Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nativity by John Donne (1572-1631)

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

Dinner Menus Through Friday

Mr. Honey gets paid Friday, so I am using up pantry, fridge and freezer foods until then. (We already ate up all our Thanksgiving leftovers, can you believe it?)

* Spaghetti with meat sauce, peas (use leftover hamburgers)

* Salsafied beans and rice, carrot sticks

* Pork short ribs with homemade barbeque sauce, biscuits, baked cubed sweet potatoes, dill pickles

* Smoked sausage sauteed with onion and garlic, add a can of tomatoes and heat, then serve over rice with salad (this is going to be my "experiment and add spices until it tastes right" recipe this week)

* Chicken noodle soup, cornbread or biscuits

(In case anyone is wondering what we do for lunches, my policy is "leftovers or a sandwich and back to work." Wouldn't you like to be one of my kids?)

He was made low for us

Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
Romans 12:16

We had a visiting minister preach today (it was the Queen's father), and ever since this morning's sermon, I have been thinking about the humility of the Lord coming as a baby, submitting to being cared for by faulty human parents, placing himself, helpless, in the hands of sinners. Each Christmas song that I hear draws my mind back to that thought. He didn't have to do that, and he didn't have to do it in that way, but he did.

We normally don't do Advent, as our religious tradition does not follow the liturgical year, and in fact our ancestors had to fight hard for the right to worship in our simple way. But there is something to be said for a plan to follow, seasonal readings, reminders coming year after year of the amazing grace of God. I have been very interested in Mama Squirrel's plans for Advent, and I think we will follow the four weeks that she has listed of Simplicity, Solitude and Silence, Service and Submission this month.

(Update: Mama Squirrel got these four topics from Foster's Celebration of Discipline. Thanks for suggesting the need to clarify, Mama Squirrel. I meant to add a reference to the book, but got too caught up in my own thoughts. ;o)

Of course, I'm getting a little ahead of myself posting on Submission. But the preacher preached on condescension this morning, and, as he pointed out, the greatest instance of stooping to those of low estate is the beautiful example of our Lord. And especially our Lord as a child, subject to His earthly parents. Isn't that the wonder of this season?

Here are my notes on this morning:

Scriptures to read-- John chapters 9, 13; Luke 2; Matthew 25; Philippians 2:9.

1. Meet people where they are.

2. Be willing to hear truth, even if it comes from an unexpected or unlikely source. (This means we need to know when something has the ring of truth.)

3. Obey those in authority and fulfill the role assigned to you, even if you have more wisdom and knowledge than they. (In my own experience, often when I think I know more than someone in authority over me, the truth turns out to be that there is some information I have not considered. Not always, but often.)

4. When you have the opportunity to serve others doing menial, and even distasteful, tasks, do them as your service to the Lord because as often as you have served one of the Lord's people, you have served Him.

Other posts that join these thoughts in my mind:

Our Lack of Wonder

Black Friday and Love

The Promise of Glory:

"The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmastime Traditions

(with special guest blogger, Cornflower-- Mommy, Daddy and Triss helped-- Mariel was away for the night)

We have several Christmas traditions at our house. Here they are in a list for you!

* We put up our Christmas tree on Black Friday.

* We receive new ornaments every year from our grandparents.

* We store the ornaments in big red boxes-- one for each person.

* Triss puts her Christmas ornaments mostly at the top, and Mariel puts her ornaments mostly in the middle. I'm so short I have to put mine on the lowest part of the tree. Mommy fills in the empty spots.

* Triss has these cool Christmas ornaments that tell the story of The Night Before Christmas.

* We put up nativity scenes about Jesus' birth.

* Mommy makes hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.

* We take our picture with Santa, and our Goggy goes with us. We have all the pictures from previous years' pictures displayed on our low bookshelf, and Mommy put tinsel around the pictures this year.

* We take out our Christmas books and keep them under the Christmas tree.

* We each learn a new Christmas song on the piano.

* We put stocking stuffers in our sisters' stockings all during December, and we also hang stockings for our American Girl dolls.

* Our grandparents got us some wreaths one Thanksgiving, and we hang them on our bedroom doors for Christmas. Mommy and Daddy have one to hang on the front door.

* We read the story of Jesus' birth sometime before Christmas.

* Star Night is when we go to bed one night and then Daddy comes and shakes us and wakes us up and Mommy has hot chocolate made, and gives us a bag with cookies in it. Now I will tell you the real part: we look at everyone's decorations on their lawns, and the library is so much fun. You can go there, and they have their lights on and their music playing, and you can put the music on the radio in the car, and you can watch the snowflakes blinking off and on, and it's so fun! We take Main Street and go see the house that has the train tracks and fake snow all in their front yard.

* We put out a note for Santa and some milk and cookies, and a carrot for his reindeer. Santa writes a letter back to us every year and leaves it by the plate. Last year I woke up and heard Santa open the drawer where we keep the little pads of paper-- it's the loudest drawer in the house!

* Our grandparents come after we've opened some of our Christmas presents and they bring our stockings that they have, and we have a nice Christmas dinner.

* Our church gives us some books every year. Each child gets a book, and the teenagers get gift cards to the book store.

* We make snowflakes and hang them on our window.

* We hang some Christmas ornaments on our hutch.

* We give Christmas cards to our friends.

* We also make little boxes of M&Ms for each child at church. We make them out of old Christmas cards from the year before.

* We hang Christmas lights in our bedrooms and on the front of the house.

* We have sleepovers in the living room with the Christmas tree lights on.

* We participate in an angel tree activity with our church, or fill boxes for kids or troops overseas.


We had a quiet Thanksgiving-- just my parents and Mr. Honey and I and the girls.

