Wednesday, December 30, 2009

52 Books in 52 Weeks wrap-up and moving on

I did it!! Yay!! I read 53 books in the last calendar year!!! (Actually, I read more but didn't officially start counting "school" books until April)

I just answered some basic questions about the year on the Well Trained Mind forum but thought I should expand a bit here especially on the question of what I learned through all this reading.

It isn't surprising that my list is so eclectic as I'm a fairly eclectic person in my tastes and interests. My list reflects this as it includes everything from fluff to classics to science to biographies and history. I learned so much about the world, made new connections through studying the Iliad and Beowulf. I originally left "school" books off the list, such as Beowulf and Lord of the Rings, but I shouldn't have. Reading The Two Towers after studying Beowulf was an enlightening experience -- there, in Tolkein's work, were kennings and the details of heraldry that I had learned about through Beowulf. It wasn't simply description to skim over as it was when I'd read it before, it was there for a reason and evoked a long gone world. The Iliad has proven just as enlightening to me.

I learned that I'm still fascinated with China, and can easily re-enter grad-student mode. I finally read The Good Earth, which I can't believe I skipped while being a Chinese Studies major! I'd have to look at the book again to fully explain my reaction to it, but Pearl Buck definitely was pinning lots of positive Protestant qualities on the protagonist while yet painting an accurate picture of pre-revolutionary life in rural China.

I learned a great deal about science, thanks to A Short History of Nearly Everything, and Death By Black Hole and The Pluto Files. I learned about crazed and obsessive birders in To See Every Bird and The Big Year. I loved learning in Julie Andrews' memoir that she knew TH White because I had just finished Once and Future King and had really enjoyed it. I was intrigued my Maria Tallchief's life -- ballerinas are fascinating women.

I learned the beauty of listening to a good reader by listening to Nadia May's recordings of several Jane Austen books. I never laughed out loud when reading Austen to myself, but Nadia May made the dialog and comic characters come to life. I loved the narrators for Life of Pi and Citizen of the Galaxy. I crocheted an afghan and 5 scarves while listening to books!

I learned that many books are forgettable. There are books I know I enjoyed, but they left no lasting impression on me. I learned that I don't like mystery books featuring sleuths who solve the mystery by dumb luck. I want them to have some brains and a method. It took most of the Stephanie Plum books for me to realize that, but now I know.

I learned the joy of having a fellow reader in the house. My 14yo ds has been a great book-buddy as he recommends titles to me and loves discussing what we read and listen to.

As for next year? Well, I've got Julia Child's memoir about life in France, my ds really wants me to read Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I want to read Marcel Theroux's Far North and I have a stack of books by my bed waiting for me to open them. I want to finally read Austen's Masnfield Park, but don't think Nadia May has a recording of that one -- egads I'd have to read it on my own! I'm going to read Kim with my ds and Book Thief, but haven't settled on a major classic to tackle in the spring semester.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

(Not very) Wordless Wednesday

Here are some pictures of Team 135's adventures at the FTC robotics competition held in the Los Angeles area last Saturday. While our team came in 13th out of 14 due to a series of battery issues, we homeschool moms and dads were really proud because our kids didn't give up, and kept working on and tinkering with the bot until it was time to pack up and go home. They spent last night's meeting planning on redesigns and solutions to other problems that they can fix before the next competition in mid-January.

In the "pit area" tinkering on the bot.

In the staging area before the first round.

Our sparkly MC who works at JPL.
Someone joked they had never met an extroverted engineer until that day!

Each team gets to have 2 drivers and one coach on the field for each round.

One of the rounds in which our bot actually moved and scored points...

Our motley but loveable team of homeschooled kids!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Home (school) for the holidays...

My first Christmas season homeschooling left me stunned because I couldn't figure out how to homeschool while at the same time letting my inner Martha Stewart out for her annual holiday run. Moms who have kids in school have those hours during the day to shop, decorate, vacuum, and have fun. Working moms at least get a lunch break and commute time without kids. But homeschool moms get to deal with the hyped up spirits of their kids 24/7 during all the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. How do you shop and prepare holiday surprises for the little darlings when you are with them all the time? How do you get them to focus on math when the ornaments for the tree, or the wrapping paper is out?

I used to give up on anything that looked remotely like school during this period. We baked and decorated cookies and made lots of crafty presents for Grandparents, aunts and uncles. Lucky them!! I still have the sculpy clay ornaments we kept along with the "Palantirs" or giant clear balls into which we'd pour and swirld around paint. We read aloud, went out to look at lights, watched old movies.

After 10 years it is just as difficultto focus on school. The college kid is already done with classes and recently quit his job, so he is home and underfoot. And sick. There are music obligations that pull me away mentally and physically. And there are rain storms which beg for afternoons of cookie baking. I made school plans for December, and the State wants evidence of schooling for the month.


Regular school just ain't happening this month. Soon enough my youngest son will be away at college studying for finals during these weeks -- we might as well enjoy ourselves now. We spent yesterday afternoon, during the rain, watching the movie Shakespeare in Love. I made cookies and we started putting up Christmas ornaments. Today we started reading The Tempest while listening along to an audio dramatization. We're going to watch Forbidden Planet next week and compare it to Shakespeare's play.

We're going to the Getty Museum on Friday, staying in the area to head to a robotics competition the next morning. We'll listen to audio books in the car, he is keeping a journal for the month about all he reads and does. Add in a little biology, geometry and Spanish and it's a month well spent.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009


Life is busy so you'd think there would be so much to write about, yet I have so little to say about any of it. My attempt at posting something each day utterly failed, but it isn't necessarily a bad thing....

Homeschool -- we're staying on track, but I wonder incessantly if we are going deep enough or if he is retaining any of it. In other words, is all this work worth while? Is he challenged enough in math? Memorizing enough biology terms? Making any headway into learning Spanish?

Music -- It is the crazy Christmas madhouse of music obligations. And yet, every year I get to play such wonderful music with a great group of people that it isn't a chore, just a drain on time. I will find out tonight if my assessment of the Rutter Magnificat is right, that it isn't difficult to play, and the make or break element is how well the conductor handles all those changing meters.

Motherhood -- my oldest is flying the coop in 2 months. I wonder if I have prepared him well enough for the real world, will he know how to handle money, checking accounts, bills, the odd head cold?

Christmas -- having fun being creative in making gifts. Too bad this creative impulse didn't hit earlier or I could have gotten more done! Looking forward to making cookies in a few weeks, and really looking forward to hanging out in Hawaii!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Project Feeder Watch Starts Again!

