Author Archive


and on the seventh day…

   Posted by: liz    in hobnob theatre co.

If you’ve been in a high-intensity artistic project, you have, no doubt, experienced the “let-down” that comes in the days following its finish.

Not only is it because you’ve been spending a lot of time with friends (although that is a big part of it), but it’s also because your creative juices have been flowing over the course of the production and then all of a sudden, they stop. It’s like the headaches you get when you cut out caffeine or sugar from your diet. The dictionary defines withdrawal as “an act or process of withdrawing; retreat, removal, or detachment.”

In theatre, you spend a lot of time making yourself vulnerable around the same people as you bring a story to life. Once you are all on stage, in front of an audience, it comes together like a charm. You still make yourself vulnerable with your fellow actors, director, and even the stage crew: perhaps you said a word funny, or that accent just didn’t work well on that particular line, or you almost forgot a line. Every time you create, or use your creative forces to create, you make yourself vulnerable; you are showing your humanity. We all mess up, and we all succeed in our creative choices.  Still, it’s enthralling putting yourself out there and being a completely different person with friends who are also performing different characters. Telling a story and using your artistic talents is exhilerating and exhausting all at the same time.

Monreale_god_resting_after_creationSo that period of let-down, or withdrawal, that one feels in the empty long days following the closing of a production is normal and expected. And holy.

The creation story in Genesis recalls how the Creator of the Universe also rested. In Genesis 2:2-3 it says,

“By the seventh day, God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.” (New International Version)

Even in the Enuma Elish, an ancient near-Eastern text that includes a very similar creation account from the god Marduk, there is a period of rest following the act of the creation of the universe.

We were created to be creative, but also to rest. Our production closed last Saturday night, and Sunday through Tuesday I lived in my pajamas. Sure, I felt guilty for not being productive. But I needed it. By Wednesday, I was ready to be a functioning part of society again. A lot of people don’t have the luxury of detaching as I did: Kenny had to go into work on Monday and Tuesday. Several people (also including Kenny) from our cast are currently working on the local production of Jesus Christ Superstar, so their creative juices (and evenings spent together) are still a-flowing. But eventually, they will rest.

Resting is a necessity.

We are all meant for rest, so that we can begin again.


Photo In the Public Domain: Byzantine mosaic: Monreale god is resting after creation.



   Posted by: liz    in family, farm, food

at dinner tonight, one of the boys asked, “remember that farm when we’d go to get milk in a jar?”

it’s been a while since we’d bought raw milk. soccer was canceled (because of the rain, and bad field conditions), and kenny had rehearsal for the musical he’s working on with another company.  so the boys and i dug out our old half gallon mason jars, cleaned them out and headed towards Slate Lick to the farm we used to frequent for raw milk when the boys were much younger.

it rained the whole drive there, but towards the end of the drive, there is a summit that is always so gorgeous. tonight, it was especially beautiful with low-hanging clouds horizontally slicing the far mountains in half (click to enlarge for detail):


the entire 26-minute drive isn’t all this idyllic. in fact, parts of it are downright frightening. there’s the steep hill that reminds me of an episode of Twin Peaks:


and then not a mile away, i swear i’ve stumbled onto the set of The Walking Dead:




These scenes are especially eerie with the cloudy dark skies surrounding them. The country around us can go from gorgeous to strangely desserted-looking quickly.  I guess that’s what you get out in big land country.




A Woman, Deconstructed.

   Posted by: liz    in hobnob theatre co.

flirtThe playbill proof was waiting to be approved. We had an hour to approve and send it back so that the 700 playbills would be printed in time for our upcoming production of A Christmas Carol. It was perfect. But what kept us from approving it was doubt.

In it contained a “Coming up next from hobnob theatre co….” and a silhouette graphic of Victorian men and woman behind the title A Woman of No Importance. We doubted if it was the right choice for our next show. We doubted if Butler would embrace Oscar Wilde’s serious side. We, ourselves, were sure of it: the play was funny, deliciously word-filled, and meaningful. Not only would it make people laugh and entertain them, it also served as a conversation starter…a story that audience members might be thinking of for a few days after seeing it.

