Friday, April 27, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Volcanoes and A Biting Lizard

A windy week here! The girls and I planted some morning glory seeds in mini peat pots, but the wind has overturned them so many times that only one pot of seedlings survives. My rosebushes have suffered as well; the front walk is littered with rose petals. It looks as if we hosted a wedding.

Our lessons were back to normal after last week's CAT5 testing. Here are some highlights:

This Country of Ours: the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Stonewall Jackson's death
Oliver Twist: Oliver shows some grit but pays the price for it
Plutarch's Lives: Brutus flees Rome in the aftermath of Caesar's murder

In Story Book of Science, we read about volcanoes. Since Himself and I were recently on the Big Island of Hawaii and visited Volcanoes National Park, I especially enjoyed these two chapters. The girls looked at photos we took, and so can you!

The crater at Kiluea, an active volcano on the Big Island

A closer look at the smoking crater. Pay no attention to the wind-blown woman on the left.

The Kiluea Iki crater, which erupted for several weeks in 1959, filled with lava several times during the eruption. There's a fantastic hike along the rainforested rim (at right) then down into and across the crater. If you look closely, you can see the trail through the crater (on left side). The crater is huge and there are multiple steam vents. From the top of the rainforest rim overlooks, people on the crater trail look like ants.

On another part of the island, the aptly-named Road to the Sea, south of Kona and Captain Cook, leads through a surreal landscape, courtesy of a massive lava flow 250 years ago. The road reaches a black sand beach and massive sand dunes.

There are lots of trees and other vegetation at the top of the road. But then the landscape changes. 

Sparse vegetation. Can you see the ribbon of road at the top left? 

Soon all plant life disappears. But not humans. Believe it or not, there were a few houses on this road! 

The wind was blowing briskly, but other than that, there was no sound. 

Large lava rock piles appeared as we got closer to the ocean. 

Black sand beach. The photo does not do this scene justice. The water was the most glorious blue, and it looked amazing next to the black sand. 

The surf was extremely strong, and the wind was, as you can imagine, forceful.

And that's what a lava field looks like, more than two and a half centuries after the eruption. The whole experience was astounding. It was the longest six-mile road we'd ever driven (DON'T try it in a regular car), but it was completely worth the trouble.

A bit of nature study: Georgette found a small lizard yesterday, and Tiny Girl rescued it. She held in while I ran inside to get my camera. I ran back out to yells of: "It bit me! It actually bit me! I'm bleeding!"

The stunned lizard swooned on the driveway. I swiped it into a small bucket for further inspection. In case you're wondering, Tiny Girl's wound was slight. No Band-Aid required.

We took a lot of photos, most of which turned out poorly, amid comments like, "Can we let it go now? Don't get it near me!" (Miss Priss) and "That thing is vicious!" (Tiny Girl) and "It's trying to defend itself. It's scared" (me).

After some research, we concluded that it was a green anole. At first I wasn't sure, because our lizard looked different from the online photos. However, we learned that green anoles can change color when stressed (our was a bit mottled) and also black bands appear around males' eyes when they are feeling aggressive or stressed (ours had dark around its eyes). We determined it was a male due to the black bands and its pink dewlap.

So that's our week! How was yours?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Six Tips for Enjoying Poetry with Your Children

I'm embarking on a new series about poetry. I'll discuss studying poetry in your homeschool, cultivating a life-long enjoyment of poetry (instead of loathing); and finding wonderful sources of poetry.

Homeschoolers, especially those who adhere to a literature-rich philosophy, tend to agree that poetry is an important component of their children's studies. That's progress. I was educated in the public school system and didn't study poetry until high school. Fortunately, I enjoyed it, but many of my peers had an unfavorable opinion. I'm now persuaded to think that poetry appreciation, like many other fine arts, must be cultivated, and it's best to start when children are young.

Here are some tips I've learned:

Make time for poetry. Our days are full and busy; fine art study can fall victim to our schedules. Commit to setting aside a routine time for reading poetry, whether weekly or every day. Some ideas include: at mealtimes; after family devotion and prayer time; right before bed; even in the car!

