Saturday, April 11, 2020

Always Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is that odd day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday during which Jesus Christ—life himself!—lay dead in a tomb.-Travis Ryan Pickell, Before Christ Rose, He Was Dead

I heard Doris Kearns Goodwin, a noted historian, saying that this moment in our history (this pandemic), while unique, most reminds her of the World War II era.  She made a number of comparisons, but what most struck me is that she reminded us, "Remember, no one knew we were going to win the War." Right. I forget that.

Just like I have forgotten that on Holy Saturday, the disciples, friends and followers of Jesus didn't know that Easter Sunday was just one sleep away, and that the tomb would be empty and God would rise and the world would never be the same.

For them, he was dead. They were enemies of the regime, rejects of their own religious system; the leader they had given everything up for, was dead. They were sequestered in their homes, exhausted, devastated, confused.

Lent has faded into the Triduum and we stand on the brink of celebration. Tomorrow we will shout He is Risen!! Most of us will do it in our own homes, and I suspect it will lack a little bit of punch. But in another sense, we all have the opportunity to ponder the reality of an Easter to come: the end of sickness, fear, economic devastation, alienation from each other. I think it will be a very Holy Saturday Easter.

Most of us have lowered quite a few loved ones into the ground. We carry the weight of knowing there will be more separations, and eventually our own. We believe in resurrection, and we rejoice because Easter's Resurrection of God changes everything. We know it.

And yet, our lives are lived out like one long Holy Saturday. We believe death is gasping its final breaths, but it still does wound us. We believe in eternal life, but our bodies are not transformed yet. He is risen. We await our own resurrection.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Holy Monday--Staying Through Suffering

My son said to me yesterday: "I guess living in an historical moment isn't all it is cracked up to be." Truth.

I was loading groceries in my car yesterday when a family got out of their truck, clothed in masks and gloves and started making their way toward the store. They had forgotten something and the man returned to the truck to get it and discovered his keys were locked in there. He came undone. He berated himself telling his wife that this was the fourth time he had done this in a month and asking over and over "What is wrong with me? I am so stupid." At one point, he grabbed a tool from the back of his truck and headed for the window while his wife held him back saying, "No, no, it will cost more to fix that than to call the locksmith." He lamented, nearly collapsing at times and moaning about the $180 he had already spent to get into his truck. I tried to console him, telling him it was a trying time and he needed not to be so hard himself. I tried to give him some cash, but he wouldn't take it, insisting that this was entirely his problem. I finally left, breathing a prayer for this poor man, his wife, his son, obviously in a difficult place.

This Lent has been so very real as I have watched up close and from a far the various sufferings of people around me. A few, far away, have actually had the virus, and we have prayed for healing. But nearly everyone has the Fear, the questions of when it will end, what they will lose, what life will look like when it is over? Will it be over? I've felt that suffering in my anxiety-prone body, which serves as my early warning system that not all is well with my soul.

I've learned to fast from media, which feeds the fear and frenzy. I'm usually stalwart in the morning but by evening I need to keep away from information and statistics and numbers of deaths. I've embraced my lack of omniscience and control, and chosen to focus on stories of hope and help.

My family gathers to pray every morning and I continue throughout the day, remembering friends and family on the front lines of combat serving in hospitals, working in mental health, and the clergy, that are working more hours while I work less.

Yesterday we did not wave our palms; we fashioned them into crosses immediately. We could feel the long journey to the Cross coming quickly.

Monday of Holy Week has always felt like a long pause to me. The triumphal entry is over and the Cross looms, but for a little while, there is just routine and quiet. What did He do on Monday? What do I do on Monday? Work, pray, love the people around me, and prepare.



Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Books of 2019

Goodreads says I read 28 books in 2019....But I failed to document probably another 20-30 more I read to my kids, including three of James Herriot's books that Evie and I enjoyed together.  I've listed the twelve most memorable books I read this year.

It was a disappointing year for me in fiction. I read a few titles but tried some current writers and 2020 will take me back to classics for fiction. This is the best fiction title I read this year:

Things Left Unsaid by Courtney Walsh
A complex book for Christian fiction and even though the ending is fairly tidy, this tackles some tough issues and how we entangle our mistakes and preconceptions and cripple our present. This is worth the read just for its great portrayal of feeling undeserving and finding God's unconditional love in unlikely places.

