Author Archives: Amy

Odds & Ends


It has been a whirlwind of a week in more ways than one:

  • Monday evening an EF-1 tornado struck an intersection a few blocks away from our house.  We had no idea at the time.  I mean, we knew the wind had picked up considerably, but our usually very reliable weather alert system didn’t work in this instance.  (It had gone off repeatedly earlier in the evening.)  We lost power until about 4 a.m. Tuesday morning.  It turns out that the tornado started in one town and ended up in another, traveling a distance of about 3.5 miles.  We are so thankful it wasn’t worse than this!
  • Since last Friday night, three of our four children have been sick with a fever.
  • Because of the timing of the sickness, we did not miss any of our daytime activities!
  • I had my bookclub meeting on Tuesday night.  Of the five people in attendance, only one of us read Jane Eyre all the way through this time, and it wasn’t I.
  • One reason I didn’t read all of Jane Eyre this time is because my head has been turned by all the Cybils books I currently have in my possession for the Armchair Cybils.



  • The girls have been crafting up a storm this week.  Both girls caught the knitting bug at co-op on Tuesday where they saw a friend with her knitting needles in action, and Steady Eddie took them to Wal-Mart Tuesday night to buy them their own knitting needles.  Lulu worked at it a while, but then she reverted back to her first love, crocheting.  Louise picked back up an old favorite–cutting paper snowflakes.  Pretty!


  • School went well this week.  Lulu continues in Math Mammoth Multiplication and Division 3, at the rate of 45 minutes of math daily.  Today’s lesson had her really looking at rules of divisibility and thinking them through.  Good stuff!  Louise’s RightStart lessons are still review, but it has been good and worthwhile.
  • Lulu finished up week 13 of Treasured Conversations as her main writing curriculum, and I’m going to take some time this weekend to figure out what to do next.  At this point I’m not sure that continuing in the current section of TC, which is the writing of the outline of and then the paragraphs of a story based on prescribed topic sentences.  We might skip ahead to the third section, which deals with pulling information from various nonfiction sources.
  • We’re also still working hard at narrations.  This week’s history chapter (chapter two in Landmark History, which is all about the Quakers in Pennsylvania) lent itself to being to divided into three sections.  Lulu did a one-level outline on one section and written narrations of the other two.  Louise did oral narrations (which I transcribed) on two of them, plus her regular WWE work.  Lulu and I then worked together on one of these narrations to make it a unified paragraph, and she typed up her final version of it today.


  • One thing we rediscovered this week was the girls’ books of centuries.  We worked on these last year at some point and then shelved them.  This week I determined to start a U.S. History timeline, but I gave the girls liberty to choose what format it would take.  They remembered these books and got them back out.  I think that finally, finally this is something they’ll take ownership of.
  • We had two good days of doing Circle Time together, plus the independent work they did on their memory work on Monday.  I hope to share a post about our new batch of memory work soon!


  • Fun Friday found us doing a bit of art work (which necessitated a short nature walk), having poetry tea time, and playing a game of Corners (with me playing simultaneously with both girls, each following different rules–eek!), as well as the girls finishing up some of their regular work.


  •  Poetry Tea Time picks this week were Animal Tracks by Charles Ghigna and Firefly July by Paul B. Janeczko.  Firefly July is a Cybils nominated title, and I hope to share my thoughts about it soon.

  • We finished one read-aloud, Spiderweb for Two, and started another one, The Home Ranch, at bedtime this week.  I hope to share my thoughts on the former sometime in the near future.

  • Steady Eddie started reading Scumble aloud tonight, mostly to keep the girls from fighting over the library copy.  ;-)  They have read and re-read Savvy, its companion novel.

    • One of my biggest challenges right now is keeping up with my girls’ reading.  I really don’t try to keep up with everything they read–not by a long shot.  However, I want to start having more “literary” discussion with Lulu as per Susan Wise Bauer’s recommendations, and to do so, I have to read the books I assign her to read.  For the past two weeks she has worked her way through Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli at the rate of fifteen minutes per day.  (Lulu’s normal m.o. is to inhale her books, which is why I imposed the time rule.  I really wanted her to slow down and read this one.)  Louise read Plain Girl by Virginia Sorensen, also in fifteen minute time segments, and for the same reason.  However, I don’t intend to introduce Lulu to literary analysis just yet.

    • In addition to all the school-related reading I’ve been doing, I’m also engrossed in a couple more juvenile fiction picks:  The Candymakers by Wendy Mass (via audiobook) and Revolution by Deborah Wiles.  Revolution, especially, is so good.

