Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Reading in Review


This year, as I have since 2012, I counted every book I read, including board books and picture books,  toward my Goodreads goal.  With this in mind, I set my goal at 365 books and my final total is 382. Goodreads claims this equals 67,911 pages, with an average book length of 177 pages.  This is the lowest number of books I have read in a year since 2010. 

I read the highest number of books (69) in August, largely because I did a month of American History read-alouds with the girls, and also because I just really enjoy summer reading. My second largest number of read books (45) was in March because I was sitting around waiting for the twins to be born and it was Middle Grade March so I was reading short books. My slowest months were September (18 books), when we started our new homeschool schedule, and November (17 books), when I did NaNoWriMo. 

Here is the breakdown of books by intended audience, accompanied by my annual pie chart:

42% Adult (159 books:  41 Nonfiction, 39 Mysteries of which 25 were cozies, 35 General fiction,  20 Romances, 18 Classics,  2 Humor, 2 Science Fiction, 1 Poetry, and 1 Historical fiction)
2% Young Adult  (9 books: 1 science fiction, 1 historical fiction, 1 romance, 5 realistic fiction, 1 biography)
21% Middle Grade (79 books: 12 historical fiction, 12 fantasy, 3 mystery, 19 realistic fiction, 27 nonfiction, 1 poetry, 1 classic)
2% Chapter Books (6 books: 5 nonfiction, 1 fiction)
2% Easy Readers (7 books: 5 nonfiction, 2 fiction)
27% Picture Books (103 books)
4% Board Books (17 books)

And for fun, here is another pie chart of just my adult books broken down by genre. 


At the beginning of 2020, before anyone knew what kind of year this was going to turn out to be, I set several reading goals for myself. Many of these did not end up coming to fruition, but I think it's still worth looking at them before the new year begins.

My first goal was to read 365 books for the Goodreads challenge. This was a good target number for this year. I kept pace with it for most of the year and ended up surpassing it by a reasonable number of books rather than dozens or hundreds. 

Goal number two was to post something on Goodreads for every book read. As in 2019, I kept up with this really well in the first half of the year and dropped the ball entirely by the end of the year. The problem is that it's not enough to set a goal if I don't have the time to actually write the reviews. I'm working on some goals for 2021 that will build the time to do this into my reading life.

My third goal was to take one day off from reading per week. As soon as we were ordered to stay home, I decided not to pursue this goal. All the days were the same, and reading was one of the only sources of entertainment available.  I do like the intention behind this goal, though: making time for things besides reading. I'm going to work on that in 2021.

Next on the list was to read one book per format at a time. Again, as soon as we were ordered to stay home, I threw caution to the wind and decided to read whatever I felt like reading in whatever format I could get my hands on. If I'd had access to the public library maybe this would have gone differently.

Goal number five was to blog more. This didn't happen in the way I was imagining it, but I did start blogging for Catholic Mom and I also posted weekly homeschool updates so there was some progress.

My next goal was to read 6 vintage middle grade novels from our shelves. I said in my goals post that I really wanted to read 12 or 24 but that with the twins coming I wanted to be gentle on myself. In the end I read 27 of these, so I not only exceeded the goal, but I also exceeded the reach goal I had in mind. 

I also wanted to read 6 adult books that are at least 20 years old. (Not counting classics.) In January, I called this the goal I was most likely to abandon, but it ended up being the one I enjoyed the most. I read 16 of these, and ended up buying a bunch more pre-2000 titles to read in 2021 and beyond.

The last two goals were more like rules: no monthly TBRs and no open-ended read-a-thons. I stuck to both of these and instead focused on end-of-month wrap-ups and read-a-thons with specific time or page number goals.


My challenges were kind of a mess for most of the year, and I think that was largely because there were just too many of them. Here's how I ended up doing with them. (The list of prompts for each one can be found here.)

  •  A Year of Flannery O'Connor
    I meant for this to be a personal challenge like my Year of Harry Potter, but somehow it became really popular and the next thing I knew I was hosting it as an Instagram read-along and I felt like I needed to be posting questions and interesting trivia, and I no longer wanted to read the stories. I like the idea of being the host of a read-a-thon or a challenge, but discussions? No thank you, and never again.
  • 2020 Classics
    I finished this challenge pretty early on in the year and sort of stopped counting after that. I really appreciate the way it has gotten me to feel more confident reading classics.
  • The Unread Shelf Project
    Being stuck at home with stacks of books really set me up for success with this challenge. I read 67 of my unread books and unhauled a bunch of others from my shelves. It was my most successful challenge of the year.
  • The Modern Mrs Darcy Challenge
    With the number of books I read, it didn't end up being much of a challenge to find a title for every category on the list. I'm more excited for the 2021 challenge, which takes a "choose your own adventure"  approach to the reading life.
  • ScholĂ© Sisters 2020 5x5 Challenge
    Clearly, this was meant for paid members of the Scholé Sisters group, and I was probably kind of an imposter to be doing it without being part of that organization. Still, I liked the idea and I did read at least a few titles in each of my chosen categories.
  • Catholic Reading Challenge: A Year of Short Stories
    I abandoned this one instantly and never looked back. Flannery was enough to keep up with. 
  • Craving for Cozies
    I read exactly 25 cozies, and I don't think I'm doing this challenge anymore after this. I think the number of cozies I genuinely want to read in a year is closer to 10. 
  • Cathlit 2020
    This was a later addition to my challenge list after I made my initial post, and the categories were not all that appealing. I only read 6 books that counted for this one.

 Check back tomorrow, New Year's Day, for my top 25 books of the year! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 12/14/20

Advent Activities

We added Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Daniel, Queen Ester, Jonah, and Nehemiah to the Jesse tree and watched  Brother Francis: Days of Advent on each morning. We also began to pray the O Antiphons using this booklet by Jennifer Gregory Miller, and continued our Litany from last week.  

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Dragon Smoke" by Lilian Moore, "The Rain Has Silver Sandals" by May Justus, "All Day Saturday" by Charles Causley, "If I Could Only Take Home a Snowflake" by John Agard, "Snowflakes" by Clive Sansom
  • Art appreciation: The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "What makes corn pop?"; "What is dry ice?" 
  • Catechism: review of lessons 1 through 9 in The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism.  
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first five books of the Bible
  • Music appreciation: Handel's Messiah


M. watched David Macaulay's Cathedral, and then read the book. She also started reading Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago to Gran over Skype. In A Picturesque Tale of Progress, she read "The Heretics" and "St. Francis of Assisi and the Gray Friars." She also read Canticle of the Sun illustrated by Fiona French and David Macaulay's Mosque.

C. started working on a Sticker Histories book about the ice age. She also watched How Glaciers Change the WorldGiant Ice Age Animals, and Cave Art 101


C. worked on counting nickels and pennies in The Complete Book of Time and Money from American Education Publishing, and she completed Life of Fred: Butterflies Chapter 11. She also worked in third grade math on Khan Academy. 

M. worked on fractions in Singapore 3B, completed Life of Fred: Honey Chapter 6, and worked in fourth grade math on Khan Academy.  


We continued studying potential and kinetic energy with discussions about fossil fuels and generating electricity. I showed them Resources: Welcome to the Neighborhood from Crash Course Kids, How Electricity is Made and a demonstration of a hand crank generator.

