Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Presidential Biographies: Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler

For these one-term (or less) presidents, I turned to The American Presidents series edited by Arthur Schlesinger.  These biographies were written with the aim "to present the grand panorama of our chief executives in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, authoritative enough for the scholar."  For my purposes, this series fit the bill.

Martin Van Buren

TheMartin Van Buren biography was written by Ted Widmer.  I found Mr. Widmer's writing style to be somewhat distracting.  He tried very hard to be demonstrate his own cleverness.  One of my favorite biographers, David McCullough, does this too but in a more successful manner.  Whereas I find McCullough entertaining, I found Widmer irritating.

Widmer did do a fine job of distilling the life and presidency of Martin Van Buren into a small volume.  There was an appropriate amount of detail without a lot analysis.  For instance, he adequately described the effects of the Panic of 1837 but only vaguely attributed the cause to 'speculation and growth.'  I was fine with the lack of depth.  There was enough detail that I came to understand Van Buren's role as the mastermind behind the political machine of his day.  I got a good-enough view of the the issues which characterized Van Buren's term such as the panic and emerging regional differences regarding slavery.

William Henry Harrison

Gail Collins short biography of William Henry Harrison, the man who served one month as president, was just right.  At first, though, her chronological treatment of Harrison's early days read something like this:  and then he _______ and then he ___________ and then he ____________.  However, by the time she got to the madcap election of 1840 she hit her stride and the descriptions she provided brought the extremes of that period to life.

John Tyler

John Tyler is considered to be one of our nation's worst presidents.  I was glad that in his biography of John Tyler, Gary May presented a somewhat sympathetic character.  Although ultimately a secessionist and, therefore, a traitor, May described an accidental President courageous enough to stand his ground whatever the political cost (those costs turned out to be high).  He set the precedent of ascension upon the death of the President, and he improved relations with Britain though the Webster-Ashburton treaty.  His determination may have lost him standing in the Whig Party but it resulted in the annexation of Texas.  In these ways, John Tyler, no matter how inadequate history considers him, changed the shape of our country politically and physically.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Presidential Biography: Jackson

Photo of Andrew Jackson

I expected a biography of the American Lion, the hero of New Orleans and the unlikely president who broke the presidential mold, to be a little more interesting.  In fact, Jon Meacham's biography, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, turned out to be something of a slog.

I do think a biography of Jackson as an upstart would have been interesting.  Another lesson I've learned while reading these biographies is:  you must pay attention to the subtitle.  As the subtitle of this book suggests, this isn't about the young Jackson, it is primarily about his eight-year tenure in The White House.

Meacham also wrote the biography I read about Thomas Jefferson.  Based on these two books, I think Meacham tends toward the sensational.  In his Jefferson biography, he dealt a lot with the Sally Hemings affair.  In American Lion, he devotes way too many pages to the domestic squabbles between Emily Donelson, The White House hostess, and Margaret Eaton, wife of Jackson's secretary of war.  He did link the conflict to the famous upheaval in Jackson's cabinet, yet the level of detail devoted to the scandal was, in my opinion, excessive.  It definitely did not serve to make the book more interesting.

Although the biography was not an exciting read, I did learn a lot about Jackson's administration.  I learned how he expanded presidential power being the first to liberally veto.  I also came to understand the challenges he faced in keeping the union together under the threat of secession.  He was, like many of his predecessors, somewhat of a contradiction.  He was a common man who sought to extend the power of common men, yet he was a slave-holder.  It was also his Indian removal policies that led to the Trail of Tears.  He was a a forceful personality and fierce fighter both in the battlefield and as President.

Seven presidents down!  Up next:  the second-tier presidents.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An October Daybook

Outside my window...

are these lovely flowers under a clear sky.  I'm not sure what they are.  I think of them as black-eyed Susans on a vine.   Although they're vigorous now, they're not long for the world.  The cold morning tells me the first frost is not far away.   We'll both enjoy the quintessentially fall days like today as long we can.

Giving thanks...

for my husband who goes out to slay the dragons every day.  As the kids and I drove downtown in morning traffic today, I was reminded of the sacrifices he makes to provide for us at home.  It's only been ten years since it was my daily commute, but ten years seems a lifetime. I don't think I would have the stomach for it anymore.

I am thinking about...

the contribution I'm making to our little family unit.  I'm convinced I'm adding value by staying home even if that contribution is not to the bottom line.  However, I know I need strive harder in all areas as a wife, mother and educator. 

