Friday, September 2, 2011


It has taken me awhile to post this.  I wrote a poem, and it honestly kind of embarrasses me.  First, I don't really write poems.  I'm not a poet.  Second, it rhymes, and I don't think poems are really supposed to actually rhyme anymore.  Plus, it's kind of sing-songy, which I know is worse.  Plus, it's a poem on whimsy, and I'm pretty sure a poem on whimsy should be fanciful enough that it wouldn't want to rhyme.  Finally, I used a very cute whimsical font when I wrote the poem, and Blogger, which apparently does not value whimsy, translated that font into tragically unfanciful letters. 

But I'm sharing my rhyming, sing-songy fabrication of a poem here anyway, because I have this notion that sticking my neck and risking the fact that you might want to chop off the head that spewed forth this poem might be good for me.  It might make me more whimsical or something. 

Actually, the poem came about partly because I sit upstairs in my attic for 30 minutes every day in blessed solitude, and I feel like I need to churn out something (anything!) to justify real-live time alone, and it also came about because someone I respect very much told me she thought I was whimsical.  And this very non-whimsical-feeling-stressed-out-Type-A-perfectionist nearly leapt out of her chair and tackled the poor woman with a giant, quite possibly unwhimsical, hug.  Whimsical, I repeated to myself.  She thinks I'm whimsical.  So instead of sitting up in my attic daydreaming about myself as whimsical, I wrote about what whimsical feels like to me...should I someday actually achieve whimsy.  (And really, those last two words seriously damage my chances of every truly being whimsical.  "Achieve" and "whimsy" should not link together in the same sentence.  Ah well.  A girl, even one who feels as non-whimsical as myself, can dream.)


Whimsy is a flowing dress
a scent
dark hair blue eyes.

Whimsy sits out on the deck
sips wine
no mask no guise

Whimsy loves to sing and dance
is free
voice, body fly.

Whimsy and creative meet
join hands
reach, brush the sky.

Whimsy loves to garden
dirt between her toes

Whimsy loves with passion
like poetic prose

Whimsy walks in beauty
with grace
in her beautiful mess

Whimsy walks in peace
in hope

that her life will bless.

Friday, August 12, 2011

play on words


disembodied from spirit, passion, love

con(n)stricted to the convex of soul outside of life

Monday, August 8, 2011

thoughts on living simply

Thoughts on Living Simply: Day 1

I’ve been thinking about living more simply. But it’s hard. For example, I am sitting upstairs in my bedroom. This is what I see:

An unmade bed. A sheet on the floor at the end of the bed. (I guess I was a restless sleeper.) The Three Little Pigs. Poems for the Very Young. A package of baby wipes. Three crumpled baby wipes that I used last night to wash my face. Six books scattered on the floor by the bed (Reluctant Pilgrim, The Bible, The Book of Common Prayer, The Pale King, The Joy of Less (HA), Surprised by Hope. Two more books sitting catawampus on my desk (All That is Bitter and Sweet. Unconditional Parenting). Two magazines (hand-me-down Mary Janes Farm). A megaphone. A glass of water. A bottle of water. A can of half-frozen La Croix lime-flavored sparkling water (my post-workout treat). A Quik Trip lid and straw. An overflowing trash can. A dusty bedside table. A split-open smoke detector. A bag of cough drops. A charger for Matt-only-knows-what. A stray sock. A sports bra. Clothes from two days ago. My half-empty coffee cup.

It sounds worse than it is.

No really.

I have to say that, because as I write I am filled with utter, horrific, paralyzing shame.

And now I have to backpedal really really fast and make you like me again and tell you that my downstairs looks better than this room does. I think there are a few dishes in the sink, but I wouldn’t be mortified if my mother unexpectedly waltzed through the door. Right now, though, I am hidden up in the attic. I only come here to sleep and to write. When I come up here to go to sleep I am too tired to clean it up. When I wake up in the morning I am too tired to clean it up. But honestly, based on the mental gymnastics that go on in my brain when I write, I am surprised I haven’t convinced myself that I need a pristine workspace and that I haven’t spent all of my writing time cleaning up. That says something, probably.

Thoughts on Living Simply: Day 2

It doesn’t look quite so bad in here this morning. I threw the dirty babywipes in the overflowing trash can on my way out the door yesterday. I also carried down my water bottle and my water glass and my coffee cup and my can of sparkling water (I have a fear of dehydration, it seems). Because I had written about the cough drops being up here, I even remembered where they were last night when Amélie asked for one. I have a new half-empty coffee cup up here at my desk this morning, plus a half-eaten omelet which will, most certainly, be completely eaten by the time I finish my 30-minute writing stint. Everything else is pretty much as it was yesterday, except that the books, while still on the floor, have adjusted their positions a bit based on where I tossed them after reading last night.

Thoughts on Living Simply: Day 3

I think I am imprisoned by my clutter. It seems that way, anyway, since I can’t get beyond actually writing about it.

Again, everything is pretty much positioned as it was on Day 1 and Day 2. Our puppy Leia just found a bottle of Tylenol that was buried someplace, though, and she is now using it as a chew toy. And yes, I am aware that it is a very bad idea to let the puppy chew on a bottle of Tylenol, but taking it away involves taking responsibility for where this bottle of Tylenol should actually go. Besides, she kind of looks like she might have a headache. Tomorrow I do know that one of the books on my desk won’t be here anymore, because it is due at the library. At least, I hope it won’t be there tomorrow. What are the odds I will remember to go to the library today?

Here’s what I don’t get: if I love order so much, why do I have such a hard time attaining it? If my life is ever-so-much-more peaceful when my environment is orderly, why is it not orderly???

One time I was staying at this one place, and I’m not going to tell you where I was, but let me tell you about it. I had someone wake me up at 6:00 in the morning so that I could take a shower. I actually had to check out my shower items, which was annoying, but at least they were all together and someone knew where they were! I took a shower, got dressed, put on makeup, fixed my hair, and then I straightened up my room before heading to breakfast. The room was not attractive, by any means. The walls were bare, and I remember that the comforter on the bed was a sickly shade of pink. I had a small wooden desk and a chair, and my school books were neatly lined up on the shelves above the desk. Every morning I would make my bed, straighten the shelves, and then take a deep breath and look around the room with peaceful satisfaction. It took me approximately 3 minutes to clean up that room, because my possessions were so few, and I could not believe how the timbre of orderliness in that room struck a chord of peace within my soul. Then my day would begin, following the schedule posted on the giant pad of paper at the front of the common room, and while my days there were not easy by any means, the fact that I had a sparse, neat room to return to at various points during the day helped tether my soul to a peace I am certain I would not have felt otherwise.

