Category Archives: Books for children

Pecans, picture books, tradition, and memories of my mother

I have a friend with some tangelo trees and pecan trees.  I envy her.  Her property has irrigation, which is really needed to grow strong, large, healthy, productive trees in the desert.  We have two citrus trees which are nowhere near as nice;  they were neglected by the previous owner.  Actually, we had three trees, but one died (it was 95% dead when we moved here in July, and to my distress, we couldn’t rescue it;  it kept declining until its death).  One other tree is stunted and didn’t produce anything;  I don’t even know what kind of citrus it is supposed to bear.  The other tree is a medium-sized navel orange tree.  Its fruit is delicious (though hard to peel), but the whole tree produced about 30 oranges*.  I’m thankful for those 30 oranges, but I’m definitely going to make sure that the tree is well-watered and fertilized so that it produces MANY MORE oranges, next winter.  Thanks to the expert knowledge of my local, small nursery, I already learned that, in Phoenix, citrus needs to be fertilized on February 14, then again in mid-July, and once more in mid-September.

That makes me consider the valuable lesson of delayed gratification taught by growing one’s own food.  I think our society would be much more balanced in our perspectives if we all grew things to eat.

But, I digress.

In mid-December, my 13-year-old son Grant and I took my friend Jeannie up on her offer and picked probably 30+ pounds of tangelos (which are very tart, quite sweet, with easy-peel rinds) and about 10 lbs of pecans from her property.  Jeannie wasn’t at home, but her husband and I had a great conversation about homeschooling, parenting boys, and about land and growing things as we harvested.

The next day, before the children were awake, I sat at the island and started to shell the pecans.  As the kids trickled sleepily out of their rooms, there was a universal response of, “Wha…??” as they walked into the kitchen.  As in, “Why would you want to be doing that at 7:30 a.m.????”  But, each sat down at a stool to try their hand.  Soon, all five children were happily cracking away, breakfast delayed, perfect half or even whole nuts held up as a trophy of new found shelling-skill.  We exclaimed over eachother’s successes, and groaned over the occasional rotted nut or slipped nutcracker that resulted in a barrage of shell and nut bits broadcast over the table.

Quickly, in front of me, piled up the outcasts.  When one child didn’t crack the nut quite right, or the nutmeat was just plain stuck, rather than persisting (which is no fun, and can be hard on the fingertips!), they’d pass the nut to me.

It was all right.  It just meant that I was a whole lot slower than even my four year old, Fiala.  I worked at rescuing the stuck bits, buried in each shell.  It felt worthwhile, and I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away even the smallest nutmeat that could possibly be redeemed.

It became one of those unexpected moments where I found myself profoundly missing my mother.

I had a flashback to one of my mom’s favorite winter pastimes:  Shelling nuts in the family room, fireplace blazing, happily chatting around the family room coffee table, eating more than we shelled.  AND…. passing onto my mother our own tough nuts:  the ones we couldn’t best.  She redeemed them all.

I realized, as I worked on the bits of stuck pecans that December morning with my own children, that I thought my mother enjoyed the challenge of picking out the trapped bits of nutmeat.  Maybe she did.  She was like that.

But, maybe it was one of those things similar to how I thought she liked burnt toast, because she always ate it.  It wasn’t until my adulthood that I discovered that her burnt toast-eating was sacrificial:  She knew that we four children didn’t like burnt toast, but she didn’t want it to go to waste, so she ate it.

I thought she liked eating leftovers for lunch.

I thought she liked hand-me-downs.

And so on.

I thought she liked picking out those stubborn, stuck bits of walnut and pecan.

I would have liked to ask her.  I felt compelled, multiple times, to go pick up the phone to call her.  I had to remind myself that I could not.

I also would have liked to tell her that I was passing down what I didn’t realize — until that morning — had been a family tradition.

I have often lamented that tradition was in short supply in my childhood.  But, the longer my perspective is on my younger years, the more I realize that there were traditions tucked here and there… And every time I can pass one on, or share a joy with my children that I experienced as a child, there is such warmth in that, now more poignant than ever.

My mom passed on in October.  In general, I haven’t lamented her death.  She was long ill, and eager to go home to be with Jesus after years of fighting and staying strong.  It was her time, and as much as sad things can be, it felt very right.

I dearly love all of Robert McCloskey’s books.

I had an inkling, though, that there would be many days like these:  Where I would so love to call her and tell her something funny or tender or joyous…  And I just couldn’t.  And THEN I would miss her and deeply regret her passing.

So it was, with the pecan-shelling morning:  All five children happily chattering and squabbling over the nutcracker;  we only have one.  However, one of my children discovered that the garlic press worked wonders!  Ha!!  I had to implement a rule — which had echoes of familiarity — that each child can eat as many pecans as they cared to, as long as they were the one who shelled that pecan;  they can’t reach into the community jar and take a handful of others’ efforts.  “Did my mom say that, too??” I wondered silently.  I also remembered — and expressed to my children — how our pecan-shelling party reminded me of one of our most treasured picture books, Blueberries for Sal.  Sal’s mother had to tell her to go pick her own blueberries, and not take those her mother had picked;  her mother’s were for canning.  Similarly, the community pecans were going to go into Christmas baking and weren’t for general snacking.**  Again, the memories hearkened back to my mother, as she had first read the book to me, as a child.

Over the course of two mornings, we shelled about nine cups of pecans.  Then, our fingertips gave out, too sore to continue.  Still, nine cups was way more than I could have done on my own, despite how many pecans ended up in one small mouth or another!!

Pecans:  One of my happiest and saddest memories of this past month.

———————–

*It would have been about 40 oranges, but I discovered about ten of them with small plastic pellets lodged at various depths in the rind and fruit, and I had to lay down the law about NOT using oranges for airsoft gun target practice.  How could they????  Aargh.

