Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Illuminations at Colonial Williamsburg

Over a month ago we visited Colonial Williamsburg for the Christmas season. I've gotten behind in sharing pictures and stories of our adventures, so this may seem off topic, but actually it isn't. Christmas, as we know it, was not celebrated in the 18th century, not even in Virginia. For them, the days leading up to Christmas was a religious observance. Then with Christmas began the 12 Days of Christmas, which included much merriment and dances, at least in Virginia! "Virginians must dance or they will die, " Philip Vickers Fithian wrote. Many weddings also took place during this time. George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis and Thomas Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton during the 12 Days of Christmas.

When the historic area became "the historic area" in the 1920's and 1930's, visitors expected to see Christmas when they arrived in December. However none had been planned since it wasn't historically accurate. To accomodate guests' Christmas wishes, many new traditions and programmings have been devised over the years with leanings towards history. One of the many new traditions that we enjoy at CW today in December, are illuminations which are historically based in the 18th century for a grand event, such as the king's birthday.

There are three different illuminations, that I am aware of, the Illumination of the Taverns, the Illumination of the Palace Green and Illumination of the Capitol.

Our first night in town we got to see the Illumination of the Taverns, on Duke of Gloucester Street. The Fife and Drum Corps fife and drum their way up DOG Street, stopping in front of each of the taverns. The music pauses as a narrator on a loudspeaker shares history of that tavern of of the Illumination.

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Guns are fired (most definitely an 18th century Christmas tradition) and torches...
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light cressets in front of the tavern.
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Then the Fife and Drum Corps fife and drum their way to the next tavern, drawing huge crowds of guests to join in the merriment.

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Our last night in town we attended the Illumination of the Palace Green which starts at the Governor's Palace.

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The procession continues pretty much the same as on DOG Street, except there is a bit more intricate opportunity involving marching down the Palace Green then up the streets and back, this time with narration telling about the houses along the Palace Green.
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At the very end of the night, we got a photo of the entire Palace Green alight with cressets.

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas at the Rockefellers' Williamsburg Home

Today we have the charming Colonial Williamsburg thanks to two men. Reverand Goodwin had a vision. In 1926 he convinced John D. Rockefeller that his vision was a worthy cause. Before long, Rockefeller himself caught the vision and poured his heart into the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. Rockefeller's wife also caught the vision and fell in love with Williamsburg. Goodwin even convinced Rockefeller to purchase Basset Hall. "I wish you would buy Basset Hall for yourself. It would give you a charming vantage point from which to play with the vision and dream which you see." Rockefeller was convinced and purchased Basset Hall to the delight of his wife. Her response at the purchase was, "Oh, I am so happy today. John has promised me we can have Basset Hall...And he says I can keep it if I promise not to take in tourists." She called it "our little colonial house" and it was the favorite of all their houses.

Today we are able to tour this home, which is styled as it was when the Rockefellers lived in it. The grandchildren return today and say it is just like it was when they visited as children. For Christmas it is decorated 1940's style.

The Rockefellers had two different tastes which one can read about in the previously linked article. Mr. Rockefeller liked the traditional but Mrs. Rockefeller liked folk art. You will see a sprinkling of both throughout the house. During the tour the tour guide tells great information about life in Basset Hall, both in the colonial days, and when the Rockefellers lived there.

Apart from the folk art, much of the 1940's decor reminds me of being at my grandparents' house, or even my parents' house because my mom inherited many things from her parents. Even the Christmas tree makes me feel like being at my parents' house.



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We were told that this was Mrs. Rockefeller's gown that she wore in the 1941 painting that can be seen here.

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My infamous fruitcake recipe (which is truly moist and delicious) came from my mom's cookbook...identical to the Borden pamphlet cookbook in the picture below! Also my mom had those silver cookie cutters for us to use while I was a little girl. My grandma gave me a cookie press just like the one below. Oh the memories.

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My mom still has a rug like that, lamps like that, buys wrapping paper like that...

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I've toured Basset Hall before, but it meant so much more after having seen the Williamsburg Old Time Radio Hour, set in the time of the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, in the 1920's/1930's. All week I was walking through town thinking of how the town used to look before the restoration. Reading the above linked article tonight made me decide who I'm going to be when we do our 1930's history presentation next school year. I want to be Mrs. Rockefeller! I'm not as old as she was when her husband started donating to the historic area, but we'll bypass that minor detail. I'll be looking for lots of research on her! Stay tuned!

