Classical Composers Monthly: an entertaining way to learn about the great artists

I’ll admit it: I’ve never done a product review before, so when I was approached by a friend to write one, I was a bit hesitant. Even now, I’m not sure that I’ll do it correctly, but I will share what I’ve learned after looking through her site and what she offers in her service. I’ll give you a hint in case you’re leaning towards not reading to the end: it’s fantastic.

If you’re a homeschooling mom, maybe you’re like me where you can spend the entire day it seems on the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic (if you’re really like me, the arithmetic can feel like it takes alllllll day just by itself!). What this equates to is that the other subjects, like science projects that have the potential to blow up your kitchen or art projects that may stain your daughter’s favorite shirt somehow get left to the wayside. Or maybe when it comes to teaching the arts, you feel woefully unprepared to share with your children. “Was it Beethoven who was deaf or Mozart?” and “When did the Renaissance Period end?” or “What the heck is a Coda?” are concepts that could cause any otherwise competent homeschooling parent to shrink visibly. Or maybe you feel knowledgeable in the arts and have the desire to share this learning with your children, but you’ve priced materials and the cost of many resources is quite a deterrent.

Although I can’t speak to the science projects and your fear of explosions in the kitchen (or is that still just me?!), I have found a website that helps to take the daunting nature of teaching our kids (and learning ourselves!) about the great artists throughout history and make it enjoyable and engaging. Classical Composers Monthly is a service created by a homeschool mom and her homeschool graduate son in a successful attempt to bring the arts to the masses–simply and effectively.

With a paid subscription, each month an email detailing the chosen composer will come to your inbox. It will lead you to a wealth of information about the composer of the month, including but not limited to biographies, ebook links with more information, performance playlists of the artist’s works, assignment ideas, activities and worksheets, and more. The beauty of this is that it’s been done for you. All you have to do is access it and begin allowing your children to learn. And hey, who doesn’t like making the homeschooling day easier? I also really appreciate that Erica has committed to making the information family-friendly whenever possible. It doesn’t take a college degree to know that some art history is fraught with scandal and inappropriateness, but it should be our responsibility as parents to decide when our children are old enough to handle that content. To that end, there will be a warning if anything even remotely objectionable appears in any month’s episode. Good to know, considering you could turn on the TV at any time of day and not have that peace of mind!

You shouldn’t take my word for it, though. If you click here, you can sign up for the Handel resource list FREE to investigate the website. In no time, you’ll be listening to Handel’s Water Music and other fabulous pieces. It’s worth checking out!

And would any review be worth its salt if I didn’t throw in a “BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!” Nope, it surely would not. With that, I’m pleased to report that the creators of Classical Composers Monthly have recently expanded their repertoire (snort) to include artists. As a member of the new Fine Arts Pages, you will receive printable works from 25 of the world’s best known artists, along with information about each. That in itself if well worth it, but what I think is worth far more is the insight that Erica gives about perhaps the best way to share these works with your kids. Because she’s a homeschooling mom, she knows that just because you have the desire to teach art to your kids doesn’t mean that your children will run in willingly and sit at your feet for hours waiting to devour all the info you give them. Her one simple suggestion is just fabulous: print the pieces and the info that goes with them and post them in a place where children all go and have nothing else to do while they’re there: the BATHROOM! What a fantastic idea! Post one picture a week and see what happens. I absolutely love it.

For more information about the Fine Arts Pages and a freebie, please click here. And for a limited time, the Fine Arts Pages are available for the introductory price of $9.95, so it’s definitely worth having a look-see.

Since we are a social media society, you can also follow CCM on Pinterest by clicking here or Twitter by clicking here to keep up with all the latest updates.

If you’d like to order, you can go directly through this link as well.

ONE LAST ANNOUNCEMENT! I’d like to give away one free Fine Arts Pages membership to one of my readers! To enter, just leave a comment after this post and you will automatically be entered to win this resource. A winner will be chosen on Tuesday, July 9 from all entries. Feel free to share with anyone you think would benefit from a FREE! membership. You must comment on the blog, though, and not through Twitter or Facebook!

The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.
Emile Zola

I would highly recommend looking into this service for your homeschool. It promises to be an ongoing resource which will provide your children with a wonderful window into the world and works of the great artists.

May your homeschooling efforts be blessed.