In the kitchen...

Southwestern chicken chili is simmering in the Crock-Pot.  I pulled it out of the freezer yesterday and dumped it into the cooker at noon.  I went to a Wildtree freezer meal workshop last month and am now fully committed to a freezer-meal lifestyle.  I've always been too much of a procrastinator to pre-assemble meals before.  What a luxury on a busy day!  

Like most direct-sales products, the Wildtree wares are not cheap, but I enjoy supporting people who earn income this way.  

My family has eaten four of the meals so far and all but one have been quite delicious.  I'm planning on going to my second party next month. 

In the schoolroom...

we're in our sixth week of school following our vacation.  I like to follow a six weeks on, one week off schedule, which means we have a break next week.  Oh happy day!  It amazes me each cycle how needed this seventh week is by the time it rolls around.

Around the house...

The kids are cleaning while I type.  Huh?!?!  That's not a typo.  Their dad promised a little surprise for them this weekend if they get their rooms cleaned.  

I am reading...

The Princess and the Goblin to the kids after lunch.  I started it in October after being directed to this post and have four chapters to go.  It is proving to be a real crowd-pleaser.  I highly recommend it.

Little House in the Big Woods pop-corn style with my daughter.  It's her required reading, but I want to know how her reading is progressing so I'm tagging along.

The Bible following a year-long plan.  I started sometime in September and am on day 26.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson for book club.  Traditionally we read a classic horror or mystery book in October.  It's my second time reading this one.  Primarily because I know how it ends, I'm not enjoying it very much this time through.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


We recently celebrated this guy's 10th birthday.


He's come a long way in a decade.

Ten is twice the number of pounds he weighed when he was born.

Ten was the number of days we stayed together in the hospital.

I hated being in that hospital every one of those ten days.  In my hormone-addled state I was not one bit appreciative of the medical care we were receiving.  Borrowing a phrase from Anthony Bouvier, I thought of it as our 'unfortunate incarceration'.  I only wanted our little family to be at home away from the nurse practitioners, the needles, the monitors, that guy, Billy Rueben, the nurses kept talking about, and, especially, those dreadful scales.

I may have taken it more in stride had I known in ten years he'd be big and strong.  If I had had a glimpse into the future and known he'd be making macaroni and cheese from scratch, quoting the Bible and poetry, and playing a mean Irish fiddle, my heart would have been put at ease.  (I would have tactfully overlooked the part about him tormenting his sister and hiding half-chewed food in his pockets.)

Yep, at ten he's pretty okay--a guy who loves baseball and Oklahoma City Thunder basketball and books.

And maybe because it took him so long to get here, he really loves just being home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Presidential Biography: J.Q. Adams

Photo of John Quincy Adams

I recently finished John Quincy Adams A Public Life, A Private Live by Paul Nagel.  I don't recall enjoying a presidential biography as much as this one.  Mr. Nagel wrote a compelling account of the remarkable life of a remarkable American.

I don't want to detract from Mr. Nagel's writing, but I imagine a biography of John Quincy Adams would not be the most difficult one to write.  In the family tradition, he was a prolific writer, keeping a journal consistently from boyhood until death.  Living across the Atlantic from the ever-flowing pens of John and Abigail further contributed to the body of first-hand records of his life.  While there must be plenty of written documentation available, Mr. Nagel did a fine job of distilling the information into a highly readable, not-too-detailed account.

One thing I've enjoyed about reading these presidential biographies back-to-back is that it has allowed me to see how the lives of the founding fathers and mothers overlapped.  Each biography exposes a new facet of the lives of these men and women.  This particular biography was unique in its exploration of the conflicted relationship between JQA and his mother.  It is the first time I've read anything that put Abigail in a negative light.  I came to understand that the pressure put on JQA from an early age left him inwardly frustrated, a man of science and letters who felt compelled to make a mark on the world.   As a result, despite his every natural inclination, he entered the world of politics.  It was a world for which he was not initially well-suited despite ideal education and experience.  After his presidency, which was a failure, he finally hit his political stride as a vocal and tireless (and cantankerous) opponent of slavery in the House of Representatives.

If you are at all interested in the lives of presidents or the founding fathers, I highly recommend this book.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Washington by Land, Air and Sea

Last week our family went on a family vacation to northwest Washington.  It was well timed.  Temperatures in Oklahoma were forecasted to be in the 100s, while Washington temperatures topped out in the 70s.

