Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Physical Science for Middle Grades

Not being a science person myself, I am always on the lookout for quality science materials well suited to a home school environment. I found a winner in the Basic Physical Science Note Pack from In the Hands of a Child. Pop over to Curriculum Choice to read my review!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Rediscovering Nancy: Renewing Old Relationships with Book Characters

When the girls were babies, Himself decided they would need their own collection of Nancy Drew books. So, when  he traveled out of town, he made time to visit antique stores and flea markets, hunting for old copies still in good condition. He bought several over a period of a couple of years and then waited for the day the girls were old enough to enjoy them.

That day has finally arrived.

I'm not sure what prompted Miss Priss to decide to crack open a Nancy; Himself has, of course, encouraged her over the years, but she wasn't interested until now. She's on her fourth or fifth as of this morning.

Recently, Miss Priss and I drove to visit my Dad when he was in the hospital. On the way, she read aloud to me her favorite Nancy thus far: The Scarlet Slipper Mystery. Here's a snippet of our conversation:

[Miss Priss reads that Nancy's friends have found a letter, which is written in French.]

Me: I bet Nancy can read it, don't you?

We giggle.

Miss Priss, reading (although I'm paraphrasing; the book's not in front of me): "'Here's the letter,' he said. 'I'll translate it for you.' Although Nancy could both speak and read French, she listened intently as he read the letter.'"

We howl.

I must firmly assert here that I love Nancy. I adore her. I think she's fabulous. I also like to laugh at her perfection.

Miss Priss and I did not finish the book on our drive, so I read the rest of it by myself. And I loved every minute of it. One of my friends saw me with it and asked incredulously, "Are you reading Nancy Drew?"

I said, "Yep. It's awesome!"

It turns out my friend loved Nancy when she was younger; she can't wait for her daughter to read the books!

It's fun to rediscover old literary friends. Sometimes the reunion isn't as lovely as we would have hoped because our tastes changed as we grew up, but many times it's delightful. I've enjoyed getting to know the Ingalls girls again, for example. And it's fun to say to my daughters, "Oh, I loved this book when I was your age!" and then watch them read it and love it, too.

In fact, I've suggested to Miss Priss that she may want to try an experiment, one I did when I was in middle school. I had quite a few Nancies when I was younger (I wonder what happened to them all?), some of which were quite old. For several titles, I owned two versions: an earlier and a later. I read both versions and then compared them. There were quite a few revisions made to the later edition! Typically, the storyline was the same, but details were different. It was fun to compare the two. Nancy, her entourage, and her life details have altered over the years.

It's been a joy to watch my daughters discover literary delights I loved as a child. And I'm having a great time catching up with Nancy, whose the same as she ever was, I am happy to report.

Hmm. I wonder if Miss Priss would like to meet my friend, Trixie Belden?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Weekly Happenings: Ancient Egypt and Signs of Spring

This week we got back into the swing of things after two weeks of theater busy-ness. We still aren't up to top speed, but that will come. Next week.

Our inaugural days of participation in Project FeederWatch were Tuesday and Wednesday, our second foray into citizen science (the first being the GBBC). We saw 19 different species but not more than four of each species at a time. I also tried my hand at a chalk pastel rendering of a male bluebird! For tons of pastel inspiration, click the link at the right: A Simple Start in Chalk Pastels.

After lunch today (Friday), I made homemade oatmeal cookies and ate a lot of dough. I still feel slightly sick, but it's worth it.

We read about the Mosaic Map of Madaba and Machaerus, Herod's fortress in present-day Jordan, where John the Baptist was beheaded (website). Above, Miss Priss researches images of Machaerus. She found some neat cutaway and 3D pictures to share. Tiny Girl found us images of the mosaic on her laptop. I love it when the girls' interests are piqued and they conduct extra research on their own! Both links I've made take you to more photos and information.

We also worked on maps of Jordan. The girls have enjoyed our mapping exercises of the Holy Land. I download and print free blackline maps of each country. Then we consult our several atlases for mapping details.

