Hope from an Unlikely Place

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During the season of Lent, we’re reminded of our humanness. From dust we were made, and to dust we will return. We attend church services marked by ash, read devotionals to focus our minds, and abstain from sugar, caffeine, or the internet to redirect appetites. The forty days serves a solemn reminder. This year, the season feels particularly weighty. The stark reality of cancer, deeply fractured relationships, and untimely deaths have seeped deep into the Lenten liturgy of our community.

We begin most mornings with a family devotional, which is followed by the current read-aloud. Today, after naming and praying for a number of folks who are walking through incredibly painful situations, I was given pause. Although brief, it was a “Why does any of it matter anyway?” moment. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the small cheerful book covered in red and gold cloth. To transition from our world filled with pain to one marked by myths and fairy tales felt foolish. The moment passed. The show must go on. There are tasks to be completed and boxes to be checked.

Half-heartedly, I opened the book and began reading where we’d left off. The world had been a paradise full of beautiful children. There was no sickness, nor aging, nor despair. Yet Pandora couldn’t be content with perfection. Her companion, Epimetheus, was no help. The ornate box in their possession, full of mystery and promise, drew Pandora closer. With a slight touch of her hand, the golden knot at the enclosure was untangled. The box flew open. The grave deed of all deeds had been done. For the first time in history, the world knew evil passions and diseases and sorrows of all kinds. Again, I was given pause. This make-believe world was a mirror of our own. It was tarnished. Soiled. Full of despair.

But despair wasn’t the ending. It was the beginning.

Epimetheus sat down sullenly in a corner with his back towards Pandora; while Pandora flung herself upon the floor and rested her head on the fatal abominable box. She was crying bitterly, and sobbing as if her heart would break. Suddenly there was a gentle tap on the inside of the lid.

Hope had been born from the place of deep darkness.

“As long as you need me,” said Hope, with her pleasant smile, – “and that will be as long as you live in the world, – I promise never to desert you. There may come times and seasons, now and then, when you will think that I have utterly vanished. But again, and again, and again, when perhaps you last dream of it, you shall see the glimmer of my wings on the ceiling of your cottage. Yes, my dear children, I know something very good and beautiful that is to be given you hereafter… Trust in my promise, for it is true.”

And so they did; and not only they, but so has everybody trusted Hope, that has since been alive. And to tell you the truth, I cannot help being glad – (though to be sure, it was an uncommonly naughty thing for her to do) – but I cannot help being glad that our foolish Pandora peeped into the box. No doubt – not doubt – the Troubles are still flying about the world, and have increased in multitude, rather than lessened, and are a very ugly set of imps, and carry most venomous stings in their tails. I have felt them already, and expect to feel them more, as I grow older. But then that lovely and lightsome little figure of Hope! What in the world could we do without her? Hope spiritualises the earth; Hope makes it always new; and, even in the earth’s best and brightest aspect, Hope shows it to be only the shadow of an infinite bliss hereafter! —Nathaniel Hawthorne (A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys)

Perhaps the days we feel least like reading stories of knights and dragons, of giant wooden horses and sea serpents, and of mythical gilded boxes filled with the problems of the world – are the very days that we need to catch a glimpse of the shadow of Hope. In the beginning, Hope spoke while hovering over darkness. In the end, it will sound like rushing waters and blaring trumpets. But while we’re waiting, Hope’s whisper can be heard in the most unexpected of places – like the funerals of saints and the flutter of fairy wings.

– – –

This piece was originally published at The Story Warren.



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On Reading Aloud – to the Bigger Kids

readwithwill
Reading with my big kid.

There’s nothing quite like reading picture books to our little ones. They snuggle in tightly, nestle close to the heart, trace pictures with chubby fingers and beg for “one more”. But what happens when the little ones grow into lanky teenagers?

My middle-schooler no longer fits in children’s clothing, but must shop in the men’s department. As his body transitions from that of a child into that of an adult, so does his world. His calendar rivals mine. Discussions of college have begun to pepper our conversation and our planning for the upcoming school year. Conversations about world events have reflected the despair and depravity that are impossible to avoid. And then there is the dreaming together. The discovery. The hope.

I was reminded this week that despite the “necessities” that demand our time – the pivotal conversations, schoolwork, music lessons, sports and the myriad of activities that make up our days – our older children still need us to read aloud to them. Maybe as much or more than they did when they were toddlers.

