Monday, May 31, 2010

Reading Round-Up ~ May

Continuing on with the year's book reviews...

17. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. (Purchased at Costco. 288 pages. 2 days.) Perfectly charming. I loved the themes of friendship, community, and the sharing of books. I loved the historical setting and insight (remembering the German occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII). Read this and then read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.

16: Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller. (Received as a gift. 240 pages. 2 days.) Hilarious, vulnerable, rambling, profound, out-of-the-box, convicting, and will be required high school reading in my home after Mere Christianity and What's So Amazing About Grace. Blue Like Jazz is excellent reading for anyone tripped up by the idea of Christianity, as well as for those who have grown up with 'fairy-tale' stories of Noah's Ark and a flannelgraph Jesus.

15: Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt. (Russ borrowed from the library. I borrowed from his book stack. 371 pages. 4 days.) Russ wanted me to read his book aloud to him in the truck while he was driving. I can't stand to start in the middle of a book, so I was a terrible wife and started at the beginning (by myself). And I can't stand to not finish a book, so finish it I did.

Time Travelers Never Die was a fairly entertaining romp through history, visiting various countries, attending pivotal events, and meeting influential people. If you could travel through time (without changing the course of history), where would you go? What events would you watch unfold? Who would you like to meet? But if you are looking for more....edge-of-your-seat time travel, try Timeline by Crichton. (And then watch the movie, if only to see Gerard Butler. Swoon.)

14: Dutch Color by Douglas M. Jones III. (From the school room bookshelf. 174 pages. 2 days.) I learned a little about the Netherlands, the golden era of Dutch art, tulips, and mixing paints in this children's mystery. The story itself.... meh. Levi seemed to enjoy it on his read-through, but he's pretty easy to please.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Another Year

Luke ::: 6

He was Baybuh-Luke.

And then Little Lukie.

And then not quite so little Lukie.

He just refuses to stop growing.

And now he's SIX.

Mr. Earnest. Curious George. A Lover and a Fighter.
He makes my heart sing....and I'm not sure I'll survive his childhood.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday Seven ~ Week 21


:: The rooster died. And we had a really odd experience with a skunk. (Don't even want to share that one.) Then a huge snake in our front yard. We've already done deer and wild turkeys (and mice, sigh). What will be next? I'm on pins and needles.

:: Shannon and I walked another 3 days this week. I'm blaming her for our extra 2 days off.

:: I'm done with rain. And cold. DONE, I tell ya.

:: Making lessons plans/goals for summer and this coming fall. More on that this next week.

:: Luke turns 6 tomorrow. I have no idea how that happened.

:: It was a very uneventful week. I haven't even watched the AI finale. It's on my DVR waiting for me. I think I'll serve up a bowl of ice cream and plop myself on the couch. We did make it to farmer's market this morning and visited my niece Ilex's new chicks. And I posted regularly on the blog. So, wahoo.

:: I love my book club. I mean REALLY love it. Everyone should be so lucky. Don't have a book club? Start one. Ours is called ChocLit Guild (Read 'em and Eat), because we savor a chocolate dessert while talking about books. Does it get any better than that? I don't think so.

Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power. It is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.

~Baron Justus von Liebig, German chemist (1803-1873)

Friday, May 28, 2010

On Art

The Milkmaid (c. 1658) by Johannes Vermeer

"What does Art do for us? It gives shape to our emotions, makes them visible and, in so doing, places a seal of eternity upon them, a seal representing all those works that, by means of a particular form, have incarnated the universal nature of human emotions."

~Muriel Barbery in The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Around the World: One Picture Book at a Time


Reading books about other places and cultures opens up a previously unknown world for children and adults alike.

Picture books have an added dimension: a visual feast within their illustrations.

Sunny, colorful worlds. Quiet, dramatic worlds. Peaceful worlds. Chaotic worlds.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Giving Our Children the World, I want my children to be world travelers, even when we don’t have the ability to go far from home.

Travel is available to anyone with a library card.

The following is a list of beautiful picture books to help you get started on your journey.

I'm over at Simple Homeschool, today. Head on over to read the rest.

