Friday, January 30, 2015

Delightful Learning

Art Game


:: Professor Noggin's History of Art Card Game

We’ve enjoyed playing this art card game as a family the past few days. It is a simple trivia game for 2 or more players, and it covers ancient art through modern art (including art movements and eras, painting materials and techniques, famous artists and masterpieces, architecture, and art museums). The game includes 30 sturdy art cards and a die that corresponds to the questions on the back of the cards. There are two levels of questions, which makes it easier to play the game with a wide range of ages. Players take turns asking each other trivia questions. If the other player answers the question correctly, they add the card to their collection. If not, the answer is read aloud and the card returns to the bottom of the pile.

(It’s amazing how many of the answers my boys knew mostly from reading our collection of Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists books by Mike Venezia. They kept going to the shelf and grabbing books when they recognized a painting!)

Art Game Questions

We are looking forward to adding more of the huge selection of Professor Noggin Games to our collection. I can’t decide between Professor Noggin's Wonders of Science and Professor Noggin's History of the United States, so we might have to get them both. These games are great for around the dinner table fun.


Time Picture Book

:: About Time: A First Look at Time and Clocks

I am a huge fan of delightfully illustrated non-fiction picture books. About Time is a fascinating look at the history of timekeeping, from Ancient Sumerians in 3500 B.C. to Albert Einstein in 1905 and Daylight Saving Time in 1915. The reader learns about how time is defined and measured, as well as different types of “clocks” such as obelisks, sundials, water clocks, Chinese astronomical clocks, sand-pouring clocks, and so much more. History, math, science, cultures, and mechanics are all integrated in this lovely book.

Time Book 

If you or your children enjoy this one, you may also enjoy The History of Counting, as well. In a similar format, readers learn about the history of counting numbers across time and cultures, which I find fascinating. Don’t judge this one by the cover (it doesn’t appeal to me). The interior illustrations are well-done.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I’m Not Going to Lie ~ Some Days are Rough

Some Days Are Rough

I was waiting for something eloquent and profound to come to me, words of wisdom to share with the masses. But honestly? I don’t have it in me today.

Because some days are simply hard.

Like when you’ve been sick for more than two weeks with a nasty lingering cough, and you should be on the mend, and instead you spend 10 hours in the fetal position on the couch, your very hair follicles hurting, until you slowly shuffle to bed at 8 pm. That day, after 15 pretty good days of eating Paleo, you eat nothing but a couple Ritz crackers and a slice of marionberry pie. And the house painters finally return to your house to begin finishing up after months of a half-painted house, just when you had decided you didn’t care [twitch] about the caulk marks on the paint right by your front door, and the boys start fighting next to that fresh paint, get it on their hands and coat, and now you have gray paint smudges on your white bathroom door instead of white smudges on the gray paint by your front door.

Or the next day, when you are able to stand up long enough to take a shower, you think “today’s going to be better.” Until your son tells you he has swept the kitchen floor and it still looks like it hasn’t been swept for weeks. Or another son tells you he has cleaned his room, and what that really means is that he took a couple weeks of clean laundry that never got put away and put it back in the dirty laundry basket which is overflowing because you haven’t done it for two days. Or you think to yourself, “Hallelujah, Lola is actually playing quietly and independently for a few minutes,” even though you know, you KNOW this is never EVER a good thing. No matter how awful it is when she won’t play independently, it is infinitely worse when she does. Because that means she shaves off her eyebrows, completely. Or cuts her tongue and wipes the blood all over her shirt and your towels. Or chops off her hair. Or dumps cups full of water in her room. Or bottles full of soap. Or, this day, covers many, many surfaces with bright pink nail polish—herself, her bed, her clothes, her beloved kitty, and her carpet.

I’m going back to bed.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Food for Thought ~ The Burden of My Neighbor’s Glory

My Neighbor's Glory 

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor's glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. ...

"It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit...

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”  ~ C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory


::  Have you been following this story on one of my favorite Facebook pages, Humans of New York? Brandon roams New York, taking photographs of people and letting them share small bits of their stories. And this story all begins with one boy. Now Brandon has given readers a chance to do big things for this school and these children. And we’ve met other incredible human beings involved, human beings who are daily carrying the weight of their neighbors’ glory. [This is another favorite Facebook page. Just in case you needed another encouraging and entertaining place to land while on FB.]

::  How Children Learn: Portraits of Classrooms Around the World @ Brain Pickings. Speaking of students in other learning environments… [I love these portraits, as well as the other series by the same photographer.]

::  McKenzie is my own little neighbor. Her mom is a friend of mine, and I’ve been following her story since the day she went into the hospital just before Christmas and her 7th birthday. She and her family have a long, hard road in front of them. Please keep them in your prayers!

::  The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think @ Huff Post. [This article is fascinating, but it’s also a call to all of us to pay attention to the lonely and isolated around us.]

This isn't only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster's -- "only connect." But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live -- constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.

