Archive for December 2011

Wrapping Up Fall 2011

December 26, 2011

Wow, another semester (and almost another year) is over.  We’re officially on two weeks of Christmas break.  We finished up most of our semester on December 16th, but then Bailey had a light week of math and spelling.  We’ll do another light week of math and spelling before officially starting the Spring 2012 semester on January 16th.

I feel like we got a lot accomplished this semester.  Bailey did very well on writing complete sentences and getting her capitalization and punctuation under control in her journal writing.  She read about Mozart and George Washington and a junior edition of Gulliver’s Travels during her independent reading time in addition to other history selections from Story of the World (v. 3).  She did 85 spelling tests within Sequential Spelling.  And in history we covered the time period between 1650 and 1800, including the American Revolution.

Bailey also completed Wordly Wise 3000 level 3, and next semester she’ll be moving on to Vocabulary from Classical Roots level 4.  And having completed the CD-ROM for Mind Benders A3 & A4 for her Logic, she’ll move on to Mind Benders B1 & B2.  It’s made for grades 7-12, so we may have to do a slower pace with it if it becomes too over-whelming

Religion was a little bumpy since we lost her catechism for about three weeks.  I had to wing the instruction with a review of several important prayers.  Her Achilles heel this semester was division, specifically the long variety.  There were many, many tears shed.  But she is starting to get it, and I know that by the end of next semester it will be no worse than subtraction is for her now (unpleasant but not seemingly impossible).

Piper is doing really well with her kindergarten work.  She has almost completed the first two workbooks on her Explode the Code Online.  Her interest in it has waned some as it has become more challenging, but at the same time she was excited to see how well she could now read some little primers I had tucked away.  She is just breezing through first grade level math, and if she had her preference she would do math every day.  I don’t want her to completely neglect her reading instruction, though (especially since it’s a paid subscription with a time limit).  I also don’t want her rushing through her math and getting so far ahead that she suddenly finds herself in over her head.  Next semester I might consider expanding her schoolwork to doing both everyday.

I feel like I have kind of let Katie down.  When things started being set in motion for my mother-in-law to move in, our daily story and activity time kind of fell to the wayside.  But now that Granny is here she has had another person who likes to read her stories.  She also likes to spend hours just looking through books lately, so I have been trying to get her some stuff she might be interested in from the library.  For instance, when she took an interest in space I borrowed a few easy readers about the solar system.  I’m really hoping in January to incorporate a little workbook or other activity work with her each day.

Sabrina is having a language explosion as she has started saying new words, mimicking her sisters a lot.  It will be interesting to see how much she grows and developments over the next five months.


7 Quick Takes (v. 58)

December 23, 2011

1.  After today we are starting two full weeks of Christmas break from homeschooling.  We’ve been on a reduced schedule this past week (just math and spelling for Bailey), and we’ll do another reduced week before starting our Spring semester in January.  This of course means that I have roughly three weeks to put the finishing touches on the Spring semester, and then I’ll have to start thing thinking about the summer and next school year.  I actually like the planning part of homeschooling, but I’m glad that it’s something I can do in spurts for the most part.

2.  Katie is getting ready to go through a big transition whether she is ready for it or not.  After things settle down in January (as if things ever really do settle down around here), she’ll be switching places in the family bed with Sabrina to move to the twin bed.  This is so we can eventually transition her out of our room completely after she turns four in May.  Of course, before she can completely move out we still have to get two sets of bunk beds for the girls’ room or there will be nowhere for her to go.  That will have to wait for our tax refund.

3.  Sabrina is at such a great age right now.  They are so much fun at 18 months (until they start going nuts at 2 1/2).  And she seems to have a sweet temperament anyway.  She loves to eat and will try almost any new food.  And no one likes to get cozy as much as Sabrina.  She’ll grab a blanket and pillow and curl up on the couch to watch her show.  She’s also discovered singing lately, treating us to Jingle Bells last night at dinner.

