Monday, January 31, 2011

How I teach creative writing

My methods for teaching creative writing are a priority to me because my oldest son wants to be a writer. Although this part of my children's education has always remained important to me, I have not given it my best attention lately. I had become disorganized and didn't have a routine. So when my best friend was preparing to teach a creative writing unit to her son's second grade class, I became inspired to be more consistent. Here is what I am now doing for my 4rth and 2nd grader.

4rth grade son:Each Monday he gets a writing assignment that is due on Friday. He writes a lot, so each week I observe his techniques and pick something on which to focus for the following week. Last week he needed to concentrate on his stories having rising action, a climax, and then falling action. I noticed his writing was beginning to become chaotic because he was including too many climactic moments. I made a simple chart about how stories progress (rising, climax, falling) and I gave him the topic of "a snowman" to write about for the week. After a short lesson, I gave him five days to complete a story. I didn't look at his story until it was complete on Friday.

Here was his exact story:

Carrot the Snowman

Once upon a time, there was a house in the middle of a field of wheat. It was the house of a family that lived on a farm. One day, it snowed. In fact, it snowed so hard that they had enough to build a snowman. They named him Carrot, and then went inside for hot cocoa. That very night, a comet fell down out of outer space and hit him on his whole body. He had now come to life, and was wondering what he is. "Maybe I'm a very white man", he said. "With a carrot nose and button eyes."

So he decided to leave his family and figure out what he was. He journeyed through the city next to the countryside. Meanwhile, the police spotted him. "Officer 415, we've got a walking snowman on the premises." They got their guns and got in their cars. Meanwhile, people started gasping and pointing at Carrot. He was confused. Then, all of a sudden, police cars pulled up, their sirens blazing. "Put up your, the air, snowman!" "I am a snowman???", said Carrot. "Yeah, duh", said a girl from the crowd. "Ooh, so that's what I am!" Then a police officer got so scared he shot a bullet straight into Carrot's heart. "Uhhh, oooowwww!" Suddenly, he drew his last breath, and fell down dead. And that is the tragic story of Carrot.

There are some really great things Jackson did in his writing. He used plenty of descriptive words, he used "ly" words, he combined narrative and dialogue, and he used the rising action-climax-falling action model in both paragraphs. Even though the ending was a bit disturbing (but so very boyish), I loved what he wrote!

This week we focused on what makes a good paragraph. We talked about topic sentences and how to support them, indenting the first sentence, and developing a main idea. His assignment this week is to compose a different paragraph each day on a given topic, with these parameters in mind. Other topics that will we will cover this year: time order words, vivid verbs, precise nouns, using all of his senses in descriptions, developing the setting, etc. I am using this book as a guide for my assignments, along with the Institute for Excellence in Writing curriculum:
2nd grade son (reluctant writer): My goals for my second grader are to enjoy writing, to be able to have a smooth beginning, middle, and end to the story, to use more descriptive language, and to become more adept at expressing his thoughts into words. His assignments are simple and concise.

Assignment from last week: Practice using details. We took at the topic of a snowman and he had to answer five questions. He wrote a little each day. Then he combined the answers to create a story with an illustration and turned it in on Friday. I introduced the idea of personification to him. Here were his simple questions:

What is his name?

Where does he live?

What does he do?

What does he look like?

What is his favorite color?

His story: My snowman's name is Snowy. My snowman lives in a snow house. My snowman goes sledding down a hill and goes shopping for food and cleans his house. My snowman has a hat, a scarf, a sweater, and a smile. His favorite color is light blue.

Even though there is no plot, I was proud of his descriptions. He did the assignment without frustration. As usual, he spelled every word correctly and remembered to capitalize and punctuate. He understands the mechanics of grammar very well. We just need to work on his creativity and ability to express himself well.

This week his assignment is to make an acrostic with the word WINTER. Each line must have a complete sentence, cursive writing, and punctuation marks. Then he has space at the bottom for an illustration. I divided the assignment by days for him:

M- W, I
T- N, T
W- E, R
Th- Illustrate
Fr- Color and turn in

So far, he has:
W- Winter is when snow comes.
I- I love sledding in winter.

