Books I read this week: October and November

This happens almost every year- I do really well keeping up on posting about what I’m reading, and then I hit the end of the year and give up the ghost. Then I have to do a major catch up. So here we go. I read some really good stuff these last couple of months.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling.  I’m pretty sure that, barring some major personality/lifestyle change on her part or mine, I will read every book that Mindy Kaling publishes from now until the end of time. She’s smart and clever, and I enjoy her observations and insights. And I find her fascinating as a person, so I really enjoyed this collection of essays which dips into her personal life a little bit more than her first book. She has some great passages here about confidence and friendship, and just being a person.

If I host a dinner part at my house that you are invited to, then first of all: congratulations! You are living in a thrilling science-fiction world where robots probably walk among humans as equals, and also, I know how to cook.

Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die by Amy Fusselman. This book is fascinating. The author was inspired by a visit to Tokyo, where her host took her and their children to a park where there are pretty much no rules. Kids are allowed to climb trees, build with tools, light things on fire (in a fire pit), and anything else they can think of, as long as they’re not hurting someone. This prompts a consideration of how we think (or don’t think) about space and what we allow kids to do and experience. It’s really good, and not just because I find Tokyo eternally compelling. (I didn’t know about the park when we lived there, and I’m quite sad about that.)

It wasn’t just that the children were flying in the air there, it wasn’t just that they were making insanely great structures, it wasn’t just that the playpark hut was a junk lover’s dream. It was because the place existed at all for just this reason: this full and complete allowance of a self, including all the ineptness, failure, and possibility of death, because it is understood that only with this allowance to we have the capacity to be great.

The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan. I don’t even want to tell you how long it took me to read this collection of poems. I think I started it in 2011. It’s less than 300 pages long and it took me 4 years to read. I just dipped in and out of it over time. Don’t take that as a judgement of the poems, they’re lovely, poetry just takes a long time for me. The poems did start to click better more me about halfway through.

Extreme exertion

isolates a person

from help,

discovered Atlas.

Once a certain

shoulder to burden

ratio collapses,

there is so little

others can do:

they can’t

lend a hand

with Brazil

and not stand

on Peru.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson is probably the funniest book I’ve ever read. I laughed so much reading this book. It’s a collection of essays about Lawson’s life, which is a life with mental illness. The title refers to her decision to grab onto happiness when she could, and to not just be happy, but be furiously happy. This expresses itself in absurd, gorgeous ways. I read somewhere that you are more interesting to other people when your own interests are unique and diverse, and in this case, it’s certainly true. She has a love of taxidermy that is hilarious and fascinating; I honestly just adore her. There are some really great insights about struggling with mental and physical illness in the middle of all of the madness and hilarity; some very honest moments. There’s a lot of swearing in this book, which is unfortunate, because otherwise I’d buy it for everyone I know.

Victor thinks taxidermy is a waste of money, claiming that “there are only so many things you can do with a dead raccoon.” But I have proven him wrong time and time again. Victor pointed out that what he’d actually said was “There are only so many things you should do with a dead raccoon,” and honestly, that does sound more like something he’d say, but I still disagree.

Brains are like toddlers. They are wonderful and should be treasured, but that doesn’t mean you should trust them to take care of you in an avalanche or process setotonin effectively.

The Martian by Andy Weir is another book with a lot of swearing. Just saying. I usually don’t even notice swearing in a book, and I thought, “Wow, this book is sweary”. That being said, it’s also pretty great. An astronaut gets accidentally left behind on Mars and has to figure out how to stay alive until he can be saved. The book didn’t really kick into high gear for me until the people at NASA on Earth came into the picture, but I love how the whole book is about people being smart. They’re all able to do what they do because they’re intelligent, and have learned a lot, and can work around problems. There’s no dumb person in this book, which is pretty awesome.

Yes of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works everywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller. I read this book for book club, and I’m glad, because I’d never heard of it and probably would never have picked it up. Miller wrote a previous autobiographical book that was optioned for a film, and this book is about the process of he and the producers “rewriting” his life to make it less boring. He has a lot of ideas about seeing your life as a story and making conscious choices about the narrative arc (so to speak) that you’re creating. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, and some stuff I don’t agree with, (his ideas about what constitutes an “interesting” life are not always in agreement with mine) but overall it’s a really thought provoking book.

The night after we talked, Jason couldn’t sleep. He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. He realized he hadn’t provided a better role for his daughter. He hadn’t mapped out a story for his family. And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only bveing used. In the absence of a family story, she’d chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence. “She’s not a bad girl,” my friend said. “She was just choosing the best story available to her.”

Jason decided to stop yelling at his daughter and, instead, created a better story to invite her into.

The Monogram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah is a new Hercule Poirot mystery that’s been approved by the Christie estate. I was wary going in, because it’s not Dame Agatha, but it’s remarkably solid. Hercule is well and consistently written, and the mystery is twisty and really well done. The clues are there, but subtle, and I really enjoyed it.

I do not believe that anyone about to kill for the first time would imagine he might first want to eat a scone.

Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard is one of the best Lovecraft inspired books I’ve read. At the beginning of the book, Detective Carter is tracking a serial killer with his partner and they’ve found him in time to save the kid he’s kidnapped, and then Carter’s partner starts laughing hysterically and shoots himself. It’s a super eerie scene, and one that sets the stage for Carter to investigate strange happenings with eldritch overtones. When he inherits a bookstore from a man he’s never met he meets Emily Lovecraft, grandaughter of HP Lovecraft himself. And this meta element is what makes the book awesome- it takes place in the real world, where Lovecraft really lived and wrote books, but what he wrote about is actually happening. The Lovecrafty parts are so well done, with the madness of learning too much expressed in a visceral way that I haven’t read in other homages. Most authors go with the “that which can’t be described” trick, but Howard delves into what it would feel like to experience knowing things that the mind isn’t supposed to, and can’t, comprehend. It’s really creepy (I started reading it while B was out of town and had to stop until he got back home), but really really good. And the end is incredible. I can’t wait for the next book.

Carter’s sight blurred with double images, multiple images, and they were not the same. He was breathing heavily, becoming aware of the sound of his breath rasping in and out of his throat, the coldness in his lungs. What a shambolic scarecrow a human is. How full of paradox and obsolescence. Life quivered fitfully inside him, a flickering light in a stormy universe. He felt small and inconsequential. He felt the truth pressing in upom him, up from the ancient Earth beneath him, down from the still more ancient stars above, a pressure of reality that would crush him like a louse between fingernails.

None of this changes that. I don’t care if he is offing people with pixie dust instead of a gun like a good American; he tried to kill me, and he came into the store to threaten you with math and philosophy.

Radiance is by Catherynne M. Valente, who is one of my very favorite authors. This is her first adult book in a while, and it’s so very very good. It’s described in the blurb as a “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery” which really is the description of my dreams. It’s set in an alternative 1920-30s where the solar system has been colonized- each planet claimed by a different country. The moon is claimed by Hollywood, and it’s where all the movies are made. It’s where Severin Unck grows up on camera- her father, a famous movie director, documenting her every moment. Once she’s grown, she disappears during a documentary film shoot, and the book rotates around everyone involved’s knowledge or ignorance about what happened. There are so many pieces that fit together, so many voices, so many compelling characters. The science of the science fiction is solid, the pulpy elements are glorious, and the whole thing is a beautiful ode to film. It’s just so good.

Everyone adored her. She was like laughter turned into a person.

This is the version I’ve seen. I have watched it over and over. It is beautiful. It is right. It is full of hope for the future. It is perfect. It is a whopper of a lie.


This month really was a goldmine of books from my favorite authors. A new Jonathan Howard book, two new Valente (see below), and a new Gail Carriger. My heart overflows. Manners & Mutiny is the last (I’m assuming) of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, which features Sephronia Temminick who attends what her mother thinks is a proper ladies finishing school, but which is really a school for assassins. It’s just about my favorite thing. There are dirigibles and bad guys called The Picklemen, and it’s glorious. In this last of the series, Sephronia and her friends fight a conspiracy to steal the school itself, and Sephronia has to come to terms with some of her choices from previous books. I highly recommend the whole series, it’s lovely.

After all, Bunson’s was a school for evil geniuses, and scientists weren’t encouraged to experiment with fashion, only weaponry.

He clearly did not know what to do when approached by a pretty young lady wearing a wicker chicken who ought- by all standards of decency- to be long abandoned on the moor… chickenless.

Dimity had firm opinions on cucumber, which she felt was nothing more than slimy, embarrassingly shaped water and should never, under any circumstances, be presented at table.


Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente was another glorious surprise. I swear, she somehow has a pipeline into my mind and just writes things that I’d be interested in. I may, in fact, be her exact target market. Anyway, this novella is an imagining of Zelda Fitzgerald’s life, if her life were a Grimms fairy tale. The blurb calls it, “a bootlegger’s brew of fairy tales, Jazz Age opulence, and organized crime” and that’s pretty much right. It’s strange and sad and glorious.

Parties are where you go to do nothing as hard as you can.

Standing between his girl and a boy who just needs to be seen so bad he’d turn on all the lights in hell.

The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by EB Hudspeth is an odd, but neat, book. The first half is the “biography” of Dr. Spencer Black, a Victorian doctor convinced that mythical creatures (like satyrs and mermaids) really used to exist and were the precursors of humans, and that mutations and deformities in humans are caused by those genes trying to reassert themselves. He loses any respectability in the doctoring community and begins to create his own mythical creatures (using carcasses and… not carcasses) to show how the mythical creatures could have existed. The second half of the book is made up of incredibly detailed anatomical illustrations of different mythical creatures, and they’re really quite beautiful. It’s a strange, creepy book, where the horror of what’s happening kind of sneaks up on you.

I must know why five fingers are intended before I can discover the cause of six.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year. I highlighted so much of this book, it isn’t even funny. It’s a inspiring, encouraging, daring look at what makes creativity, and how we can interact with our creativity. I just don’t even have words. It’s a book I want to buy for everyone I know (and there’s only a little swearing in it, so I could). I highly, highly, highly recommend it.


At such times, I can always steady my life once more by returning to my soul. I ask it, “And what is it that you want, dear one?” The answer is always the same: “More wonder please.”

Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse: A Novel by Faith Sullivan is a lovely, lovely book. It’s the story of Nell’s life, beginning with the birth of her son and the death of her abusive husband, and going through the rest of her years to her death. The book itself begins with her obituary, written by herself, and it’s beautiful to see those lines expand into everything they really encompass in her life as the rest of the book unfolds. Nell is a reader, and books are her foundation and safe place as the small town she lives in goes through ups and downs, through World War 1 and its aftermath, through love and friends and loss. She is a kind, thoughtful woman, and the book is gentle and thoughtful, even though sad things happen in it. I really really liked this one.

In 1909, Nell discovered P.G. Wodehouse, who became her treasured companion and savior. She recommends his books to all who know distress. And, of course, to all who don’t. But further, she simply recommends reading- Dickens, Austen, Steinbeck, or whom you will. In books are found solace, companionship, entertainment, and enlightenment. The stuff of our salvation.

Motherhood was the most insecure of all undertakings. If you stopped to think, even for a moment, every choice you made was the wrong choice.

Paulina & Fran: A Novel by Rachel B. Glaser is a gorgeous character study. It’s the story of two girls, Paulina and Fran, who both attend an art school, and who are in turns enamored and at odds with each other. Neither is terribly likable; they’re prickly and vain and rude in a distinctly real way that makes reading about them less an entertainment and more like voyeurism. Both are people I feel like I could have known in college, like they could step off the page and exist in the world as real people. Glaser does an excellent job of capturing the tangly feelings of college life, when you feel like you should have everything figured out, and maybe even feel like you do, but you really know deep down that you don’t have any idea what you’re doing. It’s not necessarily an enjoyable book to read, but it’s incredibly well written, and I really liked it.

She felt Gretchen was the kind of girlfriend she would be offered again and again by the adult world, the real world, but Paulina was someone truly original, someone who existed only once.

She rushed home thinking, I will become a myth who murders old loves.

All month she’d camped out by his heart with little love of her own, but a stubborn need to star in someone’s life.

Newport: A Novel by Jill Morrow is made up of things that make me happy, the 1920s, summer houses in Newport, seances and spiritualism. It’s a fun, tangly story about a lawyer who is sent to revise a client’s will, only to discover that the client’s children are contesting the changes because their father believes that his dead wife is communicating to him through his new fiancee’s niece. There are tons of family secrets and the past coming back to haunt people, and it’s a great read.

“It’s art,” Adrian said. “It’s not accountable to you.”

Random thoughts

The girls are in the middle of writing persuasive essays about why they should get a turtle. It’s amazing how much less they argue about having to do writing when it’s on a subject they have a vested interest in.

We got our shipment last week and our house is now full of stuff. It’s not too bad, the living room, upstairs reading area and the girls’ room are pretty much under control. The school room didn’t really get anything added to it (except to the closet, which is now a mess) so it’s still pleasant. I’ve spent the last week doing tons of laundry- all of our clothes and bedding got here smelling moldy and musty. So now I have massive piles of clean laundry in my room, which is an improvement from massive piles of smelly laundry. Hopefully everything will be organized and put away by the end of the week.

Facebook has been seriously depressing lately- so many people arguing about so many things, and so many of them are so angry and (at least to my mind) misguided. I’ve had to unfollow a few people because I was getting frustrated whenever I saw their posts.

I have had this song stuck in my head for weeks now. It just makes me laugh. It’s the “lalalalala grapes” part that gets me.

I’m reading a book called Savage Park by Amy Fusselman and it’s really interesting. It’s all about how we do and do not mindfully inhabit space, and how that, combined with a fear of death, leads us to be overprotective when it comes to kids playing. It’s really thought provoking, but the thing that really gets me is that she describes an amazing park in Tokyo that we never went to and I’m super sad because it sounds amazing. I wish I had a transporter and could just zap myself there for a day. I have some shopping I’d like to do there too. 🙂

We stopped reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban about halfway through. The dementors were freaking the girls out, which I suspected would happen.  Now we’re reading Anyone but Ivy Pocket which is really quite funny. Tiny picked it out at the library, and it was an excellent choice. Lots of sly humor.

We all got new bikes last week. Tiny is learning how to ride without training wheels, which she couldn’t do in Tokyo because of all of the hills. But we’ve got lovely flat roads here. She’s coming along nicely.

I’m seriously obsessed with the soundtrack to the new musical Hamilton. I haven’t been this in love with a whole album for a long time, single songs, sure, but not a whole album. The music is just electric. I don’t know why it surprises me, it’s the music of a revolution, and anyone who knows me knows that’s a major soft spot for me. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics are so complex and clever, they make me grin. I remember when I saw In The Heights and I couldn’t breathe at one point  because I couldn’t believe he was doing what he was with the language, the rhymes were just so unexpected and glorious.

And I love beyond words the fact that this is a musical about Alexander freakin’ Hamilton. Who does that? I love that Miranda was obviously fascinated by Hamilton, to the point that he wrote an entire musical about him, and his work makes other people care about Hamilton. I think that’s where the best art comes from- not someone trying to figure out what will sell or what the market wants, but someone creating something because they’re so fascinated by it that they have to.

There aren’t any songs up on youtube yet, but this clip has my favorite song in it. (Although I also LOVE the song Satisfied, it’s so heartbreaking and gorgeous. There’s just SO much in it. It’s such an example of narrative through song.)  I’m thrilled that Miranda was just awarded a McArthur Genius Grant.

We’ve been doing poetry in school, and we just started Ogden Nash. The girls have been writing poems once a week inspired by the poems we read each week. I’m trying to get them to see both that poetry is work, that it’s worth working to get something right, but also that it’s fun and that they shouldn’t freak out over it. Their poems this week were about a squirrel and a rat. Z was more self conscious about whether or not hers was “good”, which makes sense because she’s older, but I’m hoping that we can keep the fun and joy in the creativity as long as we can.

That’s all my thoughts for now. What are you thinking about?

Flying Butler Academy update

It’s the middle of the third week of school. It’s going well, we have our super positive days and our complain-y days. A hard truth of homeschooling that goes along with the fun field trips and craft projects is that when your kids wake up in an anti-school mood and won’t stop griping about how much they don’t want to do school, you are the one that has to get them ready in the morning, work with them through their attitude to get the school work done, and then you don’t even get to send them home because you ARE home, and you have them for the rest of the day. That can make for some frustration all around. But on the whole, our days have been good.

We start each day with our “inspiration time”, which is either music, art, or poetry. This month’s composer is Bach, and we listen to a piece of his and then talk about it. If it’s a new type of music (this week was concertos) then we write down a definition it in our music glossaries. And by we I mean the girls. Sometimes the girls conduct the music or dance to it. This month’s artist is Mary Cassatt, and we look at a painting and then the girls draw their version of it in a sketchbook that’s specifically for those drawings. Sometimes the girls fight this and get super frustrated, and sometimes they really enjoy it. For poetry I read a poem aloud, then the girls each get a copy and they each read it aloud and then we mark the rhyming scheme and note anything else interesting about it. This month is Mary Ann Hoberman. Her poems are a lot of fun and really accessible.

Next comes writing and grammar. So far this month we’ve worked on parts of speech and how they work together to make interesting and evocative sentences vs. boring ones. We just started on descriptive writing, which flowed nicely out of working with a lot of adjectives.

Then comes Spanish. We’re using Getting Started with Spanish: Beginning Spanish for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age which is working incredibly well. The girls now know about 30 words and are fairly comfortable with them. I just made them flashcards that they can use to practice with, and today I had them make sentences with the cards and then the other girl had to translate the sentence. They had a lot of fun with it. The book breaks it down into little bit sized steps – on a number of days we did more than one day’s lessons at once. I really do highly recommend this book.

TEXAS! is next, and yes, that’s what we call it. 🙂 It’s a mix of history, social studies, government, and economy, all aimed at around 4th grade. Right now we’re working through the different regions of the United States and what makes them different from all the other regions (climate, economy, etc.) and how they impact Texas and the other parts of the US. The curriculum is fantastic, and the worksheets approach the information from a number of different angles. The girls have really enjoyed the mapping activities that require them to glue little icons for national monuments and such on their appropriate places on the map, using atlas, cardinal directions, and graphing notations to find the proper location.

We do science next. We did a fun experiment with eggs and vinegar last week, and this week we’re growing bacterial cultures in petri dishes (at least I hope we are).  Each day we check in on our experiment and the girls keep notes on their observations and hypotheses. We were scheduled to do more than experiment this week, but when I scheduled everything I wasn’t really looking at how long the experiments would take. So we adjust.

For math we are still using Math U See, and I cannot say enough good things about it. Z just started fractions, and the manipulatives that they have and the way they present the information makes SO MUCH SENSE. I flipped ahead and the way that they teach finding common denominators made me understand the process for the first time ever. I knew how to do it before, but not why. And unlike some facets of Common Core that make sense to adults but are confusing for kids, I think this will make sense to Z too. Tiny is starting multiplication and it’s easy right now because it’s skip counting.

We’re using Words Their Way for spelling, and it is working SO well. The girls are noticing and understanding the spelling patterns and are actually applying those patterns to other words.

Starting next month we will be adding in cursive, and life skills (health, manners, and cooking, on a rotating basis). I’m still looking into extra curricular classes- Z takes aikido once a week, but Tiny doesn’t have anything yet, and they both want to start piano.

So that’s what we’re doing and how it’s going. Yay school!

Books I read this week: Mid August to mid Sept.

I hit this point every year- when I get behind on posting and then just keep putting it off longer and longer. But here’s what I’ve been reading (albeit very slowly) for the last few weeks.

Lolita – The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel in Art and Design by John Bertram and Yuri Leving was seriously one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. It’s an analytical look at the history of how book cover artists have interpreted the character of Lolita for the cover of the book, and how that has changed and adapted over the years. There are a bunch of different essays that come at the subject from different angles, and the whole thing was incredibly interesting. It always bothers me when Lolita is portrayed as a sexually provocative girl who seduces Humbert; that portrayal shows a complete and utter misunderstanding of the point of the book. (I’m looking at you, Katy Perry.) The essays consider what responsibility a book cover has to accurately portray the inside of the book, and the politics that go into creating a marketable cover. The book also includes eighty new covers created specifically for this book. You don’t have to have read Lolita to read this (though it does discuss plot points), it can stand alone as a really interesting look at how art and story combine, and how sometimes the covers can drastically change how we read a book. I find it especially interesting given our culture of victim-blaming how Lolita has become responsible in so many people’s minds for her own kidnapping and repeated violation.

I started rereading Lolita again when I finished this book, and found it was not right for the mood I was in (it was our last days in Tokyo, I needed something lighter).

Where the first cover is figurative and simple, these covers are more abstract and intricate, like works in stained glass, if stained glass suddenly became the medium of choice for psychedelic expression.

“Humbert Humbert,” said Lolita’s author, “is a vain and cruel wretch who manages to appear ‘touching”. That epithet, in it’s true, tear-iridized sense, can only apply to my poor little girl.” Robbed of her childhood and dead at seventeen, Dolores Haze was denied her right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The vulgar designs that appear on so many covers of Lolita betray not only the child Nabokov depicts in his narrative but the very ideals of democracy-equality, justice for all- that the novel celebrates and reflects.


Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories: A Miss Marple Collection by Agatha Christie was about half stories that I’d read before and half that I hadn’t. These are the first stories that ever featured the lovely, aged Miss Marple, and they’re great. One of them is actually the basis for a later novel- I started recognizing it part way through. They’re solidly written, tightly characterized, and thoroughly enjoyable.

A Murder Is Announced: A Miss Marple Mystery  by Agatha Christie : I thought I’d read this one before, but apparently I hadn’t. It’s pretty excellent. I figured out what was going on decently early, but only because other modern authors have used the same twist.  The set up is that an announcement appears in the daily paper that a murder is going to occur at a house in the village at a certain time and date. All of the village residents think that it’s an announcement for a party, so they show up to find out what’s going to happen. The residents of the house in question didn’t place the advertisement, and pretty soon the lights go out and someone bursts through the door, demanding everyone’s money and jewels. Shots are fired and the robber ends up dead. And the mystery of who he was and what really happened begins. It’s got great characters, solid plotting, and a solution that had to have been mind twisting at the time it came out.

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie was another one I thought I’d read but hadn’t. It’s set in more modern day, which is always disconcerting for me, but Dame Agatha lived a long time and wrote a lot of books. This one centers around an organization that claims it can make people die seemingly natural deaths using witchcraft and psychic powers. It could easily be the plot of a Modesty Blaise book. I highly enjoyed it.

Back to Homeschool by Misty Krasawski was a reread, and a short one at that. It’s only about 100 pages, and is meant to be a daily devotional type experience meant to prepare you to start a new homeschool year. I read it on the roadtrip from California, all in one shot, but it was still helpful in getting my mind in the right place.

Simply Homeschool: 2nd Edition: Have Less Fluff and Bear More Fruit by Karen DeBeus is also a good, short reread. Her focus is on keeping things simple and hitting the essentials. It was a nice reminder.

Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain is about Beryl Markham, who wrote the book West With the Night that I read a month or so ago. It was a bit odd reading this book, as it’s written in the first person, just like the book that Markham herself wrote. So it was a little strange reading Markham’s words when they weren’t really hers. But the book covers different things than Markham’s own book, and fleshes out some areas of her early life and then goes into a lot more detail about her relationship with Denys Finch Hatton, who barely appears in West With the Night. This probably has to do with the triangle that occurred with Markham, Hatton, and Karen Blixen (who later wrote Out of Africa under the name Isak Dinesen). The descriptions of Africa are gorgeous and evocative, and Markham’s personality really comes through in line with what she herself wrote. I really really liked this one.

I have a chart that traces my route across the Atlantic, Abingdon to New York, every inch of icy water I’ll pass over, but not the emptiness involved or the loneliness, or the fear. Those things are as real as anything else, though, and I’ll have to fly through them. Straight through the sickening dips and air pockets, because you can’t chart a course around anything you’re afraid of. You can’t run from any part of yourself, and it’s better that you can’t. Sometimes I’ve thought it’s only our challenges that sharpen us- and change us, too.

The last thought I remember having was This is how it feels then. This is what it means to be eaten by a lion.

Rooms by Lauren Oliver was an unexpected book. I picked it somewhat randomly from my collection on the Haunted Kindle, and quickly discovered that it is the story of a haunted house- literally haunted by ghosts that inhabit the very boards and pipes of the house, and figuratively by memory. A man dies, and his family begrudgingly comes back to his house to have the will read and figure out how to dispose of this things. Their visit is observed by the two ghosts who live in the house, and as a third ghost is introduced, every character’s secrets begin to be revealed. It’s a haunted house story that isn’t really scary, but is disquieting and thought provoking. There are some lovely, sad characters, and I really enjoyed it.

She didn’t have top forgive him– the idea came suddenly, like a deep breath of air after a long submerging. It was all over now. She didn’t have to forgive him, and she could love him and hate him at the same time and it was all right.

Spirits of New Orleans: Voodoo Curses, Vampire Legends and Cities of the Dead (America’s Haunted Road Trip) by Kala Ambrose is a book about haunted locales in New Orleans, written by a psychic who talks to ghosts. It was entertaining and made me want to visit New Orleans again.

Over the last month I’ve also read the first two Harry Potter books to the girls. They loved them, and we just started the third last night. I’m glad we waited until now to read them; I really think that there are ideal times to read certain books, and I think now is the time for these books. We’re going to read book 3 and see if we’ll go on to book 4. I don’t know that we’ll move onto the 5th book, it gets super dark, but I don’t know how much of that the girls will pick up. We’ll just have to see. But neither of them likes what they call “love plots”, and those start up in around 5, so maybe that will be a good place to stop anyway.

I just got Shirley Jackson’s new collection Let Me Tell You from the library (hallelujah for the library!) which I’m going to start today.

What are you reading?