*And, oh, how that added to our enjoyment of each baked good!!  Each child would say, “I shelled some of the pecans that went into this Cranberry Orange Pecan Bread!!”  Many items, we gave as gifts, and it really lent to the feeling of family, of community, of ownership, of pride in what we gave to others.

Jack the Bulldog

If this came in little-girl sizes, I’d likely get this for Audrey.

My six-year-old daughter Audrey just may end up a vegetarian.

I read Charlotte’s Web earlier this year to Audrey and three-year-old Fiala, and the story impacted Audrey so greatly that she can no longer eat pork.  She deeply empathizes with Wilbur.  At first, my husband Martin thought this ridiculous — actually, he still does — but I could see in her tears that she was abundantly sincere, and we’ve decided to let her eat according to her conscience.  Anyway, many people don’t eat pork for a wide variety of reasons.

Fiala, little stinker that she is, uses this as ammunition.  “Aaaaaauu-dreeey,” she sing-songs across the table with a chunk of meat on her fork, “I’m eating piiii-iiig!”

Audrey bursts into tears (yet again), and I correct Fi, admonishing her on the graces of kindness.

Audrey’s tender heart toward all creatures great and small has changed the way I evaluate books.  “How many moments in this story,” I search my memory, “will bring Audrey to tears?”

A week ago or so, I decided to read Little House on the Prairie to the girls.  It’s not in the curriculum we use, and I think its omission is a travesty.  The book is a must-read, in my estimation, for any American girl.  I discovered the series when I was eight, and read it non-stop, much of it secretly by night-light, until I was finished with all nine books within a week, an experience that left me exhausted but completely satisfied.  Shortly afterward — weeks, in fact — it was determined that I needed glasses.  I’ve read that eyestrain cannot cause one to become near-sighted, but my experience makes me suspicious.

Anyway.

The Ingalls family, in the early pages of the story, sets off in the 1870s to parts West, possessions in a covered wagon, their dog Jack, described as a beloved brindle bulldog, trotting tirelessly under the wagon.

Completely as a side-note, in the last 18 months, our family has dog-sat both an English Bulldog and a French Bulldog.  I cannot see either of those lazies trotting tirelessly anywhere.  Jack must have been the longer-legged American Bulldog, or maybe even a Boxer.  That’s just my own theory, though.  :)

As the wagon fords a creek, suddenly the water violently swells and rises, sweeping even the mustang ponies off of their feet, threatening to upset the wagon.  It’s quite a tense moment.  When the family arrives on the other side of the creek, it is discovered that Jack is missing.  Laura — and Audrey right along with her — is completely distraught.

I sat there as the chapter ended, a sobbing six-year-old on my left, an unmoved three-year-old on my right.  Fi had sat contentedly through the whole thing, brushing a dolly’s hair, and was now happy that the reading was over and that she could get up and play.  I put out my hand to hold her back, my mind racing.  It had been a long time since I’d read the book, but I thought I remembered that Jack was discovered later to be completely fine and wholly alive.  I surreptitiously flipped through the next chapter, and found, to my relief, that Jack’s “resurrection” happened in just a few more pages.

“Audrey,” I asked her, “would you like to keep reading?”

“NNNOOOOOO!!!” she emphatically wailed.  “I never want to read that book again, EVER!!”  She started to bolt.  I caught her back.

“Little daughter,” I told her as gently as I could, “I know you’re very, very sad for Jack right now.  I don’t want to leave you sad.  Will you let me keep reading?  I think what happens in the next chapter will make you happy again.”

“Nothing can make me happy!” she continued, very dramatically.  “JACK’S DEAD!!  HE DROWNED!!  PA CAN’T FIND HIM!  HE WASHED AWAY IN THE RIVER AND HE’S DEAD FOREVER!!!”  In her tone and in her eyes, she was dripping with accusation:  How could I read such horror to her?  How could I even consider that she’d want to read about the death of a dog??  What was wrong with me???

I looked over again at Fiala, and marveled that there can be such different personalities in one family.  Fi appeared to really not give a hoot what had happened to Jack.  Those two little girls are opposites in nearly every way, the same as my oldest two boys, Ethan and Grant are.  Grant is the anti-Ethan, and Fiala is the anti-Audrey.

In spite of both girls’ wishes, I convinced both of them that they’d be best off, listening to another chapter.  They settled in again, Fi back to her dolly-brushing, and Audrey with a grumph and a pout, tears still streaming down her cheeks.  I resumed reading.

It’s also funny, what a blank slate children are.  What is cliché and so very transparent to a long-time book reader like myself came as an absolute shock to Audrey:  The “wolf” who threatened the Ingalls’ camp that night was not a wolf at all, but an absolutely worn out, mud-crusted bulldog named Jack.

Audrey squealed with relief and joyous shock, literally jumping up and down at Jack’s resurrection.

Crisis cut short, tender feelings soothed, normal life and hope in good books and a mother’s heart restored.

I shared a slightly abbreviated version of this story with my friend Kathy on Monday, figuring that, as an intense co-animal-lover, she’d appreciate Audrey’s tender, powerful feelings toward Jack.

Instead, she cocked her head and looked at me.  “Is that what God does with us?” she mused.  “There might be something in that.”

Thrown for a bit of a loop, I think I stood there with my jaw slack.

We had just finished an epic conversation on what God does with us, when things are pending, unfinished, when the results are not easily seen, when the light at the end of the tunnel is a pinprick point, too far to fathom, and we are battling the fear that our heart’s desires might be low on God’s priority list…

“Is that what God does with us?” she posited again.  “Read the next chapter in our lives just a little sooner, out of mercy for our tears?”

I thought of my interaction with Audrey, and could clearly see the parallel.  I had felt it important to not just flat-out tell Audrey, “Jack lives.”  In those moments when Audrey was dissolving in a puddle of emotion, I made the decision that it was important for her character, and just for the appreciation of tension in literature, and to experience the coming joy, to not reveal the outcome in advance.  Yet, I didn’t want to abandon her to her heartsick, out-of-control self.

