Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Reviews - September 26

With our schoolwork going in earnest now, I haven't had quite as much time to read as previously. However, I have finished a few books and watched a few movies that I thought I'd review here.

Will God Heal Me? by Ron Dunn
This is a rather short book intended for people who are dealing with illness. Dunn starts by addressing why we suffer and affirming God's sovereignty. He then moves on to a crash course in Biblical hermeneutics - how to interpret Scripture properly. This section includes a rebuttal of the "health and wealth" teaching so prevalent today. The last section is about how to find God's good in our suffering. I found the entire book very good and very useful. I had come to many of the same conclusions as Ron Dunn, but it was good to see them supported by someone else. Dunn concludes that there are some things that are better than healing; it is better to suffer and to really know God than to have an easy life far away from God. I strongly encourage everyone to read this book - it is useful for those dealing with chronic illness, but also for their friends and family.

Help for the Harried Homeschooler by Christine Field
This is a very good book about how to live life as a homeschooling family. I didn't finish it, though, because it really didn't meet my needs. I would say that I'm something of a harried homeschooler, but I don't need more advice about how to be organized, etc. I am naturally organized. My problem is that I can't do what I plan out because my illness intervenes. Nonetheless, I do recommend this to other homeschooling families. The advice given is sound and the book is easy and pleasant to read.

Desperate Pastor's Wives by Ginger Kolbaba
The premise of this novel is that five pastor's wives from a small town meet every other week in a different small town for lunch. During these meetings, they share the struggles of life as pastor's wives. I enjoyed this book, but, as a novel, it really isn't all that high-quality. The author does, though, give us some idea of the difficulties that women who are married to clergy face. In addition to the usual marriage and life issues, they are faced with their own and/or their husbands' and/or their congregations expectations. They all have some spouse issues, whether lack of time, lack of attention, differences of opinion about employment, etc. By the end of the book, everything is neatly and predictably wrapped up. This was a pretty easy read and I would recommend it.

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
I read this because Ga'Hoole Girl will be reading it later in the school year. It is a young adult reader about a girl growing up in thirteenth century England. It is written in diary format. The heroine is entertaining and always getting herself in to trouble. There is a good bit of sexual innuendo with remarks about girls "getting bedded" and "there will be many babies this next spring." I didn't find it too disturbing, but I know that other parents have been concerned. I anticipate some interesting discussions because the main character is Ga'Hoole Girl's age and is planning her wedding! But, that was medieval Europe.

Mary, Bloody Mary by Caroly Meyer
This is another reader for Ga'Hoole Girl, this time about Mary Tudor. It is written in first person and covers Mary's life from about age 10 until age 20. It is well-written and I really enjoyed reading it. The author does a good job of giving a real feeling for what court life must have been like. In addition, she is very sympathetic to Mary and her disasterous family life. I recommend this for young adults.

Friday, September 21, 2007

In, not of

I've been considering what Jesus meant when he said that we are to be in the world, but not of the world. Last week, Ga'Hoole Girl went to Junior High group at church - one of her favorite events of the week. They played a game where they put a card on their forehead that had a name that they were supposed to guess. Ga'Hoole Girl couldn't guess the person on her card because it was someone from American Idol, and we watch very little TV so she hadn't even heard of the person. It wasn't earth-shattering or anything, but the event has gotten me to think about how we relate to "the world" as Christians. This was a Christian event, and my daughter felt out of place because of how we structure our lives.

Mr. Math Teacher and I have been very clear to try to be part of our culture. We don't want to get so involved in the Christian subculture that we are no longer able to impact the rest of the world for Christ. To that end, we read Harry Potter, watch some popular movies, etc. We have not often been accused of being overly protective of our children in this regard - in fact, we are considered rather "liberal" about such things in our homeschool group. But, we rarely watch network TV. For one thing, we don't have much time. We spend our evenings reading, playing, or other such things. But, we also limit our kids' TV exposure because of the advertising. We enjoy watching Packer games, but Mr. Math Teacher and I are quite often having to talk to the kids about the commercials that they see. Not only does the advertising by it's nature encourage consumerism, but many of the commercials are just horribly sexual or have other negative aspects. But, even in "Christian" groups, it appears that we are not as "in touch" with the culture as we thought.