Our first stop was Seattle where we visited the usual tourist haunts like The Pike Place Market

and took in some culture at the stunning Chiluly Garden and Glass exhibit.

Our favorite Seattle activity was rather surprising to me.  You see, for over ten years I lived down the road from Branson, Missouri, all the while looking down my nose at those people and their yellow beaks quacking their way across town.

Turns out (as is usually the case) I was missing out on all the fun.  Riding The Ducks was a hoot!  And while it was Seattle not Branson, I discovered there's no better way to learn about a city then to have it described by a man wearing a goofy hat while riding an amphibious vehicle from World War II with fellow undignified tourists from around the world.

After, Seattle, we headed north to Everett and toured the Boeing plant.  We saw the areas where they assemble the 747, the 777 and the 787.  This was the trip highlight for my husband and son.

Whidbey Island was our next destination, a short ferry ride form Everett.  It was beautiful and tranquil.

While there, we enjoyed time on the beaches

and experienced some wildlife and seasickness on the Puget Sound.

As an added bonus, one of the quaint island towns was holding a Shakespeare Festival the week we were on the island, so we got to watch an outdoor production of The Taming of the Shrew.  My kids still can't believe their luck!

Despite all we saw and experienced, as we weary travelers drove home from the airport, my kids declared Oklahoma to be the most beautiful place of all.  You've got to appreciate loyalty.

Monday, September 1, 2014

August 2014 Progress

Our month was cut a week short by a vacation we took last week.  We still accomplished much!

Classical Conversation

We started our sixth year with Classical Conversations.  This is my son's first year in Essentials and both kids' second time through Cycle 3.


Shaping Hearts for God Bible curriculum studying the life of Jesus

My son finished learning the 23rd Psalm and is working on learning Matthew 5:3-12 (The Beatitudes).



RightStart Mathematics Level C - Lessons 58 through 70 (multiplication and fractions)
Singapore Math's Challenging Word Problems Level 1 - pages 146 through 159 (time)
Dreambox - logged 20 minutes for the month


Saxon Level 5/4 - through Lesson 31 (starting multiplication review)
Dreambox - logged 20 minutes for the month



Writing With Ease Level 2 - Week 24 through Week 29


IEW's  U.S. History -Based Writing Lessons - Completed Lesson 1

English Grammar

Her:  Classical Conversations English grammar memory, week 1


First Language Lessons Level 3 - finishing up with Dictionary Skills


Her:   Level 3 of All About Spelling - Step 11 through Step 13

Him: Level 4 of All About Spelling - Step 21 through 23


None.  We're focusing on Bible memory work for a few weeks.


Classical Conversations Week 1 memory work and experiments


We are continuing to read non-fiction and historical fiction chronologically through American history.

Early European Settlements:

James Towne Struggle for Survival by Marcia Sewall (Read Aloud)
"King James's Town" from SOTW Volume 4 (RA)
The New Americans: Colonial Times (1620 to 1689) by Betsy and Giulio Maestro (RA)
The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh (Her IR)
Small Wolf by Nathaniel Benchley (Her independent reading)
The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh (Her IR)
Jamestown New World Adventure by James E. Knight (His IR)

Literature and Required and Free Reading

Tales from Shakespeare by Charles Lamb - read King Lear, Macbeath, and All's Well That Ends Well (RA)


Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien 
Firestar's Quest by Erin Hunter

Fine Arts

Her:  Finished "Minuet in G" by Bach and various Irish fiddle tunes

Him:  Finished "Concerto No. 5 in D Major, Op. 11, 1st Movement" by F. Seitz and various Irish fiddle tunes


Visited a glass art exhibit by artist Dale Chihuly

Attended a performance of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew"

Friday, August 22, 2014

Presidential Biography: Monroe

Photo of James Monroe

I just finished Harlow Giles Unger's biography of James Monroe entitled The Last Founding Father:  James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness.

Throughout the book, one senses that Unger may be Monroe's biggest fan.  Early on in the prologue, he describes Adams, Jefferson and Madison as 'mere caretakers,' while attributing Monroe with leading nation's ascendence to greatness.  Other passages conjure up images of Monroe thrusting a whimpering Madison aside while he, with cape billowing, single-handedly saves the nation from the British.  There isn't any real criticism of Monroe throughout the whole book.