I determined that our study of the ancients needed more of an Egyptian touch than AO Yr 6 scheduled, so I made some additions. Fortunately, the girls agreed (otherwise there would have been pushback -- ugh) since they've read and enjoyed Rick Riordan's Egyptian-themed novels. This week, both girls began Roger Lancelyn Green's Tales of Ancient Egypt, and Tiny Girl read The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, a Newbery Honor book set in ancient Egypt. She gave it a big thumbs up. Miss Priss plans to read The Cat of Bubastes, by G.A. Henty. This title has a free Kindle edition and is also available on LibriVox, if you're looking for something to pass the hours on an upcoming car trip.

Piano recital pieces are coming along nicely. They are also working on other pieces as well. I love listening to them play! We build piano practice into our school day, and the girls' skills are really improving.

Signs of spring are everywhere. My daffodils have come and gone. The earlier azaleas are covered in buds, a few of which have already bloomed. The hydrangeas and rose bushes are leafing out, and the iris by the mailbox has sent out leaves. Ornamental pear trees are blooming everywhere (see my Weekly Happenings title photo) and so are Japanese magnolias. Ornamental cherries are covered in buds. Below are some photos I snapped during the week.

Lenten roses (hellebore) outside the historic sanctuary of my church.

Our tiny red azalea bush.

Flowering cherry trees in bud at a neighbor's house. These trees are glorious when in bloom.

I don't recall what kind of tree this is (at my church). It might be a dogwood. Time will tell.

Those are some glimpses of our week! How was your past week? Full of good stuff, I bet!

Happy weekend!

Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
Homegrown Learners

Monday, March 18, 2013

Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts -- Online

I'm always on the lookout for wonderful online resources that enrich our lives, particularly in the artistic or historic sense. I found two marvelous resources to share with you.

I have a fascination with illuminated manuscripts. On my first visit to London, I was crushed to find out that the Lindisfarne Gospels, a must-see on my trip, was off display at the British Library. A polite sign invited me to return in the fall, when it would be back on display. I wasn't going to be in London in the fall! Aaarrrgh!
So on my second trip to London four years later, a visit less than 24 hours in duration, I hightailed it for the library to feast my eyes. I admit I gazed (probably longer than necessary) upon the revered pages, marveling at the detail, the care, and the beauty of this amazing work.
Here is some information from the British Library website about this manuscript:

The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the most magnificent manuscripts of the early Middle Ages, was written and decorated at the end of the 7th century by the monk Eadfrith, who became Bishop of Lindisfarne in 698 and died in 721. Its original leather binding, long since lost, was made by Ethelwald, who succeeded Eadfrith as bishop, and was decorated with jewels and precious metals later in the 8th century by Billfrith the Anchorite. The Latin text of the Gospels is translated word by word in an Old English gloss, the earliest surviving example of the Gospel text in any form of the English language, it was added between the lines in the mid 10th century by Aldred, Provost of Chester-le-Street. Today the manuscript is once again bound in silver and jewels, in covers made in 1852 at the expense of Edward Maltby, Bishop of Durham. The design is based on motifs drawn from the decoration of the manuscript itself.

On the off-chance you are not planning to be in London any time soon, you, too, can feast your eyes on this gorgeous work of art (and history and art history) by visiting the British Library's website and its amazing "Turn the Pages" online gallery. This gallery utilizes Adobe Shockwave, so you'll need to download that free application beforehand. But it is SO worth it. "Turn the Pages" features a Magnify function for an up-close look at the details. Another fabulous element is the Audio option, which offers interesting information on the manuscript. Or you can click the Text option to read the same information. Not every page of the manuscript is part of the "Turn the Pages" gallery, but the cross-carpet and opening pages of each gospel are on view.
However, if you don't have Shockwave, you can also view the pages here. For a quick view of the art pages only (no text), Wikimedia Commons offers these nine images.
For more information on the Lindisfarne Gospels, visit the British Library website and run a search for "Lindisfarne Gospels" to hit the motherlode. Here is a quick link to a bit of background. Also, Wikipedia offers an informative entry.
And, in case you ARE planning a visit to London this summer, don't look for the Gospels at the British Library; they'll be at Palace Green Library in Durham, to be displayed alongside the St. Cuthbert Gospel. So plan a jaunt to Durham. I've been there, and it is worth the trip. The cathedral alone (the final resting place of the Venerable Bede) is worth the trip.