So the question is this: why don’t I live like that? Granted, I stayed in this place only 10 days, and there were many things I need in my daily life that I didn’t need there. I didn’t do the cooking. I didn’t do the cleaning. I didn’t have kids at the time. I didn’t suddenly take up a new hobby there. And granted, by the time those 10 days were up I was nearly clawing at the door to get out, but I don’t think that the reason was because I had been staying in a clean, organized room.

Some days I literally gaze into the distance and fantasize about that place. Many days I wish I could bring that place here (minus the sickly pink comforter on the bed). Why don’t I? I think—I know—I am too attached to my things. Some reasons are valid. Some not so much.

We have these friends. They are Amish. Well, technically they are not Amish. They are Germanic Anabaptist Brethren. Or Anabaptist Germanic Brethren. Or something like that. They look Amish to us (minus the fact that they use buttons instead of pins, which in my mind is a wise alteration). They live in a simple house. They wear simple clothes. They don’t drive cars. They don’t have TVs or cell phones or laptops or game consoles or, actually, any electricity at all. The first time we met them was in the spring at the Kansas City Food Circle. We bought some eggs from Maria, their 15-year-old daughter, and her eyes were pools of peace. It was remarkable. It made me a little squirmy inside, because I wondered what she saw when she looked in my eyes. I longed for the peace in her eyes to reflect back into the anxiety of my own. We signed up for their CSA, partly because Amélie is obsessed with the Amish, partly because we thought that maybe if we ate their food we would somehow swallow their peace. I don’t think, however, that there are special peace vitamins in their beets or tomatoes or peppers. What I think is that their uncluttered life clears space in their heads and hearts and souls for an uncluttered, peaceful soul. They have found, I believe, that to find God and to find peace they need to clear a path. On the other hand, I begin each day longing for God and for peace, but along the way that reception gets all broken up, and I lose God and lose peace in the static of my email, my cell phone, my Facebook page, my things (and then more of my things).

But I don’t think I would look very cute in a bonnet, so becoming Amish isn’t an option for me. Besides, I don’t know how to sew, nor do I know how to eke out a sustainable existence. I don’t think those 9 quarts of salsa that I jarred last Sunday would keep us alive for long come winter.

So what do I do? How do I let go of the chains of my stuff that I drag with me everywhere I go? How do I simplify? Where do I go to detox from my addiction to stuff and technology?

Maybe I should start with one thing. One piece of physical or emotional clutter.

Here’s what I came up with for this week:

One piece of physical clutter: give away or throw away 10 items a day

One piece of emotional clutter: check facebook/email 10 times a day (this mortifies me, btw, that 10 times is actually an improvement. I almost didn’t post it here. I am really bad about walking by my computer and sweeping my finger across the touch pad to spend a minute or two checking in with people and finding out what they had for lunch or what book they are reading or what funny thing their kid just did. I don’t know that I technically spend that much time on FB, but if nothing else it distracts me from what I was originally doing, which then can lead to more distractions, which then…you get the picture.)

So what about you?  How do you get rid of physical and emotional clutter in your life?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Communion: I Serve You in the Love of Christ

I felt a tap on my shoulder, startling me from my reverie. It was a spring Sunday morning. Matt was upstairs helping with the kids. I was sitting alone in my pew. The service was winding down, and it was time for communion. As I was sitting in that pew, with my head bowed, I probably looked the part of a pensive, meditative worshipper. But I was not praying. I was staring down at the spiral bound notebook in my lap. The tap on my shoulder was so startling because I was afraid I was going to get caught, and I immediately sought to conceal the small book in my lap. I had not been jotting down sermon notes or composing a pre-communion prayer. Instead, I had been scribbling out my to-do list, a list that spanned laundry and homeschool prep and long-overdue emails and housecleaning. As I stared down at my completed list, I felt overwhelmed and a wee bit panicky that I was sitting quietly in church rather than ticking something off of that list.

The tap on my shoulder had distracted me out of a meditation more tellurian than sacred.

When I glanced up, my guilty eyes looked into those of Geo, one of our pastors. She was not tapping me on the shoulder to reprimand me, however. Instead, she was asking me to help with communion. I had never helped with communion before, but of course I nodded my head yes, stuffed the notebook into my purse, and followed her up the aisle.

We had been attending our church for two years, and I walk up to take communion nearly every Sunday. But as I was a bit nervously standing there next to Geo, I could not remember for the life of me what I was supposed to say as each worshipper dipped the bread into the cup.

I leaned over and whispered, “Um, am I supposed to say something?” She looked at me (and I imagined that her look was incredulous, but I am pretty sure that I was actually imagining the look), and she whispered back, “I serve you in the love of Christ.”

Got it. I can do that, I thought.

The music began, and I saw and heard, from this front-row vantage point, the creak of pews, the whispered “excuse me’s,” and the silently exchanged smiles of my community as they swept up the aisles to receive communion and then as they walked back to their seats, all of them quietly engaged in a holy ritual that I have been a part of for years but that I had never had the opportunity to observe in this way.

“I serve you in the love of Christ,” I said quietly to each worshipper as they plunged their bread into the cup.

“I serve you in the love of Christ,” I said as I looked into the eyes of my dear friends.

“I serve you in the love of Christ,” I said to people with whom I had never exchanged more than a friendly nod or a shy “hello” at the coffee table.

“I serve you in the love of Christ,” I whispered as I squatted lower to meet the outstretched hand of a child.

“I serve you in the love of Christ.”

I walked back to my pew, and my heart was full of worship and wonder.

The ritual was so simple.

And the words, while rooted in a sacred tradition, were not magic.

But there was something mystical about it. Something holy. Something that softened my duty-driven heart and shifted its perspective.

I still got out my to-do list when I got home. But something had changed within me. I felt a little silly, but it seemed that if serving my church family in a rite as simple as communion could feel holy, then what about the simple rites I perform for my own family?

As I wash and fold laundry…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

As I pick up discarded toys and stray shoes and abandoned artwork…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

As I chop vegetables…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

As I wrap my son in a hug…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

As I stop what I am doing to look my daughter in the eye and listen to her story…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

As I abandon my to-do list to sit on the porch with my husband and exchange our souls…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

And the next week communion was that much sweeter and more meaningful to me as I walked forward, took the bread, dipped it into the cup, and heard the host softly say to me, “I serve you in the love of Christ.”

Friday, May 27, 2011

Read for the Heart--TOS Review

To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.  Victor Hugo

If you know me at all, you know how much I love to read and how important it is that my kids love to read as well.  I have three favorite parts to my day: 1.) when I do read-aloud time with Amélie during our school day.  Right now, for example, I am reading the Newbery-winning book, Moon over Manifest, and I can't wait for that time each day to read to her to see what is going to happen next.  I also love it when she reads to me--at the moment she is reading Encyclopedia Brown, and neither of us is very good at solving those mysteries!  2.) when I read to Jack before his nap.  At the moment he is obsessed with The Three Little Pigs, so I read it  Somehow the story is new to him every day, and his enthusiasm for the story can't help but be contagious.  3.) when we read books to the kids before bed.  Jack picks out a picture book, and Matt is reading through the Little House on the Prairie books with Amélie.  We also find minutes during the day to read, and honestly, if I could spend my whole day reading I would.

Needless to say, then, I was thrilled to receive the book Read for the Heart: Whole Books for Wholehearted Families by Sarah Clarkson.  I have wanted to buy a reference book for good reading materials, because honestly, when I get to the library, I am sometimes both over- and underwhelmed with my choices.  This book has definitely helped me narrow down my choices and pick out some treasures for us to read.   

This book is not just a list of books, however; it is also a heartfelt and convincing challenge to read to our kids because of the reading's importance in our lives.  Clarkson's words at the end of the first chapter echo the words of my own heart: 

"I read to live.  Every book I've read and every story that has made itself a part of my imagination has taught me something about what it means to live life well.  I'm passionate about reading because I'm passionate about life.  Great stories influence the way I live in the here and now."

That paragraph nearly makes me cry.  sniff.  sniff.

Obviously, I am a wee bit passionate about reading.

And, not to tell you what to do or anything, but you should be passionate about you and your kids reading, too.  According to Clarkson, "Less than one third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, [and] 15- to 24-year-olds spend only 7-10 minutes a day on voluntary reading, [yet] spend two to two and a half hours per day watching TV" (32-33).  Scary.  Very scary.

There is hope, however, and if you don't know where to begin in introducing good books to your kids (or even if you do, but love to have suggestions) then this book is for you!  You can find suggestions for books in the following categories:
  • Picture Books
  • The Golden Age Classics
  • Children's Fiction
  • Fairy Tales and Fantasy
  • History and Biography
  • Spiritual Reading for Children
  • Music, Art, and Nature
Each entry provides a brief summary of the book as well as an appropriate age level.  There is also an appendix in the back with award winners and some of her favorite books. 

This book is available for $17.00 from Apologia.  You can even check out a sample chapter and the table of contents.  This is my last review for the year, and honestly, I think this is a case of saving the best for last.  Out of all the things I have reviewed this year--and there has been some great stuff--I think that I will probably glean the most value from this book. 

If you would like to see what my fellow crewmates are saying about Read for the Heart, check out there reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Go Trybe--TOS Review

As a homeschooling mom, physical fitness has definitely been a concern of mine.  Amélie doesn't have an official "Physical Education" class, nor does she have "recess" time.  I put "Physical Education" and "recess" in quotes, because while those are not official parts of our homeschool day, we try to spend a lot of time outside playing or walking our dogs, and she has had PE time with some of the homeschool-related activities we have done this year.  Even with those activities, however, I have wondered if that time is enough.  I was excited to try Go Trybe, because I thought this might be a nice supplemental activity to the exercise-related activities she does on a day-to-day basis.

I have to admit that when I initially looked at the program, I wasn't sure how interested Amélie would be.  It is not that I thought that the program was low-quality; in fact, I was impressed with its depth and span of activities.  However, we got this membership right on the cusp of Spring, and I figured she would rather spend her time outside than in front of the computer doing workouts.  Instead, I found that while she still spend plenty of time outside playing, she chose to use some of her free time doing Go Trybe fitness videos.  She truly loves them, and I have honestly considered joining her. :) 

The energy and "fun" level in the Go-Trybe videos are wonderful.  Kids can scroll through several options for warm-up, cardio, strength, and flexibility videos that they can then save to go back to later if they want to.  Amélie saved some videos, but she usually enjoyed making up new sequences of workout videos each time she logged on for some variety.  The videos include a fitness instructor as well as kids doing the exercises.  The fitness instructors are energetic and knowledgeable, and they also include other learning aspects in with their exercises.  For example, on some videos the instructor counts the exercises by counting by 5's, and another video counts in Spanish.  I like this multi-learning approach.

In addition to the workout videos, students can learn nutrition information as well as receive motivational inspiration from athletes and other "fit" stars.  We used this aspect a bit, but Amélie enjoyed the fitness videos the most.  She also enjoyed earning points to dress up her avatar.  With each video you watch or nutritional quiz you take, students can earn points to change the outfits of their avatar.  I don't know that a new outfit for my avatar would motivate me, but it certainly seemed to motivate my 7-year-old.  :)

Right now, Go Trybe is running a great deal.  You can try out Go Trybe free for a day by clicking this link.  If you decide to stick with the program, you can get a year's subscription for $19.95, which I think is a great deal.  Personally, I think this program would be great especially during the winter months, and I think that once cool weather hits again, I will renew my subscription so that Amélie can have a fun, heart-pumping exercise program to do during those days we are stuck inside. 

Take a peek at what my fellow crewmates are saying about Go Trybe here

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free subscription of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Yesterday's Classics--TOS Review

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be—
I had a mother who read to me.
—Strickland Gillilan

This quote is listed at the top of Yesterday's Classics website, and I must say these words strike at the heart of my beliefs about reading to my kids and my own memories of my mom reading to me.  I was excited, then, for the opportunity to review the e-book collection of Yesterday's Classics, because I want to expose my kids to as many good books as possible, and here was an opportunity to download 225 of these wonderful books!  I could hardly believe my good fortune!  I don't have room in my house for 225 more books, so I was thrilled to download them to my Kindle. 

Yesterday's Classics is a company dedicated to offering quality, literary works that may be out-of-print or hard to find at a bookstore or even a library.  These books are well-written and engaging, and as their website states, they strive to "incorporate text of high literary quality, use story to engage the reader, cultivate the moral imagination, awaken an interest in the out-of-doors, furnish heroes worthy of emulation, and stimulate powers of observation." 

I was incredibly impressed with this company because their beliefs about books match my own, and if they match your ideas of what good books are as well, then I think that you should check out this company!

Here is what you can get:

You can download all 225 books in either Kindle of ePub format.  These books are in 22 different genres, including Children of the World, Ancient Greece, Science, Fairy Tales, and Shakespeare.  If you were to download all of these books onto your Kindle or other reading device individually, it would cost you over $600.  However, now through May 31st, you can download all 225 books for $99.95.  If you want to try out this program, you can even download a free copy of The Dutch Twins by Lucy Fitch. 

