Saturday, September 26, 2015

Weekly Homeschool Wrap-up: Big Changes

So, I made a monumental change in our homeschool in the past couple days. It all started earlier this year, with a growing skepticism on my part about the Sonlight Cores for older children (we love Sonlight for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade). However, the cores for middle school students have their problems.

First, the reading is not challenging enough, and secondly, there are no literary analysis components, which is really unacceptable at the middle school level. They need literary analysis by the middle years so they're not blindsided by it in high school and college, where there will be a lot of it (if the teachers are worth anything). 

In Sonlight, middle school children are assigned a large number of books (many more than most curriculums). While many of them are genuinely good books, others were obviously chosen because they match the target topic, such as Napoleon Bonaparte in a World History unit. 

In earlier Sonlight years, there are more Newbery Award winning books, but in the middle school years, not many.

I read some of Betsy and the Emperor this weekwhich is about the young, 14-year-old girl, Betsy, who befriended Bonaparte when he was exiled to her remote island after his Waterloo loss, where her father worked for an East Indies company, and was assigned to host Bonaparte for a time. Betsy's fond friendship with Bonaparte is an historical fact, but this author's account had fabrications that flopped and ruined an otherwise good story (especially the fictional escape attempt). The book was poorly written, contained swearing, and had immoral elements about which there were no consequences written into the story. The protagonist was a spoiled brat, as well, making her a poor role model.

Can I just say...I was appalled at Sonlight's taste in including this book. I felt it was chosen because they found nothing else that would fit their topic. This isn't the first time in World History Part 2 I've found this to be the case. 

Basically, this book was the last straw, even though we paid a lot for the curriculum and much of it was brand new (purchased March, 2015). I sold it this morning, within mere hours of listing it.

So, what's next for my boys? Literary analysis training while reading quality books, using Teaching the Classics (training for the teacher; I'm getting just the seminar workbook). This seminar will set me up to teach any novel, poem, or short story, using the Socratic questioning method, while teaching all the elements of literature and literary analysis. I'll also understand how to assign appropriate literary analysis essays, and evaluate them.  

There are three other resources we will obtain, some now, and some in second semester, to assist me in teaching the classics:

Ready Readers Level 3 - Written to the teacher. Gives examples, using 5 books, of how to apply the knowledge learned from Teaching the Classics.

From the Center For Lit website: Our latest addition to the Ready Readers series provides complete discussion notes for 5 classic junior-high level stories.

Ready Readers 3 follows the pattern set by the first two volumes in the series, providing a full set of Socratic discussion questions for each story with comprehensive answers keyed to the text. Questions cover Conflict, Plot, Setting, Characters, Theme, Literary Devices and Context. In addition, a completed Story Chart graphically outlines the major structural and thematic elements of each story.

Ready Readers 3 provides complete discussion notes for the following classic stories:

Treasure Island b
y Robert Louis Stevenson

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald

The boys have read a couple of these books already, so we will skip a couple, saving the resource to be used in its entirety with my girls.

Another resource, written to the teacher, that will help me teach up through 12th grade is Reading Roadmaps, a literary scope and sequence for grades K-12, also from the Center for Lit.

Synopsis: Now you can use the Teaching the Classics method with a formal reading and literature curriculum guide that fits your busy schedule!

Reading Roadmaps is a comprehensive Scope & Sequence manual containing annotated reading lists for grades K-12. Designed as a supplement to the Teaching the Classics basic seminar, it brings together more than 200 classic titles specially chosen by Adam and Missy Andrews. Each entry summarizes the story’s plot, conflicts, themes and literary devices, along with links to teacher resources and suggestions for alternate titles. (View a sample entry)
Reading Roadmaps adapts to your style by offering SIX different curriculum models—from the Daily Model, designed for classroom teachers who address Lit every day, to the Seasonal Model, designed for parents focused on Math and Science who want some exposure to Lit as well. Whatever your level of interest in this subject, Reading Roadmaps can help you get results.
With more than 200 pages of resources, Reading Roadmaps offers guidance on every aspect of teaching Lit, including:
Lesson planning — step-by-step instructions for conducting an oral discussion using the Teaching the Classics model, with special attention to each grade level from K-12
Writing from literature — instructions for assigning and grading literature essays for all ages, including sample essays and our exclusive “Tootsie-Roll” diagram
Teaching objectives — a list of goals for each year from K-12 to keep your students on track toward a complete literary education
Grading and credits — complete instructions for grading oral discussions and reading/writing assignments, including reproducible grade sheets
The final resource, written to the student, is Introduction to Literature by Janice Campbell

Synopsis: Recommended for 8th grade, with four other volumes available to cover high school. Introduction to Literature (English 1) is a one year, college-preparatory literature and composition course, and is the first volume of the Excellence in Literature curriculum.

