Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Year In Review: Y3 (2016 - 2017)

Before I start planning our new year, I like to spend some time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made. I'd like to share not only what I planned, but also what I ended up actually doing.  I think one of the greatest shortcomings in homeschooling blogs is that we're great at sharing all the wonderful things that we want to do and plan to do, but not so great at following up and sharing what actually worked, what we bailed on halfway through, or what sounded like a great idea but never really got off the ground.

This year was a significant departure from the last two years, where we largely used AmblesideOnline (Y1 review, Y2 review).  I’ve been listening to the Delectable Education podcasts just about from the beginning, and I’ve found them extremely helpful, encouraging, and useful.  They have vastly improved our homeschool and I have grown significantly as a homeschooling educator and mother.

In planning the 2016-2017 school year, I decided to use the scheduling cards from the ladies at Delectable Education and designed my schedule using them.  I treated each card as a bucket that I need to fill with some resource and pulled from a variety of places to fill my buckets.

Some areas are studied as a family, including composer study, nature study, and picture study.  You can read more about our selections and our year of family studies in my previous post.

Checkers are always better with an audience, don't you think?

Subject Areas

These subject areas are from the scheduling cards I used to plan our year, not including the subjects we did as a family.


For a number of years I’ve considered our time spent reading, narrating and discussing the daily Mass readings as our Bible study time, particularly for the younger kids.  However, over time I could see that while the younger children knew individuals and certain events in the Bible and the Gospels reasonably well, they lacked a coherent overview of the Bible.  So in the second term I added 15 minutes a day to Nathan and Gregory’s where we read systematically through the Old Testament (Joshua, Judges, Ruth and part of First Samuel this year) and the Gospel of Luke (we’re about half-way through)  We’ve really enjoyed this time together, and I can see how their knowledge and appreciation for the story of the Old Testament has grown dramatically, as well as their knowledge of Biblical locations.

Student Bible Atlas
Sacred Art Series:  The Holy Gospels of St. Luke and St. John (Beautiful book!)


Copywork was sort of a hodgepodge this year, a combination of pages from Classical Copywork, the Simply Charlotte Mason print to cursive book, and copywork assigned from his recitation work.  I continued to make copywork books with my ProClick, which worked well.

Classical Copywork
Simply Charlotte Mason Print to Cursive Proverbs


I read all of these out loud, except for the Uncle Tom’s Cabin for Young Folks.

D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths
Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children
American Tall Tales
Uncle Tom's Cabin: Young Folks' Edition
Jungle Book

American History

This year I decided to switch Nathan’s history to an American focus and I lined up his historical period with his older brother’s.  We used to study the same historical time period as a family, and that’s one of the things I’ve missed in the two years we spent largely following AmblesideOnline. I don’t think it has to be this way, but it is definitely our family’s preference.  This was scheduled twice a week, and once a week he would read from the spine, and the other from one of the other books listed (in succession).  Each history block also included narration, mapwork as appropriate, and occasionally a drawn narration.

This is the second time I've used American History Stories as a spine, and while there are some things I like about it, namely the quality of the writing and the variety of stories included, I feel like it also can be a little long-winded and it definitely contains some inappropriate references to people of other races.  Like last time I skipped some chapters and it worked out reasonably well.

I read aloud American History Stories in the first and second terms, then let Nathan read it to himself in term 3.  He read all the other ones himself.  It was a little challenging to find good books at his reading level, particularly since his reading level changed so dramatically over the course of the year.

American History Stories, Vol. 3 (partial) & Vol. 4 - spine
Walking the Road to Freedom
Riding the Pony Express
Abraham Lincoln:  For the People
Gettysburg: Tad Lincoln's Story by F.N. Monjo
Stonewall Jackson


This was scheduled twice a week, and for the first two terms I read from Elementary Geography in one session and we did hands-on geography activities in the other.  In our hands on session, we explored local maps, political maps, terrain maps, and the globe through discussion and exercises.  In the third term, we finished Elementary Geography and I had him read, narrate and do mapwork with Paddle to the Sea.

Elementary Geography by Charlotte Mason
Illustrated Atlas for Young America
Various maps and a globe

Cataloguing everything he could see within a circle of string in his nature journal

Natural History

This year Nathan read through A Drop of Water and did the experiments in the first half of the year and then focused on astronomy in the second half of the year.  In his astronomy study, he made drawn narrations as well as oral narrations, and towards the end of the year I had him add a sentence, either copied or composed, to his drawn narrations.

Nathan also read several nature lore books over the course of the year as well.

A Drop of Water
Fun with Astronomy by Mae and Ira Freeman 
Our Solar System by Seymour Simon (not my favorite planets book, but the best of what I had - I’d like to find a better one though!)
Trees and Shrubs
Plant Life in Field and Garden
Secrets of the Woods

Working on Logic Links with our shop receipts in the foreground


This is another area where I made significant changes.  Over the summer I heard Sonya Schafer speak about Richele Baburina’s book, Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching and demonstrate what living math instruction can look like.  I was incredibly impressed and decided that this is what I needed to do with Nathan and Gregory.  I had been using MEP, but I found it difficult to break away from the worksheet mentality of it.  Nathan was largely plodding along, not really stimulated or engaged because the material was too easy for him.  But I didn’t really know how to jump him forward in MEP or how to make that program work for him.