Jackson will probably have assignments involving poetry, creating comics, and different types of letters. And with Joshua I will probably continue to keep it simple. I saw in the second grade classroom at my friend's school that they were learning about cinquain poetry. Maybe we will use that idea for an assignment. If he continues to enjoy writing, capitalizes and punctuates well, and learns to develop a smooth plot I will be happy!

So, that's how my boys are learning to write. Teachers/Moms out there, how do you teach your children??

Friday, January 28, 2011

Good stuff

To anyone who read the last two posts (that I had the good sense to quickly go back and delete), please forgive me for my crazy, angry, rantings. Some time between Sunday and Thursday I lost any manner of grace, compassion, and understanding. The Lord is gracious. But I still feel awful about a week spent in such a mess.

I am continuing to learn the difference between JOY and HAPPINESS. What I have learned this week is that happiness and suffering do not coexist. But, joy and peace can be the companion of suffering.

A few bright spots from our week:

My son's amazing linguistic ability (He aced the Latin quiz below that left me scratching my head)

My lefty-son's drawing project, slowly drawn with patience and detail

Beginning to read-aloud the Little House series from my childhood set (Notice price tag: K-mart, $1.77)

Winter candles glowing at the dinner table

Little signs of Valentine's day around the house

My bright, yellow reminder

Ice cream and shopping at IKEA today

Ready for a new week. I have my eyes and heart ready to search for beauty and joy among each day! Meditating on these words, as suggested by my husband:

Lamentations 3:22-24

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait on Him."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sweet times

Isn't it the simple joys that make a day sweet? Today, just a few lovely moments to cherish:
Lydie at preschool ready for pajama/pancake day with her friend Elise (Lydie is on left with pigtails). If my Grandmother could have seen this picture she would have proclaimed Lydie "the prettiest baby she ever saw" and I think Nana would have called her "Miss Priss". And I would have to agree with both descriptions.Chocolate chip banana bread from Grace's recipe (Thanks, Grace!)
The boy's clay crustacean masterpieces from science lesson today. Below is Mr. Crab.
A gift that my friends and I made for our friend/mentor Molly for her 50th birthday. 50-word-collage of "Molly adjectives". Her life has inspired my life deeply over the last five years.

My Dad's declaration that he is going to hire an electrician to replace all of the wiring at our farmhouse. With his offer, he alleviated a secret fear that I had not shared with anyone else. What a blessing and a relief!

And last, and most importantly, my husband's late arrival home from work. Why is this lovely? Because he spent one hour explaining the Christian faith to our good friend from Turkey. This man has never heard of grace or the free gift of salvation. What a priveledge it is to be an instrument for Jesus.

"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well."
~Diane Ackerman

Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Getting ready

We are preparing to put our house back on the market this weekend. We have taken a 2 month sabbatical to regroup and get an agent. We have invested a decent amount of money in landscaping, carpet cleaning, and upgrades in the kitchen. I hope it will make a difference! Isn't it a shame that we get our houses just to their full potential and then move? I feel like I can say this without bragging because at this point I look at my house as a potential buyer's and not my own. So...I love my kitchen more than ever.
The granite counter tops are really nice. And the sink is huge. I love a big sink. Why is there always a divider in the middle? I can put a casserole dish and my colander in the sink side-by-side with room to spare. Love that. Normally if I need to soak a casserole in soap overnight, I have to fill it up and put it on the stove top. Not practical! And what about these new faucets? Ours is fun. It's like a little shower. With all this fanciness, the most breathtaking thing in the kitchen (in my opinion) is still the vase of flowers. Oh well.

And a few more lovelies that I have picked up over the last few weeks for the kitchen:
I have quirky decorating taste. I mix all kinds of colors and shapes together in a somewhat random order. In fact, our entire house is a little quirky and unique. But, I hope her simple charm will rope some sweet family into wanting to live here!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

January Reflections 4: Staying in the clear


What is one financial goal you have for yourself this year?

When our house sells, we will be moving into a completely different life. By that I am not referring to the farm/rural/new area that we will be discovering. But I am referring to a debt-free life. And debt-free in the very best of ways: mortgage-free. I can not put into words what an enormous gift we are being given to own a house completely. We have never had a paid-off house before, and I assumed we would be debtor to a mortgage company until we got to retirement age.

So lately I have been thinking about the responsibility we have to stay out of debt. I want to embrace the concept that "with great priveledge comes great responsibility". How foolish it would be to take such a gift and use it as a springboard into mindless spending. I don't want this conviction to develop into a burden or an obsession. A gift is a gift and should be enjoyed. Nevertheless, I want to be a good steward where I can.

I find that frugal living is a teeter-totter for me. It can quickly become too time consuming, a little obsessive, and eventually an idol that does more harm than good. For example, coupon cutting can quickly take up more time than I have to give. And the coupons usually lead to the necessity to shop 4 or 5 different stores a week. It does NOT work for my schedule and commitments. So I compromised, when I have time/need to save I just shop at Aldi. No coupons, just amazing prices. For me, discernment is key. Sometimes saving money doesn't pay if it is not the use of time that the Lord desires for me that particular day. (For example, sometimes loving someone-whether my children, a relative, or friend-is much more pressing than the saved $30.)

I was thrilled to find a way to save a fairly significant amount of money with very little time investment. I am so NOT a granola girl, so don't be impressed. I stumbled on this little recipe and just gave it a try. It's homemade laundry detergent. I did the math and figured that I wash around 8 loads a week, including linens. For a family that washes 8 loads a week, the savings is over $1000 a year! Can you believe that amount? The breakdown in cost, along with the recipe, can be found on this guy's blog. The detergent only required three ingredients that I easily found at Kroger. And making the detergent took 5 minutes for at least a month's supply. I washed my first load, and the clothes came out clean and fresh. On the topic of laundry, I learned another helpful tip recently. If your towels or laundry have soured, throw in a cup of vinegar and it takes the smell away!

I am going to try his homemade dishwasher detergent, too. But the homemade deodorant is absolutely out of the question. That's where I draw the line. I had a ballet instructor once who made her own deodorant. NOT a pleasant memory. If anyone else has suggestions for easy, quick, money-saving tips, let me know!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Spurgeon

This morning was very difficult for us. We have been struggling with someone in our extended family, trying to hold hands, say strong words, and even stay away, if needed, through her tumultuous battle with addiction. It can be a dark process. It seems immature and heartless to hold someone accountable for what they say and do when they are not using their full mental capacities. So you ask God to wash the hurt away, and He does, He heals and gives compassion. He makes each day new and fresh, and above all- hopeful. And he takes away anger in a miraculous way.

But you can not undo what's been done. And once moments are wasted (or worse, used poorly) they are gone, not to be retrieved. And it hurts. But by God's grace, love covers over a multitude of sins. It is impossible to taste richly of God's grace and not extend it to those in need. We are all beggars of grace. And for those we are called to be in a relationship with for life and love unconditionally, we turn the other cheek and hold their hand again and move forward, even if with one eye closed and body braced for another emotional blow. I think maybe a step was made today that could really begin to bring healing to our loved one, and us. Praise God.

This morning, after a restless night of fighting the demons that come with this type of relationship, I woke up with a real temptation to not leave the bed. I was whipped. In fact, I spent a significant amount of time fully dressed, under the covers unable to move. No matter what you do to help someone, it never feels like enough. You want so much. And I prayed with a heart that felt like it was ripping out of my chest that this sin pattern would not spread down generational lines. Sometimes prayers for one's children lead to groans and pleadings beyond words. Please, please Lord Jesus. Have mercy! There is nothing I want more in this life than to finish the race well, for God's glory, and to have my husband and children do the same.

My husband and I were so pleased and thankful for the Lord's encouragement later this morning. I believe these words read in Andy's devotion this morning with my whole heart:

"Christ is not alone "mighty to save" those who repent, but he is able to make men repent. He will carry those to heaven who believe; but he is, moreover, mighty to give men new hearts and work faith in them...The life of the believer is a series of miracles wrought by "the Mighty God". The bush burns, but it is not consumed. He is mighty to keep his people holy after he has made them so, and to preserve them in his fear and love until he consummates their spiritual existence in heaven." Charles Spurgeon

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January Reflections (4): Fun

January Reflections prompt from Corrin's blog asks:
What have you done for fun this year? When was the last time you played? Do you need to add fun into your plans for 2011?
Very Favorite moment: Late night dancing on the cruise with Andy, my brother, and sister-in-law
SO.MUCH.FUN.Taking the kids to the Auburn/ LSU game: all-day-long-fun-fest
Long weekend in the North Carolina mountains

Road trips! Kids' birthday parties Reading the Harry Potter series with Jack

14th Anniversary: Fox Theatre: The Sound of Music Peaceful beach trip with extended family
Summer bucket list

Girls-only weekends

Field trips Dinners at our house with friends Drawing and art lessons with the kids

Creative outletsSo thankful for the look back! 2010 really was packed with FUN and I hope 2011 will be, too!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A wild hair

As a mom of boys, every now and then I get a wild hair for adventure, more for them than for me really. This morning, for example, I decided that it would be fun to walk to a restaurant for lunch. We still have several inches of snow on the ground, with a thick layer of ice on top. Although the main roads are clear and some people are venturing out now, our cars have been trapped at the bottom of our steep driveway since Sunday evening. So we bundled up, the five of us, and headed out.

I had no idea how much of a challenge the ice layer would provide. It took us a full hour to walk 2 miles to the local Mellow Mushroom. The good news is that there was only one slip and one real scare. (My son was supposed to RUN across the road. He got half way and turned around to come back. And there was a truck not too far down the road barreling towards him. Eek! We both made the parallel of Lot's wife and the ending result. Thankfully he did finally turn and go. Hopefully he will remember to RUN when we say RUN next time!) Anyway, we all made it just fine. During the trip over, there was a temptation to whine and complain. But we pointed out, once again, that hardship is imperative in the making of character. We took full advantage of the boys' pride in persevering against hardship. I love that about boys. They are so easily "pumped up" with a good pep talk. Thankfully, Lydie was up for the challenge, too. And I know very well that tenacity is equally important in women.

Anyway, we had a prize awaiting. WARM pizza and garlic bread, cold drinks, and a well-heated restaurant. Food tastes so good after hard work. The 2-mile walk home was much easier. In fact, we made it in half the time, thanks to our full bellies. We even found ourselves singing Christmas carols and finding short-cuts. It was a good adventure. When the kids are old and gray they can tell their grand kids,

"One winter I walked 4 miles, over hills and a creek, in the icy snow, just to get a pizza..."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Yesterday: A close-to-perfect day

Yesterday I was snowed in with my fun-loving husband and three very excited children. My favorite part of the day was laughing until I hurt over my husband's invention:

"Penguin suits" aka garbage bags over clothes

The garbage bags kept prompting me to quote, "You might be a redneck if..."
I loved watching the children enjoy the thrill of the sled, and then enjoying it myself
And when our feet were as numb as we could endure, coming inside to enjoy warm drinks, warm fire, Legos, board games and good books. And each other, of course.

I conquered the mighty heap of eight loads of laundry, including weekend wear. It was a chore, but I am so thankful for the tasks of taking care of my family.
Later, the kids took three hour naps (which meant a very quiet afternoon), in preparation...
For a late night of cheering on the Auburn Tigers who won the National Championship!

What a WONDERFUL day!

Monday, January 10, 2011

January Reflections (3): Store bought vs. Home-made (or hand-made)

January Reflections prompt:

Store bought vs. Hand-made

(The assignment was really store bought vs. home-made and I am sure it was speaking of food, but I chose to think in terms of house goods instead.)

I truly love home-made things. I enjoy making them, as well as buying them. I was thrilled to discover several years ago for this reason. There is a sweetness in knowing who made something and why, and supporting others in their talent. I loved my husband's gift to me for Christmas because it shows just how well he knows me. He bought me a gift card to the antique market. Not just any antique market, but my favorite one that sells both antiques, home-made (hand-made, really) goods, and art from local artists.

I enjoy my own home-made things because if I make it myself, there is a special memory attached, usually. Sometimes that memory is as simple as a night that I spent all alone with my pent-up imagination.
And other times, there is deeper meaning. Like a painting that was therapeutic for me. In some seasons our budget necessitates home-made gifts, like last Christmas. And sometimes I relish the opportunities to make a cake or an outfit for one of my children's birthdays. They love those simple, hand-made gestures.Here are a few things that I bought that were made by others this past year. A local artist's painting, a local artist's metal work, my friend's bird watercolor, and a needlepoint chair made my a relative of my husband.
I think every room in our house is decorated with several home-made items. My husband prefers it that way. And I enjoy the challenge of making or finding rare beauties. I still have a weakness for certain stores. I just bought this picture from Pier One on Sunday with some Christmas money, and I although I LOVE it, I doubt it will be something I treasure for years to come. When my friends ask for decorating advice, I find it hard to give. I honestly have no idea how to decorate on a fat budget. My gifts lie in finding a treasure at the flea market and making it work in our house. Give me thousands of dollars and it stifles me. But a $100 budget holds endless possibilities!!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

What a child (and Mom) can learn from Dali

My oldest son loves to learn. He is a sponge for learning facts, particularly about people. He finds life fascinating. So when he pleaded with me to take him to the art museum to see Salvador Dali's exhibit, I had to give. I like his interest, and I like the fact that he challenges us all to study, observe, and do life together.

We asked our friends to make the fun journey with us in to town at the last minute. It really didn't hit me until about an hour prior to "take off time" that we were taking five children, ages 4 to 10, to a DALI exhibit. Dali was so amazingly talented, an artistic genius, but also perverted, completely self-absorbed, and seemingly delusional. And his artwork reflects his worldview- big time. Because life had been so busy that week, I just had not thought ahead. I love the fact that God uses these "unplanned" times, when I can not possibly rely on myself (as He knows I am prone to do), to teach my children and I big things about Himself.

So here is what we learned from Dali (the "self-absorbed, self-proclaimed, "devout-yet-faithless Catholic):

From his darkness:
~God gives grace abundantly to everyone, believing or not, and Dali's talent was a wonderful example of common grace
~One can either worship God or themselves, but not both
~Fame can delude
~Mercy and service lead to joy, selfishness leads to pain
~When we are given gifts we can use them to elevate Self or elevate God. His glory vs. our glory
~Courage is found through humility. Pride often masks fear.
From his gifts:
~Practice and diligence must follow talent in order to succeed.
~God's creation declares his glory- even to those who are perishing.
~Faith is God-given.
~Everyone has mentors. It is good to have a torch-bearer.

My friend and I were really nervous about what kind of art would be on display. By God's grace there were only a couple of pieces that we had to avoid, and even those were not perverted, as we had feared. I was very thankful for the opportunity to take a risk in order to have meaningful discussions with the children. It not only turned out to be a wonderful exhibit with beautiful, inspiring artwork, but a springboard for rich, relationship-building conversations/experiences together. I am glad to learn bit by bit that really marvelous things happen in my parenting journey when I give up control and let God lead.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

January Reflections (2)

"Choose one word to describe your marriage in 2010 and explain."

Did you ever play the trust game on a church retreat or at camp? It's the one where you stand with your back to your partner, he puts out his arms, and you are asked to blindly fall, trusting that he will catch you. My relationship with my husband mirrored that game very much this past year. It was a continuous exercise in trust and submission. It was extremely difficult at times, but simultaneously rewarding.

We have been preparing to move away from suburbia to a rural farm. The story of how this adventure began is here. But in a nutshell, my husband feels a strong calling from the Lord, and I have been asked to trust and follow him to a place that I have not desired. My husband and I have never really had different desires for our lives, at least not any of this magnitude. So this year the Lord has gently taught what it looks like to have blind faith in my relationship with Him, and complete submission in my relationship with Andy. It has been an instrument that has catapulted me to the highest highs at times. And other moments I have felt the true darkness of fear and doubt.

This has been the third big situation in my marriage that has forced me to know and believe who Christ is and apply that to my actions towards my husband (in spite of that waring selfishness in me that wants to demand my own way). It has been very good to (try to) take my expectations off of my husband, and place them on Christ. Although there have been times when I have told Andy that "this move is coming between us". I can see now that the opposite is true. This move is flushing out all kinds of idols in my life, as well as all of my insecurities. At the end of the day (or year), healing has begun and a renewed, vital relationship is the product. It always amazes me how God can do that- take the most difficult situations and use them to draw us to himself and our loved ones.

I am beginning to become more excited about our move. I know God has wonderful things in store for us- more than I can imagine- starting with our hearts, and flowing into all kinds of blessings. I hope this post doesn't make it sound like the entire year has been a struggle with my relationship with my husband. It really has been a great year, overall, with various seasons of doubt, panic, fear, and ultimately renewal. This year my marriage relationship has taught me that love, wrapped up in relationships, is truly worth giving up any other earthly pursuit for.