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Capitol Concert at Christmasy Colonial Williamsburg

My favorite concerts are with the Governor's Musick and when better to attend than at Christmas time? We are not allowed to take photos during the program but we had a long wait indoors because of the frigid chill outdoors. Everything was in place, as appropriate to the 18th century...candles, music, atmosphere.

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While watching some Jane Austen movies recently it was quite a thrill to see some some of the same music and candle stands. I could definitely feel myself transported to the past.

When the musicians entered, they shared that there is much music making during the 12 Days of Christmas, but very little is documented as to precisely what is played specific to the season. However they do know which music they could have played. These delightful pieces were played for us, even a few very old pieces that reflect the birth of the Saviour. We listened to the harpsichord, viola da gamba, violin, a German flute (I think, but much different than what we are used to today) and a female soprano. Most of the others also joined her in song. They played in different combinations and all took turns featuring their instrument or voice, so we could appreciate the beauty of each one as well as its place in history.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Williamsburg Old Time Radio Hour

The first program we got to see while visiting Colonial Williamsburg was the Williamsburg Old Time Radio Hour featuring a few familiar faces from CW and many new ones! This program is brand new to the CW Christmas lineup with hopes of more to come! As we entered the Hennage Auditorium we were instantly getting into the mood of 1920's Williamsburg. The stage was set with an old time radio studio complete with foley table (sound effects)! We knew all about that from an opportunity we had to produce our very own family radio show that we still have on CD! The kids were voices with Whit, Connie and Kris from "Adventures in Odyssey" and I was part of the foley crew. In the picture below you can see the "door" just like I had to use on the foley table in Colorado Springs. I quickly learned that great finesse and timing are key to make noise. Slamming a door requires much rehearsal!

Also my kids and I put together our own USO radio show for the troops of WWII, which was broadcast back home in America. (This is how I teach history.) Therefore we had plenty of background of experience to know that a lot of research and work went into this program and we couldn't wait to see it all come together! We know that anything that Colonial Williamsburg puts together is quality and we trusted this show would be great! I surprisingly even found myself in fashion to the 1920's, since I was wearing my 1920's cloche hat to help me keep warm on the wintery streets in the historic area. We were definitely getting "in the mood."

Anticipation was building as period 1920's music cheerfully played while a slide presentation showed us how the historic area looked in the days before the restoration followed by a picture of how it looks today. Many of these pictures I've seen before in the book Williamsburg: Before and After. However there were some new ones of Merchant's Square! I had no idea that corner of the CW property was that old! I always assumed it had been built more recently. There were other stores there at one time and we recognized all the store fronts from the A&P to the Harvey Diner (which made me wonder if there was a connection to Fred Harvey's western establishments that began in the late 19th century. They eventually turned to chain stores during the Great Depression, and I found this document from the College of William and Mary which discusses the beginning of chain stores in Merchants Square during the Great Depression.) This further set the stage for entering the 1920's Williamsburg, since this radio studio was set in the 1920's with many references were made to familiar places like Henry Street and the "first" reference to DOG Street.

Then each of the slides showcased each of the performers to help us get to know their background and it was hilarious. There was even a "War of the Worlds" reference which even my kids knew about because I thought that was important enough to teach them when we studied the early 20th century. We had listened to a radio drama I downloaded off of audible. So we were really getting "in the mood!"

The program itself was absolutely wonderful and was everything I've ever seen in movies or read about including tossing script sheets over one's shoulder! If it hadn't have been for all our own attempts dabbling in "radio" we would have thought this was easy, because the cast, especially the foleys, made everything look so simple! The program was well written pulling in many connective elements that a Colonial Williamsburg visitor could identify with, not to mention tying in to the classic 1920's radio feel and sound. The inside jokes/moments were great, like the Martha Washington interpretation that only a CW regular would "get!" Fun! Then the foley artists not only handled their miscellaneous spot-on noise makers with smooth precision but they contributed their voices and facial expressions to the wonderful line up of great talent on the stage!

The entire package deal was brilliant, well written, well performed, well choreographed, etc, etc, etc!

After the program we were invited to meet the performers and my son headed straight to the foley table. He asked for this picture, since we were asked not to take pictures during the program. These are the foley artists and she recognized us right off, from having seen us in other CW audiences. I'm always amazed when they tell me that!

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This program gave me a greater appreciation for the historic area. As I walked through the streets the remainder of the weekend, I thought about the photos and sounds of the past, the past before Williamsburg was restored to its colonial heritage.