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Mom decided to set out the china that Dad brought her back from Vietnam thirty-eight years ago.

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The kids, dressed in seasonal garb, helped tie the ribbons around the napkins.

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The hardworking hostess, and Cornflower.

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Our genial host.

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"Peace and Mercy and Jonathan,
and Patience (very small)..."

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"The breaking waves dashed high
On a stern and rockbound coast..."

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"We thank Thee, Father, for the care
That did not come to try us..."

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The table set for dessert.

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The joy of the day distilled into one beautiful cup.

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Every host and hostess enjoys seeing a clean kitchen at the end of a feast.

Moon, Venus and Jupiter on Monday

A fascinating and well-written article on the moon, Venus and Jupiter, with beautiful pictures linked at the end.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Safe Driving, and Inane Questions

I finished my defensive driving course, yay!

(I got an A.)

The course was pretty evenly divided between text (read aloud by a narrator) and video. Since it was an online course, occasionally there was a list of questions pertaining to a video just viewed. This is to insure that the student is actually watching the video rather than surfing the 'net or getting a sandwich and just allowing the time to tick away. (By Texas law, a person is required to complete six hours of defensive driving education in order to have a ticket dismissed.)

I tried to be very attentive in each of the videos, as well as the text sections, wanting to refresh my memory of the traffic laws and even learn something new, since I had to sit 'in class' a total of six hours anyway.

Some new things I learned (these all pertain to Texas, check your local laws):

1. It is illegal to walk on railroad tracks.

2. Trains take around a mile to stop once the engineer realizes someone is on the tracks. This is about the length of eighteen football fields. Needless to say, in any train/car intersection, trains have the right of way by law.

3. Many people are killed on train tracks every year mistakenly thinking the train is going slower or is further away than it actually is. Like I said previously, the person in the car or truck is at fault in a train/car accident, because trains have the right of way. (Where is a train supposed to go if a car is on the tracks?) It was heartbreaking to hear the interviews of train engineers who had plowed into vehicles. Through no fault of their own, these men have to live with the knowledge that they have taken lives.

4. It is illegal to drive onto the shoulder of the road if the line is solid white (unless it is an emergency). Even if you are turning right. We have an intersection on the highway near us which does *not* have a broken line on the shoulder near the light. The right turn leads to the nearest shopping area to our neighborhood, and people are constantly going onto the shoulder to turn right. When I learned about that law, I started turning right without going onto the shoulder, but I found that I took my life into my own hands doing it that way. The speed limit on that highway is 70 mph, and if you slow down to turn right without going onto the shoulder, you are liable to be run over. I need to contact the county about changing it to a broken line.

5. It takes a commercial truck going 55 mph the length of one football field to stop. Kinda makes you want to give trucks plenty of room behind you when you pass, doesn't it?

6. Trucks have very large blind spots. It's best to stay where you can see the face of the truck driver, either through the window or through his rearview mirrors. I prefer to get around slow trucks as soon as I can, and stay away from them. I let the fast ones pass me.

7. Anti-lock brake systems (ABS) work differently than regular break systems. That jarring feeling is the brakes being pumped for you by the ABS, and is exactly what is supposed to happen in a braking emergency. The brake-pumping action allows the tires to maintain traction with the road so you can steer the vehicle. If your car does not have ABS, you can manually pump the brakes so that you don't lose control of the vehicle's direction. (The ABS on my vehicle has given me anxiety ever since we bought the van four years ago. It doesn't kick in very often, but when it does, it really feels like the vehicle is broken or something.)

8. In a car crash, there are actually three collisions: the collison of the vehicle with whatever it hits outside of the vehicle, the collision of the driver and passengers with the interior of the vehicle, and the collision of the internal organs and nerves of each person with the skeletal and muscular structure of his/her body. That is why a person may sustain internal damage in car crashes, even without any outward evidence of harm done.

9. Riding in a vehicle gives a person the illusion of sitting still, but actually, if the vehicle is going 55 mph, everyone in the car is going through space at that speed as well. (This is one of those things I never thought about, but now that I think about it, it is obvious.)

10. Vehicles today are engineered with "crush zones" in the front and rear to reduce the impact of the crash on the interior of the vehicle. These areas absorb more of the energy of impact, and lower the likelihood that the passenger area itself will be crushed. (I came away from this course with a tremendous amount of respect for the ingenuity of auto engineers. When you think about it, we are all great fools to want to go hurtling through space at such high speeds, and at such close proximity to other great fools doing the same thing. These engineers basically save us from ourselves with their safety ideas.)

11. In the commercial he did for the "Don't Mess With Texas" campaign, Willie Nelson wore a red bandanna.

Now, this last item was not something I felt enhanced the course. And the class was littered with these kinds of quiz questions. Very irritating. And because I was forced to go back and re-view the videos if I missed any quiz questions, I got to where I found my mind more concerned with the color of the car than with the information being presented. As an educator, I felt these questions missed the mark, and in fact were detrimental to the absorption of the material.

So when I got finished with the course and had an opportunity to leave feedback, I wrote this:

I thought the information presented was pertinent, and I learned several things I didn't know before. However, I became distracted when I realized I was going to be asked questions concerning the color of the narrator's shirt, the make of the car in the video, the type of geography in the background, etc. I realize these questions were included to ensure that the videos were watched, but there were more of them than necessary, I felt. After I missed a couple of these impertinent questions, I found myself nervously thinking about the color of the man's blazer *instead of* the traffic safety information he was presenting. This rather defeats the purpose of the course, doesn't it?

This morning, I received a very nice response:

We completely agree but unfortunately, both the numbers of questions as well as the type of questions are required by TEA guidelines for all State of Texas approved defensive driving courses taught online. You are also correct as to the reason why those questions are asked.

