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!)

It's Old But It's Good (Vintage Ramona and Austin Next Month)

I'm sitting here looking for a specific reference to writing with my daughters because next month -- at the Catholic Family Educators of Central Texas Convention, July 12th at St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church) -- I'll be presenting a session on teaching writing in your homeschool.

So, I was scrolling through some posts on my blog and found this one from the fall of 2007, when Ramona was five years old:

You know you're a writing mom when ...
... writing "when the kids don't need me" makes prime-writing-time fall between one and six a.m. 
... you think of your computer as one your best friends (and yet you long to trade your best friend in for a newer, sleeker model.) 
... coffee is your favorite food group.  
... your kids regularly tell you, "Don't write that down!"
... your kids regularly tell you, "Mom! Write this down!"
... your five-year-old says, "Mommy, today I played my heart out. No ... I played my energy out. No ... 'played my heart out.' Yes. That sounds better. 'Today I played my heart out.' Yes. That's it."

If you'll be anywhere near Austin in the middle of July and would like to stop by, registration information for the CFE Conference can be found here, and contact information is here.

A complete schedule of the day can be found here. I'll be delivering the keynote address at 11:30 a.m., and will present the writing session at 2:45 p.m.

I hope I see you there!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sometimes, I Just Think That Being Catholic Is the Weirdest Thing Ever.

But in a good way.

Well, that's what I think now. Let me back up a bit.

Long ago, in the galaxy of my life that is far, far away, I didn't want to be Catholic because I thought Catholicism was simply too weird. 

So many things put me off: the chanting, droning sounds of the responses at Mass (which served only to reinforce my idea that Catholics were sheep who, having happily checked their brains at the door, now followed the leader), the statues, the kissing of the Cross on Good Friday (I remember the first time my friend, Jack, told me about that one. "You kissed it? A piece of wood? You mean, you kissed it ... with your lips?")

It's hard to satisfactorily explain to those who have been Catholic their entire lives exactly how foreign and shocking and incomprehensible some practices and traditions are -- how strange they look and sound, seem and feel, when you are first exposed to them.

The idea of a Corpus Christi procession was once alien to me, to put it mildly. But as I walked through the streets of my town yesterday -- holding hands with my husband, praying for people we know and people we've never met, singing, thinking -- I was struck by how perfectly normal the whole thing seemed to me. Strangely normal. Comforting, touching and stirring.

I felt, all in the same moment, tethered to earth and ready to fly.

It's the weirdest -- and best -- feeling ever.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Serious Request

Can you all please pray for the people in our neighboring communities?

One of my husband's colleagues lost her home in the double-tornadoes that came through our area on Monday, the people of Pilger had their town demolished, and another huge tornado touched down in Coleridge. As far as I know, at least two people died in these storms. I don't need to post pictures -- you've probably all seen the devastation and the unbelievable twisters on the news.

These communities are practically in our backyard, and we are feeling heart-heavy for all those affected. Your prayers are greatly appreciated!

Edited to add:
If you are able to help and would like to make a donation you can head over to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha. There is a link (under "Recent News -- Stanton County Tornado Disaster Relief") to a Paypal donation page. Thank you, and thanks for your prayers.

Oh, Twitter, You Scamp

You just can't be trusted.

    Really, Spammer?

    And also? If a real celebrity was really going to follow me I would really not choose Brad Pitt. Silly spammers.

    You should know that Brad Pitt is not a book-geek magnet.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

    Bits and Pieces of Our Days (In Which Betsy Turns 18, Dons a Cap and Gown, and Her Godfather Gets the Flu)

    Last week felt a little frantic.

    * Monday: 

    We needed to drive to Omaha for Betsy's graduation rehearsal. (Yes, we already celebrated her graduation with the big party, but we also like to participate in a ceremony with the regional Catholic homeschool group.) The only problem was that we still had two vehicles with broken windshields, blah, blah, blah. (I'm tired of talking about the hail storm and you're probably tired of hearing about it, right? But some of it figures into this story, so I'll try not to bore you.)

    We did have at our disposal The Clunker, also known as the girls' car.  It's old and it sometimes seems a little rickety, but it runs. And it has a windshield! And it ran us to Omaha for the rehearsal without breaking down. Hurray! We spent a little time chatting with Jack, my kids' godfather, who was slated to be the master of ceremonies at Friday night's graduation. We then grabbed some dinner and drove home. The Clunker made it home, too! Hurray!

    We got home, went to pick up the van, and lo and behold, it had a shiny new windshield and a new back passenger window. Hurray!

    * Tuesday: 

    Lovely live interview with the lovely Roxane Salonen on Real Presence radio. I love talking with Roxane -- I think she must rank somewhere in the top five sweetest people in the world.

    Then -- another windshield fixed. Bam! Take that, hail. Safelite is my new hero. Anne and Betsy thought the guy who came to the house looked like Charlie Pace but I didn't notice anything like that. I was just in awe that -- once they actually made it to the house, several days after the storm because they've been so swamped -- those guys could slap a new windshield in so fast.

    * Wednesday 

    Betsy turned 18! Betsy turned 18?! Betsy turned 18. She really did. We celebrated. There was much chocolate.

    * Wednesday and Thursday

    Eye appointments for everyone! Ramona is getting glasses! They are purple! They are worthy of all these exclamation points!

    Also? Clean the house! I must clean the house! Friends coming for dinner Thursday night!

    I think there was water park stuff in there somewhere, too.

    * Thursday 

    Lovely, quick interview with the crew at Spirit Catholic Radio. Can you believe that Jen Brown had never heard of anyone screeching, "Jesus, I trust in Thee!"? I know, right?

    Friends came over for dinner. Friends who then moved away on Saturday. My friends always move. This has been happening for longer than I care to think about. Anyway.... we had a great evening, with beautiful friends whom I will miss so much.

    * Late Thursday Night 

    Heaved a heavy sigh.

    * Friday 


    Our dented van with its incongruously beautiful new windshield spirited us to Omaha for the big graduation Mass and ceremony. I hadn't had time to bake anything for the reception so I picked up some of those sugar wafer cookie thingies that are full of artificial colors and flavors. You know the things I mean? Not real food. They were inhaled. Remind me to never bake for an event again. This stuff works.

    On the downside, someone who ate no cookies that night was Jack. Jack, you see, along with his entire family, was too busy having stomach flu to venture out of the house.

    Jack is better now, but it goes without saying that he did not emcee the ceremony. Poor Jack and poor Jack's entire family, and poor us, because we did not get to see any of them.

    * Saturday 

    A book store.
    Trader Joe's.
    Headed home.

    * Sunday 

    Happy Father's Day to Atticus! We took him out for a Reuben sandwich (we tried a new place, and the Reuben was only so-so) and a couple of beers and we all laughed a lot over dinner and generally felt grateful and happy to be together. He told me later that despite the so-so sandwich, the company was excellent and it was one of the best Father's Days he's ever had.

    * This week? 

    I plan to recover from last week.