Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: Waiting for Anya by Michael Morpurgo

I couldn't put down my book today: Waiting for Anya by Michael Morpurgo. I didn't really watch the clock, but it probably took less than 3 hours to read the 172 pages of this book. And what an exciting book!

The story is set during WWII in a small French village near the Spanish border. Jo, a 12 year old shepherd whose dad is a prisoner of war, stumbles upon a secret: a widow and her Jewish son-in-law are smuggling Jewish children across the border to Spain. However, the Germans move in to occupy their village, and, as Jo starts helping the children, the risk of being discovered escalates. If the smugglers are uncovered, it could mean death to them and the children they are trying to save.

The story was filled with little pieces of humor and a lot of suspense. The reader gets to know several people in the community, including Jo's grandfather (who was very enjoyable!) and Hubert, an older, lovable boy who is mentally handicapped. You also meet the Widow Horcado, who the fearful children have nicknamed "The Black Widow", and her son-in-law Benjamin, who was separated from his young daughter, Anya, as they were fleeing from the Germans, and he holds onto the hope that they will one day be reunited.

A wonderful book that I highly recommend!

Book Review: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Alex recently finished War Horse and really enjoyed it, so I read it, too. I enjoyed it, but I didn't 'love it' as I have several books recently. But, I am looking forward to seeing the movie when it is realeased on DVD April 3rd! (And, that might be a great gift for Alex's Easter basket!)

The story is told from the point of view of the horse, which I found kind of strange. You could 'hear' the horses thoughts, though he didn't talk to anyone - human or animal. And, you could 'hear' people's conversations. But, I felt it strange never to be a part of a conversation. I kind of felt like I wasn't growing that attached to the characters, but that was proven wrong as I shed tears during the ending of the book (though I won't tell you whether they were happy or sad tears!).
The book is about a boy and his horse, Joey, who are separated because of WWI. The horse is set off to war, while his 'boy' is too young to fight. Joey's life at war is a tough one and he makes friends with both people and other horses. As you would expect in a war book, some of his friends die during the war.

I like that this book appeals to both girls (like my daughter who love horses!) and boys (because it is a war story, after all). And, I am glad Alex enjoyed a book about WWI - a topic we'll be covering next year. I do recommend this book, but not as highly as some of the others I've reviewed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

Alex is studying Ancient Rome in school right now. We were reviewing for a quiz and came across Julius Caesar. She reenacted a play for me that the students had done in class. And, after she went to bed, I did a little more research that I'll be sharing with her during the next few days. (And, I can't wait until next year when we are back at home learning together!)

I enjoyed this VERY short video about The Ides of March...too bad I'm a little late posting!

I really like this paraphrase of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. AND, you can have the paraphrase side-by-side with the original text!

Alex and I watched a BBC animated version of A Midsummer Night's Dream several years ago. Last night I watched the first of the 3 parts of Julius Caesar. (You can Google parts 2 and 3.) I plan on watching the entire movie with Alex.

I think I first came across the BBC episodes from Jimmie's Shakespeare for Children Squidoo. She also has a Hands-On Shakespeare Squidoo which I believe is where we found a link to make this 'mini Shakespeare' a few years ago. 

San Antonio Rock n Roll

I raced the San Antonio Rock n Roll Half Marathon in November. The race wasn't that great (it was super HOt & HUMID & CROWDED!), but my mom, daughter & I had a great time in San Antonio! I never posted, so thought I'd do it now...

We ate at an outdoor Italian restaurant on the Riverwalk and this pigeon walked right over to Alex!

We took a boat ride on the river and enjoyed hearing some of the history of the area. (Photo of building from boat.)

We visited The Alama (our 2nd time). I'm wearing my "Run. Rock. Roll. Repeat." t-shirt the day before my race.

We visited the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum and kept score on all of the questions. My mom KILLED us! And, she beat us on this drum game, too, where you have to beat as many times as you can in one minute. Way to go, Mom!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cheshire Cat Moon

A couple of months ago, my sister and niece were told me they saw a "Cheshire Cat moon". I was skeptical. I thought the crescent moon always was on the 'left' or 'right', not on the 'bottom'! But, last month, I took this photo...

The crescent is on the BOTTOM and looks like a Cheshire Cat! And, tonight, a month later, it looks like a Cheshire Cat again! Wow! How have I missed this for all of my life???