The rats…they live among us now…

I fear we’ve entered into a whole weird area, our family has… As you may or may not know, I’m not exactly an animal person. It’s not that I don’t like YOUR pet, I just have never had a pet. I’m not quite sure what to do with them, or around them, and about them. That’s something I dealt with a long time ago. The kids, on the other hand, seem to have grown into a deep longing for some sort of furry creature that needs to be running around our house. They have all been working to wear down my resistance for a dog, but I’ve stood firm in my belief that a new puppy for the kids equals a dog for me. Pessimistic? Perhaps. But for now, I’m just not ready to take on another responsibility. But I will say I am wearing down. When I see how much Andrew loves dogs, I am almost willing to entertain the thought. Almost.

While this has been an open–and often revisited–conversation in this house, it was about a month or so ago that Todd took the youngest four kids to the pet store just on a lark. They wanted to go visit the puppies, but learned to their chagrin that those furry little treasures are only on the premises on the weekends. Sadly, this was not that day. To console themselves, they looked around the store and found pet rats. For Brendan and Ben, they were instantly smitten and began an obsession that culminated two days ago. After talking nonstop with Todd on the trip home from the pet shop, he apparently made a deal with them. If they researched as much as they could about having rats for pets, and learned whatever necessary to make us (read: Todd, at this point, anyway!) comfortable about giving them the responsibility of having a live creature to take care of, they could buy them.

This began a firestorm of almost constant reading, writing, and YouTube watching of all things pet rat. They did an impressive job of compiling their information and learning about how to take care of these impending house guests. Despite the fact that I was not excited about having rodents enter my house by our own doing, I had to admit that the boys were taking it seriously, at least in the research phase.

Shortly after Brendan’s birthday, they had the money necessary to order the Rat Cage Hotel, a huge get up that is certain to bring joy to any rodent and deter him or her from even the thought of escape. (It better! I’ve already warned them that an escaped rat is fair game for my shovel, whether it has a name or not!) The boys learned that female rats are usually more active, cleaner, and don’t mark their territory like their male counterparts. As long as we didn’t bring home a female who was carrying hidden rats on her person (if you know what I’m saying), I was ambivalent as to what gender they got. A rat is a rat is a rat. (As my good friend Dave reminded me yesterday: “Don’t you EVER forget that, Deb.”)

The (dreaded? Surely you didn’t hear that from me!) day finally arrived and the excited soon-to-be-rat-owners happily ran out with Todd to the pet store to purchase their new pets. They had already settled on names for their girls, despite my suggestions of Anthrax and Rodenticide: their more feminine name choices were Ginger and Alice. (Who knows what makes boys choose what they do?!) It was not long before the boys came home, chatting noisily and carrying the two new “members” of the household in their handy dandy cases. There was much rejoicing within the home and every rallied around to see what new adventures would begin with the opening of the traveling cages.

This is the third day Ginger and Alice have been with us, and so far they haven’t escaped, which I see as a definite plus. The baby rats are only about 8 weeks old, so the pet store clerk advised the boys to give them a couple days to adjust to the new surroundings. They told us that rats are quite sensitive to loud noises, which makes no sense in this house. They’ll simply have to get over that! If it’s one thing this house is not, it’s quiet. Obliging in the waiting period, today was the day they got the rats out and let them run in their makeshift play pen. Their next goal is to help Ginger and Alice relax and become comfortable around the two boys, and then they’ll start training them. They have plans to teach them all sorts of tricks and I’m sure that will be something to watch. Since Brendan and Ben tend to do everything but use the bathroom together, it should be interesting to watch them teach their new pets. Already the little dears with creepy tails are showing that they have different personalities: Ginger (Brendan’s pet) is less intimidated by the noise of the house and has been out and about whereas Alice (Ben’s) is more timid and will quickly grab a piece of food and retreat to the shelter of the cardboard hiding place at the bottom of the cage. I’m interested to see how they change, if ever, as they acclimate to our home.

The boys are more than excited to have these new critters here, and for now, I’m OK with having them in the house. They are more than aware that I will not be taking over any cleaning or feeding duties under any circumstances, and the warning still stands: if they ever get out, they’re fair game.

Doesn’t that put me in the running for Mother of the Year?

