Friday, May 1, 2015

Weekly Homeschool and Life Wrap-Up 5/1

Psalm 107:1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Skip to the bottom for newly published trade books.

Note: Reader Terri H. - Congratulations! I assume your new baby arrived? You probably aren't reading blogs at this time, but I wanted to take this opportunity to say how happy I am for you. Be blessed!
Giving Thanks For...

~ A close relationship with both of my teen and tween boys

~ Two little girls who love to cuddle

~ The closing of our AWANA year; a solid run for each child

~ My children saying (and singing) verses that they love just for fun (Mama's gotta love AWANA!)

~ Excellent books to read

~ Praying together as a family is about the single best thing we do. It helps us see each other as Christ does...flawed but forgiven. When we pray about our personal weaknesses and each other's needs, our family members feel so much closer to us; they love us all the more, and feel all the more patient with our idiosyncrasies. Humbling ourselves before each other, and before God, is game-changing. 

~ The pediatrician saying my kids behave phenomenally. The four of them crowd into little exam rooms at every sibling's appointment and that could be a disaster, but the Lord has been gracious to me all these years with this--at the children's hospital and at the pediatrician's. The pediatrician is an Indian doctor but native to Ohio, and he knows we're Christians, so this is a testimony orchestrated by the Lord.

~ Siblings who are best friends

~ A nice time at the Cleveland Zoo for Educators's Day

~ The preparing for college series Marianne Sunderland wrote for families of dyslexics, although it's invaluable for any homeschooling family. Think scholarship links galore, for one.

~ A steadfast, loving husband

~ Unique personalities in my children...all of them making me smile

~$135 back from the dentist office, out of the blue (badly needed to pay for a repair project on our back door that went awry)

~ That the Lord always sends money just at the right moment from the strangest sources (the dentist office? Only God.)

~ Some of you know I had to cut ties with my mother and step-father 15 months ago--with Mother's Day coming, that just stinks--but the Lord is sustaining me through this rough patch and I am grateful. We can't choose our parents but we can choose how dedicated we are to our own children, so that our legacy is hopefully the opposite of what we came from. And of course, we can forgive and remember that outside of the Lord's grace, we would be there still.

What Went Right This Week

~ I happened to remember that a marked characteristic of learning disabilities is inconsistency in day-to-day performance. My second grader has dyslexia and whilst last week she could read a Magic Tree House book without frustration (i.e. about six errors per page) this week she just stumbled and stumbled and had to put it aside. She stumbled on the first story in her new All About Reading Level 3 book, as well. Ordinarily I would have responded with a private dismay, but I took it in stride, knowing this is what it's like having a learning disability. One day you can remember how to make a 15, and the next day it's not automatic. Dyslexics don't have the automaticity regular learners enjoy--but they make great entrepreneurs, artists, performers, inventors, so it's not all bad. 

I am learning how to be a supportive parent to a dyslexic--looking for the strengths and remediating the weaknesses as best I can, and remaining light-hearted about it all.

~ We ordinarily do about ten devotional sessions a week, between the morning ones with just the kids and me, and the evening ones that include Daddy. We all need every single one of them, and since this was a week full of frustrations, they saved us in so many ways.

~ It's working well for me to come up with journal and essay questions for the boys to write on, rather than trying to follow a writing curriculum. It helps me to better tailor the learning to their strengths and weaknesses. And I love reading the Sonlight novels they're reading (Core H), which is necessary for me to come up with good literary response topics.

~ I'm on a campaign to decrease our sugar intake and it's going well. Sugar is highly addictive, which you've probably noticed when you try to go a day with just a smidgen of it. Just the naturally occurring sugar in milk and fruit and grains adds up quickly.

What Went Wrong This Week 

~ We purchased a desktop PC from Amazon a few months ago and had to send it back. It appeared to have a failing hard drive. We picked something else out as a replacement (from an HP to a Lenovo--parent company IBM), and in the last three weeks that began to look like a lemon, too. I called to start service and possibly get a replacement, and found out that the warranty started last October, but I didn't purchase it until February, which makes me think Amazon is selling refurbished computers as new ones (just a hunch...don't quote me).

As per the tech--probably from India, who called to check on my progress at 11PM tonight!--I had to try doing a factory default setting before they would consider a replacement. I did that today and all is well so far, but it has been a week of researching what could be wrong with the PC, before finally calling the company for help.

