Friday, January 04, 2019

On Reading and Books in 2018

2018 was the year I set out to read one fiction book and one non-fiction book a month. I realize that doesn't sound like much. But it didn't include the hour (plus) a day that I read aloud to my children and my penchant for reading The Atlantic and Christianity Today through from cover-to-cover. Reading is restful and rejuvenating for me personally, and in recent years I've focused SO much on what I read to my children, I forgot that I have better perspective when I'm also reading for myself.

Having said that, the most memorable reading experience of the year was reading Tolkien's The Hobbit, Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, and Return of the King aloud to the kids. We followed each book by watching the related Peter Jackson movie. It was my third time through the series, and my second time watching the movies. The sequential reading/viewing made it far more obvious to me where Jackson takes liberties, adding or subtracting content. While Jackson did a great job of casting, it is always Tolkien that is the master. The stories are so timeless and in taking us to another world, he shines a bright light on our own. Fellowshop of the Ring is the best Jackson adaptation, The Hobbit series, the worst. (And truly terrible in my mind, perhaps because he tried to make three movies of it.)

I read books I don't list but I highlight my top 10 (plus a bonus), five fiction, five non-fiction and one that is both.

My 2018 best of fiction:

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Just like My Antonia, when I finished the book, I had a little moment of "What was that about again?" not so much because of a lack of clarity, but because Cather's brilliance at creating a visual feeling, of desolation, of beauty, can overwhelm the plot. You can see the landscape, feel the wide open so clearly that it is easy (for me at least) to miss the details and get caught up in the desert plateaus and rolling hills.  Having said that, this was a refreshing read about a missionary priest coming to spread the gospel in the American Southwest, and all the difficulties and human issues with which he contends.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles
I was fascinated by the synopsis of this story, having recently read of one of my ancestors who was captured and raised by Native Americans. The story of an old Civil War veteran, far from home, earning a living by reading the news who comes across a young girl that needs to be returned to her relatives. She has been raised by the natives who killed her family and the story weaves through their journey back to her home country as they both learn about love and trust. This was a beautiful story, beautifully written.

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
I was thrilled when I read that Enger had a new novel out after ten years. (His third--read them all.) It lived up to my expectations. Virgil Wander is a middle-aged man who has recently survived a near-death experience. The story weaves through the the characters around him, as he recovers and finds renewal, even as he comes to terms with loss and welcomes a stranger. Set on the shores of Lake Superior, the northern town comes to life, and will live forever in my mind.

The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker
By far the strangest work of fiction in this list, the story is an old man reflecting on the boyhood loss of his mother and the strange world he encountered as a result. At times I hated it, but I couldn't put it down. Reaching into another world and weaving in biblical themes of real good and real evil, this is a book that will leave you thinking for a long time.

The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith
Reading a novel whose central character is a black Botswanian woman written by a white British male is an interesting read. I loved the dialogue best of all, though the inner workings of a woman who has made it as a detective and entrepreneur in her town was also a treat.


Fiction/Non-Fiction

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
You will find this book categorized under fiction because of the author's inability(?) to get all the details verified by external sources. However, this is almost solidly in the non-fiction camp as the riveting (and yes, nearly unbelievable) story of Pino Lella, a teenager in World War II Milan who while helping Jews escape over the Alps, also finds himself as the driver for a high-level Nazi. A story of courage amidst great drama, I had a few sleepless nights getting through this one.

Non-Fiction

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck
I'm writing this book list this year because I saw this book on someone else's (Brianna More) list this year. While it is true that most of my books came off of someone's year-end list, this is one I never would have discovered or read had I not seen it there. I was fascinated to read a story about the Oregon Trail (again, my ancestors blazed this trail). I did not expect to get the masterful story of two very different brothers setting off in 21st century America to rediscover the past. Part history, part travelogue and a lot of psychological memoir, this is an excellent read.

Rethinking School: How to Take Charge of Your Child's Education by Susan Wise Bauer
I wrote a book review and the author tweeted it. You should read it.

Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper
I read this book too fast and immediately put it in the category of must-read again, preferably every other year. Small, but deep and meaningful, Pieper points that civilizations have advanced when leisure is treated as necessary work. Leisure is not lazy. Time for contemplation and a cease from labor are absolutely necessary to growth, as a person and as a culture. 

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch
I plan to write a real review of this short, data-heavy, simple but so very important little book. Crouch has done us a favor by putting together realistic and insightful steps to being wise in a technology-driven world. I instantly implemented one step and it has contributed to more peace and reflection. Simple discussions with our kids have revealed a lot and encouraged us to keep moving to implement more and more changes. 

