". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back to Congo

Last year around this time my husband spent ten days in Congo teaching hymns and liturgy to French-speaking African Lutherans. He was invited to go there by Pastor James May of Lutherans in Africa. Pastor May was my husband's co-teacher and traveling companion and is also now a good friend.

It was a trip my husband will never forget. You can read much more about it under the listing for Congo here on my blog. Next week he will be returning for another round of teaching. As he did last time, he will also be delivering several boxes of Liturgies et cantiques luthériens for distribution to our fellow Lutherans there.

Last year when he did this I was quite nervous about the distance he was going to be traveling (21 hours of air travel to get there) as well as about his safety. That is still in the back of my mind, but I find myself right now thinking less of those things and much more of what it is going to be like when he arrives once again among his friends in Brazzaville. For they are most assuredly friends, and I can only try to imagine the joyful reunion that will be experienced by both my husband and the people he came so quickly to love and who came to love him. When he said goodbye last year he was presented with several articles of African clothing. One of the things he is looking forward to doing is taking back a picture of our family wearing the clothing we were given. Here is a photo of me, Caitlin and Phillip doing just that at a recent presentation on his trip that Phillip gave at our church.

Phillip will be leaving next week on Thursday. I would appreciate your prayers for his safety and well-being as well as for his work, that it might be a blessing to the Congolese Lutherans. I thought I would leave you with this video from his last trip. It is a drive through the streets of Brazzaville a day or two after his arrival. The other two people in the video are Pastor May and Pastor Mavoungu of the EELC (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Congo). You can get an idea from the video of the living conditions in Brazzaville. But what I am most struck by is the joy of these three men as they do the Lord's work. Shortly into the video they start singing. After a stanza or two of the song, Phillip interjects a comment. The comment is acknowledged, but notice what happens next. Instead of returning to conversing, Pastor Mavoungu picks back up on the next stanza of the song. He will not be distracted from singing! Phillip told me that this is typical: once his Congolese friends started a song or a hymn, whether in a formal (church) or informal setting, they did not stop until they sang the whole thing. We in our hurry-up, cram-it-in, cross-it-off-the-task-list lives could learn from those priorities.

If you would like to support Lutherans in Africa and specifically their efforts in Congo-Brazzaville, let me know and I will put you in touch with the right people.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Back to School, Part 2

Not long ago I wrote a back to school post outlining this year's plan for my 7-year-old. At the time I promised something similar for my 15-year-old sophomore. This is that post!

As I write this I am waiting for said 15-year-old, who is taking high school geometry at a homeschool co-op in our area. The co-op meets Monday and Friday at a local church. Monday is their academic program and Friday is their enrichment program. If we were so inclined we could sign up for a full contingent of academic classes but we prefer to do the rest at home. Students attend Monday and work independently the rest of the week, returning Friday if they desire for electives. Students who are taking advanced math, however, are required to return Friday for a math lab, so Caitlin will have geometry twice per week (which is a good thing, as math is not her strongest suit). The teacher seems to be highly qualified, having many years of experience teaching math at both the high school and college level, so I am optimistic about the outlook for the class. It is a small group and the teacher seems to be organized and readily available for email help (grades and communication are being managed through Engrade). The text is Glencoe.

For science we will stick with Apologia. I offered Caitlin the option of doing something different, but she likes Apologia and does not wish to change. She will be studying physical science this year. She has been accustomed to doing science with her brother for the last few years and he, of course, has left for college, so I hope we are able to maintain motivation. I will probably need to invest myself in studying more with her so I am glad she is doing physical science as I much prefer it to biology (which she took last year)!

For history we plan on doing some rapid review using the Short Lessons books. We'll start with world history and if we finish that move on to U.S. history. We had actually planned to do this over the summer but, well, you know how that goes. Our history study over the years has been very spread out so I am hoping this quick, broad sweep will provide a succinct overview on which we can build with some more in depth study in Caitlin's last two years of high school. We will supplement the Short Lessons text with some historical fiction and whatever else we can come up with, including several of Genevieve Foster's books.

Caitlin is an avid reader and excellent writer and has studied a good deal of high school literature alongside her brother the last four years. So strangely enough this English teacher has had a question mark hanging over her head when it comes to what to do with Caitlin for English this year. I toyed with the idea of just reading stuff we like and I think to some extent that is what we will do: read a book together and discuss it. But someone recommended a book to me that upon investigation seems to have a lot of potential: Philosophy & Literature: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Commitment. It is an older text that has recently made a comeback. I like the emphasis on reading literature as a means of meditating on the true and the good, and the table of contents is incredible. I doubt we will read the entire book but think there will be much of value that we can draw from it.