When you run a theatre company, you need to keep several factors in mind: Will actors want to audition for this show?  Will the public want to come see this kind of play? Will we be able to do this play justice?  It’s a lot of pressure!

We doubted. But finally, we approved the proof and the playbill for our 700-member audience of A Christmas Carol and actors and future audience members alike expected us to move on this, now that it was in print.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

We have spent the last two and a half months recreating Oscar Wilde’s drawing room comedy characters and conversations. The witty banter, jokes on life, marriage, society, and questions about family ties, lies, and secrets came to life by so many talented people.

Leslie, our costume designer, created and built costumes that were perfect for each person. Whether it was a borrowed costume or one she built from scratch, the costumes framed the actors perfectly. This is the second show she has worked on with us and she is a gem! She knows the time periods so well…knows when a child would wear tights, or a dowager would wear gloves, and when they wouldn’t. Both Kenny and I have worked with her as directors and it’s so liberating to allow the costumer to show you their creations and know that they’re perfect, and everything you imagined for the characters.

kenny(Photo of Kenny, introducing the play to an invited audience at our dress rehearsal.)

Kenny directed this show, and he brought together a cast of actors who fit so well together, and who took over their roles with ease. I watched Kenny toil behind the scenes, outside of rehearsal, on weekends, and in the wee hours of the morning to make this the production he had in his mind the first time he listened to it. He was enamored with the script at first read, then listened to it several times and knew that he wanted to produce it. He never let the cast see his detail-oriented self get frustrated. If your director doesn’t give you direction, doesn’t guide your character choices to fit his/her vision of the show, and doesn’t also encourage you along the way, what is the point? Anyone can shuffle people around a stage reciting their lines. But a good director works with each of their actors and allows them to create and have fun with their lines all the while encouraging them in their craft. I think Kenny did this perfectly. He was always very supportive in our choices, and when we interpreted lines or blocking in a way he thought didn’t bring out the best in our character, he guided us elsewhere. But gently. I’ve been in far too many companies where the director sits and yells, throws up their hands and yells, gets frustrated and yells…never communicates. How can you help guide the creativity of a group of artists by being a drill sergeant?

sillyLike so many of the great playwrights (I’m including Shakespeare, and then the more modern Chekhov, Ibsen, Wilde, Shaw, and then even more modern, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Stoppard, Friel, and O’Casey) you can’t just start blocking and running scenes.  There needs to be included in the rehearsal schedule a time to discuss, talk about, and play with the language that is on the page. Wilde’s characters have so much fun just talking to each other. The actors needed to be having fun with each other, just like their characters were.

In A Woman of No Importance, Wilde weaves together two stories over the course of four Acts. The play starts off like a scene from The Importance of Being Ernest…character introductions of the plays funniest characters. As the play progresses, a serious storyline is introduced, some humorous scenes are then sprinkled throughout, and the play closes on a completely serious note.  The audience goes from laughing constantly, to being completely silent as the drama unfolds.

angstI was honored to be an actor in this show, and I was challenged from the very beginning straight through to our closing performance. The talent that I was able to work with urged me on to be better, work harder, and be more real. I played the role of a mother of a grown son. It isn’t so far fetched, as my own three sons are growing rapidly. I wasn’t able to fully employ method acting in this role as I have no “grown son” experiences to pull from. But it wasn’t difficult to connect with my character at all: a woman who loves her son more than anything else in the world. What I did find difficult about this character was the ability to put myself into this set of societal rules in which the story takes place, and remove myself from my 21st century frame of mind. My modern view would ask, “Why on earth couldn’t she just move on with her life and her son and although it would be painful at first, forget about the man who left them in the first place?” But Rachel Arbuthnot’s society scripted her life for her: she really WAS disgraced, dishonored, and ignored if she didn’t lie about her “dead husband,” and if her secret, that she had a child outside of marriage, was found out. Not even the sweet Lady Hunstanton would call her friend. What I still can’t connect with was her choice not to forgive. Until the bitter end, she is unforgiving towards Lord Illingworth. Perhaps her Archdeacon’s sermons never touched on the topic of forgiveness. Or she didn’t listen. I think Oscar Wilde has a very dramatic familyending, and it works well for the stage. And again, the fact that she has no forgiveness, and even hate, for this fellow human, can be what the audience mulls over on their walk home from the theatre. But it was and still is, something that I never full connected with in my character.

