Friday, September 18, 2009

Big Yellow Rain Boots

Charlie snuck out to the forbidden boxes in the garage, the ones holding the off-season clothes, the shoes, and his favorite, the boot box. "Charlie, put those back! You don't need them!"

He lifted his serious chocolate eyes to my stern face, "But I do need them, Mom." And I gave in until he peeled them off his feet and slam dunked them down in the back hall. Then I pounced and returned them righteously to their allotted storage box. We played this sneaking/pouncing game for weeks. Charlie won. The garage is a long way from the shoe shelf in the back hall. Plus, Charlie was right; he did need those boots. Turns out they are an integral part of his vivid imagination.


Charlie as Boromir.


Charlie as Paddington Bear.



Yellow boots are for bunnies too. This is Charlie's newest stuffed animal, Peter. No, not Peter Rabbit. Peter Jackson.
So how 'bout you? Do you have a kid with a vivid imagination and a great prop or two?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Moth to Flame

Stuart is in and out these days. New job. Lots of travel. I am intentional about enjoying the time while it passes instead of counting the minutes. We look for shooting stars, go to the movies, camp in the backyard. Six of us in a four man tent. I read aloud by flashlight and a moth flutters to the light. Faith flutters to the moth, tripping over heads and legs, a hypnotic look in her eye. She falls down laughing. We laugh too.

And the next morning, we sit in a row, new Bibles in our laps, highlighters in hand outlining the Roman road. Good for the kids to know the verses that define their faith. But the reason for this? Next week we are to take these shiny Bibles and hit the streets during the church hour... ring doorbells and flash highlighted words at unsuspecting residents. A sneaky plan. Who would suspect a Baptist at their door on a Sunday during the church hour? We shift in our chairs and squirm through the altar call and bolt for the door at the last amen.

The weather declares a picnic so the kids and I zip through the store and collect up the goods. We sit at a high table with low seats in the park like Gulliver in Brobdingnag. "So are we going next week, Mom?"

"What do you think about it?" I ask the asker.

"I don't think we should. I think we will be barging in uninvited. It's rude."

I might be a heretic because I agreed. "No, we'll have church at home next week." Door-to-door evangalism and arm twisting altar calls step on the toes of graciousness and good manners. Once I did this. Once I sat in the dark on the lawn and told a friend that she would go to hell if she didn't have Jesus. She didn't start the conversation. She didn't ask for this information. I offered it free of charge, all righteous-like. I still blush when I replay the scene. How did I dare?

I know how. I used to think that I could strong arm people to believe the way I believe. A clever argument and a few words from the Word and voila`...another name added to God's big book. Silly girl.

Silly girl. You cannot drag people to me. They have to want to come. Do you not know that it is I who raise the dead? I take a dead heart and breathe life into it. Pray for life! Pray that I supply the want.

So we do. Mornings around the Bible we pray for those we know and love. We pray for life, eternal life to be whispered into hearts. We live our lives in the Light and I write bits of our story and this everyday living is our invitation. For me, this is enough. Notes slipped, now and then, to my inbox confirm that this quiet way works and I am always amazed. This matters, this living consistantly with gentleness and humility, because you never know who, like the moth, might be attracted to the light.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Life After Death

A hot breeze blows in the shade under the maple tree where I sand away the stain and varnish from Stuart's boyhood bed. Bits blow and stick and soon I'm covered with reddish dust. It's a good day for dust. I work and listen for the sound of Stuart's tires in the driveway. Dread hearing tires. Dread where they will take me in an hour.

Charlie chatters while I sand. His words come dimly. "How old is this bed, Mama?"

I push away black cloud. "It's old, Charlie. It was your papa's bed when he was a boy."

"How old is your car?"

"Old as far as cars go. About as old as Lauren." I sand until tires crunch gravel and then I put the bed back in the garage and rinse off dust and switch shorts for dress. The tires carry us away.

And too soon I stand in front of the husk of a girl. Young, not old. Younger than our car. A smidge younger than Lauren. A beautiful, beautiful girl... in spirit and in body. I hold her Mama hard and the tears come, hers and mine. "I'm so sorry. We're praying courage... grace..." Watery, weak words. A poor substitute for a daughter lying cold in a box.

Hair brushed back, full lips, fingers wrapped still around a blue blanket. Still. I look for her chest to rise, her heart to beat. It seems that time should stop, people become statues. Instead we live. In our few minutes with broken-hearted parents we make introductions, shake hands, cry, laugh, breath. Live.

Later we lie restless in the dark. "Are you asleep?" Stuart asks. "It doesn't seem fair, does it for parents to lose a child."

I'm quiet for a bit, thinking how to compress emotion into words. "That's not a safe question because it leads us away from the sovereignty of God. She's whole and safe and well. How can that not be good? I'm so, so sad for the empty place in her family. I'm sad for her parents, her brothers, but I cannot be sad for Abby." We toss a long time before we sleep and tears soak the pillow for a mother with empty arms and empty hours.

I grieve but to look death in the face is instructive. To see death teaches that there is a time to die. To see death teaches one to number the finite minutes and to learn to live those appointed days with wisdom. Like Abby.


Artwork and words from the back of Abby's funeral program. A recent creation from Abby's own hand.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Come. I've moved aside some selfishness to make a bit of room for You, here in my heart.

Come. Join us at the breakfast table. When I remember You, we'll crack open your Word and search for treasure. When I remember.

