Homeschooling Chemistry and Physics

August 20, 2020 at 3:43 am (Education, Recipes) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This year at Atrium (my kiddo’s co-op), I’ve been teaching science with a bit more purpose than I did last year. Last year consisted of a lot of impromptu science articles and activities… when we were studying the bubonic plague in history, I covered fleas on rats, the plague, what modern day scientists said about it, and played a song from YouTube about it set to the tune of Hollaback Girl. In the spring we covered lots of random pollinator things, talked about bees and butterflies and the anatomy of a flower. We did black out poetry over articles I had printed. At some point in the year, I brought role polies and we talked about crustaceans and literally played with bugs in the driveway. We made terrariums. It was a hodge-podge of whetting the group’s appetite for the idea of studying science seriously, but was mostly exactly what you’d expect homeschool science to be: nature studies, crafts, songs, and critters.

The 2020-21 school year I was determined to do different—to do better.

Naturally, I started teaching what I consider the most difficult science of all the sciences: Chemistry & Physics. To a group of children that range between 5 and 13.

If you’re going to get serious about science, the studies of matter and energy are the way to go, right? Every time I prep for class I’m two parts terrified and one part giddy.

But today, I realized, I’m not failing them. And more than that, they seem to be enjoying themselves.

In our first two lessons, we covered matter. We talked about properties and how scientists use properties to describe matter. I started by describing that matter is anything that has volume and mass, but to say that then I had to describe what volume and mass really was. I sent them home with a white bread recipe. One of the fourth graders actually baked it over the weekend and was able to tell me all about how cool it was that the same ingredients can create something with a different amount of volume. I was so pleased. If only this one child understood volume because of a white bread recipe, then I felt I was already winning.

During that same first lesson I taught them about displacement and was delighted when my classically educated group of kids were able to participate in a retelling of Archimedes and the Goldsmith. Several kids shouted “Eureka!” along with me. If I wasn’t already sold on the trivium, that moment would have done it.

Density was when it got really fun. In Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics I found a lab with salt, water, two eggs, and two cups. Fill both cups with water about halfway. Dissolve a quarter cup of salt into one of the glasses. Have the kids announce their hypothesis on what might happen, then drop the eggs in their own glass. The egg in the salt water will float because the water is more dense than the egg when there is salt there, but the egg in the regular water will sink because the egg has more density. One of the kids was convinced it was because one of the eggs was bad and one of them was good, so another mom swapped them. The experiment won out!

After that we talked about buoyancy and made aluminum boats. (This lab was also found in Fulbright’s textbook.) Everyone had brought a casserole pan where we had blue dyed salt water and pennies sprinkled at the bottom of each. The goal was to make a boat that could float the most pennies without sinking. The kids loved playing pirates and stole each other’s pennies a lot in a spirit of imagination and fun. Our best ship held 176 pennies. Runner up had 173 before the ship started taking water. The take away: surface area helps.

On day two, the following week, we talked a lot about gold versus pyrite, how luster and hardness helps you identify matter.

The kiddo and I made playdough the day before and at the start of the lesson I put pieces of tree limbs, various garden and river rocks, aluminum foil, and the play dough out on the table. There were plenty of sensory aids for everyone to have their hands on something. Nearly everyone squished play dough in their hands for the duration of the lesson, which I thought was perfect as it helped explain the concept of malleability to the littlest ones and kept hands busy so their brains could focus.

My husband sent me to class with a giant magnet and we also discussed how magnetism can help you identify different materials. Everyone got a turn choosing a piece of junk I’d collected from around the house to try against the magnet.

Finally we wrapped up the day with a Mel Science Lab. I’m obsessed with our subscription and it was pretty cool seeing the kids get to do a more intense lab. I had the oldest kids in the group do work, two boiled water and we talked about the “rapid vaporization of a liquid using heat” because I love defining things while two others mixed up the chemicals and dropped in the pyrite samples. Fifteen minutes later, we had a small sample of Prussian Blue!

All in all, I’m pretty pleased how our class is going and I can’t wait to map out next week’s adventure. Because of the broad age range of kids and the desire to keep them all engaged and learning, I’m trying to maintain at least one craft oriented activity, some sensory aids, and a Mel Science Lab per gathering. If you have any ideas or advice, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from the more experienced.

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Vikings!

August 19, 2020 at 1:21 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Kiddo is studying Early American History at co-op this year. So, naturally, we’re already super into it.

I thought we’d be diving into the Pilgrims or the Revolutionary War at the start, but the tutor has wisely chosen to go back and lay the ground work for the Americas with ALL the early explorers. At home, we study all the world’s history chronologically so we love that the course is being tackled this way, despite the fact that it means we’re back pedaling over things we studied this last year. Repetition is good, anyway.

Her homework was to read D’aulaire’s Leif the Lucky. We collect all D’aulaire’s work so both of us were pretty pleased with the assignment. Although we did get distracted and took a detoured into studying the Northern Lights, why they occur, what they look like, and why Leif might have thought he saw Odin riding a chariot through the sky.

We read the assigned pages, and then looked for more… we highly recommend listening to some Danheim while you study. I’m loving Janeway’s fictional depiction of Eric the Red and Leif Ericson, and Landmark books have never steered us wrong.

Click here for additional resources if you want to study this subject as well.

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Homeschooling During Covid

August 19, 2020 at 12:53 am (Education) (, , , )

We’ve always homeschooled, thank God. Educating this way has been the biggest blessing of our lives. Post-divorce, during single motherhood, it was the easiest way to spend the most amount of time with my kid while staying on top of her education. In homeschooling, a little bit of time goes a long way. As a public school graduate, the public system always seemed like for every second of education occurring, there were hours of waste. Homeschooling is efficient, we cover a lot of ground in less time.

“Play is the work of childhood,” and I want my kid to have lots of play time.

During the chaos of sheltering in place, school getting canceled, and whatnot, the only thing that changed for us was me going to work (I got laid off a few months before I was planning to quit), and attending our extra curricular activities. A good chunk of our daily lives looked the same, just more relaxed. Way more relaxed.

Now, in the midst of so many of our friends dealing with school district uncertainty, virtual public schooling, Zoom courses, and a plethora of other dramas–we’re going on with life business as usual. Our co-op is so small and cozy, and several members already recovered from Covid, so we still get to meet as usual.

So what does our Classical Homeschooling life look like?

At Home:

We started a formal Spelling curriculum last year, just using McGuffey’s Speller and memorizing wasn’t cutting it for us. The Workout Spelling books are fantastic and I highly recommend them.

We’re flying through Math-U-See Delta and using Singapore 3A on review days to keep all those math skills sharp. (We do math every day, year round: Math-U-See we maintain her appropriate grade level and Singapore we do the year before. She tested above grade level on her end of year CAT last year, so we think this routine works for us.) We finished the Mensa K-3 reading list this summer and have been plugging away at the 4-6 list and loving it.

As a family, we’re making a point to learn more recipes in the kitchen. I quit buying bread at the grocery store this month and am officially baking all our bread myself. Something I’ve always loved to do, but not had the time and energy to maintain doing it regularly. Now we both have a routine and baking and cooking has been a magical experience instead of a stressful one. She has to help with a minimum of one meal a week, next semester I’m increasing it to three. Hopefully by next year she’ll be making more things on her own, but as it stands if she goes to college with only what she knows now, she’ll be eating a lot of waffles and french toast.

She’s still working through the Botany science curriculum she started this summer in addition to helping me prep for the Introduction to Chemistry and Physics science class I teach at the co-op. We have a stockpile of MEL Science kits we can’t wait to dig into.

At Atrium:

The kid’s course load isn’t light, by any stretch of the imagination, but so far she’s loving it… Early American History, Critical Thinking & Logic, Introduction to Chemistry & Physics, Poetry, Writing & Rhetoric: Fables, Fix It Grammar, Song School Latin 2, Art, Kung Fu. (I’m teaching two Latin classes, the science class, and Kung Fu. Course load sharing with other moms is so fun, as every morning I get a well deserved coffee break while the other moms are “on deck.”)

Extra-curriculars:

So swimming was a great choice for us for 2020. Dipping kids in chlorine seems like a pretty safe choice and the kid swims like a fish now!

I’m not going to lie, I’m a tad envious of her piano lessons. She’s rocking them and composing music like there’s no tomorrow. She graduated the Let’s Play Music program amidst a pandemic and it was worth every penny and then some.