Reading and Writing

C. started Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones, which she is reading aloud to me, and M. and I finished A Christmas Carol, which she immediately listened to again on audio. Then she moved on to The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill on her own. M. also worked on her story about Mr. Albatross. 


We took a snow day on Wednesday, and the girls watched the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular on YouTube.  They also practiced singing Christmas carols. 

Physical Education

The girls went out to play in the snow on Wednesday. 


In addition to coloring their Jesse tree ornaments every day, the girls also colored in Christmas coloring books and made pictures with Christmas stamps and stickers. On Friday, they decorated felt Christmas trees and gingerbread men with felt pieces. They also made a birthday card for Gran. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 12/7/20

Advent Activities

During the second week of Advent, we continued doing the Advent prayer service I mentioned last week. We read from our Catholic Sprouts Jesse Tree book added more ornaments to the Jesse tree: Moses, Passover, Ten Commandments, Joshua, Gideon, Ruth, David, and Elijah. 

On Saturday, we read The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie dePaola for the feast day. On Sunday, M. sang Santa Lucia and served cinnamon buns to the family for St. Lucy day. 

Morning Time

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Winter Trees" by Zoltan Zelk, "The Sea" by Lilith Norman, "The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Daughter of the Sea" by Philip Gross, "Kit's First Snow" by Linda Newbery, "Only Snow" by Allan Ahlberg"
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "What makes fluorescent lights work?"; "What is gasoline?"; "How does gasoline make an automobile work?"; "How does a jet engine work?"; "How does a submarine stay under water?"; "How is chewing gum made?" 
  • Singing practice: "Deck the Halls" sung from Take Joy! The Tasha Tudor Christmas Book (1966)
  • Art appreciation: The Oregon Trail by Albert Bierstadt from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets;  M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first five books of the Bible
  • Math flashcards: addition and subtraction for C., multiplication and division for M., numbers 1-10 for E.
  • Music appreciation: Handel's Messiah
  • Catechism: "The Marks of the Church" and "The Communion of Saints and the Forgiveness of Sins"  Lessons 12 and 13 from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism 



C continued reading in The Big Golden Book of Cavemen and Other Prehistoric People. She finished reading about Homo erectus and then started reading about the Neanderthals. We stopped just before the Ice Age because I have a Sticker Histories book for her to do next week. C. watched  TRILOGY OF LIFE - Walking with Beasts & Walking with Cavemen - "Neanderthal" on You Tube as well. 

M. continued reading Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago by Evaleen Stein, and started reading about towns in the middle ages in both A Picturesque Tale of Progress and Walter Dragun's Town by Sheila Sancha.  


C. took a break from Singapore math to do some practice with counting coins. I pulled some workbook pages from The Complete Book of Time and Money from American Education Publishing and created four mini-units: one counts just pennies, the next adds nickels, the next dimes, and the next quarters. She completed the pennies pages this week. C. also completed Life of Fred: Butterflies Chapter 10 and did some more work on Khan Academy.

M. worked on fractions in Singapore 3B, which is mostly review of work she has already done on Khan Academy. She also completed Life of Fred: Honey Chapter 5.  


Our science topic for this week and next is potential and kinetic energy. On the first day, we talked about pendulums and watched videos demonstrating how the pendulum works: Swinging Pendulum; How Does a Pendulum Work?; Swinging Ball of Death; Bowling Ball Pendulum. On the second day, we discussed how plants turn light into energy through photosynthesis, and we watched Vegetation Transformation from Crash Course Kids and read an excerpt from The First Book of Plants by Alice Dickinson. On our last science day of the week, I collected a bunch of YouTube videos on this topic and had the girls watch a playlist: 

Reading and Writing

C. listened to the audiobook of Caleb's Story and read along in the hardcover. M. finished the audiobook of Mossflower by Brian Jacques. She also listened to one of the Bunnicula books. With me, she read aloud the third stave of A Christmas Carol. M. also wrote final copies of a few thank you letters for birthday gifts as well as a letter to a bookseller friend of ours with whom she has become pen pals. C. didn't have any formal writing to do, but she did sit down and start writing a story one afternoon. 

I continued reading aloud Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas at lunch, and my husband continued reading the Golden edition of The Canterbury Tales at dinner.  

Instrumental Music 

M. is practicing Christmas carols on the recorder and on piano, her current piece is called "The Nightingale." On recorder, C. is playing "Lullaby," "When the Train Comes Along," and "On the Yangtze." On piano she is playing "Reluctant Sleepyhead" and "The Evening Bell." 

Other Activities

We had another masked playdate on the one unseasonably warm day of the week. The girls also created sticker scenes with some Christmas foam stickers, created drawings following tutorials on Art Kids Hub, and colored in Christmas coloring books. C. and E. watched the Sharon Lois and Bram Christmas special on YouTube.  On Sunday, we attended a virtual baby shower for my sister-in-law. 

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes (1960)

Two imaginative friends, Amy and Clarissa, love to draw together, and to make up stories about Old Witch whom Amy has "banquished" to the glass hill, never to come down again except on Halloween. To help Old Witch feel less lonely, the girls send both Little Witch Girl and baby Weeny Witch to keep her company. But when Amy and Clarissa meet Little Witch Girl face to face, the line between reality and fantasy becomes suddenly very blurred.

This was our Halloween read-aloud this year, and it was a huge hit with my oldest two daughters, M., age 7 and C., age 5. Like the characters in the story, they, too, like to make up stories together, and they seemed utterly fascinated by the idea of imagined characters coming into the real world.

For me, though I liked the concept of the story, reading it aloud was tedious. There is a character called Malachi, who is a "spelling bee" and he spells everything he says. I liked to adhere exactly to the text when I read aloud, and in the beginning, spelling Malachi's short sentences was no big deal. As his pieces of dialogue got longer, however,  it became too much. In the end, I let the audiobook take over for me for several chapters, and when I did read a section myself, I just read the words and let the kids assume they were spelled. 

This challenge aside, however, the story is really fun to read aloud. Old Witch's catchphrase, "Oh glory be!" is really fun to say in a witchy voice, and I also found myself really enjoying Amy's voice too. My kids enjoyed imitating the characters as well, and they got very into drawing their own pictures of Old Witch and the rest of the family. 

I was excited to learn that another Eleanor Estes book we own, The Curious Adventures of Jimmy McGee, is another story about Amy and Clarissa. I have it on my mental list of future books to read aloud, and we might even get to it this winter. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 11/30/20

Advent Activities

This was the first week of Advent, and we did our traditional activities. We printed out the Jesse Trees and ornaments that we purchased from Catholic Sprouts, but we took a few days to find the accompanying booklet, so we read from different sources for the first few ornaments.  On Sunday, we added the Root of Jesse, and I read from a book I found on Scribd. On Monday, we read Paradise by Fiona French to cover both the Creation and Adam and Eve. On Tuesday, we read about Cain and Abel from In Bible Days by Gertrude Hartmann). Wednesday's reading about Noah came from The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean, and then we read about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph in The Jesse Tree: God's Loving Plan to Save the World from Catholic Sprouts. We also read Benjamin and the Golden Goblet by Jacqueline Jules when we talked about Joseph. 

In addition to reading Scripture and adding ornaments to the tree, we're also doing a small prayer service every day. I took the Litany found here and made some adjustments, adding O Come O Come Emmanuel to the beginning, and the Christmas Anticipation Prayer and Alma Redemptoris Mater to the end.