I do know that you can find some of these books online for free, but based on all of the other books available in this collection, that would not deter me from purchasing these books.  Also, I have to include the disclaimer that I am head-over-heels in love with "real" books, and merely have a platonic relationship with e-books.  Still, I believe that e-books can greatly contribute to the quality of one's library.  And sometimes, they just make life easier.  We are leaving for a camping trip today, and since Amélie has been reading, on average, a book a day, it is going to be a lot easier to let her read some of those books on my Kindle rather than loading our already weighted-down van down with her (and admittedly, my) books!  ;)

Take a peek at what my fellow crewmates are saying about Yesterday's Classics here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Latin's Not So Tough--TOS Review

I have been trying to come up with a link between my review of Latin's Not So Tough: A Classical Latin Worktext and the royal wedding today, but I can't think of one at the moment, so I'll just make the awkward jump from last night's wedding post to this afternoon's post on Latin.

According to the Greek 'N' Stuff catalog, "The series introduces Latin to the young student before he or she decides that classical languages are too difficult to learn.  Enjoyable activity pages implant in young minds a love of learning.  Added benefits include improved thinking, reading comprehension, and writing skills.  Latin expands English vocabulary through a better understanding of roots and prepares your student to study modern foreign languages if he or she so chooses."

I received Level 2 of Latin's Not So Tough: A Classical Latin Worktext.  At first I was concerned that we were starting out on Level 2 rather than Level 1, but I soon found that skipping a level was not going to be a problem.  This program mostly focuses on words, and students learn 50 words throughout the course of Level 2's material.  There are also flashcards of each new letter, diphthong, special consonants, and words that can be cut out and used for learning and continual review.  We also received a pronunciation CD, which I highly recommend, because I do not know Latin at all, and I probably would have done my child much more harm than good with my butchered pronunciation.  An Answer Key is available as well, either without fulltext or answers only.  

I liked the simple format of this program.  As an absolute Latin novice, I was intimidated by trying to teach this language course to my daughter.  I found, however, that the program was easy to follow and easy for her to understand.  I wish there were some more teacher's hints, however, to help make the teaching of this program more creative and fun.  After awhile, Amélie got tired of the repetitiveness of each lesson, and I kind of did as well.  She is really not a worksheet kind of a gal, and the whole program is based on the worksheet principle.

I also have a rather shallow critique of this company.  I am, I will admit, a sucker for visuals (you don't need to know the times I chose the prettier bottle of cleaner that was 45 cents more than its uglier counterpart just because it was, well, prettier).  The company's logo and website truly need to be updated.  Honestly, had I not received the product in the mail to review, I would have taken a one-second cursory glance at the site and gone on to another Latin or Greek learning program, without even checking out the program.  If you take the time to open up a copy of their catalog, it is certainly more visually appealing, and the materials themselves are not an eyesore, but I would imagine that they would get considerably more business if the visitor's first glance at their product were a more attractive one. 

If you were not completely turned off by the logo and website and actually took time to look at the catalog, you would certainly be impressed with the price.  Here is a breakdown of Level 2's products:
Latin Level 2 Student Workbook - $18.95
Latin Level 2 Full Text Answer Key - $18.95
Latin Level 2 Answers Only Answer Key - $4.00
Latin Level 2 Quizzes/Exams - $5.50
Latin Level 2 Flashcards on a Ring - $8.00
Pronunciation CD for Latin Levels 1-3 - $10.00

I don't think this program is the right one for us, but I can definitely see how other families with kids who learn well with this type of teaching style would enjoy this program.

Take a peek at what my fellow crewmates are saying about Greek 'N Stuff products here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

quit raining on my royal wedding

Tomorrow morning is the royal wedding.
Amélie and I are waking up early and watching it.
There.  I said it.  I've been afraid to post this confession on Facebook, namely because people who aren't watching it are scorning those who apologetically admit that they are.
I understand.  I do.
I remember being obsessed, as a 7-year-old little girl, with the "fairytale wedding" of Charles and Di.
Amélie is that 7-year-old little girl now.
I remember that my grandma and my great-grandma woke up to watch it.
My daughter's grandma and great-grandma are planning on waking up to watch the wedding of the next royal generation tomorrow morning.
I remember finding out that Princess Diana had died late at night from a security guard at the In-'N-Out drive-thru in Inglewood, CA.
I remember my 23-year-old self getting up at 3:30 in the morning a few days later to watch her funeral in my Los Angeles apartment.

Maybe it's crazy to get up early tomorrow morning to watch a wedding.
A wedding that, many say, will end in divorce.
But must we be so freaking cynical?

Amélie will never forget that she and her mom woke up early, cuddled on the couch, ate scones and drank tea, and watched yet another fairytale wedding. 
I don't regret it.
I won't regret it.

But there has been news coverage ad nauseam about this event, you say?
I can't empathize.
I haven't turned on my TV in weeks. 

Feel free to sleep in tomorrow.  You will, most certainly, be more awake and less cranky than I will be at this time tomorrow night.

But quit raining on my royal wedding.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Seven Stanzas at Easter" by John Updike

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

Friday, April 22, 2011

See The Light Art Class-TOS Review

I am not an artist.  Not even kind of.  My 7-year-old daughter can draw better than I can, and my 3-year-old son will be drawing better than I do as soon as he no longer combines the head and torso into one bulbous mass and remembers always to add hands and feet. 

I like to think that I create art with my words, but if I had to make a living drawing pictures I would be the personification of the Starving Artist.  It's not pretty.

When I decided to homeschool Amélie the idea of teaching her art was daunting to me.  I often "cheat."  We bake and call that art (well, it is...kind of...).  We have been making a Lent and Easter mobile during this Lenten/Easter season, and I actually enjoyed that a lot, namely because it involved her tying things like a toy donkey, thorns, and a cross to a big stick hanging from my living room ceiling.  There was absolutely no drawing involved.  I have no idea, however, how to teach her any drawing skills.  I wish her father would take over this aspect of our schooling (ahem, Matt, that little dig was pointedly intended for you). 

In the meantime, we now have a video sitting in our DVD cabinet that we can pull out for an art lesson that is much better than anything I could even attempt.  We received a video of 4 lessons plus 1 bonus lesson from Art Class with master artist Pat Knepley.  Pat has a very entertaining personality that is fun to watch.  She does a great job making the material interesting AND educational, which is always a perk (or rather, a necessity) in our household.  Amélie enjoyed watching the video for its educational purposes, but even Jack hung out in the living room just to watch her talk.  

The lessons we received on this DVD were...
1.Tools of the Trade
2. It All Starts with a Line
3.Contours and Compositions
4.Draw What You See
There is also a bonus lesson entitled Chalk-It-Easy Chalk Art Lesson.

I thought that the information presented was well-done and easily accessible for elementary-school students. My only concern with this DVD is that the lessons are quite short, and I wish that there was a bit more detail and maybe even some art history included. Overall, though, I think that this is a great introduction to art for the budding artist in your home.