So, if you’re homeschooling this year for the first time ever and need help, message me. If you have ideas for things we’re covering, please share them! (Your favorite DIY science labs and dinner recipes are welcome!)

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Shelter-in-Peace

April 24, 2020 at 2:56 am (In So Many Words, The Whim) (, , , , , , )

Quarantine—or Shelter-in-Place—has meant many things to many people. Most people are scrolling Facebook incessantly. I’ve done a bit of that, but no more than usual, which is still too much. The memes have been great, but the complaints I have found unusual, even though intellectually I understand them.

My mother is an extrovert, so I am accustomed to inexplicable loneliness in others when they are left to their own devices.

I’ve been poor, so I relate to the sudden lack of income and the terrifying limbo of not knowing where your provision will come.

I’m curious to a severe degree, and I can comprehend boredom, even though I usually manage to find a way out of it fairly easily…

You see, I am an introvert who was more than happy to have a good excuse to cancel all my plans. Being a non-essential worker—a bookseller—I have lost my nearly thirteen year stint, and I’m actually happy, relieved, and overjoyed to be home every day. As a homeschool mom, my one desire was to spend my days trapped on my property with my kid reading books and right now, I’m living the dream.

Since Corona virus has hit, all we’ve done is actually live our best life.

We’ve spent hours in the garden literally watching the lilies bloom, observing the shockingly not-so-slow metamorphosis of caterpillars to butterflies. We’ve read an obscene number of books off the Mensa reading list for kids, are digging deeper into our Latin studies, memorizing new spelling and vocabulary words we never had time for before, and relishing the fact that third grade math wasn’t just learned, but mastered.

I’ve spent copious hours on ancestry.com, wikitree.com, and prowling books and resource materials here at home learning about my family history. I’ve had the pleasure of baking whatever I want whenever I want (key-lime cupcakes, anyone?). I’ve almost completed a short story anthology for my book series, I’m nearly done with a granny square blanket out of old forgotten yarn, and the only thing I’ve failed to do is maintain my blog and my workout schedule because I’ve been so busy enjoying everything else and it’s hard to share the living room.

The gist of it is: I’m a weirdo who is loving being forced to stay home.

Since my last post, I finished a biography on Margaret Thatcher, a summation of the demise of classical education, a fascinating biography on Amerigo Vespucci as well as some of his original writings, another installment of Cahill’s armchair history series, a terrible account of a transition from “protestantism” to Catholicism (written by a guy I’m convinced was in cults and not a protestant denomination at all), an essay on magnetic currents, several of my favorite children’s chapter books (The Pushcart War never gets old), and one of Prebble’s brilliant histories of the Scottish clans. (Please, take a minute to follow me on Goodreads.)

I suppose my point is this: I know it can be scary… pandemics, shady governments, untrustworthy reporting, not knowing what’s next… but there’s something beautiful about actually stopping to—watch the lilies bloom (and, of course, read a good book).

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Winter with Dogs (and Cats)

March 23, 2020 at 10:28 pm (Education, Obituaries, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

With the arrival of Disney+ came the magic of Willem Dafoe as the infamous Leonhard Seppala, musher who put in the most miles during the Serum Run of Nome, Alaska. As a homeschool parent I have the luxury to put aside some school books to build educational unit studies on a whim. We spent weeks on sled dogs and illnesses, tundra and survivalism in harsh weather.

Kiddo read the Dog Diaries book featuring Togo. I read The Cruelest Miles by Gay and Laney Salisbury (phenomenal) as well as a novel called Dead Run by Michael Caruss (pretty good). We watched the movie together. We became smitten with a beautiful picture book by Robert J. Blake.

All the while our own dog was dying. We said goodbye to him as we ended our dogsled reading binge. Our best boy who was the greatest protector we’ve ever had. Named after Tahmoh Penikett’s character Karl C. Agathon on the Battlestar Galactica, Helo, our Siberian husky-pit bull-German Shepherd lived up to his name. Handsome, loving, and always ready to defend us from any threat, I’ve never had a better dog.

