Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Homeschool Curriculum Reviews

I want to do a homeschool post, if for nothing else than to have it written down. On the other hand, is it obnoxious for everyone else to have to pretend like they care? Or am I the only jerky person out there that doesn't really care what other people's kids are learning in school? I mean, the Christmas thing was fun for all, because we all celebrate Christmas, we all probably have some sort of European or other cultural ancestry that is fun to take a look at every now and then, and everyone loves cookies! But do you really care that my kids are learning about Ancient Egypt? Or the water cycle and weather? Well, when I start thinking about it, I think that maybe it's not so much that you care about what we're doing as how to do it if you want to do it. I haven't ever really thrown my two cents in there curriculum wise. My two cents is only worth about what two cents can get you at Tiffany's, but still, I'll throw it in. If everyone throws theirs in, sometimes it can add up to something. Please forgive me if I don't line up with you on something. This is all just based on my own brilliant and nearly infallible opinion. (Ha!) I have put the subject and the name of the curriculum in bold for easy skimming or for ease in finding a specific review. You have no obligation to read this, you know. I am sorry if this is horribly dull for most of you. 

We are aiming for a Classical Christian education. It has been about five years since I did all my fancy reading about Classical education, so I am not claiming to be any sort of expert. Plus, I'm only teaching second grade. Well, and I taught about half a year of kindergarten a few years ago. I am re-using some of my kindergarten curriculum now on August, just to occupy him and get him excited about learning. Everything else is somewhat above his level, but I bring it down when I can and hope he will glean a few things here and there. The other day I asked Amabel if she could remember who the first woman ruler of Egypt was. I figured she wouldn't get it as we had only been over it once and those Egyptians have hard names. She paused for long enough for me to realize she probably wasn't going to get it, and then I heard a giggling and enunciated "Hat-shep-sut" from the other room. Evidently, he is learning something. I thought it was pretty hilarious. 

The two things I have specifically for Kindergarten for August are from Veritas Press. I am using Saxon 1 for math and Veritas' Phonics Museum for phonics. I have to say that I don't like either. I am using them because I have them. When I ordered my kindergarten homeschool materials, I was so very first-time mom about it. I was determined to give Amabel a Rolls-Royce education. But just because something is supposed to be excellent, does not mean that it is remotely enjoyable for student or teacher. I felt that both curriculums were tedious and belabored every point to the point that both of us wanted to throw the books. 

Saxon Math, at least on the Kindergarten level, seems to me to be boring and colorless, and again, extremely tedious. This could be because I am always working from the teacher's manual which is extremely scripted. I have had people tell me "that's spiral review," but we have plenty of spiral review in our current curriculum and it is much more fun. These are children. Give them a picture of bunnies to count or something! There are plenty of exciting ways to teach Math. This is not one of those ways. 

Phonics Museum is miserable. It endeavors to be highly sophisticated and uses fine art to teach the letters. I learned A Apple, B Bell, etc. And I am all for the picture of apples being a lovely oil on canvas rather than a cartoon apple. That's great! And I love the idea of teaching with music. Hurray! What I was not prepared for was the grasping at straws approach. Y is a picture of Van Gogh's Sunflowers and stands for "yellow." Really? What child is going to see that and think "yellow?" The songs are so much worse though. They are so not catchy, and actually even a little annoying. We tried so hard to learn the first few songs last time, but we never got them. When I went to pull out the materials to teach August recently, I just left the CD in the box. We also did the first two weeks in two days. Now, August is older now than when I taught Amabel. She started kindergarten when she was four, actually. August is nearly six. But a week on A, followed by a week on M (yeah, they also don't teach the letters in order) is hardly necessary! The amount of work they expect from young children, especially in regard to penmanship, had Amabel in tears. I learned from that to really only have them write about five or six of a letter at a time. There is no point in getting them frustrated with themselves; they certainly won't improve through tears. I think the best course is to teach them with a lesson that is short enough for their attention span and ability, keep it fun, and then just keep reviewing and practicing over time. That is how I haven't had to order even new workbooks; we only did about half of the work for each lesson, so there are plenty of undone worksheets left over for August to do, even many superfluous review sheets as well. Otherwise, I totally would have sold my teacher's manuals and bought a new curriculum! I would say that if you are an intellectual, methodical perfectionist teaching an intellectual, methodical perfectionist, then go for it! Otherwise, let me help you find something you might like better. 

So for Second Grade for Amabel now we are doing Bible, History, Art, Latin, Science, Arithmetic, and English (broken down into spelling, phonics, reading, grammar, and cursive). I have stuck with Veritas Press' ideas and curriculum on Bible, History, Art, and Latin. I am really happy with all of it. But for the 3 R's, I have used A Beka. This is not a popular choice in my neck of the woods, but I have to say that I adore it. I had it as a child and knew it was good then. We moved around a lot and every time that I got away from A Beka and then came back to it at a different school, I was way behind. If we moved and got away from it again, I was bored, until I came back to it, and then I was behind again. So basically, I feel like A Beka is a good, strong curriculum compared to most of the others I was exposed to as a child, at least on the elementary level. I had A Beka grammar and have been a grammar geek ever since. It was just a really good foundation that somehow got me interested and excited as well. Alright, how about some specifics? 

I have chosen Song School Latin for Amabel this year, which is the primer for Latin for Children. I liked this curriculum a lot better that Latina Christiana which is ecclesiastical (and therefore sounded dreadfully boring to me), but of course, everyone has their own opinion. I am very pleased with our experience this year. It is so fun and even August and Elspeth are learning some of the songs and the words. Everyone looks forward to Latin! 

I have also gone with a lot of Veritas' Bible and History curriculum. Because it is Classical, there is no one text book- there are a ton of different sources. This is a little bit of a pain in the neck for the teacher sometimes, but we are all really learning a lot. August loves learning about the pyramids and mummies and that makes learning about Joseph and Moses that much more intriguing for him as well. There is no way anyone could afford everything that Veritas recommends. We have the cards they have designed and have them hanging clothesline style for a timeline. It has very been nice to not have to make a timeline. The cards also refer to some of the books with relevant information and include the page numbers. It's the closest thing I have to a teacher's manual! Having no idea which books would be most valuable to us, I decided to go through the recommendations for all of the elementary grades and picked books that could be used year after year, and chose only a couple of inexpensive paperbacks that had particular information on Egypt. One book that has been a huge hit with me and the children is A Child's History of the World. I had to skip the first few chapters because it was all weird and evolution-y and caveman-y, but then it forged ahead into a beautifully done storybook like telling of real recorded events in history. It is even written from a Christian perspective in that it talks about our God being the God. So I am confused by the evolution hooey, but whatever. We will use this book for years. I love it. And I couldn't neglect to mention the kids' favorite book, Usborne Time Traveler. This book has a long section on each of Knights and Castles, Vikings, Ancient Romans, and Ancient Egyptians. George and I looked at this book and immediately knew it would be a favorite forever. The drawings are amazingly detailed and there are characters that go from page to page to make it a little easier to get into the culture. There is so much information on every page, and all in bright colors and kid-friendly illustration. They could look at it for hours. To prevent arguing, I recommend one copy per child! We have a few other interesting books, but these are the two I highly highly recommend, even if you aren't homeschooling. For Bible, which is relevant to whatever we are studying in History, I just actually read them the Bible. I am really glad that I decided to do this, and I'm not even sure what made me decide it. But they can totally handle it. There is no need to flannel graph everything for children. I did skip Lot and his daughters, Judah and Tamar, and Dinah though, for obvious reasons. I do have to stop and explain things, but I am glad they are getting used to hearing the Scripture daily and don't have to have everything put in story Bible style - though I absolutely love a good story Bible, and use two of my favorites from time to time to review and give them a few more pictures to look at. 

For Art, we are loving the St. Louis County Library. I have used some of the Veritas recommendations but checked them out rather than purchasing them. We started a formal art study only recently. We read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler just for fun while Amabel and I were sick. It was a little over her head, but I didn't realize it would be until we were already into it, and she definitely got it enough to where she wanted to stay with it.  If you remember the book, it is about two children who run away to live in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. There is a newly acquired statue there that may or may not have been done by Michelangelo, and the kids go on a sleuthing adventure to find out the truth. With all of the talk about the Italian Renaissance and Michelangelo, I figured we might as well jump in and study the master himself. We have since moved on to Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. There is a great book called Discovering Great Artists that has been so much fun to use. It has dozens of artists throughout history, listed by period and then alphabetically, with a blurb on each one and at least one art project after their style. It has the coolest ideas. We have also all (particularly August though) really enjoyed Michael Venezia's different biographies on the various artists and Laurence Anholt's books on artists as well (though we have not been able to use him for anything but da Vinci recently, we have read his books on the Impressionists in the past with pleasure). We have had so much fun doing art with some sort of guideline. Sometimes you need just one or two rules to get your creative juices flowing. For Michelangelo, we lay down on our backs and painted onto paper taped underneath a table to get what it must have been like to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We also painted our own frescoes (subject- any scene from the book of Genesis) using plaster of Paris. We tried these again with Raphael (subject- a Madonna) because they didn't work so well the first time. We also painted dragons one day and read St. George and the Dragon. I got this very well received idea from this blog

Okay, so that didn't take long! Except that it took forever. 

Moving right along, I'll just go ahead and elaborate just a little bit on A Beka Arithmetic. I read a lot of reviews for this curriculum before I bought it. I figured a lot can change in ten or twenty years and Amabel and I are really not very alike so what worked well for me could not work so well for her. The biggest problem people seemed to have with it was that it is hard. While it is harder than some stuff, I don't think it is inappropriately hard. I may think differently for another of my children, but I know Amabel is moving along at a comfortable pace. And I am glad to see her mastering new concepts instead of becoming bored with too much of the same thing. I see the word "gifted" all the time associated with this curriculum. I was not alarmed by that term, but I guess it could be intimidating to someone else. I just figure it's people wanting to brag about how smart their kid is! Anyway, if you know you have a child that has a hard time grasping new math concepts, this curriculum may not be a good fit. I am only saying that because of the people who reviewed it that way. My experience has been that it is a lot of fun, full of colorful pictures and even holiday appropriate pages (it was actually the inspiration for my Christmas Around the World study), and offers fabulous lesson plans for teachers with all sorts of ideas for manipulatives and scripts to explain new concepts, plus tons of review so they continue to work with old concepts while learning to grasp the new. Amabel is about thirty lessons shy of completing second grade and has learned multiplication and division up to three- I think they learn both up to five before the year is out- fractions, perimeter, graphs, temperature, money, time, English and metric measures, etc. this year, just to give you an idea. I don't know how that stacks up to Saxon or anything else, but I feel pretty good about all she has accomplished. 