I also don’t know how other theatre owners act in their own shows over and over. We are a small theatre company. We’re certainly not getting rich on it (we call this a very expensive habit), and that’s not our goal. But we do want to be able to create characters in our own shows from time to time. I enjoyed so much to be able to act again (after 15 years!), but I will wait a while to act in a hobnob performance. The stress of partnering with the producer and director AND being ready to walk on stage as a character with a lot of lines was rough at times. I will be so glad to work with these actors again on stage, but perhaps in a different company.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

deaconWe struck the set yesterday: a beautiful spring, sunny Sunday morning.  This show was staged in the Art Center: a huge wood-floored building where artists give pottery and painting lessons, and local artists display their work. The audience sat on three sides of the stage, and the actors entered and exited using their aisles. This wasn’t a framed moving picture that a proscenium stage gives. The scenes thrust themselves into the audience so that the audience was privy to a private drawing room conversation. This is hobnob’s fourth full-length play, and the other three were produced on the Succop stage, so this experience was completely different. The Art Center isn’t set up to be a theatre, but there is a large open space in the Gallery section where Kenny decided, along with Aaron, his set and lighting designer, to stage the show. Coming up with backstage areas, locations for the lighting trees, and the stage manager “booth” was our first challenge. Then actually getting enough theatrical light to work in the “round” was another challenge. Tech week was exhausting, as usual, but the actors were so grateful to finally be in the space, working with our real set pieces,  props, and costumes. This was so helpful as the technical aspects (especially lighting!) needed the crew’s full attention.  By our preview audience/dress rehearsal, it was all worked out, and the show was ready for an audience.

karenWe still wondered how this small town would provide an audience for us. We had five performances, and four of them were sold out. Some of those sold-out performances were over-sold, so we set up extra chairs. We sold over 240 tickets for this show, which was more than we imagined. But overall, I think we feel that we did this play justice. The actors brought to life each character perfectly. The audience feedback was humbling and encouraging, and the people that worked with us behind the scenes, on the stage, and at the Art Center were truly grateful and complimentary.

meetIt’s the perfect storm, the trifecta, the trinity of theatre: an experience that unfolds on stage beautifully, behind the scenes seamlessly, and keeps all parties wanting more.  We are so grateful for the people that work with us on our shows. You can’t put a show on a stage, charge for tickets and call it a great experience if you don’t toil to make it one. The creation of a moving story takes crafting, special care of the parts, and using our fullest ability to create at every turn. Theatre engages so many different creative channels. It’s amazing watching all of the creativity poured forth on stage and behind the scenes in our shows.

So, our gratitude and awe goes out to all of you who participated in this show – behind the stage, on the stage, and as audience members. We need not doubt in the future!  Thank you!

groupBW (2)

(Click on each picture for a fuller view. Karl Kobil and Wynne Jenkins are our amazing photographers!)


reading. and the guilty conscience.

   Posted by: liz    in books, family, homeschooling

I have always read to the boys. From the time they were infants sitting in my lap or toddling around the local library, and during preschoolers library story hour. When their kindergarten curriculum didn’t include “book time,” I added it to our daily routine.

So when I hear a parent say, “We have instilled a deep love of reading in our child” and see their child with a book in their hand, or sitting in a corner with their nose in the book, I ask them, “How did you do it?

Every parent’s answer has been the same: “I have always read to them, even when they were a baby.” “We spent so much time at the library when they were toddlers,” “I model reading for pleasure all the time. ”  ”I’m always looking for books that I know will interest them, and they devour everything I find for them!”