The good old Texas Education Agency. Surely we can do better than this. Insulting it was, to have to answer those questions, scanning the video for any minute little detail that had nothing to do with driver safety. Do you know how many little, irrelevant details there are in a video? No one can absorb them all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

I have been waiting for my van to come out of the shop for two days, and spent some time today thinking about how much money it was going to cost.

(It ended up costing over two-thirds of our little emergency fund. It was more than just brake pads. It was not fun to enter that deduction into the Excel spreadsheet. But I digress.)

I was glad that we had the cash to pay for it, and glad that we had the bucket system in place so that it didn't ruin the fun of gift-giving at Christmas. But still.

And across my thoughts, into the path of my attention, came a man.

You know the type. Recovering from some addiction or other, friends and family past forgiveness and gone; suffering from illness, unable to work, needing food, and between living situations. We all know about folks like this, hear of them, give donations, meet them sometimes. When you meet them, they are oh, so real.

Oh, me. I can't stop thinking about the man. I have no problems.

Tonight I sit in a warm, lit room, listening to my oldest child help my youngest make a 'pie' with scraps from the cherry pie she just put into the oven. I watch my middle child twirl as she regales me with her list of Christmas wishes. I enjoy a classical music program with my honey, who sits next to me reading a book on WWII airplanes.

We had three good meals today, tasty meals. I bought my child medicine, and it was not a hardship.

If it takes someone else's misery to illuminate the blessings I have, my understanding is small. Are they not blessings, regardless?

I wonder where he is tonight. I pray that the Lord comforts and warms his soul, as the needed food warms his belly, and I am thankful to be part of a body that reaches out to the community in need.

He cheers my heart, my want supplies
And says that I shall shortly be
Enthroned with Him above the skies,
Oh, what a friend is Christ to me!

-John Newton

Monday, November 24, 2008

His Mercy Endureth

For the Lord, he is good
His truth is everlasting
And his mercy endureth to all generations.

The Queen, in the lovely lighthearted-and-yet-strangely-to-be-obeyed way that she has (you know what I mean, don't you?), has insisted that the children of our church memorize Psalm 100 for Thanksgiving. She even brought them all printouts of the Psalm, and began asking for recitations this past Sunday.

I'm glad she has done this, because, although Triss and Mariel already have this Psalm by heart, Cornflower's education has been sadly neglected where this Psalm is concerned. She has been working diligently on it. (She's not nearly ready, though, your Highness, so please don't ask her for a recit. yet!)

Tonight we were coaching Cornflower on her Psalm, and this phrase stuck with me:

And his mercy ENDURETH to all generations.

Do you realize how awesome God is? It is incredibly difficult for a human being to be merciful at all, let alone to all generations. (We want justice, right? Give'em what they deserve, eh?)

His mercy endureth to ALL GENERATIONS.

Think of how many years and how many people that encompasses. All. Generations. All of them.

This is where a thorough knowledge of history comes in handy. It is much more amazing to ponder that we are not just talking about modern generations, but all the way back. We're talking Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians. We're talking Mycenaeans. We're talking Persians, Babylonians. We're talking the ancient people of the Indus River valley. The children of Abraham, the children of Noah. The children of Cain. That's a lot of generations of enduring mercy.

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Four Months: Savings Categorized in Excel

It's been four months since Mr. Honey and I had our first appointment with a personal financial coach, and began anew to chip away at our debt. As of this week, we have paid off approximately $4,200. That leaves around $12,500 to go on credit cards.

Update: That looks so funny-- what I mean to say is that we still have to pay off $12,500 in credit card debt.

This month we celebrated three birthdays-- Triss' and Mariel's birthdays occurred the same week as my great-aunt's funeral and kind of got lost until October, and Cornflower's birthday is at the beginning of November. It was tough to insist that we were only spending $30 on each birthday, but we must have been parental enough, because they didn't give us a hard time about it (actually, we have really sweet kids). Each girl got to decide what she would do for her birthday, within that limit, and both Mariel and Cornflower decided to have one friend over for a sleepover with homemade pizza and a movie and birthday cake. (An unexpected perk: because they limited their celebrations to one friend apiece, we were able to give nice goody bags and individual attention to the friends.) Triss blessed the hearts of her father and I by requesting that we spend the evening out with just her for her birthday.

We went through the kids' winter clothing this month, passing down items and giving away things that don't fit any of the girls. We managed to come out pretty well-- we only had to purchase one coat! (We get hand-me-downs from generous friends.) We will most likely need to purchase another one come January, as well as a couple of pairs of jeans, the way these girls are growing, but we will have enough money in the clothing bucket by then.

The 'buckets' are my favorite part of our new way of keeping track of things. We have two savings accounts-- the emergency fund and the short-term savings. Our emergency fund has the $1,000, and the short-term savings has everything else. We have an Excel spreadsheet for the short-term savings, divided into categories:

Car repairs
House repairs

Back in July, we figured out the amount we must spend in each category per year, and divided by 12 to come up with the monthly deposit in each category.

An aside: When we first attended Financial Peace University three years ago (yes, we went to classes, and we still crashed and burned-- we really did need a personal coach), I was sure we didn't have a Nerd in our family. I thought we must both be Free Spirits. But, as you can see, once I learned Excel, I realized and embraced my Nerdy tendencies. I am living proof that you can be a Nerd, and still have trouble balancing a checkbook.

We purchased Triss' and Cornflower's Christmas gifts in the last week, and now only have Mariel to buy for. We have put a strict limit on Christmas spending just like we did with the birthdays. Our coach recommended we get gifts only for the children this year, and give everyone else a nice card. :deep breath: This is really going to challenge my pride. Just thought you'd like to know.

