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.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Homeschool Planning Thoughts (way) after the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel, 2016 Edition

This is the fourth year I've prayed the Novena in honor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, asking specifically for wisdom and guidance as I consider our next school year.   Each year I've found this an excellent and clarifying experience, and it has become an essential part of my homeschool planning process.

This April was a particularly busy one for me as I planned and helped lead a retreat, finished the spring Shakespeare session, had my work-from-home husband away for a conference, and prepared for and traveled to a family wedding.  I still diligently prayed the novena, but I didn't feel like I had time to process what God was telling me during this time.

As I continued to consider this experience over the last few months, the message gradually became clearer and clearer, and as I re-read what I wrote last year and the year before, I can see how it fits into the continuum of what I have learned before.  The phrase that kept coming into my mind was the idea that "education consists of books and things".

Now the word "things" is not particularly profound, and it is both vague and encompassing.  I've heard Sonya Shafer talk about this idea, and I think that's why this particular phrase kept coming back to mind.  We've certainly improved over where we were a couple years ago, but there is still room for improvement.  For example, my kids could be more physically fit and active. There's also more work we should be doing with our readings beyond narration, and we should be making more of an effort to do that.

In considering how to move forward, I realized that a couple things needed to change.  I needed to figure out how to free up more time in my children's day so they could have that ample free time that the students in Charlotte Mason's schools had, and I needed to figure out how to maximize the work they were doing in each of their lessons so we can get the most out of our books and other work.  It is easy to get stuck in the read and narrate rut, and pass over the other sorts of work the students in the Charlotte Mason paradigm are supposed to do as well.  Narration is certainly the cornerstone of the child's work, but it is not the only work she expected from the students.

Studying my Form 1 and Form 2 schedules to make sure I wasn't double-booking myself and trying to make sure it all made sense.

In the end, and after re-listening to a number of the Delectable Education podcasts and re-reading Nicole William's scheduling series, I decided to move to a completely schedule based system.  My books would be picked such that they filled the blocks of time I have set out for the different subjects, and if the book didn't fit into that block, then it would move to the free reading shelf or it wouldn't get used at all.  I believe this will keep me from that subtle booklist and activity creep that gradually makes the day longer and longer.  I'm so good at thinking, "oh, why just do this twice a week?  Let's  do it every day!"  Or, "this would be a great book to add, why not add this one in too?  It is just one more book..."  The scheduling cards from A Delectable Education were extremely helpful with this endeavor.  There was something about working with physical cards that made the process much easier, more creative and actually even enjoyable.

The other piece of the puzzle is procedure lists.  I need to communicate clearly what I expect from my children in the course of their lessons.  And I need to have a clear idea of that myself!  We need to move beyond a simple read and narrate model, which is all we had time for (barely!) when we had so many books.  We'll still have that wide and varied curriculum that Charlotte Mason's philosophy is so known for, but I anticipate fewer assigned books in our core school time and more books on the free reading shelf and sprinkled throughout our week.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Keeping Company: Pilgrim's Inn

Lucilla knew always, and Nadine knew in her more domesticated moments, that it was homemaking that mattered. Every home was a brick in the great wall of decent living that men erected over and over again as a bulwark against the perpetual flooding in of evil.  But women made the bricks, and the durableness of each civilization depended on their quality, and it was no good weakening oneself for the brick-making by thinking too much about the flood.   ~ Pilgrim's Inn, Elizabeth Goudge, p. 48 

This is the first book I've read by Goudge, but it certainly won't be the last.  What a beautiful writing, and such memorable characters!  And her descriptions of the Pilgrim's Inn and Damerosehay...  I so hope there are places like that in the world.

I'm trying to shore up my commonplacing habit this summer, and I've decided to take a cue from how I have my kids do some of their work.  If I plan to spend about 30 minutes with a "stiffer" book I'm reading, I break it up into about 20 minutes of reading and the remainder for writing in my commonplace.  I either write quotes from what I've just read, so I copy something from an easier book I am reading in the evenings.  I appreciate not having to find another chunk of time for just writing, and it makes the commonplacing much more likely to happen.

Currently Reading (by category)

Lighter Non-Fiction

  • A Book of Bees by Sue Hubbell (because I am fascinated by bees and would love to have a couple hives someday)

Continuing Education



  • Catena Aurea - The Gospel of St. John (I started this in January thinking it would be the year's focus...  but as I'm only about halfway through Ch. 5, I think I'll be working on it a lot longer than that!  But I love it, and I am so glad I'm continuing to read and ponder it)
  • Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (ok, so I haven't actually started this yet, but I will - soon! -  maybe even today!)


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Year in Review: Y8 (2015-2016)

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.