As a family, we’ve been reading The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom, aloud. There is tremendous power in the story. In the realities presented. In the faith lived out that no human could conjure in his own strength. No doubt, there is great value in reading such a book alone. Yet each time we embark on the adventure of reading as a family, I continue to be surprised. Not so much by the power of the story – I’ve come to anticipate that. But I continued to be amazed at the potency of the conversations that flow from our reading together. I’ve discovered through the years that to “teach” breaks the spell woven by the language and the story. Rather, I’ve learned to guide our conversations – by opening doors of possibility, listening, and doing the hard work of seeing through the children’s eyes. As a result, not only are their souls stirred, but I’m given the indescribable privilege of baring witness to their personhood. It’s holy ground.

To attempt to distill such rich time would be futile – I’m not gifted enough as a writer. Yet I want to share a few snippets of our discussions. If for no other reason than to chronicle for posterity.

As The Hiding Place unfolds, it becomes clear that the most treasured possession is not a vial of precious vitamin oil or the blue sweater from home smuggled under the prison uniform. Rather, the most precious object in the prison camp is the small tattered Bible that hangs around Corrie’s neck. The role of Bible grows in importance through her captivity and practically becomes its own character. One day after we read, a child paused thoughtfully, then asked if I thought it had been “just a regular Bible” to the prisoners before they had entered the concentration camp. I could see his wheels turning. We have several Bibles. Always have. No big deal. Or perhaps it is a bigger deal than we can begin to comprehend.

Items present in our everyday that hold little or no significance take on new meaning. Like bread crumbs guiding Hansel and Gretel, a sparse trail of beauty offer hope in the midst of tragedy. Corrie uses scavenged threads to create a masterpiece of embroidered flowers on her pajamas. The singed remains of tulips offer promise. Color is more than symbolic for life – it infuses life to the deadened imaginations and despairing souls. The book ends with the following words:

“Windowboxes,” I said. “We’ll have them at every window. The barbed wire must come down, of course, and then we’ll need paint. Green paint. Bright yellow-green, the color of things coming up new in the spring.”

As we prepare our questionable garden (not enough sun and relentless dear threaten its success), as the children sketch on lazy summer days, and as we make simple choices to bring beauty into our home, this same trail of hope is offered to us. Our conversation will continue through these everyday observations. “Remember when she wrapped the light with red paper to decorate her cell?” We don’t live in the unthinkable environment of a concentration camp, but our souls are assaulted daily. Just more subtly. We need the same life-saving medicine of beauty.

I first read The Hiding Place as a young adult. I remember the shock and horror, but not much else. This time around, life experience had given me much broader vision through which to take in such a story. My children, although lacking years of experience, bring their own unique perspective to our reading. For them, much of that framework was the result of the myriad of stories they’ve ingested. The prisoners in the concentration camp were referred to only by numbers, not by names. “Mom – that’s just like Les Mis” interjected my son. He’s right. The conversation meandered down a path leading to our interactions with the local refugee community and how hard it was to learn and remember a person’s name. But knowing a name is important. We treat others like numbers everyday when we fail to look into the eyes. To Listen. To develop a posture of curiosity.

As we finished The Hiding Place, the children talked about what they would remember about the book. God’s provision in the midst of a horrible situation. The difference between the kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of Heaven. But the response that stopped me was when one of them said, “It helps us imagine what it looks like to trust God when really hard things happen.” I saw it happen. In my living room. My child is developing what my friend, Sam, calls “Holy imagination.”

Life is full of wonder, adventure, and beauty yet to be discovered. But life can also be ruthless. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and I can’t protect my children from the realities of the world. But I’m grateful that I can do something. I can continue to feed their minds, souls, hearts, and yes – imaginations. So if and when the unimaginable happens, they’re not taken completely off-guard. Through our reading, they’ve witnessed injustice and loss. They’ve practiced empathy, trust, choosing others over self, and belief that in the end, good will undoubtedly triumph over the most heinous evil. In reading as a family and leaving space for discussion, we have the great privilege of offering them a training ground for hope.

There’s nothing quite like reading to older kids. They leave behind their schedules, assignments, and social engagements. If even only for a brief period of time, they hang on every word we say. And if we’re lucky, they still snuggle in tightly and nestle close to the heart.



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On Tiptoe

child on tiptoe

When my daughter was a toddler, she would stand on tiptoe beside the kitchen counter. Eyes twinkling with expectation and chubby fingers gripping the edge, she would strain to see what culinary adventure was unfolding. Her habit developed through time. It was reinforced with every loaf of bread kneaded, cake baked, and carrot chopped. She didn’t want to miss out on the action. Or the leftover cake batter on the beater.