She was so sincerely broken for Jack’s death, yet I knew that Jack didn’t actually die!  I tried to soothe her, knowing things would truly be better — and very shortly! — and was almost unable to do so, because Audrey was almost violently upset at both the book, and at me.

I know that not every sad story has such a joyous outcome.

Still, though, is that what God does with us?

I’d never considered it before.

I’m learning to trust that He has my heart in His hands, my tender, short-sighted, and often mistakenly-distraught heart.

I have 100% iron-clad, unwavering confidence in the God of Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

My NEEDS.

I know He’ll supply my NEEDS.

I have a 100% iron-clad, unwavering confidence that He’ll supply all of my NEEDS.

But my wants?  The deep desires of my heart?  The things that I long for, that stir the deepest part of me?  The things that speak peace and beauty to my soul, and satisfy my emotions??

I’m much less confident of that.

I’m very aware that, very often, He’s much more concerned with building my character, molding me into the person of Jesus Christ, than He is with answering every whim of a prayer, every emotion-sotted plea.

Trusting my Father God with my heart is much more challenging than trusting Him with my needs.

Yet, does He sit with me on the little sofa in the quiet room, reading the story of my life to me, tenderly calming me by — on occasion — compelling me to sit still just a while longer and listen, because He knows that the outcome, which currently looks so bleak, will actually be filled with JOY, the kind of joy where I squeal and jump up and down with elation and relief and unabashed surprise???

Perhaps He does.

I think He does.

I think I may be experiencing a bit of that, right now.

My heart can scarcely believe it, but I’m picturing Him, right now, turning those pages, gentle voice and all-knowing mind drawing me back from the brink, longing to return to me the hope that I have almost abandoned.

Harder, indeed, to believe that, than believe that He’ll meet my needs.

But, thanks to Jack the bulldog, and an insightful friend, I’ll listen more carefully — both now and in the future — for my God to scan those pages ahead, and do more than console me, but reveal the truth that was hidden, a truth that holds satisfaction, and which does meet the desires of my heart, the heart He created.

Integrity vs. Loyalty

Sometimes, I worry that my children won’t learn enough.  Or, rather, that, as homeschooled children, they won’t learn enough of the “right” things.

Of biggest concern is my high schooler, Ethan.  He’s 14, and a freshman.  He’s currently doing Sonlight’s Core 200, which is actually SL’s sophomore year program.*  Since the bulk of the history portion of this program centers on Christian church history and apologetics, I’m unsure if I can actually count it as a history credit.  In addition to church history, he’s also reading some serious lit:  Jane Eyre, Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, Oliver Twist, and Robinson Crusoe are all books he’s read this year.  Still, I sometimes wonder if we’re on the right track for him.

Then, some days, like today, I’m certain that — no matter if it is the “right” thing or not — there is SUCH VALUE in homeschooling.  We discuss topics that, in all likelihood, never reach the ears of a typically-schooled child.

The curriculum assigns readings from an anthology of poetry.  I have long held that poets are at least as interesting as their writings, and we’d be remiss to not become acquainted with each poet from the book.  This extra discussion makes the “poetry” section of his day take extra-long.  I don’t feel badly about this, but we’re just now finishing out week 16 of the poetry assignments, while the rest of his work is in week 30.

Anyway.

James Henry Leigh Hunt 1784-1859

Today had us read one of James Henry Leigh Hunt’s poems, Abou Ben Adhem.  The poem is all right;  not fabulous in my opinion.  The basic premise of it is that even if you don’t excel at loving God, it’s all right;  as long as you love others splendidly, God will bless (and ostensibly love) you the more for it.  That warrants discussion in itself.  However, we didn’t much discuss that.  What we did discuss was the nature of balancing integrity with loyalty.  Too much loyalty without integrity reaps a harvest of brown-nosing and spin-doctoring, sweeping sin issues under the rug.  Leigh Hunt, though, seems to have erred too much on the other side:  integrity over loyalty, which is rather ironic, given the topic of Abou Ben Adhem.  In other words, he was fond of speaking the truth, but not in love, not out of necessity, and often biting the hand that had fed and befriended him, publishing scathing critiques of his contemporaries’ works, and writing exposés of famous people of his day (leading, at one point, to a two-year jail sentence, for criticizing the Prince Regent)…  Unsurprisingly, he (and his wife and his ten children) frequently found themselves friendless and penniless…

Ideally, one would have family, friends, employers, et al, to whom one could be loyal, yet still retain one’s integrity.

I presented to Ethan the best example of both loyalty perfectly balanced with integrity that I know:  his father.  In our itinerant society, my husband has remained with the same employer for more than 20 years.  An integral part of our church (and on staff at said church) for nearly 23 years.  Married for 17+ years.  Each of those take commitment and loyalty.  Yet, he is also integrous to the nth degree, sometimes exasperatingly so, as he seeks to follow both the letter and the spirit of a law.  I was particularly pleased to show Ethan that one can excel at both integrity and loyalty.

It was definitely one of those learning experiences that I know Ethan wouldn’t have had elsewhere, and it made the whole day feel worthwhile.

—————-

*It’s not that Ethan is remarkably advanced;  it’s that we have already so extensively covered American History, which SL slates for freshmen, that I wanted him to learn something different.

Update: Homeschooling stuff

  •  Homeschooling:  Still having… issues keeping my 14yo focused and not overwhelmed.  What he feels he can do, and what he actually can do are miles apart.  He, without fail, produces well-thought-out, excellent work and I am spending lots of time encouraging him and spurring him on.  I think much of his internal conflict comes down to him longing for the “good old days” when he had less responsibility and his school day wasn’t quite as long — even though his entire day, including “homework” is at a maximum of six hours, and he often has days like yesterday, when he was done in four.  This past week, I had to take away both his iPod and his library books until he was caught up…  I really don’t like restricting his freedoms and pleasures;  I feel like he should be mature enough to self-regulate and that I shouldn’t have to do that.  I guess I still do, though.
  • More homeschooling:  I am sharing my Sonlight Core 3 (American History, Part I — recently renamed Core D) with a friend for her children, and I’m a few weeks ahead of her.  For some reason, I’m really motivated to stay ahead, and for that reason, we’re getting more done, and faster, than ever!  I guess I still have some latent competitiveness…
  • Click on image for a link to the original post by a lady named Linda, who describes planting a Mary garden, where all the plants are symbolic tributes to the Virgin Mary. Linda attributes this painting to Jan van Eyck, and I'm not really sure that's correct. However, notice the strawberries in the raised bed behind the Virgin and Child.

    Still more homeschooling:  We’ve almost wrapped up our (fairly slow) travels through the fabulous DK’s Children’s Book of Art.  I have been pondering where to go next, with art.  Then, after church on Sunday, a friend pulled me over with an almost conspiratorial whisper, “Hey, I’m helping my mom pare down the things in her home.  Are you interested in any books?”  She opened her trunk to reveal a nice, heavy box of assorted books — from a nice hardcover copy of Kipling’s Captains Courageous to a set of Time-Life books on the States, very similar to a set my own mother owns….  Also included was an intriguing book called Signs and Symbols in Christian Art by George Ferguson.  It was first published in 1959;  my hardcover copy appears to have been printed in England in 1967, though I am delighted to discover that the book is still in print!  I may have to get an additional book of color reprints of Renaissance paintings, though…  Most of this book is in black and white.  However, I have long been intrigued with the idea of art as… teacher and entertainer, especially in the days before there was widespread literacy.  Here’s what Ferguson has to say about strawberries:  “The strawberry is the symbol of perfect righteousness, or the emblem of the righteous man whose fruits are good works.  When shown with other fruits and flowers, it represents the good works of the righteous or the fruits of the spirit.  It is in line with this meaning that the Virgin is sometimes shown clad in a dress decorated with clusters of strawberries.  The strawberry is occasionally shown accompanied by violets to suggest that the truly spiritual are always humble.”  My plan is to read a little excerpt like that, then set my boys to hunting for an example.  I’m slow to notice and understand symbolism and allegory, etc., so I’m looking forward to reading this book!

  • Even more homeschooling:  I had also wanted an additional devotional book for my children — especially my 10 and 12-year-old sons.  Right now, we are using Sonlight’s book on American Indian Prayer Guide, as well as using GRN’s monthly prayer guide for its missionaries (we get a monthly newsletter mailed to us, but the link has the same info).  But, I wanted something a little more in-depth, engaging, and focused on character.  Voila!  Out of the same box from my friend’s mom came Courageous Christians:  Devotional Stories for Family Reading by Joyce Vollmer Brown.  PERFECT.  It has sixty stories of well-known and little-known Christians who acted boldly to make a difference for the cause of Christ.  So awesome to have our needs met, in such an unexpected way, and even before I really prayed about it!  I guess God knew these were the books for us…

On poetry and crazy poets.

I don’t do a whole lot one-on-one with my homeschooled 9th grader, Ethan.  But, we do do poetry together.  We’re reading through an anthology which is part of his curriculum.  However, the anthology has zero information on the poets, only the poems themselves.  I find that the study of poets is most often at least as interesting as the work they produced, and sometimes even more so!  Knowing an author’s history adds so much to the understanding of their work.  In general, I find that many times, poets walk — often unsuccessfully — a thin line between inspired and crazy.  William Blake, John Clare, even Emily Dickinson or perhaps even Walt Whitman…  Very, very interesting folk.  And even mentally sound poets like Lewis Carroll and Elizabeth Bishop and Lord Byron had fascinating, unique lives, most often lived on the very fringes of society.  It is worthwhile to consider such things, I think.

So, for each poet we’re about to read (as the anthology goes in alphabetical order, by author’s name), I do a little Google search and print out a little biography, usually only a half page or so…  and Ethan and I have thoughtful discussions about the nature of creativity and society and how sometimes our great strengths are also our weaknesses, and vice versa, and how even an apparently unsuccessful person (as defined by society) can create powerful works that are worthwhile and long-remembered.

On a related topic, with the younger boys, I read Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” this morning.  It took a couple of days to muster up the courage to read it;  t never fails to make me cry, and for a while there, I just didn’t feel like crying.  I think there are few more visceral, powerful, moving, beautiful poems ever written.   And it compels me to adore Abraham Lincoln all the more, for the deep love he inspired, devoting his life to the most worthy cause, and doing it well.  What a man, and what an honor.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
          But O heart! heart! heart!
          O the bleeding drops of red,
          Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                    Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
            Here Captain! dear father!
            This arm beneath your head;
            It is some dream that on the deck,
                   You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
           Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
           But I, with mournful tread,
           Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                 Fallen cold and dead.

 

From the boy who hates to write…

I know I’m biased, but my 14 year-old son Ethan wrote something this week that brought tears to my eyes.  It was jaw-droppingly gripping and well-written.  We got done reviewing it together, and I asked, “Can I post this on my blog?”  He laughed, “I knew you were going to ask that.”

Ethan says that he hates to write.

Toward the beginning of last year, his 8th grade year, I assigned him a “mini” research project.  We went through the process of deciding on a topic, learning the construction of research papers, crafting an outline, procuring the appropriate books, doing the reading, learning how to use the books to get the best info… on and on.  Well, his three-page project grew into five pages.  Then ten.  Ten and he still wasn’t done.  He kept writing more, but with absolutely no joy, and only when I twisted his arm to write.  I was desperately and unsuccessfully trying to get him to rein it in;  he would get so bogged down in the details, it was like he was trying to write another book…  His actual writing is excellent, but his self-editing skills were nil.  And with a paper so long, of course there were many opportunities to discuss better grammar, or spelling, or sentence construction, or topic sentences, or better vocabulary choices, and on and on and on.  And, any time I had a correction for him in the process, well… we’d both end up in tears, because he’d get SO discouraged.  I felt like Bad Homeschool Mom.