You can either purchase a year's worth of lessons on DVDs as a set for $99.99, or you can order an online subscription for $10.00 a month

If you would like to receive a FREE copy of Art Class Volume 1, the same DVD we received, check it out here.  You can also check out the first lessons for free here

Take a peek at what my fellow crewmates are saying about Art Class.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

the books beside my bed

I came up to bed to read or journal, but once I got up here I decided I wanted to blog.  So, I trekked downstairs, lugged my laptop upstairs, and here I am, talking to my computer screen. 

I thought I would first tell you about all the books that are beside my bed, because it's comical, really.  In Jill's ideal world, the one that does not exist, she would read, read, read, read.  And then she would read some more.  Such a reality does not exist, but the lure of the library and the amazing books it contains is too strong, and therefore, a large pile of books sits beside this bed.  Want to know what I am reading (or what I would like to read)?

This list, by the way is in no particular order.  I am just going to write down what I dig up, in order of digging, not importance.

Love Wins by Rob Bell.  I read this one last week.  Lightning did not descend from heaven and fry me on the spot.  Imagine that.

Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright.  I have a sneaking suspicion this might be a life-changing book for me. 

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende.  I am supposed to be reading this book to Matt.  But when he isn't looking I read ahead.  Shhhh.  Please don't tell him.  I also don't want you to know how obsessed I am with this book.  Reeeeeeeeeeeeally obsessed.  I could write a whole blog post regarding my thoughts on this book, so maybe I should save it.  Let me just say two things:
First, we went to the Eat Local Expo last weekend and found a CSA.  There were many wonderful CSAs to choose from, but honestly, I went with the one we did because Amélie is obsessed with the Amish, and this family is "kind of Amish" (to quote the oldest daughter).  They wear bonnets, don't have electricity, and drive buggies, so I'm thinking that they are about as Amish as we can get.  Also, they have a 9-year-old daughter, and Amélie desperately wants an Amish pen pal, and I am finding that Amish penpals, in these days of technology, are hard to come by. 
Anyway, the girl that we talked to had something in her eyes I haven't seen in a long, long time: absolute peace.  She had the most beautiful eyes.  I don't even know what color they were.  I don't even know if they would be considered beautiful based on our standards of beauty.  But Matt and I both noted the absolute peace we found in their depths as we were talking to her.  Her eyes haunt me.  I wake up sometimes in the night thinking about those eyes. I want eyes like that. 
Second, last Saturday Matt tilled the compost into the ground and we planted lettuce, beets, broccoli, and peas (today he planted the tomato plants, and if it freezes sometime in the near future, I want it on the books that I said it was too early.  This is an official "I told you so."  If it doesn't freeze and the plants don't die, just pretend I didn't say anything here).  As I dug the holes and planted the seeds and smelled the dirt, I felt something I rarely ever feel on an absolute level: peace.  It was amazing.  It was beautiful.  I was so free.

New and Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver.  I adore Mary Oliver.  I discovered her poetry several years ago, and I can't quit reading her.  She strikes a harmonic chord in my soul. 

Late Wife by Claudia Emerson.  This is a small collection of poetry that is full of beautiful words, beautiful sentences, beautiful turns of phrases. 

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers.  I wanted to love this book, and I like it, but I wouldn't have given it the National Book Award.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo.  I think that DeLillo is a master at writing amazing sentences that I have to stop and read again.  and again.  and again.  I love that about him. 

Organic God: Lenten Meditations on the Words of Jesus by Kate Moorehead.  This is my 4th year going through this lovely book of Lenten meditations.  I am thankful for the wisdom I find in this book as I journey through Lent. 

Stress Less by an author whose first name I can't read because the library barcode is over his or her name.  The last name, however, is Singer, and I know for a fact that I won't read this book, but I will keep it by my bed until it is due just because I have this insane idea that I could read a book and be cured of anxiety and stress.  This is a crazy idea that I don't believe, apparently, since I already know I won't read the book.

I think there are actually some more books by my bed, but I'm thinking I probably lost you four or five books ago, so I will stop there.  And now I don't have time to write anything else, because I truly must go to bed.... 
...after I read until I can no longer keep my eyes open, of course.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

TOS Review--Kinderbach

I have been considering putting Amélie in piano lessons for quite some time, and when I found out that I would be reviewing an online piano program called Kinderbach, I thought this would be a good opportunity to test her readiness and interest in taking piano.  According to their website, “Research clearly shows Piano is the best instrument with the most benefits to brain development. KinderBach is a unique method of teaching very young children to actually play piano, read notes, and learn intervals, rhythm & music patterns."

Kinderbach offers piano lessons for children ages 3-7 either online or on DVDs.  These music lessons are interspersed with teaching time, fun characters, and practice time in a way that is multi-sensory and entertaining.  If you choose the on-line option, you will have access to over 240 music lessons and can either pay $19.99 a month or $99.95 for an annual fee, or you can also get a daypass for $5.95.  Your child can watch the video lessons online, and then you can download PDF files of worksheets and coloring pages that enhance the video lessons.  You can also purchase the lessons as DVDs.  Check out this link to look at the DVD options. 

We have had access to the online version of Kinderbach for several months now.  As I mentioned previously, I wanted to try out the program to test Amélie's interest in piano, but I found that the program really does seem to be aimed a the younger set (she is right at the top of the age range), and Jack ended up enjoying the program more than she did.  Of course he, as a three-year-old, is on the young end of the age range, so while he greatly enjoyed the program, I am not sure how much he actually learned.  I wish he had been a bit older...or that Amélie had been a bit younger...and then I think that we could have experienced the full benefits of this program. 

Personally, I think that there is no substitute for the one-on-one experience of actual piano lessons.  However, if you want to try a cheaper option than piano lessons, or you want to try out piano to see if your kids are interested, I think that Kinderbach is a great option.  It's a smart, well-designed, fun program that will introduce your kids to the piano in an entertaining and educational way.  If you want to try it out to see if Kinderbach would be a good fit for your family, you can try their free on-line trial.

If you would like to read what my fellow crewmates are saying about Kinderbach, check them out here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free subscription of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Friday, March 25, 2011

TOS Review--Big IQ Kids

I have written and then erased several introductions to Big IQ Kids, and then I decided that, perhaps, the people who do the program might describe it best.  :)  Here is what the Big IQ Kids website has to say about their fun online program: turns your computer into an online learning academy by providing daily academic lessons for young learners in an interactive, easy to follow format. For the best results, children should log into daily and complete their lessons and quizzes. This “daily” strategy builds invaluable study habits, leads to better grades and greater self confidence.

