absorb the one I'm reading.  This is yet another book that deserves a more careful reading than what I gave it.  It is an enlightening overview of the history of postmodernism.  It also explains how various philosophies impact culture, including books, movies, and art.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

It seems each book we read together is declared 'the best book we've ever read.'  This title usually lasts right up until the next one starts.  However, I think this one is going to reign supreme for a while.  I think I enjoyed it just as much as my son.

It is an intriguing mystery tackled by a group of young, gifted secret agents.  It's one in which the reader gets wrapped up in solving clues.  It's a page-turner that appeals to any age.

The Bridges at Toko-Ri by James Michener

This was our book club selection for the month.  I silently groaned when I found out the author, because I think of James Michener's books as thorough to say the least.  This one is different.  I easily read it in a couple of evenings.  I'd like to claim otherwise, but it was only coincidental that we read this book about fighter pilots in Korea during the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice.  The book was doubly meaningful to me as my dad is a Korean War veteran, and the movie made from it was the first movie my father and mother-in-law saw together.  One theme of the book was the "forgotten" nature of the war.  It explored the frustration of the soldier's families that American lives went on unaffected at the same time brave men were dying to end the communist threat.  This would be a good book to accompany a future study of the Korean War.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I try to be careful what I read.  I'd like it to meet the criteria in Philippians 4:8.  However, I do not always do the good I want as you'll soon see.  Always on the look-out for good fiction, I quickly reserved this book from my library based on the review here, one of my favorite blogs.  This one was good in the sense that I couldn't wouldn't put it down and read nearly all of it in one sitting.  But, it is not good in the Philippians 4:8 sense as it is very bawdy, and as a result, I would not recommend it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Itches and Inertia

We travelled the 300 plus miles to Missouri this weekend for a dose of grandparents and cousins.

While I was there, I caught an itch, similar to hers.  My itch is a dissatisfaction caused by comparing myself, an object at rest, to my mom, an object in motion...always...always...always in motion.

She cooked (no, 'let's just eat out tonight'), straightened, laundered, hulled, swept and wiped all weekend long.  Of course, I pitched in, I just didn't maintain her pace.

Her bustle is in contrast to my nose-in-a-book, head-in-the-clouds, hand-folded state of being.

I've inherited so many of the physical traits, even the temperament, of my mother.  Why, oh why, did I not get that crucial trait of busy-ness?  I'm merely a sloppy charicature of her and her hard-working ways.

I have an itch for a different kind of inertia....more like my momma's.  One that doesn't rest until it gets done.  One that says 'no' to the inclination to quit for now.  One that's a little more thorough and complete and attentive to detail.  One that's a little less beholden to good enough.    

Incidentally, the kids got an itch too, but theirs came from the chiggers.

Monday, August 12, 2013

August Rain

Today as my boy and I worked on fractions, we stopped and listened.  It was rain beginning to spatter on the window pain.  For an hour or more, the rain fell and the thunder gently rumbled.  I love these kinds of days.

They've been frequent this year--so unexpected yet so welcome.

Since I moved here twelve summers ago, I've come to dread August.  It's just so hot.  And dry.

Not so, this year.

Even in April, I noted in my journal that we were getting daily temperatures in the fifties, when normally, by then, we are usually well into the seventies.

I remember the weather man in June warning us not to get used to it, the heat and the dry would come with the summer.  I suppose in weather (as in investing) past performance is not an indication of future results.

The weatherman was wrong.  Throughout the summer, the days have stayed down right temperate.  Sure there have been waves of heat but they're gone as soon as they come.  When the heat leaves, the rains come.

The rain is particularly welcome because we have suffered through a draught over the past years, and this state has been a dry and thirsty land where no water was.

With the extra moisture, the humidity has increased.  When I go on my morning jaunt, my body turns into a human condenser and sweat drips from my elbows.

But I'll take it!  I'm a farmer's daughter and I'll celebrate each August raindrop in famine or in plenty.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Our Curriculum: Part 1 - Cursive

I'm going to go subject by subject to document our curriculum for the 2013/2014 school year.  I'm starting with cursive even though it really isn't its own subject.

I'm starting here because it's a hot-ish topic.  The buzz began when a witness for the prosecution in a certain sensationalized criminal trial admitted before the viewing public that she could not read a piece of evidence because she did not know how to read cursive.