~ And then there was the HP printer we bought several months ago, which began acting strangely and required research as well. It turned out to be a server problem with the company, and I did find a fix online, thank goodness. We're back in business.

~ We're 8 months out from Peter's concussion accident (fell out of a tree) and he still comes out of his room, after reading twenty pages, with an exhausted look and feel. He used to be ahead in all his reading, but now he is somewhat behind the curriculum pace. The fatigue breaks my heart and from my research I know it could be 1 to 5 years before this effect goes away. His worsened OCD coincided with his accident as well. My prayer is that the Lord in his grace will erase the effects of this accident very soon.

~ We bought LG flip phones recently after our other basic cell phones would no longer hold a charge, and mine, despite not being dropped, just goes dead randomly now (only about two months old). At first, taking out the battery and putting it back in seemed to reset it, but that didn't work as well this time. So there's that company to deal with too (Verizon). I. hate. technology. I don't have time for technology, but against my will I learn a lot each time theses things happen, as I scour the Internet for answers. My boys listen and learn too.

~ The raccoon who had babies and is living in our shed attic has been an unbelievable menace--damaging property, taking up our days and evenings, and just generally appalling us with her antics. You wouldn't believe the strength of these animals. We nailed and blocked off the damage in the siding she made, with a heavy barrel full of construction debris, a heavy door, and a wheelbarrow, and she still got in and made a mess and reopened her damage hole. She pulled open the grill of the shed attic also, bending it back like the hulk. We always make sure she and her babies are out before we board anything up, but she just keeps coming back. 

It's a scene out of Caddyshack around here and team human is not winning. The previous owner designed this side of the shed to be a greenhouse, making the insulation necessary for warmth. My crazy-mad husband is thinking of sawing out the attic so no nursing-momma raccoon finds it cozy ever again. I hope it doesn't come to that and I'm trying to stay out of it. All the other sheds in the neighborhood are of the traditional type, so ours is particularly inviting, with the insulation like soft blankets for new life.

The reason it's against the law to trap them is because cities and towns don't want you to catch and release (these animals have to be put down). Once they feed out of trash cans and live in neighborhoods, they become a menace. Driving them elsewhere only makes it someone else's problem. Not very helpful for us, since we have no money for this kind of thing! Even the cage to catch them is pricey, not to mention hiring a pest company as an alternative.

In Other News

Mary is learning two more ways to make the long a sound--/ay/ /ai/ (All About Reading 3)

The children are still using the large Melissa and Doug blocks they got for Christmas.

I found a mild enchilada sauce recipe, of which my husband's heartburn approves. Too bland for me, so I have to tweak it and make two separate batches--one with more spices. Everyone loves homemade enchiladas here.

Teaching Textbooks continues to be my best homeschooling friend ever. Mary can't wait to start the third grade level next January and get her own buddy sound.

Paul made no-bake cookies (peanut butter, oatmeal, sugar, butter, vanilla (so not healthy) the day before I decided we needed to cut way down on sugar. He found a library book featuring 150 no-bake cookie recipes. I told him we can have a sweet dessert no more than 3 times a week, and he was not thrilled, but he and his brother are on board to be as healthy as possible, nonetheless. The girls are far less thrilled at the change in dessert frequency. And hubby says...what in the world will we do without stress relievers, such as no-bake cookies?! When things stop breaking down and raccoons stop terrorizing us, maybe he can do without dessert, but right now he doesn't think so. He eats a very healthy, well-rounded diet, but he enjoys dessert to help neutralize life's downs.

Here's Beth with her arm around Paul, while he teaches her anatomy using Khan Academy. It made me smile, seeing these two peas in a pod doing this just for fun. They're my intellectual ones, while my other two are the nature & outdoor lovers, who would never waste a good sunny day on Khan Academy, thank you very much. I love the uniqueness of each child! Just a thrill and a gift seeing their individual personalities unfold before my eyes. Mothering is divine.

The thing I love about Khan Academy is the way the instructors' talk/teach and point to something on the screen at the same time with the marking pen, giving children with learning disabilities a leg up (audio and visual simultaneously). It's up close and personal--not from the chalkboard of a large classroom. The teaching isn't unique, just effective.

