Monday, March 16, 2020

for the days ahead

Last night, song writer and musician Wendell Kimbrough hosted a live singing session on Facebook for about an hour where he took requests for his Psalm-based songs and even the classic Jesus Loves Me from a young listener. He played the guitar and sang the words taken from the Psalms, the songs for all seasons of life. As a small community gathered online to listen and sing-along, those moments were full of comfort and hope.

The music re-centered my mind after a hectic day of reaching out to friends and family through phone calls and online messages. Earlier that morning, our church had gathered online to connect through a livestream as our pastor led us through our usual order of worship which includes singing, Scripture reading, prayer and a sermon. While it was unusual to be sitting at home by ourselves and not surrounded by our church family, the familiarity of following our normal order of worship was comforting and calming. The sole musician used her voice and her guitar to lead us through hymns of praise and worship that we sing regularly together.

This morning as the sun came up and I opened our curtains, a bright yellow shone out as I saw that my mini daffodils had opened overnight. I inspected each one and looked carefully to see how many other blooms might follow. As I carried the planter towards the southeast part of our house to capture the blooms in the stronger light my spirits rose. I had already checked my email and saw an update on a family member who has been hospitalized far from home. And though I find myself anxious for our extended family and for those far from me, I took a few moments to delight in these new blossoms and capture them with my camera. As I worked, I decided to put on some music and put on Sara Groves' older album Conversations featuring the song The Word

I follow the news closely and I have for years. With the onset of the coronavirus news coming out of China in early January and issues here in Canada, I have read the news incessantly for weeks. 
Late yesterday afternoon as I worked on our evening meal anxious over all that is happening and changing , I realized I needed to work at creating a better balance between staying informed and forming my own stories from time well-spent. So here I am writing, sitting in the sunshine and listening to God's people sing about His Word and His works. I have girls who need my time and attention and house to keep clean and ordered. But I also have a spirit that needs tending and a body that needs exercise and fresh air. Wherever you find yourself these days, may you also find comfort in songs of praise and lament as you work and rest.

My heart is steadfast, O God;
 I will sing and make music with all my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre!
 I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations;
 I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
 your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
 and let your glory be over all the earth.
Save us and help us with your right hand,
 that those You love may be delivered.

~ Psalm 108: 1-6

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Part 2: How to find 'living books'

In Part 1: How to Educate Students Outside the Classroom, I discussed the method of reading and retelling (often referred to as 'narrating'). In that post, I mentioned several times about well-written, living books.
How do you know if a book can be considered well-written or 'living'?
Here are a few criteria to get you headed in the right direction.

For non-fiction books (i.e. history stories, biographies, travel stories, science inventions or discoveries, natural history, etc.), the books should be written by one author instead of compiled by an editor.
For fiction books (i.e. fairy tales, fables, myths, literature, etc.), retellings written by one author is preferred over an editor, but use your judgement. Poetry collections or anthologies often have an editor rather than an author given the nature of the material. But if you can find the poet's own collection, pick that one.
The writing should have the natural flow of the author speaking to the reader in a friendly and conversational tone.

The text should not be continually broken up by sidebars or boxes with 'fast facts' or 'Did you know?' content.

The idea is to provide the reader with an understanding of the ideas presented in a readable paragraph format with diagrams or illustrations that enhance the text.
The example I provided at the end of my last post about Gutenberg's printing press is an example of this type of writing. Here is a picture of what the pages look like from that excerpt.

Well-written, living books are enjoyable to read because the author is competent in their research, but also enthusiastic to share these ideas with their readers.
The sentence structure is varied with pleasing vocabulary usage but not needless jargon or insider terms that confuse or isolate the reader.

The ideas presented are intended to be absorbed with interest and attention, leaving the reader free to draw their own conclusions.

Well-written books can be found in all sizes and formats, such as picture books, chapter books, and story collections. Authors and illustrators of living books are to be found at all levels of writing for younger and older students.
Do not assume that the larger picture books are only for the very young students.

Everyone enjoys a well-told story richly illustrated.

I could talk about good books for hours and show you photos of many more living books right up through high school age. Lucky for you, I also have children in my home who need to be fed and attended to. So before I go, let me give you a few places to look online for 'living' books lists.