More Z Family Fun

Z Fam 5

Z Fam 4

Z Fam 6

Z Fam 7

Z Fam 8

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dutch Blitz

Hana in the Time of the Tulips by Deborah Noyes
Beautiful picture book about seventeenth-century Holland, tulips, and Rembrant.

The Boy Who Held Back the Sea by Thomas Locker
(Another lovely picture book with oil painting illustrations in the style of the Dutch masters.)

The Vermeer Interviews: Conversations With Seven Works of Art by Bob Raczka
In a very entertaining introduction to seven of Johannes Vermeer's masterpieces, the author brings the subjects to life through imagined interviews.

The Wheel on the School

Journey from Peppermint Street

and Dirk's Dog, Bello (a favorite from my childhood)

by storytelling master, Meindert De Jong

Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge

Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates (on DVD, Classic Disney, 1962)

Dutch Color by Douglas M. Jones III
A mystery revolving around tulips and mixing paints, set in the golden era of Dutch art.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bring on the Learning Revolution

Changing our educational model from industrial to agricultural, from mechanical to organic.
17 minutes well spent. Thank you again, Sir Ken Robinson.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.

~Abraham Lincoln

Monday, May 24, 2010

Delightful Viewing

We watched two very delightful children's movies this past week, and I had to share.

Tales of Beatrix Potter is a series of her stories performed by the Royal Ballet. The costuming, sets, music, and choreography are just lovely. The boys enjoyed looking through our set of Beatrix Potter books and finding the corresponding story while watching. This is an excellent introduction to ballet for young children. Highly recommended. We borrowed the DVD through Netflix, but I think we may have to purchase our own copy. Hmm. Maybe the newest member of the family needs an Amazon wish list... I think I'll set that up today.

When Luke was born and Levi was only two, Aunt Shannon bought Levi-the-horse-obsessed-child the movie version (1961) of Marguerite Henry's Misty of Chincoteague. Misty soon became an oft-watched movie in our house. The VHS tape suffered from use, and we no longer have a VCR, so I was thrilled to find the DVD at the library. LOVE the family values as played out in this movie with the grandparent/grandchild and brother/sister relationships.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday Seven ~ Week 20


:: A homeless rooster adopted us. We have been awakened by his crowing at 5 am for over a week. Russ is requesting rooster soup for dinner, although he (the rooster, grin) does look quite charming in our yard and the boys think we have a new pet.

:: Had a wonderful, sunny weekend (last weekend). Saturday: Yard work. House work. BBQ with friends. Sunday: A drive south. How to Train Your Dragon in 3D (what fun!) with the boys. A new wardrobe for me. Dinner out. Drive home and crash.

:: Our family attended a Classical Conversations Mock Day on Monday evening. A new group is starting this next year in Albany. All three boys are registered, and I'm stoked. More details later...

:: Food for thought: Plan B: Skip College (NYTimes). But are 'our 11-year-olds, in fact, less “intelligent” than their counterparts of 30 years ago?' (TimesOnline) (The second is an older article, but relevant and fascinating, nonetheless.)

:: My sister and I decided that Casey deliberately handed the finals to Crystal and Lee with his song OK, It's Alright With Me. 'It never comes easily, and when it does I'm already gone.' He had his spectacular homecoming, and now he wants to get away without having his life dictated by AI. And without having to sing (or record) an asinine 'Here is my moment' song. Or maybe it was lucky rather than deliberate... Lee hit it out of the park this week (one has to feel he was set up for that, ahem), and I think he'd benefit the most from AI guidance as he doesn't have much confidence and looks like he wants to throw up after each performance.... (Don't get me wrong, I do like him and thought Simple Man in particular was awesome.) Crystal is ready to do her own thing. Finale next week, and then I can have my life back. At least for one week until LIE TO ME returns...

:: Our family is watching Liberty's Kids (all 40 episodes available through Netflix Instant Streaming!!!!) and enjoying this site with corresponding fun and games. What a fun and painless way to absorb American history at the time of the Revolution. (Thanks for reminding me, Elaine!)

