Thursday, April 29, 2010

Strengthening the Bars of My Gates

"Praise your God, O Zion, for he strengthens the bars of your gates and blesses your people within you.  He grants peace to your borders and satisfies you with the finest of wheat."  -- Psalm 147:12b-14

If you've been with me for a while (and thanks so much, by the way!), you already know that I prefer my life in Maine to my life here in the 'burbs.  Where we live for most of the year, the whirlwind lifestyle is very much en vogue.  Women I know laughingly relate all the activities, events, and places where they and their children need to be, sometimes all at the same time.  For myself, I prefer a quiet life.

Over the last few months, I have been struggling with the fact that we are just too busy here at my house.  This is not just a matter of personal preference, either.  It's become painfully obvious to me that I simply cannot function in a whirlwind. 

This has really been a quandary.  I tusselled with it mentally and with a few friends in conversation, but then things took a turn about two months ago when I became ill with some sort of odd stomach/intestinal distress.  I also felt exhausted.  It took some time, but I finally realized (duh!) that we are doing too much.  The girls' education is God's calling for my life and should be my top priority, but it has suffered due to our over-extended schedule and my recent illness.  Conviction has been all over me.

I asked my small accountability group (there are six of us) to pray for me two days ago.  I specifically asked for clarity and guidance, as well as improved physical and emotional health.  And things started happening.

That afternoon, I came across an excellent blog entry, "Slow Parenting," on the most recent edition of the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival.  (If you've never checked out this blog carnival, I highly recommend it.)  Jennifer writes, "I don't want our house to be grand central station, where all the members of the family are just 'passing through' on their way to other destinations."  Wow.  That's actually what has been happening in our home.  I could quote Jennifer's whole post here, but pop over and read it -- slowly -- for yourself.

Later that very day, I opened a magazine we get, and the title of the publisher's op-ed column was "Slow Down.  Right Now!"  Since I don't believe in coincidences, I know my friends' prayers were already at work.  God was talking to me.

But it's complicated, as such things typically are.  Knowing one needs to make changes and actually making those changes are two very different things, especially when one has to consider responsiblities and commitments made to other people.  I hate letting people down.  But, a little voice whispers, haven't you been letting your children and yourself down by trying to do too much?

So this morning, when I awoke way too early with these things heavy on my mind, I randomly selected Psalm 147 to read.  The verses I quote above jumped out at me.  They are perfect truth for our situation.  I need the bars of my gates strengthened, and I need peace granted to my borders.  Frankly, I need better borders.  I need to reinstate necessary boundaries for our home education to be a success.  And the Lord will bless my "people," i.e., my family, and satisfy us with the finest of what we need.  If I carefully attend to my children's education and the quality of our home life, I will gain strength, blessings, peace, and satisfaction.

But if I remain in the whirlwind, I will feel weak, anxious, dissatisfied, conficted, and I will miss out on blessings.  Honestly, I've had my fill of all that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Campin' Queen Cries Uncle

First, you'll be glad to know we survived the Girl Scout camping weekend.  Thank heavens I bought -- at the last minute -- enough disposable rain ponchos for our group.  That gives you a good idea of what the weather was like.  The girls had a great time, which is the point of it all, but I was glad to get home to my own comfy bed.

However, after spending the weekend squelching through mud, waiting out thunderstorms to run through the night to the bath house, and all the other glories that embody the group camping experience, I decided to postpone our family camping trip originally scheduled for this weekend.  One (read: I) can only do so much.

Besides, Himself is not available this week to pack the camping gear, and that it his arena.  How's that for an excuse?  Yes, I thought it was lovely and convenient, myself.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Campin' Queen

The girls and I are in a flurry this morning, packing for our weekend camping trip with the Scout troop.  It's only two nights, but we still have loads of stuff.  Hmm.  And then there's the necessary items for the (two-hour) drive to the camp that MUST NOT be forgotten.  At least we'll be in cabins.  This is especially welcome, since the weather forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms tomorrow.  Yippee.  Remind me why I am doing this?

And next week, we are taking a family camping trip.  Why I thought that would be a good idea escapes me at the present time.

Not that I abhor camping.  I like it.  But two weekends in a row is a tad much, unless you're a die-hard.  With a pop-up camper.  We have a tent.  And a puppy.  Need I say more?

But we'll make it a good time, anyway.  I tend to moan and whinge before a trip and then have a fun time when I'm actually there.  Homebodies are like that.

