Mid-October Learning Notes (pre-AP Trebuchet Edition)

Joining the guilt-free learning notes linkup, because the longer I go without doing any reflecting whatsoever, the less fun I am to be around.

I’m not feeling too bad yet about how our school year is going, even though there are indicators that would seem to point towards a terminal case of mis-organization. I continue to simply forget entirely about entire books that are supposed to be part of the daily – or, at least, once-weekly – routine around here. We’ve had our share of craziness in the past few months and so I blame that vaguely ominous-sounding but really-mostly-fine situation, as it were, for my System Amnesia. I actually have an awesome new approach to not forgetting things, and it’s called the Bullet Journal, and I bought a lot of washi tape to make sure it sticks, HAHAHA ADHESIVE HUMOR NEVER FAILS, so there’s that.

We are doing some ambitious things this year, but mostly so that I can set the standards high enough to give myself room for when we don’t meet them. I’ve decided to just stick the kids at least a grade ahead in almost every subject we’re studying, as long as I don’t observe any genuine stress over this decision.

Really, Wordly Wise Grade 8 is not any more tedious than Wordly Wise Grade 7. It’s just slightly harder words. No more work. I define “geniuine stress over this decision” as follows: if the fit you are pitching is significantly worse than your standard I-don’t-want-to-do-that-assignment fit, I will consider whether it is something about the subject matter itself rather than an issue of leaving math for after lunchtime (for example).

This child chose to create a scarecrow version of herself to assist in completing her assignments.

This child chose to create a scarecrow version of herself to assist in completing her assignments.

AND…if the child is working ahead of grade level, and it’s a two-migraine week, Mom does not have to feel quite so bad about getting behind, because we are still ahead, so to speak.

I dislike the idea that as children mature intellectually to the point where they can engage in more complex subject matter, it requires an exponential growth in homework/projects/tasks. (I have learned from one of my summer partial-reads that this thing I just described is a logarithmic scale. My 9th grade teacher taught us logarithms backwards and I’ve feared them since that day.)

Anyway – you know what I mean, if you have a middle schooler. Now that we’re in pre-AP honors college-bound US history instead of your basic advanced honors pre-college-bound pre-pre-AP history, we write three times the number of reports to guarantee three times the amount of learning, because the trek to college starts now and probably already started and you’re probably already behind.

I just refuse. I can’t even with this.

At the same time, it is very important to me and to my husband that our children not miss out on opportunities as a result of our choosing to homeschool them.

What?! That makes no sense. That is completely not achievable. Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something. Homeschooling is about opting out, and opting out means missed opportunities.


It drives me crazy, how much pressure we put on kids. So we’re trying – hope we succeed – this grand experiment to see if we can achieve similar outcomes with a different sort of lifestyle. Schoolwork that takes up a few hours of the day instead of 12 hours a day, and room for other stuff.

Now, the news that I’m not forcing the children to participate in any activities or putting pressure on them will come as a shock to the actual children, who are being forced to participate in several academic competitions this year. More on that later, maybe. Short version: the competitions keep me honest about these goals we’re supposedly setting, and preparing for the competitions is something we do instead of workbooks, etc., and not in addition to workbooks, etc., and we try not to spend too much time on them, and besides, wouldn’t you want to build a trebuchet, if you could? That kind of thing will never happen, in this family, without an external deadline and an entry fee.

So – there’s that, my first attempt in a while to make sense about homeschooling. Thanks for the link-up, Melanie!


First Week of School: 7QT

— 1 —

And so it begins. I like starting school with a four-day week; I’m a fan of four-day weeks in general, but especially when you’re coming off of a two-and-then-some-weeks family beach vacation. The detox period is painful when coupled with a Return to Structure. Therefore, we bribe with the promise of getting to bake and decorate a cake.

— 2 —

I’m hoping that I have now taken a long enough break from blogging that I no longer care about it whatsoever and can therefore be liberated from the imaginary pressure to Join the Conversation on whatever it is we’re all supposed to be talking about at any given time.

— 3 —

I shall turn 40 this month, and that still doesn’t really compute for me. 40 is something my parents were in the mid-80s, celebrating with “Lordy, Lordy, look who’s 40″ cards and oldies music. You know, REAL oldies music, like Sam and Dave and The Swinging Medallions and The Jesters. Not, like, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam.

— 4 —

Anyway, so – it was a good first week, all things considered. Our homeschool group has a core team this year and we have put a lot of activities on the calendar, including a park day yesterday in the rain (with a covered pavilion). The rain provided welcome relief from the broiling heat.

We’re going to try to have a group activity every Friday – sometimes just a park day, other days a field trip, etc. I really hope this works out as an incentive for my kids to get all of their work done earlier in the week instead of putting it off (often due to Mom running out of nagging steam by Tuesday).

— 5 —

It’s a marvelous thing when your children are old enough that their help is actually helpful and their jokes are actually funny.

— 6 —

We’ve been getting gradually less unschoolish each year, particularly now that my oldest homeschoolee is in seventh grade. At the same time, being unschoolish with history (in particular) has really worked well with that child, who loves to read about history on his own. He’s definitely left me far behind, and not only because I don’t remember more than 10% of what I learned while earning my undergraduate degree in, uh, history. Frequently I just check out a bunch of books for him to power through, and tell him to let me know if there’s stuff in one of the books that seems weird or “inappropriate” (that wonderful modern catch-all.)

Every once in a while, I think, “maybe I should make them do projects.” I loved assigning projects as a teacher. And I was mostly the good kind of project-based teacher, because I tried to assign projects that could be completed in class and didn’t require parental trips to obtain supplies, get certified as a notary public, steal the Declaration of Independence.

But then I think…ehhh. I don’t really like crafts when they happen inside my house.

— 7 —

Look what my husband caught at the beach, in the water in which the kids and I had been swimming for days!


This shall now be my default end-of-post image.

For more Quick Takes, visit CELEBRATED RADIO HOST WHAT ARE YOU KIDDING ME GO JEN at Conversion Diary!

I Am Not Going to Swim Across the Pool Today: A Partial Catalog

(Guest post by 5-year-old)

Pronunciation guide: “pewl” for “pool,” “f” for “th” and vice verftha. Avoid use of sing-song voice in favor of ADAMANT ROARS.

I am NOT going to swim across the pool today.

This is NOT a pool-swim-across day.

I am NOT going to swim like you said, because I am just a little boy and I don’t know how to do big things.

Little kids cannot do things and I am just little and cute and I am NOT BIG.

There are SHARKS in the pool. I don’t want to be a dolphin; I want to be a shark. Dolphins are bad!

I am NOT swimming across the pool because the pool is too cold, too hot, and too warm.

You are NOT my coach today you are just a mom and I am NOT GOING to SWIM.

My coach is NOT in charge NOBODY is in charge just MOMS but I am NOT A SWIM TEAM BOY!

Yeah, but I want there to be lava in the pool.

Yeah, but I have never even seen a volcano!

Yeah, but it is a long time since we went to France I want to go to France NOT TO SWIM LESSONS I AM NOT GOING TO SWIM.

Yeah, but I already have a trophy from baseball; trophies are not for me.

Yeah, but I want asteroids to come and destroy the earth and there be NO MORE POOLS.

Yeah, but then the meteorite will come and fall in the pool and make all the water splash out.

Yeah, but I don’t need to swim because I live on land.

Yeah, but I do not need to get a treat for swimming because I DO NOT NEED TO SWIM.

Yeah, but Superman doesn’t have ONE arm, he has TWO arms to push off and he can FLY and he’s a SUPERHERO and I am just a LITTLE KID who does NOT NEED to push off the side of the pool.

Yeah, but Superman is not real and alive on this earth.

Yeah, but I can’t swim like a T. Rex because T. Rexes just have small arms and they can’t swim because they have small arms like this.

Yeah, but there are no dinosaurs on swim teams.

Yeah, but I will swim across the pool tomorrow, not today.

Yeah, but I will swim when I am six.

YOU were being THEFEETFUL because you stepped BACK and I had to swim to the WALL and you made me swim too FAR.



You lied!



Michael Brendan Dougherty on Popes and “Party Loyalty”

Having grown up in a college town in the Deep South, I am accustomed to viewing Catholicism through the lens of “how is this particular aspect of my faith weird to other people?” Anticipating questions and preparing responses to have on hand, that kind of thing. Not (usually) from a defensive stance; I actually think most questions/objections/criticisms are reasonable when working from a given premise and you have to show how the underlying premise is incomplete or flawed in order to properly respond.

I think that’s what I think, at least.

More and more, I struggle with this inchoate sense of “I’m just not sure what I think about how this is going” with regards to Churchy conversations, Pope-related articles, soft-focus photos with pope quotes superimposed atop them, and my first time using the word “inchoate” in a sentence.

Here is an opinion I hold but worry you’ll dislike: I think we should not canonize popes until a big chunk of time has passed since their death – say, 200 years.

And, in an article that surely wins some sort of Webby for “least accurate ad hominem remarks from commenters,” Michael Brendan Dougherty has clarified for me why I think this.

Between Pentecost and the launch of Vatican.va, most Catholics did not have access to the day-to-day musings of their pope. The Roman pontiff’s theological speculations have been of almost no interest to Catholics throughout history, and never became so unless he was a great theologian already, or there was a great controversy which the authority of the Roman Church might settle. To the average Catholic living hundreds of miles from Rome the Faith was the Faith, whether the pope was zealously orthodox like St. Benedict II or a sex criminal like Pope John XII.

As much as I like the Internet, social media is making it harder and harder for Catholicism to NOT be reduced to being in the Pope Fan Club.

“I’m a fan of this new pope,” says the person who read the Rolling Stone cover in the supermarket aisle. And I feel it incumbent upon me to be well-versed in not only the latest word from the Vatican but also the greater context and the likelihood of accuracy and the last ten related statements.

I already felt that way with Benedict XVI; that I had a duty, as a Catholic on the Internet, to be ready to be interviewed by Reddit about the latest sound bite and interpret it within the light of our rich heritage of faith. But now it’s far more burdensome, either because I’m getting older and tireder, or because sometimes the statements are way, way open to widely varying interpretations, or – well, whatever.

And in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “at some point in the future, we are bound to have another really lousy pope, and then what?”  Then how we will we handle the every-five-seconds news cycle?

Back to canonization of popes: saint-making can be hugely confusing and weird to people who don’t know much about Catholicism. It’s very hard to make it NOT sound like “God gives us the bat-signal that the person is in Heaven, and then we update our calendars.”

It has occurred to me that canonization is the Church’s response to people’s natural inclination to celebrate and devote themselves to people they admire. Sometimes we celebrate and devote ourselves to some really terrible role models, like (insert former Disney star here, while saying a prayer for his/her conversion and acquisition of pants). And sometimes we celebrate and devote ourselves to those who have displayed heroic virtue. People will do this regardless of the Church proclaiming, “this person is in  Heaven.” Canonization could be understood as a way of sifting through the various cults of personality that are out there and validating the lives of those who truly can be models for us of life in Christ.

So I understand why we canonize some people very quickly – if there is abundant evidence of the person’s virtuous life, etc., and a profound call for this person to be recognized as a saint, the Church responds to that call and does not make people wait for no good reason.

But with popes – gosh, I just feel like this has the potential to go very much awry, becoming a near-instant referendum on What Pope Such-and-Such Represented and Whether That Was Good.

This is the kind of thing I don’t usually write about because I think “my friends who aren’t Catholic are going to read this and wonder why I am Catholic if I feel this way about Official Things the Church is Doing.” (Or, worse, “gosh, my friends who are Catholic are going to think this sounds awfully hostile.”)

But – all of this “what’s your opinion of this thing the pope did 17 hours ago” stuff is so peripheral to what being Catholic means. Being Catholic means receiving Christ in the sacraments; encountering Him in Scripture; being part of the body of Christ across time and space and all that wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Thinking about pope things really should occupy very little of my mental space, which I think gets back to what Dougherty is saying.

Ha – here as I sat fretting about how my four readers would receive this crazy idea I came up with about waiting to canonize popes, look what Google found:

A measured take from John Allen (What the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II tell us):

As a footnote, some experts question the whole business of assigning halos to popes. Generally it’s not because they doubt the personal holiness of these men, but because they worry it damages the process.

First of all, Catholic theology holds that the Church never “makes” a saint. If someone is already in Heaven with God, which is what calling them a saint means, they don’t need a piece of paper from Rome certifying their status. Declaring someone a saint is really for everyone else, intended to lift that person up as a role model and a source of inspiration.

With popes, such a gesture is arguably superfluous, since their election already made them highly visible figures.

Further, the question with popes is, which ones do you canonize? Either you do it for all of them, which may cheapen the result by making it seem almost part of the standard benefits package, or you pick and choose, which risks making the process seem political.

And a very interesting piece from David Gibson of Religion News Service (Does being pope give you an inside track to sainthood?):

What accounts for this sainthood surge?

Experts cite a combination of factors. For one, more recent popes have arguably been holy men rather than monarchs, and they look especially good in comparison to the various rogues and warriors who occupied the papal throne in the Renaissance era.

“In a sense they are witnesses of a Christian life,” said Massimo Faggioli, a theologian at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and author of a new biography of John XXIII.

Modern popes, Faggioli said, “are less subject to the political and social constraints of established European Catholicism, when to become pope you had to be part of the right family or alliance, and being violent or ruthless or almost a war criminal had no importance.”

Today, he said, popes are expected to be saints more than rulers, pastors of a church “that tries to be closer to the gospel than to the Roman Empire.”

Both of those are great articles; I encourage you to read them in full, and would be interested in your opinion of Dougherty’s piece as well, unless you are the type of person who starts out by blasting him for being a “typical liberal atheist commie.” I’m not sure I would agree with all of it, but his point that we tend to view the pope as “party leader” brought me up short.

7 Quick Takes, Math Road Trip Edition

We road-tripped from Houston to Fort Worth today in preparation for the Private School Interscholastic Association state meet tomorrow; my son’s competing in the sixth grade mathematics event.

— 1 —

Mathlete riding shotgun.

Mathlete riding shotgun. Forced review activities courtesy of Mom.

— 2 —

Even though I only have three children, it’s rare that I spend an extended amount of one-on-one time with any of them. I enjoy getting to interact with each of the kiddos sans the sibling issues that are usually present – surely there’s an expanded version of Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them, but if they are siblings, none shall speak without interruption.”

I’m actually Agent Interruption in the family a great deal of the time. I’m not sure if I was always like this (probably) or if I can blame my years in the classroom for my tendency to DIVERT THE CONVERSATION MID-STREAM and start my own awesome topic. So I am probably the one who passed this along to the children.

— 3 —

I don’t usually listen to music in the car when I’m driving with the kids, but my husband does. Which means that the children seem to assume a road trip will involve lots of Weird Al.

Suffice it to say, that was not the case today.

Instead, we listened to Chuck Berry and also (not related) the “Music Man” soundtrack. The best part of singing along with “The Music Man” is being Winthrop on the Wells Fargo song. Such a sensitive Hollywood portrayal of young people with SPTHEEECH ISSTHUES. THE MAIN ISSUE IS THE SHOUTING. IT COULD BE THUMPIN, FOR THUMONE WHO IS, NO RELATION BUT IT COULD BE (yes you’re right it surely could be) STHUMPIN STHPESHIAL JUST FAAAR ME!

They say homeschoolers are out of touch with pop culture, and…they have a point.

— 4 —

The wildflowers along Highways Whatever We Drove Today are still lovely. It reminded me of when my husband brought home a hand-picked bouquet a few years ago, including a diabolical thistle.  The thistles look really pretty from the road.

— 5 —

The second best part of the day was when we took the markerboard into Chick Fil-A, as you do on a Friday afternoon over lunch, and talked about slope-intercept form. Basically because I realized there might be questions about that on the contest and I’d forgotten to teach that to my kid. (In my defense, it isn’t part of his regular sixth grade math.) There is maybe something wrong with me that I thought that was…a really fun lunchtime.

— 6 —

The BEST part of the day was dining at the home of my esteemed Dappled Things colleagues, Bernardo and Katherine Aparicio. I hadn’t seen them since the 2012 Catholic New Media Conference and I really enjoyed catching up with them. We discussed (remember that there was a 12-year-old present) the inadequacy of the second Hobbit movie, teaching economics, the differences between parental and grandparental permissiveness, and the possibility of creating a new market for Catholic literary converts by spreading a rumor that Chesterton was half-vampire.

I mean, can we categorically say that G.K. Chesteron was not a vampire?

The possibilities are endless. If we can tap into that lucrative teenage-girl-vampire-mania demographic, we are looking at an unstoppable wave of New Evangelization.

— 7 —

When you dine with your grownup friends and your children present, there needs to be a mutual non-aggression pact in place. I won’t tell embarrassing stories about you, my child, if you don’t tell incriminating stories about me. Nobody needs to know where you learned your first bad word or what happened to your extra Easter candy after the third day. (Heavy parental taxation rates go into effect after a 72-hour waiting period.) In fact, I think I might have to draw up a contract just for these occasions. Always good to have things in writing.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

SOTG.jpgWHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! I published this post and forgot to mention that my copy of Something Other Than God was delivered today!

I must have repressed the memory, because it was of course delivered AFTER we’d hit the road. So my husband back at home gets to read it first. I’m going to order a copy for my Kindle, actually, so I don’t miss out.

I had the honor of reading an early version of the book and enthusiastically recommend it! Even if you’ve memorized every blog post Jennifer has ever written and play her reality show episodes every Friday for Family Movie Night, there’s terrific new stuff to laugh about, ponder, and enjoy in her memoir. I’m so, so happy for her that this day has finally come!

Of Math and Tigers, with Side of Pirate Pants

The end of the school year is my favorite place for dreaming, because I can lift my eyes unto the hills of a new dawn &#8212 a brighter day &#8212 a September when we shall all be made new in the shining reflection of the one remaining piece of printer paper that has not been turned into a drawing of a dragon.

I have already shared with certain members of the homeschooled population in this household that we will be continuing (or, uh, reinstating) the study of certain subjects over the summertime. We haven’t really done that in previous years; I vaguely felt that we should try to keep summertime life as “normal” as possible since we’re already weird because of homeschooling. But, like Amy, I am now leaning towards keeping things somewhat fresh over the summer.

This is made somewhat easier by the fact that summertime in Texas isn’t exactly an outdoor paradise, except possibly between the hours of 6:00 and 7:00 AM. If I’d had my act more together, I’d have been more deliberate in taking off a few weeks in the springtime.

I’m making it sound like we’ve had our noses to the grindstone, but then this morning my five-year-old marched out to the nice dog-walking neighbor man wearing pajama pants with pirate pants on his head and talked about Lord knows what (probably dragons) for several minutes. And I thought “this is it. This is the day someone calls the authorities on me.”

My older, non-dragon son is competing in a state mathematics competition this weekend, so we’ll be road-tripping up to Fort Worth on Friday for the big event. We didn’t really do anything specific to prepare for the district-level competition at which he won first place, but I’ve been trying to coach him for this event, albeit haphazardly. I don’t want him to be disadvantaged due to his mother’s disorganization. On the other hand, I’ve been winging some of this with random assignments for him on Khan Academy to supplement his other math. Functions? Yeah, I got this, son. Except &#8212 they added more things to that topic, I think, because I do not remember learning some of this stuff. I know it’s an experience every parent has to go through &#8212 encountering math that you forgot how to do. I just didn’t realize it would come so soon.

Anyway, all I really want is for him to feel good about how he does at the competition. And for him to not talk about Super Mario Bros. the entire way from Houston to Fort Worth.

I think a lot about parental investment in children’s activities, and where the line is that separates “I want to live out my own missed opportunities through my kids” from “If I am good at something, I should share that with my children so they have the option to specialize in that if they want to do so.” And also about opportunity cost. My daughter recently opted not to try out for a particular theater program we thought she’d be really good at, because she felt like she was already busy enough. I was a bit disappointed at first, but she showed a lot of maturity by making that decision.

Last week, we brought our A-game to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. We have previously brought our Z-game, behavior-wise, so that was a refreshing change. The kids have been taking art lessons ALL AT THE SAME TIME WONDER OF WONDERS at the museum school, so I chose last week to visit the Age of Impressionism exhibit while the kids were in class. I enjoyed the exhibit and I also noticed it wasn’t too big to be cruised through quickly with a five-year-old in tow, so I decided I’d attempt to take the children on the spur of the moment.

It helped that I treated them to lunch at the museum cafe beforehand, of course.

But I still wasn’t expecting much, since they’d already been doing Art Things for an hour and a half at that point. Still, we didn’t have to pay extra for tickets (thanks to our family membership) and I didn’t have much to lose other than possibly being profiled if the behavior was particularly…spectacular.

To my utter astonishment, the aforementioned five-year-old took my hand and walked me through the exhibit as though he were the docent. It helped that there were lots of animals in the pictures. Sort of a zoo/impressionism vibe at times. I’ve had this experience with him at the “dinosaur museum” before but that’s due to the many, many hours of dinosaur-based computer time looking at educational library books about dinosaurs. Here, we were in Paul World, which is sort of like outer space but also like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. And the best part was that a tiger lurked in one of the rooms:

Jean-Leon Gerome, Tiger on the Watch. Image courtesy of Wikipainting

Jean-Leon Gerome, Tiger on the Watch. Image courtesy of Wikipainting

WAIT YOU GUYS MUTUAL OF OMAHA’S WILD KINGDOM IS A THING AGAIN! There are webisodes! I thought I was ironically showing my age! THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING.