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What does a hen do all day? Nothing but walk about in endless circles, pecking at this or that--yet she is one of the most creative and productive of God's creatures.
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1. Watching God Work

It's been an exciting Lent so far!

That's not one of the usual adjectives to describe Lent, I realize. But it's been true this year. As a church, we've been calling our congregation to pray very specifically this Lent for Kenosha and our church's role here. We take our name, Light of Christ, literally. We long to be Christ's light dispelling the darkness of a depressed city and of lives that are shadowed by darkness and hopelessness.

We have been meeting in groups throughout the week to pray. Though I haven't been part of all these meetings, it's been exciting--there's no other word for it--to hear how God has been leading folks to pray, and how He is answering those prayers!

I can't tell other people's stories, but just in the past week, several things happened that I can share. On Sunday, one of Chicklet's friends came to church with us. Afterwards, she told Chicklet she had never been baptized and she wanted to be! The next day Blondechick21 talked with her about what it all meant, and prayed with her to commit her life to the Lord. The odd thing was, we weren't praying specifically for this little girl; we had never even thought to invite her to church before, I must confess. But we had been praying specifically for God to send another friend for Chicklet at our church, since one of her church friends had moved away. On the same Sunday that this new friend came, we found out that Chicklet's one remaining friend at church is also moving away, which would have left her the only girl her age at church. But now she has this new friend, if her parents allow her to keep coming with us. And even if they don't...look what praying that specific prayer for Chicklet brought about in her sweet friend's life!

Then at Campus Life this week, at the public high school that B15 and B18 attend, a whole bunch of kids gave their lives to the Lord. It was a move of the Spirit--the leaders just invited people to come forward if they needed prayer for burdens to be lifted. Kids started pouring forward, to the point that the guitarist, who was just strumming, asked B18 to take over so he could go help pray for people. I can't help but wonder if B18's ministry in music, then, became a factor, since I believe when gifted people are operating in their gifts, the Spirit's power is poured out! (And it's become clear recently that B18 is not only musically gifted, but also spiritually gifted to minister through music--another exciting thing to see!) Our sons never heard an exact number of kids who prayed to receive Christ, but they both say "it was a lot."

Another incident this week was a conversation I had with a mom who didn't know if she had ever been baptized. Should she be? She had never really thought about it. Her kids weren't baptized and she didn't know if her husband ever had been. I told her different denominations have different beliefs about sacraments, but that just as most of us all agree that taking communion is important (though we may not agree on how often), baptism is the other sacrament that most denominations would agree is important, if not necessary. We talked about what the Bible says about it, that it goes hand in hand with salvation. And like Eucharist, if the Lord even just strongly suggested it...why wouldn't you? She sounded eager to discuss it with her husband, and--who knows?-- maybe that whole family will be baptized now, because of that conversation.

Finally, our house. Along with all this prayer going on, there has been a sense of preparation for the things God is going to do at our church, including the provision for how to pay a full-time rector. (Hearing last week that one of our key families is moving away did not seem like a step in the right direction, either!)  But it's not a time to act, to plan, to figure it out; it's a season to pray and to prepare. The fulfillment will come later.

In prayer, we decided not to take action with our house right now either. We were going to list it with a realtor this weekend, but we will wait till Lent is over and list on the Friday after Easter. It is still informally for sale by owner--I've listed it on Craigslist and on Zillow, and we've had about one showing a week through those avenues--so if God wants to bring us a buyer during Lent, He certainly still could. But during Lent we won't have that flurry of activity and stress that comes when you first list a house, and I'm praying that it won't be needed at all--that the right buyer would come along before then, and that we would be able to sell with the bare minimum of effort and stress on our family. In any case, we invite you join us in prayer for the right buyer to come along in exactly God's timing, especially when our next house, which I know God is preparing for us even now, is available!

Meanwhile, we have a little more time to chip away at projects that need doing in the house. Why does it seem like no matter how much I get done, the list stays the same length??

Thank you, Lord, for the encouragement of seeing You work! May others be encouraged also, toward prayer, toward trust, toward faith in You..

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2. New Season, New Deacon

It's Ash Wednesday, and we had a somber, silent service. We are in the season of Lent now.

But last Sunday, it was a joyful celebration as we ordained one of our own to the office of deacon.

Here he is, with his family--and with our new Bishop, on his first episcopal visit to Light of Christ!

An ordination is a pretty special service.

You can't tell at this angle, but there are three women in the crowd above laying hands on and praying aloud for our ordinand. I'm one of them!

Our kids, who remember Bishop Stewart a bit from our old church, were the first to step up close to him when he called the children forward.

But none of the kids were shy when the Bishop asked them for a group hug!

The Light of Christ clergy team with their bishop. (Father Rand, on the far right, has his own church now, a seedling plant out in Big Rock, IL, but he's been a partner at LOC so long--he comes faithfully, once a month or so--that we still happily claim him!)

Deacon Luke will be ordained Father Luke eventually, Lord willing...and then who knows where God will take him? But for now, we are so happy to have him serving as deacon at Light of Christ!

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3. February News

Oh my. I really am in trouble if I'm down to once-a-month posts!

But there are reasons....

To kick off the month, two more birthdays! We held simultaneous birthday gatherings for the newly-minted Bantam15 and his friends--in the basement, watching a movie--and the new Bantam9--in the big bedroom, building Lego creations. We served pizza in shifts and then birthday brownies and ice cream. Friends of B18 and Blondechick stopped in, so we fed them too. The more the merrier!

B15 has recently become fascinated with the land of Norway, since he is one-quarter Norwegian. He asked for and received a wallet with the Norwegian flag AND the Norwegian coat of arms as embellishments. We also gave him a travel guide of Norway, which he has found most engaging. His big gift, however, was a phone. It's a hand-me-down, older phone that used to be his brother's, without internet and without texting. But at least I no longer have to call his friend's phones to find out where he is or work out how he's getting home, which was getting embarrassing. Yup, I had all his friend's cell numbers in my Contacts!

B9 wanted little green army men and a B9-sized army gun. Check! He also wanted Legos, so we suggested that his friends chip in toward a biggish set to be purchased AFTER we move, hopefully, since Mom is in major decluttering mode now and was not keen for him to receive another half-dozen smaller Lego sets as birthday gifts. He also asked for The Action Bible, a graphic novel-like retelling. His grandparents had given him the Action New Testament last year for Christmas and he loved it so much that he wanted the whole thing, including the Old Testament. It appears to me that it was his favorite gift!

In other news, we are getting our house ready to put on the market. Our church is still figuring out how they are going to do it financially (that's a prayer request, if you think of it!) but the plan is for Father R to go full-time in the next year, and we feel strongly that we should downsize before that, if possible.

So I've been pushing hard to declutter, deep-clean and get some painting done. The only way I've been able to work on it--and still keep homeschooling and teaching my classes--is to chip away at it in all my free moments. (Thus my lack of time to spend blogging!) I've spent days with my kids culling their stuff and organizing their rooms. I've forced myself to deal with all the stuff I've shoved in the closet and under the bed in my own room. I've rearranged kitchen and bathroom cabinets to make room for many things we ordinarily leave out, so these areas will show well--and be easier to clean quickly! I cleaned out one of our storage rooms and got rid of many things we've been--well--storing. I've been using our 15-passenger van as a temporary storage unit for stuff heading to St. Vincent DePaul's, our charity thrift store of choice--and we filled it up! It feels good to lose weight.

I've had help too. Ladies from church came over to help wash walls, woodwork, light switches, window panes and crevices, which was such a help! We hired a friend to paint the basement (last fall) and two bedrooms this winter. I've been busy spackling, paint-matching and touching-up many dents and dings all over the hallways, doorways and walls. The older kids are doing bathrooms and cleaning up their bedrooms. B23 boxed up many books, went through files and drawers and found lots that he could part with. (He reported the same feeling of losing weight in his life!) Papa Rooster will be doing the same in his office storage area. Chipping away is not his cleaning style, so he'll take a day off of work here sooner or later to get it done. I hope one day is enough; he has a lot of stuff to get through!

The plan is to list the house in mid-March, after The Wizard of Oz closes--and we are in tech week already! I've been helping with lights this time and learning a whole new vocabulary. Did you know you can patch lights, as well as park and bump them? Stage lights don't have light bulbs; they have lamps. I am learning the limitations and abilities of technobeams, LEDs, pars, fresnels and gobos. It's overwhelming, especially programming them, but also quite fascinating and--oh yes, I have to say it--illuminating!

It's good knowledge to have if I continue directing shows--and I am excited to be on another directing team for the spring! Chicklet and I (and maybe B15) will head north to the Milwaukee chapter of our Spotlight theater group. They are doing a show called Pridelands, inspired by The Lion King. I will be assistant director, and as a little relief from cleaning and teaching, I've been reviewing the script and DVD's of past performances, and bouncing ideas off the head director. We have such a stimulating Facebook message thread going with all our ideas for the show!

So my spring could be pretty busy, especially if our house sells quickly. But it could also take a year, as our old house did, and this is a more unique house. With the bedroom and office spaces we added in the basement, it has a total of 7 bedrooms, plus 4.5 baths. Please pray for the right buyer, as well as the right house for us to move into! We've looked a little--enough to know we will be able to find something--but the priority has been to get this house ready first. We've had a couple people come look at it already, before it's listed, and it would be great if one of them bought it, since we wouldn't pay a realtor's commission in that case. 

I forgot to take "before" pictures, but maybe I'll have some "after" photos to post soon. But this week--and for the next two weekends--we're off to see the Wizard!

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4. January News

You know you're neglecting your blog when...you miss two family birthdays!