I remember until a fork clatters to a stop in front of me and then I forget. YOU DO NOT THROW SILVERWARE! SET THIS TABLE LIKE A LADY! I toss the fork back and it hits a water glass, and water and ice cubes spill out.

The silverware tosser bursts into tears and loud cries, and I hear the words of my heart voice, Your voice, "That's not My way." And it's not. I dry tears and mop water and fill the glass again.

Come, heart dweller. Sit with me on the sofa. Feel the press of a warm, wiggly little boy body. Listen to the story sounds and the giggles and the "Read Move Over Rover again, Mama."

Hear the interruption, "I can't find my spelling book."

And my irritation, "I am tired of looking for your school books! When you are done you need to put them away! I am not your maid!" Hear my voice soften. "I'm sorry, we'll look for the book together."

Come. Come into the bedroom in the late afternoon. Feel the thrashing little boy body . Feel the little heels kicking. Hear the screaming. "I'M NOT TIRED! I...DON'T... NEED...UH...NAP!" See me raise my hand to spank and then set it down gently on chubby legs and stroke and hum instead. Until a book hits me in the face, and then see my hand rise and flash down on a chubby bottom. See big fingers hold little ones until the crying subsides and eyelids close.

How can this be, this waffling that makes up my days?

You live in the recesses of my heart and speak softly, in whispers. Impossible whispers. Forgive seventy times seven. Covet not. Be joyful always. Love your neighbor as yourself. Come. You don't really expect me to obey these impossibilities. Do you?

Impossible, you say. This temper keeping, this love giving, this joyful living. That's why I'm here, for I am the author and overcomer of impossibilities.

And this is why "Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing yet had been done."~ C.S. Lewis ~

Visit here to see what other's have to say about this quote.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Transformation of John: Part One

One cannot come face to face with Jesus without either yielding to him or rejecting him. When one chooses to yield, transformation takes place. Paul offers the flashiest example of transformation in the New Testament but all who believe in Jesus are changed. I was looking for this as I read through John’s Gospel. I kept wondering, How did a fisherman learn to write like this? Why did God choose him? Who was this man? How did his encounter with Jesus change John? And because I wondered I searched for answers.


AMBITIOUS: This story found in Matthew 20 reveals that John was ambitious to be a prominent figure in Jesus’ kingdom. It also reveals that his idea of God’s kingdom and reality were entirely different.

Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
"What is it you want?" he asked.
She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."
"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?"
"We can," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father."
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.

I think James and John put their mother up to this request. They seemed awfully eager to accept whatever came Jesus’ way. I am sure they were only thinking of glory and not suffering. The disciples were indignant with these two men. Could they have been thinking, There they go again, trying to wrangle the best position for themselves!

EXCLUSIVE: John saw himself as part of the inner circle. Jesus was going places. John was going with him and he was impatient with anyone who might be trying to get in on the act. We see this in Luke 9:

Master said John, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.

When I read these words I hear them delivered in the urgent tattletale voice that my children use. The disciples had been arguing over which of them would be the greatest. With all this jockeying for position going on, John sure didn’t want any newcomers coming in and stealing his thunder.

HOT TEMPERED: The Samaritans failed to roll out the red carpet when Jesus passed through their town and John had a solution for this that makes me laugh out loud.

Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them? Luke 9:51

John had just been up the mountain with Jesus. He had seen Him in all of His heavenly glory. I think his head was still full of heavenly visions. How dare these people be so disrespectful! Let’s do something about this! I love that he says do you want us to call fire down. It’s almost as if he forgets that all power comes from God. It also appears that he forgets mercy, gentleness and patience.
John’s temper is highlighted in Mark’s Gospel as well. Jesus called his twelve disciples. Among them, James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder.) Jesus must have had a fabulous sense of humor. This line just makes me roll. I can picture James and John about to explode over some slight and hear Jesus remark offhandedly, “Relax Boanerges! It’s no big deal.”

QUICK TO UNDERSTAND: This trait must have been one of the primary reasons that Jesus called John to be one of His closest followers.

At the end of John’s gospel there is a contrast between Peter and John. Peter charged into the empty tomb first and appeared to be clueless in spite of all the clues. John initially remained outside the tomb (I think this presents John as a devout Jew. He would become unclean if he came in contact with death.) Finally John was overcome with the need to get closer. He stood inside the tomb and put the pieces together. He realized without bodily evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead.

The last story in John’s Gospel reinforces Peter’s tendency to act first and think later and demonstrates John’s ability to understand. Jesus stood on the shore and reenacted the miraculous catch of fish. John remembered that early in His ministry Jesus had performed the same miracle. Again he put the pieces together and he told Peter, “It is the Lord!” Evidently Peter could not recognize this for himself but as soon as John pointed it out, he sprang into action. He leapt from the boat and waded toward Jesus and then dashed back to the boat again to help with the nets. Peter reminds me of a Labrador retriever in this scene!

This, of course, is not the end of the story but I have shared enough for today. I will post part two on Thursday.

Coming Up Part 2:
The Good News
John: A New Creature in Christ

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day One: Charlie's Comfort

Part One: Calico Boy

At the last minute, I thought to dash back into the house to grab a pillow and blanket and this turned out to be providential.

Charlie rode to the pediatricians propped on John's shoulder, blanket in his lap. In the waiting room, he lay over two chairs, pillow under head, warm and cozy. The blanket covered all of him on the examining table except for one arm. This he had to expose to the vampires. "Don't hurt me. Don't pinch me! Don't!" Two pinches later, they had a small teaspoon of my son.