But I'm sure it'll be great.  Really.  A really, really fab time.  In the rain.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Home is Always Messy

And here's why:  we homeschool; ergo, we are always home.  Except for when we're rushing out the door to an activity or event.

Also, our house is child-cleaned.  Each week, the girls are assigned a cleaning detail, either kitchen or household.  Kitchen detail includes loading and unloading the dishwasher, setting and clearing the table, and mopping the kitchen floor.  Household includes dusting and vacuuming the downstairs rooms and cleaning the girls' bathroom.  The next week, they switch details.  Some weeks we are so busy, the house gets a lick and a promise.

To be honest, the girls are not quite as thorough as I would be, but I think it's important that they learn not only the mechanics of housecleaning but also the regularity of it.

To be even more honest, since I'm on a roll here, housecleaning is not my favorite thing to do anyway.  Perhaps I should re-word that: housekeeping is not my favorite thing.  I don't know too many women who love to clean, but I do know women who are skilled at keeping their homes tidy and photo-shoot ready and also derive enjoyment from those tasks.  I don't.  For me, there's always a good book to read instead or something else to do (whether more enjoyable or not).

I prefer to think of my home as comfortable.  Not shabby, but not a showplace, either.  So if you'd like to discuss good books over a cup of tea, then welcome.  Just move those socks off the chair so you'll have a place to sit down.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Debunking the Image of Homeschooling Perfection

A friend and I were talking recently about the disparity between our image of homeschooling and the reality of homeschooling.  Personally, I blame the covers of certain homeschooling catalogues and magazines.  You know the ones: happy children gathered round a serene mama as she reads a selection of quality literature.  By the fireside.  Complete with hot chocolate and marshmallows, too, I'm sure.

And I'm also sure every single child in that photo has mastered the subtle complexities of long division.  And their rooms are spotless; no unmentionables flung casually to the floor in THAT household.  (Oops!  Did I just write that??)

Ah, well. 

I am so glad I discovered the blogosphere, where I have "met" other homeschooling families.  The greatest benefit, of course, is learning about what other people are doing, reading, attempting, visiting, etc.  I've gotten loads of great ideas.  But the second greatest benefit (and sometimes the most important, frankly) is the tons of encouragement I've received when I've needed it, either from comments from my fabulous followers and visitors or simply from reading about other people's experiences.

Of course, there are those blogs where everything is snuggily perfect.  They make me suspicious.

Now, we have had days wherein all goes smoothly and well.  And I have made mugs of hot chocolate for the girls to sip while I read.  Those are halcyon days.  But to expect that all the time, to fall for the homeschooling illusion (perhaps delusion is a better word) is downright dangerous:  if the going gets tough, I may be tempted to take the road more traveled (my apologies to Frost).

So I've learned to enjoy the days of perfection when they come, but I don't expect them very often.  Most days have both ups and downs.  Like life.  We celebrate the ups, and we work through the downs, and linking all of it together is a silver thread of grace.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Excelsior!

Excelsior! seems a fitting title, since we read Longfellow's poem by the same name this morning.  I had to look it up online to find out what, exactly, "excelsior" means.  Seems like I knew the definition once upon a time, but no longer.  In case you're in the dark as well, "excelsior," translated from Latin, means "ever higher" or "onward and upward."  (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

And it's doubly fitting since I'm ending this week with that philosophy in mind, despite having some serious doubts about our approach to math and falling a tad behind due to illness (mine).  We caught up by Friday, and I'm feeling better about math (see my two previous posts for more info).

In order to keep things moving along during my illness, the girls worked quite a bit in the BrainQuest workbooks this week.  We managed to complete all our scheduled readings, too.  A highlight this week was Marco Polo's account of the "gold-teeth people" in The Adventures of Marco Polo, by Russell Freedman.  We also enjoyed learning about Bartholomew Diaz and Vasco da Gama in The Discovery of New Worlds, by M. B. Synge.

We've been gently studying Van Gogh over the last few months (you can read my post about the IMAX film about Van Gogh that we saw here).  This week, we read Van Gogh, by Mike Venezia, in the "Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists" series.  This is the first we've read in this series, and I found the book to be engaging and child-friendly.  Of course, there's no getting around the fact of Van Gogh's suicide, which has prompted several discussions about Van Gogh's particular genius, his obsession with painting, and his state of mind.

Our zinnia seeds have sprouted in the raised-bed garden.  They are the only ones yet to show themselves.  The girls and I are anxious for the others to sprout, too.