Newly Published Social Studies, Music, & Science Trade Books

Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Six Guiding Beliefs (as told by his niece) 
by Angela Farris Watkins, PhD, published February, 2015

School Library Journal Synopsis: Gr 2–6—In this vividly illustrated picture book, Watkins, niece of Martin Luther King Jr., provides a simplified version of his six guiding principles of nonviolence: have courage; love your enemies; fight the problem, not the person who caused it; when innocent people are hurt, others are inspired to help; resist violence of any kind; and the universe honors love. Referring to King as "Uncle Martin," Watkins states each principle and then describes one clearly written example of how King followed it. Instances selected include the burning of King's home in 1956 and King's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," in which he argued for nonviolent resistance. The bold, colorful mixed-media illustrations capture the emotion of the situations described, and Watkins's writing style is conversational but impassioned ("So even when Uncle Martin was hurt, he did not respond with violence."). Though informative, this title lacks back matter. An excellent choice for younger students studying King and for teachers explaining violence in history and current events, as well as for beginning middle school students.—Stephanie Farnlacher

LuiGi at the Opera 
by Ellie Alldredge-Bell published January, 2015

Synopsis by School Library Journal:  Gr 1–3—Luigi and his grandpa Rigoletto are aficionados, and when they go to see Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, "an opera about a ghost ship," Luigi is totally enthralled. He admires the elegant lobby, views the orchestra through his opera glasses, and is enchanted by the music, singers, and scenery that bring the masterpiece to life. Under his grandfather's guidance, he learns appropriate dress, opera etiquette, and even a bit of Italian to complete the experience. Alldredge-Bell's text is clear, concise, and instructive without being dry, and while the action is limited, the duo's enthusiasm for the opera is contagious. Primary-grade audiences will delight in seeing the twosome singing arias while driving and the piccolo player scratching her nose with her instrument. Williams-Ng's watercolor cartoons range in size from a quarter-page to full spreads, with the larger illustrations proving most effective in terms of detail and color. The pictures are generally playful—the beehive hairdos are especially fun. Some, unfortunately, as in the case of the soprano, have too much white space, and pages with text alone have a sterile feel. Still, the illustrations of the author and her husband in the lobby scene add a bit of fun. Endnotes explaining Wagner's opera, vocabulary definitions, and Italian pronunciations will assist budding opera lovers. Luigi can be paired with Gary Clement's The Great Poochini (Groundwood, 1999) for a lighthearted look at this musical art form.—Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan

A Violin for Elva 
by Mary Lyn Ray, published February, 2015

Synopsis by Publisher's Weekly: Elva, a girl with an upturned nose whose hair is never quite tidy, hears a neighbor’s enchanting music through the hedge and asks her parents for a violin. Ray’s (Go to Sleep, Little Farm) prose softens their refusal by giving it lilt and rhythm: “She asked them both. She asked with please. But they hadn’t heard what Elva heard. And they said no.” Elva, undeterred, continues to dream. She grows up, works, loves her dog, grows gray—and buys, at last, a violin. Ray’s story is not a fairy tale—Elva never masters the instrument—but Tusa’s (Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean) image of the earnest woman standing amid much smaller child students at their first recital has a deep sweetness. Quiet humor (Elva’s dog lying belly-up on the floor, defeated by his mistress’s terrible intonation) provides a tender accompaniment to this meditation on fulfilling one’s dreams. The last spread, in which Elva soars into the air with her violin, borne aloft on strains of music, offers a vision of the only kind of success that really matters. Ages 4–8

Juna's Jar 
by Jane Bahk, published February, 2015

School Library Journal Synopsis: PreS-Gr 2—Charming soft watercolor illustrations and a sweet story that tugs at the imagination provide a flight of fancy that youngsters will enjoy hearing again and again. Little Juna and her friend Hector share adventures in the park across the street from their apartment building in Koreatown. Interesting critters and other items go into Juna's empty kimchi jar to be studied, then released. When Hector moves away, Juna's older brother, Minho, observing her sadness, buys her a small fish, gives her a small bean plant grown at school, then helps her find twigs and leaves in the park to provide a habitat for a cricket. Each night, the kimchi jar takes Juna on a fabulous journey. The goldfish takes her on an undersea adventure, growing so large that it must be transferred to the family aquarium. The bean plant transports her to a tropical rainforest, then is moved to a large pot on the balcony; the cricket carries Juna over city buildings to the window of Hector's bedroom, where his stone-filled kimchi jar sits on a windowsill near his bed. Seeing Hector safe and happy allows Juna to move on and make a new friend at the park. Hoshino's delightful detail-filled paintings of Juna's nighttime adventures show smiling sea creatures, sloths, monkeys and crocodiles, and a city alive with activity, illuminated by vehicle headlights "that lit up the hill like a string of holiday lights." Use this title inpreschool storytimes or in the classroom to stimulate leaps of imagination.—Susan Scheps