He rested, head on pillow, and looked over my shoulder at the pages of Frog and Toad while we waited for the results. White count quite elevated. Strep...negative. Mono...negative. Leukemia...possible but unlikely. He needs anibiotics via i.v. Take these admission papers; the hospital is waiting for him.

Blanket protected Charlie from drenching sky as I carried him to the car. One of the girls carried his pillow. Quick phone call to Stuart. "Meet us." Quick zip though the drive through to feed four hungry kids and one hungry mama a four-o'clock lunch.

Blanket wrapped and I carried him into admissions. "I wish I could ride in a wheelchair. Your brother is heavy!"

Charlie stretched across waiting room chairs. "Can you hop up in this wheelchair?"

"Nuh uh."

So I rode, Charlie in my lap, pillow tucked behind, blanket draped over. Into hospital gown, weigh and measure, i.v. port in on the second try. "Don't pinch! I want to lay down! I want to lay doowwn! Pillow on the bed, pale boy under green blanket.

Another wheelchair ride down the elevator for x-rays. Pillow over the arm of the chair; head down. Blanket on the x-ray table. "It's just a picture. Pictures don't pinch. Promise."

And finally, Charlie sleeps a fitful sleep, cozy in his blanket. I hold his hand in the midnight dark. A soft light shines out from under the bed. The i.v. clicks and drips. Child coughs a deep-lung, body-wracking cough in the next room. Somewhere in the maze of thin walls a baby wails and will not be comforted. Charlie stirs. "Do you hear that sad baby? Let's pray for him."

"No, Mama! Pray for me!"

I pray for both and Charlie moans and drifts back to sleep and in the late watches of the night, I lie awake and marvel again and again that the last minute dash for pillow and blanket brought great comfort to this unexpected day.

Day Two: Waiting

Friday, May 22, 2009

More, Please?...Here You Go

So you want to know about the fairy house?  I noted your curiosity and dashed into the rain, camera in hand, to shoot another photo minus the cat.  See the sweet little walkway of tiny stones that the girls laid out?  The tiny lantern has a solar powered battery so it gives a wee glow when the sun goes down. 


Faith had her birthday all planned out, "Binoculars and an alarm clock, please."  We purchased and wrapped and were good to go when one morning I was flipping through the Plow and Hearth Catalog and spied these fairy accessories.  A bit of internal tug of war...  We already have her presents.  She doesn't really need this.  It's not like she can play with it... but  fifteen minutes later the goods were on their way to our front door.  Faith LOVES fairies.  She still plays the fairy game.  Now she has a door to deposit her minature delicacies at.  (No matter that we see the cat walking away licking her whiskers.)

We are on the hunt for tiny shade loving plants to line the walkway. I'm thinking ground cover that can be stepped on.  Any suggestions?  Wal-Mart has not offered up the perfect plant for this project; though today I found an ornamental grass on the way back to the car that had me running me into the store.  Isn't she a beauty? 


Accesorizing continues in the back yard.  I've got my eye on the Wizard door for a few of my fantasy lovers. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Backyard

The gorgeous weather draws us out of our cave. We wile away the hours in our backyard...


(Allegra stretches out in front of Faith's birthday present.)

... playing...

colored chalk drawing
(This photo shows only a fraction of the graffiti explosion on our back patio.)


(Lauren and John dump six hundred pounds of salt into the pool.)

...working and playing?!

Summer Reading
(Kaya is all the rage with the younger set.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bad Theology

We had to backpedal and find an easier children's Bible for Charlie because the Children's Story Bible is beyond his depth and breadth of knowledge. Still, he listens in when I read to Claire and Faith, "I know about those, Mama," he tells me as I read the story of the pillar of cloud and fire. "A firepillar is like a firefly." this firepillar?

And for his own Bible time with his easy Bible story book, I point to Adam and Eve and ask, "Who are these people?" to which I receive this confident reply:

"That's Adam and Jamie "

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

10:30 Tuesday Night

It's almost summer.  Or maybe it already is summer because the kids have been swimming every day this week.  Time for school to wind down?  Not for us.  We're picking up the pace and buckling down.  For some reason we always get more school done in the summer than we do any other time of the year.

The kids have been busy with a new language arts program and a new approach to handwriting.  (More on these soon.)  Lauren is obsessed with biology.  We work in the gardens and she holds out specimens to the girls, "Look!  It's a gastropod."  Or, "Come see this wood louse!"


 I introduced Claire and Faith to long division this afternoon.  This evening the children worked on art projects and played with a pile of hand-me-down stuffed animals while I read Great Expectations aloud to them. 

At ten I closed the book and after a quick candlelight question, sent the children off to bed.  At 10:15 Lauren came to get me so I could correct her science test.  She was too excited to wait until tomorrow to see how she did.  When I finished working with Lauren, I walked by Claire's bedroom where she was laying on her stomach, math notebook open in front of her.  I looked over her shoulder to see that she had created some long division problems for herself and was working on solving them.  For my children, it seems that learning is as essential as breathing.

(Lauren reading Susan Wise Bauer's The Story of the World Vol. 3 on a recent sunny morning. Claire and Faith share binoculars to complete a project listed in Jeannie Fulbright's Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Milk Safari

At our house, at any given time, we are either almost out of milk or all out of milk. Lauren phoned during the appetizer portion of Stuart's birthday date to let us know that the current milk status was nil. After we finished up dinner, Stuart and I went, hand in hand, on the milk safari.

