Friday, August 1, 2008

Books (and Week) in Review!

Let me hear what you've been reading! I've been reading a lot, lately. In fact, this is what our coffee table looked like (no kidding) until last weekend when I cleaned it off for company. Jeff and I are opposites in that he prefers to read no-nonsense non-fiction stuff, and I am usually found with my nose in a great novel. But lately, I've been reading quite a bit of non-fiction.

The arrival of our new chicks finds me consulting a book on raising chickens.

And I'm still crawling through Steve Solomon's "Gardening when it counts..Growing Food in Hard Times". It is more than your average gardening book and is being read by many who are in the "life as we know it is about to come to an end" club. I must admit that although I am by no means a full-fledged member of that club, I do think that we have turned a corner and our lives on the planet are about to change dramatically.

I'm also reading "Writer Mama..How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids." It is taking me forever to get through this book because I have five kids and a writing career :). If I had thought of it, I'd have written the book, myself.

And I'm reading "Messages from Spirit, the Extraordinary Power of Oracles, Omens, and Signs". Yes, it is psychic mumbo jumbo and I love it! Very uplifting read.

As for my fiction book, I have currently put down "Drowning Ruth". I just couldn't get into the characters enough to care what happens to them. Plus, I think I have figured it all out, anyway. I think Ruth's mother tried to drown her, not her aunt. Am I right? Let me hear from someone who has read it.

My other fiction book I'm reading is my second time around. Ellie started reading Haruki Murakami's "Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World." I began flipping through it and the first thing I knew, I was reading it word for word. Again. People in the U.S. either love or hate Murakami, although the average American probably thinks he is something you find on a sushi bar. He is stranger than Stephen King. He is the most popular author in Japan, but apparently things get lost in translation into English, or Americans just aren't used to such bizarre plots that are never fully explained. We like all the answers and when you get to the end of a Murakami book you're like, "Huh? What was up with that?" But the private thoughts and expressions of his characters just suck you in. You just automatically like them. His observations on human nature are priceless. Pick up a Murakami book if you've never read him. He has a book of short stories called, "The Elephant Vanishes". That would be a good place to start. Ellie, so far, is thrilled with Murakami. "He's just so weird!" she says. That is the highest compliment Ellie can bestow on a person. She is going to add him to her list of 100 favorite people along with Bob Dylan, Mother Teresa, and Barack Obama :). There are, of course, many more people on her list, I just can't happen to think of any at this hour. Those three stand out because there are pictures of them on her door.

Finally, I just finished John Gatto's, "Dumbing Us Down". I can't believe that as an unschooler, I've never read this, before. But I haven't. He paints a very bleak picture of institutionalized schooling that I relate to, but don't totally buy into. For all its faults, there are still some pretty amazing kids coming out of our schools, and lots of kids who are amazingly well-rounded and grounded. I do think that it is often in spite of what schools do, not because of them. But I think you could also say the same thing about many homeschooled kids.

As an unschooling family, we are making several adjustments in the way we do things as the kids get older. Ellie is doing a lot of "school" right now. She is preparing for college entry, and the college she wants to attend has really high standards for entrance. So she is finishing up geometry through a math program called, "Teaching Textbooks" which I LOVE. And she's reading American history, practicing writing for the essay portion of the SAT (she's taking the PSAT in the fall), and doing an honors chemistry class in co-op, as well as, Spanish. So she is practically a school kid! The neat part is that she is truly doing it on her own. I have very little to do with it. Add to that her piano practice and she has a pretty full schedule. In the fall she will take two courses through community college, US History and Freshman Composition.

Joel has tried to do some structured learning this year, but his heart hasn't been in it. He's tried a few things and quickly abandoned them. He is concerned about coming up to grade level in math - but not really putting the effort in. He also does "Teaching Textbooks" but is just about half way through the 7th grade year. But he is really maturing and growing a lot right now; taking on many new responsibilities in the household and on the farm - and actually learning a lot through the computer games he plays. And he has read more this year than anytime before, and has read some very high-quality books. He's also become interested again in his art, and he is a talented manga artist and cartoonist, although when I take the time to read the cartoons he posts on his door, I usually have to tell him to take them down due to the bathroom humor content.

Jules tried his hand at math and writing and quickly grew bored. But he gets it out now and again. Like Joel, he has read a ton this year. Overall, this has been the happiest year I can remember for him. He has just genuinely been a really happy kid, and in the past he has mostly been high-strung and somewhat difficult.

So, lots going on with the 3 big kids! The two little ones are busy doing the hard work of children; exploring their world and their relationships within it through play. Without my interference Jasper has learned to count in English and Spanish, knows his alphabet, and is starting to take an interest in writing letters.

Camille is learning to read in spite of my attempts to help her. I have quit trying to help her and she has made great strides. She writes sentences constantly, saying, "And what comes next?" as together we painfully spell out sentences letter by letter, with Camille being totally unconcerned with the length and complexity of the sentences. It is pretty mind-numbing work for me, however.
I think maybe my next post will be about the philosophy behind unschooling and how it works? Anybody want to hear about that?

Now let's get to day-to-day technicalities. I haven't posted much this week because I was trudging through another week without Jeff, and doing it while working on three writing assignments for the advertising firm. I actually had to get dressed up and go into the city for meetings. The kids were like, "You're going to WORK?" Oh man, but I couldn't do it everyday.
Today I got the three big kids off to a small weekend spiritual retreat. It is very unstructured and in a lovely setting. I do have some concerns, though. For one thing, the children were told to bring a song, poem, or quote to share. Joel and Jules chose two songs they know. Jules will proudly perform, "Stick a Banana in Your Ear". Joel has chosen "The Fish Stick Song." I must admit that these two pieces probably do a pretty accurate job of representing where the boys are in their spiritual journeys. Joel, who has yet to memorize multiplication facts, had no trouble memorizing something like 23 rap stanzas to the Fish Stick Song. He came out earlier today to seek my opinion on a certain passage in the song.

"Mom. I think there might be something inappropriate in the Fish Stick Song."
"Sing it for me, " I said.

Joel sings, "Girls with big boobs, come sit on my lap." Then he looks earnestly at me, awaiting my opinion on the matter. After picking myself up off of the floor, I expressed to him that a good many campers and all of the adults at the retreat would consider it both inappropriate and offensive.

"Hmmm," he said. "I'll have to switch some words around."

At this point Ellie looked at me and informed me that Joel will probably now sing, "Girls with big laps come sit on my boobs." Unfortunately, she might be right. This could very well be the first and last time the boys are invited to attend the Celebration Circle Children's Retreat. We have never been evicted from a retreat, before. Other events, sure. But a retreat would be a first.

Ellie is prepared to quote Thoreau, of course. She said she plans to spend her time sketching, hiking, reading, working on the Darfur project, and enthusiastically refusing to participate in group activities. That's my girl. She turns 16 in just a few days. I CANNOT BELIEVE IT.
Tomorrow I will post pics of the chicks. They are looking more and more like chickens every day!
I want to see a ton of comments about what you've all be reading and what you think about it. I don't care who you are or what you consider a good read. If you're reading cereal boxes, which ones? Can I get at least 10 or 15 of you to respond? What's on your nightstands and coffee tables?


  1. I am currently reading Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by John Kabat-Zinn. I read his meditation book and found the parenting one while searching for more of his books. I am also re-reading several gardening books so I can prepare our fall garden.

    My 7 year old son and I are taking turns reading chapters from the children's version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

    I also find the time to do a little trash reading - I love my short horror stories and got a nice collection of them for my birthday.

  2. alright - reading & trying to finish & will soon blog about "Never Done" histoy of american housework, for church reading "Beliefs" - briefs about Mennonite Theology, and "The Mystery of the Child" by martin marty.

    i'd love to hear about unschooling - go on!

  3. I am reading Kathy Reichs "Bones" books. During the writers strike there was nothing new to watch and since I had never watched Bones it was new to me. Of course if I watched the show I HAD to read the books so I am trudging through them. Also, just finished the Dexter books, same reason, quite dark but funny. I have several dozen authors that I follow religiously and they just aren't writing fast enough for me so I am trying out new authors.

  4. right now i'm reading several books.

    Don Quixote De La Mancha
    Chasing Windmills
    DMT: Spirit Molecule
    This Is Your Brain On Music

    they're all very intersting books and i enjoy them profusely.

  5. Suzanne - I am interested in the Kabat-Zinn book...i'll have to check amazon. "Mindfulness" is a buzz word right now, isn't it? That gives me an idea to write a column entitled "Mindless Parenting"...that is what happens after you've breastfed 5 children.