Be sure to visit the Williamsburg Old Time Radio Hour facebook page for updates for upcoming shows!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

From della Robbia to Colonial Williamsburg-Wreaths

When visiting Colonial Williamsburg for Christmas, a most visted theme is at once non-historical to the colonial era yet has its origins in the Renaissance...Christmas wreaths. While the historic area was being first restored in the 1930's, visitors were disappointed to see no Christmas decorations on display. In colonial Virginia, Christmas was a religious observance in the days leading to Christmas. However the twelve days after were full of much merriment (hence the twelve days of Christmas), though little decoration. A compromise was found in the Colonial Revival of the early 20th century, incorporating natural elements in an old idea first originating in the Renaissance artists of the della Robbia family, which I wrote about here. You can read more of the CW story here. Each year these are freshly, creatively and uniquely made. It's always fun to see how they will be different this year. Here are a sample of my favorites. (I'm having media troubles so my first three pictures are huge. I'll downsize them when I can access the solution....Oh! They don't post as huge as they do on my draft. Photobucket is changing and I can't figure it out.)

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Pret-a-Papier, Faberge Eggs and Napoleon

Today we visited the Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens to see the current exhibit of Pret-A-Papier...an exhibit of stunning 18th, 19th and 20th century gowns and accessories made of paper! (At this link you can see information on the artist creating these realistic looking paper gowns.) Although I took nearly 200 pictures to aid my own study of historic costuming and art appreciation, I am not permitted to showcase any of them here. However I did find Hillwood's pinterest page of the exhibit.

As we entered the Visitor Center, many paper kimonos were seen hanging from the ceiling. A great perspective of looking up at the kimonos is near the tall Christmas tree which is decorated with smaller paper kimonos. There is a picture of this on their facebook wall.

Then we went to the Adirondack Building which currently houses nothing but these lovely paper gowns. As we entered the huge double doors, we were greeted by a stunning display of the pièce de résistance, heralding the fashion trender of Paris herself, Empress Josephine Bonaparte's coronation gown. Inspired, I photographed the gown and long train from every angle, as I did all the others to come. We had audio sets and headphones for the private tours and the artist highly recommended we do just that, view the gowns from each angle. Stunning. Amazing. Breathtaking.

And I might add that in the audio, the narrator described that Josephine's "regal bearing and sympathetic personality won her the enduring love and admiration of her subjects." That agrees with what I read in the Cronin book, Napoleon Bonaparte. I didn't used to like Josephine until I read this book, based on primary sources. Now I like Josephine quite a bit!

Then there was the "big hip gown" as my daughter called it from the early 18th century. Most would recognize it as the early 18th century British court gown...with the 5 feet hips!

One that I recognized immediately was based on the 1791 "Self-portrait with a Harp." The paper lace was realistically sheer.

My daughter's favorite was one that reminded her of the Lady Dunmore gown from Colonial Williamsburg. We went to a special program a few years ago where the Costume Design Center directors talked about how they had the original fabric replicated to dress Mamie Gummer to portray Lady Dunmore. The paper gown we saw had some of the same colors and designs in it.

Then there was the frilly green Madame de Pompadour gown with pink bows and roses galore, made famous from the Francois Boucher painting. (sigh) Set next to this was an antique table from the museum collection, replicating the one in the Boucher painting. The little extra scene styling gave me the feeling that I was in her bourdoir, with a paper workbag (18th century version of a purse) hanging from the table. Paper roses were scattered nearby on the floor.

Next to that was another favorite, the Marie Antoinette pink gown of rustling poofy silk, made of paper. Next to this was an antique dog bed with canopy, from the estate's collection. This was an especially easy gown to take many angle shots and even the opportunity to photograph of the sea of gowns in various pastels, in that corner of the room.

These were my favorites from the entire collection, all in one spot. Yet next to these were three Fortuny gowns, all inspired by ancient Greek gowns. Of the three, the light aquas was my favorite and one I'd like to attempt to replicate. It has a lovely sheer aqua overlay (made out of paper) over the infamous Fortuny crinckled fabric (a Fortuny designer secret that was never revealed and has never been discovered) for the base gown, this time replicated in paper. I already own a similar base fabric, synthetically crinkled but easy since I don't know the trade secret.

Most of these gowns were on special platforms that allowed for underlighting to shine under and through the gown, creating a lifelike effect. I had fun capturing this on the camera.

