A Daring Question, One Remarkable Discussion

Inspired by Miss Penelope Lumley (see The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place), I decided to attempt to read a beautiful poem to my children today.

I didn’t know how it would go. But Miss Lumley often reads poetry to children raised by wolves, so I thought it could not be as bad as that.

Or perhaps it could be as bad as that, but certainly not worse than that. My kids haven’t been raised by wolves, at least. So I told my kids to gather ’round.

Note: They did complain. But I scolded them a little and they have learned to just go along with Mom when she gets in these moods.

So I started with the first poem in the book Christmas Poems called Ring Out, Wild Bells by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

I cleared my throat and read out the title of the poem, the poet’s name, and the dates he lived, which happen to be 1809-1892.

Then, before thinking, on an impulse, I asked a daring question that came to my mind, “Do we know about anything that happened when the poet was alive?”

My oldest (14) said, “The war of 1812 would have happened when he was really young, like three or four.”

My middle child (9) said, “Next comes the Missouri Compromise.”

Then all three children, 6, 9, and 14, proceeded to say the Classical Conversations timeline from the Missouri Compromise through World War 1.

Some of you will know what this includes. For those who do not, they said from memory:

“Immigrants flock to America, the Monroe Doctrine, Romantic Period of the Arts…”

At this, I looked down at the poem and asked the girls, “I wonder if Tennyson is considered a Romantic poet. He wrote this in the Romantic period of the arts.”

They all nodded. We all continued.

“Cherokee Trail of Tears, US Westward Expansion, Marx publishes the Communist Manifesto, the Compromise of 1850 and the Dread Scott Decision, US restores trade with Japan, British Queen Victoria’s rule of over India, Darwin publishes the Origin of Species, Lincoln’s war between the states.”

At this, my fourteen year old noted out loud that he would have lived through the Civil War!

We all said, “Wow!” and then kept going with the timeline:

“Reconstruction of the Southern States, Dominion of Canada, Otto Von Bismarck Unified Germany, Boar Wars in Africa, the Spanish American War, the Progressive Era, Australia becomes a commonwealth, Mexican Revolution, World War 1.”

Once we got to World War 1, they said, “He would not have been alive anymore. That was the early 1900s.” Note that they said this to one another and I only agreed with them.

So we stopped reciting the timeline.

Then my oldest said, “He wouldn’t have been alive in the Mexican Revolution either.”

“How would she know that?” I thought to myself.

Then I answered my own question when I remembered that she’s in Challenge 1 this year and she has to read and annotate original American documents, including Defense of the Alamo and Taney’s Dread Scott Decision, two documents about events that would’ve happened around the time, so her understanding of America’s timeline is being refined and filled in beautifully- That’s how.

Note: I have since checked her dates and she’s right. The Mexican Revolution happened in 1910-20, so Tennyson wasn’t alive then.

So then, after this brief discussion, which was mostly a recitation of the timeline we have all memorized, we read the poem, now with an idea of when the poet lived. I didn’t know if this would matter, since it was a poem about Christmas/ New Year, etc.

But I read it.

And I did not read it well.

And the children wiggled.

When it was over, we sat in silence for a few moments.

Then my middle child (9), said, “Isn’t there a part of the poem that mentions war?”

I found where it says, “Ring out the thousand wars of old” and pointed it out to her.

She said, “Yes. I thought so. He lived through many wars.”

Then my oldest (14) said, “He mentions ‘lust for gold.’ The westward expansion would have happened in his life time. That includes the gold rush.”

Now, since this conversation happened a few hours ago, I can look at the poem and see so much more, too.

Tennyson mentions the “feud of rich and poor.” The Communist Manifesto, published in his lifetime, must speak of that some, too.

I’m so glad I attempted to read the poem today!

And I am glad that I dared to ask that question!

It lead us into one remarkable discussion I don’t want to ever forget! (So I am posting it here.)

Credit goes to CC’s memory work, specifically, their timeline and my daughter’s Challenge 1 reading assignments.

Preserving Spider Webs and Arachne


We discovered a magnificent spider web on our deck railing this morning.

We sprayed it with multipurpose spray adhesive, available at craft stores, and pressed a piece of black construction paper against it to preserve it.

The spider responsible is already building a new web in place of the old one, so we are going outside periodically to admire her work.

Earlier this week, we read about Arachne in Classic Myths to Read Aloud by William F. Russell, so finding a spider busy spinning her webs on our deck comes in good time.



Diagramming Sentences- A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words


Today, instead of diagramming one of the sentences in our Essentials guide, we chose to try, try being the key word, and diagram the last sentence of the book The Black Stallion.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

My daughter was so exhausted, exasperated, etc. that she fell forward, resting her forward on the white board when we were done.

That’s how I felt after diagramming this sentence, too.

And I’m not entirely sure what we did is correct, either.

There was no answer key for us to check out work against which was kind of frustrating.

But I told my daughter (and I kept telling myself), life is often like that.

It’s still worth doing for the challenge of it and for all the things you definitely get right in the process.

Listen to Audio Books During Lunch

IMG_6881 One of our favorite things to do is listen to audio books while we eat our lunch.  We can usually listen to a chapter or two at a time, a few lunches each week, moving through several novels in a year.  I pay for a monthly subscription to audible and that allows me to download a few audio books every few months. I’ve always been able to find the books I want, many more audio books than my library offers and I download them right to my computer. No trip to the library necessary.  The books are much more affordable with the subscription than they would be without it.  So far, we’ve listened to Justin Morgan Had a Horse, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Strawberry Girl, Lawn Boy, Nurse Matilda, Brighty of the Grand Canyon and now we’ve started The Black Stallion.

Make Your Own Story Book CD Sets

I loved to listen to books on tape when I was a kid.  But I’ve found it difficult to find story book CD sets for the books that my kids and I really like. But audible.com has the audio to many of our favorite books, so it’s been easy enough to just make my own story book CD sets, using the books we have on our shelves. Here’s how.


Using my audible.com membership, I purchase and download the audio for some of our favorite children’s books that we already own.

Note: If the audio for a book is expensive, I will use the points I have in my audible account to purchase it.  But if the audio for a book is cheap, and most children’s books are, I just pay for it and save my audible points for more expensive books.

Then using i-tunes, I burn the audio for each book onto a CD and label each CD with Sharpie.

Then using heavy duty tape, I attach a CD holder to the inside, back cover of each book.


I also put an orange label on the binding so that my daughters will know which books have CDs in them. All the orange labels go on the bottom shelf.


I keep the CD player in the corner on the floor next to the bottom shelf and I’ve taught my kids how to handle the CDs themselves.  I’ve also trained the baby to leave the books and the CD player alone.  If my kids didn’t put the CDs back after each use or if the baby didn’t listen and stay away, I would probably consider keeping these books and the CD player out of reach and supervise their use of these books and the CD player so things didn’t get scratched or broken.  My kids aren’t perfect at this, mind you, but they are doing a decent good job of handling the CDs and CD player, so I have been able to just let them enjoy the audio books at their leisure.

This audio book collection has been great for my four year old daughter, in particular, who is still learning to read and who needs some productive things to do while I am doing school work with her older sister.


Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM

My husband has been reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM aloud to the family after dinner.  You know the story, right?  A widow mouse and her children have set up house through the winter in an abandoned cinder block that’s been buried by accident in Mr. Fitzgibbon’s garden. But now that it is spring, they have to move out of their cozy, two-room house before Mr. Fitzgibbons plows. But the widow’s youngest son, Timothy, can’t be moved because he’s sick… Ah, it’s a great story.

Well, today, our whole family was out working in our yard, doing more preparation for the winter. We’ve had a cider block outside our back door for years, left over from the time we did construction on our basement.  We haven’t really known what to do with it so there it has sat year after year.

But, today, in a flash of brilliance, as I passed by it doing something else, I asked the girls if they wanted to bury it in our garden over the winter! Just for fun. Perhaps our own Mrs. Frisby can move into it!

The girls were thrilled with the idea so I got a shovel from the garage and we three of us buried it there, on one side of our garden just as it was buried in the story.  And within a few weeks, it will be surrounded by the winter rye that we’ve planted to over-winter in the garden, just as Mr. Fitzgibbon’s had planted in his garden in the story.

The girls spent a full hour collecting leaves and moss and small stones, etc. for Mrs. Frisby.  They left their gifts on the flat, top of the cinder block that functions as its ceiling, enough to give her at least a few, convenient choices when she moves in and begins to decorate.

Oh, the magic that books create for my girls! I can imagine that they will be falling asleep this winter, often recalling then wondering and dreaming about Mrs. Frisby and her little mouse-children in the cozy winter home we prepared for them today.

The Cricket in Times Square

The characters in the last book we read aloud, The Cricket in Times Square, all liked liverwurst. They were a mouse, a cat and a cricket, all friends, and they’d share and relish in the scraps of this lunch meat that fell out of people’s sandwiches and onto the ground in New York City. Their love of liverwurst made Norah want to try it. She wasn’t dissuaded by the fact that the characters who liked it were all animals. So her dad, who likes liverwurst, made himself and the girls sandwiches last Saturday for lunch. (I had few bites of everyone’s sandwiches, to get tastes of it, but then I made myself a grilled cheese.)

Norah ended up eating two whole liverwurst sandwiches; she liked it so much. She generally has a good appetite anyway, though, and since I wanted to make sure we used up all the liverwurst we bought, I let her have as much as she wanted.

Avril ate half a liverwurst sandwich along with her Daddy and her big sister. So the whole family had fun with this book-inspired adventure.  Here’s to how books can inspire us to try new things!


Read What You Like, Ditch What You Don’t

We finished Sarah, Plain and Tall a few days ago and now we have started reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

Note: It’s amazing how quickly we are going through books now that we are only reading ones we really enjoy.

Before, I just had to finish books that I had started because other people had said those books were great and we must be wrong about our impressions of the book, etc. etc.

But continuing to read books we didn’t really like meant that I kept avoiding reading aloud to Norah because I wasn’t really enjoying the book at all and therefore, Norah didn’t really enjoy it, either. Reading aloud became a chore.

When I read the quote below out of Jim Trelease’s The Read Aloud Handbook, I decided he was right and I had to stop insisting on finishing books we really weren’t enjoying and I had commit to be okay with reading only those we like.

Doing so has made all the difference in our read-aloud experience. It’s a delight again.

Jim Trelease says:

“Don’t read stories that you don’t enjoy yourself. Your dislike will show in the reading and that defeats your purpose. Don’t continue reading a book once it is obvious that it was a poor choice. Admit the mistake and choose another.”


The Dog Called Kitty and The Hundred Dresses

We finished two read-alouds this week.

We finished A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace-

This book had Norah and I weeping at several points. When I was too choked up to read, Norah would rub my back and put her head on my shoulder till I was strong enough to read again.

The narrator goes from being terrified of dogs because he was attacked when he was a little boy to saving the life of a starving stray pup who wanders onto his farm and even growing to love this dog, Kitty, for his very own. It’s very heartwarming.

But, it’s very gritty. Very gritty.

At one point, the narrator breaks a wild dog’s back by slamming it with a large stick. You feel the dog’s back crunch right along with the narrator. Keep in mind, the wild dog had his teeth sunk into the narrator’s dog’s leg at the time. And the wild dog was the leader of the pack of several wild dogs who were close to tearing the narrator’s dog and new born baby calf to pieces in the struggle.

In other scenes, the narrator fist fights with a very angry and aggressive bully who is friends with some of his school friends. The narrator also ends up throwing this bully’s very aggressive dog into a barn wall in another scene (to keep him from torturing another starving puppy.)

I spent my elementary years in rural Oklahoma and Texas. This story is set in rural Oklahoma. My mom was a public school teacher there and the author of this book was one of the nearby school principals. My teacher read it out loud to my class one year. That’s how I knew about it to begin with.

This book is written to kids in that culture, kids who are free to roam all over town and country and who are required to contribute to the family by working on the farm. In roaming, they have to be aware of dangers suburban kids grow up totally ignorant of (like avoiding dangerous animals traps with poison all over the pastures) and in working the farm, kids also have to be capable of serious challenges (like protecting a baby calf from wild animals).

Anyway, all this to say that this book ain’t for sissies. It also isn’t a book every parent would choose to read to their kids for the reasons I mentioned above and I get that.

We also read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

This story is about a poor, little, immigrant girl who wears the same dress to school every day and gets picked on by the wealthier girls in her class for telling them that she has “one hundred dresses” in her closet at home.

The little girl doesn’t speak English as well as the other kids. What they and you as a reader don’t realize is that the little girl means she has drawn one hundred dresses and hung the pictures up in her closet “all lined up in a row.”

The narrator and main characters realize too late, because the poor little girl and her family move away due to prejudice, that all the fun and laughs they had at this poor girl’s expense was really cruelty, even if it was subtle and even if the girl appeared to be lying. They resolve to stop picking on people and even to stand up to those who do.

Norah and I had a very long conversation about treating others they way we want to be treated sparked by this book. It’s a good read for little girls, especially those who are going to school or going into any environment where the clothes a person wears are often valued above a person’s inner character.

Tasting Turkish Delight

“Every home school family should have a box of Turkish Delight.” -My friend Anna
The same friend who gave me all those books way back, gave us a box of Turkish Delight today. This is actually a prayer answered, believe it or not. (I pray about everything.) Norah couldn’t wait to try it. She remembers what it did to Edmund, but she also pointed out (mostly to assure herself that it was safe), “The witch’s Turkish Delight was magic.”