I was beyond excited to learn that Trinity College Library Dublin now has the Book of Kells available for viewing online. While all pages are uploaded, there are no scholarly comments as of yet. Here's an excerpt from the library's website on the Book of Kells exhibition:

The Book of Kells (Trinity College Dublin MS 58) is celebrated for its lavish decoration. The manuscript contains the four Gospels in Latin based on a Vulgate text, written on vellum (prepared calfskin), in a bold and expert version of the script known as "insular majuscule". 
The place of origin of the Book of Kells is generally attributed to the scriptorium of the monastery founded around 561 by St Colum Cille on Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland. In 806, following a Viking raid on the island which left 68 of the community dead, the Columban monks took refuge in a new monastery at Kells, County Meath. It must have been close to the year 800 that the Book of Kells was written, although there is no way of knowing if the book was produced wholly at Iona or at Kells, or partially at each location. 
It has been on display in the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin from the mid 19th century, and attracts over 500,000 visitors a year. Since 1953 it has been bound in four volumes. Two volumes are on public view, one opened to display a major decorated page, and one to show two pages of script. The volumes are changed at regular intervals.

For some quick views of pages from the Book of Kells, check out this Wikimedia Commons page of images. And for a thorough (and excessively glowing, IMHO) exposition, read this article from Wikipedia.

Since I have no firm plans to visit Dublin, the online exhibit of the Book of Kells is really a blessing. It's not quite the same as viewing the real thing in person, but it's the next best thing. I look forward to the addition of scholarly explanations added to the website!


Online resources for museum pieces are invaluable for history study and art study. Not only do they give us access to items thousands of miles away, they also give us means to compare similar objects. For example, a worthwhile project for older students would be to compare the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells. How are they similar? How do they differ? Why were they created? Do their disparate ages have something to do with any differences? Do their respective histories have any bearing on their condition today? These are just a few areas of inquiry that pop to my mind (before I've had my coffee).

Of course, seeing these priceless artifacts in person is the peak experience. I imagine the hands that have touches the pages, now protected under glass and low lighting. Hands that worked quietly and surely, hands that smoothed pages before a sacred service, hands that seized roughly in a desperate effort to flee from raiders, hands that worked to restore the ravages of age. . . . 

Perhaps an online study will whet your family's appetite to plan a trip!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Weekly Happenings:It's Showtime!

My house is a mess. For those of you who have seen my house, you know that it is never a showplace. However, it's really messy now.

For two weeks, Tiny Girl and her theatre troupe have been in crunch for their production of Peter Pan. I've been volunteering is several different ways during crunch. We haven't gotten to be before 11 most nights. We are on a lightened school schedule, but we're still doing our readings, piano practice, math, and Bible study. Oh, and the barn -- we haven't been able to get there as often as usual, but we're still going. Plus, Himself has been out of town, and then Miss Priss left yesterday with our Girl Scout troop for the annual Camporee weekend.

We've managed to stay clean, fed, and dressed in laundered clothes. But that's about it. So I'll be glad when we get back to a more normal routine.

Boy, has it been fun, though! It's worth the messy house, shortened lessons, sleep-in mornings, extra responsibilities, all of it. Tiny Girl is having a blast, and so is Miss Priss, who has been helping with hair and makeup. Opening Night was a grand success, and I heard that last night was just as fabulous.

When she got home last night, she said: "Listen to this! It's so sad!"

Me, slightly concerned: "What?"

