Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year in Pictures

JANUARY : :  A cold and snowy month

FEBRUARY : :  A party honoring a freshly minted retiree

MARCH : :  A trip to the grandparent's

APRIL : :  Spring!

MAY : :  Strawberry picking time

JUNE : :  A fishing lesson 

JULY : : The grandparent's garden at its peak

AUGUST : : A trip to the Philbrook

SEPTEMBER : :  More fishing lessons

OCTOBER : : Fairyland

NOVEMBER : :  Keeping our beaches safe

DECEMBER : :  Another tender Tennessee Christmas

It was a very good year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Year in Books, Part 2

Now, for fiction:

29. Don't Look Now by Daphne du Maurier --  My #4 selection, also by du Maurier, is one of my favorite books of all time.  So, I had high hopes for this one.  However two strikes moved it to the back of the pack:  1) I thought I was settling into a thrilling mystery when I found that what I thought was the end of the first chapter was actually the end of the first of five short stories (grrrrr) and 2) one of the stories was down-right raunchy.  I don't like raunchy.

28. Grace by Richard Paul Evans -- In general, I don't like his books because they are way too sappy.  This one is an example of Evans at his sappiest.

27.  The Letter* by Richard Paul Evans --  As I said, I don't generally like his book (then why do I keep reading them?), but this one is probably my favorite of those I've read.

26. The Dwelling Place* by Elizabeth Massur -- meh.

25. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum  -- a read-aloud for my son.  Maybe I shouldn't have counted it as it is definitely a children's book.  But, hey, it has chapters.  My son declared it his favorite book.

24. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford -- a nice but forgettable story

23. Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman -- this was a sweet story with a happy ending that made me want to go back to Savannah.  It would have been good if Hoffman hadn't resolved every potential conflict before it became interesting.

22. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway -- This book enlightened me as to the plight of the city during its long siege.  Before, I had only been vaguely aware of what had occurred.  'Haunting' is the best description of this book.  However, overall, I found to The Cellist to be flat.

21. Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani --  an okay book that was entertaining yet depressing

20. Breathless by Dean Koontz -- a decent, light page-turner about good v. evil

19. And Then There Were None* by Agatha Christie -- good but not great

18. A Girl of the Limberlost* by Gene Stratton-Porter --  good, wholesome, uplifting.  It's one I'll encourage my daughter to read.

17. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis -- This was a read-aloud for my son.  He loved it.

16. The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis -- another read-aloud.  I liked this one better than the previous Lewis book because I'd never read it before, and it provided some of the back-story to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

15. An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan -- at first, this book really irritated me because it was such an obvious rip-off of Jane Austin's work.  However, after a while I realized that the author wasn't trying to get away with anything, she was actually paying homage to Austin.  With that realization, I settled in and enjoyed a terrific romance. 

14. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton -- a very good mystery but a little slow moving.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
 by Alan Bradley -- another good mystery.  This one, however, was fast-paced.  I loved the main character.  If I had read this at 11, I would have wanted to be her.  Hmmm, I need to add this to my daughter's reading list.  Maybe it will inspire her to love chemistry like the main character.

12. Uncle Tom's Cabin* by Harriet Beecher Stowe --  This book contains 400 pages describing one case of human cruelty and misery after the other, which is a little hard to read.  But, it is indeed thought-provoking and had an uplifting ending.

Little Women
* by Louisa May Alcott --  a highly moralistic book, which I loved.  The first part of the book is very slow reading, but the second part picks up.  Such a cliche, but these characters remind me of people I know.  There are many lessons contained in its pages that are still applicable to modern readers.  This is another on the list for my daughter to read.

10. Dracula* by Bram Stoker -- I read this with great reluctance because I thought it would glorify evil.  However, the opposite is the case.  The heroes of the story are virtuous and noble plus the story is very compelling.

9. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins --  Given the futuristic and apocalyptic nature of this series, it's surprising that I even read it.  Not only did I read the series...I loved it!

8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins --  the third in the series.  I loved it, too.

7. Persuasion* by Jane Austin --  Anne Elliot is every bit as great a character as Elizabeth Bennett but the story is not quite as compelling as Pride and Prejudice, which is my favorite book of all time.

6. Emma by Jane Austin --  I was rewarded for slogging through the first half of the book by a very satisfying ending.  I enjoyed it slightly more than Persuasion.

