Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Birthday Ball Discussion Questons

Last night, my daughter hosted a book group discussion about The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry.  I looked on the web for some questions, but couldn't find any, so I asked her to write her own list of questions.  She did (and I added on the last 3).  Here's her list in case anyone would like to use them for a literature unit or discussion group.

The Birthday Ball Discussion Questions

1.  When you first looked at this book, what did you think this book would be like?
2.  Would you want to be in the princess' shoes?  Why or why not?
3.  Which character are you most like?  Why?
4.  If you lived in the princess' country, would you want to be nobility or peasantry?  Why?
5.  If you could change anything in this book, what would you change?  Why?
6. The princess' parents are both unusual.  Can you name some strange things about them?  Compare them with your parents.  What are some differences between them?
8.  If you were the princess, would you have done what she did, in going to school?  What might you have done differently?
9.  What 5 words best describe the princess?  Can you think of words for any other characters?
10.  What do you think the moral of the story is?
11.  Every girl that watches Disney princess movies wants to be a princess.  Did you feel that way after you read this story?  How do you think the reader might have wanted you to feel after reading this story?
12.  How did you feel at the end of this book?
13.  This book doesn't end the way all princess stories do with the prince and princess getting married and living happily ever after.  --Do you like the ending of this book more or less?  Why?
--What do you think happened next--after the end of the book?

**These questions are reproducible for classroom, home school, and book group use.  Please do not use them in any resale materials without prior consent from the author of this blog.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Beauty from the eye of the beholder (Finding Peace of Heart, Part 1)

I have been wrestling with some deep questions and confronting legalistic ideas that have haunted me for several years.  These questions have lingered, but I've been able to fight them for the most part.

Warning! Rabbit trail ahead...

Last night, I followed the instructions I'd given my teenage photography students in the fall.  Put together you pictures in a portfolio so that you can look at your pictures easily.  You can look back and forth over time and remember what God has shown you.  I've been trying to figure out how to store enlargements that I order of my pictures and I think my husband and I've come upon a solution.  I've made the portfolio for my 8 x 10s and 5 x 7s.  I'm going to get two larger artist portfolios and a rack to store them in for my larger enlargements.

As I sorted through my pictures, I had to choose how to categorize them.  It was interesting to try and group my pictures.  One of the groups I formed was portraits, but I decided to make a separate tab for my family.  When I looked at them last night, I was singularly struck by something.  Beauty did not equal perfection.  Hair perfectly in place, clothes matching, perfect background that not's distracting...

In actuality, I beauty in my family's pictures are in their eyes and faces--in the imperfections--in the joy I see on their faces and the ways their eyes sparkle with life.

My family and what I see all around me is the greatest defense I have against the lingering questions in the back of my head.  One of the questions I'd been able to easily answer but the second question I've been facing is so intertwined that I couldn't put either question to rest until the Lord opened my eyes to as I was looking at my portfolio helped me articulate the answer to my second looming question.

And now I find myself compelled to articulate my questions and answers because the Lord has given me peace about these questions and I am so thankful to Him for helping me to see!

These are seemingly simple questions that one might think all Christians shouldn't question or wrestle to articulate answers to once they've been a Christian for twenty years.  But, I've found that when my foundation gets assailed, cracks can show and I need to fill them in so that the slab foundation will be strong again.  So, here are my questions and even more importantly, the filler...

The biggest questions I face are these:

Who is a Christian?  and... How must we live?

I cling to the verse that says this:

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The Lord saved me by his grace--not by anything I did.  This is my greatest defense against the false teaching that can creep in that I am saved in any way by something I might do.  I see groups and churches teach that we must do good works or that we must do "this" and "that" to be saved.

Romans 3:20

20 For by works of the law no human being[c] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

But, does this excuse us and allow us to sin and yet be saved?  No.  That's not the answer.  
Autumn has been asking me why we try to be good if we're saved by grace.  If our works are not what save us, why should we try to do good to others and seek to be like Christ?  She said out loud a question I needed to answer for her and for me. 

Romans 6:14-18 ESV

14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.  15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

We are not condemned.  (The Romans passage is one I will talk about more fully in the next post.)

Phillippians 1:6 (ESV)
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

God is continually working in us.  We seek to good to others out of a thankful heart to the Lord.  Because we love Him.