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Independence Day is not about fireworks (and other rainy day musings)

We had such grand plans for today, this Independence Day 2013. Wilmore, the small town near us, has a wonderful calendar full of events celebrating the day: starting with a parade which includes the world-renowned lawn mower brigade and continuing with a festival that features food, pony rides, face painting, and other fun activities. We have joined in for the past few years and love the easy accessibility and small-town feel of the day. Alas, today’s festivities were cancelled as of 8:00 am, when the forecast confirmed our fears: rain, and buckets full of it. I was met with sad faces all around when I shared the bad news with the six pack, who had long awaited the celebration. Plan B became necessary, however, as the rain continued and escalated to a steady, soaking downpour.
In other words, it was a major bummer, dude. The rainy day, though, has given me the chance to think upon the importance of the a bit more. Before all else, I love my country and am proud to be an American. After studying other civilizations and cultures, I only become more convinced at how set apart we are as a country and how we are truly unlike any other. The country was founded by great yet imperfect men, following God’s will and providence, and has the distinction none other can claim. Politics aside, we are exceptional. And yet, recently, troubling (to say the least) events have transpired to cause discontent and concern for the country we established ourselves as on July 4, 1776. I fervently desire that my children will inherit an America that is strong, still firm in the bulwark of the Constitution–a document unlike any other in its simplicity and breadth, and unwavering in its belief that the phrase ‘all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator certain inalienable rights’ is still a self-evident truth.
I am guarded in my celebratory nature today as I read through the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson. He did not live during the same tumultuous times as we do, yet he was among those men who decided that it was worth risking their lives and fortunes for something larger than themselves, the establishment of a new and sovereign nation. Do we have that same Spirit of ’76 yet today? Or have we slowly given it up in exchange for laziness or complacency? Jefferson wrote, “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” We are now promised to “be taken care of” by our government, whether by means of a phone, a house payment, health care, or any number of other items. This is at base a fundamental difference between this American and her government. I do not believe that it is the job of the government to take care of me, lest I become beholden to it. There are advertisements on the radio that tell me “You deserve air conditioning!” or “Let us put you in the car you deserve!” When did I start deserving air conditioning? I know that as a kid, I begged my dad to turn it on during those muggy summer nights, but I don’t know that even then I deserved it. If I can afford to pay my electric bill that comes from having the A/C on, then I believe I have earned the privilege to run it. Do I deserve a cell phone? Seriously?
As a parent, these are direct discrepancies to what Todd and I are trying to teach our kids. We want our kids to have a strong work ethic and not be afraid to put in a hard day’s work, whether it be at their school desk, digging a ditch, taking someone’s order at the fast food place, or folding laundry in the basement where no one can see them. “Hard work done daily feels good,” a friend once shared with me. What a profound truth. Even in their small sphere of experience, they have learned how different it feels to pay for something themselves versus having it dropped in their laps. The three boys who have pursued and achieved Memory Master status know that it takes hard work to reach goals, and hard work is not a four-letter word (or even two four-letter words put together). My prayer is that my kids grow up not to shirk at work, but to embrace whatever needs to be done.
However, I am daily confronted with human nature times six (or seven if you count me, and I’m probably the worst offender). Human nature wants the easy way out, the path of least resistance, and it can be a constant struggle to squelch that voice telling them “just enough is OK” and promote the quieter voice that whispers “go the extra mile.” For the boys, I pray that they will have the work ethic to provide for their families and to take pride in their careers. For the girls, if they become mothers, they will need the discipline that the 24/7 job requires. When someone else pays the bills, the propensity to dependency is so difficult to fight. Helping out someone in need is quite different than keeping them from pulling themselves out of the despair. It’s not always easy. In fact, most of the time it’s harder than just about anything. It means making tough choices, such as “can I afford a cell phone?” or “can I have the new car or the used one that is held together with duct tape and a prayer?” I believe starting out with no cell phone and a jalopy can help us to see where we are, realize that we don’t want to stay there, and work to move ourselves to a better place.
I humbly submit that with some reports boasting that half of American households are on some sort of government assistance, we are not teaching personal responsibility in large numbers. We are teaching that the government can easily take care of us, so why should we exert the effort? Why not let them provide for us? How dangerous a national sentiment is that. Again, I’m reminded of Jefferson: “The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.” We are obliged in some way or another to those who provide for us. Because the government is run by men and women, and men and women are fallen creatures by nature, without proper checks and balances (which seem to be largely ignored in the last generation), fallen creatures with power will almost certainly run amuck. “A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.” Let us remember that we have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” not whatever the government can promise to provide for us. We throw around words like constitutionality, but I believe we are not teaching young Americans the entirety and beauty of the document. Instead, we are using it for our own benefits at best, and prancing upon it at worst. Patrick Henry astutely proclaimed that “the Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.” With revelations of intrusions upon our personal liberties and threats to strip us of basic constitutional rights that are all over the media, this truth is more profound and important than ever. Have we already gone too far in that direction? Has it already succeeded in dominating our lives and interests?