If you already have some ideas of books you want your students to read, but want to save delivery time and money, look for free audio recordings from LibriVox, free kindle downloads from Project Gutenberg and free printable reading schedules from Ambleside Online's Curriculum pages.

If you would like some resources to help you select well-written, living books for your students to read and narrate from here are some online sites to look through:

Reshelving Alexandria
Simply Charlotte Mason
Read-Aloud Revival

Public libraries may still have some of these books, but may choose to close for a time. Thrift stores and secondhand shops will also have them. Big box stores and online book sites will offer many of these too. And as already has been mentioned, you can read many of these books for free in the public domain.
I wish you well in whatever path you choose to continue reading and learning. Thanks for reading these posts and I will try to answer any further questions you may have.

Part 1: How to educate students outside of the classroom

As countries around the world grapple with the coronavirus outbreak, the closings of schools, colleges and universities are leaving students everywhere needing to continue their studies in some new format.

But educational interruptions can happen to any family for any reason. What I share here, is for those times too. Our family uses a free online curriculum called Ambleside Online that also has an emergency help page at Ambleside Online -AO Help designed to help families cope with providing ongoing learning in the midst of irregular life events. Much of the reading content is available for free in the public domain.

If you're a big picture person, here's the big idea I'm proposing for your family or school.

If schools need to close, take the offered tablet, but read the books.

As school administrators, teachers and parents look to creating work packets, buying workbooks, selecting online learning sites and purchasing apps on devices, I would encourage parents and tutors of elementary and high school students to put their time and resources into one main effort:

The reading of good books and the retelling of what has been read.

It's called narrating.
It does not need an app or a login to a website.
It needs attention given to the material by the student and a quiet, patient moment for the reteller to speak without being interrupted or corrected.
The books can be topics or genres of all sorts, but they must be well written by one author (not an editor) and convey living ideas without overloading the student on facts.

How it works:

Students can read the assigned portion on their own or listen to it read to them by another person or by an audio recording.
Once the reading has been completed, the narration can be given. It can be simply given orally to whoever is available to listen quietly without interruption.
Or it can be spoken into the tablet or phone and recorded for later listening.
The narration can be written or typed. A diagram or age-appropriate drawing can be completed. The narrator can act out the material with props or toys.
There are many, many different ways in which a student can retell what they just read or listened to. Mix it up and try different ideas.
Assign two or three readings in whatever books you pick, no need to complete whole chapters in one day.
In twelve weeks, you can have read and narrated through one biography, one science story, one novel, and one history book.

In twelve weeks, you could also have started longer books that need more time to be read carefully and attentively.

The main point is that well-written, living books provide ideas that the mind needs as nourishment to grow and be curious about.

I have consistently used the phrase well-written and living to describe the books to give to your students. More on what I mean by that in Part 2: How to Find Living Books.

If you are unsure of how to do this with your students, try it yourself. (At the end of this post, I will include a book excerpt for you to read and try this for yourself.)

1) Pick up a book on any topic or genre (biography, history, science, literature, etc).
2) Read a small portion carefully and attentively.
3) Put the book down.
4) Retell in your own words what you just read. Say it out loud or grab some paper and start writing.

See what you can remember as you organize the information and ideas in your mind. 

It is a serious and engaging effort for your mind. You will either despair or delight over what you can recall.

This is the task that you are asking your students to do:

Read or listen to the material with attention and then organize the material in a version of retelling. 

You do not need worksheets. You do not need an app. You do not need prior knowledge of the material. As a parent, grandparent, or tutor, your work is to assign the reading and then listen carefully without interrupting or correcting to the narration.

I suspect your task will be as difficult for you as the student may find theirs because most adults like to talk and have those infernal 'teachable moments'.

Focus on your part of quiet listening and let the student do their part of retelling to an interested and listening person.

When the student has given their retelling, say thank you and offer a sincere compliment on their retelling if you must.

Task completed, you can rest assure that their mind has been given much to think about. 

Go on to whatever is next. Perhaps some math work or copying an intriguing quote or sentence from a reading in their best handwriting.
Even better, have them go outside and have a look at what is growing, moving or chirping in their  own neighborhood space. Request them to just look and listen closely and start wondering about what they observe. Suggest they draw what they see, find samples and use guide books to look up unfamiliar things. Students can also enjoy good books just for pleasure with no need to narrate at all. That's called a free read.

