Saturday, June 30, 2012

The photo-less blog

After hitting "publish" on my last post.  I wondered if I should have added photos for all those books.  Nearly every personal blog (as opposed to news-type blogs like Althouse and Instapundit and such)  I come across now has scads of photos - sometimes more photos than text.  Cooking blogs document every step of the recipe with a photo. Book blogs show the cover.  Family blogs have photos of the kids and pets. 

I like photos.  Well, I don't like all the photos on the cooking blogs. I don't need to see a picture of melting butter, or a bowl full of dry ingredients.  Sometimes they are pretty and artistic, but more often a distraction. May I just see the recipe, please?   I do like photos of places visited, gardens, homes, family members, artwork. Stock photos stuck onto a blog post for no apparent reason (other than to have a photo) don't do much for me though. 

Do photos enhance your blog-reading experience?   Are they necessary to your enjoyment of a blog? 

June reading

June was a much better reading month for me. Must be because we practically abandoned homeschooling. I started and finished three books, and read parts of several others (some by design).
  • The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  Another highly-satisfying book by Kate Morton.  The story is complex, the narrative jumps through time with abandon but it is so well-done it is never hard to follow.   Watch for the mention of Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden.
  • A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly.  I was attracted to this book by its setting: The Adirondack Mountain region of New York.  Long ago, before I was 10 years old, my family camped in those mountains many times, and though I don't really remember those trips, I have always been fascinated by the region.  A Northern Light is a coming-of-age story about a poor young farm girl who longs to go to the city and become a writer.  I enjoyed it, though at times I had an uneasy feeling that it was going to turn into something like The Awakening which is on my list of worst novels ever.  It didn't get quite that far, I'm happy to say.  This is considered a Young Adult book.  "Young Adult" is a broad term.  My 13-year-old browses the YA section now, and this book (among many others) is not for her.  Some of the incidents and language are just a bit too adult.  Maybe for a 17-year-old. And up!  It could easily fit in the adult section of the library.
  • The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf.   I'll be looking for more books by this author.  I never knew that the English Garden full of colorful flowers was mainly the product of plant imports.  John Bartram of Philadelphia figures heavily in this book, which annoys me only because I've lived here for five years and have never made it to visit Bartram's Garden, a park on his old estate.  It's a fascinating look at plant importation and the people who dedicated their lives to botany.  Lots of fun information: did you know that at the time of the famous mutiny, the Bounty was carrying a load of plants from the south seas to England?

  •  I kept up with my daily Bible reading and am actually a bit ahead. I find that even when I don't have time to read all 4 chapters I want to read at least one every day.  My habits are changing, slowly.
I read parts of a few books which I'm looking at for homeschool history:
  • The Middle Ages by Morris Bishop.  I saw a brief mention of this on the Well-Trained Mind forums, and picked it up from the library.  It is a narrative history of the period, not too detailed, with a nice flow and interesting anecdotes.  I think my kids will love it. I'm reading it for myself now and will get them copies for their own reading once we get into schooling mode again.  (Which is suppose to be Monday but won't be.)

  • The Civilization of the Middle Ages by Norman F. Cantor.  Previewing this one for school as well.  I think I may use this one as a read-aloud.  I'm trying to get away from reading aloud so much, but this seems better suited to reading together.  We'll see.  This is the recommended "spine" for medieval history in The Well-Trained Mind.  I'm not doing history exactly "the WTM way" (as they say) but want to use this book as part of our study.

And I read about 100 pages of The Street of a  Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama which I had to abandon.  I love this author's books (Women of the Silk was the first one I read, and it's just wonderful), but for some reason this one didn't work for me.  But 100 pages takes some time, and I'm accounting for my time here, so there it is.  I'm going to start another book by Ms Tsukiyama as soon as my library request is fulfilled. 
My Goodreads account is filling up with books to read, and more appear every day.  What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

PSA: Best granola bar recipe

Everyone needs a good granola bar recipe.  And I have the best one.  It's the best because it is simply a basic framework upon which one can build whatever type of granola bar one wants.

The basics are butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder, and salt. And two cups of granola.  As you'll see from the recipe (which I have linked below), "granola" has a pretty fluid description.  And that's the beauty of the recipe.  Define granola as you wish, and make the bars. You have to love them.

Since I try to keep a variety of nuts, seeds, and grains around, I can have a lot of fun with this recipe. Last week my "granola" consisted of rolled oats, sunflower seeds, flaxseed meal, pecans, Bob's Red Mill High-Fiber Cereal, Bob's Red Mill Oat Bran cereal, and chocolate chips.  Oh, and some cocoa powder.  Yes, you might call that a brownie. But a somewhat healthful brownie.  They were delicious.  I had wondered if I should have increased the sugar to offset the bitterness of the cocoa, but as it happens, my family is losing our taste for super-sweet foods, so they were perfect.  They made a great take-along snack for our little vacation.  

There is a sweet story to go along with the recipe at The Baking Circle, the King Arthur Flour baking blog.  This recipe has been around a while - I found it in my KAF 200th Anniversary Baking Book which I have owned forever.  I use it so much the book just opens at that page.  I'm glad to have found it online because one day that book is just going to disintegrate!   But I suspect that when it does, I'll just buy another, because besides the best granola bar recipe, there is much to love in that cookbook. 

Go ahead, make your family happy and bake some of those bars today.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Vacation! And,questions I'd like to ask.

We went on a short vacation earlier last week.  My little family spent 3 days just 2 hours west of home, in Harrisburg, PA.  We had a tour of the state capitol, visited Gettysburg, and went to Hershey Park which is a huge amusement park in the town where Hershey's Chocolate was born.  I guess they traded factory jobs for hospitality jobs in Hershey.  Which is better, I wonder?

We had a nice time.  My kids are a pleasure to travel with, and have been (mostly) all their lives.  They don't nag us to buy stupid stuff.  They don't ask to play the games so they can win a giant, ugly stuffed animal.  Now that they are teens, they don't try to look as if they are not with parents.  You know what I'm talking about. I remember trying to cultivate that look of boredom and detachment when out with my folks. Now I wish they would have slapped that out of me.  But they did not.  And I probably wouldn't either.  I'm happy I don't have to! (Yet?)

It's easy (and fun!) to watch other people and criticize what they do.  I'm sure I've had my share of public parenting failures.  I remember a couple quite clearly. But now that my kids are somewhat grown, I can step back and view others.  I do have to wonder what parents are thinking sometimes.

When we went to the State Capitol for our tour, we dressed up just a little bit.  Not church or party dressed up, but not shorts and t-shirts dressed down.  We were not too surprised (but dismayed nonetheless) to see kids dressed sloppily (as opposed to more casually) there.  But the real stunner was the kid hooked up to his mp3 player, obviously listening to it and looking at the screen during the tour.  What an insult to the tour guide, not to mention the surroundings. The tour was interesting, the building beautiful.  Everyone isn't interested in art, I know. But a person can zone out on a tour without appliances.  The few minutes we spent listening to House business was not terribly exciting, though we did learn why the Piper Cub should be our state aircraft.   But at least my kids listened respectfully to that, rather than their playlists.

I had to wonder why a parent would even allow a teen to do that. I'd like to ask the parents: "is it that hard to ask your child to be polite and put away his ipod?" 

The next day we visited Gettysburg battlefield.  We may have had a bit of a parenting failure of our own there:  we didn't arrive early enough and nearly ran out of time.  My husband and I have a way of doing that.  We knew we needed a couple of hours for the visitor's center and Cyclorama, and James wanted to show us a specific part of the battlefield he'd seen on a Boy Scout hike there.  We should have known that, once there, we'd want to spend more time and see more.  But it worked out.

The visitor's center there is wonderful, and the video presentation well done and interesting.  But it is about a war.   So it was a little disconcerting to hear a little voice, like that of a 4 or 5-year-old, saying "Daddy, this is scary!"  I'm not complaining about hearing the voice at all - I know little kids can't help but speak up sometimes, and normally it wouldn't be distracting.  But the film was so obviously not for such a small child.  I couldn't see the family configuration so I don't know if there were two parents or one; several children or just the unhappy little girl.  I would have loved to ask the daddy: "what were you thinking, bringing this little one in here?"

Hershey Park is a nice, clean, wholesome amusement park.  There are a lot of roller coasters.  I limit myself to coasters that don't do anything extreme, such as go upside down. If I have to go on one, my preference is for the old wooden coasters, but I don't really like those anymore either. James wanted to go on them all, but Eleanor was hesitant.  He didn't want to ride alone. Finally we forced/shamed/begged her to go on one of the looping ones, and she came out all smiles.  She said "I'm so glad I went on that!  Now I can go on any roller coaster!"  Yea!  The two of them took off, leaving Dad and me to wander.  I was left happy in the knowledge that I never have to go on another roller coaster again. 

Hershey is so nice and the crowd so civilized that I didn't see much to criticize.  There were the usual screams for candy or toys.  The clothing wasn't bad, even at the water park; apparently the dress-code rules posted outside the park are enforced.  So I am limited to just one question to a young mom:

"If you didn't want people staring at your legs, why did you have big skulls tattooed on them?"

Maybe they were temporary tattooes, and she was conducting a sociology experiment with her preschoolers.  Yeah, I think I'll go with that.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

My dog's got a prozac problem

That pretty much sums up life in the schoolhouse right now.

It's Saturday morning. This has always been one of my favorite times of the week.  I get up early, and usually have the house to myself for at least an hour or two, with no immediate obligations of my own.  This is when I have the urge to blog (not that I've been giving in to that urge much lately).

But it's already 10:30 am here, way past my usual quiet time.  I didn't get my nice Saturday morning and let me tell you, I'm a little crabby about it.

Our dog has been suffering an odd side effect of prozac:  sleeplessness.  Odd, because prozac is supposed to help calm the nerves, which, one would expect, might help one... sleep.

The past couple of nights he's been wandering the house, pawing at the side of the bed, looking for something to do and someone to hang out with.  It's been... unpleasant.  I admit I have a hard time getting up nice and early when my sleep is interrupted by an insomniac dog.  For about 2 hours.

Our dog Max was a rescue dog.  He came to us about 4 1/2 years ago, and is a pretty good dog (not the most obedient) but, as rescued dogs sometimes do, has always had some issues.  Lately, they've been getting worse.  He has always loved long walks, though sometimes sounds (like doors slamming, kids yelling) can make him turn around and head for home.  Lately, that's been getting worse -  sometimes we only get to the next driveway before he decides he's had enough.  He's not a big dog, but when he digs in and refuses to go, there's no moving him.

So, the prozac. 

Otherwise?  Life is fine.  Homeschooling is over for now; our evaluations have been completed and I just need to turn our portfolios in to the school district.  As usual, we ended with a fade-out rather than the decisive "OK, we're done!" moment I always long for but have never achieved. We had another tough year, frankly, and it's hard to figure out exactly how to write about it.  Sarah at Smallworld has a great post up that relates to that problem.  It reminded me of Sandy's post in a similar vein from a while back.

We don't always want to show our ugly parts to the world, do we?  But, as a homeschooler and a mother and the owner of a dog who needs prozac, I appreciate the rare glimpse into a life that is more like mine - one that is not perfect, not always pretty, and sometimes hard.  So I guess I should return the favor.

But not today, because it's late and my time is up. 

Saturday, June 02, 2012

April and May Reading

Though I've practically given up on posting, I haven't given up on reading.   It looks as though I reached my goal of one fiction and one nonfiction per month, but actually I read only one book in April. The other three were from May.  But, hey, I am doing some reading.

  • A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead.  The only book I finished in April! Nonfiction, it tells the stories of many French women who were arrested and send to prison and work camps for their efforts to resist the Nazis in World War II. Compelling reading.
  • The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin.  This small book is not an organizational how-to, but rather an exploration of why we can't seem to get organized.  I have to admit it wasn't all that helpful to me - I really wanted it to be!  But none of the causes of chaos the book addresses really fit me.  I'm not a perfectionist, and I don't hold on to possessions.  (Those are not the only problems she addresses.)  I think some people might be helped by this book, but I am not one of them.
  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta  Sepetys.  The story of a family in Lithuania, deported to Siberia during Stalin's purges.  I wanted so much to like this book too, but it didn't grab me the way I thought it should.  The story is important - so much of World War II is devoted to the Holocaust, but there are other stories too. 
  • The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.  I had rejected this book once, but picked it up again based on Sarah's review.  (Actually, I got this again after reading her review of The Forgotten Garden which I had also rejected.  But this was available at the library that very day, while there was a queue for the other.)  Other than the slightly-annoying first person narration, I enjoyed this gothic-y story and am glad I picked it back up!  
I've also kept up on my daily Bible reading, or perhaps I should say my monthly reading.  I don't always read it all every day, but an occasional marathon at the end of the month keeps me on track.  I do find I am looking forward to reading it more.

For schooltime I am reading The Fellowship of the Ring alongside my children (we read and discuss and they do some writing using a Progeny Press study guide) and I am reading aloud The Ecclesiastical History of England by The Venerable Bede.  It is more fun than you might think.

I started and rejected a few other books but can't even remember what they were. 

And there are a few books lined up for June, so I'd better go get started.