On Saturday, we participated in The Virtual Visit of St. Nicholas at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. I am mostly trying to avoid virtual replacements for events we normally attend, because I think it's a bad idea to present virtual events as "normal" but they did a nice job adapting this to the format, and the girls enjoyed submitting a comment and hearing St. Nicholas respond to them in real time. 

On Saturday, night we left out the kids' shoes for St. Nicholas to fill. Sunday morning, they woke up to candy (Sixlets, Hershey's Kisses, and mini candy canes), Shining Light Dolls (St. Jude, St. Cecilia, St. Elizabeth of the Visitation, St. Dominic, and St. Clare) and books (for M. A Kitten Called Holly by Helen Peters, for C. Christmas is Joy by Emma Dodd, for E. Red Sled by Lita Judge, for R. Little Blue Truck's Christmas by Alice Schertle, for A. Christmas Cheer by Ingela P. Arrhenius). 

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Dormouse" by Lillian McCrea, "Snow" by Walter de la Mare, "Night Sounds" by Berlie Doherty, "Questioning Faces" by Robert Frost, "Red Sky at Night" by Anonymous, "The North Wind Doth Blow" (Extract)  by Anonymous
  • From New Picture Book of Saints: Saint Joseph Edition by Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D. (1979): St. Andrew, St. Francis Xavier , St. Barbara, 
  • Catechism: "The Catholic Church," and  "The Marks of the Church," Lessons 11 and 12 from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism 
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "Can groundhogs predict the weather?"; "Why does the kangaroo have a pouch?"; "Why does the giraffe have a long neck?"; "What is a magnet?"; "How does a seismograph record earthquakes?;" "What is penicillin?"; "How does a battery produce electricity?"; "How does an electric bulb give light?"
  • Singing practice: "Jingle Bells" by J.S. Pierpont, sung from Take Joy! The Tasha Tudor Christmas Book (1966)
  • Art appreciation: Lackawanna Valley by George Inness from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Music appreciation: "March" from The Nutcracker by P.I. Tchaikovsky 


M. read The Crusaders by Walter Buehr and started Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago by Evaleen Stein. 

C. continued to learn about hominids. She saw pictures of Australopithecus africanus and Australopithecus robustus in The Big Golden Book of Cavemen and Other Prehistoric People, and then we read about how scientists know all that they do about prehistoric people, and we started reading about Homo erectus. She also watched When We First Walked from PBS Eons. 

Table Time 

Activities this week included coloring in Christmas coloring books and a masked outdoor playdate with friends. 


M. and C. both did Khan Academy. M. completed Life of Fred: Honey Chapter 4, and C completed Life of Fred: Butterflies Chapter 9. C. started working with money in Singapore 1B, and we determined  that she needs more practice identifying coins and adding their values. M. did word problems in Singapore 3B.


In BFSU and EESE, we talked about directions and used a globe to show the direction of the Earth's rotation and to identify North, South, East, and West. We read Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton to demonstrate the need to turn a map in order to orient it for real-world use.  

Reading and Writing

C. listened and read along with the audiobook of Skylark by Patricia MacLachlan. M. and I read the second stave of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. M also wrote drafts of thank you letters for her birthday gifts. At lunchtime I read aloud from Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. My husband continued reading the Golden edition of The Canterbury Tales after dinner.


M. and C. practiced piano and recorder. M. had a couple of ukulele lessons. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 11/23/20

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Windy Nights" by Robert Louis Stevenson, "Lightships" by Clive Sansom, "Turkey Time" by Anonymous, "Thanksgiving" by Anonymous, "Big Swimming" by Edwin Ford Piper
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender:  "Why do moths eat wool?"; "Why do mosquito bites itch?"; "How did dinosaurs evolve?";  "What is a vampire bat?"; "How does a chameleon change its colors?"; "Why does a bull charge at a red cloth?"; "Does an ostrich really hide its head in the sand?"; "What causes the skunk's bad smell?"
  • Liturgical singing: Sanctus from Mass XVIII
  • Music appreciation: "Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity" from The Planets by Gustav Holst 
  • Singing practice: "Over the River and Through the Wood" by Lydia Child, sung from the picture book illustrated by Christopher Manson 
  • Catechism: "The Catholic Church," Lesson 11 from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism (The questions and answers from this lesson are taking a while to sink in, so we repeated it.)
  • Art appreciation: Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Math flashcards (numbers 1-10 for E., addition and subtraction for C., multiplication and division for M.) 
  • Weather observations 


With Daddy, M. read about the Crusades from Picturesque Tale of Progress Nations II. They also read Glass, Stones and Crown by Anne Rockwell. 

C. and I started reading about Homo habilis in The Big Golden Book of Cavemen and Other Prehistoric People. She watched two YouTube videos:  TRILOGY OF LIFE - Walking with Cavemen - "Homo Habilis", and When we First Made Tools from PBS Eons.  

Table Time 

This week, the girls used this printable to make turkeys showing what they were thankful for and played with a Plus Plus tube and Dover Thanksgiving sticker books (both sent by Grandma) and Colorforms. 


M. and C. both did Khan Academy and Life of Fred (M. did chapter 3 in Life of Fred: Honey and C. did chapter 8 in Life of Fred: Butterflies. In Singapore 3B, M. worked on a review section, and C. worked on exercises 64, 65, and 66 in Singapore 1B, about subtracting tens and ones.


We continued our work with maps in BFSU. On Monday, they built block structures using the blueprints they created on Friday. They also did a printable pirate treasure map activity from Enchanted Learning. The girls had to find certain parts of the map and color them according to the instructions. They also drew an X where the treasure was meant to be found.   

Reading and Writing

My husband finished reading aloud The Adventures of Robin Hood and on Thanksgiving night we watched the 1938 film starring Errol Flynn. He started reading aloud the Golden Press edition of The Canterbury Tales. I finished reading aloud Knight's Castle and started Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. C. and I finished reading Sarah, Plain and Tall, and M. made good progress in Danny Dunn and the Fossil Cave by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin. M. also did some work with plural nouns in Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills: Grade Three.  


M. and C. practiced piano and recorder daily.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 11/16/20

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018):  "Sighted" by John Mole, "Space Poem" by James Carter, "That Stormy Night" by Berlie Doherty, "Thunder and Lightning" by James Kirkup, "Silver" by Walter de la Mare
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "Why does a whale spout?"; "What's the difference between frogs and toads?"; "How do insects breathe?"; "What is the purpose of a firefly's light?"; "How do bees make honey?";  "How does a caterpillar become a butterfly?"; "How do silkworms make silk?";  "Why aren't spiders caught in their own webs?"; "How do ants eat?";  "How do earthworms eat?" 
  • Lesson 11 from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism:  "The Catholic Church"
  • Painting from Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (Charlesbridge, 1996): Maya with a Doll by Pablo Picasso
  • Kyrie XVI from Missa XVI
  • "Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night," sung using the picture book by Peter Spier and the recording by Burl Ives
  • "Mars, Bringer of War" from The Planets by Gustav Holst 
  • Math flashcards (numbers 1-10 for E., addition and subtraction for C., multiplication and division for M.) 


M.'s topic for this week was the Byzantine Empire. She also finished watching Secrets of the Castle with Ruth, Peter, and Tom and Our Little Frankish Cousin of Long Ago by Eveline Stein. C. read Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter by Sally M. Walker aloud to me, and we also made it to the end of The Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Rudolph F. Zallinger. C. also watched An Illustrated History of Dinosaurs from PBS Eons. 

Table Time

There weren't many formal activities during the week. I did allow the girls to paint over the weekend, and then they made Thanksgiving sticker scenes early in the week. Thursday was my birthday, so we did a lighter school day, and on Friday, we had another masked outdoor playdate with our next-door neighbors' grandkids. 


M. spent most of the week correcting mistakes in problems she had previously done in Singapore 3B. C. continued to work on adding tens and ones and then corrected some mistakes at the end of the week. Both girls did Khan Academy math every day. C. did Life of Fred: Butterflies Chapter 7 and M. did Life of Fred:  Honey Chapter 2. 


Our topic in BFSU for this week and next is drawing and reading maps. On Monday, we read a book called Mapping Penny's World by Loreen Leedy on Open Library and I guided M. and C. through drawing a map of our kitchen and dining room. On Tuesday, they each chose a room to map themselves. M. mapped the living room and C. chose the kids' bedroom.  On Thursday, we read Types of Maps by Kristen Rajczak on Hoopla. On Friday, my husband had M. and C. each draw a blueprint for a building to be made out of blocks next week. 

Reading and Writing 

We almost finished Knight's Castle, leaving just the final chapter to be read on Monday. My husband continued reading The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle. M. continued (and finished) reading Ballet Shoes Noel Streatfeild and C. and I started reading Sarah, Plain and Tall together. I started reading My Bookhouse: In the Nursery aloud to E. and babies R. and A. listened in. 


M. and C. practiced recorder and piano each day. On the weekend, we had a family band while the little ones napped, with my husband on guitar, M. and myself on ukulele, and C. doing vocals. We sang "Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night" and "Over the River and Through the Wood." 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 11/9/20

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Weather or Not" by Roger McGough, "The Fog" by F.R. McCreary, "Fog in November" by Leonard Clark, "Winter Song" a Southern Paiute song translated by John Wesley Powell, "Pine Tree Tops by Gary Snyder, "The Storm Crown" a Southern Paiute song translated by John Wesley Powell
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "Why does a male bird have brighter colors than the female?";  "Why do birds sing?";  "What keeps a duck afloat?";  "How do fish breathe?";  "How do flying fish fly?";  "How do salmon go upstream to spawn?"; "Which snakes are poisonous?"; "Do rattle snakes rattle before they strike?"; "What is the largest snake in the world?" 
  • "I Had a Little Rooster" from Wee Sing Fun 'n' Folk by Pamela Conn Beall and Susan Hagen Nipp
  • Painting from Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (Charlesbridge, 1996):  Le Gourmet by Pablo Picasso
  • "Panis Angelicus" sung from the Vatican II Hymnal
  • Weather observations
  • From The Story of Peer Gynt retold by E.V. Sandys, illustrated by Fritz Eichenberg (Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1941) : Chapter 5, "'Go Around the Other Way'"; Chapter 6, "The Auction"; Chapter 7, "Troll to Thyself Be Enough"; Chapter 8, "Peer Gynt Finds His Kingdom"  
  • Math flashcards
  • Lesson 10  from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism:  "The Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit" 


M. continues to do history with Daddy. This week, she started watching episodes of Secrets of the Castle with Ruth, Peter, and Tom. She also read Medieval Feast by Aliki, read both versions (picture book and easy reader) of Castle by David Macaulay and watched the associated PBS video, read Sabuda and Reinhart Present Castle: Medieval Days and Knights by Kyle Olmon and Tracy Sabin and finished reading Picturesque Tale of Progress: New Nations I. She also experimented with building a castle of her own using Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun by Paul Farrell, which was sent to me for review and ended up being a perfect supplementary event.  

C. started to lose interest in the dinosaurs, but we powered through a good portion of The Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Rudolph F. Zallinger, including the section about Tyrannosaures rex. That leaves only the sections about discovering fossils to be read next week. We also looked at some 3-D representations of dinosaurs on Google using a feature from Jurassic World 

Table Time

On Monday, we had a 2-hour outdoor playdate with some friends we hadn't seen at all since the start of the pandemic. On Tuesday, the girls made necklaces using beads and string one of my former teachers sent me as she was cleaning out craft supplies. The rest of week during this time, they mostly played with dolls or colored.


C. continued working with adding tens and ones in Singapore 1B. She started estimating and rounding in third grade on Khan Academy. She also did Life of Fred: Butterflies Chapter 6.  

M.  did Life of Fred: Honey Chapter 1 and worked on a review section in Singapore 3B. 


Using BFSU and EESE as guides we discussed the rotation of the earth and how this creates night and day. We watched Earth's Rotation and Revolution from Crash Course Kids and The Moving Stars of the Northern Hemisphere. M. and C. took turns spinning in a rotating chair while looking at a fixed point on the ceiling to help them understand why the north star never seems to move. We also read Time Zones by Ryan Nagelhout to explain how the sun's movement helps people decide what time it is. 

Reading and Writing

C. finished reading The Little Leftover Witch. We continued our lunchtime read-aloud of Knight's Castle and my husband continued reading The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle after dinner. M. is reading Ballet Shoes. E. discovered Dr. Seuss and also enjoyed Rain Makes Applesauce by Julian Scheer. C. practiced cursive strokes. 


M. and C. practiced recorder and piano each day. 

Book Review: Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs (1933)

Invincible Louisa is a juvenile biography of Louisa May Alcott, which won the Newbery Medal in 1934. This book covers events in Louisa's life that inspired characters and events in Little Women as well as other influential experiences that shaped the author. Through this book, young readers gain an understanding of the impractical ideals of Bronson Alcott (Louisa's father), the steadfast love of Abba Alcott (her mother), her relationship with her sisters, her work as a Civil War nurse and how she came to make a career of writing. 

When I read Little Women a couple of years ago, I didn't quite love it as much as many other readers do, but I did become fascinated by the Alcott family and the circle of people they knew in Concord, Massachusetts. Early last year, I read We Alcotts by Aileen Fisher and Olive Rabe, which was my first introduction to the life of Abba Alcott and her husband, Bronson, and ever since I've wanted to read more about Concord. I challenged myself to read five Concord-oriented books in 2020, but Invincible Louisa is the only one I've picked up so far. Thankfully, it was thoroughly engaging and has inspired me to try to finish this challenge before January.

The writing in this book is of very high quality but it still reads fairly quickly. It was interesting to see the real-life events and people that were included in Little Women as well as the things that went differently for Louisa than for Jo, her Little Women counterpart. It was also inspiring to see how the family handled financial difficulty and uncertainty, and also how Louisa's work during the Civil War changed her and matured her. Though I had read about many of these things from Abba's perspective, seeing them through Louisa's eyes added dimensions to my understanding of this family.

My girls (and boy) are still a few years away from being able to appreciate Little Women, but when they do finally read it, I'm excited to be able to share this book with them as well. It's definitely a worthwhile companion to the story, as well as a well-written biography on its own. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Reading Through History: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham (1955)

Nathaniel Bowditch planned to attend Harvard, but a series of events in his young life sent him on a different path instead. First he was indentured to a chandler, then he worked as a surveyor, and after that he became a supercargo on a merchant ship. All the while, he taught himself the subjects that interested him using books, later making a name for himself as a navigator when he uncovered errors in various navigational books sailors of his day relied upon heavily. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is a fictionalized account of Bowditch's story that won the Newbery Medal in 1956.

This book is a wonderful celebration of learning which provides an excellent role model for self-motivated education. The way Bowditch pursues his education against all odds, even when his dream of attending Harvard becomes impossible is admirable and inspiring. Loving learning for its own sake is something I want to instill in my children, and this book provides the perfect vehicle for explaining what that looks like.

I also appreciate the way the book addresses how very knowledgeable and well-educated people ought to act around those with lesser knowledge or education. This exchange between Nathaniel and Elizabeth on pages 82-83 of the book sums it up well:

"I know. I'm just like a chair you stumble over in the dark." Elizabeth said. "It isn't the chair's fault, but you kick it anyhow."

Nat blinked. "What are you talking about?"

"Your brain. It's too fast. So you stumble on other people's dumbness. And - you want to kick something."

Nat felt his face get hot. "But I shouldn't."

Elizabeth agreed. "No you shouldn't, because even if people are dumb, they aren't chairs, are they? They do have feelings."

I have at least one child who will benefit greatly from understanding this "chair in the dark" analogy as she gets older.

The writing style also makes this book very readable, despite all the technical sailing and navigational jargon. I never felt like I couldn't grasp what was happening and I found it very easy to picture things that happened at sea despite never having traveled on the ocean myself. I had been putting off crossing this book off my list of unread Newbery winners because I didn't expect to like it, but now I'm sorry I waited so long. This was a joy to read.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Ulysses and Me: Then and Now

When I was a sophomore in college, I registered for an Irish Literature course.  I had a few different reasons for wanting to take the class, but one of the biggest was that Ulysses by James Joyce was on the syllabus. I didn't know very much about Joyce's work, but my dad had often quoted lines from Ulysses to me, and I was fascinated by Bloomsday, the yearly celebration of Ulysses held on June 16, the date on which the book is set. Though I had struggled with my classes up to that point, failing to comprehend the reading and finding classroom discussions completely overwhelming, when it came to Ulysses,  I was determined to put in the effort to be able to appreciate the book because I had this personal interest in it.  

Every evening during the week I was working on my paper about Ulysses, I sat in a dull white study carrel in the basement of the college library, poring over the book and piecing together an argument on the theme of  Leopold Bloom and "seeing ourselves as others see us." I felt really invested in the assignment, and it seemed to me that I was doing a good job. I didn't expect an A - I received only a handful of those my entire college career - but when I turned it in, I thought it was my best college-level work to date. 

Unfortunately, when the paper was returned to me in class, it became clear this was not the case. There were very few comments overall, but a note on the front page summed up what my professor had thought: "This is largely based upon a misreading." Maybe if I hadn't spent all of my free time on this book for a week, I could have let that comment roll off of me, but doing that amount of work and finding that it made no difference at all to the way my paper was received was so disheartening that I took it very personally. The papers I had written for other classes, using half the effort and without reading the book, had been better-received than this one that I cared about and therefore slaved over.  The result was that, for the remaining 5 semesters of my college career, I never read another assigned book. I wrote papers without doing the reading and all of them received better feedback than my analysis of Ulysses. 

At the time, my reaction was to wonder, "How would anyone know if they misread Ulysses or not?" But knowing how well-respected my professor is in the field of Irish literature, over time I had to accept that if anyone would know, it would be him. So from that I concluded that the problem was me. Classics were too  hard for me, I probably wouldn't read them correctly if I tried, and therefore there was no reason to read them at all. This conclusion, combined with some other disappointing feedback from members of the English department's creative writing faculty, probably played some part in my pursuing a career as a children's librarian. It ended up being a wonderful line of work for me, but my attraction to it was definitely connected to the fact that it would make it very easy to justify reading only children's and YA books.  

During my years working in the library I occasionally read a mystery novel or a Fannie Flagg book or something else that wasn't that demanding, but I almost never picked up a serious adult novel, and I claimed this was because there just wasn't time to keep up professionally and read grown-up books for fun. Really, though, it was partly because I assumed adult books were still beyond me. I read hundreds - and sometimes over a thousand - children's books per year  - but I wouldn't touch a classic with a ten-foot pole. 

I left the library world in 2013 when I became a mom, and for a few years, I kept on with reading books for kids, thinking I would stay active in the field through blogging about children's literature. But after I had my third child, I started realizing that being with kids all day and only reading kids' books didn't leave much room for variety in my life. Slowly, but surely, the tide of my reading life began to turn. 

First, I joined a Catholic moms book club. We primarily read spiritual works, but slowly started sneaking in some classics as well. Given that this wasn't an academic environment and I wouldn't have to write a paper, I started reading the books. I never had anything particularly astute to say about them (and I still don't), but the difference was that now no one cared. I was free to find whatever meaning I could in the books, and to not worry about whether I missed something.  

Next, I started listening to What Should I Read Next, and doing more classics-oriented read-alongs on Instagram, including "2020 Classics," the goal of which was to read 20 classics between mid-2019 and the end of 2020.  With the pressure off and the expectations low, I was suddenly reading adult books with the same hunger I had previously devoured books for kids. I didn't love everything (Pride and Prejudice was not for me), but I found myself willingly reading things that I had avoided like the plague after my experience with Ulysses. I managed to read Middlemarch, Kristin Lavransdatter, Jane Eyre, Adam Bede, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and other books I had previously dismissed. 

Then, I joined a read-along on Instagram for Crime and Punishment. As we were all introducing ourselves, someone in the group mentioned Ulysses. I told a brief version of my story with this book, and the next thing I knew, there was a read-along being organized for Ulysses and I was part of the group.

I jokingly told people that I wanted to revisit Ulysses to purge the demons I still associate with my English degree, and that was partly true. But more than that, I was curious. Would I misread the book again? Or would I find it easier and more comprehensible after reading all these other classics? The read-along group fell apart almost instantly, but armed with paperback and library audiobook, I decided I would read and/or listen to every word of the book, even if it took months.

I began reading on Bloomsday this year, June 16. I started out listening to the audiobook at normal speed and following along in the book. I did 15-20 minutes per day, and kept to the read-along schedule for the first month or two. Then I took several long breaks from reading it, interspersed with days where I would read just a page or two or speed up the audiobook to 2x and get through a bit of it. In the first quarter of the book, I highlighted quotes and reveled in references to Irish music and the Catholic faith that were familiar to me. I let the language wash over me like poetry and it did start to make a kind of sense. 

As the book went on, though, it became clear that it was not for the faint of heart. Ulysses is a book that changes genre, tense, point of view, and format without warning. There are allusions upon allusions to Irish culture, politics, history, literature, and art, along with sexual content, religious imagery, quotations from poetry, and many other things I know I didn't even recognize. I had obviously been wrong to ever think I hadn't misread this book, as I most obviously had, but now I started entertaining a new question: Was it fair to think an undergraduate was going to do anything other than misread it?  

The last quarter of the book became such a slog that I cranked the audiobook up to 3x speed and just zipped through it as best I could. There was a play and a chapter written as a weird kind of Q and A. The final chapter contained no punctuation at all and had frank sexual talk that I would typically avoid. Reaching the end brought more relief than pride. But it left me with an answer to my question.  

Could a college student ever do anything other than misread Ulysses? Honestly, I don't think so. 

