Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Tale of Two Cities


I'm reading this for the first time, because Norah's reading it for Challenge 2.  Confession: If Norah weren't reading it, I probably would not.  I am just not inclined to Dickens right now. But, I do feel a moral obligation not to put a weight on my daughter's back that I am not willing to bear on my own. (Thus, I also read Walden with her earlier this year.) So many words! We've already had one interesting conversation about the similarities and difference of the French and American Revolutions.  So that's good. That's the point.  I'm reading it, so I can talk to her about it.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Story of the World


The littles have started The Story of the World. Norah went through these books many years ago when she was still in Foundations and Essentials.  So it was time for the littles to begin their journey through time with these.

Note: We started on the second book, since it goes with the history cycle we are on in Classical Conversations this year, the Middle Ages.  Perhaps we'll go forward into books three and four and then back track and do the first book when we do Ancient History again in Classical Conversations a few years hence.  Or perhaps we'll back track over the summer, since the girls seem to love this, and don't seem to notice that it is schoolwork.

I'm not worried about starting in the Middle Ages and going out of order, either. At this point in my homeschool journey, I am so laid back its probably contemptible.  But I am just confident hearing the stories in any order will be a benefit and with the the help of the timeline they learn at Classical Conversations, they'll be able to place the stories and images in the right order as they go forward through the years. That is what has happened with my oldest.

For the littles, I'll print a picture or two from the activity book each weekday and let them listen off the computer to one or two chapters of the audio book while they color. I'm collecting their pages in a simple three-prong notebook.

Sunday, November 17, 2019


I just finished A Circle of Quiet and just started Bright Evening Star: Mysteries of the Incarnation.  I'll say it again, L'Engle would be a friend.  Perhaps she is my friend, in a way, through her books.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

We live in the woods and most often, I am thankful to be here, behind the veil, where nature still exists in all her chaotic fruitfulness. Trees tower over us like cathedral walls and ceiling. Rustling leaves and birds flitting on all sides reflect light and color like large stained glass windows. Animals fly, scurry, perch, peck, do everything animals do, all around. Many even stoop to raise their young here. So our nest is their nest is our nest. And we take joy.

But tonight, I woke to an animal screaming. Somewhere in our woods, or maybe in other woods far away connected to ours by other woods along the way, an animal was dying.  Sound can travel unnaturally far in the dead of night and the walls are never thick enough when an animal is dying.

Also there's never any doubt about what's happening. Flesh is being torn from a living body that still has its spirit within, still feels it all. An animal with claws and teeth is desperately taking the life of another life like its own life depends on it. This, of course, has happened before. The screaming doesn't last long, but it's always an eternity before it stops.

A chill went right through me. My stomach clenched a fist and instantly, I thought of my daughters. I was pulled to them across the hallway by those unseen chords that I rediscover when I fear they are in danger. I listened. No. It is not them. They are safe in their beds.

I sighed relief.  Then I felt pity and prayed for the dying. Then I prayed for the one killing. One animal in agony, the other may be in ecstasy, since it may need that food, perhaps it has children to feed. But my spirit moaned, I mourned, and I cried out silently at violence and the death, "This is not how it should be!"

Christ was there. At once, it was like He was over me, next to me, inside me, saying, "My flesh is food indeed. This is my body, broken for you. Take eat. Remember."  I heard all these passages spoken through my mind like a gust of wind through the trees.

I have contemplated this mystery many times. God knows it has offended me, confused me, fascinated me, but I have chewed on it and swallowed it in faith, because Christ said it. But what did He mean?  

At once the words made sense somehow, but the meaning was just beyond words, just as the screaming stopped, as I listened and heard nothing else, as I imagined the other animal was swallowing now, or trudging off with a limp, still-warm body in its mouth.

Here we must eat flesh of other flesh in order to build our flesh. Death and life are so mixed up. Christ said He is the Bread. He prayed and broke and passed the loaf. He offered his body to be torn, even while his Spirit was still inside. He felt it all. And so unashamedly, He encouraged us to take and eat.

To God, I thought, "There's no dark thing you haven't endured, is there? You have redeemed all, even the very worst of nature." And I felt rather than heard Him say, "Yes."

