Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Model T Field Trip

Today I took my students on a really fun field trip: we rode in my neighbor's Model T Ford. It was the perfect way to culminate our study of the famous car and its maker. We rode in a 1914 brass-era car. We learned how difficult it is to start the thing, to change a tire (no, we didn't break down, he just demonstrated), to check the gas (you have to lift the front seat cushion up to find the fuel housing). But we also discovered what a blast it is to ride in it! Wind in our faces, zipping down the street at a whopping 30 mph, waving to neighbors.

If I get parental permission from everyone in photos, I'll post. Otherwise, I'll see if there's one or two where I'm the only recognizable one. I doubt it. We took mostly shots of the kids and also group shots.

When we were finished, a couple kids say they want to ride in it next year. I'll have to figure out how such a request would fit into a non-20th century era study.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

SAD Meal #1: Bush's Baked Beans in Chili

I thought of an acroynm for easy and tasty dishes that I've found or invented: SAD meals. SAD stands for Simple and Delicious.

Why is it you usually hear the phrase "simple but delicious," as if simplicity and taste are mutually exclusive? I don't know about you, but I've made meals that have taken two hours to whoop up and they are no better than some ten minutes deals. So, rather than go with SBDs (yuuuuck!) I'm going to post SAD Meals from time to time.

A SAD Meal, by my definition, will have no more than five ingredients and take not longer than 30 mintues from prep to table.

The first one I'm posting came about after a little disagreement between Paul and me this past Friday. On that cold, rainy evening, he wanted chili. I had everything we needed for it except kidney beans.

"We don't need beans," he said.
"Yes, we do," I said,
"No, we don't. Meat, tomatoes, seasonings-- that's all you need," said the hungry fellow watching the news.
I insisted chili without meat is fine, but chili without beans is not. Trifling matter, and I would gladly have lost the argument if it meant not having to run out for beans. Instead, I grabbed a can of Bush's Vegetarian Baked Beans from the pantry.

Problem solved, and the chili was really good. A Southern sweetness to it, but still plenty spicy.

Here's the recipe for my SAD Meal #1: Bush's Baked Beans in Chili

1.5 pounds ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 pkg. chili seasoning
1 can (13-15?oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (about 11 oz) Bush's Vegetarian Baked Beans

Brown the meat with onion. Drain grease off. Add entire seasoning pack plus a cup of water to the beef. Add tomatoes and stir. Add beans and stir till hot.

For garnish and added flavor,we put shredded cheddar into the chili after spooning it into our bowls.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm a Believer in Spelling Power

While spelling has always come easily for me, the same is not true of all my children. I had a grown up believing the theory that avid readers made good spellers. All my sisters were bookworms and had no trouble spelling. My parents devoured books and spelled well, even in foreign languages. I also believed good spelling was as genetic as curly hair or blue eyes. My parents could spell well, my sisters could spell well, and so I naturally assumed any offspring of mine would spell well.

Along came my firstborn who kept me thinking that at least part of my reasoning was correct. He was a biological child, had blue eyes, and spelled reasonably well. He disturbed the other part of my theory; he was not an avid reader nor wanted to become one. Give him a baseball, a bat, and a backyard and he was happy. (Backyard optional.) Ben--though he used some phonetic creativity in the first three or four years of school--soon began spelling almost everything passably well by fourth grade. Nothing atrocious. (Did I spell that right?) Nothing alarming. Nothing that made me incorporate spelling drills into my homeschool day. In fact, I secretly thought the mistakes were kind of cute and that he'd outgrow them soon enough.

Then along came Sarah. She shared my genes. My darling little girl who always had a book in one hand and a baby doll in the other. (Is it any wonder she has chosen Early Childhood Education as her major?) Sarah's second home has always been the local library. She would read books about animals, plants, children, families, colors, God, you name it. I have photos of her reading to Stephen on the sofa, their soft, little legs dangling just over the edge of cushions. How surprised I was, then, that her writing did not reflect all the correctly-spelled words she was reading. By fourth grade her inventions were anything but cute. I thought, "She'll never be a good elementary school teacher if she can't spell." I panicked. My daughter's future was so shaky, resting on pitifully strung-together letters she called werds. I mean words.

Nothing was wrong with my daughter. It was my theory about spelling that needed correcting.

That's when I went on an aggressive hunt to find a curriculum that would work. Memorizing lists was not helpful. Sure, she could ace any spelling test, but ask her two weeks later, and we were back to skwair one. Long-term retention was just not there. Giving her a bunch of rules didn't cure her. Scrapping 45 minutes of math in order to do 45 of spelling was torture (for both of us). I prayed more out of desperation than faith.

Enter Spelling Power. It was the talk of the homeschool town at the time. Not written by a Master of Spelling, but by a mom whose own daughter was flunking every test in school and was being emotionally affected by her failures. (Aren't we all?) She became a student of her daughter, pulled her out of school (if I'm remembering correctly) and began teaching her a new way of spelling. The results astounded everyone.