A lot more great reading in the non-fiction department:

Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe is my 2019 book-of-the year. A tiny little volume of 130-ish pages, my copy is highlighted throughout and will be read again and again as I revisit the necessary understanding that freedom comes in accepting others, myself, and suffering. Philippe is a wonderful guide, reminding us to live in the present moment and that love is a free gift of God to all of us.

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L'Engle introduced me to Sarah Arthur, a fabulous author. This beautiful biography of L'Engle, captures the essence of L'Engle while also tackling the tough question of why she glossed over a lot of her personal reality and painted a different picture of her family for the world. Arthur does this with grace and integrity, talking to members of L'Engle's family as well as her closest friends. The result is a portrait of a brilliant and faithful woman, flawed, but ennobled to leave a beautiful legacy.

Code Name: Lise. The True Story of the Woman Who Became World War II's Most Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis was an amazing story of how the brains, bravery, and stamina under torture saved the life of a brave spy. Loftis writes a good spy story and Odette, the brave woman who endured the Gestapo and Ravensbruck was a heroine of heroes. This was not always an easy read, but a remarkable portrayal of grit and sacrifice. 

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter is a necessary read for the 21st century. As many of grapple with the reality of screen addiction in our families and admit to ourselves that we don't like how technology has its hooks in us, this book brings awareness and information to help us forge a new path of balance. The author is clear--alcohol and drug addictions are won by total abstinence but tech addictions are a little more complicated. 

On the Road with St. Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts by James K.A. Smith is an honest, thoughtful read by a philosopher who writes like a novelist. Smith brings us into the most intimate corners of himself and shows us how Augustine was ahead of his time as an honest, struggling, saint on a path to know God better. Smith tackles my toughest questions about Augustine, his views on women and sex. This book is a great read for any struggling saint dealing with absent fathers, sinful desires, or hard questions. 

Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings by Diana Pavlac Glyer is not merely fascinating reading for any fan of Lewis, Tolkien or the other inklings. It is also one of the best books I've read on collaboration as key to the creative process. Examples of hurt feelings (to the point of losing members), but also a strong commitment to making each other better, this group of writers pushed each other to literary greatness. Especially interesting are examples of how Tolkien significantly edited and rewrote sections of Lord of the Rings because of the feedback he received. 

Them: Why We Hate Each Other by Ben Sasse is the book that assured me I wasn't alone in what I thought of my country, fellow-Americans and the current climate. If there is one person on Capitol Hill I can respect, it is Sasse, who walks a fine of line of integrity and compromise. Sasse is good at diagnosing the sickness, but more surprising, he offers a prescription for not allowing hate to disease your soul.

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin while written 30 plus years ago has not lost its relevancy. Newbigin was a pastor and missionary and his experiences led to this thoughtful work on how to live out the Gospel amidst confusion, showing respect to people of all persuasions while not watering down the message of the Gospel.

Riding with Reagan: From White House to the Ranch by John Barletta was a gift we received when we toured the Reagan Ranch in May. Barletta was a key Secret Service agent who protected Ronald Reagan, particularly when he was on a horse. The two developed a key friendship and Barletta tells a story of a person whose public and private persona were one, whose staff were devoted to him for his kindness, integrity and humility. A beautiful read.

The Divine Plan: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Dramatic End of the Cold War by Paul Kengor and Robert Orlando, intrigued me. With a thoroughly Calvinist-sounding title about two figures, one decidedly not Calvinist, I wasn't sure I could trust this scholarship. But I've talked with Paul Kengor several times and know him to be a thorough scholar and I wasn't disappointed as this book laid out the relationship and commitment John Paul II and Ronald Reagan shared as they tackled an immense challenge of the late 20th century. They shared a solid understanding of what a commitment to freedom demanded and wanted to join in the work to help create a better world. The similarity in thinking, life experiences, and impact makes for an encouraging read in a discouraging era.

Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from Our Culture of Contempt by Arthur Brooks continues the theme of 2019 for me. How can I be part of the solution and not the problem without lowering the flag on truth? Brooks delivers key examples that are locked into my brain, particularly a little story about cilantro that has provided a simple tool for me going forward.


As a footnote, my kids and I continued to love Sarah Arthur's devotionals, with our favorite so far being Walking Through the Wardrobe: A Devotional Quest into to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe





Monday, June 24, 2019

Ben and I Embark on High School-What We Did, What Worked, What Nearly Killed Us



I have anticipated high school for a long time. All my years in higher education and I should be prepared to know what to do and how to do it, right? Logical, but no. I could sit most people down and give them some really good advice on homeschooling high school. But it would have been nice for someone to do the same for me. 😄

When I planned Ben's 9th grade year, I made several mistakes. 1) I planned it. This is partially because Ben typically answers any preference question with "Whatever you think." (Don't worry! God followed him up with two daughters who NEVER respond this way.) He needed to be more involved in the planning, and I'm currently working on correcting that for next year. 2) I failed to understand he is an auditory learner and enjoys collaborative learning. I worked independently in high school because that is the way I roll. I didn't really expect to do much with him, but he needs to talk things through and prefers I teach him. This is also the year I wished I had been giving him comprehensive finals in middle school.

Before I break down what we did, this was the year where I think Ben and I both started to see more of a path for him. We realized that while he is interested in technology, that he is ultimately an ideas person. He is artistic-music and art are natural to him. He loves the humanities and a good long discussion on western civilization, philosophy, and the implications of certain taxes. He enjoys the ideas part of science, but he is not headed into math or science careers. When I had to do a reboot on math, this calmed me. He is not going to need to take Calculus and we have time to get it all in.

Math (or not): So, not to get off on a bad foot, but he started in an online Geometry course, which was a disaster. Some of this was his fault, and some of it was a very green (first time teaching an online course) online teacher, and some of it was my fault for failing to realize that he didn't really understand all he needed to last year in Algebra. He showed a little trouble in two areas (pieces of Algebra) in the placement exam, but the teacher thought we could work through that. I didn't spend a lot of time observing when he was in class but wondered at how difficult it was for him to give me any idea of what they learned in class until I watched long enough to understand the teacher's difficulty in being precise with expectations. I think her style would have worked better in a classroom where she could observe what each student was working on and where they were lost as she walked around the room. But she didn't realize how lost Ben was for a long time. Nor did I. Ultimately, Geometry doesn't come easy for him. I had a terrible time with Geometry and have read enough research to know spatial thinking comes later. She also told us that Euclidean Geometry can be really tough for some kids, and he might do better with a traditional approach. So he withdrew a couple months in; a tough decision he made, and it was the right one. We are revisiting Algebra I over the summer with a different text that fits his learning style better than Horizons.

Grammar: We used Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind (red book) in what will be his final year with a formal grammar course. He did this course with Kyrie (purple book) and I reviewed it more thoroughly when I described her program. The course was bumpy for me, particularly because of errors in the book and answer key. But it was thorough, utilized excerpts of great literature, and was rigorous. I realized that Ben (and Kyrie) have a more solid grasp on grammar than I do and I suspect Latin is the primary reason.

Latin: Ben took Latin 2 online with Schole Academy and we appreciated Dr. Kotynski a lot. We also both decided that online learning is just not the best way for him to learn and that five years of Latin was all Ben really wanted to take. (He has two years in high school and we are calling foreign language credits good!)

History: I've been excited about The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer since it first came out. I'm a history geek and I'm really blessed that Ben is too. This is challenging curriculum and I'm fairly certain most high schoolers would find the text overwhelming and confusing. (I studied history in college and while I primarily worked out of primary sources and didn't have texts, but this would have been the level I would have been using.) We both really liked the books and the Study and Teaching Guide. This is not a course for everyone. Susan Wise Bauer jumps around a lot and is fairly anecdotal. Ben loves her snide humor and made all the leaps with her. We had great discussions around this class. I didn't require a lot of writing or additional reading because there is A LOT (85 chapters) of material to cover. Ben and I talked about increasing the load next year and I will be calling it an Honors course.