No doubt there are many who disagree at the most basic levels with my beliefs. Such is life, and Benjamin Franklin said “but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I shall refrain on my diatribe against taxes for the time being. The older I get, the more I realize that worldviews can be extremely divergent, and if they start to separate at the base of the argument, there is almost no hope of them ever conjoining again. I will be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers and have not figured anything out. But for me and my house, we are going to strive to seek God’s will and plan for our lives. Micah 6:8 reads, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” We are going to learn the history of our great nation and work to the best of our ability to uphold the pillars of our country and the foundation of its formation. We shall try to the best of our ability to be self-reliant, self-sufficient, conquerors in the constant war against apathy, and others centered. I pray that the liberty we began with will not be taken away from us with the faulty and impossible promise of something better. The freedoms were bestowed upon us, but the responsibility is now ours alone.

Responsibility is the price of freedom. Elbert Hubbard

God bless America.

Our experiment with Essential Oils

By most standards, our family would not be considered “granola.” Not even “crunchy” by the most lenient of standards. I cook with sugar…and wheat…and other things that we need not go into right now. But even though I’ve been called crunchy because of promoting natural childbirth and breastfeeding (just give me the chance to talk your ear off about the benefits of those!), my everyday life would be considered to be rather mainstream. So imagine my surprise (as well as my family’s) when I announced that I’d purchased something mysterious and fringy like Essential Oils. (I say that completely tongue-in-cheek) A few friends of mine had posted various articles and testimonials on Facebook about the myriad benefits of essential oils and at first, I’ll admit, I did what any good Facebook friend would do: I ignored them and kept on scrolling. But they just kept coming. And from more people. People I admired and respected and whose judgment I trusted! How could I keep on ignoring and scrolling? I can’t remember when I actually read an article and started learning about what the oils actually claimed, but it happened to coincide with the beginning of my least favorite time of year: cold and flu season. For the past two years, someone–or someones–in our home have been hit with rough winters sickness-wise. We’ve had flu a couple years, ear infections, bronchitis, and other maladies. If you’d like a trip down memory lane, feel free to read about one instance here, or another here, or a third recollection here. Of course, if at all humanly possible, I would love to avoid the sickness that threatened to strike our home at any given time (or after any given stranger’s sneeze). It just so happened that a close friend in our homeschool group also had just recently become a distributor for Young Living Essential Oils. To know that I could place an order without paying for shipping? Even better! It was just the impetus I needed to make the jump finally after all the ignoring and then hemming and hawing.

The bottle isn’t large and the price isn’t small, but compared to doctor visit copays and antibiotics or OTC meds, I was willing to give it a try. After all, essential oils have no side effects, so even if they didn’t work for our family, I would only be out some money. Goodness gracious, I know we’ve lost money on sketchier deals before, so it was worth it.

Can you tell I was pessimistic yet hopeful? Does the hopefulness come out at all in my writing?

While I patiently waited for my order to arrive, I did some reading the different uses for Thieves Oil and was pleasantly surprised. To learn about the basics of Essential Oils, read here. Even the story behind Thieves Oil was interesting, however: supposedly it originated during the years of the Black Plague in Europe. A band of perfumers by day and thieves by night concocted the strong combination which they slathered on themselves before plundering the houses of the sick or the dead. Because they were protected by the oils, they were able to steal without contracting the deadly disease. Isn’t it amazing how people can use their powers for good…or evil? Or in this case, would it be considered survival? In any case, what a fascinating story. I learned that this oil has a reputation as strong as its scent. It is widely used for its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal (and, though not as necessary these days, anti-Plague) properties. A study at Weber State University showed that some oils may fight the resistant MRSA, and you can read about their findings here if you’d like. The more I read, the more excited I got to receive my order. If this really worked, might we really escape the harshness of the cold and flu season?