Mine was back on January 9th. I treated myself to a morning alone at Panera; all six kids ate dinner with us--a rare occurrence these days--and Chicklet11 made me birthday brownies. Everyone gave me handmade cards with sweet notes in them, and most indulged my request to play a game of Trivial Pursuit together. A great day!

Eldest Bantam turned 23 on January 21st. His birthday fell on a Tuesday, which is the day that B8, C11 and I are gone all day at Classical Conversations, with just an hour or so before classes at Spotlight Youth Theater. So we had birthday dinner the night before. Once again, we had everyone around the table, at least for 20 minutes or so! (Blondechick had to leave before pecan pie, the birthday dessert he chose, which B14 helped to make!)

He asked for and received a couple of Halo books and an official Halo hoodie. He is so proud of it, and he looks very handsome in it.

But his big gift was one he bought himself, from a friend--a secondhand XBox 360 and a subscription to a gaming site. He has been waiting a long time for this, and he's so excited.

We had actually promised to buy him one if he could get his weight down to 170, which he has not quite achieved. He was at 250 after his first year in college, and he easily got back down to 200, his pre-college weight, but he's been stuck there ever since. He knows our fear is that the XBox will encourage him to be more sedentary, so ever since his friend offered him this deal, he's been demonstrating a renewed commitment to exercise and low-carb, veggie-heavy lunches. He lost 8 pounds in about 10 days and it's noticeable in his face. So hopefully he'll keep it up, to prove to us that we didn't make a mistake in allowing him to have it early!

I mentioned theater classes. This session I'm teaching Drama 1, with a Charlie Brown theme. B8 is in my class--one of just two boys--and he's Charlie Brown in our showcase skit. (I asked another drama teacher to help me with casting of the boys, to be sure of impartiality!) B14 is taking Improv Prep. If he makes the cut at the end of the session, he'll be on the Kenosha Improv Team next session, and compete again in June, as he did last year. Chicklet11 auditioned for and made the Project Dance Jr. class, which is a two-session commitment, so she'll be taking it again this spring. She is learning lots of technique and really loving it. She begged to be allowed to take another class besides dance, so I let her take a voice class which is performing songs from Thoroughly Modern Millie for Showcase. She is so happy to learn the words to songs she heard me practicing last summer!

Rehearsals have been going on for The Wizard of Oz, as well. Chicklet11 is excited to be the Coroner of Munchkinland, with little solos and one big one: "As Coroner, I must aver, I've thoroughly examined her, and she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead." She's also a Jitterbug Dancer, which will be a fun number! B8 is a member of the Lollipop Guild, which gets me, because that's the same part that B18 had back when he was B9. He is also a Flying Monkey, which he's really excited about, because they get to wear Heelys onstage! I am so thankful I bought a pair at Goodwill a couple years ago, even though they were too big for him then. They're expensive!

B14 is a Jitterbug Dancer (fun for him and Chicklet to have the same part--a first!), a Winkie one of (the Witch's guards) and a Tree who throws apples at Dorothy to frighten her and sings back-up harmonies to the Tin Man's solo. He will be wearing stilts for that scene, and on the first day they were practicing with them, it was a little more exciting than anyone expected.

After he and his friend had the hang of them, they jacked them up to the highest setting, about 4 feet off the ground. He was doing fine until he tripped on a folding chair leg, stumbled into other folding chairs and finally fell forcefully into a glass window. He bounced away from it as he hit it, but the window shattered and he was cut on his hand and arm and just nicked his chin. Fortunately, it was right at the end of rehearsal, and I was only two minutes away. (I often send B23 to get them, but this time I was the one coming to pick them up--thank the Lord!) There were other parents there too, arriving to pick up their kids, including a nurse who was helping to stop the bleeding when I arrived. We went to the ER and determined that he did not need stitches. We deferred an X-ray on his sore knees--at worst, he might have a patella fracture but it seems more likely that nothing was broken.

He was really shaken up, and we all were so aware of how life-threatening the accident could have been. We are so thankful to God for his protection, and that his injuries are so minimal.

On the plus side, now he has a great story to tell, with a scar to prove it! How many people can say that they've fallen through a glass window while wearing stilts??

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5. Classical Conversations Booklist--Cycle Two, Middle Ages

This fall I decided to try making a photo record of the books we've read for homeschooling. I am always asking Chicklet11 and B8 to keep a list of books they read, which they never do, and I haven't been much better myself. This is the first year since we started homeschooling that I am not keeping detailed records of everything we do each day, since I consider the Classical Conversations (CC) program and curriculum comprehensive enough, with our added math program; what I've done at home is flesh out the CC memorized concepts. So if I had to show someone what we've covered, it's all there in the CC manuals. I have to say that it's given me a new freedom to follow our nose on whatever threads we are most interested in, and since we're not doing daily workbooks, the kids think it's a treat when I have an appointment and I leave them a list of workbook pages to do!

But I did want something to remind me of all we've enjoyed together, and I was inspired to take a photo before I returned a bunch of library books. Then I tried to remember what we had read previously and gather those books together too. I haven't photographed any of the kids' free reading choices, but these are most of the books we've read together.

These are all books we're reading on an ongoing basis. My absolute favorite of these is A Child's History of the World, by Hillyer. (So much more enjoyable to read aloud than The Story of the World, in my opinion. I would lose the kids' attention when I read SOW, but they don't want me to stop reading CHW!)

The Usborne Book of World History is a great pictoral, summarizing resource that we've used on and off for years. I am really impressed with A Child's Introduction to Poetry, which came with Chicklet's virtual school curriculum last year. It has a two- or three-page spread on each major poet or poetry type, with sample poems, explanations of vocabulary and images, whimsical illustrations and includes a CD. I especially like how it delves into what a sonnet is or what a limerick is, giving lots of examples.

Tales of the Not Forgotten is a favorite with my little mission-minded girl. The tales are pretty long so we break them up, but I tend to take breaks in between each one. I'm not sure I really like The Everyday Bible. I heard it recommended as a good Bible for younger kids to read aloud because it's written at a 6th grade reading level and the vocabulary is aimed at brand-new Christians, but you definitely lose beauty and familiarity of language. We've been reading Mark aloud, taking turns reading, but we're going to switch to one of Paul's letters after the semester break, to see if I like it any better.
This photo documents a departure from the Middle Ages, back when we were doing the musical Hercules, and they just HAD to read some other Greek myths too! They read all of these to themselves, so I can't really comment as to quality, but they enjoyed them all. They also browsed D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, a perpetual favorite here.

They read all of these to themselves too. They especially liked the Sir Gawain stories. These were a follow up to the Arthurian stories below.

I read all of these aloud to the kids, except for the red Martin Luther biography which I made both of them read to themselves (since we had it on our shelves, it was short, and it fit our time period). All the rest I can highly recommend. If you've never read any of the D'Aulaire's fine books, you must hie thee to a library forthwith! The Robert D. San Souci books about Arthur, Lancelot and Merlin were wonderful too--really well-written with beautiful illustrations. 

I reviewed Spy for the Night Riders, exciting historical fiction with Martin Luther as a main character, here.We really enjoyed it, and we started another of the Trailblazer books right away! Starry Messenger is science in a Caldecott-winning disguise--elaborate illustrations with tiny text of Galileo's own words; it's all about Copernicus' theories and Galileo's discoveries. Michelangelo is by Diane Stanley, my favorite author of illustrated children's biographies. Michelangelo's story was great, but I see I forgot to photograph my absolute favorite bio by her, Joan of Arc. B8 was so transfixed by her story that he stopped coloring to come sit next to me, hanging on every word. I didn't realize that transcripts of her trial still exist, so this biography was fully fleshed out with her own words. Riveting!

Here are a few of our science books for the semester, since we started studying space. The Reasons for Seasons and The Moon Book are both by Gail Gibbons. The Childcraft volumes have been fun too. How We Get Things tells how things are produced or how they were invented. Look Again is more of an art book; just realized, we haven't actually read it yet! They read other Easy Reader science books to themselves too; I just didn't round them all up.

And before we move off of science, I must proudly record the fact that we dissected owl pellets this semester. They were sent to us by Chicklet's virtual school last year, but we pulled out before we got to that unit. Though she kept begging to dissect them, I kept putting it off. This year we decided it would make a perfect family presentation for CC--and it was!

Last group. Peter the Great is another excellent Diane Stanley biography. Gutenberg was a library book with nice illustrations, but as a biography it just didn't have that magic that I look for in a good one. The Golden Treasury of Poetry is one of many poetry anthologies we own, but this one includes seasonal poems, so I pulled it out to read all the Christmas poetry. (I posted one on Christmas Day!)

B8 loved Days of the Knights, an Eyewitness Reader with lots of sidebar information and detailed drawings. Medieval World is another Usborne Book; I like to flip through it and point out things we've memorized for CC and help them see how it all ties together. (It's a nice pictoral supplement to A Child's History of the World.)

But my favorite resource in this photo is Tales from Shakespeare. Written in 1807 by Charles and Mary Lamb, they retain the Shakespearean vocabulary and turns of phrase while abridging and explaining the story for children (and fortunate adults--this is such a great way to enjoy Shakespeare!). The sentence structure is so complex that they can be challenging to read aloud--but I enjoy them more for that.

I would encourage anyone who is homeschooling (or "afterschooling") to supplement curriculum with these types of picture books, even if your kids are reading chapter books. First of all, they are a nice length to snuggle up with and read aloud for a short period, even if it takes a couple sittings for some of the longer ones. Even older kids enjoy the pictures, and the images help them remember facts. Also, there is no better way to introduce or review complex history or science, I think, than in a kids' book that highlights the main points so you easily recognize them as such. I love the Usborne and Eyewitness books for that reason.

We are eager for second semester to begin! I have a basket of books for us to choose from.