We made it safely past the patio furniture and the tiki bar and the summer dishware to the farthest corner of the store. Two gallons of milk in hand, we made the trek back through the financial death traps, cursing store planners and their wily skills. We almost made it out of Kroger's with just the milk when I spotted the Butterfinger eight pack.

The self-checkout aisle beckoned and because Stuart was with me and doesn't have the same issues with self-checkout bagging that I seem to have, we sallied forth to make our purchase.

I scanned the first gallon.

"Please place your item in the bagging area." Cinderella's stepmother spoke to us in her pleasant yet condescending tone.

Yes! Success! One item down, two to go.

"Please place your item in the bagging area." The second gallon of milk, done.

Now for the Butterfingers. Scan. Bag. But wait these look so tasty! I took them up, opened the package, tore open a tasty morsel, popped it halfway into my mouth, and like Eve, offered one to my Adam.

"Please put the item BACK in the bagging area." I set the remainder of the package down and looked into the scanner for Cinderella's stepmother. Stuart knows my self-checkout issues. He looked at me with the half a Butterfinger poking from my lips and we laughed until the tears came. People with advanced degrees in self-checkout glared at us with haughty advanced-degree glares. We hardly noticed. The best part of the birthday date was in Krogers buying milk.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

History Repeats Itself

Once there was a little boy. A mischievous little boy with a wind-up car. He took that car, wound it up and drove it into his sister's hair.

The little boy grew up and had a girl and he told her the story about the car and the hair. "That car turned your Aunt Ellen's hair into a rat's nest. A regular rat's nest your granny would say. I made a hell of a mess! They had to cut that car out of her hair."

The girl grew up and had a little boy. A mischievous little boy with a wind-up car. He took that car, wound it up and drove it into his sister's hair...


Monday, April 27, 2009

Mr. Morse and Mr. Gilbreth

Stuart rang this morning, "Have you seen the Google homepage yet?"

We had. John did a little Gollum dance in front of the computer to let us know. "Come quick! Hurry!"

Morse code. The kids all joined John in his little Gollum dance to celebrate their new favorite form of communication.

We read Cheaper by the Dozen a few years ago when the little ones were too little so, my chore time pep talks, "Frank Gilbreth would roll over in his grave if he saw you clearing that table one plate at a time," only generated blank stares. Finally, after Mr. Gilbreth came up for the twentieth time Faith got curious. "WHO is Frank Gilbreth and WHY do you keep talking about him?"

Out came Cheaper by the Dozen . We rolled our way through the chapters, holding our sides. A story of a motion study pioneer who practiced his techniques on himself and his supersized family with hilarious results. A born teacher, a man who made the most of his time. We were spellbound. When we got to the part where Mr. Gilbreth covered his entire summer cottage in morse code, the chidren were hooked.

One morning at breakfast we spent an hour coming up with words to match the dots and dashes of the alphabet.
Here's our list:
A .- a DORE
B -.. BEST i ar y
C -.-. CREEP y CRAWL ers
D -.. DAN ger ous
E . egg
F ..-. fil i BUST er
G --. GAR GOY le
H .... half a min ute
I .. ig loo
J .--- ju LY JAM JAR
K -.- KAN ga ROO
L .-.. lim BER ger cheese (much to John's dismay. He prefers li NO le um)
N -. NOS tril (Charlie's favorite word! Just in general.)
O --- O RE O
P .--. pen I CIL lin
R .-. re MOR a
S ... sal ly forth
T - TOAST! ( from YeahToast!)
U ..- un der WHERE?
W .-- what IS THAT?
X -..- EX tract of MALT ( Tigger's favorite food)
Y -.-- YO da's KNICK ERS
Z --.. ZO OL o gy

Once we got the code under our belts, the kids started burning through all the scrap paper in the house creating messages for one another. We are not working on them every meal like we were a few weeks ago but every once in a while somebody will write one and we will linger at the table solving the puzzle. Of course John created one this morning after he finished his dance.

This message is the first one that John made for us and I think it is the best one that we have done to date. If you would like to try this with your children, pretend that you are standing in the middle of the circle, turn so that you face the arrow at the top and then turn clockwise to work your way around.

morse code puzzle

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Peppers and Pigeons

They stand, the one born in 2000 and the one born in 2001, side by side at the kitchen counter chopping up peppers for the freezer. This is new for these young hands and the work goes slowly. To pass the time they discuss their favorite subject, science. Tonight extinct birds are on the menu.


"Mom, did you know that there used to be such a thing as dodo bird?"

"Yes, but now they are extinct."

"Yeah and there is a kind of pigeon that is extinct too."

"You're thinking of passenger pigeons."

"Yeah, passenger pigeons. The last one was shot by a fourteen year old boy and now it is in a museum." Claire slices methodically.

"Oh, I didn't know that." I say while corraling chopped bits of pepper in plastic wrap.

"Yup. A kid the same age as John killed it. I wonder if he went to jail?"

Faith wields her knife like a sword. I try not to look. "The last pigeon died a long time ago. A long, long time ago. Like in the Nineteen Hundreds or something."

At that moment I felt old. And so did John.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Chompo Bar for Lauren

Charlie and I went to the book store to get Lauren a study Bible for her twelfth birthday. I laid the Bible on the checkout counter when Charlie came to a realization, "That present is from you and Papa. I want to get Lauren a present from me!" Perhaps the array of candy right at his eye level helped his line of thinking but at any rate I could tell by the enthusiasm in Charlie's voice that we could not leave without a present just from him.