Project Feeder Watch has begun. We'll be doing our first counts this week, and I'm already excited that we get to add Lesser Gold Finches onto our list. I finally broke down and bought some Nyjer seed, which apparently to the gold finches is the "good stuff". I had no idea they'd be so picky, or that so many of them were hiding in our neighborhood all this time.

They clearly love the stuff -- even hanging upside down to get to the one spot that is missing a perch!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thorougly Thursdays

Thursday afternoon included a team meeting for Mock Trial and a visit to the Natural History Museum, where, lo and behold, they were having a book sale!! Oh frabjous joy!!

One of the books I picked up is this fat and silly gem that was 60% off list price:
Yes, it is called 10,001 Titillating Tidbits of Avian Trivia, and that is what it is.

There is a section with 10,001 bird trivia questions followed by a section with 10,001 answers. There is also an index so you can look up titillating tidbits on your favorite bird, such as the Turkey Vulture, or Mourning Dove. Hours of nerdy fun for the bird obsessed and bird brained. Our drives up and down the freeway will be ever so much more entertaining!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

(almost) Wordless Wednesdays

Holly the golden retriever loves it when we decide to do math on the living room floor. Her boy is doing a geometry proof on the white board, so she squeezes right in between us, happy that she once again is doing her duty as Math Dog.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Philosophy of Home Schooling

I've had this page in my homeschooling notebook since the first year I started homeschooling:

I don't remember exactly what my day had been like to prompt me to write this out, but I know it was written during our first year of homeschooling. It is something I still turn to if I need to remind myself of what it is that we're trying to accomplish in this crazy journey.

So you don't have to get out a magnifying glass to decipher my handwriting, it says:

What is my philosophy of education?

That learning is possible anytime, anywhere, forever
That there is nevertheless a body of knowledge that must be absorbed:
  • world history
  • world geography
  • arithmetic
  • general science
  • literature
  • arts
That there is some discipline, organization of thoughts critical thinking
  • that has to be learned
  • questioning, critiquing, categorizing, connecting>analyze
  • expressing the ideas in clear organized fashion, speaking writing,
  • logic, then and Latin added as subjects.
My problem is: how much time does it take to do this?
each day? week? year?

These thoughts that I jotted down one night still resonate 10 years later. I still struggle with balancing my unschooling impulses -- I believe wholeheartedly that learning is a life long endeavor and works best when not structured -- with my pragmatic side that recognizes the need for teaching and refining skills. This has been the method to my madness.

Did I succeed? Are my kids successful? Well, yes, they are as a matter of fact.

Did I fail in some things? Well, world geography isn't a strong suit of theirs, in spite of my best efforts. Latin? Yeah, well, choose your battles. And a fellow homeschool mom gave me grief recently (in a teasing way) because my 14yo didn't know who Benedict Arnold was. I figure he at least knows how to use Wikipedia and NOT to use it as a source in a research paper.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A real homeschooling day...

What is a real homeschooling day?

One where I'm home all day and available to help and share in every subject. It is a rare treat!

We listened for an hour to the Iliad, through Hector's death. While we listened I did some crocheting and my ds played the card game SET, and with a stack of strong magnets. He is someone who needs to fidget with something while listening. Ds thinks I should refer to him from now on as "my glorious, blazing boy" just as Hera addresses her son Hephaestus. Will watch the next lecture by Dr. Vandiver on the Iliad while eating dinner.

We played with the Rummy Roots card deck, reviewing some basic Greek and Latin root words. We hadn't looked at those cards in years -- I found them while searching for SET. Planning on using the Rummy Roots game cards for fun once in a while. Ds suggested we combine it with Mad Libs...

DS watched a biology lecture, and is continuing with a Douglass Adams natural history book. It makes him laugh out loud from time to time.

We did a geometry lesson together -- the text that was perfect for his brother is a mixed bag this time around with this kid. I think we'll stick with it and fill in the time with algebra review and maybe some algebra word problems (if I can find that perfect suplement...)

I read a Spanish story aloud, then had ds translate. Reviewed vocabulary and some grammar.

Ds also fit in a Logic lesson and based on the sounds coming from the next room is currently waging battle on World of Warcraft. He has an hour of Par Kour tonight.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Impending doom?

So much for daily blogging!

Friday was a busy but great day with a robotics team meeting, listening to The Iliad in the car and spending 2 hours exploring the non-public, science areas of our Natural History Museum during their annual open house.

Saturday was a rare treat -- a day at home doing nothing more taxing than vacuuming, laundry and watching a movie.

Today I am dealing with a deep sense of foreboding. I normally try to fight my inclination to be a pessimist, but I sense doom. My husband has a violent stomach flu and knowing how virulent those flu bugs are, I'm thinking there is no way to duck this one. I've got to prepare the house, kitchen and the homeschool to do list so the menfolk can function without me! And on top of that is just the simple horror and uber ick factor of the stomach flu.


Thursday, November 5, 2009


My ds and I had some time to kill in between an afternoon class and an evening meeting so we headed to the zoo just before closing. It was the perfect time to go as there were very few people and many of our favorite animals were up and about. And best of all I got to use the word "crepuscular" in its correct context. Crepuscular was a favorite adjective to use in Mad Libs, for some odd reason, I guess because it is simply fun to say. But rarely do we get to use it in everyday speech!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I'm not sure why I decided to join this daily blog posting group. I mean, my life isn't all that interesting to have something profound and worthwhile to write about on a daily basis! But, perhaps the pressure of needing to write something, or post a picture of something each day will give me an incentive to do something useful each day this month.

My useful task for the day was spending an hour doing music homework. In this instance it was listening with headphones (earbuds) to a recording of John Rutter's Magnificat which our church choir and orchestra is performing in early December. I'm concert mistress of the orchestra, aka 1st chair 1st violin, and I figure I need to know the work really well before we head to dress rehearsals with the hired guest musicians. So I listened tonight, tried to figure out all the changing time signatures and made notes about things to ask the conductor. I pencilled in bowings, marked some cues in and made sure rests are marked at page turns.

I had never heard of John Rutter until I started playing church music, and he is now one of my favorite composers. He is a modern, living composer whose music has the dissonance and changing meters of modern music yet is very melodic and deeply moving. And it is fun to play! Not quite the marathon of notes that is the Messiah and Vivaldi's Gloria, but with all the changes of time signatures it keeps us musicians busy and focused!

