Author Archives: Amy

September 2014 Nightstand

What's On Your NightstandSince last month’s Nightstand, I’ve read and reviewed the following:

I read and was puzzled by the 2014 Newbery Medal winner, Flora and Ulysses.  

I clicked through and bought Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi when it was cheap for the Kindle after reading Barbara’s and Sherry’s reviews.  I devoured it.  It is mostly a very readable book of apologetics told through the eyes of a young, devoted Muslim, but the last portion of it, when Nabeel finally does believe on Jesus, really got me.  Sometimes I, in my Bible Belt existence, forget that people really do forsake all to follow Jesus.  This book has ultimately sent me on yet another quest of self-examination, this time with a goal in mind:  do I love Jesus?  How do I know?  What does that look like in my life? Highly Recommended.

I finally finished Deconstructing Penguins and shared a few of my rambling thoughts here.

My reading time is not as plentiful as it used to be.  I read in very short segments of time; sometimes my only real reading time all day long is fifteen or twenty minutes before I finally go too sleep way too late each night.

What’s up for the month of October?

Well, there’s the matter of my IRL bookclub, which meets way too soon for me to even look squarely in the eye right now, considering the fact that I haven’t even started my re-read of Jane Eyre. . .

. . . sooooooo currently I’m reading and LOVING The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.

After Jane Eyre, I intend to start reading for this year’s Armchair Cybils challenge, which will officially begin on October 15.  I’ve ordered some titles I’ve seen bandied about on the Heavy Medal blog in preparation since actual Cybils nominations have not yet begun.

Of course, most of my reading comes in the form of reading aloud to my children. Come back on Thursday for this month’s Read Aloud Thursday to find out what we’ve been enjoying together!
What’s on Your Nightstand?


Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright

It goes without saying that we love the Melendys here at the House of Hope.  Then There Were Five is the third of the Melendy Quartet, following The Saturdays and The Four-Story Mistake.  This was our bedtime read-aloud for the past month or so, and it really makes a perfect bedtime read, excepting the fact that most chapters are pretty long.  It’s another episodic story, revolving mostly around the things the Melendy children do as they’re left alone without Cuffy or father for several summertime weeks.  The benignly neglectful (overgrown adolescent?)  Willy Sloper is the only adult about the place, so Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver do pretty well as they please, which makes for some very entertaining times.   This novel does have more of a cohesive storyline because of the introduction of an extra child–the fifth one indicated by the title–into the story.  Randy and Rush meet Mark Herron when they’re out collecting scrap metal for the war effort one day and immediately strike up a jolly friendship.  Mark’s a stolid, hard-working, yet jovial fellow, and the Melendys can’t help but love him.  His situation in life isn’t good; his guardian is a relative, a mean old cuss named Oren, who works him hard with little to speak of in return, and certainly no warmth or affection.  Due to a surprising turn of events in the story, Mark comes to live with the Melendys and is eventually adopted by Mr. Melendy at the very end of the tale.  Thus, the very, very heart-warming and touching theme of family love is beautifully explored in the story.  Given the light touch Elizabeth Enright employs through most of her stories, this unexpected (yet entirely appropriate, given the children’s ages) revealing of some very important issues in life is lump-in-the-throat inducing.  I can’t say when I’ve enjoyed a story more, and I think my girls would agree.

I’ve shared one quote already, but as usual, I can’t resist sharing a few more:

This, from Mr. Jasper Titus, another friend Rush and Randy make on their scrap metal drive, reminds me of something out of a L.M. Montgomery novel.  (In fact, the whole scrap metal drive reminds me of the episode in Anne of Avonlea (?) when Anne and co. are canvassing newspaper or magazine subscriptions.)  :

Before they left Rush and Randy learned a lot about Mr. Titus.  They learned that he was a bachelor whose only sister had kept house for him until her late marriage nine years before.  Up to that time he had been a farmer, but now he rented his barn, meadows, and pastureland and lived contentedly in his own house, with his pets.

“Always was lazy, always will be,” he said.  “Never did like heavy chores.  Just did ‘em ’cause my conscience drove me.  Yes, sir, drove me.  And then one day it quit, just laid down quiet and gave up the struggle.  Since then no more cows!  No more hosses!  No more blame chickens, only just enough to lay me a soft-boiled egg or two.  No more hawgs!  Nothin’ but small-fry pets to keep me company.  No more long rows to hoe!  No more corn!  Just grow enough garden truck so’s when I want a mess of peas for supper I can pick me a mess of peas.  Same with all the rest.  Always did like fussin’ in a kitchen, too.  Like to bake.  Used to be ashamed of it when I was younger.  But I ain’t ashamed no more.  One of my marble cakes took first prize over to Braxton Fair last year.  Yep.  That’s what I like.  Pets, and fussin’ in a kitchen, and goin’ fishin’.  And by golly that’s what I do!”  (34)

