9th Grade Literature & Composition Course: 1st Semester

I wrote this English curriculum for my 9th grader this year.  You are welcome to use and adapt it to suit your own home school.  Please suggest any books you would add in the comments!  I’ll have the Spring Semester in a later post.


Fall Semester: What Makes a Hero?

Choose any books from this list to read at a pace appropriate to your student. I would recommend reading at least one book from ach time period.


  • The Illiad or The Odyssey (Homer- I like the translations by Robert Fagles)
  • Antigone (Sophocles)
  • Daniel
  • Plutarch’s Lives (these volumes are full of entertaining character studies of ancient Greeks and Romans- they would be good for those who need shorter works)

Middle Ages

  • Beowulf (I like Seamus Heaney’s translation)
  • Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan)
  • Robinson Crusoe (Defoe)

17th-19th Centuries

  • Kidnapped (Stevenson)
  • Jane Eyre (Bronte)
  • The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare)
  • Amazing Grace (Metaxas)- this is a biography of William Wilberforce, who lived from 1759-1833)
  • Amos Fortune, Free Man (Yates)- again, a biography of an amazing man who lived from c. 1710-1801

20th Century-present

Questions for discussion or papers:

  • Who is the Hero of this story?  What makes him or her heroic?
  • James Geary wrote, “Heroism often results as a response to extreme events.”  Does this mean any person can be a hero in a time of extreme events, or does becoming a hero require life preparation in advance of a person’s becoming a hero?
  • How were the actions of the hero extraordinary?  Does heroism require extraordinary times, or can a person be a hero in ordinary life?
  • Robert Green Ingersoll wrote, “When the will defies fear, when duty throws the gauntlet down to fate, when honor scorns to compromise with death- that is heroism.”  Was this true in the book you just read?
  • What is the price of heroism in this character’s life?
  • We looked at each grouping of books by time period to examine how the qualities of a hero differed by time.  How did historical events and understanding influence the portrayal of a hero over time?  For example, the ancient heroes were often physically beautiful or powerful and relied on the gods for their success, while later heroes relied on their own wits and were not necessarily favored by birth.
  • Our final paper answered this question through the lens of our readings: How did the characteristics of a hero change over time?

Diabetes Mellitus: What Is It and How Can I Avoid It?

This post is the second in a series of my Walk with a Doc Talks.  Click here for my talk on The Other Benefits of Exercise.

There are two basic forms of diabetes mellitus: type 1 and type 2.

In the past Type 1 Diabetes (DM1) was known as Juvenile Diabetes, or Insulin-Dependent Diabetes.  It is caused by an injury (often auto-immune) to the pancreas, which is a long, thin glandular organ that senses blood sugar and produces insulin and glucagon appropriately.  Insulin is the hormone that opens cells to allow blood sugar in, which all cells, regardless of type, use for energy.  Glucagon is the hormone that raises a low blood sugar. You will recognize glucagon by the nauseous, cranky, headachy feeling it gives you right before lunch, or in the middle of the afternoon.


Type 2 Diabetes (DM2), formerly known as NIDDM, is the type we see most often  in adults, and now even in obese teenagers and children.  In DM2 the body still makes both insulin and glucagon, but the body’s cells are resistant to it.  It’s like a key trying to fit into a lock.  The lock sticks, so you try more and more keys until finally, you can slide the key into the lock.  The key (insulin) never changed, but the lock won’t work.  Similarly, as your blood sugar goes up, your body produces more and more insulin, but the cells won’t open to let the sugar in.  The level of sugar in the blood rises and rises, while the cells are starving.  These effects are why DM causes the triad of hunger, increased urination, and thirst (from needing more water to make more urine).  For the sake of the rest of this discussion, I am going to talk exclusively about preventing DM2.

So how do I prevent diabetes?

Our risk of DM2 goes up with age. Likewise, genetics plays a part: Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, African Americans and Hispanics have the highest risk. We cannot change either our heritage or our age.  But the strongest predictor of DM2 risk is weight.  90% of those with DM2 are overweight (BMI 25.0-29.9) or obese (BMI >=30).  We all know how easy it is for the pounds to creep on, but taking them off is harder.