In a nutshell, here's what I remember being the keys to success with Spelling Power.

1) Fifteen minutes a day is all it takes--and all a kid CAN take mentally. Beyond that you get results inversely proportional to the amount of time spent studying words.

2) My way of doing the program worked fine. (I'm not patient about reading 30 pages of teacher helps in the intro. I plunge right in after getting the gist.) I am convinced you can tailor Spelling Power to your child's learning style and your teaching style.

3) You diagnose their level by finding a list they can easily master, and then move on.

4) The book doesn't say "Grade Whatever" on the cover, so no kid in 7th grade feels stupid seeing a big 4 on the front cover. Maybe the words he can master would by typical for a 4th grader, but most words in our everyday vocab are at about that level, so what's the big deal? The program can start with a very young reader and progress till at least 8th grade, I'd say.

5) The way I worked it with my kids was this: Pick a level a little below where I think they are competent. Have them spell the words orally until they start missing a few. Whatever they miss, they write down correctly with my help. When they miss 10, that's their weekly list. (If you think fewer than 10 is better, that's fine. Better a kid spell five words well than 10 poorly, right?)
They spell it by writing it, tracing it, closing their eyes and spelling aloud, and a couple other tricks of the educational trade. Come the next Friday, they are tested from their list. Get it right, it comes off their list. Miss it, and it's repeated the next week. So the list is THEIR own personal list, not some arbitrary one chosen by some nameless, faceless publisher doing a proper scope-and-sequence thingy.

6) Stick with it. If a kid hates to spell because of a mindset that "he can't" or because he'll be laughed at or put down or even hear his mother's exasperated sigh, he'll make up all kinds of excuses. He'll contract chicken pox from his pencil. He'll get hives from his ink pen. He'll come down with a sudden migraine, brought on by the mention of the word "spelling." Mom will feel similar symptoms. Don't buy into it. Stick with the plan. Poor spellers can become decent spellers. I am convinced. My Sarah is living proof. While she still occasionally asks, "How do you spell....?" it is not the norm.

My new theory is: good spelling is a visual thing. Look at a word spelled correctly, meditate on it, trace it, write it, spell it orally, write it again. All the top-notch spellers in the Scripps National Bee will "air write" on the back of their placards. Ever notice that? The word has to "look right" to a good speller.

Trust me on this one. Spelling Power cost me nearly fifty bucks (new) back in the day. It was worth every pene. I mean penny.

As a funny aside, when Joel was four he told me he could spell "cartoon." Really? I doubted him; he spent more time on the laptop than in books (to my shame and Sarah's horror). "Yeah," he announced. It's c-a-r-t-ENTER." (It always worked when he was trying to get to "Cartoon Network" online.)


For more info (in marketingese, here's something I lifted from a website called Castlemoyer.com.

All New Design!
4th Edition
Spelling Power

This famous, award-winning spelling program by Beverly L. Adams-Gordon just became better. Now featuring 21st century technology, it still teaches solid back-to-basic spelling skills. Since 1994, Spelling Power has given home educators the perfect way to teach comprehensive spelling skills to their whole family. (See What's New in Spelling Power.)

Your students will use this research proven program to master the 5,000 most frequently used words. These words are divided into 11 levels based on their usage. Each level of Spelling Power’s unique word list is then further organized by phonetic principles and spelling rules.

Additional words that your students needs to master are taken from your student’s own writing errors and added to your Spelling Power program using the provided resources. Your students continue to study each of these words until they have spelled them correctly at least once. Then Spelling Power’s i>spiral curriculum approach of repeated, spaced review assures your students will master every word they study. And your students will master them! Spelling Power’s six levels of built-in review guarantees that every word taught will be mastered.

Multi-sensory study steps, inductive learning activities, interesting skill-building activities and games, and the incorporation of spelling into the rest of your curriculum are integral aspects of Adams-Gordon’s Spelling Power program. Everything you need to teach each of your students spelling skills to the college level is contained in this one easy-to-use, step-by-step curriculum package. You’ll even find everything you need to know to teach them proofreading and dictionary skills.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite writers. In a biography I was reading lately, it mentions a group of fellow writers and thinkers in England who met regularly at the pub to discuss their writing.
They called themselves the Inklings.

I suggested the name to my little class of homeschooled high school writers who come to my home every Thursday. They latched onto it with alacrity. The two main differences between us and Lewis's cronies? We don't smoke cigars and we don't care about British royalty. (At least I don't.)

I just love the clever triple meaning "inklings."