  • I found myself particularly pooped at the end of this week!  Perhaps part of it has to do with the fact that this little fellow has decided he is part goat:


So–lots of reading and working and thankfulness (not to mention toddler-watching) this week.

How are things in your world?

Armchair Cybils 2014–Who’s in?

Today is October 15 (for a few more hours, anyway), and as promised, this is this year’s Armchair Cybils commitment post!  Here are the pertinent details for this year’s challenge:

The Armchair Cybils challenge is a challenge hosted by yours truly here at Hope Is the Word.  I thought it would be really fun to play along and read as many of the Cybils nominated titles as I can during the Cybils judging period, which runs from October 15 (or before, but this is the date when the nominations are closed) until February 14, and I’d love for you to join me!  For more information about the Cybils, this post explains it better than I ever could.

This is how the Armchair Cybils challenge will work:

  • Read as many or as few of the Cybils nominated titles as you care to and write up your thoughts on your blog.  You can do this on a title-by-title basis or in one big ol’ post–it’s up to you!
  • Come back here on the following dates to link up your Armchair Cybils posts:
    • October 15 — your “I’m participating!” post
    •  November 15–reviews
    •  December 15–reviews
    •  January 1–shortlist thoughts
    •  January 15– reviews and thoughts
    • February 14–reviews and thoughts about the winners

So, how do you find out which books have been nominated? Here you go:

This challenge is in no way affiliated with the official Cybils awards, other than being hosted by an extremely excited fan of the whole process.

Please share the button on your blog so that we can spread the word about the Armchair Cybils!  You can grab the code over in the sidebar.

I’m already knee-deep in Cybils nominated titles, and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself!

Who’s with me?  Link up your “I’m in!” blog posts below, or just leave a comment.

Happy reading!


West of the Moon by Margi Preus

West of the Moon by Margi Preus was among the first batch of books I ordered in anticipation of the Armchair Cybils.  It has been nominated for a Cybils in the middle grade fiction category.  I actually first got wind of this new book on the Heavy Medal Mock Newbery blog, and because I’ve enjoyed everything by Preus I’ve ever read, I naturally wanted to read this one. This one, like her others, is historical fiction, but it’s also full of references to Norwegian folktales and fairytales, to the point that the lines almost blur between reality and fantasy.  It’s the story of Astri and her little sister Greta who live in mid-nineteenth-century Norway.  As the story opens, they live in poverty with their aunt and uncle.  Their mother is dead and their father has left them behind to make his fortune in America.  This situation changes in the first chapter, though, as Astri is sold to be the hired girl of a cruel and lecherous man she calls the goatman.  The first part of the book is Astri’s life with the goatman and how she plots and plans to escape.  While she lives with him, he locks her in an outbuilding for punishment, and inside this building she discovers a mysterious and unusual girl who doesn’t talk but does marvelous work with a spinning wheel.  With the help of Spinning Girl, Astri manages to escape the goatman’s clutches and rescue her sister.  Part two details the difficulties they face as they attempt their own trip to America.  Part three follows their voyage to their new home.  Every bit of their journey is thanks to Astri’s moxie and determination, yet she is fraught with guilt and self-doubt:

I feel as if my insides are made of hard knots and pebbles, balls of sticky tallow, tangles of yarn, and lumps of ash.  If we go back, then we go backward in time, and Greta and I will be milkmaids and serving girls forever, or married to smelly goat men, with no say in what we do or where we do it.  In America, goat girls can become princesses or parsons, or whoever they want to be.  I don’t know if that is generally so, but that’s the way it’s going to be for Greta and me.  And anyway, there’s another problem.  We’re thieves, or at least I am, and could be considered a murderer besides, and there are laws against such things and prisons, too, and I suppose a prison wouldn’t be much of an improvement over the goatman’s farm.  (122-23)

Obviously, Preus is a master at getting into Astri’s head and showing the feelings and thoughts of this very strong heroine.

One of several themes in this story is the prevalence of superstition in the lives of these Norwegians, especially as it is all mixed up in their religion, Christianity.  Preus treats it with a deft touch, especially as a surprising character helps Astri understand a little bit of truth when they’re on board the ship bound for America.  Another theme of the story is one of sickness and disease and how much of what these people believed superstitiously had to do with simple things like good nutrition and healthcare.  In fact, the Author’s Note provides information about things like rickets, cholera, and lockjaw, as well as the many folktales and spells, charms, and curses in the book.  We also learn in the backmatter of the book that Preus based the story in part on her great-great-great-grandmother’s diary.  There are a few excerpts from the diary, as well as a glossary and selected bibliography for the story.  This is a well-researched piece of historical fiction.

Overall I enjoyed this story.  I found it suspenseful and well-written, as I expect of anything by Margi Preus.  However, the book ends before the girls actually arrive in America, and there are questions left unanswered.  I really, really want to know about the Spinning Girl, for example.  I assumed that some of these things would be cleared up once Astri and Greta are reunited with their father, but alas, that doesn’t happen in this volume.  I actually prefer a self-contained story, though, so I consider this a weakness.  I should also note that there is an attempted rape at the beginning of the story.  While it is not explicit (and nothing actually happens), there is no doubt as to the intention of the villain.  I would consider that part emotionally intense.  This would be a good story for upper-elementary to junior high students who are interested in immigration, Scandinavia, or those who enjoy fairy tales or adventure stories.  I’ll be interested to see how this one fares in all the award garnering.  Highly Recommended.  (Amulet, 2014)

Related links:

Menu Plan Monday

ThanksgivingI enjoyed doing this so much last week that I thought I’d do it again! The funny thing about menu planning is that I find it tremendously helpful, but I don’t always follow my own menus.  For example, last week we had a change of plans and ended up having company for supper on Friday night instead of Saturday night.  This meant that my plan to have leftover or takeout or go out to eat changed, and instead we had what I had planned to have on Thurday night:  creamy chicken and black bean enchiladas Mexican rice, plus Mexican cornbread, pintos, homemade cheese dip (something like this), and 4 layer chocolate dessert.  That meant on Thursday night we had breaded tilapia (frozen), pintos, cornbread, and Zatarains seasoned rice of some variety.  Flexibility!  :-)


Mexican cornbread is one of my favorite things! I ate this for supper Saturday night, all by itself. :-)


This week will go something like this:

  • Monday–chicken stew, cornbread, crackers, cheese.  I made this on Saturday night and mostly followed the linked recipe.  Chicken stew is a southern staple for sure, but this recipe is not really like the kind I grew up on.  I’m used to a lot more vegetables!  We like it, though, for a change.


  • Tuesday–bookclub for me; everyone else eat with Nana
  • Wednesday–breakfast foods for supper (bacon, eggs, toast or pancakes) or eat out if I’m particularly pooped
  • Thursday–crockpot porkchops, roasted broccoli, potatoes of some kind (?), English peas (frozen), cornbread.  This is Lulu’s favorite pork chop recipe!
  • Friday–company supper again! :-)baked spaghetti (I usually use my homemade spaghetti sauce from the freezer), bread, salad, and dessert as linked above
  • Saturday–who knows?  Sometimes we eat with my family.  I usually buy groceries on Saturdays, so I’ll have a new plan percolating in my brain by then, too.  :-)

What’s cookin’ this week at your house?

Odds & Ends


It’s early Sunday afternoon, and Steady Eddie has taken all four children with him to his office while he works on some work and school stuff so I can have three uninterrupted hours to work on my stuff.  Blogging is perhaps not the most beneficial use of my time, but I do find that keeping a narrative record of our weeks helps me to see the big picture, so I am setting our new timer (more on that in a minute ;-) ) for thirty minutes and am going to attempt to hit the high points of our week, bullet-point fashion.  1, 2, 3. . . Go!


  • This was our first week back in the saddle after a week’s break from formal lessons.   I was very pleased and thankful to notice that I really felt refreshed and ready to tackle homeschool again.  This was a welcome change from the burnout and exhaustion I felt last spring!  Thank you, Lord!
  • I’m still struggling with organization and scheduling due to our compressed M-W schedule.  Last weekend Steady Eddie sat down with me (and mostly just listened to me!) and helped me think some things through.  Last Sunday night I wrote the above schedule on the whiteboard in the school room, and believe it or not, we followed it pretty well.  The left-hand column is for Lulu and the right one is for Louise.  This was Monday’s schedule, so they had already done their math that morning before CBS leadership.  It worked well enough that I continued a similar schedule for the rest of the week.   Thank you, Lord!


  • Louise passed a milestone in math this week:  she started RightStart Level D.   Yippee!  It was an easy week of calendar review as we delved into her new book.
  • Lulu also passed a milestone in math:  she started working through Math Mammoth Multiplication & Division 3 as her main math curriculum.  This is a worktext and as such is quite a bit different from RS which is very teacher-led.  I inquired on the WTM forums about different methods of handling this sort of curriculum an decided to go with using a timer and having Lulu work for 45 minutes (with intentions to work up to 1 hour eventually) each day on math.  There’s a bit of  a learning curve–I had Lulu read the explanations herself and then explain them to me, instead of the other way around–but by the end of the week things were going fairly smoothly.  We also offered her an incentive for NOT melting down over a certain type of problem–if she remained calm and worked through her frustration (which she DID!), she earned a day off from morning chores.  Extrinsic motivation works for this girl!