"OK. What do you think Lauren would like?"

"How 'bout these chocolates?"

"Lauren doesn't really like chocolate."

"How 'bout these chocolates?"

"I repeat, Lauren doesn't like chocolate."

"Oh. Then these. What are these?"

"Cinnamon candies. I think they might be too spicy. How about this?" I held up a roll of Orange Creme Life Savers."

He studied the wrapper with great deliberation. "That's not shareable. I want to get something to share."

"OOOH, so what you are looking for then is a Chompo Bar?"

It's been a while since we've read A Birthday for Francis so Charlie looked quizzically at my raised eyebrows. "What?"

"Never mind. The Life Savers are shareable."

"OK. Let's get them!" So we did. And then I explained for a long time how Lauren's presents were a secret and how he could not tell her and that if he wanted to talk about them he could only whisper about them to me when we were alone. And he wanted to know how alone, like when Lauren was in the same room but not sitting on the same sofa. And I said no, only when we couldn't see Lauren. And I repeated this several times.

When we got home Charlie got distracted with his sword and his radio control car with the dead battery and he forgot all about the presents so this morning we were able to surprise Lauren with her Chompo Bar...err...Life Savers. We didn't give her the other presents until dinner when Stuart came home but Charlie couldn't wait until dinner for Lauren to open his so early this morning before breakfast, he handed his little wrapped package to her.

"Here, Lauren. It's for you. It's for sharing! Open it! Open it!" Charlie said, jumping up and down, waving the goods in front of her.

Lauren opened her Life Savers and she was excited because she does like orange cream anything. "Thank you, Charlie."

And Charlie who had been waiting for two days to share, commenced to lay out his plan. "You get one. And give one to Mama and one to John and Faith and Claire and save one for Papa. Then give one to me and you get all the rest. "All the rest" turned out to be only four but Charlie is way better at sharing than Francis.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spelling Wisdom

One day while skipping around the internet, I came across these:


And when I clicked on the sample, I knew we had to change spelling curriculums. Again. Goodbye Spelling Power and MacMillan and Sequential Spelling! We've found our true love.

The problem with the afore mentioned curricula is sheer boredom. Memorizing lists of words is mind numbing and as my children don't like their school work to lull them to sleep, they often push spelling to the side in favor of more exciting lessons.

When I found Spelling Wisdom, I realized what has been missing: an idea, something to engage the mind so that learning the difference between than and then occurs almost incidentally.

Sandra Shaffer uses the writings of famous men and women (Helen Keller, Beethoven, Winston Churchill...), Bible passages and quotes from quality literature...poems and novels (Robinson Crusoe, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, All the World's a Stage...) to teach more than six thousand frequently used words.

Today, Faith and Claire copied these words by Abraham Lincoln found in Book 1 (used for grades 3-5):

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Tomorrow I'll let them look over their work and then they will turn to a blank page and I will dictate the passage (and punctuation) to them. They will be required to write the passage correctly. I will check their spelling and they will have to write any words they misspelled three times each. Then they will go on to copy the next passage. The next day, I will review the words that gave them trouble the previous day and after giving them a few minutes to study, I will dictate the new passage. We talk about the meaning of each passage as they work.

Lauren's exercises are longer. As the dictation exercises increase in length, the kids will only do one or two exercises a week. Here is an example from the end of Book Two (used for grades 5-7)

Exercise 88
The Smileys
From Amusements in Mathematics
by Henry Ernest Dudeney

When the Smileys recently received a visit from the favorite uncle, the fond parents had all the five children brought into his presence. First came Billie and little Gertrude, and the uncle was informed that the boy was exactly twice as old as the girl. Then Henrietta arrived, and it was pointed out that the combined ages of herself and Gertrude equaled twice the age of Billie. Then Charlie came running in, and somebody remarked that now the combined ages of the two boys were exactly twice the combined ages of the two girls. The uncle was expressing his astonishment at these coincidences when Janet came in. "Ah! Uncle," she exclaimed, "you have actually arrived on my twenty-first birthday!" To this Mr. Smiley added the final staggerer: "Yes, and now the combined ages of the three girls are exactly equal to twice the combined ages of the two boys." Can you give the age of each child?"

See? Lauren will learn to spell coincidences, presence, and astonishment and get a little math in as well. This is fun spelling.

I bought all five books in the series. John can spell anything and has an excellent grasp on grammar so I bought the remaining books just for him to read and grow from the BIG thoughts on these pages. Inaugural Address by Theodore Roosevelt, Give Me Liberty by Patrick Henry, The Wants of Man by John Quincy Adams... Together we will discuss the ideas found here and I might throw out a word or two to check his spelling...solace, insidious, omniscient. (Hardly necessary for the child with an obsession with thirteen letter words but I like to have the bases covered.)

So far, Spelling Wisdom appears to have been a wise purchase. The children went wild when the books came in the mail. Claire and Faith grabbed up their spelling book and their dictation notebook that evening on our way to the movies so they could work in the car. Claire even brought her work with her into the theater, "...because this is so INTERESTING, Mom! I might want to work on it in case the movie gets boring. Monsters vs. Aliens held her attention but on the way home the two girls pulled their books out again and got back to work.