Despite the obvious pro-Madison bias and maybe because of it (enthusiasm being contagious and all that), the book was enjoyable to read.  Having little knowledge of this time period, I have no reason NOT to believe that Monroe's presidency ushered in and was the source of the Era of Good Feelings.  I'll conclude, along with the author, that Monroe was a visionary leader with a knack for making and maintaining the right kind of friendships and who acted with bravery all through his career.  And, of course, he married well as the great ones generally do.

I may be victim to Unger's prejudices, but I'm going to claim Monroe as one of my favorite presidents--maybe even top five.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Whole 30: Food Edition

If you need a run-down on the Whole30 food guidelines, go here.

In a nutshell it's a 30-day (or more) diet of whole foods with these restrictions:

  • No sugar or sweeteners of any kind
  • No alcohol
  • No grains
  • No legumes
  • No dairy
  • No carrageenan, MSG or sulfites
  • No baked goods, junk food treats or treats with approved ingredients

Although I was initially intimidated,  I had confidence from my round of gluten-free living that I could do it.

Right off the bat, I found it wasn't really that hard to come up with meals.

Almost every one went something like this:   combine a protein (fish or chicken or beef or pork or eggs) with a fruit or vegetable.  My husband or I sauteed, grilled, roasted, fried (in coconut or olive oil), or braised the meat.  We did the same with the vegetables and fruit or ate them raw.  Since I cook a lot anyway, this approach to eating seemed like a simplified version of how we normally ate...just without the complication of making the muffins or the cornbread or the casserole.

It was a huge benefit to do eating program in the height of summer when there's an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables.

I don't want to make it sound easy.  It wasn't.  However, for me, the biggest challenge came from the emotional aspects instead of the food restrictions.  I'll talk about that in the next post.

The Whole30 people provide plenty of recipes and food options, but I just made my own food--oh, except the mayonnaise.  I made the mayo three or four times.

All the meals were satisfying, but when I combined that mayo with left-over roasted chicken, chopped apples, chopped grapes and onion, seasoned with salt and pepper, my belly reached a whole new level of fullness.  I was just so perfectly satisfied.  I guess it's the fat.  It was so good.

I also followed Melissa Joulwan's recommendation, and bought some coconut aminos.  Boy, that is great stuff.  Add it to the skillet while sauteing chicken, cabbage, carrots, and onions, and you've got a very tasty meal.  It's very reminiscent of soy sauce.

Daddy Hinkle's All Natural Seasoning and Rub was another go-to product.  My husband and I already used this a lot to season meats.  I was pleased when I read the ingredient list and found it to be Whole30-compliant.  Very delicious!

Although the no dairy thing was a little challenging.  I found that Lindsay Naturals California Green Ripe Olives lived up to their billing and had a nice buttery flavor making them a fine dairy substitute.  They had the texture of beans with a taste that had the essence of cheese, which made them a winner with Whole30-style taco salad.

Necessity led me to another great discovery -- all the breading and the coating and the frying of okra is unnecessary fussiness.  It is one vegetable that is great no matter how cooked and even tastes great raw!

I'll leave you with a confession.  I did not eat out once until the last day when I choked down a restaurant salad seasoned with oil and vinegar (my least favorite meal of the month).  Every other meal, three times a day, was prepared by me or my grilling husband at home.  It's not necessary or even recommended to seclude yourself this way while doing the  Whole30.  I just found it to be easier for me.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Klossner Reunion

The most salient memory I have of my Grandpa Klossner is his wooden leg.  Sometimes he would let us kids knock on it.  Sometimes, he'd be lying on his daybed under the windows of the dining room when we arrived and it would be there on the floor, dismembered, beside him.

The thing about my family is that the generations are unusually long.  My grandfather was born in the 1800s (1894 to be exact) and a veteran of World War I.  He was an old man when I knew him.  He lost his leg in a farming accident the year before I was born.  He was no longer healthy.  Combine these factors with my youthfulness (I was only eight when he died), and it's no wonder I did not know him as a person.

This weekend, though, I had a chance to, in a way, draw a little closer to my grandpa.  I drove with my parents to Pershing, Missouri to attend a family reunion.  I gained a connection to the past and a connection to my grandpa.

I learned that the belfry of this church building overlooks the land my grandfather's great-grandfather, John Klossner, an immigrant from Switzerland, purchased soon after his arrival in Missouri in 1843.

Partial view of the Klossner homestead, which is directly below this bluff, and adjacent lands
His son, John Jacob (also a Swiss immigrant), inherited the homestead, which is bordered by the Gasconade River, upon his father's death around 1845.