And now for A Beka Language Arts. First of all, I didn't get the readers, even though my reader with "The Melancholy Pig" in it was A Beka. I am letting her read more of what she wants. Right now, she is working through an old mystery series called The Happy Hollisters. She has also recently read The Secret Garden, Misty of Chincoteague and some of the subsequent books in that series. Why am I telling you this? The point is that I didn't care to buy her readers when I can just get her something from the library. However, we have their phonics, cursive, language (grammar), and spelling curriculum books. The spelling is silly. It is entirely too easy, in my opinion. We finished the entire book weeks ago. I don't think there was a word in there she couldn't already spell. Here again though, many reviews say the curriculum is too hard. We have ended up using words from our other lessons to supplement. Last week she spelled Michelangelo, Renaissance, pyramid, mummies, Cheops, Menes, Zoser, etc. She got it all right too. So maybe she is just good at spelling- she has a pretty good memory.  However, the grammar and phonics books are great. The phonics is really easy for her, but it keeps her thinking about the rules and the "special sounds" in our language. I think that kind of thing helps later on when spelling gets trickier. The grammar book is really strong with creative writing. Amabel hates creative writing. But they come up with fun exercises and she is gradually becoming less intimidated by it. Earlier in the year, they had her just writing a sentence here or there. Now she is supposed to write whole stories at least once a week. Of course, I tell her that means six sentences or sometimes eight if I feel like it's something she could have a lot to say about. I am glad it is built in to her workbook and not something I have to add in extra because it would be hard to make her do it as an extra thing when she struggles with it so much. But because it's right there on the sheet, it's just not up for discussion, she does it. And she is getting a lot better without even realizing it. Today she wrote about catching a goldfish, a puffer fish, and a clown fish all in the Meramec River. How cute is that?! The penmanship book for this grade basically just teaches cursive. I waited a while to teach Amabel cursive because her manuscript is so poor. I finally just started anyway, and it turns out that she has this lovely cursive as soon as she puts pen to paper. I guess printing just isn't her thing. I can't wait to get through the whole alphabet so she can just move on to writing in cursive for good. I don't know how you could have a bad book for teaching cursive, but this one is just fine to me. It goes letter by letter, organized from the easiest to write (lowercase L) and moving along through the harder. There is also plenty of practice for connecting letters together as new ones are learned. There are fun pictures on every page as well, and the lines gradually get smaller so they learn to write normal sized over time. 

Lastly, let's talk Science. I saved Science for last because I do not like Science. My first ever C was in Science, in Chemistry my senior year in high school. I took Chemistry with the sophomores because I had put it off for so long. I like Biology okay, I guess. I dated a guy who was pre-vet in college and he helped me ace, and even kind of enjoy, college Biology. But let's just recognize that Abby is not a science minded person; Abby is extremely right-brained. Nonetheless, Abby must teach science to the offspring. So what kind of science would you guess Abby would teach since Classical education doesn't bother people with science until the Logic stage (sweet!)? If you guessed Charlotte Mason, you're exactly right. Charlotte Mason is actually fairly similar to Classical in a lot of ways.  The only problem is that Charlotte Mason involves all manner of outdoor exploration. I have no idea what I'm doing outside. We have friends that we go hiking with who know what every plant, rock, and critter is. They are always turning up rocks looking for snakes and having a good ole time just being in their element. I have no idea what anything is. I tell them this is probably only the fourth time I've ever been hiking in my life. Running is another thing; I ran outdoors every day in high school and college. But I was running, I never stopped to see what kind of moss that was on the side of a tree. Anyway, I am a nature idiot. So what I do is subscribe to blogs of all sorts of people who love nature and explore nature and even come up with spiffy little lesson plans to teach about nature. Basically, I cheat. This blog is my favorite. She lists all manner of books, both non-fiction and fiction, websites, experiments and activities, and even Scripture lessons to incorporate. This blog is more free spirited; the lady just really really loves nature. I think it is a thing for moms with all boys. Go moms with all boys! God knew that I would be horrible for a gaggle of just boys. I would have been smocking for them til they were ten and making them bake cookies when they should've been wrestling. Luckily, I get my girly fix with my girls so that I can free August up to be a man. Okay, well, I just looked and it appears she may have an older daughter, and that blows my theory out of the water. Either way, I do not have the nature loving gene. It is a little embarrassing, but we knew I was bound to be imperfect somehow (Ha ha!) Anyway, that second blog is just some lady who explores outside like two hours every day and learns all manner of amazing things that I will never know. She inspires me to pay attention though, and to point things out to the kids. I mean, I know what a hyacinth is, but they don't. I may not know much about nature, but I can hold my own with five year olds! We are also currently keeping a weather chart, have just learned about the water cycle, and are moving on to learn about thunder and lightning over the next few days. They say March is a great time to teach about weather because it changes so much from day to day. The snow we had Sunday morning and the near seventy degree temperatures we are expecting later this week kind of back that theory up, I'd say. 

