Thursday, May 29, 2014

Weekly Book Post: The House of Mirth


I've decided to switch up a few of the categories for my 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge, and one of the new categories is based on a "Best Books by Women Authors" list I found online.  I'm not sure if I'm going to stick strictly to that list or branch out, so for now I've named that category "Women's Studies".  It shouldn't be an issue, since women make up more than half the world population, but it is still easy when picking "serious" books to read to fall into a pattern of reading all dead white male authors.  No thank you!

So far I've read three books for this new category:

1.  The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
2.  The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
3.  Bossypants by Tina Fey

House on Mango Street was a surprisingly small and simple book, so much so that I read it in only about a day.  But the simplicity is only skin (or page) deep, as the prose, ideas, and images linger much longer than the book itself.  Cisneros taps into her own childhood and experience growing up Latina, and paints a picture of her neighborhood and the people living in it, ultimately also pointing to how trapped many of them are in generational poverty and underprivileged status.  It's a must-read - ignore the reviews that call it confusing or over-rated.  I loved it.

House of Mirth (why are the titles so similar - coincidence) is a very different animal, except that it once again is the work of a woman who was looking back to the milieu she was raised in and using literature to point out how trapped people can be by that environment.  In this case, Wharton grew up in affluent New York society during the Gilded Age, and here writes a tragic novel about how that world can destroy a woman who just couldn't quite conform and wouldn't compromise what she wanted.  Although the heroine might be easy to dismiss as foolish and vain (like Madame Bovary), Wharton paints such a thoroughly human picture of her that the reader must still like her and sympathize with her plight, rather than blaming her for her own misfortunes.

I listened to Bossypants as an audiobook on my phone (with my new Audible membership - so far this is a wonderful thing), having Tina Fey's voice in my ear as I did chores around the house or garden.  Although the book is funny, it is also very much about sexism and the pressure on women today.  I particularly liked the parts about Fey's childhood and early start in comedy.

My plan for the next books in this category involves Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf.  Any others I shouldn't miss?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Back to Homeschooling while Working

I have just had a three month sabbatical from work, and during that time my other job - as a homeschooling mom - swelled and took over all the "extra" time I had free from work.  Now this week I'm back to work, and we are all adapting once again.

This means a weekly rhythm that puts more of the work I need to supervise onto my day off - which is conveniently Monday.  We start off the week with the introduction to new concepts, the discussions of ideas, and the planning of projects.

Then I have two days a week that I do office hours at work.  The kids have lighter and more independent work on those days.

In the middle of the week I have a "work from home" day.  This day is a mix - I'm paying more attention to what they are doing but I can't dedicate long hours to direct instruction, either.  So they do more of their work on this day, but it's still mostly independent work.

Then we are finishing off the week with a "Fun Friday".  I don't do office hours on Fridays, but I might have some prep work and errands to do for work.  That dovetails pretty well with field trips, so we are doing hikes, nature study, and field trips on Fridays, and then Fine Arts and "Project Time" as our only at-home assignments.

It's a balancing act - wish me luck!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Let's Organize Our Chores


You know that saying that "A man works from sun to sun but a woman's work is never done"?  Well, really the work of keeping a house IS never done, and so as long as that is primarily a woman's responsibility, then it's true that a woman could just work around the clock.  The trick with so much of this domestic labor is that you do it, but in the meantime it is being undone all around you.  The dust just settles back again on to all the horizontal surfaces.  The animals continue to shed hair and fur that covers all your furniture and rugs.  Dirt finds its way onto all your floors.  Dishes - don't get me started on dishes.

And so, if I don't want to just spend all my time as a whirling dervish with cleaning tools attached to my arms, I need some way to say when Enough is Enough.

There is an old system that many housewives used to use, with different tasks on each day of the week. What appeals to me about that idea is that if the day is set aside for baking, and you've done all your baking, but you notice that there are some shirts that could be ironed and that the floor is a bit dirty, you leave those things for another day.  You are done with today's work, and tomorrow's work can just wait while you go put your feet up and read a novel.

Would this mean my house isn't as clean?  Maybe.  But it will still be Clean Enough.

And then there is another, newer, idea for managing this housework problem, namely the other people in the house should be helping!

Last week I sat down with those two ideas and wrote out the chart pictured above.  It gives a main focus to each of six days of the week:

Monday is Baking Day
Tuesday is Ironing Day
Wednesday is Mending Day
Thursday is Shopping Day
Friday is Cleaning Day
Saturday is Gardening Day

And then it also gives my kids chores as well.  Last week I was thinking that they would rotate through all the chores, but that system proved too complicated and it gave them chores they weren't quite ready for.

So this week I've simplified their chores:  they will each make dinner one night a week, help with laundry one day a week, clean their bedrooms on one day, and wash the dinner dishes on two nights each.  They also take care of our outdoor animals on all weekdays.

I have to help with the dinner cooking still, but this way they are learning. If this works, I'll gradually add in some more chores for them.

And then my work will only be Sun to Sun, as well.  Enough has got to be Enough.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Weekly Book Post

Poolside reading, anyone?

I'm progressing at a decent clip on my 14 x 14 Reading Challenge, but my mother - my mother is a crazy reading machine!  She is actually adding on new categories, and it looks like she will do a 20 x 14 Challenge this year.

My competitive spirit was chastened, but I just have to give her kudos for the gusto she brings to reading and learning.

On my side of the challenge, I have finished 56 books so far this year.  I'm enjoying having the time to read more novels and "fun" books, but I've also made an important realization about my own lifetime learning.

I really like philosophy and theology and Big Ideas, and it doesn't matter if I have an official assignment to read them or not.

