2016 Reading Challenge


Right now my one and only hobby seems to be reading.  I LOVE reading and can’t get enough of it.  I follow the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, which is a book/life blog that I enjoy reading.  Anne, the author, is very likable and has given some great recommendations since I started following her blog.  Last year she had a reading challenge that I did not participate in because I wasn’t sure if I was up for trying to read stuff based on a certain criteria.  This year I decided that I would give it a try.  The image above are the categories of the books to be read.  If you would like to join the challenge go to this page for more information.

Here are the books that I will be reading (not in any particular order):

A book published this year:  The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney 

“A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.”

This book got some good reviews and comes out in March.  It looks like a funny and light read, which I’m always good for.

A book you can finish in a day:  Night by Elie Wiesel 

Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps.”

This book is on one of my lists of books that people should read and I’ve been meaning to read it for a few years now.  It’s a short book at just 120 pages that I think I can get through in one day.

A book you’ve been meaning to read: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

“Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.”

I bought this book last year because I had heard great things about it and nothing but praise.  I just hadn’t gotten around to reading it.  I actually did read it in January and I’ll review it later.

A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller:  Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

“A razor-sharp satire set in Texas during America’s war in Iraq, it explores the gaping national disconnect between the war at home and the war abroad.”

Our library has a shelf of books that the librarians have recommended and this book looked interesting and one that I hadn’t heard about.  As I was looking for a picture to put in this post I see that the movie of this book is coming out at the end of this year.

A book you should have read in school:  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Adulteress Hester Prynne must wear a scarlet A to mark her shame. Her lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, remains unidentified and is wracked with guilt, while her husband, Roger Chillingworth, seeks revenge.”

In middle and high school I’m pretty sure that I read everything that was assigned to me, so I don’t think that there is a book that I didn’t read for school.  With that being said, I know that there are many books that other people read in school that I didn’t.  This is one of those books and I thought that I would finally read it.

A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF:  Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

“A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.”

My husband is a fan of Neal Stephenson’s work and good sci-fi novels.  This book came out last year and my husband enjoyed it thoroughly.  This book was also on many best of 2015 lists.

A book published before you were born:  The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

“Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantes is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration.”

This book was definitely written before I was born (1844)!  It’s been on my to read list, but I haven’t been that interested in reading it.  At the end of last year a couple of blogs that I follow wrote how they read this book and really enjoyed it, which piqued my interest and made me think that I should read this (I enjoyed the movie that came out in 2002).

A book that was banned at some point:  In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

“On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.  As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy.”

I think that most everyone has heard of this book and it is one of those that is on the must read lists.  When I Googled banned books I saw that this one was on the list.  Since I have been meaning to read this book I figured that this one would fit nicely in this category.

A book you previously abandoned:  The Princess Bride by William Goldman

“Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that’s home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.”

For this category I thought that it would be very hard because I am a person that tends to finish books even if I am not into them.  I only abandon books that are so terrible to me and there would be no way that I would pick them up again.  Then I remembered that last year I had started reading The Princess Bride  to my boys, but at some point my husband took over on bed duties and I never finished this book.  This year I will finish it.

A book you own but have never read:  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

“One of the most famous and beloved mysteries from The Queen of Suspense—Agatha Christie”

I’ve never read Agatha Christie, but I’ve heard that her books are good and they have been recommended many times.  This book is perhaps her most well known book and I bought it a couple of years ago, but I just haven’t gotten around to reading it.

A book that intimidates you:  Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

“Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln’s political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.”

I got this book last year when it was on sale for the Kindle.  I had heard great things about it and the majority of ratings on Amazon and Goodreads are excellent.  It intimidates me because the book is 944 pages.  It should be the longest book I read this year.

A book you’ve already read at least once:  A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

“In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy’s mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn’t believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is extraordinary.”

John Irving is my favorite author and I love his writing.  I read this book many years ago and I want to revisit it because so many people would list this book as their favorite of his and for me it isn’t, although I did enjoy it.  Maybe reading it now after many years I will enjoy it more?

Phew, those are the books that I am going to try and get through this year.  I have one down and 11 more to go!