“Any man can make friends with any dog but it takes a long time and mutual trust and mutual forbearance and mutual appreciation to make a partnership. Not every dog is fit to be partner with a man; nor every man, I think, fit to be partner with a dog.” – Archdeacon Hudson Stuck

Helo was my greatest partner in getting my kiddo from age one to nine. I trained him to stay with her, he trailed her as she played in the yard and on playgrounds. He slept in the threshold of our doors, guarding us from the outside world as we dreamed. He loved his ball. He could never have been a sled dog like Balto and Togo, he neither had the build or the heart for it, too barrel chested for his smaller legs to support for long distances (he had a hard time keeping up with his mother who despite being much smaller could outrun him in speed and duration), but he was perfect for the job he was given: preserve and protect us from all threats.

Through all this studying of harsh winters, learning about famous dogs, and burying ours (he was nine)… we had the warmest winter I can remember in a long time and many, many cats…

Well, caterpillars.

Living in the lower coastal plains region of Texas means we have some tropical tendencies sweeping up from the Gulf of Mexico. It also means Monarch butterflies! We’ve raised quite a few in our pollinator garden, have ordered books, and plan to study them more in depth as we observe them more regularly through various seasons. The photos below are all from this winter.

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Fly, Fly Again

January 7, 2020 at 4:56 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Fly, Fly Again

Authors: Katie Jaffe & Jennifer Lawson

Illustrator: Tammie Lyon

Genre: Children’s Storybook/ Picture Book

First and foremost, kiddo and I were blown away that Buzz Aldrin–THE BUZZ ALDRIN–wrote the foreword for this picture book. How cool is that? (My father, an engineer alum of the same university as Aldrin, was pretty impressed as well. Frequently, he reads my kiddo picture books and comments about how children’s publishing has “come a long way.”)

Reminiscent of The Questioneers series (of which we have every title!) by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, Jaffe and Lawson’s new book encourages critical thinking skills, creative wonder, and diligence to pursue dreams.

Kiddo loved the story, she’s nine, and still enjoys the magic of a children’s storybook even though she’s also reading chapter books now. She’s heard me quote “Try, Try Again” her whole life and learned to read on McGuffey’s which includes the poem in its reading exercises, so there was a genuine snicker when Hawk raised his feather and included the play on words, “If at first you don’t succeed, fly, fly again!”

“It is a great book, no one can doubt that. The airplane design [in the illustrations] is amazing. But you still can’t put that many people and pets into a wagon WITH a motor,” Kiddo told me. She is now monologuing design flaws, propellor safety, and superior ways to attempt this project. I think the book has done exactly its job: spiked STEM thinking.

Fly, Fly Again is a new favorite we plan to read often.

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Top 10 of 2019

January 3, 2020 at 7:03 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Top Ten – 2019

  1. Hard Road West: History and Geology Along the Gold Rush Trail – Keith Heyer Meldahl
  2. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo – Tom Reiss
  3. The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World – Abigail Tucker
  4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
  5. The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood – Barb Bentler Ullman
  6. The Forest for the Trees – Betsy Lerner
  7. Warriors of the Storm & The Flame Bearer – Bernard Cornwell
  8. The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt – Kara Cooney
  9. Alloy of Law – Brandon Sanderson
  10. George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution – Brian Kilmeade

First off, I read over 120 books this year. The numbers between 120 and 130 get hazy, because I read a lot out loud to my kid and try not to include picture books in the numbers, but we still occasionally review picture books on Goodreads. Combined, my daughter and I are also halfway through a dozen books or so (some read alouds, some audiobooks, some books that I’m actually just reading to myself). Out of the 120 these are the books I chose for my top ten. They’re sort of in order, but don’t hold me to it. My ranking system may be moody at best. Everything in the top ten list, however, I will read again, and never give up my copy (or will purchase new copies if I do), if I can help it.

Hard Road West is a history and geology book. For a geologist to make me laugh while reading, and want to make plans to re-read the book again and again, that’s not just something, but something worthy of a Number One spot.

The Black Count is a riveting depiction of an era and author everyone should read, especially in the racially charged climate which we currently reside. It shows that there are always racist turds and always kind people that get along, regardless of policies and customs. It gives an in depth study of Dumas and why and how he wrote the sort of stories that intrigue us hundreds of years later. Rich in content and writing style, I’m putting this on my kid’s high school reading list.

