Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Thursday, April 20

More Spring Cleaning, Outdoors

Y'all, take your garlic. It is tick season, and it is yard work and hiking season. (OK, it's always tick season, but that doesn't matter so much when it's too cold and you're inside. But NOW, it's nice out. You want to get out and enjoy it, but you don't want ticks. Nobody wants ticks. Take your garlic.)

Yesterday, it didn't rain so we mowed and weedwhacked and weeded and mulched. (And this morning I realized I haven't been taking my garlic. See? Learn from my mistakes, folks.) This place is really cute when it's tidy! Oh, my gosh!

We cleared off the balcony and cleaned out the earth boxes. Jase asked if we could keep the ferns that have sprouted in one of them... I tried not to be too discomfited by the idea that it took actual airborne spores floating up that way for them to grow there (I could be a real mess if I thought too much about what's in the air most of the time). The ferns are pretty, though, so why not? We're likely not gardening this year, so we'll at least go get some lovely plants for the earth boxes on the balcony and make it look like we decorate once in a while.

I think only two of my Pieris Mountain Snows died! That's so exciting! One died early on in the fall because people kept dropping shovels, buckets, and bicycles on it. Understandable that it didn't survive. But then the other five just up and DIED over the spring. I was crushed. Three cheers for procrastination, though! (Hip, hip, hurrah!) I never got around to pulling them up and taking them to Nick (my plant guy) to find out what happened, and this week four of them greened back up and revived like you wouldn't believe. It's so exciting! I'm going to put a big bushy plant where people drop things - maybe they'll stop, then. (If that doesn't work, I'll try a pokey, mean plant. And if that doesn't work, I'm going to have to put down sand and pavers and just consider it a landing pad - but it's right beside the front steps, so I'll be honest, I don't wanna.)

We really do need to make a new roof happen this year. Eek. That much became painfully obvious once we got the rest of the yard and structures tidied up. (I'm kidding. We knew it was bad, but now it actually looks as bad as it is.) I wonder if the boys will enjoy roofing? Honestly, I do. Not so much the edges, which are terrifying, but it's a very satisfying thing to have a clean, fresh roof, with good underlayment and straight lines.

Our book club finished The Screwtape Letters yesterday. Finally. It's an incredible book, but this was a rough few months for the club -- with illnesses, travel, work schedules, and the insanity of my unpaid long haul gig (how I'm thinking of Jacob's ballet schedule, now), we had very few weeks where everyone could make it. We've picked the next book - The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher, Since we have such an ecumenical group, I am really excited about some of the discussions we'll have over this. Do you have people in your life you can disagree with and argue with over a cup of tea? I hope so! It's a beautiful thing!

Z's on a weird one-day jaunt for work. He left before the sun was up, and he'll be back tonight. I want to remember to have dinner ready when he gets home. Of course, that's ten hours from now... should probably set a reminder. What's your favorite Welcome Home meal? Do you have one?

Be encouraged!

~ Dy


Thursday, April 4

Moving Right Along

I stayed up way too late the other night re-reading Charlotte Mason. The irony (of going headlong into sleep deprivation to read up on the importance of balance and healthy habits) wasn't lost on me. So I chuckled at myself and poured another cup of coffee (because when it's already too late to go to bed at a reasonable hour, you might as well really go for broke, right?) It was a good refresher, and a great reminder about the purposes and goals of education. With our extra-curricular schedule reined in, and a decent head of steam going on our routine academics, I thought this would be a good time to formulate some simple steps we could take to get back to the things we enjoyed when the Bigs were smaller -- things like afternoon teas, regular nature study, oral narration (well, nobody enjoyed oral narration, which is a big part of why we don't do it anymore, but that doesn't mean it lacks value. It just means it's really hard to get water to run uphill without a good pump.)

The next morning, I pitched some of my ideas to the kids. The littles are gung-ho. Art study! Afternoon tea! More stories! More time outside! (The narration bit didn't really ping the wee radar, which is probably a good thing.) The bigs... well, they're polite. They smile, nod, offer input and suggestions, and ultimately agree to give pretty much anything a try. I have no idea if they think this is brilliant or if this will be one of those memories that causes them to smile gently when they're grown, and think, "Mom was so quaint with her quirky educational theories..."

What caught my attention the most, though, was the input.

J: Wow, why didn't we do these things when I was little?

Me: Um. Yeah, wow. :pause to see if he's joking: You really don't pay attention, do you?

J: What? We DID?

Me: Regularly.

J: When? Was I four?

Me: Noooo... we still did them when we moved here. You were probably eight before I gave up and started drinking.

J: Oh? Huh. Did I start drinking, too? Maybe that would explain it.

He makes me laugh. That helps. (And for the record, no, my son has not taken up drinking. He's just naturally not aware of his surroundings. But he knows this, and I'm not telling tales out of turn, here. He also fixes all my electronic problems and makes a magnificent omelet. We all have our strengths.)

So, anyway, I blew all our grocery money on books. Had to pick up the usual suspects - biographies and Omnibus titles, some more history and a little literature. Plus a few goodies "just because" -- another Andrew Lang Fairy Book (red, this time), an interesting Shakespeare book (the two we've had haven't been big hits, and the older kids dig Shakespeare, but the littles shuffle off to watch My Little Pony in James' room whenever we start discussing it). I'd like to bring Em and Jake into the book-fold a bit more. Jase still gets to run his barefooted little backwoods heart out. And if we do this right, we'll all get a little more barefooted outdoors time, too.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Monday, July 2

Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence

Welcome to TLC Book Tours' virtual tour of Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence.