We aren't concerned enough about this to start watching TV every night or anything drastic like that. This incident, though, has gotten me and Mr. Math Teacher to again raise our awareness about how involved in our culture we need to allow and encourage our children to be. I have no interest in raising children who can't or won't interact with people who are different from them (i.e. public schooled, non-Christian, etc.). But, we have to balance that with encouraging Godly influences on their lives. Where is the balance? It appears that this is something that we have to re-evaluate regularly. [Deep sigh]

Friday, September 14, 2007

God is laughing

God is laughing at me and my schedule - I'm sure of it. Things went pretty well Monday and Tuesday, but they fell apart starting on Wednesday. Wednesday and Thursday, I had a bad migraine (although, is there ever a good migraine!). The kids did some work those days, but we did lots of "unschooling". Before the headache got real bad on Wednesday, we walked to the coffee shop downtown. We did some schoolwork there, but we had to leave because my headache was getting worse.

The gas company came by on Wednesday to deliver our fuel oil. Of course, since being homeschooler, Wild Man and I asked the guy who was delivering the oil all kinds of questions. Today, Wild Man and I checked out the web to learn how they get fuel oil and gasoline from crude oil.

Today, the kids watched "Antz" because we're studying ants - I'm sure it's educational somehow! Then, we discussed metric vs. English measurements and put together little conversion pyramids that I printed off a website. I wanted to do a really cool hands-on activity with colored water, etc., but my head still hurts today. Instead, they are making cookies to work on their measurement skills. Actually, this could be very good because they can't find the one cup measure, so Ga'Hoole Girl said they will measure without that measuring cup. I also gave them a writing assignment with measurements: they need to each write a short story that uses volume, length, and mass measurement. Ga'Hoole Girl will use metrics and Wild Man will use English measurements. Yes, it's a sneaky way to get them to write, but I think it will work.

I think we're on track with our Core studies, as long as I get them to do one or two notebook pages before Monday. This week, we learned about ancient North and South American Civilizations and started our study of Rome. I ordered "Spartacus" from Netflix. It's rather violent, but I think it gives a good view of some aspects of Roman life.

We are not on track in science, but that is OK because we have been reading up on Whooping Cranes and ants. The kids are going to do short presentations for me and Mr. Math Teacher and each other about ants. Wild Man is going to talk about ant anatomy. Ga'Hoole Girl was going to talk about the gel used in Antworks, but she couldn't find much information. I'm not sure what she's going to choose now as her topic, but she's got till 5pm.

We had an interesting science discussion at the dinner table the other night. Ga'Hoole Girl asked whether one could make a solid into a liquid by grinding it into incredibly tiny particles. This led to a discussion of phase change and energy requirements. Then, we talked about boing point and pressure changes (Boyle's law, basically). She wants to be able create non-heat energy so that she can make a solid into a liquid without heat. Although, she may have abandoned this idea when we told her that she needs to study more physics!

I got a new math book for Wild Man. He finished Singapore 2B, but still has some trouble with word problems and measurement. I got the 2B Intensive Practice book for him. It looks like I'll probably have him do most of this book - it looks really good. Ga'Hoole girl is still working on fractions, but is just about done with her book. She'll go back to Singapore next week. I really want her to get to decimals soon because her life with metric measurement will be much easier once she knows how to manage decimals.

So, my schedule is completely shot. I think I'll have to think about my schedule the way the pirates in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies think about the pirate code: they're more like guidelines, really.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Structure and Schooling

So, how much structure should our "school" have? I'm not the only one asking that question based on the topics on some of the homeschooling forums. The range of possibility is huge - from unschooling to having every 15 minutes planned out. What is the right amount of structure for us? That's what I'm trying to sort out.