:: 'Tis true. The whole family tagged along for the 20 week prenatal ultrasound. Leif gets his baby girl. (This is 'his' baby, and he has requested a baby 'gril' with a blue dress.) Then I went shopping. Grin. It looks like we won't be using the name Lachlan John (but I've waited over ten years to use my most favorite girl name in the whole world...).

Did you notice that I blogged *every day this week*? It's been a while since I managed that...

How was your week?

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace.

~Victor Hugo

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Around the World: A Chapter at a Time

I've been busy compiling a list of books (chapter books, not picture books) that help capture the history, culture, or atmosphere of places around the world. These books range from very simple chapter books to books more appropriate for the young adult level. Fiction and non-fiction titles are represented, as well as a variety of historical eras.

I still have a list of books to research and add, so I'll let you know if I update this list.

Do you have favorites not on this list? Please leave recommendations in the comments! Do you have any cautions for books on this list? (I have not read them all.) Please let us know in the comments, as well.

North America:

Owls in the Family (Farley Mowat), 1930

The Year of Miss Agnes (Kirkpatrick Hill), remote fishing village
Water Sky (Jean Craighead George)

The Great Brain (John D. Fitzgerald), Catholic boys growing up in a Mormon community, 1890s

Montana/North Dakota:
Naya Nuki: Shoshoni Girl Who Ran (Kenneth Thomasma), Native American girl in 1800

The Great Turkey Walk (Kathleen Karr), Missouri to Colorado humorous Wild West, 1860

New York:
All of a Kind Family (Sydney Taylor), Jewish family in New York City, 1900
The Pushcart War (Jean Merrill), humor, 1960s

Dragon’s Gate (Laurence Yep), Chinese railroad workers, 1860s
Bandit’s Moon (Sid Fleischman), gold rush
Esperanza Rising (Pam Munoz Ryan), Mexico/California, 1930s

Central America:

The Most Beautiful Place in the World (Ann Cameron)

South America:

Chucaro: Wild Pony of the Pampa (Francis Calnay)

Secret of the Andes (Ann Nolan Clark), modern Inca boy in the mountains


Hans Brinker/The Silver Skates (Mary Mapes Dodge), 1860s
Dirk’s Dog, Bello (Meindert DeJong)
The Wheel on the School (Meindert DeJong)
Dutch Color (Douglas M. Jones III), golden era of Dutch art 1600s

The Children of Noisy Village (Astrid Lindgren)

The Shakespeare Stealer (Gary Blackwood), Shakespeare’s London, 1600
The Railway Children (Edith Nesbit), early 1900s
The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

Nory Ryan’s Song (Patricia Reilly Giff), potato famine, 1840s

The Shadow of a Bull (Maia Wojciechowska), bullfighting
I, Juan de Pareja (Elizabeth Borton de Trevino), art and slavery in 1600s

Heidi (Johanna Spyri)
Treasures of the Snow (Patricia St. John)

The Family Under the Bridge (Natalie Savage Carlson)
All Alone (Claire Huchet Bishop), French Alps
Twenty and Ten (Claire Huchet Bishop), WWII
Secret Letters From 0 to 10 (Susie Morgenstern), modern France
The Orange Trees of Versailles (Annie Pietri), late 17th century court of Louis XIV
The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick), Paris in the 1930s

The Trumpeter of Krakow (Eric P. Kelly), 1400s

The Good Master (Kate Seredy)

The Star of Kazan (Eva Ibbotson)

The Night Journey (Kathryn Lasky), Jews escape Czarist Russia turn of century
Angel on the Square (Gloria Whelan), fall of Czar Nikolai 1913-18
The Impossible Journey (Gloria Whelan), Stalinist Russia circa 1934
Burying the Sun (Gloria Whelan), 1941, WWII
The Turning (Gloria Whelan), 1991/Yeltsin/Gorbachev
The Endless Steppe (Esther Hautzig)


Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Eleanor Coerr), WWI,I 1950s
Born in the Year of Courage (Emily Crofford), Japan/US, 1800s
The Samurai’s Tale (Erik Christian Haugaard), 1500s

A Single Shard (Linda Sue Park), potters’ village, 1100s
The Kite Fighters (Linda Sue Park), Seoul, 1470s