::  New Research Discovers That Depression Is An Allergic Reaction To Inflammation @ Feel Guide. Speaking of your neighbor struggling with loneliness… It is likely you have neighbors with depression as well. Be kind.


Take the time to love and encourage the people who cross your path as you go about your week.


Have a great one, friends!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Our Basic Persuasive Essay Outline

The Secret Garden 

[Part 1]

[Part 2]

The second morning, Levi and I worked on sorting the ANI chart and writing parallel proofs. The third morning, we talked through the exordium and amplification and typed up the essay outline. Again, we’ll have more time for these tasks and discussions for the upcoming literature selections as long as we are prioritizing our morning meetings each day! The forth morning we turned the outline into a basic persuasive essay.

For a perfect ending to a great week, we attended a local play production of The Secret Garden with a total of 35 of Levi’s classmates and family members after we all enjoyed a potluck dinner together. There is so much to be said for educating our children within a community. I love these people.

Here is our outline, for those of you who might be interested!

The Secret Garden


Basic Persuasive Essay Outline [The Lost Tools of Writing]

(With exordium, amplification, and parallel proofs)

I. Introduction

A. [Exordium] “While the secret garden was coming alive and two children were coming alive with it, there was a man wandering about certain far-away beautiful places in the Norwegian fiords and the valleys and mountains of Switzerland and he was a man who for ten years had kept his mind filled with dark and heart-broken thinking. He had not been courageous; he had never tried to put any other thoughts in the place of the dark ones…He had forgotten and deserted his home and his duties.“ (The Secret Garden, pp 223-224)

B. [Thesis] Archibald Craven should not have purposefully stayed away from his son, Colin.

C. [Enumeration] 3

D. Exposition

     1. To fulfill his duties as a man, father

     2. To meet Colin’s needs for a relationship

     3. To experience true joy, rather than misery

II. Proof

A. [Proof 1] To fulfill his duties as a man, father

     1. [Support 1.1] Brave

     2. [Support 1.2] Face responsibilities

     3. [Support 1.3] Father responsible for care of child

B. [Proof 2] To meet Colin’s needs for a relationship

     1. [Support 2.1] Spoiled, needed father’s discipline

     2. [Support 2.2] Needed father’s love and attention, especially since mother was dead

     3. [Support 2.3] Needed father to show him how to be a man--strong, brave, loving

C. [Proof 3] To experience true joy, rather than misery

     1. [Support 3.1] Colin not a hunchback

     2. [Support 3.2] Alone and in prolonged grief rather than loving relationship

     3. [Support 3.3] Delayed reward of happiness greater than hope of immediate comfort or convenience

III. Conclusion

A. One sentence recapitulation

     1. [Thesis] Archibald Craven should not have purposefully stayed away from his son, Colin.

     2. Summary of Proof

          a. [Proof 1] To fulfill his duties as a man, father

          b. [Proof 2] To meet Colin’s needs for a relationship

          c. [Proof 3] To experience true joy, rather than misery

B. Amplification

     1. [To whom it matters] Children

     2. [Why] Children whose honorable fathers are present and have a relationship with them have a better chance at living a happy, healthy life.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Contemplation, Conversation, and the ANI Chart ~ Part 2

Or “Lost Tools of Writing, the ‘How to Talk with Your Teenager’ Program, Continued”

Contemplation and Conversation, The Lost Tools of Writing

[Read Part 1 here.]

I had to ask Levi not to give me immediate answers (usually “I don’t know!”)—I wasn’t expecting immediate “right” answers. I wanted him to think about each question or idea for a little bit. There would be no “points” detracted for not knowing, and we’d talk it through if he really couldn’t come up with something; we’d ask more questions until we did think of something!

[Keep in mind, the affirmative or negative reasons don’t need to be “good” reasons. We all have reasons for doing something that turn out to be bad reasons, but they are still compelling reasons for us at the time! We’re exploring all reasons in the ANI chart phase. The judgment comes later.]

:: The first topic of invention is definition.

We’ll start with the basics. What is Colin’s father?

He’s a man.

What is a man? Wait. Do you know what objective and subjective mean?

I think so, but I can’t remember which is which.

Well, think of objective like an object. You can give facts about an object, such as its weight or substance or color, that most people wouldn’t argue about. You can touch it; it’s concrete. Think of subjective as an idea that is subject to someone’s opinion or interpretation.

So what are some objective definitions of a man?

A man is a male human who has gone through the biological changes of puberty. In our culture, every 18 year old male can vote, be drafted for military service, get married, or go to jail; every 21 year old (and older) male can purchase alcohol and is considered a fully legal adult. In some cultures, boys become men when they go through initiation ceremonies. Those are all facts.

What are some subjective definitions of a man?

A man is brave. A man is adventurous. A man respects women. A man honors his country and family. A man faces his duties. A man provides for his family.

Do any of those definitions tell you whether Colin’s father should have stayed away?