The paper, I’m ashamed to say, never got done.  It was mostly my fault, because the whole thing had just ballooned into an awful scramble of flawed teaching, sensitive adolescent feelings, and LOTS AND LOTS of words.  At some point, toward the end of the year, I just decided that it wasn’t worth it, and we’d tackle writing next year.

“Next year” is now this year.

This year is only one week old… but on Sunday evening, as we discussed in greater detail what his freshman year would look like, to his great disappointment, I told him, “You’re going to do a lot of writing.  But, you’re going to do it in much smaller chunks, so that neither of us gets bogged down.  It’s my goal to encourage you greatly, because you really ARE a good writer, but you so dread the process that it hangs like a sword over your head.  I want, by the end of the year, for you to become a confident writer, who writes with relative ease, and isn’t frightened by the writing process.  And I will stay on top of it, helping you along the way, and not giving up.”  He seemed only nominally assured.

The Newbery Honor book by Patricia Reilly Giff

Ethan is doing Sonlight’s Core 200 this year, and really enjoying it.  I’m glad that he found the first assigned novel, Pictures of Hollis Woods, so interesting, because his writing assignment was based on the book.  The book is a compelling story of the history of a foster child.  Each chapter begins with a word picture, painted from a memory of the main character, a girl named Hollis.  The writing assignment detailed:

What is your favorite picture from Pictures of Hollis Woods?  Why?  What qualities make it your favorite? …  Using that picture as an inspiration, write a picture of your own… make sure your picture reflects the same qualities you value in your favorite.

Though the assignment was only asking him to think about it, I suggested to Ethan that he write out his reflection on his favorite portion of the book, describing what it is about it that made it so striking.  Then, for him to pick ANY memory of his own that stands out like a snapshot in his mind, and to note various things about the memory:  what was happening, how he felt, what the weather was like, why it stuck with him, etc.

His notes were:

I think I would say my favorite picture expressed in this book is the thirteenth picture.  However, it is not my favorite because it’s funny, or pleasing, but very sad.  Now, I do not mean to be morbid in any way, but this picture really provoked my emotions more than any other contained in this book.  It just really got me thinking, “Wow, how could this happen.  How could a girl, an orphan at that, be so hard-hearted to the one and only foster father who truly loves her.”  And just the way this book is written puts you smack dab in the middle of this clash of emotions that really seems to make the characters come alive, it’s just stunning and it makes you feel like you’re standing right there the entire time.

Notes:  Arizona Snowbowl
on ski lift
traveling up
about 8? (years)
11 – 2 (time)
tingly feeling
bundled up
very cold
legs feel scratchy from blanket

And here’s what he wrote:  (I very lightly edited it with him, altering a few points of punctuation, and crossing out a total of seven words, adding five that he chose from my suggestions… )

He was tired of looking through the wreckage of this house.  He decided to look in the last room of the house then leave for good.  The man did not enjoy the findings of this particular abandoned abode;  the only thing of use that he found was a thick folder full of paper.  He sighed, thinking, “Only good for starting fires.”

Later, at his camp, the man spread out his findings of the day before him:  a rusty kitchen knife, four cans of food, some ammunition, three burnt and water damaged books, and the folder.  The man was intrigued most by the folder.  He picked it up, but it crumbled in his hand, spilling papers all over.

One caught his eye, different from the others.  It wasn’t just a bunch of letters he couldn’t read, but a picture seemingly drawn by a child.  It was a family, a mother and three young boys, riding up a mountain on some kind of lift.  The mountain was spectacular, hundreds of feet tall, grey, and covered with pines and what stuff the man determined was snow, based on what the family was wearing.  The sun was high in the sky, making the ground glisten, and the man quickly lost himself in his imagination.

He found himself looking through the eyes of the oldest boy, cold, but wearing a strange fuzzy sweater with a hood attached.  He was also wrapped in a blanket that looked itchy.  The man felt a strange, excited, tingly feeling inside and opened his eyes back to the world around him.  He sighed, looked down at that wonderful picture and gently folded it, putting it in his pocket.  “More precious than all the fire starters in the world,” he thought.

Is it just me??  Or is that not REALLY GOOD?  Mystery, unanswered questions leaving the reader wanting more, very evocative, very creative.  He inserted his own memory into a really compelling fictional account.  A short-short story.  I thought it was awesome.  Plus, I was so excited that he (we, really) got through the assignment with triumph.  I didn’t have much to do with the story at all, but it still felt like an accomplishment.

:)

It was a good first week of school.

FREE BOOKS from OSC!! (You pay shipping)

I am weeding through my books — homeschooling and other — and have some to offer.  I’ll post more as I have them.

These books are free for the taking, if you pay postage.  $2 for the first book, and $1 for each additional book you may want.  You can use the “Donate” button on the right-hand column;  that will take you to PayPal.  Write in the “notes” section which one(s) you’d like and pay accordingly.  I will send them via Media Mail.

Honor system:  Please do not turn around and re-sell them.  Please request them only if you have plans to use them personally.

(Links provided so you can read more about the book in question.)

1.  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind – This has a 5-star review on Amazon.  Hardcover.  Excellent condition.  I received the book for free from the publisher, so I don’t feel right in selling it for profit.  However, I didn’t care for the tone of the book.  From what I read in the reviews, perhaps I just didn’t give it enough time…

2.  Zebra Finches – ©1981, it appears this little hardcover is still in print.  I bought it brand-spankin’ new about 30 years ago, when I bought some zebra finches.  I kept zebra finches for five years or so, as a kid.  :)  It’s a pet-care book.

3.  The Christian Mother Goose Treasure, Part II — Personally, I am partial to the original Mother Goose, but if this sounds appealing to you, it’s yours!