My plan for my daughter's Y8 work owes a great debt to the work of the amazing women at Ambleside Online.  However, I departed in many ways from their programme in Y8, so I don't feel I can call this an AO review as I have with Y2 and Y4.  My changes largely reflect my desire to give more of the Catholic side of the story of the Reformation, to read and discuss a great work of literature with her, and to pick a few books that I thought would speak to her more than some of Ambleside Online's choices.

Here is the review of Y7 from last year.  I'll be using a similar format in this year's review.  Emma is still a part of all our family studies, which I've detailed in a previous post.

I asked Emma to share some photos of some of the things she has created over the course of the school year, and you'll see some different examples of her work below.  All the photos are hers as well.

Earring and necklace set

Daily and Weekly Subjects


Emma narrates each of her readings, generally between finishing her math and lunch and in the late afternoon while we are making dinner.  If we have an afternoon event, she will usually narrate in the car.  She writes one narration each day, although towards the end of the year that wasn't as consistent. There were a few books where I assigned written narrations, like Bacon's Essays, but for the most part she picked which reading she used for her written narration.

Towards the end of y7 we set her up with a private Wordpress blog and she writes all her narrations there, with the exception of her science ones.  The science narrations go in her science notebook, and they stay separate because they usually have a sketch or diagram to go with them.  On the blog, they  all tagged by book and nicely ordered.  It is password protected and my husband and I are the only ones who have access to it.  I get an email each time she posts a new narration, and this has made it easy for me to keep up with reading them.  I seldom find spelling or grammatical errors in her narrations, but I will occasionally ask her to add more detail.  Her narrations are generally a delight to read, full of big thoughts and well chosen phrases.


I have not done any formal writing program with Emma since we had a complete and utter fail with a progymnasmata program in 3rd grade (can I admit that publicly?).  Since then all she has done is narrate, narrate, narrate, and I am extremely pleased with her ability to share her thoughts in her writing and how she already shapes her argument and narrative.  Her writing is enjoyable to read, well worded, and worth reading.  Narration works, and it is for a very long time.

Occasionally I will ask her to revise and polish a narration, and this year I have started asking her to add supporting quotes to some of her written narrations.  In her written narrations for Bacon's Essays, I asked her to do things like make an outline of Bacon's argument, restate his argument in your own words, write a bulleted list of the pros Bacon lists about a subject and the cons, as well as the more standard written narration.  

This spring she's started writing a novel, and right now it is about 30,000 words into it and going strong.  And for the most part, the book is a delight to read.  There's a few parts that need some work, and she recognizes that and is willing to go back and polish when the time comes.  But that seems like that should be expected - after all, who writes a perfect first draft?

These earrings are her signature pieces right now, and she's sold quite a few of them.


Emma should be writing in her commonplace, but is not.  I have not tried to make that a requirement, although I probably should.

I am requiring a weekly nature study entry, although I was letting her do this with photographs on her narrations blog for a little while.  I think that was a mistake, and I am now requiring a weekly nature journal entry from everyone - including me!

Emma has continued her Book of Centuries from last year, and is adding a couple entries a week.  I've also assigned her to create some timelines of people's lives or eventful periods (Galileo, English Reformation) and those were a mixed success.  Lack of inspection on my part was a real problem.

Emma keeps a science notebook, and adds sketches and diagrams as well as some narrating from her science reading a couple times a week.

Dictation and Grammar

In order to make dictation happen at least a little more often, I started using Simply Charlotte Mason's Spelling Wisdom Book 4 with Emma.  This has worked extremely well, and has had the additional bonus of introducing Emma to some new books.  We try to do dictation twice a week, but I think we probably averaged just a little over once a week.

For grammar, I tried using Our Mother Tongue again but just didn't find it working for Emma.  I ended up buying IEW's Fix-It Book 2 for Emma and I'm having her do for about 10 minutes 3-4 times a week.  She is not doing the copywork or the vocabulary aspects of the curriculum.  I wouldn't say it is the greatest thing out there for grammar, but it is working well for her where she is at and helping her to move forward.  As a principle I don't like having kids study things that are wrong, but I think she's old enough that the copy-editing practice is helpful.

Classical Languages

Last year Emma studied both Greek and Latin, but over the summer we decided to drop Greek.  We didn't have enough room in the schedule to do them both justice, and I decided Latin was the more important one for her to continue to study.  

She's continued to move slowly through Henle Book 1, working 30 minutes at a time, 3-4 days a week.  She has picked up speed this year, and is moving through it more quickly than in previous years.

