Conversation snatches

Centering myself in the present moment and feeling gratitude does not come naturally to me.  Too often, my mind is replaying past conversations or planning future obligations.  Pen and paper help me fight my way back to the present.  Purposely listening to conversations in this house with the object of writing them down grounds me in the here and now.

I often find these scraps of conversation I have penned  laying around the kitchen counter, my bedside table, the foyer dresser.

Just today, I found some hoarded words, saved and then forgotten from FOUR years ago.

11 yo Sidney —– “Dad, do you remember that night I got sick and threw up on the floor?  And you wiped the floor with your socked foot?”

6 yo Rachel — “Mama, the potty is eating.  It eats  . . . . . . . “

11 yo Sidney  — “Mom, the icons on your computer have been moved around, but it isn’t my fault.  It is Bill Gates’ fault.”

And upon hearing me brag about how I fit all the garden produce in the freezer, 9 yo Lincoln — “Mom, you are ORGANISM woman.”


Four years — a breath, a lifetime.

The 11 yo boy who ratted on his Dad’s cleaning methods and messed with his Mama’s computer icons is today a 15 yo boy who sits at my kitchen table taking apart a nonfunctioning LED light bulb and talking to himself, “MAN, it is nice to have a voltmeter in the house.”

William Carlos Williams Inspired

I often have the children do a 10 minute free write on Fridays.  Sometimes I sit and write with them.  It is good for me to realize how hard the writing tasks I give them can be.

This past Friday, I asked them to write a poem in the style of William Carlos Williams’ The Red Wheelbarrow, which we had studied all week.  I told them to focus on simplicity, brevity and concrete images.

When the time beeped, we took turns reading our poems aloud.  To my surprise, three of the kids used the form of their poem to create their image, like Williams did.  I never thought to challenge them in that way.

Below is 15 yo Sidney’s poem, which I am sure he wrote to please his flamingo-loving sister . . . . .



Lincoln focused on Christmas.  In case, you have trouble reading his scrawl, it reads

“So many depend upon a fat red coated whiskered man in a jingling sleigh”


Rachel, like me, focused on simplicity . . . . . .


Nine-year-old Prairie performed the most challenging feat of all . . .

Her poem takes the shape of Jesus in the manger.  In case you missed it, the words “love, hope, peace” at the top are the streams of light or the halo that is typically glowing over baby Jesus’ head in paintings.

Even Mama needs to revise

Dear Kids,

Yep.  It is true.  Even Mama needs to revise her writing.

I just don’t have the luxury to do it often.  But I squeezed in some revisions between trips to the turkey and dessert table.  The long drive to our Thanksgiving get-together was helpful too.

So here it is —- the reality of revision in the adult world, outside of school.

And with a bit of alliteration thrown in — “reality of revision.”  Unimpressed, huh?

That phrase popped into my mind, so I wrote it down, squashing that inner critic who whispers “Is that the best you can do, dearie?”  I encourage you to do the same thing during a free write or the writing a rough draft.  Write boldly.  Don’t worry if it is pretty.  Just splash your color onto the page.

My blogging activities usually show that free writing approach —– a quick jotting down of thoughts.  Time to revise is rare.  If I do revise, it is done after you have gone to bed, so you don’t see the process.

This time, I took photos of my revisions so you  can see that I do practice what I preach.  When time permits.  In the adult world, time is “wibbly, wobbly, timey, wimey stuff.”

Below is the poem “A Walk to the Mailbox” that I posted several days ago.  After I posted it, I printed out a hard copy, keeping it nearby, making small revisions as ideas came to mind.  Mostly, I focused on capturing how I felt and what I saw with stronger images and details.


Then I went to the computer, made my revisions and printed a revised copy.  I kept this copy nearby, even taking it with me on the long drive to visit family.  I made a few more revisions and even decided to change up the order of the stanzas because it made more sense in the timing of events.


Taking the above draft back to my computer, I made the changes, and now I offer the final draft of my poem below.

It will not enter the canon of great American poetry.  I am not even sure it is a “good” poem or whose standards would determine it good or mediocre.

What does matter — it is a poem about us, a glimpse of our lives.  We could have blinked and missed it.  But the attempt to write this moment inscripts it right onto our hearts, where we can retrieve it when we need to cling to something good.  And there will be days when we must cling to something good.

So go read your Mama’s poem.  Extra credit** goes to the first kid who can memorize and recite it.