4.  Parents and Children Together — Expanding Your Child’s Vocabulary — This 69 page booklet was given to me.  It is full of great ideas, and has some attractive cartoon illustrations… but it’s the sort of thing that would sit on my homeschooling bookshelf until I get “around to it”, and in the words of St. Augustine (culled from the Sunday Arizona Republic newspaper), “Modo et modo no habebant modum.” (By and by never comes.)

5.  Rocks & Minerals — Teacher resource and student activity book (with info and instructions for the teacher and copyable work pages for the student).  Appropriate for grades 6-9 (though it says for grades 5-8+)  This would be a good supplement for a geology science curriculum.  I found it somewhat worthwhile, but somewhat confusing, as many of the projects require more of a knowledge of geology than I have.  You may find it worth sifting through and choosing which activities to use.

 

Wistful: Children’s books vs. Reality

Sometimes, I wonder what God has in mind for me, since He gave me a heart to love the things I do, which are in mighty short supply in the desert:  water, flora, and fauna.

There is life here in the Sonoran Desert.  There are animals, a few.  And there are plants, hardy and prickly though they may be.  But there sure isn’t much water.

I’ve always longed for greener pastures, literally.

But, God gave me a husband who is a native of this hot, dry, brown Valley of the Sun, and I’ve adjusted my expectations of what might be lying just around the corner, waiting for me.

Acadia National Park is not.  Nor the Oregon coast.  Not even the Mississippi bluff area of western Illinois, where my maternal grandparents had their farm, and — which I recently heard with a yelp of joy — which my Uncle Allyn is farming a bit of, again, with his recovering health.

There are days as I look out at the landscape of 100+ days of 100°+  when I am tempted to despair, and my heart just longs for cooler, greener climes.

So, I pull out a picture book and read to one of my little girls.

Today, my oldest nephew’s girlfriend and I were having a mostly-joking Facebook conversation about her moving (or the two of us taking a road trip) to Maine.  She was up for just about anywhere on the upper reaches of the northeastern United States, but I steered her to Maine.

In this Caldecott Honor book, three- or four-year-old Sal picks blueberries with her mother and gets "all mixed up" with a mother bear and cub eating blueberries of their own.

In my possession, since before any of my children could read, have been three hardcovers, each of which I have loved since my own childhood.  Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, and Time of Wonder, each written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey.  I freely admit that I can never refuse a sturdy two-year-old toddling with binky inserted, trailing her blankie, barely grasping a picture book, half her size, who pipes up with the hopeful query, “Mowneen i’ Maine??”

For those of you unfamiliar, please check out the books from your local library, or buy them.  Now.  Please.

Also a Caldecott Honor. In which 6yo Sal wishes upon a feather (instead of her first lost tooth, which fell into the muddy pebbles, digging clams with her father) and travels to quaint Buck's Harbor for groceries and the wish-fulfilling cone with her 2yo sister, Jane, and their father.

The books show the progression of the author’s family in the 1950s (when they were written) which spent summers in Maine.  They have beautiful illustrations and apt prose, which shows exactly how adept McCloskey was at thinking with a child’s mind, and seeing with a child’s eyes.

After the Facebook conversation, I read Time of Wonder to Fiala, before her nap.  Looked at the pictures, more than actually read, as Time of Wonder, the Caldecott Medal winner for 1957,  is told in second person, and has a more “grown up” prose than the first two books about Sal and Jane.  It shows both girls, aged about 12 and 8, “manning” their own rowboat and small sailboat (sans life jackets), jumping from rocks along the cove with a bevvy of other children, and weathering a hurricane with their parents, partly by sing-shouting The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

The book mentions several specific place names, which — as I have done on several other occasions — I Googled, to find their location on a map, and pictures as lovely as the illustrations in the book.  And — yet again — I longed for a visit to Acadia National Park, which is in the same exact area as the setting for the trio of McCloskey books.  This time, I found myself especially taken with the sites at Duck Harbor Campground on the minuscule Isle au Hait, described as rugged, remote, inaccessible to automobiles, primitive…  combined with 18 miles of hiking trails, it seems like my kind of place, exactly.  McCloskey’s, too.  :)

Out of curiosity, as I read

…through the fog you hear Harry Smith over at Blastow’s Cove start the engine of his lobster boat and go out to pull his traps.

I wondered if Harry Smith was a real man.  He was.  I found myself sad to read that one Harry Smith, of Little Deer Island, Maine, was buried in the Blastow’s Cove Cemetery in 1957.  It must have been not long after Time of Wonder was published.

Otter Cliff, Acadia NP

I found myself also remembering the incomparable Calico Bush, whose author, Rachel Field, often wrote poetry, apparent in her Newbery Honor prose.  Calico Bush is set off of the coast of Mount Desert Island, which is home to most of Acadia National Park.

Wait.

Suddenly, this sounds very familiar.

[I do a little search on my own blog and come up with THIS POST from February of 2010.]

Sigh.

My memory is short, but at least I’m consistent, eh?

Dorr Mountain Trail, Acadia NP

I guess my point of this point — similar to the last one on the very same subject — is how I just don’t know how to sort all of these thoughts.  I mean, I know that allowing myself to indulge in discontentment is dangerous.  Letting it sit and percolate in my mind is unwise;  I can easily become really unhappy about just about anything, any situation, and anyone in my life if I allow myself to go there.  So, I don’t.  I don’t live in Maine, and can’t conceive of anything that would lead us to Maine, and I think it would 100% be a fruitless and frustrating endeavor to try to figure out how we could or why we don’t have a summer house on a private island in Maine, like McCloskey’s family did.

Precipice Trail, Acadia NP

But, on the other hand… my Father God created me with a love for that particular kind of beauty, and a wistful longing for that sort of slowed-down, simple life, living in community, surrounded with an achingly beautiful piece of His creation.  Did He do that for nothing?  I mean, did He make my heart to love that so, for no purpose, or just to teach me the Godly discipline of not allowing myself to become frustrated and discontented?  Possibly, but I don’t think so.  I hope not.