Happy Reading!


p.s. All of the links above are affiliate links, which gives me a small percentage if you buy through them and this all goes back to buying homeschooling stuff 🙂








Creo Chocolate Factory Tour


At the beginning of this month the boys and I went on a homeschool field trip to The Creo Chocolate Factory.  I have to admit that when I hear and/or think chocolate factory I think of a big factory like the one that my previous employers had (we made cosmetics in a big warehouse with big machines and that’s what my image of a factory is).  I’m sure that the boys thought it might be along the lines of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  We get into the building and the first thing you notice is the aroma of chocolate, which wasn’t all that bad for this non-chocolate loving person.  The space was very clean and decorated nicely.  It had a very relaxing and comforting vibe and felt more like a coffee shop.  The space, including their “factory” was the size of a coffee shop and not a big factory.  I should have expected this since I knew it was an artisan shop and I went on a chocolate factory tour in Los Angeles and it was even smaller.

Here is the story of chocolate and particularly Creo’s chocolate.


First, a little backstory about them.  The name Creo /KR-É-OH means I believe in Spanish and I create in Latin, which the family who owns this business felt meshed nicely with their business motto.  To learn more about the family and how they got into chocolate and came to own the store go here.

The process starts down in Ecuador where the cacao beans are grown in pods on cacao trees.  The beans mostly grow on the trunks of the trees, which was neat to see.  Once the pods are ripe (they turn a different shade) they are ready to be harvested.  They are taken off of the tree and then cut open.  When they are cut open there are all of these white looking seeds that have a citrus smell to them.  These are the cacao beans, but they can’t be used yet.  The farmer will then take these beans put them in bins/boxes and let them ferment.  This process gets the white pulp off of the cacao bean.  Once they are done fermenting they are laid out on concrete, asphalt, or something hard and sun dried.  The owner told us that some farmers will use the roads to dry the beans and when this happens anything from cars that leaks or anything that is on the roads can get into the beans and because of that these beans are cheaper to buy and mostly the big mass produced chocolate makers buy these, yuck!  While they are drying they are raked and the workers will wear special shoes while stepping on the beans.  The beans are then sent up via a ship to Portland where the owners go and get them.  They are then stored in the basement until they are ready to be used.  Here are some videos to watch of the growing to shipping process.

Once the beans are ready to be used they come upstairs to the store.  The first process is to sort them.


The next step is to roast them:


Here are some roasted beans:


After they are roasted they are put into a container that looks like a funnel with a drill at the bottom that turns this machine and “smashes” the beans.  What it is doing is removing the outside husk/shell.  Under the husk are the nibs.  These are the chocolate and taste very much like dark chocolate (yuck for me, but yum if you like dark chocolate).  The bean parts are then sorted by size.

The beans now make their way to the winnower (I got video, but it wasn’t that great and I was behind some people who got in front of my camera).


Here is the winnower:


Once the nibs have been separated from the husk they are now ready for the conching process:


Sugar and/or milk is added at this point.  This is a conching machine:


Once the nibs are done being tempered they look like melted chocolate and taste more palatable than the nibs (it is that extra sugar and milk!).  Now it is time to temper them.


Here is the tempering machine:


The chocolate is put into molds, shaken to fill in the mold evenly, and then put in a fridge to harden.  When the chocolate is ready they take it out and pop it out of the mold.  They then put it in a compostable cellophane wrapper and cardboard sleeve.  It is ready to be sold!

This store only sells dark chocolate and I had some samples and really didn’t care for it (I don’t like chocolate and can only handle small doses of milk chocolate, yes I do know some people think that I am crazy!).  My boys really liked it and the other guests seemed to too.  The owner and his son were really nice and if you are ever in the Portland area and are looking for some chocolate you should stop by this store!


A picture of a cacao pod with cacao beans


Lastly, their bathroom floor was made with pennies and it was the first one that I have seen and it was very interesting and pretty to look at (there were 20,000 pennies!).

IMG_20160105_111028180_HDR IMG_20160105_111037933





Weather Tree #2



First, let me say that I need to work on my photo taking skills a lot!  Yes, I know that the tree is a little blurry, but I hope that you get the idea :).

Last year I was all excited to do a weather tree for our homeschooling year.  A weather tree is a visual piece of art that lets you record the weather where you live.  Here is my post about it and the steps I took in creating one.  I thought that it would be something fun to look back on and it didn’t seem that hard to do.  Just like this blog the weather tree made it to Spring.  I had all these grand plans to go on the internet and look up the weather for each day and fill it in, but who was I kidding?  Then at the end of October I decided to start doing it again.  Here is our finished 2015 Weather Tree (again, look past the bad photo).