He shouldn’t have stayed away, because he needed to be brave, and he needed to face his duties to his family. He should have stayed away, because his duties were business and traveling.

What else is Colin’s father?

He’s a father.

What are some objective definitions of a father?

A man who has a biological child or a man who has legally adopted a child.

What are some subjective definitions of a father?

A man who considers the needs of his children and provides for them and loves them.

What are some objective needs of a child?

Water, sleep, food, shelter, protection.

What are some subjective needs of a child?


Do all children need books? Did they need books in 400 BC? Do they need books in remote tribes in Africa? How about education? Does a mother polar bear educate her cub? Is this necessary for survival?

Maybe some education is an objective need. [A universal definition of education might be the knowledge and skills a human needs to survive independently. Our own cultural definition of objective education might be the ability to read, write, and understand basic math.]

How about attention, nurturing, and love? Are those objective or subjective? How about entertainment and possessions? Is pizza food or entertainment? How about birthday cake?…

Colin’s father should have stayed away because he made sure he had provided for Colin’s objective needs and hired someone to take care of him, but he should not have stayed away because Colin needed his father’s love and attention.

[What else is Colin’s father? An uncle. A widower. A rich man. A physically weak man. An Englishman… He should have stayed away because he was grieving and sick... Really, simply discussing the definition of one “term” of the issue could take hours.]

What is Colin?

A boy. A sickly, spoiled, lonely, confined boy who can’t walk but doesn’t have a hunchback and whose mother has died.

We talked about the basic needs of a child, but what were some of his needs specifically?

Colin’s father should not have stayed away because Colin needed a father’s discipline, a parent’s love and attention, and someone to model how one should face difficulties and embrace life. Colin’s father should have stayed away because Colin was unpleasant and reminded him of his dead wife.

:: The second topic of invention is comparison.

How is Colin’s father similar to Mary’s father? How are they different?

[Going back to the text to re-read how Mary’s father was described…]

They were both sickly and busy men and fathers. They were both rich and hired someone else to take care of their children. His father was a widower, but her father was not.

How is Colin’s father similar to Dickon? How are they different?

They are both male. Their homes are in the same part of England. Colin’s father is a man, but Dickon is only a boy. Colin’s father is rich and absent, Dickon is poor and nurturing.

Oh, rich and poor! Are there different cultural expectations for a rich father and a poor father?…

[How is Colin’s father similar to or different from Mrs. Medlock? A horse? A rock? Grief? How is Colin similar to or different from Mary? Dickon? You?]

:: The third topic of invention is circumstance.

When and where did the issue take place?

Misselthwaite Manor, Yorkshire, England around 1900. Colin’s father traveled all over Europe instead of being at home.

[Oh, what were the cultural expectations of a rich father in England in 1900?]

What was happening in the place with which the question is concerned?

Colin’s father left the manor and traveled all over Europe. He was grief-stricken and miserable. Colin became sickly and spoiled. Mary came to live at the Manor. The garden was revived and Colin learned to walk. (Colin’s father should not have stayed away so that he could care for his niece, experience the revival of the garden, and find that happiness was to be found at home.)

What was happening elsewhere?

Great Britain was ruling India. (He should have stayed away because Englishmen were supposed to be adventurous.)

[Teddy Roosevelt, the Wright Brothers, and the Ford Motor Company were happing in the U.S. around 1900.]

[This is probably the moment Levi looked at the clock and said, “Mom, our time’s up.” I told him there is no scheduled time limit. We’re going to talk as long as we are enjoying the conversation and we have something to talk about or we come to a natural stopping place.]

:: The fourth topic of invention is relationship.

What happened immediately before the time of the issue?

Colin’s mother died. (He should have stayed away because he was grieving. He should have stayed away because Colin reminded him of his dead wife.) The garden was shut. (He should have stayed away because the garden held bad memories for him.)

What happened immediately afterward?

When he returned home to the garden, everyone was happy. (He should not have stayed away because his home, family, and garden are what would bring him true happiness.)

[What are the objective and subjective definitions of home?]

[This is where questions about cause and effect fit in, as well.]

:: The fifth topic of invention is authority.

What is the difference between a witness and an expert?

Who is a witness to the issue within the story? What did they have to say about the issue? How reliable is their testimony? Are there additional witnesses?

Who is an expert about the issue within the story? What is his opinion? What is the source of his opinion? Is he reliable?

[This led to an interesting conversation about Dr. Craven. Was he Archibald Craven’s brother? Is he considered an expert when he didn’t seem to do Colin much good and he let his own interests interfere with his responsibility to treat Colin?]


I didn’t share our whole conversation, just a small sample. If we had been diligent about doing Lost Tools together the past couple weeks we would have had more time to delve into each topic (a whole week to discuss the 5 common topics rather than a single day). So much more could have been discussed! It was my own fault. Obviously, definition alone could take hours if we wanted it to, starting with just one issue and two terms to define!

We worked through the topics orally and only made notes on our ANI chart.