The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels by Jon Meacham
Meacham is a great writer and this synopsis is a reminder of how the battle between good and evil (though he doesn't put it in those terms) has been ongoing in 200 years of US history. The title of this book is so good, I was a little disappointed in the content. But the book does deliver as he focuses on the battle and the triumph of the better angels; he leaves us asking if the better angels will win the current battle? A necessary and good reminder at this juncture. He is best when he is telling a story and I hope to read his biography of George HW Bush. The snippets I have read suggest that by knowing the man, his work is even better.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

A (Homeschool) Year in Review...Learning Aid Review to the 2017-18 School Year


I recently finished reading Rethinking School: How to Take Charge of Your Child's Education which is influencing how I write up my reviews for the past year. I highly recommend it!

This year was the most challenging homeschooling year I have had so far, and next year promises to be even scarier. I'm just now finishing up this post (that I do every year, as a sort of road map for myself to review as I plan the same grade level for the next child) in July, because I'm still finishing up the grading from last year. Confirmation that I only want to teach my children. Grading all the work of a whole classroom leaves me mentally limp on the floor. For anyone else interested, here is what the past year looked like.

Everleigh (2nd grade-roughly)

Reading: Evie is slower to read than my other two kids. I tried to teach her too soon and I realized this year that her early struggles gave her a lack of confidence that is unfounded. I questioned if I needed to change curricula but found that The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading was really the best because it allowed us to make slow, sustainable progress with only 5-10 minutes a day. Interestingly, while feeling like she couldn't read, she could spell and write more easily. Asking her to compose a sentence, she would demonstrate a pretty strong grasp of phonics. She and I will sit down with a library book of interest and I will let her read to me. For her, the key is keeping it short and simple for now. Her comprehension when I read to her is outstanding, and I feel fairly certain she will enjoy reading in the future. (5 days/wk)

Math: Evie loves math, and works above grade level. We kept with Horizons, because as with all of my kids, the spiral-method and colorful graphics held their interest and they all keep asking to do it again. My only complaint is that I wish it were a little shorter. It is hard to complete in 36 weeks and I have a hard time stopping when there are still lessons in the book. Next year, I will! Ha! (5 days/wk)

Handwriting: I did something new with Evie and started cursive with her in 2nd grade. Cursive has never been terribly important to me, but she is the most artistic and seems to learn better through writing. She loves cursive and is fairly good at it. I like Zaner-Bloser's program, but I'm sure others work well too. (4 days/wk)

Spelling and Grammar: Few programs make me as excited as Language Lessons. Evie was in Level 2. The book is cheap, the lessons are quick, easy and thorough, and grammar is largely auditory at this stage. (3 days/wk)  We used Spelling Workout A and B which really helped her get a handle on reading. She enjoyed the topics and having a list of words, and I was encouraged that she was easily spotting spelling mistakes. (2 days/wk)

Evie jumped in on physics experiments, participated in History (that I did with the other two), and we learned about artists matching the period in History we were studying (Modern 1789-2000). She loves art projects so I gave her some ideas and others she came up with. She also kept going with Logic exercises once a week, in the form of Mind Benders.

Kyrie (5th grade) 

Bible-All grades studied the Apostle's Creed in detail, breaking it apart and unpacking the theology contained in each phrase. We also spent more time praying for the needs of others at the start of our day and this was a really beautiful time. (5 times/wk)

History-Not surprisingly, we stuck with Story of the World. This year we were in Vol. 4-The Modern Age, which is the period of history I know and love best, and also very disturbing and takes more time to process emotionally, as well as just studying. It is also the most poorly organized and a little scattered at times. When I was on my game, I taught a lot of lessons in a different order, following a particular country/region instead of splitting them up and having to revisit the previous events to make sense of the new material. I appreciate the way the Activity book helps develop building an outline and then writing from an outline as the year progresses. I am hopeful this book will be updated and re-written to accommodate later events and also add to the book suggestions.(4 times/wk)

Editor in Chief® Level 1Grammar- Kyrie loved the combination of Editor in Chief and Sentence Diagramming. I was most impressed with Editor in Chief which had brief teachings on grammar errors and then the student had to locate and correct grammar mistakes (like an editor). It was practical, succinct, and we had very short lessons 2-4 times a week.

Writing and Rhetoric- I love this series because it is thorough, interesting, and not encumbered with busy work. It is sometimes hard because it doesn't divide neatly into a scheduled time frame for lessons. (E.g. A lesson could take a couple of weeks, or a couple of days. Each book has a slightly different number of lessons, 10-13.) I like the inclusion of rhetoric and the different writing topics focus on a particular kind/purpose and the student practices that writing until he/she is comfortable with it. The series teaches formulaic writing, so that students are quick to think, "I need a quote here," and "I need to sum things up here." Ultimately, it will free them to write with a certain sense of what they need to accomplish. The series is a little advanced for the recommended grade levels, but I just noticed those were adjusted to be more true on the website. Kyrie completed Chreia & Proverb and Book 5: Refutation & Confirmation this year. There was a definite step up between these two books, and in retrospect, I should have held off on having her do a second one. Next year, we will only do one book, slow it down, take more time and allow her to focus on some other writing projects. (3-5 times/wk)

Math- Just this week Kyrie told me she had looked at some friends math books and determined that her math, Horizons, was much harder. Since math was harder, took longer this year, and presented more challenges, I was happy that she took pride in having completed a tough curriculum. She is right. I've read estimates that Horizon runs as much as a whole grade level ahead.  It is a 5-day/week, 36+ weeks complete curriculum.  The intensity is helped by use of the spiral method, so you can move on and then circle back. I don't get excited about math, but at the end of the day, my kids all have strong math skills. So I have to be happy with Horizons.

