Open House: Thursday, February 9th

By the time we meet for breakfast, most of the kids have been up early and working independently on their own assigned work: math, history and other readings, in addition to their morning chores. 

This morning we had hard-boiled eggs, bacon, and yogurt (with granola) for breakfast.  My kids eat a ton.  I can't believe how much they eat.

At the table we sang our current hymn All Creatures of our God and King, we read a Psalm together, and we prayed together.  We did some memory work; currently our ABC Bible Verses from years ago (review for the older kids and new to the younger girls).  We reviewed two poems from previous years and read our new February poem, Forgiven.  (Which, in title, sounds much more distinguished than it actually is.  It's a delightful poem by one of our favorite authors, A.A. Milne.)  When I selected this as one of our monthly poems during the summer months, I didn't know that Mark would also be reading aloud (for the second time) The World of Pooh, which contains Winnie-The-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, also by A.A. Milne.  This was the first book Mark and I read aloud together, way back when we were dating, some twenty-something years ago, and I enjoy it more with each reading. Mark does such a great job with all the character's voices, and we all laugh out loud at the antics of these beloved characters.

These robins perch in our trees-- sometimes up to ten or fifteen at a time.
After we cleared the table and moved into the living room, we had a grammar lesson, the older three and I, on a white board.  They completed several exercises and then we came to our favorite part of the day: reading aloud.  The kids scattered across the living room with colored pencils and paper, and I resumed our current read-aloud, Little Women.  I told Mark recently that I often feel much more suited to the role of reader than teacher.  :) 

I have two dear copies of this book, one illustrated by the lovely Barbara Cooney (pictured), and another by Tasha Tudor.  I can never decide which is my favorite, but I have chosen the Cooney for this reading.

Little Women is one of the few books that I have been longing to read aloud for years, because it is such a beloved book from my own childhood.  And this is another one of those books that gets better with each subsequent reading.  We're some 400+ pages in and I cried through most of our reading today.  When I wasn't crying, I was reading with a lump in throat.  Shame on Louisa May Alcott for putting these two chapters one after the other:



And for those of you who aren't familiar with the story, click away, because  ***I am spoiling it in the very next sentence.*** 

First, the chapter Heartache, where Laurie proposes to Jo and she-- I can barely type this-- tells him she does not love him.  I still cannot get over this, all these years later. I still wish Jo had ended up with Laurie.  I will say, with great reluctance, that this time, as I read through the book again, is the first time I have felt any fondness for the professor (but only just a little.)  (And I still love Laurie best.)  I read this entire chapter with a lump in the back of my throat and with that same incredulity that Jo did not choose Laurie.  ~Sigh~  (All my kids agree, by the way.)  Oh.  Within this chapter, a heartbroken Laurie plays Sonata Pathetique on the piano, so I quickly googled that and we listened to it as we read through the chapter.  (Hence tucking Composer Study into our day, too.)

Right on the tails of that difficult chapter, I read Beth's Secret, which is when Beth tells Jo that she is surely dying.  ~sob~  This is when the tissues piled up next to me because I could.not.even read this without several long pauses and in a great sobby voice even after the pauses.  Dear, sweet Beth.

One more thing about this book and that is that Marmee just shines and has such wisdom for her girls that I am grateful to be reading it as a mother.  I have already copied several passages into my journal.

Okay, enough rambling about Little Women

The kids headed outside to play in the now-melting snow and then came back inside to finish any independent work and practice the piano.  I worked on math with one of the older kids, who was struggling, and did a spelling test with another, and worked on some reading with one of the little girls.  And that's a wrap to our school day.


Thank you to anyone who still reads here at this little neglected-of-late blog.  I do appreciate those of you who stop in and really do treasure any comments you leave.


Favorite books of 2016 | Read-alouds

This morning I stood at our sink washing dishes, and I could overhear Mark reading aloud to the little girls.  A stack of picture books sat before him and he steadily read, one after the other.  I listened to the cadence of his voice, and kept sneaking peeks of them, there on the couch, the girls all cozied up on either side of him, listening to the stories.

Reading aloud is one of our favorite things to do.  I'm pretty sure that someday, when my kids are grown and gone, one of the scenes I will miss the most is this one: Me, on the couch, with my feet tucked up beneath me and a book in hand, the kids sprawled out beside me or across the living room, coloring or playing quietly while I read.