1) youngins with a shared penchant for pens
2) followers of Mother Ink (me)
3) ponderings, thoughts, feelings, hunches

I love my Inklings, Maggie and Becca. They are eager to be better writers. They welcome constructive criticism (and don't cry at the sight of ink spilled like blood on the page). They are insightful, opinionated, funny, and diligent. A teacher's dream class, I'd say. I love that I can give them six or ten things to work on in one week. This week, for example:

-Avoid cliches.
-Eliminate run-on sentences. Separate complete but similar thoughts with punctuation; that's why it was invented.
-Omit "very" before adjectives (lazy; use strong adj instead).
-Organize your writing before you start. Good writing follows good thinking.
-Don't use "this" as an pronoun. (This is bad.) Make "this" an adjective: This habit is better than that.
- Be concise.
-Vary sentence structure. Don't always start with a prep phrase, a subject, or a gerund.
- Use special punctuation sparingly. Most sentences need only a period. Exclamation points are overused and therefore lack emphasis. It's okay to say, "Fire!" but not, "The building was on fire!"
-Avoid "there are." Take a look at the words following "there are" and see if you can start the sentence with one of them.
-Use active voice (the boy wiped his butt) instead of the passive voice (the butt was wiped by the boy). We all like boys to wipe their own butts, especially when they start school, but I've already mentioned that in an earlier post, and am therefore committing the cardinal sin of writing which is wordiness that we all want to avoid like the plague at all costs because it makes the reader pant with breathless anticipation for an end mark such as a period, question mark, or exclamation point!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Six Things That Make Me Happy

A tag from Krista.

1. Driving my convertible with the top down on an 85-degree day.

2. Teaching. Those "a-ha!" moments when students finally "get it" intellectually. Or, like today, when one of my students got a terrific grade on this year's first history quiz and said, "Mrs. Zubrowski! I can't wait to show my mom! She'll explode with surprisement!"

3. Brian Regan's humor. My favorite sketch lately is his one about run-on sentences. Go to YouTube and search the key word "reading". He also has a hilarious bit about lazy writing. "Take, for example, the phrase, 'one thing led to another.' Paraphrasing his joke, "I hate it when people write, 'One thing led to another and--. What kind of lazy writing is that? Ummm... (pretending to read), "Adolph Hitler's application to art school was rejected. One thing led to another and the United States was engaged in war with Germany."

4. Princess Diana roses blooming up around my lamppost. As I get out of the van (or into it), I get a lovely whiff . The salmon color is beautiful in summer or fall arrangements.

5. Being told I smell good, especially by my husband or littlest child. But I like to think my students notice and keep the compliment tucked away in the Fond Memories section of their brain. I want to be one of those teachers who is remembered for smelling good. Thirty-eight years from now I want my students to smell a perfume that triggers wonderful memories of their 5th/6th grade year when they learned how life-changing it is to understand the difference between direct and indirect objects.

6. Having my hair shampooed. If I were independently wealthy, I would pay just to have someone else shampoo my hair and massage my head whenever I want, for as long as I want, at the exact temperature I want, and never get my collar wet in the process.

If you share any of these "happinesses," you're tagged. You don't have to use them in your tag, I just want to see who identifies with my little loves in life.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Praying for Dawn to Meet the Light (new title!)

I realized several hours after posting this that my old title was theologically incorrect. It was "Praying for the Light to Meet the Dawn." Silly me! The Light--Jesus Christ--has known her since before the foundation of the world. It is Dawn who needs to meet Him!

In our care group is a tender-hearted, evangelistic couple named Toby and Kelly. Several weeks ago Kelly told us that she had a burden for the families in her neighborhood, namely the women.

She wanted to start a ladies' evening Bible study that would accomodate women who work during the day--which is probably 75% of her neighbors. Her husband asked her to stroll around the neighborhood 7 times, praying for the women, before handing out even one invitation.

(I joked, "So, at the end of the seventh march, are you gonna blow a trumpet and flee from all the tumbling houses?) She complied with Toby's wishes. And, for the record, all the houses are still standing.

We prayed together at length over this matter during a care group. In so doing, I got a picture of a woman with her nose pressed up against her window, watching for someone to come to her door with the good news of Jesus Christ. This woman, in my vision, was a petite woman, nearly pixie-like, with long blonde hair. I shared the vision with the group, albeit a bit timidly, and also shared that I saw several houses on her street lit up at night. The houses that were lit up had been touched by the Light Himself.

In faith, Toby and Kelly printed up invitations and she passed them out to women on their end of the street (I'm thinking about 20?)

What happened next gave me goosebumps. The first night (last Monday) Kelly had only one lady come to the Bible study. Her name is Dawn. She had been wanting to read her Bible more, but didn't exactly know how to get started. Kelly described her as Catholic, a social networker, having blonde hair below the shoulders, and "so small you could put her in your pocket."

Her name is Dawn. What is dawn but the first light?

Please pray that more ladies would come to the Bible study tonight. It's the book of Mark in which Jesus is clearly on display.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I Won! I Won!

Are you familiar with the "Ah--Um" game? Radio station WRBS plays it daily. The way it's played is this: the DJ gives you a topic and you have 20 seconds to talk about it (live! on air!) without saying "ah" or "um." So I was driving along to school and Sarah was with me when they asked for callers to try to win a CD by playing the game. She dialed, got through, handed me the phone, and I was chatting with Tracie Tiernan and Mike Alley.

I had to talk about why a Mac computer is clearly better than others.

I rattled on (a bunch of b.s., really) about how graphic artists and designers love them, how they store a lot of memory (don't they all?) and how I'd love to own one someday (not that I truly do, but I had to fill time).

Ever wonder if you can be put on the spot without saying "ah" or "um" for 20 whole seconds? It's a little challenging.

But I managed to do it and won a CD called "God of the City" with songs from Matt Redman, David Crowder Band, Chris Tomlin, and others.

My 20 seconds of fame will air next Wednesday, I think around 8:05 or 8:10 a.m., but I'm not sure. Listen in to hear me making an idiot of myself on a topic I clearly know nothing about. Well, except that a laptop Mac makes a cool-looking, if a bit flat, birthday cake!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years Ago Today

I was homeschooling. Joel was in utero. The TV was off, as usual during the day, and Paul called to tell me around 9 a.m. I was stunned. I turned the TV on real fast to catch the news for myself. When the I thought I was tuning in to replay after replay of what I thought was the ONLY crash, along came a second plane! I remember how sick, how utterly, numbingly sick I felt. This was real and it was no accident.

Today I wept as I prayed for all those who lost loved ones as a result, whether at Ground Zero or overseas in the military since 9/11.

Where were you and what were you doing when you heard the news of the terrorist attacks on
the Twin Towers?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Stephen Lacks Wisdom (teeth) Now

Please pray for him. He had 4 wisdom teeth pulled today. The surgery went well. Didn't have to drill into the bone. His jaw is all swollen and he has texted me instead of talking:). Right now he's not at all perky on Percocet. Zonked out is more like it.

Did you check out Sarah's blog, btw? Very cute music tag answers.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Showing my Age, I Guess

On the way into the church building yesterday morning, I stopped to chat with Gracie, one of my second grade art students
from co-op last year. A boy named Kyle, slightly younger than she, stood nearby.

I asked Gracie if she knew who would be her art teacher this year.

"You?" she asked, smiling.

"No, Gracie, I'm sorry, I won't be teaching at co-op this year. Joel goes to this school now and I'll be teaching art and other stuff here."

"Oh," she said. "Then I don't know who it will be."

Just then Kyle tapped Gracie on the shoulder and asked, "Is that your grandma?"

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Musical Tag

Sacha tagged me. I feel so special, it's making my hair curl more. :)

Rules of the game:
- Choose a singer/band/group
- Answer using ONLY titles of songs by that singer/band/group

So I bent the rules a little. Somebody call the tag police, quick!

1. Are you male or female?
Little Girls

2. Describe yourself.
You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile

3. How do people feel when they're around you?
You Won't be an Orphan for Long

4. How would you describe your previous relationships?
Something Was Missing

5. Describe your current relationship.
It's the Hard-Knock Life . Just kidding, Honey.

6. Something you want to say to your significant other?
Let's Go to the Movies

7. How do you feel about love?
I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here

8. What's your life like?
We'd Like to Thank You

9. What would you ask for if you had only one wish?
Easy Street

10. Say something wise.
"The sun'll come out Tomorrow"

I tag Karen S, Laurie, Sarah, and Betty.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Vignette of the Sea and Sky

Atlantic Ocean curling toward shore
White, foamy crests rushing to greet the sand
If only to say "hello!" and "goodbye!" with one quick wave.

Shells wash up, some broken, some whole
Twisted amber, fanning azure
Yet each one a beautiful remnant of an abandoned home.

Platinum sky turns milky blue
Sun puckers up and kisses the sea each morning,
Outdoing the other with sparkle and shine.

Toddlers smack grit from chubby hands,
Tiptoe into cold water, squeal with fear and delight.
Daddy, don't let go, you're all I've got.

Bigger boys with boogie boards race to their next ride
Can't wait for the tide
To come to them.

Girls in tankinis scan the water for critters
Get the jitters
When jellyfish and sharks seize their imaginings.

Mamas and pappas, depending on age
Sit on old blankets with camcorders, magazines
Sunscreen and snacks.

Lifeguard, ever vigilant, twirls a whistle 'round his finger
Shifting in his wooden throne,
Ready to rescue or wave a red flag.

Sun slips across the horizon,
Turning red like a ripening papaya,
Queen of the western sky.

Hush of night
Black sea, diamonds of the moon flickering on her face.
Gentleness personified.