Latin-I have determined that each of my children should have at least a year of Latin. This is based on my past career in college admissions and reviewing a lot of perfect  and near-perfect verbal SAT scores that in nearly every case matched up to Latin on a transcript. But embarking on Latin with Kyrie was a little scary because I thought it would be exasperatingly challenging for her, and she wouldn't understand the point. It turns out that I seriously misread her. She loved Latin for Children, Primer A. Some of this is because she values independent learning a lot, and she would watch a video-we streamed-and then complete the exercises independently. However, the revised text and program is so engaging and colorful and taught so well, that she may have loved this simply because it is so well-done. I only intended her to do one year, but she requested to do year 2 next year. (4 days/wk)

We continued with Spelling Workout F to cover spelling and handwriting practice; again, she works independently so she loves it. For Science, she did Physics with Ben. This year she jumped in and started doing the folders and quizzes and not just lesson and labs. She did great. She did Typing Instructor once a week. For Art, we did some Art History, learning about artists and famous paintings. Usborne has excellent materials to use. She took piano for her music education.

Ben (8th grade)

Ben has been down on formal education and so this year we just engaged him on how he was using what he learned in his own interests and how continuing that learning would help him be a better movie-maker. He is enthralled by history, and put together a movie explaining the Pakistan-India split using pets. We also started some research on film studies and when we learned he could go to college to study film (not math), he was excited.

His Bible/Faith was the same as Kyrie's (and Ev's) and so was History. I encourage him to think in terms of ideas more and he was quick to recognize how one bad idea (or good idea) could affect world history for generations as it spawns other ideas and reactions. I added in a lot of independent reading and writing on ideas.

Math- In the higher grades there are less and less options for math. We stuck with Horizons for Algebra I. In addition to the text, there are worksheets that are useful for use as "homework" or as quizzes. They are slightly easier than the text, and go quickly. This was an excruciating subject for both us in the beginning of the year. Then something clicked and Ben just got it, and did well after that. I took Algebra in college and yet, I was a little lost, quickly. So he worked independently and did fine. But I did determine that he is moving to an online, real-time instructor next year. 😀  This is a great curriculum, but it is advanced and does require teacher-knowledge. (5 days/wk)

Physics-I love RealScience4Kids Focus On and we use the Study Bundle which includes lesson plans, text, lab book, teacher's manual, research sheets that you make into a folder, and quizzes. Colorful and bright, with repetition in developing hypotheses, this develops interest, helps with understanding basic concepts, and is manageable. (10 Lessons, that we covered with four science periods each.) I could use it with the all the kids and just adjust to their learning level. (2 days/wk but we only needed 21 weeks to cover it)

Writing & Rhetoric-Again, we use the Classical Academic Press series and Ben covered the Comparison and Description & Impersonation books. He particularly liked the latter, which taught him to write as someone else; he was challenged writing as a female, but loved impersonating Winston Churchill.  He was at the perfect level for these courses; challenging, but not overwhelming.  (3-4 days/wk)

Grammar-It was a relatively easy year for Grammar. Like Kyrie, I opted to go practical and Ben did the higher level of Editor in Chief, fine tuning his copy-editing skills. (1-2 days/wk)

Spelling-Ben celebrated his LAST year of Spelling as a subject and completed Spelling Workout H. His handwriting leaves a lot to be desired, but he did get a little practice. (1 day/wk)

Latin-Ben went back to Latin after a couple of years off. We had him take it online through Schole Academy. I wish it weren't so expensive, but it is a very high-quality program, from the instructor, to the small class size, to the software that helped track his project and allowed me to see his quiz, test, homework scores....(when I wanted to). He also was able to learn a lot about giving your attention to something and not multi-tasking in a class situation. Not a bad lesson to learn. (Class 2 days/wk; homework we did 2 days/wk but it was challenging)

Logic-We finished up The Argument Builder, which focused on constructing arguments. We did this as a family and this book is my least favorite of the three Logic books that Classical Academic Press offers. It isn't quite as engaging and easy to follow as the other two. We started on The Discovery of Deduction, An Introduction to Formal Logic. We took it really slow when I realized this would look nice on a high school transcript. (1 evening class/wk and one homework day/wk, when we got to it.)

Art and Music-Ben continued with drawing one-day-a-week with Feed My Sheep. He is really good at drawing, so I have continued to encourage him to keep learning. But his passion this year was piano. He picked up lessons again, and started working on composing his own music to accompany his movies.