Tomorrow after the breakfast dishes are cleared and we've read another chapter from Belles on Their Toes, they pull out their books and get started in on:

Work With Serenity
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The day is always his who works in it with serenity and great aims.

They can't wait. They've got their books and pencils piled up on the counter ready to go. It's going to be a great day.


Eight months later: This post brings more traffic to my blog than any other. I was a fairly new Spelling Wisdom user when I wrote my review. We've covered seventy odd lessons in each of three levels and still are in love with this spelling program. We've done research on artists, scientists and delved into books that we might not have otherwise chosen to read if our curiosity had not been piqued by the passages that the children interact with in their spelling books. I've copied and framed some of the passages to capture the profound thoughts in these pages. (A Swarm of Bees Worth Hiving by Richard Newton is not to be missed.) Spelling Wisdom has been a fantastic choice for our family!

Our current approach to spelling is as follows: My two oldest children read their lesson and then I dictate it to them. They write misspelled words three times each. Since they rarely miss a word they move right on to the next lesson. My third child copies her passage one day and I dictate the lesson (including punctuation) to her the next. She writes misspelled words three times each and if she misses more than three words, she repeats the lesson the next day. Again, she is a good speller so this is a rare occurance for her. My fourth child is in second grade. (Spelling Wisdom is not recommended until third grade but she really wanted to be included so we made some accomodations so that she can be successful. If she didn't have so many older siblings, I wouldn't consider this program for her for at least another year.) Anyway, I have her copy a portion of a lesson on the first day. She writes the tricky words for a couple of days and then I dictate that portion when she is confident that she is ready. Again, she copies misspelled words three times each and if she misses a significant amount of words (more than four) I have her repeat the lesson. She works through one complete exercise a week as opposed to the other childrens' two or three.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


We drive home; groceries spill out of bags; wipers slap raindrops and Kirk Douglas is on stage remembering his father in Before I Forget. He talks slowly, fighting stroke-impaired muscles to transfer thought to voice. (Here I paraphrase.) "My father wasn't around much when I was a boy," he says. "When we moved, he chose not to come along. But once, when I was five, I was in a play and my dad came to see me. He didn't say anything about my performance but after the show was over, he bought me an ice cream cone and that, that was my Oscar."

The wipers slap, a spearmint plant slides off the front seat and I calculate the years. Ninety-two minus five. Eighty-seven years. Eighty-seven years later Kirk Douglas remembers the one time he knew he mattered to his dad. I drive by the Gas and Go where the men loiter with bottles wrapped in paper bags. I drive through the section of town where men sit on porches. All day they sit, play cards. I drive past the school where a long line of women wait to pick up children after work and take those children home to a fatherless house. Dads are a rare breed in my little town.

I remembered these things this weekend when we went to see Joe.


Joe is a friend and a father to three. His wife left but Joe stayed and now he raises these three children on his own. He has a good job, he just earned his MBA but these things are not the things that impress. Joe and I left the kids with Stuart and took Joe's truck to make a pizza run after he gave his stick-to-the-plan child (Plan A was barbeque) a heads up about Plan B. I stood in the driveway waiting while he shuffled art projects, Barbies and sports equipment out of my seat. His car looks like mine. He cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast. When his daughter's hair slid out of her ponytail, he fixed it. He brushed yellow tufts from the shedding dog and called to the speedy pianist in the next room, "Slow down. You're not supposed to rush through that piece." He refereed turn taking with the Wii. His house is filled with children's art taped to the walls and photos on the fridge. It feels homey at Joe's house.


We drove away Sunday afternoon while Joe herded his kids into the house for a quick rest before a game of golf. It is good to know that there are still men in this world who are do not rage against becoming an adult, who choose to be selfless. I smiled the whole way home comforted with the knowledge that Joe's kids will not have to make do with the memory of a single ice cream cone.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

That I Might Not Sin

"Here, John, take these words, go sit down at the keyboard and see what you can do with them."

We fall short when it comes to scripture memory. The older kids spent a few years competing in Bible Drill...a big event in these parts...but eventually they decided that their accomplishments and trophies were only building up their pride, not their hearts, so we dropped it. And after that we didn't bother to commit anything to heart.

And there is this: I have a battle with my tongue. Sharp, ugly words bubble over at the slightest provocation. Faith has decided to take me on during our prayer times. "Please help Mama not to swear. Please help Mama to use good words." (Nothing like seeing that in black and white!) Something has to be done and since the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart, we tackle the heart of the problem.


John takes the verse and sits down at the keyboard and whips up a tune to go with the words. His work is beautiful! We gather in his bedroom and he leads us, voice cracking, piano humming, planting good words. Lauren asks for a verse and she steals minutes when she can, matching notes and words, writing notes on blank sheet music. And then Faith tries her hand at this. And Claire (with a little help. It is her song on the chalkboard.)


Now we sing as we work, new words, instructive, joyful words. Even Charlie. And I hope. I hope this is the way, the way to crowd out the weeds of sin by filling our hearts to overflowing with God's Word.


For additional encouragment and other approaches to hiding God's Word in your heart see here (There's a lot!) and here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Setting the Table

Growing up with seven brothers, a pretty table was only for special occasions so it was a novelty to pull out the placemats and candles for every meal when Stuart and I were first married. Then we had children. Getting dinner on the table became an accomplishment unto itself and the placemats went by the wayside. Spilled milk and sippy cups took their place. Pans went straight from stove to table between the milk jug and ketchup bottle. I didn't mind. We were eating.