To truly appreciate Ulysses, you either have to have the exact same knowledge of all the topics James Joyce studied and knew well, or you have to spend your life acquiring said knowledge and then applying it appropriately to the text. Perhaps progress could be made over a four-year period, but in a semester-long course for sophomores? No, there is no way, even if I had spent every waking moment of my life in the library with that book, that I could have gotten more out of it. I have no idea what the comments on my classmates' papers were like, but I suspect that if they read the book "correctly," it was either an accident, or they did a lot of research of other people's arguments and commented upon those. (We were always expressly told not to do this, and therefore I thought it was cheating, but looking back there is zero chance that everyone but me completely understood this book. They definitely read up on it. My refusing to do so is an example of what my late father always called "letting school interfere with your education.")

I will probably never stop being disappointed that my career as an English major caused such a terrible setback in my reading life, but 16 years post-graduation, having conquered this book for the final time, it no longer feels that significant. If I had it to do over, I would probably have chosen a state school and saved my money, and I definitely would not have majored in English, but even so, I got here in the end, and that's the most important thing. I think I will keep my copy of Ulysses for now, as a souvenir of sorts, but if it ever gets read again, it won't be by me. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 11/2/20

 Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "The Night Will Never Stay" by Eleanor Farjeon, "Skyscrapers" by Rachel Field, "Fox" by Kathy Henderson, "Autumn Fires" by Robert Louis Stevenson, "Fires are flaming" by Anonymous, "November Night" by Adelaide Crapsey, "Flint" by Christina Rossetti
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "Can animals understand each other?"; "Do animals laugh or cry?"; "Can animals taste?"; "Can animals see in color?"; "Why do animals hibernate?"; "Why does a cow chew its cud?"; "How long have dogs been domesticated?"; "When were cats domesticated?"; "Why is the lion called 'King of Beasts'?" 
  • "Buffalo Gals" from Wee Sing Fun 'n' Folk by Pamela Conn Beall and Susan Hagen Nipp
  • Painting from Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (Charlesbridge, 1996): Two Young Girls at the Piano by Pierre-Auguste Renoir 
  • "Panis Angelicus" sung from the Vatican II Hymnal
  • From The Story of Peer Gynt retold by E.V. Sandys, illustrated by Fritz Eichenberg (Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1941) : Chapter 1, "Peer and Asa Have a Quarrel"; Chapter 2, "At the Wedding Feast"; Chapter 3, "The Woman in Green"; Chapter 4, "In the Hall of the Mountain King"  
  • Lesson 9 from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism: "The Holy Spirit and Grace"
  • Weather observations
  • Flashcards: addition and subtraction (C.) and multiplication and division (M.) 


C. and I continued reading The Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Rudolph F. Zallinger, and we watched some more supplementary videos:
M. read The Man Who Loved Books written by Jean Fritz and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (Putnam, 1981)  and watched The Secret of Kells (Madman Entertainment, 2010). C. joined her for the movie just for fun. She also read about the vikings in A Picturesque Tale of Progress, Leif the Lucky by Ingri D'Aulaire
and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire (Doubleday, 1941), A Viking Settler by Giovanni Caselli (P. Bedrick Books, 1986)  and in a section of Barbarians! written by Steven Kroll and illustrated by Robert Byrd (Dutton, 2009). She  wrote and illustrated a narration about viking ships and watched these videos: 

Table Time 

On Monday, we colored calaveras for All Souls Day. On Tuesday, we played Lucy Hammett's Nature Bingo and the girls talked to my sister briefly on the phone. On Wednesday, the girls colored again.  On Thursday, we went to the pediatrician (health class!) during this time, so we weren't home for any formal activities. On Friday, we went to the used bookstore and listened to the audiobook of Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild in the car. M. took her weekly long walk with me on Saturday morning. 


C. moved into the next section of Singapore 1B, which is about adding tens and ones. M. did the entire Graphs section in Singapore 3B. Both girls did Khan Academy.


E. mostly did puzzles during school time all week. At her naptime, she requested Dr. Seuss read-alouds and Goldilocks and  the Three Bears by Jan Brett. 


The week's theme was materials. On Monday, we made a list of items made of wood, plastic, stone, fibers, etc. On Tuesday, we talked about the properties of different materials. On the remaining days, we watched various "How It's Made" videos: 
C. and I finished reading our Happy Hollisters book and she started reading The Little Leftover Witch by Florence Laughlin. We finished reading aloud The Witch Family (with help from the audiobook) and started Knight's Castle by Edward Eager. My husband is still reading aloud The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle and the Saturday night audiobook was Betsy and the Boys by Carolyn Haywood. 


M. and C. both practiced piano and recorder daily.  They also got new tutus from Grandma and did some dancing around the basement. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 10/26/20

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Where Would You Be?" by Karla Kuskin, "Mice" by Rose Fyleman, "The Bird of Night" by Randall Jarrell, "Midnight Visitors" by Irene Rawnsley,  "The Pumpkin" by Anonymous, "The Bat" by Theodore Roethke
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "What is the eye made of?", "How does the ear work?", "Why are there different types of hair?",  "What are fingernails made of?", "How do we talk?", "Why are some people left-handed?", "What causes hiccoughs?", "What makes people sneeze?",  "What is hay fever?",  "What causes headaches?", "What is a 'cold?'", "How do we get fever?", "What is cancer?" 
  • "Squirrel Nutkin" from Sing Through the Day: Eighty Songs for Children compiled and edited by Marlys Swinger, illustrated by Nancy and Brenna McKernan (The Plough Publishing House, 1999), sung along with this YouTube video
  • Painting from Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (Charlesbridge, 1996): A Tough Story by John G. Brown 
  • "Panis Angelicus" sung from the Vatican II Hymnal
  • "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Edvard Grieg
  • Lesson 8 from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism
  • Weather observations 



C. finished reading Life Story and we started reading The Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Rudolph F. Zallinger. We watched these videos to expand on what we read: 
M. continued to read about monasteries and illuminations. She colored several illuminated letters and watched Illuminations: Treasures of the Middle Ages

Table Time

On the weekend, M. sewed a small pillow with my husband's help while C. and E. came with me to the Dollar Tree and each spent a dollar of her birthday money. On Monday, my husband carved our jack o'lantern.  On Tuesday, we went to the park with friends. On Wednesday, the girls created sticker collages with Halloween stickers and listened to Golden Records Spooky Halloween Hits. On Thursday, we colored. On Friday, I took M. and the babies for the usual walk, and C. and E. stayed home to play.


C did the entire section in her math book about telling time, which covered times on the hour and half-past the hour. M. started working with conversions involving gallons, quarts, and pints.  


E. did some coloring in the Learnalots Let's Learn Preschool activity pad she got for her birthday. She has been pointing out the letters she knows on every piece of print she finds. 


This week, we talked about the particulate nature of matter using Early Elementary Science Education and BFSU. We watched a few videos: 
M. finished Mossflower. In addition to the Happy Hollisters book she is reading with me, C. also read Halloween Treats by Carolyn Haywood. I also read aloud The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes and the girls listened to The Best Halloween Ever by Barbara Robinson. My husband is reading aloud The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle after dinner each night. 


M. and C. both practiced piano and recorder daily. They also danced to Halloween music and listened to Halloween songs from Super Simple Songs on YouTube. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

The Read-at-Home Mom Report for 11/2/20

Finished Books

This week, I finished four books.