Li Lun, Lad of Courage (Carolyn Treffinger), fishing village
Little Pear (Eleanor Frances Lattimore), 1800s
The Kite Rider (Geraldine McCaughrean), Mongol-ruled China, 1200s
The House of Sixty Fathers (Meindert DeJong), China during the Japanese invasion, 1930s
Chu Ju’s House (Gloria Whelan), contemporary rural China

The Land I Lost: Adventures of a Boy in Vietnam (Quang Nhuong Huynh)
Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam (Quang Nhuong Huynh)
Goodbye, Vietnam (Gloria Whelan), contemporary Vietnam/Hong Kong

Daughter of the Mountains (Louise Rankin), Tibet to Calcutta, 1900s
Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon (Dhan Gopal Mukerji)


So Far From Skye (Judith O’Neill)

Call it Courage (Armstrong Sperry)


Akimbo and the Lions (and others) (Alexander McCall Smith)
Listening for Lions (Gloria Whelan), East Africa 1919/England

Star of Light (Patricia M. St. John)
King of the Wind (Maguerite Henry)

South Africa:
Journey to Jo’burg: A South African Story (Beverley Naidoo)

Facing the Lion: Growing up Maasai on the African Savanna (Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reading Round-Up (Finally) ~ January-May

I have 5 months of book review catch-up! Good thing I was sleeping more often than reading...
13: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. (Borrowed from sister, Shannon. 325 pages. Read lingeringly over a couple months.) Sublimely intelligent and oh, so quirky commentary on the philosophy of life, alternately by a middle-aged French concierge and a precocious twelve-year-old. In reading this novel I stumbled upon many quotable passages, as evidenced by my posts here and here (and more on the way). My husband and sister both join me in giving it an enthusiastic thumbs up.

12: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. (Purchased from Amazon. 400+ pages. Book club selection. Read in two days.) Chicago World's Fair, 1893. Non-fiction at its best. A storytelling masterpiece woven with fascinating dexterity, this book is bursting with historical details: people, events, ideas, geography, art, crime and science.

I shied away from The Devil in the White City in the past due to the subject matter (I make it a point to avoid books and movies about serial killers--just a personal preference), so I will be forever grateful to the fellow book club member whose recommendation forced me to read despite my reservations. While the story is in large part about a psychopath who happens to have been responsible for many murders, the author approached the subject with great discretion, the murders didn't seem to be sensationalized, and the entwining history gave much emotional relief. A huge thumbs up.

11: Parsifal's Page, by Gerald Morris. (Borrowed from Levi's bookshelf. 232 pages. Finished in one day.) The fourth book in the Squire's Tales YA series and my favorite so far. In each book, the story seems to just sneak up on me when I'm not paying attention. Effortless, entertaining, witty, chivalrous, and surprisingly touching retellings of the Arthurian legends. Perfect escape reading.

10: Quo Vadis, by Henryk Sienkiewicz. (From my bookshelf. 582 hefty pages. Book club selection. Took a few weeks to read through.) I've had this book on my to-read list for years. One of our book club selections was to be a novel set in the time of Christ (or shortly thereafter). Having already read The Robe and The Silver Chalice, I decided it was high time to dig in to Quo Vadis (which, incidentally, means Where are you going? in Latin, in case you were wondering). This classic was published in Polish in 1896 by Henryk Sienkiewicz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905. I was so thankful to have the wonderful modern translation by W.S. Kuniczak, which made the 580 (large) page novel smooth going.

The story is essentially a love story from beginning to end, but the author uses the transformation of an earthly romance to illustrate the depth and sacrifice of heavenly love. From the back cover:

An epic saga of love, courage and devotion in Nero's time, Quo Vadis portrays the degenerate days leading to the fall of the Roman empire and the glory and the agony of early Christianity. Set at a turning point in history (A.D. 54-68), as Christianity replaces the era of corruption and gluttony that marked Nero's Rome, Quo Vadis brims with life.

This novel does not tread lightly on the moral baseness of Nero's Rome, nor on the tortures endured by the early Christians. There are many graphic descriptions of debauchery and violence. The historical setting and characters are vividly depicted.