Then we went to the mansion, which is the most elaborate mansion I have ever entered. More than a home for Marjorie Post, who inherited the famed cereal company, it became a museum of her growing collections from travel and work abroad. First she fell in love with all things French...which later developed into a fascination with Russian history...all because of living in these countries while her husband did diplomatic type work. The blend of the two within the walls of this beautiful home makes for a warm and intimate museum experience. I do not feel as though I am in the typical modern museum, but I feel like I'm visiting someone's house, which I am. Each room of the house showcases her multitudinous collections, which we first saw last May when we went to visit the Napoleon exhibit. The basic French and Russian items remain on display throughout the year, but with some changing out seasonally. For example the dining room and breakfast nook change out their place settings and tablescape according to the seasonal theme. In May the theme was military influence in honor of Napoleon to the Christmas tablescape we saw today. Also in Marjorie Post's dressing room are a couple of her personal gowns from the early 19th century on display. Last summer I got to see some lovely 1920's styles, and I'm not a fan of the 1920's but these were lovely. This time one was a beautiful 1907 gown and the other was a paper gown from the same collection.

Throughout the mansion's usual displays was the sprinkle of paper gowns. In the mansion's mid19th century media/entertainment room (think lavender velvet seats with balcony and iron railing with scrollwork) were 2 paper gowns. One was especially commissioned for the permament Hillwood Mansion collection. This was a lovely 1830's blue gown with white lace and prodigious leg o'mutton sleeves that is showcased in front of the museum's huge painting in the same room. "Tossed" onto a nearby chair was an intricately woven paper blanket with lush paper fringe.

On the opposite wall was a painting of a Russian wedding from which the artist replicated the bridesmaid's garment full of rich texture.

In the French room, was a pair of paper fashions from the late 18th century in the southern French style, inspired by the tapestry behind the display. A lady's jacket and petticoat and the gentleman's frock coat/waistcoat/breeches were in bright yellows, reds, oranges and greens of the region. My son, who often wears 18th century garments to Colonial Williamsburg, was glad to see a 3D paper garment for a man.

In the dining room was a Scottish take on an English-back gown, in reds, warmly harmonizing with the reds of the English hunting themed room.

Upstairs, in the casual library, was a vibrant 1780's jacket and petticoat with matching shoes nearby on the floor and hat on a nearby chair, all made from paper.

In the guest bathroom dressing area, was a man's banyan (18th century dressing robe) with a bit more Japanese influence than historicallhy accurate, because the artist purposed to be extremely creative on this one. She explains why in the audio tour. Showcased next to that was a bust of Peter the Great, because this was her homage of the Russian ruler.

In Marjorie Post's dressing room bay window was showcased a cream on cream 18th century jacket and petticoat combination.

In her bedroom was a lovely white on white gauzy layered confection of an equisite gown from the 1860's, such as Napoleon III's wife would have worn, more specifically a Worth gown. It was fun in that we began and ended our tour of paper gowns on Napoleonic notes, with gowns represntative of Empresses of France. I think it also goes with my latest blog theme, of Napoleon's positive influence on the world, for which homage continues to be paid today. There is no getting away from Napoleon. He's everywhere.

Even though we had visited the mansion last May, I had inadvertently missed the permament collection of Faberge eggs and the stunning jeweled crown of Russian Empress Alexandra. This time I focused on them. Two of my favorites were in the center room showcase which was designed by Faberge. There was a stunning azure blue and diamond encrusted egg that Czar Nicholas gave to his mother, the first one he commissioned and gifted. Hence a tradition began of gifting his mother and wife Faberge eggs. Rescued from the rubble of the Bolshevik Revolution, the surprise that used to be inside the stunning blue egg is now gone. Underneath that in the display case was a pink egg that represented Catherine the Great. Next to that was a pink music box that was made by Faberge. As I listened to the explanation on the audio tour, I got to hear the music box music for background, as I learned of the artistic techniques Faberge used for this lovely piece. This museum is a great place not only for admirers of history and art, but also for students of art history and of art technique.

When we returned to the Visitor Center, I noticed the hands-on section, where we could touch the type of paper the artist used to create her gowns. There was a flat screen television playing a video of her painting her papers to become gowns. There was a display that explained step-by-step how she used her choice of paper to create the colors and luminosity and various effects. Somehow she can even make the paper transparent to use as gauze, or to use as lace. Very realistic. Then there was a dress form that had the painted papers in the beginning stages of being artfully arranged to become a gown. Throughout the exhibit we learned bits and pieces of how she painted, used metallic threads in the paint (like the original court gowns themselves), crunched, pleated, folded, etc, of the papers to design historic gowns. Even though she is the typical artist who prefers to employ her own creative interpretations, I was quite amazed at how spot-on many of the gowns were in their various designs. In short the artist uses a technique called trompe 'oeil, which means to "fool the eye." Indeed these gowns and accessories did fool the eye, especially when viewed from afar. Up close it was obvious that the gowns were made of paper, but sometimes you had to look twice due to excellent effect.