4.  Piper was so psyched to see Santa the other day.  She’s been torturing me with Fijit Friends videos off YouTube for months now, so Santa better deliver.  😉

5.  Bailey started playing basketball a few weeks ago with the same sports organization for girls that she played softball through in the spring.  Apparently their use of the term “organization” is still applied loosely for the basketball division as well.  Her coach is very frustrated that she hasn’t even been given a schedule for any more practices or the first games, which are supposed to be just a few weeks away.  But Bailey has been enjoying basketball much more than softball because basketball is more active and it’s indoors.

6.  We’ve had a fairly mild fall/early winter so far this year.  There have only been two snow falls, and everything melted immediately.  This might be the first brown Christmas we’ve experienced since we moved up here to the Chicago area in 2003, although they were the norm back in Kentucky.  I’m totally not complaining.  I really don’t miss slipping and sliding on an icy driveway when I go to take the garbage out.

7.  Yesterday I went to the grocery store to pick up some steak and potatoes for Christmas dinner.  Today and tomorrow I need to get everyone bathed and the downstairs cleaned up.  We’re going to try hitting the Christmas Vigil Mass for the first time this year instead of going on Christmas morning.  Maybe I can use the Christmas Eve present as leverage for good behavior during Mass.  LOL


Once Upon a Time

December 21, 2011

Well, I’ve gotten into a new show:  Once Upon a Time.  For anyone who has been living under a rock like me, the basic premise is that fairy tale characters have been cursed to live in our dimension in a small town in Maine with no memory of their original lives.  The only people who know the truth are the Evil Queen/Mayor and her adopted son, Henry, although everyone thinks he’s just delusional.  But he has a book of fairy tales and knows that the only person who can break the curse is his birth mother, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming in the fairy tale dimension.  Yes, as I type this out, I know how completely insane this sounds, but apparently a lot of people like this insanity because another 15 episodes are in the works.

After watching the first episode I did a little research and learned that the concept was developed by two former writers for Lost, and the format for Once Upon a Time is exactly the same as Lost.  Each episode follows the storyline in our dimension as well as a background story for one or more characters in the fairy tale dimension.  I’ve realized that this character-driven story-telling is what hooked people into watching Lost and had them sticking with Lost even when it became completely boggling.

However, Once Upon a Time is also under the influence of some of Joss Whedon’s proteges, namely Jane Espenson.  It’s opening explanation at the beginning of every episode is straight out of the first few seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  And this is where Once Upon a Time avoids the Lost trap.  The story lines twist, combine, and expand classic fairy tales, but the creators are very clear that the fairy tale dimension is real.  They don’t lead the audience on to wonder if it is or isn’t.

The writers are having fun, though, throwing in Lost references and bringing in favorite actors and actresses from Lost and Buffy for small roles.  I’ve watched the first seven episodes through Hulu and On Demand, and I can’t wait until #8 airs in January.  I’ll actually have two shows to watch at the start of the year since Downton Abbey also returns for its second series.  This will have to hold me until the next season of Doctor Who starts.

Rosary Beads

December 10, 2011

When I was in the third grade, I had my only habited nun for a teacher, Sister Ernestine.  She assumed that everyone had received a rosary upon receiving their First Holy Eucharist the previous year and insisted that we all bring our rosaries to school.  Every day after lunch and recess we would pull out our rosaries and go through it.  Looking back I can see the genius behind this.  Not only did this reinforce that all of us learned the “Our Father”, “Hail Mary”, and “Glory Be” by heart, but it also bored 30 young children exuberant after time running around on the playground into dull submission once again.  (This may also be the reason that some Catholic families traditionally said it together before bedtime.)

I remember Sister Ernestine citing each mystery at the start of each decade, but they didn’t really hold much meaning.  I guess I figured that was just something you were supposed to do as part of the process, like taking the cap off your toothpaste before you brushed your teeth.  At the time I didn’t learn until much later that the mysteries were kind of the whole point of saying the Holy Rosary.

That school year was the first and last time I even remember being required to say the Rosary, and I wonder if the the other third grade homeroom that did not have a nun said the Rosary, too.  I don’t even remember the Rosary being discussed much at all after third grade, which is very strange given that my high school was named Holy Rosary Academy.  We were given cheap plastic and nylon rosaries at the end of our Senior Retreat, as a parting gift, and that was about it.

