reading, yarn along

The occasional knitting post {yarn along}

It’s not that often that my reading and my knitting end up being color coordinated.

The book is All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It’s our Well-Read Mom pick for this month, and I’ve just started it. (Goodreads tells me I am 6% done, so I can’t really have an opinion yet- but I think I’m really going to like it.)

I’ve just finished the cowl I was working on before. (It still needs blocking- it’s curling up a lot on the bottom edge- will blocking fix that?)

This week, I cast on and started knitting a hat for Sam, which he desperately needs.

This is the last hat I made for him (and a pair of matching mittens).

It was 2011. He’s overdue.

The new hat pattern is Luuk by Annis Jones on Ravelry. I’m using a wool yarn from Knit Picks that I haven’t tried before. I was afraid Sam would say it was scratchy, since it’s wool, but he says he thinks it is going to be okay. The color is “sea monster,” which he loves. He’s calling it his Leviathan Hat.

So far, it’s working up pretty quickly. After the counting involved with the eyelet, it’s kind of nice to be back to just straight rows of knitting and purling. As often as I’m interrupted, the chances of my losing count on a complicated pattern are pretty high these days.

I’m linking up with Ginny’s Yarn Along again- head over there to see what other people are making and reading…and tell me- are you reading or making anything you really like this week? I’m always looking for more books for my list and more projects for my endless Ravelry queue. 
reading, yarn along

Yarn along, read along, get along

I’m in the middle of a few things that aren’t quite ready to share yet, but you can find me over at Blessed is She today talking about prayer…specifically about calling God “Father” and what that means for our relationships with each other.

In other news, fall always makes me feel like knitting. I’ve been a dormant knitter for a while, but I pulled out this cowl this past week that has been unfinished for a long time, and I got back to work.

I still really like it! This is significant, because usually when I’ve had something hibernating for this long, it just doesn’t make me as happy to work on it as it did before.

Nora says the needles are “more impressive” than the cowl. (I am really smitten with those, too.)

Our much-anticipated book club meeting is this Sunday afternoon, and I still have to make my way through about 40 pages of The Death of Ivan Ilyich. It’s not exactly a light read, but it’s not long, either. That’s okay with me. Next month, we’ll be reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I’m pretty excited to be leaving Russian classics behind for a little bit.

What are you reading? What are you making? I’m linking up with Ginny at Small Things for the first time ever, because I always mean to and never seem to get around to it. (If you go over there, please be kind and don’t compare my knitting to those folks’- it’s amazing and inspiring what people can do with yarn).

books, reading, well read mom

Starting a book club on too little sleep {why I love Well-Read Mom}

A few years ago, when I was a chronically sleep-deprived mother of a preschooler and toddler twins, I decided to start a chapter of Well-Read Mom in my living room.

It seems like a questionable decision brought on by too few hours of consecutive sleep (not unlike when I put the ketchup bottle in the dishwasher or when I machine washed and dried my favorite wool sweater). According to lots of people who know me (and everyone doesn’t know me but sees me at Costco), my hands are full. I don’t have time to start a book club. Maybe, just maybe, I could join a book club that someone else started (probably not, though, because I wouldn’t have time to keep up with the reading).

That’s why I love Well-Read Mom.

Since Marcie Stokman and her team have done so much of the work of choosing the books, preparing great materials to foster understanding and support discussion, and even sending out monthly audio introductions to play at our meetings, I really just have to make some snacks, clean the bathroom, and open the door for everyone to come in.

I also have to read the books, of course…and I’m so glad I have a reason to do that.

Well-Read Mom only has one rule: you come even if you haven’t finished the book, and you don’t apologize. This isn’t a guilty book club that shames people if they got busy and couldn’t finish something. We have all been there. It can be a real challenge to fit our own reading into life with small children. What’s the worst-case scenario, though? What if we don’t finish The Odyssey or The Brothers Karamazov? Any amount of The Odyssey or The Brothers Karamazov that we read is more than we would have read otherwise. Any little bit of wisdom we glean from that book is more than we had before. The goal of the group is to read more and to read well…and that’s exactly what we’re doing, even if we only make it through a few pages.