Tiny: "I scared a five-year-old little girl! She was so cute. After the show, her mom brought her up to meet me and get my autograph. She asked me if I was really mean, and I laughed and told her no. But I felt so bad for scaring her!"

Himself: "That just means you're doing a great job on stage."

There are two shows today: a matinee and this evening's performance, which Himself and I will attend. Himself hasn't seen the show yet, and I can't wait for him to witness our child shine on stage.

After tonight's show, we'll strike the set, clean up the theater, turn in costumes, and head to IHOP for the cast party. We'll get home around 1 AM. Tomorrow, we'll collapse!

Monday, March 11, 2013

New Sighting! Pine Warbler

Tiny Girl and I noticed two birds -- visiting at separate times -- who looked out of place at our feeders. They bore a slight resemblance to goldfinches, but their heads were grayer, their breasts were pale yellow, their wings were lighter (gray instead of black), and the white bars on their wings were not as distinct. One of them had more yellow on its head than the other, resembling a nonbreeding male goldfinch. But the wings were still too different from a goldfinch's wings.

Pine siskin? we wondered. Nope. Pine siskins' breasts are heavily barred, a detail missing on our diners. Plus, they were too yellow. Pine siskins have a bit of yellow under their wings and tail and maybe a touch on the wing edges, but that's all.

Off to the WWW we went, straight to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's site, All About Birds. First, I went to their goldfinch page, not because I thought our mystery guests were goldfinches, but because this fabulous website features similar species -- with photos!

On a hunch, I clicked on the link to the pine siskin page and looked over the similar species photos. A few clicks of the mouse later, and I landed on a strong contender. I called Tiny in to take a look at several photos. "That's it!" she said happily. Pine warblers. Setophaga pinus and Dendroica pinus, in case you're boning up on your Latin. I guess they're so fabulous they get two binomial names.

Photo courtesy Laura Gooch via EOL, Encyclopedia of Life

Ah, what satisfaction.

The photo above looks a lot like one of our new friends. The second warbler had more yellow around its head and breast. I couldn't find a satisfactory photo of it. I'm certain the one above in a female, which tend to be more drab than the males.

Equally as fun as identifying this species is the fact that we've never seen them before. According to All About Birds, pine warblers have olive coloring on their backs. I'll look for that next time.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Weekly Happenings: Extreme Flexibility in Action

No, not yoga. Homeschooling.

I wrote about my Dad's surgery earlier this week. On Tuesday morning, I drove two hours north to be there with my family. I left Himself in charge of the girls. He was armed with a schedule of their activities; they were armed with a detailed list of assignments, organized by day.

I took my laptop with me, and I was able to use the hospital's guest wifi to hop online any time I wanted to do so. The girls emailed me narrations, photos of artwork "narrations," questions, and a short composition piece. I responded to each email.

They really seemed to enjoy it. There was an element of independence in this style of work, combined with  the sense of closeness technology provides. Was it perfect? No. But did it work when we needed it? Yes.

It helps, of course, that my children are in middle school. They are ready for a bit more independence, whether they realize it or not. In fact, these few days away proved to me that I can -- and should -- increase their level of responsibility for their own education, as well as increase my expectations for the quality of their work.

They are growing up. Right before my eyes.

I'm linking up with:
Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
The Homeschool Mother's Journal

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: Tiny Apple Pies

Many of my culinary successes are totally serendipitous. This is one of them.

If you'll recall, we visited a local apple orchard back in the fall. I sliced, peeled, and froze quite a few of the apples I brought home. If you plan to use them in cooking, this is an excellent method of keeping them.

In December, I attempted to make angel biscuits and failed. I think my yeast was too old because they didn't rise. They tasted pretty good and, since I made a double (failed) batch, I froze at least thirty of them, unbaked.

And then I had an idea.

The dough wasn't good for biscuits, but it might be nice for pastry.

Thank heavens for the muse of culinary inspiration!