I have done all the same things since the time our boys were newborns. And all three of my boys hate to read. They would rather wash dishes than read. Clean the toilet than read. Go to church over the library.

I love to read. My husband does not. And if you look at our professional record, he is much more successful than I am. So I shouldn’t worry about the fact that even though my boys can all read, they just don’t like to do it.

But deep down, I fear their brains aren’t being stretched and challenged, their hearts aren’t learning to love fictional characters and worlds created by all the great writers. I am saddened that they don’t find (any!) joy in going to the library with me. I try very hard not to play the comparison games with other kids whose moms (dare I say) brag about how much their kids have read and are reading, and how they “instilled a love of reading in them!”

Because it’s all bollocks. I am convinced that we do nothing to influence our children in their love or hatred of reading. It would be like me saying, “I have instilled a love of minecraft in all three of my boys: isn’t it wonderful?”

One of these days, moms everywhere will learn that what our kids love has more to do with them and less to do with us. I am learning this. Ever so slowly.




happiest ninth birthday, sawyer cole!

   Posted by: liz    in family, family fun

sawcosawyer’s birth was the shortest of the three boys. he was born much in the same ways that he tackles his days today: quickly, fiercely, and with purpose.

kenny, one-year old rowan, and i were dining at an indian restaurant with friends when i was having contractions that were 10 minutes apart. i was ready to have this baby (only 3 days away from my due date), so i ordered Mateer Paneer extra spicy. within 9 hours, sawyer was born!

IMG_0704sawyer, you take on each day with gusto. you are intrepid and passionate. your heart is big and your willingness to help and learn is huge! you care about what others think and take their needs into consideration, which is a quality beyond your nine years. you love to learn to play the piano, you have fun in your soccer games, minecraft is your favorite video game, and you chose Cocoa Puffs as your birthday cereal this year.

we love you and couldn’t be more proud of who you are growing up to be! (PS. he wanted me to take this photo because he was sure it looked like he was drinking beer because of the glass.)



friday stream of conscience…

   Posted by: liz    in homekeeping, homeschooling

we’ve been going at full speed all week long. i feel a bit like a drill sergeant at times keeping the boys just one little step ahead of our full schedule this year.

i need someone to keep me ahead of the schedule too, but nobody applied for the job, so i’m on my own.

this morning is friday, and i’m dragging. i’m feeling the need for a recharge of my batteries. i snapped at the boys because they can’t keep their room clean and they keep dragging dirt in from the outside (ha!). really, i was snapping at them because there is camping gear in every room in the house that needs to be put away, costumes from our summer show that need to be put into storage, and i swear there is a dining room table in our dining room under that mound of junk.

after a week of go-go-go making meals, doing laundry and schooling three boys, i’m hitting a wall. so we take this friday morning slowly. after two subjects (math and writing), the boys head out to the swings. i notice that there is a chair on the deck in full sun, so i go to sit on it. the sun feels so good….15 minutes later, i wake up.

i’m still crabby. there’s still a cluttered house and it’s nearly lunchtime. that means the natives will be hungry. that means I’LL be hungry.

i never understood those who said, “i just forgot to eat today” because that never happens to me. until this year. there is so much going on, so much to juggle, that i haven’t been taking care of myself as much. i haven’t been crabby like this all summer, even though the weather was cool and barely pool-worthy.

IMG_1151the boys are still on the swings. 25 minutes later and they’ve got some game going on. i enjoy the few more quiet moments i have until they come screaming in at full speed yelling something about being starving and i yell something back about not knowing what it’s like to actually be starving. (please tell me i’m not the only one who uses this line on their “starving” kids?)

and then i’m thankful for that. thankful that they don’t know hunger. thankful that we can feed them. thankful then, that we can feed them knowledge and habits, value time and family. thankful for everything that i can feed them in a day’s time because they are here with me all day long.

maybe it was the nap in the sunshine for 15 minutes. maybe it was 15 minutes to myself for the first time this week…maybe it was a whisper, a reminder, that this life we’ve chosen, that we’ve been given, is one pretty spectacular gift.

so i better not blow it.



IMG_1167i think i need to write this book.

i’m not the world’s easiest camper. and i never jump at the opportunity to “go camping.”  so when kenny said to me two weeks ago, “how about instead of a few days at ocean city, we go camping on labor day weekend instead!” i wasn’t exactly excited.

but then we registered at the campground where our friends were going to be. and then we told the boys (their excitement WAY outdid my excitement!), and then kenny brought home fun camping things like air mattresses for the boys and a cast iron pot and a Coleman camping stove and…a coffee percolator. and i got just a little bit excited.

fortunately, we were camping with people who i was really looking forward to spending time with, and whose kids are great  for our boys to hang around with. i was assured this was going to be a GREAT weekend. and…

IMG_1168i survived!  and actually really did enjoy it. it helped that we were at a great campground, with a perfect natural setting (a huge creek, lots of green open space and lots of woods), and some fun activities like a pool, a zipline (the boys did it three times in a row), a climbing wall, a gaga pit, and great camping friends.

but, if you’re like me, you’re going to need some kind of dummies guide to enjoying your first big camping trip (yes, i consider 2.5 days and 2 nights a BIG camping trip. ask me in a few years, and i might have a different perspective…). so consider this a cliff’s notes version of:

First-Time Camping for Dummies

- pinterest is your friend. when we were officially registered at the campground, i went back to Pinterest and did a general search for all things camping. because all summer when my camping-savvy friends were pinning pins like “101 genius camping surivival tips,” i was laughing at those crazy campers knowing that would NEVER be me needing those tips. so, with my tail between my legs i searched on and found some great tips, but mostly recipes (shared below). so do not feel “above” the help of pinterest. it will help you in your most dire hour. go ye, and pin and plan away. i searched  under “camping” and “camping help” and “camping recipes.”

- go with experienced campers. (because they will ALWAYS have extras of something that you will forget you’ll need. like a clothes line. and a table). kenny and i made a great long list and both of these items were on that list, but we forgot them in the 11th hour of packing and trying to get-out-of-dodge. we were with three other families (and several more who knew those families) who were experienced campers and had exactly what we needed for our soggy towels, creek-drenched underwear, and food preparation needs.  we only needed to borrow a card table (our fold out table was safe at home), and a clothes line (we couldn’t find our clothes line in the garage before we left). oh, and mustard, ketchup, a hot dog campfire stick, and hot dog rolls when our crescent rolls didn’t work over the fire.

if you don’t have the luxury of going with other experienced campers, or you just want to go it alone, then i suggest getting the full book Camping for Dummies and not rely on this cliffs notes version.

- plan ahead and arrive at your campsite armed with RECIPES and lots of food and snacks.  again, Pinterest comes in really handy with this. but Google does an adequate job if your search is really specific. kenny had already arrived home with his awesome Lodge cast iron pot, so I searched for cast iron pot recipes as well as basic campfire recipes. we found the following recipes:

Homemade Hamburger Helper. kenny was a little skeptical that I could get my stuff together and prepare the ingredients ahead of time for this one. i proved him wrong because i wasn’t so sure the boxed version of hamburger helper would be so good on our gastro-intestinal systems since we have never eaten it before, and who really wants to deal with G-I issues while camping? this recipe is so simple, and it’s easy to prepare the spices ahead of time, measure out your pasta, and pack the rest of the ingredients in a cooler. it was delicious. we doubled the recipe and shared with our friends who lent us their table.

Dutch Oven Monkey Bread. even easier than the homemade hamburger helper was this amazing breakfast treat. we made this on our second morning (because EVERYONE does pancakes on their first morning of camping!). i changed the recipe a bit and didn’t use biscuits. i used refrigerator cinnamon rolls, and still rolled them in the cinnamon/brown sugar mixture. the extra icing that comes in the cans was a bonus!

IMG_1190Dutch Oven Cobbler. the boys were so excited when they saw cans of Sprite in the shopping cart the night before we left. “we get to drink soda while we camp? awesome!!!”  unfortunately for them, it was for this recipe (can you tell we torture our children in not allowing them sugary drinks? we’re such dictators). this was such a pretty dish and came together quickly. we had it for lunch on our last day of camping.

This recipe for crescent roll hot dogs did not work at all. the dough kept falling off the hot dog and it was a hot mess! we just roasted the hot dogs and used bread for rolls and our friends’ mustard, ketchup and homemade relish.

- indulge in a dutch oven. you’re going to want to cook up some authentic camping recipes. and cooking over the fire is fun, but we already do that in our back yard enough. so to make your camping cuisine truly authentic and delcious (see above recipes), go and get yourself one of these. Walmart has the cheapest prices!and go with a partner (in my case my incredible husband) that knows how to light coals without the use of lighter fluid.

- air mattresses. need i say more?

IMG_1173- percolator. coffee perked over a fire or a Coleman camp stove is the only way to wake up from sleeping in a tent, all damp and dewey. forget the tea or hot chocolate…get yourself some coffee when you camp.

- bug spray. the good stuff. do NOT kid yourself that your au-naturale mixture you made will keep away the bugs. it won’t, and you’ll have lost a pint of blood to the wild mosquitoes if you use anything that you made yourself. bring out the big guns: deet!

- if you’re camp ground allows, have happy hour! i’m not saying that we did or did not enjoy an adult beverage during our camping trip. but happy hour makes the twilight hours so much more tolerable.



beautiful numbers

   Posted by: liz    in homeschooling

We checked this book out of the library this week based on some research I’ve been doing since being introduced to the idea that math is cool.

I never thought I’d actually think that, let alone write about math and numbers on my personal blog where I usually talk about meal planning, love of theatre and literature, homeschooling, and sheep.

But last month, we traveled to the east of Pennsylvania (a lovely, gorgeous drive on the PA turnpike. If you’ve never driven as far as Harrisburg on the PA turnpike, you are missing some spectacular skies, mountains, valleys, and views) where Kenny and the boys spent time with his parents and I attended training for the co-op that I’ll be tutoring this year. The parent part of the training focused on and encouraged the teaching of math, specifically teaching math at the high school level, even when you feel incompetent to do so. It’s brilliant marketing for the organization since a lot of homeschooling families bow out from schooling-at-home at the high school level because of things like high school level science and math. This organization is a co-operative through high school, so it behooves them to encourage parents to continue homeschooling through the high school years. But it’s also very encouraging to those of us who just want to read literature to their kids all day long and skip math because really, what high-level algebra do I use on a daily basis? I was encouraged that even I can continue homeschooling through high school. Even math!

I really appreciated the discussions we had in our training sessions. The Fibonacci Sequence was mentioned in passing, so I wanted to dig a little deeper. What’s so cool about “1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…” any way?  We found the above book at the Pittsburgh library and today, after the third, “I’m bored, mommy!” I sat them all down and we read it together.

The illustrations are beautiful and incorporate the Fibonacci spiral throughout. The writing was funny enough to keep the boys interested, but the numbers, the sequence, and how they worked and showed up in nature was what spurred two of the boys to figure it out on their own. So they took to the kitchen chalkboard and drew out the squares (1+1, etc…) and tried to fit the spiral into that.

We watched this lovely short video

and then they started drawing pictures with spirals.

Adam tried to make some new ways that numbers worked: “10+2 is actually 102!  get it?” Well, it’s a start. Playing with numbers and failing and trying again, but mostly seeing how they are actually poetic, rhythmic, beautiful, and everywhere.




This is the year when homeschooling starts to get more difficult. But I also know that things are about to get even better.

No longer are we all in the lower-elementary years of lots of crafts, cutting, coloring, and pasting, filling in the blanks, and learning to read. Math will be getting trickier (but I’m totally ready for it!), writing assignments and research will be part of our curriculum, and school will definitely not be done by lunchtime on most days.