When I was in a college, I went on another religious retreat with a few friends.  During one of our sessions, we were told to repeat a phrase over and over again.  It was explained to us that repeating a phrase over and over could keep one part of your brain busy making it easier to focus the other part on spiritual things.  For a moment it seemed like another part of the puzzle about the Holy Rosary fell into place.  The prayers that we repeated, five decades of the “Hail Mary”, were there to kind of be a positive distraction.  I don’t think this fully sunk in until much much later.

Now to an outsider, the Holy Rosary seems like a prayer to Mary; that’s why it is often reviled or misunderstood by many Protestants.  It really wasn’t until recently that I, a cradle Catholic, put it all together.  I don’t remember if it was an article or blog post that put the pieces together for me.  But basically while we’re saying the prayers of the Holy Rosary we are supposed to be meditating on the Mysteries of the Rosary, which follow 20 milestones in Jesus’ life.  The Joyful Mysteries start with His conception, the newer Luminous Mysteries focus on His miracles, the Sorrowful Mysteries climax with His crucifixion, and the Glorious Mysteries follow from His resurrection to His heavenly crowning of His mother, Mary, who was there with him through it all.

Because Mary was there through it all, she offers us an eye-witness account and a new way to focus our perspective on what happened, through her.  It’s like seeing the story for the first time in the shoes of someone who was really there.  What would it be like to be the mother of the Son of God?  What would it be like to see him suffer and die?  How would it feel to see and talk to and hug him again after his resurrection?  It gives Christ’s story a more personal touch.

Now I see a beauty to the Holy Rosary that I could never fathom before.  Unfortunately, I still find it extremely tedious and complicated to say.  It just feels like a weight in my hands and heart.  That’s why I was so elated when I discovered the Divine Mercy Chaplet a month ago.  It seems so much simpler (although I still need to memorize some of the prayers) and quicker.  The purpose is very straight forward…..”have mercy on us and on the whole world”.

It wasn’t until I was researching the Divine Mercy Chaplet that I learned that there are actually several different chaplets that use the traditional rosary beads, and some that even have their own specialized set of beads.  They each focus on a different aspect of our relationship to God.   Catholic theologian Scott Hahn actually talks about the Rosary as another example of the multi-sensory approach to prayer and teaching that is prominent in the Catholic Church.  The multiple devotions that can be done using one set of ordinary beads reminds me of the choice and diversity within the Church:  the choice between the Tridentine and Novus Ordo Mass, different types of optional prayers from the Holy Rosary and Novenas to the Divine Office, and the cultural flavors of a world-wide Church when I sometimes go to the predominantly Asian Catholic Church in my town or see the gigantic display for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at my predominantly Hispanic Catholic Church.

Recently I went on an online quest for CDs of the Divine Mercy Chaplet and/or Holy Rosary.  I have found that the van is a great place for quiet prayer and meditation when I am out and about running errands.  Unfortunately, most of the ones I found involved singing the prayers; I really just wanted a straight up saying of them.  Then I found this website that offers a “free” recitation CD of the Holy Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet; there’s just a one dollar transaction fee per disc that you order.  I went ahead and ordered three copies:  one of the house, one for the van, and one as a back-up.

I’ve also been thinking that I should try to incorporate the Rosary more into our homeschool religious instruction.  It is such an amazing teaching tool between the prayers and the Mysteries.  And even if my children never recite the Rosary again without me forcing them to (and I have no doubt that a certain amount of force will be involved) they will have that particular weapon in their prayer arsenal should they ever want/need to use it.  I can’t help but thinking of Sister Ernestine smiling down from me in heaven with her pitch pipe in one hand and her rosary in the other.


December 7, 2011

My NaNoWriMo journal is a sad tale in and of itself:  the excitement, the perseverance in the face of slight concern about word count, the rally, the desperate rationalization, the final disappointment.  It makes me laugh to think about it now.

As I mentioned at the end of my journal, the whole process put some things in perspective for me.