Anyway, we knew how much we could spend on the kids' Christmas ahead of time, and already had the money in the Gift bucket, so when opportunities presented themselves, I was able to move on them. So exciting! Mariel's present is forthcoming, as soon as Mr. Honey finds the deal he is looking for.

This year, we planned and had money in our account for Christmas. What a concept. Why didn't we do this before? I know why-- because whenever we would put a little away for Christmas or birthdays, we would have another need-- car repair, or clothing, or doctor visits, etc.

We have had similar occurrences this fall, but since we divided short-term savings into categories, and predetermined the amount to deposit in each per month, the car repairs and medical needs haven't derailed our Christmas budget. That Excel spreadsheet is my friend.

(Our van is in need of more repairs, too. I am taking it to the shop in the morning for new brake pads.)

On the downside, we had to pay an 'excessive activity fee' on our short-term savings account this month, because I was transferring money online rather than at the bank branch. By federal law our savings account is only allowed six transactions per month via Internet, telephone or checks. ATM or bank branch transactions are unlimited. We had to pay $10 for not reading the fine print.

But, all in all, it was a good month.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What I Learned During Exam Week

The purpose of a CM exam is to celebrate what the child knows. In addition, I use exams to help me figure out where I need to tweak things for greater effectiveness. Here are my notes from this exam week:

(I suppose I should mention that I am working with an 8th grader, a 5th grader and a 2nd grader, and my thoughts on the studies of all three are mixed together in this post.)

For artist study, I need to speak less and let them observe longer.

Advanced preparation in the area of copywork will prevent the pitfall of allowing the student to choose her copywork too often.

It is a bad thing to skip map drill, even for a few weeks.

Wish list items: The Geography Coloring Book, U.S. History Map Activities and World History Map Activities.

Mr. Bach Comes to Call, and other like albums, are fun as an adjunct, but not to be depended on entirely for composer study. The child is liable to remember every detail of the cute little story, and come away with not one biographical note or musical piece internalized. Ask me how I know.

After one term of separate memory work assignments, I am ready to go back to one group memory binder for everything except poetry/long scripture recitations.

Digital audio recording software provides a fun and effective "must" for oral narrations.

Copying word roots from the back of the Grammar Songs book just isn't cutting it as an intro to Latin.

Wish list item: English from the Roots Up or Rummy Roots

In the Burgess Animal Book, we need to pause more often for narration.

Also, the description of each animal, and the drawing of an animal from a picture, doesn't seem to be enough aid for the student in internalizing details. We need diagrams.

Wish list item: subscription to Enchanted Learning

Triss is not reading a natural history or nature study book! How did we miss that? Probably all that history. I'll have to find her a good one.

Wish list item: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady

More discussion, more discussion. I am being too incidental and not purposeful enough. How can they be expected to remember things if we do not talk about them more?

It is time to change the way I have Triss narrate. I am going to have her take brief notes from her books instead of doing written summaries, and then require her to write an essay at the end of each day on one of her readings.

Cornflower is ready to have me type her narrations and read them aloud so she can correct her grammar, sequencing, etc. One narration per day typewritten ought to be plenty.

Mariel and I need to sit down and organize one of her free-written summaries once a month. She has so many great ideas, and they are currently all over the place. It's time to teach her how to put some of them in order.

Wish list item: an additional five hours in each day. Lol. If I had it, I would only want more.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Poetic Clouds

Here is Triss' written exam description of billow altomulus clouds, which graced the sky above us last week:
Billow altocumulus clouds strikingly resemble a freshly plowed field – straight, plain rows striping the sky. One blue sky-stripe, one ragged cloud-stripe, one vibrant blue stripe, one pallid grey stripe. Some of the edges of the clouds are twisted, like a page about to be turned, and there is a dark grey shadow and a shining slash of light abutting each other.

This interesting and unusual cloud formation is caused by differing and parallel air currents. Wherever there is a clear stripe, air is flowing swiftly upwards, and wherever there is a cloud-stripe, air is sinking downwards and causing fluffiness. This usually precedes a storm or other unsettled weather, and looks absolutely lovely when there is a sunset.

Update: I went ahead and posted this while Triss was gone, knowing that she wouldn't mind. And she didn't, but when she got back, she told me it wasn't finished-- I had only posted the first paragraph! So now I have posted all of it.

Rodents and Rabbits

Here are a couple of exam narrations based on the Burgess Animal Book, told by Cornflower:

What is a rodent?

Rodents can be squirrels, rats, mice, porcupines, um, they can be beavers.

Talk about the characteristics of rodents.

Well, porcupines are brown, and most squirrels are brown, too. And one of the rats that we’ve read of looks like Templeton from Charlotte’s Web. He has red eyes, a skin tail, and he’s gray. And another rodent is Robber, another mouse. I think it’s a rat. And Robber is a handsome fellow, but, well—there’s Trader too, and he likes trading a lot.

What do you know about the Rabbit Family?

Rabbits belong to the order Lagomorpha, and the Marsh Rabbit likes to swim. He likes water. Most rabbits don’t. There’s Peter Rabbit, very popular, and his cousin… I forget what his cousin’s name is. The Lagomorpha family all like carrots. They all like vegetation…. Vegetables. They have very big fur coats, and they are very cute and fuzzy. One of the rabbits, the arctic rabbit, likes the cold, and, as I said, the marsh rabbit likes swimming in marshes. Peter Rabbit doesn’t like water. And they are mammals. They don’t lay eggs.


Have you ever been sitting reading a narrative in the Bible, and all of a sudden been hit with the realization that, to God's way of thinking, you are reading this passage at the same time it is happening-- and at the same time it is being written-- and at the same time every other person who has ever read it is reading it?