Monday, November 2, 2009

52 Books in 52 Weeks update

I haven't written about books since school started back up, but I'm still plugging away at the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, and am currently on book #49. woohoo!!

When I look at my list I want to categorize the titles into tidy groups by genre, because I'm somewhat smugly satisfied by all the different kinds of books I've read. Then I see the 10 or more Janet Evanovich books and think that I cheated in this challenge by devouring those books like a guilty pleasure snack. But balance is the key, and I definitely have balanced the fluff with some good stuff.

These aren't exactly formal genres, but the categories I see in glancing through the list.

Janet Evanovich's books, all except #s 2 and 3 and the newest title.
Timeline by Crichton (my 14yo son and I both heartily disliked it)
State of the Union by Brad Thor (fluff for men that I started reading when bored at the beach)
Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. (never finished it after the bad guy died -- noetics, schmoetics)
Leopard Unleashed (a pure, guilty pleasure read which leads to the next category....)

Historical fiction -- some of which are also very fluffy
Vivaldi's Virgins (about the girl's orphanage where Vivaldi taught)
Jane and the Genius of the Place (a mystery with Jane Austen as the sleuth!)
Dreamers of the Day (Paris Peace accord after WWI)
Gurnsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Society (kind of, sort of historical fiction)
Physik Book of Deliverance Dane (also kind of, sort of...)
The Reader (read the book instead of seeing the movie -- seemed appropriate)

Science most of which I wouldn't have read except my 14yo son urged me to read them
The Pluto Files by Neil De Grasse Tyson
Death by Black Hole (same author as above)
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Northanger Abbey
The Iliad
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The Good Earth
Once and Future King (is that a classic?)

All My Edens by Pat Welch (a local gardening guru)
Maria Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina
Home by Julie Andrews
The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

The Man Who Loved China (about Joseph Needham)
In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan
Gengis Khan - a biography
The Lost City of Z (I liked it so much I'm assigning it to my son next spring)
The Right Stuff

Other good books, including some sci fi:
Dune (I had never read it!)
Dune Messiah (gave up on the Dune series after this one)
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (had to re-read it before the movie came out)
Life of Pi (one of my favorite books of the year)
Garden Spells (maybe this is fluff)
Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein

And finally
Non fiction
The Big Year (about fanatic birders)
To See Every Bird (part memoir, part biography of the author's dad, also about obsessed birders)
Catapult: Harry and I Build a Seige Weapon.

I'm surprised not to find a long list of mysteries as that is what I've mostly read in recent years, but they just didn't appeal to me for some reason.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Day in the Life


7:00-10:30 Quiet time for me. Coffee, breakfast, reading the papers. Shower, tidying up, filling the bird bath and one of the feeders. Decided to make muffins and almost burned them because of the spectacle outside the kitchen window -- 5 mourning doves on the fence all watching the finches zooming around the feeder. I had to grab the camera and try to capture it.

I couldn't get all the birds in focus fast enough -- still learning the digital SLR.

10:30 Kids up, thrilled to have muffins for breakfast.

11:00 The teacher from the charter school arrives with boxes of biology lab equipment for us!! Microscope, blank slides and 3 different single-station AP labs. Feels like Christmas in a geeky sort of way.

Brought the teacher up to date on everything and he reads over my son’s work. He sees this son weekly in the Mock Trial class, so it isn’t as if he has no clue what is going on in our lives, but it is his job to review work and assign grades.

12:00 Dad and college son out the door as is the teacher.

12:30 Head to the library to get books, and to stop by the pond next door. My son has made a collection net out of a plastic cup and a section of old hose. After getting a cup-full of pond water, we admire the ducks but as we didn’t bring binoculars and it is hot, decide it isn’t a great day for water-fowl watching and head home.

1:30 Decide it is going to be a lazy homeschool day. While the pond water critters settle to the bottom of the cup, we listen to and read books 10 and 11 of The Iliad. The audio recording skims over the gory battle scenes, actually it pretty much skips book 10, so I read aloud the highlights.

2:30-4:30 Indulge in a lazy afternoon. My violin student has cancelled, college student is out for the remainder of the day, so I don’t have to drive anywhere. Hallelujah!!

4:30 - 6:30 Play with microscope, slides and pond water. Try to identify critters through internet through sites like “Micropolitan Museum”. Dad comes home and has a turn with the microscope.

Decide not to cook. While the menfolk head out to rustle up some fast food grub, I fill in the lesson plans for the remainder of the week. We’ll have to be good about doing real school the rest of the week but really enjoyed our lazy day. Watched a recorded episode of Flash Forward while eating burgers from Chili’s, then will finish laundry and settle down with library book.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wordless Wednesdays

Happiness is a pair of warm puppy slippers.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday afternoon planning

I can't decide if this is lazy procrastination or necessary work. Probably a little of both. Here I sit on the couch, surrounded by a biology textbook, a SAT II biology subject test prep book, and the outline of lectures from a Teaching Company biology series. Thanks to google I have added to my list of biology bookmarks. I've got us signed up for Project Pigeon Watch so we can have fun with a unit on Mendelian genetics.

My goal? To match Teaching Company lectures to the text book and to be sure every biology topic gets covered before the middle of June next year. Do I follow the order in the text book or the order in the lecture series? Can I find lab ideas and work sheets to match all the topics? Does something at least cover material in the SAT II prep book? Does my ds appreciate how much work it is to do this homeschooling prep work? (I don't want to know the answer to that one!)

This is what the pile of work looks like from today. Sadly that last cookie is now gone, and I still have to finish planning Spanish lessons for the next few weeks. That may call for a glass of wine.

The sad thing is I have no idea what we will eat for dinner. Even sadder is that there is no coffee in the house for breakfast tomorrow morning. Now I am in procrastination territory. Sit here with a glass of wine while looking over Spanish materials, or face the Sunday afternoon grocery store hordes? Hmmm.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


If I were a Twitter Tweeter, the morning would look like this:

Googled "Iliad teacher guides". Best hit? A where's Waldo style find it cartoon including, Zeus, Waldo, the Trojan horse and a catapult.

Google search of Iliad Fagle is much more fruitful.

Searching for Celtic fiddle books for my students. $70 and an hour later have books and fingerboard tape on order.

Good grief it is time for lunch.

DS has a blog more random than this one. Why does he hide his entertaining writing???

In denial of marathon afternoon and evening of 5 violin students and orchestra rehearsal. Need chocolate. And coffee.

