Friday, August 01, 2014

Poetry Friday: In Which Stanley Kunitz Blows Me Away

an excerpt from
The Layers 
by Stanley Kunitz

Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?

You must read the whole poem here, at

Read more about Kunitz here or here. And here is a Paris Review interview with him from 1977.


The Poetry Friday round up is at Reflections on the Teche.

"...he had secretly dreamed of a freedom without limits...."

"He sees only injustice. And this betrays the fact that he too had secretly dreamed of a freedom without limits, that his obedience has made him inwardly bitter, and that he has no awareness of the grace of being at home, of the true freedom that he enjoys as a son." 

-- Pope Benedict XVI, in Jesus of Nazareth, 
on the point of view of the older brother, 
in the parable of the prodigal son

Talking about conversion today on Morning Air at Relevant Radio -- 7 a.m. central time. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ideas for Ramona's Book Club?

A friend of mine has done a great book club for the last few years, but we're all feeling at a bit of a crossroads. The mix of kids is tricky at this particular juncture -- this year we will have boys and girls ranging in age from six to twelve. It's hard to bridge all those gaps (not to mention tastes.)


I think we're overthinking it, and we just need a jolt. Brainstorming, anyone?

Monday, July 28, 2014

What If They WANT to Do Worksheets?

Tamara asked:

... did you ever have a child who *wanted* to do things like pre-reading worksheets? And if so, did you just let that be while it lasted? 

That's a great question, and the answer is, "Yes. Ramona has loved herself some very worksheet-y worksheets."

Ramona loves a lot of curriculum, actually, although the more obligatory it becomes, the less attractive it is to her, and she has yet to fall in love with the math curriculum that I require of her. But she likes the accountability and neatness of filling in blanks, matching answers, and choosing one of multiple choices. She likes lists (so do I) and checking things off as she accomplished tasks (so do I.) So, curriculum appeals to the desire for order and structure.

This post -- School-y Ramona -- is from the year Ramona was seven years old. The main point was that my homeschooling goal has been to follow my girls' lead and pinpoint how they learn best. If Ramona wanted to do State of the Day, we were going to do State of the Day (while still mixing in lots of real life and hands on learning, read-alouds, and so on.)

I'm reminded of a comment on a past post in which Elizabeth said this:

On a sadder note, I am envious of your party planning and graduation parties. My son has just finished his final high school work -- we have home schooled since the beginning. He has taken 8 classes at the community college & has been accepted to GA Tech (his 1st and only choice) but the child doesn't want a graduation party. He wants no celebration -- nothing. i'm just left hanging here. I did get one of those corny yard signs that all the other kids from the local public & private schools get, announcing congratulations, etc. He won't have anything to do with a party. but I feel like celebrating -- I've spent the last 18 years of my life nurturing and educating this kid. It seems wrong not to celebrate.

My response was this:

...what's funny about our opposite situations is that I always pictured myself being more like your son -- I thought that the beauty of homeschooling was that we didn't have to do the requisite milestones/celebrations in the same way the rest of the world does, because we've always done things on our own timeline. But, my girls wanted more, so that's what they got. And, your son doesn't want a party, so that's what he's getting. We're both still tailoring things to their likes and needs. :) 

However, it does sound like your son should perhaps take your likes and needs into account, and take YOU out for a celebration dinner!

That little exchange sums up what I love about homeschooling: an individualized, tailored, responsive way of life that is centered on relationships and real goals for the real world.

And sometimes that means worksheets, for as long as they serve their purpose. (Hope this helps, Tamara!)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Poetry Friday: Because I Love Both Wendell Berry and Anyone (Specifically His Daughter) Who Can Honestly Say, "It Was My Pleasure to Attend the Slow Meat Symposium."

And because history, culture, and tradition are small and personal. 

(With thanks to Arthur Powers,* who, on a Catholic writers' list, posted a link to Mary Berry's "Problem Solvers" at The Berry Center.)

An excerpt from Wendell Berry's "The Record":

And my young friend says: “Have him speak this
into a recorder. It is precious, It should be saved.”
I know the panic of that wish to save
the vital knowledge of the old times, handed down,
for it is rising off the earth, fraying away
in the wind and the coming day.
As the machines come and the people go
the old names rise, chattering, and depart.

But knowledge of my own going into old time
tells me no. Because it must be saved,
do not tell it to a machine to save it.

Read the whole poem here, at The Berry Center.


The Poetry Friday round up is at Poetry For Children.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Teaching From Rest: A Quick Review That Basically Tells You to Go Read It

Image: Amongst Lovely Things
Sarah Mackenzie's new book, Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace is a truly lovely book.

I just finished reading it, and ... wow. Sarah discusses and advocates so much of what I have long believed about homeschooling, relationships, schedules, curriculum, how children learn, what God calls us to, and the vital importance of always placing our relationships --  with God and our children -- at the forefront of everything we do.

