Monthly Archives: March 2012

Seven Quick Takes, Bullets to Balls.

I did a bit of traveling with the family recently and thought I’d use my first foray into the ‘Seven Quick Takes’ meme by mentioning seven things people put on their vehicles which mystify me.

1. Bullet hole stickers. I tend to see these on older,  more, ‘lived-in’ vehicles. In addition to a fine patina of rust, duct-taped tail lights and t-shirt seat covers, the owners have thoughtfully added stick on bullet holes. According to Amazon,  ”Realistic bullet hole stickers instantly give your automobile a rugged, bullet hole riddled appearance for instant street-cred.” So, I guess they’re designed to make up for the fact that your car is a piece of crap. Thankfully I don’t need to resort to stickers to give my 15 passenger handicap accessible van street-cred, at least not for a few more years anyway.

2. Hubcaps that keep spinning after the car stops. I get motion sick just looking at these while sitting at a red light. I’m also perpetually afraid a car whose wheels never stop moving is going to cut me off.

3. Decals of Bill Watterson’s Calvin peeing on things. Calvin and Hobbes is one of the greatest comics ever. Watterson never licensed his images to be used on anything, so every time I see a rip off of his iconic character urinating on a logo I contemplate grabbing a dirty diaper from the van and throwing it at the offending vehicle and driving off. (Oh yeah, like you don’t have a dirty diaper hiding somewhere in your van right now. A rancid sippy cup would work too.)

4. Stuffed animals tied to the front grille of a large truck. Seriously, this has to stop people. ( I’m talking to you neighborhood recycling truck!)  It totally freaks out my toddler to see a dirty teddy bear, covered with smashed insects, flopped over, with a rope around his neck on the front of your truck. No, he’s not waving to get you to honk, he’s trying to get you to slow down and rescue the bear you ran into; which, as far as he knows, was casually picnicking before your showed up.

5. Ovals with letters. This started as a neat trend; a fun way to document your favorite places. ‘OC’ stood for Ocean City. ‘CM’ stood for Cape May. But then people had to get ‘creative’ with the letters and create an oval for every nook and cranny and interest. Some cars look like they’re covered in goose eggs that read “CRP’, Centre County, PA and ‘WVR’, West Virginia Rotary Club. There’s actually a website ovalcarstickers.com where you can buy one that says “Your Mom for President”. I think that means it’s officially time to send these stickers off to wherever fads go when they die.

6. Stick figure families. Again, I didn’t start off disliking these. And I still think for the newlywed couple, or young family with a couple kids, it’s no big deal. It’s when the big families I know start covering their windows with stick babies and dogs and soccer playing kids. A dozen stickers later they’re trying to explain to the officer that pulled them over, “I’m sorry officer, I didn’t mean to cut off that driver but they fell in my stick figure blind spot.”

7. Ornamental Testicles, a.k.a. Truck Balls. There’s no nice way to describe a metal scrotum that someone chooses to hang from the back of their truck. What struck me the first time I saw them, was that they weren’t really in proportion to the trucks they were strung on. I mean, if God had designed super-duty-Hemi-3500 trucks to have genitalia, wouldn’t it be bigger than what He had bestowed upon, say,  a horse? It also bothers me that there a people slaving away in a hot factory on the other side of the globe for minuscule pay, so that dudes in America can pass my van on the highway and flaunt their chrome packages in front of my children. That was not a health lesson I was prepared for!

 

Did I miss anything?

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Lent Is The Perfect Time For Field Trips

This photo shows my family outside the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center with our bronze pal Abe Lincoln. It’s one of only two shots we managed to take and it was probably the only time I smiled all day.

I love the idea of field trips. In fact, the flexibility to take them whenever the mood strikes is certainly a great perk of homeschooling. A few weeks back when we studied the Civil War, I concocted our trip and managed to convince my family it was a great idea. As my parents live near Gettysburg, tacking a day trip onto a family visit made sense. My mom even planned on joining us, which  meant the adults would not be outnumbered 2 to 1 as is usually the case. A mid-week trip, no crowds, great spring weather predicted, five usually well behaved children; surely, this would be the stuff great memories are made of.

It’s not until we’re 30 minutes from our destination and the baby is screaming non-stop,  the older kids are arguing over which audio book to listen to while my husband growls “There’s no use listening to anything because the baby drowns it out,” that I think, maybe, we were better off at home with a History Channel movie marathon.

But it also dawns on me, who needs a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to receive grace when,  for a lot less money, you can offer up the suffering endured while on a family road trip? The potential to shave time off purgatory is endless! Plus, I never remember to eat on a family outing since I’m always too busy feeding everyone else. If I call it fasting this trip could be the best thing that happens to me during Lent.

Upon arrival the first stop is always the bathroom. Then we need to eat because sitting in a car for more than 10 minutes somehow sucks all the nourishment out of my children. Then the bathroom again, before onto the sights. I’m always a basket case, trying to keep everyone together like an official tour guide, with only limited success. Especially in the case of my 3 1/2-year-old who sees any new open space and drives off in his powerchair faster than my husband or I can run. Strangers think it’s cute to see a toddler in a powerchair until he joyfully plows over their toes in his mad dash towards the handicap exit.

We opted for only the museum admission and stayed a bit before heading out to drive part of the auto tour. I had carefully downloaded podcasts to listen to and selected interesting tidbits from the guide map and Junior Rangers Guide to share along the way. However, most of what I said was drowned out by my oldest son constantly yelling, “Canons! There’s a canon!” the first half of the drive.

As it’s difficult to unload and reload everyone in a timely manner from our van, and the weather was a bit chilly, we opted to only get out and walk around at a few spots. I had pre-selected a few nice, flat, open areas.  However, when we approached the summit of Little Round Top ( a.k.a  massive pile of large rocks) my husband insisted it was too important to drive pass, would be fine for my son’s wheelchair, and parked the van. I unloaded the baby, convinced we’d be on our way in five minutes and took off after the kids without the stroller. A half hour later, I was still lugging my own giggling boulder down rocky side paths and across plenty of handicap accessible paths I couldn’t see from the parking lot. Despite my aching arms, and thighs and everything,  I had to admit, it was a beautiful view, and a fine decision on my husband’s part. Renewed and invigorated, we headed out to the cemetary where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Snacks and beverages were distributed on the way and the baby, in his enthusiasm for history promptly threw up all over his coat and last clean outfit.  For the rest of the day he smelled of sour apples and insisted on being held or carried by me.

By now, the last of our rations gone, we toured the National Cemetary. My subdued “SHHHH, KIDS!, THIS IS A CEMETARY! SHOW SOME RESPECT!” resulted in chasing my children out of earshot. And no one, not even my mother, wanted to hear my dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address.

Finally, we visited the museum again despite an overwhelming urge to just head home. But we were determined to get the value of the admission if it killed us. While very informative and containing tons of interesting artifacts, the museum held little interest for the two youngest. I carried the baby, who tried to smudge every piece of glass, while herding the others through the dimly lit labyrinth, eagerly looking for the exit signs. (I pretty sure my mom was hanging back on purpose. We almost had to send a St. Bernard in to find her.)

And what family trip is complete without a stop in the gift shop placed conveniently next to the exit? My children save money for such occasions and I’ve given up trying to guide their purchases. Although sometimes I can’t help it. “Really Edie? Another doll? Addie, don’t you already have a harmonica I won’t let you play in the house? Yes Byron, you can buy that overpriced piece of junk from China, just don’t aim it at me.” And because I’ve taken two minutes to “council” the older kids, the younger two have crept off and are manhandling the Webkinz on the clearance rank.

Finally, as they prepare to close the shop, we hit the bathrooms and head home.  I reflect on the day and hope I didn’t nag or worry or squelch my children’s general love of history. Despite the stench of sour apples still emanating from the second bench seat, the children and my mother are genuinely happy. My husband declares the day a success and then quickly tells everyone to be quiet while he’s driving. As we head home in rush hour traffic, I use the time to plan our next field trip. Maybe a hands on style museum where, inevitably, someone will pick up a stomach bug. Or perhaps we can all go on a ghost walk that will send the kids scurrying into my bed after dark for a week. The possibilities  for sanctification are endless. I’m feeling holier already.

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Extracting Narrations: More Stubborn Than Wisdom Teeth

Most days, I would rather visit the dentist than try to extract a decent narration from my older kids.  I don’t know who suffers more; well, actually I do. I’m the one forced to endure my children’s never ending sentences, inability to capitalize anything when under duress, and repeated cries of “I don’t know what it’s about!”

It was so much easier when we read simple picture books, and they copied sentences or drew pictures. The progression to verbally re-telling a simple story while I wrote and they recopied was seamless. And then at some point I asked them to read and write their own darn stories and next thing I know it’s all wailing and gnashing of teeth.

It’s most frustrating when they read or watch a story they enjoy and quickly come to find me, outside usual school hours, to relay all the minute details of said story. Ten minutes later, after patiently listening to my son or daughter’s dramatic retelling, complete with exaggerated gestures, I try to suggest that he or she select that book, movie,  etc for a narration that week. Immediately a look of horror will come over my child’s  face. “But I won’t know what to write!” he/ she will protest.” Why not write just one page of details you’ve been sharing with me (when I really just wanted to wash the dishes and listen to my Dance Pop Pandora station)?” The child sulks off, the mere suggestion of writing having cast a somber pallor over his or her whole existence.

So as we sit at the table the next morning I suggest, again, that maybe she should consider writing about the book she told me about previously. After gently insisting this several times, I will succeed in getting her to slide a narration across the table to me, all the while shooting dagger eyes, before she runs outside. Rather than all the wonderful descriptions and funny details still burned in my memory from yesterday,  I get five sentences on tear-stained paper that tell me the title of the book, the main character, that it was “good” and then one sentence consisting of something like “junie b jones went to hawai on a plane with her parents and took a scrapbook and her favorite doll too.” And usually, she will want “The End.” to count as a complete sentence.

So then I read this sonnet, take a deep breath, go find her hiding under the deck, and convince her to come inside and ‘go over it’ with me in a non-threatening tone. “Revision and making a second draft are just parts of the process!” I quip cheerfully.  Seated next to one another, I try to ask questions about the main idea, ascertain more details about plot, conflict, maybe the story she so glowingly bored me with yesterday.  With some prayers and patience and a little luck,  I’ll help my child add some more sentences that actually re-tell something of the book. If I can achieve this while not raising my voice or my blood pressure, and she still says she loves me when I tuck her in that night, I feel successful.

Recently I started using graphic organizers (doesn’t that sound so teacher-ly?) to help the kids organize their thoughts before writing. It helped up to the point where the kids realized they had to take those webs or pyramids or Venn diagrams and, surprise!, turn it into a narration. They failed to see it as a helpful tool and instead thought I was trying to get them to do more work. Which may indeed be the case, however, if it could save me some aggravation on the tail end, it was certainly worth their effort up front in my opinion.

I try to take comfort in the fact that both my husband and I  are avid readers and we became writers later on. Neither of us enjoyed writing when we were our children’s ages. In fact, I often suggest to my children that one day, they may enjoy writing and may seek to do it for pleasure. Yes, it’s true! They roll their eyes and insist otherwise.

Until then I Google terms like “magic narration worksheet”, “how to make narrations painless” and, the most fruitful thus far, “English tutors for hire.” If you’ve stumbled across a secret to extracting details from your children please let me know. I might be willing to hire you.

 

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Things I Love; My Conquistador Lamp

The summer before my junior year of college I fell in love with a Spanish man. It made no difference that I was still dating my high school sweetheart. As soon as my eyes beheld the Conquistador’s thoughtful eyes, dark beard and pumpkin pants I knew I had to make him mine.  Thankfully, he was for sale.

He sat quietly in the corner of the motel gift shop where I worked. In addition to the usual touristy bric-a-brac, our gift shop included one of a kind “antiques”;  i.e. flea market finds the owner bought and tried to pass off as collectables to unsuspecting guests. But my friend, the Conquistador lamp, he was different. Every day he watched me from his tabletop. His strong ceramic build was accented with a shiny suit of armor and gleaming helmet from which the light bulb and shade extended. At first I questioned the folly of falling for a lamp. Such a relationship could never work out. My room at home and dorm at school both lacked the space to properly showcase him. Plus, the lighting elements were old, the bulb often tilted to the right and the shade was discolored.

I argued back and forth with myself, weighing the pros and cons of spending several hours worth of pay on the lamp. However, at the start of every shift, I heaved a sigh of relief when I arrived for work and discovered he had not been sold.

At the end of the summer, I purchased the Conquistador lamp much to the delight of my boss who quickly replaced it with another marked-up garage sale find. My college roommate, an art student, saw the beauty of the lamp and welcomed it into our abode. My boyfriend hoped it was a passing phase.

Fast forward twelve years and seven moves  and he is still with me. Yes, I wound up marrying my boyfriend but I remain in love with the lamp. With every relocation I had to take special care to make sure the lamp was never “accidentally dropped” or “lost by the movers” or “run over by the moving van.” My husband remains cool towards the Conquistador. He can’t decide whether it’s better to hide the lamp in the bedroom, so guests can’t see it, or place it in the living room so he doesn’t need to look at it at night.  My children are confused by the fact that their mama, who is so quick to dispose of their clay pots or popsicle stick masterpieces can cling so completely to a lighting fixture. Even when we read about Cortez and I was so excited to have a visual to show them, they failed to see my Conquistador’s allure. “Look children, my lamp can give you an idea of how Cortez and his men looked, gazing out on the unknown wilderness that awaited them. Its obvious why the Aztec mistook them for Gods isn’t it? Of course, Cortez wouldn’t have been dusty like this but..kids? Kids! Why aren’t you paying attention?”

Although not everyone can appreciate my Conquistador lamp, I remain firmly enthralled with him. He has captured my heart as completely as the Spanish seized  Tenochtitlan.

 

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Don’t Cheat On Your Favorite Curricula

I try to do homeschooling on the cheap. Certainly, it is not always possible, but my husband and I always think long and hard before plunking down a wad of cash for a fancy boxed set of anything related to education.

Through the years, people have recommended all sorts of programs that will supposedly provide me with all the tools I need to educate all my kids in said subject ’til death do us part. A student workbook and textbook, plus special grip pencils, instructional DVDs, a 3 part teacher’s manual, a CD-ROM of printables,  plus color-coded labels and tabs for your lesson plans. I feel like I’m watching a PBS pledge drive when this thing is being presented to me. And if I act now, I get the matching tote bag! Of course, purchasing such a miracle curricula rivals the cost of a semester at private school.

And for what? Weeks of eager anticipation as we read the manuals and organize our materials.Yes, this is it! Finally, our kids will completely grasp a new concept from the very beginning with minimal input on our parts! Oh, it’s all so clear and well laid out. Even a fool could teach their kids with this method. They’ve really thought of everything!!  Meanwhile, our kids run their hands over the crisp, new books thinking this might be the very book that makes grammar/math/ geography tolerable. There are color pictures on every page, and manipulatives and video clips! Wow, this will be fun!

Then bang, October. It’s that month you start to wonder, what was I thinking? They always did so well with the old program, why did I switch them to this new one? You start digging out last spring’s curricula catalogues, and reminisce over the curriculum you could’ve bought. You’d always been so happy with that curricula. They didn’t have confusing color coded tabs that didn’t make sense and set you back a week after you realized you’d missed that whole unit on decimals.

By October, the kids’ books are scribbled on, the manipulatives have been absconded by the 3-year-old, or by you so the baby doesn’t eat them and the older kids just make fart noises and laugh at the teacher on the DVD clips. And the printer is always out of paper, due to last-minute art projects, so no supplemental printables either.

This is what you just paid hundreds of dollars for. And then your husband comes home from work and doesn’t understand why you start crying when he asks “How’s the new program working out?”.  Because you know you can’t ask him for more money to buy more stuff to replace the curriculum you so desperately needed back in June. Don’t you remember telling him about the tote bag?

Maybe this isn’t you, maybe you bought that fancy expensive program and it worked out great for child number one. It was the best thing ever! You sang that program’s praises  at every homeschool activity,  manned the company’s table at the local curriculum fair and wrote a great review of their product on your blog. Yessireebob, it was one God-send of a program! Then, boom, child number two.

Child number two hides in the linen closet when the books come out, has dared scribble in the teacher’s manual out of frustration and refuses to do the finger play and accompanying lap book activities! This child dares to question the perfect program! Doesn’t he/she know it’s the perfect program? It worked so well with child number one, you reason child number two must have a learning disorder and try to slow down the pace or do a different finger play, or even try to incorporate whole body movement, and still no progress and lots of resistance. You eventually realize it’s the program or your child and, reluctantly, you choose the child.

Despite careful shopping, I still occasionally make rash decisions I ultimately regret (When did I ever think I’d do that unit on classical music appreciation???) but thankfully, my favorite curricula, doesn’t hold it against me. It’s always there, waiting for me, ready to pick up right where we left off.  Don’t let other, newer and younger, curricula tempt you from the good thing you have going on. That fancy program may be beautiful on the outside, but chances are, it’ll  just leave you poorer and heartbroken.

 

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Lent is Penitential

I really struggle with Lent. This is one of those unfortunate years that I can’t use the ‘I’m nursing/pregnant’ excuse to skip out. The previous Lents in which I’ve attempted to go ‘hard core’ and give up something like soda or snacking between meals or sweets have usually ended with me devouring at least half a bag of semi-sweet morsels in a dark pantry. “I’m just looking for the lentils sweetie!”…nom, nom, nom.  Or there was the year I attempted to give up Coke and then my in-laws showed up for a weekend visit with a 12 pack and by Saturday night, six cans were gone.

Maybe it’s because growing up, Lent wasn’t anything but 40 days to shop around for a new spring dress and shoes. The idea of sacrifice being a worthwhile part of Easter prep didn’t really get introduced to me until I converted to Catholicism and started attending the Extraordinary form. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment. I spent the first 20+ years of my life ignoring Lent. Now, around here, it’s all Lent, all the time. If I even think about de-frosting those brownies  or indulging in a late night snack, I got the Lenten police all up in my face. “Mama, mama, mama, we gave those up!” or “Honey, do you really need that? Didn’t you eat enough lentils at dinner? Where did those marshmallows come from? Why are you in the pantry?”

I try to go about my Lenten duty with a smile but, more often than not, I’m that dirty faced hypocrite. If anyone asks me how I’m doing,  I quickly wind up deluging them with all the details of my fasting and try to gain as much earthly reward and sympathy as possible. I might of actually claimed to have worn sackcloth at one point, I can’t be sure…that was the year I tried to give up coffee.

This year, God has either granted my prayers, or those of my husband, and given me the grace I’ve needed to fast with a little more joy than usual. And He’s made my kids more receptive to Lenten sacrifices too. Don’t be mistaken; none of them are running around saying the Divine Office between episodes of self flagellation. They’re just complaining a lot less about what they’ve given up. Maybe it’s because their Mama isn’t spending so much time in the pantry with that forgotten bag of Halloween candy. Or getting absurdly angry about that backward letter ‘b’ in handwriting, then bursting into tears…followed by running into the pantry.

My husband, who loves Lent (I know, right?), has been very impressed with my efforts but has succeeded in keeping me from getting a big head by his managing to  subsist on honey and locust thus far. And I had a friend tell me to read accounts of some early Church martyrs which kind of makes everything in my day much easier to deal with. Just knowing the greatest trial I will face tomorrow will be getting my kids to eat their veggies at dinner without a dessert bribe compared to say, being the main course of some wild animal, is wonderful perspective.

However, Lent isn’t over. I still have four-weeks to go, and anything could happen. I think the return of Christ would be welcome, since any time I leave the house I’m continually reminded, sometimes most painfully, that the world is against me in  my Lenten struggle. For example, at my local grocer, it was surely Satan himself who placed the Cadbury Creme Egg display right next to the apple juice aisle.  Somehow, I managed not to give in to temptation and perservere. Could it have been my guardian angel who guided me to the rice cakes?

The countdown continues.

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Homeschooling Secret Weapon!

I’m going to let you in on a secret about homeschooling. There’s one, just one thing you need to successfully homeschool all your children. You won’t find it at any homeschool fair or convention, and it can’t be purchased used. It’s cheaper than the $150 musical phonics program you tried three years ago and does not require training, DVDs or a separate 17lb spiral bound teachers manual to understand.

It’s a sense of humor. Surprise! After that introduction, if you don’t have a sense of humor you’re feeling misled and angry, and that’s not going to help you. My kids are always long-winded and vague and if it wasn’t for my sense of humor, I’d be perpetually hoarse.  The ability to laugh at your kids, yourself and your cat after it jumps on your keyboard and deletes all your grades for the last quarter is what will keep you sane and on the homeschooling bandwagon for more than a year.

After the honeymoon period of homeschooling has faded (you know, that magical month of doing pre-school with one enthusiastic 4-year-old) it quickly becomes apparent that coffee, smiles and M&M bribes aren’t going to cut it forever. You can either throw in the towel early, or learn to laugh at whatever comes your way. Admittedly, it may take time to see the humor in some situations. A broken arm sustained during math that ultimately disrupts everyone’s day may not be funny at first, but boy, won’t that help round out junior’s homeschool commencement speech? Don’t stop looking for that silver lining as you’re in the ER triage waiting for the x-ray results.

There’s always that brief period at the beginning of a school year where I feel all proud and teacher-y over my Trapper filled with neat lesson plans and goals. Then we’re midway through week one and someone gets a stomach bug, someone else insists they’ve forgotten how to tell time, and then, what do you know? grandma and grandpa decide to stop in for a surprise morning visit-with chocolate bars! I can either be a grump about it or laugh that they caught me in my robe, (again!, what are the odds?), eat some chocolate and jump into it all fresh later.

I usually find that silliness on my part helps lighten everyone’s mood too, like back when sass mouth was becoming a bit of an issue during the school day. (I think they get it from their father.) I simply took to dancing and twirling around while addressing the kids in my best sing-song fairy princess voice. Sassy equaled sappy and I’m happy to say that within two days we had much less of each. Hopefully that memory will stick with my kids longer than the morning I simply banished them all to the basement to work while I cried in my coffee.

Kidding!

As I flesh out this blog, I hope to make you laugh a bit more at homeschooling, because being home all day with kids is funny! (Don’t worry I’ll keep reminding you, lest you forget.)  How many times have you had someone say to you, “I could never homeschool because I don’t have the patience.” Neither do I sister! Neither do I! But what I do have is the ability to see the fun and humor in most situations. If laughter is the best medicine, than I hope my observations can provide some relief from the symptoms of homeschooling. Side effects may include snorts, snickers, coffee spits and flatulence. You’ve been warned.

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E-Books Save Me Gas

One of the best things we incorporated into homeschooling this year was e-books. Namely, lots and lots of free e-books. Once I realized I could download books faster than my daughter and I could read them I knew I needed an e-reader. (One weekly trip to the library would actually be enough to satisfy everyone!) Even without a specific e-reader device, books can be read online or on tablets and phones with e-reader aps. I don’t enjoy reading on a backlit screen which is why I ultimately went with a Kindle.That’s why if you look through my ‘Year 4 History Book List’ you’ll see lots of books marked with a K.  I’ve also downloaded several literature books for my oldest two. When the younger three are ready for them, these books won’t be all dog-eared  and full of peanut butter fingerprints (unlike my series of CHC Devotional Stories books.) And thankfully, now when we go on a field trip or any car ride, we can pack a whole library worth of books in one slim case. The only downside so far is trying to share the device with my daughter.  Once she’s taken it into her room, I need Dr. Livingston to lead a search and rescue to retrieve it.

I did a lot of whining…I mean ‘negotiating,’ with my husband to convince him that an e-reader was worth it’s price tag. My nagging, oops, “perseverance”, was rewarded last Mothering Sunday and, so far, our curriculum has rounded itself out quite nicely this year with just library books and e-books. It’s a substantial savings from our second year when I bought tons of hard to find books about the Middle Ages. (I was astounded to learn our library system did not have a children’s adaptation of Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ or ‘Tales of Roland. Unbelievable!!’)  I’m looking forward to our second time through the cycle, and updating each Book List with free titles.

I’m compiling a new downloadable file under ‘Public Domain Favorites’ that will list some of my favorite free books and where you can find them. I prefer Project Gutenburg, Amazon and Google Books, in that order, but I’ve been checking out Nook’s site too and had some luck. Many well-known classics are in the public domain (Austin, Bronte, Dickinson, etc); I’m going to try to recommend some authors and stories you may be less familiar with. Check back often, as I’ll be updating the list as I discover new books. Contact me with your suggestions.

 

 

 

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