Biology: I did a lot of research and picked Miller & Levine Biology. I opted to buy the Kolbe Academy answer key, and work from the book on labs, as well as some online labs and research aids that go nicely with the text. Ben also jumped in on a few of the middle school lab projects we did. The text is thorough and is meant to be used for Honors Biology as well. I was thankful I had the answer key, which reminded me that not every question and/or assignment was expected to be done. It also switched around the order of a few units and dropped a few lessons. I need these reminders that we don't need to do everything. Ben struggled early on, and came to me and asked me if I couldn't teach him this class. I had him working independently and he needed to talk through the ideas a little bit with me and hear it, not just see it. The book was thorough, interesting, and really well-presented. I would whole-heartedly recommend it for anyone who has the capacity to really plan a lesson and cut out anything superfluous. There were multiple testing options, and after some readjustment, we did the harder tests and made them open book. But for those of us driven to do the whole thing who get a little overwhelmed, this might not be the right option.

Bible:  Ben read Chance or Purpose, which was fast and easy reading but unpacked a lot of ideas and went well with what he was doing in Biology. He also did a Genesis study, both of which he really enjoyed. (Note: Both are Roman Catholic, which reflects my frustration with most Protestant texts on the Creation account.)

Logic: We started The Discovery of Deduction during the last school year. We were trying to do it as a night class so Mike could participate, but we realized fairly early on that this wasn't going to work. Ben and I both really liked this text (an introduction to formal logic) even more than previous texts. It got down to some real world arguments and tackled how to have disagreements about difficult topics where fundamentally different worldviews are held. The text encouraged both verbal and written dialogue and included some persuasive writing.

Debate: Ben audited the course because we weren't ready for the time and financial commitment involved in going to debate tournaments in three different states. But he loved the camaraderie and learned a lot and wants to dive in full-time next year. He is a member of Kairos, a CCCA Debate club and he researched and debated in two different round robin tournaments. This year's resolution was  Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase the percentage of total revenue derived from indirect taxation. Suffice it to say, he knows more about taxes than most adult Americans. His mother, substantially increased her knowledge as well.

Art: Ben continued drawing once a week, working primarily on using geometric tools in drawing this year. He is working through the Feed My Sheep curriculum.

Music: He continued with piano lessons this year. Next up...drums.

Driver's Education:  Our state requires driver's ed for anyone who wants a license before 18. In a whirlwind, Ben became interested in learning to drive. He completed his 34 hours of driver's education (24 classroom, 6 hours driving, and 4 hours observation) and the task of continuing his education is now ours again. He has a permit and is moving along nicely.

I have a new found appreciation for all those parents who put together the transcripts I used to review in my college admissions years. It is hard on so many levels.

But 10th grade looks awesome!






Monday, June 10, 2019

Our Homeschool Year in Review 2019 (What Worked, What Didn't, and Why)


I figured out two years ago that this would be my most challenging year of homeschooling. In some ways, the previous year was more difficult because of some of the things going on with my kids. But this was the year when I ventured into homeschooling high school, and some of the decisions I made, I second-guessed as I went. My confidence in my abilities took some serious hits early on, and I went looking for solutions. Ultimately, this made our experience better and I have a little more wisdom going forward. This simple Learning Style Quiz gave me better insight on why some things hadn't worked in the past. Kyrie is extremely visual, followed by kinesthetic and I had her figured out. (Also, I'm the same, so that helps.) Evie is very balanced between visual and auditory with kinesthetic at the bottom, which is easier for me to teach. More on Ben later.


Evie (3rd) grade

Reading/Writing/Grammar/Spelling/Handwriting

I didn't follow any formal reading program as reading is a key component of history, spelling, and writing. Evie also blossomed into my earliest reading-for-pleasure kid, which surprised me, as she was my slowest to learn to read. She takes immense pleasure in squirreling off into her room and reading alone. Sometimes I asked her to read aloud to me, just to be sure she was actually reading (because she finishes books more quickly than I expected). By the end of the year, she was just reading aloud to me once a week, because I was confident she actually was reading well.

Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Grade 3: Student Edition (2016 Edition)  - I introduced her to Writing and Rhetoric midway through the year and she loved it. The first book in the series is Fable. Both Ben and Kyrie used the book previously, and Evie took great delight in asking them to read their fable adaptions at dinner when she had completed that assignment. She is my animal lover, so the topic appealed and the format encouraged her to develop early writing skills. I coupled this with Language Lessons Level 3 to provide a more solid grammar base. All three of my kids have loved Language Lessons--and I have too--but grammar study has been a bit bumpy after 4th grade, so next year, I'm doing something different. I am also a little weary of the same poems after the third time around; I have them all memorized now.

Evie completed Spelling Workout B (she started it in 2nd grade) and also finished Spelling Workout C. I appreciate this curriculum because words are organized by common phonetic sounds, prefixes, suffixes, etc.... It involves some reading, a little bit of writing, and can largely be done working independently. It also gives her the chance to use her printing, a weakness. She learned cursive earlier and has better cursive than either of her siblings did at this age, but her printing is not great. We did use Zaner-Bloser Handwriting for grade 3 too.

Math

Evie used Horizons again this year. She takes charge of her learning (a little too much) by deciding how many of each problem she should do. I indulge her but if she gets a problem wrong she has to do two additional problems. I always appreciate the colorful presentation and the spiral learning.

History and Literature 

I have loved using Story of the World and this year we used Vol. 1-Ancient History 
again. It is my third trip through and while my two oldest have studied this material twice (one at a grammar level and one in late grammar/early logic stages), I realized in trip three, that I CANNOT DO THIS ONE MORE TIME. I have used the activity book very thoroughly, checking out library books that accompany the time period and doing a number of activities to reinforce learning. Only this year I would look at the books and activities without any excitement. I did find different book suggestions on Pintarest boards which helped. But hats off to anyone who can do this more than three times. I cannot. Fortunately, Evie is more of an independent reader and she read a number of recommended literature resources on her own.

https://gravitaspublications.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/FOM-biology-ST.pngBiology (more fully reviewed in Kyrie's section)

Evie joined Kyrie in Biology class, and did little course work other than participating in labs. I personally remembered nothing in science in elementary school other than what a theory and hypothesis were, and so I don't spend a lot of time on science in the grammar stage. But as much as I hate the trouble of labs, I think they have the most value. We currently have about 8 tadpoles and four caterpillars in cocoons to prove it. (Plus those that have been naturally selected not to continue their lives.)


Bible 

I have yet to find a Bible curriculum I like more than God's Great Covenant. It is a little more Calvinist than we are, but is a beautiful survey course with a high view of Scripture. This year we went through Old Testament 1. While Evie doesn't have to do the worksheet pages and quizzes she participates in the Bible reading, text reading, and memory verse. One of my favorite things is that each lesson includes at least a paragraph on how we see Jesus in the Old Testament text.  I have not found the teachers' guides to be useful--I am capable of checking worksheet and quizzes without it.

Art, Typing, Logic

Picture of Art Treasury Once a week Evie worked on her typing using Typing Instructor and she did logic exercises on line using MindBenders. In addition to some art projects with Story of the World, we used several different Usborne Art books including Art Treasury and Famous Artists. Evie usually participated in a brief Art History lesson on a famous painting/artist with her siblings and then did a project based on that artist and his/her style. All of these classes happened once a week.

Physical Education

Evie took gymnastics once a week, rode her bike, and jumped on our trampoline. 

Kyrie, 6th grade

Bible (See Evie's review)

God's Great Covenant started our morning 4-5 days a week. Day 1 (and sometimes Day 2) we worked on a memory verse and read a selection directly from Scripture (some were longer and split into two days), followed by reading the book text and continuing memory work the next day. The following day we continued the memory work, talked about key facts and meanings from the lesson and Kyrie worked on worksheet pages. The last day she took a quiz.

History and Literature (see Evie's review)

Kyrie really enjoyed Story of the World Vol. 1: Ancient Times this year. She listened to me read text three times a week, but also had independent reading with additional history and literature resources on her own and turned in a written summary about once a week. She really worked hard at the geography portion, turning in beautiful maps.

