Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Brotherly Love

When Catie wakes up, she is a little snuggly.  Today, Will was watching some cartoons and when I came back in the room, I found this.

But it is hard to watch TV that way.  So Catie moved.

And Will just let her snuggle.  This kid has may be one of the most kind-hearted boys I've ever met.

But I am a little biased.

Monday, July 26, 2010

To Save My Sanity

I like to consider myself a patient person.  Afterall, I teach teenagers for a living.  I have three kids.  I have been married for almost eleven years.  I'm the oldest of five children.  I'm the primary second counselor.  I taught piano (and may start again) for eleven years before I got my teaching job.

All of these areas require patience and while it may be accompanied by frustration, I still can usually work through it.

However, there are few things that can drive me absolutely crazy faster than when I ask my kids to do something and they say okay. Then, fifteen minutes later when I go to check on progress, they are rockin' out to their tunes, but the beds aren't made, clothes aren't put away, brushes aren't in drawers, water hasn't even been turned on to clean the bathroom, five pairs of  underwear are on the floor, they are buried under the blankets that are supposed to be on their beds...well, you get the idea.  And then...

I turn into a yeller. 

I don't like being a yeller.  And then when I go back five minutes later and see the same scene depicted above, I just lose my mind and contemplate if it would be easier for me to run away or get rid of my kids.  

I know - bad mom.  
So, because I'm tired of being a bad mom, for the last week I have been researching homeschooling families.  Especially LARGE homeschooling families.  Seven to eight kids minimum.

Did I lose you?
See, the way I figure is that homeschooling families and both parent working families have lots in common.  There are things that are trying to be accomplished that seem impossible.  Homeschooling families are teaching their children, all of different ages and abilities, running a home, often have a dad working at home or on a farm, and managing all of it with grace and calmness most of the time.  

That's my goal.  

So, with that in mind, I've taken the ideas from Managers of their Homes (MOTH) as shared here and Managers of their Chores.

Here's how it should work.  

Everyone has a daily schedule.  Please note this is VERY flexible because we will have games and things that will require things to be adjustable, but I like the idea that there is a basic idea.  You can see the schedule here.  Obviously this is for during the school year but if it proves successful, I will modify it for next summer.

Each morning the kids have chores that need to be accomplished PRIOR to 8:00 am.  These are things like get dressed, make bed, brush teeth, comb hair and then each child has a part of the dishwasher to unload, Will feeds the pets, Ellie cleans off the counter in the bathroom and Catie cleans up the bathroom floor.  Then the evening chores they have are things like homework, piano/violin, get backpack ready for next day, daily assignment, dinner assignment, bedtime routine.  I asked the kids if they would rather have an area they are in charge of once a week or once a day and they wanted to do daily. 

So how will all this minimized the mom yelling syndrome?  Enter Daddy Dollars to create a system that the kids are excited about and should required NO yelling from me.

The kids can earn three of these IF they have their morning chores done by 8:00 am and they can earn another five if they have their evening chores done by 8:00 pm.  If they don't, they don't get part later.  It is all or nothing.  Then, when they want to go bowling, or get a snowcone, or whatever, they can redeem these for that award. If they don't have enough for whatever someone else gets to do, guess what.  Life is tough.  I like this because then there isn't money going back and forth and it is recyclable :)

I'm not quite done with everything for this to launch yet - hoping to have it completed today.  I'm buying each child a clipboard that matches their art stations and will tape a small money sized manila envelope and their morning and evening responsibilities to the board.  Then it is all in one place.  There will also be a Mom/Dad clipboard with a master list of who has what responsibilities and the Dad Dollars. 

I think it's going to work.  I'm really hoping it's going to work.  Because I can't keep doing everything for everyone.  I turn into the meanest mom on the planet, which is frustrating and exhausting and full of all kinds of self inflicted guilt trips. 

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Red Tent

I picked up this book because it had been on lots of reading lists I frequent.  I had no idea what it was about but after the frequency of this title increased as I started to prep for the pre-AP class that I'm going to teach, I knew I needed to read it. 

This is a story based (very) loosely on the story of Dinah found in the bible.  It tells about the lives of her mother, Leah, and aunts, their individual relationships with Jacob and the feelings she has for each of her eleven brothers.  She shares the stories told by these women to her, experiences that are not shared with men and are not written down.  Then she recounts the experiences of her life as created by the author.

I loved the voice in this book.  I really found it to be authentic to how I would assume a woman of this period to speak.  I loved the characteristics that were given to the brothers, the personalities, little quirks, and the way that Dinah would have related to them.  I found myself longing for the time when the network of women was as connected as is was during this time, the way that days were set aside each month for the unity of women to be just theirs. 

