During our “together time” today we read this poem. After running around under bright blue sky, over squishy grass and with the birds all around us, it seemed like a great choice. We read it together from the computer screen so we could all see the poem as well as hear it. A and S were amazed more by the (lack of) structure to the poem, and the “created” vocabulary. Why am I surprised that A instantly made a connection to Pan or fauns?
I have always loved it -and e.e. cummings- for the imagery. Happy Spring.
For the past month or so my boys and I have been living in 1935. In Maycomb, Alabama. We have felt the berating accusations of Mrs. Lafayette Dubose as we walk outside, and my eldest has been mimicking Scout’s thoughtless exclamations, “What the sam hill are you doing?!….But Atticus, he has gone and drowned his dinner in syrup!”
Yes, we have been reading To Kill a Mockingbird, little knowing that this would be the book my boys would read as its author prepares to leave this world. For me, that book was Cry the Beloved Country when Alan Paton died in 1988, my senior year of high school. Both books teach us something about race relations and the innate dignity of humanity. My boys finished the novel on Thursday, Ms. Lee passed away Friday morning, we watched Gregory Peck magnificently portray Atticus Finch that night in our basement, and then we attended our local repertory theater to see the play performed Saturday evening. This week we will be involved in one final project to close out our time with Jem and Jean Louise Finch. They will choose to construct the Radley home, create a storyboard of one of their favorite, meaningful scenes, or write an obituary for one of the book’s deceased characters. I will leave it up to them.
There was occasional complaining this month around the amount of work related to this book, but I am proud of their efforts, especially as they struggled to think through issues. Typically, we would have enjoyed this book together as a read aloud, but five-year-old G presented a problem. Due to the sensitive subject matter, and the fact that he soaks everything up that his brothers are involved in, I decided to have them read the book on their own, working through it at a similar pace. They wrote out definitions to new vocabulary they encountered in the chapters. They composed a few summaries or written narration of sections. They answered comprehension questions either in written form (neat handwriting, complete sentences) or in a discussion forum. We often used the questions found here online. Occasionally, I pulled a quote by Atticus to use as dictation.
We did some preliminary research on the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and Jim Crow laws. We used the few sites where I provide the links here. And we also used this one to learn a bit about the author herself, as well as her childhood friend Truman Capote. My guys had a good time examining the map we found online of fictional Maycomb. They traced the steps Jem would have taken to retrieve his torn overalls, and the route the children may have taken to sneak out after Atticus the night before the trial.
We created a word cloud together with wordle pulling character names, themes and events out of the novel. We discussed and defined concepts like flashbacks, foreshadowing, and Bildungsroman.
Graciously, a semi-retired judge of the Court of Appeals of Indiana, whom we met at our church, willingly ate lunch with my kids, and a couple of other homeschooling families, and talked with them about the law and the United States Constitution. What made this a particularly meaningful meeting was that our friend happened to be African-American and he happened to be raised in the South during the 1940s and 1950s. Not only were our kids able to ask him questions about his family members and personal experiences, but he also took the time and care to impart words of wisdom similar to Atticus Finch’s – always do what is right, there are other ways of handling things when you are angry, and there are proper ways of engaging with people who disagree with you. I am elated our kids were able to take advantage of this opportunity to listen to a live person of this caliber speak of historical and meaningful things. And all I had to do was ask. I am constantly on the move to uncover ways people in our community can help me supplement my children’s education. I am so grateful our friend took the time to share with us.
As my family leaves Maycomb, Alabama, and as the world bids a grateful farewell to Nelle Harper Lee, I pray some of these memories and lessons remain with my children long after the vocabulary lists and written paragraphs are obsolete.
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-” chapter 3
Unknown to the majority of Americans or many outside his home country of Serbia, Jovan Jovanović “Zmaj” wrote patriotic and romantic poems, fables and children’s poetry. “Čika” or Uncle Jova was Serbia’s most beloved poet writing prolifically from the 1850s through the turn of the century, endearing himself to both children and adults. If we could package the feelings Americans once felt for Longfellow and Shel Silverstein, then mix it with Robert Frost and a bit of Jack Prelutsky, we might have an understanding of how much “Uncle” Jova was, and is, loved. Although Jovan Jovanović Zmaj sets the following poem about a little sparrow’s word of gratitude at the waning of winter, the birds about my January feeder put me in mind of this piece. I have searched for its English translation throughout the internet with no success. Even so, I want to share it with you, even if it is only a poor reconstruction. Please forgive my lack of experience in translating poetry. Here “Uncle” Jova reminds us to be kind.
Došao vrabac da nam…. A Sparrow has come to tell us…
Živ, živ, živ! Alive, alive, alive!
Hvala bogu, ja sam jošte živ Thank heavens, I am still alive.
Oprostite, molim lepo, Forgive me, kindly please,
Ako sam vam štogod kriv, If I have somehow wronged you.
Živ, živ, živ! Alive, alive, alive!
Živi bili i vi svi, Long may you all live
Što me niste gonili! Since you have not chased me away
Zima većem prolazi, Winter has largely passed
Proleće nam dolazi, Spring is on its way.
Danas, sutra biće zima Today or tomorrow winter will be
Nama svima za leđima. Behind our backs.
Da ne nađoh oko vaših kuća Had I not found
Lepe sitne hrane, Nice bits of food about your house
Ja bih zimus provodio I would have spent
Vrlo posne dane. Some very lean, winter days
Možda bi mi zeludac Perhaps my stomach would have
O prazninu zapo, Ached from emptiness
A možda bih, sirotan, Or perhaps, poor me,
Od gladi i skapo. I would have collapsed from hunger.
Jeste li vi to meni dali, Whether or not you intentionally fed me,
Il su dari sami pali. Or those gifts fell on their own,
To ne mogu da rasudim I cannot discern
Mojim mozgom malim. With my little mind.
Tek ja, evo, dođoh, Even so, I have just come here
Vama da zahvalim… To thank you….
Nemojte me terati, Don’t send me away,
Ja ću vam pevati. I will sing to you a song.
Ne baš kao slavuj, Not exactly like a nightingale,
Al bolje neg žabac, But better than a frog
Svako peva svojim glasom, Each sings with his own voice,
Wagner’s birdseed with black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts and cracked corn boasts that it will attract the widest variety of birds. I believe it. Dark-eyed juncos, tufted titmice, Northern Cardinals, Starlings, and House Sparrows. House Finches, Nuthatches, Chickadees – A and I have an ongoing conversation about whether these are Black-capped Chickadees or Carolina Chickadees. And an occasional visit from Blue Jays – whom I love regardless of their less than popular ways- Downy Woodpeckers and even a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. They are all fluttering about our feeders in the morning and at noon, which often delays the start of our gathering for morning school work, and prolongs our lunchtime.
But the ones who have surprised me the most are the Robins.
They are still hanging around. I guess I was not aware that not all these harbingers of spring migrate each year to warmer climates. They are certainly appreciative of the bright red berries on the Green Hawthorn(?) tree outside our sun room. All these grainy, poorly focused photos were taken with my phone through the window. All those berries were gulped down by about fifteen Robins in one day!
Scanning the internet for bird quotes, I alighted upon this one.
The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.
How would you even mistake a jay for a sparrow? I realize I do not have a a context for this quote; I randomly pulled it from Goodreads, but I don’t really agree. Neither would Vladimir Nabokov. A likely apocryphal story has a Cornell University student seeking advice as a writer.
“What kind of tree is that?” Nabokov supposedly inquired, gesturing out the window.
“I don’t know,” shrugged the student.
“Then you will never be a writer.” returned Nabokov discouragingly.
Perhaps he meant to say that details are important. The more we know something, the more we have the capacity to love it.
All day the sun has shone on the surface of some savage swamp, where the single spruce stands hung with usnea lichens, and small hawks circulate above, and the chickadee lisps amid the evergreens, and the partridge and rabbit skulk beneath; but now a more dismal arid fitting day dawns, and a different race of creatures awakes to express the meaning of Nature there.
-Henry David Thoreau, from Walden
Whether flitting about the feeder, scratching on the ground or taking shelter in the bushes, I take great delight in the presence of all the birds. I love all their markings, crests and patterns. My children have picked up on feeding patterns and seed preferences. We are even able to predict at what time of day our favorite feathered friends will appear. Each of us has our own favorites. We are cultivating friendships, and there is something joyous about providing for them.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
While I do not want to present any arguments regarding diagnosing historical figures posthumously, or overgeneralize on a topic, or even get hung up in any way on labels, I found some of Tesla’s thoughts intriguing. As I have mentioned in my last post, I have been reading a biography on Nikola Tesla entitled Tesla: The Life and Times of an Electric Messiah by Nigel Hawthorne. Several aspects of his work ethic, idiosyncrasies and, in particular, this following quote made it easy for my mind to drift to another scientist, from today, an agriculturist and spokesperson for autism. Of course, I mean Temple Grandin. Here, I lay their thoughts, separated by nearly one hundred years, parallel to one another.
“…nature has given me a vivid imagination which, through incessant exercise and training through the study of scientific subjects, and the verification of theories through experiment, has become very accurate in results, so that I have been able to dispense, to a large extent, with the slow labour, wasteful and expensive processes of practical development the ideas I conceive…
When I turned my thoughts to inventions, I found that I could visualize my conceptions with the greatest facility. I did not need any models and drawings or experiments, I could do it all in my mind, and I did….When I got an idea, I started right away to build it up in my mind. I changed the structure, I made improvements, I experimented, and I ran the device in my mind.
It is absolutely the same to me whether I place my turbine in my mind or have it in my shop actually running in my test. It makes no difference. The results are the same….I then construct it, and every time my device works as I conceived it would, my experiment comes out exactly as I plan it, and in 20 years there has not been a single, solitary experiment which did not come out exactly as I thought it would.”
-Nikola Tesla on accepting the Edison Medal, New York City on May 18, 1917
“When I was much younger, I assumed that everybody perceived the world the same way I did, that is, that everybody thought in pictures. Early in my professional career I got into a heated verbal argument with an engineer at a meat-packing plant when I told him he was stupid. He had designed a piece of equipment that had obvious flaws to me. My visual thinking gives me the ability to “test-run” in my head a piece of equipment I’ve designed, just like a virtual reality computer system. Mistakes can be found prior to construction when I do this. Now I realize his problem was not stupidity; it was a lack of visual thinking. It took me years to learn that the majority of people cannot do this, and that visualization skills in some people are almost nonexistent.”
With this blog post I send out my best wishes for a happy 2016 to all reading this, and to all those who aren’t. While New Year’s is a holiday which is apparently supposed to inspire us and rejuvenate us with the excitement of a fresh, new year, I often feel tired after the holiday season. Christmas, while a lovely season, is also frenetic at times. Once the shine has dimmed from our new gifts, I often feel weary, heavy-laden with the drudgery of returning to a school/work schedule in the midst of winter. This is even true this year when much of the country is experiencing the mildest winter weather in years. Possibly due to this winter blues, or possibly due to the fact that I tend to rebel against expectations, I have never really made any new year’s resolutions. Usually, I reflect back on how I succeeded with daily Scripture reading. Some years I commit to reading through the Bible chronologically, some years I prefer to concentrate on specific books or themes.
Over the holidays my husband and I have enjoyed cooking together more. Being in the kitchen involved in more intricate, slow-food preparation has been a wonderful way for us to slow down and reconnect. One recipe had us chopping up three and a half pounds of onions, and sautéing them slowly down with a pork shoulder into a thick, rich sauce. The last couple of years I almost exclusively cooked with garlic, whether crushed, minced or in whole cloves, neglecting the onion. The sweet richness of that slow-simmered sauce may have convinced me to bring back the onion to my kitchen in 2016. You might say, I have resolved to do so.
While we continue to go through our own challenges, as I look back on 2015, I recognize so many blessings our family has enjoyed as well as so many things for which to be grateful. However, I have hurt , as I am sure you have, this year as our family witnesses so many friends and loved ones enduring truly difficult times. I long to be a follower of Christ who shares in the troubles of those around us.
Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.
I want to be reminded daily to see through eyes with better vision. To be more focused, loving, prayerful, to seek out ways to serve and to have the wisdom to recognize when and how to do so.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the LORD. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction faithful in prayer. Share with the LORDS’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
And in between the triviality of onions, and the weightiness of greater spiritual vision, there lies the desire to read more. Have you seen the Pinterest photos of armchairs with shelves built in or cozy, airy nooks tucked away in sunlit-drenched rooms? No, I don’t have access to those either. But I have been inspired by Russia’s online live readings of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I don’t believe I have read it in its entirety since I was pregnant with my twelve year old. The hefty volume sits on my bedside table. I look forward to Pierre, Prince Andrej and Natasha, and even to Tolstoy’s philosophical view of history. Please note the translation is by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Reading through Story of the World, volume 4 with my guys has reminded me of another Slavic thinker, Nikola Tesla. While browsing through Half Price Books back a few days prior to Christmas, I ran in to this biography full of photographs and mini bios of his contemporaries. You know Half Price Books, right? That is the books shop chain where you save money because all their merchandise is so cheap, but somehow you invariably drop $50 to $60 each time you walk in? I am about three chapters short of finishing Tesla: The Life and Times of an Electric Messiah by Nigel Cawthorne. While the Serbian visionary’s work ethic and commitment to research is something beyond what I am capable of, it does provide me something to marvel at in the new year.
Do you care to share any resolutions for the new year? Or are there things you are continuing to work on? I would love to hear from you.
“The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.”
May you be still, and at peace. May
you know the message the Angels still sing. May we be like Elisha and his servant whose eyes were opened to perceive the ancient heavenly armies about him (2 Kings 6:17). May our ears likewise be opened to hear the angels sing.
Peace. Good news. Joy to the world.
He has come!
Someone asked me a day or two ago if my kids were getting antsy during our school time, ready for Christmas. I laughed out of frustration, admitted they were and questioned why in the world they should be. I mean, we took a large chunk of time off in November, going to Florida earlier in the month, and then spending a week down south at Oma’s and Opa’s. But it’s true. When there is an impending holiday, it IS hard to keep your nose to the grind stone, regardless of how much time you have had off previously.
We are struggling to teach new concepts at this point, and are basically treading water. My attempts at simplifying include possibly cutting grammar down to one more lesson until the new year (or possibly out altogether until after the new year). This is both for their sanity’s sake as well as my own. We are plodding through with math, happily continuing with volume four of Story of the World, and doing bits of reading and answering questions for science. I hope the older two are enjoying our Christmas read alouds, as well as the novels they are reading on their own.
As for my five-year-old G, he drifts in and out of our read aloud, depending on the story. He and I always read at bedtime. Currently, we are making our way slowly through Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Sometimes he wants to read out loud to me, but will only do so if it is Honus and Me by Dan Gutman, a book series A enjoyed a few years ago. The last week or so he is constantly trying to escape from me. He wants to play by himself, or most often with S. He has become increasingly more difficult to find in a compliant frame of mind for anything having to do with kindergarten curriculum. I think he needs a break from me. I am trying not to burden him with too many “have tos” this month.
Today after building with our citiblocs and our calendar time I let him play alone, collected paper and cookie cutters, and invited him back to make an advent calendar.
Don’t judge. We are not a crafty bunch here, and this was a spur of the moment thing. He chose the gingerbread man shape. We’ll remove one figure from the stairway each night before going on up to bed. Only two more weeks! In the meantime, we wait…
We wait for cookies and friends, for outings about town and unwrapping presents. We wait. Just as so many people have waited throughout the years for an answer, a lightening of their loads, waiting with anticipation and trepidation and waiting in faith.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to…live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope- the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ..
If someone were to ask me what my favorite topics are during our homeschool day, I would have to include history, but the read alouds are by far my favorite. Even before we began homeschooling, even before I began bandying about the term “read aloud,” well, really long before my boys were even crawling, we have read together. While there are many wonderful academic and professional articles explaining the benefits of reading aloud to our children, the most profound reason for me is the shared vocabulary and language we acquire together. By this I do not exactly mean that we learn new vocabulary words together, or write down definitions from a dictionary, but rather our hearts speak the same language because we have traveled together through the pages of historical fiction, biographies, fantasies, allegories and adventures.
There are times when a single word conveys more than if one of us had spent dozens of words describing a scene. How powerful and fraught with meaning the following:
C A I R P A R A V E L
the unbreakable vow
churning butter with Ma
“All’s well that ends well.” coxswain landlubber
“no good, dirty rotten, pig-stealing great great grandfather.”
S T A Y G O L D.
You may or may not recognize all these references. I know my boys will certainly know the context and significance of each and every one. And if we are having a bad day, or we need a quick reminder of our bond, if we want to explain a correlation, or illustrate a similarity, we have the common (literary) language with which to do so.
Like most years, I am finding this season hectic. In looking for a balance between a manageable school load, and maintaining a home, it is difficult to determine what is necessary. Although I refuse to give up read alouds, I wasn’t sure we would have the stamina to begin a fresh book at this time of year. So, what follows is our list of seasonal short stories and excerpts, nearly all set at the Christmas season.
We have only read a few so far, and who knows in what order we will share them, but here is our Christmas 2015 read aloud list (not including our advent reading, of course). These are stories hand picked in hopes of promoting a true spirit of generosity, goodness, kindness and compassion that may long carry my boys past the holiday season. Admittedly, it is a challenge to find read alouds simple enough for the five year old, yet engaging enough for the 12 and 13 year olds. The following list combines some tales with thought provoking stories with complex vocabulary for the older two, as well as simpler stories which should be nostalgic for them. If someone barely in their teens can feel nostalgia.
As we recall these stories we might contrast Scrooge with Stefan Avdeyitch. We may see similarities in Jo March and Anne Shirley. Whatever may come out of our reading, I hope it will ignite dialog and bind us closer together. I hope you enjoy this list, or create one of your own. Please share if you do.
God bless us, everyone!
CHRISTMAS Reading list 2015:
1.”Where Love Is, God is There Also” by Leo Tolstoy. Technically, this is not a Christmas story, but it does take place in the winter. It quotes so much from the Gospel of Luke and Matthew and concentrates on love for mankind that it exudes the spirit of Christmas without naming it. This is not a children’s story, but one that older children should be able to appreciate. I can hardly make it through the poor cobbler’s tale without my voice cracking at least a bit at the end.
2. Elves and the Shoemaker by Paul Galdone. A classic.
3. from All of a Kind Family Downtown, “Christmas Stockings” by Sydney Taylor. I adored this book series growing up and learned so much about the practices of Jewish holidays from them. Henny and Charlotte were my favorites, but I also harbored a special love toward Guido, their Italian neighbor.
4. “Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. When I was about A’s age I began saving birthday money and allowances to purchase leather bound books with gold pages. Dickens. Poe. R.L. Stevenson. And finally O. Henry. This Christmas classic is both sad and heart warming. It’s the one where the poor, young couple both get what they want for Christmas…sort of.
5. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien. I have written about this collection last year. These letters, which the fantasy writer wrote to his children as they were growing up each Christmas, are poignant, in keeping with the times and laugh out loud funny. Hints of his trilogy abound. Goblins appear and make trouble. Polar Bear inevitably saves the day…and the toys.
6. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. No explanation needed. No matter how many movie or play versions you have seen, the original is superb.
7. from Little House on the Prairie, “Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There are many wonderful Christmas stories from this entire pioneer series, but for some reason this one has always been my guys’ favorite.
8. “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote. Sad , sweet, poignant and almost lyrical in his writing, Capote recounts for us a piece of his childhood long gone. Largely neglected in a small town in Alabama, he and his elderly cousin set out to make fruitcakes for their acquaintances. As a bonus I found this lovely illustrated edition at our library. Even with the lengthy text, it held even G’s interest.
9. from Anne of Green Gables, “Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves” by L. M. Montgomery. Because boys know what it is like to want something so badly, too.
10. “The Burglar’s Christmas” by Willa Cather. A surprising ending. A family reunion. The meaning of grace.
11. from Little Women, “Playing Pilgrims” and “A Merry Christmas” by Louisa May Alcott. Jo and Marmee. Because we may all have presents at Christmas, but there is always something more.
Growing up I think I had this perception of heaven as the perfecting of all things. God would somehow smooth over all wrongs done. We would forget about any pain we had experienced, and we ourselves would instantaneously, miraculously be perfected, no longer with struggles or any of our former shortcomings. Now, I am not so sure that this is the case.
Last time on this blog I shared my thoughts on why I am thankful I don’t feel a complete sense of belonging in any one location. If this is true, I pray it is because my true home, my eternal home, is still not fully realized. If I want to recognize it as home it may be that I need to have more than hope in God magically transforming me, but also in a focused plan to hope in the fact that he is transforming me even now. If I am disciplining my heart to think and feel with the heart of God, then it may be that eternity will be as recognizable and comfortable to me when I arrive as if I truly do belong. In a sense our change will occur in “the twinkling of an eye,” (I Corinthians 15:52) but its beginnings are here in the midst of the mundane here on earth. Our steps toward wholeness or perfection begin now, incrementally.
Therefore I….urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received.
Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.
Eternity starts now. Let’s get ready. I am preparing my heart for it now so it will not seem foreign to me then.
See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.
Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.