Time passed, and the plump toddler legs grew long and thin. Words were spoken more clearly. Clumsy waddles were replaced by graceful pirouettes. One bright spring day, I was preparing dinner and felt a warm arm wrap around my waist. Beside me stood my girl. Tall enough to easily see the surface of the counter, yet still standing on tiptoe. The gesture had become habit. Expectation had become a posture.

Next week, our brood will be making the journey to Duke to attend Engaging Eliot: Four Quartets in Word, Sound, and Color. The exhibition will be a combination of music, art, and poetry – a perfect storm of the best kind. I’ve been a fan of T.S. Eliot since high school and have more recently become an admirer of the writings and artwork of Makoto Fujimura.  Despite my anticipation of the event, I’m very aware that I’ll be in a bit “over my head.” My degree is in business, not English. My experience of fine art was one of dancing on stage, not of painting on canvas. Although I’ve been reading The Art of T.S. Eliot with a group of folks, I’m probably in the bottom quarter of the class in regard to poetic experience and knowledge.  Or more likely the remedial group. Yet I look forward to gleaning what I can during the exhibition – even if it’s a stretch for me. You might say I’m standing on my tiptoes.

Just as the evening will stretch me, it is even more true for my children. They will most likely “understand” only a fraction of what they will see and hear – just a sliver of the goodness that will be present. Yet a sliver of beauty refracts as it passes through the eyes and finds its way to the human soul. It may seem foolish to take those so young to an evening that is “out of their reach.” But they are learning to stand on their tiptoes. To strain and catch a glimpse of something wonderful and worthy of experiencing. My deep hope is that through time, the gesture of standing on tiptoe will become more deeply ingrained. That the gesture of expectation will become a more permanent posture.

Beauty and truth surround us. At times, we see it clearly without effort.

But if we’re willing to stretch,
To live with an expectant and teachable heart,
To believe that more goodness exists than that which is directly in front of us,

We may be surprised
By the joy discovered
While living life on tiptoe.

**************************

In discussing the exhibition with my children, I found myself struggling to convey the beauty and power of collaboration between the artists, musician, and (unbeknownst to him) poet. I floundered while attempting to describe the complementary nature of abstract and realistic art.  On a whim, I asked the children to listen to one of my favorite pieces of music and paint in response. The only parameter given was that they were to paint what they felt. What stirred in their imaginations and emotions. More abstract and less concrete. I was asking them to stretch beyond their comfort zone.

Last Train Home by Pat Metheny

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No doubt,
We’ll be surprised
By the joy discovered
While living life on tiptoe.



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Sketchings

sketching monticello

This piece was originally posted in Story Warren, a project in which I’m delighted to play a small part. Drop by and visit. They’re great folks.

— — —

It had been a long day. We were exhausted. But we had traveled a long way, and the trip wouldn’t be complete until we found it.

In the prior week, our family had roamed the fields at Gettysburg, floated down the Charles River, cycled the picturesque trails of Nantucket, and skipped stones across Walden Pond.  We had endured long-winded tour guides on the Freedom Trail, haunted the House of Seven Gables, and foraged through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in search of Alcott, Emerson and Thoreau. Our family had gorged on history with the zeal of Templeton at the fair. I was full.

But not my daughter. She was on a mission. With quickened step and unshakable resolve, she scanned the horizon searching for her destination. No, not toward the crimson dappled Virginian mountains. No, not behind the gardens where slaves had toiled for decades. Where could it be?

Suddenly, she stopped. Her pause was not due to uncertainty or confusion, rather it resulted from her being absorbed in a moment of delight. Her gaze was fixed beyond the flowerbeds at the end of the meandering brick path.  There it was. The Reflecting Pool. She sprinted with abandon toward this, her final destination. Knowing the significance of her discovery, I dug the camera from my bag and prepared to capture the moment. “Not there,” I was instructed. “You have to take it from the other side – where the house is reflected in the pond.” The angle had to be just right. We were finally at her pond. It was perfect.

In preparation for our trip to New England, my children sketched landmarks which were included on our itinerary. They had taken a great deal of time and effort in selecting and recreating their building (or pond) of choice. A clever tactic, I thought. They would have exposure to the historical icons prior to experiencing them. We would optimize our time and financial investment in the trip.

