2016 book list

this year's books, with favorites marked with an asterisk (or two):

*The Telling, Jo Baker
Little Woman in Blue, Jeannine Atkins
Miss Emily, Nuala O'Connor
Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling
Silver Bay, Jojo Moyes
After You, Jojo Moyes
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
*A Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks
Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks
Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
The Pecan Man, Cassie Dandridge Selleck
Sheepish, Catherine Friend
An Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler
Breathing Room, Lauren Rosenfeld & Melva Green
Longbourne, Jo Baker
The Railwayman's Wife, Ashley Hay
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
The Bookstore, Deborah Meyler
The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin
Confinement, Carrie Brown
The Night Guest, Fiona McFarlane
Hector and the Search for Happiness, Francois Lelord
The Orchard House, Tara Austen Weaver
**To the Bright Edge of the World, Eowyn Ivey
Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, Agnes Martin-Lugand
The Other Side of the World, Stephanie Bishop
*The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Worldchanging 101, David LaMotte
**The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah
Results May Vary, Bethany Chase
With Love from the Inside, Angela Pisel
Sweetgirl, Travis Mulhauser
*The Girl you Left Behind, Jojo Moyes

read aloud with Claire:

The Secret Garden
The Penderwicks
The Birchbark House
Game of Silence (Birchbark book two)
The Little Prince
Anne of Green Gables

I've got a soft spot for historical fiction and imagine I always will, and I seem often to unknowingly (usually unknowingly) choose really tragic books.  Which is alright, but sometimes pretty intense what with all of those feelings.  I was thrilled to get my hands on Eowyn Ivey's new book (she wrote The Snow Child, which is one of my all time favorites), and I loved it- for me, it was the perfect blend of historical fiction, magical realism, and gorgeous scenery that I was easily able to picture in my mind thanks to her beautifully descriptive writing.  I hope she writes many more books very soon.

here are the book lists for 20132014, and 2015.

cheers and happy reading! (and do please tell me about your own favorites- I'm always looking for a good book to add to the list)


year end cheer

there were a couple batches of gingerbread, and some peppermint bark.  there was a caroling party at a friend's house.  sweet notes in the mail.  sweet surprise boxes in the mail filled with goodies.  there were bird treats made on the solstice and later in the evening, a candlelit dinner with the best of friends.  sparkly lights, felted gifts for special little people, a christmas morning tea party with a very special new tea set (also made a dutch baby pancake instead of our usual cinnamon rolls and it was a huge hit- we went on to make it again twice over the next three days).  there were gifts brought back from Italy (Mike spent a week in Italy in mid-December, and hid the goodies until Christmas morning) - wine, some honey candies, honey, a huge bag of olives, and parmesan cheese from Parma.... yum, yum.  I was gifted a great new pair of slippers.  we had a low key and sweet holiday, to be sure. visits with friends and family, lots of time spent in pajamas and near the fire, many books read and movies watched.  delicious soups with dumplings (and without) and hearty wintry meals.  I knit a pair of matching hats for me and my girl.  Claire has watched The Secret Garden at least three times since Christmas.  I keep hoping the temperature will drop a bit and some snow will come our way.....  hopefully soon.

and now tomorrow we get back into the swing of things.  back to work and back to school.  time to make some plans and set some things into motion.

happy new year~ cheers!


making merry

hanging the little christmas walnut mouse from my childhood on the tree, with the sweet little mouse advent calendar from my childhood in the background
I so love that little walnut mouse..... so I am working on felting some buddies for her
and then since all the wool was out, we each made a barn owl
making swags for friends
swag-making, narcissus-planting....
her advent calendar that I made several years ago, and her own little swag on her bedroom door
I just want to sit on the couch and look at the tree
made photo cards this year for the first time ever, and she and I are working on getting them out
2 ukuleles
"Gary's tree"
hot cocoa enjoyed out on the trail on a chilly, festive day
best of friends
advent/solstice spiral

It is beginning to feel quite like Christmastime around here.  We got our tree last weekend after the annual town parade.  Her paper pocket advent calendar is up (I love this little calendar- each day I slip in a little note with something written on it for us to do that day- buy groceries for the food pantry, visit a friend, make swags and wreaths, drink hot cocoa, etc., and each day she tells me something she is grateful for and I write it on the back of the note and pin it to the calendar so we can keep track of where we are, and she can be reminded of all the many things she is grateful for), along with the advent/solstice spiral, and now (after finding it in a bin at my dad's place) the little cloth pocket advent calendar that we had when I was a child- I loved moving the mouse each day, and now she does, too.  To be sure, there is no lack of countdown opportunities in our household.

Sometimes I think getting the opportunity to relive and re-experience the holidays through the eyes of a child is one of the best parts of parenting.  I suppose it isn't just holidays, of course- it's a shift in perspective regarding so many things, all the time.  A slowing down.  A looking deeper.  A sense of wonder and a willingness to be caught off guard.  I try to keep my eyes and heart open to these shifts, and to let the slower pace seep into my bones.  There are plenty of times when I am aware that I am hurrying things along, hurrying her along, and not allowing that shift to take place, not allowing myself to just be and to recalibrate.  I don't know why I ever resist it- the slowness, the deliberateness, the introspection...... these are the things, after all, that feed me most.  Especially this time of year.

I used to not be a big fan of winter.  All that grey and cold and dark and slush.

Now, though.  I love seeing the lines of the mountains and the bones of the trees.  I want to bundle up and walk in the forest and feel the leaves and the frozen ground crunching under my feet.  All that grey is a soothing, misty shawl that I want to wrap myself up in.  I am grounded by this time of quiet, dark reflection.  I sit by the fire, by the sparkly tree.  I sip warm drinks and think and think and think.  I love all the time there is for sitting and thinking and snuggling.  I feel like a little old lady, or a cat seeking warmth and soft things to curl up on.

We made swags, we planted narcissi bulbs, we felted little creatures.
We sit by the fire and read.  We light candles and listen to holiday music.  My favorites these days are the Indie Christmas and Celtic Holidays stations on Pandora.

Today was a great day.  We met our dearest friends at a nearby trailhead and took a short hike through the woods to a tree, a little hemlock, that is adorned with decorations year-round.  It is called "Gary's tree", though I'm not sure why.  Claire asked today who Gary was.  She asked if maybe he had died and this tree was for him.  I am not sure, but I want to find out.  Surely a little digging will lead to an answer.  So we met our friends and walked through the forest to this tree.  We sat by it and had hot cocoa and popcorn, and the girls decorated the tree with things they brought and we read a Christmas book and it was awesome.  A instant and dearly-loved holiday tradition was born today, I am quite sure.


homeschooling :: on we go

I'd had the best intentions of putting together a homeschool post every few weeks to keep track of our progress, our projects, our process, and then...... well.... there were things.  National event things, processing of national event things, holiday things (I much prefer the holiday things to the other things), and so on and so forth.  And here we are, a good bit on the other side of a few weeks since the last homeschool post.

We took our first break last week (the entire week), and that felt really good.  We are plugging along and I am realizing that we are not in fact going to cover every subject every day, and that is totally acceptable.  It's funny, we went from pretty solidly 'unschooling' last year (granted, it was kindergarten) to being quite a bit more organized and scheduled than I'd anticipated being this year.  I think somewhere along the way the part of me that really likes lists and organizing (it is a small and not often exercised part...) hitched a ride and starting steering the homeschool show a bit.  And mostly, it works.  Claire seems to need that, seems to thrive on it, so on we go.

So what have we actually been doing these last six weeks or so?

Well, what with the glory that is autumn, we did a lot with leaves.  We dipped them in beeswax, we did rubbings of them, we identified them both individually by species and into different categories by shape.  We read about why and how they change color.  She illustrated and labeled an oak tree life cycle, she observed and wrote about her garden spider friend until she spun and filled her beautiful egg sac and disappeared.  We signed up for Cornell Ornithology Lab's Project Feederwatch and have been having lots of fun with that, and it is allowing her to add to her bird species list (she is now up to 20 different species of birds that she has observed in and around our yard- well, 19 if you remove 'chickens' from her list, but I wouldn't dare).

She draws pictures with chalk onto felt and then embroiders the pictures.  She finger knits until the chains reach from the front door all the way out the back door.

We play games to help her get her mind around place value, and there's a bit of practicing looking at a number and knowing what is one less and one more, ten less and ten more.  She continues to love workbooks and we finished one today that mostly dealt with money, time, and fractions.  She is pretty accurate with reading a clock and she seems to have a thing for fractions.  I am reminded often that they are ready for things when they are ready for them.  Counting money was really tricky a few weeks ago and when we came back to it this week, it was quite a bit easier for her.  I remind myself to go slow, to put things away when it gets to be too much........ you'd think it'd be obvious to do so, but I don't automatically get there without that reminder.

Our continent studies seemed to have turned into US History ever since we got to the US.  We started with North America and worked our way through Greenland and Canada, and then once we got to our country (oh, about 6 or 8 weeks ago!) I guess I felt I needed to cover so much that we basically started reading about, researching, and discussing big events from the 1400s on.  Considering the beginnings of our country, there were some pretty grim things being discussed, though I think I kept it at a reasonable place.  We made it all the way to the end of the Revolutionary War, Washington's presidency, Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase, and Lewis and Clark before I realized that our continent studies had become something else altogether.  It only just occurred to me that I could and probably should separate the two, and so we are now going to highlight a few more things about our country more in line with what we focused on with the other countries (animals, food, music, demographics, landmarks, interesting geographical features, traditions, art and culture, etc) and take the US History bit in bits and pieces from here on out.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that she is in first grade, and it isn't really necessary or appropriate for me to focus in depth on everything.  With history this seems to be the case, as well as with science.  We read about and listened to our hearts the other day and I nearly printed out a somewhat detailed drawing of the heart for her to color and label and then I thought..... maybe the reading and listening and discussing is actually more age appropriate for right now.  Maybe, at six, you don't have to memorize the way the blood flows in and out of the heart and be able to name the different arteries and veins and chambers.

I think sometimes it's more that I get excited myself and I want to dive deeper.  Plus papa has been studying for his advanced EMT certification, so the anatomy discussions can easily get more in depth than need be.  There is, after all, a difference between 36 and 6.

Language continues to be, I think, her favorite (well maybe they are neck and neck with art and books on cd, but academically anyway, it's a favorite).  She has gotten a bit less enthused about working her way through the Explode the Code workbooks now that they have gotten more difficult and are more at her level.  She still enjoys them, she just isn't plowing through them.  Slow and steady seems to me a better pace than the racing through, so I am glad for that.  We are starting to work with all the different ways to make long vowel sounds, and I've just decided to introduce a somewhat regular 'spelling test', though somewhat covertly and casually.  One day a week her language work is to write a letter to a friend or family member, and that has been a hit.  She reads aloud to us often, and I continue to read to her at night (and often throughout the day).  We very much enjoy our chapter books at bedtime, and we're happily working our way through Anne of Green Gables now.

There have been other things of course~  discussions about migration and pollution and elections (back to those pesky national event things), art, plenty of playing and trips to the library.  We've had a couple homeschool mornings at the coffee shop and tea shop, which are novel and fun and we don't get much done but I'll count tasty treats and laughs with my girl as a win every time.

And oh!  We grew popcorn this year and we just today removed the kernels and popped some and it is delicious.  Delicious.  I think backyard popcorn is one of my new favorite things and it has won itself a place on the list of things to plant regularly in the garden.  So hurrah for that.

I think that is as tidy an account as I can give for our last several weeks at it.  Please feel free to ask and share and recommend as you see fit as part of this homeschooling conversation.



Day of the Dead

we had a really lovely Day of the Dead gathering here this past weekend.  we made an altar, decorated pretty heavily with marigolds, made about 80 tamales, lit a bonfire, and welcomed a couple dozen or so folks to our place to hang out, celebrate all the good things, and remember our loved ones.  the many children were kept happy by running around in costume, smashing open a jack-o-lantern piƱata, and eating loads of tortellini and sweets.  hosting such a gathering is something that I've wanted to do for a long time now (I have long had a crush on this holiday and find it to be so very beautiful), and this year it just felt like the timing was right.  perhaps it is just where I am in my life right now (and perhaps therefore where a lot of my friends in my general age range are right now), but it seems like there is a lot of loss and a lot of saying goodbye to loved ones going on- I lost my grandfather in May, and just among the people gathered at our place a few days ago I can count brothers, a mother, fathers, and grandparents lost in just the last year or so.  whew.

it was a good night.  with, I think, the right balance of reverence and revelry.

the altar is still set up, and I'm in no rush to dismantle it.  it feels.......... good.  to have little reminders of lost loved ones front and center.  I've always been a collector of bits and pieces of our ancestors- mixing bowls and platters and Christmas cacti from our grandmothers and great grandmothers.  the things I requested that my dad bring to me of my grandfather's were a coffee cup and one of his short-sleeved button down shirts- the kind that are embroidered and have the pockets up high and down by the waist.  he brought them for me, along with a rhubarb plant he dug up from my grandfather's yard up in the Adirondacks.  I planted it tenderly and I hope it will thrive.  these sort of things- the kind that can become part of my day-to-day, these are the things that help me remember and honor and feel close to my loved ones who are no longer here in flesh.  I drink from the mug and imagine having tea with my grandfather, and I can hear his voice, his laugh.  his gentle, wise advice.  I miss him.  I still want to call him or send a letter from time to time and then I remember he's been gone for months.  I watch the cactus bloom (they are both just now starting) and think of my grandmother, and of Mike's, and I smile and recall a specific interaction or conversation.  my grandmother's pierogies and mushroom soup on Christmas Eve.  I leave dough to rise in a large cracked bowl that belonged to Mike's mother's grandmother.  I never knew her, but I invite her into my kitchen and like to think of her somehow, somewhere, using the occasion to get a tiny glimpse into our world and at her great-great-granddaughter.  I wonder what subtle bits of her may be in Claire.  I put fruit, or nuts, in a bowl that belonged to my great-grandmother, and I think of so many of us cramming into her tiny Memphis house for a meal on a hot and humid summer day, and of exploring the wilds of her small backyard garden.

all of these things, and so much more, make me pause and feel like maybe the distance between us isn't really so great, after all.