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    Books & Reading, Other Thoughts

    Seven Quick Takes on What’s in my Medicine Cabinet, Read Aloud Selections, Music, and MORE!

    February 19, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    Seven Quick Takes

    :: 1 ::

    Last week, I came to the realization that we are entering a new era of reading aloud. For years, we have always had two titles going. One was for the children and me, the other was all of us plus my husband. We read one while my husband is out or at work, and the other when he is with us. This has worked well.

    Now that we’ve entered the teen years, I find we have need for a third title. This one is for when my oldest is out and about. He’s gone two evenings per week these days, and the younger children were saying we couldn’t read the other books aloud because he wasn’t home. True enough, but the idea of never being able to read aloud two evenings per week, if not more, was sort of horrifying.

    Needless to say, we added this third title: Adam of the Road. It’s a book I read aloud years ago — which we loved — but the younger children can’t remember it. Seems like a good choice, then.

    :: 2 ::

    I added something new to my medicine cabinet this month: calendula gel. I had heard good things about it before, but I thought my old standby, aloe vera leaf gel {from the actual plant growing in my garden}, was good enough. Then came the morning when I gave myself a slight chemical burn. It was such a dumb mistake, but I managed to make it anyhow. I accidentally knocked an entire bottle of peppermint essential oil to the ground, and it was all over the bathroom floor. Unthinkingly, I cleaned it up without putting on gloves.

    Um. Skin is permeable, you know?

    I never want to see peppermint oil again. I was only tolerating its presence in the house because my husband seems to be fond of it.

    By the time I was done, my hands felt like they were on fire. I googled around online {instead of going to church with my family, which is what I was supposed to be doing}, and discovered a couple solutions that helped immensely. But they didn’t completely solve the problem, and I was a bit miserable all day.

    That night, our small group from church had a meeting, and the lovely Hayley was there. Her purse is like Mary Poppins’ bag — she’s always got something perfect in it. She handed me some of this calendula gel and told me to put it on the burn.

    Problem solved. Seriously! It was so cooling and wonderful.

    It’s an add-on on Amazon and so I had to build an order in order to get mine, but I finally did that, and I’m already enjoying it. I am a bit burn-prone, and with big burns, it’s a bit hard to go out and harvest an aloe leaf, you know?

    :: 3 ::

    This week’s links collection:

    • Getting Clean, the Tudor Way from New Republic
      • The takeaway? If you have to choose, laundry comes before bathing.
    • A Message to Our Customers from Apple
      • I think it’s important to read this, even if you don’t own a single Apple device — because it’s about government intervention.

    :: 4 ::

    This month in 2012:

    Socratic Mothering

    A friend inspired me to try out a new parenting trick. {Is it wrong to call it a trick?}

    :: 5 ::

    Last week, I listened to not one but two podcast episodes on the topic of whether or not Christians ought to listen to secular music. As a person who really enjoys certain types of secular music, I appreciated the answers give by both episodes, and so I thought I’d share, in case it’s something you’ve been thinking about:

    :: 6 ::

    I made a major change to the post I published on Wednesday, but it was after the emails had already gone out, so I want to explain why. In the first version of the post, I used a Scripture passage as my example. I don’t remember if this exact passage was used in the curriculum I referenced, but many like it were definitely used in this way. And then Kelly left this comment:

    I like this exercise and your explanation of it is great, but I wouldn’t have a child do this with a Bible passage — not without at least changing the wording from “cross out any detail that is not important,” to something like, “cross out any detail that is not the main point of the passage,” but even that makes me a bit nervous. I know you know that theologically speaking there aren’t any irrelevant details in the Scripture, but remember The Abolition of Man, how a well-meaning school lesson can have unintended consequences of a serious nature.

    Oh my heck.

    I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed that — I mean, years ago I had my child do multiple exercises like this, and I never picked up on the danger. I mean, yes, there was a literary goal. We are not saying that part of the Bible isn’t instructive.

    And yet.

    I think Kelly is correct — that another, more subtle message could be sent in which part of Scripture is deemed disposable.

    All of that to say that I repented and changed the example entirely, using part of a chapter from Our Island Story instead.

