Top Ten Characters Who …

… I would want to be my friend. (Or, to put it in a more grammatically correct form: Top Ten Characters with whom I would want to be friends.)

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1. Betsy Ray, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. When I think of book friends, Betsy is the very first who springs to mind. How I would have loved to have her as a friend when I was young, and even now, I think how much fun she’d be to have around. The great thing about Betsy is that I kept “discovering” more of her books the older I got (sneakily and well done, parents), and so we really did grow up together. I read Betsy’s Wedding shortly after getting married myself … so in some ways it feels like we are old friends who grew up and experienced much of life together.

Betsy and Joe, also one of my very favorite literary couples!

Betsy and Joe, also one of my very favorite literary couples!

2. Lucy Pevensie, Tarkheena Aravis, Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. No offense to Susan or Jill or Polly – I like all of them, but it’s Lucy and Aravis I’ve always wanted to have as friends. Could you imagine the trouble we’d get into? It’d be awesome.

3. Randy and Rush Melendy, The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright. Re-reading all of Enright’s books recently reminded me again of how much I love this brother-sister team, and how badly I wanted them to be real people and my next-door neighbors when I was a kid.

4. Miss Marple, Agatha Christie. Dudes, can you imagine a better friend? No matter what’s going on in your life, Aunt Jane would have some gentle wisdom and humor to impart, and she would keep you from every being too conceited.

5. Sophie Hatter, Howl’s Moving Castle etc, by Diana Wynne Jones. SOPHIE. I want to hang out at the playground with Sophie, while my kids play with Morgan, and just talk. And then I want to foist our respective children off onto the husbands so Sophie and I can keep talking, without having to parent or wife at the same time.

6. Princess Cimorene, the Enchanted Forest books by Patricia C Wrede. Cimorene is another that I want to have as my friend now, not just as a kid. The younger Cimorene is awesome enough, but grown-up, mother-of-Daystar Cimorene is awesome as well, and I hope someday Wrede writes about some of Cimorene’s adventures between when Daystar was born and when he set off to rescue his father. Because we didn’t get to see nearly enough of her Being Awesome in Book 4.

I love Cimorene’s expression on this cover. It sums her up so well.

7. Tiffany Aching, Wee Free Men etc by Terry Pratchett. I actually think I’d like to hang out with Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as well, but Tiffany is the one I’d most want to be friends with.

8. Brother Cadfael, the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. Like Miss Marple, Brother Cadfael would be a most comforting and wise friend to have. Also like her, extremely useful if one is ever accused of murder. (Wrongly accused, that is. Though if you’re a mostly-okay person, and the murder was provoked, even Brother Cadfael might find excuses for you. Not Miss Marple. She doesn’t approve of murder, no matter how justified.)

9. Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. I swoon more for Margaret and Mr Thornton from North & South, but I’d want to be friends with Molly and Roger. Both because I think they could use some like-minded friends, and because I think they would make wonderful friends in return.

10. Joy-in-the-Dance, Lucian, et al from The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander. I love all of Alexander’s characters, from all his books, but it’s the main cast of the Arkadians who most make me want to dive into the book and go adventuring with them. I wish he’d written more than one book about them all – I’ve always wanted to know what they did next.

Picture taken from my favorite cover of The Arkadians

Picture taken from my favorite cover of The Arkadians

And that, my friends, is my top ten. It surprised me, when I started writing it, how many of my favorite books and characters do not appeal to me as friends, however much I may love them for themselves (Lord Peter and Harriet, for example, I think would make me feel utterly stupid and inadequate, and that’s not exactly good for a friendship). Some of my opinions have changed since childhood, also – once upon a time, Anne Shirley would have been my ideal friend, but now I have a sneaking suspicion she would exhaust me after every visit. I haven’t outgrown her, but I have outgrown her friendship.

To see others’ top ten characters who … lists, check out The Broke and the Bookish. Happy reading!

Homeschool Dilemma

Warning: homeschool talk, and nothing else, ahead. If that topic bores you, feel free to skip this post. I won’t be offended. This is mostly to help me sort out my own confused thoughts.

When we are on for homeschooling, I love it. The kids love it. They are learning well, not getting overwhelmed, I am organized and know what we’re doing, we have enough flexibility to roll with a particular topic of interest or go over something that isn’t making sense until it does … it’s the best. It’s fantastic.

Those times don’t happen as frequently as I’d like, though. Most of the time I’m floundering. And I feel like the kids, not to mention their education, suffer from that. I have issues with adrenal fatigue (yes, I know that’s not a “proven medical condition,” but nothing else at all describes my condition even a little, so that’s what I’m going with), and as soon as something happens to throw me off the rails even a little, school and organization and everything else go out the window (I know I’m mixing metaphors, sorry), because it takes all I’ve got just to put one foot in front of the other and meet my family’s most basic needs.

So I’ve been wondering lately if I ought to put the kids in school next year. I don’t want to—I firmly believe that the best home education tops the best public school education by a mile. But am I giving them the best home education? It hasn’t been too bad this year, with Joy in first grade and Grace in preschool/kindergarten … but what about next year? Or the year after? What happens if I slip down into a firmly mediocre home education, what then? Can I still justify keeping them home, especially when the main reason we began homeschooling them in the first place was so they could receive a better education than they’d get in an American public school?

Joy’s HSP-ness (yes, another not-proven designation. Hey, modern western medicine isn’t the be-all and end-all, all right?) was another factor. I was concerned that she would be misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD if she went to school, or that she’d be so overwhelmed by the controlled chaos that is elementary school that she would just shut down, both very real problems and not (as some of my fears tend to be) simply caused by me over-thinking things.

But she has made huge, huge strides in learning to deal properly with her world this year. I mean, huge. Playing easily with other kids, interacting with other people without prompting, being aware of and responding to the world around her in a healthy way, handling change without melting down … it’s been incredible. And it’s confirmed that my decision to keep her home this year and last year was the right one. But with the strides she’s made, maybe public school wouldn’t be so bad for her next year? Or maybe it would set her back, I don’t know. But she kind of thinks she’d like to try it, which is worth something in my book.

(So does Grace, but I was never worried about Grace’s ability to handle the interpersonal aspects of public school. Gracie is sensitive, but not highly sensitive, and she is much better equipped by nature to deal with controlled chaos: she mostly ignores it.)

All of this seems to be leaning in favor of public school next year. And yet, and yet …

Gosh, we had an awesome day today. Reading, grammar, math, social, science, art, piano … all before noon. (Considerably less than that for Grace, obviously.) Then we went outside and played on the playground after lunch, and Joy conquered all five monkey bars at last, and then came back inside with still loads of time for playing, reading, drawing, doing whatever they want. Chores, even! If every day went like this, there’d be no question in my mind. And what if, instead of things getting worse as time goes by, things get better? Will I be robbing my kids of their best possible education by giving up on homeschooling just because we’ve had a rough couple of years at the start?

Gah. So many questions.

I’m not exactly sure I’ve managed to sort out any thoughts (“Then why have you inflicted this post on us, Louise?” I hear you howl). Except to clarify that I really shouldn’t make any decisions right now.

For any of you who do homeschool or did – do you/did you have these sorts of crises ever? And if so, how do you/did you resolve them? This is one of the worst parts of not having a homeschooling network here. There are plenty of opportunities for the kids to interact with other kids outside of school/homeschool activities. Not so much encouragement for Mom when she starts feeling overwhelmed. So here I am, reaching out to my online network, in hopes of some perspective.

Childhood Eternal

I’ve been reading through Elizabeth Enright’s books lately – just finished the Melendy quartet, and am waiting for my paperback editions of Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away (I stole borrowed my mother’s old, old hardcover editions when I moved away from home, but they are so old that they’re starting to crumble, so I decided to pick up some cheaper paperbacks to read without having to wear white gloves) to get here on Monday so I can go through those, as well. Then there’s Thimble Summer to be read somewhere in there as well.

Then There Were Five

So, with this being my book diet lately, you can imagine my delight yesterday, when the kids and I were out enjoying the sunshine down by the pond, to see three little boys half-hidden in the bracken and murk on the other side. It looked like they were building either a fort or a raft, chattering away as they did so, busy as beavers and happy as could be. I couldn’t have conjured up a scene more perfectly reminiscent of Enright’s worlds if I’d tried.

The Saturdays

I’ve read some reviews that accuse her books of being too sweet, too saccharine, too unrealistic in their portrayal of children and the world. Nonsense, I say! Simple and wholesome, yes, but not impossible. Her children aren’t “little dears” who are sugary sweet and live in a ridiculously perfect world. In fact, they remind me a lot of myself as a kid – imperfect people, living in an imperfect world, but filled with the joy of just being alive, and being a kid.

Gone-Away Lake, illustrated by Beth & Joe Krush

So I was extra glad yesterday, on a day of glorious, perfect spring, a day that made me want to sing along with all the birds and turn cartwheels if I knew how, to see that childhood, to a certain extent, remains the same throughout all generations.

Thimble Summer

Top Ten Unique Books

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1. Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers A detective story, a romance, a psychological novel, or something else entirely? I’ve never been able to make up my mind, but never have I read something so utterly unique and intriguing. I love this book.

2. Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein This one seems an obvious choice. A book one can’t even discuss without giving away crucial parts? Totally unique.

3. Jinx, Jinx’s Magic, Sage Blackwood At first glance, these seem like typical MG fantasies, with shades of Diana Wynne Jones, Lloyd Alexander, CS Lewis, (even Doctor Who!), and many others. But Jinx himself is such an unusual protagonist, a quiet, self-contained boy, enormously observant, often rude without realizing it, responsible yet frequently impulsive … I like to call these books quiet fantasy, which in no way takes away from their intensity. In fact, it might just increase it.

4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie It’s not entirely unique, because after she wrote this many others have copied the same trick – even Christie herself managed to recreate it a few times – but she was the first to attempt such blatant trickery of the reader, and to do it in a way no one could even justifiably resent afterward. Genius.

5. The Rope Trick, Lloyd Alexander All of Alexander’s books are faintly reminiscent of each other, with similar character types popping up in all. The Rope Trick stands out, though, in that Lidi, the main protag, is not like most of his heroines. And I’ve certainly never read any other fantasy of this type that ends with (Spoiler!) all of them dead.

6. Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace Oh, Emily. I’ve talked before about how much I love her. What makes this book truly unique, though, as well as contributing to its beauty and strength, are three things: (Spoilers ahead) Emily doesn’t marry her first crush; she doesn’t get to finally achieve her dream of going to college at the end; she is a quietly strong character, without a hint of feistiness. All three so very rare.

7. Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, AA Milne OK, random yes (although not if you know my household – we either listen to the audio books or have the hard copy lying around for anyone to browse through almost all the time, and Carl just finished reading them to the girls for bedtime stories AGAIN), but still. Have you ever read any other children’s book that is even remotely similar to these? That has humor for both adults and kids, that can suck you in whatever your age, that makes stuffed toys come so vividly alive? Good old Winnie-ther-Pooh.

8. Queen’s Thief series, Megan Whalen Turner Another obvious choice. I love these books, and even more do I love how MWT writes the books she wants to write, without worrying about conventions or expectations of the genre. These books are their own books, and they aren’t ashamed of that. (Because they’re AWESOME.)

9. Dark Lord of Derkholm, Diana Wynne Jones A rollicking, wickedly funny tear on traditional fantasy, this book, as with most DWJ, also manages to slide in some pretty sharp truths amidst the humor and nonsense. A book that both makes you laugh hysterically and catch your breath with its poignancy.

10. Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell I include this mainly because of my husband. He’s not a fan of most Jane Austen movies, because he can tell right off the bat what’s going to happen, who is going to end up with who and why, and he finds the progression boring. W&D, however, he started out confidently predicting how it was going to end up, and then found himself confounded at every turn, and ended up truly loving it. So I say that makes it pretty unique in its genre! It also happens to be one of the only unfinished books I love and adore and don’t even care that it’s unfinished, so there’s also that.

And there you have my top ten! I am realizing there’s a great deal of overlap between all of my top ten books. Either that means I have a very narrow selection of books to choose between (possible, since although I read a lot, most books I forget about almost as soon as I finish), or that my favorite books are my favorites for good reason: they all share a lot of great qualities.

Head over to The Broke and the Bookish for more lists!

He Stamps His Feet And Claps His Hands And Turns Around to View His Land

I am decidedly not a gardener, and yet every year right around the time winter is loosening its grip, making reluctant way for spring, I get the urge to plant and dig and tuck tiny seeds away to await them bursting into life.

Granted, most of the time those seeds don’t make it (see opening line), but that never stops me from wanting to try again.

In the past couple of years, we’ve done container gardens.

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We never got much of a harvest from them, but the bits of food that did survive always felt like such triumph. Hurrah! One pea plant! A few tiny tomatoes at the end of the year, when everyone else’s were finished! Two peppers, shrunken and shriveled! And a handful of lettuce leaves the slugs didn’t devour. We are gods!

Living here, we don’t even have that option. There are small garden plots available for each building, but nobody (including our RLCs) seems to know who is in charge of allotting them, or what you have to do to get one. We had thought about joining a CSA, but surprise! You have to do that during the winter. All the spaces are already filled. So we will have to rely on farmers markets for our produce, and I will continue to make all our acquaintances think I’m crazy by cooing at the budding flowers by our front door every time I go in or out.

Took this photo two weeks ago. They all have buds now!

Took this photo two weeks ago. They all have buds now!

Spring fever. It makes us all a little crazy, especially if we’ve no outlet.