Friday, October 9, 2015

For the Record: September 2015

What a relief to be back in a routine. It hasn't been easy to focus on schooling when we still have workers in our house every day, but the end is in sight.  After another week or two, we should have our home back to ourselves.  It's only been three years. Yikes. (*big sigh of relief...or was that just exhaustion?) My library cabinets are being oiled and all the loose ends are being tied up; pretty soon the only problem with my house will be that it is located in Southern California instead of Northern California! (I actually don't mind SoCal but I'm a NorCal girl and I miss it So Much.)

Reading this month wasn't too bad! Partially because of routine and school books, partially because getting all my books out of storage made my thirsty for reading.

8 Books Read in September: [61 books year-to-date]

2 Classics:
  - The Optimist's Daughter, Eudora Welty (4.5) What a beautiful portrait this small book is! Full of Southern manners and culture clash, family dynamics and truth, this is a book that I already want to read again. There isn't much plot, but as a character study and observation on life, this has it all.
  - Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes (4) Before reading this book I was pretty certain that I wouldn't like it. It seemed too tied to an agenda to be enjoyable. Of course I was wrong. I did have a hard time getting into it at first (probably because of my preconceived ideas) but it was written so well and plotted so perfectly that I ended up being won over. This read happened to coincide with Banned Books Week: happy accident.

2 Other/Fiction:
  - Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee (4) I had decided to not read this book. Not because I loved To Kill a Mockingbird so much, but because I didn't love it enough to warrant reading a subsequent book. I'm glad it was picked for my book club though, because it ended up being the perfect companion novel and helped me appreciate Mockingbird more than I did before. Where Mockingbird felt polished, clean, and purposeful, Watchman felt raw, pointed, and passionate. I don't think the characters were portrayed with different personalities, rather with a different perspective. Very interesting read, and wonderful discussion in my book group.
  - The Story of Land and Sea, Katy Simpson Smith (3.5) Though I usually enjoy books that focus on the characters and setting more than the plot, this one was the exception. I found myself skipping over descriptive passages trying to find the story. It was an interesting look at America during the time of the Revolution, as it didn't focus on the war as much as most novels in that setting would tend to do.

4 Junior Fiction:
  - Pedro's Journal, Pam Conrad (3) A fictional journal of a boy on Columbus' first journey, this was more about the history than the entertainment.
  - Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo (4) This was an entertaining little story of a squirrel with super powers and the girl that needed him in her life.  My 11yo is reading it and is also entertained with the intelligent humor and addition of drawings and comics. It's a cast of oddballs, which somehow makes it more realistic.
  - Walk the World's Rim, Betty Baker (4) Really interesting history here! I've had a hard time teaching about the explorers and conquistadors without feeling like it's a bunch of names and dates that don't matter much. This book does a wonderful job at introducing many cultures, geographical locations, and historical events in a very simple manner.
  - Om-kas-toe, Kenneth Thomasma (3) Although this was an interesting picture of the Blackfeet Indians, their lifestyle and introduction to horses, the writing was kind of terrible. It would have been more interesting, perhaps, if the reader had some familiarity with modern day Montana and was able to identify the locations the author mentioned. As it was, the continual interjections of commentary into the story made it harder to stay focused.


Current Reads:

  - A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson. My current audiobook. Isn't this being made into a movie? Usually I like to watch a movie before reading a book, contrary to most readers, but this seemed like a good one to read first.
  - Wolf Winter, Cecilia Eckback. This story is pretty intense! I suppose it could be classified as a crime mystery, but it so thoroughly feels like I've been dropped into 1717 rural Sweden that I can't help but think that this is exactly what historical fiction should be.
  - Justin Morgan Had a Horse, Marguerite Henry. Current read-aloud to my 11yo daughter. The accents written into the dialogue make this a fun read.


