There is a Season

February 26, 2015 at 4:34 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , )

As a homeschool mom there’s a constant struggle for designating specific “school times” through out the day.  She is learning that education is a life pursuit, and at four can tell you that.  I can’t tell you how adorable it is to have a four year old look at someone when they ask her about school and tell them, “Education is a life pursuit.”  Every day, every moment, is a chance to learn something – and she is extremely aware of this as we stop to read information along trails, get sidetracked by research projects after asking a simple question, and discuss the scientific reasons things are happening in the kitchen as I cook.  But sitting down for specific lessons, that’s a bit harder to grasp.  We open our reading book and she thinks that crazy silly time shall commence.  She has a stubborn nature she gets from me combined with her father’s joy of watching me fume with frustration, seriously, I get angry and she laughs at me.  It’s a problem.

Someone from one of the homeschooling forums on Facebook gave us a great idea, though.  Read Ecc. 3:1 before every lesson.  Don’t know that one off the cuff?  The “lyrics” were made famous in the 1950’s by The Byrds.

The concept of there being a proper time and place for every activity and emotion, is a necessary lesson to teach toddlers (and kids, and teenagers, and humans at large).  Emotions, feelings, and attitudes toward chores can be intense.  There is a time to feel those things and a time to suck it up and do what you have to do.  Just like a gardener has “a time to plant and a time to uproot” there’s also “a time to weep and a time to laugh.”  We end the reading of these verses with, “there is also a time to be silly and a time to focus on your lessons.”

Needless to say, both little girl and I were excited to find this book at the public library last month.

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This picture is beautiful. It reveals art styles from all different regions, cultures, and time. It gives a child a great sense of the impact these words have on every human throughout history. Everyone must learn this lesson, the fact that everything has a time and place. That feelings can and will be embraced and (if we want to be overly bookish and quote An Imperial Affliction – a book by a character imagined by John Green in The Fault in our Stars) and say, “Pain demands to be felt,” but as every grown person has learned at some point, sometimes it can’t be felt right now. For a four year old, the wiggles must come out… but they can’t always come out right now either.

And everyone must learn this lesson.  Whether you are from China, Russia, Germany, Egypt, or Ancient Greece.  Whether you are Native American or from the heart of Mexico.  Whether you hail from the Ukraine or Australia, Japan or England.  Humanity is united in this one all encompassing lesson of life: “There is a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to search and a time to give up… a time to love and a time to hate… a time for war and a time for peace.”

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31

February 25, 2015 at 11:50 pm (In So Many Words) (, )

I’m 31. I spent my birthday day sitting in a cold house wishing for sunshine.  And reading Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club.  Actually, I kept putting down the book to write – in my journal, not my computer, as I didn’t have one.  Actually, I had 3 computers and none of them would turn on.  So I bought myself a new one finally – my publisher will be so proud – as I finally have a computer that even he will admit is worthy of being called technology.  I am now an Apple Girl.

Hopefully, this new computer – and this extra year of wisdom and “old age” – will push me into being a more productive writer (both blogging and being a novelist has suffered at the hands of my poor entrance into the realm of gadgets).

At the Apple Store today the guy asked me if I wanted to sign into my i cloud or some such nonsense.  He spoke some gobblygook that meant nothing to me about joining my computer files to my phone.  I told him no thank you and finally had to wave my flip phone at him before he understood.  I thought having my techie brother-in-law all but literally hold my hand through the entire computer purchasing experience was enough for them to know that I don’t normally do this.  Apparently, it was not enough, they had to see the flip phone for themselves.

The most interesting thing about this gadgetry world was how I spent my pre-birthday evening.  On the 21st, when my brother was turning 31 alone (Alone, as in without me, not necessarily actually alone. He is my favorite birthday partner.) somewhere in Austin, I was hanging out with a younger crowd.  It was interesting to watch them play video games, the same games I watched people play when I was in my 20’s, but searching for cheat codes from cell phones instead of spirals and laptops.  I wanted to read a book amidst the noise, but hadn’t brought one.  At home there’s the noise of the four year old, but I find it distracting instead of soothing.