Unschooling is appealing to me because it allows kids to be creative and research and learn what interests them at the moment. Unschooling is basically allowing a child to study whatever they feel like today. There is usually very little direction given by the parents. But, it is very parent-intensive. In unschooling, the parent works to help the child learn what they want. The parent and child(ren) go to the library, search the Internet, go on field trips, etc. Younger children require more help than older ones.

There are definite downsides to unschooling. While the working of parent and child together provides great opportunity for bonding, it also means that this is a labor-intensive way of schooling for the parent. You can't just give a kid a workbook and tell them to go work. This is an issue for me because of my headaches. I can't be there with them to research things, etc.

I also don't agree with the entire premise that children instinctively know what is best for them. Many unschoolers take this premise to (what seems to me) an unacceptable end and they engage in "unparenting". On one of the unschooling forums parents were discussing how to help a four year old decide whether or not to go to school ("I want it to be her choice") and how to handle the fact that other people (who are from authoritarian families) think that their children are disrespectful because they yell at their parents and demand their own way. Clearly, kids need parents for discipline, direction, etc. This is true in spiritual development and character development but also in school. I'm pretty sure that my kids will manage to convince themselves that they never need to learn to write properly if no one requires it of them. I believe that God intends for us to direct our children's education as well as their moral, spiritual, physical, and emotional growth. As they get older, the parents should naturally back off and have them make more of their decisions. But, I think that parents must be somewhat directive if we are to be good parents.

Then there is the other side of the coin: the parent who schedules the day in 15 minute increments and rarely varies from it. There was a time when this would have been my preferred way of doing everything. When I was in college, I would make color-coded schedules down to the half-hour - and stick with it. Not any more. First of all, life is too unpredictable to make such a detailed schedule. The kids' chores may take longer today than usual if they're not feeling well or if the trash can was unusually heavy, etc. The child may not understand a math concept and need more time right then (not later in the day). But, a big reason that detailed scheduling doesn't work well for us is my headaches (big shock). 1-3 days of our week are significantly limited because of my headaches. Wild Man doesn't yet read independently, so I can't just send him off to do schoolwork by himself (except for a couple of workbooks and some computer programs). Working around my headaches doesn't seem to have gotten much easier, despite our experience.

Here is my current plan (as of this minute in time): scheduled work for three days of the week and "unschooling" for two days. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, we will work on a list of schoolwork for each day. Some of the work is independent, but two days we work together on history (and other social sciences) and one day we work on science. The other two days will be workbook work (math and language arts) and computer work (Spanish and typing) along with "unschooling". Our definition of unschooling is that the kids will do educational work that Mom has not scheduled. If I have a headache, the kids do work that doesn't require my help (watch educational DVDs, computer programming, educational software, read a book, do an art project, etc.). If I'm feeling OK, then we may do something together (that they suggest) or I might just sit and read for a few hours.

Here's what the week might look like:
Monday - PE in the am, unschooling after lunch, dance in the late afternoon.
Tuesday - assigned schoolwork until mid-afternoon, when I take Ga'Hoole Girl to a friends' to go to dance class, Wild Man and I go grocery shopping, then Wild Man and I go to the dance studio for my dance class.
Wednesday - assigned schoolwork
Thursday - Women's Bible Study in am, Wild Man's reading lesson in early afternoon, unschooling the rest of the time.
Friday- assigned schoolwork

I'm also trying to figure out how to organize my work for the week. I'm still rather frustrated by the fact that things get completely out of whack when I have a headache. But, I think I'm going to set up a schedule and work around it when I don't feel well.