A landmark study that followed more than fifty thousand women for more than 6 years found a remarkable correlation between watching TV and the risk of obesity and DM2. In 1997, the average American woman watched 34 hours of TV per week, or almost 5 hours a day. Women who watched two hours of TV a day were 23% more likely to become obese, and 14% of the TV watchers developed DM2.

Interestingly, it seems that the sitting wasn’t the only harmful effect of the TV. Sitting for a similar time span at work increases DM risk by only 7% (and obesity risk by 5%).  Contrast that with those women who were moderately active around the house for two hours during the day. Their risk of diabetes decreased over those six years by 12%, and their risk of obesity decreased by 9%.

Okay, TV bad.  Walking around at home, good.  But what happens if we add in walking for exercise?

A brisk 1 hour walk each day decreased obesity risk by 24% and decreased diabetes risk by 34%.  The study authors estimated that if Americans decreased TV watching to <10hrs/week and began walking 30 minutes/day, we could prevent 30% of new DM cases.  We could also decrease the incidence of obesity in this country by 43%.


Other studies have also tried to prevent the development of DM2 in at-risk adults by giving medicine.  The Diabetes Prevention Project recruited men and women with pre-diabetes (45% of whom were in high-risk ethnic groups) and gave them medication or help with weight loss and exercise.  Medication had a small effect in preventing diabetes but was less effective than diet and exercise that led to weight loss. At the end of the study, those who made lifestyle changes (including improved eating and 150 minutes of brisk walking each week), decreased their 5-year risk of developing diabetes by 58%. They didn’t have to hit their ideal weight to decrease their risk, either. The lifestyle changes resulted in a very modest weight loss (5-7 % over 16 weeks).

That’s right: medication was less effective than exercise.  That 150 minutes of brisk walking a week is 30 minutes a day for 5 days.  Or 25 minutes 6 days a week.  At a weight of 160lbs, a 5% weight loss is 8 pounds.  At 200 lbs, a 5% loss is 10 lbs.  We’re not talking about the Biggest Loser here, just a gradual, sensible change in habits, including TV, exercise and food that can cut your risk of diabetes in half.

For more information, the CDC has a state-by-state list of organizations offering the Diabetes Prevention Program curriculum.


Television Watching and Other Sedentary Behaviors in Relation to Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Women. Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD; Tricia Y. Li, MD; Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH; Walter C. Willett, MD, DePH; JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH.  JAMA. 2003; 289(14):1785-1791.

Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) Research Group. The Diabetes Prevention Program (FPP): description of lifestyle intervention. Diabetes Care. 2002; 25(12):2165-2171.

This was a transcript of my Walk with a Doc talk from April.  Here is my talk on the other benefits of exercise. Next month I’ll post my talk on how much exercise is “enough”.

20th Century History Readings

I would describe our homeschool curriculum as inspired by Charlotte Mason: we focus on living books and narration. But since Charlotte Mason taught 100 years ago, I have to say I was daunted when we came to the 20th Century. I had to make my own booklist.  Here is a selection of our choices from this year, described by topic and the age of the child(ren) who read them.

On the subject of Reconstruction and the condition of freed slaves, we recommend Elijah of Buxton (Curtis).  I read aloud Ann Manheim’s biography James Beckwourth, Legendary Mountain Man.   We started Jarvis’s Moccasin Trail at the same time, but biography caught our interest more, and we gave up on the Jarvis book.  One of our favorites, Little Britches (Moody), fits well into this time also.

We learned about workers’ conditions after industrialization. On this topic, my high schooler read both Paterson’s Lyddie and Sinclair’s The Jungle. Newsies (the Disney movie) is a good AV supplement to this topic.  Our middle schoolers listened to an audio recording of Giff’s House of Tailors (on CD) which describes the European difficulties which drove immigration and the immigrant experience here.  My high schooler read Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, which describes conditions in China during the same period.  Another favorite read-aloud about immigrants (and the Titanic) during this time was The Watch that Ends the Night (Wolf).