We spent the first part of the year solidifying our math foundations using techniques in Baburina’s book and running a store where the boys were practicing with a variety of math operations as well as writing receipts and keeping financial records.  After the first term, it became obvious that I needed to separate the boys for math, because my 5th grader made a huge leap forward (more on that in his post!) and I started doing that subject individually.

In the third term I started using the Strayer-Upton book to make it easier to come up with practice problems and such.  Pregnancy was taking a toll on my on-the-fly creativity, and I really appreciated having a straight-forward resource that I could easily pick and choose problems from as needed.

We also included some logic work a few times a week using a couple different resources.

Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching
Play Money
Coins (including lots of pennies)
Strayer-Upton, Book 1
Logic Links


As I mentioned in my family studies post, we added recitation into the boys’ schedule about halfway through the school year.

Lucy Gray by Willam Wordsworth
Bivouac on a Mountain Side by Walt Whitman
Psalm 67
Psalm 33
John 15:1-11
John 10:1-16

Reading with his beloved guinea pigs, Portia and Bianca


Nathan made the jump into reading fluency this year (hooray!!) and went from moping around in November, complaining, “why does Gregory want to read all the time?  Why won’t he play?” to by March being so deeply immersed in whatever he was reading that he could tune out everything around him.  At this point I’m having to set limits on how much time he reads, otherwise he’d barely put the book down!

Modern Language (Spanish)

This is an area where we’ve had a lot of transition over the course of the year.  We started with just using Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Fran├žois, Volume 1 and including a song, a poem, and prayers in Spanish and then added in other activities such as building dictated sentences with picture cards, calendar work, vocabulary games like Simon Says, rhymes and increasing the number of songs we learned.  I’ve learned a lot from Celeste Cruz, particularly from her talk at the Conference in the Redwoods in February, and I’m looking forward to continuing to improve in this area.

Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Fran├žois, Volume 1
De Colores and Other Latin-American Folk Songs for Children
Pio Peep!


This is another area that has seen a lot of growth.  I have been focusing on developing the boys’ sense of rhythm and beat using a variety of means.  I have done a little Sol-fa with them, but largely trying to reinforce what they are learning through the Hoffman Academy.  As an aside, Hoffman Academy has been wonderful for the boys!  We signed up for their subscription service and it is well worth the expense.  They are learning a lot, enjoying the lessons, and the scripted practice sessions are so helpful.  They have a great ear training game as well which has been a very helpful addition to their music studies.

Music at Home
Hoffman Academy

Physical Education/Drill

This was going to be the year I learned about Swedish Drill through Dawn Duran’s series…  and, then, well, it didn’t happen.  This is definitely an area that needs improvement.

Working on making an insulated sleeve for his backpacking mug


We started doing Sloyd this year, which has been a great success.  I am coming to appreciate the importance of Sloyd in the curriculum, so much so that I’ll be speaking about Sloyd at the CMI Western Conference in July.

Nathan was also introduced to crochet and whittling, and we spent some time improving his sewing skills as well.  Even though handicrafts is supposed to be in the morning schedule for a Form 1 student, I found it easier to do this in the afternoon with his older brother.  I have also started to include more dry brush work in Nathan’s work, assigning that as the medium for a drawn narration or a nature journal entry.

Paper Sloyd for Primary Grades - if you are going to use this book, I highly recommend printing the PDF.  The book isn't that long, and if you print the PDF the illustrations in the book will not be stretched.

Getting ready to start a paper sloyd project

Drawing Practice

I started the year using Bruce McIntyre’s Drawing Textbook as we were using that last year, but Nathan really disliked it. I finally decided to switch to some other drawing books we owned, because it didn’t seem like that book was worth making him dread drawing practice time.  Since we switched this has been a much more successful and happier experience for both of us.

Nathan reading to his two younger siblings

Favorite Free Reads

I also like to include a few favorites from the year's reading.  I try to record all the books the kids read throughout the year by having them place completed books on my desk.  I also try and capture ebooks and audiobooks, but without that physical place to put the books they sometimes slip through the cracks.

This has been a big year for series for Nathan, as he's gained reading fluency.  Some favorites:

  • Happy Hollisters
  • Boxcar Children
  • Bobbsey Twins
  • Harry Potter (Books 1-4)
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
  • Cleary's Ralph books
  • Enright's Melendy books
  • And in May he fell into a Redwall hole and read very little else since then!
Some non-series favorites
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
  • Frankel Mouse
  • Civil War Spies
  • The Monitor and the Merrimac
  • Black Ships Before Troy
  • The Green Ember & Ember Falls
  • Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye
  • Babe: The Gallant Pig

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Year In Review: Family Studies (2016 - 2017)

Before I start planning our new year, I like to spend some time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made.  I'd like to share not only what I planned, but also what I ended up actually doing.  I think one of the greatest shortcomings in homeschooling blogs is that we're great at sharing all the wonderful things that we want to do and plan to do, but not so great at following up and sharing what actually worked, what we bailed on halfway through, or what sounded like a great idea but never really got off the ground.