Friday, September 18, 2009


I spend my life organizing and managing things, driving, teaching, coaching and cajoling. I am not one fulfilled by completed tasks, however. I can easily ignore dirty dishes in the sink. I recharge by reading, researching and wasting time on pointless video games on my iPod Touch. Aurora Feint is my addiction, though I also love Chicktionary.

But not being motivated by that great feeling of completed tasks leaves me here on a Friday afternoon, surrounded by all that is undone. The clumps of dog fur that need to be vacuumed. The laundry sitting wrinkled in the drier. The bills that need to be paid. The Beethoven that hasn't been practiced.

So in keeping with the spirit of doing anything but housework, I now shall stop and count my blessings, listing all that I have accomplished this week:

  • My quartet rocked the sanctuary last Sunday playing Mozart at 2 services.
  • I got the orchestra music organized, numbered and passed out.
  • Created a schedule flier to give to all the orchestra members.
  • Taught 3 violin lessons.
  • Played in orchestra rehearsal.
  • Finished reading Life of Pi.
  • Read Persuasion and sighed once again over the line "You pierce my soul". I am such a sap!
  • Drove ds#1 to the train station for college classes Monday and Tuesday
  • Drove ds#2 to robotics, par kour and mock trial classes
  • Reviewed and corrected 3 geometry lessons (not much to correct, really).
  • Taught 2 Spanish lessons.
  • Cajoled ds#2 to write an overdue thank you note (which he finally did.)
  • Celebrated with ds#1 and family over his acceptance into the internship of his dreams.
  • Reviewed biology chapter and watched a dvd lecture in order to finish planning for the week.
  • Poked about on internet for inspiration for writing assignments to give to ds#2 next week.
  • Walked ds#1 through his first banking transaction.
  • Met a friend who is recovering from an operation to get a bit of slow exercize with her.
  • Tackled the dishwasher filter system to try to figure out why dishes aren't coming clean.
  • Made dinner last weekend -- 2 nights in a row!
  • Remembered to buy ice cream at the grocery store...

By the end of the day there will be a few more things to add to the list, then it is time for some wine and movie watching with the family!

Friday, September 11, 2009


Almost all the outside commitments have been scheduled and we've had 2 weeks to settle in and see how the planned curricula fits. Now comes a weekend of tweaking and modifying the plans to a workable routine.

I've not got a permanent biology text yet, though it has been ordered. In the meantime we're using a 10 year old edition from the library. The DVD lectures are a hit and there are some wonderful labs and extras on-line so everything should be covered. This is just going to be the course that will require weekly research on my part to figure out labs and quizes and projects as I haven't made a semester long syllabus.

I'm enjoying Spanish as it is at a level I am comfortable with. I realized quickly that Breaking the Barrier is not a great independent study program, but it is perfect for a homeschool mom who knows Spanish. I'm throwing in some Rosetta Stone as a supplement since we already have it and it will help with aural comprehension and with vocabulary development.

Geometry and logic look to be entirely independent courses. No muss no fuss which is great by me!

My history and literature course is good except I can't quite come up with writing topics or good discussion starters with this first unit. We've had other good discussions recently about bad literature and stupid exposition devices, but those discussions related to other books. Ah well, everything is a learning experience, right?

We're still trying to figure out how to best use the grammar and vocabulary books. They don't seem to require much time, yet I want to be sure they are still being studied and the material absorbed. It's one of those cases where I see why teachers (and homeschool moms) resort to lots of work sheets -- even though I don't think those really prove any learning has happened. It just **looks** better because a sheet of exercises has been filled out.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

So begins 10th grade...

The school year is starting -- time to dust off my blog and start writing again! We are going it alone this year with no outside academic classes, but more than enough outside activities to keep us busy.

This is how it looks:

Biology: Teaching Company DVD series -- two lectures per week. I'm waiting on Campbell's Biology: Concepts and Connections text but will use the Holt text in the mean time. We've got a microscope on loan from the charter school and I get to start planning labs. The goal is to take the SAT II exam in June.

Geometry: Jacobs -- fun text, algebra review mixed in. No muss no fuss!

Logic: Traditional Logic from Memoria Press.

Spanish: Breaking the Barrier. I remember enough Spanish from my youth that this seems easily do-able. I'm hoping too that my friend, a native speaker, will be available for some regular conversation practice.

Western Civ: A combo history and literature class of my own creation. I'm so jazzed about this, though my 10th grader may not love it as much! I'm framing it on another Teaching Company series called "Western Literary Canon in Context". I'm also using History of the World in 6 Glasses as an overview for different periods of history and DK's Story of Philosophy for background reading. His literary reading list is a combo of classics and modern works as follows:
  • Genesis and Exodus
  • Walking the Bible by Bruce Fieler (just sections)
  • Plato Apologies
  • An epic of choice, either Illiad or Aeneid
  • Shakespeare's Tempest
  • Longitude by Dava Sobel
  • A poetry unit using a series by Michael Clay Thompson
  • Candide
  • Faust
  • Kim
  • Lost City of Z by David Grann
  • All Quiet on the Western Front
Grammar and Vocabulary: Michael Clay Thompson has a nice grammar review series for high school and a corresponding roots-based vocabulary series.

Outside activities:
  • Robotics team with First Tech Challenge
  • Mock Trial
  • Fencing
  • Par Kour
  • Project Feeder Watch
  • and, time permitting, youth choir at church (his least favorite...)

All in all a very ambitious schedule around which I have to schedule violin students, quartet and orchestra rehearsals. Oh my!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Adventures with audio books

I started listening to Sword in the Stone while commuting to a gig that was a 40 minute drive from my house. I really enjoyed it because it is so whimsical, so random as my teen sons would say. I can see why JKRowling counts it as an inspiration for her writing. It kept reminding me of the Harry Potter books.

I did not know, however, that when TH White decided to compile his Arthurian books, including Sword in the Stone, into The Once and Future King, that he edited and even rewrote big sections of each individual book. This fact set me up for a major case of befuddlement!

One afternoon when I was home and listening to Sword in the Stone, I drifted off to sleep. I could remember that Arthur was learning to be an owl with Archimedes, and when I started to regain consciousness he was in a giant's castle and King Pelinore was looking for his toothbrush. I wondered what on earth I had missed, but thought, no worries. I'll just re-read the section from our print copy of Once and Future King and continue on with the book.

Only problem was I couldn't find any mention of giants or toothbrushes. I started thinking maybe I had dreamed it all.