As Ben moves into high school, I have started thinking about what electives look like. He tried fencing and enjoyed doing it for a year, but has lost interest. He has been volunteering at the library this summer which he has really enjoyed. We are in a new phase here, and I'm still wrapping my head around it.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Curriculum Review: 1st Grade

This will be short, because the point of 1st grade is to nurture and create a thirst for learning. So Evie has very little formal learning but a lot of saturation by being around her older siblings as they learn. She participates in science experiments and history with them. I notice her listening comprehension most; she will say things like, "At first the main character of the story was.... but now it seems to have changed to....." She will be fun to teach as she grows older. I didn't do any formal handwriting instruction this year, which  may have been a mistake. She gets bored of making letters and I didn't want to discourage her; but I am going to have her do that next year so she makes them correctly.

Reading - We started the year with the Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and I quickly assessed Evie wasn't ready to read. We hit the pause button and around the beginning of the year I had her do a quick online Reading program (Reading Eggs) just to jump start her interest. We took up the Ordinary Parent's Guide again in the spring and she has made a lot of progress. I think I detect interest and comprehension and that we will go quickly in the fall. I love the way this book is short and easy, teaching reading phonetically while also working right off with those "disobedient words." (4 days/wk)

Math - Evie loves math and Horizons was her favorite thing to do every day. Interestingly, the first thing she learned to read were written numbers.
She has mastered addition and subtraction into the 100s place and even learned to carry. (5 days/wk)

Grammar - First Language Lessons is quick, easy, but solid instruction. I have used it for all three kids. We take about 10 or 15 minutes on a lesson. There are great poems to learn throughout the book and Evie loves this part and learns well. (3 days/wk)

Art - Evie finished up Joseph, the Canada Goose this year. This is a step-by-step drawing guide that follows the story of the an elderly man befriending an injured goose. I appreciated that it included the very simple, imperfect art work of other children as an encouragement, even as it taught drawing and some color technique. Evie does a lot of coloring, cutting, pasting, and drawing on her own. (1 day/wk)

Logic- I worked through the Mindbenders verbal book with Evie. She has done a lot of Mindbenders puzzles in the past and really enjoys them. (1 day/wk)

Curriculum Review: 4th grade

I remember a college prof of mine telling me he never taught a course the same way twice. Every year, he discovered something he needed to tweak, and every course had a different mix of people with different abilities and learning styles.

So it is with my children. Kyrie learns differently, loves different things, and I have had to rethink how I do things to maximize her learning enjoyment. She is far more independent and likes to control her schedule.

These are the tools we used this year.

Bible-- God's Great Covenant New Testament 2 focuses on the book of Acts and the Missionary Journeys of Paul.  This is the final offering in this series and we have enjoyed all of them. I skipped the teacher's guide which I didn't find necessary. Kyrie was required to complete worksheet pages and take quizzes for the first time this year. These are challenging, and while she struggled, she learned a lot and it allowed her to become comfortable with a variety of testing methods (e.g. true/false, matching, short answer).  We spent several days a week on this together (1st, 4th, and 7th grade) reading Scripture and the chapter, and learning memory verses.  (5 days/wk)

History/Humanities/Literature-- Story of the World Vol. 3 is so much more than history and we use it to guide our reading, literature, and do some art and cooking projects from the activity book. I have no idea why anyone would use this as a stand-alone without the activity book which is what makes the series what it is. The reading lists alone make it worthwhile. It is so adaptable for multi-level use. We do a lot of reading together but Kyrie likes independent reading enough that she read a lot of the literature recommendations on her own. (4-5 days/wk)

Math --Horizons is a strong math curriculum that typically runs nearly a grade ahead. Having said that, its best years are 1-3 and 7th and 8th (I hope). The first half of the 4th grade curriculum is largely a review of 3rd grade, and then the last half picks up again. Kyrie wanted to stick with Horizons and the colorful and consistent format really appeals to both of us. It was a good choice for her; I think the review only strengthened her abilities in math and solidified some things she needed more time with. I thought the long division would kill us both, but we survived. The spiral method is essential to her learning and she enjoys the puzzles more than Ben did. (5 days/wk)

Grammar-- The strength of Language Lessons becomes more and more apparent when we reach the end and I struggle to find a new Grammar course. Without being busy, LL covers the topic masterfully, following a spiral method to review key concepts. The teacher's guide gives all the help and there is no prep involved. We get our books and do the days work in about 20 minutes. It only goes through 4th grade and I am sad. (3 days/wk)

Spelling/Handwriting-- Kyrie's handwriting is nice and she works at it on her own so I skipped any formal instruction and just had her use cursive in her spelling book. She excels at spelling and it involves independent work so she completed two books (Spelling Workout D & E). These are workbooks but offer a list of words for each lesson with exercises that develop both spelling and comprehension, with a small bit of writing. A lesson could be stretched out over a week. (2 days/wk)

Writing & Rhetoric--  This writing program is engaging, but challenging, and I was thrilled at how Kyrie embraced it and excelled. I had only planned for her to finish the book we started last year (Fable), and complete one more book (Narrative I); however, she loved it so so much, she ended up finishing Narrative II as well. She loves to write, and this forces her to speak as well as write. This series encourages reflection upon what makes good writing, exercises to encourage comprehension, and writing exercises that help a young writer think through better word choices, summarizing, elaborating on, and other valuable tools. It also teaches how to outline.  (3 days/wk)

Science-- Kyrie participates in the experiments and labs from Ben's Real Science 4 Kids courses. They are designed for middle school (they do offer elementary) so I don't have her take quizzes and do the research; however, the text is colorful and engaging and she participates in that with us. (1 or 2 days/wk)

Spanish--We started the year with Classical Academic Press's Spanish for Children Primer B and mid-year had to make a change. I don't abandon a program easily. When we started, Kyrie was excited to learn Spanish. And she worked hard last year and did well with Primer A. We were not very far in to this book, when the grammar was well beyond what I had in two years of college Spanish. The teacher was engaging and humorous, but we were a little lost and exhausted. I switched mid-year to my old Conversational Spanish text that I used in high school. We had a lot more fun with that. I opted to end Spanish in March so we could finish strong in other subjects. (4 days/wk)

Logic--Mindbenders is a great series that helps develop logical thinking. We have used the books and this time used the software for a change of pace. (1 day/wk)

Art--Kyrie started Little Annie's Art Book of Etiquette and Good Manners last year. It is a little young for her, ideal for K-2nd, but she enjoys learning proper etiquette and then drawing related to the lesson.  (1 day/wk)


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Curriculum Review: 7th Grade

As I plan the coming academic year, I'm encouraged to see that it looks like coasting after this year. I think we made it intact, but we did end a course early. Even though I write these up, I work closely with Ben. If the student is not engaged, they won't retain as much, and so we have already talked about what worked and what didn't and planned next year.

Bible-- God's Great Covenant New Testament 2 by Classical Academic Press. This is the final offering in this series and we have enjoyed all of them. This year I skipped the teacher's guide which I found overkill. It made me work harder because I had to find the answers to worksheet questions; however, the quizzes and answers came in a download. As in the previous books, this focuses on what is in Scripture and avoids a lot of controversy. The focus in New Testament 2 is on the book of Acts and the Missionary Journeys of Paul. We spent several days a week on this together (1st, 4th, and 7th grade) reading Scripture and the chapter, and learning memory verses. Each lesson has a worksheet, and then a quiz. (5 days/wk)

History/Humanities/Literature-- Story of the World Vol. 3 by Well Trained Mind Press. This is so much more than history and we use it to guide our reading, literature, and do some art and cooking projects from the activity book. I have no idea why anyone would use this as a stand-alone without the activity book which is what makes the series what it is. The reading lists alone make it worthwhile. It is so adaptable for multi-level use. In 7th grade, Ben is doing more independent writing so he summarizes each section in written form. He did more independent reading this year and will do even more next year. Again, the resources of a blogger including these notebooking pages and timeline cards were very useful. This year, the timeline cards went on our world map instead of in a line and we identified them with a place. (4-5 days/wk)

Math-- We went with Horizons Pre-Algebra and it was a good choice. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this text is that each chapter (not lesson) introduces a new person who uses math in their line of work, from a HVAC tech to a youth pastor. Each of the story problems for that chapter will solve problems they would encounter in their job. The Teacher's Guide provided helpful instructions as to what should happen in a teaching day and instructions for the student. It does assume that a knowledgeable instructor is doing the teaching. This is a rigorous text; math-challenged students would probably be lost or have to spend a lot of time on the subject. It involves Algebra and Geometry; we are well into graphing flips and transformations. For the first time, I had Ben use the optional worksheets and introduced him to the concept of "homework." I am officially in over my head. I did more prep this year to assure I knew how to solve these problems myself. (5 days/wk)

Grammar--We used Rod & Staff again. This is a challenging, rigid, grammar program. It works well for someone like Ben who likes structure, understands difficult concepts quickly, and is happy to work with me. I couldn't recommend it for a student who wants to work through grammar independently. I assess his understanding as we read through the lesson and then we do the class exercises orally. If he understands the concept, we skip the written exercises. There are worksheets for select lessons and he does those. The world view is a bit legalistic at times and there is an emphasis on archaic language, that we often discuss. This is a busy program; so if you have trouble skipping some material and exercises, it might drive you over the edge. (4 days/wk)

Writing & Rhetoric--I continue to love Classical Academic Press's Writing & Rhetoric series. Creative and rigorous, Ben has thrived in this series. He finished up the Commonplace book that he started last year and started working on the Encomium & Vituperation course. This taught him to write an essay of praise or disapproval. The final capstone on the year is the careful process of writing his first research paper. (3 days/wk)

Spelling & Handwriting--Ben worked through Spelling Workout G. I have given up on a formal handwriting program with him and this program allowed me to require that he write his spelling words in cursive. It was something. I loved the way this built on where certain words come from and focused on categories. (E.g. words that are Latin derivatives, words from Music, etc....). This was a challenge for Ben this year and I watched him looking up words whose meanings he wasn't sure of. While you could stretch each of the 36 lessons over a week, we found he could do a lesson in one day a week. It was a challenging and he learned a lot. (1 day/wk)

Science--Real Science 4 Kids has made me enjoy teaching science.
We used the Focus on Study Bundle and finished Astronomy from last year and completed Chemistry. I appreciate the interesting, colorful text, and the lab book that has manageable experiments while clearly teaching the scientific process. All grades were involved in star-gazing and chemistry labs. Ben made a folder in which he found and compiled information on each lesson that he could study from for quizzes and tests and there is an assortment of interdisciplinary suggestions for additional research. (2 days/wk)

Spanish--We started the year with great intentions. We used Classical Academic Press's Spanish for Children Primer B and mid-year had to make a change. I don't abandon a program easily. When we started, Kyrie was excited to learn Spanish. And she worked hard last year and did well with Primer A. Ben was never as enthusiastic, but he was learning. We were not very far in to this book, when the grammar was well beyond what I had in two years of college Spanish. The teacher was engaging and humorous, but we were all a little lost and exhausted. (I actually would love to do this program again personally; it picked up where I left off and I was ready.) I switched mid-year to my old Conversational Spanish text that I used in high school. We had a lot more fun with that. I opted to end Spanish in March so we could finish strong in other subjects. (4 days/wk)

Logic--Once again, this topic is so fascinating to us as parents that we made it a night course so we could be involved. Our text was the Argument Builder which is the follow-up text to the Art of Argument. These could easily be taught as a semester course and done the same year, but worked well for us to do as a group one day a week with Ben doing writing and responses another day. I thought it was some tough stuff for a 7th grader; Ben ate it up and did well. For most, it would be better in 8th grade, or even early 9th. This is just a text and teacher's guide without the DVD option. It can be taken online which Ben would have enjoyed. We are glad he did it with us. (2 days/week)

Art/Music--Our music education was minimal this year and next year I am determined to have Ben take piano again. We did make it the Detroit Youth Symphony. Ben continued with the Feed My Sheep, which is a 4-year curriculum. Even though the fonts are a little outdated, this is good instruction that teaches various principles of drawing, but encourages creativity. I was impressed with what he learned this year. (1 day/wk)


Friday, March 31, 2017

All You Taught Me

Michigan, Sept 2016

A couple of years ago I went to visit my grandma. We had so many good conversations in her little room at my aunt and uncle's house in Walla Walla. In this one, she told me, "One day my heart is going to give out and I'll be gone just like that. And you will be fine."  And while at other times she was more anxious and afraid she would have a long painful death, this ended up being prophetic. And I keep reminding myself that all is well with my soul. I am fine. But I will miss her so.

My Grandma Bigger was not a playing grandma. My cousins and I can't remember her playing a game, and certainly not dolls. She had apparently been quite the athlete in her youth, playing basketball among other things, but by the time we came on the scene, she preferred reading, crocheting, embroidery, and watching television. She loved the quiet. She was an avid sports fan, climbing the stands to watch the Seahawks in her 90s, following the Seattle Mariners.

Mackinac Island Ferry, Sept 2016
She didn't force anything on anyone. So you had to ask her questions about her life, you had to ask her what she thought. And oh, then the gems that she produced.

When I called to her just a month ago, she thanked me so much for calling. I told her it always made me feel better to talk with her, that she helped me with life. She sounded like she had a catch in her throat. "It DOES?" She was incredulous. And it did. Every time. She gave me courage and perspective.

When I was feeling overwhelmed by potty-training my child, I shared that it was not going well. She encouraged me by saying she wished she hadn't been so hard on one of her children. Oh, she had so many regrets about how she had pushed him. "But I had to break the ice in the creek to wash his diapers," she added. Wow! That changed my perspective ENTIRELY. I also haven't complained about laundry ever since.

Mackinac Island with my dad, Sept 2016
She took the time to counsel me to "punish" less, telling me she wished she hadn't been so hard on her kids. She saw in me the need to have "control" and told me when she looked back, she didn't think she would have done any harm if she had punished less, and just loved them. (She wasn't at all opposed to discipline in the right frame of mind and for the right reasons.)

Once when I was hating my life in a gray, rainy, depressing climate and complained about it, she told me she had lived there too. And hated it just as much. It was there the Red Cross came to her door and told her they thought my grandpa was dying. She was a young mother and he was on a military base, in training to go fight World War II and had contracted pneumonia. She remembered they told her to find a neighbor to watch her child so she could go say "good-bye." My grandpa pulled through. I decided that my life was really NOT that bad. It was just weather.

