Shout for Joy! {Summer of Psalms}

Happy Monday morning to you! Last week, I sent you Cari Donaldson's way for the first of the Summer of Psalms posts. This week, it's my turn. Kristin has reached out to bloggers hither and yon and asked if they'd like to choose a psalm to share, each of us taking a turn on Monday throughout the summer. So, you get to read us pondering the psalms. But, wait, there's more!

Every week, Kristin will offer her original artwork to take away, print, frame, turn into a screensaver--enjoy! This week's art is truly something I will treasure. By the way, as I frame this one, it occurs to me that I may have framed more of Kristin's art now than I framed Michael's. And I framed a good bit of Michael's. I can't wait to see what this one creates;-). 


So, here's some art for you to have. Print it. Frame it. Share it. The Summer of Psalms Project is an effort to brighten cyberspace and give glory to God this summer through the sharing of inspired art and heartfelt thoughts and prayers. you can follow along by checking in with Kristin for a list (and I'll remind you here) as we add to the collection throughout the summer. Every week, there will be new, free, and encouraging artwork. What will you do with it? Whatever you do, share. Take a picture of how the psalms are coming to life in your spaces this summer and share it using the hashtag #summerofpsalmsproject -- let everyone shout for joy with us! 

Download Printable PDF of Psalm 65 Art

Upon first reading, this is a harvest song, plain and simple. But a little digging around, and we can understand it as an Easter song. The early Christians sang this psalm at liturgies celebrating the Resurrection. It's a beautiful praise of God's handiwork and, to me, it's an overflowing from the abundance of a grateful heart.

Clearly, all manners of praise are due to God and yet,  as I contemplate the majesty and goodness of God, I have no words at first to express His overwhelming amazingness. Those prayers of praise will be uttered, but only after I my breath is taken away by the majesty of it all. When I first read this psalm, I thought about how closely tied my family's celebration of Easter is with our time in the bluebells every year. It just happens that way--we celebrate the Resurrection in the context of glorious, bursting Virginia springtime. And every year, I walk the path in to the creek's edge. Tiny white fairy spuds line the trail, little wisps of green on the tress give a hint of rich fullness that is still to come within the next few weeks. And then, just as we near the water's edge, wave after wave of delicate blue flowers cover the forest floor. And every year, I stand there, silent, and inhale in awed wonder. 


The God who attends so carefully to the tiniest detail, the faintest blush of pink on a flower that will be blue in its fullness, is the God who hears me when the words finally come. He reveals Himself, kind and merciful, ready to answer the prayers of the children of His creation who come to Him through His Son. Pretty heady stuff.

Against the backdrop of His stunning artistry, we are so aware of our sins, of the fact that we aren't even close to worthy. But God chooses us. He brings us into communion with Him and He reveals Himself to us in the great outdoors that is both the glorious canvas of His artistry and the provision of His hands. And beyond the here and now, He has even greater riches awaiting us in heaven. 

The God strong enough to uphold the mountains? He's got this. Whatever "this" is in my life or the lives of the people I love, He's got it. My world storms around me, and oceans roar in my ears in the middle of the night; He speaks calm. He silences the Tormenter. 

Photo credit: Karoline, who loves to run after and capture sunsets with me.

Photo credit: Karoline, who loves to run after and capture sunsets with me.

I have learned to be a collector of both sunrises and sunsets. I seek them out. I capture them with a camera. I go out of my way to find them. They call to me. It is impossible for me to look at a canvas in the sky in the morning or the evening and not know the Artist who painted it. So I keep looking. The gateway into daytime is a moment to ask for His strength and His grace and clarity of His purpose for me. The gateway of the evening is a time to give thanks and to entrust my cares to Him. 

So many gifts! So many reasons to go outside and shout for joy! And every good and perfect gift is from above. He did it all. These are the works of God. And that river overflowing? It is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on world even today, so far removed the time of the psalmist and from the time of Christ. God is still with us. He's here, softening the edges with showers of grace.

As much as I see His glory in creation, how much can His glory be in me? Can it overflow? All those places in this great world where the beauty and majesty trumpet His glory and make me want to sing for joy? He considers me His greatest creation.

Think on that a moment. Me. You. We are the greatest works of His hands. And as much as that field of flowers makes my heart leap every spring, I  make His heart leap. 

For joy.

Thanksgiving for Earth’s Bounty
To the leader. A Psalm of David. A Song.

1 Praise is due to you,
O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
2 O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
3 When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions.
4 Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
your holy temple.
5 By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
6 By your[a] strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
7 You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
8 Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
9 You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
10 You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
11 You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.
— Psalm 65

Could it be a Storybook Year?

Late last summer, as I was gathering my thoughts on curriculum and trying to plan the year, I hit a wall. Actually, I was probably already flat up against the wall, but the time of year compelled me to do what I'd always done, so I pressed on. But I didn't want to plan. And I wasn't enthused about all the things that had previously sparked so much creative energy. It wasn't exactly burnout. It was more like beaten out. I hadn't wanted to share learning ideas for over a year, but by last summer, I didn't even want to write them for myself. It just wasn't fun anymore.

I thought about just sending off for several boxes of pre-planned curriculum. And then I consulted the budget. I looked around my house at all the resources we own. I didn't order anything. Nothing. That became the plan. Use what we have and just get the job done. 

We have an abundance of picture  books. I love picture books. When I was in college, I'd forego the coffee shop in the Student Union Building and head instead to the tiny corner of the adjacent bookstore that was home to the children's books. I saved my latte pennies for a hardbound copy of The Complete Tales of Peter Rabbit. Way better. I loved the small room in the Ed School library that was lined with shelves of children's literature. When we were assigned a semester-long project to compile an index card file of children's books, I filled three boxes. Every card was color-coded and annotated and illustrated. I still have those cards. I loved that project.


For over twenty years, I have been inspired by the art and the literature of picture books. I've thrown my whole heart into creating with books, whether it was bulletin boards in a classroom or fullblown unit studies for many ages. Literature-based learning was where I invested most of my creative energy. Some people love their cameras, some their paints, others their yarn or fabric. For me, it was always those beautiful books and the endless possiblities of things we could do with them.


I recalled a conversation with an old friend. Several years ago, we wondered if everything in an elementary curriculum could probably be taught with a good picture book. This year became my year to test the theory. Sort of.

We read widely from the lists in Real Learning (and more), both as read-alouds and read alones. Sustaining attention for long stories is a cornerstone of how we learn in our home.

The Montessori maps come out for geography review a couple times a week. 

Nature notebook

For my fifth-grader, I have a good math text, Rosetta Stone, some art history, nature notebooks, and, at his request, Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day. All the rest? Picture books.

For my third grader, math, Rosetta Stone, nature notebooks, drawing instruction, and picture books. 

For my little ones, lots of mama time. And picture books.

I take the week's copywork from the picture books. I take the poem to memorize that week from a picture book. Every night, each of the three youngest girls chooses two picture books for me to read before going to sleep.

What unfolded is not a curriculum. It's a "freedom within limits" plan that works for us. I share it here to tell you what we've been up to, not so much as to suggest you adopt it. It's entirely real learning in the heart of our home. I thought about all the categories of books, all the subjects typical programs of studies will cover. Also, I was sure to leave some grids for me to add in books I love and just don't want them to miss.  I gridded all the different categories in a weekly planning sheet. The sheet has changed several times this year as I add and delete as necessary. I've thoughtfully included the things that are important us, the components of a Charlotte Mason curriculum that I hold dear. 


We read the books together or the children read them to themselves. Sometimes, they have books in common on their charts. Sometimes, they have their own particular books. I sit down the weekend before and plan out the week. I key the saints' picture books to the liturgical year. Usually, I'll ask if there is a book they want to read and let them choose within each discipline. Occasionally, I'll gather up the stack myself. It's important for me to gather all the books before the week begins so I don't spend hours looking under couch cushions or behind beds for the books I am certain I just saw.

Sometimes, there is a theme across disciplines. Nicky might read  A Swim Through the Sea, Man Fish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau, and mom's choice of Night of the Moonjellies. Katie might ask about Manassas Battlefield Park as we drive by it daily, back and forth to ballet. The following week, I'll write in books like Follow the Drinking GourdHenry's Freedom BoxCivil War ArtistSweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt and If You Lived at the Time of the Civil War.

More often, though, this is not about unit studies, but about a wide banquet of varied topics. If a child is super-interested in something, it's simple enough to scuttle the written plan and dig deeply with more on-topic books. Two important things about scuttling the plan:  

  • There must be a plan to scuttle; this isn't freewheeling and hoping that books thrown everywhere will catch someone's attention.
  • If you ditch the plan, it's only to do something better. It's never to do nothing. And we need a written plan for the "something better."

Every day, the children respond in writing to at least one book. They can choose a writing project from a long list of projects or they can propose another. Not every book requires a formal response. Some books, we read, we talk about just a little, and then we close it and put it on the shelf. But every day requires some kind of writing. Every day. They might dictate a simple narration. They might peck out their own narrations. They might take off and create an elaborate screenplay. Whatever they choose, they must write something.


With the time that's left in the day, they can choose from other ways to respond to books and get as creative as they like with any book they've read that day or previously. We're busy. We're productive. We're surrounded by good language and great art. And the creative energy has returned to our educational adventures.

It's all good.


Tell me about your book: 

  • Write and tell a friend about the story. 
  • Make a detailed map of the setting of the book.
  • Is it a circle story? Can you draw it?
  • Did something really catch your attention? Want to research it further?
  • If historical, add it to your Book of Centuries. (we do this with every historical book)
  • Write a letter from the main character to you.
  • Choose a character you’d like to have as a friend.  Write him or her a letter. 
  • Plan & cook something to go with the book
  • Tell why it would (or wouldn’t) make a great movie. 
  • Describe an incident from it as though you were an on-the-scene TV reporter.
  • Create a collage.
  • Make up a rhyming poem about it
  • Illustrate w/drawings or photos
  • Explain its funniest (or saddest or most exciting) incident.
  • Make a new book jacket for the book
  • Do a puppet show.
  • Read the book aloud as radio theatre and record it.
  • Write 3 paragraphs in a diary as if you were your favorite character. 
  • Design and draw costumes for some of the characters.
  • Design quilt squares to go with the book
  • Tell what your home would look like if you were one of the main characters. 
  • Write a biography of one of the characters.
  • Write a human interest story about one of the characters in the book.
  • Write a letter to the editor about an issue in the book.
  • Create magazine ad for the book.
  • Create a television ad for the book
  • Draw it into newspaper cartooning squares.
  • Play charades w/themes from the book
  • Pretend a character had made an important decision differently. Write a new ending.
  • Make a list of facts you learned in the book
  • Write an Amazon review.
  • Plan a field trip inspired by the book
  • Compare versions of the same story.
  • Compare the book to the movie version
  • Make peg dolls to go with the book.
  • Compare it to another book the author/illustrator has written. This might be a comparison of art or of the story.
  • Use its title to write your own story. 
  • Write a letter to the author
  • Pretend you are the author. Write a publisher, pictching your book.

 Picture books make me happy. This blog is for sharing what makes me happy. I can't promise you a book a day. There's no way I'm going to post big plans for every book. I do hope to share a little of our picture book love on a regular basis here. A quick review, a picture or two, some ideas on where the book took us--little snapshots of books we all love. I know that not all my readers are homeschoolers. I'm certain, though, that these books can enrich the lives of all the children we love.

I Love You Tree!


Sweet Mama! You, with the baby in your arms and the husband working long hours and the Christmas tree still standing forlorn in the corner. I dug this up from the archives  for you, because I know that feeling and, well, I love you!


The "Honey-Do List" in this house is quite long. In the interest of preserving marital bliss, I won't share it with you here. Let's just say that "Honey" started a new job just before the baby arrived and he's been working and traveling enough for two men ever since. That is the segue to revealing that (drumroll, please): The Foss Family Christmas Tree still stands proudly in my family room on this seventh day of February!

There was a time in the life of my marriage when I would have actually written that "Honey Do" list and I would have oh-so-carelessly left it lying around. Or, I would have invited his mother to dinner, knowing that he wouldn't want her to see the tree in the corner. Or, I would have pouted and moped and complained about (1)the fact that he was gone and/or (2)the fact that the tree is annoying my sense of order. Neither #1 or #2 does me or anybody else much good.  It's wasted energy and does nothing to contribute to the atmosphere around here. His mother isn't coming to dinner any time soon. And the last thing the poor, overworked man needs is another list of things to do.

There was later time in my life when I would have taken it down myself. But I have since learned that some jobs are better left to big, strong men (and I have the scars to prove it).  Now, I have a couple of big strong, young men in my house.And both of them offered to take down the tree. But I know my Honey--he wants the tree in the box just so (and rightfully, I might add--trees last longer when they are handled with care and they are far easier to assemble when put away properly). And I know my young men--better not to let them touch the tree. Family harmony next advent is worth far more than freeing up space in that corner of the family room.

So, it stands in my family room, ornaments long since put away. And it reminds me every day of just how hard my husband is working to feed and clothe and shelter and educate this very large family.  It stands there and very early in the morning when it's still dark and no one is looking, I turn on the lights and I say prayer for the man who wishes he were home more.  I ask God to show us how He'd have us live, which choices He'd have us make. And I thank God for the Honey who chose that tree and who provided for it and for the house where it stands.

So, it only seemed natural on one very cold winter evening, when Honey was still at work long after dinner was done, to turn to those beautiful children and ask them to help me make that tree everything it was meant to be.

We took the pink paper hearts on which we'd written all the things and people we love and rested them firmly on the "God" doily and we hung them on the Daddy Valentine Tree! Martha Stewart, you can have your efficiency calendar that tells us all when to take down the Christmas tree. Mine just became the Tree of Love in this house full of life!

C. S. Lewis and Pajama Pants

Photo 1-2


Photo 2-1


Photo 3


Good morning! I've missed this space:-). I've been thinking about it a lot, but the actual keyboard time hasn't presented itself very much. The days have been full; we're working hard as a team here in my house to right the ship and get back on course after a season of considerable turbulence. I doubt our days will ever be smooth sailing, but I'm not feeling quite so seasick this week as last.

Enough with the seafaring analogy.

Sewing is slow-going. I finished Sarah's pajama pants. I made her a Size 5, which is clearly too big. I'm trying to decide whether I want to take off the waistband and cut off an inch or so and then re-attach it. I'm definitely going to re-do the cuff and cuff it up the entire width of the contrast fabric. I don't want the pants to drag. I'm toying with the idea of making the shirt in a 4. If she were a big sister, I'd make the 4 and know I could hand them down when she outgrew them. But, she's not and I'd kind of like to see her wear them forever...

I'm on a C. S. Lewis binge these days. Actually, I've been on a C. S. Lewis binge for quite some time. I bought the C. S. Lewis Bible when we renovated the house in late 2012. It matched the living room paint and looked so pretty perched there. I did read it, however; it wasn't just for show. I kept thinking of my cousin Ellie's reference to pretty Bibles perched in family living rooms of our childhood and didn't want that. However, I didn't write in it. It's out there in open space and I encourage the kids to use it whenever they want, so I didn't really want my notes and highlighting in it. At the beginning of the year, I bought another so I'd have one to highlight. I'm using these pencils to highlight and I do kind of love them. 

Mary Beth, Michael, and I have all reading through A Grief Observed. Mary Beth and I come together occasionally to think on it together. Grief is a strange thing and I've found we are approaching it very gently with one another. At the most recent funeral (yes, our funeral-going has extended into the new year), the priest quoted from Lewis' book. I think Mary Beth was surprised to hear that; Lewis wasn't Catholic after all. This observation has led to some good conversations about truth and about the man-made divisions in communities of faith. It's also led me to pull C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church from my shelves and read it again with my current crop of teenagers.

I want to raise these children to know and love and understand the gift of the Church. I also want them to grow to be the kind of genuine Christians who meet people of all denominations in the place where Jesus is and to both share their own heart stories of His goodness and hear the stories others bring. Pearce's book is an excellent one for understanding how pride and prejudice of the denominational divide can affect the sense and sensibility of even the most brilliant and holy thinkers.

Homeschoolers have a reputation for hunkering down, for raising children in a bunker and not exposing them to either the secular world or to other religions, even other Christian religions. I think this is a mistake, especially in the high school years. Instead of avoiding anything that contradicts or challenges a family's belief system, it's important to come alongside them as they discover those things. They will discover them! If we leave that discovery to a time when they are supposedly more mature (and so, away from home), we might be surprised to learn that they have neither the wisdom nor the tools to navigate the confusion. It's far better, I think, to explore together and open a dialogue that will hopefully continue as they grow.

I'm also reading Lewis' The Problem of Pain with a friend. It's good to have a grown-up theological discussion right now. I'm in a place where I really want to dig deep and think some things through. And not just theological things. As I've pulled away from social media, I'm reading longer pieces--whole books, long articles, the slow, thoughtful pursuit of Scripture. I'm spending a lot of time with my Bible open and I'm journaling pages and pages on paper. I'm kind of obsessed with paper and pens these days. I think after years of tapping at keyboards, I've missed the feel of paper and the sense of order and satsifaction that comes with seeing my thoughts in front of me in my own handwriting. To be sure, those are the scribblings of pondering in my heart. I write them knowing that they are mine alone. Perhaps it's the assurance that I will protect them from exposure that has opened the floodgates. Or maybe it's just I really, really like using these pens;-).

needle and thREAD


What have you been sewing lately? Or are you embroidering? Pulling a needle with thread through lovely fabric to make life more beautiful somehow? Would you share with us just a single photo and a brief description of what you're up to? Would you talk sewing and books with us? I'd love that so much. Tell me about it in the comments or leave a link to your blog. I'll be happy to come by and visit!

You can get your own needle & thREAD button here in your choice of several happy colors.

Our Everyday Go-To Faith Books



Joy in Alabama asked about how we use E is for Eucharist, so I figured today is a good day to share our essential stack of faith books. 
E is for Eucharist is like many of the Sleeping Bear Press alphabet books. There is a picture for each letter of the alphabet which gently introduces a topic. A short rhyming quatrain approaches the topic on the simplest level, perfect for the little ones. Beneath it, there is a narrative paragraph which explores the topic in more depth. My children illustrate each letter's topic as we read and discuss it. Older children can also write or dictate a short narration and even research the topic further. 
 An Alphabet of Catholic Saints is a sweet book with a short rhyme about a saint for every letter of the alphabet. Introducing saints alphabetically is a bit awkward. Saints come up in our daily life of worship as they are celebrated in the Mass. I worried aobut this being "all out of order, " but not for long. Now, we use this organizing system and we encounter the same saints on their special days, it's like meeting an old friend.  Again, narrations are simple pictures and perhaps a dictated caption to add to their notebooks.
An Alphabet of Mary beautifully introduces differents names and roles for the Blessed Mother. It's a lovey companion in the same style as the book above.
That brings me to the Loyola Kids Book of Saints and the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. These books bless and bless and bless. In the Alphabet Path lesson notes for each letter, we've pulled out the saints who belong. I like to read these aloud to younger children and have slightly older, independent readers read them to themselves. Then, the ones who read it on their own, keyboard a narration all on their own. I'll sit and edit for punctuation and spelling, but I mostly leave the narrations alone. These are gathered and loved into a notebook. True keepers.
Also in the  Alphabet Path lesson notes for each letter , there are stand alone picture books selected for faith study. We'll look at some of those one by one through the year, I'm sure. They are  linked here down the lefthand sidebar.