Monday, April 14, 2014

Books We're Reading (From Atticus to Ramona)

Atticus is reading...
Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch and Bruce Catton's The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road. (That one's a reread for him, but he can never get too much Civil War reading.)

He's also reading lots of these:

Thanks, Image Chef.  And yes, his students really do call him Mr. Ed. 

I am reading...
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle and Finding Your Element by Ken Robinson. I love this kind of stuff.

Anne-with-an-e is reading...
The Complete Sherlock Holmes. This would be even better if we could have Benedict Cumberbatch come over and read it aloud to all of us.

She's also reading Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis for a class and is really enjoying it.

Betsy is reading...
(I'll let her tell you in her own words. She just started a new blog, and did a post today about current reads.)
I've got a never-ending list of books, and not enough time to read them all. These are just a few of the books I've been reading.
I'm working my way through the Series of Unfortunate Events and I'm loving them. I'm on book nine. I've never read them before, and Lemony Snicket's humor has me in stitches. I love the intricacies of the story, and the way the plot lines blend together almost seamlessly.
At night, I'm reading Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg to my little sister. I've read this book so many times, and I love it. She has never actually read it, and I love being able to read it to her for the first time.

I started My Antonia this morning, and I'm really enjoying it. There's not much I can say about it at this point, because I've only read the first fifty pages. But I love the style of Willa Cather's writing, and the forming friendship between Tony and Jimmy.
I cried for the last twenty pages of The Book Thief. I adored this book. Every character became so real to me, and I loved them all. Max, Liesel, Rosa, Rudy, Hans. Each one of them. I just wanted to scoop them up and keep them safe from everything.
In my TBR (to be read) pile, I have The Raft which is a reread for my book group. I really enjoyed this book, by S.A. Bodeen. It's about a girl whose plane crashes, and she ends up on a raft with the only other survivor, Max, the copilot. Very intense, very good book.

Ramona is reading...
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (this is a read aloud we're doing together -- loving it) and Pinky Pye. (How I adore Eleanor Estes.)

The other day I mentioned that we just finished reading Rules. I tweeted about it, and shared Ramona's picture, and Cynthia Lord was sweet enough to respond and tweet back her reaction to Ramona's drawing (thanks for making her day, Cynthia!)

Hey, Twitter? Actually, hey, Whole Internet? Can I just tell you how much I love you for making it possible to easily connect my daughters with authors they love? If it weren't for the Whole Internet, would I ever have met Melissa Wiley? And ended up godmother to this adorable little kiddo? So. Great.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Poetry Friday: Eating Poetry with Mark Strand


Today is the birthday of poet Mark Strand and I can't think of a better way to celebrate than to eat some poetry. For dessert, I'll go read this interview between Wallace Shawn and Strand at the Paris Review.

Eating Poetry 
by Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.

(Read the rest here.)

~~~~~~~~~~

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes has the round-up at Today's Little Ditty.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cynthia Lord's Rules (A Quick Review, in Which We Also Stroll Down Memory Lane With Frog and Toad)

Ramona *had* to draw last night, after we finished Rules.

Last night, Ramona and I finished reading Cynthia Lord's Rules. It's about twelve-year-old Catherine, who just wants a "normal" life, thank-you-very-much. And it's about her brother David, who has autism, but tries his best to follow Catherine's list of rules, such as, "No toys in the fish tank." (The fish, however, don't seem to mind an occasional visit from Barbie or a rubber duck.) And it's about Catherine's new friend, Jason, a silent, smart, wheelchair-bound boy she meets at David's OT office. Complicating Catherine's summer vacation is the fact that her best friend, Melissa, is spending the summer in California with her dad, and the new girl who just moved in next door is, well, nice, but maybe not the "morse code with flashlights at night" kind of best-neighbor-friend Catherine has always hoped for.

I won't say any more, but will add that Anne-with-an-e and Betsy both loved this book when they read it a few years ago, and so did I. It was delightful to share it this time around with Ramona, who was inspired by the book to hunt down all of our old Frog and Toad books. (I'll let you read Rules to find out why.)

A beautiful, funny, and touching read.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Honors, and Freebies, and Sales -- Oh, My! (In Which I Give Away Five Copies of My Book and Humbly Thank the ACP For a Finalist Honor)

Our Sunday Visitor just delivered some great news! The Association of Catholic Publishers announced finalists for their annual Excellence in Publishing Awards and Deathbed Conversions is a contender in the biography category. Winners will be announced in May.

OSV is also sponsoring a sale and a giveaway. From now until May 16th, you can buy the book for just  $9 (down from the $13.95 cover price) through this link at Our Sunday Visitor.

And, if you leave a comment on this blog post, I'll enter your name into a drawing (I like to have Ramona or Betsy draw the names from my current favorite coffee cup) to win one of five free copies of the book. OSV will be sending out books to the winners, and if you'd like a signed bookplate, I'll send that on from my end!

** If you leave a comment here, please be sure to leave your name, and be sure to check back here on the morning of May 17th to see if you have won. **


So, if you ever wanted a deathbed conversion -- no, strike that -- ummm, if you've ever wanted a deathbed conversion, go get busy right now on the converting stuff. Don't wait, thinking someone might write a book about you someday.

Let's start that again ...

If you've ever wanted to read about deathbed conversions, now's your chance.

Can't wait to hear from you!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Speaking of Poetry, There's a Showdown at Think, Kid, Think!


Poets have been challenged, words* have been slung, and the voting closes this afternoon.

Visit Ed DeCaria at Think, Kid, Think! to read the competing poems and cast your vote:

Incontinent vs. Kerfuffle is here.

Confabulation vs. Defenestrate is here.

~~~~~~~~~~

*The poets have been charged with using the following words in their compositions: incontinent, kerfuffle, confabulation and defenestrate. I may be easily excited, but I'm thrilled by any contest that throws out the word defenestrate.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Poetry Friday: April is National Poetry Month

Poets.org explains:
Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets throughout the United States band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.
Offerings and plans at Poets.org:

30 Ways to Celebrate

Subscribe to receive a poem a day in your Inbox

Poem in Your Pocket on April 24th

Poet to Poet Project for grades 3-12

Poetry Landmarks

For Educators

National Poetry Month FAQ

Do you have any plans for National Poetry Month?

~~~~~~~~~~

Plans
by
Stuart Dischell

She plans to be a writer one day and live in the City of Paris,
Where she will describe the sun as it rises over Buttes-Chaumont.
"Today the dawn began in small pieces, sharp wedges of light
Broke through the clouds." She plans to write better than this...

(Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing here, at The Writer's Almanac.)

~~~~~~~~~~

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Amy Ludwig VanderWater at The Poem Farm.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Lent: What's Working and What Isn't

What's Working:

With the girls:

Over breakfast, I read reflections, quotes, and prayers from Bringing Lent Home with St. Therese of Lisieux: Prayers, Reflections, and Activities for Families to Betsy and Ramona. This lovely book (part of a series by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle) has also led us to more extended discussions about St. Therese, her Story of a Soul, and the sharing of insights I gained from a recent reading of Patrick Ahern's Three Gifts of St. Therese

I am also (again) using Sarah Reinhard's Welcome Risen Jesus: Lent and Easter Reflections for Families as part of our breakfast reading. The book's cover might lead you to think this one is for very young children, but (while it works on that level) it also works for entire families. Sharing the quick readings from this little book is a great way to bring Scripture into our morning.

I'm enjoying sharing these books daily with Betsy and Ramona, and then including the weekend readings at a family dinner on Sunday -- a nice way to bring Atticus and Anne into what we're doing.

I'm having Betsy read Mark Shea's By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition and for our holy hour, she often turns to Youcat: Youth Prayer Book, which she is liking a lot.

We are also keeping up with Operation Rice Bowl, trying recipes, and making donations based on their calendar, stories, and ideas.

For me: My Lenten Reading 

Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe: So far, this is ranking with one of my favorite spiritual classics, Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade, which I return to again and again. Both books put forth a very simple truth: God is all.

For Atticus and me: fasting from foods: 

Giving up meat is surprisingly easy. Not surprisingly, I guess, when one considers that we didn't eat much red meat anyway but we do eat a lot of chicken. That's been quite easy to cut out or work around. My daughters are carnivores, though, and they still want hunks of flesh on the table, so I sometimes have to make different versions of our meals, or just add meat on the side of a dish for them to dig into.

But because it has felt so easy for us, Atticus and I decided to add another penance, so this falls more under the "tweaking" category than the "not working" category.

What Isn't Working: 

This is more of a sad realization, one I've known for the last couple of years, but hate to admit:

It's time for me to admit that Ramona isn't little anymore. Oh, sure, she insisted that we make the Lamb of God calendar again this year, the lamb that I've been making for, oh, a million years. (And I was really happy that she insisted.) She said it wouldn't be Lent without it. And sure, she insisted that it also wouldn't be Lent without the sacrifice jar, so we've got one of those out, too. But in the reality of day-to-day, those are activities that appeal to the very young child, the one who needs to see the days ticked off, and watch the pile of beans that will become sweet candy growing. Ramona (and the rest of us) forget about the calendar and the sacrifice jar.

And so the lamb, the jar of beans ... they are visible signs to me, Lenten signs, that everything changes and things fall away. Lent is a time in which I always realize (for the millionths time) that we  keep trudging on through life trying to hold on to the best of what we've found, and God keeps wrenching things away from us, teaching us -- through little things like cotton ball lambs and kidney beans -- how to let go, and how to love Him more.

So, really, I guess this stuff that's outwardly "no longer working" this Lent is working. Message received.

But we'll always make our Lamb of God calendar. It just wouldn't be Lent without it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Deathbed Conversions is a Kindle MatchBook


What's a Kindle MatchBook?

Funny you should ask. I asked, too, because that is the kind of Amazonly-curious person I am.

Here's the short answer:

If you buy (or have already bought) Deathbed Conversions in print format, you can now also purchase the Kindle version for only $2.99.

A marketing savvy person would not say the following:

"What's the point of that? Why would I want it on Kindle if I already ordered the print version? Are you crazy, Amazon?"

Well, clearly, Amazon is not crazy and they are far more marketing-savvy than I am, so there must be a point.

Here are a few that occurred to me:

1. You bought the print version of Deathbed Conversions and you want to share it with a friend. But you know your dear friend never returns books, so you quietly (you would never hurt her feelings by coming right out and saying, "Now, you are going to return this, right?") buy the Kindle version for $2.99, just in case your friend continues to follow the pattern she's always followed and never gives you your book back. You really love your friend, and after all, it's only $2.99.*

2. You bought the print version, but then you felt the need to declutter your home and your book collection, because, let's face it, you have a lot of books. But you still might want to reread Deathbed Conversions someday because, wow, that Oscar Wilde story is amazing, and who knew about Kenneth Clark? And you'd like to look up that little bit about Roald Dahl again. So you buy the book on Kindle for $2.99, and give the print version to your friend, the one who never returns books, as a gift. Now you don't have to resent her. You really do love her. You're going to buy her a coffee tomorrow.

3. You aren't sure you even want to read Deathbed Conversions, so you haven't paid much attention to it. But your aunt in Tacoma wants to read it, so, you buy the print version on Amazon, have it shipped directly to her, and then order the Kindle version for yourself for only $2.99. Your aunt is so sweet, and she loved True Grit and she thought Gary Cooper was the dreamiest thing to ever light up a darkened screen, and she's going to love that book. Maybe you'll even read it someday. It's on your Kindle now, after all.

4. You are going to leave the print version of Deathbed Conversions on your overstuffed bookshelves (you love them that way) and also buy the book on Kindle because your Kindle fits in your purse (if it doesn't, you need a bigger bag) and you're more likely to read this book if you can pull out your Kindle while you're in the dentist's waiting room.

5. Your daughters are always walking off with your books but you always know where your Kindle is. (Unless Ramona is using it to play Stack the States. Do you have a Ramona doing that at your house, too?)

*Note to all of my friends: You are not this friend. I'm pretty sure I am this friend.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Bits and Pieces of Our Days

Conversation overheard between Anne-with-an-e (who works as a lab assistant at school) and Betsy (who lets her sister wear her clothes):

Betsy: You got what kind of bacteria on my Ravenclaw shirt?!

Anne: It's nothing deadly....

Betsy: Mom, she wore my Ravenclaw shirt to the lab.

Anne: ... and it's not a stain or anything. It might not have even landed on the shirt. I just saw a drop go flying....


**********

Reading with Ramona:

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies, for one of her book clubs. We enjoyed it BUT we want the world to know that the book has a BIG Charlotte's Web spoiler. If you have a child who hasn't read the marvelous-wonderful-splendid Charlotte's Web, don't let them read this book. Ramona and I have spoken.

The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry -- in progess. We've just begun, so can't say much yet.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo -- also in progress.  This one is depressing Ramona. She calls it part of "the Island of the Blue Dolphins vicious cycle syndrome -- I want to find out what happens and it's an engaging story, but it depresses me to read it." Betsy has assured her it has a happy ending -- "ending" being the operative word.

Reading on her own: anything and everything Andrew Clements. His Frindle may be one of my favorite books of all time. The one she's reading now -- The School Story -- inspired her to suggest that she and I write a novel together.

***********

Overheard:

Atticus: What do you think of that play?

Anne-with-an-e (who is reading Richard III): Well, basically Richard is trying to kill everyone so that he can be king. And he's doing it sneakily.

Atticus: That pretty much sums it up.

**********

Prom?! 

I am going to prom with Atticus. (Ah, the extracurricular duties of teachers.)

Last year I didn't go with him because I had to be out of town.

"Hey, this year," he said, "I'll have a date. I won't have to bring a Graham Greene book."

"You didn't read during the prom last year," I said. "You had to talk to people."

"Well, I didn't get to use it, but I had the book in my jacket pocket."

Anne-with-an-e looked at us with a frown on her face. "Had to talk to people? What is wrong with this family?"

Oh, plenty, my dear. We've just scratched the surface.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Nine Worries About Unschoolish Ways That I Shouldn't Have Worried About

Now that I have a daughter in college and a high school senior who has taken classes,  I've seen some of the fruits of our relaxed homeschooling. I look back and recall the worries I had over the years, the ways in which I questioned myself, and wondered if what I was doing would work out.

So, here are some of the questions I used to panic wonder about, and the answers I've observed:

1. Will they ever learn how to adhere to an outside schedule if I don't impose a rigid schedule on them while they're growing up? 

Yes, they will. They will learn this: that you do what you need to do when you need to do it. Doing it sooner than you have to do it doesn't teach you to do it any more efficiently.

2. Will they ever learn how to get up early and get out the door to a class/a job, if I let them sleep in through all their school years? 

Yes, they will. They will learn that it is not "years of getting up early" that teaches you how to get up early. It is "an alarm clock" that teaches you how to get up early. Whenever you have to get up early, all you need do is set an alarm clock. No training necessary.

3. Will they ever learn how to read/learn from textbooks if I use real and living books for their home education? 

Yes. They will sometimes find them boring, but they will know how to read, comprehend, and use these schoolish tools. They may not like them as much as the vibrant books they grew up with, but they will be fully capable of using them.

On the other hand, they will sometimes love their textbooks. Anne-with-an-e loved her World Geography and Microbiology classes and textbooks so much that she was thrilled to be hired as a tutor in both subjects.

4. If I allow them to pursue their own interests in their formative years, will they ever learn the self-discipline necessary to succeed in college classes? Will they know how to meet deadlines and finish assignments? 

Yes, because they understand basic concepts such as time management, goal setting, and doing what is necessary to achieve a desired result.

5. Will they learn how to take a test? 

Yes. (See #1 ... i.e., they will do what they need to do when they need to do it.) And you will learn that, with very little formal curriculum, their ACT scores and college grades will show exactly what you always suspected: they excel precisely where you thought they'd excel, and they are weak precisely where you thought they were weak. Your suspicions (that you know your children very well) will prove to be true.

6. Will they know how to act in a classroom? 

Yes. They will understand the difference between sprawling on the couch at home and sitting at a desk in school. My daughters have never confused the two locations.

7. Will they learn how to tackle unpleasant assignments? 

Oh, yes. Family life is excellent preparation for general ed classes.

8. Will they resent me for hiding the truth from them -- that learning can sometimes be dull? 

No. They are thankful for years of a lively education, for all those days that we ate popcorn for lunch, read Little Women and Little HouseHarry Potter, and The Secret Garden together, discussed The Hunger Games at two in the morning, learned about history, science, and literature from life and marvelous books and experiments in the kitchen and discussions over dinner and museums and walks at the lake. They will look up from a history paper they are writing, and sigh, and say, "I'm so grateful to Samantha. I learned a lot about the progressive era from her."

9. Will I ruin them? 

We all run that risk, whether our kids are in school, out of school, homeschooled with curriculum, or homeschooled without it.

But my guess -- if you love your kids more than your own life -- is that the answer to that question is, "No. A thousand times no."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"The Humerus Is At the End of the Table."


Anne-with-an-e is taking an anatomy class.

"Mom," she said, "this class has given me the opportunity to say things to my classmates that I never thought I'd have to say."

"Like what?" I asked.

The following are actual (or very close facsimiles of) things she said today:

"I'll go get us some femurs."

"Oh, look. A pile of knee caps."

"Could you pass me a rib?"

"Here's a leg, in case you need one."

"I have two right clavicles here. Where's a left one?"

"Can I borrow this tibia?"

In contrast, the most interesting thing I said today was, "I'd better change my shirt before dinner. I just know I'm going to dribble pizza sauce on myself."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

It's My Super Power

Ramona: "Mom? Where's my Frozen book? I need your Mom Find-y Powers."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

It's the Third Sunday of Lent: Do You Know Where Your Penance Is?

Time for a little self-assessment.

We're almost halfway through Lent. How's it going? Am I holding up my end of the sacrifice bargain?

Of course, the sacrifice thing isn't really a bargaining situation. It's not as if I say, "Okay, God, I'm going to give up my favorite stuff and in return You'll give me eternal salvation. Sound like a deal? Okay...Go!"

Yeah, the eternal salvation thing doesn't really work like that.

But I do go into Lent feeling both a responsibility and a hunger to:

  • Listen to the wake-up call. (There's always a wake-up call.)
  • Be strengthened in the ability to resist temptations in small things (bacon's good for that) so as to grow in the ability to resist in the large things. 
  • Grow closer to Christ. (Because that's what it's all about for me.

So, about halfway into the desert, I like to check up on myself and my progress (or lack thereof) in those areas.

Am I grumbling, like the people in today's Mass reading:
In those days, in their thirst for water,
the people grumbled against Moses,
saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst
with our children and our livestock?”
Wow, God's people sure know how to pitch a good fit.

Sometimes I know how to pitch a good fit, too. I've had Lenten seasons wherein I can not stop grumbling to God, "Why did You let me choose this sacrifice? Was it just to have me die here in the midwest in abject shame and misery?"

At those times, I'm sure God wants to respond to me in the same way Moses did:
“What shall I do with this people?" 
Scripture doesn't record it, but I'm pretty sure there was an interrobang at the end of that question. "Really, Lord?!"

Poor Moses. He had an ungrateful lot to deal with. I know how it feels to be part of the ungrateful lot.

But this is not one of those grumbling years for me. This is one of those years when some sacrifices almost seem to be coming too easily. One of the things Atticus and I gave up this year was meat (except on some Sundays.) And it hasn't been that hard, really. I'm a pretty big vegetable devotee as it is, and this hasn't been that big a stretch. So I'm feeling a tug to tighten the sacrifice belt, so to speak.

It's all good.

I love and hate Lent, because it's beautiful and hard.

I'm reading Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe, and I'll close with a quote from St. Faustina that he includes in the book:

Love is a mystery that transforms everything it touches 
into beautiful things that are pleasing to God. 
The love of God sets the soul free. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Where Writers Write

I titled this post "Where Writers Write," thinking that in addition to sharing an encouraging article (that I sent to my teen writers' group this morning) from Writer's Digest -- 5 Writing Lessons Inspired by Famous Writers (which talks about Mark Twain's cabin, Walden Pond, Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, and Jack London’s ranch) -- I would tack on a couple more interesting/favorite writers' havens, such as E.B. White's writing space:


But then I decided to Google the phrase "Where Writers Write" and found all sorts of intriguing stuff:

This Pinterest page

"The Importance of Place: Where Writers Write and Why" from Poets & Writers Magazine

"A Writer's Room" from The New York Times 

"The Daily Routine of Famous Writers" at Brain Pickings

Maybe the best: Photos of Writers and Their Typewriters (I'm swooning.)

Something I can relate to a little better: couches, spare bedrooms, stolen corners: The Millions: "Where We Write."

"13 Quirky Workplaces of Famous Writers"

A Tumblr page

A Pinterest page full of dreams

"Learn From the Greats: 7 Writing Habits of Amazing Writers"

Have fun!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ramona Does Crafts! (So I Don't Have To!)

Ramona is hooked on the tutorials at My Froggy Stuff. Their ideas are all for homemade doll furniture and accessories and the My Froggy Stuff YouTube channel has tons of videos about how to make everything from gumball machines to bathtubs to sugar cookies. 

Here's some tiny doll food: 

Ramona used printables from their blog for these, and filled the takeout boxes with thread, string, and beads.

I took this picture of the tiny chocolate chip cookies (made from toilet paper dough -- I'm not kidding) and then I realized that these photos cried out for a little perspective. 

The chocolate chips are craft foam. 

So we called a chocolate-chip-cookie-loving doll in to provide the perspective: 


Here's her sushi, too: 

Pony beads! Craft foam stuffed inside! Remember when I didn't know what pony beads were?! 

Her assorted perfume and lotion bottles: 

Beads and hot glue. There was also a time I did not own a glue gun, nor could I even have conceived of such a thing. 

A cake: 

Styrofoam, I think 

Rock candy: 

Beads again. And toothpicks. 

A cd player, cds, a clipboard and colored pencils: 

CD player is a  shampoo bottle lid. Pencils made from toothpicks. 

Cotton Candy: 



And, because Ramona doesn't want to leave Rebecca out of the fun, here are some accessories (and munchies) for an 18-inch doll. 

A brownie made from a painted sponge: 



A flashlight (made from the inside of an old glue stick), some milk and a cupcake: 

Cupcake is a bottle lid, string, a bead. The milk is lactose free. 

A camera (made from stacked cardboard with a picture of a camera glued on top) and a camera case made out of a dental floss container: 

This is probably my favorite because Ramona made this one up herself.

No catalog, no exorbitant prices, just creativity and fun. 

Oh, there is one drawback -- just when I am in full declutter mode around here, I find myself calling out frightening things to Ramona like, "Do you want me to save the lid from this juice bottle?" or, "Should we keep this plastic packaging?" 

Scary, but it makes my daughter ridiculously happy.