Random thoughts

We are in Texas! We got here four days ago and are making ourselves at home. Our stuff won’t get here for another month at least, so we’ve already made more shopping trips than I would have thought possible. We’re gorgeously placed for “run out and pick up something” shopping, we have a Walmart literally 3 minutes away, and two Targets within 10 minutes. Things are coming together in spaces in the house- the school room may be together before anything else because we’re getting everything for it here, rather than waiting for the shipment. I put one desk together today and will put the other together tomorrow, and the huge whiteboard shows up tomorrow. We haven’t started school yet, we had to wait for a few pieces of curriculum to get here, so we will start on Monday. We are still the Flying Butler Academy, although we have added a “house” system to the school ala Hogwarts. The girls are both in Dragonfist House and will earn and lose points throughout the year in support of their house. Students in Dragonfist are clever, feisty, and like treasure.

We got our air shipment (1 pallet of “essentials” that included our school stuff) and I discovered that I’d stuck some quilts in there. A couple were quilts that I’d made in Tokyo, so they’d never been dried in the dryer before. So of course they got thrown in for a wash and came out of the drier all gorgeously crinkly and wrinkly. There are few things better than a crinkly quilt. 🙂

Speaking of washing, we have a washer and dryer! And the dryer actually dries things! In half an hour! And they come out dry! It’s like a little miracle every time. 🙂 It honestly is glorious to be able to do a bunch of laundry in a row though. I hope I never get to the point where I take that for granted.

B went to IKEA the day we got here and picked up some mattresses, so we’re all sleeping on comfy mattresses on the floor. The girls will continue to use theirs when their beds get here, and the one that B and I are using will go into the guest room.

I love that it’s almost Fall and so a bunch of new books are going to come out. There are biographies by Grace Jones, Carrie Brownstein, and Drew Barrymore, and Mindy Kaling’s new book of essays, plus new novels by Kenzaburo Oe, Margaret Atwood, and Salman Rushdie that all look incredible. I need some new blood, I keep finding myself in one of those “I have a million books and nothing to read” moods. Right now I’m reading a book about haunted locations in New Orleans, which makes me happy. I think after that I will finally get around to reading Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead which is a private detective novel set in post-Katrina New Orleans.

I think that the album Disintegration by the Cure could be an album that exists in the goblin kingdom in Labyrinth. Doesn’t it sound like magical music that would back up David Bowie walking dramatically around places?

We met our neighbors on the right today (we already met our left side neighbors, they are an utterly delightful retired couple) and they have a little 4 year old, a 2 month old, and a dog. The mom is super nice and we’re happy to have them next door.

We also found a great cupcake store; the girls are very happy. The cupcakes are a little big- none of us actually finished the whole thing- but the flavors are fun and the cake itself is delicious. The girls have been a bit obsessed with cupcakes after watching a bunch of episodes of Cupcake Wars.

We’re in the middle of reading the second Harry Potter book and the girls are SO sure that they know what’s going on and they totally don’t. It’s super fun. We’re going to watch the 1st movie soon, I’m excited for them to see it. Tiny’s a bit worried about the end when Voldemort’s face is there, but I think it will be ok. We’re going to see how they do with this one before we decide if we keep reading and go on to book 3. I hope so, because it’s my favorite, but if it’s too scary then we’ll wait. No point ruining it.

I’m so behind on So You Think You Can Dance that it’s not even funny. I’ve been keeping track of who has gone home, but I haven’t seen any of the dances for a couple weeks now. The girls don’t know yet that Neptune went home, they’re going to be upset about that. They really really liked him. I did too.

I have dye to dye my hair red, but I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. Maybe tonight…

We watched Pitch Perfect 2 the other night- super cute. I was impressed with how it worked as a sequel but wasn’t just a rehash of the first one. I do wonder though if it freaks Jack Black out how much Adam DeVine acts and sounds like him. It’s slightly weird. Is it coincidence or an act? I don’t know. Maybe they’re secretly related and DeVine took a different last name because he wanted to get jobs on his own, not because of his relation to Jack Black. That could be a movie in itself.

I think that’s all I’ve got. Book post coming sometime soon, and posts with pictures from our travels coming as well.

The Prodigal Son

This last Sunday, Bruce and I were asked to give talks during the main meeting at church. (In the LDS church we don’t have a paid ministry, so people from the membership of the church are asked to give a talk – like a sermon, I guess- each week.) We were asked to talk about the parable of the prodigal son, and it really struck a chord with me. I ended up with quite a lot to say. I thought I’d share it here.


We were asked to speak about the prodigal son today, and pondering this parable and its implications for us has been such an enlightening experience. I will be using a lot of personal examples, because this parable is about individual souls.

I heard a lesson about the prodigal son once where the teacher challenged us to not assume that we were the father, (benevolent, loving, forgiving), but to take a deep look at how we function as the other characters in the story, and that is what I would like to do today. I don’t know that we are ever the father in this story (even if we are earthly parents of earthly children who stray from the gospel) – at its base this is a story about how we interact with God and how we view and react to how others interact with God.

The father in the story runs a household, and one of his sons comes to him asking for his inheritance early. He wants to live his own life on his own terms. The father allows this, and the son leaves. He enjoys his life of reckless spending (did you know that that is the definition of prodigal? It’s doesn’t mean wayward. I had NO idea.) and finally comes to the realization that he has wasted his money and has no further way to support himself.  He realizes that the servants in his father’s home have more to eat than he does, and he humbles himself and returns to his father’s home to beg for the chance to be a servant.

We are, all of us, that prodigal child. Every day, in different ways, we step away from our Father’s home and recklessly waste the time that we have here on earth. Some of us do that in big ways and find ourselves far from our Father’s house, some do it in small ways and maybe just find ourselves just outside the door. But every one of us finds ourselves in the position of needing to humble ourselves and return home.  Sin makes it impossible for us to have residence in His home or in His presence, and so we return as supplicants.

But as the parable teaches us, the Father is standing with arms outstretched, not even standing- the scripture tells us “when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” . The Lord is always waiting, ready to forgive us when we return. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, it tells us in Ephesians that  ” you are no longer called outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God’s people, members of God’s holy family, and residents of His household.” – Ephesians 2:19

I bear testimony that no matter how lost or far from God you feel, He knows exactly where you are. I went to college at the University of CA in Santa Cruz, which is about as far from a church school as you can get. It was extremely easy for members to come to college and then just never go to church. A friend and I were stake missionaries, and part of our job was to track down people whose records had been transferred to the student ward and let them know when church was and encourage them to come. Sometimes this was really straight forward, but other times people were quite elusive, especially if they lived off campus. We basically had a list of names in our heads all of the time and we just kept an eye out for them. One of them was Fred.