Millie's Chickens 
by Brenda Williams published March, 2015

Synopsis by School Library Journal: K-Gr 2—This sweet British import features a rhyming text that highlights various aspects of poultry care. "Here are the chicks,/Hatching out well,/Pecking their way/From inside the shell." Appealing illustrations use loose acrylics with saturated color. Millie's idyllic backyard is filled with plants, a slide, a clothesline, and happily pecking chickens. One of Millie's hens, Silkie, gets lost, but is quickly found with a clutch of eggs, and Millie is kept contentedly busy looking after the chickens and their new baby chicks. Endpapers feature an assortment of heritage breed chickens on a soft blue background. The back matter includes a colorful illustrated glossary and informative text on keeping chickens, chicken anatomy, parts of an egg, and the life cycle of chickens as well as suggestions of different cooking methods for eggs. VERDICT An appealing picture book answer to the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"—Madigan McGillicuddy

How was your week, friends? Have a blessed weekend and thank you for reading here!

Weekly Wrap-Up

Monday, April 27, 2015

Come With Me; Cast Worries Away

"I'm so excited, Mommy!" Paul shared the night before. "I can't believe we're going to the Cleveland Zoo!"

We've wanted to go there for ten years, but owning a house and repairing it frequently swallows up these dreams all too often. Saturday was Educator's Day, gifting us with four free tickets.

So, there we were after all these years. The animals were wonderful to observe. We all felt pretty blessed, except that Peter's OCD took away his smile most of the trip, and Mary's anxiety over storms and car breakdowns reared its ugly head as well. Beth's arthritis means she can't walk all over the zoo like a typical six year old. Thirty minutes in and she needed a stroller, over which I received some surprised and nasty glances due to her height and age. To some, she looked pampered and spoiled and lazy in her stroller and I had to consciously ignore the stares. I knew it wasn't fruitful to dwell on them.

The day seemed to represent life in all its messy gloriness. Legitimate heaviness was there, sure, but if I chose to focus on it, I missed the blessings all excited little girls, Mary skipping with joy all over the zoo, Paul making sketches of the animals, and God's glory reflected in every creature.

Life is astoundingly hard. Sometimes the days just seem full of uphill climbs. Sometimes it seems there's nothing to look forward to but more hills the next day. Hope can get lost as our chests and hamstrings burn from the exertion.

I encounter ugliness, but I also find God's grace around every bend, eclipsing the pain. He doesn't make the pain go away, I'm afraid; that isn't his modus operandi most of the time.

Instead, he changes our perception of the pain by passing his glory over it. Our pain remains, but we're distracted from it by his awesome display of glory. Awe struck by his love, we lift our eyes off of ourselves and weep with joy over his presence.

He provides sustenance for us daily, just as I bake and provide the daily bread here. Homemade bread has no preservatives; you can't bake ahead even if you had the time. You bake and eat, bake and eat, bake and eat, as though it's manna in the desert, falling at just the right time.

Is there security in this method?

Well, it depends on whom or what you're depending on for your security. If you're depending on Momma, then no. Sunday morning I don't bake bread. I get six people ready for church. Saturday morning I get distracted by trying to catch the house up and sometimes forget to bake bread.

So, no. Momma's method for delivering bread is only secure five out of seven days...not very good odds, with two breadless days.

God's manna delivery is secure, if we seek first His kingdom. We don't need to awake with anxiety, wondering if our hunger will gnaw away at us all day. We can awake with joy, knowing God will provide.

Abraham put his son Isaac on the alter in Genesis 22 and appeared to be ready to murder him. How strange, I've always thought. What parent goes through with those motions?

Isaac inquired about the source of the burnt offering, saying “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

And Abraham want on preparing to burn his son.

The Offering of Isaac - Genesis 22 (source here)22 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go tothe land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy[a] will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

Should I give the tithe on Sunday, knowing he'll provide for the broken door next week? Or do I fix the door...or the toilet...or the rusting bottom of the van, whichever the case may be, and then put the leftovers in the offering plate?