Monday - desk (bills, organize papers, etc.)
Tuesday - bake bread, clean living room, grocery shopping
Wednesday - laundry, mop
Thursday - clean living room (again)
Friday - clean bathtub

We'll have to see how this works out. Hopefully, I can find a balance that gives us enough structure to get done the basics and enough flexibility to have fun!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

September 8

I got my tap shoes yesterday. I had a wicked migraine Thursday night and was pretty tired and moderately headache-y yesterday, but I had to try them out for a few minutes. So far, so good. I just love them. I love to dance around and make such fun tapping sounds. This is going to be quite an adventure. Today, I didn't practice my tap dancing at all because I've had something of a headache and I've had lots of muscle pain. But, I'm hoping for a better day tomorrow.

Of course, you may be asking what business someone with chronic headaches has taking a tap class! I'm not sure. I talked to the teacher the first day so that she doesn't worry if I miss classes. This is the only serious commitment in my schedule - I have a back-up plan for everything else for headache days. But, my doctor has been really encouraging me to get regular exercise. Most of the time, I go on the treadmill. Since we got rid of cable, though, the treadmill is not as much fun. So, even if I miss an occasional class or don't practice every single day, I still get the benefit of regular exercise. Of course, right now I'm also dealing with shingles. Yesterday, Mr. Math Teacher and I walked the 1/2 mile to the library and we had to stop for a break about a block before we got there. Today the pain hasn't been as bad, so maybe it's going to ease up soon.

Knitting update:

Here are the socks that I recently finished. Aren't they fun? I made them out of left-over yarn from a sweater project. I am probably going to wear them as slippers around the house. I am currently working on a pair of socks for a woman who I met on a homeschooling forum. Other than that, I have a few projects, but I can't mention them because the potential recipients are readers of my blog - now I've got you guessing, huh!!

Book reviews:

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. This book was written before (and takes place before) The Da Vinci Code. This is another real nail-biter. The whole book takes course in the place of about 24 hours. The setting is Vatican City. The plot centers around a secret anti-Catholic group called the Illuminati. Again, there are codes, symbols, and lots of Medieval/Renaissance art and history references. There's also plenty of intrigue. I found myself having trouble putting the book down; I wanted to know what happened next. Dan Brown's apparent anti-Catholic bias comes out again in this book. The climax of the book is essentially a revelation of serious hypocrisy in one of the characters (read the book to find out which one!). So, I recommend it if you can read past Dan Brown's view of the Catholic Church. Remember, the book is fiction; Dan Brown is not God!

My reading has been rather curtailed lately because of the start of doing schoolwork with the kids. I have found myself at the computer for hours setting up the year's schedule. I hope that the schedule is pretty much in the computer so that I can spend my free time reading and scrapbooking. But, because of my homeschool planning, I have two other books to review:

The Cambridge Music Guide This book is used as a textbook in some university Music Appreciation classes. I'm using it as a "spine" for music history. We are studying world history over the next two years, and I'm trying to add art and music history, not only to learn the history but also to learn how art and music affect history and vice versa. The first part of the book is about music notation and instrumentation. The second part is music history starting with Medieval times. I don't really like that they don't address Ancient Music at all, but it's already a pretty hefty book and the information available about Ancient Music is limited. So, I'm using internet sources for the time being. I will probably assign some of the first part of the book, particularly parts about instruments, during the time before we get to Medieval history. This book is written at an adult level, but I think that Ga'Hoole Girl will do just fine with it as long as I don't expect her to read too much at a time. I will also need to pre-read to verify that the assigned passages are appropriate. Overall, I think it will be an excellent resource.

The Usborne Internet-Linked Introduction to Art This is the book that I'm using as the art history "spine" for Ga'Hoole Girl. It starts with an introduction to art then moves on to art history. There isn't a huge amount of information about art history, per se, in the book, but it provides an internet site with lots of pertinent links. So far, Ga'Hoole Girl has done just a few pages in the book, but seems to like it. The reading level is geared for about middle school. So far, this also seems to be a good resource.

