Thursday, October 23, 2014

Whatcha Readin? Week 43


Last  week's book was Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde. I was able to borrow this book from the Amazon Kindle lending library. Several of the books I've read this year have come to me that way, but this one was far and away the best of that group.

The short review: I devoured this one. It was an easy read, but not in a Bridget Jones kind of way. Hyde's writing is straightforward, even when the subject matter is complex. It came across as confidence, actually, that the characters' feelings and backstories could stand on their own, without lyrical prose to describe the "sharp edges of their exquisite pain" or similar Oprah Book Club-esque phrases.

This book had a lot going on.  The primary plotline was about August, a science teacher grieving the death of his son. August is an alcoholic in recovery. He uses his summers off to travel in his RV. This particular summer's journey is especially important, because he is taking his son's ashes to Yellowstone National Park.  As a teacher, August budgets all year to have gas money for his summer travels. When the RV breaks down, the cost of repairs throws his ability to get to Yellowstone into question.

While he waits at the garage, August meets Seth and Henry, the two young sons of the mechanic. He is shocked when the mechanic asks him to take the two boys on his summer trip while he serves a 90-day jail sentence. August plans to say no, then Wes sweetens the deal by saying that the repairs to the RV will be free, whether he takes the boys or not. (No pressure--right??)

Seth is a 12-year-old chatterbox with the cares of the world on his shoulders. Nine-year-old Henry speaks only to Seth, and even him, only rarely.  I don't know which boy broke my heart more: Seth, so eager to see the world but so afraid to ask for what he wants, or Henry, so used to being let down that he has no expectations at all.  August is a decent guy, so of course he gets attached to Seth and Henry, even as he constantly tells himself not to.

They're not far into the trip when they learn that Wes's 90-day sentence for check-kiting is actually a 180-day sentence for his fourth DUI. August struggles to decide what to do about this latest development, while the boys each handle it in their own ways. Meanwhile, August attends AA meetings along their route and calls his sponsor regularly. Seth becomes interested in the program and how it might help his dad.

I don't want to unpack the entire plot here, because the real beauty of this book is the characters. Each one is damaged and hurting, and Hyde writes them with perfect consistency. I cannot recall one false note in any character. And yet, they weren't flat or predictable. (oooh, I so want to tell about two scenes in particular that would illustrate my point, but it would be unkind to spoil that part. I hope you appreciate my restraint!)

I'm headed to the library this afternoon, and if I find another book by Catherine Ryan Hyde, you can bet I'll be checking it out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Whatcha Readin? Week 42



This week's book was While I Was Gone by Sue Miller. It was chosen as an Oprah Book Club book, but I can't say for sure that I found that to be a selling point. And, just for the record, I read 100% of this one.

The main character is a veterinarian named Jo. She's married to a pastor (although she is not a believer) and has three grown daughters. I kind of hate her. She's restless and easily bored; she's closed off; she's secretive; she's self-absorbed. Miller did a good job writing Jo, I have to give her that. Most of the book is written in a detached style that emphasizes how closed off Jo is from those around her and, often, her own emotions. She describes a trip to the grocery store, a fight with her daughter, sex with her husband and even the murder of her friend in the same flat voice.  In other places, Miller includes some beautiful descriptions and thoughts, but since Jo is the narrator, I found these passages jarring.

Miller writes Jo in a way that you pretty much have to hate, but in writing Daniel, she is generous to a fault. Jo describes her husband with such adoration that it makes half of what she does in the book almost unbelievable. Who treats a man she loves like that?? Did she just think he was a bottomless pit of virtue and forgiveness?

While Jo made me want to tear my hair out, I'm still glad I read this one. In chapter six, Jo unexpectedly attends Daniel's church after the death of one of his congregants. His thoughts on grief and loss and memory resonated with me after the losses my family suffered this past summer.  "Pain," he says, "the pain that seems unbearable at the time, is memory's first imprinting step, the cornerstone of the temple we erect inside us in memory of the dead." and, later, "He gives us memory, too, to change that pain to laughter, to joy. To bring the dead back into our lives. To comfort us."

Monday, October 13, 2014

A little "happy mail"

Last week my daughter and I were visiting my parents, and a dear friend of my mother's wanted to take us to the Esse Purse Museum in downtown Little Rock. I had heard that such a thing existed, but I have to say that it was not at all what I expected. The museum is arranged by decade, from the 1900s through the 1990s, and each case is thoughtfully curated, giving historical context as well as details about why the purses of that decade were a particular size or color or fabric. I'm not much of a purse girl, but it was really surprisingly interesting. And their gift shop! My daughter went crazy at all the coin purses, clutches, handbags and evening bags. I thought it would be fun to snag a purse as a souvenir of our afternoon, but I have much better taste than I realized. Every single purse that I thought I could see myself carrying was at least $200. Do people really pay that kind of money for a bag??