As a mom who has graduated two daughters from our homeschool (with one yet to go -- Ramona just turned 12! I have only six years left with her!) I can say with confidence that living the kind of homeschooling -- the kind of resting in God -- that Sarah discusses has paid off enormously in our home.

I have always asked myself two questions over the years of our homeschooling:

Am I putting God first here, by trusting Him with every moment?
Am I giving my children what they really need in this moment?

Teaching from a place of rest has been a beautiful and rewarding experience for me and (I hope I can speak for them, too) my children. I treasure the relationship I have with my daughters, who are now 20, 18, and 12 years old. I have never tried to be their friend at the expense of being their parent, but I can honestly say that by deliberately cultivating our relationship over the years, we have become amazing friends, and our girls have received (we hope) a great education on the way.

Teaching from Rest is an encouraging, humble, honest, and gentle book.

It is a gem. I hope you find rest in it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

I admit it: I would read Rainbow Rowell's grocery list.

(Actually, I'd read the grocery list and every other kind of list {To Do ... Book Ideas ... Top Five Ways to Get Benedict Cumberbatch to Nebraska} of all my favorite writers because what inquiring mind doesn't want to know what her favorite wordsmiths eat for breakfast and what they plan to do on Tuesday and how they will plot to get Sherlock to town? I realize I'm making an enormous assumption --  that all my favorite writers are list makers -- and I could be wrong. But I digress.)

So. I've been looking forward to Landline ever since ... well, I have no idea. Ever since I heard the words, "Rainbow Rowell is writing a new book and it's going to be called Landline." Because I adored Attachments, Eleanor and Park broke my heart in about eleven different ways (eleven different good ways) and I was rooting for Cath in Fangirl from the moment I heard the name of the book.

Landline did not disappoint. I will admit to having a little more trouble entering into it than I had with Rowell's past books. I'm not sure if that was due to the premise (a struggling marriage ... I just started out sad), the potential gimmick (a magic phone? Or is something else going on?) or the reader on the audio book. (The reader is a very good reader -- I am just a picky listener. My inner theater major comes out, and I huff and say {to myself ... I didn't bother Atticus or startle the jumpy lady sitting next to me in seat 25D} things like, "No! You're doing that line all wrong!") I was listening to the book while flying, then switching to the hard cover when nausea didn't threaten. (Said queasiness had nothing to do with the book or the audiobook reader, I feel compelled to say. Stupid genes. Stupid inner ear issues.) I was much happier, and entered more fully into the book, when I read rather than listened. Rowell's voice was alive on the page in a way it wasn't  -- for me, anyway -- on the audio book.

Anyway...back to the story itself. I am so averse to spoilers (I'm looking at you, Dad. I still haven't seen the third season of Homeland, so you have to stop talking about it) that I don't want to say anything more specific about the book. You can read a summary here.

What I will say is this:

1. The premise is a great one, a worthwhile one, and not a sad one. The "struggling marriage" isn't so much struggling as it is trying to figure out what marriage is and how we keep making it work in new ways, again and again, over time. (And out of time. But I'll get to the magic part in a minute.) I loved the very real illustration of the ways in which we fall in love with people who can be crazy-making (Georgie and Neal have their unique ways of driving each other crazy) but are still crazy in love.

2. The potential gimmick. Time travel? Magic? I had doubts about how that would be resolved, but I was won over. I loved the way this all came together. It worked. It works. It will work. All tenses covered.

3. I still own one of these, so, yeah:

4. Loved the nod (she's done this in past books) to a Nebraska town via a character name. McCool Junction, anyone? (We were actually driving past McCool Junction while I was listening to this book -- we visited my sister in Oklahoma before we took off for Austin.) That was McCool. 

5. The Easter egg! So fun.

Next up from my TBR pile? Michelangelo's grocery list. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What I Didn't Say in Austin (Or, Turning a Keynote About Homeschooling Into a Blog Post)

When I recently spoke at a homeschooling conference, I wanted to be sure I had enough to say, so of course I over-prepared. There was a section of a talk that I didn't even get to, so it comes to you now as a blog post. Yay! Double-duty writing!


My relaxed methods of homeschooling prompt another question: Are we being academically challenging and rigorous enough?

That gets us to the core questions about why we homeschool in the first place: for academic excellence? For spiritual reasons alone? Do we homeschool to get our children to Heaven or to Harvard?

Personally, I’ve never really asked myself the "Heaven or Harvard" question. In our state, we have to report/declare our reasons for homeschooling by claiming an exemption for either academic reasons or religious reasons. We claim the religious exemption because we do firmly believe the Church’s teaching that we are the primary educators of our children, i.e., that we have the right and responsibility to educate them as we see fit, or to contract out their education to schools if we so choose, etc. But, the academic exemption has always been right in front of us, too, and we could legitimately have chosen that option as well.

