What do you DO when you do School? Part 2 – The Deskwork

Deskwork is what we do after we finish reading together each morning. Simple.

It seems this should be a very short post, because in theory the key to success with deskwork is captured quite eloquently in the three words of the old Nike slogan, “Just do it.” It really is that simple. I’ve been telling my boys this for the entire ten years that they’ve spent testing alternative approaches. Thankfully the pace of investigating other methods has slowed in recent years, and the Nike hypothesis has actually taken on the quality of a plausible theory in their minds, but what a struggle! Somehow written work still stimulates them to let their thoughts soar beyond the bounds of the curriculum… to things like what’s outside the window, or in the pantry, or on the calendar for next week…anything but the work at hand. Apparently the problem with “just do it” is that “it” is work, and most humans, including moms, don’t embrace work without a struggle.

However, I’ve come to believe that dealing the attitude toward school work is more important than dealing with the work itself, especially if you want to keep your sanity through years of educating your children at home. As moms we shouldn’t shrink from insisting that children learn to work and work heartily. Sending them into the world with a sense that work is optional or that everything has to be fun is setting them up for failure…and it’s just plain wrong. The ability to knuckle down and study independently is a gift beyond measure, but cultivating it requires firm resolution, wise planning, and diligent training of the mind and heart…which is hard work for moms.

Of course, all of this work must begin with some organization. I try to plan assignments for the entire school year down to at least the weekly level during the summer. I do this because my own biggest struggle is follow-through, and if I don’t have a plan, we don’t get far into October before good intentions slither into oblivion and students disappear to play quietly out of earshot while I’m distracted. I start by figuring out when we’re going to start and end our year, and when we’re going to take breaks. Then I simply take the days that are designated for school and divide the work between them as evenly as possible. For example, if our math curriculum has 140 lessons and we have about 180 days, I schedule four lessons per week until the lessons run out. If the grammar book has 300 pages then I schedule two pages per day until we reach the end. Some subjects like science, don’t divide quite as neatly, but I usually find that someone more detail-oriented than myself has kindly posted a 36-week plan on the internet that I can copy. When and how you put the plan on paper isn’t important – but it should be in writing as a means of two-way accountability. If you and your children both know what needs to be done when you all leave the living room, you’ve passed the first point at which your day can implode. You’re on to making it happen, which has plenty of potential for prayer opportunities.

Everything sounds wonderful while I troll through curriculum reviews and try to decide how to squeeze all of the “must-dos” into our schedule. Unfortunately, when the year begins we often run into very real limitations regarding our capacity to follow through. In the thick of daily struggles, it can be difficult to tell whether the problem is laziness, distaste for the subject, or a genuine lack of ability. Because it’s hard to tell in the heat of the moment, my policy is that if I have said that it will be done today – it will be. I wade in and help, and I may adjust tomorrow’s or next week’s work if I feel we really have a problem with ability to complete the scheduled tasks, but I’ve learned that ditching an assignment in the middle – however grateful my children may seem – only fuels their ambition to squirm out of assignments on another day and tanks my whole planning process. Standing firm is worth it for the day …although it may be a very long day. I’ve been down both forks in this road too many times…and I’ve tried all kinds of stop gap solutions. I’m slowly but surely coming to grips with the fact that it’s better to start with a practical plan than to shoot for the moon and set the precedent of leaving work undone because everyone is overwhelmed. When children are wondering, “Does this really have to be done?” we as moms need to make sure that our “yes is a yes.” For me this has often meant choosing a different curriculum than what I consider ideal, or skipping a subject that I think all the really cool homeschoolers do – like Latin. As I plan what we will try to accomplish for the year, I now try consider how much time each subject should take my child, and how much of my time will be required each day for all of my children combined. If either total is too high something has to give, no matter how much it makes me feel like they’re missing out on something fabulous.

