What I’ve Read Lately: March 21, 2022

Remember a million years ago when I blogged regularly and you guys could expect to see what I was up to on a regular basis? I freely admit, this blog has been seeing less and less action for awhile now, especially since I started teaching my seventh grader full time – but I still love you guys and our little bloggy-verse. I thought I’d kick it old school with Anne’s Quick Lit link up thing – a day late and a dollar short per usual. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading over the last month or so.

Thanks to this homeschooling thing, my reading life has been very eclectic. Most of the books I’m reading are out loud for literature class, reading ahead for my 7th grader’s independent reading and Magic Tree House books that we read in the morning to start the day light and breezy while I drink my coffee.

I read Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops on my Kindle mostly in spurts while the kiddo did independent work or took long bathroom breaks. It was a nice diversion but honestly a little off putting as the author doesn’t seem to particularly like any of these people and I spend a fair amount of time in bookshops – at least I did pre-Covid anyway.

Adam of the Road was one of those independent readers that takes place during the middle ages and tells the story of a minstrel’s son who goes on quite the adventure. It was a great fit for our history and literature curriculum – plenty of adventures and it really put you in the middle ages.

The next independent reader she’ll be starting is Catherine, Called Birdy which was honestly awesome. Catherine is the very rebellious and independent spirt daughter of a local knight and now that she’s like fifteen or so her dad is working on getting her married off. She is not pleased.

Since her older brother has encouraged her to start keeping a diary to work on her writing skills and maybe keep out of trouble, this book chronicles her adventures in trying not to tie the knot and a year in her life, also in the middle ages.

We read The Great and Terrible Quest together which centers a lot around looking for the Holy Grail but it’s also mostly a story about life in a local abbey during the reign of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

I read Head Over Heels as my bedtime read – a recent pick from Book of the Month and honestly it deserved more like 3 1/2 stars. I actually really enjoyed deep diving into the world of gymnastics the Olympics, a topic which honestly I have no experience in. But it also got super preachy and tied up way too neatly. The main love interest felt really one dimensional and I think Simon Cowell would agree if I said it all felt a little self indulgent. Or I’m an ass.

The last read aloud we finished, apart from the Magic Tree House books, was The Second Mrs. Gioconda. It’s all about how Leonardo DaVinci ended up painting the Mona Lisa but it’s also about the life of his apprentice, Salai – who is frankly awesome. This book was great. I love E.L. Konigsburg and everything by her that I’ve ever read basically.

And the last book I read for my own damned self was Well Matched, the third in a series by Jen DeLuca that has become one of my favorites. They all center around a little local Renaissance Faire and the people of the town it’s held in. This one was just as awesome as the two before it – it made me swoon and cry and cryswoon and all that. I highly recommend the series.

It sure sounds like the end of my reading month was easily the most enjoyable. I don’t entirely disagree. Right now we are kind of just settling into some new books and I don’t have much to say about any of them yet – so I’ll save those thoughts for another day. Feel free to follow me on Goodreads if you want to keep up with my reading life in between scattered blog posts!

Reflecting on a year of pandemic homeschooling

We’re a month into summer vacation and I’m starting to getting nostalgic for the year behind us and excited for the year ahead. What better time to share some of our highlights from the past year.

What started out as a last minute fix to the problem of “I don’t want my sixth grade to go to school in person in the middle of a pandemic or attend virtually and also the world is hard and there’s no right answer and help!”. But by the end of the year we were telling people that homeschooling was the best thing that ever happened to us. My tween loves the freedom to live by her own schedule and we’re breathing life into subjects like history and science that used to bore her. It didn’t take long to realize that we wanted to keep going, at least for a few more years.

I won’t lie – it’s been a lot of work for me as homeschool teacher/ principal and parent. I have gradually figured out how to plan ahead to make the future easier but not so much that I’m buried under a pile of schedules every day. And more importantly, finding the confidence in myself to tweak lessons and make executive decisions and say YES she is learning and we’re doing great. That’s a day by day situation TBH.