John Jacob's son and my grandfather's father, John Wesley, later moved 80 miles south to the part of Missouri where five generations of his descendants (including me) have been born and raised.  That 80 miles may as well have been half-way around the world, because our branch of the family lost track of our Gasconade River relatives.  We knew virtually nothing of each other's existence until my fourth cousin once removed, Nelda, brought us together again about 25 years ago.

At that time, she began writing a book called At the Gasconade.  Her book revealed to me my grandfather's story, which is my story too.  It is a family history of three immigrant families, including the Klossners, and their descendants.  It is part historical narrative and part family tree.  Those many years ago, she tracked our branch of the family down to get a record of our births, marriages and deaths.  Since that time, my parents have consistently attended the reunion she organizes every three years.  I went to the reunion in 1990 when I had little to no interest in family history and again for the second time this past weekend.

Every family needs a Nelda.  This book is a family treasure.  It filled in the blanks of my family's history.

Nelda also organized an interesting and informative reunion program.  We heard a speaker discuss the history of steamboats along the Gasconade River, the river that winds past the original Klossner homestead.  There was a second speaker who explained the German heritage of the region.  The German Society of Philadelphia purchased tracts of land along the Gasconade for German immigrants to repurchase.  The intent was to prevent further assimilation of Philadelphian Germans by encouraging them to move to the isolated Missouri hills along the Gasconade where they could live as Germans in 'all the various particulars'.  My Swiss ancestor purchased his homestead among these German folks.

Another bit of information I learned from Nelda's book was the origin of the name Klossner.  It is a derivation of a German word meaning hermit, or "one who keeps to himself."  It would seem that as an introvert, I'm just following a family tradition.

Monday, August 4, 2014

July 2014 Progress

We don't have a clean cut off from one school year to the next.  In my mind, I considered July to be the start of the new school year, but my pupils didn't notice a difference.  For better or worse, we just put one foot in front of the other every day (well, as near to every day as a busy schedule allows) and keep plodding along.

I haven't done an update on our school progress in a while.  I'd like to start up again for the 2014/2015 school year.  My son is in 4th grade and my daughter in second.

As for our first month of the new year, July, I did keep track of the books we read, but for the other stuff, I don't have a clear starting point.  For those subjects, I'll record in this post where we are now and next month I'll note the ground we covered.

Also, in this post, I'll elaborate a little on our book choices.

Classical Conversation

This will be our sixth year in Classical Conversations.  This will be my son's first year in Essentials and both kids' second time through Cycle 3.


My kids are studying the life of Jesus at church using the Shaping Hearts for God Bible curriculum.  It is designed for home use during the week.  We cover one event from Jesus's life each day.  There is also a memory verse that we learn over four weeks.


Her:  My daughter finished lesson 57 in RightStart Mathematics Level C last week.  She is in the midst of reviewing subtraction strategies.  We also do a page or so out of Singapore Math's Challenging Word Problems Level 1 and have just finished page 145, which addresses division.

I'm loving this combination with her.  She also does an on-line math program called Dreambox once or twice a week.

Him: I have loved, loved, loved RightStart since the beginning but for my son who finished Level D in the spring, he's left with only two more levels in RightStart.  We would be forced to make a change sooner or later.  I had a hard time deciding whether or not this was the year we jumped ship to something with more continuity.  He spent the first part of the summer doing Singapore, but I didn't love all the switching between books.  It may be a bad reason to abandon Singapore, but I hated it from the start.  On a whim, I landed on Saxon for him.  He started Level 5/4 a few weeks ago.  It's scope is behind where he was in Right Start and Singapore, but I'm a fan of review and think we'll both do well with the format.

He, too, does Dreambox once or twice a week.


Her:  We're in week 24 of Writing With Ease 2.  We're moving quickly through this because she usually asks for more.  She LOVES copywork and does great with dictation.  The narrations are her weak point.

She's also starting cursive and is two weeks into Handwriting Without Tears Cursive Handwriting.

Him:  The hit of the summer has been Writing and Rhetoric Book 1:  Fable from Classic Academic Press ("CAP").  We started in early April and are two weeks away from finishing.  It has been a real pleasure going through this program... or should I say, progym.  I'm not good at generating the conversation.  This has been a good catalyst to get us started in having good discussions.  I also love the imitative approach to teaching writing.

