Saturday, May 29, 2010

She Is Too Fond of Books: What I've Been Reading Lately

I haven't written a post about the books I've had on my nightstand, in my pool bag, or in my hands in the last few weeks, so it's time for an update.  I've been reading a lot lately, and unfortunately, I can't review these selections as thoroughly as I might otherwise do, since I want to get the information out there as expediently as possible.

I just finished Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Last year, I'd highlighted this recommended title in Gladys Hunt's Honey for a Woman's Heart and put it on my list.  I am so glad I did.  An epistolary novel, Fair and Tender Ladies is the life story of Ivy Rowe, a woman living in Appalachia in the early to mid-twentieth century.  Smith, who grew up in Virginia, has perfectly captured the voice of her characters, the particular mountain dialect of the region.  I'm seriously considering making this book my suggestion for my book club.

Another book I relished is The Summer Guest, by Justin Cronin.  Cronin tells the story of a family who owns a fishing camp in Maine through several different characters' points of view and also jumps back and forth in time, two devices I particularly appreciate if done well.  And here they are done very well.  This was a selection from my book club, and everyone liked it very much, which is quite a recommendation!  On the whole, this book is wonderfully satisfying.

I heard about Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War on "The Writer's Almanac" on NPR and immediately picked up a used copy of my own.  Parts of this book I enjoyed and parts I did not.  Despite having taken several American History courses in school (ahem), I know little about World War I, so I was quite taken with the parts of this novel that took place in France during the war: trench warfare, the horror of the noxious gas, the tunnelers, the battles themselves, etc.  All of this was shocking and riveting.  However, the subplot of Wraysford's granddaughter living in 1970s London was an unnecessary diversion; I felt that entire part could have been excised without damaging the main narrative at all.  Still, I am glad to have read this novel; I haven't stopped thinking about it.

A big thanks to Jeanne at A Peaceful Day for pointing me to Hamlet's Dresser, by Bob Smith.  What a fantastic book this is!  I am in awe of Smith's dedication to bringing Shakespeare (with his presentations deemed "the Shakespeare") to senior citizens.  And what an interesting life Smith has led.  He writes beautifully of the power literature, namely Shakespeare, had over his painful early years, and how it empowered him and literally saved his life.  This book is also in the running for my book club recommendation.

I still have several others to review here, but I've run out of time.  Other duties call!  So I'll post more later.

What are you reading this summer?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Third and Fourth Grades, Check!

We wrapped up our school year this week, sort of.  I say "sort of" because we didn't complete everything I'd originally planned for, but that's okay.  Summer swung into session without consulting my schedule, and we got caught up in the (fun) fray.

Swim team practices switched to mornings this week; my neighborhood's summertime-women's-Tuesday-morning Bible study began; Tiny Girl had two riding lessons, also switched to a much earlier time (at the barn by 7:45 AM); there was a mock swim meet one morning, which also began early; the girls read their books every day; the piano recital on Tuesday evening, which went very well (yippee!); and we were in the thick of things with playdates and pooldates.  Whew!

We did, however, manage to complete our story of Theseus from Kingsley's The Heroes; and we are almost finished with Dinae Stanley's biography of Leonardo da Vinci.  We did not finish all of the chapter on spinning machines from Great Inventors and their Inventions, but I don't know if we will.  Neither of my children enjoyed this selection very much, which is unusual for our Ambleside Online books.  I'll re-visit this in the fall and see what inventors we should really not miss, e.g., Eli Whitney.

Our garden continues to flourish.  I guess.  I'm not such a green thumb.  Here's what it looks like now:

Himself and the girls installed the chicken wire barrier after Jasper leapt into the garden and trampled several carrot and tomato seedlings.  The carrots recovered, somewhat; only two tomato seedlings survived.  So I broke down and purchased two tomato plants for our garden, since our two seedlings are so tiny I doubt will enjoy any produce from them.  We already have two small tomatoes growing, much to the girls' delight.