The goal was indeed achieved. They did learn much about American history. Yet I was unaware of a deeper working in their hearts. What had started as a simple sketch had taken on dimension. As my daughter had considered angle, perspective, depth and shading of the Reflecting Pool, she had grown in attachment to it. She became intimately aware of each curve, shadow, and line. Through each stroke of pen on paper, the picture in her mind became more clear. As we roamed the grounds of that stately home, she knew exactly what she was looking for.  A similar pond wouldn’t do. She longed to see the real thing.

When our children experience goodness, glimpses of eternity are etched onto their hearts.

Each great story engraves lines of truth.
Each work of art imprints ultimate beauty.
Each symphony resonates loveliness.

They all leave their mark, their imprints reflecting the image of the Master Artist. Their effect, to woo His children to himself.

Our children’s lives will be full of adventure, detours, landmark moments and wrong turns. They will travel long distances and lose their way. I can think of no greater honor than to present a rich array of goodness from which they can choose. Goodness that will find its place in their souls. Goodness that will mark the way toward Home.

 

Monticello



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Ode to The Bard on His Birthday

This is being reposted in honor of William Shakespeare on his birthday
(originally posted this time last year)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I tripped and fell into homeschooling my younger children.  It wasn’t planned, wasn’t the long-fulfilled desire of my heart, and wasn’t the knee-jerk reaction to a bad school situation.  More on what brought us to this place on another day.

But I do love what we do (most days) and am constantly reminded what a privilege it is to be the one who gets to discover and explore this great big wonderful world with my children.  Last week, we had our year-end state-required testing.  They did well, although I’m convinced that “the best” of what we do will never be measured by or demonstrated on any test.  More on that another day as well.

The remainder of our school year will be much more laid back – we’re done with Spelling, Math, etc.  We’ve been freed from the “must-do’s” in order to enjoy more of the “can’t wait to-do’s”.  I must admit that as we entered this phase of the school year, I wasn’t sure what our days would hold.  More serious practice of instruments in preparation for recitals, finalizing details for our eldest daughter’s wedding, and freedom to enjoy our history reading at a more leisurely pace were what we’ve all been eagerly anticipating.

The fruits of a more relaxed schedule always catch me off guard – in the best sense of the term.  Today, Will (my 11 yr. old) disappeared for a substantial period of time.  This was no great surprise, as he is my avid and somewhat obsessive reader.  However, he finally emerged from his solace not with a conquered book in hand, but having created the following:

Although we never gave a test in history, never required a project, and rarely adhered to the “lesson plan”, I think we actually learned something this year!

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Some of our favorite resources on Shakespeare:

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children by Edith Nesbit
Probably my favorite (but take into account that I’m a huge Nesbit fan).  Beautifully written, engaging, and true to story, yet each chapter is short enough to read in one sitting.

Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
A classic.  Similar to the Nesbit book, but the stories are a bit longer.

The Wonderful Winter by Marchette Chute
Highly recommended.  A little boy runs away to find himself living in the Globe Theatre.  He becomes part of the Shakespeare household.  Many of the actual historical characters are included, and we get to see “behind the scenes” as Mr. Shakespeare’s new play, Romeo and Juliet, is being produced.

Hamlet for Kids (one of a series) by Lois Burdett
This series is a fun introduction for children.  I’d recommend reading the Nesbit story first, then reading through Burdett’s corresponding book.  Each book tells one of Shakespeare’s stories through rhyme.  The artwork (and occasional commentary) is provided by children.  The stories are clever, fun, and often include direct quotes from Shakespeare.

Will Shakespeare and the Globe Theater by Anne Terry White
One of the World Landmark series.  A great piece of historical fiction that walks the reader through Shakespeare’s life and the Globe Theater.  An easy read, but I learned much.

Will’s Quill (or How a Goose Saved Shakespeare) by Don Freeman
A delightful picture book.  Found in most libraries.

Shakespeare for Children CD by Jim Weiss
Weiss is a master storyteller.  I’d recommend his cds for children of all ages.

If you have some favorites, please share for the benefit of others…



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You Are Cordially Invited



Most days, I’m deeply aware of the benefits of our life style.  Schooling at home gives us tremendous flexibility to take advantage of a myriad of rich experiences.  Books read aloud routinely become family friends, and recess often takes the form of digging in the creek or building forts outside.  Fidgety boys take basketball breaks when needed, and my crafty girl creates throughout the day.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Usually.