  1. I really did have delusions of grandeur.  I figured I would breeze through the 50,000 mark, and then perhaps I would send my novel off to some publishers and one would eventually love it.  Or I would self-publish it, and a fancy publisher would hear about it from word of mouth and have to have it.  LOL
  2. Writing a novel is extremely time-consuming.  And I’m not sure that this was the point in my life to really be jumping into that ocean.
  3. Over the years I had begun to suspect, and this process may have confirmed, that I am not a really creative person.  My current story was inspired by a movie from 1998 (it gave me the general idea but not the characters or plot).  I think I am really good at taking someone else’s idea and organizing/improving it/expanding it.  I don’t know, though, that I could come up with a story that wasn’t inspired by something else I had seen.
  4. No other idea has haunted me like that one, so if I couldn’t get 50,000 words out of it, then I doubt that I could come up with something next year to make the word count.  I probably will not be doing NaNoWriMo next year.
  5. Now this a little big bigger thing that I realized, why I write:

Writing is something I have always had an interest in.  In my valedictorian speech from high school I remember saying that I hoped to write a novel some day.  I don’t remember if I used the word “published”, but I am sure that I meant the word published.  At that point I had been writing “stories” for years, but they were mostly long rambling things about me and my friends, except we all had sassy pseudonyms.  Back then I wrote to entertain my friends and deal with teenage angst and/or get a grade.

In college, I took some creative writing courses to fulfill my requirements as an English minor.  Looking back I don’t think I learned a damn thing about writing in those classes, nothing like what I learned from reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.  My stories had a little more focus, but they had no real over-arching theme.  They were really just empty plot.  Back then I wrote to impress my friends and deal with college relationship angst and/or get a grade.

For the past 12 years, since I graduated from college, I started stories from time to time, but I never finished them.  Some of my ideas for my current story have been fermenting, like I said, since 1998.  NaNoWriMo kind of gave me a real reasons to write beyond just  a vague desire.  It gave me a goal of 50,000 words; a goal which I failed to reach.  And maybe I failed to reach it because I was writing for the wrong reasons.  Maybe I wasn’t writing what I was supposed to be writing, and I was writing just to serve myself.

I write my blog mostly to serve myself, too.  It’s really a journal of my thoughts/reflections/goings on that I have decided to make public.  It’s also a hobby, one that I don’t want to feel tied to every single day like popular bloggers are.  As a result I rarely ever look at my blog stats.  I really don’t care how many people are regularly reading my blog or how popular/unpopular it is.

However, I said “mostly to serve myself”.  I also hope that something I write might help one person see things in a different (and what I think is better) way or just help them period.

But I was writing my novel completely just to serve myself.  Even though it had some religious over-tones, I didn’t really think that it would help anyone solve their own moral quandaries or teach them much more about faith.  I was writing with a secret dream of being famous, and maybe a little rich.  LOL

My priest gave an interesting homily the second Sunday of Advent in which he noted that fame does not make a person great.  A person becomes great by serving something bigger that himself, by serving God.  The next time I write something I hope that I am writing something that might help people, that will allow me to serve others more than myself.

This has got me thinking that maybe novels aren’t really what I should be doing.  I’m not saying that other people can’t serve a high purpose by writing novels.  Sometimes people just need good entertainment.  I’m not sure, though, that one of my strengths is being entertaining (unless its the entertainment that being an unconscious idiot can provide).  So, maybe I should focus my time and energy and desire to write in a different direction other than fiction.

My NaNoWriMo Journal

December 4, 2011

October 31, 2011

Tomorrow is the first official day of National Novel Writing Month, and this will be my first time participating.  I haven’t decided if I’m actually going to register with the NaNoWriMo website, but I’m going to see if I can put together a 50,000 word “novel”.  I thought I would throw together a little journal blog post about the experience.

I’ve been spending the past week making notes and plans, which is allowed under the rules.  You just aren’t supposed to write your first word until November 1.  I picked up Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and I’ve been rushing to finish it the past few days.  It has given me so much useful information to make my novel way better than it would have been otherwise.  Most importantly it’s given me some confidence that I might even make it through the writing process.

