connie willis

Stuff We Like :: 5.5.17

home|school|life’s Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources. 

You know how some weeks, it's like "Wow, is it Friday already?" and other weeks, it's more like, "Holy cow, I cannot believe we actually made it to Friday." Yeah, this is the latter. :)

around the web

Because food doesn't have to look good on Instagram to taste good.

I am now completely obsessed with the Chicago squirrel class divide.

Relevant to our interests: Death Made Material: The Hair Jewelry of The Brontës (If you’re not yet obsessed with the Brontes, Suzanne can help you get started.)

If you have the time and the emotional space to read this essay, it is worth your time. It’s a really lovely, nuanced account by the mom of a child with a rare chromosomal deletion but also about the things society expects of women and mothers, the challenges and rewards of motherhood, ideas about what it means to be healthy and normal—it’s just a good read, and it made me cry a little but the good crying.

Stephen Fry + The Hitchhiker's Guide + free audiobook!


at home/school/life

on the blog: If you’re interested in my own personal homeschool methods, you can read all about how we put together 3rd grade this year

one year ago: This house is a mess!

two years ago: Living and learning on wilderness time


reading list

Suzanne warned me, but how could I not take a chance on the newest Connie Willis? As usual, she was right: There were some great moments in Crosstalk, but it was overall kind of meh (and the plot holes—ugh!) and just not what I want from a Connie Willis novel. So maybe the moral here is that I should listen to Suzanne?

I finished Seveneves, part of my quest to read more genre books that aren’t Katie Fforde romances. (Though I do have Second Thyme Around going in the upstairs bath.) I loved the idea: The moon explodes, effectively ending life on Earth but leaving just enough time for the planet to secure humanity’s future on the International Space Station. Everyone’s scrambling to science and politic their way to a successful survival of the species, and there are lots of technical and personal challenges that threaten the project. I really enjoyed this part, the apocalyptic part. The second part of the book—set roughly 5,000 years later when the Earth becomes habitable again—was less satisfying, a problem that I often run into with sci-fi stories in general and with Stephenson in particular. There’s this great idea, and it gets set up brilliantly, but then it’s like the author’s not totally sure what to do with said great idea. Overall, it was a fun read.

I also finally read Among Others by Jo Watson, who wrote my favorite dragon comedy of manners. It is not so much a story with a plot as it is a love letter to books (especially science-fiction books), and it was weird (there’s magic—well, kind of, probably anyway) and lonely (the heroine ends up separated from her family at an English boarding school where she really doesn’t fit in) and full of references to so many wonderful books. I’m coming down firmly on the side of being a fan, though I can appreciate that it might not be for everyone.


in the kitchen 

My favorite weekend dinner is a bunch of different appetizers from our Chinese/Thai delivery joint, but when I want to feel particularly virtuous, I add something homemade to the mix, like these salmon and egg wraps.

These baked sweet potatoes are the perfect easy dinner. (I like them with a big spinach salad.)

Cookie of the week: molasses cookies (better with ice cream)


at home

I think no one will be surprised that I CANNOT WAIT to watch Victorian Slum House.

I’ve been knitting a bunch of these to give as holiday presents this year. 

Our outside classes are almost done for summer! I am looking forward to logging some poolside summer reading time in the very near future.

Stuff We Like :: 9.9.16

You know what I like? Starting a new homeschool year. (If you listened to the not-back-to-school episode of the podcast, you know that my main goal for a new homeschool year is keeping “Absolutely no spitting. Ever” on the school rules list, and that happened, so I already feel like the 2016-17 homeschool year is a success.)


around the web

I have been rocking some very retro wavy hair lately (I may be a little obsessed with my Beachwaver, which may be the most superficial thing I have ever admitted in a public forum—please don’t think less of me!), so this roundup of 90s TV fashion icons hit a little close to home for me. (Even though we all know that Cher Horowitz is really number one.)

One-upper parents in action, courtesy of my awesome friend Tama. I laughed so hard. (I think my favorite may be the mom who collects and bottles “the tears of pure non-vaccinated non-mainstream vegans who can’t spell the word ‘sugar.’”)

While I’m in not-back-to-school mode, here’s a roundup of great teachers in literature. (I’m so glad Professor Lupin’s on the list because I feel like he gets kind of shafted in the books once Sirius turns up.)

Just putting this out there: Study Shows People With High IQs Are Actually Happier With Less Social Interaction

Fascinating: Our brains may actually be wired to be bilingual.


at home | school | life

on the blog: Back-to-school season means great back-to-school posts, like this one from Shelli and  this one from Carrie. I love the reminder that the right way to homeschool is the way that works for your family!

in the magazine: Looking at pretty editions of books for our holiday gift guide is hard work, but somebody’s got to do it!

on the podcast: Suzanne and I are talking about E. Nesbit fan fiction, among other things.

one year ago: I broke both my ankles taking out the trash.

two year ago: Shelli started our Mindful Homeschool series with this lovely post on letting go of things that don’t matter


reading list

on my night table: Blackout (I picked it up when it was on sale, so of course had to reread it immediately); Rise to Rebellion (which is on our U.S. history reading list); The Book of Disquiet (which I bought many years ago and am just getting around to actually reading); UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World

on my 14-year-old’s night table: The Borrowers, Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy; The Sea of Trolls

on my 9(!)-year-old’s night table: Chi’s Sweet Home


at home

homeschooling: Even though we school year-round, I have a big soft spot for the first official day of school and a whole routine that we do every year to celebrate. I am still sort of in shock that I have a child in high school.

eating: The sticky toffee pancakes are our favorite thing to have for tea right now.

playing: Ticket to Ride

watching: Galavant, and it’s DELIGHTFUL

Not-So-New-Books: The Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book
By Connie Willis

[I try to keep on top of interesting new books, but there are so many good boos out there, it seems a shame not to revisit some of my favorites now and then, just in case they’ve fallen off your radar and are just what you want for your library list.]

I wanted to come, and if I hadn’t, they would have been all alone, and nobody would have ever known how frightened and brave and irreplaceable they were.

OK, so the premise of Connie Wilkes’ time travel books is absolutely brilliant: In the not-too-distant future, historians must get practical experience by traveling back in time to the period of their concentration. (“You didn’t become an historian by staying safely at home,” one character reminds the worried professor Dunworthy near the beginning of the book.) Most of Willis’ time travel history books take place in the 19th and 20th century, but The Doomsday Book sends history student Kivrin back to the 1300s.

This is a big deal, even for time-hopping Oxford academics. Some time periods are just inherently dangerous, and the Middle Ages—with the plague, disease, lack of general hygiene, bad food, and short life expectancy—are not safe places to travel, especially for a solo young woman. And there are issues with slippage—time travel is notoriously unreliable, and you can’t always be sure you’ll end up exactly when you want to be. But Kivrin is determined to be the first historian-traveler to the Middle Ages, and despite her professor’s concerns, she gets the go-ahead to check out a 1320 Christmas celebration in person.

But things don’t exactly go as planned. Kivrin discovers that she’s landed in 1348, with the Black Death just making its entrance in England. (She’s immunized, but none of the nice people who’ve taken her into their village are.) The big time discrepancy means that getting Kivrin back to her right time will be a challenge—but Dunsworthy is the only one who’s worried about Kivrin because fpresent-day Oxford has been hit by a plague of its own, and the town is quarantined. As Kivrin experiences life in the Middle Ages—realizing how little her years of obsessive research and study have taught her about actually living in medieval times—she faces the possibility that she may live out the rest of her life in 1300s England.

I love this book. Some people criticize the needless and rather boring drama Dunworthy goes through trying to first figure out what’s happened with Kivrin and then how to get her home, but I actually think that’s exactly how bureaucratic organizations tend to operate. (It’s true that Willis didn’t imagine cell phones, which might have sped up some communication, but in general I think all the lags and waiting and missed calls are totally believable.) But the best part of the book is the time travel bit, when we’re with Kivrin in Skendgate. Willis does a great job paining a medieval village as seen through Kivrin’s eyes, first as she grows to understand and know the people who have taken her in and then as she watches, heartbroken, as the plague kills villager after villager, leaving Kivrin alone and far, far from home. 

This is definitely a YA book—when a plague shows up, you know there’s going to be a lot of death, and some of the descriptions of the plague’s effects are pretty gruesome. But I think it would be a terrific accompaniment to a medieval history class or just an engaging read for teens who appreciate apocalyptic fiction (what’s more apocalyptic than a good plague?), science-fiction, or good historical fiction.

Stuff We Like :: 8.14.15

home|school|life's Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

We are squeezing the heck out of these last few blissful weeks of summer. I'm glad that we take it easy in August because my soul just isn't ready to let go of summer yet.  

around the web

It’s a rare event, but news of the dystopian television adaptation of Little Women has left me speechless.

Apparently “on fleek” is nothing new: Teenage girls have been key figures in language evolution since at least the 1500s.

How does poetry matter in a world of insta-information?


at home/school/life

on the blog: Egg & Spoon is a delightful fairy tale for middle grades (and language lovers of all ages)

on pinterest: We’ve started our Nerdy Halloween Costumes board. (Apparently, I can't handle the prospect of autumn, but I'm cool with early Halloween planning.)

from the archives: I love this post from Shelli about how we have more time than we think we do in our homeschool lives


reading list

If Felicia Day writes a book and I don’t read it, does the world still exist? Luckily, we don’t have to find out because I did, in fact read it. (It was charming, as you’d expect.)

I’m finally reading The Doomsday Book — one of Connie Wilkes’ time-travel historian tales — and I am just loving it. (Have you read these? The premise is that future-day Oxford historians time-travel to their period of specialization, which sounds cool all by itself, but the books are smart and funny to boot.)

My daughter read Remarkable, about an ordinary girl living in a town of extraordinary people, and thought it was terrific. My son is falling in love with the Clementine books.


in the kitchen

I want to make spiced nectarine jam, but we keep eating all the nectarines. It’s a problem.

On hot nights, I am sometimes just plain not inspired to cook anything, so we have a cheese plate and a big vegetable salad and call it dinner.

These cookies from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook are a crazy combination (cornflakes! marshmallow! chocolate chip!) that totally works.


at home

We’re officially old — Jason and I are going to the wedding of one of his students this weekend. (I have this super-adorable hat to wear, but I always chicken out and go hatless at the last minute. Do you do that, too?)

I feel like way too many of our dinner conversations this summer have been about Angry Birds Epic.

Every few years, I'm tempted to try quilting because quilts are so cool. About two squares in, though, I remember how much I hate ironing little squares.