Noise from a four year old makes you feel oddly old.  Noise from boys ten years your junior make you forget that you’ve just blown through ten years of your life and are not quite sure what happened to them.  They’re gone, like sand.

Reading a memoir during your birthday week is an interesting task.  It reminds you of all the things you’ve forgotten.  Especially Mary Karr.  She remembers with such clarity, and the things she does not she can at least describe the fog of the memory with such clarity that you’re amazed that she can remember that there was a memory lost there.

The Liar’s Club was described by newspapers as being “un-put down able.”  I’m not finished reading the book because I find the opposite to be true.  Although I love and adore every aspect of her writing, I find it easy to put down.  Too easy.  It’s so Texas.  It’s so familiar.  I’m still stuck in the 60’s and not much has changed between 1960’s mentalities in Texas and the ones I grew up with.  It was the last book I should have tried reading during this week, but I couldn’t get the energy to finish the other books I had started.

I’m currently in the middle of reading The World is Flat.  I was extremely excited about starting this book.  It’s been on my shelf and recommendation list for years.  I like economic philosophy a lot.  I love history.  I love fishing for “textbooks” for my daughter to use as she’s older and I build curriculums about of source books.  She will not be forced to read this book.  It’s so dull.  I don’t know that I’m going to get all the way through it.  It came so highly recommended!  But there is a reason there are ten of them on the shelf of any given bookstore you visit and the copy I bought cost me 50 cents.

All this technology and aging, memoirs, and history that isn’t really history… it reminded me that I bought a kindle awhile back.  I haven’t used it since I reviewed The Year of the Hydra.  I find my kindle handle, but I still haven’t really fallen in love with it.  In fact, I simply forget about it most of the time.

I’m not old.  But I’m still trying to figure out if there are any “new tricks” in me.  Therefore, I have committed myself to attempting to learn something new (other than the new POS system at the bookstore, which will simply be depressing if I admit how much it irritates me) this week: I’m going to attend a Magic game and see about that.  I played Warlords in college for a bit, so maybe it won’t be so bad.

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Hello Wilderness, We’ve Missed You

February 13, 2015 at 3:04 am (Education, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , )

Since moving away from our beloved Timberlane Estates, we’ve been in dire need for nature.  Especially with this winter we just had – harsher than I remember winter being – wet, muddy, colder sooner, and nowhere cozy to defrost.  Temporary living arrangements have caused us to leave the comfort of having a nearly 1000 square foot library just down the hall from our beds.  We also don’t have a fireplace here.  It’s been a long time since I lived without a fireplace.  But the change is good, it’s helped us redefine necessities, discover the beauty of new public libraries we hadn’t yet visited, save mP1000764oney for the land and dream home we want, and teach our daughter lessons she might have otherwise missed.

We’ve also discovered the Lake Houston Wilderness State Park.  We went from 100+ acres of trails and exploration that we knew like the back of our hands to not having anything most of the winter, to Lo! And Behold! 4700+ acres of trails and wilderness closer than we could have ever imagined.  Ask and ye shall receive.  Take a ride down the highway and pay attention to those marvelous brown signs!

It costs $3 per adult to get in, kids under 13 and senior citizens are free.  OR (and this is what we’ve done) it’s $25 for a year pass for an adult and three adult guests; basically, a family pass.

We’ve been back about every other day since we’ve discovered it.  We walk, tromp, and read.  We snack and picnic, we play in the creek, we stare at the trees.  We read all the sign posts and discover new plants we’ve never heard of.  We soak up vitamin D and work our muscles.

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To the left you’ll see a Hercules’ Club. We were pretty excited about this discovery and did a mini-research project on it when we got home.