As we compared our A column with our N column, we noticed that the majority of our column A had to do with immediate comfort or convenience and the majority of our column N had to do with facing a difficult task and reaping delayed rewards.

We can say that the answer to this issue is obvious.

But do we make bad decisions for the wrong reasons, convincing ourselves that our actions are justified? Yep.

Do we make poor decisions even when we know we should have done the opposite? Yep.


I had a leisurely conversation with my 13 year old son about what it is to be a man, to be a father. The objective and subjective needs of children. The definition of education. How cultural expectations change the way we see our roles in life. That it is better to make decisions based on long term rewards rather than immediate comfort.

He would search for information in the text and read aloud interesting passages. Or I would read a passage to him.

This, THIS is what my 13 year old needed.

Contemplation: big ideas and disciplined, structured, deep thinking.

Conversation: big ideas and disciplined, structured, deep thinking—together.

Relationship: relaxed, one-on-one, verbal, no “right answers,” no “hurry up, we’re behind,” no lecturing, no frustrated interaction with another human being.

He is firmly in the dialectic/logic stage of development and of his education, and these questions are my tools to meet him where he is as a student and a human being.

It’s what I needed.

A reminder that education is not about a check list or a product or a schedule. That slowing down to think and connect is education. That playing with ideas is education.

A chance to connect with my son in a joyful, fascinating discussion, without frustration and unmet expectations.

If that’s all we do in a day, it is a day well-spent.

If I dropped every subject but one, we’d keep literature and The Lost Tools of Writing—even if we never got past the ANI chart and the 5 topics of invention. (We’d probably continue to do an hour of math each day, as well. But we’d ask questions about numbers!)

This is the dialectic stage of education, and I need to remember that my main teaching tool is a good question, and conversation is a relational activity. The goal of this stage is to begin thinking well. The papers the students write now (in Challenge A, at the beginning of Lost Tools), after the deep thinking, are very simply the pruned, organized thoughts. I don’t want Levi (and myself) to become distracted by an expectation of eloquent writing. The elocution will come slowly, one carefully implemented trope or scheme at a time, as Levi moves into the expressive rhetoric stage in the following years.


If you are interested in exploring the dialectic stage of development and education as well as the 5 common topics of invention, I highly recommend The Question by Leigh Bortins. She explains each topic and shows how to use the questions across all subjects.


[Next up: Our Basic Persuasive Essay Outline with Exordium and Amplification]

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Contemplation, Conversation, and the ANI Chart ~ Part 1

Or “Lost Tools of Writing, the ‘How to Talk with Your Teenager’ Program”

Contemplation and Conversation

After Levi expressed his frustration over his Lost Tools of Writing assignments, I promised him that we’ll do that subject together, every day, first thing in the morning.

We had our community day for Challenge A on Monday, but Tuesday morning he remembered. “Mom, you said you would do Lost Tools with me, first thing.”

I told him to bring his papers to the kitchen table and we’d sit down together while I ate my breakfast and drank my tea, leisurely*. (I often eat standing up because, you know, hurry, hurry, hurry. And hello, Whole30, because I didn’t have enough on my plate—ha!—and I’m modeling doing hard things.)


“Christian education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty by means of the seven liberal arts and the four sciences so that, in Christ, the student is enabled to better know, glorify, and enjoy God.” [CiRCE]

A liberal education is not for the purpose of productivity but for the purpose of making minds free.

I can believe that with every cell of my body. But I am also human. And a mother who has a lot on her plate. And I’m lazy. And impatient.

I like either having nothing to do, or doing something quickly and having something to show for the work.


But this educating our children and ourselves, it is not easy, and it is not a sprint. It is a marathon, a life-long labor of love.

In our rush for output, we skip the difficult, nonquantifiable but essential step of contemplation and hurry along the quantifiable products of filled-in blanks on a worksheet or, count them, 30 items in each column of the ANI chart. We succumb to the pressures of schedule- and productivity-based educational goals.

I had been using the Lost Tools of Writing as a worksheet and writing program, but I was wrong.

The Lost Tools of Writing is a program that teaches students how to think.

I KNEW this. But I had forgotten.

The problem with thinking, or contemplation, is that it takes time and a willingness to set aside time-limits, to set aside the to-do list, to set aside the expectation of a product, to set aside all the trivial distractions in our physical space and in our minds. And, for those of us (me) not accustomed to focused, structured contemplation, it is difficult.

If it is difficult for us as adults, how much more difficult must it be for a thirteen-year-old boy?! And if we cannot spare the time and energy to model the process and value of contemplation, how will our children and students learn; will they believe us when we say it is important?

The Lost Tools of Writing is also the opportunity to talk about big, formational ideas with an adolescent—indirectly (not about their own decisions), without lecturing or moralizing. It is the opportunity to educate relationally.

It’s the “How to Talk with Your Teenager” program. And it’s GOLD.

This is what I discovered yesterday morning, during a two-hour un-rushed conversation, while we enjoyed each other’s company and ideas. True leisure.