We spent time on Woman Suffrage.  Our favorite books on this topic were You Want Women to Vote, Lizzy Stanton? (Fritz), I Could Do That (White), and Heroine of the Titanic, The Real Unsinkable Molly Brown (Landau).  We visited the Molly Brown House here in Denver and enjoyed the museum’s documentary and tour.


For high schoolers who like science, I recommend Gina Kolata’s Flu and John Rigden’s Einstein 1905: The Standard of Greatness.

Continuing in the 20th Century, Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Amazing Voyage (available on audio) is a vivid adventure book about his South Pole journey in 1914-7.  The book fits right in with our WWI reading, which included Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (for my high schooler), Harris’s The Fledglings, The Professionals, and The Victors (about the nascent Royal Air Force), and The Road from Home (Kherdian) about the Armenian genocideFacing History has great resources on the Armenian Genocide, including a curriculum of discussion questions based on primary documents.  We loved the audio of Listening for Lions (Whelan) which takes place in Africa during and after the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.  Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider is a vivid portrayal of the pandemic for high school and older.

We relied on both Mike Venezia’s entertaining picture-book biographies and David Adler’s more serious ones for the presidents.  Robert Burleigh’s biographies of Amelia Earhart, Henrietta Leavitt, Jackie Robinson, and Babe Ruth were a good addition to our reading.

We enjoyed several books on The Great Depression this year.  Esperanza Rising (Ryan), Out of the Dust (Hesse), and A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt (De Young) were all good for my middle schoolers.  McGinty’s Gandhi: A March to the Sea and Kimmel’s A Taste of Freedom: Gandhi’s Great Salt March are both beautiful and informative picture books.  High schoolers might also enjoy Seabiscuit (Hillenbrand) and The Boys in the Boat (Brown).

We spent a lot of time on WWII.  My high schooler read Code Name Verity (Wein) and Unbroken (Hillenbrand).  My middle schoolers read The House of Sixty Fathers (Dejong), Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Coerr), and The Upstairs Room (Reiss) and Navajo Code Talkers (Santella).  We read aloud Number the Stars (Lowry) and The Endless Steppe (Hautzig).  Our unanimous favorite read aloud was Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build- and Steal- the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon.

On the Civil Rights movement, we really enjoyed Weatherford’s books The Beatitudes: from Slavery to Civil Rights and Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins. The Bus Ride that Changed History: The Story of Rosa Parks (Edwards) is very accessible for elementary-aged kids. For high schoolers, I recommend Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and To Be Young, Gifted and Black; Beal’s Warriors Don’t Cry and Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Skloot) is a brilliant blend of science and the history of race relations in the 20th century and best for high schoolers.  Sheinkin’s Port Chicago 50 details the effects of segregation in the armed services and would be appropriate for all ages.

We wrapped up the year with a unit on the Cold War.  I read aloud Rocket Boys (Hickam) (with a few edits of high school libido my youngers didn’t need to hear), and the kids begged for it.  We watched War Games, the Hunt for the Red October, and White NightsCountdown (Wiles) portrays the Cuban Missile Crisis so well at a middle-school level. Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now have taught my kids about the Vietnam War and have generated so many great discussions.

We only hit a couple off my list of titles (mostly fiction) that portray the international situation in the 20th Century, but I recommend Tasting the Sky by Barakat (Palestine), Revolution is Not a Dinner Party by Compestine (China), Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country (South Africa), Park’s Long Walk to Water (Sudan), Paterson’s Day of the Pelican (Bosnia), Choi’s Year of Impossible Good-byes (Korea) and Kadohata’s A Million Shades of Gray (Vietnam).

7QT: on time and distance

One: Here is Owen doing his awesome 100 butterfly at last week’s meet.  He’s improved so much that his meters time is the same as his time in yards 6 months ago. (I have no idea how to convert that, but… he’s swimming stronger.)

Wanting to show him how great he looks, I showed him this photo.  All he said was, “I’m swimming on the lane line again.”

Two: immediately after posting about how good it was not to think about school, I starting planning for the fall.  #nomoreAhhhhh.