The Lion in the Living Room is a spunky account of felines. Thorough, scientific, and enjoyable, this journalistic presentation of the most common house pet and city pest is completely engrossing.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine surprised me. I’m not known for picking up “new” books, contemporary New York Times bestsellers, while they’re still considered somewhat current. Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick (as cute as I think the actress is) would usually be a turn off for me. Typically I wait to read these sorts of things until I nab them in clearance years after the excitement has died down. Usually I read them and think, that was nice, and set it aside. Water for Elephants is a prime example: Enjoyable, but I’d probably only read it again if I was stuck in a waiting room, without reading material, and it happened to be left behind by someone else. Gruen is actually excellent waiting room material. But Eleanor Oliphant captivated me from the first page. As someone who is known to have some Asperger markers and has suffered from PTSD, I found myself reading Eleanor’s internal monologues (in the beginning, much less later in the book) and thinking, YES! Eleanor is definitely a distinct character, all her own, who also manages to be extremely relatable. I was surprised I loved the book so much. I am still surprised it has resonated with me for months. I’m even more surprised it has made it to my annual top ten list.

The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood completely captivated my daughter and I. It doesn’t have nearly as much fairy wonderland as you’d expect from the marketing, dealing more with life issues of the little girl who can see Nutfolk Wood, but it was exactly what we needed when we needed it. We purchased and enjoyed the sequel as well, and I would love to read more by this fairly obscure children’s author.

The Forest for the Trees is possibly one of the most motivational writing books I’ve ever read, aside from On Writing by Stephen King. I loved reading Lerner’s experience with authors from her unique perch as an editor. Her whole career actually fascinated me, and motivated me to get more word counts per day, and clean up my manuscripts in a timely fashion. That being said, I’m still a typical writer and I missed my own self imposed deadline this Christmas. Pushing for February and praying for my publishing house in all they deal with!

Warrior of the Storm and The Flame Bearer are Bernard Cornwell books I read this year. It’s unfair to give them their own lines as they belong to the Saxon Tales series (my favorite) and will push everything off the list always! My love for this series knows no bounds and I can’t wait to finish the series and start over from the beginning. I wrote Nancy & Uhtred as a love of the series letter to Bernard Cornwell and my dream is still for him to one day read my little novelette, because his books truly move me.

The Woman Who Would Be King is a speculative biography on Hatshepsut. I’m fascinated by Hatshepsut and have read two or three biographies on her this year. I’ve read biographies on her in the past as well. I’m completely convinced it was she who pulled Moses from the river and I have a life long mission to read everything scholarly ever written on or about the woman.

Alloy of Law is just down right fun. Can we all just come out and say it together? Brandon Sanderson is amazing, his books are amazing, and he’s the best fantasy writer currently writing fantasy. And he’s so diligent, he actually puts out books regularly. Mistborn is possibly my favorite adult fantasy series of all time. I know, those are dangerous words when Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings captured my heart for decades, but Sanderson’s working is not to be taken lightly or dismissed. His books will become longstanding classics. I did prefer the original series to what I’ve read of this second trilogy, but I think that’s just a matter of personal preference, not writing or storytelling ability.

George Washington’s Secret Six is the story that inspired the tv show Turn. I love American Revolutionary history. Our nation’s foundation is pretty intense and Kilmeade is a great storyteller to armchair (or backyard hammock) historians. His work can be easily passed to upper middle school and high school students, and I’d like to read them all.

Honorable Mentions (or the books that would be included in a top 20 list, in no particular order):

Grayson – Lynne Cox

The Lost for Words Bookshop – Stephanie Butland

The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France – Eric Jager

The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia – Laura Miller

Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith – Natasha Crain

Leviathan Wakes – James S.A. Corey

Trouble is a Friend of Mine – Stephanie Tromley

Founder, Fighter, Saxon, Queen: Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians – Margaret C. Jones

Matilda Bone – Karen Cushman

Byzantium: the Early Centuries – John Julius Norwich

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From Books… Adventure

December 6, 2019 at 4:48 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

A Romp Through John Oehler’s latest: Ex Libris

I’ve been reading John Oehler’s books for years now. My first introduction to his books was Aphrodesia in August of 2013. I remember being naively surprised by how much a book could make me blush. After I met in the author in person at a Half Price Books event I had coordinated, I promised myself I’d read every book he ever wrote. Oehler is endearing, kind, and fun to be around, something you don’t necessarily expect out of someone who writes the kind of thrillers that win him awards.