*“At the heart of any culture worthy of the name is not work but leisure, schole in Greek, a word that lies at the root of the English word ‘school.’ At its highest, leisure is contemplation. It is an activity that is its own justification, the pure expression of what it is to be human…” ~ Stratford Caldecott, Beauty for Truth's Sake


I began by sharing with Levi the benefit of creating an issue and an ANI chart (more about those in a minute for those of you not familiar with Lost Tools).

We contribute ideas to an ANI chart using the five common topics of invention in order to:

1. Think about and understand a story more deeply, and return to the text to remember more details.

2. Think about and know a character more deeply.

3. Think about and understand human nature more deeply, which should make us more empathetic.

4. Think about and understand ourselves, our nature, and our own decisions more deeply.

5. Practice making better decisions, and learn to use an ANI chart when faced with big decisions.

6. Learn to study the other side of arguments for clearer (unbiased) thinking, reasoning, and debating (which will be particularly helpful for policy debate in Challenge I).


With Lost Tools of Writing, the student chooses a “should question,” which he then turns into an issue on which he writes a persuasive essay.

In Classical Conversations Challenge A, students have assigned books to read (10 books in 30 weeks) from which they pull their issue. This month (the first weeks of the second semester), students read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Levi asked the question “Should Colin’s father have stayed away from him purposely?” This question becomes the issue “whether Colin’s father should have stayed away from him purposely.”

Students then create an ANI chart—one column for A (affirmative reasons), N (negative reasons), and I (interesting statements or questions about the story that do not seem to fit in column A or N).

This is often when the instinctive, impulsive “of course he shouldn’t have” or “I don’t know” statements begin. Or the tedious torture of wringing blood from a rock and finding 30 reasons to place in each column.

But, BUT, the student is given TOOLS, and those tools are called the 5 Topics of Invention, which is the first cannon of Rhetoric. Essentially, they are five categories of questions to ask (about anything!) to help a person think—structured brainstorming, really.

These tools can help eliminate the spontaneous reactions (of course he shouldn’t have done it) and the empty head (I don’t know, I have no idea, where do I even start). They are tools of inquiry to gather an inventory of facts and ideas. They promote focused, organized, interactive thinking. They are conversational.


[Next post: Our Conversation]

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


CC Ch A Schedule (Regrouping)


I messed up.

Levi and I started out his school year together. We did most of his Classical Conversations Challenge A lessons together for the first few weeks. I made sure his schedule and to-do list was written out and checked daily.

And then we both got distracted.

Other children do live at this house. And they need attention and education occasionally. I have things I need to do. And teaching an adolescent can be frustrating. So procrastination happens.

Oh, he can do this independently. He should be able to do that independently. Just let him get started on math, and he’ll figure out how to complete the rest of assignments as well. If he’s going to fight me on that, he can do it on his own.

And so on. [Right about this time last semester.]

Math, well, that’s important. And don’t get behind in Latin! Draw your maps. We’ll skip the outlining in rhetoric, but read the chapters and lessons. We missed two weeks of science research for various reasons, but just jump ahead to the current topic and write your paper.

Writing, hmmm. There are worksheets. Just fill them out. Oh, we’re way behind! Let’s just rush this paper today. [Much, much more about this in the next post.]

Turns out, my adolescent procrastinates as much as I do—and the most overwhelming or hated tasks are the ones he puts off.

We “got by” for the first semester until he had three classes within 8 days in December (due to a make-up class)—the end of the semester classes, no less—the same week as his choir performance week and then a few Christmas activities the following week when he was supposed to complete his final 1st semester work.

Then Christmas. And a New Year’s birthday. And a big family vacation—a missed week of class.

We were going to start our new year well. I didn’t know how tired I would be after vacation, that two days would not be enough time to prep for Monday and I would be so sick for the next week. So tired and sick. Not a great start to our new year. [Hello, Christmas tree still on my front porch.]

If momma isn’t on top of things, the kids in this house aren’t either. It’s a free-for-all. Sigh.

We ended a rough week with two days of swim meet in which all three boys were competing and Russ, who was also sick, was coaching.

During a long late Saturday afternoon and evening of sitting with Levi trying to get some of his work caught up for class on Monday, Lola managed to cut her tongue (hello, blood on her shirt and bathroom towels), chop off her hair (hello, bangs), and dump several cups of water in her room (because she was “painting” with water). [This is the moment I expressed my frustration on Facebook: “It seems I have to make a choice between educating my 13 year old and keeping my 4 year old alive. Forget the two in between; they’ll have to fend for themselves.”]

By Sunday afternoon, we were a mess. It was time to regroup.

Levi and I had a long conversation about why he was in Challenge A, why he was required to do the work. How Latin is valuable for many reasons, but the most important reason we are doing this hard work is to learn to do hard things. That if he learns nothing else in Challenge A, this skill (and character trait) will serve him for the rest of his life. [More about doing hard things in an upcoming post.] I asked him to be willing to try. To do his best. And I told him that right answers or being smart was not the most important thing.