Select age-appropriate poems. Reverend H. C. Beeching, in his excellent article "An Address on the Teaching of Poetry," says it this way:
The poetry must be suitable to their years. You must not expect little children to enjoy what you enjoy. You can drink claret, perhaps port, perhaps champagne, they cannot; their natural beverage is milk. The sources of joy open to them are the simplest, and to these you must bring them. The grandeur of Milton's blank verse will be as little to them as an organ concerto of Handel's; they must have simple rhythms to begin with, and they must have rhyme; they must have verses that sing themselves. And the subjects, too, must be appropriate to their age.
Strive for joy and charm, especially for younger children. There are many, many wonderful poems for young(er) children, but there's also a world of twaddle. How can you discern the difference? Here's an example Rev. Beeching offers:

. . . I agree with Miss Mason (whom we all delight to honour) in somewhat dreading nonsense verses for children as being a trifle (shall I say) profane. I once heard a mother of the upper classes reciting to her young hopefuls these graceful and spirit-stirring lines:

'Old Mrs. Hubblechin,
Had a little double chin.'

What a criticism of life!
Indeed. You'll find that much verse for children is of this ilk. But that's all they are: verses. They are not poetry. Is there anything inherently wrong with verse? Well, not really. I'll go so far to admit that some of it's quite fun! Just don't call it poetry, and don't teach it as such.

Focus on one poet at a time. There are lots of children's poetry anthologies, and those are lovely. But in the study of poetry, it seems best to select a poet and study his or her work for a bit of time. Call it poetry immersion. Introduce the poet to your children with a brief biographical sketch. For example, my children and I were much better equipped to appreciate the poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier because we knew something of his life. Also, when you immerse your children in the work of one poet at a time, you can compare and contrast different poems. Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African-American poet, wrote movingly and beautifully about life's difficulties and triumphs; but he also wrote immensely humorous poems in the black dialect of his enslaved forebears.

Read the poem more than once. This year, I've been guilty of slighting poetry. Although we've dutifully read our poems, I've tended to read each aloud once to the children, discuss it briefly, and move on to other things. I'm now seeing the weak and withered fruit such activity produces.

Here's a better method, which we've followed in the past. Read the poem out loud to the children. Read carefully; pause at punctuation marks, inflect where it seems natural to do so. Then let the children take turns reading it aloud. I find they enjoy the poem more after several readings than on its debut.

Talk about the poem, giving it more attention that a mere, "Do you like it?" Here's where true poetical delight comes in. Ask children to consider their personal responses. What feelings does the poem prompt? Could you see the scene in your head? How did you picture it? What ideas did the poem suggest to you? Can you relate to the poem or the poet's experience? How so? What line/phrase/words did you find especially lovely/moving?

Some of these questions are obviously more suited to older children, but you get the idea. Talking about the poem encourages us to connect with it and relate to it.

One more tip: don't kill children's nascent apppreciation for poetry by introducing literary criticism too early. Frankly, that can wait until they are much older. When I read poetry today, I never assess a poem's meter, form, or rhyme scheme. Instead, I read for the beauty of the words, my overall response, a connection to the natural world and often the spirit world. I'm reading for the joy of poetry.

And that's what I want to cultivate in my children.

For further enlightenment, I recommend reading Rev. Beeching's excellent article yourself. Here's a link to it on Ambleside Online. I'm linking up with this week's Hip Homeschool Hop. Check it out for great ideas!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Today! Free Dickens Podcasts from

Visit today for links to FREE Naxos Audiobooks podcasts: introductions to Dickens's novels along with excerpts. I haven't reviewed these yet, but I downloaded several in preparation for later readings. We are reading Oliver Twist right now; I'm planning to listen to the Naxos podcast to see what it will add to our study.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Suburban Nature Encounters: Birds and Rabbits

We've had some fun nature moments in the last couple of weeks. It's spring, after all, and every creature's thoughts turn to. . . the usual: survival.

Since I'm a mediocre photographer at best, please bear with me. You may need to use your imagination a bit to really appreciate the scenes. :-)

At the equestrian park last week, we were delighted to discover this Carolina wren's nest in the rafters of the barn, right above our heads. I was unable to get a photo of Mama Wren, since she was extremely busy searching out food for her young ones. We could hear their demanding little peeps. Miss Priss and I were intrigued by the nest design: she'd built it "up," with the opening at the bottom left. You may be able to detect the front door:

Our neighborhood rabbits have been active. Perhaps spring has gone to their heads; we see them all hours of the day, even in the bright afternoon. I hope they're on the lookout for hawks and cats! I took this (admittedly poor) shot from our breakfast room window. Before I could take any more, the little guy bounded off.