Wow. Just ponder that for a moment.

Because, you know, the Lord isn't bound by time, like we are.

Kind of makes the Bible come alive, doesn't it? And what a small, poor way of thinking we have compared to His.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Short Cut

Short Hair

Some of our friends grow their hair out every so often and donate it to Locks of Love. I decided to follow their good example, but I could only make it to ten inches (the minimum amount you can send in). It was taking way too long to fix my hair in the morning.

Ponytail for Locks of Love

Now I have a short bob-- I hear those are in style this season. It only takes me five minutes to blow dry my hair. Yes!

(Photo credit: Mariel)

Teaching to the Test

The other night at book club, some of us were talking about exams, and I mentioned how I would like to have my exam questions written prior to the beginning of each term, but I haven't been able to do that yet. Someone mentioned that it might be tempting to 'teach to the test' if the questions were written ahead of time. That is definitely a trap I might fall into. It's just *easier* to focus on what is on the test.

But I remembered this morning that Tim's Mom wrote a post on assessment after she went to the ChildLight conference in 2007, and addressed this very issue:

The difference between traditional "teaching to the test" and CM's "teaching to the test" is that the traditional way has kids memorizing facts so they can fill in the right blanks on a test. But a CM exam question is going to be open-ended, designed to make the child think about "essential" issues, so "teaching to the test" will look more like getting him to think about big issues like hypocrisy, or the role of religion in government, or the topical geography of an area as he reads. It means that the parent has to have an idea of what concept is being brought out in a book - why is this book important enough to be used as a school text? So, creating AO exams will partially take the form of figuring out what major concepts are in the books, and why they're being used. In year 7, for example, The Once and Future King is scheduled because it considers different approaches to leadership (I never would have gotten that by reading it myself; I happen to know that because of a post that Wendy C. sent to the HEO list!) I think that will be harder than just coming up with questions that are like the questions CM used (which is what I had originally planned to do!)

So, while 'teaching to test' can be a danger, asking the write questions may actually give more direction to the studying of the term. Read the rest, she talks about grading the exams, too.

Just something to think about.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Scratch Thy Noble Nose

It is Exam Week at our house. I want to share Mariel's response to a question I based on one of Lindafay's exam questions on her blog. She comes up with the best questions. If I am really stuck for an interesting and creative way to ask one, I turn to her blog first. This question truly inspired Mariel:

You are a playwright like Shakespeare. Write a short scene that might have been in Love’s Labours Lost. Make sure the character names and the setting are listed at the beginning of your page.

(I left everything exactly as she wrote it.)

PF………………………Princess of France
DF………………………Duke Ferdinand
1L………………………First Lord
2L………………………Second Lord
3L………………………Third Lord

setting: in a castle garden

Enter DF

DF: Shall I thus look to a woman, for love? for a safe home? Nay! I shall have only have a man’s presence in this house of mine.

Enter 1L, 2L and 3L

1L: How now, my gracious Duke? Thou art sweeter than the honey thou puts on thy cornbread.

DF: Has the great and beautiful Princess arrived?

2L: Yea, Sire! doth not her foot tread upon the threshold?

3L: My nose doth itch.

DF: Scratch thy noble nose.

Enter PF

DF: (Going to her side) Ah! Thou art the honey for my cornbread, the sugar for my tea. Thou makest the stars dim, and the fawn un-spotty! The dog’s soft paw, compared to thy hair, is as hard as the brick that thou treads upon. Thy eyes, are they not the most shiny thing I hast ever seen? Thy fingers art delicate, yet so strong. Thou art—

PF: I can not listen all day to idle flattery, thou! Get thou a servant to show me to my room.

Exit PF

3L: Thou know, I believe that the princess has ceased to love thee, thou noblest Duke.

Exit all,

(Just fyi: This is the same child who said yesterday that she only delights in books when she doesn't have to write a narration.)

(And another fyi: Lindafay is nominated for three different awards in the 2008 Homeschool Blog Awards contest. As another commenter to her blog stated, Lindafay deserves all the recognition she gets. If you haven't voted yet, go over and vote!)

A Word

"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." (Proverbs 25:11)

“The business of the teacher is to put his class in the right attitude towards their book by a word or two of his own interest in the matter contained, of his own delight in the manner of the author.” (CM Series Vol. 3 page 229)

"Will the dear lady come and see a pretty sight? It's Nat listening with all his heart to Demi telling the story of the Christ-child, like a little white angel as he is."

Mrs. Bhaer had meant to go and talk with Nat a moment before he slept, for she had found that a serious word spoken at this time often did much good. But when she stole to the nursery door, and saw Nat eagerly drinking in the words of his little friends, while Demi told the sweet and solemn story as it had been taught him, speaking softly as he sat with his beautiful eyes fixed on the tender face above them, her own filled with tears, and she went silently away, thinking to herself,

"Demi is unconsciously helping the poor boy better than I can; I will not spoil it by a single word."

The murmur of the childish voice went on for a long time, as one innocent heart preached that great sermon to another, and no one hushed it. When it ceased at last, and Mrs. Bhaer went to take away the lamp, Demi was gone and Nat fast asleep, lying with his face toward the picture, as if he had already learned to love the Good Man who loved little children, and was a faithful friend to the poor. The boy's face was very placid, and as she looked at it she felt that if a single day of care and kindness had done so much, a year of patient cultivation would surely bring a grateful harvest from this neglected garden, which was already sown with the best of all seed by the little missionary in the night-gown.

(from Little Men by Louisa May Alcott)

"A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!" (Proverbs 15:23)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Unsearchable, Unquenchable

One of my favorite scenes in Pilgrim's Progress is one in which a fire, representing the work of grace in the heart, burns in a hearth while the evil one tries to quench it with water. Behind the wall, the Lord is feeding the fire with the oil of His grace, making it burn higher and hotter.