Short Stories by Welty, O. Henry, and others
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

My notes: This curriculum is very challenging, and the only one of these new resources that is student-directed. It's designed like a college course, with a syllabus-like guide (not daily plans). The students must learn to manage their time to get everything accomplished by their deadlines, including doing their own research on each author and the historical time periods relevant to each work. Research links are given, however. 

The students are given two weeks to read each work, and two weeks to complete the writing assignments (so each unit is 4 weeks).

Since we will no longer be doing as much history and literature combined, I need one more history resource to supplement Story of the World, Vol. 4 (The Modern Age)--a resource the boys have already started. I chose a history supplement published by My Father's World, in conjunction with DK Publishing, based upon Cathy Duffy's review and my own respect for the My Father's World's company.

Writing all that out completely exhausted me and left me behind on dishes, so let me close in showing you this nifty shelf I found for $10 at a rummage sale. We didn't have space to put all of our supplies in one place, which was problematic. 

But now, yeah! We're super organized. And the chalkboards on the bottom half still work!

How was your week, friends? Have a blessed weekend. 

Other posts on the blog this week: Your House: A Story of Love and Life (As! My house is a wreck!)

Weekly Wrap-Up

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Teaching Dyslexics...the Delicate Dance, the Bottom Line

This morning I made a fact family chart for my girls so they could see the patterns clearly and maybe internalize them. This of course wasn't the first time I've done this.

2 + 2 = 4  so 4 - 2 = 2
3 + 3 = 6  so 6 - 3 = 3
4 + 4 = 8  so 8 - 4 = 4

I demonstrated each family with unifix cubes, up to 10 + 10 = 20.

Next, I gave them subtraction problems that included only doubles, such as 12 - 6 = 6, and 10 - 5 = 5.

If they get an answer of 12, the next challenge do you write a 12? Is it 21 or 12? Is 14 a 4 and a 1, or a 1 and a 4? All the details overwhelm and cause fatigue and frustration--all the automaticity necessary, just doesn't come.

I put the chart I made right in front of them, thinking they could easily do the problems with the cubes to help, as well as with the fact family chart. Hopeful that my teaching job was at least temporarily done, I went to start the bread in the bread machine.

But no, they couldn't do it without help. Every time I thought I could go back to the bread, they called me again.

It's frustrating everyday when teaching dyslexics, even as you watch them throughout the day and see clearly how bright they are.

It's rarely a conceptual problem. They understand subtraction makes a number smaller, and addition makes it larger. They don't have issues with the concepts, but computation is still extremely exasperating for all of us.

Automaticity, as I said, just isn't there. Working memory isn't strong enough for random facts and sequences, and seemingly simple patterns don't jump out at them like they do for many of us. They look at a 100's chart and see random symbols, not patterns.

They can't look at 3 mathematical signs, like +, -, and =, and tell you automatically which is which. They have to think about it, and ask for clarification. They have to ask for clarification about 6 and 9, and b and d, even though we've used strategies to tell them apart.

They can't automatically remember that we read problems from left to right, not right to left. And when faced with a non-modified worksheet, they can't remember which row they're on, so when they have an answer, they don't know where to put it because all the rows and columns are overwhelming, which is why Teaching Textbooks is a wonderful program for dyslexics. It presents one problem at a time, and keeps distractions at a minimum. I can't wait until the girls are ready for third grade math and can use Teaching Textbooks.

When dyslexics (dyscalculics) get to algebra, the concepts aren't a problem, but without a calculator, the simple, multiple computation steps leading up to the answer, are a problem. So many steps of addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication are overwhelming. Too many signs, too much work on the scratch sheet, making it too hard to see which problem you just worked out. It's a horrible waste of paper to do everything on a fresh sheet, and yet chalk is a pain. I've resorted to cutting small sections of paper for each problem.

