Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Black Cauldron

Do you remember those books—one of the earliest fantasy series for kids?

Written by Lloyd Alexander, they are excellent. So, so, so good. Shames just devoured all series. The High King was his favorite, followed by the Black Cauldron. We're going to feed them to Shaemus next. They're so well written, I wouldn't object to the girls reading them for school either.

Do your kids love Harry Potter? Read the Book of Three aloud to them so they're hooked (or get the audio version—it's very good), then hand them the Black Cauldron, and you've got a new series to hook them on! There's even a Black Cauldron movie as a reward (though it's pretty terrible!!!)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

How Lucy is homeschooled

Lucy is one of those kids who loves school. Loves it. Not the social part of school, mind you. She eats lunch alone, makes few friends, and could care less that this is the case. She loves the academic part of school. Loves, loves, loves it. (Though it also gives her stomach aches and completely stresses her out.)

Just yesterday she told me the thing she misses most about being in regular school, besides getting grades, is preparing presentations (not giving them, preparing them). Who actually likes preparing presentations?

My daughter.

So homeschooling her is pretty easy. She does what I ask her to do with gusto, secretly worried if she does not do it with gusto, she will grow stupid.

This could be the end of the story.

But it's not.

I'm struggling with Lucy because I want her to break free of the idea of grades being the best thing about school. I want her learning to be the best thing about school. I want her CREATING to be the best thing about school.

Every day the four youngest kids have an hour of tinkering time, where they are supposed to try new things, new skills, or make new inventions. It is literally about tinkering. Shaemus and Calvin LOVE this time. It's their favorite.

Lucy, not so much. She just asked me the other day if she could do extra writing and extra Spanish during tinkering time. Not really thinking about it, I said sure.

But I've been thinking about it. I think Lucy needs tinkering time.

I think Lucy needs tinkering so she can learn how to fail.

I'm going to do some experiments with this. We've created such a right/wrong world (there is one correct answer and you'll find it in the back of the book!) in the public schools and in our society. Lucy is perfectly happy to exist in that world as long as she is on the "right" side of the fence. Being on the "wrong" side sends her into panic. (I'm not talking about morals, by the way.)

I need to create a world for Lucy where there are few right answers and few wrong answers—there is just effort and thought and inspiration and perseverance. I need to create a world for her where there is no "growing stupid."

Otherwise, when she grows up, she will be afraid of doing anything that might cross that stupid line, and her life will be very small indeed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Blue Mountain

Give this to your animal lover or your adventure lover or your nature lover. Calvin thought it was terrific. He's now writing a book about chimpanzees... Ages 10 and up.

(This is written by Martine Leavitt who also wrote Keturah and Lord Death, one of my top ten favorite books of all time.)

Tuk the bighorn sheep is told he will be the one to save his herd, but he is young and would rather play with his bandmates than figure out why the herd needs saving. As humans encroach further and further into their territory, there is less room for the sheep to wander, food becomes scarce, and the herd's very survival is in danger. Tuk and his friends set out to find Blue Mountain, a place that Tuk sometimes sees far in the distance and thinks might be a better home. The journey is treacherous, filled with threatening pumas and bears and dangerous lands, leading Tuk down a path that goes against every one of his instincts. Still, Tuk perseveres, reaching Blue Mountain and leading his herd into a new, safe place.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Wednesday Wars

Lucy devoured this in a day. Gary Schmidt is brilliant. For kids 10 and up. It's hard to imagine someone not loving this book.

Here's a synopsis of the book:

Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

My Name is Asher Lev

This is probably my favorite book. Mary just read it and absolutely loved it as well.

If you haven't read this book, read it. Give it to your twelve year old or older (maybe 14 or 16 would be better). It will change the way you think about people and talents and love.

It is a book that will change you.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok (I also love the sequel, the Gift of Asher Lev)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


There's a fantastic new series of books for kids who are still learning to read longer and longer books. I'd say these books are perfect for 1st through 3rd graders. They have lots of fantastic pictures, but they are longer than say, Henry and Mudge, and the vocabulary gets increasingly more difficult.

They are just short enough, however, for a child to read the whole thing in one block of time, something important for emerging readers who aren't yet ready to read books by chapter.

It's Scholastic's emerging reader series: Branches. The variety in this series is so tremendous, there is no way you won't find something your child will love.

