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After a week of non-stop family activities, we spent Memorial Day weekend in and around our apartment. We grilled, and saw some friends, but the farthest we wandered was the neighborhood Target. Call it vacation hangover, if you will.

I did manage to read five of the books on my epic “books to be read” stack. I’m a book hoarder by nature, and recently I’ve brought home enough books to fill my nightstand, so over the weekend I lay down and read. I’ve always been a super fast reader, and it serves me especially well on lazy weekends like the one we’re just coming out of.

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1. “Frog Music” by Emma Donoghue

I’ve decided that Emma Donoghue is one of those authors that I will follow. When she writes a new book, I will buy it and I will read it and I will likely never be disappointed. Her “Room” remains one of the most vivid and mind-blowing books I’ve ever read – I recommend it to anyone – and so I picked up “Frog Music” on Independent Bookstore Day. I devoured this book. From the first page, it’s a crackling historical crime novel set in a hot summer in San Francisco during a smallpox outbreak, and it’s full of characters you love and love to hate. There’s cross-dressing, murder, sex, disease, a baby farm, and it’s a whirlwind of a book, but at the end it’s really the story of a woman falling in love with her child.

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2. “The Movement of Stars” by Amy Brill

Two things that delight me: Nantucket and Astronomy.  Brill’s gorgeous book is the story of a girl astronomer searching for a comet and trying to navigate being a woman and falling in love with someone unexpected while living in a strict and patriarchal society.  I loved every word of it, and have put it on my shelves next to Sena Jeter-Naslund’s “Ahab’s Wife” to keep forever.

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3. “The Fugitive Wife” by Peter C. Brown

While I’m always interested in a good “scrappy woman goes to new territory and starts new life” book, this one didn’t blow my mind. I appreciated the story of Essie, a woman who leaves her no-good husband back in Minnesota to sail off to Nome, Alaska with gold miners, and the book is written so well that it feels like you’re really on the ship and in Alaska, I never connected with Essie or the characters around her, and so the ending felt… meh. Still, I’m glad I read it.

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4. “Playing the Rake’s Game” by Bronwyn Scott

[Yep, it’s a Harlequin. Judge away, book snobs.;)]

Now, I read a lot of historical romance. I also happen to write western historical romance. I love the romance genre, but it sometimes feels like there are only five time periods – Vikings/Highlanders, Medieval, Regency, Westerns, and occasionally Pirates – that historical romance hangs out in. This book – the first of two from Harlequin – takes the smoldering looks and heaving bosoms and transports them to a sugar plantation in the Caribbean, and it’s refreshing. Bronwyn Scott is a pro at writing romance, and this book is a pretty perfect little romance novel. I’ll totally seek out the other/second book in the mini-series.

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5. “The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Theodore Roszak

Being a huge Mary Shelley/”Frankenstein” fan – like, the type who debated getting a grad school degree in literature so I could be a lit professor and teach the book to the next generation of great minds – I saw this book at Open Books and snatched it like I’d found the Holy Grail.  The idea of the story of “Frankenstein” being told from Elizabeth’s perspective thrilled me, and upon reading that it’s an “erotically charged” and “feminist” take, I was there. While I liked the book, and I’m going to suggest it to my Franken-friends, I’m conflicted.  First, there are a few departures from the original novel that bothered me – namely, the whole William/Justine thing is never mentioned at all, and if you’ve read the original novel that’s a huge deal and something Elizabeth’s journal would probably mention at least once.  Second, I’m not sure I can get behind the book’s portrayal of Victor Frankenstein. He’s kind of a toolbag, and there’s a certain event that happens in Roszak’s book that I don’t entirely buy.  That said, if you’re not addicted to the original work, you might enjoy it more. (Witchcraft! Kama Sutra! Monsters! A woman living in the woods!)

Whew! That was a lot of reading for a long weekend. Not that I’m stopping. I’m moving on to “Outlander” next, and then I’m a couple “A Song of Ice and Fire” books behind. So many books – so little time!

Family Days!

We’ve had my husband’s family in town from Texas for the last week, and I think we crammed seeing as much of Chicago as possible into the past six days – Millennium Park/The Bean/the new Maggie Daley Park, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Science & Industry, Michigan Avenue, Navy Pier, the Chicago Children’s Museum, an Architecture Boat Tour, multiple restaurants, playing with cousins on scooters in the park and in the sprinkler in the backyard, and a movie night for the kids and grandparents while the parents took a neighborhood walking tour/”pub crawl” (3 beers over 5 hours were consumed) — Little dude loved playing with his (bigger) cousins, and burst from his bed each morning ready to play.

No wonder I’m exhausted today.

It was all brilliantly fun and really nice to spend some serious time with our farthest-away family members! But that’s where I’ve been. I’ve barely even checked my email the whole week.

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PS Chicago Parents – If you haven’t been to Maggie Daley Park yet, you’re missing out. It’s not even complete yet, and it’s a showstopper.

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You guys know how I feel about books. So, get yourselves to Half-Price books this weekend and go nuts. Me, I’m still drowning in books (which is not a bad thing) from my mid-April haul, but book hoarding is a totally legitimate hobby.

Assorted.

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Ah, spring. When you can actually see flowers out in the real world and not just in photos and grocery stores. This month, since we’re all about nature, we’ve been working on  identifying the plants and critters that surround us in our daily lives.