Rekindled: How Jesus Called Me Back to the Catholic Church and Set My Heart on Fire by Mallory Smyth highlights a lot of the negative experiences many cradle Catholics had growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, and why it's worth staying in the church anyway. I wasn't crazy about the way the book was structured but the content was spot-on. I got this book from NetGalley and I hope to post a review later this week.

Family Tree by Susan Wiggs is a solid women's fiction novel about a woman putting her life back together after spending a year in a coma. I had kind of a book hangover after this one - I need more women's fiction like this, with flashbacks to high school and a small-town judge as a character, and no explicit sex.

The Penguin Who Knew Too Much and Cockatiels at Seven are books 8 and 9 in the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews. Both were fine three-star reads, and the tenth book is Christmas-themed so I'll have that to grab when the Christmas reading mood strikes after Thanksgiving.

Currently Reading 

I'm listening to These High, Green Hills by Jan Karon and reading The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp for book club.

Up Next

I downloaded Us Against You by Frederik Backman from Scribd. I'm also planning to read Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge with the Goudge book club on Instagram and A Lost Lady by Willa Cather for another Instagram read-along. 

I'm linking up today with The Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Read-at-Home-Mom Report for 10/26/20

Finished Books

I tied up a lot of loose reading ends this week, finishing several books that I've had ongoing for weeks and even months. 

Though I can't say I got much out of it, I finally finished Ulysses after 4 months of reading and listening on and off. I'm working on a blog post about this whole reading experience and my history with this book.

I just need to write a review of Pegeen, and then I'll be returning it to its owner. It was not as good as the first book of the trilogy, but I liked it better than Francie on the Run.

Who Does He Say You Are? by Colleen Mitchell, which looks at the women of the Bible from a Catholic perspective, ended up getting a five-star rating. I was originally reading it with a group on Instagram but couldn't keep up with the level of discussion, even though the reading itself was very easy. I ended up finishing the last few chapters all in one go, and I actually thought those were the best of the book. 

The Lazy Genius Way was another hit for me. Kendra Adachi's advice is practical and applicable to families and homes of any type. I felt the same way about this book as I did about Your Blue Flame by Jennifer Fulwiler - it was truly helpful self-help.

Falling Together had some dramatic moments that were a bit over-the-top for me, but overall I loved the nostalgic feel of the story, and the fact that it was about friendship as much as romance.

Magic by the Lake was our lunchtime read-aloud. I was impressed by how many allusions this middle grade novel makes to other works of literature. I'm pretty sure I didn't even catch them all.

I previewed The Best Halloween Ever by Barbara Robinson to see whether it would be a good audiobook for my kids to listen to at bedtime on Halloween night. It's not as good as the wonderful The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, but I've decided they can listen to it. 

Currently Reading 

I'm still (slowly) reading  ARCs of Rekindled by Mallory Smyth and The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop by Fannie Flagg. I'm also about halfway through  The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp for book club, and I'm past the halfway point in the audiobook of Family Tree by Susan Wiggs.

Up Next

I have the audiobook of These High, Green Hills by Jan Karon checked out from the library, and I'm planning to start The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes as my read-aloud with my girls this week.

I'm linking up today with The Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 10/19/20


Morning Time

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "An Autumn Greeting" by George Cooper, "Blowing from the west" by Yosa Buson, "Leaves" by Elsie N. Brady, "The Autumn Leaves" by Wes Magee, and "Fog" by Carl Sandburg.
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "What makes us hungry?", "How do we digest food?", "Why do we perspire?", "Why do we get thirsty?", "Why do we get tired?", "What causes our dreams?", "How does our blood circulate?", "What is skin?", "Why do people have different-colored skin?", "What are freckles?"
  • "Squirrel Nutkin" from Sing Through the Day: Eighty Songs for Children compiled and edited by Marlys Swinger, illustrated by Nancy and Brenna McKernan (The Plough Publishing House, 1999), sung along with this YouTube video
  • "Panis Angelicus" sung from the Vatican II Hymnal
  • "Playful Pizzicato" by Benjamin Britten
  • Painting from Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (Charlesbridge, 1996): The Nut Gatherers by William-Adolphe Bougeureau
  • Lesson 7 from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism
  • Memory work: "Witch Cat" by Rowena Bennett (C.) , "Halloween" by Harry Behn (M.)


C. and finished reading First Days of the World by Gerald Ames, and watched several more Eons videos: The Age of Reptiles in Three ActsHistory's Most Powerful Plants, and The Humans that Lived Before Us. We read some more in Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton as well. 

M. finished Science in Early Islamic Culture by George Beshore with me, and read about St. Benedict and Benedictine monasteries with my husband. She did a narration about St. Benedict and did this coloring page to accompany it. 

Table Time 

On Monday, we made birthday cards for my father's sister. On Tuesday, I took C. and E. out with their bicycles and M. worked with snap circuits.  On Wednesday, we listened to The Boxcar Children on audio and colored these Halloween paper dolls, and I also cut out these vintage Boxcar Children ones. On Thursday, we took out the Care for Our World Playset that my mom sent us at some point, and we listened to Winnie the Pooh. On Friday, I took M. and the babies for a walk and we ended up meeting my husband and C. and E. at the park, where all three girls rode bikes. 


C. finished all the pages we had given her for math, up to the end of the geometry section in 1B, and she is moving onto the section about telling time. M. continued to work with liters and milliliters, including doing some actual measuring. Both girls did Khan Academy every day and Life of Fred on Wednesday.


E. read some books about witches (The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches and Witches Four), did some of the Eric Carle puzzles she got for her birthday last weekend, and also colored in an Eric Carle coloring book. She also tried the spelling and counting puzzles she got for her birthday. She asks every day what she will do during school, but then resists doing whatever is offered. 


This week we talked about the atmosphere. We watched quite a few videos: 
The girls also asked about "really short adults that are the size of kids" so we watched this video in which kids chat with a little person about her life. (Not all of the videos on that channel are suitable for my kids. I don't let them watch unless I've previewed.)

Reading and Writing 

M. continued with Mossflower and C. continued with The Happy Hollisters and the Ghost Horse Mystery. We also finished our read-aloud of Magic by the Lake. 


M. and C. both practiced piano and recorder daily. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 10/12/20

Morning Time 

  •  Poem from Sing a Song of Seasons by Sara and John E. Brewton (The Macmillan Company, 1955): "Columbus" by Leroy F. Jackson, 
  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "The Mountain Peak" translated by John Wesley Powell from a Southern Paiute song, "Rain Poem" by Elizabeth Coatsworth, "Rain Sizes" by John Ciardi, and "First winter rain" by Matsuo Basho, translated by R.H. Blyth
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "What was the first musical instrument?", "How did basketball get its name?", "When did boxing begin?", "Did baseball really originate in America?", "What was the first motion picture?", "Who invented television?", "How do we grow?"
  • Questions from the 500 Questions Game Book (Parragon Books, 2017) for fun on Friday
  • "Dingle Dangle Scarecrow" from 1,2,3—Boo! by  Marylee, sung with the recording 
  • "Panis Angelicus" sung from the Vatican II Hymnal
  • "Hornpipe" from Water Music by George Frideric Handel
  • Painting from Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (Charlesbridge, 1996): The Railway by Edouard Manet 
  • Memory work: C. is memorizing "Witch Cat" by Rowena Bennett and M. is working on "Halloween" by Harry Behn. C. recited the planets and M. recited the countries of Europe. 