    :: 7 ::

    Coming up next week, we have two guest posts.  I’m pretty excited about both of them! The first is from Kathy Wickward. When I heard her say she went ahead and had her daughter read Westward Ho! I was a little surprised because Kathy is Catholic and Westward Ho! is notoriously anti-Catholic. I had been pondering writing about the need to expose our children to views other than our own because I’ve noticed a trend of protecting children up into {and even throughout} their teen years that concerns me, so I can’t wait to read it!

    The second, of course, is from Dawn. This will be the next of her monthly posts concerning all things physical education and it’s going to be great! 🙂

    In other news, Ravi Jain is going to be on the Scholé Sisters podcast next month. Pam and I are going to interrogate interview him. Do you have anything you want us to ask him? I’m not making promises, but I am writing down suggestions.

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  • Reply Dawn February 24, 2016 at 7:16 am

    Hi Brandy! I’ve never commented here before but wanted to thank you for your blog. I get so much from it! I love the weekly links section, too! In fact, that’s what is prompting me to write. The one on getting clean the Tudor way had me chase Ruth Goodman and led me to the tv series she’s been involved in. So, my husband and I have been thoroughly enjoying Victorian Farm on YouTube this past week, all thanks to you!! I am looking forward to watching the other ones next! So, thank you for all the time you put into serving us through your blog. I appreciate it! :0)

  • Reply Shari February 19, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    Hi there!!!! First time commenting here!!!

    I have never read Westward, Ho! I had no idea it was anti Catholic.

    Are you Catholic? Pam? Mystie? Sarah?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 19, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      We are 50/50. 🙂 Sarah and Pam are Catholic while Mystie and I are Reformed. We’re very ecumenical. 😉

      But Westward Ho! — yes. It’s written by Charles Kingsley who was notoriously anti-Catholic!

      And thanks for commenting! Glad you’re here. 🙂

  • Reply Claire February 19, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    I’m going to take the opposing view re: Bible summarising. I read a while back (in something from Wycliffe Bible translators, maybe?) about a language that had two forms (tenses? moods? no idea what the right word would be). When the translators asked what the different forms meant, they were told that one was for ‘close-up’ things and one was for ‘far-away’. The translators at first thought this must mean chronologically, so they worked on their translation in ‘far-away’ form. Then one day they heard someone telling a story of a recent event, using both forms. So they did more digging and figured out that ‘close-up’ meant essential information, and ‘far-away’ meant extra supporting details. So you could put together a summary of the story by just telling the close-up parts. So these translators had to make the exact call you’re talking about. They couldn’t put it all as close-up or it would be like reading a blog post in ALL CAPS. And obviously they couldn’t put it all in far-away. God saved them from that mistake.
    So I don’t think you’ve done (or even risked) lasting damage by asking your kids to think about the most essential details of Bible passages. Who knows, maybe if those Bible translators had had their experience it would have been obvious to them from the start what ‘close-up’ really means…

    • Reply Mariel February 19, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      Interesting! Like the beginning of Genesis.

    • Reply Kelly February 19, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      That’s a good way of putting it — I was trying to get there when I said, “cross out any detail that’s not the main point of the passage.” And I like Mariel’s comment below about highlighting key words. My brain works better that way with everything, which, I think, is why I love The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — her method of decluttering is the opposite of everyone else’s because you decide what you’re going to keep and get rid of the rest instead of trying to decide what to get rid of, which I find overwhelming.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 19, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      Wow, Claire! That is fascinating!

      Mariel — love the Genesis connection! ♥

      And Kelly — not having read Kondo’s book, I hadn’t known that about her method, but it makes sense that that approach would be helpful to certain personality types.

  • Reply Catie February 19, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    I’m really looking forward to what Kathy has to say! Dawn, too, of course, but I think the whole “exposing your kids to different worldviews” subject is really interesting. I try to do that even now as much as I can, with their ages in mind, of course. I think I got so little of that as a child myself (grew up very legalistically then rebelled like a crazy person), that I’m a little hypersensitive to it. Can’t wait to hear her thoughts!

    I loved the MoS podcast. I also listened to the other one but felt like the MoS was a little more… open. (Again, see above about growing up in a strict, legalistic home.) Nothing personal, of course, I just appreciated MoS’s approach.

    I loved your post about long-winded narrators. I haven’t had a problem with that *yet* but I KNOW I’ll be referring to it again at a later date. I’ve Evernoted it. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      I love MoS for that reason. They can talk some serious theology, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. There is that sense of Chestertonian hilarity there that I always appreciate. 🙂

  • Reply Virginia Lee February 19, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    So looking forward to Kathy’s post. I’m *very* interested to read her thought process on this.