Oehler writes adventures for people who want to travel, his books are rich with globetrotting and exotic locations. For someone who rarely leaves my armchair, that’s a big part of my reading experience desires, and for this reason, Papyrus is probably my favorite of his work.

His books are also full of lavish descriptions compacted into succinct sentences like this one from Ex-Libris:

“The confessional felt like an upright coffin. Beyond the grate, a balding priest with a hooked nose stared straight ahead, his wrinkled face more stern than compassionate.”

Just released in September, Ex-Libris is Oehler’s latest novel to date and one Amazon reviewer has already praised it for its “dangerous characters with just a taste of whimsy.”

The book does indeed have a full cast of badasses with their own personal dynamics. Paulette and Martine have my favorite dialogues, clever Doctor Who style companions to our hero, Dan.

If you liked Ludlum’s Bourne Identity, you’ll appreciate Oehler’s fight sequences, political intrigue, and consistent tension.

Some reviewers compare Ex-Libris to Dan Brown’s popular Da Vinci Code series. I have never read Brown’s books, and I would have preferred to read more antiquarian bibliophile geeking out and theological analysis theories— where other reviewers thought there was already too much of this. It just goes to show, you can’t please everyone, even when you’re a stellar genre writer.

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Ryan Swindoll Interview

November 28, 2019 at 3:53 am (Interviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

You did the cover art for Lost Legends, it’s beautiful. Have you designed other book covers?

I’ve designed a handful of covers, yes! I got my start in print design for Grafted Life Ministries, branding the books in their catalog. When our fearless anthologist Adam D. Jones’ recruited me for The Lost Legends, I took the plunge into fiction, so you might say this is my genre debut.

With The Lost Legends, it delighted me to explore the classy aged appeal of art deco in the unusual visual context of folk magic. I think the cover evokes the same eclectic feel that characterizes the stories inside.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug Adam’s newly released novel Marshal Law, which I also designed. The cover takes inspiration from science fiction westerns, but without the photorealism or lonely protagonist look so common in the genre. We wanted a fresh direction for the cover that provoked the imagination.

As a writer, I’ve heard you usually prefer writing science fiction; what inspired the The Problem With Elves and Tavernfall?

One of the boons of writing science fiction is that it need not be future-specific. When Adam approached me about contributing to his fantasy anthology, I saw a personal challenge to blend the setting of medieval magic with stories of alien encounters.

“Tavernfall” was born of a simple thought experiment: what would a medieval era conspiracy theorist have looked like? Not (merely) the town drunk or the madman in stocks, but the scholarly type. What could they have said to convince you that, say, all of human history was secretly the plot to the Lord of the Rings? I pulled out my old college notes in history and theater, and the story practically wrote itself.

I found writing “The Problem with Elves” more difficult. It began with a literal dream I had about an alien abduction, wherein they forced me to listen to a timeshare presentation. It was hilarious, but lacked substance. When I stumbled upon Grandmother’s mysterious epitaph, “Never throw out a rotten egg–I never did,” the whole story opened up. I was able to follow the protagonist’s relationship with Grandmother to its unconventional end. And we got fart magic out of the deal. Sweet.

You have two short stories included in Lost Legends, do you find short stories to be easier or more difficult to write than longer fictions?

I do find short stories easier, but all of writing is difficult. It just takes a long time.

What other things do you have publication?
Nothing yet! But working on a science fiction novel about an alien family that crash lands on a robot world, and the trouble that ensues because the robots don’t know the first thing about children, biology, or toilets. I have no idea how I’m going to market it.

You have a great sense of humor, have you always been clever and funny, or is it a skill honed over time? What were your favorite books as a child and how do you think they contributed to your wit?

I’ll never forget reading The Boxcar Children and getting far enough into the book series that the primary author changed–and all of a sudden, characters were “chuckling.” I remember reading on the toilet and thinking, “These people never chuckled before, and now they’re chuckling twice per page.” I never read another boxcar child after that.

I’m sure that answers your question.

Stephen King wrote in On Writing that writers should read a lot to keep their technical and creative tool box full. What are your favorite “tool box” books?