My huge azalea mass has come into its glory.  I love these shrubs!  Himself and I talk of pruning them back throughout the year, and in the summer they do seem a bit blowsy, but then spring rolls around again and we leave them be.  We have other grandiose white azaleas mass planted as well, but they burst fully into bloom about a week later and the flowers are smaller.  The one below is my favorite.

And I'll leave you with a photo of Jasper, who continues to grow and delight us (and jump up on the couch, and run off with hats, and. . .).  He is our sweet boy!

Homemade pizza dough is in the bread machine, it's gorgeous and warm outside, and I can hear the girls playing.  My book awaits me this evening, Emily Davis, by Miss Read, and it's Friday.

Excelsior, indeed!

In the Trenches: Math, Part 2

If you read yesterday's post, you know how I've been re-evaluating our math choices for one of my children.  My own feeling of inadequacy, as I shared yesterday, has fueled my anxieties for my child.  A common enough situation, eh?

I received two wonderful comments (read below) and found that both Jeanne and Silvia helped guide me to a path to take.  And, as I read their advice, I also realized that this is a perfect case in which my weaknesses and negative experiences may actually help me better teach my daughter.

By paying close attention to how she learns or processes mathematics, I can tailor our curriculum so that it's a better fit for her.  I can add or remove as I deem appropriate, and we can go at her pace and not worry about "finishing."  Frankly, I don't recall ever finishing a math textbook when I was in school.  Sometimes, we even jumped around.

Isn't it amazing how often the things that disturb us the most turn out to be opportunities to make something better?  What a wonderful example of grace at work.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In the Trenches: Math

I've been wondering for quite some time if we need to make a change with our math curriculum.  We currently use MEP (Mathematics Enhancement Programme), and I have really liked it.  In fact, in teaching with MEP, I've had a few a-ha! moments, myself!  Jeanne ("A Peaceful Day") wrote an excellent post on her blog regarding MEP, which she also uses, and I encourage you to read her thoughts about MEP as a Charlotte Mason-esque curriculum.

One of my dc excels with this curriculum, but the other does not seem to flourish, and therein lies the problem.

In my quest to discover if we should switch to another curriculum for this child, I've been doing a lot of reading and researching (as I am wont to do) and a bit of cogitating (ditto first parenthetical comment).  Nail biting might be a better description, alas.  Just in the nick of time, Silvia at "Homeschooling in a Bilingual Home" embarked on a wonderful three-part post/discussion regarding mastery versus spiral methodology in mathematics.  It makes for fascinating reading.  And when I commented (on Part II) about my worries with my daughter, Silvia was quick to encourage me to look for different ways to teach this child AND to provide suggestions.  You can read her response here (down at the bottom of the page).

So here's what I've done thus far.  Both girls are doing their math lessons from the BrainQuest workbooks, which they are enjoying.  (By the way, these are really fun workbooks chock full of solid material -- great for some summer work.  And I see that it's much cheaper on Amazon than the store where I bought mine. )  But really, this has been more of a review or supplemental work for them.  I've ordered the book Family Math, just to see what it's all about.  I've been reading reviews on Teaching Textbooks (which my dd would hate, I can already tell), Bob Jones math, CLE (Christian Light Education) math, Developmental Mathematics, and several others.  Here's the rub: for every person who just loves a curriculum, you can count on others who don't.  That's just the way of the world.

And I really don't want to spend money on any curriculum simply to find out it's not what she needs, after all.

At the crux of this issue is my own feelings of weakness.  Math is not my bag.  My academic gifts lie elsewhere, and I told myself throughout my later school years that I am just not good at math.  I nearly failed college algebra, for Pete's sake.  My father, a math person if there ever was one (math and physics double major, master's degree in physics, and a career as a nuclear health physicist) has told me time and again that my problem was the way I was taught math.

Which makes me consider the solid B I earned in college calculus.  (I'm still not sure how that happened -- maybe I'm better at theoretical math?)  Perhaps if I'd been taught to think mathematically throughout my education, to see the whys behind the hows, I may have considered math differently.  I still may not have chosen to major in math, true, but I may not have felt like a mathematics idiot, either.

This particular child takes after her mama.  Her natural gifts lie elsewhere.  But I want her experience to be different, better, than mine.  So I'm struggling to find a way for her to feel confident and comfortable with mathematics, to give her a strong foundation I so sorely lacked.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks: Latest Update

I haven't posted in quite some time any reviews of the books I'm reading for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.  This is not to say I haven't been keeping up with the reading -- I have.  But time to craft thought-provoking reviews has eluded me to the point that I am so far behind.  So I'm throwing in the towel.