CURRICULUM WINS

The chunk of our curriculum came from a company called Book Shark. We got their history and literature curriculum as well as science and loved both. This company delivered history class the way I’ve always felt it should be – with a focus on the stories that bring history to life. We were sent a mountain of terrific middle school historical fiction as well as half of the Story of the World series (we’ll read the other half next year). The curriculum also comes with detailed week by week lesson plans with everything planned out for you from what pages to read each day, what things to talk about, vocabulary, important dates, and places to locate on the map. I also found activity books on Amazon to accompany the Story of the World books because I have an extra crafty daughter.

Seriously I can’t say enough good things about this history and literature curriculum. We read so many amazing books, many of which neither of us would have ever picked up on our own like The Ghost at the Tokaido Inn, Betsy and the Emperor, The Good Master, The Sherwood Ring, and literally I could do this all day. So many amazing reads. For a couple of book worms, it was a dream come true.

The science curriculum is similarly book-forward with some beautiful science books by companies like Usborne and a science experiment kit. We loved the beautiful books but to be honest, the experiments left something to be desired. As a not terribly science minded person, I found the instructions daunting and unintuitive. My husband had less trouble with them but also less time to help out. This fall we are going to try video lessons from the amazing Science Mom. My friend used her lessons this past year and swore by them all dang year – and the few lessons we’ve watched on YouTube had us convinced we should give her curriculum a try. So while I liked the BookShark curriculum for science, I’m excited to try something new next year.

MORE CHANGES FOR NEXT YEAR

We’re also planning to try a new math curriculum next year. We used Saxon this year because it’s what she had used in school up to now and while she did well overall, it was our hardest subject motivation-wise. She’d make dramatic declarations that her soul was dying because it was so boring. Based on a few reviews and a trial lesson, I decided to give Teaching Textbooks a try this year. It’s actually an app that you can download on your phone or tablet or access on a computer. The lessons are interactive and the system will do the grading for you! (Halleluiah)

The other big change for next year will be our Language Arts curriculum. We began this past year using the BookShark curriculum, including Wordly Wise. We quickly decided it wasn’t quite what we wanted and I bought a writing and language arts workbook by Spectrum. These worked much better but over the course of the year I heard about a few more options that sounded intriguing so even though Spectrum was totally fine, this fall we’re going to try Fix It Grammar, Spelling Power and a writing program called Cover Story that I’m perhaps way too excited about. It has video lessons and a couple of notebooks that walk the student through creating their own magazine by the end of the year. The demo lesson we watched was entirely too fun.

I’ve also picked up a handful of self help type books and an art book called Artistic Pursuits that we’ll attempt to work our way through. I also have big plans for a regular Poetry Tea Time and some dabbling in Latin roots if we have time.

What We Read and Learned in January.

Can you believe it will be February tomorrow! I thought I’d take a moment to share what we’ve been doing in homeschool this month. For those who aren’t familiar, my sixth grader and I started our first year of homeschooling this year – we started because of the pandemic, but we’re enjoying it so much we plan to continue at least throughout the rest of middle school. Anyway, here’s what we’ve been reading, learning, and loving this month.

Homeschool Reads We Finished

Story of the World Vol. 3 by Susan Wise Bauer | We started reading this at the beginning of the school year and finished a couple weeks ago. It felt like a monumental milestone in our first year of homeschooling. Despite a few possible historical inaccuracies, I have found this to be the most engaging history text I’ve ever read and I really feel like it’s turned history as a subject around for my 6th grader.

Betsy and the Emperor by Staton Rabin | We both loved this story of Betsy and her friendship with Napoleon, the exiled former emperor of France. My sixth grader had a LOT to say about the book. Here’s her review:

“This book was very good. There were some good plot twists, a good plot, it was fun to read, it had an enjoyable adventurous detail in it. It’s a book I got hooked onto, it had good descriptive words, it was great. I enjoyed it a whole lot. The only thing is the ending was kind of sad. They tried to heal it with the prologue, since there wasn’t much they could do when there was history to line up with the story line. I just think it’s kind of sad how it happened.