5. Laddie by Gene Stratton-Porter -- This book probably appeals to narrow range of people, but I happen to fall squarely in that range.  I love moralistic stories about virtuous characters, and this one has virtuous characters to boot.  The ending is wwwaaayyy too pat, but otherwise it is wonderful.  Incidentally, one of the most striking things about the book is the contrast between Laddie's education and the education of today.

4. Rebecca* by Daphne du Maurier --  I think I've read this three times (the first time I was in my teens).  Gothic romances with plenty of twists really appeal to me.

3. The Help* by Kathryn Stockett --  But for one raunchy scene, this book was excellent and would have been my favorite book of the year.  

2. The Hunger Games* by Suzanne Collin -- the first and my favorite in the series.  Some parts were so thrilling, I actually broke out in sweat.

1.  To Kill A Mockingbird* by Harper Lee  --  It is the best.

* Represents a book club selection

The Year in Books, Part 1

At a meeting of my book club on January 1, 2010, three of us challenged each other to read 52 books during the year.  The other two ended up reading well over 60, but, with only a few days to spare, I finally just made it to 52.

As a blogger, I have an over-exaggerated sense of my own importance. I've become deluded enough to think that any one cares what I've read.  Well, at least for the sake of my posterity and my own satisfaction in actually completing a resolution, I'm listing the books I've read.  I even ranked them according to how much a liked them, counting them down from my least-favorite to my most favorite.

Today, I'm listing my non-fiction reads.  I guess I'm getting old.  In the past, I read purely for entertainment.  Lately, I've tended also to read for information, too.  I was surprised that I'd read 23 non-fiction books during the year.  In the coming days, I'll provide Part 2, the fiction books.

Now, let's count them down:

23.  Homeschooling for Excellence by David and Mickie Colfax --  This book, written by homeschooling pioneers who sent four kids to Harvard, had a lot of promise.  However, the information was too general and out of date to be useful.

22.  A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facy --  an autobiography of a common man growing up in Australia.  Common men are the best, but their lives are not compelling book fodder.  The book was extremely dry, and I had to force myself to read it.  The one positive factor is that Facey was born the same year as my own grandfather and many aspects of their lives (itinerate farming, WWI, etc.) were similar.

21.  A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver de Mille -- A lot of people in homeschooling circles whom I respect recommend this book.  I thought it was poorly written and did not like it.  I did glean a little home-schooling inspiration from it, though.  I may have to reread it at a future date to see if it is an acquired taste.

20. A Life Lost and Found by Wilson Adams and Daved Lanphear --  One of the authors writes poignantly about heartbreaking loss  and how he looked to the Bible for healing.  His co-author tries to do the same but should have left all the writing to the other guy. 

19.  The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen Covey --  This book is definitely full of recommendations that our family would do well to put into practice, but Covey could have provided the same information in half the number of pages.

18. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helen Hanff -- See comments at #15.  The sequel is not nearly as entertaining as the first book, Charring Cross Road.

17.  The Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore -- a very sad story told be two men inspired by the same extraordinary woman who lived her faith.

16.  Teach Your Own:  A Hopeful Path for Education by John Holt -- In this book, Holt reminds us time and again what we all know, that we don't remember much from our school days, except a little math and a little about reading.  What we still know or know best, we've most likely taught ourselves because we needed to know it, which is why homeschooling (and the time/freedom it provides)  in a stimulating environment is often more effective than the alternatives.  He's a little on the radical side for my taste, but the book is worth reading.

15. Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff --  I read this only because I heard that it was the inspiration for one of my very favorite books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society.  Hanff's writing style exudes intelligence and wit.  The book is worth reading just to experience her writing, which outshines the actual events in her life.

14. Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax -- It's nice to know about a problem (i.e. "slacker dude" trend) early enough to get ahead of it.  This book changed the nature of school for us, giving it a more 'easy-does-it' flavor for the kindergarten year

13. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell --  It's nothing new that success occurs when preparation meets opportunity (or being at the right place at the right time), which is the gist of this book.  It's still worth reading the stories behind some of the most successful people of all time and the ingredients to their successes.

12. How Shall We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer -- I would have liked this book a lot more if it wasn't such a stark reminder that my knowledge of world history is absolutely abysmal.  A more educated mind than mine would have gotten more out this book, but the basic message was clear:  we've become a society in which God's absolute authority is not recognized.  We're in an era when people are only motivated by a desire to maintain their personal peace and affluence.  That's all I have the space to write.  To understand the implications of departing from righteous paths, you'll just have to read the book.