Friday, December 14, 2012

Napoleonic Battles 1796 to 1815 Overlay Map

Napoleon is infamous for his battles, of which there seem to be millions, so I thought they would make a great overlay map project. By the way, did you know that his battles were defensive in nature? He kept seeking peace with Britain, who repeatedly refused tranquility. Instead Britain kept making alliances with European countries with the intent to squash the French Republic and restore the monarchy. They did not like Napoleon bringing the rights of man to the common people. The monarchs did not want revolution to come to their countries. Also Napoleon gave freedom for religion to all the people, Catholic, Protestant and Jew, which further angered the surrounding countries. Unfortunately none of the European monarchs liked Jews having religious freedom. Catholic European countries did not like Protestants having religious freedoms and vice versa. So the nations allied to conquer Napoleon and restore the Bourbons to the French throne before they lost their own necks at the hands of their own people who might possibly be influenced by the French revolutionists.

As I looked through possibilities for a European base map for this era, my son stumbled upon a historic map in French. He insisted we use that one. But it's in French! He was determined, he wanted the French map! We copied it to Word and readjusted settings in order to fill the page in landscape format. We allowed a bit of space to the right and bottom so my young conqueror could extend Russia and add Moscow to the map. He also included Egypt to the map.

Here is the version of the map my son designed, which we used for the base map.
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My initial goal was to design the overlays in such a way as to see the growth of Napoleon's Empire over the years, however I could not find any maps like that. We decided to break down each of the overlays into the various coalitions, which constantly formed against Napoleon, necessitating his defensive battle formations. My son used The Napoleonic Wars by Gunther Rothenberg, which I found at a used bookstore. Although the author is anti-Napoleon, the book is full of primary source paintings, renderings, battle charts, battle maps, etc. The author, at least, conceded to Napoleon's brilliant battle strategy and explained how that changed the course of war for all time. It was interesting to read how Napoleon's genius has been applied over the years, including in modern warfare with airplanes.

My son decided to start with the First Coalition so he could trace all of Napoleon's battles, even before he led France. The first three coalitions, which include Toulon and the Italian Campaign, Egypt and the Syrian Campaign, the battle of Marengo, the battle of Austerlitz and scores of others were added to the base map he started of the French Revolution. The Fourth Coalition picks up with the new map he designed, pictured above.

Here is the War of the Fourth Coalition (1806-1807) which includes the infamous battle of Jena. In the legend he indicates his markings for the battles, victories and the presence of Napoleon, Nelson, etc.
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The Peninsular War (1807-1814)...in the key on the bottom left he indicates battles, victories, and presence of famous people.
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The War of the Fifth Coalition (1809).
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The War of the Sixth Coalition (1812-1814) which includes the famed battle of Borodino and the invasion of Russia.
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The War of the Sixth Coalition focusing on Napoleon's final battles leading to abdication (which my son argued that Napoleon was actually doing well enough to have pursued preserving France. If it weren't for his marshalls and generals who gave up too quickly...)
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The War of the Seventh Coalition (1815), The Hundred Days.

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Through the process my son's geography skills of Europe increased enormously. He even exclaimed he can keep better track of some of Napoleon's key battles. I'm a bit better at it too. The actor/historian that we know who portrays Napoleon in Europe can enumerate every single detail of Napoleon's battles in rapid stacatto formation. If we ever get to meet Napoleon again, perhaps we can keep up with his quick discourse even better than before.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lewis and Clark Overlay Map

Here is my son's overlay map project which I designed for him using the following topics and resources. One of our resources to study the expedition was the book, Lewis and Clark: Voices from the Trail by Michael Kerrigan. We read the entire book, full of journal entries from Lewis and Clark as well as stunning photography of what they saw, sprinkled with primary source renderings. Because my son enjoyed this fascinating journey so much, I designed an overlay map project for him using an intereactive map from National Geographic.

For our base map I used a print out from Knowledge Quest.

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The first layer documents some of the various Indian tribes they met along the way.
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The second layer documents some of the flora discovered during the journey. We didn't have room to list them all so I had my son choose his favorites, being sure to include 2-3 from each leg of the expedition. The dots had little numbers, which he listed in the key in the bottom right corner with the full name of each of the species.
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The final layer documents the fauna discovered during the journey, again using representative samples. This time little red numbers represented the discoveries which are listed in the key in the bottom right corner.
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Michael W. Smith Christmas Concert

Last night we got to attend a Michael W. Smith Christmas concert at our church. It was absolutely wonderful. He sang and played piano with an orchestra and choir. My son wasn't certain about going. Like me his preference is classical over contemporary. However I told him Michael W. Smith has some great music, not that he remembered much of it though he it has heard some being played or sung over the years. I told him that Smith is different so if I'm excited about going that should say something. He reconsidered and cheerfully went.

My daughter, sadly, had to stay home to study for finals. With an 8pm concert and 8am final the next morning, home was the only option. That was heartbreaking since she is a bigger fan than I am and knows all of his music.

We got free tickets from our church because this was primarily an evangelistic outreach. My daughter gave her ticket away and a couple of extras to different people at her college. Since this was primarily an evangelistic outreach the church members gave up prime seating to sit in satellite rooms and campuses to watch everything on the big screen. The camera and sound guys did a phenomenal job giving us excellent views and sound quality. It was like really being there. Michael W. Smith and his choir and orchestra gave up their off days between tour cities to perform at our church on Monday and Tuesday. He is friends with one of our music guys who has also won Grammy and Dove awards. They attended church together years ago in Nashville.

Everyone looked great in formal black attire. The sound was sharp, with no muddy notes from either instruments or voice! What a delight to hear and see such professional quality!

Smith played some of his older songs that I've sung in choir at our church back in San Antonio, during our Christmas programs, "Gloria" and "Emmanuel." He played lots of newer songs. He played a patriotic song he had written for our veterans, all of whom he had stand. He sang a song to which his son wrote the lyrics. He told the great story of how his son phenomenally found the words that no one else could. I am not surprised. His son knew his dad's heart and obviously God's heart, which together with a bit of a gift inherited from his dad, put into words the meaning his dad had set to music. Isn't that what family is about? Isn't that how a parent influences kids? After telling a great story about his background in music, he sang an old vintage Christmas song to his wife, who was in attendance!

Towards the end of the program Michael told the story of Jesus in an especially moving way that touched my heart, then our pastor shared the gospel and led the salvation prayer for those who wanted to take Christ as their Savior. Then all were invited to sign up for follow up Bible studies to learn the basics of Christianity and how to find people just to talk to (they wore buttons that said, "Got questions?") The pastor was so funny when he said that surely there were those who weren't soooooooooooooo sure about praying that prayer though they were quite intrigued by the idea. He invited them to talk to the answer people and to sign up for the Bible study too! This was great! It reminded me of the Christian group I attended when I was in college when we did our evangelistic outreaches.

Then Smith closed the program with a couple of more songs and left. Encore! Encore! He came back! Guess what he played? "Friends." Be still my heart. That song reminds me of when I graduated from college when our Bible study group played that song for all the graduating seniors after matching a fun song to a grad send off. After playing the opening notes, Smith said he can't believe he wrote that song 30 years ago. Thirty years ago? I wasn't even in college yet. As always...tears came to my eyes. I was hoping he'd do just one more, my absolute favorite, "You are Holy." But no, after a rousing rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," that was the end. Time for wonderfulness to end.

Friday, December 7, 2012

How to Read a Story Aloud...tips from the Story Lady

"You don't know the meaning of the word 'defeat' until you look into the eyes of a six year old and realize you are not making it as a toad,"-said the judge (portrayed by Charles Durning) to The Storylady (portrayed by Jessica Tandy).

In this 1991 CBS Christmas movie, one of our favorites which I taped long ago, an elderly lady named Grace moves in with her daughter (her real life daughter plays the part) and son-in-law. Bored, she looks for something to do and discoveres vanity tv, as her son-in-law calls it. He says the odd programs on there are because anyone can have their own show, as long as they spend a bit of money, like $20 to have their own show. Secretly she goes to the cable tv studio where she and her beautifully illustrated classic children's books that she used to read to her daughter, become an instant hit. Her young producer/camerman soon becomes enchanted and borrows the book to cut the pictures into the tape for free, to enhance the show. When the show airs, bored tv viewers from children to adults, find her show while channel surfing and are immediately drawn in. When her show is discovered by a marketing company, they have her sign a contract to produce her show for syndication. Unfortunately their interpretation of her show causes her to lose her charm because of the pressure. The big company even wants her imperfect teeth to be replaced by dentures. Since her contract is impossible to break, unless she breaks the morals clause, she purposely shoplifts in a fine department store on Christmas Eve...she must face the judge.

The judge, after hearing her story, fusses that she has caused him much trouble with his granddaughter. The Storylady's original cable show was cut in the middle of the reading of The Wind in the Willows, when she is contacted by the marketing company. The judge complains that he couldn't please his granddaughter when he tried to finish the book for her because he lacked a voice, the voice of the toad. Grace thinks for a moment and exclaims that she never used a voice but was just trying to be toady...all pompous and arrogant. She quotes some lines from the book in a puffed up proud and arrogant toady voice which the judge at first poorly imitates. After a few minutes of great coaching they are both pompously quoting from toad in grand arrogance.

Like Grace, when I read a book aloud, I try to become the character. Yet my first inspiration in reading a story was Richard Thomas, when he has portrayed different parts like John Boy on The Waltons and Richard Evans in The Christmas Box. Who can improve upon the rhythmic quality of his voice? I can't, but I do try to attain.

Not all books make great read alouds. Some are quite duds unless read silently. There are books that lend themselves to the lyric quality of the human voice and action in coming to life. If a book is coming out stilted as a read aloud, it's probably meant to be a thinking book, to be read silently. For tips on which books make great read alouds, I highly recommend Jim Trealease's Read Aloud Handbook. In the first half of the book he makes a case for parents to turn off the television (which dulls the brain) and turn on the books. The second half of the book is a list of great read alouds with a synopsis of each one. As mentioned, these are updated periodically.


There are times to read a book silently, to slowly savour its meaning and let the words seep into your soul. There are other times that are meant to be shared with reading aloud, expressing the sounds and emotions, that pull a group of people together. Sometimes it's a read aloud that draws the listener in to daringly attempt a book on his own. This is how I encouraged many children to read books on their own.

Anyone can read a book aloud. The finesse is in bringing a book to life do that it inspires many students who have been beguiled into the tale beyond their resistance, so that when reading time for the day must come to an end, Grace encouragingly asks, "What do we say?" And all her listeners reply, "To be continued!"

Thursday, December 6, 2012

PSAT Terrific Results

Today my son received the results of his PSAT exam that he took in October. He scored in the 98%ile for juniors!!! Now he has to wait until September 2013 to see if he qualifies to compete for the scholarship. There is still much work ahead, including preparing for the SAT.

Meanwhile, what did he do to get ready for the PSAT? This is the only PSAT he has taken. Last July we went to Barnes and Noble and looked at their PSAT study guides and he chose this book: Kaplan's PSAT/NMSQT Premier.



It is internet linked to the Kaplan website for various tools, but my son mostly studied through the book. First he diligently read chapter one on the basics which explains every detail about how the PSAT works from structure to scoring to where and when it is taken to the importance of it and the types of scholarships that are offered through it. Understanding all of this helped him, motivated as he was, to understand the big picture and know what the journey would be to his goal to get college scholarships.

Then he focused on chapter 2 which detailed several different test strategies. Chapter 3 covered strategies for the day of the test. Then he took the diagnostic test. This helped him to learn how the structure of the test day goes, how the test is structured and how the test is scored, since we got to score it ourselves. Then we discussed why he missed the ones he did. Then there were more pages to study, more strategies to learn and more practice tests to take. We staggered the practice tests from July to October, before the actual PSAT test. At the back of the book are study pages of word families, root lists, writing skills, a word list, and 100 essential math concepts like a listing of all the mathematical formulas he would need to know in one spot. He especially liked that!

Other than that, our regular school work has been aggressive enough to help prepare him for the PSAT. For math he's taken Algebra I and Geometry and is currently taking Algebra II, all through Teaching Textbooks. He's been studying Latin through Latin Road to English Grammar. He's in volume 3 of 3 now. This helps build analytical and English vocabulary skills as well as forcing him to look at English grammar through a different avenue. He's taken Biology I and Chemistry I with Apologia, which also builds analytical skills and uses a lot of complex math. Currently he is studying Physics I. For history he reads real books, does a lot of writing and lots of oral discussion to prove his points and defend his positions on the facts he's read. For literature he's been reading from the Great Books list and then discussing their impact, structure and meaning. For government he's read many primary source documents throughout world history.

We are certainly hoping for the scholarships because that is his only ticket to university.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Secret Sister 2012 from North Carolina

For the last 7 years I've participated in a group of Christian homeschool moms where each Christmas we participate in a Secret Sister prayer and ornament exchange. However it's really about the prayer. We pray for each other, based on the requests we put on our application, for an entire month before we mail an ornament that reveals who we are. It's usually quite hilarious the way things work out, one way or the other, because we have a good time teasing each other with hints before the secrets are revealed. This year I was assigned a lady in North Carolina, named Monica. When I read her application I was amazed at how much we had in common. Whenever she posted her hints I paid especially close attention, because she was after all, my SS. Amazingly each hint, week by week, one by one, could apply to me. I began to consider the possibilities that she might have me! I decided to tease her by replying to every single one of her hints, as if she definitely had me...but then I did that to nearly all the ladies. The teasing is fun.

I found out that she was going to mail her box on Saturday, but I wanted to get my box out on Friday. I decided to "strategically" ship my box parcel post, so it wouldn't arrive at her doorstop until Wed. The mail lady couldn't understand why I wouldn't pay less money to ship it priority mail. (The difference was less than a dollar.) I kept explaining it had to take longer to get there. She was soooooo confused. LOL Turns out Monica couldn't mail her box until Monday! How exciting! If she mailed it Monday to me via priority mail, that meant that both boxes would pass each other on the highway and simultaneously arrive on our doorsteps on Wednesday! We could conceivably discover that we were each other's Secret Sister at the same time...be opening our boxes at the same time...and then posting the results to our homeschool group at the same time! Doesn't that sound brilliantly fun?!

Tuesday morning I opened my e-mail and discovered to my shock that Monica received her SS box from me on Monday but she didn't have a chance to post until late that night after I went to bed. Parcel post arrived two days early? When does that ever happen? I was completely stunned. If she was my SS, she knew two days before me! I had to wait two more days to find out whether or not she was indeed my SS!

Meanwhile other ladies were posting their deep lament that their packages were not arriving at the time they had originally been told to expect. I kept telling them they needed my mail man. He delivers parcel post two days early.

This morning Monica posted that the box should arrive at her SS's house today, but hoped it wouldn't be a day late. In reply I posted that if he's anything like my mailman, it would get there in double time. In fact, her mailman could just deliver it to my mailman so it could just be put on my porch!

As I was working around the house today I heard the rumble of the mail truck coming up the street. I patiently worked on organizing things, because when presents are concerned, I'm not one of those who rip them open. Instead I'm the rare sort who gets really quiet and savors the gift and the one who gave it to me...no need to actually open it. But I knew that if Monica were truly my SS, she'd be quite antsy to get my reaction to the box, based on the posts she had made. So I went to the front door and opened it. Imagine that. There was a box on my doorstep! I looked at the return address. Imagine that! It had that address I knew so well from NC. She also had drawn a heart on the box for me. =) I brought it in.

Son-Did you get a box?

Me-Yes!

Son-Is it from whom you thought would send it?

Me-Yes!

Want to see what I got?
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The other day she had posted that she threw in some pecans from NC! There they were!

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At the top of the box was a lovely letter which made me feel quite special. Letters mean a lot to me, especially in this day and age of instant messaging. She said the loveliest things about me, and those things are what inspired her to look for my gifts. Many fun items from dark chocolate to floral notepads and stickies to a gift book and a delicately scented candle and flower pot!

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She said she went to many stores looking for an ornament that reminded her of me. She dug and dug and dug until she found this! She said if she could design an ornament to represent me, this would be it! When I posted the pictures to the group, everyone agreed that the ornament most definitely represented me!

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When I picked up my daughter from college this afternoon she asked about SS developments and I told her I got the box. She asked if it came from whom I thought would send it and I said yes. As soon as she got home she went running to find all my treats and she read my letter!


Having Monica for a SS was a lot of fun, especially when I got to legitimately use two of my favorite people from history for clues: the Marquis de Lafayette and Thaddeus Kosciuszko! I almost used Banastre Tarleton and the Waxhaws but I thought that would give too much away. Besides, Tarleton wouldn't like that and I don't want to get on his bad side. ;)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Moon Set Between Jupiter and a Red Star

The other night the moon shone brilliantly at the farthest point it could be from the earth, allowing us to see two objects in the sky without a telescope...Jupiter and a red star. Jupiter looked white and the star indeed looked red. I found out as I was shutting off the computer for bed, but knew what I had to do. I went upstairs to wake up my son. He would thank me for this. As he sleepily woke up to slow coherence, I explained that Jupiter and a red star were clearly visible so he immediately went downstairs and looked for it. The best viewing was from our deck. He went upstairs to get his telescope to focus in even more. He also borrowed my camera. He wasn't able to take pictures of Jupiter or the red star, but he did take these pictures of the moon.
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Some he took through the telescope. I posted about this and the link above on facebook, to which a friend of mine replied. She said they had seen it so she used her Night Sky app on her cell phone. An app? I investigated and downloaded the free version on my phone. That's fascinating and fun to play with even during the day!