Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Yeah, But Was It a Real Pilgrimage?

I should face it: we'll never be able to afford a real pilgrimage. That's okay. I make a short pilgrimage every morning to the coffee pot, and there I am fueled for the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of my day.

But Rome? The Holy Land? Probably won't happen until vans never break down, applicances last forever, and there are no more daughters at home who need money for braces and college and weddings, and by then Atticus and I will be decrepit.

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

It is a charter bus, and Mr. Henkel is the sun.

Our liturgy director is opportunity in motion. He is all about offering the people of our parish opportunities they may not otherwise have, or may not take advantage of, or even think of unless he charters a bus and hands them a permission slip. A recent one was this: he arranged for our youth choir (and any interested adults) to sing at a Mass at St. Cecilia's Cathedral. He called it a pilgrimage.

Anne-with-an-e and Betsy have been to our cathedral before. And of course, Atticus and I have been there. (We were there for the Rite of Election the years we came into the Church -- fifteen years ago for Atticus, twenty years for me, and I was there for numerous other Rites of Election.) But Ramona had never seen it.

Photo thanks to St. Cecilia Cathedral 

Mr. Henkel loves to arrange trips. For kids, for adults, for anyone who's up for a trek: a journey to an historic church they've never seen, a chance to hear a choir they've never heard, a moment to whisper supplications in a place they've never prayed, the chance to spend a day they've never had. He wants to share beauty.

Ramona wanted to see the beauty. She wanted the bus trip, the day with friends, the singing, the spectacular pipe organ (she didn't know she wanted that -- until she saw it, toured it, got to actually go inside the organ -- but she did). She wanted the Chinese food on the way home. And I wanted her to see St. Cecilia's, because somehow, inexplicably, I've never shown it to her before. I wanted to share beauty.

That's one amazing organ. And I don't even like organ music. Unless I'm in St. Cecilia's. 

So we signed up.

I can't say that bus trips are something I look forward to. I developed an aversion to mammoth forms of transportation after spending 36 hours on a Greyhound from Omaha to Daytona Beach, Florida with Jack when I was twenty years old ("Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping. "I'm empty and aching and I don't know why.") But this little field trip was only two hours, with my favorite Ramona and my favorite Betsy (acting as a choir chaperone), and friends, too. Leaving the driving to someone else sounded lovely, actually, on a crisp, cold, sunny first day of March.

Ramona's view from the choir loft, after practice. 

During Mass, the choir sang "Steal Away."

Steal away, 
steal away, 
steal away to Jesus. 

Next week is the anniversary of my baptism. Next month is the anniversary of my reception (five years after my baptism) into the Catholic Church. Next month is an anniversary for Atticus, too, who came into the Catholic Church five years after I did. Has it really been that long since our conversions?

My Lord, He calls me, He calls me by the thunder. 

Conversion is a funny word. It connotes weights, calculations, measurable results.

"Transfiguration," as Fr. Robert Barron explains, feels more accurate, more illuminating than the word "conversion." More tremble-inducing.

The trumpet sounds within my soul.

The clear, sweet voices (steal away, steal away) that floated ethereally from the cathedral's choir loft during Mass on Sunday night transported me to a time before a Transfiguration, before I knew who the Man on the cross was, before I could or did or wanted to love Him.


It was a fearful, wonderful journey I took, this search for Jesus. For such a long time, I was a spiritual asthmatic, gasping, waiting, looking for a cure. My newfound faith was clean, sweet oxygen.

This cathedral was one of the stops on that trek.

I took a real pilgrimage last weekend.

Steal away, steal away home.

I was home, I am home, I will be home, and I am on a constant trudge to get home.

I ain't got long to stay here.

Tomorrow morning, I'll stumble to the coffee pot, pour another cup of coffee, offer up another day, and the pilgrimage will continue.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Good-bye, February, and Good Riddance

Why is the shortest month the longest month?

A few years back, I couldn't find anything (for a Poetry Friday) that expressed my relief at saying farewell to the longestshortest month of the year. So, I wrote my relief in haiku form:

February fades,
Like a guest who stayed too long.
Shut the door, and sigh.

Dear March -- hey, there! Happy to see you arrive!

You can stay for 31 days and I promise not to get exasperated with you.

Photo thanks to

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Poetry Friday

This week, Barbara Crooker's poem, "Strewn" ....

It begins like this:

It’d been a long winter, rags of snow hanging on; then, at the end
of April, an icy nor’easter, powerful as a hurricane. But now

And it ends like this:

                                     The light pours down, a rinse
of lemon on a cold plate. All of us, broken, some way
or other. All of us dazzling in the brilliant slanting light.

And you can read what's in between here, at the Poetry Foundation

And I can tell you this: that just about everything I believe about God and love and people is contained in those two, final, iridescent sentences of hers.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Ramona Creates

We decorated coffee cups:

Ramona's Kermit the Frog quote cup is much kinder than my cup. 
And she made Minnie Mouse ears:

Even I want to wear these. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Poetry Friday: Anne Porter

Turning today to the ever-reliable, ever-gorgeous, ever-evocative Anne Porter, who did not begin publishing poetry until she was 83 years old. 

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother’s piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold 

(Read the rest here, at The Writer's Almanac.) 


Linda has the round up today at TeacherDance

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Covering Subjects in a Non-Traditional Way (Part the Third): Percy Jackson Read Aloud

Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.

When I talk about teaching subjects in non-traditional ways, what I mean is that most of our curriculum is talking.

A recent example is the read-aloud Ramona and I just finished, Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief. 

Topics discussed (if you haven't read the book, skip this post to avoid spoilers!)

  • Greek mythology, obviously, and we'll delve further into this 
  • ADHD
  • Dyslexia
  • Talents that don't translate to a classroom setting
  • Greek currency
  • Dreams and their meaning
  • St. Louis arch
  • Sisyphean tasks
  • Why Riordan chose Los Angeles as the entrance to the Underworld (side discussion: Stephen King/Las Vegas as headquarters for the demonic Walking Man)
  • Ethical situations/choices: Percy's mom, Sally (staying in an abusive relationship in order to protect Percy?!), Sally's decision to use a weapon (of sorts) on her husband, Gabe
  • Comparisons: afterlife/Underworld vs. our beliefs in heaven, hell, purgatory
  • Vocabulary: I point out new words, show Ramona the visual on spelling, etc., stop to define a word, if necessary 

That's a quick summary of the practical application. All of the above can be categorized under various subjects, from history and social studies, to literature and language arts, to faith. Reading aloud -- and talking, talking, talking! -- teaches so much. And inspires great jokes:

Near the end of the book (again, avert your eyes if you haven't read it and don't want spoilers!), Percy has to make an end-of-summer decision. Should he stay at Camp Half Blood all year and continue learning to fight monsters? Or should he go back to New York City for 7th grade?

Ramona's response: "Maybe 7th grade is the monster."

More fodder for discussion!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Poetry Friday: A Gift

Just when I think that spring can't come soon enough for me, I think of my friends in Boston, and realize I've got it easy this year. 

This one's for you, Melanie

A Gift
Leonora Speyer

I Woke: —
Night, lingering, poured upon the world
Of drowsy hill and wood and lake
Her moon-song,
And the breeze accompanied with hushed fingers
On the birches.

Gently the dawn held out to me
A golden handful of bird’s-notes.


Thanks to for the daily poems in my Inbox.


The round up is at Merely Day by Day.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On Morning Air Today

... at 7 a.m. central time, on Relevant Radio. I'll be talking with John Harper about teens and young adults -- digging deeper during Lent and making the faith their own.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Covering Subjects in a Non-Traditional Way: Part the Second

Image Chef

The original question was:

"Where can one find examples of how common, daily activities with kids fit into 'subjects'?"

So, let's start with the activities, rather than starting with the subjects, and we'll start with very young children, because we all have to start somewhere.

A few everyday activities and their relevance to education (and life):

Breakfast (home ec, nutrition, health)
Reading to the kids over breakfast (reading, reading comprehension, faith [if you read Bible stories or other faith related books], history [if you read historical works], English [hey, it's a book!], vocabulary)
Morning routine (personal hygiene = health ... threats about what will happen if we don't wash and brush teeth = science)
Morning chores (citizenship, faith and self-discipline as those relate to family cooperation)
Daily Mass (faith, history, recess if you go for donuts afterward)
Make cookies (math while measuring, home ec, science, kitchen chemistry)
Make lunch (home ec again ... lots of home ec)
Break up a fight among siblings (explaining interpersonal communications = psychology ... repentance and forgiveness = faith ... learning to get along = management and human resources skills)
Trip to the post office (social studies, community study, citizenship, how government works, art ... yes, art! Aren't you going to examine all those stamp designs?)
Drive home (point stuff out -- geography of your town)
Watch an episode of Magic School Bus (science)
Take a nap (health)
Wake up from nap (science: explain the necessity and importance of sleep, explain the difference between night mommies owls and insane morning people.)
Take a walk (a nature walk! Science! Charlotte Mason is so happy with you right now!)
Tell children to play while you check email (play is serious business, people!)
Check email some more or call your best friend (hey, your sanity is important ... explain to children that social contact is vital. This is psychology and sociology.)
Start dinner (home ec! Again! Lots of home ec!)

You get the the idea. This is the easy stuff. When they're little, you really don't have to worry about record-keeping the subjects but do it if it makes you feel better, as it often made me feel better, or if you need to report on your schooling in your state. And do it for practice, for later days.

And as they get older, the connections, the overlap of subjects, the science of relations becomes clearer in so much of what we do with our children, and in what they do on their own.

More to come.

Sisyphean Tasks: I've Taught Her Well

Ramona and I are reading the first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief. Today, Sisyphus came up and I asked if she knew what a Sisyphean task was. She thought she knew, but she asked me to explain anyway.

"So, you know that Sisyphus was condemned to push a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll back down every, single time. Then he had to push it back up again. So, a Sisyphean task is one with no end in sight ... you just have to do it again and again and again."

"Like laundry," she said, nodding.

This girl understands life.

My work here is done.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Homeschooling: Covering "Subjects" in a Non-Traditional Way

In a Facebook group for homeschoolers, the question arose: "Where can one find examples of how common, daily activities with kids fit into 'subjects'?"

I want to put together a post that goes into a lot more detail, but in the meantime, I was reminded of this old post from years ago:

From today's Charlotte Mason excerpt, found at AmyAble's new blog, A Full Life: The Works of Charlotte Mason
"One thesis, which is, perhaps, new, that Education is the Science of Relations, appears to me to solve the question of curricula, as showing that the object of education is to put a child in living touch as much as may be of the life of Nature and of thought. Add to this one or two keys to self knowledge, and the educated youth goes forth with some idea of self management, with some pursuits, and many vital interests."
One of the first things that attracted me to Charlotte Mason's ideas was this "Science of Relations" business. It matched up so perfectly with my (admittedly limited at the time) observations about how my own child learned. Anne was constantly making connections about things in her world, in our world.

Reading a book about ducks would lead to talking about baby ducks, which would lead to talking about baby people, which in turn led to playing with our own baby person, her little sister, and that led to counting said person's fingers and toes. Amidst satisfied giggles from baby-person-Betsy, Anne would ask about how God made babies, and how did God make dirt, for that matter? And did God have sisters? And speaking of dirt, could we go outside and play in some?

I could have said, "Now, now, hold your horses. One thing at a time. We can either talk about science (ducks and human reproduction), or math (counting those scrumptious little toes), or about theology, or we can go do P.E., but we can't jumble it all up like that. One subject at a time, please."

No, no, no. Anne didn't break the world into "subjects" ... that would have been absurd. All the "subjects" are connected. So, why should I attempt to divide the whole world into subjects? Learning seemed to happen more quickly, more completely, and in a more integrated way when I allowed the Science of Relations to influence our "studies."

One might argue that it's all well and good for a toddler to follow connections in an If You Give a Mouse a Cookie sort of way, (and, of course, one of the reasons I love Laura Numeroff's books is that she understands how children's minds work) but continuing to do so as they get older will just lead to ADD. Hmmm. Maybe. But, my personal experience has been that following connections and looking for the ways in which the "subjects" are interconnected has paved the way for a greater appreciation for what a real education is. For example, when we read about Archimedes were we covering history or math or science?

The kids, ahem, didn't really care which category it fell into.

I remember the first time another child asked my kids what their favorite subject was. Anne and Betsy were about 8 and 6 years old, and they looked at the child as if she were a Klingon. "What do you mean?" they asked.

I explained the whole school-and-subjects thing. I told them that since they loved books of historical fiction, they could honestly say that two of their favorite subjects were "reading" and "history." Or, because they loved to draw and paint, they could say "art." Or, because they loved to swim and ride horses, they could say, "P.E." But, really, I assured them it isn't important to break it all down into subjects. It can be helpful, especially where the Dewey decimal system is concerned (and that led to another discussion) but it wasn't necessary.

So. That's my take on today's bite-sized chunk of Charlotte Mason.

Be a rebel. Don't do subjects.

More to come soon.


Part 2 is here.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Poetry Friday: Beverly Rollwagen (for the times you want a stunt double)

Ever have one of those days? Of course you have. Every wife, mother, daughter, neighbor, friend has had one of those days.

I have only one complaint about Beverly Rollwagen: I can't find about more about her! Ms. Rollwagen, have you replaced yourself with an understudy who travels incognito? Inquiring understudies want to know.

by Beverly Rollwagen

She just wants an understudy, a body
double for the days when she does
not feel like appearing in any of the roles
she has assumed and/or been assigned.

(Read the rest of this very short poem here, at The Writer's Almanac.)


Elizabeth Steinglass has the round up.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

I really, really, really just wanted a cup of hot coffee

My friend, Paula, and her daughter are visiting. The daughter is one of Ramona's besties, so when the family's in town, we temporarily adopt Paula's daughter (whom I'm going to blog-name Miranda Sings for reasons that will probably mortify her mother. Paula, I'm blog-renaming you Miranda's Mother. No arguing.)

So, since I have twelve-year-old twins this week, and I hate cooking anyway, and I didn't feel like cooking, naturally I took everyone out for some disgusting fast food.

I won't target the particular fast food chain, but here's how things unfolded:

Ramona and Miranda and Anne and Betsy ordered some food and stepped aside.

Me? Well, though I hate cooking, I hate eating fast food even more, so I decided to just get coffee. I planned to eat something later at home while I complained to Atticus about cooking and the evils of fast food.

I said to the girl who worked at the evil fast food place, "Do you have any coffee brewed?"

She shook the coffee pot (I could hear some lame, cold coffee swishing around in there) and said, "Yeah, there's a little bit left here."

"Okay," I said, "Here's the thing. I'll have a coffee, but I can wait until you brew a fresh pot."

"Okaaaay," she said, blinking. I should have detected the beginning of confusion.

She started piling food on the tray, while I dug out a credit card. When I looked up from my wallet, there sat a cup of coffee in front of me. Unless I had just stepped into a wormhole, this was the old coffee, not the "I'll wait for it" coffee.

Ramona and Miranda, et al, got their tray and settled in at a table, and I caught the counter girl's attention.

"Okay, so, can I just give this back to you, and I'll wait for the fresh stuff?"

"What?" she squinted at me.

"Well, this is lukewarm -- I'll just wait while you start a new pot."

"It's too warm?"

"No, it's lukewarm."

She squinted again.

"It's not warm," I said. "Not warm."

She cocked her head, her mouth hanging slightly open.

"It's not hot. Isn't hot," I said, grasping for something that expressed not-hot more simply than, well, say, "not hot."

"It's unhot. I'd like a hot cup of coffee, so I'll wait."

"Do you want it in a cup?"

"Yes, a cup would be nice." (I may have been nodding desperately at this point.)

"Okay. I'll have to brew some."

I nodded again. Emphatically. "Ok, sure, that's a good idea," I said. "I'll be at that table over there, okay?" My eyes were wide, and probably wild. Had we fully established contact? Would a hot cup of coffee be forthcoming?

She blinked and turned away in the general direction of the coffee pot.

A couple minutes later, she brought me a coffee.

In a cup.

And it was hot.

I'm pretty sure someone probably spit in it, but it was really hot. Maybe even lukehot.