Last year about this time, I was dreaming of taking a trip there, someday soon, paid for by the thousands of dollars I’d make, writing.  I have made some, but, golly!  In order to MAKE money writing, you have to have the TIME to devote to it, and fit into someone else’s agenda.  That part was less successful.  I’ve had a few other offers for employment in writing, but it’s just not fair to any perspective client to hire me, then to have me perpetually be unavailable, even if that makes any Maine trip tarry.

My hubby works with a guy, though, who has a house in Maine…  Hmm…  Maybe I should find out where, exactly, that house is…  Thinking, thinking…  I don’t think my hubby would consider that appropriate.  I’m sure he’s right.

One way, though, or another…  but it has to be the right way, in the right time.  I *KNOW* that;  it’s just hard to adjust my thoughts on the matter, especially as these visions dance in my head.

Sigh.

In which I cry over groceries

Perhaps this is commensurate with raising five children on pretty much one income, but my husband and I are constantly revamping our budget, which is akin to squeezing water from a rock.  We’ve been married for 16 years and we took this attitude, gratefully, into our marriage.  Both of us observed, pre-marriage, our parents getting into trouble with debt, and we had independently decided, “That will not be me.”  So, we’ve always been responsible, living debt-free and at or below our means.  However, there is always room for improvement.

But… a sore spot for me is the money we have allotted for groceries.  In other words, DON’T TOUCH MY GROCERY BUDGET, BUSTER!!

Part of me thinks we spend exorbitantly on groceries;  outside our mortgage, it is our single biggest expense.  But, I shop absolutely as responsibly as possible:  I keep an ongoing shopping list, and make my final list the day I go out, combining what we need with what is on sale, and what I have a coupon for.  I typically go to 3-5 stores each week, buying items at the spot where it’s available, and at the best price.  I am always looking for ways for us to eat CLEANER, as well.  On top that, most readers know that our family has multiple special diet needs:  Three of we seven have celiac disease, plus a smattering of food allergies, while my youngest has SEVERE food-related allergies and is on a highly restrictive diet (among other things, the only meat she can eat is lamb, and “cheap lamb” is an oxymoron).

No, I'm not paid by them. I just think it's a fabulous magazine.

I do all of that on $200 a week.  To me, and perhaps to you, that sounds like a lot of money.  But, look at it this way:  That’s $1.36 per meal, per person.  My favorite food magazine, Clean Eating, often runs sections on budget family eating, touting recipes that equate to $2 per person.  If I did that, I’d be spending $294/week.

My husband, who is the Budget Master (using Mvelopes), kept mentioning here and there that I have been going way over budget on the food, that it was constantly “in the red.”  This was a matter of consternation and confusion for me, as I knew, deep in my heart, that with very rare exception, I was sticking to $200/week.

So, about six weeks ago, I got extremely specific about it — using a calculator, keeping a running total on the back of receipts, carefully noting if anything I spent was non-food, etc.  I proudly deposited my receipts on to his desk with a comment or a note, “ONE DOLLAR over budget.”  “FIVE DOLLARS UNDER budget.”  Etc.  After a month of this, for which he was genuinely thankful, he approached me, gently dropping this bomb, “You know that our grocery budget is $800 a month, right?  Not $200 a week?”

Why, NO.  No, I didn’t realize that at all.  I’d been operating for more than a year with confidence that my budget was $200, weekly.  With a sinking heart, I quickly did a little math.  $800 a month equates to $184.61 weekly ($1.26 per person, per meal).  That’s a full FIFTEEN DOLLARS less than I have consistently been spending.  Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much, but that does amount to an extra $800, yearly, over what I was supposed to be spending.  No wonder I was in the red!!

Then, I panicked.  How in the world was I going to purchase everything I needed to with even less money??  Lower-quality food?  Less meat?  Less of our already virtually non-existent luxuries??  I already don’t purchase prepared foods.  No boxed or frozen ready-made foods for this family (partly due to cost, and partly due to health)!  We don’t even buy juice, let alone soda!  The “junkiest” we get is tortilla chips!  There really wasn’t a clear spot where I could trim.

I went out shopping a couple of weeks ago on my “new” budget of $185.  After the first store, I looked at my list of remaining items, and looked at what I had already spent.  I started to cry.  Perhaps that sounds ridiculous, but I felt the weight of responsibility for providing good food for my family, submitting to a budget (and my husband), feeling already over-stretched, and now saddled with an even smaller allotment.  I just didn’t know how I was going to do it, and I felt entirely overwhelmed.

Then… into my mind — likely from the Holy Spirit — popped the numerous missionary stories I’ve been reading to my children in the past month or two:  And the Word Came with Power, In Search of the Source, Catching Their Talk in a Box…  All of those books (while not being singular examples of fabulous writing and literature; my internal editor cringes too many times while reading all of them!) are simultaneously convicting and compelling:  True stories of deeply trusting in God’s provision and timing, and even rejoicing at the opportunity to see Him show up in seemingly impossible situations.

I stopped crying.

You must read this book.

I decided to pray over my grocery-shopping expedition.  There, out loud, in my car, in the parking lot of Costco, I prayed.  I poured out my heart to my God, in sincerity and need, tears again streaking down my cheeks, asking for His help:  for wisdom in what I choose to purchase, that I would find better-than-expected deals, that I would discover ways to trim excess from my list, that I could present my receipts to my husband and that he’d be pleased (as I had, in my tears, considered just going over-budget and telling my husband, “Oh, well.  It just can’t be done.”)…  Then, though it sounded a tad stilted, contrived, and even a wee bit Pentecostal, I continued in a true act of my will and in faith and obedience, as I certainly didn’t feel it, “And, Father, I absolutely rejoice now, beforehand, in this opportunity to see You provide, to see You show up, to see You enable me to do what I feel, right now, is impossible.”

