Sunscreen Saga

June 17, 2016 @ 6:05 pm | Filed under: Southern California, Sunscreen

Note: this is a very long post about sunscreen. YMMV.

Okay so wayyyyy back in 2007 (about a year after we moved to San Diego, which is no coincidence) I wrote a post about my quest for the perfect sunscreen. By which I meant: a tolerable sunscreen. I am no fan of that typical sunscreen smell, and I can’t tolerate it at ALL on my face. And in my distracted 30s, I mostly didn’t bother. Which: big regrets. There came a point when I realized my freckles were starting to merge into sunspots. Use sunblock, y’all. Every day, in all weathers.

That 2007 post turned up few leads. I was, at the time, feeling uncomfortable about chemical sunscreens like those with oxybenzone as the active ingredient. But mineral sunscreens (active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, about which more later) have their own down sides: mostly notably a tendency toward leaving a white cast on skin, especially darker skin tones. But to be honest, my British Isles ancestry renders it pretty hard to tell if I have a zinc oxide sheen. My skin tone has been referred to affectionately by certain friends as “fish-belly white.” A whole lot of these sunspots supersized freckles are the result of a doomed effort to achieve the merest shred of tan in my early teens. (What can I say? It was the 80s.)

Sorry, kid, that tan ain't happening

Sorry, kid, that tan ain’t happening

PSA: Don’t rely on makeup for your sun protection

The longer I lived in SoCal, the less I cared about sunscreen ingredients. That sounds crazy, but it’s just that I learned pretty quickly that in this übersunny climate, the critical thing was that I wear sunblock, no matter what’s in it. I know, I know, hats are our friends, but I have always hated wearing a hat. Just can’t do it. (To Scott’s dismay.) Which means: sun on my face, even if it’s just in the intervals between house and car, car and shop. Which means: sunblock. I tried so many brands, hoping for an odorless kind, or any-odor-but-sunscreen. So many brands. For a while I was interested in mineral foundations containing SPF, but in reading up on them I learned that: 1) they don’t offer sufficient coverage (you would need a heavier layer than anyone wears as foundation); 2) you’re inhaling those tiny particles of active sunscreen ingredients (and bismuth and whatever else is in them), which can’t be good; 3) I can’t stand wearing foundation anyway, even the mineral kind. I am not a makeup person. A swipe of mascara, maybe, if I’m feeling fancy?

My choice from 2012-2016

pc resist cellular defenseEventually I landed on an option I had considered too pricey at first: Paula’s Choice Resist Cellular Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 25. This next bit is going to sound like a commercial, but really it’s just an honest account of my experience. I’ve been using this sunscreen since 2012 (according to my order history). It’s a broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen* with active ingredient titanium dioxide (8%). *(Seriously, more on this in a minute.) Why I landed on it: NO AROMA TO SPEAK OF. Definitely no trademark sunscreen smell. And I like its creamy consistency (it has decent moisturizer ingredients but that’s not why I buy it—I use it over a regular moisturizer) and (for me at least) lack of white cast.

I did (and do) wince at the price tag, but as I mentioned, I spend next to nothing on makeup, and nearly all my clothes are purchased with rewards points off the clearance rack. I get four moderately priced haircuts a year and don’t color my hair. (Yet.) So I figured I could justify spending a little more on sunscreen. Plus Paula’s Choice offers frequent sales, free shipping over a minimum order total, and free samples. (For the record, the PC links in this post are not affiliate links, but if you are a new customer and you use my Refer-a-Friend link, we’ll each get a $10 reward code.)

For four years, I’ve been pretty content with this product. It leaves my face a little shiny after application, perhaps? If you wear makeup, that wouldn’t be a problem, but: see above. If I pat it in well and wait a few minutes, the shininess diminishes. I mostly don’t think about it. Can we just call it dewy?

But SPF 25, you’re saying. That’s not high enough. Well, the thing is, the SPF number refers to an amount of time you are protected from UVB rays—the kind of UV exposure that causes sunburn. If you would normally burn after 10 minutes (hello, fishbelly), SPF 25 means you won’t burn until after 250 minutes. So for continuous coverage, you need to reapply.

But you should be doing that anyway, every three hours or so. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens become ineffective after a while, and both chemical and physical sunscreens simply wear off our skin due to sweat and absorption. So for really thorough sun protection, you should be reapplying after two to three hours. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this until about a year ago, so I was probably a lot less protected than I thought I was.

(Also: if you’re using a chemical sunscreen, you should make sure to apply it 30 minutes before going outside. Your skin needs to absorb it before the protection really kicks in.)

UVB ain’t the half of it

UVB protection is important but it’s UVA rays we really need to watch out for. UVA exposure is what causes wrinkles and discoloration and high risk of skin cancer. And UVA rays pass through glass, so you need protection from them even if you’re in your car, or inside near a window. (As I type, rays are falling across my arms. It’s 4pm and I haven’t reapplied all day. Excuse me for a moment, will you?) (Okay, I’m back.) A sunscreen that boasts “broad spectrum” coverage is promising protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

But even there, you have to make sure those words have you covered—literally. What you really want is full spectrum coverage. Japanese sunscreens tend to be more serious about this than most Western brands. There’s a whole different rating system (PA++++ etc), and this dedication to truly full spectrum coverage is what sends a lot of people to online marketplaces in search of proven brands like Biore.

My unsettling discovery

skin recovery daily moisturizing lotionA few months ago, I ran out of my Cellular Defense, and Paula’s Choice was out of stock. I tried one of her other mineral SPF moisturizers instead—Skin Recovery Daily Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30. It wasn’t love at first smear, but I found it to be an acceptable substitute. Texture: great. Shine factor: possibly a bit better? Aroma: well, you can’t have everything. No sunscreen smell (which I think is probably because it, too, is a mineral sunscreen; I think the scent I so dislike, that strong, sharp fragrance that so immediately evokes the beach and the swimming pool, only not in a good way, is caused by ingredients in chemical sunscreens). Skin Recovery SPF 30 is almost fragrance-less, but when it first goes on there’s a faintly unpleasant scent that fades quickly. Maybe it’s just me.

Since I wasn’t in love with this product, I decided to try something new. A friend of mine had high praise for a particular sunscreen that she absolutely loves, including its light, citrusy scent. It contains oxybenzone but I decided to give it a try nonetheless. Well, it wasn’t for me. The citrus scent was actually pretty nice, but it had a hint of That Sunscreen Smell underneath. Also, I broke out in a pretty intense rash (first time ever!) later that day—but I can’t pinpoint that to the sunscreen because I stupidly tried a new cleanser and skin cream the same day, breaking a cardinal rule of skin care. Don’t try more than one new product at a time, and give it a couple of weeks—better yet, a month—before you add something new.

Okay, so my trial was a bust. I returned to the mineral-sunscreens-only camp and was pleased to see my old Cellular Defense was back in stock. On a BOGO (half off the 2nd), no less. I stocked up.

Finally I’m getting to the thing I said I’d get to in a minute

But my allergic reaction from those other products (we’re talking red, itchy bumps on my entire face and neck) sent me on a quest to identify the particular ingredient I’m sensitive to. I’d like to avoid it in the future. (Understatement.) This quest became a rabbit trail into the fascinating world of skin care ingredients. And one of the things I happened upon was information that suggested titanium dioxide—the active ingredient of my beloved Cellular Defense—offers only partial UVA protection. Here’s one chart showing it covering UVB and UVA2 rays, but not far into the UVA1 range. Gulp.

Zinc oxide appears to cover the whole UVB and UVA spectrum (both UVA1 and 2). I felt stupid: why had I been blindly, blithely skating by with only partial UVA coverage for so many years? After I checked the active ingredients of my backup—the Skin Recovery SPF 30—I felt stupider. Its actives are 3.85% titanium dioxide and 3.12% zinc oxide. I have more reading to do to nail down optimal percentages, but the zinc/titanium combo makes me feel more at ease.

But I know Paula’s Choice is a company with integrity, so I reached out to customer service to express my concerns about the lack of UVA1 coverage in the Cellular Defense. After all, I’ve trusted my face to this product for over four years.

In the interests of information-sharing, here’s the response I received from Paula’s Choice:

Dear Melissa,

Thank you for your email.  We appreciate this opportunity to address what you have read about titanium dioxide as a sunscreen ingredient, and to reassure you that our RESIST Cellular Defense SPF 25 definitely provides sufficient UVA/UVB protection.  The amount of titanium dioxide in this product is 8, a concentration that provides reliable broad-spectrum protection and we have substantiated this with extensive testing from independent labs.

We’re not sure where the information about titanium dioxide not being a great active sunscreen ingredient came from but the reality is titanium dioxide is a very effective broad-spectrum SPF ingredient and is widely used in all manner of sun protection products worldwide.

What gets confusing for some consumers is trying to decipher research that ranks sunscreen ingredients by a UV spectrum graph or other general references. By most standards, broad-spectrum coverage for any sunscreen ingredient is defined as one that surpasses 350 nanometers (abbreviated as “nm”, this is how the sun’s energy is measured).  Titanium dioxide surpasses this measurement, but, like many sunscreen actives, the critical factor is how the ingredient is formulated into a sunscreen product.

Titanium dioxide, when properly formulated, can achieve a wavelength of 380 or higher, which is well within UVA II and UVA I (as well as, of course, UVB) levels and certainly qualifies for broad-spectrum protection. This is not easily understood in terms of other factors affecting how sunscreen actives performs (such as the base formula) so the issue of broad-spectrum protection can get confusing for some. While it is true that some sunscreen ingredients have varying levels of UVA protection, titanium dioxide’s abilities are strongly influenced by the particle size of the raw material—too small or too large and you won’t achieve that critical UVA/UVB level of protection.  The right size results in a powerful and reliable sunscreen formula.

You may have heard of the FDA’s revisions and improvements to SPF formula rating standards—all sunscreen products must pass new testing requirements that ensure broad-spectrum UV protection.  Our RESIST Cellular Defense SPF 25 far surpassed the new rigorous standards established by the FDA for UVB and UVA protection, and it otherwise would not have been approved for this claim on its packaging.

It is important to note that sunscreen is critical to Paula’s ChoicePaula and her Product Development team would never produce an SPF-rated product that did not provide reliable broad-spectrum protection.  Please let us know if you have any additional questions.

Best regards,

I replied:

Thank you for this thorough response. The information you have provided is encouraging. Thank you for clarifying the definition of “broad spectrum coverage.” For reference, here is the article I read which alarmed me:

It states, “Titanium dioxide protects against UVB rays, but not the full spectrum of UVA rays. Zinc oxide protects against the entire spectrum of UVB and UVA rays. “This chart ( indicates that Titanium dioxide protects against UVB and UVA II rays, but only partial protection against UVA I. On that chart, it looks like the cutoff appears around 345 nanometers. In your response you say, “Titanium dioxide, when properly formulated, can achieve a wavelength of 380 or higher.”Just to clarify, does that mean this particular product (Resist Cellular Defense) achieves 380 nm?  

Thank you for your time!

The Paula’s Choice representative responded that she was “reaching out to a member of our team to confirm this information, and will have a response after I receive details from them. Thanks for your patience.”

I really appreciated the effort she made to research the issue rather than give me a pat reply. A few days later, she replied with the following:

Hi Melissa,

Thank you for your patience regarding our reply. I reached out to our Director of Education who also reached out to a member of our Product Development Team to confirm some information. Interestingly enough, it appears that we need to update specific information regarding the previous reply I provided. Here is the current FDA regulated information at this time:

“Broad-spectrum coverage for any sunscreen ingredient is defined as one that surpasses 370 nanometers (according to FDA regulation)

Titanium Dioxide can reach 370 nanometers so it satisfies the Broad Spectrum Coverage requirement however, we are unable to confirm beyond 370 what the specific measure is. So, I cannot confirm completely if it does reach 380 nanometers.

I hope this information is helpful, and let us know if we can assist further.