11. To Learn with Love by William and Constance Starr -- This is a book addressing the Suzuki method of music instruction.  However, much of what's written can also be applied to homeschooling in general, which makes it a very useful little book.

10. Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith -- This is not a homeschooling book, but a book about teaching written by a well-known and highly successful public school teacher.  I read a lot of books on education, most of which are theoretical in nature.  This one actually provides concrete suggestions that a teacher (even a home educator) can actually use.

9. President Lincoln by William Lee Miller --  It's obvious that Miller loves Lincoln, and after reading this book about his Presidency, I love him too.

8. The 5000 Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen --  This is a book that I will have my children read when they get older.  Not only does it summarize a lot of our nation's history, it explains how extraordinary our country was at its inception.

7.  Hold on to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld --  This book was a wake-up call that has most definitely made me a better parent.  I recommend it, but it is not written terribly well, which makes it tedious to read.

6.  Go Tell the Good News by Bob and Sandra Waldron --  This is eighth in a series of nine books that retell the Bible narrative in easy-to-understand language with notes by the author that are enlightening but not quite at the commentary level.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that since reading this series along with my Bible (which I began in 2008), my Bible knowledge has easily quadrupled with a corresponding increase in faith.  

5. Sir, We Would See Jesus by Bob and Sandra Waldron --  See above.  This is seventh in the series discussed above.  I liked it a tad better.

4.  Prayer and Providence by Homer Haley --  The author provides a lot of thought-provoking material on two topics that interest me very much.  I love that he uses the Bible only as the guide in addressing these topics rather than relying on personal experience, anecdotes or testimony.

3.   John Adams by David McCullough --  I'm a David McCullough fan.  He has made me a John Adams fan as well.  McCullough makes reading history as entertaining as reading a novel.  I was amused and enlightened.  

2.  Knowing and Teaching Elementary Math by Liping Ma -- Sometimes it seems that the information you're looking for just finds you.  That was the case with this book, which I 'discovered' by reading a homeschooling on-line forum.  I know I wanted to teach math well, but wondered how I was going to do it.  This book, I think, has me started in the right direction.  This is a book I need to read again and again.  I recommend it for anyone who has a child that needs to learn math, which is anyone who has a child.

1.  Norms and Nobility:  A Treatise on Education by David V. Hicks --  I took volumes of notes on this book, an indication on how much I loved it.  This book opened my mind to what an education could be if only I had the courage and discipline to pursue it, since it is mighty rigorous.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Basket

I have collected a few Christmas books every year, which I keep packed away to pull out with the Christmas decorations.  Pulling them out has become one of my favorite traditions of the season.  Here are the titles that now (mostly) reside in a box by the fireplace.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore

We have two versions of this.  The Robert Sabuda pop-up version, which I usually keep put up out of harm's way

The Night Before Christmas Pop-up

and the 'everyday' version illustrated by Mary Engelbreit, a visual feast.  I'd like to memorize this poem this year.
The Night Before Christmas

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

This book and the movie have become something of a tradition around here.  My four-year old started clamoring for the movie as soon as we got back from Florida.
The Polar Express

The Christmas Candle by Richard Paul Evans

A story of transformation in the tradition of A Christmas Carol just without the ghosts.  This was a gift from a friend, and a very nice story.
The Christmas Candle

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

This is a sentimental favorite of mine.  It was my best childhood friend's very favorite book.  I always think of her as I read it.
The Velveteen Rabbit

This is one of our new additions for 2010.  The kids grab this from the library all through the year.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

The Light at Tern Rock by Julie L. Sauer

This is one we checked out from the library.  It's on the Sonlight Kindergarten read-aloud list.  It is not a secular read, but whatever your beliefs concerning Christ and his birth, it is a terrific book about contentment and forgiveness.  Some good conversations have sprung from this book, which we've read more than once.
The Light at Tern Rock (Puffin Newbery Library)

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens adapted by Stephen Krensky

The second of our new additions to the box.  I chose to read this book this year for several reasons.  First, I want to introduce my children to classic literature early so that they develop a taste for it.  This is an ideal choice because it is not a long, complex story but the language is still rich.  Second, it coincides with our study of Europe and was written toward the end of the Middle Ages, which we are also learning about.  Third, two of our good friends are in a local production of a musical based on the book.  I wanted my son to be familiar with the story before we went to see the play.