I'm confident she's not the only one.

It seems cursive is no longer a priority in some schools, in part, because there simply isn't time to teach it and because it is not considered so important when communication these days is primarily done with a keyboard.

My husband and I have had the discussion before.  Is cursive relevant in an electronic world?  To me it's an emphatic, "Yes!"  No respectable signature was ever printed.  Cursive is what love letters are made of.  It's how your mom writes messages to you in greeting cards.  It's the print medium of the Declaration of Independence AND the Constitution!  Turns out, it even helps your brain.

No, for me, it wasn't a decision about whether or not to teach my kids cursive.  It was a matter of what font.  This:

or ****THIS****:

Okay, for now we're settling for the more standard version.

Right as I was pondering how to teach cursive, Classical Conversations came out with their PreScripts line.  I ordered all four books as soon as they were available because my kids were at or nearing the cursive age and because the books tied in with our memory work.

It's going well.  My son started in the second book, Cursive Words and Drawing, which features scripture, this past spring and is two-thirds of the way done.  It's still a laborious process for him, though.  He's getting faster copying the passages, but it's very tedious to both of us for him to use cursive in his other work.  We both give a sigh of relief when I let him switch back to print.  I need to develop the guts to have him go cold-turkey off the printing.  I just can't decide at what point that will be.

I'll have him finish this book but will start him on Cursive Sentences as soon as possible because it incorporates this year's history sentences.  I also like the accompanying art lessons in this book, which feature art from our Classical Acts and Facts History Cards.  I'm looking forward to entwining penmanship with history and art.  And, truly, the timing of this products release could not have been better.

As for my daughter, I'm going to start her on PreScripts Cursive Letters and Coloring next year when she's in second grade, but we'll do the coloring sheets this year because they correspond with our current-year memory work.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Month in Books - July

Here are the books I finished in July:

The Art of Civilized Conversation:  A Guide to Expressing Yourself With Style and Grace by Margaret Shepherd

Turns out that there is a difference between civilized conversation and the other kind.  I've been guilty of relying on sarcasm and gossip to prop up weak conversational skills.  This book has made me more aware of what I say and how to be more gracious saying it.  As I was reading, this Bible verse kept jumping into my mind; it sums up civilized conversation as described in the the book quite nicely:
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.  Ephesians 4:29

The book is full of do's and don'ts for a variety of social situations.  It is really quite thorough and would be a good reference to have on the shelf.  

Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly

This was my book club's book for the month.  In July, we traditionally read a book of a political nature.  It was very fast-paced, sticking mostly to documented facts and leaving out the speculation.  It was a simple account of a very complex time.  

Letters to a Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson

I read this after hearing an interview with Wilson on NPR.  I listened to the interview on the heals of reading Anthony Esolen's Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child.  Being a fan of Esolen's book, I was taken in by the similarity of their messages regarding the importance of unstructured, contemplative time for children.  I was also smitten by Wilson's voice, which reminded me of my Great Uncle Martin's.

Not being particularly young or a scientist, I am not the intended audience for the book.  I'm also what Wilson calls an 'ideologue.'  Alas, I believe in creation, and the book is heavy in evolutionary content.   I recall reading somewhere that people tend to read books with which they expect they'll agree.   Here's an article expressing the viewpoint that it can be a good exercise to read opposing viewpoints.

I did in fact benefit from reading the book even though I believe in Biblical creation. I gathered some ideas for teaching science and obtained insight into how real scientists approach experiments.  I was inspired by Wilson's enthusiasm for his profession.  He is over 80 years old and still passionate about his life's work (ant research).  I also plan to pass along some of his advice to my children whether they end up to be scientists or not because it applies across disciplines.

Monday, July 22, 2013


On Saturday I co-hosted a bridal shower along with a few of my favorite people.

It is such an age we live in!  There are hundreds upon hundreds of creative, fresh and innovative ideas for bridal showers on Pinterest.

We ignored all of them.

Instead, we stuck with tradition:  mints, nuts, cake and punch.  The tried and true.  Or should that be the tired and true?

Although it all could be considered a bit stodgy and although there was certainly nothing worth pinning, a lot of love and care and classically beautiful elements went into the shower.  We gathered together our best crystal and silver.  We baked and decorated delicious and beautiful homemade cakes laid on a white damask tablecloth.

