“…For it has no virtue that we know of, save perhaps to sweeten a fouled air, or to drive away some passing heaviness.”


Filed under: Journal — June 29, 2013 @ 1:21 am

I’m moving over to a new blog, though I’m keeping the Athelas name for now, at least.    I kept fighting, but really, I hardly can justify calling this blog a homeschooling one any more.       Yet I don’t want to give up the kind of sporadic blogging I’ve been doing here, either, thus the move.  I only mention it because I know at least a couple of people still visit here from time to time, so just in case they want to follow me, here’s the opportunity.


Filed under: Journal — June 3, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

I see I stopped posting here in early May, just around the time life got quite busy.    The 11th my daughter graduated, the 18th she married a fine young man, and the 25th she and her new husband stopped by our house after their honeymoon to celebrate Aidan’s birthday early with him.    Then they went to the other coast to start their new life, and we started packing to go up to Oregon.   In between these life events were various other comings and goings, so it has just been busy, and I haven’t sat down to write much.

Yesterday my brother and niece came down from Portland to visit us.  We went to Elmer’s, and then to see a matinee of Iron Man 3.     I so rarely watch movies, and even more rarely on a big screen.      So ever since then whenever I am not actively thinking about something else, I keep getting movie flashbacks.     Like at Mass this morning, whenever I closed my eyes to pray, I got a mental image of a scene from the movie.    Rather distracting.   The mass commemorated the martyrdom of the Ugandan martyrs Charles Lwanga and 21 others.    In that respect, I suppose, violent and dramatic movies put me in touch (even unrealistically) with real things I would otherwise have no access to, living my calm middle-class life.    Charles Lwanga and his companions died in flames because they would not forsake their chastity.     That battle is already lost for poor Tony Stark, of course, but superheroes do fight to save their cities from evil, even if the lines are drawn quite differently.    At the same time they do battle to preserve their integrity and their own inner self, though not on the same front as the saints and martyrs.    In that sense, superhero movies seem to remind me of how things really are, and even the simplicity of the choices are reflective of how simple, yet difficult, moral choice often is in real life.      My life is more like Prufrock’s, but that seems like a disguise for how things really are, much more fiery and dramatic than it would appear.

Another reason I haven’t been posting recently on here, besides busy-ness, is that what I end up writing about often has so little to do with homeschooling per se.      You can definitely see that here.

After the movie,  we had dinner (Hawaiian — Aidan loves noodles) and sang Happy Birthday to Aidan and gave him his birthday cake.  He insisted on candles as an essential part of a birthday cake, and we did not have candles or even matches.    The solution was a thin roll of cardboard lit on the gas stove.    Aidan seemed provisionally satisfied, though somewhat bemused.

I am trying to improve my reading.  For the last couple of months I have been mostly reading Kindle free fiction.    Now I am trying to resume my Great Books reading project, which I do every summer.    I am struggling through Dante’s Paradiso and finding it rather hard going.


Filed under: Journal — May 4, 2013 @ 10:43 am

I probably have done it before, but this is the first year I can remember having a visual picture of how I want our homeschool to go.    It made organizing way easier, because any idea I came up with I could check against my “vision”, which was quite literally a picture.    It’s hard to describe the picture, though — it’s sunny and quiet. … visually quiet.  It encouraged me to get rid of a lot of the visual busy-ness of the house, and the general effect is so much more peaceful-looking to me.  I can see something out of order right away.

I am pretty much done with the overall Big Picture organizing of the house.  Left for later are the older kids’ rooms, which I can’t really work on until summer or fall, and little things like actually cleaning (!) .   I haven’t really gotten to the closets and pantry yet, either, or the entryway.   But the main spaces of the house are quite a bit different.

After I have been working hard on a project for several days, I find it hard to move back to normal pace.   There seems to be some time when I am just spinning wheels.   I think it is probably a cue to do something relaxing and recreational, but my interior seems to want to keep going with the project even after my intuition tells me it’s time for a pause.   I suppose it is simply Newton’s Law that a body resists change whether slowing down or speeding up.