Since I was on a roll with keeping up for November and December I decided that I would make another one for 2016.  So far, I’ve been able to keep up, but we’ll see how it is once April rolls around!  If I quit sometime around then someone please remind me not to do this again!


Yes, we are still here!

I just wanted to give a quick update that yes, we are still here and still homeschooling!  I don’t know what derailed this blog back in March, but I am sure that it had something to do with not having enough time.  I’m going to try and keep up in here more often and hopefully when April comes around I will still be blogging!



Weekly Menu


I’m late getting this out, but I have kind of been winging it this week!

Monday:  Mac & Cheese (Trader Joe’s from the box) with frozen veggies & tuna

Tuesday:  Corned Beef (Trader Joe’s was carrying this marinated in a spice for St. Patrick’s Day!)

Wednesday:  Garlic Shrimp Pasta.  I ruined the pasta because I cooked it too long and it was all gummy :(.  The shrimp tasted good though!

Thursday:  Out.  I was feeling lazy and my boys wanted to go out.  We went to a local fast food place (healthier than most) and the “toy” in the kid’s meal was a pack of snap pea seeds with a garden marker!  That was super cool to receive.

Friday:  Hamburgers

Saturday:  ??  Got any ideas for me?  We also have company in town and I have to account for two more people.  Maybe we will go out again?

Sunday:  Pizza 




beesPart of our Language Arts block for this month we will be telling the story The Queen Bee by the Brothers Grimm.  As a part of the block it was suggested that we do something related to bees.  I thought that it would be fun to go and check out an actual beehive, so I did some searching around and I found an urban farm near us that has an apiary.  They told me that the first Saturday of the month they have a get together and they teach others about the bees.  That first meeting was last week and we got the whole family to go!

We were greeted by Beth, who was our very friendly host, and she showed us around the farm and then took us to the bees.  At this time the farm has two working hives, but they will be getting more bees this Spring.  The volunteers were cleaning out some extra hives to make room for the new bees.


The two active hives that were being checked out

Beth got the boys the headgear that you wear around bees and had the boys put it on.  She then talked to the boys all about the bees.  It was educational and Nathan seemed to enjoy it.


The boys were given a hat and veil

Next, the fun part came!  Beth opened up the hives to see how they were doing and to look for the Queens.  Anderson wasn’t interested in looking, so I hung back with him while Nathan and Christopher went by the hives.  I was a little bit jealous because I wanted to see :).  Beth did a great job at explaining what everyone was seeing when they were pulling out the frames.  They found the Queen Bee in both hives.  Christopher thought that she would be bigger, but she was just a little bit longer than the worker bees.  They also got to see all of the stages of the bees inside the hive.  As they were looking some bees were flying out (they did not smoke the hive), but there weren’t too many (I imagined a huge swarm coming out).  The bees landed on everyone, but no one got stung and it seemed pretty safe.  Once the hive was inspected everything was put back together and Beth came over to talk to us more about bees.


Looking at the open hives

At this point we were really excited about the bees and were ready to jump in and get started on beekeeping!  Unfortunately, the best time to get bees is in the early Spring.  We realized that we need more time to find out the rules/regulations of keeping bees where we live and we need to read up on it more and and buy supplies.  Beth gave us some very useful information to get us going on our journey and we are all excited about that!  We also got a quick lesson on how to catch your own swarm of bees.

As we were leaving, Beth let Nathan and Anderson have a big chunk of the beeswax from one of the hives.  The boys were so excited about that!  They smooshed the wax up and shaped it into big balls and have been playing with them since (they smell wonderful!).


If you are interested in keeping bees the two best things to do per Beth are:

  • Find a local beekeeping organization near you.  They will have a lot of information for you and will be able to answer your questions.
  • Find a mentor.  If you can find someone that will help you out and guide you it makes beekeeping easier.

I’m looking forward to next year when hopefully we will add bees to our family 🙂


February Book Recap



Here is a recap of the books that I read in February:

My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag…by Jolie Kerr

I heard an interview of Jolie Kerr on NPR talking about this book and she was pretty funny and some of her cleaning tips were good and I made a mental note to request this book. Well, I forgot about it and just recently was reminded about it and picked it up from the Library. Jolie has a blog/website that answers all issues related to getting things clean. She decided to write a book based on what she gets asked all of the time. There are no holds barred for her and she even goes over some of the gross requests, like the title of her book.