The next time I had a chance to listen to it, I started once again at the owl part of the story and once again started drifting off to sleep just as the episode with the giants was starting. Aha! There really is a section with giants, I thought. But the next morning when I once again flipped through the print edition I couldn't find it! I was beginning to think I was losing my mind. I was further perplexed because I also couldn't find in the audio version a section I had seen in the print edition where Arthur has an adventure with storks.

I was a perplexed. Puzzled. Befuddled. And a little worried about the state of my mind.

Fortunately my ds was also listening to Sword in the Stone, and I had told him about my confusion and questionable state of mind. He finally caught up with me in the book and was able to reassure me that there is indeed an adventure with giants, that King Pelinore had indeed been looking for a lost toothbrush! Hallelujah, I wasn't crazy! He was confused that there should be a chapter featuring storks, and was adament there hadn't been one.

I finally looked it up on Wikipedia and learned about the differences between the original Sword in the Stone and the version of it in Once and Future King. What a relief! The Naxos company, for some unknown reason, decided to produce an audio version each original book rather than the entire Once and Future King.

I have also learned that when my eyes start getting heavy to use the "sleep" function on my iPod dock so it shuts down after 15minutes!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

52 Books in 52 Weeks: update

I haven’t been blogging, but I have been reading. I’m up to 30 books now, though at least 9 of them are from a period of binging on Janet Evanovich books. I needed some escapist reads during the hectic month of May, and these provided a good diversion and some laughs. Her earlier books are better as by the 14th book it is getting old to have the protagonist continuing to be such a clutzy dope! Shouldn't she be improving by now?

There have been some other easy fiction reads, too. Garden Spells and the Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society both were predictable but enjoyable reads. Dreamers of the Day was good historical fiction placed in Egypt just after WWI. I enjoyed the first half of the book better than the second half when the author just couldn’t quite leave her academic voice out of the picture.

My 14yo convinced me to read Death by Black Hole, and I’m glad he did. It was intimidating to start simply because learning about astrophysics isn’t really something I look forward to reading for enjoyment, but Neil deGrasse Tyson is an engaging author. I learned so much, and want to go back to reread some sections that left me a little puzzled. What I especially loved was his exacting English that only a physicist can have. It reminded me so much of my physics professor father, and how he would get mad with tv reporters who weren’t exact in their explanations of things. Of how he would explain things. It reminds me of how great it was to have a physicist in the house to explain how things work!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Merry Month of May

On the homeschool schedule for the next 5 weeks:

9th grader:
reading list:
Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff
finish DK’s America’s Century
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, watch Teaching Company lecture
TH White’s Once and Future King (possibly only the first book or 2)
last 3 chapters of Foerster’s Algebra, plus do the word problems I’ve been avoiding!
fit in at least 2 more geology field trips from Rise and Fall of San Diego
finish health book and create a final project
final projects for 2 charter school classes
final project in computer programming
Par Kour classes twice a week
apply for Zoo corp

12th grader:
finish IEW co-op class
tech week and 10 shows of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat
write two essays for honors award applications
cinematography final project
vocal ensemble concert
behind the wheel driver’s ed class
weekly theater class

Both must have work samples ready next week, final exams and projects ready early June.
Both have one more Sunday singing with Youth Choir then the awards dinner to attend

But wait -- there's more!

On the mommy schedule for the next 5 weeks:

Finish reading Right Stuff, Sir Gawain and Once and Future King; study Algebra
rearrange lessons for my 5 violin students around rehearsals and productions of:
Pirates of Penzance - 2 dress rehearsals and 4 performances, immediately followed by
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat -- 3 dress rehearsals and 10 performances
Faure's Requiem - 1 more orchestra rehearsal, 1 dress rehearsal, 2 church service performances
Quartet rehearsals for June gig with vocal group

Clean the house, do a bit of gardening to get ready for visits from family who are arriving for my niece’s college graduation in the middle of the last weekend of Joseph performances.

Plan something for 12th grader’s graduation.


Who has time for a Swine Flu pandemic?!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

More from our geology expedition last week. This stretch of canyon is surrounded by urban sprawl, bookended on east and west by major interstate freeways and on the north and south by suburban cookie cutter housing tracts. But once you hike in, as we did heading down from a housing track, you forget the city is surrounding you.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Field Trip

My youngest son is doing Earth Science this year using a boring text book and taking a class that has some projects and labs. I decided it was time to break free of the formal studies and get out of the house to see the geology in our area. The inspiration for this is a terrific book by San Diego State professor Patrick Abbott called The Rise and Fall of San Diego. Starting with the Jurassic, each chapter describes what was happening in San Diego during each geologic period and includes field trips to see specific formations.

It was a beautiful day, so we grabbed the camera and a couple of water bottles and went hiking in a nature preserve to see some Jurassic period rocks.

The canyon floor is long and flat, a popular route for horseback riders and bicyclists. We were just about to turn around and give up hopes of finding these rocks when we rounded a bend and spotted this:

A giant boulder sticking up out of the ground. We were joking that it is San Diego's own Uluru.

Behind this monument is a small waterfall with lots of perfect boulders for climbing around and over. But what it really is, we learned today, is sedimentary layers that formed under the ocean during the Jurassic period. They've been up-ended and are lying on their sides now as you can see:

The boulders are especially cool as they are not the generic granite you'd expect, but volcanic-clast conglomerates as you can see below. The lovely green plant next to it is poison oak!

The sediment was also quite varied in color with red layers and gray layers that are apparently mud sediment. We never did find the traces of fossils, but hope to on our next outing to find some Cretaceous formations by the ocean.

That's me on the middle right , providing a bit of scale for you. I was enjoying the view while the 14yo youngster made like a mountain goat and scampered about all the boulders. All in all we hiked about 2 miles and agreed it was one of the coolest outings we've had in a while -- and the way homeschooling should be more often!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Audio books

My 14yo loves listening to books. Always has. He can't get enough of them, re-listens to his favorites over and over. He listens while building legos or drawing, he listens while just hanging out. His working vocabulary was impressive at an early age, due largely, I think, to his hearing the words in use from his audio books. When he was 8 he was correctly using words like "affronted" and "resolutely". His syntax varies depending on his current favorite author as does the rhythm of his speech. He currently is sounding like Bill Bryson, and what is even funnier is that his older brother, who hasn't heard those audio books, is picking up on it and now is sounding like Bill Bryson too.