One quarter toward the end of the year, I was prompted to take a beginning Chinese language class. It sounded insane but kind of fun, and I like that combination, so I signed up. I figured that maybe I’d use Chinese in the future at some point, because I really felt prompted to take it. I went to the first class and realized that it really was just insane. Chinese is extremely difficult, and my other two classes were going to be intense as well. But I decided to stick with it. The next class came, and the next, and I realized that Chinese was not going to happen. I needed to get out of this class or I was going to flunk, but the only class I could transfer into was being taught by a teacher I had taken classes from before and had sworn I would never take a class from again. But it was my only move, and I felt like it was the right one, so I went in and pleaded for him to make space for me in his class, which he did. I showed up to class the next day, this class that I would never have chosen to take, and there was a roll sheet being passed around. I took it and as I went to write my name I noticed the name above mine. Fred.  I passed the roll on and then passed a note to Fred that said, “Are you the Fred who is LDS?” His head popped up and he asked how I knew who he was and I told him that we’d been looking for him since the beginning of the year and it was time for him to come to church. And he did.

The Lord knows where we are. He knows our hearts and He knows when we are ready to come back to His house.

But there is someone else in the parable- the older brother of the prodigal son. I said at the beginning that I don’t think we are ever the father in this story, and that’s because we are the son, and we are the older brother, and we get to choose how we respond when those around us repent. In the parable the older brother is resentful and angry about his father’s rejoicing and forgiveness and judgmental of his brother.

As I thought about this, I initially thought, oh, I don’t do that. But then the Spirit chastised me as I realized that, oh yes, I certainly do. There was a situation with a friend of mine, where in my view, she was wronged. Her ex-husband and his new wife went through a repentance process and when they announced that they were being sealed in the temple, I was resentful and angry, just like the brother in the parable. I didn’t feel like they had repented enough, though it was absolutely not my call and none of my business. We are not the father. We do not get to set the terms of other people’s repentance.

In another situation I know, a person committed a sin with very public consequences. They worked very diligently at the repentance process, and were able to return to full fellowship in the church. Everyone in their ward rejoiced with them. But then they committed that sin again. And because the consequences were public and easily seen, everyone knew. And though the person diligently repented and returned again to full fellowship, there were those in their ward, who, like the older brother, were resentful and angry, even going so far as refusing to serve in callings alongside this person.

And this leads me to the thought that has been on my mind for the past two weeks, as I think of the unfortunately large number of my friends who have left the church – do we make our brothers and sisters feel welcome in our Father’s house?

In sixth grade, I had a best friend. We were in the same class at school, and the same class at church. In high school her family stopped coming to church, and when we left for college we lost contact.  Speed forward a lot of years, and when Tiny was a baby I found her again, living about 10 minutes away. She had a daughter Zoe’s age and twins Tiny’s age, and we fell back into a deep friendship. We did preschool co op together and play groups, and even though she was still not active at church, she was surrounded by women who were. My friend was the Relief Society Enrichment counselor and invited her to teach a baking class. She led cooking lessons for our church playgroup. She was invited to baby blessings and baptisms.

We loved her and welcomed her regardless of whether or not she was active, and to this day she is not, but we don’t care, we love her and she knows that she is welcome.

Back in college, we got a name at the beginning of the year of someone whose records were transferred, and got in touch with the girl really quickly. We went to visit her and found out that she had a car, which was a huge thing. The campus is up on a big hill, and the church building takes about an hour to get to by bus. But it only takes 20 minutes by car, and so we arranged a carpool every week. But we had too many people and not enough seats.  So we asked her if she would drive people to church the next Sunday. She said no problem, and became a regular part of the carpool and was very active in church activities. About a year later as she was preparing to go on a mission, she sent me a card, and thanked me for asking her to drive people to church. She really hadn’t been planning on going to church in college, but we showed up and just assumed that she was active, and we communicated to her that she was welcome and needed, and so she came.

When we treat our brothers and sisters who are returning to their father’s house with real love and respect, they will feel welcome. If they feel like an assignment, or feel judged, they will not.

But what about those who aren’t returning on the time table that we want, or who are in the process of leaving?

Regardless the reason for their leaving, I believe the actions are the same. We love. We listen. We live the gospel and take the opportunity to share it when appropriate, being aware of their comfort level. We listen some more. And then perhaps listen some more. The commandment is for us to love our neighbor. Not love them if they are active, not love them if they are keeping the commandments the way we think they should be. Love them.

I asked a couple of my dear friends, one who has been away from the church for a while, and one who only this week announced her intention to leave what was helpful to them in keeping them connected with the church. I thought their words were so illuminating.

One of them said: “My friends that ask me questions still about spirituality and take my answers and experiences seriously, who do not minimize my feelings or conclusions because I am no longer a Mormon, those have been the most helpful friends. Because honestly it’s pretty terrifying to realize that a church you have belonged to for a decade is no longer where you need to be. Unhelpful: sending the missionaries over (if you feel that strongly that I need a 19 year olds help, come with them please), explaining that my feelings are just Satan, or acting like being offended is the only issue I have. I was offended…by the lack of inclusion and support as I went through a terribly dark night of the soul.”

Because of the time that we have spent talking about her concerns,  and the love that we share, I feel comfortable sending her conference talks or other things that come up that are about topics that are meaningful to her. And I have been able to learn and grow so much from the things that she has shared with me from the church that she currently attends.

The other friend said: “I know – from 27 years in the church – that the encouraged response is to see me as fallen, misled, apostate, or in need of “saving.” I hope my friends will sit, listen, and mourn with me, for I am mourning. I feel so loved and supported as people “sit” with me and we muse about questions together, some just said they loved me or sent hugs, and some compassionately shared times they’ve been on the outside as I have. I feel like, often, church members avoid those with doubts or those who’ve left as those with the plague; and yet, Christ was unafraid of those in his own time; he visited them, spoke to them, sat with them.”

If those who have left do not feel welcome, they will not return. If they feel dismissed or belittled, they will not feel that they have a place in their father’s home. May we never say or do anything that gives someone that impression, whether they are a participating member of the Church or not.

Many of my friends who have chosen to leave the church have done so because their feelings were really hurt. I know that we like to refer to that as “they chose to be offended”, but I think often times “they chose to be offended” is a way to not admit that someone made a mistake and said or did something hurtful. Everyone has their agency to decide how they respond to hurtful things, but we also have a responsibility to be inclusive.

One friend took a break from church attendance after a number of weeks of hearing that if she just had more faith she would get pregnant. A number of friends who are converts have a hard time feeling welcome when they hear lessons begin with “Think back to a time on your mission” or “All of us learned this in Primary”. Another friend was exhausted and hurt by criticism of her child’s behavior at church. Yet another felt judged for his decision to wait to serve a mission.

As the saying goes, the gospel is perfect, the people are not- but as Saints we should try to be a little more perfect and aware of what we’re saying. Don’t criticize how people are fulfilling their callings. Don’t assume everyone’s experience is the same as yours.  Teach doctrine, not culture.

It’s not stated in the parable, but I can imagine the older brother making the comment to his younger brother that if he really doesn’t like his father’s rules he can just leave. That should never be an option for us.

