Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Best Books of 2016

This year I read about 65 books! You can see my list here. Fourteen of those were manuscripts that I beta read for fellow writing friends. They're denoted by picture books in my reading list, except for a few which got book deals this year and are those lovely gray books on my list with no cover yet! It was hard to narrow down my favorite books. I'm not super critical when it comes to reading and always just seem to enjoy the experience. But as I went back to my list, these were the books that stood out to me the most, the ones I recommend religiously. Enjoy!


Skyscraping by Cordelia Jensen: I read a lot of verse novels this year. (A lot!) But this one has really stuck with me. It's the story of a girl who discovers her parents open marriage by accident and then has to forgive her father as he dies of AIDS in the early 90's. Heartwrenching and beautiful.


Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan: Both Rob and I loved this book. A historical fantasy during WWII but focusing on places and kinds of people that haven't been done to death. You'll love the beautiful ending. A well deserved Newbery honor book.

Paper Wishes

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban: A historical fiction about a girl in a Japanese internment camp. The voice is lovely, the details were fascinating and it felt more like an intimate portrait of Japanese culture.

We Were Liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: I read this on a plane ride to a writers conference and sat and read it in line to get my rental car because I COULDN'T PUT IT DOWN!

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban: This is one of the most perfect middle-grade contemporary books ever written. The character is so well drawn and you just love her. She's got an addictive voice and a cast of characters you just want to be with. Funny and sweet.

The Star-Touched Queen (The Star-Touched Queen, #1)

The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi: Be transported! This is an Indian-inspired fantasy. The language is
 lush and gorgeous. It's romantic and exciting and unexpected!

Red Rising (Red Rising, #1)

Red Rising by Pierce Brown: Rob and I read the Red Rising trilogy together and it was so good! High octane, bloody, and thoroughly thought provoking dystopian. I recommend it to anyone who thinks they would like a bit more grown up and politically charged version of Hunger Games.

El Deafo

El Deafo by CeCe Bell: I also read a lot of graphic novels this year. I didn't expect to love this book so much. I sat down to just sort of flip through it before handing it off to Jane and ended up just reading it for the next 90 minutes. Jane has read it 2.5 times and it has fostered some amazing conversations about disability and inclusion.

Beautiful Blue World

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur: This is the beginning of a MG fantasy series. You'll find the setting very close to WWII, but it is a fantasy world. It's about a people at war who choose to utilize the minds of their brightest children and one girl who is chosen for her gift of empathy. Really lovely look at humanity on both sides of a conflict.

My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brody Ashton, and Jody Meadows: This was probably the most fun book of 2016. Hilarious, fast paced, with a really satisfying love story. This book is a comedic, historical fantasy revolving around Lady Jane Grey who was queen for nine days before getting her head chopped off by Bloody Mary. Except, according to the narrator of this story, history actually played out a little differently. I read this book with a great big smile on my face the entire way through!

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin: This was a favorite read-aloud for Jane and I this year. An Asian-inspired fantasy, this book won a Newbery and with good reason. A perfect reflection on gratitude for young and old alike.

As a writer, I also got to read several books that aren't actually published yet. Here's what you should keep an eye out for in 2017.

Frostblood (Frostblood Saga, #1)

Frostblood by Elly Blake: I loved this fantasy so much! I anticipate it being up there with Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green: Another lovely verse novel by Shari Green about family, friends, and love.

The Last Place You Look

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka: A new kind of private eye is hitting the streets this year and I think you're going to love her and this super exciting mystery.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Mormons and Martinmas

I really love Martinmas. First of all, it's the perfect kickoff to Thanksgiving. Second, it is a really gentle and creative way to observe the changing of the seasons.

November 11 is Martinmas. Martinmas is the festival of St. Martin. St. Martin was a soldier who, according to legend, was riding his horse on a very cold, rainy night when he saw an old man, a beggar. This man had no coat and was freezing. So St. Martin took the cloak off his back and used his sword to cut it in two and gave the beggar one of the halves of his cloak. That night St. Martin had a dream that the beggar was really Christ. He later said that his service in the military was incompatible with his Christian faith, declared himself a "Soldier for Christ" and became one of the first conscientious objectors.

Martinmas is observed nowadays by doing service and by making lanterns and going on a lantern walk.

The idea of the lantern walk is to mark the end of autumn, the shortening of days and lengthening of the nights and our ability to bring light to the darkness. And to focus on the idea of seeing the light in others (Isn't that something we need after this election?) Traditionally, you make or decorate your lantern and go with a group on walk, everyone holding their own lantern and singing songs.

Sounds like a pretty nice festival, right?

So here's some ways you can celebrate with your family.

Do a service project! Make blessing bags, take a meal to someone, go buy and donate coats.

Make a lantern. There are all kinds. Here are a few easy ones.
Jar Lanterns
Tissue Paper Lanterns
Cardstock Lantern

Go on a lantern walk. Here are some songs you can sing.

It's such a beautiful festival and fits in so perfectly with the idea of being in the service of our fellow men and our God. Bringing the light of Christ to others. You should celebrate it!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Mormons and Dia De Los Muertos

Is it just me or is Halloween just awful these days? It's become so gory and violent. I feel like I can't take my kids into the Halloween sections at the stores because they're too scary. Don't get me wrong, I love dressing up and carving pumpkins. But, last year I discovered Dia de los Muertos, and it is WAY better than Halloween.

Now, I think it's important right now to make one thing very clear. Dia de los Muertos is NOT Mexican Halloween. It is it's own very separate and distinct holiday. I've noticed recently, Dia de los Muertos  decorations being sold as Halloween things, but don't mix the two up. When you're celebrating holidays from other people's cultures, it's important to do so with respect and try to keep in line with the intent of the holiday as much as possible.

Dia de los Muertos is really more like a Memorial Day. It is on November 2, and is for remembering our loved ones who have passed on.

Hmmm, sounds a lot like family history, huh? Like...the hearts of the children turning to the fathers? ;)

To celebrate you're supposed to set out pictures of the loved ones you're thinking about, perhaps even little tokens that remind you of them. A lot of times people will build shrines, I don't think you really need to go that far. They make Pan de Muertos, which is a yummy sweet bread and decorate sugar skulls.

See Dia de los Muertos isn't about death being scary. It's really more of a celebration. So all the skeletons and skulls you see are decorated with bright colors and flowers.

So, what can you do to celebrate this awesome holiday? Well, here's some things we like to do and other things that we'll add in the future a part of our homeschooling.

Make sugar skulls! You can buy molds on Amazon!
Make Pan de Muertos. We like this recipe.
Tell stories of your ancestors or people who have passed. Set out their pictures.
Visit the grave of a loved one.
Watch this fun movie. 
Write a Calaveras Poem about somebody (a silly, sort of epitaph kind of poem. More info here.)
Make some yummy authentic Mexican food!
Do a family history project. Make a family tree. Gather stories and pictures from grandparents. Lay out a family history timeline. Make a book of remembrance.

Read these books.


And here's a song we really love to sing.

Cuando el reloj marca la una
los esqueletos salen de su tumba,
tumba, que tumba, que tumba, tumba, tumba.

Cuando el reloj marca las dos
dos esqueletos comen arroz
tumba, que tumba, que tumba, tumba, tumba.

Cuando el reloj marca las tres
tres esqueletos se vuelven al revés
tumba, que tumba, que tumba, tumba, tumba.

Cuando el reloj marca las cuatro
cuatro esqueletos van al teatro
tumba, que tumba, que tumba, tumba, tumba.

Cuando el reloj marca las cinco
cinco esqueletos se pegan un gran brinco
tumba, que tumba, que tumba, tumba, tumba.

Cuando el reloj marca las seis
seis esqueletos juegan ajedrez
tumba, que tumba, que tumba, tumba, tumba.

Cuando el reloj marca las siete
siete esqueletos se montan en cohete
tumba, que tumba, que tumba, tumba, tumba.

Cuando el reloj marca las ocho
ocho esqueletos comen bizcocho
tumba, que tumba, que tumba, tumba, tumba

Cuando el reloj marca las nueve
nueve esqueletos todos se mueven
tumba, que tumba, que tumba, tumba, tumba

Cuando el reloj marca las diez
diez esqueletos se duermen otra vez

Listen to it here!

Now, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 2, but I like to take a week to build up to it. That way it doesn't get lost in the first day of Christmas music and Halloween burn out. haha You choose!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mormons and Michaelmas

Several years ago, when I was still in college, I took a Christian History class. Being at BYU, there was definitely an LDS lens to the class. On the first day, the professor got up and asked us about some of the things we were jealous of in other religions. We talked about things other churches did or had that we wished were more a part of our own Mormon culture and worship. It was an interesting and eye opening conversation that first led me to start thinking about how this Mormon thing doesn't all have to look the same and that there are things in every religion that are worthy of incorporation into our own spiritual life.

A few years later I was introduced to Waldorf education. Festivals are very important in Waldorf family life, and while each family gets to choose which festivals they celebrate, the majority of Waldorf resources focus on certain festivals in the Catholic liturgical year. Most notably, Michaelmas, Martinmas, St. Nicolas Day, St. Lucia Day, Advent, Epiphany, and Candlemas. As I learned more about these festival/feast days, I realized that there was a really beautiful yearly rhythm to it and that each festival helped prepare me spiritually for other holidays.

Martinmas is the perfect beginning to Thanksgiving. Advent prepares my heart for Christmas, Candlemas is the perfect reflection on a world shrouded in darkness waiting for the coming light of Easter.

With these thoughts in mind, I wanted to introduce my Mormon friends especially to these festivals and a few others that are special to our family and that I believe incorporate beautifully into the LDS religion and will enhance your spiritual journey through the year.

So let's begin with the first big festival of the school year! MICHAELMAS.

Michaelmas is the celebration of the archangel Michael throwing Lucifer out of heaven before the world began. It is often kind of merged with the legend of St. George who defeated a dragon. So, often the pictures and stories have to do with Michael defeating Lucifer depicted as a dragon. You can read the Catholic version of the story here. As you do so, I hope you'll be able to see how similar it is to our understanding of premortal life. It doesn't take much to tweak the story just a little bit to tell to your children about the war in heaven.

Michaelmas is the perfect time to reflect on the importance of our own free agency. After all, isn't that what the war in heaven was all about? And more importantly, what are we doing with our free agency? Have things crept into our lives and become dragons in need of slaying? Now is the time to fight back and vanquish your pet sins, weaknesses, and addictions. Michael and all the hosts of heaven defeated Lucifer, you can conquer your dragons too.

Ways to celebrate Michaelmas with your family.

Found at (There's a recipe there too!)

Make dragon bread (bread shaped like a dragon.)
Act out the story of Michael throwing Lucifer out of heaven.
Make golden capes and wooden/cardboard swords and shields to battle dragons with.
With your older children, talk about what dragons in your life you would like to conquer.
Read this beautiful book about St. George.

Just so you know, celebrating a festival the "Waldorf" way is not a huge affair. You don't treat it like Christmas or Thanksgiving where you spend all month gearing up for it. You might build up to Michaelmas for a few days while you sand down your swords. But it is really supposed to be a very simple celebration. Tell a story, sing a song, eat a special kind of food, do a craft. That's it. You're done. (And if I'm being honest, we won't be making the swords this year.)


Now much of what you find for some of these Saint's Days (especially Michaelmas) read like prayers to these saints. As Mormons, I know this is a concept most will feel uncomfortable with. But in this series, I'm going to try to provide you with a few poems or songs that you can use. Here's the one I like for Michaelmas.

"Brave Saint Michael is my guide
as free and fearless forth I ride.
With courage like Saint George of old
I dare to fight fierce dragons bold."

Saturday, July 23, 2016

November Plans for Second Grade

November is going to be a bit of a mixed up month. We'll spend a week with Thornton Burgess animal stories, a week on St. Martin and Martinmas (a really beautiful festival about helping those in need), another week on Thornton Burgess stories, and then a week for Thanksgiving.

Circle Time

Pledge of Allegiance
You’re a Grand Old Flag
Saint Martin  from Autumn Songs by Jodie Mesler
Over the River and through the Woods
The loud winds are calling,
The ripe nuts are falling,
The squirrel now gathers his store.
The bears homeward creeping
Will soon all be sleeping

So snugly till winter is o’er.

This month we will be focusing on Peru. November 3rd is the celebration of Cuencan Independence Day.
Here is the outline of the story I'll tell. this is just an outline. Embellish, get into it, but this just helps me remember the words and how we'll learn them. I don't know how to add accents and markings like that when I type, so I apologize in advance.

Ernesto wakes up and says Buenos dias to his animals. Perro, gato, pez. Then he opens the window (abre la ventana) and asks Que tiempo hace hoy? Have children tell the weather in Spanish. Today Ernesto is visiting his friend Daniela. She is from Peru and her family is celebrating Independence Day for their home city of Cuenca. When Ernesto gets to Daniela’s casa, her mama was still in la cocina cooking up a storm. Her padre was in el bano, getting ready, and her hermano was in his dormitorio, reading un libro. Daniela and Ernesto decide to ir a caminar (go on a walk). They walk through the bosque (forest) behind Daniela’s casa. There are many arboles (trees) and their hojas (leaves) are falling to the ground. (Review some color words here. Rojo, anaranjado, marron, Amarillo). While they are walking they see many pajaritos (little birds) and even a buho (owl). So they sing, El Cucu.

When they get back to Daniela’s casa, her mama has just finished making tortitas de Manteca (shortbread cookies.) So Daniela and Ernesto play a hand clapping game.  Tortitas de Manteca.

Before Ernesto leaves he makes sure to say gracias to Daniela and her familia.

Recorder lessons 5 and 6 in Living Music From the Heart volume 2 by Jodie Mesler

Jane will be knitting a scarf to give as a gift that uses the pattern k2, p2.

We're learning about Sea Otters this month to go along with our main lesson. I have some books (fiction and nonfiction) and our aquarium has a great otter exhibit that we'll visit.

Spelling lists for grade 2. Weeks 9-11.

Main Lesson
Week 1 - Two Thornton Burgess stories about Buster Bear and Joe Otter. One day on parts of speech (nouns and verbs).
Week 2 - Story of St. Martin. Retell and summarize with nouns and verbs highlighted, write out a St. Martin verse for practice
Week 3 - More Buster Bear and Joe Otter stories, one day on parts of speech and another verse for writing practice.
Week 4 - Mostly break for Thanksgiving, but hopefully some Math lessons/practice. We'll see.

All Main Lessons are accompanied by an art lesson, either painting, block crayon drawing, or beeswax modeling.

Week 1 - None, because of Halloween on Monday throwing off our groove.
Week 2 - Tie a blanket and give it away.
Week 3 - Donate to the Food Bank
Week 4 - none

On Celebrating Martinmas
During the week of Martinmas, we'll be making these wet felted lanterns. I would also like to have some friends over to make lanterns with tissue paper and mason jars, eat a yummy fall stew, and go on a lantern walk after dark. To do this, you just light your lantern, go outside and walk around your neighborhood and sing songs about fall and the coming winter, darkness and light. This is also probably when we'll tie blankets to give away.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book List for Fall

Books for September


Books For October

            A chapter book written by a dear friend about a classroom full of quirky students with a hilarious narrator who relates their adventures to classic fables. I'm trying to convince her to self publish it. It's wonderful. :)

Books for November

           I know this is a different St. Martin, but it looked really good. :)