Yesterday my six-year-old daughter told us out of the blue that she's going to marry someone who is a Christian, who is intelligent, loving, helps others, likes to go places, and who is fun. All this from a six year old! Her mind--her discernment and insight--amazes me all day long.

Dyslexics see the big picture well, and work from that vantage point.

My girls--and many, many dyslexics--love movement, music, art, acting, making up songs, making up games. They can do so much, and yet dyslexia, if they let it, can crush their spirits...make them feel dumb and dis-empowered.

No, my beautiful, wonderful, amazing daughter. This doesn't mean you're dumb. It means you're different. Your mind works differently, and your mind is needed in the body of Christ.

I feel overwhelmed so often with the dance I have to maintain as their teacher, and yet the challenge is delicious, too. On the one hand, I have to point out frequently what they can do--how God has gifted them. And on the other hand I have to maintain the patience of a saint while I try to come up with methods that work for them, and empower them.

I honestly don't know how much time to spend on computation, because no matter how much we do, it never becomes automatic. Peter, who shares the same difficulties, memorized stories to learn his multiplication facts, and he's never memorized his addition or subtraction facts. If that was my goal, we'd never have gotten to seventh grade math at all.

There's one word for this dilemma. Calculator. For all those students who feel like crying because they can't pass the timed math drills in public school, I wish I could tell their parents and teachers one thing. Calculator. Memorized facts is not next to godliness, any more than cleanliness is. With one in five students dyslexic, we need to get this straight. Calculator, Calculator. Calculator. It's okay for some students to use one. It's not a failure. The sooner they learn to operate one, the better.

I don't mean to throw out the flashcards anymore than the cursive, but not everyone can memorize them, and it's not lack of trying.

I have to stay mindful that successful dyslexics warn not to spend too much time remediating your dyslexic student, at the expense of allowing them to capitalize on their strengths. Their unique strengths, which make them valuable in the workplace, are what catapult them forward, both in spirit, and in their work life.

Society doesn't understand dyslexia. They think it's a tragedy, or that these people are low or borderline IQ, when in fact they are of average or above-average intelligence. The misconceptions are changing, but not fast enough. My kids will have to face a lot of scrutiny about their lack of basic skills (spelling, punctuation, computation). As their homeschool parent, I'll likely be blamed--a fact for which I'm bracing myself.

Their path to help people understand them and believe in them will be an uphill battle, and I pray they find the challenge delicious. I pray they'll be their own bosses, and even go into joint ventures, for his glory. If they don't fit an established mold, they have to remodel the clay as they go through life. They have to appreciate their own minds and realize that "outside the box" is good. They have to muster the courage to raise their hands and say..."But what about this angle?" The angle that is just right, but that no one else sees, because they aren't spatially gifted like a dyslexic.

The same phenomena that makes dyslexics have trouble with left and right and where to start, also makes them solve puzzles and see solutions others don't see. They can view things from multi-vantage points...rotate things in three dimension easily.

Whatever happens, the whole amazing thing, with all its advantages and disadvantages, serves as a reminder that we live for eternity. We hold all these things loosely: success, comfort, prestige, recognition, being understood, having an easy road. We embrace our divine path, whatever it is, and wherever it leads. It's unique. It's ours, given as gift.

At the end of the day, the homeschooling mother isn't successful when her children can do their math problems swiftly. It's when they understand their place before God, their place before eternity...that's when you can go to bed with a joyful sigh and a thankful heart.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mother-Daughter Toxic Patterns

An OCD psychologist I like writes for Psychology Today, and recently I noticed a link on that site to an article about mothers and daughters, entitled 8 Types of Toxic Patterns in Mother-Daughter Relationships. The writer of the article is not a therapist and doesn't diagnose anything, such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which would explain some of the behaviors she details. She also wrote a book entitled Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt, for which she interviewed many daughters with toxic mothers.

She chose not to interview daughters whose mothers had been diagnosed with any personality disorder, or whose mothers were addicts. These were seemingly normal families with mothers who for whatever reason, were unable or unwilling to love their daughters.