Paddy’s last baseball game is today.  There are a few after-season events that will follow.  I am not sure how many of them he will get to go to.   Graduation and wedding are coming up very shortly now, so we are phasing into the exciting part of this spring.

Perhaps the best thing to do in these transition moments is a kind of retreat or spiritual re-fortification, especially since I know that the pace is going to step up again very quickly.

We school year round now, because it is the best way I know of keeping myself consistent, but our year technically “ends” in May and the next year starts in June/July.    I am using this May as a sort of trial run of some changes I want to make in how we do things.

Two of the boys have stepped on sharp metal things left over from my DIY restoration of our old sofa.    So yesterday we researched tetanus, among other things.

I signed up for CSA membership this year for the first time.   When you do this, you pay up front for the season (7 months, here) and then you get a weekly box of locally grown, organic produce.   This Thursday was our first pick-up and we got lettuce, strawberries, kale, carrots, and collard greens (as you might expect).     The site identifies your produce (necessary for me! I knew kale but was unfamiliar with the look of collards) and suggests recipes.  But of course it’s also easy to find recipes for anything online.  And most vegetables fall into types so you generally know what you can do with them.  Almost anything can be stir-fried or sauteed or put into a salad, and the more solid vegetables can be roasted or grilled or put into a stew.

Yesterday I just sauteed the collards with shrimp, onions and garlic and it wasn’t bad, like spinach but not quite as slimy.   I crave dark green leafy vegetables, no doubt because of my midlife status, so I don’t think it will be hard at all to get through our weekly box, even though Aidan and Kevin are the only other family members likely to be interested in a brand new vegetable.   The carrots are huge and I will probably either make a stew or else make some bread/cake with them.

Some other time I want to talk about some books I have been reading but for now this post is getting too long.


Filed under: Journal — April 29, 2013 @ 11:04 am

Still very busy working around the house.  Dust is flying — unfortunately, its natural tendency is to attack before fleeing, like a multitude of tiny bomber planes.

I have basically finished the bookshelves, except for some internal ordering into series, etc.   I boxed quite a few books, perhaps half of our collection?   I took out the books that I bought “for a purpose” that no one has ever gotten particularly interested in of their own volition.   My intention is to rotate them out.   Meanwhile, the books that are left are of three kinds: (1) childhood classics that have indeed been read and loved in the past, like Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Wizard of Oz; (2) ordinary wholesome childrens’ books of this century, like the Narnia books and the Prydain Chronicles (3) the semi-silly kind of contemporary stuff that the kids somehow acquire, like Magic Tree House and Artemis Fowl, which they are fond enough of that I won’t kick them out of the house yet.    Also a few non-fiction accessible books like Step Into Reading series.

Then I divided them into two shelves:  one for older kids (like Artemis Fowl, also the Ranger’s Apprentice series and Redwall series) and one for picture books, easy readers, and books for grade schoolers, like The Moffats, Mrs Piggle Wiggle, etc.

Pictures would help here — perhaps I will post about this on my main blog.

I cleared a space in the loft for a future schoolroom area.  I decided that one of our big focus challenges is that our homeschooling is so sprawled out over the house.    Sure, learning happens everywhere, but focused study needs an environment.  That is one big take-away from several books I’ve read recently.  Environment is key.  You want to set up the triggers to make it easier to do good things.



Filed under: Journal — April 26, 2013 @ 7:34 pm

I am going to try — the verb being the operative word — to turn my thoughts to homeschooling more on here.   That of course includes everything up to the kitchen sink, but I think I’ve lost sight of my original intention to work out educational things on here.

This week I have spent more hours poring over Pinterest than I ever have before.   Mostly I was checking out how people arrange their books and how their study spaces look.     I think it’s overwhelming looking for what I “should” do but inspiring looking for what I “could” do.    A phoneme can make such a difference.