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6. Books Read in 2013

In Sunshine and In Shadow (Mark Helprin)
This may be my favorite novel by this wonderful author. It's about an unlikely New York City romance between a wealthy blue-blood singer/actress and a young Jewish man returned from the war to find his father's leather goods factory on the verge of financial ruin. There is something exquisite on every page of this book, whether it's in a character description, a circumstance, a well-crafted metaphor or a poignant moment. Fresh and so beautiful.

A Red Herring Without Mustard
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
(Alan Bradley)
I have a soft spot for 11-year-old detective Flavia DeLuce, a smarty-pants chemist who lives on a British estate her father can't afford to keep up. Her private lab, inherited from a dead ancestor and located in an unheated wing of the huge old house, is the site of her precocious criminal investigations. Especially delightful read aloud by British reader Jayne Entwhistle.

Agatha Christie's
The ABC Murders (Poirot)
And Then There Were None
Crooked House
At Bertram's Hotel
(Miss Marple)
Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple)
Halloween Party (Miss Marple)
When I'm in a hurry at the library, I grab an Agatha Christie for my audio selection. They are so reliably enjoyable and well-written. We listened to And Then There Were None on a road trip--my favorite of the ones I read this year--and the kids (the younger three) were totally engaged and intrigued. We didn't quite finish before the trip ended, so we sat around in the living room and listened to the final CD for another hour after we got home. (Unheard of!) Then we had to go research on Wikipedia to find that there are multiple film versions, and we wanted to watch them all. (Hmmm, we should get going on that project!)

La's Orchestra Saves the World (Alexander McCall Smith)
Set during World War II, this is a delicate story about a young woman, forced by circumstances to leave London and move to the countryside, who does what she can to support the war effort; she raises vegetables, works for a chicken farmer, and starts an orchestra.

O. Henry's Complete Short Stories
I love short stories, and O. Henry is a master. Deft character development and a surprising climax are features of most of his delightful tales of love, family, life, death and villainry.

Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
This delightful classic is a nice length for kids. Listened to this (a second time) on a short road trip with the younger three kids and they really enjoyed it the characters and story.

By The Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Farmer Boy (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
We are slowly getting through the Little House series! We keep taking breaks to read other books. I enjoyed Farmer Boy more this time around. It was so interesting to see the contrast between his family and Laura's, especially the comparative wealth and variety of food and clothing options that a stable farming way of life could bring. Makes you realize how much poor Ma gave up to move all over the West with Pa, starting over again every few years.

Tom Sawyer
Huckleberry Finn
(Mark Twain)
I grabbed the audiobook of Tom Sawyer at the library because our theater group was performing the musical version. I ended up listening to most of it alone, and I decided to follow it up with Huck Finn, which I had not read since I was in junior high, when I didn't enjoy it a bit. I think I was just desperate for reading material at the time, and I was probably too young for it. It's more of a convoluted tale than Tom Sawyer, and a more serious work. Tom Sawyer is tighter, more light-hearted and a better read for younger kids, but there is more meat for discussion in Huckleberry Finn.

Karen Kingsbury's
Redemption series (Redemption, Remember, Return, Rejoice, Return)
Firstborn series (Fame, Forgiven, Found, Family, Forever)
Sunrise series (Sunrise, Summer, Someday, Sunset)
The Chance
When Joy Came To Stay

Obviously I was on a Karen Kingsbury kick here for awhile! I had read the Firstborn series before--it's about the director of a youth theater group patterned after the one my kids are involved in--and I had always meant to read the Redemption series, which came before. So I snapped it up when someone offered it to me, and then I had to re-read the Firstborn series and follow the characters on through the Sunrise series. These are moving stories about believable characters facing real-life tests of faith and family. I was not crazy about The Chance--seemed so contrived--but When Joy Came to Stay was a well-framed story about mental health issues (depression) and the power of transparency before God and man.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Ian Fleming)
The three younger kids and I really enjoyed listening to this on a road trip. It was interesting to compare the book with the movie and discuss why the film makers made some variant choices in order to make a better movie than if they had stuck to the book.

The Art Thief (Noah Charney)
This audiobook was near the Agatha Christies in the library, and I took a chance on it because I enjoy art books and mysteries, and this was both. As a mystery it was just okay. But since the author is a professor of art history and an expert in art criminology, and he managed to lecture a good bit one way or another, I found it an interesting read about art, artists and art thieves.

The Little White Horse (Elizabeth Goudge)
For years I've had this little gem on my shelf and never read it! So glad I finally did. I can see why J.K. Rowling called it her favorite book that she read as a child. There was not much about the horse--to my slight disappointment, since I loved horse books as a child--but it's a most satisfying fairytale filled with wonderful characters, a castle, a cottage and more. Delightful; I can't wait for Chicklet to read it.

The House of Dies Drear (Virginia Hamilton)
Another road-trip audiobook. The younger three really liked this because of the ghostly hauntings and the mystery aspect; I thought the treatment of blacks in 1968 was well-described and thought-provoking. Educational and entertaining--a win-win.

Five Children and It
(E. Nesbit)
Another one of those children's classics that I've owned and never read until now. What if you could be granted a new wish every morning, one that would disappear at sundown? And what if things kept going wrong with your wish? Clever, funny, thought-provoking and very enjoyable.

An Unquiet Mind
by Kay Redfield Jamison
This is the autobiography of a clinical psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of bipolar disorder, who has the disorder herself. Informative, intriguing and sympathetic.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
(Jen Hatmaker)
Nonfiction has to be pretty entertaining for me to get through a whole book. I do fine with articles, but it takes me years to finish nonfiction full-length books. I read this one in record time, though, because the author--a pastor's wife and popular speaker and blogger--is hilarious, and the topic really resonated with my own philosophy (which I am just beginning to articulate and apply to more and more things in my life) that "less is more." She picked seven areas to limit, for a month at a time. She gave herself only seven food choices, allowed herself only seven clothing items, only spent money in seven stores, fasted from seven media types, gave away seven things a day for a month, adopted seven "green" habits to reduce waste in her life, and mutinied against stress by observing seven "sacred pauses" a day (basically praying the liturgical hours). Entertaining and thought-provoking.

Though Mountains Fall
(Dale Cramer)
This is the sequel to Paradise Valley (which I read last year) about an Amish community that forms in Mexico, loosely based on the author's own family history. I enjoyed both as audiobooks, something to listen to while cooking.

Spy for the Night Riders (Dave and Neta Jackson)
The Trailblazer books feature famous Christian historical figures. This one was written from the perspective of a young student/clerk of Martin Luther's, who accompanies him to the Diet of Worms where he was accused of heresy, and is with him on the return journey when Luther was apprehended by friends and whisked away to live in safety at Wartburg Castle, where he translated the New Testament into German. It was quite exciting, with every chapter ending in a cliff hanger which had B8 and Chicket begging me to keep reading, and it dovetailed nicely with our history studies of the Middle Ages for Classical Conversations, which included mention of the Protestant Reformation. We own a lot of the Trailblazer series, but the older kids never ate them up. I think it's because I never read them aloud and it seems that is the best way to enjoy them!

The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)
I've read this, I've listened to the radio drama, but the best way to experience The Screwtape Letters is to listen to John Cleese read them. (I have it on cassette tapes, but I just googled and discovered it's on YouTube now!) I think this is one of Lewis' finest books, giving such perspective on the role of the church, God's love for his creation, His plan for mankind, resisting the devil and recognizing his machinations, even re-casting death's role in life--all with such clever humor and logic! A remarkable book.

The Whipping Boy (Sid Fleischman)
Listened to this children's book with just Chicklet in the car, somehow--oh, it was driving back and forth to Hercules rehearsals, while B14 preferred to listen to his iPod. She loved this story of a spoiled prince and his scrappy whipping boy who end up running away from the palace and living on the streets, where the prince finally learns to behave like one. It was a nice addition to our history studies of the Middle Ages this year.

Pullman Car Hiawatha (Thornton Wilder)
This one-act play really impressed me. I'd love to direct it somehow, somewhere. Our Town has always been a play that deeply moves me, and PCH seems like a precursor to Our Town, with seeds of ideas that Wilder developed more fully in later plays. It takes place on a train traveling across the Midwest. One of the passengers dies, and then in Wilder's magical realistic way, we pull back and see the event from a geographical, theological, cosmological, meteorological perspective represented by characters like a farmhand in Ohio, a hobo living under a bridge that the train passes over, and the planets.

Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines (Clyde Fitch)
This three-act play was in the same anthology of American playwrights as Pullman Car Hiawatha, and I thought it a fine little light-hearted Victorian romantic comedy.

Entwined (Heather Dixon)
This audiobook was on last year's list too; I thought Chicklet and B14 might enjoy it in the car, as we traveled for the holidays, and they did. It's a well-embellished retelling of the fairy tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, with a lot of other interesting characters besides the princesses. (I have a dream project in mind based on this book--I think it would make a great musical for our youth theater group!)

Sister Wendy's Book of Meditations (Wendy Beckett)
Sister Wendy, art critic and Catholic nun, meditates on the themes of Silence, Love, Joy, and Peace, illustrated by a beautiful piece of artwork on each page. This book has taught me how to appreciate abstract art more than I ever could have on my own, and the meditations always settle me into a place of peace and joy.

Though I can't say I read any of them entirely, I also read, on something close to a daily basis, the Bible, Jesus Calling, the Divine Hours, Reader's Digest, and The Week (the magazine), plus many articles and blog posts recommended by Papa Rooster and my Facebook friends.

The kids and I did a lot of reading together as well, and I am working on another post covering our explorations of the Middle Ages and other topics covered in our Classical Conversations curriculum this school year.

Overall, it was a good year of reading!  For more book lists, visit Semicolon's special edition year-end booklist round-up!

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7. Happy New Year, Happy Blogiversary

Eight years ago on New Year's Eve, I started this little blog.

