Read Aloud Thursday

read-aloud-1-300x300 Amy is back with Read Aloud Thursday! It’s a great place to get recommendations for books to read with your kids. She has a fantastic recommendation today for a math picture book that I’m going to add to our list.

We read less and less picture books together as a family. This makes me sad sometimes, but it’s also because my kids are reading more and more on their own. So it’s more bittersweet than bitter. This month I got all the Cybils fiction picture book nominees out of the library and read them with various combinations of kids. (Mostly with the 7 and 10 year old. But my 13 year old still always reads all the picture books in the basket on his own even if he’s not around when we read them together.)

My favorite of the nominees was Brendan Wenzel’s They all Saw a Cat. A cat travels 28101612through the world “with its whiskers, ears and paws….” and encounters a dog, a child, a bird, a bee, a fox, a mouse, a snake, a fish, a flea, a skunk, a worm and a bat. Each page shows how the different creature sees the cat. We see differences in perspective (a bird’s eye view) and differences in how animals see (the snake sees in heat waves) and differences in perception (the mouse sees the cat as a huge scary beast). The text is simple and repetitive but the illustrations elicited a lot of good conversation from my kids about the way each creature “saw”. Bonus points because the repetitive refrain reminded me of one of my favorite poems by Pablo Neruda.

Honorable mentions for me would go to:
A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins
There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev

Cummins’s book is funny and unexpected. And vaguely disturbing (comment by my 10 year old vegetarian son). Collins’s Bear and Mouse reminded me of the Bear and Mouse in Bonny Becker’s fantastic series of books except that in this case it’s the Mouse that is the curmudgeon of sorts. And Mantchev’s book about a boy with a tiny elephant pet who is left out of the neighborhood pet club is sweet and funny.

Our current family read-aloud is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s been fun to read these out loud. The boys have read them on their own but this is the first time through for Ruth and we are enjoying sharing the world of Harry with her. We also listened to Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as our most recent audiobook. We have multiple audiobooks on hold as our next potential listen but I’m not sure what to do next as our next read aloud. Any suggestions?

And don’t forget to stop by Hope is the Word for more reading aloud!


Thoughts on Religion and Politics

Michael Gerson’s editorials in the Washington Post have become must reads for me as a Christian who finds herself deeply troubled by our new President and by the embracing of his policies by so many of my fellow Christians. I find Gerson offers salt and light.

From today’s editorial:

Third, conservative Christians need to remember that — throughout the cautionary tale of Western history — when religion identifies with a political order, it is generally not the political order that suffers most. It is the reputation of the faith.

For the full article go here.

Cracking the Cabbage Code

I have always been a cabbage hater. Also not that fond of cauliflower or broccoli. Especially broccoli. I didn’t like Brussel sprouts until about a year or two ago and then had my world turned upside down when I tried a recipe of them roasted with a little maple syrup and orange juice. Still, cabbage. Blech. I never choose cole slaw as a side and stay away from anything remotely cabbage like.

Recently, though that has all changed. First, I tried this Warm Brussel Sprout and Pear salad from Budget Bytes. Oh, my! So delicious. Soon after that H. made a kale and cabbage slaw for Christmas. Equally delicious. (Kale was another vegetable that I felt was completely overrated.) H. remarked after the kale slaw was a hit that he felt like we had “cracked the code” on how to make really yummy slaw like salads. And since then we’ve made a bunch of slight variations on the same dish and they have all been hits.

Basically the recipe is:
Some kind of hearty shredded veggie (kale, cabbage, Brussel sprouts)
Some other veggies (red peppers, carrots, snap peas, broccoli)
Something sweet (pears, currents, figs, dates, raisins, dried cranberries)
Something crunchy/salty (cashews, peanuts, walnuts)
Some kind of dressing (make your own or bottled)

You could get fancy and add feta or olives or bacon or shredded chicken or whatever. All of these variations are incredibly easy and quick to make and mostly cheap. My kids also love them and eat them which is a revelation.

And now that I’ve had a ton of leftover cabbage from all our salads I’ve been trying other recipes and enjoying them also. I made this Beef and Cabbage Stirfry and Okonomiyaki (Savory Cabbage Pancakes) in the last week. Both were gobbled up by the kids and me (I made the stir-fry without beef and then added it in after the vegetarian in the family took his share.)

Alert readers will notice that all the recipes linked are from Budget Bytes. I’m not sure my family would ever have anything to eat other than cereal and scrambled eggs if it wasn’t for that website. I like that the recipes make an attempt to be frugal but more importantly I like that they are always tasty. And perhaps even more than that I appreciate that they are realistic. The ingredients are ones I have (or can easily substitute). The directions don’t involve a cooking degree or hours in the kitchen. If she says a recipe will take 40 min, it takes 40 min. If you aren’t using Beth to help you plan your meals, you should be!

A New Year’s Resolution

I love new beginnings: a new school year or semester, a new blank journal, a new  year. I say that I don’t like to make New Year resolutions but the truth is I often have some secret resolutions or plans. I might not label them as such but I know what they are. I think I like new beginnings because I like planning. I like lists and organizing and making a plan. But I’m not as good at the execution as I am at the making of the plan.

So far the plans swirling around in my head are the usual: walk more, exercise more, eat better, read more, write more. But the one thing that I think might actually have the most impact is the one thing I am least excited to do.

At church on New Year’s Day we had a guest pastor who preached from Ephesians on prayer. During the sermon he talked about praying for our enemies. Not just praying “Lord, make that person less rude.” Or even, “Lord help me to love that person better.” But to actually pray for them. For their salvation, for prosperity and peace in their lives, for health and happiness.

Something about that idea struck me like a blow. I was also convicted to think about who my “enemies” are. I think the word enemy sounds so harsh to modern ears. I don’t want to call anyone my enemy. I might say in my mind that I find someone difficult or I might just think that we aren’t meant to get along with everyone but surely those aren’t enemies, right?

Maybe it’s just words but I think by refusing to admit to myself that I do see certain people as opposed to my happiness and really as enemies than I am also refusing to admit that these are the very people in my life that I am called to pray for. So I somewhat reluctantly made a resolution to pray for my enemies.

So far I have to admit that it’s been crazy hard. It’s amazing how resistant I am to praying for good things for the people in my life that I find the most difficult. I keep finding myself reverting to sneaky ways of asking God to change the person to make them less annoying to me. And then I sort of get dragged back to what I am supposed to be praying for.

I don’t know what God is going to do with this resolution and I have to say that even though I think it will be good I kind of dread it. Even more than exercising more.




Hillbilly Elegy

271611561 I first heard about J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis early last summer from the assistant pastor at our church. I heard about it over the course of the summer and the fall by friends in real life and online. And then pre and post-election I heard it mentioned over and over again in the media, mostly as a way to “understand why Trump won”. So when someone at my book club offered it up as a suggestion for our next selection I was glad to finally move it from my TBR pile to my read pile.

I’m still processing what I think about the book, and the book club meeting tomorrow night will probably help with that. Overall, I highly recommend it.

It’s really two books. The first is the memoir of Vance’s family. On its own, as a memoir only, the book is fascinating. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio as the grandchild of two self-proclaimed hillbillies from Kentucky. His childhood and adolescence were marked by domestic violence, a mother who struggled with addiction and a string of revolving stepfathers and boyfriends of his mom’s who were in and out of his life. However, he also writes about the fierce loyalty of his kin and the grandparents (Mamaw and Papaw) that essentially raised him and his sister. He eventually broke the cycle of poverty by joining the Marine Corps, followed by college at Ohio State University and then finally by Yale Law School.

The second part of the book is the “memoir of culture in crisis” and is the part that has been lauded by conservatives and liberals alike as providing an understanding of the white working class. This part of the book is also the part that has been criticized by conservatives and liberals alike. Depending on your political leanings you might either feel that Vance is blaming the poor for their own problems or that he is suggesting too much government intervention in society.

The more I think about the book I think that the genius of it (and also the weakness in it) is that it reflects the messiness of life: both in the personal and in culture. When Vance tell his own story he very openly attributes his success to the people he had in his life that were willing to fight for him: his Mamaw, Marine instructors, his sister, and even Amy Chua (yes, that Amy Chua). However, it also is obvious to any reader that not every kid in Appalachia who has a strong grandmother and loyal sister will end up at Yale Law School. It’s a mistake to read a memoir and try to apply the lessons directly to someone else. We all owe our success (or lack thereof) to a mix of innate talent, personality,  grit, the family that we are part of, location, luck, friends, mentors, timing.

Similarly, the problems of any particular culture are messy. Vance  portrays this with sympathy and honesty. He talks about friends from high school who choose not to work because they don’t want to get up early. He talks about how addiction can be both a disease but also how the addict has some personal responsibility for their choices. His arguments don’t easily fit into a political box, because the problems don’t fit neatly into the box. It’s a book that makes you think and that is definitely worth a read.

For further reading:
Some critical reviews:
 J. D. Vance, the False Prophet of Blue America by Sarah Jones in The New Republic 
Review in the Guardian by Hari Kunzru

And some positive ones:
The Lives of Poor White People by Joshua Rathman in the New Yorker
Janet at Across the Page

Interviews with Mr. Vance:
in the American Conservative with Rod Dreher
on with Henry J. Gomez


Scenes from a Wetlands Walk





Seen: Two Great Blue Herons, Five or Six different kinds of turtles and too numerous to count Canada Geese. We also think we saw some Red Headed Woodpeckers but they were high in the trees and we didn’t really see the distinctive heads very well. We wouldn’t have even known to look but a very nice birder on the trail stopped us to point out the distinctive sound and to tell us that they had been spotted.

We’re still technically on break and not “doing” school until next week. However, on our walk in addition to looking at the birds we discussed prime numbers, Charles Lee and the duel in Hamilton, the nature of heaven (with Ruth after she asked me what I thought I would do the first time I saw God) and hibernation. There was also a lot of Narnia and Harry Potter discussion due to our recent and current read-alouds. When I got home this morning the boys were replicating Galileo’s famous gravity experiments by dropping objects off the stairs to see which landed first. This was because David had been reading about gravity in his Science Encyclopedia. Over break we’ve also had spontaneous discussions about iambic pentameter (thank you Incorrigible Children), mythology and even grammar.

I have no way of knowing if other families find themselves discussing math and grammar and gravity over breakfast. It seems normal to us. I suspect that homeschooling makes this more common because we are used to school and life all being one rather than in separate spheres. It’s one of the many advantages to learning as a family.


Cybils Finalists

cybils-logo-2016-round-lgThe Cybils finalists were announced on Jan 1st. I used to follow this annual award contest more closely. For several years I made an attempt to read as many of the fiction and non-fiction picture books as I could and I served as a non-fiction judge one year. Judging was super fun and I would love to do it again but I’m not sure I blog enough to qualify.

Even if we’re not reading as many picture books as we used to and I’m not blogging much about the chapter books we read, I still look forward to the finalists each year. The Cybils is unique among book awards in that the books are selected based on literary merit AND kid-appeal. I pretty much can always find excellent book choices for all three of my readers from the winners and finalists.

This year I’m especially excited about the new audiobooks category. We listen to a LOT of audiobooks (which probably is mostly a reflection of spending too much time in the car). I’m going to look for Out of Abaton and The Inquistor’s Tale: Or the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog in our library. Both look excellent. I think my fantasy loving 13 yr old will love Illuminae and it’s hard for me to find anything he hasn’t already read so I’m excited to give him something new to try.  I also put pretty much all the fiction picture books, non-fiction elementary books, and middle-grade graphic novels on hold. It’s like Christmas in January! If you have kids, check out the Cybils website and the lists of finalists (this year and past years). I guarantee that you will find something good.

Happy New Year!

dscn0037dscn0047Our annual tradition for the past 16 years has been a New Year Day walk with friends. This was the 14th walk (we had to cancel twice for bad weather). People have come and gone over the years, although the one family we began with all those years ago has been there with us every year. Back in 2002 when we began they had two kids and we had none. Now they have seven with the oldest in college and we have a teenager.

When we began the tradition we though of it as being a way to start the New Year off on the right foot (pun intended). I think we were thinking about the physical activity and exercise and the idea of how many resolutions revolve around being active. Over the years it’s evolved, like our families and lives. The walk is shorter to accomodate little kids and strollers. We usually do lunch afterward. This year it was before due to church in the morning. I still think it’s a fabulous way to begin a New Year but I think that what has really been the important part is the friends and fellowship. The walking is secondary.

2016 Read-Alouds

This year has been a year of change in the way we read-aloud. We are still reading but it’s gotten harder to be consistent with bedtime reads as the kids have gotten older and have more evening activities. For years, I have juggled more than one book at bedtime. Usually that meant one book for the youngest and one book for the two older boys. We also typically had a separate read-aloud going at lunchtime.

At some point this year we transitioned to only having one book to read at night. Overall, I think this has been a good thing. When we all read the same books together as a family it brings us together. We end up knowing the same jokes and get the same references. We can talk about the characters and muse about what will happen next. There aren’t a lot of things that a 13 year old boy and a 7 year old girl have in common. John and Ruth love each other (most of the time) but the fact is that a six year age gap means that there aren’t a lot of shared interests. Except for books.

I asked all three kids separately what their favorite books from the list were. Ruth said “The Doll People, Harry Potter and Narnia.” David said “The Doll People, Harry Potter and Narnia.” John said “A Pocketful of Murder, Harry Potter and Narnia”. For audiobooks they all three named the Gregor the Overlander series and the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Places series (for which we are anxiously awaiting the next one on hold at our library). The fact that they all had the same favorites reflects that books are really central to our family culture.

I may go back to reading some thing separately next year. There are books that I want to share with Ruth that I think the boys will be less interested in. There are books that I want to share with Ruth and David that John has already read. But it’s nice to have reached the sweet spot where there are plenty of books that all three kids can truly enjoy.

Read Alouds:
The South Pole Pig by Chris Kurt
The Mystery at Meerkat Hill by Alexander McCall Smith
Pocahantas by Joseph Bruhac
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
Mossflower by Brian Jacques
A Pocketful of Murder by R. J. Anderson
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis
Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis
The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis
The Tolkien Letters by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Doll People by Ann M. Martin
The Meanest Doll in the World by Ann M. Martin
The Runaway Dolls by Ann M. Martin

The Doll People Set Sail by Ann M. Martin
Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliot
The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright
The Four Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright
Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright

Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins
Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collins
Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins
Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood