Fine Arts Friday: A place to know

*Yes, this is technically not Friday. Stuff happened and Friday got away from me, but I have a theme and I’m sticking with it.

We have sorely remiss in our nature studies because A. it’s too dang hot and B. . . .  No, actually just A. We did do some nature-y stuff on vacation. We went to the beach, which is nature in a big, overwhelming way, and we went to the nature center at Gulf State Park. The docent there was very helpful and friendly. He let the kids (minus Sprite) hold a snake, and answered tons of questions. We also met the center mascot, Homer.


I think Homer was describing the exhibits to Bulldozer. Or he was taunting the creatures who were stuck behind the glass.

But while it’s good to see new and exciting natural venues, it’s far more important for children to have a piece of nature close to home that they can call their own. They need a place that they can explore and become friends with. And that means regular visits to a specific corner of the woods (or desert or whatever wild place your area contains.) I’ve been neglecting our regular, get out in nature routine. The kids have been spending a good deal of time outside in the neighborhood, and of course, we hassled the bunnies who nested in my garden. But we weren’t visiting our place. We weren’t nature studying in the spend time exploring, journaling, and just being all nature-fied. So I figured it was about time we (meaning I) got off our (meaning my) duff and back into the wild. Or as wild as suburban North Texas gets.

“Our place” when it comes to naturing (new word!) is in a nature preserve about five minutes from our house. It’s 200 acres bordered by residential areas, so is definitely nature, but still, it’s in the middle of suburbia. It has very well tended trails, both paved and unpaved, decent bathrooms, playgrounds, pavilions, an amphitheater, and a huge tower overlooking the whole park. It’s kinda swank for a nature preserve, is what I’m saying. And sometimes when we’re naturing, it doesn’t feel very wild, partly because it’s so popular. Honestly, it’s hard to feel “in the wild” when the 20-plus mom’s stroller workout group is passing you on the six feet wide concrete path, or when a huge entourage is one field over for quincanera pictures. But through diligent exploring, we’ve found a off-the-beaten-path, seldom visited place that we call ours.

AHNP jul24

Off a side entrance, winding through and past a hidden pavilion, and down into a ravine, at the far edge of the park, there’s a bridge over the tree-shaded creek. While not a total secret, it definitely doesn’t get the foot traffic the rest of the park gets. We only saw three small groups today in the hour and a half we were there. For whatever reason, we hadn’t been back to “our” place since last fall. I wish we had gone just after all the rain, because we definitely saw some signs that the water was impressively high. One nice change is that they replaced the bridge that had been some Scout’s Eagle project. While it was a nice-looking bridge, the “one-person-at-a-time-and-cross-at-your-own-risk” sign was a little off-putting. I prefer my bridges come without warning signs.

While we occasionally hike, the kids and I prefer to hang out by the creek and keep our explorations to a smaller area.  And even though we’re in the same smallish space, we’re all in our own worlds. Sprite tends to just sit, soak in the beauty, and pet Jack. Little Miss draws in her journal. The boys throw both stones in the creek and chase every creature they see, but Bulldozer documents his discoveries while Satchmo just works on producing a bigger splash. They managed to catch a few tiny frogs, and even saw one lose it’s tail. They may have been the immediate cause of the tail losing. I do a little of everything–except for the frog bit. But mostly, like Sprite, I just like to sit and be there.

AHNP jul24 Collage2

Looking up into the canopy, I realized how important these visits to this place are. It’s important not just to teach my children about the natural world, but to give them a piece of that world that they can know and love. I don’t have to teach that love, it’s a natural outflowing of the knowing. But I do have to facilitate the meeting. I have to put nature time on our schedule and guard that time, as strongly as I guard time for math or history. I have to give them a place.

And more than just the physical place, I need to carve out a place in our time and resources. I need to provide tools they need to understand their place, like the butterfly guide that helped us identify the giant swallowtail that danced above our heads all morning. I’m no naturalist and can’t answer all their “what is it” and “how does it” questions, but I take time and effort to help them find those answers later. But I must prioritize providing a place in nature and for nature in their lives. And hopefully, they’ll carry their love and knowledge of this place into a love for the whole natural world.

Do you have a place in nature that you call your own? How often do you visit it?

100 Word Challenge: In the mud


Mother looked up from the stove at the child covered in mud.

“Where have you been?” she demanded.

“Digging in the creek bottom,” the girl perked. “We found a man.”

“What do you mean you found a man? Stay put, you’re filthy!”

“In the bottoms. Tommy and I were digging, and we found him.”

“A man? Don’t talk nonsense.”

“Did so! He was buried in the mud.”

“You mean a dead body? Oh, Lordy.” She dropped her towel and rushed to the phone.

“He’s not dead anymore. He said to fetch you. You better come if you want Tommy back.”

Part of the fascinating “100 Word Challenge” project by Darleen Click over at Protein Wisdom.  Jimmie has a wonderful, beautiful tale that’s a smidgen longer than specifications, and a round-up of  several others. Join in! (If you don’t have a blog, leave your story in the comments.)

My previous stories here:  The Rite, Payback, Waiting, Lost and Found


Rabbits with swords, y’all!

*This post contains affiliated links.

We just finished the best new children’s book I’ve read in … a long while. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith is a book that certainly every parent should read to their child, and frankly adults should read for themselves.

Before I go on: Yes, it is a children’s book. Yes, those are rabbits. Yes, they have swords.


Listen, The Hobbit is a children’s book whose main character is a made-up creature with furry feet. It’s also a story that can be appreciated by all audiences. As C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” By the end of The Green Ember, you aren’t thinking “this is about rabbits with swords,” you’re thinking, “Go rabbits, Go!”

The storyline and the language are both superb. Too often children’s books–even books I quite enjoy, like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson–telegraph the heck out of plot twists, “secret” bad guys, and the like. The Green Ember is a fantastically told story with twists and turns that I did not see coming. The characters have depth and complexity. While some of the villains are thoroughly bad, the good guys aren’t overly simple. It’s a classic tale, but not a tired one.

Not only is it a great story, but it’s beautifully told. I got a lump in my throat every time I read,

“My place beside you, my blood for yours. Till the Green Ember rises or the end of the world!”

Chills, I tell ya! The language is not Lord of the Rings intricate, but it is richer than most modern children’s fare. Smith also doesn’t shirk from showing real consequences of battle and betrayal. More than once, I thought of the quote from Lewis, “Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”

Natalia will stand beside Narnia and Middle Earth as mythical places full of fascinating characters and the setting of timeless stories. And we have the opportunity to know it from it’s inception. Lucky us!

Additional notes:

  • If you buy the paperback from Amazon, the Kindle version is only $1.99 through the KindleMatch program. We just ordered The Black Star of Kingston, the prequel to The Green Ember. I’ll be honest, my kids were a little disappointed with the thought of a prequel. “But we want to know what happens next!” Personally, the hints he dropped make me excited to find out the backstory.
  • I discovered this treasure through the excellent The Read-Aloud Revival podcast. Sarah MacKenzie interviewed both S.D. Smith and the illustrator Zach Franzen. They are both worth a listen, but the interview with Franzen has a discussion on beauty and imagination that was wonderfully thought-provoking.
  • Finally, I’ve seen this book listed as a Christian book/Christian fiction. It’s not anything like typical Christian fiction fare. It’s not even Christian in the same sense that Narnia is Christian. It’s Christian in the sense that Smith is a Christian and obviously pursuing truth, beauty, and goodness in his writing. It’s Christian in the same way that Tolkien’s or L’Engle’s works were Christian. Frankly, we need to get out of this habit of calling art by Christians “Christian art.” It tends to ghettoize the work, and it would be a darn shame if the whole world didn’t read this book. In closing: Go get this book! Right now!

It all began with a trip to the museum

Or maybe it all began with a troll’s haircut.

Whenever it began, the result was that Janet Stephens, a hairdresser from Maryland got curious about something. Starting from her own knowledge and expertise as a hair stylist, she kept learning and experimenting until she rewrote the book on hairdressing in the ancient world.

But back to the museum. In 2001, Janet Stephens visited the Walters Art Museum, which had on display a number of portrait busts from ancient Greece and Rome. Stephens became intrigued by the intricate hairstyles of them women and sought to recreate them. In her research, she learned that most scholars believed the fancy ‘dos to be wigs. Stephens believed otherwise, and set out to prove that the hairstyles depicted in stone busts and metal coins were possible using period tools. The result was “Ancient Roman Hairdressing: On (hair) pins and needles,” (pdf download) published in the Journal of Roman Archeology.

The Wall Street Journal notes, “In 2007, she sent her findings to the Journal of Roman Archaeology. ‘It’s amazing how much chutzpah you have when you have no idea what you’re doing,’ she says. ‘I don’t write scholarly material. I’m a hairdresser.'” The journal’s editor, John Humphrey, agreed with Stephens. “I could tell even from the first version that it was a very serious piece of experimental archaeology which no scholar who was not a hairdresser—in other words, no scholar—would have been able to write.”


Ancient hairstyles

One of my favorite Charlotte Mason quotes is “Education is the science of relationships.” What a marvelous relationship was made when Stephens looked at those busts through the eyes of a hairdresser. But I must disagree with her and the editor. Stephens certainly studied, researched, wrote, and presented her findings to other interested experts. Isn’t that what a scholar does? We’ve narrowed scholarship to be study that happens in a certain type of institutional setting by people with certain types of credentials, but isn’t it really just the act of diligently pursuing knowledge?

I heard an interview on a recent Freakonomics podcast with Al Roth, a high school drop out and engineer by trade, who just won the Nobel Prize in Economics. (For developing an algorithm that facilitates those multi-person kidney transplants, among other things.) Now obviously he is accepted as a scholar now, and in fact teaches economics. But initially people didn’t want to hear from an engineer about economic theories. And I’m sure there were some people who didn’t want to listen to what a hairdresser might say about daily life in antiquity. Thankfully, that didn’t stop either of them from sharing their ideas.

I thought about these two scholars during an exchange I had with someone who was reluctant to take some housekeeping advice I shared because the source wrote poorly. Now, obviously, I’m as big a fan of correct grammar and syntax as the next homeschooling, word-loving nerd, but what does that have to do with the price of tea in China (or of the best way to clean a shower, remove a stain, or cook a chicken)?

As I get older, I realize two things: 1) how much I don’t know and 2) how many experts on all manner of topics are all around me. Yet many people don’t consider themselves experts simply because they don’t have some sort of credentials. I also notice that I sometimes dismiss a person’s expertise because of the aforementioned lack of credentials or because they don’t express themselves as articulately as others. I wonder how much wisdom and insight I’ve missed just because someone got their verb tenses wrong.

I’ve particularly noticed stay-at-home moms tend to devalue their time, knowledge, and skills. If they take on a money-making venture, they are often almost apologetic about expecting money for their efforts. And they are very often asked to work for free or for a ridiculously low amount or exchange of goods or services. I’ve been guilty of this myself, and both I and my family have suffered for it. But the fact that I don’t normally get paid for my skills doesn’t mean they don’t have value, both monetary and otherwise. It’s just that my husband and kids are cute enough to get the mom-rate. The rest of you need to pay up!

I’m not saying that everything I do should be financially compensated. There’s a lot to be said for living in community and helping one another because we are community. In fact, that probably helps to enhance the value of the “non-expert” by showing their value where the rubber meets the road, instead of the realm of the experts in books and other media. But whether I’m compensated or not, I have valuable knowledge to share even if I don’t have a bunch of letters behind my name or an office. And the people around me also have incredible insights, information, and expertise about all manner of things if I have the brains and humility to listen to them. So instead of being surprised that a hairdresser has published in a scholarly journal, I ought to be surprised there aren’t more “non-scholars” publishing. There’s a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to be found, if we’ll seek it.

What is your area of expertise? When have you been surprised by someone’s knowledge?

100 Word Challenge: Lost and Found


He sat on the ramshackle steps, broken with grief and despair. After all they had barely survived, was this the end?

The sickness had taken what little family they had. The riots, their jobs. The fires, their possessions. They escaped the ruins with only their lives.

But the pains came far too early. Somehow, the old woman had heard the cries in the dark and took them in. Now he waited for the worst.

But it was not the end. The feeble voice beckoned him into the dark room. She looked at him through tired, shining eyes. “This is Hope.”


Part of the fascinating “100 Word Challenge” project by Darleen Click over at Protein Wisdom. She hit it out of the park. Again. Join in! (If you don’t have a blog, leave your story in the comments.)

My previous stories here: Waiting, The Rite, Payback

Jimmie with his own eerie tale, and a round-up of  several others.

The science behind the Wow!

Most Americans will be either watching a fireworks display or launching their own in celebration of our nation’s independence. We’ll be part of the spectator crowd. If you have little kids (or if you are or were a little kid), you’ve probably heard “How do they DO that?” It’s not magic, it’s chemistry!


The science behind how we get those amazing colors and patterns is fascinating. You can tell this guy really likes his job. (Who can blame him?) And remember what the Mythbusters say: Don’t try this at home.


Enjoy your chemistry and your freedom!

For more Fourth of July fun, here are some independence-themed songs, art, and the poem of our people (A.K.A. the Declaration of Independence.)

100 Word Challenge: Waiting



The old man settled himself in the sand, the same time and exact place he had waited for the past 58 years. Early on, he watched with anticipation. Later, when he was eager to get back to his family and work, he sat with perfunctory duty.

Now he kept his vigil with longing. His wife was dead, and his children were grown and gone. He clung to the promise: “We will be back. Wait.”

He sighed at the setting sun. Not this year. He shifted his frail body to leave, when the sudden light blazed before him.

“Come home, Child.”

Part of the fascinating “100 Word Challenge” project by Darleen Click over at Protein Wisdom. You don’t want to miss her story this week. I’ll add others as they are written. And join in! (If you don’t have a blog, leave your story in the comments.)

My previous stories here: The Rite, Payback

UPDATE: The great Jimmie Bise has a Independence Day themed story.

June reads

Although I’m not very consistent with it, I find it helpful to blog my books because it helps me think more clearly about them. It’s the adult version of narration, if you will.  I was going to do a full post on a couple of these books, but the best laid plans of mice and all that.

So this is a post covering what I’ve read this month, with the exception of something I know I’m forgetting, but I can’t remember what. Which, yes, is the definition of “forgetting.” Hush.

First, a bit of pool-side summer fluff. Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International is free for Kindle. If you like action/adventure/fantasy campy fun with lots of monsters (and I do), it’s an absolute blast. I bought the second one, and am planning on buying the next couple for the beach.

Early this month, I listened toHenrietta Lacks the audiobook of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I remember first hearing about it on a RadioLab five years ago when the book first came out. This is an amazing story of one woman and an amazing scientific discovery.  It is equal parts fascinating and horrifying. On one hand, the HELA cells, of which Henrietta Lacks is the source, are one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. On the other hand, the story of Henrietta’s family after her death is heartbreaking, and the callous way science treats the sources of tissue samples is disturbing.

I was going to have my 15-year-old listen to this, but I’m going to wait a couple of years. The details of what happened to Henrietta’s children after her death are distressing, and I want to give her a few more years before exposing her to these painful realities. But it will definitely be on her reading list as a junior or senior. It’s a well-told story that combines important topics of scientific discovery, the moral and ethical limits of science, our countries struggles with institutionalized racism, and the importance of mothers.

There are a lot of “wow” moments in this book, but most impressive to me–even more than the amazing HELA cells themselves–is the strength of Henrietta and her children, particularly Deborah, in the face of intense trials. Even if you aren’t going to read or listen to the book, take ten minutes to listen to the RadioLab piece. I listen to a lot of podcasts, but I remember listening to this story even five years later.


The next book I read was also equal parts fascinating and horrifying, at least horrifying to some. Actually, I found it great fun, but for the grammatically persnickity among us, it might be troubling. In Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English John McWhorter traces the rough and tumble history of the English language.  I learned of this book from the fascinating podcast History of the English Language. If you like words and language and history, both of these resources are highly recommended.

McWhorter talks about how the intermingling of English speakers and their predecessors with all sorts of neighbors–both on friendly and unfriendly terms–shaped not only the English vocabulary, but also English grammar. We picked up odd bits here (the meaningless “do”: Do you want a drink?) and dropped a bunch of stuff there (all the endings that make learning foreign languages so…challenging.) The Viking that gave us skirt and disk, also helped us get rid of the superfluous (from our point of view) endings.

But my biggest takeaway from both the book and the podcast is that English is still–and probably always will be–in flux. And it’s always tending to ease of use, simplicity, and efficiency. While grammarians may try to force English into its Sunday best, sit politely with its ankles together, and sip tea, English is born to go brawling and maybe even slumming. So while irregardless and “I could care less” cause us Grammar Nazis to cringe, the reality is that these formations will probably be accepted language within our lifetimes.


Finally, I read Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. As I told a friend on Facebook, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was so beautiful, uplifting, and heartbreaking at the same time. It reminds me a great deal of Home by Marilynne Robinson, which is also a lovely, bittersweet book. I have one minor quibble with the book, and that’s the chapter on war toward the end that’s a bit jarring. By itself, it is a well-written chapter with important things to say. It just seems out of place in Port William, which may be the point. But anyway, it took me some effort to get back into the flow of the rest of the book. Your mileage may vary.

While I don’t necessarily agree with the extent of Berry’s idealization of rural life, he does paint a lovely picture of a time and place that is almost completely lost. And the wisdom he shares about the Membership and belonging and accepting are for any age and any people, not just those on small farms in a quiet, green valley.

Hannah Coulter

What have you read lately? What are you packing in your suitcase this summer?

100 Word Challenge: Payback


The third threat came by courier. The first was a call; the second, a letter. Now this package, addressed in the same scrawl as the letter. Jones laughed as he remembered the old lady’s angry threats when she realized her “safe investment” wasn’t.

He ripped open the package and dumped a crumpled paper into his hand. It instantly disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“Am I suppose to be scared by parlor tricks?” Jones tossed the package aside and returned to preparing for his next mark. He stopped, horrified as burning pain spread and intensified, and the flames engulfed him.



Part of the fascinating “100 Word Challenge” project by Darleen Click over at Protein Wisdom. Go read hers, and I’ll add others as I find them. And join in! (If you don’t have a blog, leave your story in the comments.)

My previous attempt here: The Rite

My friend Jimmie’s story, along with a links to several more stories.

Fine Arts Friday: A New Favorite

Isle of Skye

“Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye Oil on canvas” Sidney Richard Percy , 1874

This month’s folk song on the Ambleside Online rotation is “The Sky Boat Song.” It is a huge hit in our family, especially with my youngest, who asks me to sing it every night.

Apparently, this song has gained new popularity because it’s the theme of a British historical/sci-fi show called Outlander. It’s historical, because it’s set in 18th century Scotland, and sci-fi because a young nurse got herself time traveled there from 1943. I haven’t seen it, because frankly, the premise makes me woozy. But great song! (The show is based on a book series.)

The hymn is “Let Us With A Gladsome Mind,” which John Milton wrote at 15. Can you imagine your 15 year-old scribblings lasting for 400 years? (Lyrics at that link. I couldn’t find a version that had lyrics with the music that I liked.)

Happy Friday! Enjoy the music.

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