It's been a busy year, and it's a busy night. We have friends here to eat, pray, play Scrabble, watch Call The Midwife and see the New Year in. 

I haven't been able to keep up with blogging as well as I used to; I know things slowed down significantly this past year. But still, blogging seems to me to be something worth doing, so I shall endeavor to continue, with God's help.

It's been my tradition to invite your comments to help encourage and celebrate with me. It's always a treat to hear from long-time readers as well as new ones. Anything you'd like to share about yourself, suggestions, questions, compliments or observations are all welcome and so encouraging!

Happy 2014 to you all!!

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8. Christmas Everywhere

 Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!
Christmas in lands of the fir tree and pine,
Christmas in lands of the palm tree and vine,
Christmas where snow peaks stand solemn and white,
Christmas where cornfields stand sunny and bright.

Christmas where children are hopeful and gay,
Christmas where old men are patient and gray,
Christmas where peace, like a dove in his flight,
Broods o'er brave men in the thick of the fight;
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!

For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all;
No palace too great, no cottage too small. 

~Phillips Brooks

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9. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

"The Herdmans were the worst kids in the whole history of the world." That's the first line of this play, spoken by the main character, Beth. Alice and Maxine (Chicklet) chime in with anecdotes.

"And they wrote this really dirty word on the back of Naomi Waddell's favorite turtle, so now Naomi can't take it to the YMCA pet show. Her mother won't let her. ...And that's not all. They did it with fluorescent paint, so it glows in the dark. When you can't even see the turtle, you can still see the word."

The other blondie with Chicklet is her best friend, but they fooled everybody into thinking they were sisters!
Maxine in Sunday School, prior to casting the Christmas Pageant. "There are no small parts, just small actors," the class parrots, but they admit they don't know what it means.

"I know what it means!" Maxine declares. "It means the short kids have to be in the front row of the angel choir, or else nobody can see them!"

Then the Herdmans show up and volunteer for everything. Here Claude (B8), Ollie and Leroy volunteer to be Wise Men. "What's a Wise Man?" Claude asks.

Me as Mrs. McCarthy, helping spread the gossip. "Did you hear about the Christmas Pageant? ...How else could the six of them end up in a Christmas Pageant, when they ought to be in jail!"

The Herdmans toss around the Baby Jesus as they debrief about their morning in Sunday School.

Imogene says, "Well, [if I were Mary] I wouldn't hang around out in the barn. I'd go get a room." Claude retorts, "She said there wasn't any room!" "Then I'd throw somebody out!"

Mrs. McCarthy interrupts the dress rehearsal to let Mom know the ladies are making applesauce cake in back. Mom takes the opportunity to ask if she could borrow my niece for the Baby Jesus and I react in horror. "Grace...NO! I could make up some lie and tell you the baby's sick or cranky or something, but the truth is, she's perfectly healthy and happy and beautiful, and we all want her to stay that way. So we're certainly not going to hand her over to Imogene Herdman!"

Then I discover smoke in the ladies' room and call the fire department. It's just cigar smoke--Imogene Herdman was smoking cigars in the Mary costume in the ladies' room--but the applesauce cake burns up. (That's B8 on the back of our friend the fireman, the father of Chicklet's blonde friend.)

The actual pageant, with Maxine as the Pageant Narrator. 
(Memorizing her lines doubled as Scripture memory! ;)

A total stranger asked me afterwards, "Was the Narrator your daughter?" I asked how she could tell, and she said, "She looks just like you!" Best compliment ever.

Of course the Wise Men would have had binoculars, right? And that's a ham Leroy is holding in his other hand. B8 follows with his imaginary prop, a gold box. (Good thing it was a dress rehearsal!)

(click to enlarge)
A lovely tableaux. Gold, frankincense, and ham.

(In the script Beth says the ham was such a sensible present, and I never even questioned it. But my husband, raised in the New York City area where he was a minority because he wasn't black or Jewish, pointed out that a ham was not something that a good Jewish couple would even touch. Oops.)

"The Women" debrief after the pageant. "The best one we ever had...and I'm not sure why...."

Cast photo!

The "twins" mug for the camera.

B8 rockin' the Wise Man costume.

It was the best Christmas pageant ever!!!

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10. Twenty-Seven Years

It's our anniversary!

What a crazy time of year to get married. What were we thinking?

Our anniversary always feels more like a hurried peck, squeezed in amongst the busy-ness that is December, than a slow romantic kiss. Too many other things on our minds--Advent observance, Christmas preparations and celebrations, year-end business to conclude, performances and parties to attend, extra shopping, menu planning and housecleaning, and travel plans.

It's easy to take "us" for granted. After all, we're not going anywhere!

But I thank God for my husband, who knows me better than anyone--especially the icky parts that I hide when outside of my own house--and he's still around.

I can't find an actual author for this quote--(who is The Great Kamryn anyway?)--but I saved it just for this post:

"The truth is that the more intimately you know someone, the more clearly you'll see their flaws. That's just the way it is. This is why marriages fail, why children are abandoned, why friendships don't last. You might think you love someone until you see the way they act when they’re out of money or under pressure or hungry, for goodness’ sake. Love is something different. Love is choosing to serve someone and be with someone in spite of their filthy heart. Love is patient and kind, love is deliberate. Love is hard. Love is pain and sacrifice, it’s seeing the darkness in another person and defying the impulse to jump ship."

He could have jumped ship at many points in the past 27 years. Me too. By God's grace we've learned, over and over, how to find our way back through our own hurts and resentments to be with each other in all the pain of filthy hearts that are willing to trust that the other will forgive and love again.

It's not easy.

But I'm thankful to be doing it with him--my best friend.

Happy Twenty-Seven Years, Honey!

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11. Performance-Full!

It's opening night! B8, Chicklet and I are ready!

It's opening night for Blondechick, as well! She's singing with the choir at three performances of this multimedia holiday gospel presentation this weekend.

And we have auditions tonight, too! Chicklet, B8 and B14 are all auditioning for The Wizard of Oz, the next Spotlight show (performances in early March). They'll go right from auditions to their performances--

B8 and Chicklet to Best Christmas Pageant Ever...

....and B14 to Ye Olde Christmas Feaste, an 8-course medieval feast complete with jesters, fencers, dancers, tumblers, beefeaters, litter bearers, stewards, pages, wenches, lords, ladies, brass fanfares announcing each course, and the accomplished and expressive Madrigal Singers, all elaborately costumed in medieval dress. Papa Rooster, B18 and Grandpa Rooster went last night and they said it was fabulous. The younger kids, Blondechick, and I are so disappointed that we won't get to see it this year because our performances fall at the same times.

Fortunately, as B14 says, "I'm so glad I'll probably get to do this three more years!" We'll look forward to next year.

B14, B8 and Chicklet potentially also have callbacks to squeeze into their schedule on Saturday morning, and we also have Grandpa Rooster here through the weekend. Papa R is doing photography for the Feaste and our show (photos soon!), plus writing a sermon.


So happy we are homeschooling and the younger kids and I, at least, have been able to adjust our schedule accordingly! Lots of intangibles to be learned from each production we are a part of.

We're on a break from Classical Conversations, so we haven't had homework and I haven't had lessons to prep--a nice break! We've been using the time for reviewing our CC memory work, pushing hard on math fact memorization, and keeping lines and auditions fresh and ready to go.  The kids have been doing lots of extra reading this week while I've been busy Christmas shopping (mostly online) and wrapping/bagging, and they also got out the paints several days this week. The word "bored" never crosses their lips!

Speaking of bored, my funny director sent me this note by email after I emailed her my bio for the program:

I did not realize you have six kids! And you're homechooling them???? I think you should get another side job. You probably have 23 min per day spare time, and I'd hate to see you get bored. LOL.

Speaking of quotes, two others really made my week. A little boy in my Drama 1 class, on his way out the door on the second night of class, told me (in a nonchalantly approving way), "You're a really good teacher." Then at one of our dress rehearsals for Best Christmas, a little girl, apropos of nothing that I could see--we were changing our costumes--said to me, "You're awesome!" I have no idea what she was referring to but I have to conclude that she likes my acting, because that's the only thing I do there besides sit and watch rehearsal or shush children backstage.

Encouragement! Everybody needs it. I'll take it!

So proud of my brood this weekend. Oh, that reminds me of another quote! One of my Facebook friends commented on my status about our schedule this weekend, "What a great example of how to use your God-given gifts for Jesus!" I certainly pray that God shines through us all in this performance-full time!

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12. Symbolic

I was shopping at Charming Charlie's for Christmas presents, since I had a coupon for $10 in free merchandise. It's a store that sells accessories--jewelry, scarves, shoes, purses.

I was in the clearance section looking at small necklaces for Chicklet11. She could use something silver and basic now that she's getting to an age where she can remember to wear and keep track of her jewelry.

I saw lots of recognizable little animals and such, but then a charm caught my eye because I couldn't identify at first. Was it...what I thought it was? A razor blade?

The practice of "cutting" wasn't really on my radar screen until I had teenagers, but now I know kids and adults who struggle with this compulsion. I know there are websites and Facebook groups for cutters who proudly self-identify this way. This kind of thing must be marketed to them, but still:  Is this something this store was really interested in promoting? Right there next to the owls and ballerina slippers?

Should I say something? I so often look the other way, but this was truly disturbing to me.  The Edmund Burke quote rushed into my mind:  "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." And I had nothing to lose, I decided.

When I had picked out my gifts, I carried my purchases to the register along with the disturbing necklace. As the pleasant cashier rang up my items, I held out the necklace and asked if she could tell me what that charm was. She took off her glasses and looked at it closely. Her brow furrowed and she said, "I think it's a razor blade, but let's ask [my associate]." She called over a young woman, probably about 20, who immediately identified it and then offered, "We have larger ones too, with bling, right over there."