I asked her about what it was like to live through the Depression and she told me how her family spent one winter of the Depression living in a tent in the snow in Yakima, Washington. She only remembered eating the wild plums that grew at the edge of the field and said she didn't like plums to that day. That story helped me appreciate what I have never had to do without.

Once when I was preparing for a trip to Los Cabos, Mexico, I called her and asked her if she had been there. I knew she had been to Mexico, having seen pictures of boating trips off Mazatlan. She chuckled when I asked. "Oh yes, I was there twice." And then, what she would say to me often, "I really have had such an amazing life." And she did. And so do I. Getting to see the world, and even better, seeing it with someone you love, is amazing.
Cruising through the Panama Canal

As she grew older, I became more and more aware of her anxious nature and the courage it took for her to do many things. Every trip she took over the last ten years, she wasn't sure she could go on.  She was worried about so many things and yet, she bravely got on planes to Washington D.C., to Michigan, to Ireland. Over and over, she kept going. Even at the end, she got in the car and left "safe" to see something new. As my battles with anxiety escalated over the last few years, I have claimed her spirit time and time again. I have set foot on the plane, stood in the line, and boarded the train. When my nerves kick in, I have often had to remind myself, "If your 90-something grandmother can do this, you certainly can."

But the most important thing Grandma taught me was LOVE. When you married into the Bigger family, you became a Bigger. In-laws weren't outsiders; they were loved and cherished as beloved children, and grandchildren. All of their in-laws called them "Mom" and "Dad" and it wasn't forced. They were loved. 

She was a strong wife to my grandfather. She gave him structure and strength; he made her life fun and adventurous. She loved rules; he loved to bend those rules. But they loved and respected each other and created a legacy together. They modeled and promoted what they believed it. So no, they didn't push me on the swings or go down the slide. But I will never forget the time they took me to ice cream after observing me do something unselfish for others. I won't forget that they came to my baptism, my graduations, and applauded my hard work. I treasure a letter my grandmother penned to me on September 11, as soon as she learned I was far from my Virginia home and safe. And just a few weeks ago, she dialed my number to say thank you for her birthday flowers. It was our last call. She was grateful then. I will be grateful forever.

Garnet Clarice McCoy Bigger, March 4, 1921-March 22, 2017

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Stepping Out

I love New Year's resolutions. Or at least, I use to. At some point, I hit that realization that I made the same resolutions every single year and I was still carrying extra weight, still impatient, and still couldn't seem to focus in prayer.

When I was younger I used to think that midlife crises were the result of people realizing they weren't "young" anymore, and despairing at extra weight, the loss of hair, or some physical attribute that reminded them that their bodies were in decline heading toward that surety-death.

And while my aching back and neck, and my declining eyesight certainly are not things I'm celebrating, I'm realizing that midlife despair is more about realizing that all the things we were going to change about ourselves, those pesky bad habits, our "sins of personality" are still with us. This process of sanctification is slow going; is it even happening at all?

Even worse, some of the things that were more contained when younger, are not so easily contained. Anxiety, for instance, that I've struggled with since I was a child, has only become more evident to the outside world as I have aged and witnessed more of life to be anxious about.

So I started the year of our Lord 2017 with a kind of discouragement that I was still short-tempered and impatient, and I was still prone to second helpings and a secret stash of chocolate and thus carrying extra pounds, and that I still can't seem to focus well when I need to pray.

Only self-defeat is not really helpful. I'm always ruminating on life, always have an internal conversation happening about my short-comings and the lamentable situation of the entire fallen world and what would make a difference if it changed. Oh, and my husband and my dearest friends know these musings often go external when given a chance. (Sorry!)

Now we are into February and I have realized a couple of happy things. One is that while I've always approached exercise as this thing I should do to be thin (and it has NEVER made me thin, even when I was disciplined), I recently realized (because I'm getting old) that the goal of exercise is to help me be strong, and to keep the instrument I live in, running. Sadly, it also makes me really sore now, and I wish I had realized this when I was younger when it didn't hurt so much, but it is something. So in the last year I have finally made regular exercise, part of my life.

But more importantly, I tackled a psychological hurdle I have faced for 20 years. I started walking, alone, in my neighborhood, again. Something so simple has given me joy and a breathing space, and the capacity to pray in a new way.

Twenty years ago I was living in a part of Portland with a sketchy reputation. My cousin had just been murdered and I was dealing with all kinds of grief and anxiety there. I have always loved walking and exploring and that hadn't changed. But one day I went for a walk in my neighborhood just as the police swooped in on a drug-ring in a nearby apartment complex. It was somehow too much for me, and as much as I tried walking over the next 20 years, I always imagined predators behind the curtains of houses and couldn't do it without a racing heart and a quickened pace. Eventually I quit trying to take walks.

Two summers ago, I borrowed my mom's bike a few times and went riding in my neighborhood. It was something. I also went out walking on summer evenings with Mike.