We've done a good deal of reading-aloud this year, and here are my three favorites:

Treasures of the Snow | Patricia St. John

I remember reading Patricia St. John books as a girl, and this was one of my favorites. As I pondered our read-alouds for the year, God kept putting this one on my heart. I kept scrambling past that thought, because we already read this one aloud, years ago, but God kept nudging me toward this one, and I felt like He might want to use this story in one of my younger girls' hearts, so we began our year with this read-aloud.

It's a story centering around three children: Annette, her younger brother Dani, and a boy in their village named Lucien.  Lucien and Annette aren't particularly fond of each other, and one day Lucien's actions cause an accident that deeply affects Annette, and she feels hatred and bitterness in her heart toward him.  Her grandmother in particular encourages her to forgive Lucien, and Annette is faced with a choice of obeying God, in the act of forgiving Lucien, or holding onto the hatred.

I think what I love so much about this book is how Patricia St. John visually describes this choice.  She writes of how Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and knocks, and when we let Him in, light floods in and there's no room for the darkness.  But we have to let Him in.  I have referred back to this story and the characters within it several times with one of my girls as a way to enter into a discussion about her own heart: "Do you remember Annette?  And how much anger was in her heart?  What did her grandma say to her?  What happened to Annette when she...?"  I highly recommend this book, and all my kids loved it.


The Penderwicks | Jeanne Birdsall

I'd been hearing about this book for years, and Ella had already read it on her own, but what won me over to finally reading it aloud was not the book itself, but actually a quote I read by the author.

I am paraphrasing, here, but Jeanne Birdsall decided to write The Penderwicks because as a young girl she loved to read, and after reading all of her favorite books, she longed for more of those types of stories, but couldn't find them.  So she grew up and wrote the kind of story she would have loved as a girl.

That won me over to her as an author, because I remember being that girl, too.  Once I had read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, then the Anne series and everything else written by L.M. Montgomery, then several Louisa May Alcott titles, with a few treasures sprinkled in there by other authors, I ran out of the kinds of stories that I so loved.  Ella has felt the same way.

So one day I opened up The Penderwicks and began to read, and it was a delightful story of everyday children and their summer adventures.  We really enjoyed it.  I have yet to read any of the other titles, so if any of you have read the rest of the series, I'd love to hear it!

Watership Down | Richard Adams

This was our most recent read-aloud, and it was so wonderful to have no school this past month, because I was able to spend a good deal of time each day reading this, and my kids were constantly pleading for more (which, as you well know, is always the sign of a well-chosen read-aloud!)

We just really liked this story.  It was well-written and the plot and characters well developed.  The book is about a small number of rabbits who leave their warren due to impending destruction of their home.  They head off to find a new home for themselves, encountering dangers and learning lessons along the way.  The rabbits Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and Pipkin, and the gull Kehaar became dear to all of us as we read this book.  The rabbits speak to one another and have their own language and mythology.

Note: My least-favorite part of the book were the sections where one of the rabbits told a story about one of their ancestors (because, boring.  Get back to the plot, already.)  But those sections were actually my boys' favorite parts of the book, so go figure.  ;)

***


We are currently reading Little Women, which all of us girls love so far.  And my boys are being champs about.  (I told them that they just got to read of battles, suspense and adventures with rabbits, so they can handle some women for awhile. ;))

What are you currently reading aloud in your home?

Decorating our tree all over again

Have you read the book Night Tree, by Eve Bunting?  It's a sweet picture book about a family who heads out to the woods on Christmas Eve to find their tree, but not in the way you might think.



They find their tree and then decorate it, right there in the woods, with a popcorn garland, apples, tangerines, and balls of seeds and honey.  They spread out a blanket and with cups of cocoa to warm them, they sing Christmas carols and wait for any woodland creatures to come upon their tree.

 ~

We took our tree down just a day after Christmas.  The pine needles were falling off and Mark and I were ready for it to go, but our kids were disappointed.  Audra, in particular, was sad to see all the ornaments and lights taken down and wanted to keep it decorated.  It was then that she remembered the book above, which we'd recently read, and had the idea to decorate our tree all over again, but this time-- outside!

Mark stood our tree up in the garden and we set to work, stringing popcorn, and stringing dried apple slices and craisins, and we made our own seed balls by rolling apples in peanut butter and then in bird seed.  And then we ran outside and quickly decorated the tree-- it was cold out there, and we were still in our jammies!-- and ran back inside to wait and watch from the windows.

It was the neighborhood squirrels who found our tree first, crunching into our popcorn with delight.  Then, slowly came some Dark-eyed Juncos, and some Varied Thrushes, some House Sparrows and some Chickadees.  A Robin eyed the whole affair from a nearby tree but decided against it.  A Woodpecker flew overhead but didn't alight.  It was such a fun little activity that I feel sure we'll do it again!




A Varied Thrush, interested in the popcorn the squirrels had tossed to the ground.

A Black-capped Chickadee, pecking at another seed ball we hung on another tree.

Poem for the Beginning of the Year



I discovered this poem recently and it seems perfectly suited for the beginning of the year: 
NEW EVERY MORNING

Every day is a fresh beginning,
Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
  And, spite of old sorrows
    And older sinning,
    Troubles forecasted
    And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.

~Susan Coolidge

Doesn't that first line remind you of Miss Stacy telling Anne Shirley, "Remember, you can always start everything afresh tomorrow"?  And the last line is one I'd like to remember as various challenges crop up throughout my days with the kids, "Take heart with the day and begin again."
Yes, please.  His mercies are new every morning.

Blessings to you all for a wonderful year!
~Stacy


Favorite books of 2016: Non-fiction

In no particular order, here are three of my favorite (non-fiction) books I read this year:


Mere Motherhood | Cindy Rollins

If you're a homeschooling mother, this will be your new favorite book.  I think I read this book in one day, and I LOVED it.  Cindy Rollins chronicles her homeschooling adventures in a warm, personal, authentic and sometimes hilarious style.  Though this is not a homeschooling how-to book, it is packed with wisdom and practical ideas, and you will find refreshment and encouragement within these pages.



 Just Mercy | Bryan Stevenson

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer whose passion and life's work is to defend the poor and the most desperate in our society.  Stevenson gives the reader not only an analysis of court rulings, cases, and injustices within our court system, but he invites us to come along with him as he meets with the men and women whom he's defending.  He doggedly and compassionately reveals the person behind each case detailed in this book.  

These men and women's stories stayed with me long after I put this book down.  It was at times difficult to read.  It was infuriating, shocking, and often heart-wrenching, but it was hopeful, too.  Stevenson is truly a modern-day hero, and this book is a powerful book and important book.  



George Müller of Bristol: His Life of Prayer and Faith | A.T. Pierson

This isn't the first biography I've read on George Müller, and it likely won't be the last.  George Müller is one of my heroes.  His faith and dependence upon God and his life of prayer have inspired me from the first time I heard of him.

For anyone unfamiliar with George Müller, he cared for thousands of orphans in England in the mid-1800's.  Perhaps the most stunning part of his ministry is that he never ONCE asked for financial assistance from anyone but God.

Müller's position before God was this (in his own words): "By the help of God, this shall be my argument before Him, respecting the orphans, in the hour of need.  He is their Father, and therefore has pledged Himself, as it were, to provide for them; and I have only to remind Him of the need of these poor children in order to have it supplied."

When people would wonder how one man could possibly carry the needs of so many orphans (thousands upon thousands, over the course of his life) he would say, "By the grace of God, this is no cause of anxiety to me.  These children I have years ago cast upon the Lord.  The whole work is His, and it becomes me to be without carefulness.  In whatever points I am lacking, in this point I am able by the grace of God to roll the burden upon my heavenly Father."

What an incredible testimony of God's loving faithfulness and provision, that He met every single need that was spoken only in His presence.  The (unsolicited) funds poured in or trickled in, but God faithfully provided for His own, and strengthened the faith of Müller and so many more as they saw Him daily providing for the needs that only He knew of. 

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, friends!

And just for you?  Some of the outtakes:



We have been enjoying this month off, (well, the kids and I have had it off.  Mark, on the other hand, has been working a lot of overtime.  But he has had this whole week off, so we are loving that!) God has blessed us with more snow than usual, so my kids are beside themselves with enthusiasm about that. 

We have played so many games this month: Nerts, Ticket to Ride, Settlers, Dominion, Risk, Battleship, Sorry, and probably others I'm forgetting. And we finished our read-aloud (Watership Down; loved it.)  Our favorite cookies this month are Soft Molasses Cookies and these peanut butter cookies with the Hershey's Kisses on top.  Because, YUM.

We are gearing up for the next few days of very-busy-ness and fun with extended families and are looking forward to that.  I am all done with shopping (thank you, Lord) and nearly done with wrapping and I've spent most of today in the kitchen, baking and prepping food for the next two days' gatherings.

Blessings to you and yours!

Merry Christmas to you all,
~Stacy for Mark, Ella, Isaac, Isaias, Adelia and Audra

December happenings and some recommendations!



Hello sweet friends,

A few days ago Audra was wandering about, wondering what she could do, because "no one wants to play with me."  She really is such a blessed little girl because so often she does have someone who will play with her, but when she doesn't, it's a bit rough for her.

Sometimes all she needs is an idea, though, of the possibilities, so I suggested that she read Christmas books to some of her dollies, and she countered with, "Or I could do school with them!"  And then she was off, cheerily setting up her classroom and prepping her lessons.  I was so delighted when I next walked through the living room that I snapped a few pictures:




This little scene reminded me of how I used to do the very same thing when I was a little girl, except that I had imaginary students (all with names and varying personalities, of course!) and I would just teach away in my little bedroom.  Who would have thought that years later, I would actually be teaching, and no longer with invisible students in my little room, but my own children, in our little home?

What a gift.  I am so grateful.

I have also been so tired.  Several weeks ago, -- well, probably beginning right around this post, I was struggling.  And then even when the PMS subsided, I just kept right on struggling, feeling overwhelmed and emotional and just... melancholy; like my usual joyful self was missing.  I tried to define it in an email to some friends: For several weeks now, I have been feeling particularly weary and overwhelmed and sort of like my soul is parched.  I have been asking Jesus to infuse life and breath into my spirit and delight into our school days.  And the words God has put in my mind as I've prayed and talked it over with my husband are to CREATE and RELATE.  I really feel like God is exhorting me to slow down and spend more time creating with the kids and on my own, and to take the time to relate and connect with them, specifically during our school days.

I think that in my efforts to organize and plan a smoothly-running school year for all five kids, from high school down to second grade, there are days where it can feel like all we're doing is checking off the lists of things to do, and the creative side of me feels starved.

Mark and I are still praying and asking God to reveal to us what it is that we could change or tweak in our schedule to make it less overwhelming, but for the past several weeks I have eased up on some of our schooling and have focused on creating and relating, and that has helped tremendously.



And then I've just been counting down the days to December, because we take the whole month of December off from school.  I always have grand plans that we will bake things for all the neighbors and decorate cookies and do a whole month of advent, etc, etc, etc.  But honestly?  With family birthdays this month in addition to the Christmas festivities and events and traditions and all the gifts to purchase and wrap, what we mostly do is rest.

On Monday morning I went to the video store and I rented four movies for the kids to watch, as a way to kick off our Christmas break.  This is huge to our kids because we don't have TV, and they get very little screen time.  So it's a win for them and for me, because it buys me down time and I feel utterly guilt-free about that.  ;)
Last night I did purchase this Advent Study from Stone Soup for Five which you can either purchase from Amazon in book form or as a PDF you can download and print (I did the latter), so today, six days into the month, we began that.  I just reviewed the first six lessons at the breakfast table and we'll do what we can do in the next few weeks.  What I love about it is that there is a coloring page per day, and my kids love coloring, so today we sat in the living room and while I read Christmas books and our current read-aloud, they got out the Prismacolor pencils and colored.

Oh, and I must recommend to you my favorite Christmas CD of the season.  I am actually not a real fan of Christmas music.  After so many years it sort of all sounds the same to me and I just don't love it.  (UNLIKE Mark, who has 1200 Christmas songs on his iPod and announced the other day that he listened to 20 different versions of the same song In one day.  All in a row.  *shudder*  I cannot even.)  But this CD?  I LOVE.  I've been listening to Christy Nockels' music since back in her Watermark days, and for the past couple of months I've been tuning in to her podcast, because I noticed that she was interviewing people like Ellie Holcomb, whom I love with all my heart.  And Christy herself is such an encourager, and a wise woman who loves Jesus deeply, and so I newly love her.  That's where I found out about her new Christmas album, and I ordered it.  And I love it.  You can and should purchase it HERE.  I think you'll love it.