If your pattern is to store up your manna, then you'll choose to forgo the plate until your broken things are fixed...if that ever happens. If you look to God daily for your needs, knowing he doles out as needs arise, then you'll confidently have money ready for the plate--and not any less than last week.

The longer I live--the more that goes wrong in my life--the more I see exactly why Paul the Apostle uttered it: To live is Christ, to die is gain.

Nothing matters except the Gospel. Jesus didn't save us so we could enjoy conveniences and perks. He didn't save us so we could have everything working well in our bodies and minds and houses and cars, or to have the time or money for the things we want.

He saved us hoping we'll identify with him in suffering, bringing him glory through our weakness, our ills, our dependence. He saved us to be banners of love, receiving from Him vertically and handing out His spiritual riches horizontally. He saved us to advance the gospel through us.

To live is to walk with Christ, even on the narrow, uphill, barely-there trails. To live is to never wonder if the manna is really coming. To live is to know that His grace is sufficient, his love divine and perfect.

To live is to know that a place is prepared for us in our Father's House, and over the next bend, He's waiting for us.

On the trail to the next bend, we need only focus on the blessings all around--the trees, the singing birds, the toiling insects, the hidden crocuses, the wild daffodils, the smell of the pine, the sound of the needles and leaves under our feet, the blue of the sky. The blessings all around us are his graces, his majesty, his glory, his very presence.

Come with me. Cast all your worries away and get lost in the blessings, excited at knowing we'll be face to face with Christ soon, as faithful servants, not ashamed of the gospel. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Raccoon is back!

This is broad daylight! Momma raccoon thought we would be stupid enough to leave the grill off the shed attic. My guess is that when the freezing nighttime temps returned, she wasn't content to live in someone's tree, or in the rain gutter (or someone else ran her out of their shed). She's climbed the tree and the roof twice trying to get the grill off while still keeping her baby in her mouth. We hadn't seen her since my husband scared her out last weekend with a chainsaw, and then boarded up the damage she caused in the siding.

She went running out at the sound of the chainsaw, then returned that night for her babies. Husband deliberately took the grill off and left it off so she would go back and retrieve her babies. I saw her take two babies out but I don't know how many there were in total (usually 1 to 6, born in March or April).

We've seen raccoons around here for a few years but never living on our property. They are somewhat used to people and like all the trash cans they can easily raid. Raccoons are capable of opening doors and jars, if you can believe it. Getting rid of her won't be so easy, with so many sheds and trash cans around.

In California all one had to do was call animal control, but here in Ohio there's no public service for wild animal removal, and typically it costs a few hundred dollars to trap one, and a few thousand to get them out of an attic, and you're not allowed to hurt them or do any poisoning or the like (not that we'd want to do that).

The kids and I are wondering if she's being so persistent because she may have already transferred one baby into the back door of the shed, before Peter noticed that it was opened and closed the door.

Have you ever had a raccoon in your yard? What worked for you?

Weekly Homeschool and Life Wrap-up 4/24

Outside my window

Winter returned to Northeast Ohio as soon as I put the sweaters in storage boxes, and just as the tulips were about to bloom. We'll have another 30 degree night and I'm trying to remain hopeful about our flowers. Last year they didn't make it. The crocuses, hyacinths and daffodils have done well.

On my mind...Field Trips

We have a lot of medical appointments between the neurological issues and the juvenile arthritis issue, so field trips have never been plentiful for us. If I pursued those and continued to be faithful with appointments as well, no teaching would get done. Three of my four children need explicit teaching so we must show restraint with our scheduling.

Not to mention, the stress involved in the neurological issues just compels a mom to keep it all as simple as possible for everyone's sake.

However, this summer, while still doing some school, we will add our share of 70-mile radius field trips, starting with some cultural and science opportunities in Cleveland, the closest big city. Funds are extremely limited so we can't think big, but it's time to show my children around nonetheless.

Middle School Learning

The boys are continuing with Sonlight Core H (World History Part 2), reading Story of the World Early Modern Times, Madeleine Takes Command, Kingfisher World History Encyclopedia, and Usborne History of the World.

Synopsis: This historical novel, set in 17th century New France, features Madeleine de Vercheres, a teenage girl who takes up arms in defense of family, country, and faith against the Iroquois.