This book had significantly more discussion about sex than I thought was necessary.  I just don't see these characters being as sexualized as Diamant imagined.  Obviously it was a part of their lives, but I can't see it at all the way depicted.  I loved the way Diamant transitioned from the Canaan society to the Egyptian, that the names changed, the clothing looked very different, etc. 

I liked this book.  I wanted to finish reading it.  And with these kinds of books, it is important to look at the characters with the same discrepancy offered to the characters realistic portrayal in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  Yes, they were real people, but that doesn't mean this is the depiction of them.  Overall I thought it was a good read, but I just don't see how it would be a book that most men, regardless of their age, would enjoy, and it would take a mature girl/woman to be able to read it without blushing.  

Thursday, July 15, 2010

So What about the Kids???

When I started this summer, I really wanted to both read books on my wish list, figure out books I can recommend to my students AND read books that I could suggest for my kids.

Guess what?

I am only human.  I can only read so much at a time and even though I really had good intentions, I had to set aside some of these lofty goals.  I have decided that during the school year is going to be a good time to read some of the younger stuff, works that don't take as much of my mind to complete and I can assess.

But Harmony made a good point and so now I am asking you, the reader, yes, even you lurkers, to jump in with books you would recommend for the under high school age.  I am not going into this with the idea that every book that one kid (either presently or at heart) liked every child is going to like, so if you join, I would really like you to give just a little generic info about your reader - names optional.  For instance

Will - 9 - reluctant grade level competent reader - not very happy with anything that involves a story outside of graphic novel form.*  Lives and breathes for the non-fiction section. Will read stories if reading Catie's books to her.

Ellie - 7 - likes the books with words.  Advanced reader with ability but still limited vocabulary.  Very much into Magic Tree House and similar books.

Catie - 5 - starting to learn to read, likes bold pictures in her books.  Likes to point out words she knows.  Current favorite book is Pinkalicious and anything with princesses.

Here are a couple younger books that I'm hoping to get to very soon.

First book pictured with link to Amazon.

I do think that The Mysterious Benedict Society would be good for anyone who can handle reading that much - the material is perfectly child appropriate - there's just lots of it.  And for kids who like lots of pictures and want the thrill of finishing a BIG book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is delightful.  I still need to read Harry Potter and Fablehaven but most avid reading kids may have completed those already.

As far as individual books go, I find myself endeared with the classics I read as a child (not linking to them, and I'm pulling the titles out of the back of my memory - we'll see how the brain is working...)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
My Side of the Mountain
Sideway Stories from Wayside School
Mr. Popper's Penguins
The Indian in the Cupboard
Bridge to Terabithia (remember it has a bit of a traumatic ending - probably not appropriate for very sensitive kids)
A Little Princess
The Secret Garden
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
A Wrinkle in Time (I know, this should go in the series, but I only ever remember reading the first and not much of that anymore - planning to revisit)
The Castle in the Attic

So there is the launching pad.  I'm going to retag any books that could be appropriate for kids to help a bit (I'm going under middle school age based on content as the qualifier).  PLEASE, you know how I feel about reading and I'm sure many of you do too, and let's face it - there is just too much to do to be able to keep ahead of all our different kids and their reading levels and interests - let's help each other out. 

*BTW graphic novel means it has lots of graphics - pics?  Not that it is gross, violent and not appropriate for children/adults.  I know, you may have known that, but when I say those words, people get weird looks on their faces. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

City of Glass

Third book.  Inhaled it.  I made myself wait until this morning to start and found I can do many things while reading.  I just couldn't bring myself to wait to read this at all. 

This book takes the reader through the journey of self-discovery for many of the characters as they come to grips with the events that have taken place in their lives.  Jace, Alec, Clary, Simon and Luke all take a journey to figure out who they are and what their role is in the society they are connected to.  There is still the threat from Valentine and the demons he is manipulating.  Clary discovers that she is more capable than she thought, struggles with her relationship with both Jace and Simon and meets more of the Shadowhunters.  Jace somehow is endearing and there are times when I felt sympathy for him, something I doubted was possible when he was first introduced. 

The conclusion of the series was just right.  I guess Clare is writing another book with the focus shifting to another character who is trying to sort some things out (nope, not telling who and why - would be a major spoiler).  Sometimes I don't like the shift to a different character so I don't know if I'll read it, but I'm delighted with the reading experience I had with these three books. I scarcely remember devouring such big books so quickly, but I couldn't stay away. I would love to journey to this world.  What an amazing reading adventure.