I really enjoy audio books, too, though I'm not able to listen for the endless hours like my son. I like how a good narrator can bring a story to life with different voices for the different characters, or how their phrasing can clarify the meaning of a sentence or paragraph. I like that hearing a book aloud, or for that matter, reading a book aloud, prevents you from being an impatient reader and skipping past the descriptive paragraphs or tedious expositions to get to the action.

The only problem with them is that you can't dog ear a page, or underline a particularly striking sentence. You can't stop and look at how that striking sentence is constructed, or stop to think about it's deeper meaning -- the narrator just carries you on to the next page, the next plot point.

I just finished listening to Northanger Abbey, and found myself laughing aloud quite often. The narrator was fabulous, but I need to get a print copy and find some of those sections that made me laugh. For instance, there was some very astute satirical commentary by Austen -- I don't think it was in the dialog -- about the perceived attractiveness of women who act dumb, or are dumb or stay uninformed on purpose. I was driving the car and laughing when I heard this bit, but I need to find it again to get the quote right.

I'm also reading aloud The Lord of the Rings to my 14yo, and am amazed at how much more I am getting out of the books by reading them aloud. I read them when I was a teen, but I've only re-read my favorite sections since then, and I had no idea how much I was missing such as plot points and characters. All that geographical detail still bogs me down, though! We're having a good laugh, too, over the biblical sounding language in the 3rd book. "And lo! Aragorn did crush the athelas. And the scent filled the room filling all hearts with gladness." Or something like that -- it gets to be a bit much!

Friday, March 20, 2009

52 Books in 52 Weeks: update

If my 14 year old son has his way, I'm going to be reading mostly science books for the rest of the year. It is really sweet that he wants me for his reading buddy -- he told me last night that he needs me to read the same books so he will have someone to discuss them with. Problem is, I can barely keep up with him!

Since February, we've read To See Every Bird, by Dan Koeppel, A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson, and The Pluto Files by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Quite the diverse range of topics, going from hard core birding to the far reaches of the galaxy to everything in between, but what ties these books together is one of the fundamental challenges of science -- how to define and categorize the things around us.

To See Every Bird, which isn't really a science book, but a memoir of the author's life with his birding obsessed dad, has a chapter all about "splits and lumping". It simply means that a single bird species can be split into 2 distinct species or conversely two can be lumped back together into one. It matters greatly to hard core birders as it changes the tallies of the numbers of species they've seen. Birders don't particularly care about the details that make one species distinct from another -- they have the single obsession of keeping a count, but it is the work of ornithologists who must decide what makes a parrot distinct from a pigeon from a peregrine falcon. Is it something structural? Is it their song? Their diet? It was a fascinating chapter.

Bill Bryson goes on at length in several different chapters about how many things in the world still defy classification. He seems a bit obsessed about the all the microbes and lichen and hominid fossils that have yet to be definitively labeled and classified, as if scientists are slacking off on the job. He also has very colorful stories of the lives of scientists, their mistakes and foibles, and the mistakes of the greater scientific community when they are reluctant to embrace a new discovery or theory. The book is a result of Bryson's own endeavor to educate himself. His enthusiasm is infectious and the twists and turns of his curiosity are unexpected and delightful, making all 500 pages go by quickly and effortlessly.

The Pluto Files is all about classification as it chronicles the discovery, naming and demotion of Pluto, which has gone from being "Planet X", to being the 9th planet, to being a simple dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was in the thick of it all in his position as director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. He was in charge of the team designing the new exhibit space, which does not display our solar system as a line up of 9 planets, but instead displays them according to like characteristics. As Pluto is neither a rocky planet nor gas giant, it got left out of the display and a media fire storm ensued. The issue of Pluto's classification was finally voted upon by the members of the International Astronomical Union, who had to come to grips with the defining characteristics of what makes a planet.

Reading these three books has had me thinking about what science is and what should constitute a science education. Not that I'm thinking the work of science is only about classification, but rather I'm struck that science is a very active discipline which requires constant questioning and continual observation and lively debate. It has made me more convinced than ever that learning science solely through the passive activity of reading text books is a huge mistake, especially in the earlier grades, as it makes science seem like a static subject of memorizing terms and data. Good scientists and young children share the characteristics of observing the world then incessantly questioning why, qualities squashed by forcing learning from dull text books.

My son's science text book this year isn't helping my opinion on the matter, either. He dutifully reads each assigned chapter, but finds it dull, not in depth enough and written to confuse rather than enlighten. These books I've just described are, on the other hand, making his eyes light up, making him ask for more like them. He has already finished a book on Black Holes and is currently on Temple Grandin's book on animal behavior and is impatient for me to read them as well. I truly may never catch up with him!

I've been keeping up with my 52 books by balancing the non-fiction with fluffy non-fiction. Maybe I'll get back to serious fiction over the summer...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

It's springtime and the mallards are out shopping for a cozy cement pond for two...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Measuring Success

The child that triggered our entry into the homeschooling world 9 years ago is going to graduate in June. He is a terrific young man, and I am for the most part satisfied that I've done the right things for him.

Yet I have to admit his education never quite lived up to all my hopes and aspirations. The detailed plans I had laid out, all the great books I had listed to read in each grade, and all the tomes on art, philosophy and science I had bought were put aside in resignation, one by one. We went from great books to "pretty darn good" books, to "dear God just let him read something" books. My dreams crashed head on into his reality somewhere in 7th grade. It shouldn't have surprised me as we had a similar crash when he was in 2nd grade that led to the decision to pull him out of school.

That decision to homeschool was the first radical adjustment I made to accommodate his educational needs, but it was an easy adjustment in those elementary school because he was a little sponge. But between his puberty and my increasingly grand educational plans, things stopped working in 7th grade and I had to readjust my expectations of what his education should be. But we hit a wall again in 8th grade and again in 9th, even 10th. Each year I'd have grand plans for hard core academics, get-him-ready-for-college academics, and each year I'd get frustrated and angry that it wasn't working. But I also knew enough to realize the fact that his interests are the best way to get through to him, the best way for him to connect with a subject and learn. He actually tests as gifted, but is hard wired differently than most. Somehow I had to make math relate to Disneyland, 20th century American history to theater, or theater lighting relate to science, that was the only way he would learn and thrive.

I finally raised a white flag during 10th grade and decided to just let him have lots of theater electives, pile them on and graduate him early so he can get out into the world and start working. The kid has not been typical since the day he was born -- what was I thinking in expecting him to be typical now?

I know he has at least some basic academic and life skills. He can write a decent 5 paragraph essay and writes with a passionate voice. With the help of ritalin he can read, take notes and study, but he will always need every accommodation a school can offer. He can clean a bathroom and cook some food, balance a checkbook. He may yet learn how to drive. But where he really shines is in the theater where he can easily put in a 12 hour day, singing, acting AND programing lights, and be happy as a clam.

Other moms congratulate me all the time, saying what a great job I've done, about what a neat kid he is. I don't know quite what to say. I don't know if I can take any credit as I feel like I've just been trying every creative way I can to keep up with this kid for 17 years now. He wasn't cut out for the typical school, so I have just tried to create an education where he can succeed. It is absolutely terrifying to have given him such an unorthodox education when everything in me screams for the traditional route.

The biggest credit to his success I think goes to the wonderful mentors who for the last 4 years have patiently let him explore lighting design, who have coached him in singing, and who have loved him through his ups and downs. Those same mentors now trust in and rely on his expertise. He has earned the respect of all the adults with whom he works because he takes his work seriously, is talented and has a tremendous creative energy.

So how do I measure my success in homeschooling him? If it had to be measured with SAT scores and college acceptance letters, then I am a dismal failure. But if I get to measure it by the kind of young man he is, then guess I am a success. Even if I can't quite take all the credit!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Project Feeder Watch

My youngest son and I have been keeping track of all our backyard avian visitors as part of Cornell University's Project Feeder Watch. We keep a tally for two days each week of the birds that come into our yard, then report our data on-line.

I've been amazed at the variety of birds we have and have been endlessly entertained by all the action happening right outside my kitchen window. I've also been trying my hand at nature photography, hoping to capture each of the species that stop by for a nibble or drink or bath. Pictured above is a white crowned sparrow.
This little guy is a song sparrow who seems to build up quite a thirst with all his enthusiastic singing. He (or some of his friends) stops by to get a drink several times each day.
Talk about your giddy singers. This is a California Thrasher who has a song repertoire that rivals a Mockingbird's. He spent a weekend hopping from tree to tree just singing his heart out. Don't know if his performance was enough to win him the female Thrasher of his dreams. Or a spot on Idol...
The birds (and bunnies) seek cover anytime one of these is over head. It's a Red Tailed Hawk. They love to fight with the area ravens and don't do enough to keep the backyard population of bunnies in check.

This is a Western Tanager that stopped by for a drink last fall during a long streak of dry Santa Ana conditions. According to the folks at Project Feederwatch it is rare for these to visit backyards. My son and I were thrilled to get credit for a "rare" sighting.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

52 Books: weeks 3 & 4

For week 3 I read one of Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mysteries. This time it was Jane and the Genius of the Place, a foray into French intrigue and English fears during the Napoleonic wars. It's really just a cozy mystery, a period drama, all wrapped up in empire waist gowns and flowery Austenesque prose.

Week 4 took me back to China with another scholar from my Asian Studies past. John DeFrances, who passed away in January, wrote the text books I used to learn Chinese, and in fact was Professor Emeritus of Chinese Language at my alma mater, the University of Hawaii. I have no idea if I ever met him, as he certainly didn't teach any of my courses. I worked in the department reading room for a year, but I don't know if he ever wandered in while I was on duty. I discovered this week's book in an obituary about him, and was stunned my local branch library has it.

The book is In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan, the story of his 4000 mile journey in 1933 on a camel caravan, his imprisonment by a Mongolian war lord and his journey back to Beijing via raft down the Yellow River. The book wasn't written until 1993, and the first chapter is fittingly entitled "You Can't Do That Anymore", because you couldn't do such a trip today. There aren't camel caravans because trains take care of trade along those same ancient paths. Much of the area had been off limits to foreigners since 1949 because of tensions along the Soviet and Mongolian borders. (I don't know the current geopolitical situation -- do the Chinese and Khasaks get along better?). The western end of the Yellow River has been dammed, too, cutting off that route to the rafts of inflated sheepskin like he used.

It is a great read and an extraordinary story. He details the life of traveling with camels explaining just how sensitive they really are to the elements. They'd let the camels graze in the morning, have a large mid-day meal themselves, then start traveling mid-afternoon -- in the heat of the day -- through the evening. If the temperatures dropped too fast after nightfall the camels would have to be covered so they didn't get chilled. He describes in detail the varying terrain of the Gobi desert and how their guide would find the next well where they'd camp for the night. He describes the ruins of cities which Marco Polo once visited, and the ruins of ancient temples. He also tells the story of the Mongols and their migrations and the stories of Ghengis Khan. He doesn't make a big deal out of this point, but the raft journey down the Yellow River was necessitated by the advance of the Communist Chinese who were finishing their Long March and fighting to take control of the area.

This was the perfect arm-chair travel book, and has inspired me to pick up a biography of Ghengis Khan. But, I'm reading some fun and lighter fare before that, as I'm heading on vacation in a few days.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Weeks 3 and 4 of the 52 books challenge have passed and I haven't reported on my books. Homeschooling has happened, but I haven't reported on that either. It is all due to the sugar-induced stupidity that comes from celebrating two birthdays within a span of 10 days. But we've finished both cakes, the doughnuts are long gone and the brain is beginning to clear. I'll bring things up to date tomorrow.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

52 Books in 52 Weeks week 2

I have no regrets about the roads not taken in my life, especially since I get to vicariously enjoy one of those roads, my abandoned career as a China scholar, through wonderful books written by other travelers. The Man Who Loved China is one of those wonderful books that takes me back to my college and grad school days when I was a student in the Department of East Asian Studies.

The Man Who Loved China is a biography of Joseph Needham, the author of the multi volume Science and Civilization in China, one of the main reference tools from my student days. I still have on my bookshelf a condensed version of it, and pull it out from time to time to look up some date or fact when I'm thinking about Chinese history. One of the things that amused me while reading this biography was the realization that as a student I never even stopped to consider who had written Science and Civilization -- what kind of man would be driven to do that sort of tedious research, how did he do it and when. It was one of those reference books that was a fixture in the library -- that the author was still alive and publishing further volumes while I was a student came as a huge surprise!

The book isn't just for washed up sinophiles like me, though. Simon Winchester is a very readable author who has captured both the brilliance and eccentricities of Neeham. He also brings to life the atmosphere at Cambridge, the chaos of WWII China and the paranoia of the Cold War. It is engaging and edifying when it could so easily have been a dry, stultifying read.

I especially loved reading about Needham's travels throughout China during WWII. He spent weeks following the old Silk Road, finally getting stuck in an outpost noted for a system of caves filled with Buddhist statues and paintings. In another trip to Fujian narrowly escaped being trapped by the Japanese. He was based in Chongqing with Chiang Kai-shek, but managed also to befriend Chou Enlai.

I learned while reading this book that the author of my Chinese textbooks, John DeFrances, had just passed away, and in reading some obituaries and memorials discovered that he had traveled along the Silk Road in the 1930s. His memoir about those travels, In the Footsteps of Ghengis Khan, was amazingly on the bookshelf in my branch library, and is my current read. I plan on staying in China for a while yet, as I never read The Good Earth, and there are a few other titles that have caught my attention.

People often say to me how sad it is that I never used my degree, but I truly enjoy settling down with good books on China and revisiting my old student days.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

I call this one "Mourning Rush Hour", as the Mourning Doves love to crowd around the feeder every morning. There are 7 doves in the frame, and 5 more were pecking away on the ground below!


The best part of teaching, whether for homeschooling or for a class, is the research and planning. I love wandering through the stacks at the library, or searching through all the books that are cataloged under the same call number as the title that brought me to that particular shelf. I can google for hours, cluttering my bookmark folders with links to all kinds of sites that I might never visit again. I love learning about things I never knew, and I love planning on how I'm going to share all this with my students. To me it is like the best part of grad school, without having to fret over formatting footnotes and bibliographies.

The current topic that has caught my attention is Beowulf, and the intended victim, er, student, is my 13yo son. He actually listened to the Seamus Heaney version a year or more ago, and was totally underwhelmed by it. How this can be, I just don't know. He is your basic fantasy geek -- plays D&D, World of Warcraft, collects dragon figurines and knows all kinds of dragon mythology. Has read most every fantasy novel shelved in the "Young Adult" sections of bookstores. Beowulf has all those elements, is the foundation for all the fantasy he loves, what was he missing when he first listened to it?

I've decided now is the time to do my best to bring Beowulf to life for him. I've read the material about it in the English curriculum we are using this year (Literary Lessons from Lord of the Rings), I've spent several hours on line and found a wonderful lesson plan (amid many awful lesson plans) that has taken one section of the poem and has it in the original Old English along with about 10 different translations. Coolest of all, in my opinion, was the recording of someone reading that same section in Old English.

So, yesterday morning, full of optimism, armed with great ideas, I launched us into a 2 week study of Beowulf. The lesson for the day, after going through an introduction to the work, was to listen first to the Old English recording, get a feeling for the alliterative meter, then compare 3 of the translations and decide which best captures the work and why. Is it better to have a prose version, or a more literal translation, or one that tries to capture the original meter?

It all started out well enough. The introductory material was interesting, so we moved onto the issue of translations. We listened to the Old English version which I thought was exceptionally cool and wanted to keep listening to. But my son wasn't so easily swayed by either the Old English or my enthusiasm. "Nah, I get it already. I hear the alliteration, I get it." Meaning, can we move on so I can hurry up and finish school?

I left him after that to study the translations and decide upon the best, and will hear back from him later today as to which he likes and why. Then we'll start actually reading and re-listening to the Heaney version, and if he still is unimpressed, then so be it. At least I know, after 9 years of homeschooling, not take it personally when the kids don't get excited over all this wonderful material.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

52 Books in 52 Weeks

In a euphoric fit of feeling like an integral part of the Well Trained Mind homeschooling-forum community, I joined the Book a Week club. There weren't any solemn oaths we had to pledge to join, so I'm not going to violate any codes of conduct by not keeping up, but I do feel a sense of duty with my reading now.

For that reason, I've been plugged into my iPod for most of the day listening to Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. I love the ability to enjoy a book while doing mundane housework, although my kids find it disconcerting to hear me burst out laughing in the next room. And I'm laughing quite a bit with this book. Bill Bryson has a very dry sense of humor, uses the most unexpected adjectives when describing ordinary things, and best of all with this audio book, he is the one reading his book aloud.

So much of his 1950s childhood reminds me of my 1960s childhood -- the Dick and Jane books, the cloakroom in the classroom, kids having lots of unsupervised time roaming the neighborhood. I think things in my hometown stayed rooted in the 50s until the hippies at the University became a force to be reckoned with, probably not until 1968 or so. I also am enjoying all the history he weaves into this memoir, things that had no bearing directly of him but are part of the history of the time.

But what really has me laughing out loud is that my 13yo son has already listened to this book, and I now understand why he had told me somewhat cryptically that he only really liked parts of it and the rest hadn't been so great for him. I realized today that what he didn't like was when things turn toward girls, nudity and anything slightly sexual. Nothing is graphic or pornographic, and there is nothing I regret him hearing. I also figure much of it probably went over his head as he has had a rather sheltered life thus far. But after I finished one chapter in particular, I had to pull out my ear buds and comment to my son, "My but you got quite an education with this book!"

"Yeah," he said with a disappointed look on his face. "That chapter was one of the parts I didn't really like."

"Well," I replied. "You can look at it as a sort of an introduction to the health course you have next semester. You've got to learn some of the nuts and bolts of things sooner than later."

He groaned in disgust, then mentioned something about the section in the book where Bryson talks about his teen years.

Oh my.....I can't wait to find out what more he learned from this book!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

New Years Day 2009 marks a big anniversary in our household. 9 years ago today I decided to pull my 2 boys out of school and start homeschooling them. It was a very simple decision to make, though the reality of homeschooling has been anything but simple! But here we are, starting our 10th year of this life, with my oldest ready to graduate in June, and the youngest in 9th grade. How did we get here?

I kept fairly detailed journals of our first few years of homeschooling. It was such a simple and sweet time, sprawling on the floor and reading aloud Greek mythology or all the Harry Potter books (there were only 4 out at the time) while the kids did dive rolls over me. I used to stop reading in a huff, insisting that they weren't paying attention, but they'd give me a very detailed synopsis of the plot proving that audio/kinetic learners do indeed exist.

Life got complicated when the oldest hit middle school, and we had to face the real challenges of all his learning disabilities. Things got even more complicated as my mom's health started to decline and I had to become more and more involved in her care and affairs. That period is such a blur except for the hours I spent reading aloud -- Hound of the Baskervilles, Christmas Carol, Watership Down.

Life is still crazy busy -- I almost titled this blog scatterbrained because that is how I feel some days. But it is a good kind of busy. I'm blogging to keep a record of this special time before the kids fly the coup, and to share with other homeschoolers as we all learn so much from one another.

Happy New Year!