I asked Levi what I could do to help him succeed.

He asked me to be diligent about filling out his schedule with exactly what needed to be completed each day. I made a commitment to him to do just that. In return, I asked him to look at the schedule, and do his best to focus on the work on the day’s list.

Then I asked him what subject he was struggling most in. “The Lost Tools of Writing” (he said with anguish). “I hate it. I hate writing. I can’t do it.” Then we’ll do that subject together, every day, first thing in the morning, I promised him…

[To be continued…]


Thursday, January 15, 2015



We made it to the Disneyland park later than we planned on the last day after spending the morning and early afternoon at California Adventure. We barely made it in time to watch the wonderful parade, and it was starting to get dark towards the end. I was disappointed not to get more pictures in the day time.

Parade Characters 

All four days I was surprised to realize just how many Disney movies the kids have not seen! The only princesses Lola knew were Elsa and Anna from Frozen. That’s not a bad or good thing—simply an observation.

We made our way to Toontown, where we hadn’t even stepped foot yet. I truly felt we could have spent three more days between the two parks in order to see everything. Especially with a range of ages and without splitting up the family, there is simply so much to see and explore.

Please, remind me next time we go to Disneyland not to ride Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. It is, hands-down, the worst ride at the Disney parks.



“It’s a Small World” (One of our family favorites):






And that’s all, folks.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

California Adventure


This past weekend and early week didn’t go quite as planned, but when does it? [wry grin] Recovering from vacation while being laid low with a nasty cold is proving difficult. The transition from gorgeous 75 degree sunshine to gray, wet days is tough, as well. That’s okay—we’ll adjust (and ignore the Christmas tree languishing on the front porch, seriously).

I chose not to carry my camera all four days in the interest of keeping things simple and being in the moment. I did haul it around on day 4, when we visited both parks the same day. These are a small selection from California Adventure.

Everything was still decorated for Christmas (I’m not sure why that surprised me), and the parks were certainly not as empty as we had hoped (a whole lotta kids were missing school!). But we still avoided the huge crowds that doubtless flooded the parks over the holidays.

Again, the weather was perfection.

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All four of the kids loved the Frozen Sing-Along show in the theater. The Aladdin show (full sets, costuming, and songs with an abridged storyline) was incredible, as was the Mickey and the Magic Map show at Disneyland. I tried to remind myself that we were watching full shows that would be events all by themselves anywhere else! We managed to watch Mickey’s Soundsational Parade in Disneyland as well as the evening World of Color (music, lights, and water fountains) at Paradise Pier in California Adventure, but missed the other nighttime shows (because tired.).

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Levi’s favorite ride of the trip was the Grizzly River Run raft ride. All three boys rode it many, many times. The single rider line was helpful when the ride was busy, but this ride was often empty in the earlier morning or evening times (because wet. and cold.). [Levi doesn’t really enjoy rollercoasters, but I was very proud of him this trip. He tried (and enjoyed) everything but California Screamin’ and the Hollywood Tower of Terror.]

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Lola and I did not like it, however, because getting soaked by cold water did not appeal to us. So we sat it out after the first run which had Lola dripping wet and crying.

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Lola was an amazing sport on every other ride. She loved Big Thunder Mountain Railroad rollercoaster, Gadget’s Go Coaster, and Radiator Springs Racers. She wasn’t tall enough for Indiana Jones or California Screamin’. I didn’t take her on the Hollywood Tower of Terror (more about that later). She didn’t go on the Matterhorn Bobsleds because we used the single rider line for that one, and she is too young to ride solo. She thought Space Mountain was scary because it was dark, but she didn’t cry and it didn’t make her apprehensive for any other ride. I wasn’t with her on Goofy’s Sky School rollercoaster, but Russ said he had to talk her through it. Of course, Russ thought he was going to die. All things considered, that unassuming ride may be the scariest at the Disneyland parks! But she rode everything with enthusiasm and seemed to understand the whole standing in line routine. For the most part, she was also a fantastic sport about all the waiting for the boys.


We spent a good chunk of time at Paradise Pier. Leif and Luke were my rollercoaster buddies. California Screamin’ was far and away our favorite ride. Leif was apprehensive the first time we tried it (as he always is with anything new). After that, he was game for the single rider line. I reminded him that he would be riding by himself, next to a stranger. He sweetly replied, “Then maybe I’ll have a chance to make a new friend.” And indeed he did! So the three of us went several times and even managed to talk Russ (not a rollercoaster guy) into riding once on the last day. He was surprised at how much he enjoyed it. In fact, he said he would rather ride California Screamin’ all day long than ever go on Goofy’s Sky School coaster again. Ha!

The last time Leif and I stood in the single rider line, we talked the whole time with a hilarious 12 year old boy from New Zealand. That kid made my day!

Russ rode the Ferris Wheel with Levi, Luke, and Lola and took some pictures from high above the park.