I thawed 12 biscuits and five apple slices. I chopped the apples in my Pampered Chef food chopper (love that thing!) and then pressed out the excess water so my little pies wouldn't be soggy. There is very little worse than a soggy pie to ruin one's hopes. Since frozen apples are already soft, there's no need to worry about pre-cooking them.

I flattened each biscuit round into a bit larger circle, spooned some apple (which was like chunky applesauce) onto one side, and then sprinkled the apple with cinnamon sugar. I folded the other biscuit half over the apple, crimped the edges with a fork, and sprinkled a bit more cinnamon sugar on top. Then I baked them at 425 degrees until they were golden brown. Ta da!

I am ridiculously proud of myself. You'd understand if you knew how much I long to be a great cook but seem destined to slog away in mediocrity.

They were really tiny bites of happiness. In the photo above, three tiny pies rest on a Fiesta saucer!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Keeping Vigil

My dad is undergoing surgery this morning for a cancerous stomach tumor. After the surgery, he'll be in ICU for a couple of days and then recuperating in the hospital another five or so days. My sisters and I want to be there with my mama as much as we can, so I'm driving up right away.

I've spent many hours over the last few days creating detailed schedules and lists for Himself and the girls, organizing help from friends where needed, and taking care of the bits that need doing when one is going to be away. I've put my Amazon seller and PaperbackSwap accounts on inactive status. I've done laundry. I've labeled all Tiny Girl's costume pieces with her name; "crunch" for her production begins tonight. I've held meetings with Himself and the girls, making sure all ducks are in a row.

As for school, the girls' lesson load is a bit lighter than normal. They will be emailing me some narrations, and I've asked for two "drawing" narrations, both of which are novel to them. I've tried to play up the independent aspect of this type of learning -- if they buckle down, they should be able to wrap things up quickly each day and have a good bit of free (reading) time.

Fortunately, Himself will be able to work from home most of the time. He has two meetings he can't reschedule, but the girls will be fine. Two friends are handling the crunch carpool and two others are helping us get the girls where they need to be when he can't.

All this preparation has been exhausting and worrisome, but it will be worth it. The end result is this: when I'm at the hospital keeping vigil with my sisters and mother, I can be completely in those moments. I can focus on the most immediate needs.

Keeping vigil demands all our attention, all our resources. I've done all I can to settle things here at home. Now all I can do is trust that all will be well.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Power of Really Good Books

My daughter is crying, and I'm happy about it.

I know that sounds harsh, so let me explain. She's crying over a book -- something she's never done before and has even criticized her sister for doing. "It's not real," she has said with a superior air. "It's only a book."

Only a book.

It's not that she's never connected with literature prior to this. Both my daughters are avid readers, and we make time in our day for plenty of pleasure reading. This child in particular reads while she eats breakfast and lunch. In fact, at lunch we all read. And she's known for reading aloud funny parts to share with me. She loves to read.

Over the last few weeks, she's been reading through L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series. We have them all. I've only read the first, myself. She is now on Rilla of Ingleside. Rilla (for Marilla) is one of Anne and Gilbert Blythe's children, in case you didn't know. This story takes place during World War I, which is natural fodder for some complicated and tragic circumstances. One of the boys who goes off to fight is killed in France.

My daughter was devastated. She brought me the book, tears on her cheeks, and said, "Read that part," pointing to words on the page. I read it, my mouth dropped open, and my eyes flew back to her face.

She nodded and began to cry in earnest. "I can't believe he's dead!"


Later in the day, she made several comments, such as:

"I know he's just a character, but L. M. Montgomery makes everyone seem so real."

"Poor (name of love interest), she's going to be so sad."

"Have you ever read books that made you cry?"

And at bedtime: "I can't believe I've cried so much about him. I didn't know he and I were so close!"

She and I had a lovely discussion about books that touch our hearts.

Isn't that the power of really good books? To take us out of ourselves and into another world? To be drawn in by characters so well created they seem real to us? To be delighted with their good fortunes and heartbroken at their tragedies? And to never forget them?

Finally my daughter understands. It's never only a book.