Writing this out, it sounds so stupid, that I would cry over groceries, like don’t I have something better — more serious, deeper — over which to weep, especially in light of recent, world-wide catastrophes??  But really, I felt that what was being required from me was absolutely impossible, and I felt completely stuck, and I needed His help.

No more $6.49 jumbo bottles of Cholula for us. :(

I am now happy to report that God has come through.  Other than me not getting my weekly 6-pack of Diet Hansen’s Tangerine Lime soda, $2.49 at Trader Joe’s (which really feels like a sacrifice — foregoing my much-looked-forward-to daily treat), and not buying our family’s favorite, really expensive hot sauce, I haven’t really cut back on anything.  I’m ultra-careful, shopping with the calculator on my phone, and delaying for a week or two a purchase that might not be at the best price on that particular shopping expedition…  But, in spite of me not changing much of anything, I have come in under-budget, both times:  About four dollars that first week, and almost ten dollars the next.

 

So, now, I’m about to sit down with my food ads, coupon file, and list of needed items, and come up with a plan of action for shopping tonight.  Part of me is yet tempted to panic, but I shut that down as soon as it rears its ugly head, and know that God cares about me and my family, even down to the “very hairs on [our heads]“: the grocery budget.

(Perhaps I could have avoided this whole scene by whipping out my Bible and reading Matthew 6:25-34, but sometimes you really have to LIVE something before God’s revelation sinks in…)

Too good to be true.

Sometimes, I bite down on something, and I just won’t let go.  That can be a good thing, and it can be… well, not so great.  And, sometimes, it takes a bit of sorting to determine whether or not I should have dropped something.

This is a tale of postage.  And who is cheating whom, and is it actually cheating?

Lots o' books!

I am in the market for a Sonlight Core 5.  I’d really like the 5-day, but that’s $603, and we have the money saved for only the 4-day, which is $544.  But, before I click the “purchase” button, I thought I’d check out what’s out there, used.  Over at Homeschool Classifieds, there were three complete curriculum sets for Core 5.  Two of them didn’t return my e-mail;  perhaps they had sold the items and hadn’t removed the listing — I’ve done that myself!  The third was a listing that was for $570, and the seller said that the package was brand-new, simply purchased and completely unused.

So, I e-mailed the seller, to get more details, including if he’d come down any on the price.  My idea was that, if it was the 5-day package, and I could get it for the same or less than buying the 4-day from Sonlight, I’d purchase from him.  This is our fifth Core purchase, and only our first was used;  the rest I’ve purchased from Sonlight.  What with the free shipping and 10% discount off of face value from Sonlight, buying new from them has been at least a comparable deal to what I’d spend used, added to vast amounts of hours trying to find three books here, one book there, paying multiple shipping charges, etc.  Sonlight has great customer service, and it’s just easier and not any — or not much — more expensive to purchase new, from them.

Anyway.

Let me just say that I have been less-than-pleased with the exchange with the seller.

My first questions were along the lines of:

  • What year was it purchased — what year is the Instructor’s Guide?
  • Is the set complete?
  • Is it 5-day, or 4-day?
  • Why so pricey?

The seller was a guy (a little surprisingly — I have bought dozens of homeschooling books from homeschooling parents, and I think I have dealt with the mother every single time), and his answers were:

  • (Well, in 5-6 e-mail exchanges, he’s never answered about what year the curriculum is from.)
  • He said it was 100% complete, and here is the book list.
  • It’s a 5-day
  • He could come down to $520, but I would have to pay with a postal money order, and ship to a place of business.

Hm.

I’m totally OK paying with a postal money order.  That costs only $1.50, and as someone who has used PayPal as a seller, I know that what PayPal charges is just shy of highway robbery.  I don’t blame him for that one.

However, I told him I’d rather just pay the shipping charges to have it sent Media Mail through the post office to my home.  The “ship to a place of business” thing seemed fishy to me.

We continued to have an e-mail conversation about it, and it turns out that — as he describes it — his employer allows the employees to ship their personal items for free, as long as it is to another business address.

I responded as gently but firmly as I could, saying that it appeared from that description that the employer is defrauding the IRS, making personal expenses appear business-related, allowing him, as the employer, to deduct business expenses from income (or however he’d work it) for something that is completely un-business-related.

The man responded by asking me, basically, who am I to judge him, and told me that I’d better take my business elsewhere if I can’t appreciate an employee “perk”.

I’m fine with taking my business elsewhere, especially when I noticed that the $40 2010 World Book Encyclopedia DVD-ROM was missing from the book list, and upon inquiry, he said, “Oh.  Yeah.  We used that.  We loaded it onto three computers, and that’s the max it will let you do.  So, that’s not included.”

So.

His “complete” Core 5 is not actually complete, even though he said it was.  He’s complicit with his employer defrauding the IRS.  He refuses to allow me to NOT participate in that — refuses to ship the set any other way, because he thinks I’m getting riled up over nothing.

And, he never told me what year the set was from, which does affect its current value, and its resale value (not that I’d likely resell it), as well as its usability, as Sonlight, from time to time, discontinues books that are out-of-print, updates its Instructor’s Guides regularly, etc.

Once I catch someone in something dishonest, or in a “sin of omission”, or in any sort of questionable dealing, it’s hard for me to trust that person, especially to the tune of $500+.

Hmph.

Maybe it is “nothing.”  But, I just can’t willingly participate in free shipping that’s not really free, because it is tricks and loopholes like that that lend to our taxes escalating ever higher!

I was going to ask you, fair reader, what you’d do, but I guess now that you know I’m so strident in my stance, those who think that a wee bit of pulling the wool over the IRS’s eyes is OK probably wouldn’t comment.

And, it looks like, after a week of wrangling with the seller, I just may end up having to purchase the whole thing new, after all.  Week lost.  Time wasted.  Grrr…

(P.S.  As I write this, an e-mail from a different seller popped in, telling me exactly the state that the materials are in, what year it’s from, what’s missing…  Hmm… Timing is everything, right???)

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