Movie Reviews:

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Believe it or not, I had never seen this movie. Part of the reason that I watched it was just for cultural literacy! I enjoyed it, although not as much as some others. Audrey Hepburn is, of course, amazing. The plot was quite interesting and full of surprises. The acting was very good. The movie is unrated, so I let the kids watch part of it with me until there were just too many s*xual innuendos. I recommend it for adults.

The Mirror Has Two Faces - This movie stars Barbra Streisand and Jeff Bridges as university professors who marry, but not for love. Of course, things get complicated when love does show up - but I won't tell you when or where! This movie was very good: the acting was top-notch, the plot was interesting, the characters were (for the most part) well-developed. There is some s*xuality in the movie, but it's not excessive. Overall, I highly recommend this movie for adults.

The first week . . . or two!

Well, we are done with the first week of school - although, technically, it's the second week. In any case, week 1 did not go well, so we had two days of unschooling and got back to our regularly scheduled schoolwork this week.

We actually managed to finish everything on the schedule for this week and even to start some of next week's work. We just finished Week 7 of Core 6 which is Ancient Greece. The kids each did a notebook page on The Trojan War and a page on Alexander the Great. We had some trouble with the map and timeline work. I hadn't cleaned the Mark-up Map since last year and the stuff that's written on it won't come off. So, one of my jobs for this weekend is to get the map cleaned and ready to use.

For grammar, Ga'Hoole girl is supposed to memorize the 53 most common prepositions. She asked for my help, so we came up with some rather fun ideas. I wrote the prepositions on index cards and had her alphabetize them. Then, we mixed them up and played a game where each player, in turn, has to pick a card and them use letter dice to spell the preposition on the card. The player gets points based on the numbers on each letter die (kind of like Scrabble). Ga'Hoole girl really likes the game because we played it Thursday with M&Ms - one M&M/point. Of course, she beat the pants off me.

The most interesting thing that Ga'Hoole Girl came up with is for me to write the prepositions in Gnommish and for her to translate them. Gnommish is a made-up language from the Artemis Fowl series of books. The first time we did this, I wrote the prepositions by hand (only the first 11). But, I found out about a really cool website from a homeschooling magazine: this website has alphabets from lots of "real" and "pretend" languages. So, they have Gnommish, Hylian (from the Zelda video games), Romulan, Klingon, etc. Now, I can make her worksheets very quickly and easily. And, she really likes it.

We are still working through Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day of Creation for science. But, I have added in some other science activities to provide some interest. We are using the Journey North website ( to study whooping cranes and monarchs and their migration patterns. We are also going on a field trip to the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo in a couple of weeks. The last time we went there was about 5 years ago so we are looking forward to getting to see it all again. We also got an Antworks ant farm. The kids are really excited about it! Their science assignments next week are for each of them to research a topic on ants and then present it to the rest of the family at the end of the week. [I'm not a fan of complete unschooling, but I do like to follow their interests when possible.]

Ga'Hoole Girl is still working on her video game program. She has also started her art class this week. Tuesday was mostly paperwork, and they started linoleum after that. Unfortunately, she is frustrated with her project and with a few of the other kids (one of the boys is particularly annoying, she says). We live a few blocks from the school, so she walks or bikes to and from class. She is there from 8 to 8:40 every morning. I also had her do some art history this week. She looked at Ancient Greek art and decided to make a piece of pottery for her art piece this week (every couple of weeks I have her make a piece of artwork in the style we're studying).