Cuffy gets all in a dither over how things will go to pot while she’s away:

“It’s not anything happening to you that I’m worried about,”  sniffed Cuffy.  “I’m only thinking of the state the house’ll get into with me gone.  Rush will step out of his clothes every night, leave them on the floor, and step into clean ones every morning till they’re all gone and he has to go without any.  Randy will leave paint water around in glasses till they make rings on the furniture, or someone drinks one of ‘em by accident and dies of paint poisoning.  Mona will forget to make her bed day in and day out till I get home.  She’ll get talcum powder into the rug, and her shoes will collect all over the house.  She’s always taking them off and going barefoot nowadays.  Shoes on the mantelpiece, windowsill, piano, everywhere.  I know her.  And nobody will wash the dishes!” (124)

One of Oliver’s passions is moths–catching the caterpillars, raising, them, and releasing them:

When the caterpillars had eaten several hundred times their own weight in greenstuff they began making cocoons.  In each glass jar Oliver had put some earth or a strong twig, depending on whether the creature in question was a burrower or a weaver.  Even Cuffy and Mona found themselves interested in the progress of the cocoons:  they were so ingenious, beautifully knitted, and in some cases lovely to look at.  The monarch caterpillar, for instance, contrived a waxy chrysalis of pale green, flecked with tiny arabesques of gilt.  It hung from the twin on a little black silk thread, like the jade earring of a Manchu princess [. . .]

The nice thing about the monarch chrysalis was that the creature which emerged at the end of two weeks was as beautiful as his case.  Orange-red and cream and black, like the petals of a tiger lily, he clung to the twig till his wings dried and widened, and then Oliver took him to the open window and deposited him gently on a leaf.  Watching the butterfly fluttering away in the sunshine Oliver could not help feeling a little like God releasing a new soul into the world.  (82-83)

Now for just one more, this time one that encapsulates in an exquisite word-picture the theme of home and family that is so beautifully depicted in the Melendy stories:

That night Mark got his wish.  He slept in the cupola.  The rain beat down on the little metal roof.  It spattered against the four windows, and ran down in a long stream from the spout.  The gutters tinkled and hummed.  The thunder sounded as if it had been cut up into squares.  It tumbled down the sky like giant blocks tumbling downstairs.  Mark snarled himself into his favorite sleeping position an felt as if he had come home at last.  [. . .] the violence of the last few hours [. . .] were thoughts too dreadful to contemplate now.  A safety door in his brain locked himself against them, and soon he was asleep.  (142-143)

Come back on Wednesday for our favorite excerpt from the whole book, one that made us laugh out loud.  :-)

So, what are you waiting for?  Get thee to the library or the bookstore and bring the Melendys home with you.  You’ll be glad you did!  Highly, Highly (Highly) Recommended.  (Macmillan, 1944)

Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

This is not meant to be so much a review of Deconstructing Penguins:  Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading as it is a place for me to jot down a few notes about my initial responses to it.  I read this book with an eye to using the Goldstones’ methods and plans either in our individual homeschool or, even better, with a group.  I’m still working out in my mind just what this might look like, so I have nothing concrete to share as of yet.

Some observations:

    • The Goldstones started bookclubs with children as young as second grade.  I’m not sure I completely agree that it’s desirable to start teaching the elements of literary analysis to young children.  It seems to me that in general, children of that age would require a good bit of leading to get to the point that they could actually discuss things like protagonist/antagonist and theme.  I think this might be one area to which I subscribe to the “better late than early” philosophy.  I’ve been listening to a Susan Wise Bauer lecture on writing in the middle school years, and she mentions just this very thing–that early elementary aged students are best asked to tell about a story, not to analyze it.  I don’t guess I’m saying that no student of that age can do it; I’m just saying that perhaps our energies should best be expended elsewhere.
    • With all that being said, I really, really love that this book shows the possibilities for rich discussion with an engaged audience.  I realize that the discussions they mention are likely composites of years of bookclubs and not just one single meeting, but WOW!–I never had such discussions even in the community college classes I taught!  That makes me question my own methods, mostly–how could I have pulled more people into the discussion?   (This, of course, assumes they read the book to begin with. . .)
    • I wish the Goldstones had shared a little more in the way of how they prepared for the clubs.  I get the sense that their introduction of literary terms, etc., must’ve been intentional, but they didn’t share any of the details.  This is the part that puzzles me most.  The only other resource I’ve heard of in homeschooling circles that explicitly teaches literary terms is Figuratively Speaking, but I wonder if it would be a little too explicit (i.e. workbookish) for my taste.  Thoughts, anyone?