Big IQ Kids has several subjects for your kids, including spelling, vocabulary, math, and U.S. Geography.  We especially enjoyed the spelling section.  They have preprogrammed words that you can use, but I used Amélie's current spelling words, and she absolutely loved learning her words this way.  Honestly, I have LOVED this program for spelling.  My daughter is under the perfectionistic notion that she should have her spelling words learned perfectly after the first day (I have NO IDEA where she gets that perfectionistic tendency.  Absolutely no idea.  HA!).  To have our spelling words deflected onto a computer program has been a relief for both of us.  For some reason she is less likely to argue with my laptop than she is with me.  :) 

We also liked the math program for working on concepts that we are learning.  The only problem is that we are working on two-digit addition and subtraction, and she never wanted to write the problem onto paper, so then she would get frustrated when she couldn't do it in her head.  I want her to process through the steps of these problems, so it didn't work so well.  However, she did enjoy using the math program for practicing her math facts.

We haven't spent as much time with the voabulary or the U.S. Geography portion of the program, because she seems to spend her allotted game time on spelling and math, so I'm OK with that.

One of the great perks of this program is that after completing each lesson the students gets a "coin" to play a game.  Amélie definitely like this reward program, and she will do even more spelling or math than I ask her to do so that she can play another game.  Works for me!! 

I definitely liked this program a lot, and so does Amélie.  I think that the program is great for practicing subjects that kids are learning in school.  If your kids are in regular school, this program would be a fun yet educational after-school activity.  If your kids are homeschoolers, this program would almost certainly provide a rich supplement to your curriculum. 

There are several pricing options available.  You can try out the program for free, and if you would like to discover the differences between the free and the premium programs you can do so here.  You can purchase a monthly subscription to one premium program or all of the premium programs.  You can even purchase a 12-month subscription and save a little money! 

If you would like to read what my fellow crewmates are saying about Big IQ Kids, check them out here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free premium subscription of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

my current musical obsession

"Roll Away Your Stone"
Mumford & Sons
Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we can find
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I am afraid of what I will discover inside

'Cause you told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think
And yet it dominates the things I see

It seems that all my bridges have been burnt
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think
And yet it dominates the things I see

Stars hide your fires
These here are my desires
And I will give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found
With my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly empassioned soul

But you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Facebook Fast

I have been off of Facebook for a week now.  I did spend a bit of time on Facebook on Sunday (which is totally legal, for those unfamiliar with the rules of Lent), and this morning I cheated a tiny, tiny bit.  I read two posts, and then I quit.  I am calling it OK to post links to blog entries, and I also got on Facebook on Saturday to post a "welcome baby" status message for the homebirth I had just doula-ed for (which was just so wonderful that I HAD to tell the world).  So I haven't followed my "no Facebook rule" exactly, but I also decided I wasn't going to be all legalistic about it.  I think I will choose to err on the side of grace.  :) 

My Facebook Fast has been going OK, except that today I actually "craved" Facebook.  I wasn't exactly sitting in a corner rocking back and forth and gnawing on my fingers, but I was close.  Have there been any studies done comparing withdrawal symptoms in crack addicts and Facebook addicts?  As a coping stragety, I just spent a very long time checking out the St. Patrick's Day parade route and the location of my church (where I will park tomorrow) on Google maps.  I think I was being so studious because what I REALLY wanted to do was get on Facebook.  So far, so good.  Now I am writing here.  More coping. 

I have definitely been learning some things about myself this past week, but I'm not ready to share them yet.  Honestly, it's not because they are terribly deep thoughts, but I really want to talk about the shallow stuff tonight.  So here goes:

The funniest thing I have noticed about myself on the Facebook Fast is that sometimes I think in status messages.  I don't know if I normally do this, but I think I might.  I would only post once a day at most, but I would (and still do) think about witty little things to say over Facebook much more than that.  What a pitiful thing to admit!!!  I have wanted to tell my Facebook friends so many things, many of which were most likely quite inane. 

Let's see--(I wish I would have kept a running list of all my phantom Facebook status messages.)--on Friday night I wanted to tell you that Matt and I had an evening to ourselves and we were spending half of it CLEANING.  Yes, cleaning.  That's the sad part.  The great part is that I kept hopping out of the kitchen and he kept escaping the bathroom so we could tell each other something very, very important.  We were, perhaps, being a bit avoidant, but we were also enjoying the rare luxury of uninterrupted conversation, and we tend to like each other's company quite a lot, so even in the midst of cleaning together we were enjoying our time. 

At about 9:30 that same night I wanted to post a status message that we had spontaneously decided to go find a music store and look for a couple of CDs, because I suddenly decided that I needed to spend birthday money on Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers.  The amazing thing about that would-have-been status message is that we had no kids at home, so we could just decide to leave!  It was amazing!  I thought that anyone hanging out on FB on Friday night might have wanted to know that little detail. 

At 3:45 on Saturday morning I wanted to post that I was headed to a birth, although I wouldn't have done that anyway since I wanted my client to be the first to share the news. 
I did share about the baby's birth, because, as I mentioned above, such an event was totally worth a bit of a Lenten cheat.

On Saturday night I wanted to tell you that there was a placenta being encapsulated in my kitchen.

And then on Sunday, when I could have posted a status message, I had nothing to say!

This week I wanted to share that my kids had snotty noses and coughs.
I wanted to announce that I was going to Science City today.
I wanted to complain that Amélie had tummy issues tonight which kept us away from Wednesday Blend.
I wanted to state my intent to brave the crazy crowds tomorrow and go to the parade.
But do you really care to know any of that? 

Here's what I have realized, however.  I do miss knowing what is going on in people's lives.  I feel out of the loop.  I like to feel connected to people.  And perhaps the sad thing is that I feel more connected to you if I can "like" the fact that your kid just pooped on the potty or that you got a new puppy or that you just did your first cartwheel in 20 years.  I might even do more than "like" your status, and I might actually comment on the poop or the puppy or the cartwheel! 

Don't get me wrong.  I like to "like" people's statuses, and I like to comment on people's statuses, and I really, really, really like it if you "like" my status or leave me a comment.  But if I am constantly thinking in status messages and "liking" and commenting, then I have a hard time thinking thoughts that are longer and deeper than 420 characters, and I may not remember to follow up on the sometimes heartbreaking things people post that I skim past in my obsessive reading. 
Will I go back to Facebook after Lent is over?  Absolutely. 
But I do hope that I am not as addicted.
Is that possible?

And would someone please hack into my Facebook account and post that Matt just dyed our puppy green?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent: this Bright Sadness

Before I reflect on the beginning of this year's Lenten season, I am going to copy and paste what I wrote last year the day after Ash Wednesday:

Let me say, first, that I am incredibly disappointed in how my Lent began. Last night I had to miss the Ash Wednesday service at Revolution because I had been at a birth since 1:30 in the morning and I was driving back home from the hospital during the service.