I saved the best for last. In my most recent  Weekly Happenings post, I wrote about watching a titmouse make off with a large tuft of dog hair to line its nest. Corgi undercoat must be a much sought-after building material. In these photos (the best of many I shot), a Carolina chickadee collects dog hair from a rug we'd tossed on the deck.

She made several trips to gather the hair.

See the tuft in her beak?

Right after I snapped the above photo, she lit off.

In case you're wondering why the rug is on the deck rail, I'll tell you. The dogs had been having a field day ripping off the non-skid backing, and, in their exultation, ruined the rug. Ah, well. It had already given the best of its life to us.

Our feeders have been busy. The mealworms, so mocked by Himself ("What's going to eat those?"), vanished. We've sighted our regular patrons: titmice, Carolina chickadees, Carolina wrens, and Northern cardinals. Other visitors include: mourning doves, a yellow-rumped warbler, nuthatches, and house finches. I was late setting out my niger-seed finch feeder, however, and we missed the flocks of migrating goldfinches we usually serve in the spring.

Any interesting nature activity in your backyard or environs? Tell me about it!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Testing, One, Two

It's been an atypical week here! We set aside most of our regular subjects while Miss Priss endured the CAT5 for sixth grade and Tiny Girl suffered from test envy. To stay on schedule, we continued with our readings after testing for that day was complete.

Readings this week:

  • Oliver Twist: read through chapter five. Still a favorite.
  • George Washington Carver, by Suzanne M. Coil: read through chapter four. Tiny Girl especially is connecting with this book, which pleases her mama.
  • Lilias Trotter: A Passion for the Impossible: read through chapter three. Miss Priss loves this!
  • Story Book of Science: read the chapters "Rain" and "Volcanoes."
  • Abraham Lincoln's World: problems cropping up around the world, e.g., Ireland's potato famine, Canada's dissatisfaction with the mother country, working-class rebellions.
  • This Country of Ours: the battles of Shiloh (in Tennessee -- I visited the battleground when I was a child) and New Orleans; the importance of control of the river system.
  • Mapping the World: a new geography resource. Read my review here.
  • "Brutus," from Plutarch's Lives: Caesar's assasination. Both girls thought there should have been a better way to handle Caesar's thirst for power than murdering him.
  • Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar: we finished our readings for the term.

In other activities, Miss Priss had a fabulous time at her first junior docent meeting at a local antebellum house museum. Tiny Girl has been working hard with the new pony, Max. I've implemented a new schedule for writing and life. The girls and I greatly enjoyed Miss Priss's theatre company's high school drama troupe's production of Seussical. The kids did a wonderful job. The girls and I planted morning glory seeds, carrots and corn, lamb's ear, and basil (potted).

Yesterday, Tiny Girl and I had an up-close interaction with a baby squirrel at the barn. The mother died (drowned in the horses' water trough) and left several babies. We are giving them food and water and hoping for their survival, but it's going to be tough for the little guys.

Jasper and Georgette, our delightful and much-loved corgis, are shedding their undercoats. We've witnessed birds carrying in their beaks tufts of dog fur for their nests. I had to smile while watching a tufted titmouse struggle with a particularly large clump; she managed it in the end!

I'm linking up with I'm linking up with the Homeschool Mother's Journal and Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. If you're looking for some inspiration and ideas, you're sure to find both on other linked-up blogs!

Happy weekend!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: Mapping the World, a Geography Resource

This week, I added another geography book to our reading schedule: Sylvia A. Johnson's Mapping the World. Both a history of cartography and a a look at modern cartography, this book offers an excellent opportunity to delve deeper into your geography studies.

Typically, mapwork is relegated as an add-on to history or literary studies, and there's nothing inherently wrong with this approach. However, children's understanding of maps -- their historical significance, the way they've changed over the centuries, different types of maps, and emerging mapping techniques -- adds a rich element to their understanding of the world, past and present.

More than a mere history of cartography, Mapping the World is also a history resource. Did you know, for example, that German mapmaker Martin Waldseemuller, whose 1507 map of the New World featured the word America to honor Amerigo Vespucci, later regretted that he didn't select Columbus's name? Neither did I.

I also enjoyed learning about modern cartography, such as Landsat, ocean floor mapping, and maps of other planets, such as Venus. A short chapter on cartographical technology gives a glimpse of how today's mapmakers study climate and population. And if you find this books has awakened interest in a budding cartographer in your family, Johnson suggests other books for further study.