Anyway, that's my spiel. I may sound horribly incompetent or ignorant, but this is what we do. Feel free to leave any sort of comment or question, agree or disagree. But I am thinking this is more or less just a reference post that will be nice to have. It may not be worth all the time I have spent on it, but I am glad I finally "wrote" it all down. 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Melancholy Pig

I wonder if that last post was a dreadful mix of whining, horn tooting, and ambush preaching? Oh gosh, I hope not. My first grade reader had a fabulous illustration alongside Lewis Carroll's poem, "The Melancholy Pig." I am not entirely sure that this is the complete poem, but all I could find online was this:

There was a Pig, that sat alone,
Beside a ruined Pump. 
By day and night he made his moan:
It would have stirred a heart of stone
To see him wring his hoofs and groan
Because he could not jump.

Anyway, the picture was of a crying pig sitting by a broken pump. I loved that picture. I am not sure why. It may have been toward the back of my reader and so I would look ahead to it and think how great it would be to have read so much by the time I got there. Or it may be that I had no idea what melancholy meant, but I had a pretty good guess by reading the poem and looking at the picture. Whatever the reason, the picture is burned on my brain. And if I were a better artist, I could render it all for you, great big tears flying hither and yon and the saddest face you ever saw. But something about that face made me think, even as a six year old, that he needed to pull himself together! Whenever I find myself thinking that I need to pull myself together, I picture that melancholy pig. However, I feel sorry for the pig when I read the poem again. It does say it would even stir a heart of stone. So maybe I have softened in the last twenty five years. Anyway, all of this to say, please forgive my blubbering, preaching, horn tooting, or however I came across. Just think of me like you do the Pig. But you'll have to come up with your own illustration. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Take That, March 24, 2009!

So are y'all tired of looking at my smarmy pronunciation post? I think it is funny that I made that post on March 19th as I am fairly certain that that was the ten year anniversary of my college graduation. I have held out a shred of hope that 10 would be our magic number- 10 years after my graduation from Auburn is almost to the the day 10 months after George's seminary graduation. I kept thinking it would be such a lovely OCD way to end our trials, the perfect ten, the darkest of the night before the dawn, and all of that. Ha! I mean first of all, I really need to get over this idea that my life has been hard since I graduated college. The truth of it is, my life has always been hard. Hasn't yours? And on the other hand, the only real difference between my life before college ended and the life I have led since is that I was extremely self centered before I graduated, concerned only with time, money, and relationships inasmuch as they had to do with me. And since graduating and going directly into ministry and then leaving ministry to get married, I have just had to learn the hard truth that the world does not, in fact, revolve around me. How sad is that?! Lest I sound too serious (meaning serious at all), I will remind everyone that I was quite spoiled growing up, so no, my life was not hard in lots of ways, and that I am very grateful to have been broken of my self centered oblivion.

Anyway, here I am at a very not-appealing-to-my-fake-OCD point, the 24th of March 2009. As far as I'm concerned, there was nothing exciting or promising at all about today. And there really hasn't been anything exciting or promising for days now. It makes it increasingly hard for one to get out of bed. For that matter, it makes it increasingly hard for one to go to bed as well, because one just keeps hoping something noteworthy will happen. I don't mean noteworthy like a major news event; I mean noteworthy like an enjoyable episode of The Office. It's pathetic, really. We have been plugging along with homeschool, and I should write a little update about that sometime soon to share what we have been doing. I feel that all I have been doing is homeschool which has had me frustrated until last week when the kids cried at every meal and extra at bedtime because they missed their Daddy so much. He worked over seventy hours last week, without factoring in the commute, and the way it pained my children was heartbreaking for me. And I got to thinking that I am all these children have right now (duh, right?) so why am I whining about how homeschool takes forever and I can't get errands done and I don't ever get together with friends and I never wanted to teach and wah, wah, wah. Really? What is my problem? Of course, I don't respond well to kicks in the butt, even when they're from myself. And so, one week later, I was back to feeling like I had plenty of justified feelings and frustrations and that I am doing a good enough job as it is. But today was just one of those days where I clearly did not do a good enough job, and my frustrations, justified or not, needed to step aside. So as I sat down to dinner with a much needed glass of wine, surrounded by long faces, I decided that something really must be done to save the day, this sullen, dreary, grey March 24th that offered nothing but melancholy and tantrums from a two year old.

"Let's bake some cookies." Who has ever stayed sad after hearing those words? Maybe some dirty, exhausted, too young to be working kitchen maid in the 18th century, but surely no modern day American child, and certainly not this modern day American mother could remain morose after such a proposal. But they couldn't be just any cookies. No, these had to be save the day caliber cookies. None of this date and walnut silliness, we needed copious amounts of chocolate in extravagant, oversized pieces, pecans toasted to a golden, nutty perfection, and old fashioned oats for chewy, dense deliciousness. We scooped, we spilled, we stirred, we shaped, we sampled (the dough- mmmm) and we set the timer for the slowest 18 minutes in cookie baking history.