I had this idea in my head that Lent was going to be different this year because I was going to start it with the sacredness, the ritual, and the solemnity of an Ash Wednesday service. As I walked out of the service with the ashen cross swathed upon my forehead, I was going to walk through the portals of the sad beauty of Lent and into 40 days of quiet reflection and simplicity, and, perhaps, a bit of poetic melancholy.

Instead, at 7:00 last night, I was driving home, and I was exhausted, I was disheveled, I was hungry. I had witnessed a miracle that evening, for sure, and I don’t want to trivialize that. I had seen the wonder and beauty and sacredness of birth somehow unfolding under the artificial glare of a birth room spotlight. My experience at that birth was valuable and useful and beautiful and sacred, and if I had actually had the choice of attending the birth or attending the Ash Wednesday service I would have chosen the birth.

But I think that I had hoped for Ash Wednesday to be a magic pill that I would have had brushed across my forehead rather than swallowed.

But the thing is…while I wish I could have attended the service, it would not have been a magic pill. Perhaps I would have walked out of the service last night feeling peaceful and solemn, but this morning I would have woken up to my real life–the noisy, disorganized, crazy one. And then I would have felt disappointed that the magic feeling had faded away. And then I could have felt disillusioned. And then I might have given up.

Instead, my Lent beginning has been more fitting: it has begun in chaos rather than quietness. The quietness and the sacredness and the reflection of Lent are going to have to come with work. I have to carve it out of my day and into my heart. There is no Ash Thursday service to escape to tonight. It’s just my life, and the beautiful mess of it.

And so today, my Lenten season roots itself in a life that is blown about in the winds of chaos and battered by some uncertain storms. My hope and my prayer is that the holiness of this Lenten season plants itself in my heart and that it grows, and that I grow, and that, perhaps by Easter, something sacred within me will have bloomed.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

I copy and paste those sentences from last year because apparently...I am not the most avid learner.

Tonight is Ash Wednesday.  I am, yet again, on call for a birth, and I thought that perhaps I would miss this service again.  Honestly, this time I was more at peace with that idea than I was last year, because I am incredibly excited to be part of the truly sacred experience of a homebirth with a wonderful person and friend.  But I didn't get the call, so I left the clutter, picked Matt up from work, and we all sped over to church....where, I was convinced, I would sit in my pew, hold Matt's hand, breathe deeply, sing beautiful old hymns, listen to a moving sermon, walk forward for my forehead to be swathed in ashes, and then I would quietly leave, with my soul at peace, my heart and rest, and my mind resolved to journey down the beautifully melancholy path of Lent armed with my fasting, my faith, and my God.  Then, I would go home, and, in honor of this holy season, my floor would magically be removed of Spiderman toys, scattered books, and stray socks.  It might somehow smell like incense too, just to really set the mood.  And I would turn on my computer and not be tempted by Facebook and blogs, from which I am fasting this Lenten season.  Also, I would not repeat the failures of the past years.  I wouldn't ever skip a day of Organic God: Lenten Meditations on the Words of Jesus.  I would get up early to spend time with God.  I would be spending all of that extra Facebook time praying or reading the Bible or feeding the starving children in my city.  I would walk through my home radiating peace and joy and hope.

But...did you read the above post from last year? 
That's not the way it works.
This year, I swallowed that "magic pill" of an Ash Wednesday service.
And I choked.
Here's what did happen.  I did, in fact, sit in my pew.  I did, every once in awhile, catch hold of Matt's hand, but he was so busy hopping up and down checking on Jack (and bless him for that--he knew how much this service meant to me, and he was trying to shield me from a distracting 3-year-old so I could experience at least some distant relative of peace).  I actually did love harmonizing to the beautiful, old hymns, when I wasn't peeking over my shoulder checking on Jack, who was totally clueless as to the day's holy bent.  I did hear most of Eric's sermon, but again, I was so distracted by that little boy of mine that I just couldn't sink into the words and let them challenge and encourage me.  I did walk forward to have my forehead swathed in ashes, but I had Jack perched on one hip, and he was heavy, and somehow the experience just didn't seem quite as holy while lugging 30-lbs of wiggling weight.  And I did leave, but not exactly quietly, because Jack was balking, and I couldn't find Matt and Amélie, and by the time I got to the car (actually, that's not true--I felt it coming on during the sermon), I really just wanted to bang my ashen forehead against my car dashboard and cry a very unholy, unwieldy, awkward, and completely unpeaceful cry.

And now here I am, yet again, beginning Lent with the harsh reminder that Lent is lived within the mess and muck and chaos.  How I long to carry out the beauty of Lent poetically.  That's what my soul longs for.  But then....  But then....  But then I am worshipping the poetry of Lent rather than the God of Lent.  And if I can journey through this Bright Sadness with a little grace, if I can find a little more light in the shadows of my soul's chiaroscuro, and if I can carve out for myself a bit more peace, I do believe that I will find some poetry in this beautiful mess, this chiaroscuro of my soul, this bright sadness.  And then I will be ready, I hope--oh, how I hope--to embrace the joy and the awakening and the new life of Easter. 

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen


Monday, March 7, 2011

Reading Kingdom--TOS Review

If you know me even a tiny bit, you know that I love reading, so I was excited to be able to review a reading program for the TOS crew!  Reading Kingdom is a program designed to teach 4-10 year-olds how to read and write at a 3rd grade level.  Here are some of the advantages of the Reading Kingdom program, according to its website:
  • It customizes itself to each child
  • Most children can do the program on their own after just a few weeks
  • It's fun and children enjoy doing it
  • It's created by Dr. Marion Blank, one of the world's top experts in literacy
  • It works with any other curriculum a child may be using
  • And, it's the only system that teaches all 6 skills needed for reading & writing success!

Kids are first run through a skills survey that helps to place them in the correct level.  If kids are not yet able to maneuver quickly around a keyboard, they complete a series of lessons helping them become more comfortable using a mouse and a keyboard.  Amélie is quite comfortable with finding letters on the keyboard (in fact, I was surprised at how well she did!), so I skipped this portion with her and then moved on into the skills survey.  She placed in Level 2, which honestly surprised me, because she is a very good reader.  However, I will admit I wondered if she would be placed lower than her ability level when she was doing the skills survey, because sometimes she made errors when she did not quite understand what she was supposed to do, or she accidentally tapped the wrong key.  (And I do realize that I am sounding here like a parent who thinks her daughter is smarter than she actually is, but I'm genuinely sincere--and genuinely correct--in believing that she was placed at a lower level than she should have been.)  :)  I wish that what she was doing in Level 2 was more of a challenge for her, but she enjoys the days that I let her use this program to supplement our reading program, and I think that the review is great practice for her. 