Madeleine Verchere's story is based on a true account of colonial French Canada of the 1690's. Harassed by Iroquois, the Verchere family's fort must keep a continual guard. 14-year-old Madeleine is left alone with two younger brothers and few others when the Indians attack. We follow the brave and determined stratagems of Madeleine and her small circle. Madeleine's youthful leadership, especially of her brothers, will win the reader's admiration.

My Thoughts: This novel is a powerful one for any late elementary to early high school child. It provides an inspiring and detailed portrayal of courage, bravery, leadership, principle, and strategic problem solving. For any child who ever wondered: "What does courage look like?"...this is the novel to hand them. I was very impressed and so thrilled that my boys were reading it. Sonlight chooses stories that move you, teach you, and compel you to reach for higher ideals. 

Next up for the boys is an award-winning mystery novel entitled The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.

It isn't as scary as it looks. Weird cover, but I tried not to let that dissuade me. It teaches much about 18-century Japan.

School Library Journal Synopsis: Grade 6-8 A Sherlock Holmes-style mystery set in 18th-century Japan. Fourteen-year-old Seikei, son of a tea merchant, longs to be a samurai, although he knows that this is an inherited honor he can never hope to attain. While on a business trip, Seikei and his stern father take shelter at the Tokaido Inn where a cruel and oafish samurai, Lord Hakuseki, is also staying. A precious jewel is stolen from the lord, and a young girl whom Seikei has just met is accused of the theft. He risks his life by speaking out to defend her and Judge Ooka, called in to solve the crime, is taken with the boys bravery and enlists his help to solve the mystery. This sets Seikei onto a dangerous path where he goes backstage at Kabuki theaters, meets an enigmatic actor, and more than once must act in the honorable way of a samurai. He remains resourceful and courageous, although he often fears he may be on the wrong path. Judge Ooka maintains a steady presence, urging Seikei to observe, be logical, and reason out the motives for the crime. The plot builds towards an exciting, dramatic climax. All of the action is placed solidly in the context of the Tokugawa period of a Japan ruled by an emperor and a shogun, and pervaded by the need to defend ones honor above all else. An unusual and satisfying mystery that will be enjoyed by a wide audience.

My Thoughts: I'm not done prereading it, but I'll let you know more soon. There are two sequels.

Middle School Writing

Write Shop Junior Level E is a good program, well-written and thought out, and well-organized, but if you're teaching four children, it has too many steps and lead-up activities to be feasible. I'm sorry I spent the money on it, but don't let that dissuade you. For smaller families, I think it's an excellent curriculum option. 

I don't have time to tweak it, so I've decided for other reasons too, to go out on my own with the teaching of writing. College-level writing is a big leap and many homeschooling moms say they wish they had given more difficult assignments leading up to it. I've been giving the boys mini literary-analysis essays so they can get used to citing text to support and strengthen their arguments. In high school they have to use two sources in their papers, so now is a good time to practice.

I'm also varying the type of writing they're assigned, including narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive. Check this link for an excellent sample and explanation of a literary analysis paper.

We had a raccoon have babies in our shed sometime in the last month, so that made for a good narrative paper. Daddy tried different tricks to rid our property of the critters, since we couldn't afford to have professionals come out. After three attempts they're gone, hopefully for good (very humanely done; no animal harmed). Let me just say that raccoon mommas are very good mommas.

Current Passions

Peter continues to plan his garden, research plants and herbs, and try to predict the last frost. He can read horticulture books for quite a while, though he tells me he just skims them for information. Actually, he does more researching than planning, which I think will help him sometime if he wanted to own a nursery, help farmers, etc. His knowledge base is really growing and he has plans to heal our woes with herbs, which will be appreciated.

Mary and Beth continue to love sewing and making clothing for their stuffed animals, and Beth continues to make homemade dolls out of anything and everything. She tells me she gathers ideas from books and loves to think up new ones. She sees them in her mind, she explains.

Paul continues to love, love, love with a deep passion the computer programming classes on Khan Academy. It's all he talks about and he starts all his subjects early to have ample time in the afternoon for his programming, which means we have a lot more competition for any computer time around here, since we have just the one PC and a Kindle Fire. Paul is almost done with the first course and is wondering how he can use this for the glory of God. I explained that Christian organizations need programmers and web designers and he could easily turn it into a God-honoring pursuit.