A lovely scarf she knitted - she has an even more elaborate one on her needles right now


Emma has continued to use Rosetta Stone for about 15 minutes a day, 4-5 days a week.  She also has continued to use Duolingo, doing 1-2 sessions a day.  In addition to this work, she is spending about 15 minutes three times a week on Spanish translation from First Spanish Reader.  She is also studying Spanish grammar by reading a section of Essential Spanish Grammar 1-2 times a week and writing a written narration.  


Emma has been using the Life of Fred books for several years now, and they've worked well for her.  She is most of the way through the Algebra book at this point.  She's found the Life of Fred books very self-explanatory and only occasionally needs help from me.  I do check her work at each city to keep abreast of how she's doing.  During the summer she's changing gears and working through some of the Khan Academy Algebra materials.  She's enjoying the review and the different presentation of the material.  I'm not quite sure what we'll do in the Fall.


For Geography review, I have her using the TapQuiz Maps app two to three times a week.  I also have her look up locations for her reading, and she has a large map of Britain and Ireland next to her work area that gets a fair amount of use.  I also have her doing a map drill of the shires of England 1-2 times a week.  This is challenging work, but I think she's finding it helpful in her reading.  I should probably have started it a lot earlier.


Emma is a handicrafts superstar.  This year she's started selling earrings that she designed, set up an Etsy shop, is learning how to make baskets, worked with clay, knitted, crocheted, sketched, painted, explored cartography...  the list goes on and on!  

Her first basket

The Booklist

Titles in Bold are books we used and finished all I had scheduled, books in Italics are books we abandoned or didn't even begin, and books in plain type are books we put in some work on, but did not complete as scheduled.  

*Books with asterisks are her favorites.  
+Books with a plus are ones I read as she was reading them.


A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture
*+Christianity, Pure and Simple
+The Family that Overtook Christ
The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Additional Notes - In the third term I decided I needed something a little shorter and easier than The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, so I picked The Family That Overtook Christ because I think it is a must read.  It would probably be better as a Y7 book, but oh well.


+The Great Heresies (one chapter) by Belloc
+The New World (Churchill)
+Characters of the Reformation by Belloc
+Speeches/Docs as selected by Ambleside Online
+Pilgrim Journal
The Voyage of the Spanish Armada
+Life of Francis Bacon
*+Man for All Seasons
Coffin for King Charles
Charles II: The Last Rally
*+Galileo’s Daughter

Additional Notes -
  • Next time I would skip The Great Heresies.  It has some interesting ideas, but it was too complex and had too much assumed knowledge for Emma to get much out of it.  
  • Characters of the Reformation was a little uneven - some chapters were excellent, others were decent, and some felt like filler.  Next time I think I'll just assign some of the chapters rather than the whole book.  
  • Reading 1491 was a fantastic read for this year.  It was also fascinating to read the back story of what was going on in the Americas when the Pilgrims arrived, and to gain a fuller understanding of the New World.  This book sparked lots of great discussions!
  • I assigned (as usual) too much this year.  Thankfully I realized it early enough to pull some books so I could lighten her load.  It all was still probably a little too much, but it was much better than it would have been otherwise.
These are made out of Sculpy - aren't they amazing?


I, Promessi
+Come Rack, Come Rope
*+Faerie Queene

Additional Notes -
  • I moved I, Promessi to her free reads list because I needed to remove some books.  She hasn't read it yet, but I'm going to bring it up to her again soon.  I read it a few years ago and I thought it was wonderful!
  • I used a different version of the Faerie Queene than what Ambleside Online recommends.  We felt like it dumbed down the Faerie Queene, and added help that wasn't necessary.  We were also very interested to notice that some of the interpretations of the allegories that the editor gave in a canonical manner were quite different from the interpretations offered by the editor of the version I got from Project Gutenberg.  
  • Come Rack, Come Rope is a great book to read in Y8.  It gives a good view of the Catholic side of the English Reformation in a way that is very matter of fact and not incendiary.  The author isn't trying to make the Protestants out to be all bad guys, rather he's trying to tell the story of the people who tried to remain Catholic in a very difficult period of history. 


Geoge Morison's Columbus
Book of Marvels

Additional Notes - I decided to cut them both, letting the geography in our family reading and in Emma's other books stand in for this year's geography reading.


Chemical History of a Candle
+Briefer History of Time
+William Harvey On the Discovery of the Circulation of the Blood
+Adventures with a Microscope
*+The Sea Around Us
Brother Astronomer
+Microbe Hunters
The Great Courses:  Our Night Sky
The Great Courses: Experiencing Hubble
Assembling California

Additional Notes -
  • This was a tough year to plan science.  I had to get it planned before the new AO science recommendations were out, and ended up with a hodge-podge of books and resources.  I felt like it was an ok science year, but not a great one.
  • We did not do all of the experiments in A Chemical History of a Candle.  Having Kathy's study guide was great, but even still it was quite an effort to get Emma to do them...  and I wasn't sure how much I should take the lead in getting them done.
  • I had really wanted to use these Great Courses lectures, but it turns out that one course is all I can make time for, and Emma won't do it on her own.  I decided to prioritize the Dante course, which I think was the right choice, but I think these other courses would have been a great addition to the year.
  • I am really looking forward to going to Nicole William's science immersion at the CMI Western Conference in August!  I'm hoping it will make science a lot easier to plan and a much better experience for our family in the years to come.

