Saturday, August 30, 2014

ChocLit Guild [and a book list]

 A Friend's House 

“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)

Eleven years ago, I was out on a shopping trip with a close friend of mine. More accurately, she is my second mom from childhood (my mom’s best friend and the mother of my closest childhood friend). Over lunch she mentioned an idea that had come to her: a book and chocolate club. Because books. And chocolate.

Shortly thereafter, I took the idea and ran with it. Who wouldn’t want to get together once a month to talk about books and eat chocolate?!

In January, more than a decade ago when I was pregnant with Luke, our ChocLit Guild was born and we’ve been getting together to eat chocolate and discuss books ever since! Our members have stayed mostly the same with just a few leaving and a few coming. We’ve been through so much together!

[Scroll to end of this post for 11 years of book lists.]

We rotate through members’ houses/gardens as each person is available to hostess or we’ve met a couple times at coffee or frozen yogurt shops.

Thursday we met in Carolyn’s yard. She lives out in the gorgeous countryside on a working century farm. She also collects everything vintage and lovely. (I love the picture above because it shows the reality of country farm life—the clouds of dust swirling up behind tractors.)

ChocLit 1 

My mom and sister Shannon made an incredible gluten-free chocolate lava cake with ganache frosting. It even had zucchini and applesauce in it, so I’m certain it was healthy (ha!!). (Someone other than the hostess volunteers to bring dessert each month.)



ChocLit 3 

My sister Holly brought garden produce to share, and Carolyn added corn on the cob to the offerings.


ChocLit 2 



We sat snuggled in blankets on the brick patio next to the fire as the sun set on our conversation. I love my life.




Into the Night 

According to my records, this is an accurate list of the books we’ve read over the past years: 


January: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver)
February/March: Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry)
April: Flannery O’Connor
May: Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl (N.D. Wilson)
June: Pudd’nhead Wilson (Mark Twain)
July: Till We Have Faces and The Weight of Glory (C.S. Lewis)
August: The Red House Mystery (A.A. Milne)
September: Bird by Bird (or any book by Ann Lamott)
October: The Call (Oz Guinness)
Nov/Dec: The Birds’ Christmas Carol or Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas


January: Les Miserables (Hugo)
February: The Harbinger (Jonathan Cahn)
March: Retellings of Iliad/Odyssey
April: Medieval/King Arthur themes
May: Shakespeare
June: Oscar Wilde
July: The Little Prince (Saint-Exupery)
August: Russian Literature
September: Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)
October: Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)


January – Bonhoeffer (Metaxas)
February - Animal Farm (George Orwell)
March - My Name is Mary Sutter (Robin Oliveira)
April - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Mark Twain)
May - An Irish Country Doctor (Patrick Taylor)
June - Salt: A World History (Mark Kurlansky)
July - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Donald Miller)
August - Peace Like a River (Leif Enger)
September - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddon)
October – Biography (reader’s choice)
November - No Meeting
December – Les Miserables (movie night!)


January: Books set in China
February: The Five Thousand Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen
March: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
April: Easter-themed books (The Silver Chalice, The Bronze Bow, etc.)
May: The Secret Garden/A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
June: Bianca’s Vineyard by Teresa Neumann
July: Not My Will by Francena Arnold
August: Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
September: Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
October: Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
(November: That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis)


January: Biography (reader’s choice)
February: Personality Style Books (reader’s choice)
March: Quo Vadis, Ben Hur, Silver Chalice, The Robe, The Bronze Bow, etc.
April: The Jesus I Never Knew (Yancey)
May: The Devil in the White City
June: Mystery (reader’s choice)
July: Cranford (Gaskell)
August: Twilight (Meyer)
September/October: The Hunger Games (Collins)
November: The Screwtape Letters (Lewis)


February: The Giver (Lois Lowry)
March: Three Cups of Tea (Mortenson/Relin)
April: Louisa May Alcott (reader's choice)
May: April 1865 (Jay Winik)
June: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Jamie Ford)
July: I Am David (Anne Holm)
August: E. P. Roe (reader's choice)
September: Mystery (reader's choice)
October: Jane Eyre
November: No Meeting
(December: Share Personal Stories)

January: Biography (reader's choice)
February: From Jest to Earnest (E. P. Roe)
March: Watership Down (Richard Adams)
April: Murder Myster (reader's choice)
May: What's So Amazing About Grace (Yancey)
June: Ruth (Elizabeth Gaskell)
July: The Inimitable Jeeves (P. G. Wodehouse)
August: The Harvester (Gene Stratton-Porter)
September: Little Britches (Moody)
October: A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
November: Mimosa (Amy Carmichael)
(December: Share Personal Stories)