Flannery loves all of them, and her reading is getting better and better every day thanks to these books.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


That is one dramatic post title.

But this post deserves a little drama. 

It was early on a Monday morning. My husband was out of town, four hours north in Virginia. I had to get my daughter, Mary, to her seminary class (an early-morning religious studies class for teenagers) in thirteen minutes. 

When my alarm went off, I got up in body, but not quite in spirit. I was too tired to deal with the lights, so I stumbled around in the dark to get dressed (barely) and get my sandals and my glasses and get out to the car.

I made it down the first set of stairs in our house (which is a split-level) fine. When I reached the next set of stairs—the stairs I now think of as the steps of doom—I went down too quickly. I went down so quickly, I seemed to forget (in the dark) exactly how many steps were on those stairs, and I lurched forward with one more step to go, thinking I was done.


Something snapped on my right leg. I collapsed to the ground and began to scream because the pain was so, so, so, so bad. The kids woke up. Lights went on. I was lying in the entryway of my home screaming for God to help me think and know what to do. Sam wasn't home. No adults were home. I had to go to the hospital, but I was nearly hyperventilating.

My kids were getting more and more upset. My ankle was now twice the size it should be and my foot was no longer connected properly to my leg. Mary called Sam who blearily ordered her to call 911.

"I can't!" she cried. "I'm scared. I don't know what to say."

I will always count it an amazing blessing that I was calm enough (despite my violently trembling body) to not get angry. I asked Lucy to bring me my cell phone and I called 911. In the meantime, Sam called my neighbor who came over to our house to give me a blessing. He also instructed the kids to get me pillows. I remember, in my fog, hearing the kids running around the house shouting, "Get Mom a pillow! She needs a pillow!" I think at some point I shouted, "My foot is hanging off my leg. I don't want anyone to touch me and I don't need a pillow!"

The ambulance arrived. The paramedics seemed a little dismayed by my injury. It was taking them a long time to decide how to get me out of there. I knew I couldn't move in such a state. I would pass out from the pain. They gave me some morphine which stopped the violent shaking but did not ease the pain. So they gave me more.

I managed to get on the stretcher (after seriously banging my head on some furniture) and they took me to the hospital. The ER doctor noticed that my toes were turning purple, meaning the circulation to my foot was poor. With a nurse's help, he pulled my foot as hard as he could, snapping it back into place. It had been dislocated.

Oh, how much better I felt when he was finished! I'm done! I thought. That's it! My ankle had been dislocated. Nothing else is wrong.

I got an x-ray soon after and fully thought the doctor would bring me the good news that I was fine and could go home.

I started to cry when he said I'd broken my tibia clean through and my fibula in two places.

There's no need for further details, but I had surgery last Tuesday, and was incredibly surprised (once the anesthetic wore off) by how much it hurts to have a plate and screws drilled into your bones. I'm so grateful for my mom and my mother-in-law for coming out to help take care of us. I can't drive or put weight on this foot for at least a few more weeks. I've been on the couch for two weeks and I'll be on this couch for several more.

The lessons I've learned have already been great. For one thing, I know that God knows me personally, and he will always, always be with me. I've also learned how much I love my children, and how much I need to really focus on them when I'm home. I don't mean that they need more time from me, but they need more FOCUS.

They need to be listened to and respected for their ideas and insights. They don't need to be told what to do so much as they need a forum to test out their ideas. A safe place where they can learn from mistakes.

I am learning that there is very little direct instruction my kids need both in life and in school. They need examples of awesomeness that inspire them. They need to be free to discuss anything that is confusing or interesting. They need to be creatively motivated, and then they need to know they have an audience excited to hear about their ideas.

Children are not boxes to be placed on a conveyor belt and stamped with all the correct labels. They are individuals that need every opportunity to dig deeper into every aspect of their lives and to have someone there, ready to lend a hand or shine a light or just listen.

When I am not stuck on a couch, right in the middle of my family swirling around me, I want to have that same FOCUS. I want to be that same parent. I want to shut out the voices telling me that my children need to be this or look like that or have these skills or this resume, and listen to my childrens' voices telling me the help they need to grow up into happy, creative, confident, hard-working, mindful people.

When I get off this couch, I hope to be a better person, a better mother and teacher. I hope that more than just my bones won't be quite so broken.