  • I finished this book completely energized and inspired to want to try something like this myself.  My girls and I started participating in a mother-daughter bookclub at the library last year, but the books are chosen by participants, with no rhyme or reason as to why, just really through personal preference and popularity.  Again, I’m really going to give this some thought to try to figure out how I can make this more intentional bookclub work for us.
  • The last chapter, entitled “Some (Almost) Final Thoughts,” is by far the most inspirational in the whole book.  I nodded and underlined as I read.  This paragraph gets a hearty yes from me:

What children read is important.  The theory, still in vogue, that says it doesn’t matter what your child reads as long as he or she reads something is just plain wrong.  If anyone tries to convince you otherwise, don’t believe it.  This notion springs from the assumption that kids need success–any success–to bolster their self-esteem, and if they struggle a little it might leave them feeling bad about themselves.  Nothing could be more wrong-headed or more insulting to children.  Kids’ self-esteem comes from the same source as adults’ self-esteem:  taking on something that seems hard at first and then doing better at it than you ever thought possible.  Kids are hip; they know when they’re being dumbed down, and no child develops genuine self-esteem from being praised for something he or she didn’t work at.  (189-90)

I’m really trying hard this year to praise my girls’ efforts more than the results, especially when it comes to difficult versus easy tasks.  This is a good reminder.

One last note:  I just realized that episode eight of the Read Aloud Revival podcast is an interview with Lawrence Goldstone.  I’m going to listen to that one sooner rather than later.

If you’ve read Deconstructing Penguins and applied it in any way, please, do share in the comments!

Odds & Ends

1-IMG_4953-001I’ve had one of those weeks of pure exhaustion in which I was barely standing by the time Friday finally arrived.  I think it’s the nature of the beast because of our out-of-the-house schedule and Steady Eddie’s work/school schedule.  Today’s Fun Friday would more aptly be named Flop Friday, so I’ll start there and work backward.  Maybe by the time I get to the end I’ll realize the week was better than I thought.  :-)

  • Fun Friday started out with me oversleeping a little bit, which threw our day off, but not by too much.  We had Circle Time (which just consisted of an oral test for the girls to discover whether or not they know the new material for the week).  Louise took a spelling test on Spelling City and Lulu took a written test over chapter 2 in Rod and Staff grade 5 grammar.  Louise and I played a math game and Lulu started a math game, but it was derailed by bad attitudes, so we headed out to the library.  This mid-morning trip took longer than I expected.  (Story of my life. ;-) )  When we got home, it was past lunchtime.  I read aloud a bit and then rocked and nursed Benny.  By the time he went to sleep, it was 2:00, and I was too pooped to even THINK about reconvening school.  Instead, we watched an episode of The Blue Planet which actually does fit in with their marine biology studies.  Then we did lesson two from Drawing with Children and called it a day.   The day was rife with bad attitudes (mostly mine) and that feeling that I. just. can’t. do. one. more. thing.  One day I’ll learn that it’s just better to take a Mental Health Day and call it good.  :-)
  • The girls started taking karate this week at the YMCA.  Two of their friends are in the class, so that’s an added bonus.  I hope we can keep it up!
  • In addition to our usual out-of-the-house activities (CBS X 2, co-op, piano), we had lunch out at the park on Wednesday after CBS with some buddies from the girls’ Bible study classes.  The weather was beautiful–finally cool enough to enjoy being outside.  It was particularly nice for me to chat with a trio of homeschooling mamas while the kids played.
  • After karate on Wednesday we went to the new Chick Fil A for supper.  My guess is that we waited at least twenty minutes for our food, and during that time 1.) Benny had numerous meltdowns, necessitating that I stand up by our table and hold him for most of the twenty minutes. 2.) Our resident engineer, the DLM, decided (which I recognize assumes a level of forethought a 4 year old is not capable of) to open his package of ketchup with his fist. 3.) The ketchup squirted across the aisle and landed, among other places (I’m sure), on the shirt of the gentleman who was innocently sitting there enjoying supper with his wife.  (Thankfully, he was a nice man who seemed to be enjoying the show put on by my children.)  The evening was capped off by the DLM melting down over an ice cream cone that he absolutely assured me he did not want when he was offered the chance to cash in his kids’ meal prize for said ice cream.  However, just seeing his sisters’ cones was naturally enough to push him over the edge.  Not too many times in my parenting career have I elicited sympathetic glances from perfect strangers, but Wednesday night was one such night.  Have mercy.
  • I had a last-minute doctor’s appointment one afternoon this week, but thankfully Steady Eddie was able to come home so I could go.  He did math with the girls and fixed the window on my van.  No more open door in the drive thru for me!  (Old habits will die hard, I know, and this one is an OLD habit.  ;-) )
  • We went swimming at the YMCA on Monday evening after karate, and this inspired me to get up super early Tuesday morning and drive over for a solo swim.  I spent half of my time perched on the ledge at the end of the lane, watching the man who was significantly older than I am swim slowly and methodically up and down the lane, never stopping, the entire time I was there.  I wish that the proper form could be learned by observation.  I can get from one end of the pool to the other, but it isn’t pretty.
  • My burst of enthusiasm for exercise was short-lived; the only other active thing I did all week was go for two fairly long walks.
  • Tuesday night was our local homeschooling moms’ night out.  This started out as a robust group but has trickled down to just a handful.  I’m wondering if we should maybe try a different night of the week to shake it up a bit.
  • I haven’t cooked much at all this week; in fact, we’ve eaten soup (taco and knock-off Chick Fil A chicken tortilla) that I made last weekend for every supper we’ve eaten together as a family this week.