I continue to bake a loaf of whole-wheat flax bread each day, with it coming out of the oven around lunchtime. I use the breadmaker on the dough cycle only, rather than using it for the actual baking. The last rise occurs in a warm oven. As well, I'm continuing to research the healthiest foods and work out how to afford them.

I continue to enjoy reading all the books from the boys' curriculum, as well as reading to the girls.

Lower Elementary Happenings
Mary, my second grade dyslexic reader, is in All About Reading Level 3, and she also began reading the Magic Tree House books I got her for Christmas. She still needs help on at least 4-6 words per page, but she's working hard and pulls them off the shelf without my prompting, which is huge for a dyslexic reader. They don't typically like reading, but we're hoping to beat those odds around here. This mom loves books and that helps a lot. If books are valued in a home and given a place of respect in the daily time schedule, I think we're doing all we can as parents and teachers. Read them, have them all around, and talk them up.

My kindergartner is doing far better in math but Mary still struggles with the numbers a lot. The blog on my side bar entitled The Dyslexic Advantage has been invaluable to me as a teacher and parent. I read more this week about why math is so difficult for 50% of dyslexics. It feels like such an uphill climb, but I like a challenge. 

I think when Mary starts 3rd grade Teaching Textbooks math (CD ROM) next January, she will be helped a great deal. The visual and the auditory together have really changed the game for Peter, who began using the program in the 3rd grade. He and Mary have a similar learning profile with math (dyscalculia), although dyslexia affected Peter far less in reading than it does Mary. And Mary fares better as a speller/writer than Peter did at this same age.

I have some outstanding Social Studies picture books to share, newly published in 2015.

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls Published March 2015

School Library Journal Synpsis: K-Gr 2—This powerful and winning picture book tells the story of a young man overcoming the odds. Born in Ghana with a deformed left leg, Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah experienced stigma as a result of his disability: his father abandoned the family, and many assumed that the boy would be little more than a burden. However, with the encouragement of his mother, Yeboah refused to give up, hopping to school (instead of walking) and even learning to play soccer and cycle, despite receiving no extra help or accommodations. Thompson's lucidly written text explains how Yeboah cycled 400 miles in 2001 to raise awareness, forever changing how Ghanaians perceived those with disabilities. The narrative is simply and clearly written, and the illustrations are skillfully rendered in charmingly emotive ink and watercolor collages. A brief author's note explains how Yeboah inspired legislation upholding equal rights for the disabled and how he continues to make strides, working with organizations that provide wheelchairs to those who need them and setting up a scholarship fund for children with disabilities. VERDICT This uplifting account will resonate with readers and supplement global and cultural studies. A triumph.—Kathryn Diman, Bass Harbor Memorial Library, Bernard, ME

My Thoughts: Beautifully done in every respect. An outstanding addition to any elementary social studies curriculum; inspiring for all ages. I disagree with the above reviewer that the interest level is only as high as 2nd grade. My older boys were captivated and educated too.

In the New World: A Family in Two Centuries 
by Gerda Raidt, Christa Holtei Published March, 2015

School Library Journal Synopsis: This fascinating picture book blend of fiction and nonfiction uses the story of the Peterses, a made-up German immigrant family and their fifth-generation American descendants, to explore immigration in the 19th century. Through well-crafted text and charming, detailed drawings, Holtei and Raidt convey the severe economic conditions that precipitated the Peterses' journey in 1869. Charming panoramas of the Peterses' home and village and close-ups of their careful planning prepare readers for the trip's progression, including what items the family carried with them in the one trunk allowed aboard the Teutonia. Onward from their passage in steerage, the Peterses disembarked in New Orleans and transferred to the steamship Princess on their way to Nebraska. There they made their final connection to their new home via covered wagon. Well-written paragraphs expand on topics such as "Life in Steerage" and "Seeing the New World." The narrative then highlights the fifth-generation of Peterses, who traveled back to their ancestral home in Germany to uncover their history. This tale emphasizes the triumph born of hard work and industry, themes that reflect the experiences of many immigrants to America, and humanizes this period. VERDICT A thoroughly delightful and informative story that may even inspire some readers to discover the joys of genealogy for themselves.

My Thoughts: My girls and I were fascinated with this beautiful, charmingly-illustrated book. Ages 6 and 8, they're usually pretty wiggly, but my girls they didn't squirm a bit, listening attentively the whole time, and interjecting a few comments here and there. They learned a lot and I was very impressed with the presentation of the material.