This picture book, written by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes, published by Little Patriot Press, is an illustrated poem that tells the tale of America's founding through the narrative lens of a mouse counterpart to the Framers of the Constitution, the title character, Liberty Lee.

I wasn't expecting a poem. It's enough of an undertaking to explain everything from Colonization to the Battle at Lexington and Concord to a target audience of squirrelly 4-6 year-olds, without trying to do it in rhyme. Yet, they've done it, and surprisingly well, as long as the reader can avoid falling into the cadence pit. The authors did not skimp on vocabulary, but used traditional verbiage connected with the American Revolution. I appreciated that. It helps make this story more than a mere sing-song tale that one tires of reading after one or two rounds.

It took us a full two weeks to read the story, not due to rhythm issues, or wordiness, but as a result of the illustrations. They are vivid, and rich. They look simple, but are incredibly detailed. Each illustration (most are full, two-page spreads) offers a panorama of delightful scenes to unfold and delve into. The detail is fantastic, and it's not unusual for the children to spend ten or fifteen minutes going over every vignette on a page.

This isn't a book they'll want to fly through, and if you try, you'll be frustrated. Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence is the kind of book you meander through, letting your children show you all there is to explore, doubling back, spinning off for a while on inspired tangents, eventually settling back down to continue the journey.

There are additional bonus features for adults and children. The children enjoyed finding Liberty Lee (or one of his ancestors) tucked away in each page. There is also an eagle hidden in each illustration. (It's not always the whole eagle - sometimes it's just his head. It's a nice added layer for older, or more ambitious, children to take up after they've found all the mice, and poured over the other scenes.)

The Tail End offers additional tidbits of information and resources designated for parents and teachers.

In sum, we enjoyed this book. The authors attempted to cover a lot of ground in a condensed space, and the narrative doesn't flow as smoothly as I would prefer for a storybook, but it is solid, and unabashedly designed to be an uplifting, encouraging story, which the authors performed nicely. The illustrations tie the story together well. It's the combination, though, that makes it the type of picture book I'd want to have on my shelf: a good story that piques the children's imaginations, set among lavish, many-layered illustrations that draw in a child's eye and mind. I love that, and I enjoyed this book, on many levels.

Kiss those babies ~ and keep reading with them!
~Dy

Tuesday, June 12

Almost Halfway Done

Wow, June is shaping up to be the longest month of the year so far. It's crazy, but I think I've been awake and productive more hours so far this month than I was all of January.

I kind of miss January...

Today, we were productive and engaged. (Also, it wasn't terribly hot. That helps.) EmBaby and Jase helped me clean out the craft closet. They were amazed and awed by all the wonderful things we have! I was floored at how junked up one closet can get in a year's time. It's safe to say that, overall, it was a morning of wonder. We got it squared away and took our happy selves out to the balcony with some materials to enjoy the weather, and the goodies, and the knowledge that -- at least in one tiny corner of the house -- all was in order.

Then, it was so nice out that we stayed there for lunch, and for a story after lunch, and before we knew it, it was time to pick up the boys! Ha! That was a fun and easy day.

Em's enjoying The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I get such a kick out of her expressions (she wears her heart right there on her sleeve, so everything is up front and obvious), her giggles and gasps. She is at such a magical age for a romping good story.

Jase is... well, he's four. I have no idea if he's enjoying it or just toying with me in the way four-year-olds have an instinctive genius for doing. He enjoys the heck out of the *idea* of it. He brings me the book several times a day and requests a chapter. He's processing all the things (mainly the Herdmans - I don't think he can quite wrap his mind around anyone like them, and it's a troubling idea to him, to think there are people that ornery in the world.) But when it comes time to read, he can think of a million things to say, a thousand things to do (half of them are very loud), and a hundred different positions to try (most of which involve feet in, on, or near someone's face). So... I'm glad he's... listening? It's very tempting to wait until he falls asleep before I try to read, but then he asks a question or makes a comment, or kisses my cheek and whispers, "I'm glad you're not mean like the Herdmans." And all I can do is kiss him back and be thankful I didn't wait for him to fall asleep.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Monday, June 4

What Shall We Read, Now?

With the bigs at camp, I thought we'd branch out with the bedtime reading this week. I had a slew of ideas on deck. I did not realize, however, that Jacob has spent the last few months staring wistfully at his brothers' reading lists, wishing we could read those. Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, All Creatures Great and Small... he's happy as happy can be!

Jase, who generally dissolves into fits of frustration and ire when it comes time to read (although I suspect that's more about the bedtime that follows) spent this evening kneeling in front of his bookcase, picking out stories to read together. It's crazy stuff, but so very good.

EmBaby and I just finished Little House in the Big Woods. I didn't choose it as a family read-aloud, because I've read those books to the boys at least twice, and they've read them, themselves. Yet every time I began reading with her, bodies drifted toward the couch, leaned against the stove, or draped across the arm of a chair, all else forgotten for a few minutes while they re-visited the pig on the sled, or the bear Ma slapped, or the sugar snow. Those stories weave a wicked magical spell on the house. And then, as soon as the chapter is over, the spell is broken and each one goes back to his tasks, happy and content.