BUT ... and it's kind of a big But ... if you are going to read this type of book for fun it seems you need to be careful not to bore your friends and family to death babbling on about them.

It's not just a problem that readers have, either.  My son loves to tell me all about the latest video game obsession he has, and I try, I really do try, to be interested.  But so often it just goes in one ear and out the other.  Recently I was talking to my husband about the book I just read, Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction, and the look on his face suddenly reminded me of how I imagine I look when my son is talking about his video games.  I was guilty of just talking at my husband and it was making him glaze over.

There are many topics and ideas in this world that we can become excited about, and there is nothing wrong with just learning for learnings sake.  You don't have to get a grade for it, and you don't have to even share it with others.  Just Read.  Just Learn.  Just Think.  And enjoy!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Got Eggs?

So ..... I was out of town for a little more than a month.

And this happened:


Wow, I have more than a gross of eggs in my fridge!  They ran out of egg cartons and started filling tubs, and I don't know how old some of these eggs are.

Fortunately, we are taking on a "Make It All From Scratch" change to our diet.  And, also fortunately, my son is very enthusiastic about baking right now.  He made (GF) corn bread all by himself yesterday, and it was pretty good.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A bit of Musing on How to Get My Son to Read a Novel

Reading is one of my passions, and we are always surrounded by piles of books in our home, the kids see me reading all the time, and we make weekly trips to the public library to bring home even more books.

I think reading is one of the most important things we can do, and I'm very dismayed by the recent data that shows it on the decline with children.    In my ideal world all children would be soaked in reading, the outdoors, joyful physical movement, and imaginative play.

But this has not resulted in passionate little readers in my own household.  Both of my kids have struggled with the mechanics of reading, so I didn't get to enjoy the pleasure of seeing my tiny 6 year old reading Harry Potter to herself.  Instead, I have sat by their side as they struggle, sometimes even crying, to read Splat the Cat.  

My eight-year old is still in this stage of struggling, but my eleven-year old has had the full break through and really can read independently now.  I've responded to that by putting "Independent Reading Time" into his homeschool schedule.  He fills that time with his own passions - non-fiction books about science, technology, and history.  That's wonderful, but I worry that he isn't reading literature.

Not that the kids aren't soaked in fiction - but it's all on audiobook, or we read it out loud together.  And I love that - because I get to enjoy all these books too and because then we have a shared story line as a family that we can all use as a springboard for conversation, further learning, and imaginative play together.


But it still bothers me that my kids aren't "Readers". I'm thinking about giving him a Book List that he has to choose from for at least part of that Independent Reading Time on the schedule.  Or maybe I need to put Literature into his schedule as its own time block.  The summer is probably a great time to experiment with this, as our schedule will have to be changed week-to-week based on which child is in a summer camp and what the camp schedule is.  So maybe it will be a Summer Reading List!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day


 Happy Mother's Day!  Today, you can find me over on my other blog, The Childrens Chalice, writing about a Mother's Day that extends that love out into the world.

Friday, May 9, 2014

More History Lessons from Our Trip


Our trip to New England was a wonderful way to explore earlier American History.  We've read the first four books in the History of US series by Joy Hakim, and it was nice to actually see some of the things that we had read about.

The Mayflower (replica) at Plymouth was surprisingly small.  The Plymouth Rock was just weird - why did we carve a date in that rock and put a Greek column style roof over it?  It seems completely out of character with the pilgrims who stepped out on that rock from that little ship.


Plimouth Plantation was really amazing!  My daughter says she would like to work there when she's older.


We also went to Salem, which was pretty terribly tacky.  There is a lot of history there, but it's well buried under witchy themed tourist traps.


In Boston, we went to see "Old Ironsides".  This ship was bigger than I expected, and boy did it have a lot of cannons!  There was also a nice little free museum, with a lot of hands on fun for learning about the War of 1812.

We're home now, but this was such a big trip!  We're still writing it up and wrapping it up, and we learned so much!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lessons Learned in April

Lessons Learned in April

Each month I'm taking some time to reflect back on the last month and what I learned from it.  This month I:

  • Realized that my efforts to accept myself and be OK just Being Me were no match for my Anxious Self.  Anxiety before my big road trip and before my big credentialing interview was almost more than I (or my nearest and dearest) could deal with.
  • BUT ... I also learned that I could survive the anxiety and that all was well in the end.
  • Found myself newly re-inspired to live an environmentally conscious lifestyle, and to take a moral stance on climate change.
  • Took on a big adventure with the kids and found it not only survivable but actually fun.  I think more travel adventures are in our future now.
  • Also learned tons of facts about America in the course of our trip - too much to list it all here.
It was a good month!

Friday, May 2, 2014

History Lessons


A huge part of this trip has been taken up with history.  We were studying the Revolutionary War before this trip, so it has been perfect to head East and see where it really happened.

Minuteman National Historical Park has a fabulous visitor center and really the best movie/multimedia presentation I've seen so far in a history museum.  This is where the first battle of the war happened.

Bunker Hill National Monument marks the first big battle - which the Americans lost.


The museum here is small, but you can climb the monument all the way to the top.


Boston's Freedom Trail takes you on a walking tour of history and where it all began.


Here's the steeple where they hung the two lanterns: "one if by land, two if by sea"


Which was the signal to tell Paul Revere what word to spread on his midnight ride.


They stood on this balcony to read the Declaration of Independence out loud to Boston.


And then, back in New York, we saw the "turning point" of the Revolutionary War at Saratoga.  It also has a nice visitor center, and the battle field is nicely preserved with an interpretive drive.


This has been a really wonderful way to bring this history to life for the kids!