I'll continue the reading, of course, and let you know what I'm reading and some brief thoughts.  It just won't be as formal as before.  So here's a list of what I've read lately:

Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry.  This was my first taste of Berry (couldn't help the pun -- it just happened).  After what I deemed a slow, albeit enjoyable start, I really sunk way into this book (bibliophiles, you know just what I mean by that descriptor) and ended up loving it.  Berry's poetic eloquence shines through in so many of the passages and descriptions that the prose is just beautiful.  Berry has created a narrative that manages to be rich and vivid yet light as silk.  An added bonus: I laughed out loud on several occasions.

A Far Cry from Kensington, by Muriel Spark.  Very different from my first Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, this small novel is a delight.  The cast of characters is both off-beat and amazingly human, and the plot skilfully weaves comedic elements with suspense, along with a touch of the (supposed) supernatural.  I thought it was a hoot.

The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes, by Marcel Theroux.  This is an unusual story, told in the first person by a man who seems, in the beginning, to be living his life in absentia, almost more like dying day by day instead of living.  But an unexpected bequest from a forgotten uncle -- a house in Massachusetts -- spurs him to a radical life-change, which then leads to other discoveries, not the least of which is an unpublished manuscript that offers more mysteries to unravel.  I very much enjoyed Theroux's writing style and turn of the phrase, and I look forward to reading more of this books.

Yikes! Look at the time! I have to leave for a Scout meeting in an hour and haven't even started on supper.

More later.  And, yes, there's more!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Spring Breakin'

Isn't my phlox lovely?  Ah, spring!  I love it.

We took a break from our regular schedule this week (along with everyone else in our area) and got a few things done, like cleaning out the girls' dresser drawers.  That's always fun.  What fits, what doesn't, what can be given away, what can be put away until cooler temps roll around again, etc.

But we also planted seeds in our raised-bed garden and starter egg cartons, which I consider educational.  The girls have high expectations for this, our first endeavor into gardening.  Our ambitious planting scheme includes: cherry tomatoes, cucumbers (bush-type), carrots, watermelon (at Tiny Girl's insistence), strawberries, basil, zinnias (purple, pink, AND red), hollyhocks, and foxglove.

Miss Priss also put in two salvia plants.

Himself is skeptical:  "You have more seeds than you do garden space."  I figure we'll see what comes up and replant, if necessary.  We're also planning to transplant some of the flower seedlings to other areas in our yard.  We can also always pass along seeds to any interested friends.

The funny thing is that we'll be in Maine when most of this is ready to harvest.  I guess Himself will be giving a lot of produce away!  Although I intend to transplant two tomato plants and one cucumber plant to large containers and take them along with us to Maine.

April continues its lovely dance.  Deciduous trees are leafing out in earnest, and several other blooming varieties have burst forth, like this beautiful redbud.

I had originally planned to clean out our study/schoolroom this week, too.  But when the sun is shining, it's far too easy to put off that sort of chore, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Importance of Little Things

I have a Women of Faith NIV Study Bible, which I like a lot.  The margins feature scripture explication, mini-devotionals, snippets of hymns, and poetry.  Yesterday, I came across this poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, amongst the pages of Jeremiah:
I was too ambitious in my deed,
And thought to distance all men in success.
Till God came to me, marked the place, and said,
"Ill doer, henceforth keep within this line,
Attempting less than others" -- and I stand
And work among Christ's little ones, content.
I had to read it more than once to let it sink in, and the words spoke to me.  For years, I've been struggling with the impression that I am not doing enough with the gifts given me, that I should be doing more or being more.  That I should be giving back more to the world.  Perhaps it was delusions of grandeur.  I don't know.

Our culture, of course, is no help.  Women's magazines are riddled with articles on how to juggle everything and do it fabulously.  You can have it all and look younger while you do it!  Just look at these women entrepreneurs/mommies, making big bucks or making a difference in the world or -- even better -- making both!

Then there are the women I actually know who use their gifts wonderfully well: giving, serving, teaching, leading, following their dreams.  Their calendars are packed with things to do and places to be.  I've heard that some women consider their activities and responsiblities as a kind of competition between them and their acquaintances.  Happily, I've never met any of this ilk, but I do lead a bit of a sheltered life as a homeschooler.  Regardless, I've come to a (small) conclusion about these busy superwomen:  they must need less sleep than I.

The funny thing is, I've never felt pressure to "measure up" to any real person.  I've only felt internal pressure that I wasn't living up to my God-given potential, that I wasn't doing all I was meant to do, that I wasn't doing something BIG.  After all, I don't have these gifts for nothing, do I?