"Well, I was actually questioning whether Charming Charlie's knew what it was, and whether it's appropriate for..."

She cut me off. "Oh, it's not religious or anything. I mean it's just like a cross. It doesn't mean anything."

She left and I looked at the cashier, who was also the manager.  "I know people who struggle with cutting themselves, and it's not something I would think your store would want to promote," I said.

She nodded, as it dawned on her that that's what the razor blade represented. "Thank you for bringing that to my attention, she said. "I'll talk to my supervisor about it."


Not religious? Like a cross? Did she even know what those words mean? What would she say IS religious??

And could she really believe that a symbol like a razor blade or a cross is devoid of meaning? I understand that crosses are everywhere and if you're not a Christ-follower, they don't mean much to you.

I understand that a necklace like this one might mean nothing to a lot of shoppers or sales clerks. But it speaks volumes to a middle school girl who struggles with self-hatred, or whose best friend committed suicide with one of these, or someone who compulsively punishes themselves this way.

I don't know the answer. There are dozens of images of charms like this one that come up in Google. My little comment was about as impactful as dropping a pebble in Lake Michigan, and I know there are far worse things that many kids are exposed to regularly.

My heart is saddened mostly by our unwillingness, as a culture, to protect children and the innocent and vulnerable. We flaunt our rights to make a statement without caring how it affects others.

I don't see religious symbols in the same category as a razor blade, even though they make a statement too. I wouldn't have been offended by a charm symbolizing another religion besides my own, and I wouldn't use the word "flaunt" to describe someone wearing one. I would hope that a religious statement would be a symbol of good, not evil, intention to the wearer.

Or would it be just a meaningless symbol to them?

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13. Thanksgiving Edition

1.  The biggie? I'm so thankful for God. What do people do for meaning, purpose and significance in life if they don't know Him? I like to control things, and when things are completely out of my control, I can trust that He has a plan and a higher purpose for circumstances that are not how I would order them. I just re-listened to John Cleese reading C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters--which I cannot recommend highly enough--and it reminded me of God's perspective on the world, on human beings, on suffering, on pleasure and joy, on the Church, and more. So much truth! Makes me thankful for a God I can trust in, fully and completely.

2.  I'm so thankful for our church and all the people in it. We are in an interesting season right now, a season of prayer and listening and discernment. There is a sense that we are being called forward into a new phase. We have been in survival mode, so to speak. So many of us in our small community have been experiencing crises in our lives, our families, and our finances; it's been all we could do just to keep the wheels on at church. But it seems God is calling us to move forward, and right now I am thankful to be surrounded by prayerful, discerning believers and leaders.

3.  I am so thankful for my husband--the priest of our church and the spiritual leader of our home. No one sets a better example of godly leadership! I am so thankful, especially with four sons, for a father who models engagement with God in such a natural way. Whether he invites them to go for a run or join him in Morning Prayer, they respond positively. When he talks theology with friends, they enjoy sitting in on that too. They hear his sermons regularly, and they see him reading and preparing for them, as well as disappearing into his office to work at his "real" job to support us, which he does so successfully and so faithfully. Yup, so thankful for him!!

4.   My heart is filled with thanksgiving for our children. They are such a source of joy to me! I love watching each one develop in a unique way. Each is so different, and God is at work in each one's life in a different way. They all have unique gifts and challenges. The sight or thought of each one of them always fills my heart with thankfulness and joy.

5.  Because I don't know how much longer we will live in it, I am especially thankful for our spacious and beautiful house. Although I am honestly eager to return to a cozier size house, with less square footage to care for and fewer bathrooms to clean, I know I will miss these days when we all have plenty of space to spread out in, and no need to create a shower schedule! I will certainly miss my extra tall kitchen cabinets and all the counter space I have now. Each day I am thankful for one more day here. Hard to believe it will be six years in May.

6+.  I better keep it short and just list a few others: all our friends at Spotlight Youth Theater and at Classical Conversations, good neighbors, good health, financial provision, reliable cars, and the little things--comfy couches, music of all kinds, reading books aloud to B8 and C11, B18 sitting at the kitchen counter telling me about his day, Blondechick practicing worship music on the piano, the sun shining on the dining room table, B14 singing out snippets of madrigals as he wanders through the living room, a smile exchanged with Papa R, B22 cheerfully putting away groceries, a new boombox that plays CDs and tapes and works!, a morning by myself at Panera, a good audiobook to listen to while I cook, and laughter around the Thanksgiving table.

I am one blessed woman.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; his love endures forever. 
~Psalm 118:1

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14. Happy Birthday, Blondechick21


I thank God for you, for your life, for every year we've had with you.

I thank God for getting your attention, and even more, that you gave it. You listened to His voice, and you responded.

You heard Him tell you to go to the School of Worship, and you went.  What a fabulous place for you to grow in the Lord, in the Scriptures, in your gifts, in godly friendships and in discipleship.

I am so thankful that you listened and obeyed, and that He provided such a place for you, at such a time as this.

I thank God for how I see Him working in your mind. "Do not conform to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind...." (Rom. 12:2) I see your mind daily being renewed by immersion in God's Word and in His truth. I believe He is literally transforming the structure of your brain, day by day, as you choose to believe Him and His truth.

I thank God for how I see Him working in your heart. Even your tears, so confusing, show that God is making good on His promise:  "I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Flesh hurts, but it is warm, it is alive, and it is a source of life.

I thank God for how He is working in your relationships. You surround yourself with friends who uplift and encourage you in God's ways, and you wisely avoid those who don't. Your own words, your Facebook status on the eve of this birthday, speak to that:

Most people get ready for a certain kind of night on their 21st birthday. If I had turned 21 last year, my birthday would be a very different story. Instead, tonight, I'm staying home and having a beer with my dad, in Chimay glasses, not the bottle. And I mean real beer, not water with beer flavoring, cause my daddy raised me right.

Also, I'm going to bed early because I have worship at 8am tomorrow morning! Just like I do every day. And you know what? I know I'll be able to look back on my 21st birthday and not ONLY remember it, but I'll have it as a reminder that I was saved by the grace of God. I couldn't be more happy to turn 21 in a few hours and be in the place that I am.

Amen, and amen. So proud of you!

Love you so much, honey!

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15. Hercules, Act Two

Hercules, Act One

Act Two begins with Poseidon, Phil and Dei giving Hercules a musical pep talk, the inspirational "Anything."

Next, they journey to the temple of Athena, who gives them...another one!
Hers, however, is a show-stopping number ("Show Them Who You Are") complete with a gospel chorus, a large congregation and astounding vocal riffs and power!

She advises Hercules about the tasks he must perform, and sends him off.

One is to capture the Nemean Lion.

"Is this it??"

Meanwhile, the Minions complain that Hades makes them do everything: "We Are The Minions." Here's Chicklet11 finishing up a solo!

This song calls for a "pop culture reference," something very current. In our version, the Minions claim responsibility for getting songs stuck in your head, and then burst into "What Does the Fox Say?...Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringading," while doing the dance from that section of the video.

(I know, I had never heard of it either a month ago. But we knew we had picked a good one when the school kids went nuts!)

"Hey, I hate to break up the love-fest, but we've got a golden apple to steal...."

The Hydra, in the Garden of the Hesperides.

Hercules defeats the Hydra, but Phil is mortally wounded.

Phil insists upon a Shakespearean-style death scene, soliliquizing like a great tragedian...

...before agreeing to take a bite of a golden apple that grants immortality. "Wow, that works fast. I feel great!"

The gods and goddesses rejoice and the Minions cower as Hercules, Zeus, Poseidon, Phil and Deianeira return to kick Hades and the Minions out of Olympus and restore Zeus to the throne.

Curtain call...and glory to God!

Even through Greek myths!

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16. Hercules, Act One

So we just finished up the musical Hercules! This was not the Disney version; it was written and developed by our own Spotlight Youth Theater, and the script is available to other theater groups. It ended up being one of our families' favorite shows that we've done. It was so good!, and we had such a good time doing it. Being on the directing team was a special joy for me, and I thought this was a special script because it had so many very different characters, many of them humorous. The audiences really loved it, and--bonus!--we sold out every school day show because so many classes were doing units on Greek mythology!

(All photos were taken at a dress rehearsal by my fabulous husband.)

So B14 played Philoctetes, or Phil. In the Disney script, he coaches Hercules, but in our version, he starts out on Mt. Olympus as old friend of Zeus...

...who appears onstage when summoned by Zeus with a thunderclap and a brief blackout. (Really he was positioned behind Zeus' throne during the whole opening number, getting very hot in his heavy costume.) Disoriented and short-sighted, he runs across stage to attack Zeus and Poseidon, bouncing off Zeus' massive breastplate and falling to the ground. (The schoolkids loved that gag!)

"Another one?" he asks plaintively when Zeus explains that he has an assignment for Phil. "But I'm so tired." Zeus promises he will get to sleep like a baby...and with another thunderclap and blackout, old Phil vanishes and Baby Phil--a doll--is pushed onstage in a basket.

Meanwhile, in the Underworld, Hades plots to take over Olympus as his Minions listen in...

...and sing back-up during his bluesy number, "If I Were King."

Hercules and Phil, who both started out as baby dolls, end up as teenage boys in school together.

Here the nerdy Phil was just caught talking in class about how much he admires the king of the gods, Zeus. "Would you like to teach the class, Phil?" "No, ma'am, you're doing just fine...." But next thing you know, he's breaking out into song, teaching the class about the Greek gods.

"For every situation, a god provides an explanation...."

Oh yes, that's how we roll...those desks. While singing, rearranging them and climbing on and off them, and dancing the whole time. (Miraculously, no teenagers were harmed in the production of this musical.)

Phil gets a little nervous after the god of marriage is mentioned, and the spotlight is on him as Kora takes his arm and we hear a few bars of "Here Comes the Bride"!

He really is in love with Kora but he's afraid to talk to her. Hercules tries to get his attention as he moons over her...

...and imagines a "Chariots of Fire" moment with her.

He ends up dancing with her at the school dance in the next scene (in which Hercules also meets his love interest, Deianeira).
(During performances, B14 added the perfect wide-eyed goofy "somebody pinch me" smile during this dance! Oh, and imagine a mirror ball too.)

Hercules gets captured and put in prison in the Underworld, where he meets his half-sister Persephone--a hilarious schizophrenic--

...who tells him he's really the son of Zeus and his destiny is to save Olympus.

 Poor Phil has to confess to Zeus that Hercules has been captured and he has failed in his assignment to protect him.

Hades shows up, threatening to harm Hercules and his mother, Alcmena, if Zeus doesn't give up the throne.

Chicklet11 helps hold the prisoner, Hercules...

 ...subdues one of the gods...

...and takes his place on the stairs as the curtain closes on Act One, with Hades now in power!

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17. A Month Gone By--and Well-Spent!

Oh my goodness! Has it really been over a month since I last posted here?

Life has been busy! I see the Consecration Weekend was coming up as I ended my last post...then the next weekend was the wedding of a dear family friend. These blessed events both required overnight stays down in the Wheaton area, our old stomping grounds, and gave us the opportunity to catch up with friends old and new. What joyous occasions!

And I've been oh-so-disciplined about school this fall. It probably helps that we have Classical Conversations on Mondays, which gets our week started right. It's been hard for me as a tutor to get my lessons planned for a Monday morning, especially with our busy weekends--and I've been up late too many Sunday nights!--but I have to admit this schedule is working well for us. Chicklet11 and B8 love it, and they are already asking me if they can do school this way next year, and the year after that....

After our disciplined morning+ of reading and learning together, my attention turns to other chores in the house and to the idea that we may be listing this place on the market in a few more months. In my spare moments, instead of blogging, I've been chipping away at the job of de-cluttering and purging our home of the outgrown, the unused, the unneeded and the extraneous--one small shelf, counter or drawer at a time. I have done enough to get some accomplishment endorphins flowing...but if I pull back and think about what I haven't touched, I start sweating. It's a big job.

We also had a week of dress/tech rehearsals for Hercules, and then two weekends plus two school days of performances. A lot of time, but oh my, what fun and what joy! It was so rewarding to see all our rehearsal efforts come together in a really fabulous show. I know I'm a biased source, but that seemed to be the objective opinion of our audiences too. I'll put up some pictures soon.

I was so proud of our whole cast and crew, and I had such a great experience as a director.  It was a privilege to be part of a great directing team, and I learned so much! But I also felt more confident, this second time around, that I had a lot to offer too, and I really enjoyed coaching these young performers to shine. It's a great feeling to be using my teaching and leadership gifts in such a creative way.

My final excuse for not blogging lately is that we've been in rehearsals already for another play! B8, Chicklet and I had the opportunity to audition for a community theater's production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and we all got nice little supporting parts. B8 is Claude, one of the Herdmans. They are the terrible family of six kids who show up at church and want to be part of the Christmas pageant. (If you know our boisterous B8, you can imagine how he is enjoying this role.)  Chicklet is Maxine, the church girl who is the narrator of the pageant, so most of her lines are straight from Luke's account of the Christmas story. I am Mrs. McCarthy, one of the church ladies, who has a couple little scenes with Mother, the pageant's director. In one of them, I get to yell that I called the fire department because actually, it was a LOT of smoke; and no, I didn't know it was cigar smoke--I don't expect to find cigar smoke in the ladies' room of the church!

The performances are the two weekends before Christmas, and I really dithered about whether we should even audition and be committed at such a busy time of the year. But in so many ways it was perfect timing--Classical Conversations will be off the whole month of December, so I won't have lessons to plan and we'll have no school deadlines that month; plus we're on a break after Hercules, and rehearsals for our next show, The Wizard of Oz, don't begin until January. It's a rare opportunity for all three of us to do a play together, and I had to ask myself what the kids would remember more:  another busy December, or the year we all were in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever together. The big kids won't miss us. Their December schedules are already full--B14 with madrigals, B18 with college classes and work, and Blondechick has rehearsals for a Christmas candlelight concert with her School of Worship. Even B22 is getting extra hours at work, and Papa Rooster has plenty to do with his full-time business job, his pastoring gig, and photography for all these performances.

Ok--I promise it won't be a month before I post again!

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18. Fall Underway (Part 2)

Fall is off to a good start for the "big kids" as well!

B14 has had the biggest transition, going from virtual middle school to full-time public high school. He's been surprised that his days pass quickly, compared to his half year in middle school, when each day seemed like an eternity. One difference may be that he seems to have more teachers and classes that he's really enjoying. (Hallelujah!)

He was pleased to be an immediate standout in choir, due to all his experience singing in musicals, and he was invited to join the Madrigal Singers, an exclusive group who perform each year at the "Christmas Feaste," without even auditioning. It's unheard of for a freshman to be in the group, and he only got in because several upperclassmen had to drop out at the last minute, but after the first rehearsal he felt reassured that he could hold his own. It turns out that he knows quite a few of the other Singers already, because they have been in shows together with our Christian theater group. The director has him singing baritone/bass because his high notes are not what they are going to be, but she told him he could still end up as a tenor, which has encouraged him to keep working out his upper range!
B18 had a rougher start to his senior year. He is taking AP US History at the public high school, and when we registered for the class before school started, no one mentioned that there was summer reading, project packets and a paper due the first week of class. So he had to play serious catch-up for the first few weeks, in addition to starting his other class (Personal Finance) at the high school, and two classes at the junior college (Psychology and English Composition) and continuing to work 12 hours a week at his retail job. Fortunately, he is enjoying all four subjects, and the workload should be manageable once he just has to keep up. The AP class is going to push him harder than he's ever worked, I think, but that's the idea! And he is really enjoying the teacher and the content.

Blondechick20 is just loving SOW (School of Worship, at the Living Light Church here in Kenosha). She attends class daily for over seven hours, studying the Bible and aspects of discipleship, as well as keyboard and vocal instruction. She recommitted her life to the Lord in the first week, surrendering completely to Him all areas of her life, including some that she says she had never really given Him permission to enter before. We are so thankful for this school and for God's swift timing in providing such a place for her right now!

This session's musical is well underway too. We are departing from our usual group of friends in Kenosha to do a show in the Lake County, IL chapter, where I was asked to be assistant director for their show, Hercules. Seventy kids auditioned, and casting weekend was a long exercise in problem-solving, like working a jigsaw puzzle with pieces whose properties you have to discover. As you try them out at callbacks, you find that some are nearly universal; some are less versatile; some fit in only one place. Some slip in easily, and some are more of a force, but it's exciting to see the pieces fit into a unique design, one that we invite God to shape and to use for His glory and in the lives of these kids.

B14 and Chicklet11 were among those who auditioned, so I had to leave the room for most of the discussion about guy main leads, but I returned to learn that B14 would play Philoctetes, Hercules' nerdy teenage friend. It's a big role--he is in nearly every scene that Hercules is in, and he has his own song.  Best of all, it's a comedic role, B14's favorite! Chicklet11 was up for discussion as a Lead Minion of Hades--I had to leave the room again--and she ended up as a Minion with a solo in the Minion's big song. Both C11 and B14 are making lots of friends in the cast and feeling right at home with the welcoming Lake County kids, while I've been working with actors on character development and helping to block scenes. It's been so much fun for all of us.

At church we have exciting things happening this fall as well, including the consecration of our good friend and former priest as the new bishop of our newly-formed Midwest diocese. That's this weekend, at our old church in Wheaton, IL, in their new building! We expect to see many old friends who will be in town for this special weekend.

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19. Thoroughly Modern Millie

The curtains have closed, the sets have been disassembled and the costumes are all sent back to the warehouse, but the "show glow" continues! It was soooo good.

B14 and I had such a great time rehearsing and performing in this show. When we signed up to audition, we both said that we just hoped that at the end, we wouldn't regret all the hours out of our summer. On the contrary, it seemed like no time at all! We had so much fun with the cast, with the directors, with the crazy-hard dancing challenges, and enjoying the humor and the talent of our leads. Then the delight of our audiences just capped it all off. Even the tougher critics raved about the high quality of the production--way beyond what they expected from community theater. Glory be to God!

I could write three or four posts describing all the great moments in this show. So much talent was evident in singing, dancing, acting, improv and comedy! But I will limit myself to describing the scenes that B14 and I were in. That's what Papa Rooster got pictures of at the dress rehearsal anyway. My only disappointment with his photos is that neither B14 nor I had all our accessories yet--he was so in love with his fedora!--and I had the cutest little side-hat for my brown dress, plus big gold earrings, a matching gold ring and necklace, and a gold headband with a tall black feather in it for my role as Zelda Fitzgerald, the flamboyant wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Let's just start with that scene, shall we? It's the one in which both B14 and I had lines. The scene took place at a party, where real characters from the 1920's dialogue with Muzzy, a (fictional) nightclub singer who has just returned from a world tour.

Here she is, talking to George Gershwin and his brother Ira. George has just admitted to her that his latest symphony is not coming along; he's frozen, stuck, blocked. Don't worry, she advises, inspiration comes when you least expect it.

She turns to her next guest, who is wearing a brilliant blue cape and declares, "Why, Dorothy Parker, you're just a rhapsody in blue!" George Gershwin then, is struck with inspiration...

...and rushes offstage to begin composing his most famous work! B14 got a big laugh from the crowd every night, for that moment.