Everything is so different when imagination is involved.   I noticed that when I was organizing.  If I have a sort of vision of what I want, I just fly through the work necessary.    Again, I noticed it this week with Paddy’s schoolwork.  If I let us make the subject our own thing, it comes together; whereas if I try to do it according to a prescription, it doesn’t have life.

Checklists are still useful, but as reminders of what is possible or what we are building on.

I think part of the difference this week is simply getting up to a good accumulation of light and warmth, plain and simple.

This week Paddy did a bit of everything, but not a whole set of anything.  He is reading way more (probably because I dismantled the bookshelves and so he rediscovered old favorites).     I rearranged the dining room table so while he is reading he can look out at the deck where the squirrels and birds are feeding, and I just put a nice sized basket down there to contain his piles of reading so it looks nicer and stays crumb-free.

I have been finding that having a topic in mind for each “subject”, like a sort of golden thread, helps us to keep things informal yet not scattered, and mastery-oriented rather than “working the workbook”.    Plus, in re-reading Ignatian Education in the Home, I am noticing that having a goal really does make sense, even though those “framed objectives” in the public school lesson plans are stultifying.   For example, when he is doing copywork, my goal is mostly building handwriting fluency and partly getting word and sentence rules internalized, and partly having memorable and/or content-related sentences to dwell upon.  So knowing those goals reminds me to keep it simple and short (while he is still needing practice with formation) and choose copywork that is interesting and often related to what we are reading.



Filed under: Journal — April 26, 2013 @ 9:36 am

The weather has been quite warm, and I have had so much energy.     This morning I woke up before 4 and was too restless to try to go back to sleep.    Instead, I refolded clothes in my chest of drawers (in the bathroom so my husband could sleep), and then folded laundry before devotions time.

The past few days I have been in cleaning/ shuffling mode.    I have multiple plans for the house.  The only real stricture is how much money I want to spend.   If you have a cheap old file cabinet that you bought in your first few years of marriage, and it still holds things even though one of the facings is broken off, should you really replace it?  My answer is generally no.     So we have a distressed-furniture look in our house that has nothing to do with shabby chic.    But recently I have been browsing Pinterest and such places trying to see if I can repurpose – renovate some of our old stuff.     And also,  what’s at the back of my mind is focal points.    When I look out over our bookshelves,  it looks basically like a bunch of folders in my MS Word.  Just flat and non-hierarchical.     There must be some way to emphasize some parts and minimize other parts so there is a coherent visual statement.  Yet it has to make enough intuitive sense to me that I don’t completely forget what we have around the house.   And dust makes me sneeze.    Some of these books I am pulling out are VERY dusty.    Is it right to have books that get covered with dust because they are rarely actually taken out?

It is a good thing I organized Paddy’s school folder at the beginning of this week because that has been what has kept us doing at least bits and pieces.

I have also been browsing pictures of homeschool classrooms; since I am questioning the purpose of all our arrangements around here, it’s a good time to look at what I would like to see our learning spaces look like.

rolling carpets and rocks

Filed under: Journal — April 23, 2013 @ 1:18 am

Today was a nice day.   I am tired, though!    Kevin took the older boys south so they could all get fitted for their tuxes for the wedding.   They left pretty early, so I just had Paddy and Aidan at home, which was very unusual.  It’s even weirder to think that for most moms in my area, having boys that age at home, or indeed, being home myself, would be quite unusual.

Liam is going to be 27 soon, and in those almost 10,000 days since he was born I really don’t remember a single day when I have been alone in the house!   One thinks there must have been at least one, but I think I would remember the occasion!  I usually feel quite alone when I have “just” the youngest 2 kids when Kevin takes the rest away, and even that is fairly rare.   A few times I have had just one with me.

But that wasn’t what I was going to say.    When I found out that our car wasn’t going to be out of the shop until late tomorrow (Kevin had the rental) I cancelled our various appointments for the day and settled in to an at-home day.   The weather was absolutely perfect.  It was warm outside, but not hot.