So far, we’re pretty good at:

Flowers

  • Tulips
  • Daisies
  • Wood Violets
  • Lilacs
  • Japanese Maple/Regular Maple trees
  • Dandelions

Insects

  • Worms
  • Bumblebees
  • Wasps/Hornets/Yellowjackets/other things that sting
  • Flies
  • Ants
  • Caterpillars
  • Roly Polys
  • Spiders
  • Fireflies *These are of particular interest to my dude,  and so I’m working on locating some. Last summer, we had a bunch in our garden, but they might still be a few months out*

Also, did you know you can watch entire episodes of The Magic School Bus on youtube? Here’s “The Magic School Bus Goes to Seed,” a current favorite episode of ours.

This weekend, we’re celebrating a friend’s 3rd birthday and then welcoming family from Texas to Chicago for a week of adventures and fun. Of course, I’m cleaning like a madwoman to get ready. I’ve finished a second draft of my book – 71.5k words – and it’s being read by a trusted friend before I do a final draft, so that feels really good. Also, we’re gearing up for our July camping adventure to the Black Hills of South Dakota, as well getting our summer 2015 calendar together – Chicago comes alive in summer, and there’s a festival every weekend it seems.

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My beloved Open Books – Chicago’s best used bookstore – is closing up their River North shop on Sunday to move to a new (bigger and still super convenient) location in the west loop, so for this week they’re offering deep discounts on their already deeply discounted extensive collection of books.  To assist them in clearing their shelves, obviously, we took a jaunt there yesterday to stock up on books for this month’s learning – Flowers, Bugs, Birds, and Trees.

I spent $41 and got all the books below, in addition to Stephen King’s “Joyland” and a Linda Lael Miller Western.

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Kiddo has given up napping, which is alternately cool (he’s growing up, yay!) and frustrating (Mommy liked her “me” time) so instead of staying in the house and growing more and more frustrated, we took it outside to a neighborhood green space for some exploring.  We found bumblebees, flies, wood violets, and – of course – dandelions.

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So far on our list of flowers we can identify, we have – Dandelions, Tulips, Violets, and Daisies.  These are all frequently found in Chicago in spring, and we’ve been snapping photos of new and interesting flowers and trees we come across to ID later.imageHappy Spring! — And seriously, Chicago-folks, get to Open Books this week.  Books are 50% off on Saturday and 60% off on Sunday, their last day open in River North.

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It’s May! It’s May! The Merry Month of May!

A typical school year wraps up right around now, but not around here.  Granted, the nicer the weather the more often we take out lessons outside and let nature teach for a while, but we learn year-round. I’m so thrilled Chicago’s weather seems (fingers crossed) to have turned sunny and warm, and gardening can begin.

For May, we’ll be focusing (like we did last year) on Spring Nature – Flowers, Bugs, Birds, and Trees.

On tap:

Visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo/Conservatory, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Art Institute of Chicago Gardens, Chicago Botanic Gardens, and maybe even the Garfield Park Conservatory again. I would also love to get some beach time in, even if it’s just playing in the sand, but we’ll see.

Planting our indoor Aerogarden and our outside flower beds. We started some pumpkins as seedlings a few weeks back, and we’ve now taken them outside.  We’ve also planted a ton of zuccchini. There is a strong possibility our neighborhood bunnies and dogs will destroy these, but we’re giving it a shot.

Reading a long list of books – depending on how many I can find at the library at at Open Books’ Moving Sale next week.  We’re working our way through our read-aloud of the My Little Pony Daring Do novels, but we might start “James & The Giant Peach” after this.

Identifying the flowers, bugs, birds, and trees around us here in Chicago.

Watching “The Magic School Bus” and “The Cat in the Hat knows a lot about that” episodes with applicable themes. Also, maybe we have a movie night and watch “A Bug’s Life.”

Creating an indoor paper garden. (Much like our April Rainforest, we’ll cover kiddo’s bedroom door in paper, and then add a flower or bug each day to it to learn identification. I’m working on locating a list of Chicago’s flowers and trees so we can spot what we walk past in our daily walks. Right now, tulips are everywhere.)

As little dude is keen to write these days, there will be loads of sidewalk chalk letters happening. And we’re counting everything, too.

*Also, as Cinco De Mayo is tomorrow, we’ll be celebrating that and learning a wee bit about Mexico – our neighbor to the south!

So that’s the plan. Here goes!

#amwriting

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I’ve been remiss in posting here too much lately, because most of my non-Mom/wife/teacher/household duty time has been spent writing.

I write. I always have. It’s why I’ve had various blogs over the years.  I just like writing – the act of it, the feel of it, the escape of it. And there’s been a story swimming in my head since I was about sixteen in various forms that decided this was going to be the year it exploded onto paper. I’m about 64,000 words into it, and my (rough) first draft is finished, and it’s a really exciting time for me.

I won’t lie – Writing while being a stay at home Mom/homeschooler isn’t easy. Finding a few quiet minutes to let my creative mind emerge has been a big challenge.  My little dude is bright and energetic, but he’s noisy and not napping these days and he doesn’t yet understand the concept of “quiet time” (I’m working on it.) So it’s frustrating and, sometimes, discouraging. On days when I don’t have a moment to write even a sentence, I get grumpy.

But we’re doing it. We’re figuring it out. It’s happening slowly, but it’s happening.

jkjkjk

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