Mapping the World is in picture-book format, which is appropriate, since it offers a wealth of illustrations and photography. But this is not a book for the very young. Johnson's informative and engaging text presents the material in a style suitable for older children, from middle-grade children through high schoolers, even adults. Amazon suggests age 8 and up, but this book would be challenging for most eight-year-olds to read independently.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In the Gray Light of Dawn

Day three of my rising much earlier than the girls. I wonder how long it will last. I have good intentions, but you know where those lead.

To carve out time for myself and my own pursuits -- writing and reading -- I've finally succumbed to the obvious: I have to get up earlier and get these done before our day begins. Otherwise, there's no time. When there's no time, I don't attend to my own needs for creativity. After several weeks of this, I get fretful.

So I've given myself a new direction. I wake early, before anyone else. I make coffee in the semi-darkness of my kitchen. I watch the birds at the feeders in the gray light. I tap the keys on the computer keyboard. I accomplish something, even if that something is only first-draft quality. At least it's something. Far better than nothing.

And I find I breathe easier throughout the day.

Let me hasten to add I am of the mindset that the overall idea of "me-time" can be a dangerous one. (This fabulous article by Amy Roberts convinced me even further. Have a read.) We must constantly be on guard that we are not falling for what the world insists we need.

However, we are all given gifts and talents to use to build the church, encourage others, and give glory to God. My personal experience is this: if I neglect those gifts, I feel a heaviness in my spirit that I can't ignore. Perhaps you've felt the same in areas of your life. I've finally come to realize that this heaviness has a much deeper meaning than merely my own selfish needs not being met (my previous thought process).

So I sit at my desk, planning, thinking, moving words around in my head, gauging how they feel. I sip fresh-brewed coffee -- Krispy Kreme's Signature House Blend, a gift from Himself -- and listen to the birdsong and the rainfall. I pray that God will use this time, use me, to bring Him glory, whatever that may look like in His perfect plan.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Odd and Inexplicable Phenomenon of Test Envy

This week, my eldest is taking the CAT5 exam; hence, she is excused from some of her regular subjects. Tiny Girl objected strongly, decrying this plan as "not fair!" (Let me state right now that I deplore that sentiment; life is not fair. What's fair, anyway?) Presumably, it was "not fair" to Tiny that her sister was 1) skipping out on certain subjects and 2) enjoying the rare experience of taking a "fun and easy" test, while she herself was expected to carry on as usual.

The very idea.

Tiny Girl continued by requesting that I order her a test, too. I declined; I see no reason to spend money when I don't have to. However, I began to think about how I could address this strange phenomenon. Why not let her test to her heart's content -- provided I could locate some free online tests?

So a-Googling I went. Here are a few I found, just in case you find yourself in this same predicament:

Free spatial "IQ" test at FunEducation
A fifth-grade "intelligence" quiz at FunEducation
Tons of free online quizzes at and you can select by subject

There are quite a few kids' IQ testing sites, but I eschewed those. Who needs the pressure?

I really can't understand Tiny Girl's position, but, as her mama, I did my best to suggest a solution. Happily, it worked! She had a blast with the spatial "IQ" test. Tomorrow, we'll try Quiz-Tree.

Far be it from me to deny her the pleasure of testing, right?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

When It's Hard to Trust

For more than a year now, I've been quietly seeking out some sort of paid work in my field (writing and editing) that I can do at home. We'd like to be debt free. The girls and I are in the preliminary stages of planning a long trip to the UK in a year or two, and I'd like to earn some money in order to make that a more likely occurrence. Plus, college looms in the not-so-distant future. I feel a need to contribute something to the family finances.

So I prayed, and I was pleasantly surprised when work opportunities fell into my path: editing a doctoral project paper for a seminarian; a contract writing position with a company in Britain; a request for article proposals for a home ed magazine, which a friend let me know about; several tutoring queries in response to an ad I placed. All of these except one came to nothing. And the one that did work out was not only the least lucrative, but also worked out differently that I'd anticipated: the article will not be in the magazine after all, but in one of two other publications (they haven't yet decided which).