On My Nightstand:
Since unpacking my books, I kind of just want to read everything immediately. The plan, though, is to alternate some of the books that have been on my nightstand forever with some of the new books I've picked up. So, next up is The Big Burn by Timothy Egan followed by The Night Watch. We'll see where I go from there.


Monday, September 14, 2015

For the Record: August 2015

To be honest, I was surprised when I looked back and saw that I'd actually read a few books in August. Summers are always busier than I think they'll be, and this one was even more so. I've been working long days trying to get to the point where we actually feel like we are mostly moved into our home, and that doesn't leave much time or energy for reading. We still have people working on the house every day, but the task list is starting to get smaller (at long last!) My library cabinets are finally being built, and I seriously can't wait to be able to take my books out of storage.

I had been planning on joining The Classic's Club for Austen in August, but I only managed to get through the introduction of Northanger Abbey before setting it aside for now.  Kind of sad! I did manage to knit a pair of slippers for my 16yo son and a hat for my14yo daughter, (knitting is a more brainless pastime than reading,) so I feel like I accomplished something in August. I'm guessing that the rest of 2015 will be similarly busy, but I'm definitely hoping that life will mellow out a bit come January.

5 Books Read in August: [53 books year-to-date]

1 Nonfiction:
  - Being Mortal, Atul Gawande (5) Frankly, reading the details of how our bodies begin to fall apart was not my idea of good I am thankful that part didn't last long! This book was written in a very caring, thoughtful manner, and yet was detailed, researched, and organized. As it addresses something we will all eventually face, I'd say this book deserves a wide audience.

1 from Powell's Indiespensable:
  - The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty, Vendela Vida (3.5) If you've ever been curious about reading a book written in second person, here's your chance to experience it. It was entertaining, though not captivating.

1 Audiobook:
  - The Privileges, Jonathan Dee (2.5) I felt like the narrator did a fine job, but the story felt disjointed and lacking a strong theme. I kept wondering what the point of the story was, and I'm still not sure. It didn't satisfy my appreciation for character studies either, so I was pretty unattached and irritated throughout.

2 Other/Fiction:
  - The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara (5) I've had this on my shelf for quite a long time and always thought it would be too militarily technical, but I was mistaken. I'm so glad I finally read it. Breathtaking portrait of the Battle of Gettysburg.
  - Harry and Hortense at Hormone High, Paul Zindel (4) If that title sounds bizarre, take a gander at the book's cover art. This was one of many books that my 14yo daughter saved from the recycle bin at her school's library, and I couldn't bear for it to go unread. It ended up being funny as well as dealing with serious issues, not to mention being a delightful flashback to the '80s.


2 Current Reads:

  - Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo. This is really a book that I'd typically read in one sitting, but life. It's intelligent and entertaining, and makes me want to get some opinions from my kiddos to see if they'd like it as well.
  - Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee. My current audiobook, listening to it for my book club. I actually have a hard copy of it but I'm enjoying hearing Reese Witherspoon read it.  I may actually be enjoying this book more than To Kill a Mockingbird...or more accurately: I am finding myself appreciating To Kill a Mockingbird more than I could have without reading Go Set a Watchman. It may not be as polished, but I feel that it's a little more honest and raw and I like that.


On My Nightstand:
It grows and it grows, then I put all the books away in a box until I can finally shelve them properly. Then I buy more on impulse because I don't have time to read but want to. I actually have no idea what I'll read next. These are the books I bought on impulse so maybe it'll be one of these:


Friday, August 21, 2015

Home-Schooling 6th Grade

My youngest daughter is 11, and the only one remaining in my home school. I have a 19yo son that is living at home and working full time for the family business, and my 16yo son and 14yo daughter are going to a local private high school. This last year was rather difficult for everyone in our family, with our remodeling project absorbing so much time and attention, so we are looking forward to a more normal experience this school year.

Sixth grade means a couple of things for me. As the last year of elementary school, I want to make sure we are still doing exploratory, discovery, hands-on activities as a method of learning, with practical goals in mind. At the same time, being the last year before middle school, it's time to work on focus and discipline by working on some larger, longer projects.