Christian asks why the Lord is hiding behind the wall, and Interpreter replies, "This is to teach thee, That it is hard for the Tempted to see how this Work of Grace is maintained in the soul."

I don't know about anyone else, but I qualify as tempted pretty much daily. And it comforts me to remember that the Lord works in my life, and in my children’s lives, even though I may not see it. All kinds of glory may be occurring unseen.

Especially during those hard days, give the Lord the benefit of believing it is happening-- because His riches are unsearchable. There is no bottom to the spring of His goodness toward us.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


We have the most beautiful new baby at our church. I watched her daddy play with her this afternoon in the fellowship hall. He said, "We're so glad you're here, we love you so much, you are our sweet girl.." and other gitty-gitty kind of things while tickling her precious feet. I love watching a dad delighting in his baby.

Every time I see this pretty little child, I am overwhelmed with a sense of blessing that the Lord allows us to witness miracles. Because this baby wasn't expected to make it. In fact, the doctors recommended she be terminated at 20 weeks gestation. She had been without amniotic fluid too long, they said, and wouldn't develop well enough to even live outside of the womb.

Yet here she is, and just perfect.

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

--Psalm 139:14-16

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Cold Front Comes In

Yesterday afternoon, the weather shifted in our area.

And with the cold wind came these so-very-interesting cloud formations. Triss said they were billow altocumulus clouds, and that the air was going up and down through them.

I cannot name clouds that easily, so I looked it up.

From The Book of Clouds by John A. Day:

Billow clouds are organized in parallel rows. These benign-looking rows are created when wind blows at highly varying speeds in layers just above and below the clouds. These winds result in very unstable air that can be a danger to pilots. Billow clouds are often seen with altocumulus and cirrocumulus.

Look at the abrupt edge of the formation! Amazing. We had to drive into town right after I took these pictures, and we examined the clouds all the way there. They looked even more spectacular as the sun set. Gradually, the rows filled in.

Happily, this unique cloud formation took place above our house the same week as Outdoor Challenge #39: Weather Challenge #1. We have been doing a quick snatch of nature study here and there for the last several weeks, rather than participate in the challenges, but I have wanted to get back into it. I guess this is our signal to begin again. :o)

Update: Triss' narration on the clouds here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Many times we find ourselves making decisions about policy, whether in public or private life, without having our principles firmly in place first. This can lead to contradictory policy decisions...

For instance:

"The one thing that has struck me, though, is how frantic the Dems are to save the automobile manufacturers when so many of their other efforts are aimed at destroying the car."

Of course, it doesn't help to have principles if you are afraid to act on them. (Think "Republicans.")

Read the rest here.

Recognizing and Remedying Confusion

"Betsy was reciting her arithmetic. She was getting on famously with that. Weeks ago, as soon as Miss Benson had seen the confusion of the little girl's mind, the two had settled down to a serious struggle with that subject. Miss Benson had had Betsy recite all by herself, so she wouldn't be flurried by the others; and to begin with had gone back, back to bedrock, to things Betsy absolutely knew, to the 2x2s, and the 3x3s. And then, very cautiously, a step at a time, they had advanced, stopping short whenever Betsy felt a beginning of that bewildered 'guessing' impulse that made her answer wildly at random.

After awhile, in the dark night that arithmetic had always been to her, Betsy began to make out a few definite outlines, which were always there, facts which she knew to be so without guessing from the expression of her teacher's face. From that moment on, her progress had been rapid, one sure fact hooking itself on to another and another on to that. She attacked a page of problems with a zest and self-confidence which made her arithmetic lessons among the most interesting hours at school."

-- from Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Triss is posting!

:happy dance:

Go see.

How Do Executive Orders Work?

This morning Triss asked, "What exactly is an executive order?" I realized I couldn't explain it. Imho, if you can't explain something to someone else, you don't know it, and it behooves us to know how the government works so we can understand current events, so here is some reading I've set out for myself.

What Exactly is an Executive Order?

Executive Orders and National Emergencies


Until World War I, the Executive Order was used for relatively minor, usually unnoticed acts of state. A trend that changed drastically with passage of the War Powers Act of 1917. This act passed during WWI granted the President temporary powers to immediately enact laws regulating trade, economy, and other aspects of policy as they pertained to enemies of America. A key section of the War Powers act also contained language specifically excluding American citizens from its effects.

The War Powers Act remained in effect and unchanged until 1933 when a freshly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt found America in the panic stage of the Great Depression. The first thing FDR did was to convene a special session of Congress where he introduced a bill amending the War Powers Act to remove the clause excluding American citizens from being bound by its effects. This would allow the President to declare “national emergencies” and unilaterally intact laws to deal with them. This massive amendment was approved by both houses of Congress in under 40 minutes without debate. Hours later, FDR officially declared the depression a “national emergency” and stared issuing a string of Executive Orders that effectively were the “New Deal.”

While some of FDR’s actions were, perhaps, constitutionally questionable, history recognizes them as averting the growing panic and starting our economy on its way to recovery.

Executive Orders Issued by President George W. Bush

Executive Orders Issued by President Bill Clinton

(Given the large body of executive orders issued by both of these Presidents, I am ashamed that I have never wondered before. But I never had to answer a fourteen-year-old earnestly attempting to understand government before, either, so perhaps I may be excused?)

There is no specific mention of executive orders in the Constitution, but look at Article 2, Sections 1 and 3, these are the two sections "vaguely granting" the power of executive order to the President.