When we wanted to pull our eldest daughter out of school it wasn’t because we were afraid that she was being spiritually tainted. She had a sweet, kind Kindergarten teacher (who later quit working outside the home and began homeschooling her own children) and she had made friends with some very sweet and lovely children. But I couldn't bear some of the other stuff: I couldn’t bear that she wasn't allowed to read (in school, I mean) the books that grabbed her. I couldn't bear that her love of learning was being dulled with handwriting practice and pre-reading worksheets. It made me mad, actually. It made me realize that I knew my daughter better than anyone else did, and that I could provide stimulating days and a vibrant education for her at home.

Certainly our goal was to raise our children, spiritually speaking, as we saw fit: saturated in our faith, living it every day. We wanted to provide a particular kind of lifestyle that allowed for exploring the liturgical year rather than the school year, for going to Mass when it worked for us, not just on Sundays, for a holy half-hour in the middle of a "school day" and for digging into a saint's life story if that's what we felt like doing.

But such a lifestyle and accommodations for our faith don't negate or ignore the desire for academic excellence. Atticus and I have always been dedicated to providing a strong and stimulating education for our girls.

On the other hand, we may not define academic excellence in exactly the same way that the world does. Allow me to elaborate. Of course we want to be the best teachers we can be and we hope to provide our children with the best possible education. But that doesn’t mean we're interested in churning out cookie cutter versions of human beings. Not everyone wants to attend a particular university or even a particular kind of university. Not everyone wants to pursue a particular type of profession, either. For us, academic excellence -- the kind that takes into account the very specific needs, gifts, passions, interests, strengths and weaknesses of each child -- will produce everything: plumbers, engineers, nurses, doctors, landscapers, secretaries, stay-at-home moms, stay-at-home dads, computer programmers, salesmen, philosophers, respiratory therapists, Spanish teachers, and ... on and on. An academically excellent homeschool considers the fact: the world needs all kinds of people and all kinds of jobs.

When it comes to raising and educating human beings with souls, paying close attention in a loving home to our individual children and what they need is every bit as important as an isolated, rigidly defined, supposedly objective standard of academic excellence.

I have never found and have never believed that there is one method, one cookie cutter ideal, one fixed rule, or one predictable outcome to homeschooling.

There is just this one thing in our homeschool: we need to figure out what this child needs at this moment, this week, this month, this year. Homeschooling, for us, is about finding what works, and then doing it.

Excellence, then, while it is about tailoring the academics to our particular children and their needs, isn’t about proving to the world that we can raise the smartest, most stereotypically or predictably "successful" kids possible. As a matter of fact, homeschooling isn’t about us at all.

Should we repeat it? Homeschooling isn't about us at all.

Sometimes we homeschooling parents forget that. There’s so much pressure -- from the world, from family or friends, from interested observers and critics --  to prove that we haven’t definitively messed up our kids. We feel compelled to confirm that we made the right choice, the best choice. And then we forget that it isn’t about us or about how we look. 

It’s about our kids. It’s about cooperating with God in this endeavor. It's about raising the people He entrusted to our care.  It's about helping them to become the people He wants them to be. Sometimes our kids will fit every preconceived notion the world has of success and sometimes they will look as far from it as is humanly possible. And everything on that spectrum is conceivably perfectly okay, as long as we keep on asking ourselves the question, “What does this child need next?”

That's why, for us, it's not "Heaven or Harvard." It's Heaven and Harvard and not-Harvard and everything in between. It's about letting a Kindergartener read Little House books all day if that's how she best learns. It's about letting a high schooler write a novel the entire month of November if that's where her passion is. And it's about having her do some math, too, because that's a practical part of life that we have to address. It's about faith and books and being excited about learning for the rest of our lives.

It's about individual human beings, it's not about me, and it's about a life lived authentically. And that's going to look different for everyone.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Catching Up With My Online Pals, Part I

Go win a copy of Melissa Wiley's book, The Prairie Thief!  

Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things interviewed Lissa for her Read Aloud Revival and is doing a giveaway of Lissa's book, too.

Speaking of lovely things, I just bought Sarah's homeschooling book, Teaching From Rest. Because I am all about teaching that way. Homeschooling doesn't have to be as stressful as we often make it, and I'm looking forward to hearing what Sarah has to say on the subject.


Tanita Davis. This post. Go read. Especially if you are a writer. Or if you're married. Or if you're an insomniac. Or if you have a keeper.


When I was in Austin last weekend, Jenn and I had hoped to get together, but she ended up having just a wee bit to worry about. So happy all of her precious kiddos are okay.