Monday, July 12, 2010

City of Ashes

Okay, so I obviously really enjoyed the first book in this series - I think I read it in two days.  I was intrigued by this one not only because of the fact that it is the second in the series, but the cover is intriguing.  But again, there are many times when the second book is just ho-hum, kindof moving things but not much happening, but has to be read to figure out what is happening in the third.  Boy oh boy, not this one.

This book continues following Clary as she is trying to figure out what has happened to her mother, what kind of relationship she has with Simon and Jace, what her role is in everything that is going on around her, and quickly coming to the realization that her life will never be the normal she used to be familiar with.  Various underworlders are dying and the blame is being passed around through all the different groups of people, but none of it makes sense.  And just as a teaser, Clary discovers she is good for something that no one else can do.

I know what some of you are thinking - this review is following the other pretty quickly.  Yeah.  Want to know what I did today?  I read this book.  There were very few things that warranted me putting it down today until I was finished. 

Yes, it is that good. 

While there weren't as many twists as in the first, I really felt this did a great job progressing the plot and developing the characters during the action to make them more endearing and "people"  that the reader cares about.  I'm fascinated at the development of the story, the hook at the end of this and desperately want to read the third.  Right now.

Color Personality Test

I just found this personality test based on the colors you select and thought it was fun and fairly accurate - if you are interested, you can take it here.

Result of your test :

Your results present a correlation ratio with our model superior to 96 % .
( In a general way, a result can be taken into account if this ratio is superior to 30 %.)

Your Profile :

You are 46 % extrovert and 54 % introvert.

Independently of any order of importance :

You are intellectual and intelligent, you wonder and you inquire before taking any action.

You are also strong-willed and active, your actions are determined by your own will, by the goals you settled for yourself, and by your need to act and to move forward.

Finally you are creative, you always have new ideas, and your inspiration comes from the inside.

Your understanding of your environment :

Ideas At first, at 34%, you are centered on your thoughts and your actions are determined by your knowledge and your experience.

Facts  Then, at a ratio of 33%, you are focused on the facts and on the reality, and your decisions are determined by your perception of facts.     
Feelings  Finally, at 32%, you are attached to moral values and feelings, and you have an emotional relation with the environment.

How you assert yourself :

In your relations with others, your point of view and your decision-making are motivated by your inner conviction at 62%. Dialogue and exchange of views with others are taken into account at 37%.

Also, your actions are determined by your will and your personal goals at a ratio of 57%. In 42% of the cases you take into account your own sensibility and your partner’s.

Finally, your inspiration and your creativity, your artistic or spiritual impulse have an influence of 56%. Also your family and personal ties interfere at 43%.

The qualities that characterize your personality at this time :

Your intellectual performance.

You are intellectual and intelligent, you wonder and you inquire before taking any action and setting your values.

Your energy.

you are strong-willed and active, your actions are determined by your own will, by the goals you settled to yourself, and by your need to act and move ahead.

Your imagination.

you are a creative person, with always new ideas, and you know how to apply them.

Your creativity.

you are creative, you know how to see beauty, you are intuitive and your inspiration comes from the inside.
Your insights.

you are thoughtful and deep, you think before getting into action and you know how to communicate your knowledge.

Finally, you are a manager and a structured person, you know how to take into account the needs of each person while leading them to the fixed goals, you are thoughtful and capable of listening to others, you take into account the needs of others before setting up the defined objectives.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

City of Bones

I had two of my most avid reading students introduce me to this series. They were reading through it at about the same time and would come to class early to grab the extra reading time, and worked feverishly to finish their assignments to get back to the book, and this continued until they had read the entire trilogy. Of course, I was intrigued.

This is a book about Clary, short for Clarissa, who goes out to a club one night and witnesses a murder that no one else can see. The person killed disintegrates before her eyes, and when security shows up with her friend, Simon, they cannot see the three people responsible eventhough they are standing right in front of them. But she soon finds out she isn't supposed to be either. She starts to learn about the Shadowhunters, beings trained to kill the demons that come up from the underworld. Then Clary has a fight with her mom, goes out with Simon, sees one of the murders, discovers her mom has gone missing, and realizes that she may have a part to play in this world after all.