While we waited, the two younger ones started a "recipe" of their own with all of the spilled ingredients. Earlier, I had realized that the Morton's container was completely empty- not even the 1/2 teaspoon we were after- and had swiped what I needed from the salt shaker. I was a little clumsy though; I somehow managed to swipe about a quarter cup for the counter too. This became pure joy to my miniature bakers who busily stirred the spilt salt, some stray oats, and a random piece of parsley they found (who knows where it came from?) with whisks in the emptied mixing bowls, which became pure joy to watch for me. But as I turned to take care of something else, I was immediately gripped with fear as I heard Elspeth coughing and sputtering and even gagging, presumably choking. I turned around and my mind raced while I stood in terror, waiting for adrenaline or hoping for her to be suddenly alright, but all of it only for about a second and a half before I realized what was going on. A handful of salt. What possessed her to consume a handful of salt? I don't know, but she was extremely upset about it. I think she drank three cups of water before she was finally put back to rights. Even after the second cup, she was still angrily brushing off her tongue saying "bleh! bleh!" But that's not really why the wait was so long, we just needed some cookies. I just felt compelled to share what happened while we waited.

They were definitely worth the waiting though. In the end, my wine glass was relatively untouched, but my milk glass, on the other hand, was refilled twice! After we had had our fill of cookies and milk, we completed our saving of the day with a whole house game of hide and seek. I had forgotten how fun it was when the adults did something usually left to the kids. It has never occurred to me to play hide and seek with my children until tonight when Elspeth enthusiastically pointed at me and said "You hide!" The excitement in their voices as they asked each other "where do you think Mommy is hiding?!" was contagious. I found myself bursting out of closets without waiting to be found because I couldn't stand the anticipation. The anticipation of hide and seek? Yes! When was the last time you played?!

And let me just say (and if you pay attention to nothing else, please hear this), that I am not one of these people who thinks everything is a state of mind. I have very little patience for people who run around pretending like the real emotions and concerns of this world, the nuts and bolts of being a human being with a soft heart, are somehow not actually real and/or are sinful in essence. I actually recently unsubscribed from a very popular blog after the author stated, matter of factly and without exception, that "stress is a state of mind" and "there are no emergencies." See, I think our dear Lord himself would disagree with both of those statements. I think he was probably pretty stressed the night he sweated blood. And I'm pretty sure that the call to flee to Egypt to save his life as an infant or the narrow escape from being stoned by the Jewish leaders would each fall under the category of an emergency. No, being late home from music lessons so that dinner will be behind is not an emergency, but some of us are concerned about more significant things than what time dinner will make its appearance, and I don't think there is anything sinful or unholy about that. In fact, one could argue that many of Jesus' miracles were done, apart from the obvious reason to prove who he is and increase the faith of the people, to save the people involved from some type of stress, whether a young bride and groom and their families who would simply be embarrassed for running out of wine at their wedding or thousands of hungry people, on more than one occasion, who actually were stressed out about when dinner would make it's appearance. However, I do think that even in the face of real, in need of your own miracle stress, on a day where you lay in bed and stare at the ceiling wondering if God has somehow lost your contact information, and you look out the window and think surely there should be something to see besides grey, things can be better than they would have been if you lay down your own fears and worries, though legitimate and understandable they indubitably are, and give yourself to others. A gift that, for me, often takes the shape of baked goods or silly games, but can be as easy as dropping a note in the mail or reading The Small Small Pond for the fourth time today (as I am fixing to do at 10:30pm). I do not claim to be good at doing that, by any stretch, but I was reminded today of what a blessing it can be when I do.

I highly recommend the recipe we tried out tonight. If you can't think of anyone to bake them for, I humbly suggest ME! The only minor glitch I ran into was that I guess my oven cooks a little hot. I reduced the bake time by a full six minutes and still had overcooked cookies- not burnt, just a little more crisp that desired. Nonetheless, I wanted to share, and if you are concerned, just check them early. Here is the recipe, from a source that I dare not mention lest they treat me as others before me and demand I take the recipe down, but I think you know who I mean, the meanies who regularly supply the very best recipes in bimonthly issues of a top notch publication. I have lovingly renamed them "Save the Day Cookies."

Save The Day Cookies

1 1/4 c. unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. old fashioned rolled oats
1 c. pecans, toasted and chopped
1 bag Nestle chocolate chunks (or be all hoity toity and cut up your swanky bittersweet bars- you need somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 cups)
12T unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla

-preheat oven to 350 with racks in upper and lower-middle position. this is a good time to toast your pecans.
-whisk flour, baking powder, soda, and salt in bowl. in a separate bowl, mix oats, pecans, and chocolate. in a third bowl, whisk together egg and vanilla.
-place butter and sugar in mixer bowl and use paddle beater to beat for one minute on medium speed. add egg and vanilla and beat until fluffy and incorporated, about 30 seconds. add flour mixture and beat another 30 seconds, just until combined. turn mixer down to low and add the oats, pecans, and chocolate.
-scoop dough out into 1/4 c. portions, making 2 inch balls, 2 1/2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets. gently smoosh them down to a one inch thickness (we forgot to do this) and bake them for 12 minutes. rotate sheets from top to bottom and bake them another 8-10 minutes until edges are golden and centers are soft (will still look uncooked and shiny in cracks). do not overbake. cool on racks for five minutes.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Elspeth

Just so you know, this is meant as a helpful tip and not as a backhanded airing of grievances. I have noticed that lots of people have a hard time pronouncing my youngest daughter's name. It's perfectly understandable in one sense, because it is unusual on our continent (I have heard it is still fairly common in Great Britain). However, I never really thought of it any other way than how we say it until I heard all the guesses over the past two and half years. While it could be that George and I are pronouncing it wrongly, from the first time we saw the name, we have both always said it the way we say it. So, say it as you please, but if you were confused or uncertain and wish for a guide, I am going to try to break the Edema (pronounced EE-duh-muh) preferred pronunciation down for you.  Caps used to show which syllable is accented, double vowels used to show a long vowel sound. 