When we did the latest (though not the last - but one could wish) threshing of the basement, James found our copy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Oh! The celebratory reaction from all (we'd missed reading it this past Christmas, because, evidently, it was in the basement). It's in the queue, now. For June. Of course. I told them we can start it as soon as we finish Brisingr.

And that, that book, that long, long book, has been our bedtime read-aloud for so long now that it's beginning to feel as if it's been our only read-aloud since time began. Part of the problem is the reader (me). Getting glasses recently has helped, but it's not a complete remedy. I can't wrap my tongue around the Scandinavian-influenced words. Nothing flows gently off my tongue in this book. For the love of Vrenshrrgn, I need more vowels! Still, the first two books fairly flew by, and we began this one with so much enthusiasm. The writing is different, though. There is a lot of drawn out introspection provided for the reader, and a general wordiness that makes an already challenging task more thwarting than it ought to be. I've been tempted to ask the bigs to read it to themselves, with the offer to start Inheritance as a read-aloud if they'll just get through this one on their own. (One would - he loves fantasy, no matter how it's written. The other is putting up with it simply because he enjoys the time to sit together and unwind at the end of the day. He'd slip off and read another Thursday Next novel, if left to his own devices. And then Jacob would bring me the book, break out his Puss In Boots eyes, and I'd be stuck reading it aloud in the end, regardless.) So, we read. But I've already decided that if I run into the same trouble with the next book, I'm giving everyone and everything nicknames.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Tuesday, October 14

Hey.

Well, Ernie and KathyJo swear it's a mushroom. I'm inclined to think Josh is on to something, personally. Either way, I figure if we lock the doors and clean the air filters, we should have all our bases covered. Thanks for playing, guys!

Today we began week 10 of the school year. Ten-ish, anyway. Of the previous nine weeks, we've taken three off. That sounds so bad. I can hear NEA members puckering in their seats from here. And yet, the boys have worked up to the nine-week point in a couple of subjects, and worked beyond the nine-week point in all the rest. Heh. Yeah. I love this lifestyle.

So this morning, we sat on the balcony, re-working our plans that will take us through Christmas break. The boys opted to adjust some of their goals to reflect the progress they've made. We sorted, sifted, printed, and planned. Then they got to work. I got sucked into the Tanglewood site. *sigh* There ought to be something I could take for that. Really.

We're off to the library, where we won't find anything and I will return with a bigger Amazon list. (It is SO easy to justify book purchases when you know you'll use each book through five children. So, so easy. I'm going to owe Zorak big-time for this.) But it'll be nice to hit the library again. And, they've fired the wacky library lady and replaced her with someone from an organization we refer to as "The Northern Alabama Branch of the Illuminati" - so I want to be sure to stay on top of the library sale, as they'll be culling all the good books soon, and I don't want to miss out on those buys!

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Wednesday, July 9

Plenty to do

The air was showing through on the pickup's front tires, so Zorak stopped in at a used tire shop yesterday and replaced them. That's usually a good way to go, but today he had to take the Suburban because one of them (on the truck) didn't hold air during the night. So, we're here for the day, but there's plenty to do here.

We'll gather some blackberries. I think some of the pears are ripe, too. The basement needs more work, as well.

The barn garden is sprouting beautifully. The salad garden has mystery plants, no root plants, and in spite of the lovely, mild summer, the lettuce and greens are a bit bitter. But oh, so pretty, anyway. Something ate the tops off the jalapeno plants. All that's left are green sticks protruding from the mulch.

John is reading the first Harry Potter book. James is nearly done with the sixth. I'm trying Great Expectations. We'll see how that goes - I'm not a big Dickens fan. And in between, we have plenty of fun adventures to take with Pooh and Frances, with Sal and Swimmy, with Sylvester and Chester. Yes, there's always plenty to do.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Friday, June 27

Go, Team Zorak!

Well, the baby survived. James got to feed him, which he thought was Very Cool, Indeed. The kids helped Zorak with Jase and then they worked in the garden and let me stay inside to recover. It was nice to know that all went well while I was away. I love my family - they pull together to beautifully when they're needed.

The dentist visit also went well. He laughed at me for falling asleep. Repeatedly. Yeah, that's weird. I can say that facing your fears through submersion is pretty effective. Ten years ago, I had to blink back tears the minute my butt hit the chair. Now, particularly after the umpteen thousand hours I've spent under that x-files style lighting (what's up with that, anyway?) the last three years, it doesn't phase me a bit. I've got to go in for a root canal either Monday or Tuesday - and then back on Wednesday to cement the two crowns they did today, prep for the root canal crown, and prep on another crown on the other side. I think there's one more visit after that, and then we'll have to make some big decisions on where to go from there. I'm seriously going to have to download the Bionic Woman soundtrack for the drive! (At the very least, that cool running noise she made - remember that?) Oh, and the opening bars of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly soundtrack. What a way to get psyched up for an appointment!

The boys are now all begging to go see their dentist. I'm not sure why, exactly, but I'll run with it. It's time for their checkups, anyway.

The big-big news, though, is that there's a box winging it's way to us from Rainbow Resource this week, and another one from Logos School, too! So. Stoked about that! Oh, yeah... stuff to do while we hide from the summer heat!