At long last, the order arrived. (It was probably all of three days between the time I ordered and its arrival, but patience had never.) The main ingredients, clove, cinnamon, lemon, rosemary, and eucalyptus, so just breaking open the seal released a strong aroma of that combination. Unmistakable is what I would call it. For those already in the “essentials oils fan club,” when I’m donning Thieves, they ask if I’m feeling ok. For those who don’t know about essential oils, they ask me why I smell like pumpkin bread. (and now, six months after starting our journey with this oil, my kids instantly know when I open the bottle)

Right away, I began diffusing it in a pot of boiling water every morning and most nights. I don’t have a diffuser yet, so I just used my small saucepan, brought some water to a boil, and added a few drops of the oil. At first I just diffused it and let the steam do its work around the house. I wondered if it was doing any good, but didn’t really have any way to tell. Then the resident redhead, the one who tends to bring most sickness into the house either by age or fortune, started coughing. Usually, her coughs start harmless enough but progress to ones that come from deep down in her chest. Then she wheezes. More, constant coughing. Naturally, while not happy that she seemed to be getting sick, I thought this might be a good opportunity to put the oils to a more direct test. Not only did I continue to diffuse it a few times a day, but while diffusing I had her “stick her face in it,” as I absent-mindedly directed her, which translated into her standing over the steam and breathing it in for a short while.   Because something was in the house, I instructed everyone to stick their faces in it, in fact.   I had also read that a drop or two applied near the lymph nodes on the neck or a drop rubbed into the soles of the feet could also help in fighting any illness one might be feeling.  It was worth a try, to be sure!  (We had tried rubbing Vicks on our feet for a while when fighting those awful keep-you-up-at-night coughs, so putting something on the feet wasn’t too fringy for me.)

I would say at first the kids (and probably Todd) thought I had finally lost it altogether, and was trying to take them along for the ride.  But when Chloe’s cough never went into her chest, and instead of her getting a fever and nasty congestion, I started to feel even more hopeful.   Could it be?  Or did she just have a mild touch of something that her body easily fought off?

Then one night, I started to feel icky.  You probably know the feeling well:  you feel OK, but within twenty minutes, that body ache quickly spreads all over, from the shoulders to your lower back and back up to your head.  It takes no time at all to go from normal to near death.  Before I went to bed that night, I dabbed a couple drops on my neck and went to sleep.   I am not kidding you, the next morning I woke up and it hadn’t gotten any worse.  In fact, I had forgotten that I was feeling bad for a while (probably until I had my morning coffee, but I digress).   From then on, whenever I felt that “something is coming on” feeling, I did not hesitate to apply Thieves to my neck.   Anytime the kids had a cough or sneezed more than twice in a row, I broke out the Thieves.  In fact, when Hannah complained of a headache one morning, she patiently endured while I rubbed it onto her forehead.   I even managed to get Patrick to put a drop on the roof of his mouth when he later said he had a headache, but I don’t think I will ever get him to do that again!  It is potent, and he carried the taste of cloves and cinnamon for quite some time.   (Personally, I was amused that I even persuaded him to do it once!)

To make a long story short, I have no scientific results from our Winter of 2013 Experiment–merely anecdotal evidence.  But in comparison to 2011 and 2012 when we made regular visits to the kids’ pediatrician, this past winter we had to go only once or twice, and they were not sickness-related issues.   While I had fought a couple sinus infections in the winter of 2012, I had nothing this past winter.  I won’t say that we were illness-free, but it seemed that if I was vigilant about applying it and diffusing it when something began, the sickness never had the chance to get off the ground and spread through the household.   I call that a darn good endorsement, actually.    I am completely sold on essential oils and am in the process of broadening my use and collection for other benefits within my family.

The bottle I originally bought looked tiny and not worth the money we had paid, but it lasted through the longest part of the winter.

In April, I was saddened–and a tad panicked–when I opened the bottle and the bottle was dry.  Thankfully, my friend was just a call away and within a week, we had a new bottle to help us continue on our journey of health.   And while we’re not looking to plunder the sick, it makes living with them a lot more palatable.

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