Three: the other day at work two friends and I went for a “wildflower walk” during lunch.  It was great until I came back to the office and another doctor popped in to tell me everything that’s wrong with how we do things.  She’s right, of course.  The system is incredibly broken and frustrating.  Why else would I have to pick wildflowers at lunch? And then feel bad about picking them?     image

Four: My brother-in-law took us rock climbing last weekend.  I’ve lived in Colorado for 29 years and never done it.  What a blast.  No wonder people get hooked on it.  In lieu of showing you one of the 49 photos Momo took of my butt from below (you’re welcome), I’ll show you Phoebe, who shot up the rock face like a mountain goat.

Here we are posing under a tree full of ticks.


// Feel the love.


Six: then we went to a park in Boulder I love.  My dad’s work used to have their annual picnics there, and we went and played in the creek. Somehow we ended up at the exact spot I used to use as my “house” all the time.  That big rock they’re standing on was my kitchen table.


Seven: this week is my runniversary. I’ve been running for four years (if we just keep the Garmin running through the injuries that made me take a few breaks) and have traveled 1621 miles.  That’s like running from London to Paris to Munich to Amsterdam to Hamburg.


Or, alternately, 516 loops around the 3.14-mile route in my neighborhood.

I listened to an another mother runner podcast featuring a dad who’s running from the Pacific to the Atlantic this summer with his 7 year-old in a running stroller. Totally inspiring. If you were going to run a long-distance race, and money, time and shin-splints were no object, where would you go? (I’d run from San Diego to Vancouver.)

{phfr}: cousin visit!

My brother-in-law and niece are visiting this week.  We are having a blast, a Staycation really.  So far we’ve tried two different pools, a pizzeria, and a hike at my favorite spot nearby.

Pretty:  This beauty didn’t care that we watched him fishing.

Happy: What could be better than an easy hike with lots of sticks to pick up and birds to watch? image

Funny: This is my husband and his brother.  The resemblance is so strong that at his brother’s wedding, the priest got the two brothers confused.  Happily, neither of the wives got confused.


Real: Sam was home with everyone on my work day, and the girls opened a Salon. However, three girls is a hard number, and one of the customers stomped off because she was unhappy with her customer service. No tip. 

Fortunately the miff was short-lived, and no one left a bad review on Yelp.


For more {p,h,f,r} go check out Like Mother, Like Daughter!

Ahhhhh… summer

Perhaps I am incorrectly recalling the last few summers, but this is the first summer in a long time that has felt like a deep breath. What is different this year?  Certainly a piece has been not traveling right when school finished, and being settled in our home, neither trying to pack for a move or settle in after a move.  But I think there’s more to it than that.

1. We made it to the mountains early.  Often I will save our camping trip for August because of other things we have to schedule, but this summer we managed to make the trip happen before anything else could preempt it.  The mountains always help me take a deep breath.


2. I didn’t make a list of 20 (or 200) things that had to get done. This summer’s to-do list included a lot of self-care: keeping flowers from the garden in the kitchen and spending time every day in prayer, instead of make it to every park in the neighborhood and clean out the garage.

3. The kids spent 3 weeks in camps. Without me.  While the driving (especially the week that Owen and Momo’s camps overlapped) was annoying, the fact that I couldn’t plan a big weekday hike or whole-family project left smaller snatches of time for me to relax.


4. My kids are bigger.  We’re no longer in the raccoon phase, where every time I turn my back, someone has dumped keys in the toilet or conditioner in the carpet.  No one is going to die if take a nap in the afternoon.

5. I am taking naps in the afternoons.

sparrow’s nest in my flower-pot

6. I haven’t started planning for next school year.  Normally by the end of June, I have planned at least several subjects and amassed a room full of curriculum.  Not this year.  We’ll see how I feel come August, but so far I am confident that our routine will smooth over any gaps in my planning.

7. I’ve said No.  I hate saying No, but it turns out a No here and there is essential to my sanity.

How is your summer going?  Have you said, “Ahhhhhh…” yet, or are you still running on full speed ahead?