Several weeks ago, I hastily became quite knowledgeable about the admission procedures and tuition for the private schools in our area.   I also paid particular attention to the big yellow bus schedule, and took note that there were plenty of available seats.  My mind began to construct a new schedule for myself – one that included long runs and a home with preordained periods of quiet. Yes, it was one of those weeks. And my commentary has nothing to do with school choice.  It has everything to do with the motivation behind all of my, well all of our, choices.

I don’t want to be selfish.  I don’t want to become angry with my kids, short-tempered with my husband, or aloof with my friends.  I want to be more. I want to be patient, kind, and other-centered.  But last week, I wasn’t having much luck.  And rather than deal with the mounting evidence that I was the problem, I found myself wanting to sweep it under the carpet.  Or more accurately, put it on the bus and send it away.

Voices were competing for my attention and energy.  There were the high-pitched needs of the children, the muted desires of my husband, and the emphatically heated debate between self-justification and self-contempt that raged inside of me.  But somewhere in the midst of the mental and emotional chaos, I heard that still small voice.

I’m inviting you to more.

When your children’s needs outweigh your capacity to give,
I’m inviting you to grow in dependence.

When your tired husband returns from a trip, and you want his help more than you want him,
I’m inviting you to grow in selflessness.

When you’ve been treated unfairly and want to retaliate (or withdraw),
I’m inviting you to grow in kindness.

When customer service eats up half your day then drops your call,
the guy selling pine needles interrupts dinner,
and the dog ruins the living room rug (again),
I’m inviting you to grow in patience.

When a friend disappoints out of her own insecurities or fears,
I’m inviting you to grow in faithfulness.

When there are mounting bills,
piles of laundry,
sick children and weary hearts,
I’m inviting you to grow in joy.

When you’re heartbroken, and even angry, that life doesn’t look like you had hoped,
I’m inviting you to grow in peace.

And lastly…

When you realize that the problem isn’t your needy kiddos (or schooling choice),
Or your husband,
Or your friends,
Or your life situation,
Or those annoying people who interrupt your day,

It’s your own selfish heart.

But I’m not condemning you…
I’m inviting you to grow in love




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The Foundational Five: Poetry

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it can be understood.” T.S. Eliot 

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As I was pulling out my favorite books and resources on poetry, I became convicted. I’m an idealist. The world of beauty, goodness, well-chosen words and pursuit of truth is the world in which I aspire to invite my children. I love poetry. I’m thrilled that my children share some semblance of that same sentiment. But as with so many other lofty aspirations, I’ve allowed the “necessary” to crowd out the routine enjoyment of our sharing poetry together.

In writing this post, I’ve been reminded… of the wonder of childhood… of the joy found in falling in love with words… of the magic of language.

In the spirit of repentance, I dutifully dug through a shelf crowded with binders, loose papers and workbooks to extract our book used for poetry memorization (more on that later). My children’s responses to the sight of the book were delightful. They clamored to recite long-forgotten verses. They wanted more.

Why poetry?

“Poetry is the liveliest use of language, and nobody knows more instinctively how to take delight in that playfulness than children.”  

Serious Play:  Reading Poetry with Children

Jack and JillHumpty Dumpty, and Sam I Am. Although it may have been years (or decades) since we’ve intentionally invested our time in reading poetry, most of us can recall these childhood rhymes with little to no effort. They’ve been stored deeply within our memories alongside Christmas carols and favorite birthday presents. Memorizing them came at little cost – we loved the words, the rhythm, the beautiful illustrations, and the endless repetition, which provided comfort in a sometimes-unpredictable world.

Poetry invites us into a magical realm where individual words, each which alone have only their assigned meaning, can be arranged in such a way as to result in a thing of beauty… or mystery… or cleverness. To discover and enjoy poetry with our children is to cultivate their love for language.

Poetry can provide a vibrant thread to be woven into the unique fabric of our family culture. When asked, “Who left the door open?” I’ll often get the clever response ”Mr. Nobody.”  “Jonathan Blake” who ate too much cake can serve as a warning for all those consuming too many sweets. “I eat my peas with honey” (the opening to a clever poem taken from Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin) is recited when those particular veggies are served for dinner, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without A Visit from St. Nicholas.

In addition to igniting our children’s love for language and enriching our family life, poetry provides the added benefit of contributing to their intellectual growth.

