Empty Shelf Challenge: A how-to with heart

how to read slowly

Oddly, the number of books on my shelf is shrinking. I don’t know what to say about that.


Title: How to Read Slowly: Reading for Comprehension

Author: James W. Sire

What’s It About: On its face, it simply a how-to book laying out the mechanics of reading a variety of literature—poetry, essays, novels, etc.— for comprehension. Sire walks the reader through various genres, giving tools necessary to read “well.” But it’s more than just a book on how to read to understand the content of a book. It’s a book about how to read with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul. Sire writes from a distinctively Christian viewpoint and shares how to fully engage with literature to gain both understanding and meaning.

Why I Read It: While there are numerous excellent worldview curricula available, I’ve decided to forgo the formal class-like program. Instead, I want to continue having the discussions with my kids about the big questions we’ve been having since they kids could talk, albeit in a more deliberate way. To that end, I’m spending time everyday with the girls (who are 14 and 12) reading through a variety of books and talking about them. How to Read Slowly is one of the books on my list to preview for that project. (Yes, it made the cut. In fact, it’s been an inspiration.) I have a post in the works on why I decided to do worldview this way, and I may even complete it before the last kid graduates!

What I Thought: Sire is like a master chef teaching a novice cook how to make a melt-in-your-mouth crème brûlée His directions are clear and understandable, but he also doesn’t hesitate to share his passion and to explain the why behind not only the method but also the purpose of reading slowly. He makes the reader’s mouth water with anticipation of the delights ahead of her. His love of literature and reading is infectious. I have read Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book, the classic volume on the mechanics of reading well, and one every serious reader “ought” to read. And its dull as tombs. It’s full of tons of good information and absolutely no inspiration. Sire’s book, on the other hand, is a delight. I came away inspired to be a better reader and better equipped to reach that goal. As Sire writes, “[G]reat books teem with peoples and lands, with ideas and attitudes, with exuberance and life. Let us take our fill, doing it slowly, thoughtfully, imaginatively, all to the glory of God.”

Where You Can Get It: Here!

Channelling Keaggy

My crazy old cat is getting crazier in his old age.  His latest thing is to stand inside his cat box and pee outside the box. And then run away like he’s being chased.

This is only the latest in this weird behavior, which has nothing to do with his age or illness, and everything to do with his cattiness. If Keaggy could talk, he’d say something like this. (One bad word and a couple of tacky words.)


Terrible Tuesday: Perspective

Sometimes if you just tilt your head sideways and squint, the world looks completely different. Like a duck, for instance.


duck america

More duck-related perspective.


Here’s to a different perspective on your Tuesday.

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men gang aft agley

I’m a planner. I like to have a strategy and a back-up plan, and alternatives for my back up plans. I spent all Saturday planning and reworking the plan for the upcoming school week. And I. Was. Read. But, well, you know the saying: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Which got me thinking, because while I’m a planner, I also love a good bunny trail. I was vaguely familiar with the phrase and knew it came from a poem, but that was the extent of my knowledge. So I looked it up. Yay, internet! Before I would have had to use Bartlet’s Familiar Quotations and then looked up the poet, probably at the library, which was way past closed. Do you realize what a wondrous time we live in? “What’s that poem?” Five seconds later, “Oh! That’s that poem!”

Anyway, the poem, “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” was written by Robert Burns in 1785. While the mice and men phrase is most well known thanks to John Steinbeck, I find the final stanza most powerful.

Poetry, being poetry, ought to be heard and not merely read. So listen as you read.

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

For those needing a translation, it’s not as poetic, but it helps.

Here’s to all our plans, whether they go awry or not.

Seeking what will last

The cares of the world weigh heavily, and it seems the world is hurting more than usual. The hymn we’re singing for hymn study seems particularly appropriate at this time. Our lives are fleeting, and we all want to hold onto something permanent.  It was written by a man weeks from his own death, and he knew he was dying. It is sung at funerals of the high and low, and is used in many official ceremonies in Britain and many of her former colonies, among other occasions. It captures the cry of our hearts perfectly, particularly in times of trouble,

“Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”


Lyrics from Timeless Truths Library where the sheet music is also available.

  1. Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
    The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
    When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
    Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
  2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
    Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
    Change and decay in all around I see—
    O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
  3. I need Thy presence every passing hour;
    What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
    Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
    Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
  4. I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
    Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
    Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
    I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
  5. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
    Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
    Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
    In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Technically, I survived

How did the first week of school go?



The first week isn’t just moving to a new schedule–the transition from summer to fall, it’s jump starting new activities and new programs. But most things are started, the plates are (mostly) all spinning, the motor is running, the other metaphor is metaphoring. I think the worst is behind us. But it would be a mistake to think that everything will go smoothly from here on out. In my experience, you’ve got to spend three or four weeks tweaking the routine to make sure it fits. And there will be tweaking, I guarantee you.

I think the thing I realize we need most is grace. Grace for each other and grace for ourselves when it all goes cattywampus. And grace for the obnoxiously loud library patrons whom I wanted to throw my shoe at. I’m still working on that last one. Part of this adjustment is moving from the idealized version of events that exists in my head and reality. The reality is my son is easily distracted and the library is the most happening place on the planet, apparently. So we need to adjust. The idealized is that we’ll move through our work in the more than ample time allotted. The reality is an early morning fist fight will not only throw off the schedule but is not conducive to an educational atmosphere, as the experts say. The idealized that my girls will do all that they ought with little guidance from me. The reality is Romans 7. The idealized is that I will have the energy and time to meet every educational, physical, and emotional need of four children and still have a hot dinner on the table at 6pm. The reality is BWHAHAHAHAHA.

So we’re adjusting. And we’ll probably keep adjusting right up until the time summer starts again. It’s the circle of life.



Fine Arts Friday: (Pre) Renaissance Woman

Despite a rather rocky start, it’s good to be back in the saddle with our routine and our studies and most of all, our fine arts.  We’ve been spending a lot of time in the modern world with both our history and our fine arts (since I like to try to line them up if I can), and it is good to be back in the past. In the ancient past for history, and the medieval past for much of our art.

The composer we’re studying is a fascinating woman named Hildegard von Bilgen, a 12th century Abbess in Germany. In addition to being a musician, she was the Magistra of her Abby, an author who wrote books about visions, commentaries and sermons, and scientific books on the medicinal value of herbs and other plants, a poet and an artist. She also had a habit of sassing the rulers of the day–including the pope–and coming out on top. I’m looking forward to learning more about her, and hey! There’s an International Society of Hildegard von Bilgen studies.



Here’s an interesting biography about her. Ambleside suggests this lovely children’s picture book, Hildegard’s Gift, that my library had. I love it when that happens.We aren’t actually studying her art, we’re studying another guy. We’ll look at him later. Anyway, our first song is “Antiphon, O quam mirabilis est.”


The translation is

How wonderful it is,
that the foreknowing heart divine
has first known everything created!
For when God looked upon the human face
that he had formed,
he gazed upon his ev’ry work and deed,
reflected whole within that human form.
How wondrous is that breath
that roused humanity to life!

Lovely, isn’t it.

Our other music for this term is they hymn “Abide with Me” and the folksong “Barbara Allen.”

It’s good to be back!

Time flies

From this . . .

wedding 15

to this . . .

15 years

in the blink of an eye.

It’s been a fascinating 15 years. I can’t see what the next 15 bring.

Advice to self

A little bit of preaching to myself.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34 ESV)


borrow trouble

“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present–either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”  C.S. Lewis, from The Screwtape Letters

Terrible Tuesday: wee sma edition

Third night in a row I’m up at three in the morning. It all begins with Jack the Brat (official new nickname) deciding he needs to go out. But then my mind says, “You’re up! Think about stuff. And more stuff! Ooh, have you considered this?” Stupid mind. Anyway, might as well get something useful out of it.

Like a blog post. LINKS!

Spaced-Out Challenge: Finding Uranus.  Giggle.

Ooh, shiny! A free template for homeschool gradebook and record keeping. Seriously, homeschooling a high schooler requires so much more paperwork. Ugh.

We ought to do better by our four-legged vets. And the fact that a bill has languished in Congress for years is just ridiculous. This seems like a no-brainer.

You know the conventional wisdom that creepy crawlies are creepy crawlier in rural areas? Urban areas may be contributing to super-sized, more fertile spiders. *shudder*

calvin knowledge

Give me gratitude of give me debt. I think I need to read this frequently.

I told MTG that I think we’ll be okay as soon as we get all our homeschool plates spinning. But frankly, I’m not sure we’re going to make next year’s list of America’s Top Homeschools. Sigh.

9 things every parent with an anxious child should try.

I think my mom may have perfected this move. Do not sass talk your mother.

Speaking of smart parents, this guy cracks me up. I look forward to more of his instructional videos. Perhaps he can demonstrate how to bridge the 5″ gulf between the laundry hamper and the floor beside the laundry hamper.




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