In all this much needed tromping and new library resources at my fingertips, I stumbled across a Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants by a fellow named Nyerges.  It isn’t the best resource for Texans, only a few plants were ones I recognized, but if you hail from California then it’s right up your alley.  Either way, if you’re in the foraging scene, this book is a great read.  Nyerges personalizes a lot of his foraging facts with anecdotes of how he has confirmed or debunked various myths, legends, and general assumptions for certain plants.  My favorite was a bit about the Native Americans and poison oak – eat the young, red leaves and you’ll be immune to the rash for the rest of the season/year.  The science of immunizing oneself at its finest.  Already this is how we tackle seasonal allergies when it comes to pollen, it would not have occurred to me that there is a practical pre-remedy for poison oak.

 

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Teaching Life and Liberty

February 3, 2015 at 11:17 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000701Title: Thomas Jefferson

Author/Illustrator: Maira Kalman

Publisher: Penguin

If you want to teach about the founders of America via biographical picture books, Maira Kalman is a great place to start.  With spunky pictures and fonts, Kalman introduces children to Jefferson (and in another book she tackles Lincoln), his love for books, language, and gardening.

Kids can discover in Thomas Jefferson quirky details about how Jefferson got out of bed in the morning, his obsession for peas, and learn the quote he told his wife:

“Determine never to be idle.  No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any.”

There’s a few pages dedicated to Jefferson’s friends: John Adam, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, and the ideals the team struggled for.

Kalman doesn’t pull any punches.  She talks about slavery and addresses the truth of Sally Hemings.  Jefferson had so many wise quotes that adults praise and sharing them with a four year old is especially wise:

“When you are angry, count TEN before you speak; if very angry, to ONE HUNDRED.”

The book ends with a visit to his burial grounds and notes regarding his epitaph.

As a whole it’s lovely and educational.  When I told kiddo I was finally posting the review and asked her what she wanted to say about it, she said, “I think we should read it again.”

President’s Day is fast approaching.  This one is worth having in your hands on that day.

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Goodnight Goon

January 27, 2015 at 1:28 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

*A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books*

P1000703Title: Goodnight Goon

Author: Michael Rex

Every parent I know can recite or nearly recite Goodnight Moon. It’s a timeless favorite. I’m not sure why, kiddo loves it, but it has never really moved me personally.

“In the great green room, there was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of a cat jumping over the moon…”
― Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon

It’s probably the cadence, the familiarity, the simplicity.  It’s a lot of things.  For kiddo, it’s also because she has the hallmark version that her out of state grandparents was able to record into… so she can flip through the pages and hear the story at her own leisure and will, the most exciting thing for a kid when they can’t read yet.

But to be fair, it’s boring.  It’s appropriately sleepy, but I already have a hard enough time staying awake while I read bedtime stories.

I saw Goodnight Goon and took a risk.  She loves Goodnight Moon, but she’s also wonderfully weird and gets very excited about monsters.  I know my child, though, and sometimes she can be a bit of a purist.  I wondered if a parody would be up her alley if it was just up mine.

In a cold gray tomb
There was a gravestone
And a black lagoon
And a picture of –
Martians taking over the moon

She laughed her butt off!  She loved every page.  Especially the end where the monster is cast under the bed for the night, “Goodnight Monsters Everywhere.”

“He’s under the bed!” she laughs.

“Maybe other kids will like it,” she says.

“Why?” I ask.

“Because they’re little. And the monsters. I like the bat.  That’s the kind of monster I like.”  Of course, she watches me type the review and also insists that I “put an L in it.”

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I should have known all would be well.  After all, this is a kiddo that adored the The Swamps of Sleethe.

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Chinese History at Lunch

January 25, 2015 at 3:46 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

death of woman wangTitle:The Death of Woman Wang

Author: Jonathan D. Spence

Genre: History

When picking up books at bookstores, there’s always the lovely predicament of what to do during lunch hour.  As if any bookworm wouldn’t know what to do during lunch.  I like to pluck books that I would otherwise not read, things that probably wouldn’t make the cut when selecting reading material at home, but are intriguing nonetheless.

Chinese history and social commentary via anecdotes and tales from a specific region are fit the bill exactly.

Though Jonathan D. Spence’s The Death of Woman Wang is fairly short, and probably something I’d be able to get through over two cups of coffee at home, at work – with the distractions of barbecue sauce, walking (because I must always do a bit of walking), and a number of other lunch break occurrences – it took me a number of weeks to get through it.  (I only work on Saturdays, mind you.)

I have decided that even though I’m not keeping The Death of Woman Wang (I’m in purge mode and not keeping as many books as I have been inclined to in the past), I will read more of Spence’s work in the future.  Treason By the Book looks especially fascinating.

[Unrelated note to the book review: I just googled his name to see what else there might be and stumbled across his face. He’s endearingly handsome for an old fellow.]

Spence is a British-born Chinese historian (what an interesting description for a person).  He retired from Yale in 2008 – my childhood bestie attended Yale from 2002-2006, I wonder if she ever met him…

He has a warm way of relaying history.  He tells stories in a fashion that you’d think perhaps you were sitting around a fire listening to a beloved professor while on some sort of educational retreat.  He manages to do this without feeling novelized or ill researched.

I’ve been enjoying my Chinese History lunches, and I’m a little sad that they’re over.

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The Year of the Hydra

January 24, 2015 at 12:50 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

Reviewing things and taking names!

I’m not really taking names… but I am reviewing a lot these days, and getting quoted on book jackets!

Year of the Hydra [Back Cover]_Back Cover

I recently got to read an advance copy of The Year of the Hydra by W.B. Burt. You can preorder it now or wait until February 19th to purchase it. Either way, you don’t want to miss this new release.

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The Haunted Bookshop

January 22, 2015 at 9:52 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“It’s one of the uncanniest things I know to watch a real book on its career – it follows you and follows you and drives you into a corner and makes you read it. […] Words can’t describe the cunning of some books.  You’ll think you’ve shaken them off your trail, and then one day some innocent-looking customer will pop in and begin to talk, and you’ll now he’s an unconscious agent of book-destiny.” – pg. 121, The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

The Haunted BookshopTitle: The Haunted Bookshop

Author: Christopher Morley

Length: 265 pages

I am constantly haunted by books.  As a reviewer your TBR pile grows and grows, but there are books that you want to read that no one is asking you to that sit and lurk until finally they demand that you pick them up.

I purchased The Haunted Bookshop years ago; it was the same time I bought Parnassus on Wheels.  Nearly two years after finally reading my first encounter with Morley, I’ve finally been hunted down and captured by his wonderful sequel.

“There’s only one way to lay the ghost of a book, and that is to read it.”

haunted shopNow that I’ve revisited Roger and Helen Mifflin, however, I just want more.  I want to know what happens after this glorious book fetish mystery.  After Parnassus on Wheels, it was exciting to see Mr. and Mrs. Mifflin after they settled down.  But now I want to know: how does all the inadvertent advertising change the face of Mr. Mifflin’s business.  I want to hang out with these fine people until we experience their inevitable deaths.  Favorite characters deserve that much, for their fans to sob at their memorials.

Mostly, I adore Mr. Mifflin’s constant book recommendations.  As long as people love books there will be books about bookstores, I am convinced, because the truly bookish seek out recommendations from their favorite characters, always.  That was the romance, for me, in writing The Bookshop Hotel.  I hope in time that fans will see more similarities in my work to Christopher Morley than to Debbie Macomber (of whom my writing has been compared) and the like.   Ultimately, however, I’m happy with however I am categorized as long as people are enjoying them.

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A Boy Called Dickens

January 21, 2015 at 12:56 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

* A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books *

P1000704Title: A Boy Called Dickens

Author: Deborah Hopkinson

Illustrator: John Hendrix

As a homeschool family, we’re suckers for the educational picture book.  Especially biographies.

A Boy Called Dickens tells the life of Charles Dickens.  Obviously there are some creative liberties taken with Dickens’ boyhood thoughts and how he might have come to write certain stories, but that happens with any piece of biographical fiction.

As an adult Dickens fan, you recognize characters peeking around corners and haunting the boy’s subconscious as he works at the factory, tells stories to his friend, helps get his family out of debtor’s prison, and finally returns to school.

When I finished read the book, kiddo said, “Let’s read it again.”

I was out of breath from my strained fake British accent.  I’m not an actress, but I like to make story time fun.  It takes more effort than I’d care to admit.  “No, I’m not reading it again right now.”

“Well, I think we should do the same thing with this one – let other kids read it!”

“You mean you recommend it?”

“Yes.” She gave it a literal thumbs up, with a tongue half sticking out the side of her mouth in thought.

Any biographical picture books you can find are great teaching tools, and you might as well fill them with as much information as you can while they’re sponges.  History is easiest to remember as a tale, Dickens world and era becomes one you can touch and taste.  Telling it from his boyhood makes it more relatable to a tiny one.  Whether you’re a homeschool mom, or just someone who reads to your kids when you can, this book is a great resource; it’s colorful, factual, and engrossing.

(If you’re a seasonal reader, this one is perfectly wintery.)

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The Snail and the Whale

January 19, 2015 at 12:51 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I used to do a Weekly Low Down on Kids Books.  Well, I used to pretend to do them, and really they were haphazard and sporadic at best, but sort of happened a few times a month at least.

I’m back.  I’m back with a mission to share all the marvelous books we’ve been reading.  Because, well, we have been reading more than we’ve let on.  I know, our silence is stifling.

P1000708Title: The Snail and the Whale

Author:Julia Donaldson

Illustrator: Axel Scheffler

I bought The Snail and the Whale on impulse.  I’ve been trying to do less of that lately, but it was too darn cute and the kiddo had been working on a snail painting.  Plus, I was feeling a little bit guilty over keeping Christmas as sparse as I was.

A few new picture books seemed a good addition to a Jake and the Neverland Pirate lego set (the third set to polish off the Jake collection); but we purposely are trying to keep Christmas gifting simple… “What you want, what you need, what you’ll wear, and what you’ll read.”  Accumulatively, we’d like for her to get no more than 4 presents from each category once all the grandparents have pitched in.  Ideally I’d keep it to four items total, but I’m practical and I know the family members won’t let that fly.

P1000654So she got the rest of her desired lego collection, a Frozen tiara and tambourine, socks, new boots, and a handful of new picture books.  There were some stocking stuffers and some other odds and ends – a geode science project for her school work, new paints, a painting apron, some canvases – and they were given to her in waves, not all at once on Christmas day.  It gave her time to enjoy each gift before getting overwhelmed with another.  We enjoyed it.  She was spoiled without being spoiled.  It felt like a nice simple holiday, yet kiddo managed to get everything she’d asked for.

Although The Snail and the Whale feels like a summer book – crossing oceans, travelling the world, visiting islands – we were excited to read it while cozied up in blankets and pjs.  I can’t wait to read it to her at the beach once it warms up, though.

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Working on her Snail painting, which has an actual shell glued to the canvas.

After reading this book for the second or third time, I finally asked kiddo, “So what are your thoughts?”

Kiddo, age four, says, “Other kids should read it, that’s my thought!  But how about we put it where people can’t find it. So no one can tear it up.”

I think she was missing the point of the conversation.  We started talking about the illustrations and what she thought.  She likes the pictures, but thinks they got the font “mixed up.”  I think the font is appropriately cute, but she’s learning to read and I think some of the swirly snail words were hard for her to recognize.

The book, however, is wonderful.  The rhymes are fun, the pictures are fun.  It’s all about adventure, having courage, and taking care of your friends.  It’s definitely a great gift book for any little one, no matter what season.

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