I’ve got 31 scenes plotted out at this point.  Last night I had to draw a rough map of the setting, so that I could get the details of a plot point correct in my mind.  I’ve been doing lots of research that has probably been setting off warning bells at Homeland Security (military information).  I don’t want to give away any details of the story, because frankly I’m kind of embarrassed.  I have no delusions of grandeur.  But it’s a drama with a sci-fi element.  I just keep imagining scenes in my mind.  Who knows when I’ll find the time tomorrow to sit down and start actually writing them out.

November 1, 2011

I wrote about 3000 words today, split between the first four scenes.  I did it in snatches of twenty minutes here and there for a total of about two hours.  The first time I set my time for 20 minutes I was interrupted after 3 minutes to deal with preschooler potty issues and put the toddler down for the nap.  That’s the way it goes, though.  If I can keep up this pace, I should have no problem reaching 50,000 words.  It really helps that I have all of my scenes plotted out.  I know exactly what details I want to get across going in.

November 6, 2011

I didn’t get to do any writing at all yesterday, but today I managed to complete the first two scenes of Part II.  Story Engineering broke stories down into four parts, and then I have each part broken down into scenes.  I have written eleven scenes total so far over 21 pages in Microsoft Word.  (I can’t help wondering how that translates into the common type-setting of books.)  I started a new document for each part and added headers with the part and word count listed for easy reference.

11,376 words down.  38,624 to go.  But I’m at least slightly ahead of schedule (minimum of 1600 words per day).

November 9,2011

I’m halfway through my story and I’m only at 14,986 words.  This has me slightly worried that even if complete all the scenes that I have planned I won’t hit 50,000 words.  I know there are details that I need to go back and incorporate into the story.  And of course, everything needs to be proofread.

Part of me has been thinking about any new scenes that could be added to lengthen the story.  Another part of me is thinking that everything I’ve plotted out my really just be Act 1 of a two-act story.  In which case, I would quickly need to plot out the second Act like I did the first act.  I don’t know if this would reflect inspired genius or just desperation.

November 15, 2011

I have 25, 285 words.  I’m halfway there (word wise) and the month is half over.  But I am three quarters through the story I have plotted.  I decided just to write out the scenes I have plotted.  If I have time I will go back in the editing process and see if I can lengthen what I have.  If it still doesn’t make 50,000 words, oh well.  My goal was to see if I could start a story and actually finish it.  The word count is really a secondary goal, and I still haven’t registered with the official site.

This last section had nine scenes, and it was my longest section of the three.  My last quarter of the story is set for eleven scenes.  We’ll see if I get 25,000 words out of it.  I seriously doubt it, though.  I’ll just have to see what happens.

November 24, 2011

It’s Thanksgiving.  I just finished telling my story.  But I’m only at 34,402 words.  There are six days left in the month.  My main goal was just to finish my story.  Anything from this point on is just icing.  Ideally over the next six days I hope to have time to go back over the entire story, proofread, and edit.  There may be room to add another scene or two here or there, but to be honest I’m getting a little tired.

This whole process has been a big drain on my time, but I’m glad that I’ve done it.  I’m glad to have finished a story for the first time since probably high school, and that writing back then was total soap opera drivel.  For the first time I think I’ve written something of substance.

November 26, 2011

Yesterday I tried to print out my story, but I ran out of ink in my printer with 12 pages left.  That being said, it was a lot thicker than I imagined it would be, about 70 pages.  It seems more real seeing it in print.  I’m going to try to get a new ink cartridge today in order to print out those pages and then I’ll see how much editing I can get done in the next four days.

December 4, 2011

It’s been four days since NaNoWriMo officially ended.  I still had three pages to left to edit at the end of the day on November 30th, and I was still only at 35,785.  I found a spot where I could have added another chapter without comprising the stories integrity, but I doubt I could have made up all of the 14,000+ word difference for the contest in that chapter.  I must admit that it’s a little disappointing that I couldn’t hit the 50,000 word mark, especially since that is actually about 20,000 words short of most published novels.  The whole process has put some things in perspective, and that might warrant a blog post in and of itself.

In the meantime, I do hope to find the time in the next few weeks to finish editing those three pages, and maybe I’ll write that extra chapter.  Then I might put the story away for a little while.  I think in some ways I am still too close to it now to fully assess how good I think my novel is.  I’m also not sure that I’m brave enough to share it with anyone yet.