So I took courage.  Even the most terrible things done in the darkest of woods to satisfy the deepest of dark needs has been redeemed.  Christ, Himself, has been there, too. He was torn for us. He gives Himself to build our bodies. He becomes a part of us at the most infinitely fundamental level. I have taken and eaten this Christ like my life depends on it.

"There is no separating me from you now. Is there?" His voice comes to me from above, next to, within, from afar, traveling to me as if through the woods connected to other woods connected to all woods.  I feel rather than hear him say, "No."

Friday, November 15, 2019


This is our current read-aloud.  We just finished On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and now we are reading the second in the Wingfeather Saga, North, or Be Eaten. This is actually the second time we've read these books out loud to our kids.  The first time was years ago and I think our oldest daughter may have been the only one who really took the story in.  Our youngest daughters don't remember the story, so it needed to be read again.

Many years ago, I actually reviewed this book here on my blog when it first came out.  Click here to see that.  At the time, I had not read the first book in the series and I had not read any of the other books, since none of them had been written. I gave it good reviews, but I really had no idea how much I'd grow to love this story, these books.  To me, this series is as good as the Chronicles of Narnia.  I know that's a bold statement and I know that sounds almost like sacrilege, but read these books, and then I think you may agree that I'm not wrong.  

Thursday, November 14, 2019


I'm in my second year of the Circe Apprenticeship.  I'm studying rhetoric, reading Classics, writing essays, teaching rhetoric, learning how to teach Classically, and all the while, growing closer to the Lord.  To me, the Apprenticeship is part of how I love God with my whole mind.  I pray about everything I am learning, wrestling ideas constantly in the back of my mind, and sometimes in the front of my mind.  It feels like I am Jacob with the angel. I am totally outmatched, but I am holding on for a blessing and I know I am going to be changed forever. The Apprenticeship is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


We decorated for fall the other day. We have lots of regular, store-bought decorations.  But we also keep seasonal crafts the girls have made.  Most of the crafts in the photo above were made by the girls during the time when they were in morning and/or afternoon childcare for Classical Conversations.  I said a quiet prayer of thanks that the girls have so many crafts, yet I am not that crafty.  I said a prayer of thanks for the other moms at CC.  So much good has come to us through being part of a community for so many years.  This is just a small, visual representation of the richness that has come into our lives from other people there.  If you count all the conversations, all the projects, all the presentations, all the positive peer pressure, all the negative challenges we have worked and are better for having worked through ... the richness is really boundless.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2019



We spent some time by our fire pit last week.  We had had sausages for dinner a few nights prior, so we reheated those for an easy dinner.  Then we made S'mores, of course.

Monday, November 11, 2019


I'm an Essentials tutor for my Classical Conversations group this year.  In addition to many other things, I teach the kids one new grammar and/or punctuation rule every week. I use adding tape to give them each one practice sentence so they can find and fix the errors. I have a lot of fun making up the sentences.  

Sunday, November 10, 2019


Dwayne and I attended an event at our local library this week.  Professor Sean Kelly from Harvard University spoke about the benefits of a Liberal Arts Education.  He said many worthwhile things that evening, but he told a specific story that I'd like to try to record here so that I won't forget it.  The story speaks of the importance of memorizing worthy words to enrich our lives.

He said his wife's grandmother grew up in China where one does not choose their profession and one is educated for the profession he or she has inherited or been assigned.  The grandmother came from a family with generations of scholars, so she was educated for that purpose.  The boy scholars went off to school, but the girls were educated at home by their mothers. The grandmother, now eighty years old, remembered that when she was a girl as young as ten, her mother would assign something like one hundred lines of an ancient Chinese poet or philosopher, something from the corpus of their culture, and send her away to memorize it by the next day when she would come back and have to recite it.  If she didn't recite it well enough, she'd have to go away to study it more and try again later until she had it memorized.

The grandmother admitted to Professor Kelly that she did not enjoy this part of her education. But she learned vast amounts of ancient poetry and philosophy. The grandmother said her mother had tried to explain the value of what she was doing to her, "These lines of poetry mean nothing to you now. But someday in the future, an event will happen, and these lines of poetry will come into your mind unbidden, almost as if by magic. The event will inform the poetry and the poetry will inform the event."

Professor Sean Kelly said he was moved to tears by this statement. And I was moved by this part of the story, too, since I believe and have experienced the soul-deep benefit of memorizing worthy words, and I make my daughter's learn poetry and Psalms, too, so as to furnish their souls for the future, though I don't assign nearly so much as the grandmother had to learn.  So Professor Kelly was curious and he asked the grandmother, "Did it happen like that?" The grandmother promptly said, "No." To this, we all laughed.  But then he said she thought a moment and quietly added, "There are lines that still haven't come into my mind yet."

So, what we all understood, was that it did happen like that and apparently, it happened often enough. She had lived long and the words she had stored had come to her when she lived them, but not all the words had come yet.  After eighty years, she still had words in her mind for events she had not yet experienced.  This gave, this gives me goosebumps.  

Saturday, November 9, 2019



This photo was taken six years ago.  Not much has changed.  We still live in New England. It's still cold here.  We still light a fire almost every night in winter. Everyone still gathers around the hearth with their books or tablets.  I have to admit that New England has its gifts. Living here is why we read so much and why we’ve discovered the joys of hot tea. It’s definitely why we study Latin. We laugh and say, "What else are we going to do?" I say I'd probably unschool if we lived in Florida, doing “nature study” on the beach everyday. As we move forward into another winter, instead of complaining about the lack of light and heat, may I be able to say and mean it when I say, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” Living here has shaped us and I believe that God is using this place to fulfill his purposes in our lives. 

Friday, November 8, 2019


She does thirty minutes of silent reading a day from "school books," books on her reading level that I have assigned. Notice the timer at her feet.

Thursday, November 7, 2019


This was another beautiful moment that made my heart sing: Avril, nose down, working on an assignment at the kitchen table.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019


Sometimes I walk into a room and see something that makes my heart sing.  If I have my cell phone, I can snap a picture of it.  The other day, I walked into the kitchen and saw the book open and the colorful yarn all around it and it made me so happy.  Obviously, Norah had walked away from her book and the croquet project she had been working on for a moment. When I see things like this, I usually say a prayer of thanks for the good that fills our lives.  

Friday, November 1, 2019

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire


We roasted chestnuts on a bed of hot coals in our fireplace. 

I've always been curious, because of that song.

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." 

I bought the chestnuts, but I delegated the task of researching how to roast them to Norah, so she took charge and lead us through the process.  

Roasted chestnuts taste like a combination of an almond and a potato.  





Thursday, October 31, 2019

Sunday, September 8, 2019

How to Raise Monarch Butterflies





We raised monarch butterflies this summer.  

First, we gather leaves with monarch eggs on them from the milkweed plants that grow at a nearby pond.

Note: You have to find a place where milkweed grows naturally.  We know what the plants look like, and we know they grow near our pond year after year.  If you find a milkweed plant, you can turn the leaves over and the eggs are tiny, white dots on the backside.  

We bring the leaves with eggs on them home and put them on a plastic tray or plate and keep the leaves fresh by wrapping their steams in wet paper towels until the caterpillars hatch and begin to eat and grow. The caterpillars are so very small and so very hungry, they don't often leave the leaves on the plate.


Once they begin to grow larger, the caterpillars need a lot of fresh milkweed, so we start bringing home whole plants of milkweed every other day, keeping the plants in bottles of water.  


We keep the caterpillars from crawling down the stem of the whole milkweed plants and drowning inside the bottles of water by wrapping the stems in paper towel where they enter the bottles. This effectively plugs the hole like a cork plugs the hole in a wine bottle.  See the picture above. 

The caterpillars usually stay on the plants until they are ready to form a chrysalis, unless they accidentally fall off. But, if they fall off, they are easy to spot and pick up and put back on a leaf.  


Once they are ready to form a chrysalis, they may crawl off the plant looking for a place to form their chrysalis. Some of them will sneak away fast and form their chrysalis on the table or chairs or walls.  But many just stay right on the plant and form their chrysalis there. The picture below is showing a caterpillar on a milkweed leaf breaking out of its skin into its bright green chrysalis.  