I worked with Paddy a little, having him do some math at ThatQuiz and his piano practice, but mostly it was an unschooling day.  Not all days where nothing happens I consider unschooly, because sometimes they just seem like days where nothing got donel.   But today Paddy and I squeezed oranges to make orange juice, we worked on fractions, he told me he reread Life of Fred yesterday (we finished reading it together and he took it off to bed with him).   He got out the old Catholic Treasure Boxes and read through them.  He volunteered to help me with the dishes.

We also played XBox baseball together.  I rarely play computer games with the kids, and I do mean rarely.   So he had to talk me into it.   And then the only reason I agree was because I felt sort of sorry for him since he didn’t have his normal crowd of siblings and his normal baseball and piano activities.  But the reason this baseball experience struck me as unschooly was that computer games put me in the role of the learner and him in the role of mentor.     I could tell that some of my reluctance to play was because I had things to do and because I sort of think computer games are a waste of time, but I could tell some of my reluctance was that sheer anxiety about trying something new, where I might, you know.  Fail.

So I played.  And it turned out to be fun.   I don’t worry about getting addicted to video games, because they are high stress for me, not fun.  My speed of a computer game is this geography app I have on my Nexus.   It quizzes you sequentially on different things like continents, oceans, countries of Europe, etc.    That is the kind of game I like, the kind where it depends on memory and quick academic thinking and you play it alone, so no pressure.   And the kind you can pick up for five minutes and drop again as easily.

But that’s not really better than liking open-ended thinking and strategy and competition.     The games the boys like are more immersive.   That is not in all ways a bad thing.

I guess I am thinking about this subject because I woke up worrying (again) about the younger ones spending more time than they should in front of a screen.  With a computer game designer Dad and adored older brother who is also a game programmer, it is a reality that games are high interest around here (they basically never watch TV except occasionally at other peoples’ houses, because we don’t have it here, and they go on and off movie-watching, like recently they only have watched a couple of movies since Clare left in late early March –  but games are sort of a constant).

So I went and googled “limiting screen time” and found some strategies that I might try, but the main purpose for the research was just to re-brace myself.  Setting screen limits, if you allow any screens in your house at all (and here, as I explained, it’s a done deal) is rather Sisyphean.   You will be pushing that same rock back up the hill again.  It’s like keeping the chore thing going.  Mostly you know what you have to do, but you might go hunting on the internet looking for a new outlook just to get you motivated enough to get back on track.

I think it was a bit easier with the older kids, because there was only dial-up Internet.    So screen time was considerably more delineated.     All the older kids are pretty moderate about their screen time, and use it well.

I gave the closet under the stairs a thorough cleaning.  I got everything out of there, and took everything out of the chest of drawers in there, and cleaned it and put it in Sean’s room so he would have a good place for his clothes.

And I vacuumed, and rolled up the carpets, and moved the furniture, and swept the deck thoroughly, and went through my clothes and got a bagful of discards, and brought out the warm-weather clothing.   SO I guess spring cleaning  has officially started.  It was nice to work hard and get tired.  I always enjoy doing this kind of thing and make plans to do it regularly, but then it doesn’t happen for a long time.  I wonder why that is.

delineate and define

Filed under: Journal — April 19, 2013 @ 8:40 pm

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.  -Thomas Jefferson

I have not bought a dress besides at a thrift store for close to 3 decades now!    But I feel that a child’s wedding is a proper occasion for a new dress.  So today I spent a rather stressful morning seeing what ModCloth (recommendation from a friend), Kohl’s (another friend suggestion) and Amazon (my trusty starter resource) had to show in the way of mother-of-the-bride garments not necessarily intended for determinedly youthful Hollywood actresses and their wannabes.

I did find this cool little online shop:  HolyClothing.    I am not sure what the name indicates, but if I chose a garment from this shop, I would also easily be able to travel through time into a Victorian Gothic castle without looking too weird, and I might be able to pass all right if we get transported to Middle Earth.   And I would be eco-friendly.   And I could wear the outfit to the local Renaissance Faire in the summer.  All wins for sure.

The only problem is that some of their nicest dresses only come in large and extra-large, and I am still more like a medium.   However, this is a nice problem for a change.  All the other dresses at Amazon and elsewhere made me picture myself as a walrus wearing a ballerina outfit.

After this virtual window-shopping spree, feeling disquieted, I went and made waffles for the boys.

We got a late start, but did all right in our living books type mode.  Paddy keeps wanting me to read more Life of Fred: Fractions.    We read some last night and quite a bit more this morning.    He wanted to take it away to read it himself but I told him that he could do that after we go through it together (this is what the author recommends).      I don’t know how much he is learning about fractions but he is having a good time and so far most of the concepts are review anyway.

We read more of Minimus, discovering that not all the words used are defined in the little glossary next to the cartoon dialogues.    I do not know if this is a flaw in the book, or if it is planned that way to make you try to guess what the words might mean.

Either way, this is definitely the inductive approach.    But my research indicates that Latin used to be taught inductively AND deductively both.  The Jesuits started speaking wholly Latin in class while teaching formal grammar as well.

Just about the time that purists started insisting on teaching only deductive grammar, the classical languages took a mortal blow in the classroom.    They retired to a graveyard in academe with everything else that is reduced wholly to paradigms.

James Taylor in Poetic Knowledge recommends reviving Latin by actually using it.   So Minimus is pedagogically sound by this standard though not sufficient, I believe, because to learn well inductively, you have to immerse yourself in it for hours a day, not just for a few minutes.  The paradigmatic approach gives you more mileage in less time; it’s just that when divorced from context, it doesn’t enter the interior.

I think that is another way to say Charlotte Mason’s principle that education is the science of relations.

Kevin had gone shopping, so when he came home all the boys were assigned to unloading and putting away.

I told Paddy there might be some homework since we didn’t get to everything.      I think Kieron did everything on his list though.

Tomorrow Paddy has a baseball game.  He has had a hit at each of the last three games.    I hope his trend continues.

living books for math and language

Filed under: Journal — April 18, 2013 @ 11:20 am

Cold, cold, cold.  Most of the snow melted yesterday, but there is still some on our deck.    I think it is supposed to get way warmer in the next few days.

I was feeling like I was getting too introspective on this blog again, but when I look back at the last few posts,  I see it isn’t quite as bad as I thought.  Still, I am resolving to get back to writing about homeschooling and less about the interior landscape.   I think because I have comments disabled and this is such a small blog, I fool myself into thinking no one is reading, but that is probably not true, and I am sure inner-psychology stuff gets boring fast.  Sorry about that.

We phased back into academics yesterday after a brief hiatus.     Well, we did do a bit on Monday as well.    On Monday Paddy decided that his division review from Math Mammoth was too simple and made up his own problems using decimals.  I am not sure where he learned about decimals.   Kevin says he may have showed him.  I guess.     Anyway, “making up his own” makes me wonder if you can have math narration.  Surely?   Something to try in future.  Paddy does better at everything if he can go creative.

On Monday I also realized that new things are way more likely to happen around here if I can associate them with a living book.  For example, grammar is actually happening this year because of Mary’s Grammar.

So I applied this yesterday to Math and Latin.    We read a chapter of Minimus and a chapter of Life of Fred:  Fractions.    Actually, two chapters of LOF at his request.    I had finally bitten the bullet and laid out the money for a set of LOF books.    They are the middle school ones and end up covering not just middle school math but also economics, biology and physics.  How could I lose?

I wasn’t totally sure the approach would work.   My older kids disliked books that mixed academic stuff with humor or even a storyline.   And I am of two minds about LOF.   The author is genuinely very smart and seems to really enjoy his storyline; I don’t get the sense that he is trying to patronize.   I think he is genuinely someone who doesn’t think math should be horribly procedural and abstract from actual life, and so he tries to place it in a context of an (absurd) story.   But I wasn’t sure if his kind of quirky energy would work for Paddy.  Apparently he liked it, though.