We'll finish the Fable book in time to start the Institute for Excellence in Writing's  U.S. History -Based Writing Lessons through Classical Conversations Essentials program.  Part of me wants to continue on with the next CAP book, Narrative 1, but I think the outside accountability and the integration with history will benefit my son.

English Grammar

Her:  We're just going to rely on Classical Conversations English grammar memory work for her.

Him:  We'll be finished with First Language Lessons Level 3 by the time Essentials starts.  It's been a great review of Classical Conversation Cycle 2 memory work and introduction to diagramming. From then on, we'll rely on Essentials for all his grammar needs.


Her:  She finished Step 11 in Level 3 of All About Spelling.

Him: He finished Step 20 in Level 4 of All About Spelling.

Both kids do great with this program.  It is a winner.


Both kids memorized Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and The 23rd Psalm this summer.  I'm not sure what's next, but it will be something out of IEW's Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization.  I think we'll hop around and pick out poems from various American poets to somewhat match up with our history.


I'm sorely tempted to just rely on Classical Conversations memory work, experiments and activities for science.   We've done no science this summer.


We are just going to read various non-fiction, historical fiction books and folk stories related to American History, roughly following our Classical Conversations's history sentence sequence.  This summer, we started with the mound builders.  Here's what we've read so far:

Pre-Columbian Civilizations:

Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 by Charles C. Mann (Read Aloud) - excerpt addressing mound-builders only
The Discovery of the Americas by Betsy and Giulio Maestro (RA)
Journey to Cahokia: A Boy's Visit to the Great Mound City by Albert Lorenz (His Independent Read)
Ice Mummy:  The Discovery of a 5,000 Year-Old Man by Mark Dubowski (Her IR)

The Vikings:

Leif the Lucky by Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire (RA)
Voyage with the Vikings (The Imagination Station Series) by Paul McCusker (Her IR)


Columbus by Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire (RA)
Pedro's Journal: A Voyage with Christopher Columbus by Pam Conrad (His IR)
Christopher Columbus (Step into Reading, Step 3) by Stephen Krensky (Her IR)

Native Americans:

North American Indians by Douglas Gorsline (RA)
How Coyote Stole the Summer: A Native American Folktale by Stephen Krensky (Her IR)
Indians of the Plains by Rae Baines (His IR)

Literature and Required and Free Reading

I am slowly reading the kids Tales from Shakespeare by Charles Lamb after lunch.  They are surprisingly attentive while I read this.  They are amused by the similarity between stories, particularly in the number of times a woman dresses up like a man.

I've let our evening read-alouds dwindle to nothing.  It seems there are more exciting things to do of a summer's evening than listening to me read.  Here's a list of additional non-history books they've read independently during July:


The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh (required reading)


Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien (required reading still in progress)
Warriors #4, Rising Storm by Erin Hunter
Warriors #5, A Dangerous Path
Warriors #6, The Darkest Hour
Warriors:  The New Prophecy #1: Midnight


They are continuing their weekly violin lessons and daily pracice.  They learn songs using the Suzuki method and Irish fiddle tunes.  He is in Suzuki Book 4 and she is almost done with Suzuki Book 2.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Picking Up Where I Left Off

As mentioned, I went gluten free in the month of June.   I managed to lose my back pain but not much else.

On one hand I felt discouraged--I really thought that I'd benefit from more weight-loss and more energy gains.

But the loss of back pain was no small thing.  It had been present since I was pregnant with my first child.  Every time I bent over or stood up or lifted the pain was there.

One month without gluten and no more back pain helped me make that connection--the connection between food and health.

I mean, I know that food affects health, but like many an unpleasant truth, it was easy to ignore.  Yes, it's one thing to know it and another altogether to accept it--to be convicted of it.

And as for that weight thing...I would have liked to have lost more during my gluten free period.

My pictures from the Arkansas trip confirmed the truth.  I had extra LBs in the bottom and in the belly as evidenced by these photos.

EXHIBIT A -  Junk in the trunk:
Don't be so sad, I'm thin on the inside.

EXHIBIT B - Flabs not abs:

I should not have been seen in public in this shirt.

I knew further change was in order.  One day I was discouraged but enlightened.  The next day I was embarking on a new challenge:  The Whole 30.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Presidential Biography: Madison

Photo of James Madison

I just finished James Madison and the Making of America by Kevin R.C. Gutzman.  As the title suggests, most of this book focuses on three of Madison's roles crucial to the establishment of this country:  co-author of the Constitution, co-author of The Federalist and participant in the Virginia ratification convention.  Of course, other areas of Madison's prolific life were discussed, such as his terms as Secretary of State and President.  Yet, these three roles were addressed in more pages than all others combined.