Finished Midshipman Hornblower, and am about halfway through Lieutenant Hornblower. What fun! I love to go to sea. I can hardly wait for James to pick up these books. I need a reading buddy. :-) But I'm not going to rush him - this is all going way too quickly, as it is.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Tuesday, April 15

Encounters with the Outside World.

Found another great online book site via the WTM boards yesterday. Printed off a short story by P.G. Wodehouse, and enjoyed a lovely evening curled up in bed to read. After the day I had yesterday, this was just what the doctor ordered. Enjoy!
Classic Reader

Yesterday at the ball field was miserable. It was only 43 degrees when we got there, with winds 12-16mph. Zorak is TDY this week, so it's just me and the little guys. Otherwise, I'd have stayed home with the three smallest! I tried to stay in the snack shack with the littles, but got tired of being the only adult in a room full of unwatched children. You know, parents might want to touch base with their little girls, and keep an idea of what's going on. Too much unsupervised down-time with other kids is one time-honored way for good kids to find the wrong path, and boy are those paths abundant and appealing when you're 12 years old, no matter how bright, sweet, and smart you are. They're still just kids, and they're pretty susceptible to visits from the Bad Idea Fairy. *sigh*

One little boy in particular, though, just about found himself yanked up by the nape of his neck and hung from the coat rack. He walked in and immediately began interrupting our conversations to interject ugly things about random children, kicked his sister repeatedly (and I mean *kicked* - he wasn't playing, he was out to hurt her, and when she tried to walk away, he'd follow her and trip her), and rounded the whole performance off by swearing at anyone who would listen, complaining about his horrible mother and how, "The woman won't give me another freakin' dollar!" He started there, and ramped up to the Big Words in no time. James' game had already begun, but John and Smidge were with me, and they were just floored by the way this kid behaved.

I'll admit it, I stepped in. The interrupting, I could handle. He's five. Kids interrupt and need gentle reminders that it's not okay. So, I gently reminded. It didn't do much good, but I kept reminding and he did eventually wait for me to stop talking before he mouthed off. It was the kicking that put me over the edge, though, and I told him in no uncertain terms that it was not okay, that I have a serious problem with it, and that he had to stop. right. now. or get out. He left for a little, then came back in and began the swearing session. At least he kept his feet to himself. After only two minutes of the swearing, though, I had to say something, again. And again, when he sassed back. "The swearing isn't going to help you get what you want, you're smart enough to think of other ways to express your displeasure, and the rest of us do not need to be held captive by this venom. Period. Come on, kiddo, you can do better. I believe in you. Give it a try." He did finally realize a few things: I'm serious, I'm not backing down, I won't be cowed by a five-year-old child, and I'm right. He stopped! Glory, hallelujah! His sister's eyes were enormous, and her mouth hung open as she stood there, watching the exchange. Gah, does nobody tell this child "no"? He's still little. He doesn't have to be a bully or a demon-kid. There's a sweet little boy under all that ugly crust. But you know, by that point I was just raw around the edges and it was clear that I wouldn't be able to keep an eye on Smidge and Em and keep Jason comforted, while trying to prevent the inmates from setting the asylum on fire. So we went out into the cold. Yuck. When James' game ended, I told John's coach that I couldn't hang with the big dogs anymore and had to leave early. He was good about it.

We came home, had banana bread and hot chocolate, and the kids were very helpful in getting everybody rounded up and into bed. John helped Smidge with his toothbrushing. Smidge let him. WOOHOO! James read bedtime stories to Emily. He fell for the "one more story" fillibuster several times, then bolted down the hallway, panting, "I had to run before she could ask for one more!" They make me laugh. Jason, bless him, went to sleep at ten and stayed asleep until four, and I took full advantage of that little reprieve to get some rest, myself!

We have to be there again today. This time, I'm taking the sleeping bag, a thermos of hot chocolate, a big batch of these awesome turnovers from Chris' blog, and plenty of things for the kids to do. We'll take Set and Quiddler, some crayons and activity books, some stories, and some drawing pads. It'll be okay. And it'll be available to anyone who wants to join us. It's all good. I was just caught off-guard yesterday. But that's okay. We all learn as we go, right?

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Tuesday, January 29

...And the wind howled...

We've read so many books with excellent descriptions of severe wind and storms. For the boys, however, it's usually just words when it comes to weather. They've always lived in moderately mild weather. They've never heard the wind howl, or scream, or whistle. I'm pretty sure they thought it was just rampant anthropomorphism.

Tonight, however, they've heard it whistle, and they've heard it howl. They've heard it beat against the windows, and they've heard the trees groan under the strain. The looks on the boys' faces, alone, as they realized what they were hearing, was worth every minute I've ever spent trying to explain it to them. Sometimes you've just got to experience something to make it real. The truly exciting thing, though, is that every story, every incident, came rushing back to them: Al and Harry and Shanks in the cave in the Arctic; Ma and the girls on the banks of Plum Creek; young Harvey on the Outer Banks, aboard the We're Here... all those pictures sprang to life tonight. Very cool, indeed.

******************

Oh, and now I'm laughing at myself! Smidge just came out to let me know he had really wanted to hear "one of the long chapters" (meaning, he'd sat in Em's room for story time with Dad tonight and missed story time with Mom in the process, and what's-up-with-that-anyway-mom!) I let him know we'd just read a short chapter tonight and would read more in the morning. Then, just as I reached to put my hand on his back to guide him back to bed, a gust of wind kicked up and actually moved the window frame that's right behind me!