I hate cleaning and I’m not really good at it (I don’t know what I’m supposed to be using). Kerr gives some great advice and I’ve already purchased a couple of items that I didn’t know about. I found a lot of her tips helpful, especially when it came to laundry. I learned that OxiClean is probably her favorite cleaning tool for stains. Pine-Sol is also a good stain remover, who knew? Here is a list of the chapters that she goes over and ways to clean these places/things:

2-Floors, ceilings, walls, & other immovable objects
4-Lady “tools” (brush, curling iron, make-up supplies, etc)
8-Things that you can’t ask Martha (mostly related to bodily fluids)

Her writing is funny, but sometimes I found that she was trying too hard to be funny and it was kind of annoying. If you are a cleaning novice or have some cleaning experience like myself then this book would probably be good for you. If you are clean freak then I am sure that you already know most of these tricks and tips. I think that I’m going to buy a used copy of this book because it would be nice to reference back when I have a cleaning question!

I would rate this book 4 stars.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls by Anton DiSclafani

Thea Atwell, a young teenage girl from Florida is sent, by her parents, to a girls’ riding camp in Yonahlossee in North Carolina for some transgression that happened with her, which is a mystery to the reader. The novel takes place during the great depression so the only girls at this camp are girls that come from wealthy families, including Thea. Thea does not want to be at this camp, but over time she starts to like it, the girls, and she falls for the head master.

Through the course of the book we are slowly clued in to why Thea was sent to this camp. I don’t want to put any spoilers, but I was really disturbed by why she was sent. Not revealing too much of the secret too soon I thought was good on the writer’s part because it made me want to keep reading to figure out what happened (I was able to figure it out before it was completely revealed). The writing was easy to read and it was a fast read, but I only thought that the book was so-so. I also thought for awhile that this book was written by a man (I’ve never associated Anton being a girl’s name) and I thought that it was very weird that a man was writing about young girls at a riding camp. Once I figured out that it was actually a woman writing this it made a little more sense. To me, Thea wasn’t a hugely likeable character and the story didn’t captivate me.

I would rate this book 3 stars.

A Kiss Before You Go by Danny Gregory

This book is Danny Gregory’s illustrated memoir (in a diary type format) of his wife’s first accident (horrible), then her death (another horrible thing) and his year after her death coping with her being gone. It was a beautiful tribute to his wife and what the grief process does and can look like for someone that has lost their spouse. I enjoyed the drawings and the words that accompanied the drawings. A lot of what he said I saw in how my mom was and still is with the death of my dad. The book is a very fast read (30 minutes) because it is mostly drawings.

I would rate the book 4 stars.

How To Be Both by Ali Smith

I read a couple of synopses of this book and it sounded really intriguing to me, but once I got the book I couldn’t remember what it was about and I was kind of confused with what was going on. I think that it does help to know what this book is about before you read it. This book is two novels in one and they are connected. One of the novels is called “camera” and the other is called “eyes.” When they published the book they did two versions, one with camera being first and eyes second and vice versa. So, you may get a book and read it in a different order than someone else and I imagine that will change your view of the book? The order of the book that I got was camera first and eyes second. It felt like this was the right order to read them in, but it would be interesting to get the viewpoint of someone else who read eyes first. Anyway, in camera George (a girl whose real name is Georgia and this caused me quite some confusion because I was thinking that it was a transgender kid…) is the narrator and George is reflecting back on her time with her mother who has recently passed away. The book goes back and forth from the past to the present. One of the storylines in this book is that George’s mother was obsessed with this painting that was semi-recently discovered and they would go and visit this painting. Once George’s mother has died she goes and visits this painting more often. The second book, eyes, is about the painter who painted the painting that George’s mother loved and the one that George now visits. The painter, Francescho, was a young girl when she lost her mother. Her dad thought that the only way that the girl could continue on and be successful and have opportunities in life was to become a boy (dress and act like one). The girl does this and changes her name and ends up living her life as a man. The story goes from present day to the 1460s when Francescho was alive.

The book was a very interesting one and so different from anything that I have read before. The writing was really well done. I did find myself getting confused at some points and having to re-read things. There was also a lot that was left open and I wanted to know more about certain characters. It was a quick read for me.

I would rate the book 3.5 stars.