After the show closed, a friend of B14's created this for him. That's the real George Gershwin on the left. Uncanny how much B14 resembles him in some ways, isn't it?
 Next, Muzzy speaks with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Congratulating her on her successful world tour, F. Scott declares, "Muzzy at the Palace!" "Buckingham," she affirms. "Muzzy at the Great Wall!" he proclaims. "And they're not kidding!" she replies. Then Zelda tries. "Muzzy at the Vatican!" There was a beat, then Muzzy says, "Tough house, Zelda." (And the timing worked out that for the last four shows, there was a silent beat in the music which coincided perfectly with the end of my line--so it really fell flat!)

After speaking with Muzzy, we went and joined in the party, waltzing along with some of the other guests.

Imagine a gold headband across my forehead with three tall black feathers there at my temple. Please. But isn't that dress gorgeous? I loved wearing it.
 The waltz changed to a tango, and at that point, because Zelda and F. Scott were known for their marital discord and she was emotionally unstable, the director had me give F. Scott a big shove and then storm across the stage in a huff, stiff-arming other dancers as needed, like B14 and his partner below. Here I am throwing up my arms in disgust as I cross the stage. It was one of those things you could easily miss, with lines and dancing going on at the same time, but it was fun to do as part of my character!

Another shot of my handsome son. It's not everyday he wears a tux and dances.

B14, where's your bow tie?? During performances, he wore one like Ira's and F. Scott's.
Another fun scene for us both was in the speakeasy, an establishment that illegally sold alcohol during Prohibition. While the bartender was handing out little champagne glasses to the other patrons, I swiped a bottle off the bar and came downstage to take some swigs and play with the bottle, acting drunk, until the moment when I handed it off to one of the dancers, when the bottle became a prop in the dance.

B14 learned a really hard choreographed dance for this scene, but he also got to partner dance with this cutie...

Hey, that's me in the background!
 ...who then decided to haul off and slap him!

Each night, for real, more or less.

But his favorite number--right up there with the difficult speakeasy dance--was "The Speed Test," in which he got to tap dance!

He's the one in the back.
 At the beginning of that scene, he had to push a Stenographer around the stage on a rolling desk for the carefully choreographed "Office Crossover." It was harder than it looks--and virtually impossible in tap shoes on a slick floor! He had to wear his Sunday dress shoes and then quick-change into his taps.

You  may think the girls had it easy, but their difficult task was to control their facial expressions during this number. I tried to take pictures at the first dress rehearsal. I couldn't zoom in enough to get any good ones, but the girls looked absolutely terrified!!

Are you getting the picture that this is a pretty zany office staff? Here we are getting into position for the ending pose of The Speed Test.

I was grateful that these boys never dropped me, even though we all swayed a bit at times! (B14 was down on one knee doing the same as these young men, on the other side of the stage.)

At the first weekend of rehearsals, the choreographer spent over six hours teaching us the steps to the opening number. It would take 10 minutes to teach a section that was only a few seconds worth of music! It was so fast, and there were no repeated sequences. I came home and posted on Facebook that my friends should all buy tickets to come witness the miracle that it would be if I ever learned the dance. ("I believe in miracles!" my sister-in-law commented encouragingly.) With hours of at-home practice--I have new muscles in my legs to prove it--the miracle did take place. Here's more evidence that indeed, my arms and legs are going the same direction as everyone else!

Oh, and you have to imagine the cutest little polka dotted hat--it matched my tie--perched jauntily on the side of my head.

Ending pose.  Yay, we made it!!!

I miss these people. We had so much fun with them! What a great experience. B14 and I are already wondering what next year's summer show will be??

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20. First Day of School Times Five

Five kids...four different schools...all starting tomorrow!

Let's see, since my last post on educational options, we've made some decisions.

After exploring the idea of sending B14 to this private school for ninth grade, IF he got enough financial aid--and that was a big "if"--we learned that the bus that would return him to our area "after 4:00" would actually deliver him around 4:50, and it's another ten minutes from the bus stop to our house. We all began to count the cost of activities he might have to give up for the year, while Papa Rooster and I grew more nervous about the finances. It was was his idea to give up the private school, and even though we are all sorry he will miss out on the opportunities there, we just weren't feeling great peace about the distance and the cost. Instead, he'll go to the huge public high school, and we hope that by taking all honors classes, he'll be in classes with some good kids. He is less peer-oriented than some of our other teens, thankfully. He's taking choir with a really great director, and we hope for some other inspiring teachers too.

B18, for his senior year, decided not to worry about getting off the waiting list and in to the charter school, where he would then have to cram in extra graduation requirements that are specific to that school. Instead, he's doing the less socially satisfying but smarter thing and taking two classes at the public high school and two classes at the community college. He'll receive a high school diploma from me, as a homeschooler, but ironically, in the whole four years of high school, all his course work will be from public schools and colleges, except for one PE credit! (Which I will gladly grant him for his dedication to  running and working out for the past several years.) He should enter college with over a semester's worth of college credits--six classes--if they all transfer as we have been assured.

He is planning to apply this fall to Evangel University in Springfield, MO. He wishes it were closer to home, but that's the only drawback. It's a private Christian college, and friends who go there love the spiritual and fun atmosphere on campus. He wants to major in Elementary Education, one of their strongest departments. They also have opportunities in music there, including studio recording and classes in music industry and sound engineering which he could take as electives. They said his ACT score was fine, and they don't have a lot of specific admission requirements other than a high school diploma. So instead of taking Algebra 2 this year, he can take Personal Finance (much more practical for a non-math type), and he doesn't need a specific science class this year either--he can take something at the community college that will fit into his schedule. And we don't have to worry that his two years of foreign language are not the same language. All those worries, gone--poof! What a relief.

So he'll take the Personal Finance class and also an AP US History class at the local high school. We hear the teacher is fabulous, and it should be really good college prep for him. Those both meet every morning, so he can drive B14 to school, and then he's also taking a freshman writing class and a psychology class on Tuesday/Thursday afternoons at the community college. He'll continue to work at his part-time job too, unless he can't manage his time well enough. This year should give him some good experience doing that!

Blondechick also starts tomorrow at the School of Worship. She'll be in class all day, five days a week, taking voice, keyboard and guitar, plus Bible and discipleship classes. She met the other students in this year's class at an open house, and most of them are from all over Europe. We are blessed that this school is right here in our backyard, so to speak! We are excited for all that God will do in her life this year. This opportunity is just so perfect for her right now. Thank you, Lord!

So I guess it might as well be the first day of school for Chicklet and B8 too! They will continue to be homeschooled, but this year we will be part of a group called Classical Conversations that is forming a new chapter in Kenosha. Classical education wasn't a good fit for my older kids, back when we started homeschooling, but I'm excited about it for these two. They will both take Foundations, a class for 8-12 year olds, which meets one morning a week. Memory work in all subjects is introduced in the class portion, and you go over it at home for the next four days. In class they also do a science experiment, an oral presentation, and a fine arts project each week. I'm sure they will love the social aspect of a class--that was something my older kids always enjoyed when we could find it. I'm not sure they will love the memorizing, but it will be good for them. The theory is that as they memorize vocabulary or key events/ideas in each subject, they become pegs to hang more information on. With my older kids, we had the same idea with exposure--you create those pegs by lots of reading--but with hindsight, I think they would have benefitted from more required mastery of ideas. (Note I said "more" mastery--I don't mean that they didn't master many concepts!)

Chicklet will also take Essentials, which is for 10-12 year olds, in the afternoon, which I will be teaching. It covers grammar, writing and math review (using games). I'm excited to get back in the English classroom again! I've taught homeschool writing classes before, but not for several years. I have just four students, but I am sure our CC community will grow quickly after this year.

So each day we will concentrate on our CC memory work, do Teaching Textbooks for math, and continue to do lots of reading--both read-alouds and personal reading. Chicklet will also have daily writing to do. "I want you to make me do LOTS of writing this year, Mom," she told me last week. (Ah, a girl after my own heart!) For PE, she'll take a tap/jazz class through our drama group, and B8 will play soccer. He can't wait for the first game! She'll continue to take piano but not weekly--she's going to be a mother's helper in exchange for the occasional lesson from a "retired" piano teacher with her hands full--and I might even start B8 myself this year, since he's been asking.

But tomorrow, we'll have a light day, since CC doesn't start till next week. I'm thankful...for one new thing that I have a little more time to prepare for!!

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21. The Rooster Comes Home to Roost

Or, Papa Rooster No Longer Flies the Coop.

I couldn't decide.

And now I've delayed in posting this and today is his birthday, so yet another topic begs to be worked into the title. "Birthday Rooster Home for Good"?

The big news is that Papa R's employers, at his request, have restructured his job so he no longer has to travel all the time! Exactly what we were praying for! Papa R was even willing to take a pay cut, but they are keeping his base salary the same--woo hoo! Bonus potential will be less since he's no longer in sales, but that's fine with us. He will mostly be focusing on marketing, which he is good at and enjoys doing. So thankful to God and his employers!

Can't beat that for a birthday present.

He will still travel a couple times a year to industry conferences to be a speaker, because he is so popular. It's true--my husband is always everyone's favorite presenter of the conference. Surprised, some of you who enjoy his sermons regularly?  I mean, you know he's articulate, personable and wise, and he can be entertaining--but not THAT entertaining, right?

But in his industry, which is so complex and analytical, he's a breath of fresh air. In fact, an article was published recently which summarized a presentation that he gave recently at an industry conference. I had to read it twice, myself, to understand it...somewhat! It's easy to imagine that his presentation was more engaging than the article.

We laugh regularly at our kids' inability to explain what their dad does for a living, beyond a simple "he's in sales" or "he's a consultant." A parent who drove B14 home recently asked me about my husband's job, because B14 couldn't really tell him. After my description, the parent said, "Now I see why your son couldn't explain it!"