After reading the book, I watched the recent Polish-produced film (available through Netflix). It was well-casted and well-acted (in Polish with English subtitles), but also did not tread lightly on the gluttony nor the tortures. Nudity and graphic violence abound. You've been forewarned.

9: The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf by Gerald Morris. (Borrowed from Levi's bookshelf. 213 pages. Finished in a couple days.) The third book in the Squire's Tales series, and again an entertaining read.

8: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart. (Borrowed from Levi's bookshelf. 391 pages. Finished in a couple days.) A satisfying ending to the Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy. I enjoyed it more than the second book, but not as much as the first. Yes, it tied everything up in a neat little bow... just as I like it.

7: Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson. (From my bookshelf. 196 pages. Not sure how long to finish.) This informative book about Shakespeare's life (what little we know) and the world around him captured my interest. For those who have enjoyed other books by the author, this wasn't quite up to his usual level of hilarity, but it did entertain.

6: 26 Fairmount Avenue series by Tomie DePaola. (First book from Levi's bookshelf; the remaining books in the series borrowed from the library.) This is a series of 8 very simple autobiographical chapter books in which the author tells the story of his childhood during the 1940s. I adored them. His perspective, his illustrations, and him.

5: Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis by George Sayer. (From my bookshelf. 423 pages. My biography selection for book club. Took me a while.) I really, really should have reviewed this one while it was fresh in my mind. It made a huge impression on me, and there are so many thoughts swirling in my head as a result that I am incapable of coming up with a short opinion other than EXCELLENT.

4: Going Solo by Roald Dahl. (Borrowed from my mom. 224 pages. Quick read.) (Obviously I was going through a serious biography stage.....) This is the sequel to Dahl's story of his childhood (Boy: Tales of Childhood, also terrific), and I thought it was exceedingly fresh and witty as well as being a fascinating account of his time as a WWII pilot. My sister, Holly, read it aloud to her kids as part of their history studies, and it has received rave reviews within our family.

3: A Morbid Taste For Bones: The First Chronicle of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters. (Borrowed from the library. 208 pages.) Meh. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but nothing really stuck with me. Not much to say on this one.

2: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins . (Borrowed from the library. 400 pages. One or two days to complete.) Futuristic dystopian society. Teenage gladiators. Sacrifice. Friendship. Courage. Honor. Teamwork. Love. Oh. My. Word. I was riveted. I didn't think anything could live up to Collins' The Hunger Games, but this sequel blew me away. And left me hanging (as did the first in the trilogy), but the final book doesn't come out for months! I've pre-ordered Mockingjay from Amazon, so I've blocked out my calender for August 24th. My phone will be off the hook. Please don't disturb...

1: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes retold by Martin Jenkins. (Borrowed from library. 352 pages.) I'm sure I've reviewed this elsewhere on the blog, but I'll say it again. HILARIOUS illustrations, clear and interesting writing, ridiculous escapades which seem redundant after about page 150, and I'm glad I read a retelling.

Monday, May 17, 2010

On The Greatness of Small Things

Small Things

"Those who feel inspired, as I do, by the greatness of small things will pursue them to the very heart of the inessential where, cloaked in everyday attire, this greatness will emerge from within a certain ordering of ordinary things and from the certainty that all is as it should be, the conviction that it is fine this way."

~Muriel Barbery in The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday Seven ~ Week 19

::Walked only 3 mornings. What a slacker.

::Savored The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

::Had 53 people (okay, slight exaggeration) ask if we knew yet whether we are having a boy or girl... even the ladies at the dentist office and the lady working at the pizza place at the mall (she has been there since Levi was a baby and the boys know her by name). Sigh. NOT YET. And, no, we aren't holding our breath for a girl.

::Read interesting commentary. "But when it comes to being pro-choice, the one choice you're not allowed to make is an informed one."

::Had my first family photo session of the year. Felt a bit rusty.

::Craved banana splits. And caved. More than once.

How was your week?

Enjoy when you can, and endure when you must.

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On Tea


"Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn--and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.

So, let us drink a cup of tea...

When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?

The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accesion to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor...Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight...And, with each swallow, time is sublimed."

~Muriel Barbery in The Elegance of the Hedgehog