home | school | life

Stuff We Like :: 4.27.17

Stuff We Likeamy sharonyComment
home|school|life’s Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources. 

It’s always a good week when I get to catch up with Suzanne over lunch AND march for science.

around the web

Do you know Eliza Fenwick? She was a friend of all the cool people in late 18th/early 19th century England—Coleridge, Mary Wollstonecraft (she actually attended the birth of Wollstonecraft’s daughter, the future Mary Shelley.), Charles Lamb… Basically, she’s a perfect fit for my cool women writers I’ve never heard of project, but most of her work is lost—which is something the researchers behind Finding Mrs. Fenwick hope to change. This kind of work warms my heart.

You know what would make your week a little better? Benedict Cumberbatch reading Keats, that’s what.

Are you descended from witches? Now that Manuscript 3658 is digitized online, you can find out—assuming you’re descended from someone who was accused of witchcraft in Scotland between 1658 and 1662.


at home/school/life

on the blog: I love this post from Carrie so much.

one year ago: It’s the perfect time to revisit one of Shelli’s Year of Citizen Science projects

two years ago: Do unschoolers have gaps in their educations?

three years ago: A free forensic science curriculum for high school


reading list

I started reading Far, Far Away because a reviewer commented that it reminded her of A.S. Byatt. I am not sure said reviewer has ever actually read A.S. Byatt because this book is like the Heart of Gold’s tea equivalent of Byatt—almost but not entirely unlike. It’s fine, but I get so annoyed reading it and finding it not-remotely-Byatt-like that I’m totally not giving it a fair shake.

I need another book on my night table like I need—well, something that I really don’t need—but I couldn’t resist snagging a copy of The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606. How could I? It looks at one of Shakespeare’s most productive years in quality terms (in addition to Lear, he produced Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra) through the lens of the political and social happening of that year (which, you may know, included the infamous Gunpowder Plot.)

Also on night tables this week: Seveneves, Under the Lilacs, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Sound and the Fury


in the kitchen

I love jammy yolks, so this eggs-and-grits recipe is right up my alley. It’s on the schedule for weekend dinner unless I get lazy and decide to just go get my jammy yolks at a ramen joint instead.

‘Tis the season for spring onion and garlic jam.

Cookie of the week: Welsh cookies


at home

Jas and I are watching The Durrells in Corfu, which is pure, wonderful eye candy about a family who leaves 1940s England to live on a Greek island. We’re also on season two of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which I love because I am *thisclose* to being Rebecca Bunch, but which Jas loves less, possibly for the same reason.

Did you march for science last weekend? We did, and I’m glad we did, but I’m a little overwhelmed by all the marches I would like to participate in. Suzanne and I were talking about this the other day—we can’t do everything, so how do we choose what to do, and how can we give support to causes we care about when we can’t participate fully? I don’t have the answers, but at least I feel like I’m asking questions that matter. (If you have the answers, please share!)

I am realizing that my schedule for fall is going to be crazy. In addition to homeschooling my (gulp) 10th grader and 4th grader and, you know, putting the magazine together, I’m going to be teaching AP English, the Story of Science, Latin I, and part of an awesome but intensive high school humanities block focused on the classics, which will include Greek and Roman literature, philosophy, history, astronomy, art, and music. I suspect my summer is going to be full of class prep.

The Art of Knowing When to Push

Homeschool LifeCarrie PomeroyComment
The Art of Knowing When to Push

One of my guiding principles for homeschooling comes by way of unschooler Sandra Dodd: she says that when kids feel truly free to say, “More, please!” when something interests them and free to say, “No, thanks” when something doesn’t interest them, those kids can’t help but learn, and learn with joy and empowerment.

But what about when my kids say “No” not because they’re not interested, but because they’re afraid? What then?

I recently faced that thorny question while my two kids and I were on a trip to the Florida Keys.

My eleven-year-old daughter has long loved the ocean and its creatures. For years, she’s dreamed of snorkeling near coral reefs and seeing colorful tropical fish up close. While we were in Florida, we reserved spots on a snorkeling tour at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park near Key Largo, the first undersea park in the United States. 

A motorized catamaran carried us and about fifty other passengers of all ages to Grecian Rocks Reef, a smooth 30-minute ride southeast of the park visitor center. Our guides were a pair of enthusiastic young women named Brittany and Caitlyn who proudly informed us they were the park’s only all-female crew.

I was a little nervous as our boat skimmed toward our snorkeling destination, though for my daughter’s sake, I did my best to keep my fears to myself. What would it be like to swim with tropical fish? Would they brush up against me? Would I scratch myself on sharp coral or damage a reef? 