We are not going to do the “Your Turn to Play” unless Paddy wants to, though.    Instead, I am continuing with Saxon and various types of drill for the math facts and “algorithms” (as Saxon calls them).

My goal with LOF is to give him some breaks from the endless drill of these late-grammar years, and to let him see how math applies to actual life.

I also got a book on Japanese for Kieron.   Reading on the web, it looked like Adventures in Japanese was the gold standard.   So I bought that one.    It looks really nice.   I used to long to learn Japanese after my class did a unit study on it in 5th grade.   I may work on it myself.    It doesn’t just talk about the language but about social conventions in Japan and how they are reflected in the language.    For example, it instructs you on how to bow when you are introducing yourself to someone.

Finally, I got Kieron a book on manga drawing.  Not very classical.  But liberal, I suppose.      He has been watching Mark Crilley’s “how to draw” series on Youtube.

Off now to bring in the SUV for some tune-up and repair.    In spite of the snow, we must have faith that warmer weather is on its way, because we are having the snow tires changed off.   I hope we are not wrong (cue ominous double-note).

working from the corner and sides

Filed under: Journal — April 17, 2013 @ 11:34 am

Yesterday we drove down south to do some wedding-related things.   It was fun to see Clare (who had a spring cold) and we got the necessary things done and had lunch at the local Irish pub where we have become semi-regulars.   We drove a rental compact because our regular SUV is having brake issues.

While we were gone, Sean was texting us pictures of the outdoors.  It was snowing!  It snowed about 3 inches and this morning it is still cold enough so that the snow remains on the trees.   I am shivering constantly.

The house looks a little more orderly after I spent time Monday puttering around and straightening and putting away.  It is still somewhat like a pet gone feral, though.  It looks me in the eye and growls gently under its breath and backs away when I try to approach it.    So to speak.   Some wrestling is going to be required to get it back in hand.   In the meantime, and as a preliminary, I will continue to do little things in little bits of time.   That way, you get momentum and pre-solve some of the problems that otherwise would remain or grow.

That is my general mode right now… chip away at the corners and edges.   It is like browning a frozen block of ground beef.  You simmer it, turn it over, scrape the browned part, push at the corners.   Then eventually it’s basically a done deal.

I have been working hard on a mental reshuffling and ordering of Everything in My Life.     Every day I brainstorm on what I am doing now in a given area, what I would like to be doing, and how to get from here to there.    After lots of work I have a kind of clarity.    I hope I can distill it into words enough so that it is a guide for the times when I lose clarity.   I have learned that my capacities are inconsistent so on my journey, sometimes I’m walking in bright light, sometimes in dusk, and sometimes in deep fog, where even the brightest light just rebounds back at me and doesn’t illuminate.   So during the brighter times, I have to set things up so I can continue to operate somewhat during the times of no visibility.

I think it would paradoxically be easier if I didn’t have so many blessings.   Yesterday in the car Kevin and I were listening to Great Courses History of Religion in America.   We are up to modern times and the last lecture was on Religion in the Affluent Society (of the 50′s up to recent years).     In spite of the fact that we have a modest income, I am affluent in that I have multiple children to enrich my life, lots of roles to juggle (and I could even have more if I didn’t have trouble managing even the basic ones), and lots of resources.  I have a great mental life.   I am not bragging about being smart, since I am well aware my brain has multiple limitations, but learning itself has always been fascinating and in fact compelling to me.  I am very rarely bored — always have many things to do without even moving from my chair.    It would take thousands of years to learn all I would like to learn.

These are all good things, but I have trouble encompassing them all in my temporal framework of 24/7×52 per year.      And unfortunately, almost half of those hours are necessary for downtime, and though downtime has riches of its own, and everything else would become hectic and meaningless without it,  it does involve pausing.     Those multiple things have to quiet down and wait respectfully at the door, which means they tend to accumulate before I get to them again.

Everybody but the squirrels in the roof is still asleep.  I feel like going back to sleep myself.  It is so cold.