I do have a 1st/2nd, 3rd-grader, and 4th grader, so it seems we should be in the “lower” elementary grades. But our curriculums have been kicked up a notch. And I’m quite excited.



Essentials of the English Language. Formally, this is Rowan’s curriculum. But naturally, Sawyer and Adam will soak up some of it. If they only soak it up by listening in, they’ll still be advanced in their grammar as this program is intense. Lots to learn, digest and diagram…

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).  Rowan will be the main student taking IEW writing with me this year. I’m teaching this in the co-op class for 9-12 year olds. I’ve been preparing for an entire month already – there is SO MUCH to this curriculum. It’s a great way to introduce young students to the way of writing. It feels a little constraining to me as I’ve loved writing for years, but I can see how it’s going to be a good program for beginning writers. I’m excited to see how this plays out this year.

Medieval Based Writing Lessons - We will use medieval history for all of our writing assignments. Fortunately, this curriculum does all the grunt-work in finding writing assignments for us, based on our current study of history.

Sawyer and Adam will do writing exercises with me from the Writing with Ease curriculum and we’ll probably be using history or short fiction pieces form the books that they’re reading at the time.

Spell to Write and Read for Sawyer and Adam.

Rowan will be leaving SWR for the first time and doing spelling in his Classical Conversations Essentials Class. I’m almost considering doing the spelling lists from this curriculum with Sawyer in preparation of next year. That might happen mid-way through first semester.

Story of the World Volume 2: The Middle Ages

We loved Volume 1: Ancient Times last year. We loved the activity book, and adored listening to Jim Weiss narrate each chapter. We’re excited to dive into the Middle Ages this year.

We’ll re-learn the Veritas Press History Timeline and watch as many times as possible the History Teachers videos on Youtube. Because I love them.

Our history curriculum covers lots and lots of maps, but I’m using Ann Voskamp’s A Child’s Geography to do some overall geography.  We also use Kathy Troxel’s Geography Songs (horrible web site, but fun music!) when we get to a country or continent elsewhere in our studies.

We will continue to memorize theories, formulas, and lists (we are still thick in the grammar stage of science) and do science experiments at least once every two weeks. We use Janice Van Cleave’s 201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre and Incredible Experiments and surprisingly, Pinterest has some great mini-experiments that are fun to do.

Fortunately, classical education is like that of the Charlotte Mason theory: Don’t do formal science until their mind is ready to ask the “why’s” of science. Fill them with awe and wonder for as long as possible and when they reach that wonderful dialectic age, then you can introduce formal science.

Rowan is starting with Teaching Textbooks 5 this year. I’m excited because his lesson is done all on the laptop while I can be free to teach Adam and Sawyer. Instead of teaching three different math lessons a day, I only have to teach two levels, and Rowan will learn on his own. I am still able to follow his progress and make sure he understands all new concepts, but the bulk of his lessons are now online. He and I are both excited about this.

Sawyer and Adam will continue their levels in Right Start Mathematics, which has been a fantastic math program over the years (and if I’m honest, I’m hoping Teaching Textbooks can live up to the hype because I think Right Start is nearly perfect. It’s just very time-consuming).

We all take some time off every now and then to watch some Khan Academy videos.

Art and Music
We listen to various classical music artists during our art sessions, and this year we’ll do some brief studies of some of the major classical musicians and time periods. Classical Music for Dummies is our main resource, but really there is a lot of information on classical music available.

We love art projects (especially Adam) and love to learn new methods of “making art.”   Discovering Great Artists and Drawing with Children have been recommended via Classical Conversations. I also use Pinterest to find some interesting art projects and techniques for painting.

We are also going to be learning, memorizing, and discussing ancient hymns. I feel we are doing a disservice to the boys by not introducing them to reading music, singing parts, and learning deeper theological truths found in the ancient hymn.