Well, now we're home and I wanted to thank our friend properly for taking us to the museum. (And in Little Rock, that means nothing less than a handwritten thank you note.) Our friend is also a creative-crafty genius, so I wanted to make the card myself. First stop, Pinterest. 


This is what I ended up with. The striped paper is single-sided scrapbook paper, folded in half and cut into a trapezoid shape. I couldn't find a die that I know I have somewhere (grrr! So irritating!) so I drew a shape like this:

by hand and cut it with scissors. Like a caveman. I sliced two small openings along the fold of the red piece and threaded in ribbon for the handle, and added a brad as the purse closure.  Easy! 

Friday, October 03, 2014

Homeschool Week in Review (week 6)

This past week was a little odd, because my husband and my son were out of town. He did all of his work before leaving, so he had a guilt-free week off. And he made the most of it! They went hiking and fishing and, by all accounts, had a wonderful time! They broke the family record for number of fish caught in one day--the biggest one my son caught weighed a whopping 45 pounds!!



(This isn't the 45-pounder; this is the third of five that he caught!)

Back at home, my daughter and I just focused on the three Rs. (This is my favorite homeschool freedom! We do this when we don't want to/can't go full tilt, but we don't want to fall behind, either.)

Math: Katie just wrapped up chapter 3 and took the quiz. She's flying through math this year!
Grammar: She finished the chapter on basic sentence structure and will take the test next week.
Literature: We fell a little behind on her biography. I would have thought she would devour a book about Milton Hershey (See what I did there??) but it hasn't captured her attention. I think I'm going to extend the unit by one week so that we can finish it without being rushed and grumpy.
Science (co-op class): Things are running reasonably smoothly on this front. There's still a lot of intense reading, but I feel like she *understands* what they're learning right now, so that makes a huge difference.
IEW (co-op class): I love this class; it's so enjoyable to help with their assignments but not actually teach the material. They're both becoming strong writers--and they know it! We've had lots of academic struggles over the years, and it does everybody's heart good to excel in this area!

Since we had a lighter workload, we made a point to enjoy our extra time. Katie follows a YouTube channel called Nerdy Nummies and frequently asks to make the recipes. Cooking can be really fun when you have a little extra time! She made hamburger cupcakes and they were DELICIOUS.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Whatcha Readin'? (week 39)

You have probably heard of the equation used for figuring out the socially acceptable age difference of romantic partners:

Younger partner's age must be > 1/2 (older partner's age) + 7.

If younger partner's age is < 1/2 (older partner's age) + 7, then there is a very good chance that the older partner is having a midlife crisis and is making a fool of him/herself.  (I'm looking at you, Tom Cruise.)



I developed the Reader's Corollary this equation. I have to read half the book, plus 7 pages and then I can quit in good conscience. Life is short, and there are more books out there than I can possibly read. Now, that said, I finish the vast majority of books I begin. I'm all about the closure at the end. And that bass. I'm all about that bass, too.

I'm sure you can tell where this is going. I had to break up with a book this week. 


Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison looked promising on GoodReads, but by the end of our first date, I was questioning what I thought I saw in this one to put it on my "To Read" list.

For one thing, it is an epistolary novel, written entirely as journal entries. That doesn't sound so bad, does it? What if I told you every single journal entry could have been written on post-it notes? Chapter 1 was 2 1/2 lines long. Chapter 2 was 3 lines long. 

It gave me the feeling of being on Law Order, when the detectives walk into the crazy conspiracy theorist's secret room and there are notes and newspaper clippings and surveillance photos all over the walls. That is not a feeling I'm comfortable with.

Why Did I Ever was like being dropped into somebody's mental Twitter account. 140 characters that made sense to them at the time, but wasn't necessarily fit for public consumption.  Ironically, as I am writing this--literally, at this very moment--I am beginning to appreciate Mary Robison's point.  

The protagonist has some serious problems that she's dealing with. Her life is in shambles, her adult childrens' lives are in shambles. A few of the longer chapters (e.g., 12 lines) allude to her son having been the recent victim of a violent crime; her daughter is a junkie. As I got closer to the half-the-book-plus-7-pages cutoff, I started to wonder if Money (the protagonist) was a multiple personality or possibly the imagining of the autistic child in St. Elsewhere.  

Why Did I Ever is actually well-written. It's just that it's written in a style I don't personally appreciate. And even that isn't entirely accurate. I found several lines that I thought were just brilliant. In the chapter entitled "Ride Along With You," one Money's coworkers says to her, "I just detest you. To the point that it's almost invigorating."  I loved that sentence. Another example of greatness, from chapter 276: (Why, why, why? Why do some chapters have titles and some have only numbers?)
Anyway, in chapter 276, Money writes, "I think perhaps a syllable maximum should be set for some people and, I'm sorry, but rather a low one."

All in all, I had to break up with Why Did I Ever. There were definitely a couple of interesting things going on, but I just knew that if I stuck with it, I would be sorry. I didn't want to hear about the crime against her son in minimalist prose. There were no signs that anything was going to work out, and there wasn't enough narrative for me to even hope that I was going to understand whatever did happen. And, strangely, I'm sad about it all, just like a real break up.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Homeschool week in review (week 5)


I'm still trying to find the best time to write up our week in review. Yes, I know. Friday seems like the obvious right answer, doesn't it? If only I were EXHAUSTED by the time Friday rolls around. 

Bible: The name of God this week was Qedosh Yisrael, the Holy One of Israel. 
The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the entire assembly of Israel 
and say to them: 'Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy.'"
Leviticus 19:1-2

Another thing we've been doing in our Bible time is getting to know where things are in the Bible. I made this chart for the kids as kind of a cheat sheet while they learn.

Both kids had a decent grasp on where the "biggies" were located, but I wanted them to be able to flip to, say, 2 Chronicles without having to check the table of contents. We drill these in a couple of different ways. I might call out a book and ask one child if it's in the Old or New Testament. Then I'll ask the other child what category that book is in. They also like me to ask what comes before it and after it.  Sometimes I ask them to name a book of history (or poetry or gospels) and they go back and forth until they can't think of any more. And finally, the good old-fashioned sword drill. Remember those? I try to choose a key verse or passage that sums up that book and have them look it up. For example, I might say to look up Exodus 3:7-10, followed by a brief discussion about how Exodus is the story of God's people's exit from Egypt. Or Proverbs 9:10, with a discussion about what God says is wise.

Math: My younger child is working on division, and my older child is working on converting fractions to decimals.

Grammar: Nouns & pronouns for one, direct and indirect quotations for the other. 

Literature: Everybody is within a few days of finishing their biographies and starting their project for this unit. They're going to be putting together a newspaper based on their subject's life. It will include at least two articles, a cartoon strip depicting an event from the book and a timeline showing significant dates and events in their subject's life. I'm hoping to see some historical context. And dare I hope for evidence that they're really into it? Here's hoping!

History: We read about the Peace of Versailles that ended World War I, including Woodrow Wilson's idea for the League of Nations and the punishment of Germany. We also touched on the emergence of Joseph Stalin as leader of Russia. I'd like to spend a little more time on that topic.

Science (co-op class): Have to brag on my son a little bit here. He had an opportunity to go on a fishing trip with his dad and uncle, but only if he agreed to take his science along so he wouldn't get behind. He actually did the entire week's work before he left! That's a massive jump in maturity and responsibility over what I would have seen even just a year ago.

IEW (co-op class): Their assignment this week was to choose a paragraph out of any book and give it the "IEW treatment." Will, wisely, chose a section about Stalin from Story of the World that can double as his next history summary, and he finished it before he went out of town. Katie chose an exciting excerpt from one of her favorite books. Since she's not going on this trip, she'll finish her assignment on our regularly-scheduled IEW days.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Go in your kitchen and make this now.

The best soup on the planet. This soup is like getting a hug from your grandmother. It's like putting on an old pair of jeans and finding a $20 in the pocket. It's like having your teenager spontaneously say, "I love you, Mom."

I've been on Pinterest for several years now, and I've tried many recipes that were good, but not great and a few that were apparently pinned by people with no taste buds. Believe me when I say that this soup lives up to the hype. It was every bit as delicious as I hoped it would be.  I made it with my daughter, who is learning to cook, so I didn't make any intentional changes to the recipe, but when we got down to the herb part, I didn't have any bay leaves on hand, nor have I ever had herbes de Provence in the spice cabinet. I may get some for next time, but this soup was fantastic without them. I wouldn't recommend omitting the gruyere at serving time, though.

I also didn't have any crusty artisan bread (as pictured) to go with it. Frankly, I'm not sure I'm equipped for that kind of bliss.