The crowd was diverse...ranging in age from 16 to 80-something.  Advice flowed.  Margaret reminded us how important it was for families to eat 'with everyone's legs under the table.' Honey, a widow after 61 years of marriage, advised us to 'say 'I love you' often, because you never know if you'll have the chance again.'  Then it was the tears that flowed.  It was a good day of feminine fellowship.

By far the freshest, most beautiful element of the shower was the bride-to-be herself.  She is marrying a very lucky fella.

The beautiful bride to be in the brown blouse and the hostesses

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Playing Up

The Warriors in action

Yesterday was the last day of his summer basketball season, which was a character-building exercise referred to as playing up.  Playing up means his team (the Warriors) comprised mostly of 7 and 8 year olds was pitted against taller, stronger and more experienced 9 and 10 year-old teams.

Their coach said, "What doesn't kill them will make them stronger."  From the stands, it was difficult to tell which was happening.  It was sad to see a couple of the kids who were stand-outs from the regular season regress under the pressure.

There is a happy ending to the story, though.

They won the last two games of the season!  Both games were against the same team.  We, the Warrior fans, shook our heads knowingly, "They're playing up too."

Also, although my son's enthusiasm exceeds his on-court talent, his skills and tenacity notably improved during the season.

After one game, his coach texted my husband to say our son was the star of the game.  He "played smart and hard and didn't quit or get frustrated."  He later told us that he'd welcome our son on any team he coaches in the future, calling him 'very coachable.'

That really makes me happy.  Like Mark Twain, I can live for two months on a good compliment.  Especially when it is directed toward my kids.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Seeing Red

Last night, with a blatant disregard for both the calendar and the thermometer, I made tomato soup and grilled cheese for supper.  We have lots of tomatoes that need to be used.  There has been a recent onslaught of tomatoes from the garden accompanied by an onslaught of brown grackle-like birds we've yet to identify.  These birds are tomato lovers like me so every tomato has a big bite taken from it.  Like this:

Tomato soup always reminds me of my sister.  When mom asked what kind of soup we wanted, my request was always potato, hers tomato.  Often mom would oblige us both.  Last night's soup made from fresh tomatoes I roasted in the oven was quite tasty, but potato soup still has my heart.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Hope Floats

The kids have swimming lessons for the next two weeks.  I'm looking forward to an hour a day in the shade of the pool-side gazebo with a book, leaving the work to the professionals.

In the past, swimming lessons have been met with dread.  My son, especially, was terribly afraid of the water.  He would put his nose in the water for the merest second then flip his head up, shaking the water off his face in a panic.  His fears were the subject of many of my prayers.

The first year of lessons as a four year old, he took lessons at the YMCA, and he didn't even get in the water.  The high school age teacher couldn't convince him to get him.  I went shopping around for more experienced instruction.

I found out about lessons at the high school pool in a neighboring town.  The main instructor, also the high school swim coach, had a reputation for being tough.  The cost was also considerably less than the YMCA.  The next year I signed him up there.

I remember him at five sitting by the side of the pool, feet dangling in the water, shivering sitting next to kids who were still in diapers.  I saw him look for me in the stands through his goggles, the headstrap making both ears bend outward at an unnatural angle.  He with his little-boy arms and little-boy chest had never looked so vulnerable.

Fortunately, two years of lessons under the oversight of the coach and his drill-sergeant tactics helped get my son mostly past his fears.  He passed to the third level, which means he can swim.  As much as the lessons, both of my kids have also benefitted from unstructured time in the water.  We mostly rely on the kindness of friends, relatives and neighbors who either own or have access to pools, but we've also sought out opportunities to swim in creeks, rivers and lakes.  We aren't picky.

This year we've gone with a third, more local, kindler and gentler option for lessons.  The instructors with this new outfit are young but seem to know what they're doing.   The past two years it's been one drill sergeant to a dozen kids.  As you can see from the picture above, the ratio here is much better.

It's good to have the swimming demons mostly vanquished.  It makes my reading time in the shade much more enjoyable.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Reading Book Ending

After over 200 lessons with 2 different kids, I'm about to put this friend away for good.