March: Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis)
April: North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell)
May: I Dared to Call Him Father (Bilquis Sheikh)
June: The Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyon)
July: Down the Garden Path (Beverly Nichols)
August: Uncle Tom's Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
September: The Richest Man in Babylon (George S. Clason)
October: The Robe (Lloyd C. Douglas), Ben Hur, The Silver Chalice, or Quo Vadis
November: The Little French Girl (Anne Douglas Sedgwick)
December: Belles on Their Toes (Gilbreth)


January: Narnia (C. S. Lewis)
February: Safely Home (Randy Alcorn)
March: Robinson Crusoe
April: To Kill a Mockingbird
May: The Count of Monte Cristo
June: Eve's Daughters
July: The Orphan (Helen Dunbar)
August: George MacDonald (any book by author)
September: Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)
October: David Copperfield (Dickens)
November: David Copperfield (continued)
December: At Home in Mitford (Jan Karon)


January: Lorna Doone
February: Lorna Doone (continued)
March: A Rift in Time (Michael Phillips)
April: The Homecoming (Angela Santana)
May: Wives and Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell)
June: Francine Rivers (any book by author)
July: Cheaper by the Dozen
August: The Dean's Watch (Elizabeth Goudge)
September: A Severe Mercy (Sheldon Vanauken)
October: The Tennent of Woldfell Hall
November: Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (Skinner/Kimbrough)
December: The Shoe Box (Francine Rivers)


January: Gene Stratton-Porter (any book by author)
February: Presidential Biography
March: Mystery
April: The Robe, Ben Hur, Quo Vadis, or The Silver Chalice
May: Children's Literature: Eight Cousins, The Railway Children, The Princess and the Goblin
June: Jane Austen (any book by author)
July: Patricia M. St. John (any book by author)
August: The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)
September: A Year in Provence (Peter Mayle)
October: George MacDonald (any book by author)
November: Movie Night, The Inheritance (Louisa May Alcott)
December: Maggie Rose or The Birds' Christmas Carol

Thursday, August 28, 2014


stunt man

Luke. He loves adventure, competition, risk, action, money (which has morphed nicely into coin collecting), computers, and sugar. And snuggling with his mom.

He also gets stuff DONE. Like lawn-mowing. Or anything else on his list, really. Especially if he gets computer time, cash, or candy when he’s finished.

So one morning he brought me a paper with “Luke’s Lickity List” written at the top. As in “things to finish lickity-split so I can play on my computer.” It’s become a little thing with us now, his “Lickity List.”

Luke's Lickity List

Today? He’s organizing my junk drawers and cupboard. I think I’ll keep him.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Detectives ~ The Boy Who Held Back the Sea


The Boy Who Held Back the Sea is a picture book retelling of a traditional story set in Holland. The gorgeous, moody, dark illustrations are reminiscent of Dutch masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer.

For our Book Detectives meeting this past month, I read the picture book aloud. Then, as a group, we asked “should questions.” [I asked the kids and parents whether they wanted to do a story chart from Teaching the Classics or an ANI chart from The Lost Tools of Writing, and everyone chose the ANI chart. We used the story chart last month with Corgiville Fair by Tasha Tudor.]

Should [character] have [action]?

No question is irrelevant or too small.

We wrote our questions on a white board:

  • Should Jan have lied to his mother?
  • Should the captain have acted drunk when trying to get help?
  • Should the constable have neglected to send help?
  • Should the guards have arrested the captain?
  • Should Jan have broken the window?
  • Should the guard have gone for help?
  • Should Jan have kept his finger in the dike and risked his life?
  • Should Jan’s mom have let him skip church to read to Mr. Schuyler?
  • Should the town have held a festival for the naughty boy?
  • Should Jan have given his lunch to the dog?
  • Should Jan have yelled for help?

We chose one question, changed it to a more general question, and created our “issue.”

Should Jan have kept his finger in the dike when no help came?

Whether Jan should have kept his finger in the dike when no help came.

Then we separated another white board into three columns: “A” for affirmative, “N” for negative, and “I” for interesting. We wrote our issue at the top of the board. We added reasons why he *should have* to the A column and reasons why he *shouldn’t have* to the N column. We weren’t so great at filling up our I column (which is odd because kids often spout ideas that don’t fit into affirmative or negative categories!). Answers were given randomly. We didn’t work specifically on one column at a time.

In our A column we wrote:

  • possibly saved lives in town
  • needs of many outweigh needs of one
  • paying consequences as a liar
  • paying consequences for not being where he was supposed to be
  • life changing event; transformative consequence
  • changed his character for the better
  • selfless acts are honorable
  • made mom proud
  • be a hero, receive honor
  • saved own life from drowning
  • because he could
  • unplugged holes get bigger

[You’ll notice that we just jotted down ideas. They can be obvious. Or bad reasons. Or awkward wording. This is essentially organized brainstorming and I want kids to participate and share ideas. And we’re exploring human nature and the reasons humans do things, even when they shouldn’t.]

In our N column we wrote:

  • he could have died
  • townspeople needed to pay consequences for disbelief
  • should have gone back to town (hold might not have gotten too bad)
  • should have come up with a different way to plug hole
  • he could have lost his finger
  • could have gotten hypothermia
  • his mother was worried
  • he had already done his duty
  • it was a job for an adult, not a kid
  • his mother could have been hysterical
  • his mother could have been angry that he risked his life

In our A column we only noted that there are dikes in Holland because it is below sea level.

And that’s it!

This exercise helps kids learn to think in a disciplined way about characters and actions in stories. It is a tool in their tool box for thinking deeply about literature, learning about human nature, applying wisdom to their own lives, and also coming up with material for persuasive essays!

If the kids were older than elementary/grammar students, we’d go deeper and use the five topics of invention (definition, comparison, relationship, context, and authority) for longer discussions.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Art & Air Festival


We’ve done so much less at the festival this year. Mostly because I didn’t have the energy this week. But we did spend hours and hours at the airport yesterday where my father has his extensive WWII artifacts collection.


All three boys were able to fly in airplanes this year with the Young Eagles program. Leif was so excited that he was finally old enough! I didn’t get good pictures of them, though, because I spent most of my time following Lola around.

Img2014-08-23_pmAir Show Lola

But there may have been a little of this, because Mama was tired.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Summer Reading Wrap-Up


It slays me that summer is coming to a close. Truly. But it makes sense to wrap up our August reading lists in preparation for a new focus in the next few weeks. (You can read July’s book post at this link.)

Let’s start with Levi.

[He reads so many shorter books, and re-reads so many, that I only get a smattering of the new ones on his list. I’ve never known a kid to inhale books like this.]

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (I also read this one and enjoyed it. This novel blends Renaissance Art/Raphael, WWII, and Monuments Men, which is a great combination, but there are a couple little objectionable things that I didn’t care for so I didn’t have Luke read it. I think I prefer Blue Balliett’s books.)

[This article at Story Warren reminded me of Chasing Vermeer, which Levi, Luke, and I all enjoyed. So I picked up the other four books by Blue Balliett.]

The Wright 3, The Calder Game, Hold Fast, and The Danger Box by Blue Balliett

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins [I was trying to get Levi to branch out a bit.]

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens [I proposed this one as a challenge. He made it about a third of the way through and was floundering, so I told him to set it aside. No reason to slog through it. He’ll enjoy it in a few years.]

The Hunger Games Trilogy [He had been begging to read this trilogy, and I finally caved. But I’m holding out on the movies for, like, forever.]

The Warden and the Wolf King (The Wingfeather Saga Book 4) by Andrew Peterson [The boys have been waiting and waiting for this final book in the Wingfeather Saga!]

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge [Also our current read-aloud, so he’s getting this one twice—not that he minds.]

[He’s currently working his way through the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. I think we’ll have to re-watch the movie version, Alex Rider - Operation Stormbreaker.]

Stormbreaker, Point Blank, and Skeleton Key

Series Levi has re-read. Seriously:

The Ranger's Apprentice

Swallows and Amazons (so lovely)

Harry Potter

He also re-read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham from his upcoming CC Challenge A literature list.



[This son has inhaled series like never before—ever since finishing off Harry Potter this summer.]

He finished up the three books in the Seven Wonders series.

The Ruins of Gorlan and the next FIVE books in the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and the following THREE books in the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson [That’s some heavy-duty reading!]

Peter and the Starcatchers and the following THREE books in the series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson [More LONG books!]

Currently Reading:

The Danger Box by Blue Balliett and Stormbreaker (Alex Rider) by Anthony Horowitz

[If you’re counting, and I am, that makes well over 40 chapter books—many 300-800 pages long—just this summer. Whew!!!]



Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White

Mystery of the Missing Necklace by Enid Blyton 

Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos and Mr. Revere and I: Being an Account of certain Episodes in the Career of Paul Revere,Esq. as Revealed by his Horse by Robert Lawson

Three new Imagination Station books

A couple more Treasure Chest books by Ann Hood

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and he’ll be working on the rest of the Narnia series by C. S. Lewis

[As usual, he has read and re-read a ton of shorter books, non-fiction, and comics.]



Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson [This one reminds me a little of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.]

Working on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald [middle grade novel as mentioned above; enjoyable but with a smidgen of annoying questionable content]

Son by Lois Lowry [I loved this conclusion to The Giver Quartet! Now I’m really looking forward to seeing The Giver in the theaters.]

Working on The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett


Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott [This one is from my original to-read in 2014 book list. While and after reading this book, half of me desperately wanted to write a book and the other half of me didn’t want to become so neurotic.]

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

Working on A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily Freeman [Another book from my to-read in 2014 book list. I’m really enjoying this one.]

I finished watching William Shakespeare's Hamlet with my Hamlet ladies, and now we are starting in on the reading.


Reading Aloud:

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge [We’ll be re-watching the movie version, The Secret of Moonacre, when we finish.]


Book Detectives read and discussed The Boy Who Held Back the Sea this month. I’ll try to share details in a separate post.



We’ve been listening often to poetry songs by Ted Jacobs. A Child's Garden of Songs and Back to the Garden are all Robert Louis Stevenson poems and The Days Gone By: Songs of the American Poets features poetry by Edgar Allan Poe (my two favorite songs in the collection), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, and more. Don’t tell my boys that it isn’t cool to sing along to these…



I think that about wraps up our summer reading! What was your favorite book of the summer?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Scenic Route


Russ and I decided to take the scenic route detour before heading home. You can’t blame us, right? Just a couple extra hours…


This was the first stop. See that observatory on the cliff? That’s where we were headed next.

Img2014-08-20_0032fpmVista House

The Vista House overlooks the Columbia Gorge—Oregon on this side, Washington on the other.


And then the gorgeous, lush, winding road with the ferns and mossy trees and arched stone wall on the gorge side. Oh, and all the waterfalls.

Latourell FallsImg2014-08-20_0081fpm

This bridge had drainage holes through which you could see the water and land far, far below.

A Hole

You can see the distance down in the next picture on the left. The photo on the right is Multnomah Falls.

Multnomah Falls

Yes, a successful 30-hour get-away.


It’s a busy rest of our week with a photo session, Hamlet book club in my studio, and the local Art ‘n Air Festival. Next week is our transition week as we head back to concentrated studies for the fall. It’s going to be a shock to our system after this summer absence of schedule!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Celebration and Relaxation


I cannot express how much Russ and I needed a night away. It has only been more than five years since we’ve gotten away for the night, just the two of us. Our best friends invited us on a short getaway to celebrate my best friend’s 40th birthday with three other couples (family). Yes, please! [Char and I have been best friends for 25 years, and her family is my family. Russ and her husband, John, have been best friends for even longer, so John’s family is Russ’s family!]


[We made a stop at IKEA before ending up at our final destination. Which meant that we had some shuffling to do in the car. We weren’t planning on buying a piece of furniture!]

We stayed up at McMenamins Edgefield. McMenamins takes random old buildings and turns them into pubs and hotels. Edgefield is one of the most fascinating locations—an old poor farm!


The walls are covered with old photographs and hand-painted (quirky) murals of all sorts.


Each room is named after a musician. We stayed in the Etta James room.


The grounds are gorgeous. We all started the afternoon together at the outdoor soaking pool next to the spa—fluffy white bathrobes and all.


We dressed up a little for dinner and toured the gardens while waiting for our table at the outdoor café. (The very top three windows in the picture on the left belonged to our room.)

Birthday WeekendImg2014-08-19_0047fpmImg2014-08-19_0060fpmImg2014-08-19_0068fpmImg2014-08-19_0072fpm

After a long, rousing dinner, we walked back to the hotel building in the dark, twinkling café lights guiding our way. We went up to John and Char’s room, which her sister, Lori, and I had decorated all over with candles and flowers and birthday banner. We feasted on the yummiest cupcakes and the three younger couples sat around chatting until we were all falling asleep.


The guys went mini golfing the next morning before breakfast, and then we all ate together (scrumptious!!) before packing up our rooms. Russ and I took the round-about scenic route before heading home. More pictures coming…