Friday, July 10, 2020

Kids + Summer Reading (try a book box!)

So do you get it done, amiright?

It's a struggle. Summer is a time to rest, have fun, make memories, and for kids...just be a kid. It's the time we all look back on fondly as having the freedom to be ourselves and spend time with friends without the rigor of homework and getting to school at an unfairly early time.

The standards are set so very high these days, and I want my kids to just feel and soak in life during these months of rest. However, this year, I feel an extra urgency in making sure they're well prepared for next school year. We're living in such odd times, and so much is unknown. 

Will they readjust to the classroom sufficiently after months of learning at home? 
Will they even see a classroom this school year? 
Do I want them to??

I don't know the answers to those questions just yet, so my response is to be a little more formal about their Summer practice. We're spending about an hour a day Monday-Thursday on some school-ish practice doing these things:

  • reading
  • discussing literature (children's, of course)/literacy themes
  • writing an ongoing story together (by just coming up with a few lines at a time)
  • a quick practicing of facts (multiplication for the biggest, sight words for the littlest)
  • completing a set of rotating chores
  • and some art sprinkled in from time to time

I think it's probably no shock to say that ELA matters most to me, and it is for sure the skill I am most passionate about passing down. Life opens up to you, in all ways, if you learn to fall in love with the written word.

My advice? Keep it super-simple. This is our process...

> > I made a reading box for my kids, filled with books we had in the house, but you could also do it
with library books, or a mixture of library and books you have. I did a little research on authors at their reading levels, and mixed them in with books I know they just genuinely enjoy. 

> > They each have a stack to work with for the summer, and Monday-Thursday I set a timer for 30 minutes and we all read. I read along with Jake (my 6 year old) and help him with early readers, and then I read to him from something he's interested in - like this book on rocks and minerals. The other two are fully and happily on their own. Luke (my 11 year old) will even sometimes keep reading for much longer, and then pick it up again at bedtime and stay up way too late reading. I'll never be mad at him for that!

> > Their school gives them summer journals to work with to keep track of books they've read and
even rate and review some of them. I put those on clipboards at the front of their box so they can log what they've read as soon as they've finished. You could just throw a few sheets of paper on a clipboard or a one subject notebook here for them to keep a running list of what they've read.

> > When they're done with that, we talk about what we've read for a few minutes. I ask them to tell me something they liked, to guess what genre they read, and if they noticed any morals or interesting characters. They're more or less detailed depending on the day, but it just gets them thinking in literary terms.

> > The last ELA-ish thing we do (with their brains all primed in writing terms) is work on a family story. I came up with an outlandish, funny idea that I knew would appeal to their humor, and each day we work together to add a few sentences that furthers the story along. Would I like it if they'd all be willing to work on their own stories? Sure. But it's summer, and this is the only way I can get them to happily work on using their writing brains right now.

That's it! Super simple, mostly painless. ;)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

My First Book of the Month Box!

It's ridiculous, really, how long it's taken me to finally sign up for Book of the Month! I've wanted to for yeeeears. I think I was just so hung up on hunting for books-on-the-cheap at garage sales and  BookOutlet that paying anything close to full price felt foolish. Especially when I live minutes away from two libraries.

Things have changed, though (hey, quarantine!), and when BOTM had a Memorial Day sale, I jumped in. Instant obsession. How did I wait this long?!

And by the way: these books are NOT full price! Your first pick is $14.99 (about $10 off a newly released hardcover) and any additional books you add on, which are 100% optional, are only $9.99 each.


I chose The Vanishing Half as my very first pick and I'm so glad I did because it's apparently quite hard to come by. It's just one of those books that is so timely and beautiful, by a great author, and everyone wants it on their shelf. The story follows identical twin sisters that were raised in a southern black community but chose different life paths as adults. They build their lives in very different communities - one of them choosing a different racial identity - and we get to explore the complexities of that right along with the twins. My book club will be reading this one and I can't wait!

My June Book of the Month Picks

I also chose two add-ons (because I can't help myself): The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd (because I had it on my 2020 book list) and Beach Read by Emily Henry (because everyone was talking about it).