Not only is it critical to make sure the work is done, but most of it also needs to be corrected in a timely manner. This becomes an even bigger factor when your children finally gain the independence to just head to their desks and knock out their assignment sheet – which does eventually happen. My husband often quotes the wise Army mantra that “what gets checked gets done,” but checking work is the bane of my homeschooling journey. Correcting assignments and holding my children to a reasonable standard of excellence rather than mediocrity in their work is mind-numbing. I don’t ever feel like doing it, and too often through the years I haven’t. Unfortunately, when I indulge my laziness my children do likewise, which means that I’m training them to be lazy. Lazy is not good. I have to repeat to myself, “Six days you shall labor and do all of your work…”

If you’re still reading you probably agree that getting the work done and corrected is important, but you’re thinking: “HOW? HOW do you pin down a tornado, a hurricane, a thunderstorm or even a fluffy white cloud drifting over the trees and get it in a chair? HOW do you ACTUALLY make kids SIT DOWN and DO their work – never mind the attitude?”

Well…here’s what it looked like on a good day when my son who is now closing on 6’3″ was in kindergarten…does that help?

I know…trust me; I understand the struggle far too well! Some children escape into daydreams, some can’t seem to stay seated, some rush through carelessly, some freeze in concern over perfection, and at some point almost all of them decide to fight the perceived oppression with whining, manipulation, and tantrums. The first challenge is discerning whether the issue you’re dealing with is innocent immaturity or laziness and rebellion against the work that needs to be done.

In my experience, maturity issues seem to resolve through training with controlled options…and of course…time. Innocent daydreamers may simply need gentle reminders to come back to the real world as their minds are being trained to focus, but if you can’t sit down and patiently keep pointing to the next problem; then present them with an option that helps them cope while still enforcing good work habits. For example you might say, “I can see that you’re intent on thinking about other things right now, so I’m going to take away your math book and set the timer for five minutes because we don’t want to build the habit of daydreaming while you should be working. You are free to think about whatever you’d like, but you may not get up from your chair, talk to anyone, or have your math back until the timer goes off.” Likewise, children who can’t sit still may actually need the option to move for a while, but that doesn’t mean that they should be allowed to run off and do whatever they want, because they should still be training to focus on work. I had one son so fidgety that I gave him the standing option to go jump on a mini-trampoline in the other room until he could come back to his work. Sometimes he got in 30-40 minutes of serious cardio before he was able to sit down and focus, but when the jumping stopped he had to be back at his work. As he matured, he needed the trampoline less and less and has turned out to be a student with incredible focus. If you feel you might be dealing with a developmental barrier regarding deskwork, my advice is to pray for wisdom regarding whether you need to back off and/or offer a controlled alterative. With gentleness and patience you will likely be astounded at how quickly they make up “lost” ground when they’re ready.

This is what my trampoline champ looked like a decade ago in a rare pre-school moment of concentration while sitting still.

Maturity issues are cute in hindsight. However, if a bad attitude seems to be the root of the problem, different measures are in order. The biblical standards that we seem to apply most during our homeschooling days include: children honoring and obeying their parents, telling the truth, doing all things without grumbling or complaining, and working heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. By this standard whining, complaining, tantrums, and lying are not to be tolerated even in subtle forms. If these sins are allowed to take root in a homeschool they choke the joy out of daily interaction with a vengeance. In my observation, most homeschoolers who give up do so as victims of whining and complaining. By God’s grace a wise older mom coached me to stay on top of weeding out these issues and I think it’s made all the difference in the tone of our journey.

When whining and griping start, I find that the first challenge is to control my own frustration and not get dragged into the mud. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the details of a complaint and forget that griping shouldn’t be happening in the first place. Once I get a clue, I try to calmly call the problem what it is. I might say something like, “You are complaining, which is not allowed, and your voice has a whining tone. I’m telling you to stop talking that way. If you don’t, you will be knowingly and directly disobeying me, and you will face the consequence for that.” If the child is losing emotional control, I try to assure them that I understand their frustration, but they needed to choose a different response. I allow them a timed break in their room to regroup. If they choose to continue the behavior, then I follow through with the consequence for disobedience.

Another common issue involves statements like, “this is too hard,” or “I can’t do this,” or “I don’t have time,” or “this question does not make any sense!” Generally this kind of talk is not actually true and is intended to manipulate me into easing the load somehow, because a challenging workload is meeting with laziness, disinterest, or resentment. When this kind of complaining accompanies a request for help I usually say something like, “I am happy to help you if you are having trouble, but you need to ask without lying and complaining. You are a bright child, and this is not ‘too hard’ for you. If you tell me again that you cannot do it, you will be telling me a lie, and you will face the consequence for lying.”