If any caterpillar formed a chrysalis in an unideal location like the walls, we learned how to carefully move the formed chrysalises using thread and a pin by reading other blogs and/or watching videos online. The caterpillar below is attached to the door frame.  We waited and moved him once its chrysalis was formed, so it would be in a safer location.  


To move a chrysalis, we wrapped a thread around the stem on the chrysalis. Then holding the string we tied to the chrysalis, we used a pin to carefully detach the silk that is attaching the chrysalis to the surface until the chrysalis was free, hanging by the thread we held.  

This year, we moved almost all of our chrysalises to a "bouquet" of dry sticks, tying them there. 
This bouquet we admired everyday throughout the day.



After several caterpillars went through the process of forming chrysalises, we had learned how to tell when a caterpillar was ready to form its chrysalis. At that point, I would gently "tear" the caterpillar off the leaf or surface they were on, because they would often already be forming silk that holds them in place.  I would move the caterpillar to a stick where I wanted it to form its chrysalis. The caterpillar in the picture below is one that I moved to a stick right before it formed its chrysalis.  You can see that it attached itself directly to the stick.  This way, I did not have to move the chrysalis later. 


The chrysalis below is one that I moved from a place like the doorframe or the chair or the table after it had formed.  You can see the thread tied around the stem and then tied onto the stick.  I transferred so many chrysalises that I grew very confident in the process.  Thankfully, I did not drop or lose any of butterflies by moving them.  



Finally, after about two weeks, the butterflies do emerge from their chrysalises. When they are almost ready, the wings begin to show through the chrysalis like in the photo above.  


When they are about to emerge, the chrysalis becomes completely transparent like in the photo above.

Most of ours emerged with the dawn. They seemed to respond to the morning light, so we often admired them as we woke up and drank our morning coffee or ate breakfast. If we got up before the dawn and sat as the sun came up, we could see the whole process.  


We they emerge, they look like any other bug and their wings are very small.  


They almost immediately begin "pumping" fluid into their wings.


And within minutes, they wings look full. 


But they will hang for several hours before flying away. 

Once they are ready to fly away, they flap their wings over and over, over and over, so it is obvious they are getting ready to go.  

While their wings dry, they can be coaxed onto your finger tip quite easily if you are careful. You can hold them as long as you want.  But you must be very careful, because if a butterfly falls at this point, their wings could be damaged and it will be very hard for them to survive.  


When you are ready or they appear ready to fly away, you can transfer them to a plant, flower, or bush outside to finish drying or to fly away.  

Watching metamorphosis is a glorious, wonderful process that's rewarding to bring up close.  
We successfully raised twenty-six monarchs this year!   



Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Camping at Rocky Neck 2019


It was a bit too cool to go swimming, but warm enough to sit outside comfortably all day.  


It rained the first evening, so we were driven into the tent earlier, but we brought our read-aloud "On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness." We usually only read one chapter each night, but while camping, we read a few chapters at a time. 


All the girls are old enough to help with the camp chores like dishes, which was nice.  So the littles would do the dishes after breakfast, then Norah would do them after lunch, then the littles would go after dinner, etc.


We let the girls reheat hotdogs over the fire on the last morning.


 We collected acorns. I think they're beautiful.


The girls drew on our parking spot with chalk.



Challenge 2 had started for Norah and I had some reading to do for Circe, so we brought our books and worked for a few hours in the afternoons.





We played bocce ball and frisbee in the grassy area behind our site.


We brought our monarch butterflies, since a few more still needed to emerge.  It was a bit of a challenge finding fresh milkweed for them, but I spotted some on the side of the road near the entrance to the park, so Dwayne would pull over and I would jump out and pick some.


I love camping because of all the time spent outside. We are close enough to nature long enough to see the things we otherwise miss. We saw several different sorts of mushrooms, dragonflies, birds... each were cause of exclamation and celebration. And because we had the time to look, we took it.



If I close my eyes, I can hear the sound of Adele's scooter going round and round the big, camp circle.  It's delightful.