Our Christmas Traditions

Posted on December 23, 2011

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is reading aloud in front of the fire and the Christmas tree lights each evening in December.

This year we’re reading The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader, which includes 28 nightly devotionals and an audio CD with related bits of The Messiah to accompany each reading. A “Read More About It” section in the back provides additional details and resources for digging deeper on each topic.

In addition to our nightly Advent reading, we often read a Christmas picture book. I’ve already posted about The Baker’s Dozen: A St. Nicholas Tale. Since we love our 6 cats, we also enjoy The Twelve Days of Christmas Cats, read/sung to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” If you’ve ever mixed cats and Christmas, you’ll understand the line about “a kitten in a fir tree”!

One of our favorite Christmas books is An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco. It’s a sweet story of family togetherness and unselfishness.

In honor of Frankie’s orange, we place oranges on our mantel each Christmas (along with our cherished nutcracker collection).

What are your favorite Christmas books and traditions?

Twelve Days of Christmas with Homeschooling Today

Posted on December 21, 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas – December 26, 2011 through January 6, 2012. Celebrate with us by receiving a gift for the season!

I am partnering with Homeschooling Today magazine to bring you a special discount on January 2.

Go to www.HomeschoolingToday.com now to sign up on the home page for the Homeschooling Helper e-newsletter to receive this special offer via e-mail on the above date. Homeschooling Today will send a special discount or gift from a different vendor each day of the Twelve Days of Christmas, but only to their readers. So don’t miss some wonderful offers to get your new year started off right! Sign up now so you don’t miss a thing!

What are your favorite Christmas books?

Posted on December 7, 2011

In honor of St. Nicholas Day, my boys and I are about to snuggle by the fire and read one of our favorite Christmas books:

The Baker’s Dozen: A St. Nicholas Tale

A fair but tight-fisted baker learns an important lesson about generosity.

This new edition includes a recipe and pattern for St. Nicholas cookies. Might be time to upgrade our copy!

I'll be sharing more of our favorite Christmas books in the days ahead. What are your favorites?

How Do You Do It All? Big sale with HUGE bonus package!

Posted on December 5, 2011

Are you overwhelmed by juggling everything on your endless to-do list? Is it tough to balance your family life and work responsibilities? Throw in a home business and/or homeschooling, and the challenges grow even more! If you’re frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed, you may benefit from my 7-hour home study course, How Do You Do It All.

I like to say that I’ve test-driven most of the mistakes so you don’t have to. 😉  I’ve been running a home business since 1986, bringing up children (now 4 boys) since 1992, and doing all of this as a single mom since 2001. Believe me–I know how hard it is! Of necessity, I’ve discovered and developed powerful strategies that really make a difference and help me replace the chaos with balance and peace. (And you bibliophiles will be glad to know that the course includes tips on making time for reading.)

My homeschool publishing friends have helped me put together a SUPER SALE package of 17 free bonuses (over $140 value) and 23 door prizes (over $660 value) to go along with the $10 discount on How Do You Do It All! The sale ends this Thursday, December 8, so don’t wait to check it out.

Here’s a quick overview of what the downloadable How Do You Do It All course includes:

  • 5 information-packed teleseminar sessions (7 hours of audio!)
  • Enhanced transcripts of every session to supplement your personal notes
  • Big Dream Brainstorming Guide
  • Strategic Guide to Annual Review and Goal Planning
  • Annual Review Form
  • Annual Goal-Planning Form
  • Weekly Planner for Balancing Personal Life, Family, and Business

You can find out much more about the course HERE.

Here’s a peek at the amazing collection of bonuses and door prizes:

How To Create Credibility as a Freelancer: 70 Tips from a Collection of Experts e-book from
Mary Jo Tate, Editor and Book Coach
$5.00 value! Practical tips on building a successful freelance business.

The Home Business Option e-book from
Christian Home Business Connection
$5.00 value! Information about 8 home-based business models. A great resource if you’re having trouble deciding what kind of home business to start.

HomeWork: Juggling Home, Work, and School Without Losing Your Balance e-book from
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
$12.45 value! Practical tips from work-and-school-at-home families operating a wide variety of businesses.

The Benefits of Pinterest video and handout from
Media Angels, Inc., sponsors of the Ultimate Homeschool Expo
$5.00 value! How and why to use Pinterest both personally and professionally to organize your online bookmarks in a format that’s easy to use and share.

Chaos to Order audio from
Homemaking 911
$5.00 value! This downloadable MP3 workshop gives a woman the tools she needs to eliminate some of the chaos and bring order and peace to her home and her life.

A House NOT Divided: Building Unity in Your Family audio from
Great Waters Press
$5.00 value! You’ve heard the verses and caught the vision; now here are practical ideas for getting your children out of each other’s hair and on your team!

Christmas Goals and New Year’s Resolutions webinar from
The HomeScholar
$15.00 value! In this webinar, we will first talk about how to handle school during December, then I’ll give you some super-easy New Year’s Resolutions!

Gifts That Pay for College webinar from
The HomeScholar
$15.00 value! Colleges are looking for passion, and our children are looking for presents. When you put those together, you get gift opportunities that help earn college scholarships!

Seasonal Spice MP3 music from
Greg Howlett, Christian Concert Pianist
$10.00 value! Ten beautiful Christmas songs featuring Greg Howlett on piano along with Andy Leftwich (multiple Grammy winner) on fiddle, Sam Levine on woodwinds, and John Catchings on cello.

Five Fun Holiday Crafts for Kids e-book from
New Millennium Girl Books
$6.95 value! Enjoy the holidays with earth- and budget-friendly crafts that your kids are sure to love!

Old Time Radio Audio Christmas Collection audio from
My Audio School
$5.00 value! Cozy up with the family and enjoy this festive collection of 8 beloved Christmas stories.

Christmas Mini StoryBuilder e-book from
$3.95 value! Pick one writing-prompt card from each category and spin a humorous or realistic holiday tale!

Vocabulary Bridges from English to Latin and Greek e-book by Harvey Bluedorn from
Trivium Pursuit
$8.00 value! As much as 80% of English vocabulary is derived from Latin and Greek. Vocabulary studies e-book (104 pages) for ages 10 and up.

Memory Triggers: Elementary Math Terms e-book from
Trigger Memory Systems
$5.95 value! Uses entertaining stories and pictures to help students remember the meanings of 16 math terms.

Heritage Classical Curriculum–Ancient Rome Study Guide e-book from
Heritage History
$7.00 value! Includes all you need to study Ancient Rome using classical online histories. Features timelines, character lists, recommended reading lists for all ages with detailed book summaries, outline maps, historical maps, era summaries, and much more.

Literature Study Guide for The Phantom Tollbooth e-book
AND Literature Study Guide for the book of Ruth e-book from
Bright Ideas Press
$24.00 value! Bring literature to life with our hands-on study guides! Discussion, analysis, spiritual applications, and more!

Click HERE to purchase the complete How Do You Do It All course at the special sale price of $37 and receive all 17 bonuses, plus a chance to win one of these fabulous door prizes!

DOOR PRIZES to be given to winners of the random drawing from all buyers of How Do You Do It All during the sale (one prize per winner; prize determined by random drawing). Door prize winners will be notified via e-mail by Tues., Dec. 13.

Ultimate Fall/Christmas Expo webinar from
Media Angels, Inc., sponsors of the Ultimate Homeschool Expo
2 winners; $29.97 value each!
Where else but at the Ultimate Homeschool Expo can you get 50+ audio downloads to help you have a wonderful, Christ-Centered and stress-free holiday? Felice Gerwitz is your host and brings you a few of her friends. Across the miles you will enjoy the wonders of the holiday season right from your own mp3 player or computer. This is a two year event and is available right now for immediate download. Lots of great coupon offers and discounts from the names you trust. This set contains several episodes of “Mommy’s Jammies Night TM” a wonderful monthly event just for homeschool moms. Lots of great information and encouragement for the entire family!

Free lifetime membership to Driven to De-Clutter online class from
Youthful Homemaker
10 winners; $30 value each!
Being a modern woman isn’t easy. We are expected to work, take care of the family, get food on the table, stay within a limited budget, keep the house clean, and handle anything else that comes our way. If you feel overwhelmed with the amount of things you have to do each day and the amount of stuff you have, then this class is for you!

Wonder Maps from
Bright Ideas Press
2 winners; $49.95 value each!
The best historical, reference, outline, & relief maps, now customizable on your computer!

Moonfinder hardcover storybook by Jay Ryan from
Fourth Day Press
4 winners; $15 value each!
Beautifully illustrated story of a little boy who learns about the phases of the moon with his dad.

WriteShop Level 1 Fold-N-Go Grammar Pack from
3 winners; $19.95 value each!
Grammar will become your child’s favorite subject with these colorful, lapbook-style activity folders! (Ages 8-11) (International winners will receive the e-book version.)

The Mystery of History Volume I (Second Edition): Creation to the Resurrection
MP3 Audio Download from
The Mystery of History, Inc.
2 winners; $44 value each!
Bring The Mystery of History Volume I (Second Edition) to life! Through downloadable MP3 files, you can listen to the professionally recorded stories through the voice of author Linda Lacour Hobar. With a background track of beautiful, inspiring music, you’ll feel you are right there with the author traveling through time. At co-op, in the car, over lunch, before bed, or as an integral part of your school day—there are endless ways for all ages to benefit from this listening library of world history. (These audio CDs contain narrated lessons only and do not include pretests, activities, quizzes, exercises, or similar items found in the textbooks.)

THANK YOU to the generous sponsors who donated bonuses and door prizes!!

The powerful strategies you’ll learn from How Do You Do It All will help you find balance so you, your family, and your business can flourish. Sale ends December 8–don’t delay! Please share this SPECIAL OFFER with your friends.

What are your favorite books? What do you want to read?

Posted on December 2, 2011

I teach a weekly literature class for grades 9-12 as part of our homeschool co-op. Here’s this week’s assignment, which I developed 4 years ago in response to a student’s complaint: “Why do we have to read this stuff? Why can’t we just read whatever we want?” The answers were fascinating. Eager to hear what my students share today!

Part 1: List the 10 books that you’ve read in your life (whether by choice or for a school assignment, recently or long ago) that you most enjoyed or liked, and explain why you enjoyed each book. (1-2 sentences of explanation per book will be enough, but you may write up to a paragraph if you really have a lot to say.)

Part 2: List the 10 books you would most want to read if you could read whatever you wanted to, without having to consider school-assigned reading, and explain why you want to read each book. (1-2 sentences or up to a paragraph per book)

Now it’s your turn! You don’t have to list 10, but I’d love to hear about your favorite books and what books you’d like to read. Please leave a comment and share this post with your friends!

Mary Jo

Real Men Read Austen

Posted on May 29, 2011

“Real Men Read Austen.” That’s the title of chapter 1 of Peter Leithart’s excellent book, Miniatures & Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen.

Leithart says if he could have dinner with a dozen of the greatest British and American writers, he’d want the seat next to Jane Austen because she would be the most intelligent and the funniest. (He notes that Dickens and Shakespeare would be too busy making toasts, and Faulkner and Joyce would be drunk.)

He insists that real men can read Austen “with interest and profit.”

All her great heroes—Darcy, Wentworth, Edmund Bertram, Knightley—are men who hold positions of authority and use those positions for good. Each of them is a Christlike lover who sacrifices, often at some cost to his reputation, to win his bride. They are servant-heroes, not macho-heroes.

Leithart also provides an excellent explanation of the value of Austen’s focus on the ethical challenges of daily life rather than extreme, sensational, extraordinary situations. After all, isn’t daily life where most of us live most of the time? Men and women alike can learn a lot from Austen.

Why do (some) men like Jane Austen?

Posted on May 29, 2011

Just read a fascinating article by Brian Brown at Humane Pursuits. Here’s the gist of his answer:

“I think we like Jane Austen because we like stories with men in them. Do not misunderstand me. We don’t watch a Jane Austen movie because Indiana Jones and Jason Bourne aren’t men. But we face—and have been facing for some time now—an identity crisis with which those heroes are no help.”

Take a look at “Why Men Like Jane Austen” and let me know what you think about it.

Lesser Titles

Posted on May 19, 2011

Great titles are really important to the success of a book (or movie). A while back there was something called “Lesser Titles” on Twitter. Here are a few of my contributions:

The Sun Also Peeps through the Clouds in the Rain
The Cerulean Letter
The Taming of the Meerkat
Sleepless in Schenectady
Lost: Pair o’ Dice
A Farewell to Snow Globes, 4-Ounce Liquids & Other Arms
You’ve Got Correspondence
To Cage a Mockingbird
The Pound and the Furry
Pride and Pigeonholing
Withering Heights
The So-So Gatsby
Walled In (a collaboration between Poe & Thoreau)

What are your suggestions for lesser titles for books and movies? Please add in the comments.

Eudora Welty, 1909-2001

Posted on April 14, 2011

One of my favorite authors, Eudora Welty, was born 102 years ago today. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 10 years since I attended her funeral, which I wrote about for the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook.

I was privileged to meet Miss Welty at a writing conference in the late 1980s. In this photo, I’m handing her my first edition of her novel Delta Wedding to sign.

If you’ve never read Welty, start with her delightful autobiographical volume, One Writer’s Beginnings. It’s one of my favorite books.

The Mississippi Writers Page is a great place to start finding out more about Eudora Welty. Enjoy!

Book Madness!

Posted on March 29, 2011

Back when sports fans were filling out their college basketball brackets, I wrote on Facebook that these were the only brackets that interested me:

[ ] ( ) { } < >

I was wrong.

Even better than punctuation brackets is a book bracket. Now this is a competition I can really get into!

Voting on contenders from the British Library and Library of Congress ends at 9:00 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday, March 29.

Pride & Prejudice is currently losing to 1984. We simply cannot allow this travesty to occur! Stop reading, go vote for P&P (and help out Jane Eyre against Catch-22 while you’re there), then come back to read the rest of this blog. 🙂

Do we really want to live in Orwell’s world over Austen’s? (Yes, I realize we already do. But this is about fantasy, not reality, right?)

If I understand my son’s explanation, in a basketball bracket you’re supposed to choose the team you think will win, which may not be the same as the team you want to win. I can’t settle for that with books, so I’ll present both versions of my bracket.

First—how I would have voted in the already-decided contests if I had known about this in time, just for the record:

New York Public Library: I would have gone for The Sound & the Fury over Invisible Man and Frankenstein.

Royal Library: I would have gone for Little Women over Cuckoo’s Nest and Lolita (almost anything over Lolita) and The Scarlet Letter over Slaughterhouse Five. I also would have voted for The Hobbit over Great Expectations and even over Huck Finn, though both of those would have been tough calls.

British Library: I would probably have gone for Wuthering Heights over Dorian Gray, though Heathcliff is a creepy psycho, not a great romantic hero. Ulysses vs. Heart of Darkness—who cares? Yes, Conrad and Joyce were both influences on Fitzgerald, but I have never enjoyed reading either one of them. Haven’t tried in a couple of decades though, so maybe I should give them another try.

Library of Congress. I would have gone for Anna Karenina over Catch-22 and The Count of Monte Cristo over Grapes of Wrath. And although my literature students would be shocked to find me preferring Hemingway to anything, I’d rather have The Sun Also Rises than A Clockwork Orange.

However, all of those questions are already decided. Here are my votes today:

British Library: Moby-Dick over Ulysses and Pride and Prejudice over 1984.

Library of Congress: Jane Eyre over Catch-22 and Catcher in the Rye (which I don’t especially like and barely remember) over A Clockwork Orange (which I especially dislike).

Right now it’s not looking good for Austen and Brontë. 🙁

I don’t know when the next vote will be, but here are my picks for the next round:

NY Public Library: The Great Gatsby over Frankenstein and Fahrenheit 451 over Dr. Zhivago

Royal Library: Huckleberry Finn over Lolita and To Kill a Mockingbird over Slaughterhouse Five

Other than the possibility of the wildly popular movie helping Zhivago beat Fahrenheit, I think that is probably how these will go.


The Great Gatsby
Pride and Prejudice
To Kill a Mockingbird
Jane Eyre

Mockingbird vs. Jane Eyre: I think I’d have to choose Mockingbird. I’ve loved Jane Eyre longer, but Mockingbird had such a powerful effect on me when I first read it only last year that I read it twice and listened to the unabridged audio twice within about 6 months.

Gatsby vs. P&P: Not sure I can do this…deep breath…

I’m sorry, Scott, but although you’re an absolute genius and I adore your words, sentences, and rhythm, I have to go with Jane—I love her characters and her world more. (I hope this public confession doesn’t get my book about Fitzgerald pulled from library shelves. )

So…I’m sure some of my readers will disagree with some of my choices. As I tell my literature students, I don’t care so much whether you agree or disagree with me. I just want to know that you have read the book and have a thoughtful opinion about it. (Even if . . . gulp . . . you vote for 1984 over P&P. But tell me why. 🙂

Here’s the Out of Print website where you can vote.