It's difficult for me when a situation looks good -- an answer to prayer, actually -- and then it evaporates. Usually I am comforted by the fact that God knows best. But when that same scenario plays out over and over, like falling dominoes. . . . My peace and some of my trust, to be honest, begin to evaporate as well. If none of these is part of your plan for me, Lord, then why are they dropping like plums around me? Why raise my hopes with each one?

It's mentally exhausting.

In fact, it wears me out. I recently located two more freelance opportunities, but both require some effort on my part to apply. Instead of rising to the occasion with enthusiasm, I find I'm responding with skepticism and, even worse, apathy. Why bother? It will be a waste of time. Again.

I'm not one of those people who hears God's voice clear as a bell. I want what Anne Lamott wants: a clear message from God spelled out in "cornflakes in the snow." But He works more quietly with me, and I know He has His reasons why. Whatever his reasons, I tend to baby-step into the unknown, blindfolded, ahnds groping in front of me.

Example: I never heard an edict from the Lord regarding our decision to homeschool. Instead, I had a germ of an idea, which grew from something I said to myself when Miss Priss was in public school first grade, "There must be a better way." Then I did what I always do: I researched the topic. I read books and websites; I talked to people; I visited the homes of homeschooling families to see them in action. I prayed, but I never got a direct answer yea or nay. Finally, I prayed, "Lord, if this is not what I'm supposed to do, then take away my interest and fill me with peace and satisfaction in our public school."

The opposite happened. I figured that was my answer.

I'm still struggling with my hopes for work. I know in my head that the Lord works all things together for my ultimate good. But my spirit is smarting with bitter disappointment. It can be hard to trust when seemingly good things come to naught.

And yet I do not want my faith to be tied to my circumstances. Nothing that happens in my life can in any way diminish who God is; His "God-ness," so to speak, supersedes everything. And while my sin nature encourages me to whine -- and to be honest, I think a certain degree of disappointment is okay -- God is big enough to handle my less-than-fabulous behavior. And for that I give him more thanks than I can express.

So tonight I pray for grace to be patient and a heart to hear whatever He wants me to hear. And if He wants me to walk blindfolded, I'll still hold my hands out; but instead of blindly groping, I'll reach for Him.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Highlighting Our Books

It was back to business this week after taking a week for spring break. Our daily activities of Bible/devotion, poetry (Paul Laurence Dunbar), math, piano, copywork, foreign language, Latin roots for Miss Priss, critical thinking, grammar, and spelling clicked along as usual.

I'm still pleased with Daily Grammar for our grammar studies. This week, we reviewed nouns. What I particularly like about Daily Grammar is that the first lesson is quite rudimentary, and the lessons afterward pick up in complexity. Today's lesson, for example, highlighted collective, mass, and count nouns.
  • Collective nouns: class, group, choir
  • Mass nouns: gasoline, water, oil
  • Count nouns: arena, girls, bus

We made good progress in our readings, as well:
  • Oliver Twist: read through chapter three. We are all enjoying this story, but Tiny Girl does not comprehend many of Dickens's ironical descriptions (which are laugh-out-loud funny to me).
  • Harriet Tubman: completed. Both children liked this.
  • Sea Clocks: The Story of Longitude: completed (Read my review here.) We thought this was very interesting.
  • George Washington Carver, by Suzanne M. Coil: read through chapter two. Both children are enjoying this thus far.
  • Lilias Trotter: A Passion for the Impossible: read through page 43. Miss Priss and I are enjoying this more than Tiny Girl, who wasn't thrilled with Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution, either.
  • Story Book of Science: read the chapter "The Velocity of Sound," which discusses the differences in speeds of light and sound in a thunderstorm. AO added this to Year 4, and I thought it looked good. So we're reading it this year in our Year 5.
  • Abraham Lincoln's World: manifest destiny and westward expansion.
  • This Country of Ours: the Civil War, particularly the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac. I've noted that Miss Marshall's overall tone is decidedly pro-Federal; it's especially noticeable in this chapter, wherein the Merrimac is described as a "black monster" and "ugly" more than once, while the Monitor is a speedy, clever machine. I was a tad surprised, since she was able to keep a more balanced tone while writing about the American Revolution.

Next week will be different for us, since Miss Priss will be taking the CAT5 exam. I ordered from Seton Testing Services, and they offer the short form of the test. Ergo, it won't be a tedious exercise of leviathan proportions, like our state's own standardized test.

Here's a lovely poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, written in 1901:

The rain streams down like harp-strings from the sky;
The wind, that world-old harpist sitteth by;
And ever as he sings his low refrain,
He plays upon the harp-strings of the rain.

I'm linking up with the Homeschool Mother's Journal and Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. Pop over to both, do some blog-reading, and refresh yourself!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

My (Few) Peeves with PaperBack Swap

First off, let me make it quite clear: I love PaperBack Swap. If you haven't yet signed on with this reader's good friend, let me encourage you to jump all over it. I've gotten lots of used books and shared lots more through this fabulous website.

However. There's something about PaperBack Swap that irks me, and here it is: requestors' conditions.

These are not all bad. In fact, some conditions seem reasonable to me, such as "prefer books that come from non-smoking homes." Questionable style concerns aside (i.e., if a home is smoking, call the fire department), that condition makes sense to me. Another reasonable condition is requesting that puzzle books (or the like) contain all their pieces. Honestly, most people are reasonable with their requestor conditions.

But my lip starts to curl when I read conditions like this (which I've either received or seen in the past):

  • No highlighting or marks whatsoever.
  • No creases or shelfwear.
  • If this book features fill-in-the-blanks or other activities, no erasures whatsoever. Must be completely clean.
  • No names written on inside pages.
  • If the book is hardcover, it must have its dustcover. Dustcovers must be clean and free of creases or rips.
  • No ex-library books.

And that's merely a sampling. Frankly if used-book requestors are this persnickety about their books, they should go to the bookstore and buy them new.

Why do these conditions rankle? First off, my understanding of PaperBack Swap's raison d'etre is to serve as a place where book lovers can swap books for their personal reading pleasure. Second, all PBS members receive requested books for free. I'll say that again: for free. Requestors don't even pay postage; the senders do.

When requestors impose several strict conditions for books they request, I get suspicious. If one requests a book for one's own personal library, why must one insist on such stringent standards for used books? Here's what goes through my mind: perhaps said requestor plans to re-sell these books or use them for some other sort of gain other than merely the enjoyment of reading?

Even if I'm wrong about my suspicions, it still bothers me that some requestors impose such stiff regulations on free used books. I mean, really.

So twice now, I've clicked the little box that reads something like, "This books does NOT meet requestor's conditions." PBS requires members to give an explanation, which will be shared with the requestor, and I've been happy to do so. In fact, both times this has happened to me, I've explained that, although my book DOES meet the requestor's conditions, I'm withdrawing it from consideration due to these reasons. . . (see above).

Catty? Perhaps.

I prefer to share my books with those who want to read them for the pure pleasure of reading. To me, that's the convivial spirit of PBS. In essence, members say to each other:

"You haven't read this? Oh, I have, and it's wonderful. Let me mail it to you. When you've finished, you can send it along to someone else. Or keep it, if you love it!"

I've been a PBS member for years, and only twice have I been irked by requestor conditions. So it's not a huge problem at all. Don't let it stop you from joining, if you haven't already. Membership is free and so worth it!

But do me a favor and make sure your conditions, if any, are not ridiculous. Okay?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review: Sea Clocks: The Story of Longitude

I've always appreciated AO's geography books, and we've dutifully done our mapwork with each one. However, I wanted my children to understand the principles behind both latitude and longitude and why each was critical (even moreso than today) for navigation in years past. So I was pleased when I ran across (in our church library) Louise Borden's Sea Clocks: The Story of Longitude.

And what a story! Although sea navigators had long been able to ascertain their whereabouts north or south of the equator, thanks to lines of latitude and their handy sextants, they had no idea of where they were east or west of their home port. Ships tended, then, to stick to well-known routes along lines of latitude -- which were well known to pirates, as well. Pirates weren't the only difficulty, either. Storms blew ships off course, adding weeks or months to a journey's length. Crews often ran out of rations long before they found their way home. Not only were businessmen and investors losing their money, but sailors were losing their lives. It was a serious problem, and it seemed impossible to solve.

Enter John Harrison (1693-1776), a mechanical genius with no formal education but plenty of determination and perseverance. A clockmaker by trade, Harrison spent most of his adult life attending to this problem of longitude by devising and building five different sea clocks, forerunners of the chronometer. He also endured a long battle with the Royal Society and the Board of Longitude for recognition of his life's work to such a degree that even King George III himself got involved in the predicament.