Lessons together:

    • Two rounds of Circle Time (plus some review and discussion in the van).
    • Listened to two episodes of Classics for Kids about Papa Haydn (the girls’ composer of the month for piano).
    • Completed lesson 14 in Getting Started with Latin.
    • Listened to chapters 14-17 of The Story of US volume 1 via Overdrive.
    • The aforementioned science documentary and art lesson
    • Read alouds:  we finished Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright, started The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth Speare, and continued in Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen.

Lulu’s lessons (grade 5):

  • Bible study–Community Bible Study junior lessons–This week’s lesson was about Daniel.
  • Lulu did a short oral report about seals in her co-op science class.
  • Copywork–verse 5 of “At the Cross.”
  • One Perplexor puzzle.
  • Two 4-level analysis sentences.
  • Treasured Conversations week 10 days 1-4.  This is going very, very well.  Switching to this curriculum was a good decision!
  • Rod & Staff 5 grammar lessons 19-21 plus the chapter 2 test.
  • Rod & Staff 4 spelling lesson 30.
  • RightStart E lessons 93-96.  Lesson 94 is a review and practice lesson, and after that it’s a rather long series of miscellaneous lessons.  I’m considering skipping ahead to the pure arithmetic lessons and moving into another curriculum (perhaps Singapore?) and doling out the remaining RS lessons maybe one lesson per week or so.  I’m still thinking it through, though.
  • Reading The Wouldbegoods by E. Nesbit and writing a summary of the first two (three?) chapters.
  • Alabama history, Spanish, and marine biology at co-op.


Louise’s lessons (grade 3):

  • Bible study–Community Bible Study primary lessons–Daniel.
  • Handwriting–New letters capital and lowercase I.  Practiced other letters on the whiteboard.
  • First Language Lessons 3–lessons 11, 13-14.  Louise started diagramming this week!  :-)
  • Writing with Ease 3 week 5 days 1-4.  Poetry–“Jabberwocky”–this week.  I couldn’t resist sharing this with the girls (again):

  • Rod & Staff 3 spelling lesson 15.  Test on Spelling City.
  • RightStart C lessons 142-145.  Several games of Fraction War.  More fractions plus some miscellaneous lessons this week.
  • Read and wrote summaries of the first two chapters in The Heroes by Kingsley.
  • PE, Spanish, and marine biology at co-op.


The DLM’s lessons, age 4:

  • The letter of the week this week was T.  He did dot painting and lots of finger painting.
  • A few of the books we enjoyed:

  • Cooler weather has meant a welcomed return to scooter and bike riding and basketball playing.
  • I should be reading Jane Eyre, but I’m reading The Wednesday Wars instead.

Yes, just as I suspected, the week wasn’t as bad as I thought.

What’s new with you?  Have you had a good week?


“A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Poetry Friday ButtonFor our first six weeks school term (or more), we are memorizing “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  So far as I know, his works have passed into the public domain, so I’ll share it here in its entirety:

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real!    Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,–act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;–

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

I have fond memories of learning about Longfellow as a high school junior.  He was the subject of my first literary research paper.  I recognize the fact that his poetry has really fallen out of fashion these days, but I still like it a lot.  My girls and I were practicing it in the van the other day on the way to Bible study.  This week we’re supposed to know down through the fifth stanza:

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

What a wonderful four lines!  Of course, our recitation necessitated a discussion of the word bivouac, one of the few words I specifically remember learning the meaning of at some point during my education.  This, then, made me think of the Apostle Paul’s enduring words from 2 Corinthians 5:1:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

This passage of scripture has doubly special meaning for me because it is the passage a beloved pastor used at my papaw’s funeral.  Sharing it with my girls–the literary connection between bivouac and tent–and then the connection to the previous stanza–this encapsulates one of the things I love about homeschooling.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

I also love that Louise pointed out, after considering stanzas four and five together, that Randy Melendy from our current bedtime read-aloud, Then There Were Five, has a particular affinity for funeral marches.

How sweet it is when it all comes together.