When we stopped and anchored near the Grecian Rocks, the other passengers started spraying defogger on their masks, gathering up their fins and snorkels, and heading for the ladders on either side of the boat without any visible trace of nervousness. I asked if my daughter wanted to go in first. She shook her head and said I could go ahead of her. 

The water was shockingly cold at first, and I felt awkward in my fins, mask, and snorkel. I also felt vulnerable. I’m used to swimming in pools with sides I can grab on to and shallow ends where I can easily touch the bottom. Now I was treading water in one of the world’s biggest oceans with no land in sight. I felt keenly that I was a land-based creature, an alien here.

I hung on to the bottom of the ladder to wait for my girl to join me. She made it halfway down the ladder and balked.

“I can’t do it!” she whimpered, her eyes wide with terror. “I don’t want to do it!”

My aspiration as a parent is to listen to my kids’ feelings and refrain from trying to talk them out of their emotions, no matter how inconvenient or unwelcome those emotions might be. If they say they’re not ready to try something, I figure they know better than I do what’s right for them in a given moment. 

My aspiration as a parent is to listen to my kids’ feelings and refrain from trying to talk them out of their emotions, no matter how inconvenient or unwelcome those emotions might be. If they say they’re not ready to try something, I figure they know better than I do what’s right for them in a given moment. 

But this time, my intuition told me that my daughter would regret it if she didn’t get in that water. I wasn’t ready to let her off the hook without trying for at least a little while to talk her through her fear.

“It does feel scary at first,” I said, hanging on at the foot of the ladder, still feeling clumsy and a bit scared myself. “But once you get used to it, I’ll bet you’ll really like it.”

I kept trying to pep-talk her, telling her that when we try something that scares us, we become bigger people. We’ve got one less thing to be afraid of and one more memory of tackling a challenge that we can call on for strength later on.

No dice. She was not budging off that ladder. 

My son had been less than enthused about this whole snorkeling business to begin with, but there’s nothing like having a younger sibling afraid to try something to motivate an older sibling to dive in and show ‘em how it’s done. He climbed down into the water and flopped in beside me, clearly feeling just as awkward as I did.

Brittany and Caitlyn encouraged my son and me to go ahead and swim around and check things out. They assured me they’d be happy to sit with my daughter while we explored. My daughter said that was all right with her, so my son and I kicked away from the boat. 

Only a few yards away from where we were anchored stood clumps of large, boulder-shaped corals swaying with sea fans and covered with forests of staghorn coral, brain coral, and elkhorn coral. Blue tangs, porcupine fish, and stoplight parrotfish nosed peacefully among the corals, oblivious to us humans hovering a few yards above them. 

Gradually, I started to relax. The fish were close enough for me to see them well, but not close enough to brush against me. We were at a comfortable distance from the coral, in no danger of touching or damaging it. 

Swimming through the silence of the calm, clear water, immersed in a world I’d previously seen only in books and movies, I focused less on how alien I felt and more on how utterly amazing this place was. I bobbed my head above the surface and lifted my mask to see if I could spot my daughter back on the boat. She was sitting in the bow wrapped in a towel, dangling her legs over the side, squinting toward me in the bright sun. 

 “Let’s go see if she’s ready now,” I told my son, and we headed toward the catamaran.

By the time we’d gotten to the boat, my daughter was standing by the ladder with her wetsuit, snorkel, and mask on, her fins in her hand. 

 It still wasn’t easy talking her down that ladder. Tears fogged up her mask as she hit the water. Her body was stiff with fear. 

With my son on one side of her and me on the other, she took the risk of putting her face in the water. We swam side by side, my son holding her right hand and me holding her left.

Within seconds, I heard her gasping with wonder as she spotted her first fish. Gradually, she grew brave enough to briefly let go of my hand to point at especially big or colorful fish that caught her eye. 

By the end of our hour or so of snorkeling, she wasn’t holding my hand at all and was confidently swimming ahead of me. She’d conquered a fear. Her possibilities were just a little bit bigger than they’d been an hour earlier, and she’d fulfilled a dream she’s had since she was tiny.

So how do you answer that question of when to push a child who’s scared to try something? I think for me, the answer comes down to being clear about why I’m pushing. Is it because of some abstract idea about not wanting my child to be a scaredy-cat or a quitter? Or is it because I know deep down, based on my relationship with my child, that they’re more ready than they realize and just need a little encouragement, a gentle little nudge? Do I want my kid to overcome their fear to please me, or because I think overcoming that fear will please them? My answer to those questions makes all the difference.

Riding back to shore with my daughter huddled beside me in a damp beach towel, our minds brimming with the wonders we’d just seen below the waves, I felt confident that at least this time, I’d been right not to take “no” for an answer.

9 Fun Extras (Under $25) That Will Give Your Spring Homeschool a Boost

Everyday Homeschoolingamy sharonyComment
9 Fun Extras (Under $25) That Will Give Your Spring Homeschool a Boost

If you’re like me, this time of year is a weird combination of slow, dragging days and too much to do. (I’m not sure how that’s possible, but that’s definitely how it feels!) I keep a Terrible Day box for moments like this—when we all need a little injection of homeschool fun to keep things going. I thought it would be fun to highlight a few of our favorite extras in case your homeschool has a case of the springtime doldrums, too.

(FYI: These were all in the right price range when I put this story together in April 2017, but prices change, so double-check before you click to buy. I rounded all the prices up to the nearest dollar.)

The Story of the Orchestra ($17)

Spring is the perfect time for a quick course in music appreciation. Though this book-CD combo is more of an introduction than a comprehensive guide, it is a great way to start to understand the basics of classical music and how an orchestra works. Half focused on big-name composers and half on the structure of an orchestra, it’s a useful and fun guide to music appreciation. If your community orchestra has a free or cheap spring concert series—be sure to check local colleges’ spring concerts—it makes a great add-on.


Choosing Your Way history books ($16-20)

Think of this series as a historically accurate version of the Choose Your Own Adventure books we all loved as kids. Each book has five stories to work through: In the first volume of Choosing Your Way Through America’s Past, you have to decide, among other things, whether to stick it out with Washington’s army at Valley Forge or give up on military life and whether life as an indentured servant in the new world would be better in the north or in the south. These books are a nice supplement for middle or even early high school history studies.


Everything's Coming Up Fractions ($20)

It may seem weird to think of math as a fun break, but this guide to fractions is surprisingly enjoyable—and somehow, focusing on one particular piece of math seems more pleasant than plodding through your usual program. You will need your Cuisenaire rods to work through the book. You can whip this out any time you think a little fractions intensive might benefit your student.



Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit ($21)

Build a musical doorbell, a voice-controlled lamp, a two-speed fan, and more as you work your way through the hands-on projects in this kit. It’s designed for kids age 7 and older, but even high school physics students might enjoy the chance to do some hands-on electronics work, and younger kids can work on projects with your help.



The Allowance Game
Lakeshore Learning Materials

The Allowance Game ($17)

Shift your focus to financial responsibility with the Allowance Game, which teaches kids how to save and spend money, make change, and think about balancing their budget. If your kids get into it, consider setting up a homeschool economics system like the one Rafe Esquith describes in



Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything! ($21)

Rebecca reviewed this program in the magazine a year ago, and I think it’s a perfect let’s-put-our-critical-thinking-skills-to-work addition to your spring homeschool. It’s designed for elementary school students, but I think it could easily stretch to accommodate any new-to-philosophy student. Dig into fascinating questions like “Can computers think?” and “Can something be logical and not make sense?”




The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms ($11)

If you’re like us, you’re ready to seize any excuse to play outside once spring weather comes rolling in. I love this workbook because it offers lots of open-ended, easy-to-do nature activities that work for pretty much every age from elementary through adult. (If nature is already a big part of your curriculum and you don’t have trouble thinking of nature activities, you probably don’t need this book—but if, like me, you want your kids to have more nature know-how than you did growing up but you sometimes wonder “but what do we actually do out here?,” this book is for you.) It’s divided into monthly sections, but it’s easy to pick and choose activities based on the weather or what you want to do on a particular day, too.


Darwin and Evolution Unit Study ($10)

A unit study is always a good way to give your homeschool a little lift, and this one is good for a wide range of ages. Evolution is fascinating, and this unit covers the history of Earth from the Big Bang to the present day, with a nice little rabbit trail focused on the life and work of Charles Darwin. It’s designed to cover eight weeks, but like any unit study, it can stretch or compress to suit your needs.




How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum ($12)

Our awesome Art Start columnist Amy Hood turned me on to this book, which is pure creative inspiration (even for people who swear up and down that they are not creative). This is an open-ended book with so many fun ideas for looking at and making art with the world around you—I bet no one in your house will use it the same way. Don’t be surprised if it inspires lots of creative projects at your house.



What about you? What's your favorite almost-the-end-of-the-school-year pick-me-up?

Book Nerd: Library Chicken Weekly Scoreboard (4.25.17)

Reading ListSuzanne Rezelman2 Comments
Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken.

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that due to our Tuesday publication date, this “week” was actually closer to 10 days—because we pride ourselves on ACCURACY here at Library Chicken HQ.


Fanny Kemble was a celebrated British actress—part of the famed Kemble/Siddons theater family—who came to America on tour and fell in love with a wealthy American, Pierce Butler. What she didn’t know when she married Butler was that his family’s wealth came from large plantation holdings on and around St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. (For my Hamilton fans out there: the Butlers were friends of Aaron Burr and it was to their plantation that he fled to hide out after The Duel, when New York charged him with murder.) As Fanny was an ardent abolitionist, this caused a problem or two. Her husband, an absentee landlord most of the time, really didn’t want her anywhere near his plantation or his slaves, but he did allow her to spend one year down there, during which she wrote her Journal. The marriage eventually fell apart in dramatic fashion (detailed in Clinton’s biography) and Fanny, who had become known as a memoirist, eventually published the Journal. It’s a fascinating if grim read about life on an isolated plantation in the Deep South, where the authority usually rests in the hands of a hired overseer, often the only white man present, whose only concern is to provide a good-looking balance sheet for the absentee owner. Fanny was especially interested in the lives of enslaved women, recording details of their lives that other (male) witnesses may never have seen or heard about. I read these as part of ongoing prep for the Georgia history class (and let me tell you, Fanny was not a fan of the Peach State).
(LC Score: +2)


Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

SPACE OPERA. Leckie, as you may have heard me say, is my new hero. A stay-at-home-mom, she was in her mid-40s when she published her first novel, Ancillary Justice, which then went on to win just about every award in the science fiction genre. I made Amy read it with me for the podcast and we’re due to talk about it next time around (as soon as the stars and our schedules align). SPOILER: I thought it was pretty darn good. Leckie explores gender and personhood in wonderful and original ways, plus people get to shoot at each other with ray guns! So of course I had to pick up books two and three in the trilogy and finish them off. If you’re already a SF fan: c’mon, read Ancillary Justice already. I know you’ve heard of it. What are you waiting for? If you’re most emphatically NOT a SF fan: well, this is definitely very science-fiction-y science fiction, so maybe give it a miss as it’s probably chock-full of all the things that annoy you about the genre. If you don’t know if you’re a SF fan or not: this series is a great example of some of the exciting things that are happening in modern SF right now—pick up the first book and give it a try!
(LC Score: +2)


Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White

Nothing With Strings by Bailey White

I am on record as not loving the sort of Southern fiction where everyone is always hot, sweaty, and barefoot, and every attic room houses an insane cousin/brother/uncle (looking at you, Faulkner), but I do love Bailey White and her stories of Southern small towns (primarily in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida), where eccentric elders spend their time fussing over the younger generation and vice versa. As part of my quest to immerse myself in everything Georgian, I’ve been treating myself to a reread of her work.
(LC Score: +2)







The Shadow Guests by Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken’s YA/children’s novels are a bit hit or miss for me. I find them to be an unpredictable mixture of entertainingly gothic and unpleasantly grim. I’ve had this one on my shelves forever (for Atlantans: it had an Oxford Too stamp inside, so you know I bought it a while ago) but I was excited to pick it up and find a promising beginning, with a young boy sent to Oxford, England to live with his aunt in a house not entirely ghost-free (reminiscent of the Green Knowe series). Ultimately, however, it came down on the grim side for me.
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)


Mr. Midshipman Easy by Frederick Marryat

My dad insisted that I stop everything and read this book, a mostly forgotten classic set during the Napoleonic Wars and written by a friend of Charles Dickens. The title character is raised by an philosopher father, whose eccentric beliefs include the idea that everyone is equal. Friends of the family conspire to get the son into the navy, in the hopes that he will rid himself of these patently ridiculous ideas passed down from his father, but it takes a while, as young Easy has been trained to argue every point and will happily do so all day. My dad <ahem> may have said that the character reminded him just a teensy bit of my younger son.
(LC Score: +1)


Observatory Mansion by Edward Carey

GUYS, I LOVE Edward Carey. Have I told you how much I love Edward Carey? Have I told y’all to run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore and buy his Iremonger trilogy (beginning with Heap House) for your favorite middle/high schooler, though of course you should really read it first before passing it along? The trilogy that Carey wrote after moving to Austin, Texas from England because, as he says, he missed feeling cold and gloomy? Have I told you how delightfully bizarre and weirdly Dickensian his books are? My only complaint about Carey is that he doesn’t write fast enough. Aside from the Iremonger trilogy, he’s written two books for adults: Alva & Irva: The Twins Who Saved a City (very very strange—read it immediately) and this one, his first novel, with a narrator who works as a living statue, collects (i.e., steals) important objects from the people around him for his private collection, and never ever takes off his white gloves. Carey is interested in what happens when you objectify people and personify objects and really I have no idea what’s happening, but I LOVE him SO MUCH, GUYS.
(LC Score: 0, because my library didn’t have it and I had to buy my own copy, darn)


Victoria the Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled An Empire by Julia Baird

After catching a few episodes of Victoria on Masterpiece Theater I thought this would be a fun read—but apparently so did everyone else. RETURNED UNREAD (because it was due and had holds and I’m in the middle of this whole Georgia thing right now anyway).
(LC Score: -1)


Library Chicken Score for 4/24/17: 6
Running Score: 11 1⁄2


On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

Georgia: A Brief History by Christopher Meyers and David Williams (like I said...)

After O’Connor: Stories from Contemporary Georgia edited by Hugh Ruppersburg (hopefully not too many sweaty barefoot insane cousins)

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit (because Solnit is wonderful and I’m obsessed with disasters)

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (because I will read anything with “Library” in the title!)

52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 29: Make Your Beds in the Morning

52-Week Challengeamy sharonyComment
52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 29: Make Your Beds in the Morning

OK, bear with me here. I promise I am not trying to sell you on the idea that your life will magically be a happier place if you get on top of the housework. I mean quite simply that making your bed in the morning—and asking your kids to make their beds—will make you a little happier every single day, even if it is the only housecleaning that gets done that day.

Making your bed is just one little thing—it only takes a few minutes to do, but it makes a big difference in the way your bedroom looks, not to mention the way it feels at the end of the day when you retreat back into your bedroom to relax. When your kids make the bed, their rooms look less messy, and they’re less likely to lose their shoes and whatever books or electronics they took to bed with them the night before. Because it’s so easy and you do it before your day kicks into high gear, it also feels totally doable—making your bed doesn't require a lot of extra energy or brain power.

Even more than the easy neatness factor, though, is the way that making your bed gives you a feeling of accomplishment—hey, look, I did this!—every morning that you do it. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says that morning bed-making is consistently one of the biggest happiness boosters for people who do it for this very reason: It lets you start every day feeling like you’re an organized, productive, efficient person.

Your mission this week: Give morning bed-making a try. Ideally, start with fresh clean sheets and blankets, but it’s also fine to just start where you are. How does making the bed change your morning routine? How does it change your bedtime routine? Do you feel any different about your homeschool life after a week of everyday bed making?

New Books: The Star Thief

Reading Listamy sharonyComment
The Star Thief
By Lindsey Becker

Honorine can’t remember anything from the time before Lord Vidalia brought her home with him to his country estate, but she knows that she’s fortunate to have found a home. Not all orphans are so lucky. Sure, the starching, dusting, and cleaning duties that fill her days as a maid aren’t intellectually stimulating, but she has Lord Vidalia’s library of curious books, and she has her mechanical inventions, and—until he left for boarding school after his father disappeared—she had her best friend Francis, heir to the Vidalia estate. It’s a perfectly fine life—that comes crashing to a halt one night when the mansion is invaded, and Honorine flees into the grounds to escape and plunges into an adventure she could never have imagined.

The constellations we know—Orion, Andromeda, Canis Major—are alive, and they’re being hunted by a mysterious Mapmaker in a fantastic, steampunk flying ship. The constellations have their own fantastic, steampunk flying ship, and Honorine’s torn between the constellations—with whom she seems to have a real connection—and their hunters, who include her old friend Francis. As she’s pulled into the adventure, she realizes that the constellations may also be able to help her solve the mystery of her parents.

The Star Thief is a middle grades fantasy novel with a premise that any star-gazer would love, and it’s full of complicated alliances and even more complicated machinery. It’s a totally fun, action-packed adventure story—it’s so fun that it may not even bother you that the characters get short shrift in this story. (Even Honorine feels one-dimensional most of the time.) The constellations’ living ship sometimes feels like it has more personality than any of the creatures inhabiting it. (The ship is pretty amazing and imaginative, so that’s maybe less of an insult than it sounds like.) If you can coast along on the plot and fantastic descriptions, you’ll definitely enjoy the ride, but if you’re looking for something deeper from a book, this one is likely to disappoint. I like a fun read now and then and I enjoyed The Star Thief, but I couldn’t help wishing for the book it might have been. I think it would be fun to do as a readaloud when you’re studying constellations or as a pool or park readaloud on a lazy summer day when you just want something with lots of action to entertain everyone.