I read this for homeschool, and when I heard about ‘Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’ dying on Saint Helena during history, it didn’t hurt as much, but when you connect with the characters, and then one of the biggest characters in the story, he/she dies, it betrays you in a way. It REALLY hurts. I kind of wish that he hadn’t died, even though I know that’s betraying the historical ending they put in, and they had to include it. I did enjoy it, I just didn’t LOVE that historical detail. I had grown kinda attached to Boney. He was a fun character, one I’d gotten attached to, a fun character is hard to lose. He was really nice, had a good humor, and then history knocked on the door and pretty much killed Boney…”

Only the Name Remains by Alex W. Bealer | I’ll be honest, this book was a flop for both of us. As important as the topic is, for such a small book it really felt like a chore to get through it. My daughter wrote, “The book was rather sad. I also have to say, though I WAS reading it, I don’t exactly love non-fiction books. Especially not when they’re sadI hadn’t known before now that Tennessee was a Cherokee name. It surprised me right at the end ...”

Books We’re Still Reading

INDEPENDENT READER Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman | E is about halfway done with this one. I personally loved it. I felt like it really transported me to the Alps and the world of mountain climbing which prior to reading this story I had less than zero interest in.

READ ALOUD Nory Ryan’s Song by Patricia Reilly Giff | We’ve been reading this story set during the Irish Potato Famine and it’s really sweeping us away. It’s heartbreaking but so engaging. We’re really rooting for Nory and her family and wondering what will happen next.

EXTRA CREDIT Soft Rain by Cornelia Cornelissen | Determined to make up for Only the Name, I picked up a copy of this book at the recommendation of a fellow homeschooling mom and it is much better. Like most of our homeschool readers, this is a historical fiction story that still manages to teach about the Trail of Tears and do it justice but keeps our attention. We’re about halfway through and things are just starting to get intense. It’s a short read but we’re reading in between regular lessons, so it’s slow going.


Other Fun Stuff We’ve Learned About

  • E found a new favorite workout channel on YouTube. She’s been watching Up to the BEat Fit most days for health class this week. Other things I’ve counted as gym class: shoveling snow, mopping while dancing (genius, I know), and playing outside in the snow for an hour. I’m a really fun mom.
  • To demonstrate how far a character fell off a mountain in Banner in the Sky, we measured out the length with yarn and saw how far the yarn could extend through the house. We also did a worksheet last week to calculate exactly how big the new Chinese army was during the Taiping rebellion.
  • We demonstrated water pressure by poking holes into a soda can and pouring water through it to see which hole would pour further. We also baked a cake and used a stencil from the Story of the World activity book to create the Taiping coin emblem on it.

Add in lots of journaling, science and math, workbooks, and music lessons on the flute and guitar and you’ve pretty much got a good idea of what the last month has looked like here in the land of homeschool. What have you been up to this month?

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

We’re already halfway through the month of January and my reading life for 2021 is in full swing, thanks to homeschooling and bedtime reading. I’m joining along with Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy to share what I’ve been reading over the last month.

Books I’ve Finished Recently

Calico Bush was one of our last read alouds and I still have mixed feelings about it. We loved most of the book and got very wrapped up in the lives of the characters. But I’m still shook over one section of the story that I think was too intense and graphic (and tragic) for the target audience of the book.

Only the Name Remains was probably my least favorite homeschool reader and definitely my daughter’s least favorite this year. Compared to all the other books we’ve read, it was dry and dragging, which is tough to acknowledge when trying to read about a difficult part of history. It just didn’t breathe the story to life for us.

Murder, Served Simply was book 3 in the Amish Quilt Shop series. I’m obsessed with the author and series and conveniently I got to read this Christmas tale of murder and meddling parents and love triangles during Christmas vacation.

Banner in the Sky is the book my 6th grader is reading right now. It was slow to start and I was initially worried it would be a slog, but it quickly swept me away to the Swiss Alps and earned a 5 star rating from yours truly.

What I’m Currently Reading

Right now we’re reading Betsy and the Emperor aloud and we’re both hooked on this story of Napoleon’s enprisonment on St Helena. The title character is delightfully sassy.

I have been hearing endlessly good things about the Brave Writer program and the creator’s book, The Brave Learner so I bought her book to check it out and so far so good. I really appreciate her viewpoint on education and I’m looking forward to picking up some tricks and tips.

I’ve been reading 10 Things I Hate About Pinky at night before bed for the past few nights. The author is a favorite of mine and I was hooked from the premise which is reminiscent of 10 Things I Hate About You.

I’m prereading Homeless Bird right now before my 6th grader starts it next month. It’s an intense plot, but so far I’ve found it very readable. I’ve only gotten a few chapters in though. It’s basically about an arranged marriage gone horribly wrong.

We started reading Soft Rain during our morning basket time at the suggestion of a friend and fellow homeschooler, after commiserating over our lack of enjoyment of Only the Names Remain. So far I’d definitely agree that this is a much more enjoyable narrative to read about the topic of the Trail of Tears. This morning my daughter even begged for one more chapter, always a good sign.


What are you reading right now?

My Year in Books (so far) | 2020

The year is not quite over yet but the odds of me finishing another book before the clock strikes twelve on 2020 is starting to diminish (though I’ll give it my darnedest). I finished my 2020 Reading Challenge on Goodreads (thank you Homeschool readers!) and they have even published their Year in Books so I thought I’d share a little bit of my reading year and give you the highlights.

So far I have read 50 books this year which is a pretty awesomely high number for me, and I think greatly contributed to by our homeschool year. My 6th grader and I have read about twelve books together so far this school year (some longer than others).

I also discovered a few great new to me series and have made ample use of my local library this year, in spite of the hoops we’ve had to jump through with curbside pickups.

Here are a few superlatives for the year’s reading:

Top 3 Favorite Homeschool Books

Our history and reading curriculum are essentially entertwined so we’ve spent the school year so far reading some terrific historical fiction for our World History 2 class. Here are our three favorites:

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler was so good that my daughter asked for book two in the series. It’s more of a mystery book than a scary one, despite the cover.

While attempting to solve the mystery of a stolen jewel, Seikei, a merchant’s son who longs to be a samurai, joins a group of kabuki actors in eighteenth-century Japan.”

The Ravenmaster’s Secret by Elvira Woodruff was immensely readable and had a great cast of characters. I especially loved Maddie and could not stop picturing her as a young Merida (Kelly Macdonald voice included). This book takes place in the Tower of London during the Jacobite rebellion, told from the perspective of the son of the Tower’s Ravenmaster.

The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope was one of the last books my daughter finished before Christmas break and one of my personal favorites. It was another one of those books that she didn’t actually want to stop reading. There’s quite a little Fandom on the internet for this book, that I had never heard of before this year, but I can see why. There are three love stories, terrific dialogue, and plenty of action, adventure, and comedy.

“Newly orphaned Peggy Grahame is caught off-guard when she first arrives at her family’s ancestral estate […] The house is full of mysteries — and ghosts. Soon Peggy becomes involved with the spirits of her own Colonial ancestors and witnesses the unfolding of a centuries-old romance against a backdrop of spies and intrigue and of battles plotted and foiled. History has never been so exciting — especially because the ghosts are leading Peggy to a romance of her own!

Favorite How Do I Homeschool Book

Just in case you are looking to start homeschooling and wondering where on earth to begin, I really enjoyed Homeschool Basics by Tricia Goyer and Kristi Clover. Not every chapter was relevant to me personally but I skimmed through the bits that weren’t for me and got a lot of great information and affirmation from the rest. I really love Kristi’s YouTube channel for more great homeschooling tips.