“Who me? Lie? Never! I’m too cute, Mommy. Remember that!”

Last but not least, we have to deal with laziness and apathy from time to time. In my opinion laziness is the slipperiest and most exasperating issue of all. It can be hard to pin down and isolate from other issues, but it’s important to call it what it is. Unfortunately, combatting laziness always means more work for us as moms, but if we love our children, we have to rise to the challenge. In our house, we have a solution called blue-collar school, which is not in any way intended to disparage the hard workers who do physically intensive jobs. Quite the opposite – we mean to instill an appreciation for hard work in all of its forms and an awareness of alternatives. As I mentioned before, my policy is that the school work will still be done, but if it is done carelessly and with a lazy attitude then the child obviously needs extra training regarding work ethic, and the fact is that manual labor is easier to supervise and takes the battle out of the school arena. I try to keep a few odd jobs in the back of my mind that I can assign on the spot for a child who is being lazy. When they were younger, they got up and did the chore immediately and then returned to their work. Now that they are older, they do any extra chores after the school day ends. I know it sounds harsh, but laziness is sinful and it leads to lousy consequences in life and usually even more work, so I’m just doling out a dose of reality. If they don’t want to do studious work they can start preparing for an alternative….which is not sitting on mom and dad’s sofa and playing video games for the rest of their lives.

I’m reading back through all of this and feeling like I sound pretty hard-nosed, and to some extent I am, but I prefer to think of it as lovingly firm. Every day brings challenges, but I refuse to allow patterns of behavior that make our mutual experience miserable and train my children to be miserable people to live with. I hope to see these guys married someday and I want to know that I did my best to prepare them to be good husbands – in Godliness, personality, and perseverance. School work is just part of a much bigger picture.

In conclusion, the daily nuts-and-bolts issues are numerous in homeschooling, but God promises wisdom for the asking, and He is certainly more concerned about our hearts than answers to math problems. He always has, and always will, give the inspiration that we need in any given moment if we take a deep breath and ask for His help. So, here’s my bottom-line advice, which is truly the source of anything that is wise in what you see above: memorize James 1:2-8; count it all joy; and pray for wisdom – daily if not hourly.

And…I know that a few of you reading this have some good ideas of your own. Feel free to share in the comments!

Now….for some bonus material! This picture has no real relevance to this post, but I found it when I was looking for the others, and it’s one of my all-time favorites…and that is a school book so I couldn’t resist!

That’s all for now…

Cherish the Challenges!


What do you DO when You do School? – Part 1 – Together Time

I’ve asked this question of so many gracious moms through the years, and learned so much from their patient wisdom. It feels weird to have people asking this question of me, and even stranger to feel like I can actually formulate an intelligible answer. However, we’ve been “doing school” at home for over ten years now, and I have at least figured out a few things about how to structure homeschooling in a way that works pretty well for us. It occurred to me recently as I was talking with another mom that maybe I should put some thoughts in writing, since I do have this blog I’ve been neglecting.

Let me begin with what I consider, in practical and philosophical terms, to be the most important part of the daily academic and character building journey taking place between me and my sons. It involves the part of learning that I don’t feel can be replicated through any sort of classroom experience, written work, or computer program, and in my opinion should never take a backseat to anything that can. A close brush with death via MRSA in 2006 brought me to grips with the fact that most of what I do with my children could be handled by someone else, and that only my relationship with them and my unique influence in their lives would truly be irreplaceable if they no longer had me. However, I struggled with how to make deep connections a priority when I felt that other things had to be accomplished. Eventually it dawned on me that I needed to literally put first things first. I started to find my homeschooling stride, when I made the choice to consistently start our days with “together time” rather than leaving it subject to whatever energy remained after the daily desk-work battle.