One of the ways we will be practicing focus and discipline is by putting the cat in quarantine during school hours (so distracting!), and another is by following a preset schedule. I have the tendency to tweak curriculum and write my own, which was great fun in elementary and rather necessary during our house project, but can be hard to keep on top of. I'm excited to have Sonlight do this for me this year—it has been quite a while since I've followed a Sonlight core in its entirety.

The past few years we've been using Story of the World for history (with scattered assorted readers and read-alouds and various activities from their activity guides) and Total Language Plus for the bulk of our Language Arts. This year, moving on to American History, we will be greatly expanding the number of books we read, and enjoying having our literature and language arts tie in with our studies thanks to Sonlight Core D+E. I already own the majority of the books, though there are a few that I haven't read. I'd love to add in even more books but I'm trying really hard to not be an over-achiever, setting myself up for disaster.

For science we will be finishing up Chemistry with Science Odyssey, and adding in some science history with Hakim's Aristotle Leads the Way. We've been using Math Mammoth for arithmetic but will be adding in some Life of Fred this year for fun, and we'll continue studying spelling with Apples and Pears.

All in all, it feels like a very language-centric year and I'm excited about that. In addition to home studies, she is in an art class at a local art studio and in horse-riding lessons nearby, which we both enjoy. We don't begin until after Labor Day, but we are both looking forward to it already. Not least of all because it will mean that I will actually get some reading done!

Monday, August 10, 2015

For the Record: July 2015

A long, lazy vacation in June meant I actually got some books read.  Not the ones in queue, (too much standard Adult Fiction for my tastes lately,) but still much more than expected so I'm not complaining.  All the unpacking and organizing is taking much of my time - trying to get caught up before school starts!

My homeschooling daughter is in 6th grade this year, and I'm getting excited about our studies (maybe I'll take the time to put together a separate post about some of the books we'll be using.) Last school year was so very hectic with our house project that it ended up being a difficult and dissatisfying school year.  We are greatly looking forward to welcoming a routine back into our lives.

7 Books Read in July: [48 books year-to-date]

1 Nonfiction:
  - Dead Wake, Erik Larson (4.5) While this felt a little lighter in content than the other two of his books I've read, (Thunderstruck and Devil in the White City,) I still enjoyed it quite a bit.  I had very little knowledge about the Lusitania, and now my curiosity is properly piqued...while at the same time I feel satisfied with the width and depth of knowledge imparted.  That perfect balance is my favorite way to feel when finishing a nonfiction book.

1 for Book Club:
  - What She Left Behind, Ellen Marie Wiseman (3) This reminded me greatly of Lee Smith's Guests on Earth, as it focused largely on the tradition of admitting women into mental asylums with little cause at the beginning of the 20th century. The details are (of course) infuriating, knowing how much truth is behind them. One of the main faults in Wiseman's book was in writing quality. She tried to balance a modern story with one from the past, and there simply wasn't enough depth of character or plot connection to support it.  There were a lot of eye-rolling cliches and overused phrases. Unfortunately I didn't get to discuss this with my book group because I got busy cleaning and unpacking and totally spaced about what night it was.  That was a sad night.

5 Fiction:
  - My Name is Mary Sutter, Robin Oliveira (4) This book felt Little-Women-ish to me (the movie, not the book, because I've watched the former a zillion times and made it all the way through the book no times.) Strong female characters during the Civil War did it I suppose. The author mentioned Mary Sutter's lack of traditional good looks way too many times, but I still really enjoyed the story. Prodded me to read more about the Civil War, since I really liked the last Civil War novel I read also.
  - Dollbaby, Laura Lane McNeal (3.5) Standard book club fare, like The Help in a way.  I liked the New Orleans setting but found most of the book to be too plot oriented with not enough depth for me to really become attached.
  - When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka (3.5) My 16yo son read this as summer reading for his English class this fall.  It was a small one so I read it too.  I was underwhelmed, though I'm sure that the writing style was a big part of that. In an attempt to make it seem like the events could have happened to anyone, I felt detached and not invested. I have yet to read a book about the WWII Japanese concentration camps that really makes me feel for the characters...not sure if that's a cultural distinction or writing style issue.
  - Lisette's List, Susan Vreeland (2.5) Oh my, talk about cliche.  This was like Chocolat and Under the Tuscan Sun met the Hallmark Channel and After School Specials. With paintings. I liked her older stuff...didn't I? I don't remember now.
  - We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas (3.5) I'd been excited about this one for a while, based on nothing other than the hint of an Irish family saga. It didn't end up feeling like a saga to me, just a book not edited for length. Plus I really didn't care for the main character, and this ended up being one of the few times where that actually impinged on my enjoyment of the story.


2 Current Reads:

  - The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara. I'm not reading this fast enough because I'm so exhausted with unpacking, but it is very very good.
  - The Privileges, Jonathan Dee. My current audiobook. I should have known better than to choose something superficial after so much of this month's reading, so we aren't really jiving. I'm currently deciding whether to stick with it or leave it until later.


On My Nightstand:
The books on my nightstand are probably getting worn out of being there, so I'm not feeling very attached to them right now. I'm going to try to do a little Austen in August, and we'll see how the rest of it goes.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

For the Record: June 2015 (better late than never!)

Wow this post is late! June was the month we finally moved back into our home, so I got little reading done once that happened. It's incredible to be finally reaching the end of what was starting to feel like a never-ending journey. We still have people working here every day, finishing up the basement and other odds and ends, but it is so wonderful to be home.  Most of our stuff is still in storage since our garage is currently a woodworking shop, but little by little everything is in its place.

3 Books Read in June: [41 books year-to-date]

1 Nonfiction:
  - Secrets From the Eating Lab, Traci Mann (4) Rather than being simply another diet book, this is a scientific look at the results of studies done on dieting issues. I enjoyed the psychology and behavioral studies, and the impartial view of dieting companies.

1 for Book Club:
  - Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks (4) My mom was able to join my book club for this book, along with many moms and daughters of the other girls in my group, and it was the perfect book for a multigenerational group. I forgot how well Brooks writes for one thing, so that was enjoyable, but what really made discussion interesting was the depth of focus on faith and women's role in society throughout history. The setting (Harvard in the Colonial days) was vivid and captivating.

1 Classic (kinda):
  - The Edge of Sadness, Edwin O'Connor (5+) I don't know how to express how much I loved this book. I found it when looking through Pulitzer Prize winners from the early 1960s and read it as a way to celebrate moving back into our mid-century modern home. The historical aspect was interesting, the characters were top notch: flawed, real, love 'em/hate 'em folk, the writing was impeccable. For me, with little experience with the Catholic church, the fact that the main character is a priest was no hindrance. It was contemplative and merciful; the depth of honesty about the struggles that make us essentially human is something I've rarely found.


I have another whole slew of books to write about soon, but here's a few photos of my house in the meantime. I couldn't resist. So many parts of the house feel so much like it used to, only made fresh and new, that it's a little surreal to walk through the house and contemplate the last 2 1/2 years of work! We still have odds and ends being finished up, but it is so so good to be back home. These photos show a similar part of the entryway of the house.  Our house is situated on a corner lot, so the driveway leads to the lower entrance on the left, while the front door/main entrance is half a level up on the right.

BEFORE: This hidden door leads to the guest bedroom (front door is
on the right,  but is not shown). The art on the wall is original to the house
and has been relocated to the [as yet incomplete] library.

MID-CONSTRUCTION: Digging for the basement. It looked similar to this
for a very long while.