There has been some weeping and a little gnashing of the teeth along the way.  We (the book and I) are a little worn from the experience.  But, the process of teaching my kids to read while snuggled on the green couch, soft light-brown hair against my cheek with this plain but powerful book has been one of the most satisfying joys of my life.

The book ends on the fourth grade level.  Neither of my kids were reading on the fourth grade level at the end of this.  Not even close.  However, they were both solid readers and had at least been exposed to all of the phonics rules that the English language has to offer.

I know from going through the process with my son, it'll take a lot more time for that information to distill.  I've found All About Spelling to be an excellent follow-up.  It goes through the same phonics rules (only much, much more slowly and thoroughly) from a spelling angle.

With both kids the question was:  Where do we go from here?  With my son, we launched into McGuffey's Third Eclectic Reader, which is recommended in The Well-Trained Mind.  I loved that.  My son didn't.  It is a little heavy-handed in teaching moral lessons.  I loved that.   My son didn't.

Even though I want them to learn whether or not they find it pleasant, I do want reading to be a joyful experience, so I'm going to go a different route for the younger one.  I'm going to have her read aloud to me the early-reader classics.  I've made a page for her first grade reading list.  Here it is.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Feast

In 2012 when I attended my area's Classical Conversations parent practicum I slid in late and sat next to complete strangers.  As I looked around I noticed several people within eye-shot had this book laying next to them.  Always on the hunt for my next read, I was intrigued.   It must be good because A LOT of people had it.  So, at lunch I marched over to the book sale area and bought myself one.  I still haven't gotten around to reading it.

This year, as I arrived on time to the practicum, I was handed a program, a name badge and a copy of a book, Anthony Esolen's, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child.  Only then did it hit me, come to a Classical Conversations parent practicum and you get a free book.  I wish someone would have told me!

This one has not collected dust.  I've been feasting on it each evening for the past couple of weeks and finished it last night.  Although his tongue-in-cheek approach took some getting used to (he writes as though he really is trying to convince us to destroy our child's imagination), I found it infinitely more readable than other books popular among classical educators like Norms and Nobility and Beauty for Truth's Sake.  It's classified as a "parenting/education" book, but it's just as much a mightily opinionated commentary on our culture.

The book has given me plenty to think about regarding both parenting and education.  In some instances, it's given me confidence to stay the course.  In others, it's caused me to reevaluate what we're doing or simply left me puzzling and pondering.

Over the coming weeks, I plan to address some of the points in Esolen's book that struck a chord with me.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Artiste.

My youngest one fancies herself an artist.  I'd have to agree.  She has a box in her room with stacks of drawings like this:

A Self-Portrait

It's a common and delightful sight when ascending the stairs to find her seated at her little blue table, head bent over a drawing.

She desperately wants to take drawing lessons, and I plan to oblige her after she turns seven.  In the meantime, we provide her with paper and pencils and crayons and markers.  Plus, every other day during her school time she draws from her Draw Write Now set, one of the best schooling investments we've made since both kids have gotten a lot of use out of them.

On the alternate day, she copies the sentences that correspond with the drawing.  We started doing this to fill the gap between Handwriting Without Tears My Printing Book, which she completed early on during her Kindergarten year, and Writing With Ease Level 1, which I didn't want her to start until first grade.

Even though she's completely content to draw independently other times of the day, she requests my help when drawing from instructions.  She gets excited when its drawing (as opposed to writing) day, but often that excitement turns to angst and her artist's temperament manifests itself.  At those times, she channels Don Music.

The result of her efforts is a treasure to both of us. She has almost filled up a "My Picture Storybook" tablet from Miller Paper with her drawing and copywork.  Here's a sampling:

Her first entry in her book, the Little Red Hen

Wildflowers of the Plains

An Emperor Penguin and Arctic Lights
My personal favorite, The Sly Fox

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


After a cool spring, the arrival of the first blackberries signify summer will soon be upon us.

The days had been getting progressively hotter, but yesterday a cool front came in the night accompanied by over an inch of rain.  The rain was welcome and timely as a Fathers' Day conversation with my dad inspired me to get the arugula pulled up (thanks, husband) and to plant a short row of purple-hull peas.  The thought of those peas makes my mouth water even more so than thoughts of the first blackberry cobbler, a delicious treat for a Tuesday evening.