Above is the California Screamin’ loop. Below is the Radiator Springs Racers.


Then there was the Hollywood Tower of Terror, the elevator drop. (You can read about it here.)


I got out of riding this one last time because Luke wasn’t old enough, but I had to man up and go with him this visit. Leif said he wanted to go, almost chickened out, and then manned up as well. Leif and I are happy to say we rode it, and never do it again. I much prefer rollercoasters to drop rides. Luke, my thrill-seeker, says it is his favorite ride.

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The Cars Land was so charming. We ended up eating at Flo’s CafĂ© on the last afternoon. It was our only full meal inside the parks (because $$$$.).

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One thing about Disney parks, they are Masters of ambiance and story. The foliage, signage, smells (including a huge variety of theme-appropriate foods), lighting, hand rails, benches, cast member costuming, garbage cans—no detail is too small, and every little thing is intentional. It blows me away, and I wish I had days to walk around taking pictures. I’d love to do a collage of all the different light fixtures found around Disneyland.

In Bugs Land, the park benches are made out of used popsicle sticks and the lights are lightning bugs on candy suckers.


And the parks are super-duper clean.


I’ll post more pictures of Disneyland when I get a chance later this week.

Friday, January 9, 2015

There and Back ~ Whoosh!


[This picture was taken on the afternoon of our fourth and last day. If we look like we’ve been hit by a truck, don’t judge.]

Saturday: Packed and left town a bit before 5 pm. Drove all night.

Sunday: After stopping to rest for an hour or two because neither of us could keep driving, arrived in Anaheim around 8:30 am. Parked (an adventure in itself), grabbed breakfast from the cooler, filled backpacks, changed into fresh clothes, walked into the park, picked up tickets, and began in Disneyland around 9:30 am. It was busy, and we were a tad exhausted, but we managed a full day until about 6 pm—and then we all hit a wall. We walked out of the park, had dinner at The Cheesecake Factory, checked into the hotel, unloaded all our stuff, and passed out.

Monday: We didn’t manage a single early morning because we were so exhausted. But we stayed in California Adventure for about 12 hours, had a super late supper at Denny’s, then collapsed in bed.

Tuesday: We spent a slightly shorter day in Disneyland, had supper outside the park around 6 pm, picked up cheesecake to-go, and spent a slightly more leisurely late evening at the hotel.

Wednesday: The morning and early afternoon were spent at California Adventure (where we ate a big lunch), and late afternoon and evening in Disneyland. We broke down and rented a stroller for Lola, which was a life-saver. I was drop-dead tired by about 8 pm, so Lola and I walked back to the hotel while the boys closed down the park.

Thursday: We took our time packing up and checked out just before 11 am. After a Target necessities stop and lunch at Chipotle, we left Anaheim at 12:30. And drove and drove and drove. When we arrived home at 4:30 am, we promptly fell into bed.

Friday: Exhausted.


Drive: blessedly uneventful (other than that one guy who was swerving in front of us, crossed a lane of traffic, bounced off the cement divider and kept driving), if a bit long. We had a bit of fog coming and going but absolutely no precipitation, very little road construction, no rush-hour traffic, and a completely clear pass over the mountains.

Weather: absolutely gorgeous and perfect in the upper 70s. Sunshine, shorts, and palm trees. Wahoo!

Children: healthy and relatively well-behaved. (Considering our vacation track record, this is a minor miracle.)

Vacation: success.


So thankful.

[Laundry and organizing is on the docket for today. More pictures tomorrow. Then it’s time to get ready for the reality of Monday.]

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Why Disneyland?

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My childhood was simple. Idyllic, really. And simple.

We lived in the country. Our social activities were school and church.

We rode bikes on our empty country road. We walked through the fields. We had sleepovers (sisters and friends) in the log cabin play house my dad made for us. We spent time gardening and preserving food (picking, snapping, husking, peeling, canning and freezing) during the summers. We read books. We didn’t watch much television, and only a rare movie (almost never in a theater).

We sat down as a family every evening to a home-cooked meal.

We camped. A lot. Tents, pump water, and outhouses. (In the rain more than once. After all, this is Oregon.) Backpacks and no pump water or outhouses a couple times.

We were a houseful of homebodies (other than the youngest—she was definitely outnumbered).


But my grandparents (my mom’s parents) lived in Southern California.

They drove to visit us often, and we loved their visits. They were fun, activity-driven, child-centered grandparents. My sisters and I always felt that they were our biggest fan club. They were unfailingly interested when we’d talk to them about what we were doing, what we were interested in and passionate about. They always wanted to make things happen for us, or at the very least be the loudest cheerleaders on the sidelines.

A handful of times during my childhood, we made the trip down to see them.

Grandma’s house. With Fruitloops. Grandpa’s house. With a big telescope for looking at the stars.

Grandma’s house. With a gazillion house plants that she had rescued from imminent death. Grandpa’s house. With a globe and science experiments.

Palm trees.

And Disneyland.