I didn't jump, exactly, but I know I twitched a bit, and that motion sank in with him just as the sound of the wood creaking also reached him. He came straight up into the air, spun around and came back down in a spectacular fight-or-flight crouch. I didn't know those brown eyes could open so wide!

It was all I could do not to laugh, because it was funny. But still, that had to have been unnerving for the little guy. So I didn't laugh on the outside, and he's now tucked safely back in bed, reassured and snuggled. And now, I get to laugh, right?

Come to think of it, I think I'll go crawl under the covers, myself, and enjoy the sound of the storm from the comfort of thick, fluffy blankets!

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Friday, December 21

One More Gift To Buy

Oh, this was just too sweet, and I can't resist. Tonight, we were doing groceries, when James saw that the store had The Order of the Phoenix. That's the next book on his list. He's been told he must wait until his birthday (next September) to get it. Still, he was so excited to point it out to me.

I gave the non-committal "mmmm, that's interesting" response and kept walking, because, let's be truthful, I'm about done shopping. I bought food tonight solely because I really like to eat.

He paused, and suddenly, his little face just. lit. up. He let out a little, "Oh!", slipped up to me, put his arm in mine, and whispered, "Thank you."

And the child simply glowed through the rest of the shopping excursion.

At the thought of receiving this book.

Not even a hint of disappointment at thinking he knew what he'd be getting Christmas morning. It didn't ruin anything for him. Just total, utter contentment.

Well. Yeah. How can I not pick up a copy now, right?

So, one more stop this weekend, and then I'm really, truly finished. But oh, what a worthwhile stop to make!

Dy

Friday, September 7

Book Stuff

Some interesting things have crossed my desk this week.

The Myth of the Teen Brain -- on the heels of a recent article citing a belief that the human brain isn't capable of making consistently good choices until around age 25, this article seems timely, and offers some interesting mind-fodder for discussion.

Also, after Mere sent me some links on Permaculture and its founder, Bill Mollison (and then I stayed up WAY past my bedtime watching the entire series of videos), I spent some time poking around Alabama's agricultural/permacultural communities. Interesting stuff, there.

And enjoying the music at Pandora. (Gee, thanks, Steph...) That site was very aptly named. *grin*

Offline, the boys and I are enjoying some of the Arabian Nights tales, as well as Celtic Fairy Tales (Jacobs), and the Young Jack Sparrow books John received for his birthday.

Smidge has fallen in love with The Easter Pig, and EmBaby is completely entranced by a new Carl book. (We love Carl. We can make up beautiful stories for the littles, and when they get a bit older, and wise to our humor, we can cut loose and get a little wild with that ol' dog. Carl's good stuff.)

Have any of you ever read The Virginian, by Owen Wister? I just finished it. So well-written, but I've got to say, if Zorak were to come home from work Monday and say, "So what do you think of BFE, Wyoming?" I'd be packed and en route before he could bother applying for the job. *sigh* Beautifully written. A definite must-read for the boys' in a few years' time.

There was more, but I've been invited to go enjoy a crossword puzzle with my honey. We used to do crosswords together quite a bit, and tonight I wondered aloud why we don't. Then it hit us - we aren't getting the paper, scouring for jobs every week. Oh... yeah, that would do it. We read our news online, or from the radio. And by default, we stopped doing the crossword. But tonight, he found one. So we're off to play! Have a lovely Saturday!

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Friday, August 31

A New Challenge

Boning up on bird identification can be quite the humbling experience. Where one thinks one is, perhaps, "observant", one discovers one is... probably due for glasses and a dose of Focusin.

So how do you use your bird guide? Do you just browse it here and there? Do you set out to learn about one bird at a time? Do you wing it (har-de-har) and just go along as you find new birds? How do you make it work for you?

We have two different woodpeckers out there. Somewhere. I hear them, and I've seen them. I know they're there. But I don't know what they are.

I do know there was, at least, one Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (which I think is one of the best names, ever, for a bird!) Unfortunately, I only know this because of what it did to the alleged apple tree in the back yard:

I don't think I've actually seen it. The only one we see regularly has a lot more red on it than the Lily-Livered Tree Mauler. So. Last night I sat with my Peterson's guide and boned up on the woodpeckers in our region.

This weekend, I think I'm going to catch me a photo of our regular visitor and see if we can give him a name.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Wednesday, August 29

Common Threads

Tonight, I read Laura's post on Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure, and I mentally did a little happy dance. You see, in this book, Dillon Wallace joins an expedition group in 1903 that heads up the Labrador coast...

OK, so what? Well, it's the touch of the familiar that made me smile. I'm finding myself on the receiving end of those familiar starts, those enjoyable exchanges, more often these past several years. And I have to thank the books. The books have brought an entire tableau to my kitchen window, and I recognize the faces. That's exciting. It thrills me even more in that I know the more well-read we are, the better we are able to find the more subtle delights which abound in the world around us.

When King Arthur admonished Hank to "make like Horatius", I got a chuckle I'd have missed entirely if I hadn't known Horatius and his story. It's nothing earth-shattering, nothing of compound magnitude which propels me to instant mental celebrity. It's a small smile in the middle of a book. It's a little chuckle in the middle of the day. It's a nod to the familiar, the shared knowledge, the common thread, from age to age.