So, with that in mind, here's my synopsis of our Family Studies.

(Previous Years' Write-ups can be found here)

Subjects We Study as a Family

In our family studies, we tackle subjects together at set times during the day.  Some of my children will have additional readings or work in these areas, and some will do all their work in this area with the family.  Our family studies include:

Natural History and Nature Lore
California History
Lives of Saints
Picture Study
Folk Songs
Shakespeare (we studied Shakespeare with a group of other families in the fall and spring)
Memory Work **
Nature Study and Journaling
Composer Study

Morning Time

We decided to move our Morning Time to 8 am this year, which was definitely more 8-ish than I would have liked.  However, we still managed to keep to that fairly well, even through my first trimester.  In our Morning Time we would:

  • Pray the Morning Offering
  • Chant a psalm
  • Sing a hymn
  • Read something about the day's saint (if there was one) and discuss
  • Read, narrate, and sometimes look up maps or commentary for the Mass Readings of the day
  • Take turns praying for various intentions
  • Sing another hymn
  • Read a poem
  • Do our memory work for the day **
  • Do an additional activity, such as Picture Study or Composer Study.  I did these on the days when we started (closer to) on time, usually doing something with Composer Study a couple times a week and Picture Study once a week (although I accidentally dropped Picture Study for part of the year).
  • Sing a folk song or two


For poetry this year we read Hiawatha by Longfellow, and selected poems from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and William Wordsworth.  Robert Service is our summer poet.

Memory Work (**)

We stopped doing memory work this year and switched to individual recitation instead.  I have been very frustrated for awhile with how our memory work was going.  I had one student who did an excellent job, one who generally mumbled along and sort of knew the material, and one that barely participated at all.  It was too time consuming to try and have each child say the material individually, and taking turns didn’t seem to give enough review to make progress on the work, particularly for the mumbler and non-participant.  I also tried setting and reminding them of the expectations for participation but it didn’t amount to any sort of longer term improvement.  It really didn’t seem like our memory work time was cultivating good habits, and I spent some time considering what I was trying to do with this time, and what my goals were, as well as what this sort of work looked like in Charlotte Mason's schedule.

After a lot of consideration, I decided to add a period of recitation to my younger students’ schedule, and assign a particular type of recitation to each work session.  It was a little tricky getting them to understand what they were supposed to be doing during this time, but after couple months it started to go fairly well and I think it has been a positive change.  However, recitation has not become a regular part of my oldest student's afternoon or evening, unless she has a particular piece she wants to memorize.  I think she misses this memory work time and laments that the pieces she once had memorized are slowly drifting away.

Picture Study

Term 1 - Peter Paul Rubens
Term 2 - Winslow Homer (started mid-way through the term)
Term 3 - Winslow Homer (finished mid-way through the term)

After finishing our picture study of Winslow Homer, I neglected to move to the next artist.  We continue our Morning Time through the summer though, and I think I’ll go ahead and do that picture study over the summer.  I had planned on studying Monet, and I have one set of the images from Simply Charlotte Mason on hand, but I need to either order more copies or set up the images on the iPads so everyone can have their own.  I’ve found it works so much better that way, but it also creates an obstacle for actually doing it, because I have to remember to set it up!

Composer Study

Term 1 - Dvorak
Term 2 - None
Term 3 - Wagner, Ring Cycle and The Book of Great Musicians: A Course in Appreciation for Young Readers

I dropped Composer Study in the second term, as that was the term that overlapped with my first trimester and I needed to do less.  In the third term I started an ambitious study of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which we are still working through.  We are alternating between reading a bit from a retelling of the opera and listening to a few tracks from Wagner’s Ring Motifs.

Nature Study

This year we had a couple new things happen in our nature study.  We started doing nature study as a family on Sundays and we also started a monthly nature study group that meets about an hour away from where we live.

Weekly nature study as a family has been very rewarding.  On most Sundays, we go to Mass, have a little down time while my husband enjoys his morning coffee, then we take a walk.  We either journal as part of our walk, or we will do an activity from John Muir Laws once we get home.  Having the whole family involved and journaling has been a lot of fun, and a great family activity.

Our monthly nature study group has been a great addition as well.  The previous year I had tried to get one started closer to where I live, but with no success.  Driving an hour isn’t the greatest, but if it means we actually can meet up with other families - CM families, no less! - it is definitely worth it.

Lunch Time Reading

I either eat beforehand (if I was particularly on top of things that day - this didn't happen often!) or I eat a bit while the kids recapped the last reading and then more while they narrated.  An unexpected bonus of this was that it encouraged my older kids to be more helpful with the youngers.  If there was a problem, they were expected to hop up and clean up a spill, get a refill or seconds, or help clean up a younger child so I could keep reading.  Previously that had always been my job, and I think practicing this sort of responsiveness to other people's needs has been good for them.