Weekly Homeschool Gym Class – once a week, totally organized, many sports are covered.
Soccer (Rowan and Sawyer) – this is their 6th year of soccer!  they still love it so much.
Dance (Adam) – Adam wants to take a eyar off from gymnastics and try some dance classes.
TheaterShrek and A Christmas Carol. Two totally different theatrical experiences.
Boys Book Club – we read five books throughout the year with other boys and meet once every two months to discuss the book. Our first book, which we’ve been reading together, is the classic Western, Shane.
Piano Lessons – a brand new teacher. We’re trying for at least 3 months.
Monthly Roller Blading – the boys look forward to this every month. they’re excellent skaters now, and get totally worn out skating for two hours.
Spanish (Sawyer and Adam)

Mom’s Book Shelf 
I spend all summer reading novels that I’ve wanted to read for a while, or that catch my interest. Since signing up with Goodreads in March of this year, my to-read list has gotten even longer!  But during the school year, I try to stick with non-fiction to keep my brain firing on all four cylinders. Here is what I intend to read this school year:

Beauty for Truth’s Sake by Stratford Caldecott
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards
Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer
At Home by Bill Bryson
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey (releases in November)

What challenging books have you read recently, that you’d like to recommend?


Pennsylvania has some of the strictest rules for homeschoolers in the country. On August 1st, all homeschoolers in PA had to have a notarized affidavit and letter of intent filed with their school district. We were out of town on the first of August, so I did this first thing in the morning on August 5th. Last year, the school district notarized the documents for me, but this year, they told me they discontinued that service. They told me to go to the magistrate’s office of our little town.  The magistrate was a middle aged, stern-looking man who resembled Mr. Clean. I was intimidated, but he was very encouraging about our homeschooling, told me about his grown children and how he wished they would have homeschooled, and as we were leaving gave the boys their choice of Skittles or large KitKat bars. They all chose the Skittles. They take after their mama.

Here’s to a great school year for all of us!


*photo courtesy of Ruth E Hendrick’s Photography and

autumn is slowly closing in on us. this summer has been cool and wet. it’s as though spring has overstayed its welcome and summer decided to take a year off.  if you’ve been reading smithical for a while, you know how much i love summer. i love the heat, the humidity, the natural vitamin D, the long days. at least the sun is keep up its end of the bargain this season! the heat, however, is nowhere to be found.

i’m working on being okay with this. autumn was my favorite season for the longest time. these days, it’s a close second to summer (winter is way in last place and probably won’t leave that prestigious slot anytime soon). these past few weeks of cooler-than-normal weather smell like fall. i want to change up my meal planning from grilling and salads to stews and roasted root vegetables. i want the boys to wake up to hot breakfasts instead of cereal on the deck. i’m almost ready to close the pool.

i have a lot to prepare for this coming school year. it’s our sixth year homeschooling, and rowan is entering 4th grade, sawyer 3rd, and adam is dangling between 1st and 2nd (because he’s ahead in some subjects, and on par in others. i won’t know when to label his grade until next year, at least). i took a training class last month for the co-op class that i’ll be tutoring this year at our Classical Conversations campus. i’m tutoring the “Essentials” class, which a mixture of students leaving the grammar stage of the Classical Model of Education, and entering the dialectic/logic stage of the model. this means, i’ll be tutoring in a one-room schoolhouse style, kids from 9-12 years old. We learn English grammar, writing techniques, and drill math facts: thus the title, “Essentials.”  the theory is that these three areas of learning will strengthen students’ learning as they enter the Rhetoric stage of learning. it’s a beautiful thing.

we took last year off of Classical Conversations for several reasons. but i’m glad we’re back to the scheduled weekly co-op with other families doing classical education at home. it’s such a great source of support and so good to get the boys to see that other kids have to do the same torture schoolwork that i make them do.

our school officially starts in two weeks, but i’m ready now. it’s autumn weather, so i’m ready for classes, books, schedules, practicing, and lots of reading. i’m working on s separate blog post with our curriculum choices this year. look for it soon.

it’s going to be a great year!

*photo credit: