Friday, July 31, 2009

I may have bitten off more than I can chew. That'd be pretty typical. But, I am enjoying studying EB White's life and reading his works, flattering myself that I have a few things in common with this celebrated writer.

If he'd have lived in the age of the Internet, I feel certain he would have kept a blog, perhaps, since he wrote at all hours of the day, almost under compulsion, as often as thoughts came to him. And, I am certain he would have talked about himself, without shame, sharing his personal experiences and sometimes private thoughts, as I do here.

So, in defense of my often self-centered blog, I quote EB White.

"Self is the most interesting thing in the world- if not carried to extremes- and life would be far less gallant and exciting if men were not continually absorbed with watching what they're doing with their own hands and marvelling at the stew which is simmering in their own heads. I hate people who are not interested in themselves."
We made caramel corn to snack on while we listened to some of Stuart Little on audio disc. Dwayne used the extra caramel to make homemade sugar daddies.

I should clarify one thing, because my dad, who reads and studies my blog more carefully than most, will see what appears to be jagged shards of caramel in the picture above and get upset. For his sake let me say that we do not let Norah have the small pieces of caramel, those are reserved for Dwayne. Furthermore, we do not ever allow her to put the pieces we do give her all the way into her mouth, no matter how small or soft they get after she's been licking them for awhile.

Some of you may wonder at this exposition, but it turns out that my nervous father chocked on a peanut when he was a kid, had his airway blocked, had to have a tube put in his trachea, almost died, etc. Therefore, I try and respect his concerns and head them off.

Naturally, I resented him as a child because he never let us have hard candy and would take two thirds of our Halloween piles since most of it wasn't attached to sticks. I got to have a jolly rancher every now and then, but only when one of my parents had the time and inclination to watch me like a hawk till I was completely finished with it. And, as you can guess, that didn't happen much.

As often as I said, "When I have kids, I'll never..." my dad will be relieved to know he's passed on at least this one of his hang ups to me. Norah doesn't get candy often and when she does, I keep her under constant surveillance till she's done.

So, you can breath easy, Dad.

No pun intended.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On one occasion, Norah was afraid to play downstairs by herself. Her dad did his best to encourage her not to fear. In response to whatever he said, Norah's spirits rallied and she agreed to keep a positive attitude adding, "You're right, Dad. No bad guys can come up the hill anyway. There's a 'No Bad Guys' sign at the bottom."

Her dad and I had never noticed a sign like that, but it turns out she was right. We pass this sign every time we drive home. And, even though she's only four and can't read the words, she'd figured out that the shady character was up to no good and the circle with a slash through it meant guys like him weren't welcome around here.

Like many kids, Norah often expresses a fear of "bad guys." And, while her dad and I want to do our best to dispel her fears, since they can paralyze her, we never go so far as to tell her they are unfounded. We feel like that would be a disservice to her, not to mention a lie. In this fallen world, a child's ignorance is, quite frankly, a liability. And unfortunately, their innocence is no surety against evil, either.

As parents, we're constantly trying to balance our desire to prepare Norah for the dangers around her with our concern that the truth will be too much for her to bear. Like lifting heavier and heavier weights builds more muscle, we think knowing more actually makes Norah less vulnerable. But, also like lifting weights, we feel we must carefully calculate how much truth we reveal, since too little won't benefit her enough and too much could make her legs buckle.

We realize leaving all the dangers out of our discussions and dismissing all her fears would certainly make parenting easier, but for us, dodging the matter of evil simply isn't even an option. I'm not sure if he had kids, but I think JRR Tolkein would agree with our methods, since he once warned, "It does not pay to leave a dragon out of your calculations if you live near him."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I love edges. I really need this brownie pan. Can someone do me a favor and remind my husband about this come Christmas time?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Norah's been watching Joseph: King of Dreams once a day for the last five days. She drew this picture of Joseph and his wife on her chalkboard. Look closely and you'll notice Joseph has no shirt on, just like in the movie, and Norah drew his chest with two spots for his nipples. I get a real kick out of her attention to detail. You may also notice her drawings are getting more sophisticated. She is no longer drawing stick figures and then trying to cover them with clothes. Rather, she draws the clothes where they actually sit and then puts the body parts coming out of them, making them look more full and accurate. I always had a pencil and paper in my hand drawing something when I was her age, so her enthusiasm for art and her improvements are a joy to see.


#30 out of 100

Winged Monkey Flower

#29 out of 100


#28 out of 100

Red Clover

#27 out of 100

Sweet Pepperbush

#26 out of 100

Shining Rose

#25 out of 100

Blue Vervain

#24 out of 100

Swamp Milkweed

#23 out of 100

Monday, July 27, 2009

Here are two recent pictures of the girls, so my parents will stop harassing me. They seem to think "blog" is just a fancy name for an online photo album and there's no telling them any different.