I allow the child of the day to pick what we're reading off of whatever is currently available on the list.  A book cannot be picked again until a selection from all the books have been read.  With five kids, it works very nicely to delegate a child per day.  This child gets to light the prayer candle, pick the lunch reading, lead the Divine Mercy chaplet (if old enough) and do other little things on their day.  And it is extremely cute to hear my three year old pick Plutarch for the read aloud!

In our rotation this year, we had five books and this which worked out well.  Some weeks we would read all five, but sometimes we would only get to three or four.  But since there weren’t as many as there were last year, we were generally able to keep moving along in each book often enough that we didn’t forget what was happening when we read last.

Books in Our Rotation

Plutarch - Titus Flamininus and Phyrrus, both using Anne White's Plutarch Project Guide
Natural History - The Wild Muir, One Day On Beetle Rock (still reading)
California History - Jessie Benton Fremont: California Pioneer, The Shirley Letters (still reading)
Faith - The Royal Road (finishing from last year), First Communion by Mother Mary Loyola (still reading)
Music/Art - The Well Tempered Listener (still reading)

Evening Time

Once I was pregnant, our rather robust evening time that we enjoyed together went by the wayside.  We moved our read aloud to after dinner which worked really well until allergy season started and my husband couldn’t real aloud anymore.  That, coupled with the lengthening day and the prospect of playing outside a bit after dinner too, has made this read aloud time pretty spotty.

We still read poetry, picture books, and a Bible story to the two little ones (5 and 3, at this point) and we all seven pray together before putting the two younger ones to bed.  After the littles are in bed, the bigger kids read and I tackle my pre-reading for the next day.  If it isn’t a school day the next day, sometimes some of us will play a game together.  I miss the Great Courses lectures and drawing time, but trying to do those things and the pre-reading and getting to bed early enough for my pregnant self was more than I could handle.

This Year's Family Studies Favorites

The Wild Muir
Old Squire’s Farm
Johnny Reb
My Side of the Mountain
Jessie Benton Fremont: California Pioneer
The Well Tempered Listener  (the older two in particular)
One Day On Beetle Rock

(Amazon Affiliate links are used in this post, benefiting Charlotte Mason West)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Joy in Living

Last month, Celeste and I had the pleasure of seeing the first Charlotte Mason conference in Northern California come to fruition.  Thankfully, CM West :: Conference in the Redwoods was a definite success, as we've had many positive comments both during and after the conference.  I hope and pray that it will continue to be a positive influence and help for all the attendees into the future as well.

I wanted to share an expanded version of opening remarks for the conference, as I think they show what was (and is!) on my heart as I planned this conference, and as I move into planning other Charlotte Mason conferences as well.  I am considering a post on what goes into planning a conference, one that is a little more nuts and bolts focused, but I think it is vital to share the living idea behind the work of details.

My first experience meeting another CM educator in person was when Celeste and I met at a park about two and a half years ago.  We had a delightful visit, full of great conversation and watching our children joyfully romp together.  My next opportunity was about a year later, when I was able to attend the first Charlotte Mason conference on the West Coast, in Seattle, Washington.  This experience was an absolute delight, and I felt so encouraged by being around so many thoughtful, intelligent, and interesting women who shared my passion for Mason's Philosophy of Education.

I came home from this conference a changed person.  Being around this group of people who take Mason seriously encouraged me to take my role as a home educator, and particularly as a Mason educator, more seriously as well.  I realized that I, with two (now three!) children who aren't even school age yet, still have time to get good at this.  I also found a clear path forward in this, largely comprised of my own keeping (largely in my nature journal, commonplace, and Book of Centuries) and a commitment to the regular study of Mason's books (the Delectable Education podcast has also been a huge help, but obviously that came along a little later!).  I also saw how galvanizing it is to be around people who are trying to do the same thing I am, and it encouraged me to try to both find people at least somewhat near where I live, as well as work to create more of these conferences.

I find it challenging to be the only one who is educating in a model that is different from everyone else around.  Not only am I homeschooling, I am home educating in a way that is foreign to those around me.  I've been invited a few times over the years to get together at someone's house so we can "do school" together.  This seems to largely to consist of sitting the kids around a large table with their workbooks while the mothers visit and occasionally help a child who has a problem.  It is a welcome change for the kids and moms, but it is not something that is going to be successful for a Mason educator.  I've also had experiences where I've seen a little interest in Mason's ideas, only to have someone who has many years of homeschooling experience as well as graduates say, "oh, you don't need all those extras!  Just stick to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as learning about the faith, and your kids will be just fine."  And confronted with that sort of voice of wisdom and experience, what little interest there was quickly withers.

But as Mason said in her preface to her sixth volume, “we have no axe to grind”.  A little before this in her preface, she puts her finger on the difference between her method and the standard way of doing things.  “No doubt children are well taught and happy in their lessons as things are, and this was specially true of the school in question; yet both teachers and children find an immeasurable difference between the casual interest roused by marks, pleasing oral lessons and other school devices, and the sort of steady avidity for knowledge that comes with the awakened soul.”  (CM, Vol. 6, Preface)

Mason goes on to say just a little later in the Introduction to Vol. 6 -
But the people themselves begin to understand and to clamour for an education which shall qualify their children for life rather than for earning a living. As a matter of fact, it is the man who has read and thought on many subjects who is, with the necessary training, the most capable whether in handling tools, drawing plans, or keeping books. The more of a person we succeed in making a child, the better will he both fulfil his own life and serve society.
I think the fact that we had a full conference is a testimony to this!  When Celeste and I were first planning this conference, I was worried about getting 20 people - instead we sold almost 50 places in three weeks, and we ended up with another thirty plus people on the wait list.

Celeste and I wanted to offer a leading thought for the conference, and as I considered this, the phrase “opportunities for joy” came to mind.  As far as I know, it isn’t a phrase Mason uses, but I became curious how Mason used the word joy.  One phrase she does use is “joy in living” and I wanted share a quote where she uses that phrase.
We launch children upon too arid and confined a life. Now personal delight, joy in living, is a chief object of education; Socrates conceived that knowledge is for pleasure, in the sense, not that knowledge is one source, but is the source of pleasure. It is for their own sakes that children should get knowledge. (CM, Vol. 6, Section 3, Ch. 4)
We have the opportunity to help our children and ourselves discover this joy in living through the rich feast Mason helps us to place before our families. My hope is this is a phrase is one that is memorable to us all not only at a conference, but also that we can take this phrase into the day to day, to help us remember what we are doing in this educational journey we are offering our families and ourselves.

I originally wrote this a couple weeks ago, but hadn't been able to edit and post it until now.  I am glad though, because this reminder about why I work on these conferences is very timely!  Planning next year's conference became far more daunting last week when we found out that Presentation Center, the lovely location where we held the conference, is closing as of June 30th.  We were really looking forward to going back there, as well as not having to go through all the effort of finding a location.  We have started looking for another location, however, and we hope to find something soon.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Looking Back at 2016 Goals

At the beginning of 2016, I posted a list of projects and goals for 2016.  As a way of reviewing 2016 and following up on my previous post, I thought I would do a review of that list.  Next week I hope take a look at my goals for 2017.


Start Here: 20 Principles Live Online Video Discussion - This has been a little tricker than I had expected, because there's been a number of people who signed up but who either had to drop out or just don't come.  And discussions don't work as well when people don't come!  At this point we have two active discussion groups, and we decided to run them as open groups where people can join in any month.  We've picked up some new members, and we have a reasonably decent number of participants.  

Charlotte Mason Conference(s) - This one has been rather challenging, and has had a lot of twists and turns!  Celeste and I ended up having a very successful retreat last spring, and now we're set to have a conference in the Bay Area in February (CM West :: Conference in the Redwoods).  The conference sold out in about three weeks and now has a very healthy waiting list, so that is extremely encouraging.  There will also be a Seattle Charlotte Mason conference in September, and we expect to start selling tickets for that in the spring.  I hope that it has the same sort of reception that the Bay Area conference had!

Shakespeare Co-op - This has gone very well.  We had a good group in the spring session, and an even bigger group for the fall session.  I moved the meetings to a park in Auburn for the fall session, and that made it possible to have a bigger group and made it more centrally located for participants.  

Sorting Books - Other than taking forever, this project is complete and I ended up getting rid of a good 1/3 of our books.  I also was able to get some new bookcases, so we actually have quite a few empty shelves!  It is always good to have room to expand, right?

Reorganizing the Study - I conquered this over the summer, and am generally pleased with the results.  I also made my second son very happy by making room for a guinea pig cage in the Study.  He's wanted pets for ages, and while he still would like a dog, a cat, and chickens, he at least has some critters to care for and hold.  I also completely went through our craft cabinet and consolidated the supplies such that each of the three older children can have a shelf of their own for works in progress and personal items.  This has been such a big help in keeping the table clutter at bay.  

Girls' Bedroom Re-do - This turned out well, and the girls are quite pleased with their new furniture, trim and bunk beds.  Next time though I'm going to buy a pre-finished bunk bed rather than an unfinished one...

Somewhere In Between

Teaching from Rest Live Online Video Discussion - I wanted this to be a more local discussion, with the hope that the people in it could potentially meet up.  I had a lot of interest, but very few people actually showed up to the discussions, which was disappointing.  Initially I thought there was enough interest for two discussions, but no one came on the second time slot, even though there were at least 4-5 women who signed up.  The discussions that did happen were generally good though, and while it hasn't created any new friendships, it did help to deepen an already existing friendship.


Nature Study in Nevada County - This just didn't work out.  I had a good turn-out for the first one, but none of them came back the second time!  I think there were few reasons for this.  First, I didn't provide clear direction for a stopping point, so they ended up stopping at a not so great spot instead of at the pond as I had intended and mentioned at the beginning.  I was with a two year old who adamantly wanted to walk, so I couldn't provide clear direction during the walk.  I also didn't provide very good leadership about what we were trying to do.  Were we out for exercise?  To take a walk with other families? Were we supposed to be looking for something in particular?  I also didn't communicate clearly the value of returning to the same spot the following month.  There seemed to be a general sense of, "oh, we've been there, we don't need to do that again" and a slight spark of interest in perhaps meeting up at another spot in a different month.  I had one family come for several months then drop out, another come once and not again, and another talk about coming month after month and never actually ever coming.  Clearly a lack of communication of vision on my part had a lot to do with the failure of this project.  Perhaps if I had figured out how to communicate the value of nature journaling and exploration more effectively to people who aren't already on board, as well as found new avenues for advertising the group I might have been more successful.  

On the plus side, however, I did find a group of CM educators in the greater Sacramento area over the summer and we've been meeting once a month since July.  In the Summer we met by the American River in Fair Oaks, and in the Fall we moved up to theAuburn State Recreation Area.  I much prefer the meeting place in Auburn as it is about an hour from me instead of an hour and a half, as well as being more scenic.  Also, it is far easier to get together with a group of people who already understand the whys and hows of nature journaling than starting from scratch!

First Saturday Adoration and Social - I had high hopes for this one, but then I found that the bulletin is out of date, and the church in the next town over doesn't actually have Adoration on the first Saturday.  I might be able to get something going in Auburn (really, what is it with Auburn?  That seems to be the place I need to go to make anything work - too bad it is at least 50 min away) but then that's another day I need to be driving down there, and in the evening too so I haven't tried.

New Projects

Surprisingly, there weren't that many substantial new projects that cropped up in the course of the year.  As I mentioned, I started participating in a new nature study group.  I also helped start a new online discussion group where we are reading through Charlotte Mason's second volume.  This one is through CM West, and has had a good response - better than the 20 Principles discussion.  We have more people signed up for it and usually have more participants as well.  I also ended up helping a little with the CMI Western Conference in August of 2016, and really enjoyed attending it.

Around the house, I went through papers over the summer as well, which was nice to get done.  If I'm remembering correctly, "all" I have left in Kondo's method is the miscellaneous.  I've made a start on that with the craft cabinet and the pantry, but there's still other looming areas like the hutch, the top shelf of my closet, my fabric collection, and more boxes in storage.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 Reading Recap

It has been a number of years since I've written a reading recap post (since 2012!) and I think the main reason is because of list paralysis.  I keep six different reading lists in Evernote:  one for myself, one each for my three readers, one for family read alouds, and one for family audiobooks.  It isn't like the data isn't there...  but how much do I include?  This sort of quandary is what makes me enjoy reading everyone else's lists while thinking vaguely that perhaps I should post my own.

Last year Brandy Vencel had this to say about the whole angst issue:
Do I include books I read aloud to my children for fun? What about all the books I read aloud for school lessons? Pre-reading for school lessons? Does that count, too? It’s hard for me until I finally remember that whether I read it aloud or silently, whether I read it for fun because I “had to,” I read it. Therefore, it qualifies.
So, taking a page from her book, here we go.  And I'm even going to include audiobooks too, as I think those count as well.  The only books I'm not including are ones that I'm always reading from, namely the Bible (mainly John's Gospel outside of the Mass readings this year) and Charlotte Mason's volumes (mainly 2, 4, and 6 this year)

First, Some Books of Note from 2016

Best Nature Writing:  Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

Best History:  1491 by Charles C. Mann

Best Fiction:  Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge

Best Read Aloud:  Rascal by Sterling North

The Book that Was the Most Fun to Read/Listen to:  To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

A Book that Made Me Cry:  A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Best Poetry:  Purgatorio by Dante and translated by Anthony Esolen

Induced the Most Discussion:  Utopia by Sir Thomas More and Whatever Happened to Justice by Richard J. Maybury, closely followed by The Prince by Machiavelli.

Most Useful (although I haven't read every page):   The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muir Laws and Homeopathic Medicine at Home by Maesimund B. Panos, MD

The Full Lists

Audiobooks - Family (we listen to these in the car)

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott

Interestingly, none of these are new listens, although some of the children either were not born or not able to actually comprehend the stories when we listened to them last.  But they are all so excellent none of us who could remember listening to them minded listening to them again!  I suspect this will frequently be the case at this point in our family's life.  We did attempt to listen to a new-to-us book, The Coral Island, but it was so gory and full of cannibalism that we bailed on it about 3/4 of the way through.  I definitely should have screened that one more carefully!

Read Alouds - Family

Crossbows and Crucifixes by Henry Garnett
The Young Brahms by Sybil Deucher
Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight
A Weekend with Degas by Rosabianca Skira-Venturi
The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
Rascal by Sterling North
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (my husband read this one)
Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson
Ways of Wood Folk by William Long
Cruise of the Arctic Star by Scott O'Dell
Diary of a 49er by Chauncey Canfield
The Royal Road by Ann Roos
Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Books Read as Part of My Children's Schooling

The Sea Around Us
Arctic Dreams
A Briefer History of Time
The Chemical History of a Candle
Julius Caesar
Come Rack, Come Rope
Characters of the Reformation
Along Came a Dog
The Incredible Journey
Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution
Microbe Hunters
Whatever Happened to Justice?
Galileo’s Daughter
The New World
The Family that Overtook Christ
The Red Bonnet
The Days of Alfred the Great
Henry V
Twelfth Night
Of Courage Undaunted by Daugherty
Sacajawea by Wyatt Blassingame
The Prince by Machiavelli
Christopher Columbus, Mariner

Books I Read Because I Wanted To

Teaching from Rest (re-read)
The 39 Steps
Little Dorrit
Pilgrim’s Inn
A Book of Bees
Anne’s House of Dreams (audio - re-listen)
Busman's Honeymoon (re-read)
My Life as a Spy by Baden-Powell
Science & Human Origins by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe & Casey Luskin
Land of Little Rain
To Say Nothing of the Dog (ebook/audio)
The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
Puck of Pook’s Hill
Life Together by Bonhoeffer
Gentian Hill 

Friday, December 30, 2016

From My Commonplace, Selections from 2016

In 2016, I used my Commonplace notebook, but not as often as I would like.  I spent a little time this afternoon reading through what I did write, and that little review was an encouraging reminder of the value of this practice.

I thought I'd share a selection of quotes from my Commonplace and finally join Celeste's Keeping Company link up.  In the new year I hope to return to blogging regularly and I want the Keeping Company posts to be a monthly occurrence.

"Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your freedom!  I hope you will make good use of it."   John Adams, in a letter to Abigail Adams, as quoted by Natalie S. Bober in Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution
"'What species is that?' is one of the first questions many people ask of nature. [...] The name is not the thing.  Identifying a species is only the tip of the iceberg of inquiry.  It is not necessary to know something's name to ask an interesting question or make a discovery about it. "  John Muir Laws, Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling
"Relationships with the land that are intensely metaphorical, like Kent's, are a lofty achievement of the human mind. They are a sophisticated response, like the creation of maps, or the development of a language that grows out of a certain landscape.  The mind can imagine beauty and conjure intimacy. It can find solace where literal analysis finds only trees and rocks and grass."   Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams
"The goal of science is to make the most useful and accurate explanations possible, based on the available evidence.  To have scientific integrity is to approach this process with humility and with the awareness that it is possible, even quite likely, you will be wrong. " John Muir Laws,  Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling
"Tears often release us from a great internal burden. Our weeping releases the grop we are trying to hold on ourselves by remaining 'strong', not letting ourselves feel some pain, not admitting our powerlessness and brokenness in face of some terrible loss or suffering."  Fr. Sylvester Kwiatkowski, church bulletin
"The key here is finding the glory of God within the practice or work and not only in the final product." Megan Hoyt, A Touch of the Infinite
"What distinguishes the work of someone like Vivaldi from another who, perhaps, remains lost forever?  The goodness of God? The patronage of other composers or benefactors? History can be brutal, and the quest for fame can be an enormous wild goose chase. I think we can safely say that any artistic endeavor is best performed to the glory of God, and not in pursuit of fame and fortune. History may forget your contribution, but God never forgets." Megan Hoyt, A Touch of the Infinite
"How imperishable are all the impressions that vibrate one's life! We cannot forget anything. Memories may escape the action of will, may sleep a long time, but when stirred by the right influence, though that influence be light as a shadow, they flash into full stature and life with everything in place." John Muir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf, excerpted in the Wild Muir by Lee Stetson
"The Psalter is the vicarious prayer of Christ for his Church.  Now that Christ is with the Father, the new humanity of Christ, the Body of Christ on earth, continues to pray his prayer to the end of time. This prayer belongs, not to the individual member, but to the whole Body of Christ. Only in the whole Christ does the whole Psalter become a reality, a whole which the individual can never fully comprehend and call his own. That is why the prayer of the psalms belongs in a peculiar way to the fellowship.  Even if a verse or psalm is not one's own prayer, it is nevertheless the prayer of another member of the fellowship; so it is quite certain the prayer of the true Man Jesus Christ and his body on earth."  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
"The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear. He is really not seeking community at all, but only distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time, the very alienation that creates the deadly isolation of man."  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
"The prayer of the morning will determine the day."  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
"Whenever escape is necessary, there is a great necessity for prayer." St. Augustine, Catena Aurea, St. John's Gospel 
"Personal sanctity, after which he had striven with such desperation ever since his sojourn in the Irish monastery, was not enough.  He had been regarding it as an end in itself instead of that which determines the quality of what a man can do for his fellow men." Elizabeth Goudge, Gentian Hill 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Observing Advent

In our family, we observe Advent and celebrate Christmas.  We do this not because we want to pretend that we’re still in darkness and we don’t know if or when the Messiah will come, as I heard someone expound during a webinar yesterday, but because we want to be like the wise maidens who prepared for the coming of the bridegroom.  Yes, Christ has come and saved us, but Christ will also come again on the last day to judge the living and the dead.  Of course we can and should repent and prepare for His second coming at all times, but by that logic, why have a special season to recall and celebrate the Incarnation, since we can and should remember and celebrate this at all times?