And I am reminded of the functions of the three branches of the federal government: the function of the Legislative branch is to make new laws and change existing ones, based on the Constitution; the function of the Judicial branch is to study and interpret the laws; the function of the Executive branch is to execute them.

Congress or the Supreme Court can strike down executive orders, but I have lost the place that said how. I think Congress can oppose by a 2/3 majority and the Supreme Court can strike down an order as unconstitutional. I'll have to read my articles again, with more attention, to find out if that is indeed the case.

Also, Reuters reported yesterday that President-elect Obama's team said he has not yet made any decisions regarding the reversing of Bush executive orders.

Using executive orders appears to me to have been very common down through the ages-- I think it becomes a bigger issue when the Congress and the Presidency are very happy with one another, rather than working to lessen the other's power. The adversarial relationship between the three branches is beneficial to our nation in that it limits the power of government, thereby granting the citizens more liberty.

I don't know... it seems like Presidents also use executive orders when they *can't* expect the support of Congress, but still feel very strongly that some thing or other ought to change. So, either way, it is an issue. The question being: should Presidents be allowed to govern by directive or not?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Peace in the Storm

Quietness rose within [Aquila], easing his wild unrest as the salve was cooling the smart of his gashed side. But that was always the way with Brother Ninnias; the quietness, the sense of sanctuary were things that he carried with him.

--from The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff


I feel so inadequate to pray for my kids. Donna-Jean pointed out this beautiful blog on which is a challenge to pray seven prayers per day for seven days over your children. I'm going to try.

I'm going to try, but I think I will fall down because seven focused, dedicated prayer times in one day is a lot for me. I'm really good at "arrow" prayers (a phrase that is also from Donna-Jean, thanks, friend!), but really focused, dedicated prayers probably happen between one and three times per day for me. Sometimes not at all. I realize this is my own fault. But things just get so busy.

So because I already feel overwhelmed by the challenge, I'm going to make it my goal to say all seven prayers at some point in the next week, and to continue them after the week is over. Not saying all of them in one day necessarily (am I accepting myself as inevitable?), but making sure they are all said for all three girls. That's really twenty-one prayers, you know. Seven times three. Twenty-One. Times seven days, is One Hundred Forty-Seven. Right?

See, it's a lot of focused, dedicated praying. But mothers work wonders once they are convinced wonders are required of them, right?

Wait-- maybe the message is that I mustn't depend on my own "try". The Lord resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Oh, great. I'm depending on my own "try". That's it.

When I depend on myself in piano, I play the wrong notes. When I depend on my own self as a parent, I scold.

But, as Triss pointed out to me, heaven helps those who help themselves. She mentioned how hard it is to see the line between prideful pushing and just getting yourself going so the Lord knows you know you are serious.

So I am going to try. Because, like I said, I feel so inadequate to pray for my kids. Lord help me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Menu for the Week: Generous Parents Edition

Here is our menu for the next week or so. I have to confess that our meals look so wonderful simply because of my wonderful parents, who have taken to giving us a roast now and then, along with other delectables at odd moments. This really helps our food budget! (My dad is not a fan of beans, and he pities us because of how often beans figure into our diet. This is funny, because we enjoy beans. But we also enjoy roast! Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

This week they gave us Mexican soup left over from lunch at church, some chicken nuggets and, of course, the roast, which we are very excited about. I know we should not love red meat so much, but, alas, we do. As Mr. Honey says, "If God hadn't meant for us to eat animals, why'd He make'em out of meat?"

Monday: chicken noodle soup

Tuesday: Mexican soup

Wednesday: Rigatoni with meat sauce

Thursday: Bean soup with biscuits (we didn't eat this freezer meal last week)

Friday: Pot Roast with potatoes and salad

Saturday: Mixed bean chili,

Sunday: Salsafied chicken and rice

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Rambling On About Year 8 History

Triss and I are just really tired of Mr. Churchill, and I am so sorry about that. We are both ready to throw the book at the wall. It is so hard to read.

But on the other hand... we have both learned so much about the foundations of American government using Churchill's books. I had no idea what English Common Law was until we read Churchill. We have gotten to watch the government of the Island of Albion move from British to English to Norman, have seen the barons rise up and insist on rights, have watched Parliament form. I can *feel* the foundations being built through the readings in Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, and can see the influence of the English on U.S. government. This is so important. I know it is. We just *can't* give up this course of reading.

But... It is so slow! And it deals only with English history! (Eventually, the books deal with American history too, but we aren't there yet.) Triss is currently reading history set in the Reformation and Renaissance. She is reading a book on the Spanish Armada, and a book on Columbus, and Utopia by Sir Thomas More, and the Life of Bacon. She will also read a biography of Galileo, a book on John Donne. This is a lot of reading, but none of it is a general history of the time period. She asked me yesterday if there might be a Genevieve Foster "World" book set in the Renaissance and Reformation. I expect The World of Columbus and Sons fits the bill, but I think all these ancillary history books listed in HEO's Year 8 perform a similar service-- a close-up shot of several important people and events in the era. So I should be okay with these in-depth individual histories, and not worry so much about a general history. But I worry. I'm pretty sure we are missing something. (This is so funny, because of course we are missing things. Who can study *everything* about an era?)

Yesterday I showed Triss From Dawn to Decadence and we read the foreword and first section, which was on Luther and the dawn of the Reformation. Jacques Barzun is a good writer with a love for his subject, and she enjoyed the reading. We really don't want to add *another* book, but then again, we really want this one added. He pulls out themes that run through the modern age-- the time period roughly between 1500 AD and 2000 AD-- highlights important events and people in each time, and shows how they contributed to or fought against developing ideas. We could read it for the next three years. Perhaps it wouldn't be *that* much additional reading, right?

