Tuesday, December 31, 2019

End of the Year Cleaning

I have found no way to work with Wesley all day on his room without finishing the day grouchy and tired enough to drown out any sense of accomplishment.  Thus it was today, but we are ending the year with less stuff in the house.

This is mostly clean--

This is fully cleaned, sorted, organized:

I finally got smart this time. I washed every single piece of clothing anywhere in his room. [Wes is happy to throw muddy socks in with clean shirts, and clean clothes on his shelves and dirty clothes in his dresser.] While all the washing/drying was happening, I let him have 30 minutes of screen time in exchange for 30 minutes of clothes-trying on later.  

One problem I have is that when I see him wearing pants that are too short and holey, I make a mental note to take them out of circulation next time I do laundry. But since all his pants are gray sweats, I lose track.  This time, as he tried on every piece, it went either into the dresser or into the donation bag.  And since everything was clean and dry, it can leave the house as soon as Goodwill opens in the 2020.  We significantly lessened his wardrobe, and now have only things that fit AND he will wear.  I surrendered and got rid of all the button up shirts I have ever bought him, even the cozy flannel ones.  He simply won't wear buttons, especially has his idea of dressing up is not wearing PJs.  He has a sweater my mom knitted for him years ago that he throws over whatever slouchy clothes he's wearing that day and considers himself well-dressed.  

That boy. Oh, boy.

Audible Stats

We win Audible! Kyla's listening makes up the majority of the stats, but here's what this year's numbers are:

Total Hours Listened:  2,212 hours (there are 8,760 hours in a year, almost 6,000 waking hours).

Library of Approximately 250 titles.

Number of strongly worded letters encouraging Audible to make a shelving system so we can organize our library: 3.

Number of times that has worked: 0.

Denise’s 10, I Mean 11, Favorite Books in 2019

Denise’s 10 11 Favorite Books in 2019
[With the agreement that a series counts as one]
I can’t list them in true order, books just make it either in my Top Ten or they don’t.
1.     I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, by Marisa de los Santos.  Her first two books, Love Walked In and Belong to Me, are perennial favorites, so when she checked in on her characters a decade later, I swooned.  Blue Sky made me love the first two books even more.  She digs into complicated yet familiar situations and tells a compelling story that feels more like you are living it than reading it.  I try not to have favorites on my favorites list, but this may be it.
 2.     Legends of the First Empire hexology, by Michael J. Sullivan
Age of Legend (Book 4)
Age of Death (Book 5, pentultimate)—to be published Feb, 2020, but I got it early through Kickstarter.
I have brought up Michael once or thrice.  Amazing stories, strong female characters, dragons, magic, humor…legendary!

3.     A Dangerous Collaboration (A Veronica Speedwell Mystery Book 4), by Deanna Raybourn. Oh my, I love Veronica.  Raybourn made a name for herself with the Lady Jane Grey series (Denise’s expert opinion—meh), but that was really just training ground for writing a truly excellent frolic.  Read these in order. 

4.      Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield.  I just gobbled this one up, once I recognized the author from her debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, which thrilled and intoxicated me.  (Editorial: her second novel was underwhelming, after setting the bar very high with her first.)  This, her third novel, clears the bar with room to spare.  When a story teller writes about story tellers and story telling, she has to do it well, and this author used the river to weave it together beautifully and movingly.  

 [I discovered Sherry Thomas this year, and it’s worth reading her older novels to see how she goes from better-than-average regency romance author to author extraordinaire, as she tackles a new take on Sherlock Holmes and a Young Adult SciFi/Fantasy frolic.] 
5.     The Lady Sherlock Series, by Sherry Thomas
A Study in Scarlet Women, Book 1
A Conspiracy in Belgravia, Book 2
The Hollow of Fear, Book 3
The Art of Theft, Book 4 (Barely About the Book Review: Sadly, Ash keeps his clothes on in this installment, but Charlotte never disappoints. Worse than a new complex evil scheme to unravel, she is in France with Maximum Tolerable Chins. Oh, dear!)
Oh, wow, I can’t tell you how much I like Lady Charlotte.  Besides excellent plot and characters, there are so many highlight-worthy lines sprinkled in the prose.  One should gobble this series up.
6.     The Elemental Trilogy, by Sherry Thomas
The Burning Sky, Book 1
The Perilous Sea, Book 2
The Immortal Heights, Book 3
This trilogy has me hooked in the first 100 words.  Check out the prologue to this trilogy—might be my favorite start to a book ever. 
7.      Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman.  This and the next one made lots of booklists this year. The story is a bit odd, because Eleanor is, but if we read fiction not only for enjoyment but also to experience the depths of the human experience, this one is a must read.  And an ENORMOUS one sentence twist at the end that made my heart stop.
8.     Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. A debut novel that made the fiction world stand up and take notice (and gave me hope that I have a few more decades before I have to write a best selling novel). This one I finished and immediately wanted to talk to someone about it.  Really excellent.