For students just starting to learn this way, give them time to adjust. 
Days and even weeks may be needed to practice this way of reading and retelling. New habits will need to be formed, these take time and diligence by everyone. Your students may be just finding their stride as summer vacation begins. Good.

Let them enjoy their summer break with all those newly discovered ideas swirling in their heads. 

I have more to say in Part 2 about finding well-written, living books, but for now, here is the written portion I promised for you to read and retell as an experiment for yourself.
For Gutenberg the most important part in printing was the type, or the little movable letters. Therefore, he needed to find the right kind of type material and an easy way of making the type. Knowing that block books were printed from carved blocks, Gutenberg first tried to make type from wood. It seemed easy to do this. Yet it proved difficult to carve a good letter upon the end of a small wooden stick. It proved equally hard to cut the sticks of such width that there would be equal spaces between the letters. Even when Gutenberg succeeded in doing this, for he was an expert carver, the ink so softened the wooden type that, after a few impressions, the printed letters became blurred. As the printed letters must be clear and distinct, Gutenberg was forced, much against his will, to give up trying to make movable type from wood.
It now occurred to him that lead would serve. From his work in making mirrors, he knew how easy it was to mold it. With a simple mold, he cast a number of small lead sticks of uniform width and height. Then with no great difficulty, he carved a letter on the end of each stick. He seemed to be on the direct road to success, but when he came to print from lead type, he found that it took more pressure than with wooden blocks. However, when enough pressure was applied to transfer the impression to the paper, it flattened out the lead letters.
~ Excerpt from The Story of Inventions by Frank P. Bachman, (Second Edition, pages 157-158)
*One final note: This act of reading and retelling is not new, but it has fallen out of practice. Through the work and writings of British educator, Charlotte Mason, schools, tutors, and families are bringing this method of reading and narrating back into use.
If you would like to know more, search online for 'Charlotte Mason education'. Her writings are still in print or can be read online for free at Charlotte Mason Series.

If you're interested to read on, here's Part 2: How to Find 'Living' Books

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Sage Rice Pilaf

After I was married, I discovered that my love of homemade stuffing was not shared by my husband who preferred rice dishes over bread stuffing. At first, I made both whenever I cooked chicken or turkey. But as the babies came, I no longer took time to make stuffing just for me.

But I missed those flavors and one afternoon while working on dinner prep, I took a basic rice pilaf recipe that starts with cooking diced onion in butter and I decided to keep going adding the ingredients that make bread cubes become stuffing: celery and sage. It worked so well that although I was eating rice, the flavors evoked memories of Thanksgiving stuffing in my mind.

I never looked back and this sage rice pilaf became a great side dish for all of us. I make it as a side to any roasted or grilled meat or fish meal. It pairs well with any cooked vegetable and adding a homemade gravy in the fall and winter makes it extra comforting and warm.
This is an adapted recipe from Betty Crocker's Rice Pilaf and I don't measure my onion or celery amounts, but I've provided an amount to aim for if you like precise numbers. This recipe is also very close to a dish that my mother-in-law makes with leftover turkey or chicken where she adds a chicken noodle soup mix packet and plain water instead of the chicken broth I use. Her dish gives you rice and noodles and pieces of meat to make it into a main dish. You can choose to do it however you like.

2- 4 Tbsp. butter (I like butter so I use 4 Tbsp, use less if you prefer.)
1/2 c. diced onion
1/2 c. diced celery
1 cup uncooked regular long-grain rice
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. sage
Fresh chopped parsley (optional)

Melt butter in 3- quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion and celery in butter, stirring occasionally until tender.
Stir in uncooked rice. Cook for several minutes, stirring frequently until rice begins to turn golden. Do not let it burn or stick to the saucepan.
Add in broth, salt, pepper and sage and bring to a boil, stirring once or twice. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 16 minutes (do not lift cover or stir). Remove from the heat and let it stand covered for 5 minutes.  Garnish with chopped fresh parsley on top if desired.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

reading for the rest of 2019 (updated with more books)

Earlier in 2019, I shared books that I had been reading so far along with stacks that had been gathered in from hither and yon. 
Then I mistakenly thought I would add the rest of my 2019 reading in a short post at the end of December. Ah,nope. 
As I rounded up books to add to my list, I kept finding more that I had not remembered. I have no order in this list, so they just keep coming. On the bright side, I read more than I initially thought since I feel like I watched a ton of tv this year while recovering from injury, sicknesses and parenting. Ha!
The sad part is I have a ridiculous number of books that I started and haven't finished so according to my own rules, I can't share them yet. Since this post has taken days upon days to finish, I can see the value in posting my finished reads several times a year like I did once upon a time. Here we go!