In addition to literature, Caitlin would like to spend a little more time on grammar, not because she needs it to became a good writer (she already is), but because with her interest in language she would like to better understand how English works. We did some grammar this summer but got bogged down with schedule demands so will be revisiting that goal. I'm thinking of using the latest rage in grammar study because of the author's fun and lighthearted approach. I'm an English teacher who loves grammar, but I am also the first to admit it's not the most exciting topic out there. The pleasure of grammar comes not so much from the learning of it but from the having learned it to the point that all the puzzle pieces start to fall into place. From what I've seen, Grammar Girl makes the learning part of the equation more fun.

Those are the big four: English, math, history and science. Last year we did some psychology, philosophy, geography and art history but have not exhausted the resources we have on those subjects so plan to return to all of them at various times during the year, most likely in rotation rather than all at once. In addition to her academics Caitlin will continue with Tae Kwon Do (she is now a brown belt), bowling, church choir, community choir, piano and voice lessons. As if all of that isn't enough, I have started thinking it might be nice to add a video component--something we can just sit back and watch and enjoy together without additional preparation and stress. I have always been interested in Francis Schaeffer's How Then Shall We Live video series and see now that it is available on DVD at a very reasonable price. So perhaps that is the ticket. (I must admit that part of me wants to watch it just to blow a raspberry at the liberals currently giving presidential candidate Michele Bachmann grief for speaking highly of Schaeffer.)

So there you have it: Philipp Nicolai Lutheran Academy's 2011-12 sophomore curriculum!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Interesting Kid

A few Evan stories, just so I record them for posterity.

Today as we were driving in the car he asked if we could roll the windows down. I said okay and of course he stuck his head out the window. But did he scream, laugh, or giggle with delight? No. Instead, my 7-year-old announced, "This is really enjoyable. When you go faster, it is even more intense."

When we got home he put his I Spy game on the computer. Did he do so in order to play the game? No. We have been playing our own version of I Spy around the house for several days now. He names the hidden items and I have to spy them. So, if we're not playing the computer game, why does he want it on? For the sound. He puts the game on the beach scene and turns the computer volume way up so as to hear the sound of the waves crashing on the beach. We have been listening to waves for a couple of days now. I am so tired of waves. This from a kid who said he didn't like Grenada and he never wants to go back there again. (I should add that he does like Lake Michigan because there is no salt.)

Then there is the television phobia. He has become seriously afraid of the television. We don't watch much TV. He has a few programs he likes, but he only watches them on DVD or with our cable provider's "on demand" service. If actual broadcast television is on he will not enter the room. He is terrified of the commercials (particularly one that is running right now that features zombies--it matters little to him that they are played for humorous effect) and what they might contain, so much so that he will not even walk by a room in which broadcast television is playing. He has to walk by his grandma's room to get to the garage to fill the dog's bowl with food, and lately I have to go with him to make sure there is nothing scary on Grandma's TV.

Yet he will watch Power Rangers with all its goofy monsters.

I guess even he knows camp when he sees it!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Blog Silence

I'm still here. Really. But I've had much more important things to do lately than blog. We spent the week packing and then moving my son to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he plans to be for the next four years, majoring in piano performance. This was our final look at him yesterday morning as he walked into his home away from home.

It was a wonderful week but a hard one. In time I will probably have some things to say about it. But for now I need to bring some order to the home front and help a few others in the house prepare for trips that they will be taking in the near future.

Blogging will return, so please stay tuned. Who knows--maybe some day I will even put some varnish on the Round Unvarnish'd Table.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fall Schedule

I'm doing this for myself, to get things straight in my head, but thought I would post it here for my friends who want to compare notes. The basic outline of our weekdays this fall will look something like this:

6:30-9:00 Mom time. Wake up, make coffee, eat breakfast, do morning chores and reading, exercise, and shower.
9:00-9:30 Wake up Evan
9:30-10:00 Devotion
10:00-11:30 School time - Direct interaction with Evan. Caitlin is independent in her schoolwork and I will consult with her on an as needed basis. Her dad teaches her French--I am not sure when they have decided to do that.
11:30-12:30 Free time for Evan
12:30-2:00 Lunch/quiet time/rest - Independent reading and listening for Evan; maybe a nap for me in there somewhere!
2:00-5:00 More school time if necessary, chores, activities for kids, piano students for me.
5:00-7:00 Prep supper, watch Fox News, eat, clean up.
7:00-9:00 Evening rehearsal several nights per week; otherwise, free time for kids or do any remaining studies/chores/tasks.
9:00-10:00 Help Evan get ready for bed, read, say prayers

Each day has some items that are specific to that day:


7:30-9:30 Geometry (Caitlin) at homeschool co-op; Dad home with Evan
1:30-3:30 Homeschool Bowling
4:00-5:00 Piano students


6:30-8:30 Chamber Singers (area youth choir) (Caitlin); I am hoping the times will line up to allow me to attend our church's Confessions Bible study while she is at choir


3:30-4:30 Schola Cantorum (children's choir) (Evan) at church
5:00-6:00 Piano students


4:00-5:00 Piano students
7:00-9:00 Adult choir at church


1:00-3:00 Homeschool co-op--geometry lab for Caitlin; enrichment class (this fall it's a class about Australia) for Evan.