[Brandon Sanderson is, fortunately, a prolific and masterful storyteller.  He brilliantly creates entire universes and original characters. I resisted reading him for so long, but his name showed up on every list that includes the best of the best: Patrick Rothfuss, Michael J. Sullivan, Jim Butcher.  I made up for lost time in 2019.]
9.     Starsight series, by Brandon Sanderson
Skyward, Book 1
Starsight, Book 2

10.   The Reckoners trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson
Steelheart, Book 1
Firefight, Book 2
Calamity, Book 3

11.     Stormlight series, will supposedly be 10 books long, and at 1200 pages per book…gulp, by Brandon Sanderson
The Way of Kings - Kaladin's flashbacks.
Words of Radiance - Shallan's flashbacks.
Oathbringer - Dalinar's flashbacks.

Best in Nonfiction (I didn’t read that much nonfiction this year, but I went for important, if not pleasant).
Equipped for Reading Success, by David A. Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick is a god in the dyslexia world and science of reading.  I was able to immediately put into practice excellent phonological practices with Wesley.  All K-2 teachers should access this text and all excellent 3-12th graders should understand his work.  I finally *got* orthographic mapping.
She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.  A super important read but not a fun one.  I couldn’t quite make it through the last section on Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony—too soon and ulcer inducing. (I absolutely believe Dr. BF, hence the ulcers.)
Unbelievable: The Story of Two Detectives' Relentless Search for the Truth, by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong.  Ugh, also too horrible in concept, but the writing was straight forward and clear, telling the true tale of a too-clever serial rapist.  The lasting damage done to an already damaged young women just aged out of the foster system was make even more painful for being a local case.  My ulcer is acting up just remembering it.  But again, too important to let the discomfort of reading to
The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System--and How to Fix It, by Wexler, Natalie. When I started homeschooling Wes, I adopted the Core Knowledge curriculum.  It’s free online (though I pay to have the workbooks and readers printed for me, but save money by accessing the online teacher’s text).  I love CKLA because it uses explicit instruction to teacher Language Arts and focuses on knowledge—history, science, geography, in addition to a wide variety of genres withing decodable readers. I’m a HUGE fan of teaching knowledge, so I was the choir that smugly picked up hymnal.  She argues for a knowledge-based curriculum over skills-based, and that sounds counter intuitive at first, but I could bore you to death about it in person.  First of all, think of it as a chicken-and-egg problem.  Which comes first: background knowledge so you understand what you are reading, or reading to build your background knowledge?  The answer: yes.  
Educated: A memoir, by Tara Westover. Possibly the most poignant and painful book I read this year.  Kyla listened to it on Audible first, and had I read it first, I wouldn’t have forbidden her to read it, but probably would have cautioned her to wait years and years.  Bill Gates had it on his 2018 recommended reads.


Honorable Mentions:

The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo
Before Green Gables, by Budge Wilson
The Rosie Result (Don Tillman Book 3), by Graeme Simsion
When the Men Were Gone, by Marjorie Herrera Lewis
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane: A Novel and The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms
*You Can Thank Me Later (novella) by Kelly Harms, but I think only available in Audible.  I think she finally wrote an excellent story, and not just cotton candy that faded on the last page.
Tween and Teen, Worth a Read:
*Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan
*Forever, or a Long, Long Time, by Caela Carter
The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming, by Coats, J. Anderson
Far from the Tree, by Robin Benway
A Boy Called Bat, by Elana K. Arnold
**The Pumpkin War, by Cathleen Young
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Eight Keys, by LaFleur, Suzanne M.

Meh Books:  I did the reading so you don’t have to
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (Montague Siblings Book 1), by Mackenzie Lee
The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2), by  Mackenzi Lee
Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir, by Liz Prince
All Summer Long, by Hope Larson
**How I Became A Ghost, A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story, by Tingle, Tim
**When A Ghost Talks, Listen, A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story, by Tingle, Tim

* Extra recommended
** Wes loved me reading these aloud to him

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas! Santa came, he actually came!

I will give the kids lots of credit for being really patient on Christmas morning, and letting us sleep in for a bit.  I will give myself credit for leaving a book gift on the end of their beds every Christmas Eve to wake up to.