We would pack a picnic lunch. Grandma would pack snacks in her voluminous purse. And we’d all drive to Disneyland for the day.

It was magic.

All of us rode every ride. My grandparents seemed to have more fun than anyone. Grandma was always 20 feet ahead when we were walking to the next attraction, eager to see it all, as fast as possible.

Sunshine. Crowds. Excitement.

My sisters and I agree, Disneyland is one of our most favorite childhood memories.


My boys have a childhood different from mine. Not completely—they live in the country just two miles from my childhood home where my parents still live—but  the 5 other people in this household are extroverts, so I’m getting used to going and doing more than I did when I was little.

Still, when we manage to “vacation,” it’s a couple days in Bend, Oregon (camping, at a swim meet, or possibly playing in the snow), a day at the beach, a day (or a few) in the mountains (camping or not), an educational field trip or local sightseeing. When the boys were little, we took a couple road trips. Eventually, I’d love to take the kids on a cross-country sight-seeing trip, but at these ages more than enough loveliness exists right here in our back yard (or within a couple hours) to keep us busy.

Sometimes, just sometimes, mamma craves a purely pleasure-filled trip to Disneyland.

Six years ago, we took the boys, then 6, 4, and 2 years old. [photo above] We went just as I was coming out of a period of depression and anxiety, and the experience was, well, magical. We had a delightful time. Delightful. Let me repeat that. Delightful. And delightful was more than I could have asked for at that point in my life, and with the ages of our kids.


We haven’t taken a full family vacation, for purely pleasure, since then. For six years.

I’d say it was time.

It’ll still be quick. But we’re going to wring every hour of fun out of these few days.

See you on the other side.

[Grandpa, I’ll be thinking of you while we’re there, and wishing you could be there. I’ll take lots of pictures!]

Friday, January 2, 2015

Levi’s Harry Birthday

[Harry Potter, of course]

Levi's Harry Potter Birthday Party

I have a teenager. That blows my mind. He’s changed a bunch this past year. No longer a childish boy, he’s all limbs and scraggly hair and dark peach fuzz. Most days, however, are wild swings between acting 2 and 20. I imagine that’s pretty typical.

Levi’s my imaginative, playful son, and though getting older is inevitable, I believe he will always have a little boy soul in there somewhere.

I try to do simple themes for our family birthday parties (not the elaborate detailed parties I used to dream I would put on, back when I had no kids—or when they were little and I only had a couple). This year was Harry Potter.

  • I printed off some Hogwarts Crest and a Design Your Own Crest coloring pages from Activity Village UK. I know Levi’s a little old for coloring pages, but I thought some of the other kids might enjoy them (younger siblings, cousin, friends). Turns out Levi’s the only one who colored one that evening, because he enjoys drawing and using colored pencils and the design appealed to him.
  • I used the butterbeer ideas from Bakingdom, and improvised a little. I’m all about making things simple. I just used cream soda, a smidge of butter flavoring, and plain whipped cream. [I also had regular rootbeer and ice cream, so that guests could choose to make a rootbeer float instead.] Levi loved the butterbeer.
  • These cauldron cakes are simply adorable, but I cheated and just used black cupcake wrappers and a butterscotch candy.
  • I got the idea to make snitches at this site. I wandered around the craft store looking for just the right thing. I found little wooden knobs, had Russ drill the holes all the way through, painted them gold with craft paint, and added the ribbon. They were a huge hit (and my personal favorite).
  • My amazing friend Brandy at The Prudent Homemaker did a gorgeous Harry Potter birthday party for her son, and that’s where I got the idea of the banner and printing the short prequel by Rowling as well as the train tickets.
  • My lack of adequate planning and last-minute prep caused a bit of a problem when a few things I ordered from Amazon didn’t make it in time (estimated arrival time was December 31st, but they didn’t show up until today, January 2nd). Sigh. I had a little something different planned for the cake, but I made a little banner out of the paper scraps from the larger banner. It worked.
  • Harry Potter Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans showed up late. We’ll have to deliver them. Ha!
  • Chocolate gold coins made perfect gold galleons (if you don’t pay any attention to the markings on them…).



I shared a bunch about Levi last year, so this year I’ll just share my three favorite quotes that best express his personality:

“I always wanted to be Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up. I can’t fly, but swimming is the next best thing. It’s harmony and balance. The water is my sky.” ~Clayton Jones

“Completion is the death of possibility.”

“A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.” ~Doctor Who

Yep, that pretty well sums him up.

Levi. 13.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015 [More or Less]







Family games

Time with Russ


Peace and joy with the children (particularly the adolescent)

Quiet time (prayer, Bible reading)

Healthy, home-cooked meals

Exercise and fresh air

Blogging and Writing

Consistent lessons with the younger kids

Reading aloud

Stepping outside my box

Accepting challenges





Wasting time on the computer

Screen time for Lola




(P.S. This is post #2,001 here at Mt. Hope Chronicles. What a way to start a year!)