Jama went on a blog break, but before she did, she left behind some delicious book recommendations. Whenever I need to smile, I stop by Jama's blog. It just makes me feel happy. And hungry. And so happy.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Home from Austin!
Sorry I've been so quiet!
Apologies to my neglected blog! And my neglected readers! I've missed you.

Have three other things to say:

1.  Maxi skirts! I love them. They are my new uniform.
2. on the plane! Reading without reading. No air sickness. Very good.
3.  Landline by Rainbow Rowell! Read (listened) on the plane. Not done yet. Review to come.

Also? (I guess I had four other things to say.) I loved presenting the writing workshop at the conference in Austin. Homeschooling and writing are two of my favorite things to talk about, and the wonderful moms and dads at the writing session had great questions, we had great discussions, and I'd love to do it again and again and again. So much fun.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Ramona's Been Frogging It Up Again

This is the photo she put together (following the crafts she put together) for a contest at My Froggy Stuff.

I'm hungry now for s'mores.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Poetry Friday: "The whisper and the laughter of my brook."

My Brook 
by Helen Hay Whitney

Earth holds no sweeter secret anywhere
Than this my brook, that lisps along the green
Of mossy channels, where slim birch trees lean
Like tall pale ladies, whose delicious hair,
Lures and invites the kiss of wanton air.
The smooth soft grasses, delicate between
The rougher stalks, by waifs alone are seen,
Shy things that live in sweet seclusion there.

And is it still the same, and do the eyes
Of every silver ripple meet the trees
That bend above like guarding emerald skies?
I turn, who read the city’s beggared book,
And hear across the moan of many seas
The whisper and the laughter of my brook.


The round up is at My Juicy Little Universe.

Happy 4th of July!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Things That Made Me Happy This Week


Atticus and the girls were supposed to take off for a Daddy/Daughter day. The weather, however, was frighteningly unstable. I was very happy that Atticus didn't indulge his storm chaser instincts and head out of town anyway. They stayed home, we all stayed in, I got loads of writing work done. I also got some internet browsing accomplished, as evidenced by this tweet:

I have a writing deadline. So NATURALLY I am on the hunt online for the perfect new bookshelf for my living room.

The weather calmed down, and since her older sisters had plans with friends, Atticus and I took Ramona out for Mexican food. Then we stopped at the craft store to stock up on fun foam (because who can live without fun foam? Oh, wait. I can. But Ramona can't.) We topped the night off with a milkshake.



Atticus and the girls took off for the previously postponed Daddy/Daughter day. They were gone from roughly 10:30 a.m. till 8 p.m.

I was very happy to be alone in my own home.

I puttered. I read. I ate. I listened to music. I made Spotify playlists based on a pile of old cassette tapes I recently unearthed. I made a slapped-together version of Molly Wizenberg's Bread Salad with Cherries. I watched some Dr. Who. I puttered some more. I recharged.

I was very happy to be alone and then very happy to have them come home. And very happy to find they had brought me this:



Made time to work out in the morning. Got to spend the afternoon with great friends, which brought about further recharging. Very happy



I was very happy that I made time to work out again. Got caught up on laundry. Made a number of remarks to Atticus to express my great appreciation for his taking Ramona to the pool. Made approximately 115 cookies for a family get-together. Ate some peanut butter M&Ms. Did not have to turn on the air conditioning because it has been a gloriously cool-warm day. 

Sat side by side with Ramona, on my bed. We both read Betsy-Tacy books (and stopped to read bits to each other) while Atticus made pasta for dinner. Very happy-making.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"We Don't Like Her So Much...." (The Story of an Amazing Pilgrimage to Andalusia Farm)

"... she's too dark."

That's what a kindly old man in Milledgeville, Georgia told a tiny band of writers about Flannery O'Connor after they'd explained to him why they were visiting his charming little town.

These three women* were on a pilgrimage, you see -- to walk the same paths trod by O'Connor, to take in the air of Andalusia Farm, where Flannery wrote -- with stops along the way to experience the place Thomas Merton prayed and wrote, too.

To read more about this journey, you can visit the pages of the pilgrims:

Christina Novak, who first imagine and then organized the trip -- check her blog under the labels Flannery O'Connor,  Andalusia Farm, pilgrimage.

Roxane Salonen: See Finding Flannery and Andalusia Farm.

Karen Mahoney: Pilgrimage, Flannery O'Connor.


* I know them through an online Catholic writers' group that we all belong to, and know Roxane Salonen best. Roxane contributed a story to my book, After Miscarriage, and we have chatted on the radio several times.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems

The title of the book says it all. 

The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems is a gorgeous book, a complete treat for devotees of Emily Dickinson (or just devotees of minimalist beauty.)

It's pricey, yes, but what's stopping you from running to the library for a look inside?




The Poetry Friday round up is at Buffy's Blog.


Edited to add: An abundance of Emily today!  
Visit the following for more: 

(and see this post to congratulate Laura on her great news!)