Wild Man is coming along very nicely on his reading. He reads several pages each day out of his reader, along with a few pages of Explode the Code. Then, he and I use letter dice or something else interesting to go over any new concepts or words he's having trouble with. Wild Man is supposed to go to Singapore 3, but I ordered the intensive practice book to go with Singapore 2B. We're going to use that to go over some of the concepts again. One of the issues I've noticed is that his math skills are great, but his language skills don't always connect. When I read a word problem to him, he can often figure out the answer in his head and can give me the answer, but can't tell me how he did it. He can calculate, but has trouble getting information from the math part of his brain to the language part. He also tends to mix up the order of things. For example, I read a word problem to me and he told me that the answer is 8. But, he had real trouble telling me that the equation is 32 divided by 4. He wrote 4 divided by 32 - but, after he looked at it for a minute or two, he figured out that it wasn't right. Anyway, I'm going to be working with him on the language part of math.

When he has been playing outside, he has been playing Greek Soldier. Actually, he occasionally is a Trojan soldier, but more often likes to be a Spartan. He used an old ice cream bucket to make himself a helmet. Then, he used paper to make a red "horse hair" fringe on the top of the helmet. It is really cool to watch him. If anyone were to ask, I'd have to call his playtime part of school since he's playing Ancient Greek soldiers! Next week, we start learning about Rome. I'm sure he'll want to be a Roman soldier then. Homeschool PE starts on Monday, so Wild Man is excited about that. Ga'Hoole Girl doesn't go all the time. This week, they are going to play soccer, so Ga'Hoole Girl will probably stay home.

On Thursday, we went to the first Women's Bible Study of the year. Ga'Hoole Girl is their babysitter. This was her first time all alone with the baby and she did great. She even changed his diaper all by herself. The study itself is a Beth Moore DVD study on the fruit of the Spirit. I had a really good time. I just have to pray that Beth Moore and her big hair don't drive me too crazy (let's just say I'm NOT the big hair type!!).

So, my house is a disaster, but we had a pretty good week of school. Today is supposed to be house cleaning, but my head hurts some, and my hip (shingles) hurts a lot. So, we have a messy house again next week. Ah, well. The kids are learning, so we're doing OK.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


This is the poem that my daughter wrote for her creative writing assignment today.

Red gold leafs, drifting, drifting
Crisp cool winds, blowing, blowing
And as leafs drift and as winds blow,
I watch the people 'round me grow.
Leafs of Youth, drifting, drifting
Winds of Time, blowing, blowing
And as leavs drift and as winds blow,
I watch the people 'round me grow

Tap Class

Tuesday night was my first tap dance class. Ga'Hoole Girl has ballet from 5:30-6:30 on Tuesday nights. My class is at 7:00 at the same studio. Normally, I will just take her to her friends' house and they'll ride together - we live 45 minutes from the dance studio. Then, Wild Man and I will come at 7 for my class. But this week, I went to the studio for Ga'Hoole Girl's class, so Wild Man was at the studio for a full 2 1/2 hours.

I, however, had a blast Tuesday night. There are 8 people in the class - lots of folks for a beginning adult tap class. One of the people in the class (not teaching, but taking the class) is the advanced ballet teacher. Now, you have to understand that dancers from the advanced classes in this studio go to major universities as dance majors. This teacher danced professionally in New York. Ga'Hoole Girl took a Ballet 1/2 class from her a few years ago. She is really, really good - at ballet. She is a complete novice to tap - just like me! Actually, I have watched enough dance classes that I knew in my head how a number of the moves went. Of course, I don't have near the control over my body that this dance teacher does.

The class is 45 minutes. That is quite long enough for me. I was really tired after the first day. Of course, it didn't help that it had been 90 degrees earlier in the day and it was quite humid. Our class was downstairs, though, in the basement so the heat wasn't as bad as upstairs. But, it was a workout for me. And, it did make my hip hurt pretty good (where the shingles are). I think I'm going to have lots of fun this semester.

I ordered my tap shoes Tuesday night when I got home. I had been hoping that they would have some at the studio that fit, but they only go up to size 7 1/2. I got an email Wednesday morning that the shoes aren't available and they are on backorder. I called the company and we had to go through several brands of shoes before we found one that they had. In any case, I should have a nice pair of split sole tap shoes on Friday. Then I can practice in the basement!