"Senior director of marketing of a revenue analytics firm in the healthcare industry." There. If we can all just memorize that.

In other news, our church is taking baby steps toward figuring out how to bring him on as a full-time pastor in the next year or so. They've done some benchmarking and have determined a salary, which is completely fair and generous, but about half of what we are living on now.  So we are praying about selling our house and downsizing sometime next year. We will see how the Lord leads, but for now I feel led to de-clutter and get some painting done! Always a good thing, right?

So Happy Birthday, my love. It's been great having you around more. I am blessed to have a partner like you to walk through life with, and now I think our partnership will grow even stronger with more time to spend together. Our children will love it too! You're the best, and we are blest!

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22. Road Trip

Back in July...we had ourselves a nice little vacation.  There's no better excuse for a road trip than a wedding!

And this one was a long way from Wisconsin. It was near Oklahoma City, and it was quite a surprise to see how many of our extended family were flying and driving to this unlikely vacation destination! It was basically the same cast of characters who attended my parents' 50th anniversary party last year. My cousin's fiancee had attended that family event with him, so we all already knew her a little bit, which may have been why so many of us made the effort. She is such a delightful addition to my mom's side of the family!

But for us, the other big attraction was in Kansas, on the way to Oklahoma. My professor brother has lived in a small town there for ten years, ever since he took a position teaching history at a small Methodist college, and we have never made the trip. Our travels usually take us east, to Ohio, and we usually rendezvous with his family there. So it was a treat to see them in their own home, which is a charming older house that they have renovated and decorated together. It's cozy, but they make it work so beautifully. It gave me hope that if we ever have to downsize, we could make it work too!

Professor Brother, me and our parents--in the history department of his college.
The famous 77 steps (click to enlarge and view cousins at the top!)

The view from the top.

Girlies! Cousins! Blondies!

Foolin' around with a college landmark. A kiss for good luck?
At the wedding. You can tell this was taken with my iPhone, not my husband's awesome Nikon, but we were about to leave and I wanted a picture, because how often do my four handsome sons all put on suits? (Papa R had to leave the reception early to get our van's A/C fixed. You do not want to be driving in OK without A/C! Blondechick had stayed behind in WI for a worship retreat.)

At the memorial in Oklahoma City where the bombing occurred in 1995. 
You can see above the door of this gate the time "9:03." The other gate is engraved with the time "9:01." It's a powerful reminder of how the course of a life, or many lives, can change in one minute.  And it's out of our control.
"Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" (Matt. 6:27)

On the site where the Murrah Building used to be, there now stands a field of chairs representing the 168 adults who died in the explosion, with 19 smaller chairs for the children who were killed that day.

A good percentage of the out-of-towners went to see the memorial. 
All in all, it was a great trip!

To top it off, on the way home we visited Evangel University in Springfield, MO. It has come on our radar since we have friends whose kids go there, and it seems like an affordable and really good fit for college for B18, who is a senior this year.

On the last day in Oklahoma, we said goodbye to Chicklet10 and B8, and sent them off with their grandparents to Ohio. We haven't seen them in over two weeks! They are having a blast on the farm with their grandparents and their Ohio cousins, aunt and uncle. My parents will bring them to WI this weekend when they come for the closing weekend of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Can't wait to hug and kiss them again!

So grateful for traveling mercies for all--and for the leisure time to enjoy a little vacation!

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23. So I Love Musical Theater...

I shared recently that it can be hard to choose what to write about these days. But since I feel the Lord encouraging me to focus on things in my life that bring me joy, that's a good place to go.

So I should write about the musical that I'm in!

Musicals have always been a source of joy to me, and I suppose that's weird, but I have always loved the combination of story, music and spectacle that is unique to musical theater. One of my earliest memories is of a high school musical production of Peter Pan. After Tiger Lily's riveting performance, I determined that I would be an Indian princess when I grew up. I lived in this delusion for about 36 hours before my mother shot it down, telling me that one had to be born an Indian princess, so it was already too late for me. But still, I basked in the glow of that performance, affixing the playbill to the front of our refrigerator and announcing, "This is to remind us of a wonderful evening!" (My dad wrote my words on the playbill and saved it. Thank you, Dad!)

So...musicals. I was too shy to audition for any high school productions until my senior year, when I was in the chorus of The Wiz (an unfortunate choice for a Midwestern, white-bread, small-town high school, but the show did go on.) I was not in another musical production until 2007, when I played Mrs. Macready in a community theater production of Narnia, the Musical, along with Papa Rooster, who played Aslan, Blondechick (Susan), B18 then B12 (Edmund), B14 then B8 (the Dwarf), and Chicklet (a White Staglet).

I should also mention that I married a man with musical theater experience, talent and background. My husband's friend talked him into auditioning for his high school's spring musical, and he saw jaws drop--literally--when he started singing. In an era when sound was a big issue for high school productions, this kid that hardly ever talked suddenly boomed out with the biggest singing voice that had been heard on that stage in years. He got leads and much acclaim both his junior and senior years.

He came by it honestly. Both his parents had been on and off-Broadway. That's how they met--two Midwesterners who had moved to NYC to work in show business. So romantic, eh? Yes, the whole story helped sell me on him. (That, and his penchant for bursting out into fragments of show tunes like "Pretty Women," from Sweeney Todd, when we were taking long walks together. How could I resist?)

Anyway, that experience with Narnia just whet my appetite for more. Mrs. Macready was only in the first and last scene and she didn't get to sing or dance. She just yelled at children, which was not even an acting stretch for me. So I kept my eyes open for another chance.

I got it after we moved to WI and a local youth theater group decided to do a summer show that included adults. It was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and I got to be one of the twelve Wives--the oldest Wife by many years, actually. My two youngest kids were in it with me, in the Kids' Chorus. In this show, I had to dance--for the first time since The Wiz--and I found it to be quite a fun challenge for an aging brain that has never had coordination as a strong suit. But I managed to learn the steps eventually, and it really was fun!

Well, that's a whole post already. But it brings me up to this summer and the blast B14 and I are having being in the ensemble of Thoroughly Modern Millie! More soon!

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24. Chicklet Turns 11

This picture tells it all. She's growing up! No longer a little girl, but not yet a young woman.

A little girl in a growing-up body. Bittersweet.

I hate to see the little girl disappearing; she has been so precious to know.

But the emerging young girl is equally delightful. So interested in so many things! She wants to try it all--crocheting, knitting, beading, cooking, baking, sewing, painting, drawing...all arts and crafts. She's started organizing and rearranging her own room. She continues to take dance and be in theater productions and wishes she could do soccer too. She loves to ride her bike and roller blade. She still plays with Barbies, 18" dolls and Littlest Pet Shop, but she's outgrown Polly Pockets, she says. She enjoys reading, and she's started a writing notebook for her own stories. She writes down prayers and has such a sweet, earnest faith. She loves babies and helping in the nursery at church. She's going to be a mother's helper in exchange for piano lessons and she can't wait for that to start next week!

You are such a blessing, Chicklet11.

May God make His face to shine upon you always!

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25. Fall Underway (Part 1)

Everything has started up again and we are finding our new rhythm for this fall!

It's been nice that Blondechick, B18 and B14 are all up and out of the house by 7:30. I usually wake up about the time they are all leaving, and then I have about an hour before B8 comes groggily downstairs. I would love to say I use that hour ever-so-wisely, but it seems I barely get my coffee made before it's gone! I usually read Jesus Calling, at least, but maybe I need to intentionally NOT check texts and emails until a little later. (Ah, but there is never a good time for that!)

We started our Classical Conversations curriculum this week, and so far I am loving it! Chicklet is memorizing more easily than I thought she would, and B8 is competitive enough to try hard too. Each day we've picked something to study more in-depth, using books we already have. For example, this week they are memorizing the seven biomes. So one day we looked at Usborne's The Great Animal Search to see pictures of animals living in the desert, the tundra, the tropical rainforest and elsewhere; another day, they watched a Magic Schoolbus episode about deserts. We studied maps and the globe as we memorized and identified the seven continents and four major oceans. Since we are starting with the Middle Ages in history this year, we reviewed ancient history by flipping through The Usborne Book of World History, and we read about the crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III, which is our "history sentence" for this week. I also read from A Child's History of the World about the fall of Rome, which began the medieval period, while they colored coloring pages from our collection of Dover coloring books (which we make copies from and never color in).

I am appreciating how efficiently we can do our lessons without books. I can be cooking dinner and sing out, "What are the 8 parts of speech?" and they think it's a game to rattle them off. We can skip-count at lunch time or in the car--no book required. Once I have things memorized, I can easily drill them without looking at anything. (I guess I will learn a lot myself this year!) Chicklet11 has some additional grammar memorizing to do, plus 1-2 short writing assignments a week, but it all seems very manageable so far.

In addition to memorizing facts in various subject areas, they are doing math (Teaching Textbooks for both) and reading to themselves for at least one hour. We also read aloud together from the Bible--we are reading through the book of Mark right now--and I read aloud to them. I'm reading a page or two a day of Paddle to the Sea (a lusciously illustrated book about a little carved wooden canoe that makes a long journey through all five Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean). We've also been reading a section or two daily from a Childcraft book called How Do We Get Things?, and we are reading Leif the Lucky, since the Vikings came up in The Usborne Book of World HistoryToward the end of the week, when we have things pretty well memorized and have explored the concepts already, they have spelling, handwriting and vocabulary workbooks we can add in, plus science activities. But it's been so refreshing to look at the  week as a whole, rather than checking off boxes daily. Workbooks seem so tedious compared to the hands-on and lively discussions we've had this week.

The "big kids" are all having good school experiences too, I am so thankful to say. More on that in Part 2!

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