Together time happens in the living room each morning when the boys and I gather for about 90 minutes to pray, read, and talk. On an ideal day, everyone arrives by 9:00 with their assignment sheet, Bible, pencil, reading material, and choice of hot beverage in hand. (Ideal days happen about twice a year, but if we’re set by about 9:10 with brushed teeth and decent attitudes, we call it a success.) Our first order of business is to pray – everyone takes a turn. After praying we discuss our overall plan for the day and any necessary adjustments to our usual routine. Then we read at least one chapter of the Bible. Generally we pick one or two points to discuss, but we don’t belabor anything unless a discussion emerges that becomes engaging for everyone. Next, we read a selection or two taken from the history and literature assignments to be covered for the week. Our core curriculum (Tapestry of Grace) is designed so that the boys are studying the same historical period each week, which means that anything we read aloud is beneficial for all of them academically, even if the selection isn’t designated for their level. I choose the books that I think will be most enjoyable and generate the most stimulating conversation. At this stage in our journey – with two in middle school and one in high school – our discussions have begun to involve wrestling with the weightier issues we encounter. Sometimes in history we hash through really nice topics like global war, genocide, and slavery, but thankfully we also have the opportunity to discuss admirable qualities in historical leaders and rejoice in past triumphs of good over evil. From our literature reading, I try to encourage the boys to consider the way characters’ choices are portrayed and the message conveyed by the author through how those choices turn out. Otherwise we discuss whatever seems relevant, and that can cover just about anything. In short, we’re learning together, and my role is to gently encourage them to think more carefully and deeply. Over the course of months and years, and by God’s grace, my goal is to help them develop the necessary balance between appropriately critical yet gracious thinking. The best comprehension questions in a textbook can never take them as far toward that equilibrium as a parent can.

Some of the friends I have in mind as I write this are wondering how on earth you get to analyzing literary characters when you can’t read three sentences without a child interrupting to ask if they had Cheerios in China and whether silk worms will grow a new head if you cut them in half with a shovel because Johnny said that earthworms…. You know I’m not making this up! The lofty answer is that it takes time, training, and consistency. In practical terms you obviously can’t start with a 90-minute session and you have to learn to embrace the questions about chopping up worms. This did not come naturally for me, but when mine were little the Five in a Row (FIAR) program taught me how to enjoy quality children’s literature and cope with the rabbit trails that led to headless worms. I’m not a crafty mom, so I never did many of the activities they suggested, but I learned how to unpack the gems in children’s books and turn them into meaningful discussions about subjects I never would have thought to address otherwise. Let me just insert too, that it’s never too early to start asking whether characters in stories made good choices. Those vicarious lessons are invaluable for character development. FIAR also taught me to embrace the joy in repetition for young children. They need it. They need it. They need it. The key is choosing quality books that will engage interest while expanding horizons. The best book choices aren’t always obvious, and they probably aren’t the ones your children would choose for themselves, but there are plenty of tired-and-true lists available. This is a time when you have to be the parent and make the choices, which will pay off later when reading assignments that aren’t as enjoyable have to be tackled. Learning to enjoy and discuss ideas presented in the form of books is a process, but it opens so many doors to other lessons for your children that it’s worth the perseverance, especially for those least prone to embrace it naturally…those who would rather climb the walls…

If you’ve made it this far and you’re thinking you’d actually be happy to embrace a discussion of Cheerios in China, but you can’t even get everyone to sit still on the sofa – you’re starting where I was. When I said it was time to read, my children heard, “Dog pile on the couch! Whoever can hold out the longest in the pushing and shoving match will have the most fun!” So, on the advice of a wise older mom, I backed up in the training process and assigned seats with shortest ones closest to me and allowed no negotiation over positions – same spots every day. We practiced just sitting still in that arrangement until we could all make it to five minutes on the timer before we tried to actually read. (This is great practice for sitting still in other situations too.) It only took a few days and some occasional reminders to make it work. I would start with the shortest and most engaging books and the reading would grow increasingly complex as I worked through the pile in my lap. The younger ones were given permission to leave when we reached a reasonable threshold for their attention spans, which grew by leaps and bounds as they acquired a taste for good stories. The ability to listen attentively and think quietly is one that develops with practice even in the most kinesthetic learners and will serve them so well in later studies which rely heavily on auditory leaning skills.

So….Once we’re done with our daily together time, the boys move on to more independent work, which I’ll discuss in the next post, because this one has gotten too long.

But, writing all of this made me sentimental and I started sorting through old photos…. Here’s what my cute little pupils looked like when my oldest was in first grade.

Sadly, I don’t seem to have any pictures of myself reading to these guys….you would think in hundreds of hours…. but who was around to take a picture? We were busy with the books! Fortunately, I don’t need the pictures; I have deep precious memories. I can get choked up just looking back over our favorite books and remembering how it felt to have them snuggled in beside me! If you have little ones…get on the sofa and soak it up! Before you know it, they look like this….

…which is staged, because they never actually sit together on the sofa anymore. It really looks more like what you see below when we read together these days.

This phase of homeschooling is truly the best yet. What an indescribable gift to spend daily time thinking and talking with my sons! I am so thankful! This morning as these photos were taken we were reading from Galatians, and the words in 6:9-10 seem to fit my thoughts perfectly. “Do not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good….” It is “good” to spend this time with children! Writing this has been a good reminder and time of reflection for me regarding what’s important. Sweet friends, I encourage you to put the workbooks in their proper place and prioritize deep relationships and learning with your children while you have the opportunity.

Joy on the journey!


Spring 2012- St. Paddy’s Day in Baa-stun

Let’s fast forward through an eventful winter that stalled all blogging and pick up with the second trip after New Years.

I was sitting in my hairstylist’s chair the week before St. Patrick’s Day – a holiday which she takes very seriously. Her name is Allison and she’s been to Savannah, New Orleans, and I forget where else for wild green celebrations, but she confided her dream of one day making it to Boston with such a wistful wave of her scissors that I could only nod.

Then it hit me.

Saturday would be St. Patrick’s Day. Saturday I would be in Boston. My eyes widened at this realization and I sat under the dryer considering whether I might need to reschedule our trip to see our fellow non-bar-hopping, non-partying, non-public-schooling friends. I didn’t mention any of this irony to my stylist.

But, thanks to a hostess with great foresight, we were decked out in style to take on the town before the green brew started rolling. I think we made a respectable showing.

After presenting an assortment of nearly a dozen Army and Air Force issued ID cards, we left one very large van in the capable care of the U.S. Coast Guard and started walking….

…following the red line.

At the courtesy of the Navy, we toured the U.S.S. Constitution, which I must say they are keeping up quite nicely.

Those of you who are familiar with my boys will be relieved to know that we disembarked without anyone making an attempt to refit the cannons for battle.

This was a photo op after climbing to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument. I love all these smiles!

The the Air Force kids suddenly noticed that the sweatshirt in the middle needed some censorship, but the hand sent to do the job wasn’t quite big enough. Go Army!!!

Finally we visited Old North Church… (One if by land, two if by sea…)

…and stopped by Paul Revere’s house. He wasn’t home, so we didn’t go in.

The next day we went to Newport, Rhode Island and started by touring The Breakers – a Vanderbilt mansion. This one fit pretty well into the neighborhood compared to some of their other family homes. We were stunned by the sheer quantity of multi-million dollar properties lined up end-to-end down the streets and trailing out of town. Most of the original owners are now confined to different situations for however long eternity is… I wonder if they miss these palaces near the sand.

After the tour, we made our way around to the back yard…or most of us did…

What’s wrong with this picture? …7,8,9….uh… I’ll tell you what’s wrong. Interesting books in museum gift shops waylay homeschool kids in the same way yellow flowers attract bees. M.G. was so engrossed that he missed the rest of us moving on!

I took more pictures while his sisters backtracked and pulled his nose out of that book. Then we went to the beach for a picnic – the kind of beach picnic I remember from my youth in Oregon – sweatshirts, blankets and finding shelter from the wind huddled behind a bush but, the rugged beauty was worth the coats and hoods.

It was wonderful to see our friends again after so long for an easy comfortable reunion after five years. The whole trip was such a joy. We left feeling so blessed by the friends God has placed in our paths over the years.

On the way home, we started talking about going to Philadelphia. Then, it occurred to us that we could take some cadets with us on our trips and we wondered if any of them would be interested.

They were. Stay tuned…

Okay, before I wrap this up, sing it with me…. “From the halls of Mon—-te-zuuuuu-ma, to the shores of Tripoli….” There. Now our Marine friends will not feel left out of this field trip should they happen upon this blog post! Phew.

A Walk through the City

Last weekend, music teachers were gathered in New York City for a national conference. Naturally we had to be there! (Ric and I don’t have an ounce of musical talent between us, but we have talented friends – and they were in the City.) The boys’ piano teacher from Pullman was part of a group of college students invited to give a presentation and our dear former next door neighbors were performing for the conference. We met them all for a meal after their performance.

The route involved a stop in Times Square.

The boys don’t look so tall in this shot!

You know times are tough when Elmo’s panhandling!

Then, after a high-priority trip to the Leonida’s chocolate store we decided to cut through Central Park where I got fascinated with the trees!

They were turning green!!! None of the trees around our house, 50 miles to the north, were showing any color. I wanted to dance.

It struck me that I was catching a rare window of opportunity to see the interesting shapes of the trunks and branches with just enough color on the branches to make them pretty.

Beneath the taller trees shorter ones were blooming. Delightful.

I love it when trees make skyscrapers look insignificant.

Central Park really is beautiful. Walk with me…

…straggling along behind the guys…

…forcing them to halt when we get overwhelmed by blossoms…

….and turning around for one last look before heading back into the buildings.

It was so much fun to see familiar faces from far away and see how much the next-door baby had grown. He is SO cute!!

We got to catch up over an amazing Chinese meal.

Then it was time to head home via the subway…

….to Grand Central Station…

…and on to points north, where a time warp took us back to bare trees, but in a couple of weeks, the green will arrive!

Nomad Eye Candy!

I have a cousin that forwards emails. Some of you groan at the thought, but my cousin is very discriminating. He only forwards really good stuff so I love to see his name in the inbox. Here are the pictures from his last message under the subject line “Amazing Paths.” My nomadic heart skipped a beat, so I figured I’d share… with comments, of course.

Here is San Francisco which reminds me of a wonderful vacation with my hubby, and makes me think of my friend Kate…and clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

I imagine these places without phone or internet. Hope the newspaper boy has good aim!

For this one, I’m trying to decide which car. No, wait, gotta go with a motorcycle.

This is San Francisco again, hi Kate! She used to live near this street.

I believe I see a warning sign about cows crossing in this one. Argentina? They have great steak, I hear. Wherever it is, I’m back to considering sports cars.

Now, I’m off on a gardening fantasy!

I have no idea where this is, but I would love to go there. Can you imagine! (Some jerk would have to start rocking it back and forth though and then I would be a wreck.)

Well, this next one is NOT Kansas…. I get an adrenaline rush just looking at this road.

What a place to sit out a thunderstorm without power. Can’t you just see the lightning bolts making the stained glass windows flash!

I’m guessing Alaska and it doesn’t look fun. I want to go to Alaska, but this is not the part I want to see.

Oh, my. Where is this? Where is my friend Angi? And, where are our running shoes?

Angi can run up this one, while I take my time and meet her at the top.

Wow. This is not one I would enjoy with my kids…not until they develop a better grasp on the concept that gravity never flinches. But, isn’t creation incredible!

If it weren’t for potential cars this would be a blast on a bicycle!

Here is my new desktop background…

I would say this looks like Pullman, except that I’m not seeing hills. Hmm…

Back to sports car fantasies.

I’m not a big fan of trains, but when it goes rails to trails, this will be great!

And last but not least… look at the runner! I want to go here too!

Thanks for another great diversion from the daily inbox fodder, Cody. You should start taking subscriptions!

Happy trails everyone!


“The Other Wise Man” – a Nomad-Lib for Christmas

I’ve always liked the story of “the three wise men.” My nomadic heart gets swept away by images of men with regal faces, rich robes and high turbans traveling by camel over desert sands. For years after my third son was born, my fascination drew me to Christmas cards that featured “the three wise men.” I know the Bible doesn’t say that there were exactly three magi, but I have three boys, and I pray they will follow in the wise men’s proverbial footsteps – seeking The One that the star signaled. So, my interest was naturally piqued when I ran across “The Story of the Other Wise Man” a few years ago and it has become one of my favorites.

Last week I had my literature students read it along with The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway. Both stories feature a solitary man of great endurance, but the object upon which their fortitude is fixed and the outcome of their epoch struggles is quite a contrast. The word craftsmanship is also a delightfully juxtaposed. Hemmingway’s sparse style is elegant in its simplicity and relatively horizontal focus while Van Dyke’s descriptions are ethereal and roam from the dungeons of earth to the stars of heaven.