There is perhaps no greater tool than memorization to seal language patterns into a human brain, and there is perhaps nothing more effective than poetry to provide exactly what we want: reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns… By memorizing and reciting, you practically fuse neurons into permanent language storage patterns. Those patterns are then ready to be used, combined, adapted, and applied to express ideas in a myriad of ways. Additionally, because of the nature of poetry, poets are often compelled to stretch our vocabulary, utilizing words and expressions in uniquely sophisticated—but almost always correct—language patterns.”  Andrew Pudewa

We enjoy using A Word Well Spoken… Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization (found here) by Andrew Pudewa. This thin spiral-bound book gives simple strategies for memorization and is divided into four sections, each with twenty poems. The level of difficulty and length of the poems increase with each level, beginning with such fun poems as “Ooey Gooey Was a Worm” and ending with “The Hunting of the Dragon” by G.K. Chesterton. Although children may occasionally memorize poems for school assignments, this approach allows a family to enjoy the process together. A few minutes a day (perhaps right before dinner)  2-3 days a week is all the time required. We have also found the companion CD helpful, particularly for young children to listen to during nap time or rides in the car.

Some of our favorite books of poetry:

~Book of Nursery & Mother Goose Rhymes by Marguerite de Angeli

~Mother Goose by Kate Greenaway

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~A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa or Tasha Tudor)

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~The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

~Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book for Young Children by Christina Rossetti

~Animals, Animals by Eric Carle


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~Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neill

~The Beauty of the Beast by Jack Prelutsky

~The Complete Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear

~Poetry for Young People by Emily Dickinson (includes fun “riddle” poems from nature)

~Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot (especially fun if you’ve shared the music from Cats with them)

Additional resources:

Jim Weiss audio Cds including Famously Funny – A Beloved Collection of Stories & Poems 

Blackstone Audio Cd collection Winnie-the-Pooh 

Dover Publications coloring book of A Child’s Garden of Verses


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When we share the gift of poetry with our children, we are giving them an inheritance of deep love for language. It is a gift to be enjoyed while they are young, appreciated as they grow older, and passed on to future generations.



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Top Ten Reasons We’re Excited for School



Tis the season for back-to-school shopping, planning, paperwork, and a return to a more scheduled life.  Even the non-list makers (like me) are making lists to ensure that everything gets done.  I for one, love the fall.  For me, it signifies a fresh start to a year full of possibilities.  This morning, as we were discussing the next few weeks together, I commented that I was full of anticipation and excitement for this year in particular.  My son said, “Mom, you always say that.”


Well, yes I do.  And in the spirit of list making, here are few things that I’m most excited about as we launch off into a new school year:


10.  Great Read-Alouds – Our time reading great books together will always be a cornerstone of our schooling.  I love the smell, feel, and pictures in the books, and I love the sound of my children begging for “just one more chapter,”  the conversation that bubbles up as a result of our reading, and the richness that is added to our family culture.  We have a long list of books on the docket, most of which are “living books.”  I look forward to meeting new friends, experiencing different cultures, and having a front row seat as major historical events unfold – all while cuddled together on the couch.  


9.  First Lego League – Brings to mind images of happy, carefree children building towers with boxes of brightly-colored legos.  Not quite.  This year, Will (my newly 12 yr old) is participating in the FLL.  Think intricately-built robots, student-designed computer programs to direct the robots, team building, problem solving, public speaking, with the culmination being a competition with other groups in the state.  Given his talents and interests, the FLL has given him a place to explore and grow, and has been welcome addition to our school year.


8.  Community Bible Study (CBS)– We’ll be studying the gospel of Luke this year.  Ya can’t go wrong there!  I’m grateful that not only the children and I will be studying the same thing, but that David’s evening class will be as well.  “Education without values, useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”  C.S. Lewis


7.  Fun Fridays – I learned last year that we do much better if we arrange our week so that we spend Monday-Wednesday on our core classes (math, writing, languages, etc.), CBS on Thursday, then reserve Friday for Science.  Last year, we studied birds, including participating in the Cornell Dept. of Ornithology bird count study.  This year, we’re studying plants.  I know nothing.  Hopefully I’ll know more by the end of the year.  We start Friday mornings on the porch reading about the topic for the day, then spend much of the rest of the day doing an experiment, nature walk on the greenway, or painting/drawing whatever we learned about.  Fridays often entail field trips to the museum, a play, the library, or adventures with friends.


6.  Music – I love our home being filled with beautiful music.  With 3 children practicing piano, one playing the guitar, and the youngest (and possibly her mother as well) adding violin to the list of instruments being practiced, I’d estimate that we have 2-3 hours of music screeching, banging flowing from our home everyday.