**extra credit to be given in the form of chocolate




A Walk to the Mailbox


I had forgotten

how to breathe

until I walked away

from the computer, research and choices tensing my shoulders

and entered a different space —-

the space between you and me.


I had forgotten

how it felt to walk

outside —

my chest unfurling, hair on my skin reaching toward the November sun.


I had forgotten


until it reached into my ears,

delved into my heart —

the laughter of teenage brothers racing backward

down the long driveway slope,

their sisters trying too,

uneasy giggling,

trying to go fast, trying not to fall

on the sharp rocks.


We used to make this walk together

when all of you were little, clinging to my hands and skirt,

a mother hen with her little chicks huddled close.

I had forgotten.

But I remembered when I saw how far ahead of me you run now.

A Reason For a Mom to Write

A few days ago, my 13 yo son, Lincoln, was worried about one of his rabbits.  She had been wounded, her eye oozing blood from a predator attempting to get into her cage. After much debate, we finally decided to leave her alone, hoping she would heal on her own.  Lincoln felt helpless.  He could find no peace, couldn’t focus on school, his thoughts unsettled.  I held his hand and prayed with him, encouraging him to “take his thoughts captive.”

A little later, he came down the stairs with a smile on his face.  “I was having a hard time,” he said.  “I went to your blog and read your latest post and it calmed me down.”

My blog . . . . .I’ve always disliked that word . . . . . . this place where I write —  it is my psalm.

For years, it has been my refrain —– an intentional, repeated focus on what is good, true, and praiseworthy.

And also an expression of hope and trust that there will be more joy on the morrow.

At first, it struck me as a novel, and encouraging, thought that perhaps my own psalm could function as my son’s psalm too.  Though further thought proved less surprising — my stories are his stories.  They belong to him too.

Maybe one day, when he is older and our paths diverge, he will write his own stories, his own psalms.


Word Whimsy

We are having such fun with our vocabulary studies that I may create a whole new category labeled Word Whimsies.

I outlined our vocabulary study in an earlier post.  Friday’s family school has a slightly different format and includes a vocabulary test.  I have been varying their test each week — sometimes the kids write out the definition and a sentence or the synonyms and antonyms.  A few times, I gave them 10 minutes to write a poem using that week’s vocab words.  Their favorite test thus far —– begin a story, using that week’s vocab words.  They do not have to complete the whole story, just begin the story.

Then comes the best part —– we read the stories aloud with much drama and giggling.

I love this method as much as the kids.  It serves multiple purposes.  The kids must grasp the definition to use the words correctly, but they are also freed to play with language, to have fun and take chances with their writing.  Sid believes that learning is more likely to happen when humor is involved.  I suspect he is right, and there is definitely a lot of laughter during vocabulary study.

Last week’s vocabulary words were imbue, hallowed, propensity, vestige and trite.  Rachel stole the show with her short story and her original use of the word trite.

I should explain that we have an odd little rhetorical question that our family says when someone asks a question to which the answer is obviously yes.  It goes like this . . .

“Would you like a cookie?”  I ask.

Sid responds, “Do dogs have fur?”

That ridiculous response/question should be interpreted, “YES, I want a cookie!  What kind of ridiculous question is that?”

Rachel employs our little family rhetoric with a twist.

And now, Rachel’s story . . . . .

Once upon a time lived a boy named James.  One day, James was walking on the sidewalk.  He looked down and saw a baby flamingo that was imbued with blue dye.

“What the heck?!!? said James.


“Are you lost?”

“Yep,” said the flamingo.

“One question — have you read the hallowed Bible?” said James.

“Do dogs have propensities?” said the flamingo.

“Uh . . .I don’t know,” said James.  

“Anyway, my name is Vester,” said the flamingo.  “And I am trying to find a vestige of Mom.”

“I will help you find your Mom,” said James.

“Right,” said Vester.  “Let’s not go around triting.”

“Hey, is that your mom?”


“Is that your mom?”


“Is that your mom?”

“No,” said Vester.  “Please stop triting.”

“Oops,” said James.

“Ah, there’s my mom,” said Vester.

Rachel’s vocabulary test has now given our family a new phrase — “hey, stop triting!”

Back to School!!!!

And totally re-organized, of course!  Or partially totally reorganized.  The other parts are only re-organized in a vague way in the recesses of my brain. 