11:30-12:30 Tae Kwon Do (Caitlin)

As I look over this schedule I am blown away by the reasonableness of it. In addition to the regular daily stuff listed above I will have periodic accompanying responsibilities at a local junior high school, but those wax and wane. So there are some crazy weeks here and there, but they pass and normalcy returns. I think back to a few years ago when we were homeschooling not two but three children and I was working part-time playing piano at a local high school that was a half hour's drive each way and Trevor was taking a college class in the opposite direction. I would wake up at 5:00 each morning to get to work by 7:00 and leave by 10:00 several days per week to drive to another town to pick Trevor up (his dad dropped him off) and bring him home. By the time I was home I felt like I had already done a full day's work and everything else was just getting started. I really don't know how we got through that year. Oh, yeah, we had a cleaning lady every two weeks. That was nice, but I would not trade this schedule for that one in a million years. I am SO looking forward to a normal schedule and home school life this year. I think the above leaves plenty of room for the occasional whirlwind trip to Nebraska, don't you? Another benefit of homeschooling is the ability to cancel school and take the student body to see their big brother whenever you darn well please. :-)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Back to School, Part 1: Addendum

The P.E. conundrum has been resolved! My friend Anne commented on the previous post, letting me know of a homeschool bowling class in the area. Somehow I think a bowling class will suit Evan just fine.

Evan knocks 'em down! from Cheryl on Vimeo.

The above video was taken this summer, the first and only time Evan has bowled. We were all playing so did not use the bumpers and Evan threw mostly gutter balls, poor kid. This was his moment of glory! I expect the bowling class will make use of bumpers for the little kids. Caitlin will also take part in the class, which is open to all ages. It will be a fun way to spend our Monday afternoons.

In my previous post I neglected to include any mention of catechism or Bible study. I suppose that is because I don't really think of those things as school. They are life. We don't approach them as school subjects but instead incorporate them into our family devotions, which are led by my husband. Our primary materials are the Lutheran Study Bible (ESV), The Treasury of Daily Prayer published by Concordia Publishing House, Martin Luther's Small Catechism, and the Lutheran Service Book (our hymnal). For help with memorizing the catechism we also use Sing the Faith, which is the entire small catechism set to music (composed, by the way, by that aforementioned husband). One of the things I always did with my two oldest children that I have neglected with my youngest this past year is the reading of Bible stories. When my teenagers were little I read to them every night, and the reading usually consisted of a Bible story plus a few other story books of their choice. I have not been reading as regularly to Evan. He is often content to read on his own at night and I am so tired by the end of the day that I am often content to let him. It's not that I never read aloud to him, but I don't seem to do it as much as I did with the older ones, and that includes reading Bible stories. One of my goals this year is to return to that, if not at night before bed (when I am so tired), then during the day. The daily schedule is shaping out nicely for this year, so I will really have no excuse for not making this a priority!

More later on Caitlin's studies and what our weekly schedule is going to look like.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Back to School, Part 1

In our relaxed, sometimes structured, sometimes unschooly sort of way, we practice year-round schooling. We don't make our lives fit an academic calendar; we make the academic calendar fit our lives, which means we "do" school whenever we can. But there comes a time in late July/early August when we just have to stop for a few weeks. (Other such times are the weeks before and after Christmas and Holy Week.)

We are wrapping up such a hiatus right now and gearing back up for a resumption of schoolish pursuits. And even though we study year-round, it always seems like this time of year gives us a fresh start. We decide which unfinished things we're going to try to finish and which ones we're just going to "punt" on. Various activities start afresh. The schedule adjusts accordingly, and the students mentally advance their grade level (although we don't put much stock in grade level designations).

This year, we have a student beginning his freshman year in college, another entering her sophomore year in high school, and a third entering second grade. This post is about that last one. He got the short end of the stick last year--we were undergoing a major home repair and some significant life changes--and I want to do a better job of feeding and watering his very fertile brain this year. In spite of last year's neglect, he is thriving academically, reading well beyond his years, adding and subtracting and multiplying with ease, and regaling me with all sorts of facts gleaned from his own reading. He loves maps and is fond of running to the one in our dining room to look up various places he hears mentioned in conversation. Sometimes I wonder if I really need to do anything to "teach" him, he's doing so well teaching himself. I guess I'm not really an unschooler because the answer to that is invariably yes. I still think there is great benefit in having a schedule and making a plan and intentionally pursuing certain subjects. We freely deviate from both schedule and plan, but I still like to have a framework and goals to enhance our productivity. Otherwise, the pajama days take over. (A pajama day here or there is a wonderful thing; a two-week succession of them, not so much.)

So, here for the curious is our plan for second grade, as it currently stands.

Writing and Language Arts

Zaner-Bloser Handwriting - 2M. Handwriting was probably the most neglected subject last year. We will use Zaner-Bloser to continue working on letter formation, manuscript only. Additional writing practice will occur in the language arts texts (see below) and in the copying of a weekly Bible memory verse.

Learning to Spell Through Copywork by Sandi Queen - I have had my head turned this year by the Queen Homeschool company, which produces curricula with an eye to the Charlotte Mason philosophy. I love the simplicity of the spelling lessons. Here's a photo of a two-page spread from Book A, the one we are going to use:

I think there is a lot of spelling overkill in public schools, but I also think there is a place for learning the basic spelling/phonics rules. And the benefit of this approach is that the child will be getting some nice handwriting practice and, through the copying of grammatical sentences, language practice as well.

Speaking of language, I also plan to use Queen's Language Lessons for the Very Young. Also in a Charlotte Mason style, it makes use of copywork combined with discussion of literature passages and works of art to develop language skills in a holistic way. (One of the things I hated most about English class in school was all the busy work in the form of grammar exercises that rarely make the leap into the student's writing.) I like that this book spends time on some basics like the days of the week and the months of the year (using the well known "Thirty days" poem), includes some classic children's rhymes like "Little Things" and "A Wise Old Owl," and teaches beginning language concepts like vowels and consonants without becoming laborious. There are 36 weeks worth of lessons divided into five lessons per week, and I think each lesson will take no more than about 10-15 minutes.


Basic text will be the first book, on ancient times, in Jessica Wise Bauer's Story of the World series for children. We used this series with my older children and now my 18yo son is reading through Bauer's companion series for adults. The children's book comes with various supportive materials--the only one I plan to use is the activity book, which contains maps and craft suggestions and various other activities and supplemental reading lists. Our bookshelves are pretty well stocked so I don't think I will have any trouble supplementing our history study with some good picture books and encyclopedias and historical fiction. We may have to skip the mummies this time around, though. Evan has a low tolerance for creepy stuff.


We will not be using a curriculum for science. I don't see a need. Again, we have built up quite a library from our homeschooling years, and I think between the Magic School Bus series and the Scholastic Question-and-Answer Series and the Random House Step-Up books, plus several science experiment collections I have, we can do science. The one additional source that has caught my eye is the Burgess Thornton Animal and Bird books from Yesterday's Classics.


Last year we hardly cracked a math book, and yet Evan seems to be doing fine with basic math facts. Again, even though I think a great deal of math can be learned through life, I think some structured math study is worthwhile if only for practicing how to form the numbers and recognize math symbols and such. This year we are going to use Singapore Math. We used it two years ago for kindergarten on an oral basis only. I like the simplicity of it and the lack of excessive written drill. If I think we need to drill something more I can do it myself. Probably in the next year or two we will switch to either Teaching Textbooks or Saxon, but I think Singapore will serve us well this year. I reserve the right to skip any lesson I deem unnecessary.

Other Stuff

Evan has been taking piano lessons from me and that will continue. This year he will join the children's choir at church. (Yay! Can't wait! I haven't had a singer in the children's choir for a few years.) We used to subscribe to God's World News but I don't like it much anymore now that it has gone from a weekly to a monthly. So we will leave the current events teaching to Dad's inspiration. Dad will also take over chess instruction from Trevor, who won't be around to do it this year. Evan is so far not showing the aptitude for chess that Trevor did, but the goal is not to create another chess champion but simply to sharpen thinking skills, and chess definitely does that!

The question mark is physical education. We have not had great success with formal instruction or classes. Evan took swimming lessons last year (or was it the year before that) and in the first week there was a different teacher every day. Finally a lovely young lady with a male crewcut and several facial rings showed up to teach and he refused to participate anymore. We have also had difficulty with organized sports and P.E. classes that have any sort of competitive play. He doesn't like to be chased or tagged or called "out," and he doesn't like to lose. I know this is a phase he will eventually outgrow, but at this point I'm not sure if we're ready to take another chance on paying for something that will be a bust.

Have I left anything out? (That is not a rhetorical question. Please tell me, as I very well may have!)

Parts 2 and 3 in this series will address school plans for my other two children.