Math 

Kyrie loves the format of Horizons Math. Shes benefits from the spiral method and appreciates the organized, regularity (five days a week) of this curriculum. I also learned a little this year about how different math curricula appeal to different learning styles. Horizons is best for visual learners and Kyrie is solidly in that camp. She also likes tests. (So did I. Don't hate us.) (More on how it doesn't work as well for auditory learners in my sections on Ben.)

Biology

I like the simplicity of Real Science 4 Kids and used it for Ben (with Kyrie observing) earlier. Thus, we stuck to the 2nd edition since I had the tools. There are only 10 lessons, but last time around I discovered the difficulty of some of the labs in cold Michigan weather. This year we took the winter off and then resumed when it was warm enough for things to grow. The course takes me 21 weeks, meeting twice a week for about an hour. That said the course ends with labs that take daily work. We currently have tadpoles, caterpillars, and are about to set up an ecosystem for the final lab. Day 1 is a teaching day on the topic we are studying, Day 2 is either a lab or sometimes I reverse the order with Day 3 which requires the student to put together a colorful folder on what they are learning, giving them a chance to rephrase what they have learned and record observations. Day 4 is a multiple-choice quiz. Most of the labs can be done in an hour or two; four cannot and take some time. This is a great curriculum, but since Evie is old enough to enjoy it all, this is my last time through with Real Science for Kids Biology, simply because raising tadpoles and butterflies is time-consuming. (And last time we had a lot of funerals.)

Latin

Latin for Children is the flagship curriculum for Classical Academic Press. Between when Ben went through LFC and Kyrie started, they revised and updated both Primer A and Primer B, making it even better (i.e. more visually appealing, with a variety of different learning styles covered in the way everything is presented). While I expected Kyrie to only take one year of Latin, she has flourished in Latin and this was her second year. Consequently, her grasp on English grammar was strengthened...but more on that later. She worked on this four days a week, watching an instruction online,  memorizing vocabulary, conjugating and translation, and fun activity puzzles.

Grammar, Spelling, and Writing & Rhetoric
Spelling Workout 2001/2002 Level G Student Edition   -
I wanted to LOVE Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind. I liked elements of it; it uses snippets of good books to teach concepts so students are exposed to a lot of great literature. It is forthright about how rules evolve over time, and variances. It looks like the teacher has nothing more to do than open up the instructor's manual, hold class without planning and send students off to finish their exercises. But... it is poorly edited. It IS GRAMMAR and it was frustrating when my kids would argue with an answer and I had to review the concept myself, and discover, that yes, they were right and the answer key was wrong. WTM doesn't seem interested in updating errors though they do list errors others find and notify them of, but you have to dig pretty hard to find this on their website. Also, the year started off fairly simple. Coursework could be done in an hour or less a day; then shortly before the halfway point, shifted into overdrive and Kyrie was spending two or more hours to complete a lesson. It felt a little uneven. Oddly, though, Kyrie loves grammar. "Can I major in Grammar in college?" was perhaps my most startling question of the year. If only they would revise it with good editing, I could probably adjust the pace by doing two easy lessons a day so we had time for harder ones. Coupled with grammar, we used Classical Academic Presses Writing & Rhetoric series: Commonplace.  We both love the way this series teaches different forms of writing, encourages (but does not require) a rhetoric component. Bonus: The series is well-edited.  Commonplace focuses on writing a 6-paragraph persuasive essay in praise of a virtue or opposed to a vice. I have found we can rush through two books a year; or we can take our time and complete a book and a half. Once a week she did Spelling Workout G. This year focused on foreign words incorporated into English or on unique categories of words, like words from science or words from sports.

Art, Logic, Music, P.E. 

Kyrie just did Friday lunch art appreciation in which we viewed and talked about a famous work of art and the artist who created it. She did small projects but she loves to write letters and make cards and I let her focus on this. She finished up Mindbenders for Logic, took piano lessons, and also participated in Irish dance. She danced at 6 different care centers and adult living facilities in mid-Michigan this year, which was pretty fun. 


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