But we're well past the sippy cup stage and meal time has remained akin to feeding animals at the zoo and I've felt the need to encourage manners. It's hard to do that when the table looks like a cafeteria so we've made a few changes.

Milk goes from plastic to pitcher. Condiments are served in little glass bowls and the meal is ladled into serving dishes. It feels less like a commercial when the table is word free. Cream looks like art in glass. Much better than in its blue cardboard container with a nutritional label on its hind end. I still don't have time to set the table but the children do and now they know how to do it well and they like looking at the work of their hands when they are finished.

Sometimes they even break out the camera to record their handiwork.
After some coaxing, the children are remembering to put their napkins in their laps. Our beautiful table is making them think about manners. We are enjoying a little more conversation and a little less foolish noise. Only a little, but enough to make this extra effort worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Good Books

A few weeks ago I read this statement from a fellow homeschooling blogger, "We have a big stack of Mike Venezia books from the library at the moment and I don’t have to “make” the kids read them; they just do (quite often when they are supposed to be doing something else." This intrigued me. Mike Venezia is the author of several series of books, among them, Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists and Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers. We've been busy painting and composing here so I have been feeling like a little art and music history might be in order. And here was an endorsement about books that are so good they magnetically attract children away from other tasks. I had to check them out.

So, I went to the library, the big library, and found the skinny art section. Two books on photography, one on origami, and...and that was all. I did the next best thing, grabbed up my free Amazon coupons and Lauren helped me decide which ten books to order. "No Picasso. No Warhol. No Jackson Pollock. I only like realistic paintings!" We fired off that order via the internet and yesterday, the Bleeping Mail Lady, (named by Stuart because of her preference of horn over doorbell) honked the arrival of our package.

The children dashed in with the box and pouted because they couldn't open it until they finished up their last bits of science and writing. Fifteen minutes later, they pounced on the box.

Unfortunately, I forgot to make cleaning up the living room part of the precursor to opening the box, so they laid down in the midst of their school books and their doll house toys and began to read. A hush settled over the room. I was the only one making any noise and that was because I was reading Rembrant aloud to Charlie. The whole thing. He wanted to know if the people in The Night Watch were real; he wanted to count all the dogs in the paintings. He wanted to match the cartoon people to their counterparts in the real paintings. Then he wanted to get down because we had read for a long time.

Claire picked up the book on Grandma Moses. After a minute or two, she said, "Mama! Her paintings look like the pictures in the Will Moses book that we have!" She studied the paintings for another minute and then ran down the hall and came back with the Will Moses book and laid the two books side by side and matched similar parts of several paintings. She laid on her belly for a long time looking.


Lauren read them all. She read through chore time and wandered away from the table after dinner to read some more. She wants me to order the rest of the series. And there are even more series on the presidents and inventors and scientists!

Our candlelight question last night...Which artist did you enjoy studying the most and why? The conversation included realism, pointillism, impressionism, Cassatt, Homer ("The way he paints the sea, Mama, it's so real!") and Saurat...until Stuart said it was late and we needed to get to bed. When I went to wake up children this morning, I found two or three already awake and immersed in another art book.

The books are a mix of the artist's works, silly cartoons, and a brief history of the artist's life. Everything on the pages is appropriate for children. Run to your library and search for these. Hopefully, you live closer to a well-stocked library that we do but, if not, these are well worth adding to your personal collection.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Big Snow

John comes into our bedroom after midnight. "It's snowing!"

We have a hard time working up much enthusiasm on account of the late hour and the fact that southern snow is just a tease. We're New Yorkers and haven't seen a good snow in all the years we've lived south of Mr. Mason Dixson. "Go back to bed," Stuart grumbles at John and we scooch together and sleep.

This morning, I feel around the nightstand for glasses and stumble groggy from bedroom past white windows. White. Snow stayed and piled up. Piled up.


"Stuart! Stuart!" I shake him frantically out of sleep. Get the camera! It snowed! I'm going to wake up kids." He looks at me with squinty eyes like I've lost my mind but moves quick for one woken rudely out of sound sleep.

The kids pile out of their beds and put on woefully inadequate snowgear; they wade into snow and troll puddles for it has rained nearly half a foot in the last few days. They forgo breakfast for time is short. The Sunday morning stillness is trampled by noisy pelters flinging balls and sculpting white. A snowman! Charlie has never seen this much snow and Claire doesn't remember Rhode Island winters.


All too soon, it is time to come in, sop out of wet clothes and bemoan the fact that no one has any dry shoes. We go to church where kids shuck wet footwear and when we come out again the snow is gone but there is no sorrow because this morning there was snow. Packing, perfect snow.


Friday, February 27, 2009


There must be more than two hundred of them standing side by side at long padded tables. Children flailing handbells, banging out forte through the mezzo piano section. This side of the room a measure ahead of the other. Eager beavers jumping in a beat too soon, tortoises clanging a beat behind. They forge ahead and eventually music is rung out of chaos. A little music.

Then it is prayer time. Time for prayer because we didn't before and the concert is minutes away.
"Lord, creator of all that is beautiful, it is the desire of our hearts to do our best (Heavy emphasis on the do our best part.) that we may be pleasing to your ears. Help us to be pleasing to your ears."

A rough paraphrase but you get the idea.


And another performance. Play practice, hours on the stage. We push through rehearsals with the tech guys, with missing cast members, dance steps uncertain and lines unsure. We muscle through this gauntlet of misteps and misfortune by sheer willpower and we do not pray. Until Friday, because the performance is Sunday and suddenly we realize, This thing is a disaster. We can't do this on our own. God, help!

And today. A screaming fit, a little from the children, a lot from me. And suddenly I realize, (at 1:00 pm) I can't muscle these kids to obedience and the praying that I did yesterday isn't going to cut it for today. I can't do this on my own. God help! And right then, midbellow, I change direction and we bow our heads (Well, I don't because I'm driving) and do the thing that should have been done first when our feet hit the floor this morning.

Three hundred sixty-five. The number of times pray shows up when I type it into the keyword search on BibleGateway. Three hundred sixty-five. Pray continually. Pray fervently. Get up and pray.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fractions Make Friends

We sit side by side at the table, uncommon fare on our plates, hotdogs and Sun Chips. Stuart's chips are gone. No problem, mine are close at hand. His hand reaches over and he snitches! He snitches just one but just one is not enough so, by and by his hand is back again. And again! I say nothing the first time or the second. What are two chips between husband and wife? But as he reaches for the third chip, I lean my body over to shield my plate. I laugh and he laughs and then he makes off with that third chip. "Get your own!" I gripe and he does, but honestly...How hard would it have been to share?

Today I do math with little girls. Division with fraction remainders.


"How many times does three go into twenty. Use your rods. How many ten rods do you need?"


"How many three rods line up under the ten rods."


"So does three go into twenty evenly?"

"No, there is a little space left."

"What rod fits in that space?"

"The two fits."

"That's right. So is the answer six-two?"

"No, Mama! It's six and two parts of three. Six and two over three. Six and two thirds!" This stuff is easy for Faith.

Claire looks a little confused.

"Do you understand the two thirds part? It's a fraction. Do you remember what a fraction is?"
Confusion still clouds her face. "It is a part of a whole. Remember last night when we had two cookies, two wholes and you broke them into five pieces? You were making fractions."

The clouds lift. She gets it. "And we were making friends, Mama. Fractions and friends."

She does this math lesson better than I. The cookie scene replays in my mind while we work our way through the numbers. Two lonely cookies on a big plate, stale, leftover from Valentine's Day. "Whoever frosted these cookies come and eat them, they are taking up too much real estate on the counter." The children gather, all five, to look. Rightful owners claim the goods. Without a word, they begin breaking apart their creations into equal pieces. Five children share two stale cookies. This part of my children astonishes me. They hold lightly to possessions and share freely, frequently. All are better at fractions than their hoarding mama with her chips. And all are friends.

Friday, February 20, 2009

For All You Librarian Types

Our books are aranged on set of shelves alphabetically by the author's last name. This is a blessing and a curse, a blessing because I can locate Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel in five seconds and a curse because the books must be returned to their proper place in order for this system to work. It is hard for the little ones to figure out how to reshelve so up 'til now they have taken out books and then returned them to the top of the shelf when they are finished for me to take care of when I have a few minutes.

I grabbed the camera and ran down the hall to record our pile of books to be shelved. Unfortunately, it was not very impressive. Some days I have a towering, leaning stack that threatens to topple and takes forever to put away.


In my forays around the web, I came across an idea from the blog that offered the perfect solution to my dilemma. This is why we painted yesterday. We were making book markers or more accurately book shelf markers.

The idea is this: Every time a child wants to remove a book from the shelf, he must first grab a marker. He pulls out the book and inserts his marker in the book's place. He may only read one book at a time and must return his book to the marked place before he can pull out another book.


Now, instead of the Leaning Tower of Literary, I have a neat basket of color coordinating cards.


I love ideas that contribute to easy organization and independence and this one is surely a winner!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Creative Minds

The kids and I took a creativity quiz the other day and the results were completely predictable. My artists were crowned Hands On and my "Box? What Box?" thinkers were deemed Bright Sparks.

This comes to mind because today we painted.

"You can only paint on these rectangles of paper and you can only use blue and green. (I'm going through a color coordinating phase.) Other than that, you may paint any way you choose."

Charlie immediately got to work and slopped some paint on his paper. He was fascinated with the way the paint swirled through the water when he rinsed his brush.
John and Faith painted with exuberance and speed. They were more into the process than results and happily swirled and spattered.
Then they ran off to play chess leaving Lauren and Claire at the table. These two continued with their pencils and brushes for another hour.

And the purpose of all this? That has to do with my results from the creativity test. As an Eyes Wide Open thinker I don't spontaneously generate fresh ideas like my Bright Sparks do and art doesn't flow from my finger tips like my Hands On kids but I know an good idea when I see one. These photos are the beginning of a new system that we are incorporating. Details to follow.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

He Loves, He Loves, He Loves

How does God love? Set aside a few minutes this busy love day and count ways...

ABUNDANTLY: You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you." Psalm 86:5

Heart Cookies
EXTRAVAGANTLY: Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies." Psalm 36:5

Stirring in Sprinkles
SECURELY: How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7

Finger Painting
PATIENTLY: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8

LOTS of frosting
FAITHFULLY I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself. Psalm 89:2

ETERNALLY: For great is your love toward me, you have delivered me from the depths of the grave. Psalm 86:13

All Wrapped Up
COMPLETELY: Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Valentine Spread
PERFECTLY: A new command I give to you, love one another, even as I have loved you that you love one another. John 13:34

To you who are family...or friend...or faithful reader...we wish you were here to celebrate this day with us. We love you. Happy Valentine's Day!