above the cabinet

above the cabinet

Monday, June 9, 2014

Our house.......

               Our homes are often not our dream homes, but they are the places that WE make them.  I am in a suburban subdivision, where I was formerly along a country road. I dream of a an old Tennessee farmhouse, and I'm in a 60's ranch.  But I am creating my own place, with little money.....and I am amused that the farmhouse style that I have loved since I was a child is suddenly popular.  A neighbor down the road came into my house for the first time last week; she exclaimed over my chippy antiques.......which I have had about 30 years.  In those days, I heard:  Aren't you going to refinish that?
           Actually, no.

           Here are my musings from awhile back.  I'll never be a great poet, but it's fun to play with words.

My house reclines in suburban flat, sleek and slim
Wind eyes open wide, welcoming light pouring from moon and stars.
My house reclines beside concrete ribbons reaching out,
 “Come on in.”  Bouquets of manicured green and unexpected
messy pops of joyful blooms interrupting the sleek and slender house
resting in a bed of green.

My house opens wide to welcome
 into boxes, trimmed in ranch white,
fireplace, stacked symmetry, gray and tall,
cool grays and coffees of Charlie Brown jazz, smooth…
Intense Elvis blues, and
red rocks the room, where the lindy hopped
and pizzas were delivered.
Where boys sang of far-off oceans, and girls
wanted their boyfriends back.
Where polished tile floors were twisted,
and suburban red oak hardwood, natural finish,
saw Mamie-pink paint turn into antique canning jar blue.
Where jazz, rock, Christian contemporary and Southern Gospel
Fill the air, with sounds of a Tennessee fiddle finishing off.
Where the churn my Daddy used, helping his Mama,
sits near a brown stone milkjug, and organic ginger ale.
Granny’s kitchen cabinet and Pappy’s table—he built it with pegs
For Mamie when they were married—sit with a 60’s fireplace,
 on 90’s ceramic navy blue,  under a candle-lit chandelier.
My house sits sleek, and mid-century modern, with
Antique secrets inside, old oak and cherry, sitting in boxy
Rooms made for Danish modern.
My baby quilts, my kids’ quilts, a quilted wedding gift,
Quilts made mostly by people who
People heaven now….
Time marches on,
                Stands still,
Mixes up,
                And meets eternity

In my house.

Written by me, Tennie, a couple of years ago.

What are the dreams for your house?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Teaching writing

             When I taught my children to write years ago in our homeschool, I thought about how my favorite writing teacher, Mr. Long, taught our reading/writing “advanced” class.  We read a lot. Then we wrote from our own ideas, not prompts. We sometimes were able to choose our genre, but most of the time we were writing in a genre about which we were learning.  He taught us for a short time in the beginning, and then gave us time to write. He met with each of us individually to discuss our writing.  We shared at the end.  This format encouraged my writing greatly; I grew as a writer that school year. I wanted the same for my own children.

So, I did the same with them. I taught short lessons. Each of them wrote from their own ideas, not mine, nor a prompt. They were all at different grades and ages, so their writing varied greatly in quality and quantity. I met with them individually to encourage and to teach them from their own writing.  We shared our writing with one another….and with dad sometimes. They grew as writers.

            When I started college after teaching my own kids, I wondered how to do this with students that I would be teaching. I had complete freedom in my homeschool to teach how I wanted to teach, however I could meet the needs of my children best.  How could I meet the needs of 20-45 students (yes, one of my student teaching classes was extremely large: 38-44 children during that semester) while still giving them freedom to write from their own lives?

            The answer came from an honors project as part of one of my teaching classes.  One of my professors suggested it, as an extension of the class on teaching language arts.  I attended a 3-day workshop with Isoke Nia (at that time she was working with Teacher’s College at Columbia University) sponsored by The Indiana Partnership for Young Writers.   This workshop was an in-service experience for teachers at a Montessori public school in Indianapolis.  I was amazed to be included as a student; I was so excited to be included in this experience.  After three days of learning and working with the children in different classrooms, I was hooked on teaching writing by the workshop method. 

            I realized that my 6th grade teacher had taught us in this way, but he simply said it was how he had been taught to write in college.  I taught my children that way. Now I teach other children through the workshop method.

            The key to teaching in a writing workshop is individuality. As the teacher, you start with the child, not with a "lesson". In the same classroom or family you might have a child who cannot write a complete sentence along with children who could write a short story in an hour.  This was my experience in student teaching and in the classroom later.   That will be the case in a multi-age homeschool classroom.  When you talk with (or “confer,” as it’s often called) each individual student, you encourage them in their own writing. You won’t talk to a child that cannot make a complete sentence about making varied sentences. You start where they are.  They just need to write in legible, understandable sentences. They need to write a lot. They need to read a lot. You may have to have them copy sentences that they think are interesting. Then they can create their own sentences from that sentence’s format.  Give that child what he or she needs. That’s the secret to the success of writing workshops.  Each child gets better; the whole class/family writes better. 

            In a homeschool classroom, the teacher has laundry to do as well as writing, and she wants to check off her list of things to do in a timely matter to get to the laundry, piano lessons, ball practice….whatever it is your family has to do the rest of the day. But learning to write well takes time.  It’s hard work. You need about an hour a day. Yes, an hour a day.

            Some of my friends filled out their workbook pages and completed their lessons in 2-3 hours.  My family couldn’t get that done, because we spent a lot of time writing. I heard somewhere that writing is thinking on paper. It’s hard work.  It takes time. Kids need TIME to get good at it.  Thinking is hard work; writing it down takes time. It’s much more than filling in blanks in a workbook. More real learning takes place--a lot more!

            How will you fill that hour?  The first 5-15 minutes will be spent in a short lesson.  I’ve often heard this called a “mini-lesson.”  Mini means really small, so Mom isn’t going to talk a lot. She is going to use a book someone else wrote to teach something:  punctuation, how the author used white space to lead the reader through the book, how the author used action verbs to make the story exciting and real, etc.  Read the book aloud.  I usually use one book for two weeks to a month: Harold and the Purple Crayon, the Little House books, Cynthia Rylant books, etc.  Choose a good quality children’s book. Yes, even with high school students when you first begin. Have your high school students mastered writing children’s books?  Are they published authors?  Probably not.

            After reading the book aloud (and please, make it interesting), ask the students what they notice.  One might notice something about illustrations. That’s fine.  Many books have illustrations. Point out how the words and the illustrations work together to tell the story.  Get them to try that in their writing. Or if they notice that the author used action words (verbs) to make the story exciting, make a list of exciting action verbs together.  The students can use the list if they want to make their writing more exciting.  They can try whatever you discussed; usually I require it.  If they are already working on something else, I might not.  It’s up to you.

            The next 30-40 minutes will be spent with your children writing.  You, as teacher, will write as well. I have found that my students, whether in a classroom at home or in a school or in another venue, do better if I write as well.  We’re in this together!  Have you heard the admonition that you must be a reader if you want your child to be a reader?  Well, if you want your students to be writers, then you must be a writer as well.

            You will often have to demonstrate what you mean to "try out the idea".  The author used lots of action verbs?  Then write something (short) using uninteresting verbs, and then change it up using more exciting, exacting verbs.  That’s just an example of something to do in one of those short lessons at the beginning. 

            The last part of the hour should be used as sharing time. A few or all of your children (if in a homeschool) should share in that time.  I also share, but I never share first.  I’ve been writing a lot of years, and I don’t want the children to think that their writing should compare to mine.

            Sometimes their writing is better.

            That’s a writing workshop in a nutshell. There is a lot more to it, but that is the basic layout of a writing lesson. 

Now, get started.  Write.

Monday, May 5, 2014


People put those pretty spring wreaths by their front doors or even on their front doors, with flowers and a sweet little nest with fake eggs.

I hung a plain wreath, planning on adding a living plant and a ribbon later when the weather warmed up a bit.

And then the robin came.

She didn't build her nest where the florist would choose.

 It looks a bit top-heavy, but it is high enough that I can't see inside.

Without my camera, that is.

No eggs yet.

A couple of days later, I took another picture of the inside of the nest--which is the only way that I can see inside.

Two sweet little robin's eggs.

And then the next day:


And then the weather turned off cold. It even snowed.
I checked the nest; the mother robin had covered her eggs a bit.
And there was another surprise.

Four baby robins will be hatching soon, right by our front door.

There is another robin's nest over the electrical box beside the garage.  I'm not sure that robins choose the best places for their nests, but they otherwise seem to be good parents.

We host a couple of robin families every year.  Since a pair of huge trees in our yard were taken out (one by a storm, another by disease) the robins find rather interesting places to nest.

The mother robin may not have the aesthetics of a florist, but she did "decorate" my wreath for me. 