My reading “shelf” for March

March is going to probably be a big reading month.  I had put all of these books on hold at the library and like it always happens a lot of the books become available at the same time.  I don’t know if I will be able to get through them all, but if I have to return them I’ll have to wait for another month or two to get them.

  • The Brother’s K by David James Duncan (I was reading this book last month and then had to return it to the library because it is a long one and my time was up.  I just got it again and hopefully I can finish it!).

I’ve joined a new book club where I live, so I will also have that book to read and at the end of the month my other book club will pick a book.   I don’t know if I will be able to get to those in March.

Happy reading!





Piet Mondrian Art Lesson


In celebration of Piet Mondrian’s birthday (3/7) I decided that we’d do an art lesson on him.  I think that he is one of the easiest artists for kids to replicate.  It is very simple and young kids have an easy time following what they need to do.  Before we get to the lesson, let’s learn a little about Piet Mondrian himself.

Piet was a Dutch painter born in 1872.  He was part of a group of artists that formed a new style of art called neoplasticism which was art painted on a white background with black vertical and horizontal lines in a grid shape.  The geometric shapes were only painted the primary colors.  He lived in Amsterdam, Paris, London, and New York.  It was in New York where he went away from the black grid lines and instead followed a grid with the primary colors.  He was very much influenced by the jazz music scene, and the city itself.

It was funny because I had already had a lesson planned out for him and I just happened to come across this Lego video that does a Mondrian.

My boys LOVED it!  Right after we watched the video Nathan went and got paint, a paint brush, and Legos to recreate what he just watched (no prompting or suggesting by us).  He sat there “painting” his Lego Mondrian.  When he was finished he built a Lego frame and hung it on our wall.  Anderson made his own painting too, but he didn’t try and recreate it like this video.


Working on creating the Mondrian


Here is the second version of the Lego Mondrian (the first one fell off the wall and broke)

I had wanted to read a kid’s book to the boys to introduce them to Mondrian.  Unfortunately, there really aren’t any great ones out there.  I only one I could find was Coppernickel Goes Mondrian (affiliate link).  The book has a character that is supposed to be Mondrian and many of the paintings in the book have the grid shape and use the primary colors.  At the end of the book there is a little write-up about Mondrian.  This book wasn’t a huge hit with my boys and I would actually recommend checking it out from the local library first to see if you like it.

As fate would have it, another Mondrian video randomly showed up for me and I thought that it was interesting and shared it with the boys.

Now for the art lesson!

Step 1:  Gather all of your materials.  We used our BioColor paints, paint brush, 1/2″ masking tape,  and painting paper.


Step 2:  Tape off the piece of paper in a grid of your choosing.


Step 3:  Color the rectangles or squares either red, blue, yellow, or white (you could leave some of the spaces blank and not paint them white, but I found that my boys were getting some stray paint in the white areas, so it was better to just paint it white.


Step 4:  Once the paint is dry pull off the tape.


Step 5:  Paint the area that was under the tape black to create your black lines for the grid.


Anderson’s Mondrian


Now your kids (or you) are all done and you have created your own Mondrian!!



Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss



Today is the birthday of one of my favorite authors, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.  I remember reading some of his books when I was younger and even getting the book Oh, The Places You’ll Go!  for a graduation gift and liking his work, but it really wasn’t until I had my two boys when I started to appreciate him so much more.  The way that he has with words is fascinating and I think that he is a genius when it comes to writing children’s books.  If you Google around you will find so many great quotes that can be applied to life that are from his books.  Whenever we read a Dr. Seuss (or a Theo LeSieg) book it is a guarantee that my boys will love it!

One of the facts about Dr. Seuss that has always stood out to me is that he never had any children.  He is probably the most well known children’s author and yet he had no kids.  If you want to read more about Dr. Seuss, his wiki page  has a lot of information about him.  Last week I read that his wife recently found a book that Dr. Seuss was working on that had never been published.  The book is What Pet Should I Get?  The book is coming out at the end of July, but it can be pre-ordered now.  We are very excited to read this book!

In honor of Dr. Seuss every March 2nd (his birthday) is celebrated as National Read across America Day and you can bet that we will be reading some Dr. Seuss today.  I hope that you do too!





p.s. This post contains an affiliate link and if you purchase from the link I’ll get a tiny commission which goes straight towards more books for homeschooling, thanks!