And that's why this poem got my attention.  I am using my gifts.  For one, I teach, not just my own children, but children at church and Scouts.  And I know these are important services.  Where I got messed up was in my thinking that my efforts were somehow less than because my sphere of influence is small and my audience (for lack of a better word) is young.  And that, my friends, is the world talking.

To God, none if it is small.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Homeschool Freebies Galore!

In case you don't know about the Homeschool Freebie of the Day website, let me introduce you.  This wonderul website posts a new homeschool resource every day, free for you to download and use.  In the past, I've downloaded audiobook files, PDF ebooks, games, household management ebooks, and the like.  What's more, I've actually used them in our lessons and our home!  (You know how it is: sometimes we homeschoolers hoard so much stuff that we can hardly make use of it all.)

I signed up for their email list.  At the beginning of each week, I receive a "heads up" email that lists each day's freebie for that week.  After I review the offerings, I make note of those that are of interest to me and on what day to download them.  For example, this week I am very interested in The First Book of Plants, by Alice Dickinson, and Planned Spontaneity, both PDF ebooks.  There are also two beginning birdwatching books, which look wonderful, but we are experienced birdwatchers, so I may pass.  Then again, I may download them anyway just to have a look at them!

Even if you're not a homeschooler, the books are wonderful reading, and the audiobook selections make great entertainment for travel.  A few months ago, I downloaded a drawing tutorial that I'm going to print out for the girls when we hit the road for our three-day junket to Maine in June.

Just a little tidbit I thought I'd pass along!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: T Is for Testing and Tea

A couple of days ago, I wrote about this being our CAT/5 standardized testing week for Tiny Girl.  There are ten tests, and she has completed nine.  Yesterday's mathematics computation wore her out, so we're waiting until Monday to do the second math test, mathematical analysis, or some such.  She's maintaining her perfect testing equlibrium with cups of peppermint tea and sometimes a few Rich Tea biscuits.

Despite the testing, we still managed to keep up with our AO readings.  We are continuing Diane Stanley's biography of Leonardo da Vinci, and we began "The Invention of the Electric Engine and Electric Locomotive" in Great Inventors and their Inventions.  We also read the chapters "Prince Henry, the Sailor" and "The Invention of Printing" in The Discovery of New Worlds, by M. B. Synge.  In This Country of Ours, we learned how America got is name.  The girls were astounded to learn that Christopher Columbus never set foot in our country, and we all enjoyed learning about Amerigo Vespucci.  I recall learning the name when I was in middle school, but never the story behind how our country (and the two new continents) came to be named after the Italian explorer.  And some of the suggested names, such as "Fer-Isabelica," after the Spanish monarchs who financed Columbus's voyages, made us laugh out loud.

It's been a little ticklish trying to keep Miss Priss on track during her sister's testing, but we've managed okay.  She still did her spelling lessons as scheduled, worked on math all but one day, and studied French three days and Latin two days.  Since she's only attacking two tests per day, Tiny Girl completed several math lessons and her grammar lesson this week.  Both girls practiced the piano as well.  The spring recital is in May, and they've begun working on their "special" pieces.

The girls have also read a lot this week. I'm so pleased they are developing into avid readers (just like their mama -- ahem). They are even reading in bed in the mornings when they wake up. Miss Priss is tearing through Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and Tiny Girl began the fourth book of Avi's Poppy series, Ereth's Birthday, this morning. She read the first three in record time.  Both girls are wanting to read all the time, and, while I applaud their enthusiasm, I've had to rein them in -- especially Miss Priss -- on a few occasions.  It's a sad fact of life that sometimes one has to work before one can read.  But I feel their pain.

I'd rather read than do math, myself.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Books for Me -- Woo Hoo!

Today, I gleefully bought books with abandon (well, I stayed mostly within my allotted dollar amount) with the gift card my sister and her family sent me a couple of weeks ago for my birthday.  Actually, I confess I went WAY over my allotted amount because I forgot about shipping charges.  Since I was buying used books, I didn't qualify for the free Super-Saver Shipping, which is for Amazon-direct purchases only.   So when I saw the whopping total cost for shipping, I went back and deleted a few items from my shopping cart.  That's always a painful process, isn't it?

Anyway, here's what I got:
Since I bought the books from different sellers on Amazon, they will arrive at different times.  That makes it more exciting, doesn't it?  I'll review these for my Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks project, in case you're interested in what I think.

What books are you reading?  Post a comment and tell me about it!