The book goes into considerable detail of the Constitutional Convention and the ratification process, including a nearly motion by motion recounting of events (or in the case of The Federalist, an essay by essay summary).  The detail serves the purpose of providing the reader an appreciation for the monumental difficulty of writing and subsequently ratifying the Constitution.  Considerable compromise was required.  It also informs one of the issues most significant to the leading minds of the day.  

I learned that while Madison is considered the Father of the Constitution and fought tenaciously for its ratification, he did not altogether agree with it.  In particular, he thought the legislature should have veto power over state laws, and he did not approve of the disproportionate power the Senate gave small states.

I did not gain much insight into the man himself other than that he was mental giant.  Quiet and unassuming in person, he was a powerful wielder of the pen who could grasp and assimilate complicated issues.  These qualities served him well in his role as Father of the Constitution.  It would seem they left him somewhat during his eight-year tenure as president.  However, this period of his life was not addressed in nearly the same detail as those mentioned previously.

Except a few references to some White House parties, the book was nearly devoid of any description of Madison's home life.  I suppose it is stereotypically female of me to wish Gutzman had explored his relationship with the  intrepid Dolley.  I recall one reference in the book to her as "his beloved Dolley", but I did not get an understanding of of their connection.  Such personal analysis was obviously outside the author's scope.

All in all, though, I finished the book better informed about and more appreciative of this great mind and his contribution to the making of America.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Garden Post - July 2014

I'm sitting here typing in the middle of July.  My schedule has unexpectedly cleared.  I've declared a sick day because of a child diagnosed with walking pneumonia.  Fortunately, swimming lessons have also been cancelled because...get's too cold!

Has my calendar malfunctioned?

It is currently 61 degrees outside and starting to sprinkle.  Heavenly.

It seems like a good day to provide a garden update.

The first big event of the season was the harvesting of the cabbage.  This is my son's entry into the Bonnie 3rd Grade Cabbage Program.  His isn't as big as some of the monsters they feature on their site, but we went ahead and picked his because we thought it would start suffering in the Oklahoma heat.  Who knew how mild this summer would be?

Our other big harvest was the onions.  Onions continue to be our most successful crop.  We've already eaten a significant amount of these, so this picture reflects a depleted supply.

The tomatoes are starting to come on strong.  We eat several daily and I've canned four pints (which I know is paltry to big-time gardeners).

Our okra is also starting to produce.  Of all the vegetables in the world, okra is the only one my kids eat enthusiastically.  It's hard for our three little plants to keep up with the demand.

After we pulled the onions in late June, my husband planted purple hull pea seed in their place.  This was somewhat of an experiment because it past the typical planting season.  The plants seem to be doing fine so far.

The other vegetables growing in our garden are lettuce (also a little late for that, but it looks good), asparagus, jalapeno peppers and anaheim peppers.

Besides providing us with delicious, fresh food, this little suburban plot of ours brings us a lot of joy.

I also want to feature some of our flowers.

Last year, my mother-in-law gave us sunflower seeds.  I realized that the sunflower is the happiest flower of them all. I loved it in full bloom, and the birds enjoyed its seeds in the winter.  This year, I ordered a different variety that produces more than one blossom per plant.  The blooms are smaller, but I love the multiple blooms and variegated petals.

My mom gave me a sackful of gladiola bulbs this spring.  They are starting to bloom.  This gorgeous flower is on my short-list of favorites.

Finally, one of the kid's violin instructors gave me some milkweed seed.  Milkweed is the host plant for the Monarch butterfly.  I'm keeping a close eye on these to see if we are attracting any butterflies.  They are just starting to bloom.

Thanks for taking this tour of our gardens.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Month I Went Gluten Free

I'm very thankful that I'm healthy, but I still can find reason to complain.  My three health 'problems':  constant lower back pain, constant fatigue, and a constant need to lose weight.

To see if I could alleviate any of these problems, I decided to jump on the bandwagon that has been circling for quite some time and go gluten free for a month.

On June 1, armed with a library copy of America's Test Kitchen How Can it Be Gluten Free Cookbook and a bag of Udi's bread, I took the plunge.