AFTER: The cedar siding has been replaced (as has pretty much everything else)
and the wall now sports new lighting sculptures made from Japanese paper by an
artisan in Los Angeles. Now this huge entry way no longer suffers from the
dungeon effect at night. Simple in design, yet so beautiful from every angle.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

For the Record: May 2015

Somehow, even though I've felt all month as if I haven't read anything, I ended up reading more books than last month...not to mention that I've read much more this year than I had last year at this point.  Maybe living out of a suitcase will do that to you! After 2+ months of living in hotels and short term rentals, we will be moving into our home on June 10th. It won't be quite done, but it's close.

8 Books Read in May: [38 books year-to-date]

2 Nonfiction:
  - The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo (4.5) I had almost decided against reading this book, but I'm glad I went for it. Not only does it have some good advice for putting your life in order, but it's a fantastic little peek into Japanese culture.  The author is a little nuts (I read the sock portion aloud to many people) and the book is somewhat light on content, but it made me laugh multiple times, and actually changed how I fold my I giggle every time I fold my clothes.
  - Between You & Me, Mary Norris (2) This book felt judgmental and elitist to me; it actually made me angry! It just reaffirmed that I'm a creative type: don't fence me in. It reminded me why I don't like memoirs, why I do like the ambiguity of the English language, and made me decide to never try to publish anything. Blah. I left the book at one of the rentals we lived in this month—maybe it'll find a new owner who loves rules and is in awe of those who make them.

2 Classics:
  - Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell (5) This was Gaskell's first book, and was written to illuminate the plight of the poor. Gaskell has her quirks and this one felt very characteristic of those, making me appreciate it all the more. The characters reminded me of Lark Rise to Candleford for some reason, which probably added to the attachment I felt.
  - Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (3) I feel kind of bad for not loving this one - my 14yo daughter loved it more than I did - but it's simply a matter of target audience.  I get worn out of dystopian fiction just thinking about it, and symbolism wears me out as well.  The story was fascinating, and the language was often quite beautiful.

4 Fiction:
  - Our Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller (3) I'd say this book was written well, even though I had issues with the pacing. The language was slow and descriptive but the plot was suspenseful; those two qualities worked against each other in my opinion. And the subject matter was just depressing. And the plot twist wasn't twisty.
  - Euphoria, Lily King (4) There was more relationship drama in this book than I typically like, but it pulled me in & made for a good beach read. I thought it did a good job of showing the mindless fury of initial attraction, but not such a great job with the aftermath.
  - The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters (4) This was the first book I've read by Sarah Waters, and the technical parts were lacking...if I'd read it myself instead of listening to the incredibly talented Juliet Stevenson read it, I surely wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much. There were plot issues and character issues, but I loved the time period and, again, the drama made for good escapism.
  - Circling the Sun, Paula McLain (4) I'd guess that most people who read this book will probably do so because they read The Paris Wife, which I haven't, so I can't compare them for you.  I did love Beryl Markham's autobiography (read it years ago) and thought this made for an interesting companion novel.  There's not much about aviation, actually, so that was a let down, but the real focus of this story was her personal life and how she struggled through an era of female oppression. Her life didn't seem to be a happy one, but she kept fighting to find joy and ended up with many successes despite the accompanying tragedies.


2 Current Reads:

  - Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks. My pick for our next book club. Just started, but looks to be a good one - I forgot how well she can write.
  - Fourth of July Creek, Smith Henderson. I'm 20% through this audiobook and I'm still not invested. Sometimes I like it, sometimes the swearing and narrator switch throw me off. I wonder if reading the paper copy would be a better experience, but it's growing on me.


On My Nightstand:
I have had so many different nightstands this month that I'm not even sure what's on it! I started House of Earth but it isn't capturing me. The house we're staying in has a copy of The Traitor's Wife (a.k.a. The Wolves of Andover) so I might read that if I finish Caleb's Crossing soon.  I'm planning on starting The Edge of Sadness as soon as I move back home, as a tribute to the early '60s. I'm looking forward to that one!

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