I realized yesterday that this next verse has been a cornerstone for me.  I do not cling to the law of the Old Testament, but rather to the Gospel of grace.  In the Gospel of Matthew 22, we find how the law is summed up:

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 22:34-40 ESV

I love these verses that tell me all about how to love and succinctly tell me why it matters most.

I John 4:7-12 ESV

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

I Corinthians 13 ESV

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[ it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

I have clung to the passage from I John for years about what it means to be a Christian.  It gives me the most important answer of how I am to live: I am to love God and to love others.  Why?  Because I love God and when I love others, God is working in me and His love is complete in me (NIV translation uses that phrasing).  

Continue on to part 2...

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Putting together My music curriculum

My oldest daughter stopped taking piano lessons in October, so I realized yesterday that I needed to have a better plan for music for her for the rest of the year.  I sat down this morning and started forming  a plan.  My younger kids are going to do these lessons with her even though they are both currently studying instruments.

So, I'm putting together a plan.  First we're going to study the instruments in the orchestra.  Then, we're going to look at the periods of music history and then finally composers.  We're going to do a lesson every Friday am or every other Friday for 30-60 minutes.  I've found some awesome free resources online that have helped me put together a whole notebook.  Here's what I've found...

We are going to start with the Orchestra.  Here's our instrument pages:  are the first pages.  I'm using the cover page and then the first page from here: 
and the orchestra seating charts from here:
We are going to listen to the instruments on this page:
I am including only the modern one for this instrument study section.  I'm including the charts for all periods in our Music History study section.
I'm also including several of the instrument worksheets from here:  (one for each instrument section)
If you want individual instrument pages:
I'm only using the one on the piano. (for older children grades 4-6) (pages 9, 11, 12, 26)

Then on to Music History:  plus the charts:  for instrument charts that are printable.  Click on the arrow to go forward to the next period in history.
As we talk about each period, I'm going to play a sample piece from Classics for Kids  If you click on each period, you can click on a composer and piece.

Then, we're going to move on to Composer Study
I've printed off a timeline for each period of music (and handwritten a label at the top identifying the period).  Each time we start a new composer study we will place that person's name and life span on the timeline for the period they belong in.
I found this site with several sets of composer sheets for grades 4-6
Another page with composer worksheets is:
And finally,
This site has a varying number of worksheets for each.
For the composers I want to study but don't have worksheets for, we are going to listen to one of the past Classics for Kids shows here:
and use the notebooking sheets from this set:
pages 8,9,10,11, 12 (depending on child and needs)

So, that's my plan!  I think I got all of the things in there that I'm going to be using.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


While on vacation, we went into Whole Foods one day.  My husband and I had not been to one in a long time.  I was shocked by the prices... 6 bakery hamburger buns for $6.  There were ten kinds of salt and maybe one of them was iodized.  It was interesting.  There was a full barista coffee bar in the center of the store.  

As we were standing waiting for our coffee next door at Dunkin Donuts, my husband made a comment to me that took me by surprise.  He said to me that he had realized while shopping at Whole Foods that the store and its shoppers were fueled by fear--fear of what their food would have in it if it wasn't pure--without iodine, preservatives, nonorganic... food.  I'm not saying it's a bad thing to eat food with less preservatives, with whole grains, less salt, without msg... they are all good things.  But, I know that fear can be consuming.  It can be masked by good intentions.  But, if it's at the root of why we're doing something--then that's not necessarily good.  

I read an eye opening idea in Christian Kids Explore Creation that pointed out that campaigns for recycling, reducing, and reusing are all fueled by the belief--the fear--that if we don't do all of these things then we will run out of resources and there won't be enough for me or for you.  The author of that book next quickly pointed out that God is in control and we don't have to be afraid of the world running out of resources, because we can trust God and trust that what He wants to be in the world will be there.  It is wise to recycle, reduce, and reuse because these practices are important to being good stewards of the earth and caring for it--as we are exhorted to do in Genesis.  But, doing these things out of fear shows a lack of trust in God.

I ran into a friend yesterday who I hadn't seen in over five year.  It was good to see her, but as I caught up with her, I realized that she is tackling a new part of life that I haven't gone through yet because her children are older than mine.  She is in a time of letting go of her children and trusting them to God--and again not letting fear rule her heart and checking the motives of her actions.  She shared with me that her husband reminded her that she needs to act out of trust and wisdom, but not out of fear.  

God is in control.  

Fear is dangerous.  It can be consuming.  Fear can fuel control issues in some people.  But, how do we fight fear?  

After I left my friend, I began thinking of the Sunday School lesson I taught last week and the key verse:

Philippians 4:5-6  NIV

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

The lesson was about prayer.  Prayer is how we communicate with God and build our relationship with him.  How do we fight fear?  I think we pray and turn to Scripture.  We focus on trusting God, not ourselves and our own efforts to prevent what we are afraid of.  

I've come back to the title of a Joyce Meyer's book (which I've never read) that I think is such a wise phrase... "the Battlefield of the Mind".  The mind is a battlefield and we have to identify the battles and commit to fighting them.

Well, that's what I've been thinking about since my husband's unexpected comment...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Two YA/Middle School Fiction Books Worth Reading

Wow.  I feel like I just ate at a fine restaurant that served me a superb meal!  I just finished reading Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.  It is a new book that is going to be coming out in February.  This book was quite a surprise for me.  I haven't read the author's previous books, but was intrigued by this book description.  I have struggled to find contemporary fiction that I feel comfortable assigning to my teenage daughter for her homeschooling.  Periodically, I have been lucky enough to find a few treasures... The Friendship Doll, Flipped, Paper Things (which I'm going to write about later in this post), the Vine Basket by Josanne LaValley... and now I can add this book to the list.

Echo begins with a little boy who gets lost in the woods and encounters three sisters.  Magic and
music are interwoven in a way that creates wonder.  As I read this book, I found myself unsure of what was going to happen next.  There were multiple cliffhangers over the course of the book that you are left to ponder for a time.  I don't want to spoil anything, but only say that the ending does leave you feel like you've finished dessert after a wonderful meal.

I am going to have my daughter read this in 9th or possibly 8th grade.  While the reading grade level is only probably a 5th or 6th grade level, the topics addressed are weighty concerns of the world.  I know that my 6th grade daughter would be overwhelmed with sadness by this book and would find it difficult to process.  But, it is worth processing, so I plan to wait until she is older to have her read it.  Many adults might disagree with me about the age that this book is appropriate for, but I don't want my children to have to bear the weight of the world and the sadness all at once.  It is my job as a their mom to love them well--and to help them understand the world.  The majority of this book is set in the 1930s and 1940s. Because I think parents and teachers need to be aware, here are the topics that are dealt with:  one character is ostracized because of his looks and epilepsy and the Nazis methods of purifying the German people during the 1930s are outlined and fleshed out; one character faces abuse, abandonment, and sacrifice for family; and one character faces prejudice and segregation during WWII...  I have noticed that when prejudice and segregation are addressed in fiction for youth, it is usually addressing the segregation of African Americans in regard to school and in the South. This book addresses prejudice and segregation from history that I wasn't aware of.  I grew up in one of the cities part of the story is set in and yet I wasn't aware of its history.  I researched it after reading this book and found what the author portrayed in the story to be true to history.

There is a great deal of sadness in the story these pages hold, yet there is hope, too and the strength of the hearts of the main characters.  I believe children with sensitive hearts will be deeply affected by this book if they read it--which is important to be aware of.  As a Christian, an important discussion with my children as they read this book and afterwards is about where our hope comes from and why we hope.  There are some difficult questions to be pondered with this book.  What do we do when life is hard?  Do we expect life to be easy?  Is life easy?  Did God promise us an easy life?  How can we cope with the challenges we will face in the future?  (ie. what hope can we cling to)  What challenges have they faced or people in their family or their friends?  What I discovered with my own children is that they don't even realize some of the things they've tackled in their lives and had to deal with.  I believe it's important for children to realize that no one's life is easy and that their lives won't be easy either--but that God will always be with them.  God is not explicitly talked about in this story, but we read to make sense of life and sometimes realizing that others don't have a reason for their hope helps us see our own reason--that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and that God loves us.

I loved this book.  The writing drew me in and held me there until I turned the last page.  But, this is also a book that parents should read and talk with their children about.  I don't think it should be read by a student on their own without anyone to process it with.

The second contemporary book I am glad to have discovered is Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.  I think this book is appropriate for 6th/7th graders.  

A quick Summary:

The story starts out with Ari and Gage leaving the home of Janna, their guardian. Janna had never been married or had kids before she became their guardian. Gage chafed against her rules and chose to leave with Ari when he turned 19. Ari and Gage's mother had died four years earlier. When they leave, Gage discovers that it's a lot harder on their own than Gage expected. The story follows them as they figure out how to be homeless and how to stay together without a permanent home.

I do love this book, but not because it's one that I'd read for "enjoyment". It's eye opening and very appropriate for this age group. There isn't any cussing or anything inappropriate that I'd have any concerns about my children reading. I grew up on the west coast of the us in a warm climate where there were many homeless people. I was shocked to realize that many adults and children on the east coast and in the north are not aware of the difficulties homeless people face because they don't see them. (ie. in a survey from a few years ago, there were 52,000 homeless people in Long Beach, CA compared to 1,400 in Pittsburgh, PA). Interestingly, this story is set in Maine, an extremely cold place. The author is from Maine, so that is why I assume she set the story there.

Why I'm going to have my 6th grade daughter read this book... I want her to be aware of the world and sensitive to the feelings of others. I don't want her to ever talk of homelessness as an "ideal" way to live as I heard one 20 year old woman say to me a year ago. The young woman was very ignorant (simply unaware), in my opinion, and did not understand the difficulties of living without a permanent home. Those difficulties are made plain in this book.

But, I also want to discuss with her Janna and Ari's relationship and how some adults treat children. I have noticed this with my own children that many adults do not know how to relate to children or they see them as a burden. They expect children not to be clumsy, not to make noise, and not to be... well, children. Spoiler sort of--Janna acknowledges later in the book that she didn't know how to be a parent when she became their guardian. I thought the author handled this really well. But, it's worth a discussion. I have had many adults give me dirty looks (or my children) though they are very well behaved most of the time, but periodically have their moments. As a parent, I've had to work on not taking it personally. And as a parent, the way Janna lived through Ari made me sad. Her stuff was off limits. Her apartment had to be just so. I've known parents like this. I've known grandparents like this. It doesn't make kids feel loved. And Ari and Gage didn't feel loved. There's a neat reconciliation and healing from this at the end and that is something I appreciated at the end of the book. The kids grow, but so do the adults--in a way that isn't disrespectful of them.  

There is one mention that I do think parents should be aware of in the book.  There wasn't any cussing in the book, but I do remember one scene when a young woman and man ask Ari to leave Gage's girlfriends' room in her apartment so they can have the room to themselves and Ari realizes her books are in there and knows she shouldn't go get them.  Nothing is explicitly explained or detailed about what was going on in the room.  

Children are also not supposed to have to handle all the burdens adults do and sometimes I think we even expose them to too much when they are young. But, this book is very appropriate for sixth and seventh graders. It deals with the topic of homelessness in a way that I think they will be able to understand. My daughter probably won't when she first reads it, but will after we discuss it. I've noticed that many of the details we notice as adults can get missed by younger readers and I want to help her see some of the details I suspect she will miss and their significance.

I do want to mention my only additional thoughts.
#1 The story is set in Maine. But, it's a fictional place in Maine. The difficulty is in creating a realistic place without it being real. The story felt a lot more like it was set in a larger city that has more dangerous areas. We spend a week every summer in Maine and I kept picturing the story not in Maine, but in New York, or even Massachussetts.
#2 As children of a soldier who died in Afghanistan, Ari and Gage would have had benefits--educational benefits for Gage and financial ones for Ari. If someone is homeless and trying to get up on their feet, these benefits can be of significant help. Janna would have also been receiving benefits for them and from social security as their guardian.

I am thankful to have read both of these books and I would recommend them as good solid reading for adults as well.  I will continue to search for books that I feel are appropriate for my children as they make their way through their teenage years, being sensitive to their hearts and what they're able to handle--giving them time to grow and develop.  I don't want to hide the world from them.  I want to help them understand the world they live in, but I don't want them to get crushed by the sadness of the world we live in either.  There needs to be a balance.  When I heard about a fourth grade GATE class several years ago which read five books over the course of the year, four of which were about death and dying...  I was shocked.  I think that children need to read a variety of books--  fantasy, realistic fiction, adventure, science fiction, mystery, historical fiction, biography...  But, that's another discussion for another day...

Friday, January 9, 2015

Motivating Poster

Yesterday as I was reading a book, I came across a phrase that I've said to my kids many times and even said to my fifth graders years ago when I was student teaching.  The phrase is:

Everything is Difficult Before it is Easy.

I've made a printable pdf poster of this here.  I laminated it and put it up in my classroom so I can remind my kids that it will get easier!  But, it's going to be hard before it's easy.... whether that's Math, Writing, Science, playing piano...