There should always be a place for everyone in our Father’s home. As far as he is concerned, there is. Our job is to love and wait and welcome our brothers and sisters back to our Father’s home, and to make sure that it’s where we are.


Books I read this week: end of July, beginning of August

Here’s what I’ve been reading over the last couple weeks.

A Pretty Mouth  by Molly Tanzer is a book I would recommend really selectively. When I reviewed Tanzer’s more recent book, Vermillion, I said that it was a book that people who enjoyed that genre of books would really enjoy, but that it was worth a try for those who had never really ventured into the pulp genre before. I would not say that about this one. It’s a great read, but heavy on the eldritch horror, very dark and twisty and strange. It’s a series of short stories following the members of the Calipash family through generations- a family known for their “sinister schemes, lewd larks, and eldritch experiments”. So if you know and enjoy that style and genre, this is a good one. If not, move on.

I do not enjoy verbal fencing with mercurial gentlemen, that is for sharp-tongued spinsters with too many cats and well-thumbed copies of Emma.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley had so much potential. All of the pieces were there for it to be transcendent, and it didn’t quite make it for me. About halfway through it kicked into high gear and I loved it, but there were emotions and endings that didn’t feel quite earned. But, it really was quite good, if not transcendent, which is a high bar anyway.  It’s the story of Thaniel (an affectation that was a bridge too twee for me) who works as a telegraph operator and is saved from an explosion at Scotland Yard by a mysterious watch that was left in his house. He tracks down the creator of the watch, who may also be the creator of the bomb that exploded Scotland Yard, and the story goes from there. Mori, a Japanese expatriate is a really interesting character, and I wish more had been made of him earlier in the story. The characters are interesting, and there’s a clever element at the crux of the story, so I recommend it with a “stick with it” caveat.

I think if you go about claiming at strangers that you make clockwork flying things they start to feel doubtful about any sort of elongated tenancy.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss IS transcendent.  It tells the intersecting stories of two families from three perspectives, all of which turns on the pivot of a book called The History of Love. Leo, an old man, just wants to be seen, and wishes to know his lost son. Alma, a teenager named after “every girl in The History of Love”, grieves for her dead father and wants her mother to be happy again, and her little brother Bird thinks that he might be one of the holy men left on the Earth to save mankind. The voices are distinct and alive, their struggles and hopes heartbreaking. I totally cried toward the end, it’s just SO good.

Except for when I was very little and thought that being an “engineer” meant he drove a train. Then I imagined him in the seat of an engine car the color of coal, a string of shiny passenger cars trailing behind. One day my father laughed and corrected me. Everything snapped into focus. It’s one of those unforgettable moments that happen as a child, when you discover that all along the world has been betraying you.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead is so lovely. It’s the story of Joan, who used to be a ballerina but left ballet when she got pregnant. It’s the story of Arslan, her ex-boyfriend, who defected from Russia. It’s the story of Jacob, the boy who always loved her. It’s the story of Elaine, who is still a ballerina. It’s the story of Harry, Joan’s son, who is a ballet prodigy obsessed with Arslan, and the story of Chloe, his best friend, who loves ballet more than anything. As these stories interweave in and out of the dance studio and back and forth in time, the book raises questions about talent, art, the goals we make and the dreams we leave and what we sacrifice. It’s incredibly good.

The motions. She has been trained to believe that the motions are enough. Each motion is to be perfected, repeated endlessly and without variation, strung into a sentence with other motions like words in a sentence, numbers in a code.

He had kissed her once, just before they left for college. It had been the kind of kiss that asks for something enormous.

How to homeschool when you’re scared

Today one of my friends linked to this post and said that while she is really interested in homeschooling, she also shares the fears of the writer of the post. She asked how her homeschooling friends dealt with those fears, and thinking about that inspired this post. Because, predictably, I have thoughts.

First and foremost, let’s just put it out there- homeschooling is scary. You’re stepping outside the norm, you’re taking responsibility for your child’s education, you’re taking on having them home all day, you’re taking on teaching them subjects you may not feel confident in. But just because something is scary doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It also doesn’t automatically mean you should do it. So here are some ways to battle the fear.

“I’m afraid to take my kid out of regular school.”

Write it down:

Why? I’m being serious here, take a look at why you are afraid. Are you afraid of being judged? That your child will miss out on something? (If so, hold on to that, we’ll come back to it.) Are you afraid because you’re doing something unusual? Think of every reason you’re afraid and write it down. Identifying the sources of our fear can help in and of itself.

Read a lot:

The more you read about homeschooling, the more concrete it becomes in your mind as an option. Read far and wide, blogs, books, websites, anything that gives you perspective and options. Read The Well-Trained Mind, A Charlotte Mason Education, A Thomas Jefferson Education , Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World, and any other book that looks good. You don’t (and won’t) have to agree with all of them, but they’ll show you what is possible outside of a “regular” classroom. This goes hand in hand with

Figure out your philosophy:

My friends will laugh because I have a philosophy about everything, but this is really important. The book 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum is the most helpful source I’ve found for this, as the workbook pages walk you through thinking about what you want for your child’s education. Think about what it’s important to you that your child know when they graduate. What subjects do you wish you learned more about in school? Do you want them sitting at a desk a lot? Outside? Doing hands on work? Memorizing facts? Figure out what is important to you, so you know what approach you want to take. At this point, you may realize that a regular classroom is the best forum for realizing your philosophy, and that’s just fine. All of the possibilities are tools in the education toolbox, and if you need a classroom shaped hammer, then don’t try using a homeschool sized wrench.

“I’m afraid I don’t know enough to be a good teacher.”

Use the library:

The library is your best friend. The fact is, no one knows everything about anything. If you’re doing a unit on Egyptians, hit the library for age appropriate books about Egypt. Teach your child how to use the resources at the library to look up and find books in the non-fiction and fiction sections.

Use the internet:

There are so many fantastic resources on the internet. I rely on it all the time when I’m trying to figure out how to explain a math concept, or finding an answer to a question I don’t have an answer to. Youtube is full of great videos for visual learners, there are great games for practicing different subjects, and great websites with premade worksheets.

Make friends with other homeschoolers:

If you have a community of homeschooling friends, you have a pool of resources to pull from. Maybe one of them is great at a subject you’re not confident in and is willing to either give you a refresher or do some subbing in for you. Other homeschoolers are also a great resource for ideas for curriculum if what you’ve picked out isn’t working for you.

Look at classes and clubs:

You don’t have to be your child’s only teacher just because you’re homeschooling. There are lots of options for classes at different price points at gyms and community centers, as well as subject specific locations like cooking classes. Girl/boy scouts and 4H are also excellent opportunities for kids to learn outside of the home. The charter school that we went through allowed us to use state funds for certain classes, so that is also something to look into.