Piper reacts to getting (candy) coal in her stocking--Dwayne got into shopping a bit for them this year.

It was a fun morning, with surprises and delighted (and delightful) kids and a wonderful hubby who loves to give...and cook breakfast. Mama love.

Pretty soon, we'll have guests over for dinner and phone calls with CA family.  It's lovely to have this bit of time to ourselves.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve: Making Merry Again

We had no Christmas Eve plans this year, so we invited my parents and my aunt-friend to join us at Fogo de Chao again this year. We did this exactly two years ago, and a perfect experience was made better when we stepped outside to snow flurries, giving us the only white Christmas Eve/Christmas in memory!

We didn't get snow this year, but with Dwayne at his lowest weight ever recorded this morning, he was ready to break his diet. That would be a glass of red wine, a guarana (soda), and a caipirinha in front of him.  The food is so good but no appetite can live up to this Brazilian Steakhouse's temptations.

I don't love our church's performance/concert/worship, but I am now a full-blown sucker for it's candle-lit rendition of Silent Night. 

We followed it with a cup of tea and Christmas cookies (Dwayne's first this year!) and some present opening.  This first picture those is a hoot:  I asked for a family picture in front of the tree and Dad started snapping while Mom decided to try out Frederick, Wes's balance ball. 

She fell.
Right away.
Kyla ran immediately to the rescue.  Dwayne was shocked and appalled. Piper and I contained our laughter for milliseconds. 

We took the ball away from Mom, and Wes, and got to the important part--present opening!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas Eve's Eve: Making Merry

Fortunately, the day turned into evening, and Dwayne came home and hugged me.  With his upbeat attitude, we made our plans to head to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens to experience the Garden d'Lights.  The kids were finishing up their gingerbread houses (on sale at Costco the day before the day before Christmas, so each child could bring their own sense of artistry to the project).

The Gardens are celebrating 25 years as a holiday spectacular!


This was funny because we all thought this was a gravestone with magic mushrooms until we read the map's fine print and realized we had found the fairy door. Oops!

Kyla found a toad that needed a rider.

I love this so much that I went around twice while diligently ignoring the excessive whining behind me.

We weren't quite done with lights and found ourselves enchanted at another holiday display at a nearby church.  

Finally, candy-cane sticky and light tired, we returned home, ready to start Christmas with more grace and less bickering.  That can be everyone's resolution for 2020!

Christmas Eve's Eve...Or, how to drive your mother crazy on Day 1.

I have been looking forward to Winter Break for longer and with greater intensity than Christmas. It's not like I ever get the house to myself anyway, but I would finally be able to put aside our homeschool materials and take a break from Wesley's reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic tantrums.  

And then Monday started. Along with half of mankind, I had to go to Costco as soon as it opened. (The other half of mankind was waiting for my parking spot when I finally got out.)  I got home to Piper and Wes half-heartedly pounding each other.  Spontaneously announcing we would be going on a hike, the fighting broke up so Wes could have a tantrum. But I know two things about my children--sometimes they don't know when they are hungry and sometimes they don't know they are craving fresh air and exercise.

I write all this so that you are not fooled by the pictures of shiny, happy children.  Yes, Denny Park in Kirkland was just the right place to go and the kids had a great time while we were there.

Piper lasted almost a minute before she got her butt wet jumping across a flood-enhanced stream. She gets that from her mama. Oddly, it made her more cheerful.  All my kids, in the right mood, are great at laughing at themselves and enjoying dirt-laden adventures.

Wesley's alter-ego, Calvin, can't take a decent picture to save his hide, even on a kissing bridge.

But they couldn't help themselves at the spin toy and Kyla found a very knobby tree to tackle.

There was even a mammoth leftover from prehistoric times for Kyla to tame!

After hiking about 3 miles, we left to warm up at Molbak's with hot cocoa (though Wes thinks he likes black drip coffee now). 

All this lovely adventuring was followed in mere minutes by a second pounding between Piper and Wes.  They both started it, and Mama, for the first time in years, pulled the damn car over. 

This was all on the true first day of Winter Break, long before school would be out on a regular day.  Not having cancer, overwhelming poverty, or great personal injustice, I can afford to hate petty bickering above all else on my vacation.  

How did those two resolve themselves?  Wes came home and did helpful and kind things for me and Piper.  Piper, in hateful silence, went to bed...and actually fell asleep for the rest of the afternoon.  May she be blessed and cursed with a Child. Just. Like. Her.