C. continued studying natural history this week. She is especially interested in prehistoric animals, including trilobites,  amphibians, and early reptiles. We read from Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton and First Days of the World by Gerald Ames and watched videos from the PBS Eons channel, "The Trouble with Trilobites" and  "Why Triassic Animals Were Just the Weirdest

M. read about the rise of the papacy and Pope Gregory with my husband early in the week. In the second of the half week, since we were ahead of schedule, we went back in time a bit to read Science in Early Islamic Culture by George Beshore.  

Table Time

On Monday, I printed out these geoboard pattern cards and M and C worked on copying them onto their geoboards. M. did fine, but C. took a while to warm up to it. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we had markers, crayons and oil pastels out for drawing, and M., C., and E. all created a variety of art pieces. On Thursday, I gave them felt pieces for making different Halloween figures and they followed the patterns provided and then invented their own creations. On Friday during this time, I took M. for a long walk with baby R. and baby A. and my husband took the other girls out to ride their bikes.


C. continued working on beginning multiplication in Singapore Math. She also worked on Khan Academy and read with me from Life of Fred: Butterflies. M. finished her review and moved on to the Capacity unit in Singapore Primary Mathematics 3B, which is about converting milliliters to liters and vice versa. She is still working through Life of Fred: Goldfish and fourth grade math on Khan Academy. 


This was not a big school week for E. She did some coloring, and happily pointed out familiar letters on the covers of books, but there wasn't much formal activity. She's been enjoying our Halloween  books, including Ollie's Halloween by Olivier Dunrea.  She and M. have also been reading together a lot. They enjoy the Bink and Gollie books and they read Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle aloud to Gran on Skype.


Our topic for the week was gravity. We again used Early Elementary Science Education as our guide to the topics presented in BFSU, and we discussed why things fall to the ground when dropped and why the people in Australia don't fall off the Earth, the difference between horizontal and vertical, and the uses of a level and a plumb bob, and how gravity keeps the planets in orbit around the sun, and the moon in orbit around the earth.

Reading and Writing

M. wrote a narration about Charlemagne, and continued reading Mossflower. C. and I started reading The Happy Hollisters and the Ghost Horse Mystery aloud together. C. also wrote two thank you letters for birthday presents. M. also did a few pages in Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills: Grade 3


Both M. and C. practiced piano and recorder every day.

Physical Education

M. did a three-mile walk with me and the stroller on Friday, while C. and E. went with my husband to ride their bikes.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Read-at-Home Mom Report for 10/19/20

Finished Books

I flew right through the second Mitford book, A Light in the Window, on audio and I've already borrowed the third one. I love them so much.

I ended up having some issues with Chuck Klosterman's takes on a lot of things in I Wear the Black Hat, and many of his arguments have not aged well since the book was published in 2013. I gave it two stars. 

My husband had me read A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith. It reminded me of the movie My Girl, and also of the book On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer. It handles the subject of death very honestly but tastefully and the writing is strong. 

I read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham with two friends on Instagram, and I absolutely loved it. This one I'm hoping to save to review here on the blog. 

I also loved Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs and plan to do a review. One of my goals this year was to read five books related to Concord, Massachusetts. This was my first one, but now I feel a renewed desire to complete that challenge.

Currently Reading

I'm still reading Pegeen by Hilda van Stockum but hope to finish soon. I'm also nearing the end of Ulysses. I took a bit of a break from Rekindled by Mallory Smyth, but it should be quick to finish once I pick it up again. I also started listening to Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos and I'm reading a digital ARC of The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop by Fannie Flagg.

Up Next

I have to remember to start The Story of the Trapp Family Singers pretty soon because my book club moved up its meeting date from the third Thursday of the month to the second. We're meeting even earlier in December, so I'll also need to leave a good amount of time to get to the December book, The Reed of God Caryll Houselander, even though it's a re-read. I also really wanted to read Murder Makes a Pilgrimage by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie this month because it's set this time of year, but I may not get to it. 

I'm linking up today with The Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Cozy Halloween Picture Books Old and New

In our family, Halloween has always been more of a cozy celebration than a spooky one. We typically make donuts, drink apple cider, have the kids parade around the house in their costumes, and, of course, read festive stories. Today's post lists some of our favorites as well as a few new titles that have been added to our collection for this year.

The Little Kitten is a recently published picture book by Nicola Killen about a little girl named Ollie, who, while out walking with her cat, Pumpkin, meets a lost kitten. Ollie and Pumpkin look after the kitten, feeding her and making friends with her until she can be reunited with her surprisingly magical owner. The illustrations are key to appreciating the true identity of the kitten's owner, and the reveal is subtle. My five-year-old missed it completely and had to be shown exactly what to look for. Still, it's such a sweet and gentle read that it's worth reading twice to get the full effect. 

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything isn't explicitly connected to Halloween, but it's a fun read about not being scared. A little old lady walks home from picking berries, nuts, and twigs. On the dark path, she encounters various articles of clothing, each of which makes a signature motion that repeats throughout the book. When the clothes are finally accompanied by a scary pumpkin head, the little old lady takes measures to ensure that she won't be bothered by this menacing outfit ever again. My kids love to act out this story, as they perform movements to imitate each article of clothing.

In Bears and Boos by Shirley Parenteau and David Walker, the focus is on sharing, as the bears discover a costume trunk and accidentally leave out one of their friends as they all choose costumes. I have to confess that the rhyme scheme and rhythm feel a little bit off in this one, but the illustrations are absolutely adorable. My three-year-old has been the ideal reader for this book, as she is just the right age to be learning to share without hurting other people. She also really loves the end papers in the book which feature a gathering of smiling ghosts.

Ollie's Halloween by Olivier Dunrea is a holiday title in the Gossie and Friends series. Each of the characters from the Gossie series appears here in costume as they celebrate Halloween together, prowling through the chilly autumn evening and sharing treats together. The Gossie books are always a huge favorite with my toddlers, and even my older kids still like to revisit the characters.

Room on the Broom is a rhyming story by English writer Julia Donaldson, with illustrations by Axel Scheffler. In repetitive verse, it tells the story of a witch and her cat. As the wind blows the witch's belongings off of the broomstick one by one, each item is rescued by a different creature who inquires whether there is room for him to fly along on the broom. After the broom is full of animals, the group encounters a dragon whose defeat requires quick-thinking teamwork. My three-year-old loved this book so much last Halloween that she has been reading it weekly ever since. 

In Click, Clack, Boo!: A Tricky Treat by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin, Farmer Brown dislikes Halloween, and is maybe even a bit afraid. His animals, on the other hand, love to celebrate, and they dress in costumes, trick-or-treat, and host a big party. This book is a good one for defusing Halloween fears, as the spooky figure outside of Farmer Brown's house proves to be something far less sinister than he suspects, and he joins the fun in the end. 

Finally, Sheep Trick or Treat by Nancy Shaw is another pleasant rhyming story. The sheep put on costumes to collect treats from their farmyard neighbors. Afterwards, they trick some unsuspecting wolves who would otherwise have had them for dinner. As with other titles in the series, the humor and wordplay are the highlights in this one. My three-year-old is a big fan. 

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing and Candlewick for the review copies of The Little Kitten and Bears and Boos, respectively.