  6. Janet and Beth - history of housework? What possesed you? And I didnt realize that Bones and Dexter were books! I truly don't watch much TV due to not having enough time - but I do love quick and fun reads...would those qualify?

  7. Don Quixote! In English or Spanish? One of my all-time faves. Did you see that gigantic sculpture of Quixote in the restaurant after Ellie's recital?

  8. I just got done reading two books that were amazing -
    The Holy Way - Practices for a Simple Life by Paula Huston
    Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
    I needed a mental break so I am reading Monk Goes to Germany right now, but I plan to read My Sister's Keeper and On Being a Christian by Hans Kung after that. Keziah and I are reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, one of my favorite books when I was in elementary school.
    Glad to see you are blogging again. I missed reading your ramblings.

  9. i'm reading it in english. i don't think i could ever read it in spanish, i don't have the patience. imagine reading shakespeare and hawthorne combined, that's how it'd be for me. but i do appreciate the translations; they're not always grammatically correct.

    my mom read it in spanish when she was in college. although, she kinda cheated, she had the english version right there too. :)

    and yes, i did notice the Don Quixote statue at the restaurant when we walked in. very cool.

  10. why history of housework?? well, after reading Better Off a book/story of a family's journey to leave all technology, i felt that he glorified a bit the amish lifestyle... or i was glorifying it a bit myself. then i read an old mothering mag article that said that today women have more work than life 150 yrs ago... sooooo, then, i wanted to truly understand how things really were (it was harder in many ways , but i'd definitely agree that we have a diff type of hard now) & along the way have been enjoying learniong about the social aspects of less technology. truly interesting!!!

  11. On my night stand:

    Buddhism for Mothers: A Calm Approach to Caring for Yourself and Your Children.

    Cook's Illustrated magazine

    Mother Earth News magazine

    The Spiderwick Chronicles - DD and I have been reading a chapter or two a night before bed.

  12. Let's see: I am in the midst of, have just finished, or are just about to start.
    Amata means Beloved, the first two Mitford books from Jan Karon, The Privilege of Being a Woman by Alice von Hildebrand, Brideshead Revisted, The Shipping News, PS I love you, and re-reading/skimming Setting Limits for your Strong willed child and a few Ray Guarendi parenting books..oh and Outrageous Fortune which is a departure for me, it's a sci-fi futuristic novel.
    Doodle Stitching is still sitting on my end table..waiting for me to actually DO some doodle-stitching :-)
    I have scads of school books and syllabi everywhere too.

  13. The Dexter books would qualify. They are dark but easy quick reads. Once you get over trying to figure out what finding a sociopathic serial killer funny and even sympathetic means about you they become just incredibly dark funny books. The Kathy Reichs books not so much. They are pretty standard thriller fiction like Jonathan Kellerman or Patricia Cornwall.

  14. Here are some comments for pretty much everybody!
    Janet - your housework book has intrigued me. We DO have more work, now. More conveniences, too, but I remember reading that our standards of "clean" seem to be much higher - we place more demands on ourselves in that regard. And then we have less time to live up to those standards, because our lives are so full of so much else.

    Michele - what do you hope to gain from reading On Being a Christian? Is there a different angle on it? Something I'd like? And have I read My Sister's Keeper? Seems like I have, but I can't remember it, now...

    Brendy - are you a practicing Buddhist? Lots of study involved? Did you hear about the new center that opened in San Antonio?

    Karen - you crack me up. It is like, "This is how an ADHD adult with a zillion kids reads books." What on earth is doodle-stitching and how could you ever possibly find the time? I vote you just keep reading the book, kind of like I just keep watching excercise videos.

    Beth - I'm gonna have to try Dexter. I watched the show once and couldn't get into it. I love Jonathan Kellerman - especially Dr. Alex Delaware who I always envision as looking exactly like Kellerman's photo on the back of the does Kellerman, I presume :)

  15. Not quite sure what I hope to get out of it. Cesar read the book a few years ago in spanish and other people have recommended some of his other books to me. This was the first one that came in from the library as I placed a few on hold. I will let you know.

  16. I'm STILL reading The Best American Non-Required Reading from 2007. I've been reading it little by little since memorial day weekend when we took a trip to see my aunt Sandy in Seattle. I finished The Best American Non-Required reading 2006 on that trip and started 2007.

    They're amazing books edited by the amazing Dave Eggers and they have short articles and stories with no restriction on subject. The one I'm in the middle of is a high school commencement speech by Conan O'Brian, this book also featured a chapter from "Darfur Diaries" and another one about the some of the "Lost Boys of Sudan" who are now in America.

    For the last three years the articles and stories from the Best American Non-Required Reading series has been selected by teens who are brought together by Dave Eggers organization "826 Valencia" that helps Children express themselves through the art of writing.

  17. i have one more book to add to my list. yesterady i started reading the new book in the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn. i'm REALLY liking this book.

  18. One of my favorite books and the one that is always sitting next to my bed is Buddhism Day by Day: Wisdom for Modern Life. I have given one to many who all love it even if their initial reaction is that it won't fit their lives.

  19. I have been reading A LOT this summer... Here are a few.
    The Secret Life of CeeCee Walkes by Diane Chamberlain-very very good story.
    The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jocobs
    Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
    7th Heaven by James Patterson
    THe Year of the Fog by Michelle Richmond
    Something Blue
    Something Borrowed
    Baby Proof
    Love the One You're With all by Emily Griffin
    My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
    I am working on reading right now:
    The Kite Runner
    The Last Summer (of you and me)
    Next on the list are
    The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
    & The Doctor's Wife by Elizabeth Brundage...
    I LOVE to READ!

  20. OK - I actually ordered a few books from your comments! thanks! Stephanie - I love Sue Monk Kidd. This was very fun and I will have to do it again in a few months!

  21. Hello Sardine Mama,
    I'm new to your blog and I enjoyed reading you post. My mom found one of your stories in the news paper, and I just had to visit your bolg.
    I love to read about peoples everyday life.

    As, for what I'm reading, it's "Mansfield Park" by Jane Austen.

  22. Jane Austen! One of Ellie's all-time faves. Did you catch all of the PBS jane auten movies??

  23. Like many of you, I read a LOT and often have more than one book going. I have recently discovered a mystery writer named Laura Lippman who I like--nothing too complicated, but interesting stories. I just finished "To the Power of Three", which had a twist at the end I did not see coming in spite of plenty of hints. I *finally* got Odd Hours by Dean Koonts from the library yesterday (on the wait list for over a month), so will start on it next. I am also reading: The Translator, by Dauod Hari. He is Darfurian, served as a translator for many journalists traveling to Darfur to document the genocide. It is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever encountered. I am taking my time reading it, beause the language is just exquisite and I want it to last. Hari has an amazing talent with language--at one point he is describing an attack on a clinic--all the people who are healthy enough to leave have, the ones who are left will be killed soon, he is trying to get Nick Kristoff, the New York Times columnist he is translating for to leave, he can see the attackers in the bushes, and he says something that makes me laugh! How can you laugh in the middle of this horror, reading about people being interviewed in what will be the last minutes of their lives! But, manages it. he also makes me cry with the beauty of his words. Truly a book worth reading. I met Mr Hari briefly when he was in San Antonio last year--I wish I had of understood who he was at that time.

    I am also reading "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch, another one I am stretching out, because of the wisdom in contains.

    I just got "One Day at a Time in Al-Anon", a daily reader for those dealing with an active alcoholic in their lives. need to read today's entry, I forgot. And, "Paths to Recovery" from Al-Anon. I have a sponsor now, and she has given me homework, so I need to read this for her.

    Finally, I have on order "HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide" which is the textbook for an online class I am taking. I need to design a website for the class and I cannot think of a thing to do--any ideas?

    And, I really am supposed to be cleaning house right now....


  24. I know I posted a comment on this dadgum thing and I'm not sure why it didn't go through. Anywho, I just finished Nineteen Minutes and am now reading Searching For God Knows What. We read Farmer Boy before bed. Paisley is devouring most things from Dr. Seuss. The mister is reading a book about Muddy Waters. I'm too tired to think of the title.

  25. I love to hear that your daughter is a fan of Jane Austen!
    I only got to see 3 of the movies,
    Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. After seeing the movies, I'm hooked on her books now.
    I'm very sad that I missed, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion! But, when I read the books of the movies I missed the story is new to me. :)

    Have a good day!