Natural History

*Arctic Dreams

Additional Notes - I loved this book!  It was especially wonderful to read after having spent three weeks in Alaska last summer.  I highly recommend it.


+Bacon's Essays
*+Whatever Happened to Justice..? 
+The Story of the Constitution by Tappan
How to Read a Book

Additional Notes - 
  • I've been having Emma read 15 minutes of How to Read a Book each week, but that isn't enough to get us to where we're supposed to be according to AO's schedule.  Oh well.  
  • Whatever Happened to Justice...? was one that sparked a lot of conversation.  Sometimes it is good to read a book that you argue with so you can hone your thinking.  We had a lot of good conversations about concupiscence this year, and how damaging it is...  as well as conversations about how we aren't made for this world, and we can't expect to be able to recreate Eden.  Reading Utopia played into these conversations a great deal too.  
  • The two Constitution materials were a last minute addition to satisfy a charter school requirement, and they left something to be desired.  But they were better than the textbook that the charter offered, so at least there's that.
And a note by Emma -

  • I have noted Whatever Happened to Justice as one of my favorite books; not because I agree with all of what he says, but I have marked it rather because... well, because I liked arguing with it (highly enjoyable and stimulating, if a bit warlike) and enjoyed discussing it with Mom.


Grammar of Poetry (carry over from last year)

Additional Notes - I had scheduled out reading the Divine Comedy over the course of the year, but it was something where I needed to be highly involved.  We were supposed to watch a new lecture at least every other week and read and discuss 2-3 Cantos each week.  And there were some weeks when it just didn't happen like it was supposed to, so we gradually drifted behind.  But we had some wonderful discussions, and I think our study of Dante's Comedia was a highlight of the year.  We really enjoyed the Great Courses lecture series, it added a lot to our reading and study of the work.  (But please buy it on sale!!)  

Reading Dante's Divine Comedy, even though it was written earlier than the historical time period Emma studied this year, was such a wonderful complement to all our reading of schism and reformation.  Dante doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the corruption of the Church - after all, he has popes in hell! - but yet he has a vision of the Church that is greater than the corruption of individuals. And this vision, with the deep repentance Dante models in his poem, is a welcome antidote to all the worldly wars and power struggles that consumed the Western World during this time period.
This is a piece that started as a sketch, then she took a picture of it, imported it into a graphics program on her iPad, traced over it all and cleaned it up, and now has it ready to print or use in other ways.


*+The Story of Art by Gombrich

Additional Notes - I'm so glad I happened to find a new edition of this book at the library book sale, because this new version has all color pictures!  That makes the book even more enjoyable.

Favorites from Emma's Reading

I keep a record of all of Emma's reading, and I asked her to look through the list and select some favorites.  She had lots of favorites this year!  Some of the books are re-reads.  None of these books were assigned, they were all ones she chose because they were on our shelves, were gifts, or were books I had downloaded.  She does check with me before she picks up a new book
, but I do not do much more than offer a lot of good books in our home and on our Kindles.

Tunnel in the Sky, Heinlein
Foundation Series, Asimov
Complete Collection of Short Stories, Twain
The Trees of Pride, Chesterton
The Tale of Two Cities, Dickens
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, Clarke
Persuasion, Austen
Emma, Austen
Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Tolkien (a re-read, and an all time favorite)
The Prince and the Pauper, Twain
David Copperfield, Twain
Pride and Prejudice, Austen
The Thurber Collection, Thurber
Laddie, Stratton-Porter
The Phantom of the Opera, Leroux
Moby Dick, Melville
Murder Must Advertise, Sayers
Sillmarilion, Tolkien (a re-read, and an all time favorite)
Strong Poison, Sayers
Have is Carcase, Sayers
The Resurrection, Tolstoy
Gaudy Night, Sayers
Busman's Honeymoon, Sayers
The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great, Merkle
Beauty, McKinley 
Anne's House of Dreams, Montgomery
To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee
Once and Future King, White
Along the Shore, Montgomery
Rainbow Valley, Montgomery
Rilla of Ingleside, Montgomery
Kilmeny of the Orchard, Montgomery
Order of the Phoenix, Rowling