Remember, you don’t need to know everything and neither do your kids.

Check out the state standards for the grade your child will be in. See where other kids their age are expected to be at the beginning and end of their grade. It really isn’t necessary for your 1st grader to be able to tell you all of the relevant dates for the history of the Romans- being able to tell you about togas and gladiators and remembering the name of Julius Caesar is pretty awesome. The further I get in homeschooling, the more I realize that I was expecting too much early on. Learning should be interesting and mentally stimulating, not frustrating.

“I’m afraid I’m going to fail.”

Find a mentor:

This is, I think, the most important thing you can do to help yourself not be afraid. Find someone who has done it before, who is further in the process than you are and look to them for inspiration. When we started homeschooling, we went through a charter school that provided an accredited teacher to check in with once a month. I highly recommend this approach for at least the first year. Having someone who can hold your hand as you start is invaluable. My current mentor has no idea that I hold her in that regard, we’ve never met, she doesn’t know who I am. But Heather from Beauty That Moves is a homeschooling mama whose daughter is turning 18, and her posts remind me that this is a viable option, that homeschooling is a wonderful, edifying thing.

Make a schedule:

This is second on the not being afraid list. You can’t have a sense of what you’re accomplishing if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. Determine at the beginning of the year what you want to accomplish. This can be anything from “By the end of the year I want my child to know how to read 3 letter words” to “I want us to do a science experiment every day” or “I want my child to progress through their math workbook”. The more specific, the better. Then break that year long goal down into monthly goals, and then weekly goals. You can go more specific than that, or leave it loose if you want more freedom. I know a lot of people who feel restricted by schedules, I used to be one of them. But I’ve learned that having at least a rudimentary schedule gives you the freedom of knowing that you’re getting the things done that you want to.

Have realistic expectations:

Figure out what your expectations are, and judge yourself against them, not against something impossible. Don’t expect perfection from yourself or your kid, you’re not going to get it. You’re going to make mistakes, and so is she.  If you expect your kid to sit in her chair while you work on math, don’t keep her there for an hour if she’s 5.  This is where a mentor and homeschooling friends come in handy- as a reality check when you get frustrated. Also, be realistic about what kind of homeschooler you are, not just what you think you should be. The fact that pinterest is filled with pictures of intricate reproductions of the Great Wall of China made out of sugar cubes doesn’t mean you have to do that with your kid unless you really want to.

Remember, homeschool isn’t regular school:

And it probably isn’t going to look like it. You’re most likely going to finish lessons in far less time because you’re focusing on teaching less children. Once they’ve got the concept, practice it and move on. School doesn’t have to take 7 hours because you don’t have to wait for everyone to finish. Don’t compare your school to regular school. One of the lovely things for us is that we didn’t have to worry about all of the Common Core techniques for math- once the girls found a technique that worked for them and that they understood, we left the rest alone.

If it isn’t working, you can always stop (for the day):

You are going to have days when you are frustrated beyond belief, or your child is frustrated, and what you are doing isn’t working. Just stop. One of the joys of homeschool is that you can take a step away, no matter what you have on the schedule for that day. If you’re all too tired, watch a video about animals instead of making an intricate sugar cube reproduction of the Great Wall of China. If borrowing is causing tears, cuddle together and read a book instead. Borrowing will wait until tomorrow, and will probably be easier with fresh eyes.

If it really isn’t working, you can always stop (and try something else).

Maybe you have your heart set on giving your child a Classical education and they’re bristling against the structure. Maybe you really love the idea of unschooling but you’re going a little crazy not having things planned ahead of time. Maybe the spelling curriculum that looked awesome causes tears and frustration every day.  Reassess and try something else. It can take time to find what works for you and your kid.

If it REALLY isn’t working, you can always stop (for good.)

Discovering that homeschooling isn’t working for you or your child (or both) isn’t a failure, it’s just a discovery. So you try something else. Maybe it’s public school, maybe it’s private school, maybe it’s a tutor. I know a number of families who tried homeschooling and stopped, and all of them are happier because they were honest about what was working and what wasn’t. Just because you start homeschooling doesn’t mean that you can’t do something else.

“I’m afraid that my child will be weird/not socialized.”

Give them a social education:

I approach my girls’ social education the same way I do their academic education. I plan playdates and social opportunities with specific parameters (not all the time, but you know what I mean) because playing with one friend takes different interaction skills than playing with two or three friends. Give your child lots of opportunities to be around other people and you’ll be fine and so will they.

Are you weird?

In my experience, homeschooled kids of weird people end up a bit weird. Homeschooled kids of fairly normal people end up fairly normal. It’s just kind of how it is. But a little weird never hurt anyone. However, if you (as parents) are introverts (I’m not saying introverts are weird), and you worry about your child feeling comfortable getting out and around other people, then work hard to give them that social education. They won’t have a forced interaction with 30 other kids every day, so you’re going to have to supplement what they’re getting at home.

Homeschooling can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Most fear comes from the unknown, and the more you know, the more confident you’ll be. If you’re a religious type who believes in prayer, pray about it. We had very strong promptings that we were supposed to homeschool. Other people might not. Every family and every situation is different. And this is all just my opinion, your experience may vary wildly from this. But hopefully it helps a little bit.


San Francisco, here we come

While we were in CA for vacation we took a trip up to San Francisco to visit with my lovely Brandy, who was there for a library conference. We took BART in and took the cable car to Pier 39. It was the girls’ first cable car experience that they can remember, and they enjoyed it greatly though they didn’t appreciate the line to get on.

I’ve been to SF tons of times, but it took being away for me to realize how much I love the look of the town.



Two intrepid travelers.DSC03864

Two more!DSC03867




There was a lovely layer of mist over the Golden Gate.DSC03902

The girls found a friend.DSC03914

The girls are now enamored of wax museums (YAY!) so we made a stop at Madame Tussad’s SF location to compare. DSC03925



They have feelings about Zuckerberg. (Ok, not really, I told them to do this. But it made me laugh.)DSC03937


They have an exhibit about how they make the wax works (there’s one in the Tokyo version as well) and Neil Patrick Harris is the model for the SF version.


Posing on Abbey Road, which they totally recognized.DSC03943

Miss Audrey with Miss Audrey.DSC03947

This may be one of my favorite pictures ever. DSC03952

And a special picture for their daddy, looking tough with Steve McQueen. DSC03957

For this one you’re supposed to pose with Elton John.

There was only one problem.DSC03961

Elton left! DSC03963

We went out to see the sea lions, but this little guy was all alone.

The weight of all of our expectations tired him out.DSC03976

My sweet Brandy! It was so lovely to spend time with her and enjoy San Francisco!DSC03981