(Even with this “no guilt” rule, I do push myself to finish the books. I feel extra responsibility as the host to support the discussion, and although I’m not normally a competitive person, knowing that one of my friends is finishing something does encourage me to try a little harder to finish, too.)

This group is my first real book club. My prior experience was limited to discussing Junior Great Books in the fourth grade, where we had to use popsicle sticks to keep track of how many times each person had spoken during the discussion.

(Our group doesn’t incorporate that particular discussion strategy at our meetings.)

I’m not sure what I thought it would be like, but this group has completely exceeded any expectations I had. We are reading things that matter- books that have shaped our culture and our faith and our civilization. The conversations we have had over these books stretch us beyond the limits of what is in front of us. They put us in touch with the past and the future, with different cultures and eras in which women have struggled as mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. Some of their struggles look a lot like ours. Some look very different.

Some of these fictional characters have become my mental companions. I think about them as I would friends- pondering what they’d do in a situation, or remembering something wise they have said. This definitely makes me a book nerd, but I’ve always been a book nerd. The nicest thing about being grown up with a book club is that I don’t have to apologize for that any more. My mental landscape is dotted with prairie sod houses and Russian tenements and hobbit holes and French Canadian villages and the people who occupy them. I’m so grateful to have found a little tribe of people who are also this way and who will talk with me about what we read together.

We don’t just talk about books, of course, but we do always talk about books. Amazingly, when you discuss great books over a long period of time with interesting people, you get to know the people as well as the books. Literature’s themes have always been life’s themes- love, suffering, loss, grief, community. Discussing these themes in characters’ lives broadens our view of them in our lives…and the intersection of life and literature is a great place to start or grow a friendship.

Before this group began meeting, if my husband had told me he would take our kids out one afternoon each month for two hours so I could do whatever I wanted, I would not have chosen “host a book club” as my number one option. I could sleep, or get a pedicure, or go for a run by myself, or eat ice cream on the porch, or any number of other things.

Today, though, book club is one of the high points of my month. Most of us knew each other when we began, but my Well-Read Mom buddies have become my closest friends. It takes commitment to read a great work of literature and discuss it, and we are committed to each other. Time is precious (and always feels in short supply), but I have never regretted the time spent reading and discussing a great book with these women.

Could a book club for moms change the world one reader at a time? I think that’s exactly what is happening. It’s not just a way to spend my limited free time. It is a way to improve my life. It makes me a better, more thoughtful person. When I’m a better, more thoughtful person, I am a better, more thoughtful mother, and my children can only benefit from that. I’m not sure that “better mothering through book clubs” is a thing yet, but if it’s not, it has to be on the rise, thanks in large part to Well-Read Mom.

By the way, this isn’t a sponsored post. I’m just sharing with you because I love my book club. I also love you. I also love the reading list for this coming year at Well-Read Mom (Tolstoy! Tolkien! Hawthorne! C.S. Lewis!). If you’re thinking about joining but have questions, please feel free to ask. If you’re on the fence about registering, go for it…you can get free shipping on your membership materials if you use the coupon code justdoit through October 1.

I hope you join us. Even if you don’t end up starting a book club, I’d love to chat with you about what you’re reading this year. And if you find yourself mentally conversing with Hobbits while you saute the veggies for your chicken curry, you’re in good company here. Kindred spirits.

five minute Friday, reading

Five-Minute Friday: Gather

GATHER  

There’s something about an opening book that makes them all come running. They clamber over the cushions, vying for the best positions on either side of the open pages where they can most easily see the pictures. Those who can’t squeeze right up next to me end up behind me, sitting on the back of the sofa…and although every mother bone in my body wants to tell them to get down, I usually let it slide.

Everyone wants to see. What fun is a picture book if you can’t see the pictures? And although I could read like a librarian, upside down with the book facing out, part of the fun of being mama is being able to cuddle up snug while we read, the book facing us like a friend in conversation instead of turned round the other way.

I give them a moment to get settled (sometimes, several moments)- they tug on the covers and arrange their dolls and dinosaurs and Jedi just so- until finally I ask them, “Is everyone sitting comfortably?”

They are.

And so we begin, losing ourselves in the story and forgetting for a moment whatever troubles the morning might have held. We are transported. We are together. We are united, readers in love with reading. The simplicity and purity of this act of sharing a story together can erase any bad feelings that might have come before.

It’s my favorite part about being their mama. It is one of the things I do best. And so, no matter what else we have to do today, we’re going to make time to read out loud. We are story people. This is what we do, because that’s who we are.

For more Five-Minute Friday, follow the link below to Kate’s blog.

reading

Book post- what I read in 2013

WhatIReadIn2013

It is easy to say I don’t have time to read. It is only true, though, if I don’t choose to use some of my time for that so-worth-it pursuit. Nothing but running feels as luxuriously self-oriented to me as reading. So this year, I tried to do more of it.

I was helped greatly in my efforts by two things. The first was our decision to homeschool SuperSam (which promptly led to my decision that I knew less than enough about all the possibilities and needed to read every book out there). While I didn’t read every book on homeschooling, I did manage to finish a number of them, which helped me figure out my homeschooling identity a little (and narrowed my focus for choosing more books to read!).

The second thing that helped me read more was my decision to host a Well-Read Mom group at my house once each month. Since I am the host, there’s extra pressure to have actually finished the book before the meeting, even if I didn’t love it.

(Oh, and the fact that my twins turned two, started sleeping on a regular schedule and are no longer completely dependent infants helped a bit, too.)

This was my to-read pile back in the summer:

I’m pleased to say I finished all of those except Seven-Storey Mountain. I think that book requires more focus than I was able to muster.

I’m also disappointed that I didn’t find enough time to finish this one:

I fully intend to get to the end of it (and I really do like it! It’s just so long!). Let’s call it a work in progress.

As for what I actually did finish? Here’s a list:

The Homeschooling Stuff:

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert

Honestly, this book changed my life. It is the book that made me believe we could homeschool. Lori has a way of making things seem really doable, and reading this was like seeing a way forward where there had previously just been a brick wall. Also be sure to check out the forums on the Project-Based Homeschooling site, where lots of really amazing and knowledgeable people are sharing ideas all the time. Inspiring stuff.

Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson

This is a whole-child approach to homeschooling. The Clarksons have lots of experience and advice to offer. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but I’m glad I read it.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Richard Louv hypothesizes that many of the disorders and dysfunctions so prevalent in children today are due to a lack of free time outdoors in nature to explore and take controlled risks. It could have ventured into “back in my day, kids played outside all the time and their parents never checked on them and they were fine!” territory, but it really didn’t. I’m not sure how all the research holds up, but I enjoyed the book, and it inspired me to renew my efforts to get us outside at least a little every day for unstructured play.

The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers

This is a classic. I think it’s like required reading for homeschoolers, so I read it.

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer

This book is so full of information that I have to keep going back and looking things up. I like that reading it made me feel that homeschooling is doable for our family (and that I’m not risking gaps in our children’s education by taking it on myself without some boxed curriculum). I like that Ms. Bauer’s approach leaves room to tailor classical education to fit my children’s needs, and although I’m still not a fully classical-approach homeschooler, this book almost convinced me I was.

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years by Elizabeth G. Hainstock

This is a quick read. There are lots of practical activities here for incorporating Montessori-style teaching in your own home.

Teach Your Own:A Hopeful Path for Education by John Holt

Again, I think this is one that homeschoolers are supposed to read. I appreciated Mr. Holt’s focus on empowering parents. I didn’t love all the negative stories and examples about public school failings (we all know public schools aren’t perfect, but that’s not why we are choosing to homeschool). The legal advice is (thankfully!) outdated in the edition I read. Mostly, I felt glad that homeschool legislation and support has come so far since he wrote this book.

Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education by Laura Berquist

This is a helpful source for classical resources for homeschooling from a Catholic perspective. She also includes schedules to help you structure your school day. While I’m much less structured than she is, I appreciated seeing how little time she spent on formal academics for young children (Kindergarten and first grade). 

The Fun Stuff I Read on Vacation:

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City by David Lebovitz

Basically, living vicariously. The chocolate. The city. The wearing nice clothes to take out the trash. (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

The Age of Miracles: A Novel by Karen Thompson Walker

This is a young adult novel about the slowing of Earth’s rotation and how it affects one girl’s life. I couldn’t put it down. 

The One I Listened to on audible.com While Folding Laundry:

Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans

This book pretty much convinced me that Rachel Held Evans and I would be best friends…and that if I hadn’t become Catholic, I could have become…well, a lot like her, actually. It’s really good. Listening to her read her own work is a treat, and I immediately started stalking her on Twitter after finishing this.

The Well-Read Mom Selections I Probably Wouldn’t Have Read Otherwise (But Was Mostly Glad I Did):

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

This is an amazing little book that you can read very quickly but chew on for many years afterward. It’s just as valuable in little two or three line snippets as it is read all at once.

A fictional account of a woman and her family settling on the prairie. I thought it was okay. It reminded me somewhat of the Little House books, but I didn’t like it nearly as much.

The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

I reread these after we discussed two of them (Revelation and A Good Man Is Hard to Find) at our book club meeting. I love Flannery more and more every time I read her. If you don’t love her, we can still be friends, but I will probably try to convince you that she is wonderful, anyway.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

I just don’t think I’m ever going to like this book. I read it in high school and again this fall. Mostly, I was just frustrated by what I felt was missing from the characters’ personal lives and by the absence of redemption or grace in the story. Maybe that’s the point.

The One I Wish I Hadn’t Had A Reason To Read:

After Miscarriage: A Catholic Woman’s Companion to Healing & Hope by Karen Edmisten

I got this after we lost our baby in October. I wish I had never needed to read it, but it was enormously comforting. I’d highly recommend it- I’ve reread it several times since then.

The Bestest Running Training Plan Book Ever:

This book is really, really good. If you are thinking about starting to run, you should get it. If you already run but want to start racing, you should get it. If you already race and are completely and totally satisfied with your training plan, you should still get it. I followed the “Finish It” marathon training plan laid out in this book, and I cut 37 minutes off my marathon PR. (Also, I was pregnant at the time and didn’t know it.) That obviously means the training plan is really good, right?

That does it for me, I think. (There is probably something I left off this list, but I think the list is long enough.)

How about you? What did you read? Anything you’re particularly excited about reading in 2014?

Linking up with Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas…you can go there to see lots of other people’s lists and get inspired to read more this year.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click them and buy something, Surviving Our Blessings will get a tiny commission at no cost to you. If you like this idea, you can always click through the ad on the blog sidebar to make your Amazon purchases, and Amazon will reward us with a few cents from your purchase. Thanks for supporting us!

books, parenting, reading

Ways to encourage your child to love reading

I sometimes get questions about how we got SuperSam interested in books so early and how he began to read at such a young age. I can’t take credit for his learning to read, since he basically did that on his own. One thing we do to encourage lots of reading in our home is try to create a print-rich environment. This means that there is a lot of reading and writing in our home, so our children are constantly exposed to it and see it as part of their daily life.

We have books everywhere, and our children have access to them. They have baskets of their own books in every room of our house. They have bookshelves or cubbies with books in their bedrooms. They pull the “grownup” books off the shelves in our living room or off our bedside tables and open them up to see what’s inside. They look at catalogs and magazines. They see us making lists. The Sisters see SuperSam making his own lists and reading the grocery list at the store (which we know is already making an impression on them because they copy him!). We leave notes and letters for each other around the house. We write their names on everything. (This backfired when SuperSam wrote his own name on all the furniture and walls in his room one day while he was supposed to be napping.)

Oops.

The most important thing we do, though, is read together frequently, multiple times each day (not just at bedtime!).

Here is our list of ways that can help encourage book-love in your kids:

Read together frequently. (Yes, I know I just said that, but it’s the number one, primary, super-duper most important thing you can do to help your child learn to love reading. Quality time with you plus a story? What could be better?)