  • This is the timer we purchased or Lulu’s math lessons, as well as timed reading.  Yes, we have lots of other timing devices.  The girls have always used a kitchen timer or an ipod for their piano practice.  However, I like the fact that this one is visual and doesn’t provide nearly the temptation for “fiddling with” as the ipod.  One thing it has worked exceptionally well for is the DLM’s rest time.  Some days I’ll have him move up to the living room with audiobooks, blocks, etc. while Benny naps so the girls and I can have some quiet concentration time for lessons.  The DLM isn’t particularly fond of this, but the novelty of the timer (plus the fact that the light on top actually tells him when time is over!  Yellow means “just a few more minutes” and red means “time’s up!”)  made rest time go a bit more smoothly.  All in all, it has been a very good purchase for us.

  • My favorite purchase, though, is this little, tiny portable bluetooth speaker pictured above.  One problem I’ve always had with my ipad (an old one, an early model we bought used from Steady Eddie’s cousin) is that the speaker on it is pitiful.  We used it, but we missed a lot when the DLM would talk or when Benny would start fussing or chattering.  This little speaker (once we learned how to use it!) enabled us to all hear the Classics for Kids podcast we like to listen to at lunchtime (the girls’ composer of the month is Handel, so listened to the ones about him).  I was also able to listen to several chapters of Jane Eyre as I cooked and puttered around in the kitchen.  I even kept the ipad with me in the school room during the DLM’s rest time and put the speaker up in the living room with him and was able to play numerous audiobooks for him using the OneClick Digital service through our library.  Ah, technology!  I love it when it works!  :-)
  • We started using Boorstin’s A Landmark History this week for history, and I have to say that I finally feel good about what we’re doing.  That could change, of course, but for now, it’s good.  :-)  I had Lulu do a one-level outline one day from her reading and written narrations every other day (for four days total).  Louise made oral narrations while either I or Steady Eddie acted as her scribe.


  • The girls got to dissect frogs at co-op this week.  The best part of it all was when their teacher (one of my really good friends and just a fun person all the way around) pulled out a bowl full of “frog eggs” and all of the adults in the room volunteered to sample them.  The kids were really grossed out, of course, until they learned it was pearl tapioca.  ;-)


  • Circle Time went well this week, and it seems we’ve gotten over the hump with the introduction to the Declaration of Independence and are making progress with it once again.  I hope to share this term’s plans soon!




  • I pulled out the DLM’s letter sensory bin and let him find the magnetic letters and put them in order (but he did it backwards. . . on purpose ;-) ) on the cookie sheet. Then Benny was really fussy and really interested in what the DLM was doing, so I got a dishpan and dumped the contents of the bin (letters + dried butter beans) and put it down in the floor for Benny to explore.  He LOVED it!  I kept an eye on him to make sure he didn’t try to eat a butter bean, yes.  This was definitely a winner and worth the extra clean-up it took when he learned it was lots of fun to take the beans out of the pan.  I hope to come up with some baby-safe sensory bins soon.



  • The DLM is most interested in learning now and insisted that we learn our next letter sound (the letter G) on Saturday.  Earlier in the week we had talked about the letter C.  Most of the books we read have already gone back to the library, but the topics were cars, cowboys, and gardens.  The DLM is such an eager learner right now.  I wish I could spend lots of time with him each day, but I keep telling myself that he’s only four and he has plenty of time to do all the things he’s itching to do now.  It’s fun!



  • This summer I organized a busy bag swap, and I am so glad I did!  It was a little bit of work, but the return has been great.  The DLM doesn’t pick out a busy bag every day, but using them once a week or so keeps him from getting tired of them.  The one above is obviously a writing one, but we have several different kinds, and all of them are fun for him and educationally worthwhile.
  • Steady Eddie was off on Friday for fall break, which was good because we had company for supper Friday night and I needed all the help I could get!  We had an abbreviated Fun Friday and then after lunch we all pitched in to get the house shipshape and supper cooked.  One of Lulu’s current interests is baking, so she made homemade rolls.


  •  Altogether it was a good, solid week of learning (most of which I’ve left out here due to time constraints).  It was also a week of spiritual and relational blessings, and for this I am most grateful.

How was your week?