It takes the reader less than an hour to follow the other wise man on a journey of thirty-three years spent threading his way through the regions occupied by modern day Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. He is continually waylaid and slowed in his travels by a besetting compulsion to help those in need and later by a rabbi’s suggestion that the one he seeks might be found among the poor, the lowly, the sick, or the imprisoned. His story ends in Jerusalem one Passover.

Click here for several ebook options from the Project Gutenberg.   You can also have the story delivered for free to your Kindle by Amazon by clicking here.

The primary biblical allusion in the story comes from Matthew 25:34-40. Others include the book of Daniel, Matthew 2, Matthew 27 and Luke 11:9.

Mushrooms in the Aftermath

A couple of days after Hurricane Irene blew through, the boys and I went up to Redoubt Four which is about a mile from our house. It’s a Revolutionary war lookout point with a tremendous view of the plain level of West Point.

The Hudson River was running well over its normal banks after all of the rain to the north in its watershed.

We were supposed to be up there looking for leaves to examine for the younger boys’ science lesson, but we got distracted when we started finding mushrooms on the forest floor. Check out the variety we observed in a very small area amongst the mess on the forest floor after the storm…they made me think of a poem.

Mushrooms after a Storm

Sentinels stand amongst the knobby toes,

Of squabbling trees that pilfer light,

Bound for realms of rubble strewn beneath,

by winds which stirred branches into fight.

Below the battle scene, shadows slip and slink,

Across impartial moss assailed by the plopping,

Of organic copters, oak tree bombs,

and leafy paratroopers dropping.

Supple helmets weather the beating.

Fungal sentries stand their random posts,

Uniformed in tidy varied hues of earth,

Tranquil among their weary, war-torn hosts.

They remain.

We also found a pretty impressive assortment of lichens, which are a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus.

Josh was the first to find unexploded ordinance from an oak tree.

But brothers will not be outdone. Si found twins.

The stuff homeschooling moms’ daydreams are made of…nature journaling atop historical ruins in a nearby wood.

Birthday Storms

At the end of August, hurricane Irene showed up for Ric’s birthday. At first we were unimpressed.

Then the rain really started.

It’s hard to photograph rain, but do you see the sheets running off the side of that house? This was very early in the storm. We stopped trying to photograph the rain when the wind picked up.

The “rain garden” started filling almost immediately. Believe it or not, there’s a big drain under all of that water.

We had a pretty swift current moving through our yard for the next two days.

We brought the potted plants from the porch into the house for the storm…

…and what you can’t see in the picture below is the cricket that came in with the pots – a VERY noisy little cricket that chirped his heart out late into the night. I think he was singing “Happy Birthday” to Ric, but Ric didn’t appreciate it very much after about 20 minutes.

Fast forward two months to JP’s 14th birthday – the end of October – when the weather is usually nice. Not this year! We spent his birthday sitting in a cold house without power while 15 inches of snow began to accumulate outside with winds that have my toes curling as I think about them two weeks later!

The power went out just before lunch so we played cards all afternoon, ate junk food and added layers of clothing as the temperature dropped…

…and the snow fell.

Down the hill from our house, Army was playing a football game. We decided that we weren’t very sad after all about the fact that the tickets were sold out when we tried to buy them.

Thankfully I had baked the cake in the morning and JP certainly had plenty of candles for his birthday. In fact, he got to read by them!

The house was pretty chilly by the time we called it a night.

Sunday morning it was gorgeous! Bright and beautiful! We were fortunate enough to have had our power restored during the night. Several nearby communities had to wait until Tuesday or later.

Remember that transformer box you could see in the hurricane pictures above? Hard to find it in this one, huh?

Not the place to sit and have tea on this particular morning!

Last time we lived in this neighborhood (with old houses) we had the good sledding hill in our yard, and somehow we managed to land that quality in real estate again for this tour.

By Monday the doves and the dog were happily back to their routines in the yard and the snow was melting fast….just in time for my friend Kate to visit!

The next birthday in our family happens at the beginning of Mach. We will advise local friends to stock up on canned goods and bottled water!

As We Remember through Tears from Sea to Shining Sea

America the Beautiful
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

by Katharine Lee Bates – 1913

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