This is fantasy for people who aren't just in it for the love story. It is high action, has brilliant ideas, involves vampires, demons, monsters, werewolves, dimension doors, hidden clues and the pacing is incredible. This book is addicting, intriguing and I basically didn't move on to the second because I already had plans with my kids that night and had to sleep. Clare's writing is very smart, never gets cutesy, and I'm completely hooked.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Prayer for Owen Meany

I grabbed this book from a coworker on a day when I planned to have in-class reading but didn't remember my book. She said it was one that is being taught quite a bit in AP English classes now and she thought it was great, but not one that could be taught at our school, so going in, I knew there were going to be something of the mature sort. I read it for a while, then set it aside because it is not really a hard read, but it isn't something to just breeze through, and I just had too much going on. I even hesitated to pick it up again, but Owen's character was too compelling, the story too well written, the foreshadowing sparked too much of my curiosity to stop.

This has a couple different story lines. The two main characters are John Wheelwright and Owen Meany. Owen is short, has a strange voice, and first gets attention in his Sunday School class because the kids all take turns picking him up and passing him around the room. John and Owen end up becoming very close friends, and most of the book is their experiences together from the time they are about eight until they are in their early twenties. It is set against the backdrop of post-WWII and continues until well into the Vietnam War. This concept is delightful, heart-breaking, hilarious and poignant. This is why I kept reading the book.

The other storyline is John in the mid-to-late 1980's, during the Iran-Contra scandal. This story line distracted and even irritated me. I really don't know why it was in the book. There were some interesting moments, English teacher to English teacher type things, as that is where John works as an adult, and I suppose it was included to illustrate the cyclical nature of things, but toward the end of the book, I would loosely scan this part. A couple times I was annoyed that he was so obsessed with his habit of reading the New York Times - Why? I really don't know.

So where does that leave me with this book? I would say that I could recommend it to someone based on a couple things. First, they have to be a serious reader who has the time to commit. As I said, the reading isn't hard for comprehension reasons, but it is a more advanced book. Second, it has to be someone who isn't easily offended when it comes to matters of religion, boys discussing what I'm considering a pretty common theme of sex (never depicted, just talked about - really, we journey with these boys through their teens...) and who enjoys what will probably be a classic for generations to come.* I enjoyed it while I read it, but don't know that I have any desire to revisit it.

*On a side note, and if this persuades/dissuades you either way, this the the book that Phil Jackson most commonly passes out to his players as part of his required reading for team members. That makes it slightly more intriguing to me, that he finds something about this book that he considers important enough to pass it out repeatedly. I mean, he has had a decent amount of success in his life. Also, if you liked the movie Simon Birch, that movie is apparently loosely based on this book - just as an FYI.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Princess of the Midnight Ball

This has been on my to read list since I knew Jessica Day George wrote it, and I've even almost bought it a couple times, but just kept putting it off - don't really know why. But then I saw she wrote a sequel/companion book for it that sounds interesting and I finally got it from our library, read the first page and was hooked.

This is the story based on the fairy tale of the 12 dancing princesses, sisters who are cursed to spend each night dancing to the point where they are completely wearing out their dancing slippers at alarming speed. The people in the kingdom know this is happening, but no one knows why, and theories such as possession and being cursed get thrown around often. A young soldier turned gardner hears of this, and with some help along the way, sets out to figure out the mystery and save the princesses from the certainty of early death from fatigue.

My love fest for Jessica Day George continues. Her fairy tales are charming and so much fun to read. This story may have had the best pacing of all her books, but I'm not quite ready to declare this my favorite. She really does weave a delightful tale, but one of the things I really love about her is that the romance element of her books is carefully subdued. I'm normally not one for romantic tales, but I think she does it well, avoiding cliched romance. I think it is safe to say that I will continue to read each book she puts out - I have not yet had a disappointment.

Autodidactic: Self-Taught

I came across this book because Jim Parkinson came to our school last year to talk about and make students aware of the death march of the Bataan soldiers during WWII and sparked the interest of myself and another English teacher concerning getting our whole school on board with this book. Parkinson is a delightful man who may actually drink more Diet Coke than I do (I know - shocking), was one of the prosecuting attorneys in a multi-million dollar tobacco settlement, is an avid golfer who plays with TaylorMade clubs (if you are a golfer, you know why the brand is important) and he writes very well.

This short book is about how people in general can improve their lives through turning themselves into an autodidactic - someone who is self taught. He explains that he coasted through high school and did what needed to be done in order to have success, but didn't really care. It was his immersion in a foreign country and the necessity to learn to communicate that changed his perspective on learning, and he decided that if he wanted to have success in life, he needed to ensure he had success in life.