Consciously, I wasn't really thinking about this thing I didn't do, and the reasons for it. But it started coming back to me, that I had once loved to take a walk, and that it was healing balm for me in the stress of a normal day.

This last August, I set out one morning. I took a short walk on a route I had been taking with Mike in the evening. And I just kept going. Nearly every day, except when I tried to go out one morning when it was 28 degrees and decided to set a personal limit of 32 degrees as my threshold.

I have found walking helps me with my anxiety-prone thoughts. It helps me with prayer. It helps me physically, mentally, spiritually to face life with joy and confidence.

And finally, it is something I didn't let beat me down. I tackled my fear, and won.

...to be continued...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016


On board the USS Midway

The perfection of Jesus’s divinity was expressed in the perfection of his humanity, and vice versa. He was God because he was so sublimely a man, and Man because, in all his sayings and doings, in the grace of his person and words, in the love and compassion that shone out of him, he walked so closely with God. As Man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone, he would not; Incarnate, he could and did. ~Malcolm Muggeridge 



Our Christmas cards went out in the mail already, but the year wouldn’t be complete without a letter. The week after Christmas is the perfect time to complete it. Or, rather, procrastinators feel compelled by the new year to act.

We mark our years by the places we visit and the people we see; 2016 was no different.
 

Mike’s year started off at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., to watch the arguments in a First Amendment case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The organization he works for, the Mackinac Center, had performed a supporting role in the litigation. The Supreme Court only holds about 150 people at a time; even lawyers admitted to the court must queue up at 5 a.m. to be guaranteed a seat. Tip: when standing in line for four hours in January, bring comfortable shoes, handwarmers, energy bars and a newspaper to read.

Then we were all off to sunny southern California for a mid-winter vacation. We saw the USS Midway in San Diego, Lego Land, SeaWorld, Disney Land and the Reagan Library. More importantly, we played at the beach in January. Rachelle’s parents joined us and we visited Rachelle’s brother Mark in Bakersfield (our first time visiting him since he moved to California 10 years ago). A brutal (by local standards) snow storm of ½ inch nearly kept us from getting to the airport for our departure.

In March, we trekked to Walla Walla, Washington, for Grandma Bigger’s 95th birthday and saw many aunts, uncles and cousins.

In May, we drove to Boston for two days of sightseeing and then over to New Hampshire for what was, perhaps, The Happiest Wedding Ever, featuring Rachelle’s last roommate Lindsay Jones and Ben Hansen. At the end of the month Mike and Rachelle’s dad, Rick, met Mark in Indianapolis for the bucket-list experience of attending the Indy 500. Later in June Lindsay’s parents Phil and Bev Jones stopped by during a post-wedding road trip. We were still exulting on the Happiest Wedding Ever.
Amy, Janet, Rachelle in Connemara

July found Rachelle joining soul friends Amy and Janet for a seven-day visit to Ireland. Amy lives in Olympia, WA, and Janet lives in Melbourne, Australia. So, Rachelle had the easiest trip, and still managed to get a travel virus and spend three days feeling miserable. She perked up in the invigorating sea air on a ferry ride to Inis Oirr, an island off the Galway Coast. It was cold, rainy, and gusty with some big waves. Her Viking stomach returned as she watched her fellow passengers not feeling quite as well. Despite a chilly, rainy, summer in Ireland and not feeling great, it was a great trip with good friends. Highlights: Slieve League in Donegal Co., Marble Arch Caves (in N. Ireland immediately after Brexit—interesting stuff!), the Guinness Factory Tour, music and Irish dancing in Galway, and the Cliffs of Moher—breathtaking!

Cesky Krumlov

Then in August Mike took a work/study trip to the Czech Republic, spending most of a week in Prague. The people there are courageous, having thrown off Nazi and Communist occupations in the space of forty years.

Grandma Bigger & Dad Bigger on Mackinac Isl.
In September Rachelle’s Uncle Darold and Aunt Barbara traveled with Grandma Bigger to see our adopted home of Michigan. We rented a house up north, hiked, ate, golfed and rode around Mackinac Island. (Some of us on bikes, others on motorized wheelchairs.) 

Aunt Barbara, Grandma, Uncle Darold
Parents sometimes need time away from kids, which is what we did with Mike’s brother Matt and his wife Vanessa in October for a weekend trip to New York City – our first time there together in more than 10 years. We walked (a lot), visited museums (MoMA and the Guggenheim), watched a play (Something Rotten) and took in the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

This holiday season we were able to spend time with both sides of our immediate families, with a Reitz gathering in West Virginia and a Bigger gathering back in Michigan.

Ben (12) has taken up fencing. He continues to write adventure stories and has acquired a respectable Nerf arsenal. Kyrie (10) is our Irish dancer and Party Planner-in-Chief. Evie (7) is our gymnast and humorist.

Looking back over the year, we are deeply grateful for the gifts of friendship and prayer. Merry Christmas and a blessed new year!

Mike, Rachelle, Ben, Kyrie and Evie