Make little spaces inviting places for reading. Use cozy corners to create reading nooks. Try to find moments to curl up there together and read something. If your child isn’t a “snuggle up and read” kind of kid, find another scene- the front steps, a playhouse outside, the swing set where you read while he swings or the sandbox where you read while she digs. You don’t have to be sitting still to enjoy a book.

Display books attractively. If they look appealing, our children are more likely to want to pick them up. If you have a lot of books crowded onto a shelf, it can feel overwhelming to a child. Consider rotating your book stash so there are different ones out on display at different times. Most of our books for the children live in baskets right now for easy access and easy cleanup, but we have some books with similar themes displayed together by our favorite reading spot in the living room (currently, the books there are our favorite snow books…we’re still holding out hope for a good snow before spring). Low shelves are another great option, especially if you need some books within children’s reach but out of younger babies’ reach. I love these DIY bookshelves at Carrots for Michaelmas for keeping library books visible and easily accessible (but safe from baby fingers and mouths).

Lucy’s first trip to Powell’s with Aunt Laura

Put books everywhere! Kitchen. Bathroom. Your closet, so the children can look at them when they inevitably follow you in while you are getting dressed. Everywhere.

Pick quality over quantity. Yes, there are books in the dollar aisle at Target. Although it won’t hurt anything to have some of those around, remember that you are building a library for the future. Try to focus on adding quality titles with interesting characters and writing that will capture your child’s imagination and draw her into the story. Good art is important, of course – pay attention to the illustrations – but listen to the language of the book, too (and make sure you won’t mind reading it over and over and over again, because you’ll probably be doing just that).

Make books and stories part of your family’s culture. Tell stories about your day at the dinner table or at bedtime. Find ways to remind your family of favorite stories while you are out living your own story. (“Remember in A Snowy Day when Peter found the stick? Want to look for one now and see what we can do with it?”) It might feel awkward at first, but when your child starts spontaneously talking to you about his favorite characters and plot lines during lunch or making up stories about his Celestial Buddies while you’re in line at the grocery store, it’s a really amazing thing.

Listen to audio books together in the car or while you’re doing something else, like morning chores or folding laundry.

 

Books make good gifts! Consider starting a tradition of giving books to each other at traditional gift-giving times (and consider letting grandparents and others know that your kids would enjoy receiving books instead of another toy).

Personalize your books. Inscribe them when you give them to each other as gifts. Use bookplates.

Take books along with you in the car and to restaurants. Board books are especially good for this – they wipe clean and are so sturdy, they can go anywhere.

Make your own books. Shutterfly and Snapfish photo books can make great family stories if you add text. Even a photo album with prints of family photos can be a story without words that you tell to each other (or try writing the text of your story on labels to add to the photos). Construction paper, folded in half and stapled, makes an easy book for children to author themselves. (Try laminating the pages before stapling to make it more durable.) Plastic zip-top sandwich bags with cardboard inserts and hand-drawn or magazine cutout pages make great (and cheap!) books for little ones. Make your own versions of your favorites. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle lends itself well to becoming a personalized family story…just replace the animal names with people in your family (“SuperSam, SuperSam, who do you see? I see Daddy looking at me,” etc.)

 

Get your kids their own library cards. There’s a real sense of pride in being able to check out your own stack of books with your own card – it feels really different than just having your parent use his or her card for you.

Never use reading as a punishment. That’s a great way to make it more likely that your child will resent reading and not want to choose it for fun.

Let your kids see what you’re reading. At an appropriate age, teach them how to respectfully handle books so you won’t be afraid to let them handle “grownup” or “real” books.


Track your progress. Reading is its own reward. Don’t bribe them to read, but keep records of what you and they read. Make it visual- fill in a bar graph, or fill in squares on a game board, or keep a reading journal with lists of all the books you have read…just do something to show you are proud of what you and they are accomplishing.

If your efforts to grow your children as readers don’t feel like an immediate success, take heart. What we are attempting to do is to invite children to discover a love of reading that will last them a lifetime. When a journey is lifelong, even little steps taken in the right direction count.

What ideas have worked for you in raising your kids to be readers and lovers of books?