I enjoy James Scott Bell’s book The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises. Easy to scan, read, or dive in.

Of your stories in the anthology, are there any you anticipate seeing spin off into other work?

I’ve heard rumors. If I could wish feature-length stories out of the anthology, I’d want to see more of the world in “The Luck Stone,” “Death of a Young Mage,” “The Door,” and “The Candlemaker.” Each story felt like a peep into a much larger world.

If The Lost Legends were to become a Netflix Original or Amazon Prime series, who would your ideal cast be for The Problem With Elves?

Gaten Matarazzo of Stranger Things fame would be a ringer for our fourteen-year-old protagonist. Grandmother is more difficult, but for some reason I like the idea of Octavia Spencer in the role. Good with her eyebrows, I think.

With your obvious artistic ability and creativity, do you plan to create bookmarks or other such “swag” to go with copies of the book that fans could buy?

At our release party, I distributed limited edition “I survived The Lost Legends release party” bookmarks, with quotes from the book attributed to the after-party, like “We were lit, all of us, and especially me.” If fans want to buy swag, I see no reason to deprive them.

What are you thankful for this week and how are you celebrating the holidays?

I am certainly thankful for my health, which falls under constant threat from having young boys. I’m also thankful for said boys and the endless inspiration of their wonder. And my wife, who listens to my monologuing. And my God, who also listens to my monologuing, and surprises me with a treasury of meaningful discoveries when I write.

I think I’ll be celebrating the holidays with a dismembered turkey, a nap, and a writing deadline. Should be fun!

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Our Secret Country

November 16, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but for most of us it is only an imaginary country. Edmund and Lucy were luckier than other people in that respect,” C. S. Lewis wrote in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The thing is, the thing that C. S. Lewis as narrator doesn’t address, is that everyone who has ever read the Chronicles of Narnia series *does* have that country. We all visit some version of Narnia in our minds once we’ve been there once. And as it says in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” 

So here I am, thirty-five, living in the magical world of Narnia as my daughter reads through the series for about the third or fourth time, but this time we’re reading it alongside our homeschool co-op. It is such a treat watching children enjoy the magic of Narnia, and furthermore bask in its magical glory with them.

Mr. Tumnus

The Chronicles of Narnia is a well known allegory of the Christian faith set in a fantasy world. Good and evil are clearly define, deadly sins and how they creep into our psyche, how unchecked they fester and change who we are. The stories enthrall children and adults alike, who have a thirst for the eternal, who long for the otherworldly aspect of our universe, the spiritual war that goes on every day unseen to the naked eye, but experienced in living color when you step through the Professor’s “Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe.”

Turkish Delights

We’ve been reading the books together and discussing them book club style with children ranging from 7 to 13 and moms from 27 to 50. At the close of book two, we took a Narnia party break, complete with homemade snowflakes (the kids got to learn about hexagonal snowflake patterns and how to recreate them with computer paper and a pair of scissors), try Turkish delights for the first time (and marvel at why Edmund would basically sell his soul for such an awful dessert), and pose in costume under a welcoming Narnia sign and the iconic lamppost (artistic cardboard craftsmanship compliments of my impressive fiancé, kiddo spray painted it black herself).

Queen Susan

Of course, in my typical fashion, I had to read “grown up” books in addition to re-reading the original stories. Because C. S. Lewis made such an imprint on society, there are more literary criticism books about Narnia than there are Narnia books. Most of them written by Christians. However, I found one written by a non-Christian which greatly intrigued me.

The Magician’s Book is an in-depth critical analysis of the Chronicles of Narnia. As much memoir in content as literary analysis, Miller chronicles her own relationship with Narnia and includes insightful conversational commentary by other big name writers of many faiths (Neil Gaiman being one of my favorites). I enjoyed her perspective a great deal and though I was saddened that Aslan the lion did not aid in her understanding the nature of Christ, that she did not come to understand God’s love through Lewis’s fantastical depiction of it.

Still, reading Miller’s work led me down a rabbit trail I’m happy to tumble through, and I’ve already lined up all sorts of other books regarding C. S. Lewis and Narnia to read during the rest of our Narnia journey. Join us. We start Horse and His Boy next and are reading The World According to Narnia by Jonathan Rogers as we go. We plan to finish all seven Narnia books by the end of the school year.

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