Archive for February, 2006

Mardi Groan

February 28, 2006 @ 11:01 am | Filed under:

A nasty stomach virus is walloping our family today. I was up all night, sick sick sick. Scott was up all night taking care of sick sick sick me. Jane got hit next, though so far her bout seems milder (please oh please). This is the first time I’ve dragged myself downstairs all day. Now I’m dragging back up. So nothing new from me today. But you’ve got a new Carnival of Homeschooling to enjoy (so appropriate for today). And don’t miss this cool heads-up from Becky at Farm School.

Back to bed. Here’s hoping the other kids and my hero husband escape the plague.


February 27, 2006 @ 4:36 am | Filed under:

The Staunton News Leader is not the only Virginia newspaper to be confused about the home education legislation recently passed by both the state Senate and the House of Delegates; it is simply the most venomous in its criticism. Which makes it all the more laughable that the paper has its facts wrong:

What home-schooling advocates seek is to allow home-school teachers — who are generally parents, naturally — to qualify as teachers while possessing only a high school education.

Such a measure passed both houses of the General Assembly in 2004, only to be vetoed by former Gov. Mark Warner. This year, both the House of Delegates and the Senate have rubberstamped a similar bill and sent it on to Gov. Tim Kaine.

Actually, no. It is already legal for parents who have high school diplomas but not college degrees to homeschool their children in Virginia. This has, in fact, been legal for many years. What the new legislation would change is the range of options under which such parents may file their notice of intent to homeschool. Currently, they are limited to filing under two of the four options specified in the Virginia Home Instruction Statute (not counting the religious exemption, which falls under a different section of the law):

Any parent of any child who will have reached the fifth birthday on or before September 30 of any school year and who has not passed the eighteenth birthday may elect to provide home instruction in lieu of school attendance if he (i) holds a baccalaureate degree in any subject from an accredited institution of higher education; or (ii) is a teacher of qualifications prescribed by the Board of Education; or (iii) has enrolled the child or children in a correspondence course approved by the Superintendent of Public Instruction; or (iv) provides a program of study or curriculum which, in the judgment of the division superintendent, includes the standards of learning objectives adopted by the Board of Education for language arts and mathematics and provides evidence that the parent is able to provide an adequate education for the child.

Here, News Leader, the watchdogs at the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers can clarify the proposed changes for you:

Under both HB 1340 and SB 499, parents with high school diplomas would be able to file a notice of intent to homeschool under option i of 22.1-254.1. At this time, most parents without baccalaureate degrees file under either option iii or option iv. HB 1340 and SB 499 would give parents without college degrees additional flexibility when complying with the home instruction statute.

HB 1340 is the House of Delegates’ version of the bill; SB 499 is the Senate’s. Both bills have been passed and are now awaiting Governor Kaine’s signature. The Staunton News Leader “strongly object[s] to the loosening of standards for Virginia’s home-schooled children.” Perhaps the paper’s editorial board ought to examine its own standards for accuracy. Any Virginia parent, whether in possession of a college degree or not, who homeschools his children must still meet standards of accountability:

C. The parent who elects to provide home instruction shall provide the division superintendent by August 1 following the school year in which the child has received home instruction with either (i) evidence that the child has attained a composite score in or above the fourth stanine on a battery of achievement tests which have been approved by the Board of Education for use in the public schools or (ii) an evaluation or assessment which, in the judgment of the division superintendent, indicates that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress.
—Code of Virginia 22.1-254.1.C

Got that, News Leader? Homeschooled children whose parents do not possess a baccalaureate degree have been meeting the state’s accountability requirements with no problem for many years. The new legislation does not alter the “proof of progress” requirement in any way.

The News Leader sputters:

Why would a state with one of the strictest standards of accountability for public education — the Standards of Learning — want to give home-schooled students a pass? Why would a state groaning under the onerous demands of President Bush’s inflexible and unattainable No Child Left Behind Act allow such a dichotomy to exist at the home-school level while the legislature is attempting to strike a bargain with the federal government to get free of NCLB?

It just doesn’t make sense.

Something doesn’t make sense, that’s for sure. NCLB’s demands are so “onerous and unattainable” that the legislature is trying to get rid of them, but in the meantime the state should impose them upon more children? Not that NCLB or the SOLs have anything at all to do with the pending legislation to which the newspaper is objecting.

I might also point out that it is an insult to the merits of a public or private school education to suggest that earning a diploma in such an institution does not guarantee a graduate’s ability to understand and pass on the acquired knowledge that diploma theoretically represents.

The newspaper continues:

Home-schooling should be held to as high a standard as public education. While there are parents with only a high school diploma who possess enough intelligence and education obtained by non-traditional means to give their children a quality education, we cannot apply that standard to every parent who wishes to home-school their children.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Some parents who graduated from high school but not from college are qualified to teach their children because they have obtained further education by “non-traditional means,” but others, who presumably have not benefited from this “non-traditional” post-high-school education, cannot be held to the same standards of accountability as college-educated parents? The News Leader‘s flawed logic here is laughable. On the one hand, this article is clamoring for “higher standards” for homeschoolers; on the other hand, it is expressing a lack of confidence in the public schools by suggesting that a high-school education alone is inadequate.

Oh, and regarding the end of that last quote—

we cannot apply that standard to every parent who wishes to home-school their children.

—one wonders that the News Leader‘s editorial board members are not concerned about the failure of their own educations to provide an understanding of noun/pronoun agreement.

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The Edge of the Forest

February 26, 2006 @ 10:42 am | Filed under:

I love that title. The Edge of the Forest is a brand-new online children’s literature magazine, the brainchild of Kelly of Big A little a, a blog I often link to. Other contributors include Liz of A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, Anne of Book Buds, Camille of Book Moot, Michele of Scholar’s Blog, and Susan of Chicken Spaghetti, who, as you may recall, will be hosting the next edition of the Carnival of Children’s Literature.*

Pour yourself a cuppa and settle in for a most enjoyable read. This debut issue gives us loads of book reviews, an interview with author Cynthia Leitich Smith, a selection of kids’ picks, and a feature on children’s-literature blogs. (Where, I must confess, I was surprised and delighted to discover a writeup of Bonny Glen!)

The Edge of the Forest is a great idea beautifully executed, and I look forward to enjoying it each month. Hats off to the creative team.

*There’s still time to submit a post to the Carnival. Click here for details.


February 25, 2006 @ 11:31 am | Filed under: ,

Strawberries_1I have berries on the brain.

Have you seen them? They’re back in the supermarkets—even our little small-town grocery store—big, shiny, alluring strawberries pretending to be on sale at $5 for a two-pound container. Do you know how fast a family of six-going-on-seven can inhale two pounds of strawberries? What family can afford to wolf down five dollars in one juicy, delirious, ten-minute frenzy? Not mine, that’s for sure.

And yet…yesterday I succumbed. When I placed the bowl of berries on the table after the broccoli had been dutifully dispensed with, oh how the children celebrated! What jubilant praises rang out, what an outpouring of gratitude for the beneficence of their marvelous mother!

(Their praise might have been tempered somewhat had they known what I was planning for my own dessert, after they were all in bed. While they snoozed in ignorance above stairs, I claimed the privilege of the eight-months-pregnant woman and treated myself to a giant helping of strawberry shortcake. Veteran readers of this blog may recall my fondness for confections consisting of berries, cake, and whipped cream.)

All right, indulging in those berries was a temporary lapse of prudence, and I stubbornly do not regret it. But it mustn’t happen again. Not too often. Um, maybe once a week. No! No, I must be strong…I need only wait a couple of months and then we’ll have berries raining down upon us like a scene from Jamberry. Hundreds of berries, free for the picking. Tiny alpines, delectably tangy. Giant, garishly red Sweet Charlies. Two or three other varieties whose names I’ve forgotten but whose merits haunt me all winter. Soon now, very soon….

I have never understood why more people don’t plant strawberries as groundcover. Perhaps my neighbors, who have been staring at dead berry leaves on my side-yard slope for four months, have a counteropinion. Sure, strawberries aren’t evergreen and by late February they look as pitiful and straggly as everything else in my yard. But wait until June. First the thick, attractive mat of leaves, then the dainty white blossoms, then the fat berries in that irresistible shade of red: a dangerous, tempting, sexy hue that suggests perhaps strawberries were the first new plant to come along after Adam and Eve got booted out of the Garden. There is nothing demure about a strawberry.

Four years ago, inspired by Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots, I spent about eighteen dollars on ten small strawberry plants. I planted some of them in the strip of landscaping border by my backyard deck stairs, where you’re supposed to have nice neat bunches of liriope. The other berry plants got plunked in the middle of a large, weed-plagued mulch bed that slopes steeply down to the ditch by the streetcorner.

Eighteen dollars: less than four times the amount we paid for last night’s gone-in-a-flash berry feast. And now I get a steady stream of berries from June to September. Like the wantons they are, the plants have multiplied with abandon: we must have hundreds of individual strawberry plants now, each fertile and heavy with fruit in its season. I am a neglectful gardener (just ask my neighbors) and I do nothing to baby these plants. I ignore them. I don’t do chemicals and I can’t be bothered with fertilizer or compost. We have terrible soil: thick red Virginia clay that is not at all disposed to encourage root growth. The kids’ caterpillar farm (fennel and rue) springs up right from the middle of the strawberry bed. The strawberries don’t care. They thrive on adversity. They scoff at the miserable growing conditions; they sneer at the crabgrass; they launch themselves over the retaining wall and bloom in mid-air. They send exploratory runners into the lawn, and Scott mows right over them. For this callous treatment, they reward us with a riotous, bountiful harvest. You can’t beat us down, they proclaim. You only encourage us to flaunt our fertility. We will, we must, reproduce! We will fill the world! Let those fat, bland, expensive greenhouse-grown excuses for berries beware! We are sun-warmed and sweet. We will make you weep for joy.

There is no modesty in strawberries.

Legend has it that if you share a double strawberry with someone, the two of you will fall in love. I doubt this has ever been proven: who shares a strawberry? Go pick your own!

Strawberries were long believed to be the symbol of Venus, Goddess of Love. This does not surprise me. Later, during medieval times, strawberries came to be associated with righteousness and perfection. Perfection, I can see. But righteousness? I think not. They are too decadent, almost indecent: so beautiful, so delicious. And yet you’ll sometimes see them carved on very old church altars and pillars, the signature of the stonemason. He was probably looking forward to a bowlful of berries and cream after work.

Jacques Cartier, traveling along the St. Lawrence to Quebec in 1534, wrote in his diary about “vast patches of strawberries along the great river and in the woods.” One wonders that his journey did not end right there!

“Doubtless God could have made a better berry,” wrote William Butler in the year 1600, “but doubtless God never did.”

Amen to that.

Children’s books to feed your strawberry appetite (as if such a thing needed help):

The First Strawberries by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Anna Vojtech. Engaging retelling of a Cherokee tale about the origin of strawberries, which were the sun’s way of patching up a quarrel between the first man and the first woman. Oh, canny sun: he causes the berries to spring up at the woman’s feet as she runs away from her husband; naturally, they distract her long enough for him to catch up, by which time her mood has greatly improved.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood. Oh, how I sympathize with the little mouse’s attempts to protect his one perfect berry from the ravenous bear!

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski. 1946 Newbery Medalist about the struggle of a poor Florida family’s struggle to protect their berry crop from crows, the neighbors’ pigs, and weather. Gritty and honest, this middle-grade novel has been a frequent re-read for my two oldest daughters.

(More to come, but Wonderboy just woke up from his nap.)


The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous. A wordless picture book about the efforts of a comfortably frowsy-haired old woman to escape the thieving grasp of a mysterious creature who has his eye on her basket of berries. (Who can blame him?) I think I’ll send Jane upstairs to hunt for this book right now…I’m not sure Beanie remembers it, it’s been so long since we pulled it off the shelf.


Visit my Amazon shop, where you’ll find these and other books I love. The affiliate fee helps keep this blog’s lights on!

Feast Your Eyes and Ears

February 24, 2006 @ 3:45 am | Filed under: , , , , ,

A smorgasbord of links to share:

Hone your note-reading skills with this free online drill at (Hat tip: MacBeth.)

Explore free art lessons at the Getty Museum (Hat tip: Tabatha Yeatts. Thanks for sending the link, Tabatha!)

Interested in Australia? Here’s a great list of picture books from Down Under!

The Headmistress treats us to several sites featuring free audio recordings of literature and children’s programming, including this terrific find: Librivox, at which site you may listen to a long list of unabridged classics including Pride and Prejudice, Pilgrim’s Progress, A Little Princess, Notes from the Underground, and Call of the Wild.

And speaking of audio, Farm School‘s Becky has the scoop on audio recordings of poetry.

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A Word of Thanks

February 24, 2006 @ 3:02 am | Filed under:

To all of you who emailed about or commented on my “Quiet Joy” post, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words and especially for sharing your own stories. I have been so moved by your outpouring of delight in your own wonderboys and wondergirls, and I have enjoyed “meeting” some of your beautiful children at your own websites.

Yesterday I was holding a sleepy Wonderboy on my hip while I prepared his morning smoothie, and for no particular reason he lifted his groggy little head and planted a kiss on my cheek. It washed over me again, as it does a hundred times a day, how blessed I am to have him. It has been a real pleasure to hear about all of your blessings too. Thanks.

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Another Charlotte Mason Treat

February 23, 2006 @ 7:26 am | Filed under: ,

Lynn of the cmason list very kindly posted this article, “The Work and Aims of the Parents’ Union School,” from a 1922 edition of The Parents’ Review, a publication that was sent to parents and teachers involved with the Charlotte Mason-founded PUS. It’s a fascinating and detailed look at a typical term’s curriculum.

I’ve been on another big Charlotte Mason reading jag lately. More on that later.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to check in on The Bookworm’s ongoing virtual literary tour.

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For Better or for Not Terribly Impressive

February 22, 2006 @ 5:21 am | Filed under:

This has not been my finest morning as a wife and mother.

I woke at five to the sound of Wonderboy crying over the monitor. I get up shortly after five most mornings (alone) with no particular difficulty, but this morning, when my child needed my attention, I seemed incapable of accomplishing the simplest tasks. Such as shutting off the baby monitor so Scott could get a couple more hours of sleep. When I reached for the monitor, I knocked my water bottle off the nightstand.

“You dropped your water bottle,” mumbled Scott helpfully and groggily from his side of the bed.

I fumbled in the dark, found the bottle, returned it to the nightstand. But it wouldn’t stay put. Kept wobbling and falling as if I were trying to put it on an uneven surface. I felt the nightstand to see if someone had left, say, a Pretty Pony in the way. What I felt was a nice flat surface covered with water.

I was, you see, trying to put the water bottle on the table upside down.

So now the whole nightstand was swimming. What’s that, you ask? What do I keep on my nightstand? (Besides the occasional Pretty Pony?) Why, books, of course!

Frantically I snatched my stack of books off the nightstand, blearily hoping they hadn’t gotten too wet. In the process I managed to rip the cover off The Pickwick Papers. I also heard a rattle and clink that indicated I had knocked my glasses to the floor.

“You dropped your glasses,” contributed my ever-helpful husband.

(OK, to be fair, during all of my aforementioned fumblings and spillings and cover-rippings, he made numerous offers of help, all of which I ignored because I was too sleep-addled and baby-rattled to muster gracious words of assent.)

So now I’m slapping my wet hands on the damp carpet which is scattered with soggy books, attempting to locate my glasses by, you know, smashing them under my blind fists. This is all the more irritating because I don’t usually wear my glasses. I wear night-and-day contacts. Except for times when I, just to throw out an example because it happens to currently apply, have managed to scratch my cornea and not only cannot wear my beloved contacts but am forced to smear ointment on my eyeball twice a day. Which is, I must interject, a truly disgusting sensation.

The knowledge of the ointment-smearing that lies ahead of me this day does not improve my before-dawn mood. I continue my ineffectual carpet-slapping, muttering darkly under my breath.

“Why don’t you let me take care of this,” says Scott in the gentle, patient tone of a man who is quietly regretting dropping out of his band after college in order to take a semi-respectable job and save money for an engagement ring. This clumsy, inept creature is the woman for whom he sacrificed a promising career as a rock star?

“Fine,” I snarl, such a sweet and grateful wife.

Wonderboy, meanwhile, has not uttered another peep after that first ear-splitting wail. Like his father, he quite sensibly believes that five in the morning is a time meant for slumber, not humorless imitations of the I Love Lucy show.

Scott got the mess cleaned up and I, finding myself wide awake at the time of day when it is my custom to arise, naturally sank back into bed and slept another two hours.

And awoke to discover a blizzard in progress, and me without any milk in my refrigerator.

Oh, and I forgot to fill the bird feeder, too.