Discussing Charlottesville

Imagine with me, if you will, a woman with rich brown skin and tight black curls, aged and graying, narrating the story of her people to you. We'll lean in to hear her recollections of the time after the war: 
Union soldiers occupied southern towns to keep the peace but didn't do much to protect black people from new groups of mean white, like the Ku Klux Klan, who threatened us all year long. To stop black folks from voting, Klansmen marched in front of their homes wearing white sheets over their heads, shooting out the windows and burning homes to the ground, or worse, dragging black folks out of their homes to lynch them.  The law didn't do a thing to stop it.  Shoot, some of the men wearing the sheets were lawmen. It was their way of "keeping us in our place", wherever that was supposed to be.  They couldn't stand to see us trying to be equal to whites.  They were convinced that they were somehow superior to black people.  My grandmother used to call it "the Sickness."  Whatever it was, it was just plain mean, honey.  Lord knows how those folks could fix it in their minds to do the things they did to us back then.  It's a miracle we made it through.
-from Kadir Nelson's Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

~
Mark, holding our Adelia for the very first time


Charlottesville. 
White Supremacy.
KKK.
Racism.

These were the topics of our dinnertime conversation last night.  It's a difficult and emotional
thing to look across the table at my brown-skinned children and have these conversations.

We spoke of the evil that is prevalent and active, of "the Sickness"- as Kadir Nelson's book puts it.  We talked about the history of the black people, of Martin Luther King, Jr. and peaceful protests. 
We talked about cycles of poverty. 
Of fear. 
We spoke of how God is the ultimate Victor, not Satan nor evil or darkness, not in the end. 
We spoke of how it might feel for a black person in the wake of this evil and others: One of our kids: "They must think, 'Will this ever change?  Will this ever get any better?  When will this be done?'"  We spoke of skin color and the beauty of it. 
We tried to answer their questions: "Why would a white person kill a white person if their hatred is toward black people?"  "Is it only white people who are racist?
We spoke of how much we oppose this.  Vehemently.  That it angers and saddens us.  We shed tears.  We spoke of standing for what is right in the midst of people who won't.
We spoke of the courage and the strength of black men and women who have borne the weight of this for years and are still bearing it.  And of the self-control so many possess in the face of hatred and violence.

And we prayed together.

Lord, help us to know what else we can do.


Two Books You Might Like to Read this Summer


I distinctly remember being a girl fresh out of school for the summer and being able to spend my time any way I wanted.  What I wanted was to curl up the on the couch with a good book to read.  I loved the luxury of being able to read to my heart's content. 

I still do. 

I don't get hour upon hour of reading time anymore, but libraries and bookstores are some of my favorite places, I have stacks of books everywhere in my home and always by my bed, and I'm usually in the middle of at least one book.  I  also love to pass along good book recommendations.  So, here are two for your summer reading pleasure:

First up: Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk. 

I spotted this book on a library display last week while I was there with my kids, perused it briefly-- which means reading the back, the inside flap, and at least the first few sentences.  (Sometimes I'll also flip halfway through the book and read a few lines, to see if it catches my interest.)  It did.  I brought it home and finished it in a matter of hours.  I could not put it down.  Then I immediately wondered how I hadn't read this yet?  (Am I the very last person to hear about this book?!?) 

I loved this story, and the characters within it.  This is considered a middle-grade reader, so it's an easy read, but the content is rich and the writing truly beautiful.

Our narrator is an almost-twelve-year-old girl named Annabelle, and you will love her.  She is courageous, kind and compassionate.  I don't want to give anything away, so I will say only this:
Do not miss this story.

I am scrapping all other read-aloud plans for the immediate future and reading this, all over again, to Mark and the three older kids.  (My two youngest (8 & 9) will not be joining us for this one, due to a mean classmate who is frighteningly cruel and I just think their hearts are still too tender for that.)

~

Secondly: The Secrets of Wishtide, by Kate Saunders.  This is told first-person by an older widowed woman named Laetitia Rodd, "Letty".  Letty's brother Fred is a criminal lawyer, and turns to Letty for her help in solving his case.  Letty is such a likeable character, and I really enjoyed this story, and think you will, too.


Are there any books you've read recently that you'd like to recommend?  Do tell. 


Life (around our home and garden)

Hello, dear friends. I hope you are all well.  (Today it seems I have time to put up a blog post!)

We finished school over a month ago.  I say "finished" which really means I was all done, so I ended with the little girls and supplied the older three with a list of what I wanted them to complete for the year (mostly math lessons).  Last time I checked, one of them had finished their list and the other two are nearly there....  and I'm okay with that. 

I have yet to do our end-of-the-year evaluations or testing, so I need to do those sometime soon.... but for NOW I am enjoying rest and summer and gardening.  And the older kids are enjoying sleeping in.  Our teens (Ella and Isaac) really love to stay up late, talking to us and snacking and then head to bed and reading for another hour or two, and then sleeping in until afternoon.  It's summer so I am happy for them but am wondering how they'll transition back to real life in the fall.

Ella finished Driver's Ed in June, so she's happily driving us all around town with her permit, when she's not babysitting, which she loves to do.

Here is what else has been going on around the home front.  We planted our garden late May.  Here's a photo right after planting:


(I'll try to get an updated picture because it does NOT look like this now at all.)
 
Each of the kids chose a crop this year again:
Ella | carrots + romaine 
Isaac | cucumbers + lettuces
Isaias | beans
Adelia | sugar snap peas 
Audra | flowers

They are responsible for caring for their little sections of the garden and as they harvest (and as I use or enjoy their harvest), I will pay them.

In addition to what the kids have going, I added tomatoes.  They have been my favorite to plant for the past couple of years, so this year I went all out and purchased several varieties to see what grows well and what I like best. In addition to my standard choice of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, I also potted two of each of the following varieties:

Cherokee Purple (Heirloom)
Brandywine
La Roma
San Marzano
Early Girl
Happy tomatoes in the garden.

(For whatever reason, in my (very limited) experience, tomatoes seem to do better in pots than directly planted in the ground, so my garden is full of pots of tomatoes.  I had placed some pots in other areas around our patio and back garden, but the ones in our garden space were doing so much better that I've since moved all of the pots into our garden space.  It's a wee bit crowded in there but I'm hoping they'll all thrive now.)

My first bouquet of peonies this spring.  I love them so much!


I decided this year that I wanted to use our back garden (which in previous years has been planted with corn or pumpkins or squash) as a cutting garden, so I did a bit of research and decided to go with zinnias and dahlias this trial year.  Here's a picture of our back garden space all ready for planting (props to Mark, for throwing up walls to hold the dirt):


I purchased my zinnia seeds from Johnny's Seeds in early April, ordering:
Benary's Giant Lime
Giant Dahlia Flowered Mix
Queen Red Lime
Oklahoma Pink

I started them indoors under a grow light and when they got tall enough, gradually introduced them to the outdoors. Then I moved them for a couple of weeks to these pots until planting into the ground:


And just this week, snapped this picture:



(Those are my dahlias in the foreground.  I have two (Melody Dora and Claudette) that are SO happy and one (Cafe au Lait) that keeps wanting to die on me, which is of course the one I was MOST excited to see bloom!  Gr.) 

My zinnias that are about a foot and a half tall now.  Two have flowers already and many are nearly-there.  However, according to my best resource on this subject, (this website: Floret Flowers, and her beautiful book Cut Flower Garden) it's time for me to pinch those flowers and I'm procrastinating because it's so hard to think of removing those precious flowers!  I am assured that pinching encourages the plants to begin branching low and will ultimately produce longer stems and perhaps more blooms. It's on my list for this week.

The other really exciting news around our little backyard garden and farm is that in the nearly-ten years that we've been keeping chickens, we have always wanted to allow one of our hens to be a mama.  We can't have a rooster in the city so we never have fertilized eggs, but occasionally we will have a hen (usually one of our Buffs) go broody on us and we've wished we could get ahold of some fertilized eggs for her.  Well, this year the opportunity presented itself-- a co-worker of Mark's mentioned that she had eggs and we had a broody Buff-- our sweet old Elizabeth-- and so we jumped at the opportunity.  She had been broody for five days already and then we set twelve eggs beneath her.  We marked them with an "x".  (Note: I cringed at the number Mark brought home because I was a bit terrified that all twelve might hatch and we do NOT need twelve more chickens in our yard (!!!)

It was a bit tricky because Elizabeth was sitting in the favored nesting box, so the other hens kept trying to wrangle their way in to lay, but she patiently shared space with them and kept sitting.  She was such a good mama.  She would get up and come out once a day for about five minutes to stretch, drink a lot of water, and eat a bit, and then she'd be back in to settle on her eggs.  A few eggs were broken in the process, so we would remove those and any (unmarked) eggs our other hens were laying. 

A chick has about a 21-day life cycle, so when it had been about 19 days of her sitting on the eggs, we began watching more closely.  It was at this point that she stopped coming out for food or water at all, and we also closed off the back of the nesting box so that the other hens would stop pestering her.  Then we kept running out and checking on her, offering her water and telling her what a good job she was doing, and listening for little peeps. 

On the 23rd of June we heard peeping and saw one little head.  A bit later we saw two.... then three... and out of the seven eggs Elizabeth was still sitting on, six ended up hatching.  They were adorable, poking their little heads out from her feathers!  Audra (8) pretty much camped outside her nesting box for days.  Elizabeth stayed put in the nesting box for a couple of days until all had hatched (she kept sitting on #7 for a full day but then eventually got up and left it, and sure enough, when we checked, the baby chick had died at some point within the egg).


This was her a few days ago: 



It has been so fun for us to watch her with her chicks.  I keep telling Mark that I doubt any family has had as much joy as we have watching this whole process.  It has been such a delight.  She is such a good mama, those first few days, breaking up their food and setting it before them, clucking to them and nudging them to eat and drink and now teaching them to forage.  It's my favorite thing to watch how she'll call them her side and they will duck underneath her feathers for safety or at nighttime.  And also I love this stage (above) of them climbing all over her.  

One more thing before I end this ever-long blog post: Mark and I were able to get away recently (to the ocean, of course; my happy place) to celebrate our 20th anniversary!  I am so thankful for this man.  He remains my best friend and I love doing life with him.  It is a good thing, marriage, and I am so thankful to God for blessing us with the gift of one another and the grace to live out each day of these past twenty years. 


~

Love to you and yours!  I'd love to hear from you if you're able to say hi in the comments.  :)

Questions Over Dinner

Over dinner tonight, Isaac (13), asked us all, "If you could choose your favorite thing to eat for each meal of the day, what would you choose?"  So, in between bites of pizza (one of his favorites), each of us answered his question.

Ella mentioned that we should get out the jar of road-trip questions.  (Before we took our family road trip, I typed out several questions, cut them into strips, folded them up and put them in a jar.  A few times during our long days of driving we'd pass around the jar, everyone would pull out a question and we'd all take turns answering it.)  We never made it through all the questions, so the jar has remained on our homeschool shelf since then, and it comes out upon request.

Here are the questions we covered last night:
What do you think is your greatest talent or ability?

If you are stranded on a deserted island, and you could choose one book to have with you, what would it be?  (Also:  movie? cd?)

If you were president, name three things that you would change about our country right away?

How do you think you'll know when you're "grown-up"?

If you won $100, what is the first thing you would buy?

Would you rather be a doctor or a teacher?

If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
They all loved answering these.  The greatest talent or ability one was tough for some of them, but it was sweet to see how the other kids all chimed in to encourage their siblings with what they thought their talents were.  I love my kids so much.  We're having such a grand time during these middle years.  They're my favorite people.

Blessings to you and yours today!

~Stacy

Lent

A black box adorns our table during this season of Lent.  On the side of the box is this verse from Isaiah:  
He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. 
On the top of the the box is a small opening labeled "sins", and next to it, some slips of paper, pens and pencils for the ease of writing down our sins. 


We are just trying to be mindful during this season of Lent; mindful of the so-many times throughout each day that we sin.  (And then when Easter Sunday comes, we will take the box that is full of our scribbled confessions and burn it, celebrating that God took each and every one of those sins to the cross!)

I was late this year getting this set up and onto the table; our family was hit with influenza and we've been really sick for the past two weeks.  But no matter.  Late is better than not at all. 

One of my younger girls wanted to write something but didn't want to write it all out, and was worried about spelling everything correctly, so I reminded her that God knows her heart and exactly what she's thinking, and that it didn't matter at all if she had it all written out.  I encouraged her to write her name or initial on the piece of paper as she thought about her sin, and she could trust that God knew what was meant to go onto the slip of paper.  She was satisfied with that. 

~

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?