5.  Writing/Art/Latin – We have been lavished upon greatly with wonderful teachers who speak into the lives of my children.  I’m forever grateful for their technical expertise, passion, individual gifting, and their unequivocal dedication to and love for the kiddos.  And I’m a lucky duck because I get to see them every week.


4.  Training for a 5K – For the first time, we’ll be training as a family to run a 5K together.  The schedule started this weekend, and we’ll be running 3 days during the week and once on the weekend in preparation for the race this fall.  I look forward to their experiencing the discipline, persistence, commitment, and reward of support from each other as we gasp breeze through the miles.


3.  Philadelphia – We use a classical approach to studying history, which basically means that  we take all of history and divide it into 4 years, to be repeated after the 4th year.  We covered Ancients, then Medieval, Renaissance, and now we’re coming up on the Explorers/American history.  So, we’re off to see the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center, Independence Hall, and no doubt a few famous Philly cheese steaks in October.  And by the way, we’ll just so happen to be able to catch the Andrew Peterson/ Steven Curtis Chapman concert in PA on the way.  Our trips to experience whatever we’ve been studying continue to be one of my favorite dimensions to our schooling.


2.  Rembrandt – This year, we have a fabulous line-up of resources from which to study the life and works of Rembrandt.  As I was plotting our our trip to PA, I was thrilled to discover that the Philadelphia Museum of Art would be hosting “Rembrandt:  The Faces of Jesus” during our trip.  Rembrandt’s 7 paintings of  Jesus will be reunited for the first time since 1656.  In posing an ethnographically correct (Jewish) model and using a human face to depict Jesus, Rembrandt revolutionized the history of Christian art. We started reading The Night Watch:  Adventures with Rembrandt and enjoying his artwork this week.  We’re warming up to becoming friends.  I can hardly wait.


1.  Margin – I don’t take for granted the privilege and responsibility that I have in tailoring my children’s education.  Through the years, I’ve become convinced that the best part of what we do can never be measured by a year-end test.  I try to apply the general principles of “do what’s most important first,” then make plans around those priorities.  We’ve cut out some activities this year hoping to create more margin… To serve our refugee friends.  To be more available to others.  To have leisurely conversations about life, art, the Panthers, and whatever else is on our minds.  To play in the creek.  To read for pleasure.  To stop and watch the spider miraculously spinning her web or the weary yet determined ant carry the crumb to her home. To learn to be still.


As you venture into your school year, please join me by reviewing your own lists.  Do they support your long-term priorities?   Are you considering making changes to help your practical-everyday life line up more closely with your this-is-what-I-value-most life? I’d love to hear more.  Best wishes, and a “Happy New Year” to you and yours!



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December 23rd

Full Disclosure


This is a disclaimer:
If you’ve read any of my posts about books,  I feel that in good conscience (smile), I should let you know: I’m not an English scholar, I’m not an author, and my resume doesn’t include teaching as a previous occupation.  The only authority from which I speak is one of my own experience…

So why the time and energy given to discussion about books? 


Here’s a snippet of my story:

I’ve been a lover of literature since high school.  For my 15th birthday, my dad bought me The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.  For my 16th, The Complete Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot.  My high school literature teacher allowed us to dissect and discuss U2 songs as an introduction to poetry.  The spark was ignited.  I was mesmerized by the alchemy that occurred through taking individual, common words, and rearranging them in such a way as to create something much more powerful than the sum of themselves. 

In college, if I had had my “druthers,”  I would have majored in English or Philosophy.  But I came from a pragmatic home, and a degree in Business was a much more practical choice.  No complaints – I ended up with a (wonderful) career in corporate America, but my love of literature laid semi-dormant for another season of life. 

When the decision was made to homeschool our younger children, I became immersed in a new sub-culture.  As with any sub-culture, there was both good and bad, but the good was really good.  During our first year of schooling, I attended a large homeschool conference and book fair with a dear friend.  We stumbled upon Jan Bloom’s booth, which held thousands of beautiful old books for sale.   Hearts beat faster as we feverishly plundered through the shelves in search of hidden treasures waiting to be claimed. Jan had written a book on books, and was an alchemist in her own right.  She would talk about each book as if it were her own child.  As she carefully took each one off of the shelf (“held be center of the spine, not top, which could do damage”), she would chronicle the history of the author and the list of its sibling books.  With a twinkle in her eye, Jan ushered us into each story, introduced us to the characters, and prepared us for the adventure on which we would be taken.  Within a span of minutes, I had experienced the heart of C.S. Lewis’s observation of friendship:

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 
“What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

My love of literature was aroused from years of hibernation.  Yet this time, I was not alone.  My friend and I continued to learn about, revel in, and search for great books.  Book fairs, library sales, and an occasional antique mall produced well-stocked home libraries.  We were fortunate enough to bring speakers like Jan Bloom, Sally Clarkson, and Sarah Clarkson to Charlotte.  These women poured into our lives, and the lives of our friends and children.  The culture and substance our children’s childhoods have been indelibly altered as a result.