As opposed to Edema, which has a long E sound, Elspeth has all short E sounds. I have seen it written out as EL-spehth or ELS-peth, but both of those are 1)slightly different from each other and 2)slightly different from how we say it. The accent is definitely on the first syllable. Whether or not the S is included in that first syllable is debatable, but I would say yes. So you've got the ELS, but then you have the tricky part. First of all, it's a P, not a B. That actually does sort of bug me, because Elsbeth is a name, just not my child's name. But I mean, it's not a big deal. Amabel gets called Annabel regularly. The main problem that people seem to be having, besides the P and B mixup, is that they want to really hear that second E. So they literally say els-PETH or ELS-pEth. But, that second E is hardly heard at all. It could almost be ELS-pth or ELS-puth. It's really more or less how you say the "beth" in Elizabeth. While Beth is a name, and the E is definitely heard, one does not often say ElizabEth, but more Elizabth or Elizabuth. If my training in linguistics were better (as opposed to one entry level course), I could pick a better symbol for that E sound that is almost absent. But I think you get the idea. Again, this is help for no one in particular, just anyone who is uncomfortable with my child's Scottish name, as I have noticed that that name is usually mispronounced. Carry on then.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Reviews

I am feeling a little better every day. Today I actually don't feel very well, but I stupidly drank a Coke Zero at nine o'clock last night so I couldn't get to sleep for a while and then I don't think I slept too well. I think it is a sad thing to turn the corner to be one of those people who can't have caffeine after a certain hour. This is a new thing for me. Anyway, the whole thing about recovering from pneumonia is how very tired I am. That is why time changing and caffeine issues just won't do. But I have had plenty of help from the wonderful people in our church this last week. We had meals coming all week and help with the children from Monday to Saturday. So today is my first day to be on my own with the kids. So far it is a free for all- I have extremely low expectations. I probably shouldn't pick this morning to be my first time to post, but they are playing so nicely with the Legos, and I really don't have the energy to mop the floor, so blogging it is. And later on, we'll see if we can't start working our way back into the home school world after a month's break!

It really has been a month since the sickness hit our house. I feel like a hermit. I have been doing much more reading and movie watching than usual. I haven't added the reading to my sidebar because, besides magazines, everything I have finished reading has not been worth recommending. But I figure you can all use the warning, and can also even allow that we might not all share opinions on these things. So without further ado, reviews on books and movies I have taken in during my month as a shut in.

Books

Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt by Anne Rice. I hate to write a bad review for this. My husband, who has a Masters in Divinity, loved it. He wrote his own blog post about how outstanding it was. He actually required me to read it because he thought it would help me. I don't know if y'all have issues with understanding Jesus like I do. I think that anyone with a history of hurtful pastors, teachers, or even parents who taught them from Scripture in a less than gracious way probably has a little bit of the trouble I have. I struggle with understanding Jesus in Scripture, his tone and even his audience. I always fear that he is angry or worry that he doesn't understand me. I have said often that a book called Love Walked Among Us really helped me in this regard. I think George thought this would help me even more. He likes that it is in the proper historical context and setting, that Rice really did her homework and got the time of Jesus right. I understand that if we better understand the context of his life, we can better understand him. But the tone of the book is creepy to me. The setting is eerie. I don't know if it's because she has always been a vampire writer before or if it's just because it was a scary time, but I just didn't like the book based on the creepy factor. It had a dark and hopeless feel. But I will say that I didn't finish it. I read about half of it and just couldn't stomach anymore. Perhaps it gets better?

Mr. Darcy's Daughters by Elizabeth Aston. Have you ever wanted to read some of the modern day sequels to Jane Austen's works? I have always been a little interested, but there were so many, I never knew how to choose what might be the best ones. George went to Barnes and Noble while I was in the hospital and perused the Jane Austen knockoffs display in order to bring me a fun read to help pass the hours. He settled on this volume because the author had done several sequels which seemed to indicate that she was good at what she does. But no. I know that no one is going to be Jane Austen, but I was shocked at how short this fell. Perhaps there are others who do it better? I am pretty sure I could. This book had Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy raising five daughters, two of whom turned out to be exactly like their aunt Lydia and one of whom bore a striking resemblance to their Aunt Mary. Now tell me, how likely is that? Mr. Darcy is really going to allow the silliness in his home that was so repugnant to him in Lizzy's? Lizzy is going to allow it?! The book has Mr. and Mrs. Darcy on a trip abroad with their five daughters behind in London under the care of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who you will remember is Darcy's cousin, and is wife. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, who have risen to great wealth and now have a daughter who is betrothed with a dowry of ninety thousand pounds (the Darcy girls each only have fifty thousand), also share in the care of the Darcy girls and find themselves in a remarkably similar situation to the one they found themselves in twenty some odd years before, traveling to a large city in search of a young family member whose elopement threatens to bring her family to ruin. And again, a dashing and wealthy man, in love with the miscreant's sister, beats them to the punch and helps save the whole family from public humiliation. Honestly, it was that bad. The only good thing was that the author had enough respect for Miss Austen to spare us from dreadful attempts to predict what her main characters like Darcy or Elizabeth would do in specific situations- they were not actually present in any part of the book. However, she does take liberties with the Gardiners, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Lydia Bennett, and Caroline Bingley. Besides that, that the Darcys would produce such ridiculous children shows a real lack of understanding of the original book and characters to me. But do let me know if you have read anything actually worth reading after this fashion.

Movies

Burn after Reading. Oh gosh. This was so bad. Rotten Tomatoes has this as 77% fresh. How? How was this movie enjoyed by anyone? I wish I had more words. It was boring. And not funny. And I haven't seen a whole lot of Coen Brothers, so I just think I am not really a fan in general, but this was not good, no likable characters, or even sympathetic ones, just a bunch of yucky, selfish, stupid people. George didn't even finish watching it. I believe he said it should be called Burn Before Watching. That sounds about right.

Brideshead Revisited. Oh dear. Again, this was so dull. I think this is truly the worst movie I have ever seen. When would it end? Soon, please let it be soon. Do we really have to visit Brideshead again?! Rotten Tomatoes has this as 64% fresh. Again, how? It was rainy and grey and full of unhappy people. I have not read the book, but I can only imagine my disappointment would have been greater if I had, because surely the book would not have been made into a movie if it were this wretched.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. If you read Jon's blog, then you saw that he absolutely abhorred this movie. I completely understand why. There is a lot of flamboyant teenaged homosexuality that is fairly hard to stomach. There is also a lot of inappropriate teenaged partying and (shall we say?) "sexual activity." There was an element to it, however, that struck a chord with me. I think the whole idea of driving around downtown all night long, meeting new people, looking for something to do, listening to music, and thinking anything could happen is something that epitomizes my own high school experience. However, I don't encourage anyone to duplicate my experience, even though I was a pretty good kid for my set. Due to the presence of the aforementioned inappropriate behavior, these kids really weren't good kids, and as Jon said, "there are no adult characters, and presumably few adult fans." As an adult viewer, one is left feeling that these kids are all in desperate need of parental interaction, but that they will likely need to continue contenting themselves with the best they can find from their peer group- an unfortunate truth that seems to often be just as much the case in real life. And, in regard to that, Nick and Norah seem like they will at least be nicer to one another than most of their other friends are, which doesn't say much. Incidentally, this movie was rated 72% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Made of Honor. Okay, so what did we expect? This was just something George picked up at the library for me to watch during my down time. I forgot about it and we ended up watching it on Saturday night. We didn't expect much, but this was truly dreadful. First of all, the title annoys me to no end. The main character was a male maid of honor for his best friend, who he was, of course, secretly in love with, and was in no way honorable, and therefore by no stretch "made of honor." It was a horrible title. Just call it Maid of Honor. Back to the dishonorable main character, he was the disgusting male slut character that we are somehow supposed to be rooting for to win the heart of the girl. This is the old When Harry Met Sally story line, and while we fell for it with the original, because we were fourteen (or however old you were when you first saw it) and Harry is so funny and likable in spite of being morally depraved, we cannot allow it, twenty years after the original, with anyone who merely shares Harry's knack for sleeping with anything that moves. Patrick Dempsey is not funny or charming or even likable in general. How could we wish him on anyone? Add to it a predictable and ridiculous last minute bursting in on the wedding ceremony on horseback and giving a very short and trite speech that somehow wins the formerly unpersuaded heart of the girl scene, and you have the worst romantic comedy ever made. The worst? I don't know, there are so many bad ones, but pretty near it.

After the dreadful experience with Made of Honor, I decided to do a little research and find some more satisfying romantic comedies. There are quite a few that we have skipped lately because they are often so disappointing. I felt determined to find at least one that could take the bad taste out of my mouth from our Saturday night experience. With the help of Rotten Tomatoes, I found two on Redbox.com that were just down the road and looked like they would at least help me pass a sleepy Sunday afternoon with mild enjoyment.

Definitely, Maybe. This one was rated 72% fresh by Rotten Tomatoes which really surprised me. It is a good idea, I suppose. The story was much too adult themed to actually be telling a ten year old as the movie pretends to do. The basic idea is that the dad is telling his daughter about the three women that all sort of criss crossed through his life in the years leading up to marrying her mother. He doesn't tell her which one her mother is, and the daughter is left to guess based on the story. Unfortunately, the parents are in the throws of divorce, so the telling of the story borders on tragic. The reason all hope is not lost is because it seems that one of the women was "the one that got away" and steps might still be able to be taken to win her. Obviously, this is all an unfortunate situation, and even the "happy ending" does not really make up for what really happened in the story. The little girl ends up cheering for a woman other than her mother for her dad, and it just doesn't set well.