Parkinson describes how he became an avid reader, struggled through the writing process to learn how to write well, and dedicated his life to being smarter every single day. This really is a book that everyone needs to read, and at $5.00 a book, it's very reasonable. It has rekindled in me a desire to be better read, improve my writing and expand my vocabulary. I am recommitted to my own intelligence after reading this book.

As a side note, our principal graciously agreed to purchase one of these books for every single CHS student next year, and we are launching the literacy program with Mr. Parkinson teaching for two solid days, as well as writing lesson plans to continue his ideas through the next few weeks. I'll keep you posted on how that goes :)

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Sweet Far Thing

This is the third and final book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy. It is a big book, but I promise it doesn't read like a big book. The story advances with great pacing, there were again twists that I didn't expect and my care for several of the characters increased even within the first few pages.

This continues the story of Gemma as she tries to resolve the issues that are presenting themselves with the magic. The Order and the Rakshana are battling for control and the reader experiences many of the frustrations as Gemma does in trying to figure out who is really good and who is really bad. Then there are the issues in Gemma's English world - she is just a month or two away from her debut, has to determine how to fit in this society where she can't even curtsy as well as everyone else, deals with feelings for two different boys eventhough she is convinced she has made up her mind, and realizes things about her friends that takes her to a different understanding of who they really are and what it is that is truly important to them.

Like I said, this book moves fast. I really love Gemma - I love her individuality and desire to have things done according to her guidelines for happiness. There are moments in this when the sympathy strings are pulled for Tom, Kartik, Ann, Felicity and Pippa. I also like that Libba Bray understands that living happily ever after doesn't always mean for everyone and in the way they thought. I appreciate an author who can resolve a story in the way that best suits the story, and I'm happy that the resolution really didn't leave a place for any more. These three were just right, and I'm so glad I read this trilogy.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Rebel Angels

You know how sometimes, in a trilogy, there is the great hook book, the story is new and intriguing, and there are complications showing all over and you can't wait to read the next only to find nothing is resolved? Thank heavens that was not the case for Rebel Angels. This is the second book in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, and I adored it.

This book takes place during Christmas and Gemma is to spend the holiday away from Spence Academy, where she will go to fantastic balls and still be able to associate with her friends Felicity and Ann. There is a wealthy young man who is interested in her, and she in him. But she keeps having visions of girls in white who need her help and Gemma returns to the realms again to discover some answers to the many mysteries. Kartik is in this book as well, as a more prevalent character, with instructions from the Rakshana to bind the magic and find the temple or there will be destruction, which will not be limited to just Gemma.

Hard to believe but I loved this book more than the first, and I don't even think the reference to Milton had anything to do with it. The characters develop depth and likability, there is romance that isn't over the top and the conflicts that Gemma faces are more than just which gown to wear what night. There are hints at a love triangle, and some of the characters from book one, through their development, become more intriguing. There were several times when I was reading this that I wasn't positive who I wanted to be victorious, have their dreams found or even if they were who they said they were. Very, very smart writing and incredible imagination. Amazingly enjoyable.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Great and Terrible Beauty

I have been hearing about this series for a couple years, but never made it to it. I think I thought it was going to be a ridiculous, romantic Jane Austen wannabe, and I just wasn't interested. But it kepts showing up on lists, kept getting rave reviews, and finally, when I found out I could take books from our school library and keep them all summer, I grabbed the whole trilogy and put it on my need-to-read-over-the-summer list. Even then I put it off (they are big books) until I decided to take them with me to Vegas a couple weeks ago and really had the time to read. Once again I'm kicking myself for waiting so long.

This is the story of a girl, Gemma Doyle, who witnesses the tragic death of her mother while living with her parents in India, and returns to England, with her father, to attend a finishing school. While there, she longs to investigate the disturbing events of her mother's death that just don't add up, figure out how to find her place in a society she is not accustomed to, and find some way to overcome her grief. Mysterious events begin to take place - dreams that haunt her even when awake, and then she starts to hear tales about a society that enabled women and had significant power, but for some reason was lost.

This is a very smart book. It is in Victorian England and has all of the finesse and foolishness of that society. Gemma is a very strong willed heroine but understands the necessity to conform and fit in. She stands up for herself when questioned, takes the sides she decides to be appropriate and is smart. Felicity, her friend, borders a stereotype of being a snob, but has moments that make her endearing. Pippa also toys with being cliche but is just different enough, just unique enough, to make her lovable, even when I didn't want to. Ann could be annoying with her despair and vicitm-like attitude, but somehow the pity isn't overwhelming. There are few series I've read that fused the intelligence and imagination this well.