needle and thREAD

needle and thREAD

Most of my sewing lately has been limited to the Animal Hospital. Our stuffed animals have an inordinate number of injuries.

But when a little girl asked for some curtains for the Gingerbread Doll House, I was in.

How could I say no to that?


Now that I see the curtains against the wallpaper, I’m thinking white would have been a better choice. But that’s easy enough to fix.

On the reading front, I raided my dad’s shelves for a mystery.  Donald E. Westlake was a consummate mystery writer and wrote under the name Richard Stark.  (Stark’s books are serious mysteries, well plotted and beautifully written).  Westlake also wrote a fantastic series of humorous mysteries, the Dortmunder Novels, under his own name. Of course, I love the Dortmunder books.
I read Jimmy the Kid first, in which Dortmunder (a criminal who fails often, though it’s never his fault) and his crew copy a sure-thing heist lifted from a Richard Stark novel. Loved it. This week I finished Don’t Ask, another heist novel involving a religious relic from a small Slavic nation. Genius. I spent all of Christmas break laughing as I read it.

For more needle and thREAD, check out In the Heart of My Home.

needle and thREAD

needle and thREAD

We’ve changed up how we’re doing quiet time around here, and I think we all like it. More on that later.
But an upshot is that for Moriah’s past few “quiet times with Mommy” she has chosen to sew.


One of her co-op classes has been working on embroidery, so she was the expert this past week, improving my technique. Or rather, giving me some technique, since I have no idea what I’m doing in needlework. (Give me a straight seam any day.)   The heart on the right is my first effort; the heart on the left is after a little teaching. And oh, did she love to be the teacher.


I’m delinquent on recent book reviews. I read Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross’s Simplicity Parenting recently. So much good in this book.

The idea is sound: the more our lives are crowded (my word, not theirs) — with stuff (including toys), with activities and commitments, and with media– the less able our children (and we) are to engage with what is right before them.  This crowding leads to anxiety and disengagement and my one’s controlling tendencies.  But it’s not too late.  We can and should back off on all these fronts.

My reading came at a good and bad time… as we are here with two families’ stuff, I am seeing first hand how much the stuff piece is important.  And we will (soon, please!!) have a chance to “reorder” [read: get rid of] more of our stuff when we set up our new home.

But I’m also pretty vulnerable right now, and reading this book alongside

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen made for a few weeks of a feeling of condemnation in my parenting.  Definitely, that came from the tone of this second book, rather than Simplicity Parenting, which is very gentle in tone.  But the two together along with the fact that I didn’t know how to backstitch– phew!  It’s amazing I or my children can function at all.

For more needle and thREAD, check out In the Heart of My Home.

Book Review: The Art-Full Tree by Jan Gilliam and Christina Westenberger

It’s that time of year: when we start to think about Christmas and Christmas gifts.  If your mind is heading that direction, this is a beautiful book with step-by-step instructions for making historical ornaments, all modeled on early American ornaments found at the Abbey Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg.

The photography is wonderful, and the “What You Need” lists are comprehensive with not only the consumables, but the tools as well.  You won’t be caught unprepared in the middle of a project.

What I especially like about the book is the note about each of the historical objects, the artist(s), and the creative suggestions for making each project your own.  It’s clear that Jan Gilliam (associate curator for toys at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation) and Christina Westenberger (assistant manager for education for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation) know their stuff.  The projects vary widely, from punched paper to aluminum stars to cross-stitched miniature pillows.  My favorite projects are the felt birds and the Scherenschnitte birds.

Disclaimer: Christina, an old friend who sang at our wedding, sent me a copy of the book last Christmas, but all opinions here are my own.

Book Review: Blackout by Connie Willis

I love Connie Willis’s writing. Remember how much I loved Doomsday Book?
Well, Blackout is a close second.


Unless you count her short fiction, and then”Even the Queen” or “Spice Pogrom” might edge it out. Maybe.

Anyway, Connie Willis writes Sci Fi that is our world, only with a tweak or two: just enough to make her imaginings possible, but not enough to detract in any way from her wry observations of how ridiculous– and brave– we are as people.

Blackout follows three historians through their explorations of World War II, on the British side.  (No, Sam, there are no concentration camps.)  Her observations of human bravery are powerful, and I was completely sucked in.  So much so that as soon as I can drive again I’m going to go to the bookstore to find the sequel, All Clear.

Other Reading

Our Family read-alouds this year were diverse and entertaining.