Mardi Gras (& more!) in Destin, Florida

Last month, we flew to Destin for a weekend with some friends. It was chilly and rainy, but we still had fun. And, we really enjoyed a Mardi Gras Dog parade!
Alex, relaxing for the weekend!

Here comes the Mardi Gras Doggy Parade!

Most dogs rode in cars or walked....this dog drove his OWN CAR!

Another cute dog in the parade

We got LOTS of beads...and candy! Yum!

A seagull on the beach

A (dead) jellyfish on the beach

Alex enjoying the chilly beach!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Happy Vernal Equinox!

Today is the Vernal, or Spring, Equinox. It is one of two days during the year where the length of day and night are just about equal. There's an old myth that says you can balance an egg on an equinox. And, I did! (In fact, I have one sitting on the kitchen counter for my husband to see when he comes home.) But, I've also balanced them on other days.

The photo, above, is from a few days AFTER the Vernal Equinox several years ago. It takes a little practice, but with a steady hand you can balance an egg today. Or tomorrow! Why not give it a try?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I grew up learning about Hitler and the horrible Holocaust. And, of course, I've heard of Stalin. But, it has just been in the past few weeks that I've read about the Gulag: the Soviet forced labor camps. I have quite a few posts I want to write about this subject, but for now I'll stick with a review of Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray.

Lina, age 15 in 1941, lives in Lithuania with her mother, father, and younger brother. Soldiers bang on her front door and Lina an her mother and brother have 20 minutes to pack whatever belongings they can in their suitcases. Their father, they find out later, has already been taken prisoner.

Lina is put onto a cattle car and they spend 6 horrible weeks as they are headed to an unknown location. As other people die around them, they are thrown off the train at the various stops. This is only the beginning of the horrors that await Lina. But, along the way, she will also see glimpses of love and hope.

This story is written for Young Adults and, as you can imagine, it is very emotional and full of pain. Though the book is fiction, or historical fiction, the author based a her story on the many interviews she did with survivors.

Here's a video about this incredible book:


A couple of months ago my sister-in-law asked if we wanted to go with her to Chisinau. Ummm, where? It's the capital of Moldova. Ummm, where? It's a former Soviet Republic located between the Ukraine and Romania.. Oh....

So, this week she's in Moldova. (And, no, we did not go.) This summer we are headed on a big, 2 week trip to Europe and we, too, will visit a former Soviet Republic! Our stop: Estonia.

I've been reading and researching about the former USSR the past few weeks. From what I've read Moldova is the poorest former Soviet Republic (and the poorest country in Europe) and they elected a Communist leader in 2001. Estonia, on the other hand, is the richest former republic.

There are 15 post-Soviet states and they are typically grouped as follows:
BALTIC STATES: Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania
EASTERN EUROPE: Belarus, Moldova &Ukraine
SOUTHERN CAUCASUS: Armenia, Azerbaijan, & Georgia
CENTRAL ASIA: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, & Uzbekistan
RUSSIA: Russia

The USSR dissolved in 1991 which was after I graduated from high school, so I never learned about these countries. I'm currently reading a book about Lithuania during WWII which I'll review soon! And, I hope my sister-in-law will send me a few photos when she returns.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Book Review: The Reading Promise

I finished book #7 (of 52 for the year) this morning. The book was The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma. This was a book I just picked off the shelf because it looked interesting, and I loved it! I laughed and got teary eyed many times!

This story is about a reading streak that Alice and her father made that lasted about 9 year. The original goal was to read at least 10 minutes per night no matter what. The goal started with 100 days, then was stretched to 1000 days, and then continued until she went away to college - 9 years later.

Alice and her dad, a single dad who was a school librarian, read many books and I loved hearing of their adventures. Sometimes they work up early in the morning to read before a busy day. And, some days, they worked to squeeze in those minutes before midnight.

The story takes us through many events in Alice's life - some funny some sad. Her mom leaves about a year into the reading streak. She shares about her fear that the dead body of JFK is on her bottom bunk. She talks about her sister going away for a year as an exchange student and later leaving for college. She talks about her mother's attempted suicide and putting an Elvis ornment on the top of the Christmas tree. And, through it all, she shares about the love of books between her dad and herself and how books help them to connect to each other.

Near the end, her dad's school takes the books out of the library and forbids him to read to his students! He is horrified, but comes up with a'll have to read the book to find out more!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Book Review: Education of a Wandering Man

A few days ago I finished Louis L'Amour's memoir, Education of a Wandering Man. Louis left school in tenth grade and "began an earnest self-education stirred by a passion for books." His life, and thus the book, "is a story of an adventure in education, pursued not under the best of conditions. The idea of education has been so tied to schools, universities, and professors that many assume there is no other way, but education is available to anyone within reach of a library, a post office, or even a newstand."

Louis L'Amour's education included the reading of thousands of books. He traveled around the country and world finding work. And, in the process, listened to the stories the various people he met. Those travels and stories became the basis for his popular short stories and books.

Here is a terrific quote about education: "No one can 'get' an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process. If it does nothing else, it should provide students with the tools for learning, acquaint them with methods of study and research, method of pursuing an idea. We can only hope they come upon an idea they wish to pursue."

I enjoyed the book, though it seemed to ramble and be repetitive at times. I went to The Official Louis L'Amour website and read the section titled "brief biography." On page 6 of 6, it talks about Education of a Wandering Man. Here is a paragraph that explains the writing of this book:

"The summer of 1987 Louis caught pneumonia. In a few weeks he threw it off and was seemingly healthy until late fall, when he caught it again. The first round of tests showed nothing but ultimately a needle biopsy caught malignant cancer cells. Going back through the x-rays, doctors discovered a thin veil of cancerous material running throughout his lungs. Because the cancer was not localized in any one spot, surgery was not possible. He began his long postponed memoir, Education of a Wandering Man. As the disease progressed Louis moved his work from his office to a desk in an upstairs bedroom and ultimately into the master bedroom. He was editing the book the afternoon that he died. A few days before he passed away Louis was notified that sales of his books had topped two hundred million."

Friday, March 02, 2012

Book Review: Whale Song by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Whale Song, by Cheryl Kaye Tardif is an incredible book I finished in less than 24 hours a few weekends ago. I read it from my Kindle app on my iPad. The book is free to Amazon prime members and only $1.99 for purchase on your Kindle.

I was prereading this book for Alex, but decided it is probably a bit too mature for her. But I LOVED it! I had trouble putting it down and, often in tears, finished it in 24 hours.

The book is about a young girl, Sarah, who is about to start 6th grade. Her father is a biologist and they move to Vancouver Island, Canada, so he can study killer whales. Sarah misses her best friend, but soon becomes friends with a neighbor, Goldie, who is a Nootka Indian. Goldie's brother had died the summer before and, according to the beliefs of her people, he is now a killer whale. When school starts, life gets very difficult for Sarah. And, later on, life gets tough at home, too. There are a lot of surprises in this book, and I don't want to give away too much!

This book deals with racism, bullying, death, and more. According to the author's website, it is a "haunting novel of tragedy, lies, love and forgivenes."  I'll leave you with a video book trailer...

Thursday, March 01, 2012

"You can't study for the Stanford"

Today I went to a 'moving up' meeting at Alex's private school. (And, we are really leaning heavily towards homeschooling again next year!!!) Part of the talk was about the 'math tracks' and the fact that the 6th graders will be taking an "Alegbra readiness" test at the end of April. The Dean said "you can't study for it. It's a test to see if they're ready. They're either ready, or they're not."

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on
Alex will be taking the Stanford next week, and she was told there was "no way to study for it." REALLY???

I've heard this before! Another 'biggie' is "you can't study for the PSAT." Ugh! My sister and brother both studied pretty hard for the PSAT, and guess what? They were BOTH National Merit Finalists! And, I honestly don't know why I didn't study for it. I was really more laid back about my education and didn't care that much about it. But, I digress!

I bought Alex a test booklet to help her prepare for the Stanford. I found out she doesn't remember grammar topics such as direct objects and indirect objects, so we studied those. She doesn't remember helping verbs, so we went over that. She's having difficulty going back and forth between percents and fractions. So, we studied!!!
I'm just shocked that any person in education would believe (or say) you can't study for these tests!! And, yet it is something you often hear! Ugh! If you look at the tests (especially something like the Stanford), it looks just like a test you take in school! So, would you say you can't study for a test in math? You either know it or you don't? Or do you tell kids to STUDY?!?
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