I thought it would be hard.  For the most part it was not.  Even though I generally eat plenty of bread and pizza and pastry deserts, I did not feel deprived because I could occasionally binge on other bad-girl favorites like chips and soda.

I did have two slip-ups.  One day I ate oatmeal that may have been cross-contaminated, and I had a complete gluten relapse during our two-night getaway to Arkansas.

Otherwise, I was oh so good.

I never finished the bag of Udi's (it was too dry), and I only made one recipe from the cookbook (there were too many expensive ingredients).  I mostly relied on eating unprocessed foods except for the aforementioned chips and soda.

I'm happy to report, the lower back pain, my constant companion, went away!

The fatigue and the extra weight did not.  There may have been a small up-tick in my energy level, but I cannot be sure.  And, sadly, I only lost one pound.  One pound:  not the result I was looking for.

But, I'll take that one benefit I received.

Everyone knows that food affects health.  There is a barrier, though, between knowledge and acceptance.  This little experiment may have helped me over that barrier.

I've not given up hope.  For July, I'm on to a new challenge.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Presidential Biography: Jefferson

Photo of Thomas Jefferson

While sitting under a canopy of trees in Arkansas, I finished Jon Meacham's biography of our third president entitled Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.

After reading the biographies of Washington and Adams, I was left pondering: Who was the real Jefferson?  Was he Ellison's 'snake in the grass' or was he Ferling's benign politician.

Well, although Meacham never referred to Jefferson in such negative terms, he did explore Jefferson's duality.  He was probably both.

There were definitely two sides to the man.  One the idealist and the other the pragmatist.  He was the declarer of independence who enslaved others.  He was the great republican who willingly wielded executive power.  In that, he's like the rest of us who do not always act in accordance with our more noble impulses.

Whatever his faults, his talent and greatness stand with the talent and greatness of Washington and Adams.  Plus, he is infinitely more interesting.  I would love to have dined at Monticello on French food amongst the art and the books and the distinguished guests and experienced some of the Jefferson charm.

Meacham's book was my favorite presidential biography to date (including those I've read in previous years).  It was a fascinating book about a fascinating man.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Natural State

Last week, we packed up the family sedan and headed east to Arkansas.  Our destination was Devil's Den State Park.

The park was built in the late thirties by the Civilian Conservation Corp (the CCC).  We felt their presence throughout our three-day stay.

We stayed in this quaint cabin perched on a hill.  It was one of two in the park built by the CCC.  It had been modernized with air-conditioning and satellite TV, but it retained its historical vibe.

I spent hour upon hour on the little deck, catching up on my reading amidst the hickories and the oaks.  It was so cool under the leaf canopy.  Maybe it was the bat population from the den, but I was never bothered with mosquitoes even in the twilight hours.

One way the park commemorates its CCC history is with a daily four o'clock softball game.  Reportedly, the guys played baseball everyday after building dams, cabins and the like, and the park rangers organize a family softball game to maintain the tradition.  Excuse me, they're not 'rangers' anymore, they're Park Interpreters.  What?  I'm sure there is a good reason for changing a perfectly good job title, but I'm not sure what it is.

The park was full of hiking trails that provided a wonderful mix of scenery including caves, waterfalls, creeks and timber.

Besides all the natural beauties, there were manmade amenities as well,

to which we gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reading Warriors


As good parents, we encourage our kids to find their own path, their passion, that thing they love.  But, all along, we're hoping that that thing will just so happen to be the same thing we love.

For me that thing is reading and that's one of the passions I'm rooting for for my kids.

Although he'll listen to books all day, my son has always leaned a little towards the reluctant end of the reading spectrum.  He reads quite a bit, but mostly because I require it.  He does it more dutifully than enthusiastically.

There have been bursts of enthusiasm over certain books, mostly those in a series.  I remember Dav Pilkey's Ricky Ricotta books as being the first series he requested over and over


He later showed some inclination toward The Magic Treehouse series


and The Secrets of Droon.


He read these with more eagerness than usual, but those tell-tale sign of a reader in love were not there...the reading into the night, the toting of books to places books don't belong (e.g. baseball practice), the suspension of all other interests.

But this year his cousin recommended the Erin Hunter's Warriors series to him, and I began to see book-wormish signs.  From the first book, he began clamoring, begging, and wheedling for these books and was devouring them in short order.

Fire and Ice (Warriors, #2)

What?  You want another Warriors book so soon???  Sure, son, I'm happy to comply, you chip off the old block.