Ms. Streep highlights eight patterns indicative of toxic mothers (not mutually exclusive...toxic mothers exhibit more than one of them, typically):

- dismissive
- controlling
- unavailable
- enmeshed
- combative
- unreliable
- self-involved
- role-reversed

Keep in mind that she refers to ongoing patterns, not atypical instances of these behaviors. She finds that about 50% of us get lucky in terms of who our mothers are, and the other 50% are unlucky to some extent.

I found the comment's section particularly enlightening. What kept coming up was the phenomena of a mother playing favorites, and treating cruelly one of her daughters, while being a decent mother to her other children. Does this favoritism ring true for any of you?

I read such articles to gauge my own healing, and to keep mindful of my own mothering practices. When one grows up in a dysfunctional family, there is often a fear of repeating the sins of one's parents. But there's a crucial difference between a good-enough mother (which most of us are) and a toxic mother.

It's self-awareness.

~ Toxic mothers refuse to acknowledge their part in any dysfunction, and categorically blame others for any problems that arise.

~ They will systematically turn others against anyone who tries to confront them on unacceptable behavior, while being loving to those who play the denial game.

~ They care intensely about public image, and when they are loving, it's often to make themselves look good, rather than from genuine feeling. They have an idea in their head of what a mother should be and do, and they dupe themselves into believing they are that mother. Whoever disagrees verbally or otherwise, is considered ungrateful and troubled.

~ They may try to maintain a relationship with a child they despise, but only because to not do so would be considered unloving and unforgiving, and they don't want to portray that image. If a child walks away from them, they blame the child, and they make sure everyone knows how hurt and shocked they are.

~ Toxic mothers control children with guilt.

Many of the women in the comment's section indicated they have no contact, or limited contact, with their mothers. Most of the women were in their thirties or forties before realizing they had a toxic mother. Many of them indicated some of the dislike on the part of the mothers was because they (the daughter) "succeeded" in life while the mother did not, and there was jealously and hatred partially because of that.

It will be two years in February since I decided to break contact with my mother, and I continue to strongly believe it was the right decision for me and my immediate family. I continue to heal. However, breaking contact has not been without high cost. My mother is one of ten children, with seven siblings still living. All of my aunts and uncles stopped contacting me at Christmas and otherwise, and one of them lives within ten miles of me.

Some of them are aware of problems with my mother's behavior, including the local aunt (not my father's sister, who also lives nearby), but they would never try to cross her by contacting me.

My sister maintains contact with me via email, though we don't discuss our mother. My half-brother (different father) neither contacts me nor returns my emails. He blames me that our family is no longer "intact", and thinks that however my mother treats me, I should just accept it and realize that not everyone is perfect. He thinks I'm unforgiving, and doesn't understand the whole toxic parent thing because my mother treats he and my sister reasonably well, and always has. They play the alcoholic-parent denial game well, and they're rewarded for it.

I asked to live with my father when I was twelve, and my mother both didn't allow it, and didn't forgive me for asking. The fact that our home was an alcoholic one was not something she could bring herself to acknowledge, and she still can't. She wasn't a falling-down, or every-day drunk, and she didn't physically abuse us, so to her there was no problem.

We all did a pretty good job of denying the problem, because it didn't match the above criteria. According to recent statistics, a full 30% of Americans are problem drinkers. I'm willing to bet that because most cases aren't extreme, there's a lot of denial and damage in progress.

People have a hard time validating an unloved daughter's experiences when she is the only one of the children, seemingly, to have mother issues. A mother who plays favorites goes against our idea of what a mother should be, and we have a hard time believing it can be a common experience. But it is common, and truly damaging and tragic, and takes a long time to recover from, especially if you've been trained to blame yourself, through guilt-training, for the mother-daughter issues.

As Christians, it's hard for us to justify breaking contact with someone. It does seem unforgiving. It does seem to go against what scripture teaches. Indeed, it's a long road to healing for Christians who are caught in the trap of a toxic person, whether parent, friend, or sibling. If you find yourself there, look at it not so much in light of a particular scripture, but from the Bible as a whole.

Does allowing someone to sin against you over and over without remorse further your Christian walk, or allow you to freely and heartily work for, and live for, Christ? Does it allow you the energy and desire to extend common grace and kindnesses to others? Does it allow you to keep up with your devotional life?

Or does it sap all your energy and make you feel depressed, sad, anxious, and guilty? Does it make it difficult to concentrate on anything but the hurt and disappointment?

Only you know the answers to these questions, but what has helped me is to finally come to terms with this: My mother doesn't love me and it's not my fault. And, I don't have to justify how I've handled this to anyone but God. Not everyone will understand and that's okay with me.

Another revelation that led to significant healing is this: It isn't fruitful for me to worry about who loves me or likes me, and I certainly can't try to change their minds either way. God loves me and that is enough. He loves me fully, perfectly. His love is what heals, uplifts, and strengthens.

Love is necessary for every human, but seeking it is not fruitful. Giving it is. We give it because He first loved us.

What do I owe my mother? I have answered that question this way: I owe her my prayers, my forgiveness, my well wishes, my love. I don't owe her my presence or my correspondence, because in doing that I remain inside her toxic web.

I wish you all the best as you try to answers these tough questions in your own life. If you would like prayers, I would love to pray for you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Stray Dog and a Prayer

They begged and pleaded, and we said no and no and no. We can't afford a dog right now. We can't afford a dog right now. We can't afford a dog right now.

You get the picture, yes? How this sounded week after week, as soon as they had opportunity to pet a dog somewhere? Or see a dog movie?

Finally, I changed my answer to their pleading, as I often do when they plead for something that costs money: Whatever you think you need, pray about it. If God agrees, he will provide it in time.

About 18 months ago, we adopted a dog who kept snapping at the kids, though not actually biting them. We gave it three months, before giving him back to the rescue operation, when a particular snapping scared us pretty badly.

The kids and I mourned the loss of the dog, but we knew rescue dogs often have serious issues. We couldn't afford a professional trainer, or risk a bite either, for that matter. We waited for God to drop a suitable dog in our laps, along with the funds for purchase. It was just too distracting for Peter to peruse dog sites constantly (obsessively). Many of the rescue fees were $200 per dog.

Fast forward about 12 months.

One of the neighbor kids found the little guy pictured above--a German Shepherd mix we presume--roaming the neighborhood. She kept it at her house, and posted lost dog ads on three different websites. She's had the dog a week, and she daily brought him over here for outdoor playtime in our fenced yard. My kids became attached to the dog's puppy-like energy and fetching antics, not to mention his loving ways. He marks his territory already, which I think occurs in male dogs six months and over, especially if they haven't been neutered (he hasn't been).

About this same time we learned that the neighbor girl's family is losing their house at the end of the month, and they still hadn't found a home for the dog. They already have one dog, and this new one doesn't take well to other dogs, though he doesn't seem to guard his resources (food or water or toys).

I thought of all the reasons keeping the dog here was a bad idea, especially since I didn't know how long he had been a stray or what issues he might have--though he seemed like a great, fun-loving, energetic dog, perfectly matching my children's energy levels. As well, German Shepherds make good therapy dogs. I watched closely out the window each day and noticed that the dog seemed to keep Peter's OCD at bay temporarily.

Finally, with everything considered, God spoke to my heart and He changed my no to a maybe...we might be able to see how it goes, if Daddy agrees. The Lord reminded me of the kids' sincere dog prayers. We had to assume that if God provided a free dog, he would also provide for his food and other bills.

We're still in the first 24 hours of possession, but we can all tell the dog--who appears to be between six months and a year old--has been housetrained and at least knows something of a dog crate, although the neighbor girl let him sleep on her bed, which spoiled him. Our pediatrician has long said "no pets in the bedrooms" because of allergies, so bedroom sleeping is not an option for us.

We're rusty with crate usage and forgot to lock its side door when we went to the dentist yesterday, and he got out of it, without damaging the house, thank goodness. And last night he whined in it for 45 minutes, before falling asleep (from midnight to 6:30, when my husband went to the kitchen). We're hoping for more sleep tonight. I believe he's old enough to sleep eight hours, once he acclimates here.

We plan to take him to a vet who does free microchip checks, to try to find an owner, before claiming him as ours. Taking him for frequent walks should also help us find an owner, if he lived in this neighborhood.

The neighbor girl was undisciplined with him and allowed mouthing during play, which we will have to train out of him if we want to keep him. It's mild, however. I told the kids not to do tug-of-war games that encourage mouthing.

We'll keep you posted. Needless to say, I've got some happy, grateful kids right now.

Do you have a dog? How did the crate training go at night, after the initial potty training? I've read three or four articles on it, but I still feel less than confident in it. That whining was hard to take last night, but I stood firm, knowing to give in was the worst thing I could do, and not having the luxury of time to acclimate him slowly. I couldn't let a stray dog have the run of the house or even the kitchen, nor did we have enough barricade items, since he jumps. He seemed like he had at least seen a crate before as he went in readily, but not sleeping in one ever, or at least for a time, was a problem.

We don't care for the name Pedro, which is what the neighbor girl gave him, but for training purposes we will keep it for now, and maybe even get used to it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Homeschool Weekly Wrap-Up Sept.2015

Our learning life is busy and focused, leaving little time for documentation, though I'm trying. I like to start my weekly wrap-ups with a gratitude journal, but I did that yesterday here.

Outings: About 3 different nature spots were visited late August and this month, giving the kids time to explore creeks and a river. They found salamanders, crayfish and other live treasures. We've been in a drought of sorts the last two months, so park visits have been more plentiful. Usually, summer storms get in the way of adventures. The farmers are praying for rain and we're praying with them. The local corn growers don't have much to sell, unfortunately.

Two months post eye-muscle surgery, Beth's brain is doing a good job forcing her eyes to work together. I rarely see them wander now, thank goodness. And she doesn't need glasses! Unless something changes, I don't foresee another eye muscle surgery.

This is a hive.

Beth, with her arthritis, was exhausted after this visit, what with all the climbing. The creek bed was quite a hike to get in and out of.

They were surprised to see a raccoon in plain site at the park.

Beth is playing homeschool here with her dolls and stuffies. She's teaching a Bible lesson and it warmed my heart to listen to her. My little one is wise beyond her years.

A hawk spotted on the neighbor's roof.

During the reading part of devotions the kids like to draw. Peter had been working on this undersea picture for several days.

Here Daddy is reading a Squanto book as part of the girls' Beautiful Feet Early American History curriculum. He has taken responsibility for the girls' history and science readings, alternating between them every other night, after dinner and before devotions. They are listening and drawing at a table, which works out just fine for read-alouds.

So far, they've listened to Leif the Lucky by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire , and Columbus, and Pocohontas by the same authors. Currently it's Squanto Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Bulla, which will be followed by Pilgrim Stories by Margaret Pumphrey.

I didn't buy the books from the company--only the guide. We've been ordering the books from Search Ohio, a library consortium encompassing all of Ohio's libraries. My local libraries don't have many of them, so I don't know what I'd do without Search Ohio this year, which saves us a lot of money, though I couldn't do it for the boys' curriculum. That would be too complicated since they school together and share all their books. It isn't convenient to keep track of due dates, and the charges are higher when you put books on hold from other townships/cities, unfortunately.

In All About Reading 3 we're studying vowel and consonant suffixes

The kids get into stages where they knit and sew, and then drop it for a month or so. Mary forgot how to knit so Paul is giving another lesson, which apparently contained its share of humor because they were awfully giggly. The hardest thing about teaching knitting is getting in a position in which your student can see what your hands are doing. 

Our library recently got some new books, including these Playaway book backs, containing several books read aloud from a tiny player you attach headphones to. The packs come with the books too. My girls loved the six different packs they picked out, and Peter listened to Frindle this way.

Snacking on homemade bread while listening to a book.

The boys have been busy reading Sonlight Core H novels and books these last six weeks, featured below:

- How to Stay Christian in High School

Synopsis: High school is full of temptations. How can you stay focused on God? This book tells about teenagers in the Bible and how they handled hard issues. Their examples can help you remember your identity in Christ when life gets hard.

Escape Across the Wide Sea

Synopsis: On a crisp fall day in 1686, nine-year-old Daniel Bonnet's comfortable life is shattered when the king's soldiers destroy his family's weaving shop and threaten to murder his father. Now, because they are Huguenots, Protestants who refuse to convert to the king's religion, the Bonnets must flee France. In the ensuing violence, Daniel is left permanently maimed. Wounded and in severe pain, he embarks on an uncertain and courageous journey that will last more than two years and take him to Africa and the Caribbean on a slave ship, and finally to the colony of New York. In this stirring coming-of-age story about the founding of New Rochelle, New York, a boy must invent a new life for himself while confronting the challenges and moral complexities of slavery, inequality, and life with a disability.

- The Ravenmaster's Secret

Synopsis: Best-selling author Elvira Woodruff's thrilling novel set in 1700s London tells of a young boy who must make some painful choices as he attempts to save the life of a prisoner he's befriended.

11-year-old Forrest lives at the Tower of London prison, where his father tends the Tower ravens and guards inmates. Forrest's only friends are his pet raven, his father's prisoners (who all end up dead), and Ned, the young rat catcher. Soon Forrest's father gets a new prisoner: Maddie, the beautiful daughter of a Scottish spy. Immediately Forrest and Maddie become friends. But when she is slated for execution, Forrest must make some painful choices: Should he commit treason to help her escape, or obey the law and let his innocent friend be hung?

- In Search of Honor

Synopsis: Young Jacques Chenier, caught up in the anarchy and terror of the French Revolution, finds himself living a precarious existence as one calamity succeeds another. His biggest fight, however, is to free himself from the prison of his own bitterness.

- The Arrow Over the Door

Synopsis: For young Samuel Russell, the summer of 1777 is a time of fear. The British Army is approaching, and the Indians in the area seem ready to attack. To Stands Straight, a young Abenaki Indian scouting for King George, Americans are dangerous enemies who threaten his family and home. When Stands Straight's party enters the Quaker Meetinghouse where Samuel worships, the two boys share an encounter that neither will ever forget. Told in alternating viewpoints, The Arrow over the Door is based on a true story.

- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Don't ask me why this was put in with Sonlight Core H. It's usually a younger kids' read, but it's a good book with a more complex plot than first meets the eye, so many ages can glean something. It helps us see the beauty of the Christmas story with new eyes. I suppose Sonlight thought something lighter should be throw in there too.

Synopsis: The Herdmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Their interpretation of the tale -- the Wise Men are a bunch of dirty spies and Herod needs a good beating -- has a lot of people up in arms. But it will make this year's pageant the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.

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

Kris Bales from Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers is sharing her Compassion International experience here, and asks you to read about four children who need sponsors. She started supporting Compassion five years ago, after following Kristen Welsh's first Kenya trip as a Compassion Blogger, which is when we started our Compassion International relationship as well. Our Compassion kids' letters are the highlight of our months and I encourage you to check this organization out. I can't say enough good things about them. Writing to these kids is truly one of my greatest pleasures, and my children are learning so much from the whole experience. We only sponsor two, but we write to six total, four of them being correspondent children, whose own sponsors don't write to them.

You can read Compassion International's award-winning blog here.

Weekly Wrap-Up

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Gratitude Journal

Some of these are blessings that come through tears, and some are no-strings-attached blessings. One thing my life story teaches me is that a blessing is whatever situates you at the Lord's feet, either to adore Him, or draw strength from Him.

~ My daughter Beth's arthritis seems to have spread to the knuckles in both hands, but despite that, she remains happy, energetic, and is still intent on drawing prolifically, hoping to illustrate books some day. She inspires me, which helps me absorb the disappointment that God is thus far choosing not to heal her aggressive arthritis (despite using all the medicines available). However, she is not in a wheelchair, which would have been her fate in the past. We still have much to remain thankful for with modern medicine.

~ My husband's steadfast, genuine love.

~ My daughters' sweet hugs and kisses multiple times a day.

~ Though my Peter struggles mightily with his OCD, he still pledges allegiance to God and believes that through God's strength, he will beat this. It's very stressful for the whole family, but the siblings mercy him and pray for him, rather than resent him. And for that, I'm very grateful.

~ The blessing of homeschooling.

~ Learning to love people for themselves, and not for what we hope them to be. As soon as we let go of our expectations, we can truly appreciate the people God has strategically placed in our lives. When you're grading a paper, expectations are good. When you're training children to clean up after themselves, expectations are good. When you're trying to love your fellow man, expectations can get in the way.

"While we were sinners, Christ died for us." He loved us, despite our flaws. Trust is conditional--people have to earn and maintain our trust--but love should be unconditional. That's not to say you stay in proximity of people who are abusing you. We can unconditionally love someone just by praying for them consistently. We can't bring ourselves to pray for someone unless we've allowed, or forced, our heart to love them.

~ Instead of co-teaching AWANA Cubbies (preschoolers), I'm co-teaching AWANA Trek this year, which is the middle school club. I'm enjoying that very much.

~ Children growing in knowledge of the Lord and His ways.

~ God's amazing provision, which never fails.

~ Wisdom and stamina from the Lord, as I deal with health issues and homeschooling and scheduling.

~ New kind lady friends at church, one of whom I co-teach with in Trek.

~ That God loves story and gives us all a personal, compelling story--stories that reflect his glory and fill us with living water.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Little Family Wisdom

My kids may as well have been born in a different century, or so it seems sometimes. We're in a church with lots of children, and consequently my kids are perceiving more and more how other kids' lives are different from theirs.

Basically, when you take away all disposable income (money to entertain oneself outside the home or the park) and take away video- and electronic-games and Internet phones, what you have is an existence for kids that mirrors more what it was like in the mid to late twentieth century. That is, kids who entertained themselves with the natural environment (creeks, ponds, fields, backyards), and with bats and balls, paper, crayons, pencils and paints, with yarn, sewing, and dolls, and most importantly, with their own family, and neighbor kids.

When my kids (even my youngest) go to church and hear about this or that family who went here or there, and ate at this or that restaurant, or who played this or that electronic game, they feel left out and weird. So they mention it to me and I empathize with them, telling them it is hard to be different.

But then we discuss what they heard and compare it to the life God calls us to in the Bible. He calls us to lead an other-focused life, not a me-focused life. All the things they heard are usually me-focused activities, rather than other-focused activities, and so our little talk helps them see that they're really not worse off, even if they appear weird.

I also remind them that people in wealthy countries often spend the first half of their lives indulging themselves. Then, when they're older and learn that a me-focused life is not what God wants for them, they have a hard time finding a balance. They feel deprived if they start to spend less on themselves. It's a difficult transition.

It's good, I remind my kids, to know what to do with yourself without money to help you. It's a great skill and one that will help them all their lives. They have to use their imaginations, and they have to learn to work cooperatively with others to make the most of the resources available. And they have to invent new things to do, rather than rely on something already invented.

They're learning that God gave us much to entertain and soothe ourselves in the natural world, which He created for our good pleasure. The natural world is a gift. It's like God's love letter to us.

Lastly, my kids, as less distracted young people, are learning that entertainment isn't supposed to be our only concern. People all over the world have needs, and we're supposed to be thinking about that, more than about our next entertainment fix. I share with them this verse:

1 Corinthians 10:23 "I have the right to do anything," you say--but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything"--but not everything is constructive.

The more choices we have available to us outside of our working/school hours, the more we have to discern what is good and pleasing to the Lord. We already know that work is good and pleasing to the Lord, and that idleness (not having an occupation of some sort) is sin. We already know that God calls us also to rest.

If during our discretionary time we have more permissible things on our list than constructive things, we're imbalanced.

Don't feel sorry for your kids if you can't give them what most kids have or experience. Rarely are the things that come from money the best things (unless you're talking clean water, sanitation, and a non-leaking roof).

Actually, if your Christian kids fit it with typical kids, you might be missing something about not being in the world. Christian kids should be different. Rough around the edges because they're still kids, after all, but different, nonetheless. (My kids have huge flaws, believe me.)

Another difference my kids feel keenly is their perception of family. They're often dismayed at what kids say about their siblings, or even about their parents.

Case in point: Last Friday some new neighbors came over and when Peter told the sister of the pair (she was about 9 years old) that he had three siblings, she responded sarcastically, "Oh, I feel sorry for you."

When your best earthly asset is your family, you can't relate to these sentiments. Peter told her--as he often does to other kids who express similar sentiments--that he is grateful for his siblings. As my oldest, Peter is learning to stand up for his values without care for the backlash.

Family has gone out of style, sadly. Families may sleep under the same roof, but because they disperse here and there during the day and evenings, that's about all they have in common--their roof for sleeping under. They don't even necessarily eat there, or at least not often together.

If I ever wanted to write a book, it would be about bringing back the family. If you have a close-knit nuclear family, you're rich. And if you have the Lord in conjunction with family, you have all the best this universe has to offer--a foundation that will never fail you...sources of joy that will never go out of style.

Thank the Lord we always have these two things to give to our children, no matter our circumstances.