Favorite New to Me Author

I devoured Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower, which is set in a magical bookshop (seriously), this summer and have been quickly getting my hands on some of her other books like Prose and Cons (book 3 which I’m in the middle of reading) and her Amish Quilt Shop series that she writes under the name Isabella Alan. She has a huge backlist, so this should keep me busy for awhile.

Favorite Swoony YA Book

The other genre I’ve been spending a lot of time with this year is the YA Rom Com trope (tried but true). Basically in between reading for school, I’m indulging in a lot of comfort reading and cozy mysteries and YA are pretty much where it’s at for me there. My favorite YA book this year was…

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord which is sort of a You’ve Got Mail style premise with two teens who have been placed in charge of the Twitter accounts for their family’s respective businesses which turn out to be rival companies. The story has a lot of heart and I basically inhaled it.


That’s the highlights reel for this year of reading. What books would make your Best Of list for 2020?

10 Things I Was Doing When I Wasn’t Here.

You guys. It’s twelve days into December. Seriously. My last blog post was telling you the things I was loving this fall and now we’re knee deep into December and this morning I had to shovel snow off my front porch and we tried out our new propane outdoor heater thingy so we could sit on said porch and drink tea together like the old people we apparently are. (The heater worked great but we should have waited for it to stop snowing because flurries kept blowing in my face basically the whole time. I don’t know how to be outdoors basically.)

Anyway I thought I’d make up for my horrendous lack of regular posting by sharing TEN THINGS we’ve been doing when I haven’t been here blogging about it. That aught to get you up to speed. You’re welcome.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with a weeklong unit study about the Wampanoag tribe because 1) history tends to sorely overlook them apart from saying, “Thanks for teaching us how to make corn. Sorry we were basically terrible in return.” and 2) my hubby and kids are actually part Wampanoag so it was also basically genealogy. We made nassump corn porridge and cranberry coffee cake. We read books about the tribe and a few about the pilgrims, too. We watched YouTube videos about how the tribe lived back in pilgrim times and we made pottery with some air dry clay.

The weekend after Turkey Day, we put up our Christmas tree. This was our first time pulling out the artificial tree in a few years, the prelit lights no longer work, so we strung another string of lights right on top and went about our merry making.

I made the family pose for a cozy sock photo after an aunt sent us these amazingly cozy socks that my eleven year old especially has been living in ever since.

One of my besties got me this amazing coffee mug because my three favorite things in life these days seem to be coffee, coffee mugs, and Animal Crossing. Oh and my family and stuff, I guess.

The sixth grader and I have been slooooooowly making our way through a Nutcracker Themed weeklong art history class offered by Art History Kids. This is a swirly Christmas tree inspired by Van Gogh.

My book club discussed the intro to Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown and then made the I think really fun decision to no longer have a planned book each month and rather just get together and discuss what we’re each reading, and do the drinking and gossiping we were already doing. Basically it’s a wine club for bookworms.

I brought out the watercolors again for the first time in ages after we learned about Hokusai’s famous wave painting. I thought it would be fun to have waves created by super wet watercolor dripping down the page. Honestly, I was pretty pleased with the results.

I got the kids a Harry Potter LEGO advent calendar this year which is super splurgy for me – I’m usually a chocolates or stickers kind of advent mom. But Covid does funny things to our priorities. It’s been really fun opening the door each day and the kids completely took it in stride that they’d be sharing the one insanely expensive calendar.

We got a new oven!! Our old oven was on its way out and after exploring the cost of parts, we decided to just get on with it and replace it. We splurged on this induction cooktop with a convection oven option and an air fryer option. It’s pretty spiffy. We also installed a peel and stick backsplash that I’m in love with.

Other than that, it’s been a lot of school and work. Which for my sixth grader and I usually looks like us curled on the couch reading together. One of our last reads was Calico Bush by Rachel Field which she adored in spite of some seriously intense plot twists. Definitely read some parental reviews before mindlessly handing this one off to your kiddos.


What have you guys been up to? Who’s excited to say Smell You Later to 2020 in a few weeks?