The Book of Longings is so intriguing. It's based on the fictional character of Ana - a feminist, and also the wife of Jesus! I don't know a lot of detail about it going in, but I cannot wait to dive into this perspective at a time when we desperately need strong voices and loving stances and I can't wait to see how that unfolds with Jesus as her partner.

I already read Beach Read and it was the perfect summertime romance. It wasn't all that beach-focused, but it's got the levity needed for an easy summer read mixed with the intense longing of an amazing romance and the heartbreak of family drama. It had it all, and it was done so incredibly well. This is one of my favorite books (out of 30) that I've read so far this year. Top 3, hands down.

Unwrapping my personal little shrink-wrapped stack of these gorgeous books (how stunning are all three of these covers?) was such a little thrill. I am so excited to have this in my life every month. Now to restrain myself from all the add-ons. :)

IF you would like to try Book of the Month (and you totally should!) you can get $5 off your first box by using my referral link HERE. Each month, you'll get to pick from a stack of 5 new books that are highly rated and reviewed, spanning all genres, and following the trends not only of the book world but of our overall social community as well. It's so much fun! Let me know if you try it out - I can't wait to show you what I picked in my July box!!

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. Which means that if you click through or make a purchase through one of my links, I may make a small commission. These little contributions help me run my blog, and I'm wildly grateful! Thanks for being here! :)

Monday, July 6, 2020

Pt. 39 - What hurts to let go.

Day 86 - June 8th, 2020

     Another beautiful morning to wake up to! I'm so grateful to have had so many of these! And hopefully many, many more to come.

     I chatted with Sister Cassie and a friend from school (who I actually met through BuffaloMommies first) about all of my school thoughts yesterday. Both of those conversations really helped. I still don't have a decision, but I feel like I see more clearly and will be more settled in whatever decision I end up making. For now, today is the start of our last week of school, and I have mixed feelings. Ready to be done, but also sad that things had to end this way. I am happy and grateful in this time of life, but it's still hard to let go of things you thought you could count on. My kids' education is super important to me and any detour on that path hurts a little because I was so careful about choosing it. I know it's just all a part of the process of letting go...this is the part that stings a little for me.

     We ordered some books last night that are either written by black authors or about the themes of racism, activism, and black history. We want to educate ourselves, but I want to pass that onto the kids more than anything.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

19 Summer Books for the Mood Reader

Summer reading is in full effect! The warm mornings have arrived, The Reading Rush is inching near...time for some serious book consumption.

I am a serious mood reader. I'm a mood-everything, to be honest. Blame it on my type 4 personality, or my defined Solar Plexus and Emotional Authority (yikes, getting woo woo on you) but if the weather and the vibe of the season doesn't match a book, I'm not reading it. So you can trust that the books I'm about to suggest to you have some serious Summer vibeage. You'll find beaches, lake houses, summer camps, and of course - summer lovin' in this list.

There's a lot of YA here (Summer vacation seems to be awfully conducive to coming of age), but there's also some good 'ol adult fiction, and even a solid nonfiction in the mix. Something for everyone! So grab some iced tea, open up a Book Outlet cart, and let's do this!

(PS, if you've never ordered from Book Outlet before, THIS link will get you $10 off your first order of $25 or more! It's a referral link, so they give me $10, too. It's the most fun, affordable, and addicting way to shop for books - promise!)

Wild Blue Wonder by Carlie Sorosiak
I read this one for The Reading Rush last year, and it was so gorgeous and emotional with a whole lot of atmosphere and a touch of whimsy. There were such interesting characters in this story - all intertwined in grief, love, and family. The story skips around between the past and present in a way that makes you feel the longing and sorrow. It takes place on a summer camp, and you get the true summer vibes through visions of a fateful Summer. It's beautiful - highly recommend! (Amazon | BookOutlet)

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
This one is a sequel to Little Beach Street Bakery, so you may want to start there. Truthfully, it's even more atmospheric than this one was. Both of them are artfully written about a woman making a home for herself on a small secluded island, and I could truthfully sit and read about this unique little village all day long. It's a perfect poolside or beach read if you're on vacation, but it's just as vibey from the hammock in your backyard. So good! (Amazon)