But it just can't replace Churchill, much as that would please us. Erg. So I thought we were solving a problem and easing things a little in the Year 8 history department, and we ended up adding a book instead.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Year 8 History Narration

On this assignment, my directions to Triss were to 1) Read Chapter 7 of The New World by Winston Churchill, 2) Take notes on the chapter while reading, and 3) Write a narration using the notes, taking care to show the overarching idea of the chapter as well as details.

The New World ch. 7:

England was involved in political and religious chaos. Edward led them one way and Mary went the other in a much more violent manner. Edward’s “reign” was mostly rule by regents Seymour and Warwick. Seymour presided over an England on the brink of civil war. The ordinary people were being robbed of jobs, money and cloth by the rich landlords, who took their farmland and common lands, fenced them in, raised sheep there and sold the wool at large profits. Warwick quietly gathered followers, then overthrew Seymour and had him executed in the Tower in 1552. Edward emotionlessly noted his uncle’s death in his diary.

Warwick fared no better. There were two major uprisings, one of the Catholics in the southwest rebelling against a new prayer-book and one of the peasants in the east rebelling against (what else?) the “enclosing landlords”. The only thing of real note that happened in the reign of Edward VI was that the first glimmerings of the Age of Discovery began with the exploration and enterprises between England and Russia, formerly “Muscovy”.

Lady Jane Grey became queen for only a few days when Edward died. The people were heartily against her and wanted a Catholic queen. Lady Jane was beheaded and Mary became queen. She married, as we know, King Philip of Spain, and was by him and against the wishes of her counselors and the English people as a whole dragged into the wars on the continent. This did not improve her popularity ratings. Her health began to deteriorate and she died in 1558. Churchill calls the reformation a “violent convulsion” between the feudal Old England and the emerging New England of ideas, philosophy and fresh views.

Basic Granola

This is the granola recipe I have used since Mariel was a baby. You can add nuts, seeds, raisins, or other goodies to it. I also sometimes add a little brown sugar (2 tablespoons).

8 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups wheat germ (you can leave this out if you don't have it)
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
4 teaspoons cinnamon
2/3 cup canola oil
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons vanilla

(Oven 300')

1. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Pour wet ingredients into a small saucepan and heat on medium-low until the honey melts.
3. Mix wet and dry ingredients in the large bowl.
4. Spread granola in a thin layer onto rimmed cookie sheets (I use the bottom halves of broiler pans). This recipe will fill two to three rimmed cookie sheets.
5. Put cookie sheets into the oven for ten minutes.
6. Take out cookie sheets and stir granola, then put them back in the oven for ten minutes.
7. Go on like this (taking the pans out, stirring, and putting them back) until the granola is toasted (it will be crunchy rather than soft). It usually takes 30-40 minutes total to toast.

This is cheaper than boxed cereal, and my kids enjoy it just as much. It has been toast or oatmeal for breakfast (with fruit and the occasional egg) around here for awhile, and they are ready for a change!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

As the Returns Come In

Well, we've eaten our meatloaf and mashed potatoes and shared some birthday candy and hot chocolate, and now we are beginning to look at election returns.

I'm playing the roving reporter tonight, and here are the opinions of three ordinary schoolgirls:

Cornflower: Obama's doing better than McCain. Probably, Obama's going to get elected President. We don't know. Either he is or he isn't.

Mariel: Would you like a piece of chocolate?

Triss: Well, I never could see but that my bread rose just as light when liberals were in as when they were not.

That's all for now!

Guess What Today Is?

It's Cornflower's Birthday!!!

(And, oh, yeah... I think there is some kind of election going on today, too. Don't forget to vote if you haven't already!)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Stress Relief

The kids and I have compiled this list of stress-relieving activities for everyone as we head into the final stretch of the U.S. Presidential election. We hope you find at least a couple of things that you can use to de-stress. Happy relaxing!

1. Pray to the Lord.

2. Remember you have a pretty good life (or remember your wonderful pet, your grammy, cookies, the Resurrection, eternal salvation)

3. Take a nap in a cool, quiet place (or, if the weather is chilly in your area, in a warm, snuggly place).

4. Hug someone!

5. Write. Write a story, or a blog post, or a poem, or a letter to a friend.

6. Get something done. (Bake cookies! Or clean your room.)

7. Sit in the cleanest room in your house.

8. Plan something. (Or, if planning makes you irritated, do something spontaneous.)

9. Play the piano, or other instrument of your choice. Or sing!

10. Read a good book.

11. Have some hot tea. Have green tea, it alkalizes your body.

12. Draw, sketch, paint. Do watercolors! It's fun to make them go swirly.

13. Relieve your emotions by lying on the floor and kicking, or screaming into a pillow, or shouting gibberish (make sure there is no one else around, as this tends to stress out others).

14. Go to bed and, when someone calls you, say, "Very snug," (although this is not any way to carry on a retail business).

15. Take a nature walk or bike ride. Just get out into the fresh air.

16. Make a craft or sew.

17. Poke fun at characters in books.

18. Carry on an imaginary conversation with the literary character of your choice.

19. Curl up in a blankie and watch a good movie.

20. Get together with some friends, make yourselves pretty, and have a tea party.

New Lap Harp

Now Cornflower has an instrument she can take out of the great room to play on while the rest of us are finishing schoolwork! It has a quiet, pleasant sound. (It slips out of tune pretty easily, but I am hoping that is temporary.)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

God and the Storm

Stop telling God how big your storm is -
Instead tell your storm how big your GOD is.
-- Unknown


"It's inherently difficult to get reliable information about an event that consisted of the destruction of all recorded information."

--Neal Stephenson, speaking of the several possible dates of the destruction of the ancient Library at Alexandria.