We went hiking at Southford Falls on Saturday morning.

The dappled shade makes it look like Dwayne and Norah are in the water, but they are actually standing on the rocks near the falls, a safe distance from the rushing water.

We walked along the stream for a long time.

Then we took the trail through the woods. I like how often the rocks, roots and dirt make natural sets of staircases in the earth.

Norah poses on a twisted tree near the end of the trail.

We packed a picnic and found a spot of shade under a tree near the pond to enjoy our chicken salad, crackers, watermelon, cookies and sweet iced tea. Along the edge of the pond, I took photos of several wild flowers in bloom to add to my growing list of species.

BBQ Beef in Crock Pot

1-2 1/2 lb. Boneless chuck roast

2 Medium onions, chopped

1 1/2 cups of Coca-Cola Classic

1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons Apple cider vinegar

4 cloves minced garlic

2 teaspoon Beef bouillon granules

1 teaspoon Dry mustard

1 teaspoon Chili powder

1/2 teaspoon Ground red pepper

1 cup Ketchup

4 teaspoons Butter

Combine roast and chopped onion in a crock pot. Combine soda and everything but the ketchup. Keep 1 cup of mixture in refrigerator. Pour the rest over the roast and onions. Cook on HIGH for 6 hours. If roast is tender before 6 hours is up, turn off the heat, otherwise it may dry out. Drain off the fat and onions and shred the roast with forks. Keep the meat warm while you combine the cup of soda mixture with the ketchup and butter in a small saucepan. Cook this mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until heated through. Serve the meat on buns or toast with the sauce mixed in or poured over the meat .

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"...and then she died, leaving Mig all alone with her father, who, on a market day in spring soon after his wife's death, sold his daughter into service for a handful of cigarettes, a red tablecloth, and a hen... Mig watched her father walk away... He left his daughter. And... he did not look back. Not even once. "

That is the section from The Tale of Despereaux that we read a few days ago. I was totally unprepared for Norah's reaction to it. She started weeping.

I comforted her by hugging and saying things like, "Norah, you can be thankful. Your mom and dad love you. We would never sell you." She rallied a little at my affirmations, but what she said in response to my comments just broke my heart. "Yes. But, I want to be thankful for all the kids in this world."

Up until that moment, she had been under the false impression that every home was like our home and that every mom and dad was like her mom and dad. I could see her mind and body registering the dark truth, suffering under it, like a heavy drum vibrates for several seconds after it is struck. And, though I read these stories to her deliberately, so that they will teach her those hard lessons, it was still difficult to watch.

Like medicine taken with a spoonful of sugar, reading stories like this to Norah has allowed me to teach her about reality in ways that she can receive as a four year old. It would be devastating for me to turn on the news and let her learn about the world and its dangers by watching reporters standing in front of police lines. The fear she'd learn that way would paralyze her, rather than prepare her. But, books can deliver the same lessons, warnings and admonitions in a way that gives hope, since characters usually come to good ends through persistence or divine intervention or some clever combination of both.

I'm not sure every kid who reads The Tale of Despereaux will take away what Norah did. But, no doubt, one thing she's gained from the story has been a new appreciation for the love we have for her. The last few days she will often stop what she's doing and hug me or ask me to stop what I'm doing and give her a kiss. And, with the affection, usually comes a "Thanks, Mom." I never have to ask her "What for?" She and I were both there when Mig was left behind, so I have a pretty good idea as to what Norah is thankful for.

Tall Meadow Rue

#22 out of 100

Hollow Joe-Pye-Weed

#21 out of 100

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Queen Anne's Lace

#20 out of 100

Daisy Fleabane

#19 out of 100

Button Bush

#18 out of 100


#17 out of 100

In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins.

Not through strength, but through persistence.


We pass this rock when we hike on the Miller Trail in Kettletown State Park. As you approach it, it appears as if someone lifted it up and propped it against a group of skinny trees. But, that's obviously impossible, since the rock is so big. With a closer look, you can see that after years of growth, some trees that started out as saplings near the edge of the rock have actually managed to grow big enough to lift the rock up off the ground. Their bark has even molded around the rock's edge, as if gripping it for the effort. One can presume that after a few more seasons of growth, the trees will grow so high they may tip the rock over completely, moving it out of the way and making it lie flat again.

The quote above says, "In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins..." But, in this case, it isn't the stream that wins, its the trees and for the same simple reason: persistence.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I want to dedicate this post to my older sister, Loretta. These quotes make me think of her. And, like us, I hope my Norah and Avril will not only be sisters, but friends.

I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones. ~Author unknown, attributed to a 4-year-old named Lauren

If your sister is in a tearing hurry to go out and cannot catch your eye, she's wearing your best sweater. ~Pam Brown

A sister smiles when one tells one's stories - for she knows where the decoration has been added. ~Chris Montaigne

Sisters never quite forgive each other for what happened when they were five. ~Pam Brown

An older sister helps one remain half child, half woman. ~Author Unknown

The mildest, drowsiest sister has been known to turn tiger if her sibling is in trouble. ~Clara Ortega

Sisters share the scent and smells - the feel of a common childhood. ~Pam Brown

Sisters don't need words. They have perfected a language of snarls and smiles and frowns and winks - expressions of shocked surprise and incredulity and disbelief. Sniffs and snorts and gasps and sighs - that can undermine any tale you're telling. ~Pam Brown

Of two sisters one is always the watcher, one the dancer. ~Louise Gl├╝ck

She is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best, and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she's the reason you wish you were an only child. ~Barbara Alpert

Thursday, July 23, 2009

We're still practicing phonics diligently this summer. I had to make flash cards for Norah's sight words and I hate having bulky stacks of index cards lying around, so I made this page of dotted lines. I can get up to twelve flash cards with a regular sheet of paper, double that if I use card stock and write on both sides. If you'd like a copy of these guide lines to make flash cards for your home school, double click on the image to enlarge it, then right click on the image below and "Save Image As..." to have a print-friendly version on your computer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A few weeks ago, we attended our park's grand opening. There were kids everywhere. Most of them go to the local elementary schools and play for our neighborhood's sports leagues after school and on weekends. The kids wore their jerseys and marched in the parade. All of them waved little American flags. That scene was pretty heart-warming for me, while it lasted.

Later in the day, when it was time for the jump castles, the kids abandoned their shoes and hats and disposed of their flags, leaving them lying all over the ground. As they fought over places in line, they started trampling the flags under their feet, spreading them around, getting them dirty, lodging them into the grass. Some of the kids actually noticed what they were stepping on since the little poles were jabbing them in the bottom of their feet, but they didn't bend down and pick them up, they just kicked the flags out of their way and went on rough-housing.

As you can see, I couldn't stand it, so I picked up all the flags and tried to keep them off the ground by propping them in a shoe. A few minutes after I took the photo above, I came back and found them on the ground again. I guess the kid who owned that high top must not have liked them there. At this point, my blood reached a boiling point and I just picked up all the flags and took them for myself, almost daring somebody to confront me about stealing the kids' souvenirs.

Now, I realize public education is an easy target and I grow weary of taking aim at it, believe it or not. Kids getting shot, teachers sleeping with students, students beating up bus drivers, and I am not even mentioning the loads of things I endured while there, since those incidents actually seem somewhat trivial in comparison to the headlines these days. I really don't want to drag the school system through the mud, kick it while it's down, so to speak, because I am not entirely convinced homeschooling is the way every family should educate their children. There are good public schools out there. I think there must be.

And, more to their credit than to my own, I even manage to maintain friendships with people who send their kids to public school. I respect them as diligent parents and they gracefully tolerate me even though I could be a self-righteous nuisance to them about this subject. So, for the sake of peace, I usually ignore nine out of ten things that cause me to think and throw my hands up and say to my husband, though usually in private, "That's why I home school!" But, I can't ignore this one. It seems too fundamental to overlook.

What are the teacher's around here using the hours and hours spent in history and social studies classes to teach kids, if not this? These are government-run schools, for goodness sake! The kids say the pledge every single morning. I'm entirely bewildered and incensed by so many of the next generation treating the flag with such disregard, such disdain. If anyone should be learning respect and esteem for our country's flag, shouldn't it be public schooled children?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Norah's room is right across the hallway from ours. This last Saturday, she woke up singing "Proud to be an American" by Lee Greenwood. Her dad woke me up to listen to her. So, he and I were both trying not to laugh too loud.

Norah's version went like this. "I want to be an American, where at least I know I'm free... and I gladly stand up and offend her still today..." She got all the other words in the chorus right, though.

We made a CD of patriotic songs for Independence Day and we have been listening to it when we go places in the Jeep, so Norah has learned several songs. And, as you can see from the collage of pictures above, her new favorite thing to draw is the American flag. On the way to church, while listening to "You're a Grand Old Flag" I heard her say, more to herself than to us, "I love the American flag."

The picture on the bottom right is my particular favorite. Her dad and I generally have a hard time separating our faith from our patriotism. In fact, many of the songs we have been listening to like "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" don't even try to distinguish between love of God and love of country, so I think Norah's picture of the chapel next to the flag shows insight.

She said one other thing on the way to church Sunday night that made us laugh out loud. "The Star Spangled Banner" came on and Norah identified it as the song "We have to put our hands over our heart to." Later, "Proud to be an American" came on and in the middle of it she said, "I know this isn't the song we are supposed to put our hands over our hearts to, but when I hear it, I feel like putting my hand over my heart anyway." Her dad assured her that it was completely okay with him that she felt that way.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"I can always tell the children who've been to kindergarten from the ones who haven't," a first-grade teacher told Susan.

"Are they that much further ahead?" Susan asked.

"No," she said, "But they already know how to stand in line."

-Excerpt from The Well Trained Mind

The picture above was taken at our neighborhood park's opening celebration a few weeks ago. Norah was waiting in line for another turn on the jump castles. To my knowledge, this was the first time she ever had to stand in line by herself. And it showed.

At first, she'd stand in all the wrong places, unable to figure out where the lines ended then blended, as they do, into the crowd. She'd stand beside kids in line, behind adults who were, clearly, not in line. She'd wait and wait, then look up at any adult who was nearby, expecting them to know if it was her turn to go, expecting them to look out for her the way Mommy does and tell her it was time to move ahead. She didn't realize it was survival of the fittest out there and most of the adults were probably not even paying attention to their own kids, let alone her.

More than once, she'd look back at us and think of something she wanted to say. She'd get out of line right before it was her turn to go and run over to tell us. The kids behind her would stare in disbelief. She'd given up her place in line! But, then they'd realize her spot was empty and they'd turn and rush into it. After she told us whatever it was, she'd run back to the end of the line, when she could find it, unaware that she'd just missed her turn. It was almost as if standing in line were as novel and fun for her as the bounce house was for the kids around her.

Dwayne got up from his chair to coach Norah a few times out of pity, other times out of necessity. It didn't take long for her to catch on and within thirty minutes Norah was navigating the lines like a pro. But, on one instance when Dwayne went up to help, another mom nearby looked at me, seeming to beg the question. Norah didn't appear to be slow and she obviously wasn't a toddler, so why was a kid her age struggling with something so... remedial?

I smiled at her and answered the look on her face, "We homeschool my daughter. She's never stood in line." The lady said what most people do when they find out Norah is homeschooled. "Oh!" Then, looking at Norah and understanding, she went on to reply, "Well. She's never had to." I nodded and turned back to Norah and her dad. But, the lady kept gaping at me, so I could tell she needed more.

The expression on her face said she thought I was a bit too calm about this now-apparent gap in my daughter's know-how. I chuckled and said, "If I had to choose, I think I'd rather her be good at reading, you know, than good at this." With that last word, I motioned toward the line and the bounce house. We both looked back to Norah then, just as the man guarding the entrance waved her in. She looked over at her dad and he nodded to her once. That was her cue, so she was through the flaps and bouncing in a flash.

I didn't mean what I said to the woman as an offense, but I believe she may have taken it that way because she didn't say anything else. She walked away by the time Dwayne got back to me. I'll say here what I wish I'd had the chance to say to her next. Obviously, a child who goes to school can learn to love to read and learn to stand in line. The two lessons aren't always mutually exclusive. But, these days, for my comfort, they too often are.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The borrower is slave to the lender. Proverbs 22:7

Dwayne and I are sick about what is going on in this country, the government spending and the audacity of Obama to continue to defend his agenda. We've determined to control what we can and live entirely within our means. We will no longer tolerate debt. It no longer comforts us that everyone else is doing it. How can we complain about the government's irresponsibility, overwhelming taxpayers with all these new programs the country obviously doesn't have revenue to pay for, if we do the same thing with our budget, buying a new TV or taking a summer vacation on credit? As for me and my house... we will be debt free.

And Then.

Norah, playing in our neighborhood park.

Now and then I like to compare my pictures, to see how quickly my kids have grown. This serves to remind me how quickly time flies, how what seem like insignificant minutes add up to hours, days, years.

For what is your life? It is a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. James 4:14

#12 out of 100

Friday, July 17, 2009


And Then.

The picture on top shows Norah this summer. The bottom picture shows her sitting in the same spot when she was just a toddler.

Now and then I like to compare my pictures, to see how quickly my kids have grown. This serves to remind me how quickly time flies, how what seem like insignificant minutes add up to hours, days, years.

For what is your life? It is a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. James 4:14

Thursday, July 16, 2009

#11 out of 100
Our current stack of library books.

When I look at all of the books we bring home and consider all the books we have to leave behind, I always think, "It's a good thing we home school."

How else will we have enough time to read Norah all the books we want to? And, when she is old enough, how else will Norah have enough time to read all the books she will want to?

I found this quote in The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. You'll have to excuse his french, but I think James Herndon says it right.

"With the tests, with the 'methods,' with the class structures, with the teacher's determination to teach... no one ever had much time in school just to read the damn books."