    Also I read the Apple article aloud to my 10 year old. We are in Y4 and I thought it would tie in nicely. Not very far into it he said, “It’s just like the British Writs of Assistance that we read about in Abigail Adams!” I just smiled because I knew what was coming. As we read further he was astonished. “How could Americans (meaning the FBI) want to be like King George III and his parliament when we fought so hard against that?”

    Yes son, now you know one of the big reasons why we study history. He was thinking maybe the FBI ought to read Abigail Adams too. If only it was that simple.

    Thanks for linking to that article. It was such a great way to begin some current event discussions with my oldest without being too intense or graphic. He’s going to read it to his dad when he gets home from work. =) I’d give you a hug if I could, you made our day!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 19, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      WOW. I love that connection your son made! ♥

  • Reply Mariel February 19, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Regarding #6, I thought the same thing when I read it, but I also knew your intentions would never be to “dispose” of scripture 😉 Because I’ve been using IEW in my public school classroom this year, I thought of having the child highlight (instead of cross out) a limited number of ideas (4 to 7, depending on the child’s experience or need to be limited). Then, the child chooses the 3 most important words in each highlighted idea, the words that convey the meaning of the text (the “key word outline”), and uses those words to narrate more concisely.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 19, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      I like your phrasing here — highlighting a limited number of ideas. I’m going to have to remember that!

  • Reply Sara McD February 19, 2016 at 10:16 am

    I don’t have the patience for podcasts lately, but I wanted to say that I remember fondly that line from Larry Norman. It makes me smile.

    I remember chick tracts and devil music and banning U2 from youth group. I guess it never really gets settled.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 19, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      I was raised in a Christian home where Billy Joel et. al. was welcomed with open arms {I was obsessed with his Glass Houses album as an elementary student}, so the controversy was a bit of a mystery to me. I mean, I knew some music was bad, for sure, but the disposing of it or thinking certain beats were evil…that was foreign. So it IS very interesting to hear the conversation as an adult! 🙂

  • Reply Kelly February 19, 2016 at 8:59 am

    Ooh, I’m looking forward to hearing from Ravi Jain and I do have a question for him — actually, it’s a follow-up question to something I was able to ask him when he was at the CiRCE conference in Houston a couple of years ago, so this is kind of wordy. I briefly described my non-curriculum based math teaching for the elementary years (lots of manipulatives, story problems, mental math, problem solving/thinking skills, math games, very little formal arithmetic) and wondered whether he knew of a curriculum or book that would cover formal arithmetic in one or two school years for a middle school-aged child — IOW, something that covers everything without having to take six or seven years to get through it, since I’ve already done the groundwork in the conceptual area — to make sure they don’t have any gaps, and to prepare them for formal studies in geometry and algebra.

    At the time he didn’t know of anything, so I’m wondering whether he’s come across anything since then.

    Right now I’m using The Teaching Textbooks Level 3 followed by their Pre-Algebra course, which works, it’s just tedious and doesn’t really tie the conceptual to the functional in the way I think it ought to.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 19, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      Your early approach to math is fascinating! I’m putting your question on my list. I want to have a bunch to pull from depending on which direction the conversation goes.

    • Reply Hillary February 23, 2016 at 5:23 pm

      I remember reading an article by the Bluedorns that talked about how they did delayed formal mathematics education, similar to what you describe. I think around grade 6 or 7 they found their kids were ready to just plow through the textbook for “that” level. Although I could not find that particular article, this article at its end does talk about how a family might implement that approach.
      Maybe other things they’ve written would show whether they used a specific catch-up/omnibus curriculum.