Rachel was over-the-top  excited about her handwriting practice of all things.  We had an episode this morning with a hurt finger that I quickly turned into handwriting practice for her.  She will re-write, and thereby re-live this little scene, which seems to thrill her to pieces —–

Rachel had a splinter in her finger.  It hurt, and Rachel was scared.  Mama said, “Be still, Rachel.  Don’t move your finger.”

Rachel was afraid of the tweezers, and she cried.  But she was brave too.

She listened to Mama and did not move her finger.

Mama got the splinter out quickly, and Rachel felt much better.


And yeah, I know.  I wrote a sentence for my child to copy that begins with the word “But.”  I was an English major and ridiculously particular about the rules of writing for years.  But I didn’t enjoy writing then, hated it. 

It was only after I began writing for myself, and let go of the concern for “rules” that it became fun.  Don’t worry.  My kids won’t suffer.  I can still turn out a proper, scholarly paper if I have to, like if someone twisted both my arms, lodged my head in a vice and threatened to pull my toes.

Alas, the things a homeschooling mom must suffer . . . . . . . . . . . .

Learning to write

This is how we teach writing, by which I mean composition (not handwriting).
First the children learn to read, and I work hard to find books that will interest them, books they will love to read.  The more a child struggles to read, the harder I work to make reading fun and less labor-intensive for them.  After reading is estabished, I encourage the children to do what children do naturally —- tell the story, share what they have read.  Charlotte Mason calls this a narration.
Narration achieves a couple of things.  It lets me know what the children are reading and what their comprehension skills are.  The act of summarizing a book in their own words cements the knowledge they have learned, so they own it.  It is tucked away in their memory, likely forever. 
Occasionally, not every time, when a child narrates to me, I will sit at the computer and type their narration as they tell it to me.  Below are two narrations, Lincoln gave me.
Lincoln’s narration of how a toilet works
(I don’t know which book he read this info in)

You know the handle that you push down and flushes and when you push it down, it pulls up a bar inside the tank. On the other end of the bar, a chain is attached to the bar. And then on the other end of the chain that is not hooked to the bar is attached to something. . . . .there is a hole in the bottom of the tank and something is blocking the hole that is called a rubber stopper. And the other end of the chain that is not attached to the bar is attached to a rubber stopper.

So when you push down the handle, it pulls the bar and it pulls up the chain which pulls up the rubber stopper. So all the water in the tank flows out of the tank and when the dirty water has gone into the waste pipe, the clean water from the tank comes up the hole into the potty where you poopoo and pee.

And then the tank fills up with clean water again, and then it is ready to flush again.


Lincoln’s narration of The Matchlock Gun 

It is about the Indians who came. Edward killed 4 of them at the same time. Well, it might not have been at the same time, but he killed 4 of them.

Edward was a 10-year-old boy. And his great-grandfather brought the matchlock gun to where Edward lived. When the Indians came and Edward’s mother shouted a word that I can’t remember what it was. One of the Indians threw a tomahawk and it got in her shoulder. Then one started running back and 4 of them fell on the ground in cloud of smoke. Dead. Do you know what that cloud was? It was from the matchlock gun. His mother had shouted the word and Edward heard her and shot the gun. And the Indians had caught the house on fire and Edward and Trudy had to get their mother out.  Edward sent Trudy in to get the blankets and Trudy got the tomahawk out BEFORE Edward sent her to get the blankets. And Trudy came back with the blankets and Edward had forgotten the matchlock gun and he went in to get and he brought it out.


Lincoln’s understanding of how a toilet works is spot on.  His understanding of The Matchlock Gun is a little more fuzzy, which is actually understandable.  That book is an older book and the language is a bit difficult.  There is a subtlety to the story that definitely requires a mature mind to grasp.  It will be interesting to have him re-read it in 6 months or so and do another narration.  I expect there will be a dramatic difference in his understanding and that it will show in his narration.

Once a child is comfortable enough with narrations and is either handwriting well or typing with ease, I casually say one day “I don’t have time to listen to your narration right now.  Why don’t you write (or type) it up for me to look at later?”

I don’t worry about pefection, sentence structure, run on sentences, capital letters or any of that stuff right now.  We casually address these issues at other times.  But when I am teaching a child write, my goal is not proper grammar or perfect spelling, it is that they learn fluency and how to communicate their thoughts. 

That is it.  This is how we do it here.  Of course, my oldest child is 9 years old, so come back in a few years and ask me if my method worked.