And that's okay. Just as it's seldom the Big Things that are bound to compel us to throw in the towel (oh, no, it's those Little Things that wend their way about your ankles, one small thing at a time, and then tighten at just the right moment so you hurl face first into the fetal position and beg for mercy)... *ahem* Sorry. Anyhow, as I was saying, just as it's seldom the Big Things that make us cry "Uncle", it's also seldom the Big Things (the Big Good Things) that keep us afloat. It isn't the passing grade in Calculus, or the generous promotion at work that gets us through the inbetween times, although those are certainly handy and often appreciated when they come. It's the private jokes among good friends, the shared memories of delights and discoveries, or of disasters and hilarious squalls, that steady us on when we wear down. It's the line a loved one always sings wrong, or the scent of something that came to you on one particularly beautiful day, at one particularly special moment that illuminate the beauty tucked here and there in the periphery of our vision. Those things, the Little Things, are the things that keep us afloat, keep us connected, keep us attuned.

I just finished, and passed along to James, a book called Arctic Stowaways, written by Dillon Wallace. It's a delightful (if, at times, a touch pedagogic) fictional account of two relatively spoiled American blue-blood, college-bound young men who, by reason of a series of Very Poor Choices, find themselves stowaways aboard an Arctic whaling ship, headed out for a two-year voyage. It reads much like Captains Courageous, but in an easier vernacular than the late 17th Century Massachusettes Fisherman brogue. It reads like every good adventure should, with plenty of detail from the mundane to the insane.

Dillon Wallace, I have since learned, wrote a number of adventure and nature stories set in the far Nor'eastern tip of North America. The land had his heart, and his imagination firmly in its grip by 1917. Reading Laura's post about her book was much like having a friend say, "Well, you know how he learned so much about that area?"

When people find themselves lacking a connection with the rest of the world, I wonder if perhaps they might find themselves, or their hearts, laid bare in the pages of a book written last month, or ninety years ago, or two-thousand years ago. As for me, I pick up every new book now wide-eyed, and anxious for the next little smile, little insight, little chuckle, little connection. I cannot do it justice, but my heart and mind can do it homage.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Sunday, August 19

Divested of the plague, we carry on...

We've had a wonderful first week back to school. No, really, the little things that happened are little things that, well, happen. Life is funny; it does that. We simply pause, adjust, and move on.

In our Baldwin readings,
...we finished the couple of stories we had left of The Boy Who Knew What the Birds Said. We were all sad to see it end. It feels like there should be many more stories to be told. I suppose that's the sign of a gifted writer, and I look forward to more of Padraic Column's work. (His book, The Children's Homer, is one we've enjoyed more than once over the years.)
...and then we began Celtic Fairy Tales. The boys have noticed that these stories have a different tone, different themes, and different morals to them than the Greek and Roman stories we've been reading. A fun beginning. (Oh, James just came to me and said, "Wait! We don't have to print that one. We have it." I thought he meant we'd already printed it out, but, no, it was in 'the box in the car'! A real, bound copy! WOOHOO!)

We finished The Return of the Indian. Abrupt ending, there, but that left plenty of time for discussions about magic and mystery, people and places, and where we'd go with a magic key. (Because, seriously, they're 8, 7, and three -- how could we pass up all those lovely ideas?)

We finished The Railway Children. I did not, contrary to rumors spread by certain small males, cry as much as with The Littlest Angel. At least I could actually finish The Railway Children aloud, okay? Hrumpf. Okay.

Beowulf has slain Grendel (I'm guessing I don't need to post a spoiler alert with this, right?), and last night he sank to do battle with the Water Witch. Emily is not so fond of this story, but the boys? Riveted. Absolutely riveted. "His men were so loyal," said the boys. Yes. Yes, they were. What a lovely quality to notice, isn't it?

And I, in my Mommy Reading Time, just finished an enchanting journey through India with the Little Friend of All The World, Kim. It took a bit for me to delve into, as Kipling really does require more mental acuity than I willingly put forth in my personal reading time. But it's always, always worth the effort, and in the end, it was such a delightful way to spend a few summer evenings.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Wednesday, August 15

School, Schedules, and Reading Aloud

According to the weather channel, it's 104 outside right now. (It's 108, according to the bank display.) But what's the humidity? Nobody is willing to say. Is it because they think we'll all become despondent and burrow into the earth until Halloween? (Because we have been thinking about it, already.)

We're back in full-on school mode now. It's good to be back. It's good to have routine. The children didn't forget *all* of their lessons. James needs a bit of review with math, and John needs a bit of review with phonics. Otherwise, though, they're pretty well on board.

I did panic on two books, because we aren't quite finished with them yet and I know we've been diligent about our studies up until the last month... and you know the monologue that follows:
what are we doing wrong? How did this happen? How can we be so far from done when it's time for the next year?!?! Am I just not teaching the material? Are they simply not mastering it and so we are not moving on?
Then I remembered: we didn't start those two books until November of last year. So, that would put us, oh, right about where we are. Ah. Yes. Time for more coffee.

This year looks a lot like last year, with the exception of the next level books.

Monday - Thursday, regular school.
Fridays - science and history project days.