      You might also see whether Dewey’s Treehouse has anything. Mama Squirrel posted about doing early math without a Formal Curriculum here: and since that post is 9 years old, she may have talked later about what they did for math in the upper years. A quick blog search for “math” pulled up… more posts than I scrolled through. 🙂

      • Reply Claire February 24, 2016 at 1:56 pm

        There was also that guy Benezet who did the same thing in a school setting (see ) – the description of his curriculum, with no ‘formal arithmetic’ until mid grade 6 is in part 2 of his 3-part series. It looks like, at that point, he started them in on Strayer-Upton Book III, working for 20 mins a day, along with multiplication tables. Don’t know if that’s any help, but it’s one example. I love that he ditched formal maths in favour of reading and narration, recitation and ‘reasoning’! (and love the results of that approach that he shows in part III 😉 )

        • Reply Kelly February 24, 2016 at 4:30 pm

          Claire, I love that article! I recommend it to anyone who’ll listen. I can’t remember whether I looked at the Strayer-Upton books before, but looking at them now, it seems that Benezet’s teacher’s must have really understood what they were doing, because they didn’t work straight those books — they picked and chose. That’s something that I’m perfectly comfortable doing with history, literature, poetry . . . all kinds of things. But math. I really don’t like having to wing it with a subject I feel so insecure it.

      • Reply Kelly February 24, 2016 at 4:17 pm

        Hillary, that article is pretty much the same as one of the appendices in their book Teaching the Trivium, which really influenced me. I’d been using Saxon math (which is what they used with their kids) with my earlier set and didn’t like the way that was going, so I’ve done math very differently with my younger set. Thanks for linking Dewey’s Treehouse — I’ll look through there and see what I can find.

        • Reply Hillary February 24, 2016 at 6:50 pm

          Cue “It’s A Small World.” 🙂 Have you ever looked at the website It’s well organized and might give you some launch points for something more formally structured as you move into older years.

          Dewey’s Treehouse’s Mama Squirrel also mentioned the following book, and again, this website may have some helpful links or ideas for you:

          Last, what about Art of Problem Solving? Have you used their Beast Academy comic-style problem books with your younger kids? If you liked those, might have something condensed yet formal.

          • Kelly February 25, 2016 at 5:30 am

            Ha ha! Excellent. I love Denise Gaskins and her blog. I’ve gotten a lot of help for the early years there, and I’ve just ordered Let’s Play Math book now that it’s available in paperback again. I got the freebie Kindle version when she offered it a few years ago and have gotten some ideas from it, but that format just doesn’t work for me.

            Thanks for linking the other two — I really like the look of the pre-algebra book at The Art of Problem Solving.

  • Reply Amber February 19, 2016 at 8:50 am

    Ooh, lots of good stuff here!

    I love the comment about Hayley and her purse – that’s just how I picture her purse too after some of the conversations I’ve had with her.

    And I knew something wasn’t right in that illustration you have on Wednesday’s blog post… but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Kelly nailed it exactly and I’m glad she commented and I’m glad you posted this update!

    And I’m particularly looking forward to Kathy’s post – we’re not reading Westward Ho! this year in Y8 – but not solely because I’m being overprotective about exposing my daughter to the problems of the Catholic Church at that time or differing views in general. (Although I do feel that AO is very short on the Catholic perspective – A Man for All Seasons seems to be the main contribution to that end in Y8, but I think that’s more about the importance of the rule of law vs. despotism than a non-schismatic perspective to that time period)

    I really want to put the best of ideas and writing in front of my daughter, and I didn’t feel that Westward Ho! made the cut – especially to have it as a companion for so much of the school year. I ended up making several changes for Y8 so I could add a few books that I really thought were important to read. I brought in Come Rack, Come Rope, 1491, Characters of the Reformation, and probably most importantly, Dante’s Divine Comedy. I really like reading the Divine Comedy during Y8 – a this time of schism, reformation, and exploration – because Dante isn’t afraid to point out the myriad of problems in the Church (he has popes in hell, for goodness sakes!) but he remains committed to unity and the Church rather than falling into the schismatic thinking that was so common during that age. There’s also so much in these books about building wisdom and virtue, mastery of self, and placing the Kingdom of God above all else that are so excellent for a person at any time to read, but particularly one in the early teenage years.

    I really should do a blog post about our Y8, but I am not sure how to do that with regards to Ambleside’s copyright. And I’m not sure who to ask either. Do you have any suggestions?

    Looking forward to following the links – as usual! Thanks!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 19, 2016 at 9:04 am

      I think your reasoning about Westward Ho! makes total sense, and I think that’s why Kathy’s decision intrigues me so much. It seems so daring! But I appreciated it in the sense that I appreciate parents who — in the upper grades — aren’t avoiding other issues like evolution or what have you. I’ve seen a number of FB posts where a book is tossed out just because it doesn’t conform to the family’s strict ideas, and I’ve wondered what to think about that. On the one hand, I have strict ideas. 🙂 But on the other hand, I don’t think we learn to deal with opposing ideas by avoiding them. I think that is one of the things that excites me about Y12 — there is a lot of philosophical exposure.

      I DO think AO needs to be adjusted for Catholic families. And I plan to find a place for Dante because I think he is important!

      As far as the copyright issue, what I usually do is say what curriculum we are using and link there, but then I note the changes I’ve made, if any. You could even make a sort of substitution chart where you detail what you took out and what you substituted. I think the main goal is to not make someone ever think that our sites are a stand-alone version of AO.

      • Reply Amber February 21, 2016 at 11:02 am

        Thanks for the suggestion about the copyright issue. I keep reading their copyright page and thinking, “hmm… but what exactly does this mean on a practical level to me as a blogger and homeschooler?”

        And when you read Dante I strongly recommend you get The Great Courses course about The Divine Comedy (on sale, of course!!) – it is really excellent and extremely helpful. The professors really have so much wisdom to share about the Commedia and they share it so joyfully. They provide several lectures of overview and then walk you through the whole of the poem. We’ve been watching a lecture, reading the Cantos discussed in the lecture (over 1-3 weeks, I don’t assign more than 3 Cantos in a week) and then each week my daughter and I get together in the evening after the littles are in bed to discuss our favorite passages and our thoughts. It has been absolutely wonderful!

        • Reply Brandy Vencel February 26, 2016 at 4:18 pm

          I keep meaning to thank you for the Great Courses recommendation. I find that there are SO MANY resources for Dante that it is hard for me to discern which ones are worth the time/cost, so that is super helpful! 🙂

  • Reply Sara McD February 19, 2016 at 8:39 am

    I was going to send you that article on bathing. I really like Ruth Goodman – she’s on all those BBC farm movies.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 19, 2016 at 9:04 am

      Is she? I didn’t have a point of reference for her. I will have to watch for her in the future!

    • Reply Kelly February 19, 2016 at 9:10 am

      I loved that article! My takeaway that we should all wear linen all year round. Oh, how I love linen! 😉

      • Reply Sara McD February 19, 2016 at 10:06 am

        oh the ironing! 😉

        • Reply Kelly February 19, 2016 at 11:02 am

          I only iron mine right after I’ve washed it, while it’s still damp. After that, when you take it off you can just mist it lightly, smooth it down with your hands, then hang it up, and the wrinkles fall right out and it’s nice and fresh the next time you want to wear it. Spot clean as needed — I use Dove soap or Dr Bronner’s for most spots, Dawn for greasy spots. It’s easy to clean — I even cleaned a mustard spill out of an off-white skirt once with hotel hand soap and then let it air-dry on me. In ten minutes you couldn’t even tell.

          Linen is magic, I tell you. 😉

          I’ve no idea why it has such a bad reputation. Maybe those are the people who prefer Permanent Press.

          • Sara McD February 19, 2016 at 12:08 pm

            No permanent press -just cotton jersey knits!

            But it will never look cool and crisp the way linen does. I haven’t worn linen since high school but you’ve almost convinced me.

          • Brandy Vencel February 19, 2016 at 3:19 pm

            I think I just don’t feel grown up enough for linen! Which is silly…

            It’s probably because I have never, ever owned a linen garment. I don’t know any better! 🙂

  • Reply Lena February 19, 2016 at 3:29 am

    I think the formative nature of things is the hardest part of the whole parenting and homeschooling endeavor. There are just so many ways to send mixed messages or to form exactly what you don’t want. I have to admit, I hated the advice to lay the rails the direction you want to go because I was so embarrassed by the number of times that I didn’t, or didn’t even know which direction I wanted to go…thank goodness I have been blessed with four. Hopefully the baby will have smoother and easier days since I learn from some of my mistakes…

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 19, 2016 at 8:14 am

      I think you’re right! And I never considered that perspective on laying down the rails, but you totally make sense!

      I always tell my first child he is my guinea pig. 🙂

    • Reply Kate February 19, 2016 at 8:39 am

      Lena, you have given me words for something I’ve never been able to articulate. Thank you! Yes–knowing what direction the rails should go is very difficult sometimes, especially when it comes to matters of the soul.

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