The book is designed as a picture book, but unlike many of that genre, the text counts more than the illustrations here. Borden does a good job of explaining just enough technical details to engage readers without boring, confusing, or alienating them. Since I tend to get bogged down in too much mechanical detail, I was happy with her descriptions.

We enjoyed this book very much and came away with a genuine respect for John Harrison and his accomplishments, which are nothing short of astonishing. We also made note of the back matter, which tells where Harrison's sea clocks are now on display. They made the list of "must-sees" when we go to England in the next couple of years.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are You Looking Ahead to the Next Year?

About this time, many a homeschooling parent's mind turns to plans for the next school year. I know mine does. If you use a boxed curriculum, attend a virtual school, or just plan to keep on keepin' on with what you've already got going, then planning's a breeze. Or, if you're more like me, you start with a basic framework, add some elements, subtract others, touch it up here and there with some embellishments -- all in accordance with your vision for your children's education, your family's beliefs and values, and your children's learning styles/preferences.

For example, (I LOVE examples! I'm that kind of person.) folks with a literary bent may select a Charlotte Mason-style curriculum and then add in notebooking. Another family with a more classical emphasis (a la The Well-Trained Mind) may opt for extra hands-on activities or visual elements to their studies, such as videos or movies. And then the eclectically-minded choose from the entire smorgasboard.

So many choices! So much responsibility. It can be enough to make a mama lose some sleep at night.

I'm one who has a firm foundation, and that's Ambleside Online. I start there, and I mostly stay there. But I must admit, I'm one who likes to look over the smorgasboard. If you do, too, let me point you to Curriculum Choice, an excellent curriculum review website. (Let me hastily point out that I am in no way swayed because I'm a reviewer there -- I'm only a newbie!) It helps me tremendously to read what other homeschooling parents think about curricula and resources and what their experiences have been like.

Tip: If you're considering a specific curriculum or resources that hasn't yet been reviewed on Curriculum Choice, just Google the name of the product along with the word review. Bingo! A wealth of information at your fingertips.

Another idea: you've probably hung onto many of your homeschooling help books. I know lots of us re-read our favorites to inspire and refresh us anew. I flip through mine for highlightings, things I noted in the past and now we've reached the point to use. I see where I can add those items to our year's plan.

I'm an avid blog reader. Seriously, there's not enough time in my life to read all the blogs I want to with the level of commitment I wish I could devote. And I learn so much! I'm forever bookmarking blogs and websites on my Favorites bar.

Think of the blogs you most like to peruse for practical information and how-tos. (Aside: I know I "should" write how-to's for the sake of clarity, but I cannot STAND to put an apostrophe where it does not belong. An apostrophe shows possession; it does not indicate a plural. I beg your forbearance.) Then set aside some time to peruse those blogs. You may want to rise earlier than the children one day (or a few days) to give yourself this luxury. Read archived posts; click on links. I am almost always rewarded with gems when I take time to research my favorite blogs.

I have highlighted links to helpful homeschooling websites on my blog's sidebars. If there's one (or a few) that you haven't checked out, the planning stage is a great time to do it.

But the very first thing I do before I begin to plan is pray. I ask for guidance, wisdom in decisions, and rejuvenation on this journey. After that, I don't feel like the full responsibility of my children's education weighs on my shoulders alone. And that is a lovely, freeing feeling.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My in-laws send us lots of things via email: photos, jokes, links to slideshows, and the like. This afternoon, they sent a link to this UK ad. Perhaps you've seen it; it has more than 14 million viewings on YouTube, after all. But I hadn't seen it, and I wanted to share something beautiful with you. One of the YouTube commenters (which I've learned to read with care as no one edits or moderates those comments) remarked on the "strength and love in the woman's face."

New Blog Design: Take Three

If you missed Take Two, I apologize. It was really elegant. So elegant, in fact, that it really wasn't me (if you'll excuse the grammar; sometimes perfect grammar sounds so stuffy). This is better.

I wonder if I'll ever say, "There! That's exactly what I wanted, and I'll never change my mind!"

I doubt it. New stuff is always cropping up!

New Blog Design: Take Two

Okay. Here's another blog design idea. I'm wondering if it's too sedate for me, though. you should kow this about me: I aspire to elegance and tend to fail. So perhaps I could convey elegance on my blog. Very few of you know how I really live. (Is that a dog hair on my pizza slice? Yes. Yes, it is. In fact, it's two dog hairs.)