A Christmas Carol

The Family Under the Bridge  by Natalie Savage Carlson
The Family Under the Bridge
This is another Sonlight read-aloud, which takes place in France, a country we've 'visited' this year in school.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pumpkin Eater

When it comes to Thanksgiving desserts, I say, 'Please pass the pecan.'

I'm not a big pumpkin pie girl.  I am a fan of the pumpkin roll, though, and I always look forward to my mom's pumpkin bread.  This fall I expanded my pumpkin horizons as I kept coming across pumpkin recipes that really did appeal to me.  I tried out several of them, all of which were well received.

In October, I served up this pumpkin sheet cake at a potluck.  Now, hostesses and fellow dessert-bearers do not take kindly to jelly roll pans that take up 150 square inches of prime counter space, and the logistics of getting a large pan oozing with cream cheese frosting to the counter without a mess are challenging to say the least.  However, the cake itself was a hit and women were clamoring for the recipe.

Next up was this pumpkin spice granola.  This past year, I started making homemade granola in an attempt at healthier eating.  Ever since, I've been keeping an eye out for granola alternatives.  Although, with two and a half cups of puffed rice cereal and three fourths cup of brown sugar, this hardly qualifies as healthful, it is good.

Third, for my sweet husband's birthday, I made up pumpkin muffins from my favorite baking book, Baking:  From My Home to Yours.  A book that's full of great recipes and fun to read.

Baking: From My Home to Yours

The little sun flower seeds on top of these muffins absolutely charm me.  The pureed pumpkin, raisons and sun flower seeds give these muffins a decidedly wholesome quality.

Last were these delicious Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies.  I love that Annie and her recipes.  I've run across a couple of versions of cookies containing oatmeal, cranberries, and white chocolate chips this years (on the back of the Craisons bag, for example).  This is the only recipe I've seen that also includes pumpkin.  These were extremely moist.  I prefer a moist cookie over a crunchy one.  My family also loved them.  That is, until my son found out that the white things were chocolate chips.  He has recently decided he doesn't like chocolate.  I'm sure he'll come to his senses.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up

But if they insist on having birthdays despite your protests, it's okay to let them be cowgirls.

This sweet little cowgirl, my own baby, turned four last week.  She is the second in a set of two extraordinary children.  Beneath her calm, cool public persona is a little fire cracker, a girl who loves pretty clothes, stuffed animals, books, and, recently, all things cowgirl.  We celebrated her birthday in style--in a Florida beach condo along with my whole family.

In this family, having a November birthday is not terribly original.  Of the people pictured above a full one third were born in November.  The most auspicious birthday of the month was my dad's.  He, by reason of strength, reached fourscore years this year.  He doesn't look 80 does he?

Birthdays weren't the only reason to celebrate.  Forty-five years ago, this couple married.

And, of course, there was turkey day.

But, alas, the sun has set on a great vacation and it's back to reality and the cold midwest.

Thanks, to my brother-in-law, SCB, for the great vacation pictures and the condo connections.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Week 9, A Bevy of Books

For week nine, our geography memory work included China and India.  We read a lot of picture books set in these two countries.  They all had merit, but as always, the kids enjoyed some more then others.  I'll count 'em down, least to most favorite, below:

8.  Monsoon by Uma Krishanaswami:

This one had very good illustration that captured the vibe of present-day India, but the story of an approaching storm at the end of a dry season is a little flat:

7.  Once a Mouse by Marcia Brown

This Caldecott Medal winner is a book from our home library that we've read many times although it's not among our favorites.  Based on the illustrations, I assume this takes place in India although there are no references to the country or the culture.

6.  Yeh-Shen:  A Cinderella Story from China by Ai-Ling Louie

I thought this would go over better than it did since Cinderella is popular figure with my three-year-old, but I think possibly they didn't connect to the misty, dreamy quality of the illustrations.  I'm going to read this to them more because I think that Yeh-Shen is a beautiful character with admirable qualities and familiarity always helps their enjoyment of stories.   

5.  Lon Po Po:  A Red Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young

I thought it interesting that many of the books we read this week had to do with either greed or contentment.  This story illustrated the dangers of greed but also featured three resourceful girls.  This book was illustrated by the author, who also drew the pictures for Yeh Shen.  As a result, the illustrations had a similar quality to those of Yeh-Shen.  However, we've read Lon Po Po many times, so the kids connected with it more. 

4.  The Boy and the Tigers by Helen Bannerman

I know this story from my own childhood as Little Black Sambo.  Whatever the name, the story is a classic...and again features the dangers of greed.