First, those we listened to on CD:

Anne of Green Gables* and Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

Masterpiece (Broach)*

Out of My Mind (Sharon Draper)*

A Christmas Carol (Dickens)

Voyage of the Dawn Treader (C.S. Lewis)

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (Trenton Lee Stewart)

 The Swiss Family Robinson (Wyss)

The Book of Three (Lloyd Alexander)

Treasure Island (R.L. Stevenson) *

The Whipping Boy (Sid Fleishman)

These are the novels I read aloud that weren’t included in this year’s medieval history reading:

We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea (Arthur Ransome)*

The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)*

Around the World in 80 Days (Jules Verne)*

And Then There Were Five (Elizabeth Enright)

By the Shores of Silver Lake (Laura Ingalls Wilder)*

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare)*

We also read through Matthew, Joshua, and Acts, and a lot of poetry, including multiple works by Robert Frost and Robert Louis Stevenson.  We read heaps of picture books, but for whatever reason, I didn’t keep track of them.

Any stand-out novels you’d recommend for us?

Reading List: the Middle Ages

Much of J’s assigned reading this year focused on the Middle Ages.  On the whole, he liked most of these selections. I put a star by those he particularly enjoyed.

The White Stag (Kate Seredy)

Beowulf the Warrior (a retelling by Ian Serralier)*

The Samurai’s Take (Erik Christian Haugaard)

Black Horses for the King (Anne McCaffrey)*

A Door in the Wall (Marguerite de Angeli)

Adam of the Road (Elizabeth Janet Gray)

The Sword and the Circle (Rosemary Sutcliff)

The Beduin’s Gazelle (Frances Temple)

Archers, Alchemist and 98 Other Medieval Jobs You Might Have Loved or Loathed (Priscilla Galloway)*

Science and Technology in the Middle Ages (Joanne Findon and Marsha Groves)

The Once and Future King (White)*

Tales of Robin Hood (T. Allen)

Master Cornhill (EloiseJarvis McGraw)*

A Single Shard (Linda Park)*

For our family history reading, we also read aloud these books:

Who in the World was the Acrobatic Empress? (Robin Phillips)

Who in the World was the Unready King (Connie Clark)

Aladdin and Other Favorite Arabian Nights Stories (Philip Smith)

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! (Laura Amy Schlitz)*

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (Dover Classics)

Marguerite Makes a Book (Robertson)*

On a Medieval Day (Arato)*

Cathedral (MacAuley)

Castle (MacAuley)

St Francis and the Friendly Beasts (Hodges)

St George and the Dragon (Hodges)

1000 Arabian Nights (Classic Starts)*

Johann Gutenberg and the Printing Press (Koscielniak)

St Francis and the Wolf (Egeilski)*

Joan of Arc (Diane Stanley)

Muhammad (Demi)*

Marco Polo (Burgan)

Selections from Story of the World 2, The Middle Ages

The World of Christopher Columbus and Sons (Foster)*

O also read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Michael Morpungo), and The Sword in the Tree (Clive Bulla), both of which are “Middle Ages” titles.  I particularly enjoyed Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book.****

I love keeping track of this– not only can I go back to this list later, but written out like this, it looks like a lot!  (It didn’t feel like a lot as we were doing it.)

I’ll add a list of our other reading in another post– again with stars for what we highly recommend.

If we somehow missed your favorite Middle Ages book, please add it in the comments!

Homeschooling FAQ: Doing Math Every Day

Doing math every day is not to be confused with Everyday Math.

Again: disclaimers.  I like math.  My husband likes math.  Our kids like playing with numbers.  I think those traits are part nature and part nurture.  So even if your nature is not to love math, don’t give up on your children liking it– some of that you can nurture.

When our children were little (3-5) we played a lot of verbal math games.  That begins with counting fingers and toes, spoons for the family as you put them on the table.  I still think one-to-one correlation is one of the most exciting things my kids have learned, and when they have learned to count things, we’ve had weeks of fun counting everything in sight.  That fun teaches them that numbers are not to be feared.  (Maybe you wish someone had played more math games with you!)

Next you can start playing “what’s one more?” and “what’s one less?”  You’ll be surprised, even at how young children can learn “half.”  Make quesadillas for lunch, pull out your pizza cutter, and teach fractions.  This is all doing math every day.

When we start formal learning with the children, we work on number recognition.  The written number 1 means one.  One jelly bean, one chocolate chip, one m&m…  (See how much fun math is?)  “Preschool Activities” section of Paula’s Archives has some great math activites (look in Dolly’s Ziploc Bags).  Once they can count their fingers and toes and recognize their digits, they might want to have a workbook.  In the beginning, I did hands-on activities two days a week and did workbook the other two days.

We began with a very formal, popular homeschool math program– and lasted a week.  I opened the box, read the teacher’s guide, and passed it to my husband.  Two days later, he asked me if I could return it.  The scripted nature of that particular program didn’t appeal to us at all– because we had already been playing with math.  I sent a frantic post to the hivemind at The Well-Trained Mind to ask what I should try instead (feeling the whole time I was waiting for a response that the clock was ticking and my child was going to flunk the SAT if I didn’t have an alternative in hand in the next two days…) and was pointed to Singapore, which has been a good fit for us.  (I have friends who are good teachers for whom Singapore has been a terrible fit.)

A few words about Singapore Math.  Singapore has textbooks with cartoon people and separate workbooks correlated with each level.  Many math curricula have placement tests if you don’t know where to start with your child.  We used Singapore’s test for each child and found it to be  accurate and helpful.  Singapore begins word problems from Primary Level 1– even before my children could really read them.  For children who need to do more problems in a given area (say, fractions), Singapore has “Extra Practice” books.  I’ve used them either alongside the workbook, or over the summer to keep math fresh in their minds.  It has worked for us.  It might work for you, it might not.  

The point is: math every day Numbers are fun.

I’m convinced that half the time I’ve said X curriculum didn’t work for us, the problem was that we didn’t have good muscles.  The first month of school may not be the time to figure out if something is right for you or not– build up those atrophied school muscles and do it every day before you decide something needs a change.  (The other half of the time, the curriculum was a bad fit, and when we changed it, everyone was much happier.)

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

In January, our book club discussed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.  I mentioned before how this book’s vocabulary made me realize the poverty of my own.  However, there is much besides the language to enjoy in this novel.  (spoiler alert) 

We had a fabulous discussion of the male characters in the book: were they believable?  Were their relationships with the heroine likely?  We discussed the domestic violence in the marriage—one more reminder that there is nothing new under the sun.  The protagonist’s handling of her situation is admirable and reminded me of so many of my own patients’ situations: they are willing to put up with violence against themselves, but not when they see it affecting their children.  The steps Helen goes through to escape her situation mirror those we recommend to women today: make a plan, hide documents in a safe place, etc.Finally, we spent some time discussing how to protect our own daughters from giving their hearts to unsafe men.  Helen’s aunt in the book makes a valiant effort to save Helen from this marriage before it occurs, but Helen has already given her heart to Arthur and cannot be swayed.  One of the women in my book group talked about Thomas Jefferson’s idea of books as mentors—that a good book (a living book) read at an impressionable time of life can have the same effect as learning from one’s own experience.  I think this could be that kind of a book for a young woman, and it made me want to teach a co-op class for high school young ladies on this book together with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

 We’re getting together to discuss Wuthering Heights next… I read it for the first time last week.  Goodness those people were horrible to each other!


American Revolution Books

We’ve been studying the American Revolution and the formation of the government.  We’ve found some great books at our level (my kids are 7, 5, and 3 ½).

Jean Fritz is a writer of historical books for children—we’ve really enjoyed her work.  (Incidentally, she is the daughter of missionaries and was born in China.)  We liked her What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?, Where was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May?, And then what happened, Paul Revere?, and Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?  She also wrote books about the writing of the Constitution, Samuel Adams, Roanoke colony, Jamestown, and Pocahontas, Columbus, Sam Houston, Lincoln… she was quite prolific!he series In Their Own Words is an excellent concept in biographies for children.  They intertwine a person’s own writings with a more compact biography.  We enjoyed the Benjamin Franklin biography.

As I mentioned before, my kids discovered Schoolhouse Rock, and now we’re all singing No More Kings and The Preamble to the Constitution all day long.

Other books (though not strictly historical) that piqued my children’s interest in the figures of this era were Ben and Me by Robert Lawson (being the story of Ben Franklin’s life as recorded by his mouse, Amos); The Joke’s on George, and Mr. Revere and I also by Robert Lawson (the story from Revere’s horse’s perspective.) 

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Latham begins just after the Revolution and mentions some historical figures. We loved this book. I had planned for us to read Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, but we’re going to wait on this.  I think it’s for a more mature child—at least 10?—not because of the war or the writing, but because the main character is seriously injured (and recovers) and my children are so sensitive to that.