27 Dresses. This only received 40% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and will actually be my only positive review. So that teaches us, if we didn't know already, not to really depend on Rotten Tomatoes. And I won't say that this movie was spectacular. But it was cute and well done. There were definitely things that could have been done better, particularly the resolution scene. I always have trouble with the resolution scenes in romantic comedies- you know, the part where the people forgive and understand or finally see the light and decide to live happily ever after? Sometimes this is so absurd or unbelievable in a movie that it ruins everything else. Sometimes it is that bad, but it is par for the course, so it just confirms that the movie is dreadful. Sometimes, often actually, it is choppy and a little bit of a stretch, but forgivable. And sometimes, but only every once in a great while, it is seamless. I wish I had examples. But when you find yourself wondering how we are supposed to believe this or why that would make him change his mind or why those words would finally convince her, you know it's been badly done. This movie's resolution was not seamlessly done, it was even rather silly to a point, but you knew what they meant, and you understood why. Does that make sense? It wasn't the story that was flawed, it was just the onscreen execution of getting from point A to point B. And it was forgivable. The characters were likable and the story was interesting. It didn't feel contrived, and it would have been very easy for it to feel that way. Mostly, it just felt happy and lighthearted, a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening just taking a break.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Going "Home"

The bittersweet thing about being in the hospital for five days and finally getting to go home is when you realize that you have been thinking of this cozy little place with khaki-grey walls and woolen rugs on hardwood floors, with a lovely blue ticking striped couch, red toile chairs, and all the lovely family pictures and artwork, and then you remember that the place you are going, while perfectly homey and appealing as a structure, has no pictures on the wall or rugs on the floor, and that your furniture is 400 miles away. Don't get me wrong, I feel absolutely ridiculous that I am rounding out this last box of tissue because I am homesick the day I get to go home. And I am truly grateful to be well enough to be out of the constant care of nurses and doctors. But now it is just time to reenter my life, and my life is a little --- what word would you even put there? I can't think of one. Anyway, I am going home today, and I do have quite a few things to look forward to. I am not sure what I'll do about posting. I had, at one point, completely determined to stop altogether, and then, when I received encouragement from people who didn't know me, I felt more inclined to continue. I know that's weird (and annoying) so I'll try to explain. Your friends love you and support you, and of course they understand your blog. But when people who don't necessarily know you or love you tell you you're doing fine, you know that they don't mean "because you're Abby and I see the best in you"(which is a perfectly wonderful thing about friends), they simply mean "because there's nothing wrong here." And that spoke to my fears. But we'll see. Anyway, without further ado, 

Abby's Top 10 Favorite Things About Going Home

10. No more people asking me how many times I went to the bathroom today.

9. No more beep! beep! beep! beep! for twenty minutes at any given time during the night from any given machine in any given location for who knows why, and why won't a nurse just turn it off! 

8. No more "confused" fellow patients. Bless their hearts. But it was kind of creepy. 

7. No more nurse Karen coming in at 8am wondering why I'm tired, why I haven't eaten my breakfast, if I can't please let her open the window, and remarking, rather judgmentally, that I really haven't gotten enough exercise yet today. No more nurse Karen! Hallelujah!

6. No more of any of the night nurses. Night nurses don't write their names or their phone number on the white board, so good luck if you actually need something at night. They make their first visit right when you first get into a deep sleep and then insist on having a complete workup and question/answer session about the details of your stay, which is completely pointless because they will be gone before you wake up in the morning. 

5. No more perky nurses. Perky nurses are all good and well, but when you have pneumonia and someone with perfectly placed hair and immaculate makeup bursts in the room with "Hi there! How are you?!" what do they expect? Right, your immediate contempt. Because your answer is, through cough and groan and greasy hair, "really, really sick." 

4. No more plastic hospital bed. These things do not breath well. And I always end up with a sore butt, and some sort of minor heat rash on the back of my legs before it's over. I very much look forward to the swanky sheets my sister got me for my birthday and Christmas. 600 thread count! 100% cotton sateen delight! That's right. And my duvet. My lovely splurge of a duvet, full of happy happy goose down, that actually matches the walls in the bedroom we're in now perfectly. 

3. No more menu orders. The sweet menu lady comes in twice a day to ask me what I want to eat and three more times to bring me my meals. I really like the sweet menu lady. But the sweet menu lady seems never to have been nauseated in her life. "Alright, Miss Abby, for dinner, we have a deep fat fried pork chop with bacon grease gravy and creamy mashed potatoes with..." "Um, no, see I've been pretty nauseated, do you have anything lighter?" "Oh, yes, our lighter option tonight is a crab salad..." "No, sorry, I think maybe I'll just have a fruit plate. Can you get my nurse? I need some phenergan." I have had a freaking fruit plate for the last eleven meals. I don't understand how hospital food is so heavy and unhealthy. I feel sick just hearing about it. So it's been me and my grapes and pineapple chunks and (very unworthy of being eaten) melon slices just hanging out. It will be nice to be able to think in terms of what they have at the grocery store and not what sort of deep fried nastiness they have in the cafeteria.

2. Clothes. Pajamas. We can combine these two because they're both in the category of "not gowns."

1. Amabel, August, Elspeth. I can't say anymore about them or I will weep. Home is where they are. 

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