The Warden's Niece by Gillian Avery
This is one of the first stories I've read where the children are treated as though they were born persons with a mind that is capable of thinking and growing.
The main character, Maria is captivated by some mysterious engravings and portraits found on the property of a Lord's manor she visits with her tutor and neighboring boys. Their play and their studies intertwine to lead them into adventures and experiences that both furthers Maria's understanding of the Lord's family history and makes her hesitant to bring shame to her Uncle's house.
The story brings both humor and interest as the children interact with each other and the expectations of grown-ups. I think Maria is a delightful and intelligent character for girls to emulate. Gillian Avery wrote other stories for children which I hope to read and also wrote several books about children's literature which I have waiting for me on my shelf. And I can't help but wonder if Maria as a character shares much of her curious and intelligent personality from her creator.

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
I have determined to read all of the Narnia series in order however long it takes me. And while I knew that this story is considered a prequel to the rest of the stories, I really didn't know what to expect. It reads so easily and I was carried along in the adventures of Digory and Polly. But it wasn't until the last quarter of the book that I found myself noting selections to copy down in my notebook as both profound and humorous commentary on life. The introduction of Aslan and the creation of Narnia is poetry and never did you wish more but to know such a character as Aslan for yourself. I'm now ready to go into the series with new eyes and see what I have missed in previous readings.

Bambi by Felix Salten
I decided to read this short novel and see what the story was actually about. My experience with Bambi was only from a Disney book I had as a child. So I curled up on our couch one weekend morning and finished the story the next day. I found it to be a compelling story of what it means to grow up. Bambi as a fawn can only imagine his life with his mother. But that is not the life he has been born to lead. His encounters with the other forest animals, the family of deer he is part of and of course, Man are so full of meaning and maturing. I found some of the descriptions of the animals' sounds and actions to be very raw and strange at times, but it made them seem so much more real to me as animals and not characters in a story. I'm glad to have finally read the story that Felix Salten wrote. It's not what I was expecting from the Disney Bambi culture. It's more soul-stirring and less saccharine than that.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I read this classic novel for the first time because it was assigned reading for my son Seth's Grade 11 year with Ambleside Online. I wanted to know what the real story was like, not the popular culture versions. It was a slow start for me to comprehend the plot of the novel and by the time it is the Monster's turn to tell his story, I was very interested. Looking for home and belonging is not a theme I would have thought I would find in this novel written as a ghost story. I found several passages that I took time to copy into my notebook which stirred my imagination. I can see myself rereading this novel now that I know the layers of the stories and characters used to convey the main part of the book.

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
In the early chapters of this story, I encountered a few annoying parts which included unhelpful admonitions against the main character Marie being a girl with feminine curiosity and her own repeated notions of attaching motive and certainty where there may have been none. Aside from those parts, I thought the story showed bravery and loyalty to others as a central theme. The descriptions were inviting and sorting out the puzzles of people and events was interesting. Overall, I liked this story and it was easy to sit down and finish it.

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston
Tolly is a new arrival at an old house who experiences the strange but welcoming world where his imagination is given free reign to find the secrets and stories of his family home. The author has captured the imagination of a child where play, wishes and fears all come together to create a special time. This is a sweet story combining stories of the past and present to show continuity with the house and estate grounds over several generations of inhabitants. There are several more books to this series.

Q's Legacy by Helene Hanff
This is the third book I have read by Helene Hanff and I am a big fan. Although I thought this might be more about what Helene Hanff read throughout her lifetime influenced by writer Arthur Quiller-Couch, I still enjoyed reading about her writing career. I was thrilled when I found this copy at a local used bookstore because my local library system did not have this title.

Apple of My Eye by Helene Hanff
I know nothing about NYC, although I have been there a couple of times throughout my childhood, so I did do some mapwork and reading up on some of the people and places she mentions in this travel log of a book. Her adventures and capers are written with her typical style of wit and information and I loved reading this book borrowed from the library.

Letter From New York by Helene Hanff
Yes, my third Hanff book I'm posting about!
Written for a British audience, Helene Hanff's topics gathered in this book range from apartment life to American holiday traditions and all the bits in between. Once you've read most of her other books, you begin to recognize and look forward to hearing more about the people, pets and places she makes part of her New York life. The stories of her hosting dinner parties in her tiny studio apartment are  outrageous as she must store food and dirty dishes in neighboring apartments in order to pull it off.  This selection of essays also thankfully found at my local library is delectable and memorable.

A Place to Call Home: Tradition, Style and Memory in the New American House by Gil Schafer III, photography by Eric Piasecki
I have been trying to get this on library loan for months. I saw it once on the shelf in our library and mistakenly thought I could get it next time I was in. Wrong. I didn't know the prominence that Gil Schafer enjoys in the world of architecture so it took a long wait until I could enjoy this collection of house stylings for myself. I also somehow returned the book without taking any inside photos to share here. This is a beautiful and inspiring book even for those of us with less money and house as the inviting cover shows.

The Nature of Home: Creating Timeless Houses by Jeffrey Dungan, photography by William Abranowicz
I looked on the back flyleaf of Gil Schafer's A Place to Call Home mentioned above and found this book showcased. [I think that's how I found out about this book, but I could be mistaken. Apologies if I'm wrong.]
My library had a copy of this beautiful book so within a week, I was relaxing on my couch and admiring these fortunate home owners and the work of their architect Jeff Dungan. It was hard to share just a few pictures as the book is filled with gorgeous rooms and details. Near the end, Dungan shares his own home that he designed for his family. It was the one home that I found least appealing and did not understand the design choices. Totally ironic, I know.

Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy by Theodore Dalrymple
I was familiar with this author because of the online columns I have read by him over the years. My husband had read this book years ago and occasionally would mention it but it wasn't until an organization in our city opened a safe-injection site without city approval that I was interested in reading this one myself.
Theodore Dalrymple (which is a pen name for Anthony Malcolm Daniels) writes as a medical doctor and psychiatrist from a world that I have no experience with: prisons and hospitals. He makes the case that most drug addiction is a deliberate choice that can be reversed when it is desired above other lifestyles. He believes that the world of therapy and treatment is largely based on purposeful misinformation and that it enables those it presumes to help at great cost. While you may not agree or enjoy his critique, his years of experience and expertise cannot be dismissed casually. I have started reading another title by him: Life At the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass.

 A Separate Peace by John Knowles
I had no idea what to expect when I started to read this story and it took several attempts for me to maintain an interest in the story and the main character. However there is a lot of depth to this story that deserves to be fleshed out and I would pick this for a teen or older student book discussion. I have another one of Knowles titles which I was planning to read immediately after this one, but haven't yet.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
I'm usually the last to read the book that everyone is reading. I found a copy of this best-seller at my local thrift store and thought that I would see what all the buzz was about. Several chapters in and I was reading at a breakneck speed which lasted at least one whole Saturday but probably more. It felt like the story had multiple cliffhangers that kept the pages turning until the gentle descent into the finish. And because the story takes place in a remote place in Australia, I was there on google maps looking up this small continent and the island it writes of. I can see why everyone was recommending it.

Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh
I've read Waugh's Brideshead Revisted and thought I would try another one of his novels. This one is the first in a trilogy but I wasn't aware of that until I had checked out the book online. I enjoyed reading it, but have nothing profound to say about it. I have many other Waugh novels to try.

Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro, illustratated by Teagan White
I love the illustration work of Teagan White and we have some of her books on our shelf although I found her once my children were older. This is a super cute story of a mouse who does not want to stay inside cozy by the fire, but wants to explore the world of pond skating. The illustrations are detailed and gorgeous and the story is well written with a fun twist using cheese puns. I'm including some photos from inside the book so you can see the delight this book is. Perfect for a winter read whether you can skate or not.

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. Also The Small Miracle by Paul Gallico
The first time I read The Snow Goose, it was the illustrated version pictured above. I was captivated. When I happened upon this Penguin edition below including a second Gallico story that was new to me, I was thrilled. Both stories involving compassion for animals and people are wonderfully told and I highly recommend them for any age. Other Paul Gallico stories I have enjoyed in the past is Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris which sadly I can longer find in our local library system.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
I pre-read this for my son's Ambleside Online Year 11, Term 2 book selection. The ability to create a character worth examining and cheering on in a short amount of pages is the heart of a well written short story. To only have one day of Ivan Denisovich's experience to draw you in where the Solzhenitsyn magic works.
To be a prisoner in some sense is to not be free to be a person. As a prisoner, Ivan's existence was bound up in being reduced to rely on his skills of cunning and calculation at all times. It is unrelenting. The times his personhood was allowed to shine was in his work as a stonemason and in the items he salvaged and upcycled, most of them forbidden with the harshest of penalties.
The horror of this short novel is the certain knowledge that all of this is true. Real men have lived that one day of Ivan's over and over in an endless succession of years. And for a time, Solzhenitsyn was one of them. How he could recreate those days of prison into a story where hope is kept alive and glimpses of personhood are shared is incredible. It's simultaneously hard to read and hard to stop reading.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I read this many years ago but couldn't remember anything about it and was due for a reread anyway as part of my pre-reading for my son's schoolwork. One of the themes that struck me about the story's characters was how uncritical they think about what they are told.  Between a slavish devotion to work and media, the couple at the center of the story both exhibit mindless obedience to the current ideas promoted around them. One part of the plot about looming then eventual war breaking over the city didn't seemed very well fleshed out to me. I wasn't sure who was behind the war and what was being fought over. Ray Bradbury has other novels that I would like to try.

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom
Ursula Nordstrom was the director of Harper's Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973 and lived in New York City for all of that time. I like to think that at some point, Ms. Nordstrom  and Ms. Hanff were at the same party or social event and spent a few minutes together bonding over their favorite writers and NYC eateries. They make some smart remarks and before they know it, the room has fallen silent and their conversation takes center stage and laughter follows each of their remarks.
But since no online search gives me evidence of their acquaintance or friendship, I will leave it some enterprising grad student to dig up what I currently imagine.
The letters in this book are interesting for their content and their style. Letters flying out from Ursula Nordstrom's typewriter to well known authors with demands, exclamations and well written apologies abound.  She adds in colorful moments of interactions with whomever that she recalls alternating with fondness and disdain. I would say that next to the dictionary definition of *snarky* is Ursula Nordstrom's headshot.
I learned so much about different authors, illustrators and their books that I did not know previously. And I spent time looking up different things after reading portions of this book.  I've already started rereading it since it took me so long to work through all the letters. A real treat.

* UPDATED to add more books I found I had read in 2019. I don't usually include all the books we read for our lesson work with Ambleside Online, but I've included a few since they are classics and I hadn't read them before. I don't have these listed with Goodreads links yet, but I will try to get that done so they match the rest of the list.

As part of  Laura's Year 4, Ambleside Online, we read together two stories by Washington Irving: Rip Van Winkle and The Headless Horsemen. This is one of the versions we had for Rip Van Winkle. I had never read either story. She was pleased because she has since encountered references to both stories in other contexts and she knows what they refer to. The illustrator Arthur Rackham is well known and you likely have seen his work for other children's stories. Washington Irving was a prolific short story teller and writer based out of New York but remembered well for his stories told by his fictitious narrator Diedrich Knickerbocker, which Wikipedia lists also as his pen name.

In my goal to read the books that have won the Newbery Award, I found this little gem of a book.
which nourished my love of nature writing. Miss Hickory is a nut that serves as a plaything for a little girl who moves away. She must survive the long cold New England winter somehow. I don't want to spoil a thing about this lovely story and sweet ending but I enjoyed this quick read so much. The author, Carolyn Sherwin Bailey has several other childrens' stories including one illustrated by Kate Seredy who won Newbery awards for her Hungarian children's stories. Miss Hickory was illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannet whose stepdaugher Ruth Stiles Gannet wrote the very recognizable series My Father's Dragon. The elder Ruth provided illustrations for that series as well. Confused yet? :)

I also read The Princess and the Goblin aloud to Laura as part of her lesson work so that we could both hear the story for the first time. We read about a chapter a week and I found it captivating although normally I would have read it more quickly. As a fairy tale, the goblins are perfect for rooting against and the friendship between Irene, the princess and Curdie, the boy miner is very sweet. The edition pictured above has cover art by Pauline Baynes who also illustrated The Chronicles of Narnia. The inside illustrations are by Arthur Hughes who is unknown to me.
There is a sequel entitled The Princess and Curdie which we will read together as well.

I have read through several of Malcolm Gladwell's books, partway or most of the way and while his ideas and research is fascinating, I don't think I'm smart enough to determine when he goes astray and arrives at unwarranted conclusions. I'll keep reading him though, because he stretches me and I like clever people. My husband listens to his podcasts, but I read the books. :)

I found this book as part of a trilogy at our local thrift store and decided to try it since I knew she was popular and other friends had read her. Aside from this reminding me so much of Downtown Abbey, I found myself quite sad for the main character and her somewhat estranged family. The storytelling using flashbacks is not my favorite style of writing and I don't think I can force myself to read the other two books in the series. Modern fiction writing is hard for me to get behind. And since I have so many classics and near classics still unread, I don't feel guilty for not keeping up with the times.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is the second spy novel by John LeCarre I have read. In 2018, I read his A Most Wanted Man. I like reading his stories as they carry me along in a world I know nothing about, espionage. I will keep picking up his books as I find them secondhand.

I'm not a horse person so I put off reading Misty of Chincoteague even though I've had it on our shelves for years. But when I found the rest in the series in what I consider the vintage versions as seen above, I wanted to read them finally. What I didn't know was that the horse story was told alongside a wonderful brother/sister/family story and it is endearing.  And so many beautifully illustrated pages makes the text portions just skip along. It's easy to read in one sitting, but the story stays with you.

Howard's End is On the Landing by Susan Hill was recommended by Cindy Rollins so I borrowed it from our local library. It's the kind of book that you need to keep close when you're looking for something to read. Reading chapter after chapter overwhelmed me a bit with all the books and authors I have never read or heard of. I did enjoy reading about her reading life mixed with stories of authors she actually knew or had met. I think she's enjoyable to read, but by the last few chapters I was kind of tired of reading the book. I gave up trying to write down authors and titles to look for. But I would like to have my own copy as a reference book. The chapters are mostly short and cover topics or authors so you can skip around and read what you like with ruining the flow of the book.

*If I find more books, I may add to this list, but I don't expect anyone to keep checking back. I use these posts for my own records as well.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

golden clay star garland

I pictured it in my mind. Strung along our tree, maybe hung above our barnwood gas fireplace or on my garland branches by the dining area. The stars would be gold and provide a bit of shine to our white walls. I knew I could make it, but I didn't have everything I needed. I searched several stores for miniature cookie cutters in a basic star shaped. I finally found a set at Michaels that were just right. I used a white clay recipe found all over the internet consisting of corn starch, baking soda and water cooked over the stove top until a dough forms. After cooling, I pulled it out of the pot onto my counter covered with cornstarch to prevent it sticking as I rolled it to my desired thickness.

Unlike most roll-out cookie dough, the clay scraps can be rolled over and over until you use it all up.

And then using a round toothpick or skewer stick, I poked a hole in the damp clay where I want to thread my cord. Now the stars go in a low heat oven and bake until they are hard.

Out of the oven to cool off and I made sure the poked holes are still open. Then each one got a light sanding with sand paper to smooth out the edges. Once they are cooled and sanded, I took them to my garage and spray painted them all on one side. After they completely dried, I flipped them and painted the other side and the edges.  I looked for missed spots and spray painted any white areas.

I took my hemp cord, put some tape over the end to prevent it from fraying and tied a knot on one end and added my first star. I quickly realized I don't want them to move on the garland and risk crashing into each other and chipping paint. So I decided to tie another knot directly after the first star is on. Now each star will be secure on the garland kept in place between two knots. I got a ruler and measured about 4 inches and then tied another knot before loading another star onto my garland. Then I knotted that one into place and measured another 4 inches before tying another knot. I continued tying knots and adding stars until I thought it was long enough. I didn't measure the garland because I didn't need it to be an exact length. I tied off the last knot and cut my hemp cord.

It's a golden starry line-up, ready to shine wherever I place it. Some of the stars are thick and some are thin. Some have marks and dings and funny curved parts. It's okay, this didn't come from a factory, it came from my hands.