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.