It does not matter to me or to my family if a family decides to celebrate all during Advent and ignore the Christmas season, and if that’s what your family does, I hope it is meaningful for you and brings you closer to Christ.  But I do get a little riled when I hear someone completely mischaracterize the historical celebration of Advent and speak dismissively of families who do choose to spend this time of Advent remembering and considering instead of jumping straight to the celebrating.

Now that that’s off my chest, I’d like to share a few things our family does in our observation of Advent.

Advent Candles 

Each year we roll our own Advent candles from beeswax sheets that I buy in bulk from Knorr Beeswax Candles.  It is a very simple craft, but the kids really enjoy it and feel such a sense of pleasure from getting to use their Advent candles all season long.

We light the candles each night at dinner, and each child gets a week where they are the one who lights the candle.  We generally sing "Light One Candle" from the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program as the candle is lit.

St. Andrew Novena, or Christmas Anticipation Prayer

 There's nothing like praying "Hail and blessed be the hour and moment In which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen." fifteen times a day from Nov. 30th until Christmas Eve to help you keep your focus on what Christmas is truly about.

As a convert to Catholicism, novenas and rosaries and other repetitive prayer were a stumbling block for me. It was something where I had to decide to move forward in faith, out of respect for the witness of the Saints and the teaching of the Church.  I still don't completely get it, but I have seen amazing fruit come from these persistent  prayer practices.

(This prayer card is the one Celeste links to here)

Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree was the first Advent observance I ever did, way back when I wasn't even Catholic yet and was trying to figure out just what exactly liturgical seasons were.  I was completely Biblically illiterate then, so the Jesse Tree seemed a particularly good place to start.  The overview of salvation history that I've learned from sharing this devotion with my family for eleven years has been priceless for myself and my children.

The first year my three year old daughter and I drew pictures and hung them with yarn on a small fake Christmas tree.  In a particularly crazy and difficult Advent, I maintained my tenuous grasp on sanity by crafting little felt ornaments for a simple Jesse Tree write-up I had found online.  That's what we still use, eight years later.

(This picture is from last year, we obviously aren't that far along yet since we just started on the 27th)

Handel's Messiah

For the first two years of listening to Handel's Messiah during Advent, we used Cindy Rollin's Messiah schedule.  It worked reasonably well, but this year I wanted to be able to dive a little more deeply into the Scriptures and learn more about the music itself.

I ended up buying Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People by Calvin R. Stapert, and so far I am very pleased with it.  The first part of the book is about Handel, how he composed the Messiah, how the Messiah was received, and the musical traditions and forms of the day. The second part goes into depth, section by section, about the Messiah. He breaks it down into 22 sections, which works nicely for an Advent study (because really, who can actually do it every day for all the days of Advent??  Not me!)

We’re only 4 sections in, but we’re all enjoying it and finding that it helps up to listen more carefully and with more interest. In the evening after the two youngest are in bed, we listen to a part of the Messiah, read the commentary out loud, discuss a little with different people sharing what we want to listen for this time, listen to the part of the Messiah again, and then discuss a little more.

Advent Calendar

My mom made this for us years ago and it is a fun little tradition for us.  Each child takes a turn putting an ornament on the tree in age order, starting with the youngest.  It will look much more interesting when all the ornaments are on the tree, but I couldn't find a picture with them all on there!  Since each child has a different first letter, they all have a stocking with their first letter on it.  It was a wonderful gift for our family, and one I look forward to pulling out each year for many more years.

St. Nicholas

On the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas, we make simple chocolate goodies together, which then appear, wrapped, in the children's shoes the next morning.  On some years we'll have a few new Christmas books or other books, and in other years it is just the treats.  (This photo is from last year too.)  I would like to share some of the treats with family, but haven't quite gotten that organized yet.  Maybe this year!

Our Lady of Guadalupe

We have a little tea on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with Mexican hot chocolate and almond cookies (and usually some sliced bell peppers too, because I apparently unable to serve my kids just sugar, even on a feast day!) that the kids eat while I read one of the books I have about Our Lady of Guadalupe.  A simple affair, although in some years I make more of an effort to decorate the table and use nice serving dishes.

St. Lucia

On the feast of St. Lucia, we decorate the house with a few strands of lights, remembering and discussing how Christ is the light of the world.  Again, a simple observance, but one that has a big impact on the kids.

O Antiphons

We begin the O Antiphons on Dec. 17th, singing the appropriate verse from O Come, O Come Emmanuel and using this lovely devotional guide from Jennifer Miller.  I don't do gifts or special foods, but the discussion and singing adds a special note to these last days before our Christmas celebration.