I'm sure her babies will "decorate" our brick after they hatch, but we will also hear their sweet baby tweets.

Happy spring!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Life goes on....

This year our family celebrated Resurrection Sunday with the homegoing of one of our family members. This beloved person had a lengthy illness and seemed to be doing well until about a month ago.

Her health declined quickly. Instead of a big Easter dinner, we found ourselves accepting food from friends at the door.

Instead of a big Easter egg hunt, children in the family hunted eggs as they come to visit and say their goodbyes.

It was an Eastertime not like any we had experienced, but her homegoing at Easter was appropriate.

Due to that empty tomb, we know that Jesus Christ conquered death.  And we can have forgiveness due to Him taking our sin on the cross, and conquering death.

Death will die,  and we shall live eternally.

"But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."
                                                                         John 20:31


I was NOT close to the baby robins when I took their picture last year. Zoom is a wonderful thing to have on a camera.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

With my book list in hand.......

            It’s homeschool convention time in Indiana!  I love the convention; I’ve been to most of them, even though I no longer have children home to homeschool.  It’s all those books and resources! 


            When I’m at the convention, family and friends ask questions.  “What do you think about this curriculum?” (or book or other resource).  “Oh, you have it?  May I borrow it?” 


            “Oh, don’t buy that one: I have it.”  (Glare from the person at the booth.  I don’t think they like me.)  “How about this and this instead.”  (The person at the booth suddenly smiles.  I think I’ve redeemed myself.)


The IAHE convention starts tonight.  Tonight’s program is free, and is for new homeschoolers or people thinking about it. Or just curious about it.  It continues on through Friday and Saturday. 


            I highly recommend it.  I have a list of resources that I want to get for grandchildren and my Sunday school class.


            I have a list of books in my head that I want for myself, but that one is much too expensive……


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Questions of homeschooling: how do I get it all in? How do I get them interested?

                Long, long ago, when I began planning lessons for my first homeschooling year, I planned a new topic of study each week.  A teacher friend gently told me that my lesson plan calendar was a bit ambitious for one school year. I soon learned what she meant.  I was so excited to teach, that I forgot that I had many years to do it.  Hmmmmm.

                Over years of homeschooling —and eventually earning a teaching degree—I learned the fastest, easiest, most interesting way to teach.  It works with all ages, but especially the youngest learners. The children learn in an efficient manner, with each subject scaffolding the other (that’s educationese for ‘supporting’).  Instead of spending twenty minutes on a science lesson, twenty minutes on social studies, health once a week, so many minutes on language arts and math, you utilize your time more efficiently.  After all, you still have dishes to do. (“Count the spoons, Charlie, as I dry them and you put them away.”  Hey, with homeschooling, we make the most of our time.)

                I was fascinated by the lessons the first time I substituted for one of these teachers.  The first grade teachers had taken all of the Dr. Seuss books and created lessons in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies with them.  It was amazing.  They were teaching in public school like I had homeschooled my children.

                The children came to first grade already loving Dr. Seuss books.  The teacher latched onto that interest, and taught what she needed to teach in language arts, math, science, history, and social studies with the well-beloved Dr. Seuss books.  (yes, real science:  can't you compare and contrast a Seussian animal with its real counterpart? The children write about their results...oh, this sounds fun.  And, yes, I am a learning geek.)

                Think about Benjamin Franklin.  Through his life, you can study the history of the colonial era, the American Revolution, the Constitution, the art and history of printing, newspaper writing, electricity and other science endeavors, how our money is minted, the religion of the colonists, and even comparing and contrasting customs in France and Colonial America.  How about styles during the Colonial period for your older girls?  Your whole family could get in on this.  The possibilities are nearly endless.

                There are curricula that center around character qualities, like KONOs.  Others center around the days of creation.  Still others center around the history of the world, science, or the history of the Jewish people through the ages.  You can buy a one year curriculum that focuses on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.

                I know a mother who developed lesson plans one year around the subject of horses for her daughter. 

                   It’s not hard.

                       It’s not expensive.

                                     It’s not time-consuming.

                I read of another mother who used Berenstain Bears books to teach her young children.  These books cover subjects like science, health, holidays, kindness, and Bible stories.  Go to your library or get online.  See what topics Berenstain Bears books cover; you could easily organize a year of preschool or kindergarten around these books.  Add bear stickers, games, counters, etc.---which are inexpensive and readily available.  Even puzzles at a local dollar store often have bear themes. 

                You can wait until first grade to study the theory of relativity.