3.  Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel

Something about the plight of those children in the well and the way the name of the 'most honored son' rolls off the tongue appeals to my kids.

2.  The Gifts of Wali Dad, A Tale of India and Pakistan by Aaron Shepard

I fortuitously recovered this treasure from the depths of the bin at Goodwill just a week ago.  It is an entertaining story of generosity and contentment that we all learned from and enjoyed.

1.  The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahay

We all loved this book.  I read it to my kids last year, and they were not interested in hearing it again.  This year, it was a hit.  It is a wonderful story of seven brothers with special powers who work together to save each others' lives.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Week 8, Adventure on the High Seas

One of the best parts of Classical Conversations is the weekly presentation.  Each week the children get in front of their class and give a presentation that can range from a simple 'show and tell' to a persuasive speech.  The class tutor picks the topics.  This year, my kindergartner has given 'speeches' on raccoons, tropical rain forests, and Leonardo Da Vinci....fairly heady topics for a six year old.  

For week 8, he was to give a few facts about a famous explorer from our Classical Conversations week 8 history sentence.  Our history sentence for week 8 was about five different explorers during the golden age of exploration.  My son picked Ferdinand Magellan.

We got information from Magellan from this book, which was the best I could find at our library for the kindergarten level:
Land Ho! Fifty Glorious Years in the Age of Exploration
The story of Magellan includes mutiny, shipwreck, slimy water, sawdust consumption and poisonous spears--titillating topics for a six year old.

I copied a few illustrations from the book, which he colored to use as visual aids:

The only ship to complete the journey

Magellan's Route

My husband, an exceptional public speaker himself, is in charge of getting him prepared for Monday's presentation.  Unfortunately, neither of us gets to see the end result because my husband works, and I tutor another class.  However, I'm sure he does fine if he doesn't go into silly mode (a big "if").  He's not at the self-conscious stage.  

I'm confident this weekly public speaking practice will serve him well in the years to come.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On The Rocks

I've concluded that my kids have never had as much fun as we did this day...a day on the rocks.

I'll admit the two of them typically error on the side of CAUTION.  They are not risk takers, but they took to this rocky hill like a couple of mountain goats.

They weren't content to stop.  They wanted to climb higher and higher.

The park ranger called it a 'controlled adventure'---a good description.  There were plenty of places to hang on, but the going was rough enough to get everyone's juices flowing.  Dad put the icing on the cake by producing a new sling shoot at the top of the climb.

Uh-oh, I think he has his sights set on some poor sap down below.  Don't worry, no hikers were harmed.

It was a perfect day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Week 6, Renaissance Man

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Classical Conversation's history memory work was on key figures of the Renaissance, including Shakespeare.

Now, my own Shakespearean education included a reading of Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew in high school English class.  We also sang a couple of his sonnets in choir (I still can remember some of the words).  Suffice it to say, I don't know much 'bout Shakespeare.  It's one of the many holes in my education that I hope to fill while providing an education to my children.  I don't believe six and three is too early to start to get them familiar with his works.
William Shakespeare & the Globe (Trophy Picture Books)
We began our little Shakespearean adventure with some general information about the man himself.  We read two picture books, Aliki's William Shakespeare and The Globe:

Of the two, the three of us unanimously picked the second as our favorite as we're fond of those rhyming couplets and the kids really enjoyed the children's illustrations, but both were good.

Now, here's where I prove that I'm Shakespeare illiterate.  I decided to delve into one of his plays, and for my two young children I chose, A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Mistake.  I found that kids cannot  relate to lovers' triangles.  Plus, the back and forth of affections between the four, almost indistinguishable, main characters is reminiscent of a 'who's on first' skit.  Their little heads were spinning.  But, I chose it based on my one bit of knowledge--that it was a comedy.  

It was not a total loss, as they did find Puck and a man named Bottom amusing.  We persevered and now they've been exposed.  I hope they caught some of it.  We ended up considering four different versions:

Edith Nesbitt's from Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare:

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children: Being a Choice Collection from the World's Greatest Classic Writer Wm. Shakespeare

Lois Burdett's, which, despite the rhyming couplets and illustrations, we found too long and detailed:

The BBC video version from here.

And finally, Bruce Coville's version:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

This Coville version was our favorite.  It was the last one we read and we had watched the video version, so they were catching on to the story by them.  Plus the illustrations in this one are great.