We now have twelve cucumber plants thriving:

And eight or nine watermelon plants:

I've made plans with a friend to share our plants, since our small space can't hold all these!  Miss Priss asked that I include a photo of the flowers she selected for the garden, so here 'tis:

The basil, zinnias, and hollyhocks have taken off, too.  Perhaps we'll share those as well.  I also spent quite some time deadheading and gently pruning our Knockout rosebushes.  Those things are so prolific that deadheading is a major project!  The mophead hydrangeas are blooming, too.  When I'm out walking in the neighborhood, I admire other folks' flowers and make plans for what I'd like to plant in the fall.  I'd better write these down or I'm sure to forget!

Happy summer!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Ersatz Gardener: The Allure of Lemon Thyme

(I'm not much of a gardener, but I want to be; hence the title of this post.)

Yesterday at Pike Nurseries, where I was buying two tomato plants (more on this later), I was ecstatic to see lemon thyme plants in their herb offerings.  Not as popular as the usual herb plants, lemon thyme (thymus citriodorus, for those of you who care) has thrived in my Maine herb garden, but I had not found any here at home, so I immediately snatched a four-inch pot.  If you haven't yet succumbed to lemon thyme, let me tempt you.

Last night, I cut up and roasted some red potatoes with olive oil and a little coarse-ground sea salt.  After they were cooked (to perfection, I might add), I sprinkled some lemon thyme atop my serving.  Bliss!  Tiny Girl used some on her black-eyed peas and pronounced them edible at last.  (Black-eyed peas are not her favorite.)  Himself took the plunge and sparingly sprinkled some of the herb on his potatoes, as well.  Miss Priss was the only one of us who held to her typical course and declined lemon thyme.  Her loss!

And that's just one use.  I've used lemon thyme in hot tea, lemonade, and on other veggies, such as steamed broccoli.  My favorite use is in lobster "salad," which is chopped lobster meat and mayo at its most basic.  I add lemon thyme and some seasoned salt and either devour it as is (or atop some lettuce leaves) or stuff it into a hot dog bun for an elevated Maine lobstah roll.

Lemon thyme is reported to be particularly good with fish and chicken.  I haven't tried any of those yet, but they sound wonderful.  Now that I have my own plant here at home, I'll be looking for new recipes!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Winding Down the Year

We are finishing up our penultimate week of lessons chez nous.  The girls are a bit down because today is the last day for the ps kids, and we don't finish until next Wednesday, but that's the way the schedule worked out.  Next year, our county's ps calendar is only 175 days, so I'm wondering if homeschoolers' requirements will drop to that number or remain at 180.  Only time will tell!

This week, we plugged along in their BrainQuest workbooks, tackling a smattering of things.  For math: adding fractions, double-digit multiplication, multiplication word problems, and some geometry for Tiny Girl; improper fractions/mixed numbers, multiplying three-digit numbers times two-digit numbers, and geometry for Miss Priss.  They've also had fun (yes, fun!) with spelling, vocabulary, and grammar exercises in their BrainQuest workbooks. That being said, I would not consider these workbooks a full curriculum. But they've served as a refreshing change for our last few weeks of lessons.

The partial products method, which I've mentioned before, has really worked well for Miss Priss in multi-digit multiplication.  I created an explanation sheet for her to use as she worked through the problems, to help keep the steps straight.  By Wednesday of this week, she no longer needed to use the "cheat sheet."  I like using partial products because it separates the multiplication and addition operations.  First, you solve for the different products (partial products). and then you add them together, resulting in the final product.  This method makes more sense to Miss Priss than the more traditional method, which mixes multiplication, regrouping, and addition operations.  Moreover, the partial products method more fully and clearly explains the "why" of each step instead of merely showing a student how to come up with the answer.  For example: 452 x 63.  When considering the digit "5" in 452 multiplied by the digit "6" in 63, she has learned that she is actually multiplying 50 times 60 (not 5 times 6, which is the way I learned it in school).

Other lessons have continued as usual.  The girls' last piano lesson for this school year was this week.  The recital is next Tuesday evening, so they are continuing to practice their pieces, as well as a few new ones for the summer.  They have continued their Rosetta Stone French.  Both girls have been reading a lot, even bringing their books to the table at lunchtime, a habit I enjoy as well.  We informally "finished up" our Latin studies for the year by simply not doing any more lessons.  (Good grief!  How's that for a fabulous work ethic?)

We finished Russell Friedman's The Adventures of Marco Polo yesterday.  After reading the final chapter, "Did Marco Polo Go to China?", we decided that he most likely did, with Miss Priss being the most skeptical and Tiny Girl the most convinced.  We also finished Theseus's adventures in Charles Kinglsey's The Heroes.  The girls have really enjoyed this selection, which is part of the AO Year 3 curriculum.  We are still enjoying Diane Stanley's autobiography of Leonardo da Vinci; I hope to wrap it up next week.

Our garden continues to grow; we now have five or six watermelon vines growing and about eight cucumber vines.  I've already asked some friends if they'd like a plant or two.  Our little garden box isn't big enough for all this bounty!  The zinnias and foxgloves have really taken off, too.  I'll be giving some of those away as well.

We finally foiled the squirrels who had commandeered our tray feeder.  Our bird sightings had dropped dramatically while the pirates were in residence.  Now that the squirrels have to content themselves with feeding on the ground, we're seeing more feathered friends, such as this young female cardinal.  Note (if you can see it) her dark beak.  Full-grown cardinals sport bright orange beaks, so we know this one is still on the young side.

Swim team started up this week, so we'll be busy with that through June.  Tiny Girl's riding lessons will continue through June as well, only she'll be riding in the (cooler) mornings.  And that's about all for our activities.  Yippee!

Hope you had a great week with your families.  Happy Summer!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pony Love: Horse Shows!

This past weekend, Tiny Girl and Tappy participated in two horse shows.  We were busy!

Saturday's show was at the barn where she regularly rides, her third stable show.  In the Beginner 2 division, she earned fouth place, second place, and third place ribbons, resulting in Reserve Champion for the division.

On Sunday, we traveled a few more miles for Tiny Girl's first off-site show, a GHJA-rated (Georgia Hunter Jumper Association) show at a much larger facility.  Thanks to a bath on Saturday afternoon using bluing shampoo, Tappy put her best hoof forward and looked gorgeous!  Tiny Girl looked pretty cute herself in her formal show attire.  (Special thanks to Himself for polishing her show boots two nights in a row.  What a guy!)

Tiny Girl competed in three classes:  Walk/Trot Pleasure, Walk/Trot Equitation, and Walk/Trot/Canter One at a Time.  She earned a fifth place in the Walk/Trot Pleasure; she and Tappy are not pleasure riders -- they are fierce competitors!  Then she won first place in Walk/Trot Equitation and second place in Walk/Trot/Canter One at a Time.  Reserve Champion again!  She was super excited, especially since she was one of the youngest in her division.

Just wanted to share our good news!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Summer Reading Part 3: I Can't Stop Myself

In an effort to glean more opportunities to spur on our summer reading plan fun, I have Googled and linked the day away (or at least a few hours).  By the sweat of my brow, I unearthed several more resources to toss out there for you and also a few bad links (which I kept to myself).

More Fun "Contests" and Online Activities
I've already mentioned the Borders Summer Reading Double Dog Dare a couple of times, but here are a few more you might consider:

  • Book Adventure is "a FREE reading motivation program for children in grades K-8.  Children create their own book lists from over 7,000 recommended titles, take multiple choice quizzes on the books they've read, and earn points and prizes for their literary successes."  Sounds like it's worth a look-see to me!
  • Barnes & Noble offers a summer reading program, Passport to Summer Reading.  Read eight books and earn a free book.  We'll do this one, too.
  • Scholastic has thrown down the gauntlet with its summer reading challenge, Read for the World Record.  Children can join the site and then log minutes they read.
  • RIF (Reading is Fundamental) has a Reading Planet Summer Reading Fun page.  There are links to the Activity Lab, Game Station, Book Zone, and Express Yourself.  Kids can create their own bookshelves, write book reviews, read about authors and illustrators, read stories online, and more.

More Book Lists and Suggestions
I also found about a bazillion (but who's counting?) website with book lists.  Here's just a sample:

  • Since 1974, the International Reading Association's Children's Choices Booklists have highlighted books that children themselves recommend.  Divided by grade level and annotated, the lists from 1998 through 2010 are online.  As an added benefit, the lists from 2006 through 2010 are available in a bookmark format for you to use.
  • That venerable institution, The Horn Book has its own list for summer reading, comprising both fiction and nonfiction titles.  All offerings were published within the last year.  The list is divided into sections: Picture Books, Early Readers, Intermediate, Middle School, and High School.
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities maintains that its Summertime Favorites list "represents NEH's long-standing effort to highlight classic literature for young people from kindergarten through high school."  I appreciate the emphasis on classic literature here.
  • The Association for Library Service to Children presents its 2010 Notable Children's Books list.  Just what is meant by "notable"?  According to the website: "Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children's books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children's interests in exemplary ways."  Whew!

Now.  Since I'm an admitted book snob, I'll go through these lists quickly and eliminate those I believe are not right for our family.  Some of the lists are annotated, which makes the job easier.  If a list is only that, an alphabetical list, then I will select titles that sound interesting and then read some reviews to get more information about them.

But I'm sure you can tell already that I am treading water in an ocean of possibilities.  I need to strive to be realistic about our plan.  After all, one can only read so many books in a summer.

But wouldn't it be nice to pull together a "master reading list" of sorts to have on hand?  It would certainly cut down on the sirens' call that twaddly books often utilize: a fancy, attractive package with no substance within.  Armed with such a list, we'd be invincible at the library!

I think that's my new goal for all this research.  Whaddaya think?

Jump to Part One of this three-part series.
Jump to Part Two of this three-part series.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Summer Reading Part 2: One More Resource

In yesterday's post about creating a plan for your children's summer reading, I forgot to mention another great resource: Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children's Literature, by Elizabeth Wilson.

Book titles in this text are organized by subject area, such as Animals, Biography, Music, etc.  Within each subject area, suggested books are listed alphabetically by author's last name, and listings include publication information, number of pages, and suggested age range, as well as a brief synopsis.

You'll find no twaddle here.  Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, author of For the Children's Sake, wrote the introduction and highly praises Wilson's selections.

I've already highlighted several options for my children and can't wait to add some titles to our summer reading list!

Jump to Part One of this three-part series.
Jump to Part Three of this three-part series.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Summer Reading Part 1: Plan It or Wing It?

Our summer fast approacheth, and I've been thinking about summer reading, both mine and the girls, but mostly theirs.  In the past, I've been carefree about summer reading.  We go to the library, they select a few books, and they read them.  Or not.  Sometimes they decide a book isn't right for them, so they don't finish it.  I've done the same thing, myself.  It's summer, I say.  We're footloose and fancy-free!

But now I'm wondering. . .

Perhaps there's a better way.  A plan might be a good idea.  A loose plan, you understand, but not fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants.

First off, choose carefully.  There are so many excellent books to savor, why waste time and energy on the lackluster, the trite, the twaddly?  However, merely asking my children roam about the children's section of the library and telling them to "pick something out" is not the best idea.  Create a list instead, and head out prepared.  Ideas can come from several sources:

Gladys Hunt's fabulous book, Honey for a Child's Heart, complete with annotated bibliography, is a great beginning.  If you don't own a copy, perhaps your library will have it or you can pick up your own copy.  I have one and have spent time going through and highlighting books I think will interest my children, which gives me a jump start on a reading list.

The website 1000 Good Books List, compiled by the Classical Christian Education Support Loop, is helpfully divided into different reading levels.  Just click on the level you need (for us, it's Elementary Reading Level: 4-6; the numbers correspond to grade levels), and the choose from several genres.  Lists are alphabetized by title.

I also use Ambleside Online's reading lists for each year.  For example, we are completing Year 3, and have not read all the Additional Books for Reading for Year 3 (located at the bottom of the page).  Some I already know would not suit my children, but others are there awaiting their discovery.  These lists are wonderful for all children, not just AO'ers.

If you're traveling this summer, take books along with you.  One of my daughters can read in the car (yes!), but the other cannot (ugh!).  However, we recently discovered Playaways at our library.  On our recent trip to Savannah, each girl listened peacefully to her own chosen book with her mp3 player headphones.  Ah, bliss!  Speaking of mp3 players, I plan to let each child select an audiobook or two to download and copy to her player for summer listening.  I tend to favor LibriVox (because it's FREE), but there are other audiobook sites from which to choose.  Sometimes Himself and I like to join in the fun, so then I burn stories to CDs or buy a book or two on CD.  We've enjoyed many of these as a family on our junket to Maine every summer (and then back home!).

And if your children like challenges or contests, sign them up for Borders 2010 Summer Reading Double Dog Dare, which I posted about here on a Weekly Wrap-Up a couple of weeks ago.  We've participated for two years now, and the girls enjoy it.

So I think some sort of plan sounds good for our summer reading.  I'll spend some time putting together a list for the girls this week.  And who knows?  I may actually put together my own summer reading list.  I could start with my GoodReads to-read list. . .

Jump to Part Two of this three-part series.
Jump to Part Three of this three-part series.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Whirlwind Week

(I liked the alliteration of this post's title, so I left it that way.)

This week started out with our wonderful field trip to Savannah, GA, which you can read all about here.  If you've never thought about it as a destination, give this small historic city some consideration.  There's really no place like it.

We arrived home Tuesday evening after 9:00, and both girls were worn out the next day.  So we took it easy with our lessons, relying mostly on the BrainQuest workbooks for some spelling, grammar, and math work.  We ditched Latin but continued with French.  They also spent time reading on their own, practicing the piano, and taking care of our garden (as it were).  That worked so well that we followed the same pattern the rest of the week.  On Wednesday, we also spent a few hours at the barn for Tiny Girl's weekly lesson and giving Tappy (the pony) a bath.  It's hot here now, so she loved the hose-down.  Tiny and I got a bit wet, ourselves.

On Thursday, we hosted our Girl Scout troop's end of the year party.  The girls made ice cream sundaes and played with Silly String (thank you, Dollar Tree!) in the yard.  On Friday, we spent time getting ready for Tiny Girl's horse shows this weekend.  Yes, that was a plural: shows.  She's in a show on Saturday and another on Sunday.  Friday also marked Miss Priss's first babysitting job: she teamed up with a friend to watch the friend's little sister for about an hour and earned $5.00.  She is so proud.

Next week will see us back on our normal schedule of lessons and readings.  But this lighter week has been a nice break without that "backsliding" feel!  We have one and a half weeks to go on our school calendar, and I really aim for us to finish strong.  But if some readings trickle into the summer, that's no big deal, either.  (Imagine some Island music playing in the background at this point in my post.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Savannah: Beauty, History, and Tasty Eats

Savannah is, as I've said before, one of my favorite cities, and I like it more every time I visit.  Now the girls have caught the bug, too, with Miss Priss ready to pack up and move there.  And we were there fewer than 24 hours.  All photos are courtesy Miss Priss, since I left my camera behind.

We arrived Monday around 5:00 PM.  Our hotel, the SpringHill Suites, could not have been more convenient: I-16 turned into Montgomery Street in the historic district, and the hotel was a couple of blocks down on the right, really close to City Market.  The girls had a quick swim, and then it was back out to the car for the short and scenic drive out to Tybee Island, Savannah's beach community.  We sighted several types of sea birds in the salt marsh on the way.

We ate supper at the Crab Shack, which is bigger and a lot more touristy now than it was when Himself and I dined there about 15 years ago.  But the food was good, and the girls enjoyed the alligator habitat and the exotic bird collection (two entertaining African grey parrots and several raucous macaws).  And the view of Chimney Creek was the gorgeous same.  Afterward, the girls insisted on driving to the beach itself, where they ran in the sand and surf and "accidentally fell" into the water.  I recall doing that as a child, myself.

The next day, the girls and I hit the town while Himself suffered through business meetings.  We arranged for a carriage tour through the hotel's concierge right after breakfast.  The carriage tour was fabulous.  There were the three of us and three elderly ladies from Tennessee, who merely ooohed and aaahed over the scenery.  The girls sat up front with the tour guide, who addressed most of her comments to them.  It was like a private tour!

Then we headed straight for the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace, home of the founder if the Girl Scouts in America, for a guided tour.  What a house!  We wandered a bit after that, looking for a place to have lunch.  I might have opted for The Lady and Sons restaurant or Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room, but I didn't think the girls would like the wait.  And we only had one day, so...

We consulted our map and headed to The Pirates' House, part of which boasts one of the oldest buildings in Savannah.  On the way, we sauntered down St. Julian Street, one of the loveliest streets in Savannah, in my opinion.  Our carriage tour had taken us down part of this street, where Miss Priss pointed out a house for sale.  Our guide said it was listed at almost $3 million dollars, just a tad out of our price range.  Interestingly, much of Savannah's historic district is residential, as opposed to many other cities' historic areas, which are often mostly commercial.

I was expecting the food at The Pirates' House to be strictly tourist grade, but everything was really delish.  the french fries were the best I've ever had, and I don't often make such wild statements.  The iced tea was wonderful.  You'd be surprised how many restaurants mess up iced tea.  It's shocking.

We met up with Himself at the restaurant (he'd already eaten) and then took a quick tour of the river front and River Street itself, a mass of bars, eateries, souvenir shops, and people.  The girls were unimpressed, so we found a quiet square with a fountain and devoured our cupcakes from the Cupcake Emporium.  Then we headed back to City Market and bought some fudge at Savannah Candy Kitchen, where we also watched the guys make some caramel popcorn and taffy.  They are very liberal with the samples, too!  The place was hopping.

I'm not much of a shopper, but I made a point to stop in the Paris Market and Brocante.  It was different from what I expected, but I enjoyed browsing around.  I was especially enamored with their coffee-table-type book selection.  I pored over a huge tome of Leonardo da Vinci's work, but the price was trop cher pour moi (when in Paris, eh?).  The shop also featured other intriguing items, such as a huge selection of old printing press moveable-type letters in different fonts.

By then it was 4:30, and we decided to head home.  It was a whirlwind trip, but we packed a lot into the time we had!  Since the girls and I loved it so much and there's still more to see and do, we'll be heading back soon.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Savannah Bound!

We are packing up for a quick (one-day, really) trip to Savannah, one of my favorite cities.  The girls are excited because they've never been.  We'll arrive around suppertime today and then explore tomorrow while Himself is in business meetings, poor soul.

Here's our whirlwind plan: take a horse and carriage tour of the historic district; visit the Juliet Gordon Lowe birthplace (founder of the Girl Scouts in the United States); head down to the river front; pop by the City Market. We'll probably eat at the Pirate's House for lunch.  There are loads of wonderful restaurants, like Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room and The Lady and Sons, but waiting around in line isn't in our plans.  And, frankly, those appeal to me more than they do the girls.

I'll give you the run-down once we get back!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: At Our Own Pace

This week was wonderful in that we had very few activity commitments and were able to complete our lessons at our own pace most days.  I can't tell you what a difference this has made.  It certainly fueled my desire to aim for a quieter lifestyle!

We carried on with our AO readings as per usual.  We wrapped up "Meeko the Mischief Maker" in Secrets of the Woods and learned about the spinning wheel in Great Inventors and Their Inventions.  This chapter on spinning has interested the girls far more than any others in this text thus far.  Funnily enough, they're not so gung ho on learning about the battery or the dynamo.

For history, I like to mix things up a bit.  This week we read more about the Reformation and the Counter Reformation -- the Council of Trent -- in The Story of the World.  We are all learning loads about Da Vinci from Diane Stanley's biography.  I knew he invented many things, but had no idea the extent of the workings of his mind.  Good thing there was no television during the Renaissance; Da Vinci may have succumbed to the call of that particular siren and not accomplished one quarter of what he actually did.

Borders bookstore has begun its Summer Reading Double Dog Dare for children 12 years old and under.  You can find the form here.  If your child reads 10 books of his or her own choosing, he or she will earn a free book.  Options include Ramona the Brave and Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary; Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen; Flat Stanley, by Jeff Brown; The River, by Gary Paulsen; and The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare, among others.  If my girls and/or I don't like the looks of the offered selections (we've already read the Cleary options), I'll just buy them each another.

In Jasper news, the little fella hopped into our raised garden bed earlier this week and demolished some of our seedlings.  Tiny Girl was especially devastated.  By taking the opprtunity to thin out our plants, we salvaged and replanted in other rows some he had stomped on.  That evening, Himself and the girls put up a chicken wire fence around the garden.  So far, so good!  But I despair of my tomato seedlings.  They were minuscule and now look beyond saving. 

Today we took a break for Homeschool Day at Six Flags.  We had a blast.  Miss Priss and I had our fill of rollercoasters and we got soaked on a couple of rides as well.  People-watching brought home to me (again) how homeschoolers run the gamut.  There was a mix of beskirted females and "Jesus Freak" t-shirts, as well as the mohawked and multiple tattooed crowd and everyone in between.  Homeschool day at Six Flags is the perfect example of how homeschoolers represent a wide variety of the citizenry and are, you know, regular people.  Perhaps a tad more polite.  But I'm subjective.

We're also gearing up for a quick trip -- the girls' first -- to Savannah, Georgia, one of my favorite cities.  We'll really only have one day to explore, and I'm enjoying planning what we're going to do.  I'm looking forward to sharing those photos with you!

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Field Trip!: A Day at the Park

Tomorrow is homeschool day at the theme park that's closest to us: Six Flags.  We've been the past two years and always have a blast.  What's not to like about short lines and cheaper ticket prices?  It's definitely a homeschooling perk.  I consider it our "field day."  (But should I really list it when people ask me why I homeschool?  Probably not.)

Himself and Tiny Girl are not rollercoaster fans, but Miss Priss and I ride all she cares to ride.  And she's only a moderate thrill-seeker, which is fine with me.  Some of those rollercoasters built after I reached adulthood look like they need to supply a little barf bag for each rider.

This is only one example of an attraction in our area that offers homeschool days.  We don't take advantage of them as much as we should; but, honestly, if we did, we'd be out and about more than we should be!

Do any amusement parks or attractions where you live offer homeschool days?  What have you done with your family?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Jasper's New Friend: Terrapene Carolina Carolina

On Monday morning, Tiny Girl glanced out the kitchen window and gasped.  "Jasper's got a turtle!"  We all headed outside, and I grabbed my camera.

Jasper had indeed found a turtle.  An Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), to be precise.

He barked at it a few times, and then pawed at the poor thing's carapace, while the turtle glared at us from inside its safe zone.  Being a puppy, Jasper quickly lost interest, but we did not.  Tiny Girl picked it up to better observe it (Miss Priss declined to touch it), and, instead of staying put, the turtle extended its head and appendages for us to see.

Then we carried the turtle outside our fence so it could go about its business in peace.

This is how nature study tends to happen at our house.  If I try to orchestrate something, it fails miserably.  But when it happens spontaneously -- and especially if it interrupts the usual lessons -- we all have a great time.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Yesterday, we hit the road for a drive to the mountains.  It was Jasper's first real adventure with the family.  The weather was mostly overcast, but the temperatures were pleasant, and the air in the mountains was cool and clean.

First, we took a short hike to the base of Anna Ruby Falls, a rare double waterfall.  Two creeks come together at the top of a ravine, and then converge to form one creek below.  The creek on the left falls in two tiers, so there are actually three sections of falls.

On the hike, we saw this large snail (photo courtesy of Tiny Girl),

some wildflowers like this woods violet,

and this enormous hemlock, which seems to be growing out of a rock!  A placard nearby explains that the tree's roots are actually in soil at the base of the rock.

Afterward, we visited a nearby state park and took another short (1/3 mile) nature hike.  By this time, Jasper was tuckered out, so he appreciated the shorter distance!  We also visited the beach on the lake, where the girls waded in the water and caught tadpoles in a Solo cup some thoughful person left floating in the lake.  Just for us, presumably.  I left my camera in the car, so these adventures remain undocumented, alas.

I love days like these.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Terraria, Toilet Tissue, and a Bit of Perspective

Despite the myriad items on my calendar this week, such as the girls' check-ups and a vital (for me) meeting at church, we had a decent week.  Not stellar, but not too shabby, either.  We even managed to get in two days of Latin, which we'd been neglecting.

At my church meeting, the girls brought along their BrainQuest workbooks, which they find a nice change, and actually completed some assignments.  I had wondered how successful that venture would be, but it turned out okay.

In math, both girls have been plugging along in the BrainQuest workbook.  This week, Miss Priss met double-digit multiplication.  To aid me in teaching her, I reached for my handy Math to Know mathematics handbook and decided to use the partial products method.  I chose this strategy because it better separates the operations, i.e., first you do all the multiplicaton work, and then you add everything up at the end.  I thought this would be easier for her to follow.  I heartily recommend Math to Know and the other handbooks in the series, Math to Learn and Math at Hand.  The pages are bright and colorful; the explanations are thorough and clear.  I was fortunate to "inherit" these handbooks from my mother when she retired.  Thanks, Mama!

We all enjoyed our readings this week.  Turns out I only had a vague understanding of both Leonardo da Vinci and Marco Polo, so I've been fascinated with studying them.  Our chapter in Secrets of the Woods, "Meeko the Mischief-Maker" continues to be a favorite.  And the girls were delighted to reach Henry VIII in history.  We also learned about Martin Luther and the beginnings of the Reformation.  We also began The Twenty-One Balloons this week; we've read a few chapters and, thus far, not much is happening. There's enough humor to keep the girls attentive, but I'm waiting for the actual story to kick in.

In Great Inventors and Their Inventions, we began the section on spinning and read about the distaff and spindle.  Both girls have seen this method in use at a living history day we attended two years ago, and fortunately they recalled how it works.  I say "fortunately" because the written descriptions in this text are quite dificult to follow if you know nothing about the process.  (I searched for a video on YouTube, but the ones I found featured modrn-day fiber artists spinning their own yarn with new-fangled spindles.)

Yesterday was the last day of term for the Timothy Ministry homeschool enrichment program.  In their World of Living Things science class, the participants each constructed a soda bottle terrarium.  Tiny Girl opted for a small plant and five worms for her garden.  Miss Priss chose more vines to plant in hers and declined the worm offer.  The idea of touching the worms was "disgusting" to her.

Garden update: no tomatoes, cukes, watermelon, or strawberries have come up; in fact, none of the seeds we planted in the egg cartons even germinated.  It's a mystery as to why this occurred.  But, undaunted, we sowed some more seeds directly in the garden box.  Everything else is up and needing to be thinned.

In my Bible reading yesterday morning, I read this verse, "The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me" (Psalm 138:8a).  For my part, I now know what I need to do to simplify our lives and enable me to focus as I should on our home education lifestyle (thanks for your encouragement and prayers!).  Certainly I will complete the commitments I've made through the end of May.  But I still need to extricate myself from others for the coming year, and I don't look forward to that, for reasons I shared in an earlier post.  I don't want to belabor the point.

So this morning, when I read (verse three from the same psalm), "When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted," I knew that God was telling me to lean on Him for the courage and kindness I'll need for any difficult conversation (I deplore those!) I will face.  It is such a relief to know He is with us every step of the way, isn't it?

In case you're wondering what Jasper's been up to, I leave you with this:

I love his facial expression. Have you ever seen a better depiction of "Uh oh!" in your life?