Daily Work:
Latin
Math
Reading (Includes History, Science, Literature and Free Reading)
Writing (James is going to hate this part, but hopefully he'll survive.)
Narration

Mon, Wed:
History

Tues, Thurs:
Science

James and John will both have spelling 1x a week. They don't seem to need much more of that just now, although we plan to stay alert and flexible. We're still working our way through the Ayers Extended Word list from Writing Road to Reading. Memory work will come from a variety of sources. This year we would like to host an Open House, although I'm still not sure how to put that on. If you've done them, please share your ideas, tips, stunning successes, and would-rather-die-than-repeat-them failures. Pretty please?

The older two are thoroughly enjoying Stories of Beowulf. That little one, though, he's the reason mothers don't read aloud. Not if they can help it.
Whosis Bee-oh-wuff? Why? Whys him dooos dat? Whosis Rotgar? Whys hes not fighting? Whats a sea-people? Whosis they? Whatsis theys names?
This is particularly challenging, as this book was written in 1908. It has a cadence and flow that take me a while to slip into comfortably. I've broken it into a formula.

No flow = no comfort.
No comfort = verbal bloopers.
Verbal bloopers = utter, riotous chaos.

By the time I've got the big ones to quit sniggering at my bloopers (although some of them are funny), the Small One has thought of more questions.

And heaven help me if it's a book with illustrations. It seems this small one has visual sensors in his fingers. And they're slow to process information. Every illustration means an additional ten minutes of waiting, waiting, explaining, waiting. It took me an HOUR to read a chapter of The Railway Children last night. An HOUR. This is not Dante we're reading, here.

But *inhale, exhale, try not to hyperventilate* to him it is. His "whosis" and "whatsis" and "whyses" are just as important and necessary to him as the questions Zorak and I ask on the porch at night about raising young men and DangerGirl into adulthood. Just as important as finding the mouse in Goodnight Moon. Just as necessary as learning to talk, to read, to Be. And if I can suck it up now and not scar his memories of these stories, he will eventually learn that the story makes much more sense when told in some sort of connected fluid momentum.

And at least he doesn't hang from my forehead and scream anymore. So there is progress.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Tuesday, August 14

Clickbook Update -- It works!

I was going to say I could die happy, now. But no. I have a lot of printing to do, first. ;-) You may remember I blogged some time ago about finding this print manager, ClickBook, and that I wanted to try it out. Being the genetic procrastinator that I am, it is now six months later, and I gave it a shot.

I just printed out the first three chapters of The Baldwin Project's Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children, using ClickBook -- and

I have a perfect little book in my hands!

The first three chapters, including front matter and all the images (a total of 26 pages, with my settings) printed out using 7 sheets of paper. Seven! The best I could do before that would have been 13 sheets! Do you *know* how delightful that is?

And I can have it bound at Staples for about $2.00!!

And it fits in the boys' backpacks! Or, in my backpack. Oh. Oh. This is delightful.

I can make workbooks based on our reading (because I have those offbeat children who clamor for workbooks, as fate would have it).

I can make the church booklets in the blink of an eye! No more brain-straining formatting for me! Hee hee!

Ooooooo, I can make my own day planners! (Alright, now I'm just feeding the monkey. But let me bask, okay?)

Now that I've listed a pro (or three), there are a few quirks:
1) The little second side printing instruction sheet that comes out with your print job? It LIES. Don't believe it, unless you want to print your pages upside down. So, do it the way it says not to do it (at least on my Brother HL-2070N, anyway.)

2) I downloaded the free trial copy, and it prints with an annoying banner in the header and footer of EVERY PAGE. "Blue Squirrel * www.bluesquirrel.com" at the top, and "ClickBook Trial Version * Sales: etc. etc. etc." It seems obvious that the "trial version" footer will not print if I buy the software. I need to confirm that the "blue squirrel" header won't print, either, because it's annoying.

3) Staples is not, for some silly reason, OPEN at one in the morning, and so I cannot toodle on down there right-stinkin'-now to have something bound.

But you know, truly, I can live with most of that. Staples has to open eventually. And if this continues to work this easily, I'm most definitely going to buy the full version. (I have seven days left to figure it out.) And, eh, ignore directions? Not. A. Problem.

Our school year just got a whole lot more affordable. Life is good.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Thursday, August 2

Book Reviews

I think it's Amy (The Foil Hat) who likes to go through the recipe sites online and read, not the recipes, but the recipe reviews. She notes the tendency for people to write some really interesting things that can't help but make you giggle. Read enough reviews and you're bound to read something along the lines of,
"Well, this recipe is fantastic! I used potatoes instead of eggplants, and substituted the lamb, pork, and beef chunks with firm tofu, and then I dipped it in bread crumbs and deep fried it instead of coating it in sheep's blood and broiling (couldn't get any sheep's blood). It was SO EASY to make this recipe! You've got to try it!"
(Um, which one? The one you're reviewing, or the one you made?)

I had one of those moments tonight.

In the eye-blearing joy of compiling my wish list for books for our Middle Ages study, I noticed that Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of the Ninth is actually part of a trilogy. Huh. I had no idea. I know, that particular book is a bit convoluted. The boys ended up rather fond of Esca and Marcus, though, and even today, when Cousin S. mentioned the eagle bearer in one of his computer games, both boys shouted, "The EAGLE!" And launched off on an excited, charade-driven exposition. It took me ten minutes to rein them in. So, it was already in the forefront of my mind when I saw the listing.

Hmmm, I wonder what people have to say about the second book? Only nine reviews. (Well, her books do tend to fill a fairly small niche in a part of a subset of a small category of a certain following...) Seven good reviews, and two negative reviews.

I had to look.

I'm so glad I did. I'm going to be giggling over this one for a long, long time. (Copied and pasted in its entirety. I did not change a thing. It's just. so. perfect. as it stands.)

Confusing! I'm Sorry but I DEFINATELY did not like this book, January 16, 1999
Reviewer: A reader

This book was extremely incomprehensable!!!It was BORING and it kept bringing new characters in without introducing them or anything.I'm not a stupid person and I'm not to young to read this "hard" book,but it simply was a bad book!!!


Have you read any good reviews lately? ;-)

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Friday, July 13

End of the Week's Lessons

Fortunately, the sun has a wonderfully glorious habit of rising every morning. When the sky lightened, when the birds awoke, I knew I would never again see anything so splendid as the round red sun coming up over the earth. (From My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George)

James is enjoying the story for the pure, inherent adventure that beckons to every young man. It says, "You could do it."

I'm enjoying the story for quotes like the one above. They say, "I'm looking back now, and am able to convey in words what I felt when I was young."

Another good one today came from Childhood's Happy Hours, (a book we had to supplement with today when we discovered I did something very, VERY bad with the page orders when I printed the second half of the even pages of Jolly Robin *sigh*). Anyway, there is a short story called "The Reading Class", in which a little girl plays school with her doll and her cat. He finished up and then came to talk to with me about it. He thought it was sweet, and funny. Then he quoted me a bit from it:
"Lilian returned to the library, and seating herself in one corner of the large arm-chair, put Isadora in the other. 'Now, Isadora,' said she, 'behave yourself while I look at the pictures, and if I find anything pretty, I'll show it to you.' Isadora, like the well brought-up dolly that she was, obeyed."
He chuckled, and said the story was full of little things that just made him smile because he got them and he appreciated that.

John read "My Lady Wind", and we had an interesting discussion about the wind as voices that spread rumors (the spark) and how such carelessness (fire) can destroy many lives and homes. Didn't see that one coming. I don't know what John learned from it, but my lesson today: don't underestimate children's poetry books.

Smidge, announced while doing "maths" (that's where the 's' from the beginning of his other words goes - mystery solved!) today, "I'm ready to learn to read." Well, alrighty, then. Can't get more upfront an invitation than that, can we? In good Spalding fashion, we began with learning the basic writing strokes, and he's on cloud nine.

Zorak is home. It's virtual Friday. Good, good stuff.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy

Tuesday, July 10

More Reading Roundup

The boys and I also finished this week A Wrinkle in Time. That was a bit intense, I think, but we talk a lot about what we read and that helps. We moved the reading to mornings at snack and that worked much better than bedtime reading. There's a family tree in the back, which the boys spent quite a bit of time pouring over, and now they can hardly wait to get the rest of the series.

We spiked our bedtime reading with the second of the Indian in the Cupboard series, The Return of the Indian. This one is a bit darker than the first, and not as many laughs from the boys. They're still enjoying it, and it's good, in a different way.

Our current dish of Mental M&M's is the first book in the Young Jack Sparrow series. Total M&M's, and it's delightful. Well, no, not delightful. Not for me. There are far too many hints at romance between Young Jack and the Young Barmaid Arabella, for my comfort. Yet, James is getting older... oh, this makes my stomach hurt. Can we talk about something else?

Yes, the latest printouts from the Robinson disks are big hits. James is re-reading The Tale of Jolly Robin, and Our Hero, U.S. Grant, and he's thoroughly, deeply, and happily enjoying both of them. Of course, I'm starting him back quite a bit from his reading level, and we've agreed to play catchup over the summer. After reading Famous Men of Rome and Eagle of the Ninth this past year, these selections feel downright frolicsome. But I think it's good to frolic on occasion. It's good to slip back and re-read old favorites, re-explore the things you may not have picked up along the way the first time around. One day he'll be far too old to read Pollard's histories (which are geared for "the little boy, from six to twelve"), and as she says in her introduction,
"The big boy, who does not have to stop to spell out the long words and guess what they mean, will turn up his nose at it. But let him. That will not hurt us. It is the small boy we have set out to please..."
One day, in the not-to-far future, he won't be bothered with anything like this. I'm so glad we didn't miss out completely.

John's reading all the poetry he can get his hands on, and (joy-of-joys!) he's reading the Young Jack Sparrow books on his own, as well. He reads ahead, then sits in for the read-aloud. I offered to change our order or even move to reading something else aloud, but he's enjoying this the way it is, and I'm not about to complain when the children are enjoying books in their own way. How else are we to make them "ours"?

Smidge "does school" every day now. It's cute. He's quite good at it, and knows far more than Zorak or I really understood. You can't learn by osmosis, but you can certainly learn more in a rich and varied environment, where you hear the lessons of your siblings daily and sit in on history lessons and bigger read alouds. Look at any younger homeschooled sibling and you'll see it in action. I forget about that. He wants so badly to have his own binder and "signments". I give him enough to keep him happy and keep him moving in a good direction. But with this one, I remember it wasn't too long ago that James was the one with the round little face and the squat little body and the days that seem filled with all the joys that toddlerhood offers. We won't be rushing that out the door any time soon.

We won't be rushing at all, if we can help it. The journey's just too interesting, and the company is too good.

Kiss those babies!
~Dy