To whom much is given, much is required.  I’m acutely aware that I’ve been entrusted with a treasure of great value.  In the months to come, I will occasionally be including among my posts some thoughts, observations, and suggestions of books for both adults and children.  I’d like to thank you in advance for graciously overlooking inevitable mixed metaphors, occasional apostrophe errors, and accidental misplaced modifiers.  I also want to be upfront in letting you know that few of the thoughts contained in those upcoming posts are uniquely mine.  They are a melding of the teachings of others.  My hope is that the ideas, resources and experiences that I share are added to your own.  And from those primary elements, the Great Alchemist can transform the common into the extraordinary.





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Lest We Forget

For years, we’ve created and methodically stored boxes of pictures, have taken great care in preserving papers and programs of our children’s accomplishments, and have accrued far too many trophies and ribbons representing participation in the activity of the season.  Why the hours and meticulous care in documenting our lives?  We don’t want to forget.
Last year was a year of transition for our family.  Within a year, we had experienced an almost move to Nashville followed by a real-life move within Charlotte, my husband’s transition into a new job after his year at home, and the upcoming marriage of our daughter (just to name a few).  We had spent the prior year assuring our children that God knew what was best for our family, and our job was to believe and follow.  The old hymn “Trust and Obey” became the mantra in the heart of our home.

I love it when whatever we’re learning through study collides with what whatever we’re experiencing in life.  I imagine that if we slowed down the pace of life, created margin in our days, filled our minds with truth, and waited expectantly, we would experience such a phenomenon with much more frequency.  We were studying the life of Joshua with a local Bible Study (this is the part where I put in a plug for Community Bible Study in Charlotte). The story had reached a pivotal point.  The children of Israel had spent the last 40 years wandering in the wilderness due to their own disobedience.  Finally, the time came for them to cross the Jordan River.  The Lord caused the waters to separate in order for them to cross over and enter the land of their inheritance.  After all they had experienced – the hardship, the disappointment, the heartache, and the longing, the moment had come. It would be a day that they would never forget.  God’s forgiveness.  God’s provision.  God’s faithfulness.  God’s abundance.  Or would they…

The perfect Father knew the fickle nature of his children.  So He commanded them to gather stones from the center of the river to set up a memorial to remind them, and their children, of His faithfulness.  I love the picture of…

~God’s desire to give us good gifts
     ~Our foolish choices that get in the way
          ~His provision in spite of our unworthiness
               ~Our fickle appetites and short memories
~And ultimately, His wise, kind heart that wants us to remember – for our own good and for His glory.

We’ve talked a great deal about God’s provision for our family in the past few years.  We’ve gathered at meal and bedtimes to ask for guidance and peace. The loss of (and acquisition of) David’s job, the sale of our house, and our move to a new one have all prompted discussions with others about His faithfulness in the midst of an uncertain chapter in our family’s story.  For many months, it remained front and center in our thoughts and conversations.  But just like the Israelites, we have short memories.  What seems unthinkable to forget today can all too easily become a faint memory tomorrow.

So, just like the Israelites, we decided to memorialize this amazing season in our family’s history.  I don’t want to forget.  I don’t want my children to forget.  I want them to tell their children.  Of God’s faithfulness.  Of His provision.  Of His abundance.  Regardless of circumstance.

One of my favorite features of our new home is the peaceful koi pond tucked away in our backyard.  It seemed fitting that our stones, which will mark for generations God’s goodness, come from that pond.
My favorite nook in our new home.
 The children selected their stones, we discussed the purpose, and they commenced their artwork.
Sam’s stone – “Because I’m happy”
Will’s stone – Our new house.
 The back – “God helped my Dad get a job
and helped us find a good house
to live in.  We have been very blessed.”
Caroline’s stone – Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus.
At first, I thought that she didn’t understand what we were trying to do.
And then I realized that she may have understood better than any of us.
We never made it to math that day.  Or spelling.  Or handwriting. But the lessons that we learned have been deeply engraved  upon our hearts.
***************************


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