I am honestly the most excited about using this program with my 3 1/2 year-old son, who, while certainly still a pre-reader, knows most of his letter sounds (he knows more letter sounds than he does letter names, which I think is funny), and is starting to understand that the text on a page contains words that make up a story.  He is a tiny bit young for this program as of yet, I think.  When he uses Reading Kingdom right now he is just working on knowing where the letters are on the keyboard.  He got a little tired of this, so I am letting him take a bit of a break, and then we will dive back in.  I have access to this program until next February, and I am fairly convinced, based on what I have seen Amélie do, that he will have fun using this program...and it will help him learn how to read while he thinks he is just having fun.  :)

Subscriptions to Reading Kingdom are $19.99/month with no monthly minimum, or $199.99 if you purchase a 12 month subscription. If you have multiple children using the program, the cost per each additional child in your family is $9.99/month.  If you think you might like to try this program, but you just aren't quite sure you wan to make the commitment, you can try out Reading Kingdom completely risk-free for one month--you don't even have to give your credit card number!  :)  If you have any questions about the program, I am convinced, based on my experience in corresponding with this company, that you will also receive excellent customer service.  You can't lose!  And I think you will do more than not lose--I think that your kids could easily become yet another Reading Kingdom success story.

If you would like to see what my other crewmates are saying about this product, you can check out their reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.
I have no love
except it come from Thee.
Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.
  ~Wendell Berry, Sabbaths, 2005

Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.
What a beautiful image. 
What a painfully beautiful image. 
What an image of grief, of fortitude, of determination, of grit.
What an image of faith. 
Tonight, as I write, I see myself in this image. 
I have been asking God to make the wind go away. 
My prayer has been
Help me, please,
and take away this wind.
I fight the wind so many ways. 
Sometimes, I hunker down behind a rock and try to avoid the wind.  But somehow, the wind always shifts.  It always finds me in my hiding place.
Sometimes, I angrily strike out into the wind, fighting against it, floundering around blindly in its merciless tempest.
Sometimes, I give up and give in to the wind.  I let the gales sweep over me and toss me about, bruising me, slicing me, blinding me.
No matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, the wind is still there. 
And I am so tired.
I'm tired of the hiding, of the anger, of the giving up.
And so tonight I stand here, at this fork in the road, with the wind whipping my spirit and beating mercilessly at my soul.
I have life.
I have love.
I have a candle.
Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kid Scoop--TOS Review

Do you have a kiddo who is not-too-thrilled about "reading time" every day? 
Do you wish you had a little "extra something" to supplement your reading program that just might get your reluctant reader excited about reading?
If so, then Kid Scoop's Reluctant Reader Solution might be just what you need to help your grumpy reader turn into a grinning one. 

Thankfully, I don't have a reluctant reader.  However, I do have a little girl who craves variety, so this program was a fun supplement for us to try.  According to their website, The Kid Scoop Reluctant Reader Solution is a program "designed to expand your child's horizons, jump-start their curiosity about topics they didn't even know they were interested in, and exercise different areas of their brain through age-appropriate puzzles, games, stories, and much more. The Reluctant Reader Solution comes in two parts: one online and the other offline."

The online portion includes games, puzzles, reading material, and links that generate interest in the topics presented, which are often related to the current season and holidays.  Here is an example of Kid Scoop online:

Personally, we were more impressed with the worksheets from Kid Scoop. These worksheets are designed as a fun 5-7 page "newspaper" on topics ranging from fitness to gorillas to budgeting to Louisa May Alcott to Memorial Day to…I think you get the picture. You can either go through the newspapers chronologically or by theme. We have done both. On Monday, for example, we read the “Valentine Fitness” newspaper. Amelie read about how to keep her heart healthy, enjoyed a word search, and we played an activity game that got our healthy hearts pumping.

When you purchase Kid Scoop, you get 365 of these fantastic worksheets. I am especially looking forward to using these newspapers over the summer when we are taking a break from school but still need a fun boost to keep her brain from going stagnant in the heat. :)

At first, I was a little put off by the $97 price tag. But once I dove into this program and realized the wealth of information, games, and projects that were right at my fingertips (i.e., I wouldn’t have to spend hours scouring the internet, as I am apt to do), I realized that $97 is a steal. Plus, you can try this product completely risk-free, as it comes with a 365 unconditional, money-back guarantee. I am pretty sure that they can offer such a guarantee because once you make the purchase, I am almost convinced you will be hooked.

If you would like to see what my other crewmates are saying about this product, you can check out their reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Music in Me

Lately, I have given into music.  Sometimes I have to take a break from music for awhile, because I can get so incredibly sucked into it that I am incapable of functioning beyond listening to the same song or the same group over and over and over. 
And over and over and over. 
And over and over and over. 
This drives Matt crazy sometimes, although he tries to be a good sport about it.
The kids don't seem to mind.
So, lately, I've let music consume me.  It started out with the innocent purchase of Ingrid Michaelson's album Everybody.  I had heard the song "Everybody" on Pandora's folk station, and I liked it.  Then I listened to more of her songs.  And I got hooked.  Like............really hooked.  I spent at least a month absolutely obsessed with this album, and, specifically, the song "The Chain."  I don't know what it is about this song, but I can't stop listening to it.  It's the lyrics. It's the voice.  It's the piano.  It's the harmony.  I'm a girl obsessed. 

Then, a little over a week ago, I got the new album by The Civil Wars in the mail.  I had a feeling I would again fall in love.  And again, I was right.  How could I not?
These two like Faulkner.
They read O'Connor. 
She plays the piano. 
He plays the guitar.
Their harmony does something inside of me that I just can't explain.  My favorites on this album change by the day, but I have fallen especially hard for the song "Poison and Wine."  Again, it's the lyrics.  It's the voices.  It's the piano and guitar.  It's the harmony. 

Then there was that phase of listening to every recorded version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." 

A few months ago I discovered the group Gungor.  During that phase, I listened to "Beautiful Things" over and over and over again.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, a good friend posted Gungor singing "The Earth Is Yours"  in the forest.  I like it when people play and sing in the forest, especially when they are incredible musicians.  

And, although I've already posted this video, February isn't February without me literally drowning in Dar Williams.

I've had lots of Dar Williams obsessive moments.  I've been obsessed with "If I Wrote You," "The One Who Knows," "Iowa," "When I Was a Boy," "After All," and "Empire."  I'm sure there are more.  

So do you get obsessed with music?  Whom do you love?  Whom can you just not stop listening to?  What is it about music that fills us with longing and love and ache and joy? 
I don't understand it, but if you drive by my house and hear me harmonizing or see me dancing in my living room, you'll know that yet again I have given into the...whatever it is...about music that nourishes some intense craving in my soul.