John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall 
by Julie Dannebery, Jamie Hogan, Published March, 2015

School Library Journal Synopsis: Gr 3–5—This attractive picture book retells naturalist and writer John Muir's climb up a steep trail behind a waterfall along Yosemite Falls in April 1871. Danneberg includes information about Muir's love of the outdoors, his house in Yosemite (where he slept in a hammock that hung over an indoor spring), and his exploration of the park's natural setting. Lucid descriptions and the use of the present tense make the story immediate and relevant. Hogan's expressive renderings of the explorer's face are the highlight of this book, depicting the excitement and awe that Muir experienced standing beneath the falls. Many pages include supplemental information about the man and his love of nature. Quotations used in the text are cited, along with suggested readings and pertinent websites. VERDICT This is a solid work, ideal for those looking to add to collections or units on environmental studies, geography, writing, or biography and sure to inspire further interest in Muir.—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Colls., Mt. Carmel

My Thoughts: Excellent choice for all, but especially for your nature lovers. I've been to Yosemite four times as a California resident and I miss it terribly. Raising children in Ohio is better on a lot of fronts, however, so I have to remember Yosemite in my daydreams. We took our boys there one last time before we moved here, when they were 22 months and 3 and a half. The girls have never seen it.

Earmuffs for Everyone: How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs 
by Meghan McCarthy, Published Jan. 2015

School Library Journal Synopsis: K-Gr 3—This picture book charts the evolution of the earmuff. McCarthy starts in the 18th century, discussing the ways that various inventors improved on one another's designs, until Chester Greenwood made one last tweak to the wire headband and applied for a patent. Woven into the narrative is a description of patents. Children will also come away with a greater understanding of the nature of inventions. The book ends with a brief biography of Chester Greenwood and a section about the dedicated citizens in the state of Maine who lobbied for a Chester Greenwood Day (made official in 1977). Back matter includes an author's note, a note about patents, and a photo of the annual Chester Greenwood Day parade in Farmington, Maine. Rendered in acrylic paint, the illustrations are appealingly cartoonlike, portraying people with exaggerated round eyes and faces, and complement the concise but upbeat text ("[Isaac Kleinert] also made dress guards, which protected ladies' clothing from sweat. Ew!"). A solid addition for those seeking titles about inventors and inventions.—Samantha Lumetta, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH

My Thoughts: This book is cool! Read it to your older children too and let them dream about the patent they will one day apply for.themselves, when they get that invention under way. It's great for budding engineers and truly creative kids...and those who need to be encouraged to think creatively. It just made me smile and I was so grateful for the engaging storytelling style and the excitement it caused around here.

More new trade books next week! How was your week?

Weekly Wrap-Up

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Christian Trade-Off

When the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts and we are born again, a trade-off occurs. We give up control over our lives to make Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. We are bought and paid for and made into servants of the Most High. And in trade for that, we get two things:

Eternal Life
The Lord's Presence

Eternal life is a down-the-line thing; it's hard to even imagine sometimes, though we know it will be perfect and beautiful.

What is very tangible and always available now is the other blessing: the Lord's presence.

Oftentimes we fail to take advantage of this blessing. We don't sit down and invite His presence, so half of the blessing of our salvation is not realized in our lives on a daily basis. We are missing something huge that facilitates a powerful witness to others. Those who take advantage of his presence are a balm to others and a testimony of His grace.

Here are verses for strength, hope, peace and joy. Print them out and sit down with them as often as you can, and especially when you're suffering. They've been powerful and game-changing for my children and me many times. His presence is powerful and transformative. Don't live without it.

For Strength
Joshua 1:9 I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.”
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”
Deuteronomy 31:8 “The Lord is indeed going before you – he will be with you; he will not fail you or abandon you. Do not be afraid or discouraged!”
For Hope
Romans 5:1-5  “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Romans 15:13 “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
1 Peter 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance
imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
For Peace
Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Isaiah 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.
Isaiah 54:10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
For Joy
1 Peter 1:8-9 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Isaiah 12:6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you."
Isaiah 35:10 and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
John 16:22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
Psalm 30:5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins
Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 3:19 And to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Jeremiah 31:3  The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
John 15:9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
Psalm 103:11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.


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