The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen
You know how sometimes characters just stick with you? I don't know what it was about this book, but Saylor and Roo have stuck in my mind in a way that makes me think they'll never leave it. This story takes place on a lake, following a group of "lake kids" navigating life through their small lake town in the most deliciously summery way. I read it while actually at a lake house last summer, which I highly recommend if you can make it happen. I wanted to be there with them - mixing work and summer fun, just enjoying the lake with their group of friends the way you do when you're young. It's not just all fluff, though. For Saylor, it was a summer of discovery and learning about a side of her family she hadn't previously had the opportunity to really know. (Amazon)

UntitledThe Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Another one I read during last year's Reading Rush! This was one of the most indulgent, fun romances I read all year! The maid of honor and best man from a wedding that opens the book end up on the bride and groom's honeymoon because of the food poisoning that tore through the wedding reception. The pair can't stand each other, but after enjoying an indulgent tropical getaway together, things the best way. (Amazon)

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
I read this one 4 years ago now, so forgive me for the lack of details I have to share with you but I do remember these things: I was obsessed with the summer vacation feelings it had, I loved the interesting summer jobs the characters held, and I loved the easy nature of Andie and her friend group. (Amazon | BookOutlet)

Summer Days and Summer Nights (Anthology)
A collection of short stories is a really fun way to get into the vibe of a thing. Stephanie Perkins has put a couple of these anthologies together, and they're so good! I read this one during a beach vacation and remember it being just perfect for laying in the sand under a big umbrella. Each story has such a different feeling to it, but they all pull you right into Summertime. (Amazon)

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson
This is another one of those stories with a character that jumps out at you years later. When your mind is done singing the Kelly Clarkson song every time you see the title, you'll think of Frank next. Which is not your average teenage romance name! Maybe that's why it's so memorable. He was an unlikely partner for Sloane as she spent her summer working through a bucket list left behind by her best friend. They end up in a lot of really fun and interesting situations, and together build a summer to remember. (Amazon)

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
The title sounds a lot more scandalous than it is, but there was for sure some deep emotion and sexual themes in this book. Enough that I wished (and made it so in my head) that the main characters were at least a year older. But even with that little hiccup, the stories in this book are so, so dreamy and exciting. Overall, it's an incredibly interesting coming of age story, both with managing friendships and boys as you grow. Most of the story takes place on and around a beach, making this a great beach or vacation read. (Amazon)

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno
I just wrote a little review of this one in a post recently, and I hate to be redundant but these were my thoughts: This is just one of those beautifully atmospheric books, woven simultaneously with hints of magical elements and social hurdles in perfect balance. It for sure depends on how much you like the odd or magical, because there *is* a girl who turns into a bird in this book. Yep. BUT, if you can instead focus on the extremities of teenage emotion made manifest into physical reactions, you'll find yourself wishing you could stay in their bed and breakfast, waiting patiently on their sweet little island for a rare magical bird to come and dazzle you. Perfect Summer book! (Amazon)

Nature Fix by Florence Williams
I am again, going to struggle with the details because I read this one three summers ago, but it was really great. I chose it because I wanted to know more about the life of trees and the advantages of spending time in nature, and it was perfect for that. If you're looking for some nonfiction and are intrigued by forest bathing and fresh air, this is a perfect one to read this summer. (Amazon)

Jenny Han's summer series

The Summer I Turned Pretty Trilogy by Jenny Han
The best advice I can offer you here is to have all three books on hand when you start this series. I tore through them ravenously - staying up all night in order to remain in this beach house with these characters. Teenage Belly is in love with two brothers. She's grown up spending summers with them since she was little - their moms being best friends and vacationing together every year. They are her "summer family" that tends to remain there in summertime each year, until she becomes old enough for that to really change. It is so satisfying to watch them all grow - together and as individuals - as they return to their beach house each year. In the final book, there were a lot of unhealthy decisions, but in a "human nature is messy and people make mistakes like this all the time" sort of way. It had a perfect mixture of heartbreak and love, a realistic description of navigating the awkward nature of being candid about your feelings, and trying to do right by family. This was one of my very favorite series, and it's more than perfect for summer! (Amazon | Book 2 BookOutlet)

I've read and thoroughly enjoyed all of those books, and I hope you fall into their warm, carefree, Summery settings as much as I did! They were all a treat to me when I read them, so I hope they are for you, too!

Just a little "cliff notes" suggestion: you can't really go wrong on Summer books with Sarah Dessen, Kasie West, Morgan Matson, and Jenny Han.

I've collected a few books recently (and still have even more on order) that I cannot wait to read because I think they fit the Summer vibe just as perfectly as the ones I've shared above. Don't quote me on these ones, but hopefully by next year when I revise my list, I'll be able to add these.

Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale
Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner
Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano
Beach Read by Emily Henry
The Summer I Met Jack by Michelle Gable
Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Do let me know if I've missed anything delicious! xx

- -

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you! That means if you click through or purchase a book through them, I will make a teeny tiny commission that helps me support my blog! Thank you so, so much! :)

Monday, June 29, 2020

Pt. 38 - Decisions.

Day 85 - June 7th, 2020

     My mind is so full these days. As if a pandemic wasn't enough to handle mentally. It's crazy how much this world is going through, and we all have to re-orient ourselves within it. For example - I'm seriously considering homeschooling the boys. I never truly thought I'd be in this position - to even let it be a real possibility, even though I feel like the option has always been swimming around in the background of my mind. Distance learning through the school even showed me that it would be much harder than I thought it would and that I might not actually want to do it. But we're facing so many unknowns, having to put our trust in government and district leaders to make safe decisions for all types of families. I think the shutdown has proven that they're capable of making alternative plans, but will they continue to or will they rush back to normal and the addiction to remain in the race of the elite? I'm not sure. And it feels like now is the time to take alternative steps to fit individual families if the overall plan isn't sufficient for all.

     The most pressing discrepancy I'm worried about is handling the school year safely - with health at the top of the priority list. Maybe I'm more worried because we have an immunocompromised family member, but I'm sure I'd be concerned even without that factor. Second is the way this cultural upheaval is being handled. I trust the schools with this one, and know that there's a natural diversity and inclusion in our school community that would be harder to replicate on my own. Conversations, books, and other learning materials are always at my disposal, but that's not the same as actual experience, and fostering diverse friendships. Third is the overall "temperature" of the environment. Violence has been rising for years - tensions over politics and religion are tight and grinding, and acts of terror are frequent and widespread. The budget vote for next year's capital project is to increase school safety measures. I'm proud of that, but how long will it be from vote to implementation that we have to hope nothing will go wrong? Life is unpredictable and not guaranteed, but would I be doing my best job of protecting my kids by keeping them out of public environments? At least without a parent present?

     And finally, is the reason I've always considering homeschooling at all, is to take my kids off the conveyor belt of government-fueled curriculum and labor based training to let them be who they are. Teaching to their interests, investing in their skills, releasing the pressure of their pace and comparison to their peers. I want to offer them those things, but I also fear for my abilities to keep it going in their upper grades. I worry that I won't be able to sufficiently prepare them for college. I worry that they won't solidify their friendships or form relationships as teenagers. And what about just getting away from each other from time to time? We all need space and varied experiences, and I worry that if we chose to homeschool, we'll all feel exasperated by each other at times. It's happened with distance learning. But we've always known that was temporary and just something to get through with as much patience and grit as we can muster. But what if it's not?

     Considering all of that plagues me. Daily. There's a July 1st deadline for telling the district you plan to start the school year at home. I'm not sure if that will stand with this situation, but that's less than a month away, and there's no word on what the school year will even look like. The principal at the boys' school told me that they're considering a full re-open, partial (half time at school and half at home), and a full distance learning experience so that they're prepared for whatever happens. So the possibilities are there, but they're not concrete enough to help me make a decision. I'm pretty sure we can give a 2-week notice mid school year, but does that mean they could have to face two dangerous weeks in school at the point where I feel it's unsafe? I just can't fully see my way around this, yet.

     I have much more to say, but the littles have risen and are all but demanding sustenance (hard to keep these boys full) so, later.