Once again I appreciated the effort behind this reply—clearly there was some in-house conversation taking place—but I confess I feel like a crucial bit of info is missing from this answer, which is: “Titanium Dioxide can reach 370 nanometers” (quoting the above) but does the percentage of titanium dioxide in this particular product protect up to 370 nm? I love this product and would be happy to go on slathering it on my face for the rest of my life if I can be assured it offers sufficient UVA protection.

So as I said: research still in progress. In the meantime, I have a small stockpile of Cellular Defense to use up. I could send it back—PC is good about returns, although you have to pay your own shipping—but I think I’ll keep it to use for mostly-indoor and errand-running days. For now, I’m using the Skin Recovery tube for longer outdoor excursions, and I’m once again researching other brands. I ordered samples of the much-beloved-on-serious-skincare-and-k-beauty-forums Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50+ PA++++ and Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Gel SPF 50+ PA++++ (affiliate links but obviously I have no real experience yet with the product)**, and I am astonished to discover that they DO NOT have That Sunscreen Smell, even though they are chemical sunscreens. Whether my face will like them is another question, and since I’m currently testing a new serum, I can’t embark on a sunscreen test for several weeks. (File under: Lessons Learned.)

(You guys, I keep sitting here sniffing the backs of my hands. I’ve got the Biore Watery Gel on one hand and Watery Essence on the left. It’s kind of…yummy? Like lemon candy? And it seems to have dried pretty matte, as far as I can tell. Hmm. Here’s the ingredients list at CosDNA, if you’re interested. No idea how my skin feels about these particular chemical sunscreen actives, or the products in general. I’ll report back later.)

**Here’s a substantive review of the Biore Watery Essence at Fifty Shades of Snail borne of real experience with the product. Fiddy is an excellent skin care and k-beauty blogger, and if you decide to order this product ($8 on Amazon Prime, which is a heck of a lot more attractive a price point than my Paula’s Choice stuff), you should use her affiliate link instead. 🙂  Use me for books. 😉

As for Paula’s Choice

I’m still a fan. I love and highly recommend several PC products, including (especially) her Moisture Boost Hydrating Toner, her Resist Daily Smoothing Treatment 5% AHA, and (swoon) her deliciously rich Skin Recovery Replenishing Moisturizer. My recent studies have taken me into the highly absorbing world of Korean skincare products (the k-beauty scene) and there are a number of enticing creams and serums I’d like to try, but I imagine there will always be a lot of Paula stuff in my cabinet. And on my face.


1. Know what’s in your sunscreen

2. Reapply it every three hours at least

3. I hate wearing hats

4. I was in a serious relationship with Paula’s Choice Resist Cellular Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 25 for four years, but we might be breaking up

5. But I still love and highly recommend several PC products, especially that moisturizer I mentioned

6. My skin is on the dry side, if you can’t tell from the above

7. I’m pursuing other sunscreen options


9. If you think I’m longwinded about sunscreen, you don’t want to get me started on skin care in general

10. This Biore stuff smells pretty great

assorted mid-June things

June 15, 2016 @ 7:48 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Books


Mid-June. I can’t quite wrap my mind around that, even though the specter of MID-JUNE has dominated my life for the past six weeks. Big scary deadline for the grantwriting work I do on the side. Happy to say I shipped off this monster application (final page count: 153—which, yes, is as long as some novels I’ve written) a few days ago and ahhhhh, I can go back to being “just” a fiction writer for a while. (My agent and my very patient Knopf editor are happy to hear this.)

Mid-June also means: I get my girl back. We fetched Jane home from college over the weekend and all is right with the world. Of course, she’ll be winging off on another adventure in a few days, but only for a week this time.

Mid-June means less than a month until the Brave Writer Retreat, at which I’ll be speaking. And a week after that, it’s Comic-Con. But no need to jump ahead of myself. After a burst of busy, our week is slowing down and we’ll soon be ebbing into low tide. Huck and Rilla are enjoying Harriet the Spy so far. We’re three chapters in. Yesterday, Huck interrupted me to ask, “Was Mixed-Up Files fiction or nonfiction?”


Heavy sigh. “I was afraid you’d say that. I wanted it to be real.”



I’m embarrassingly far behind on email. Hoping to catch up this week. I had also been neglecting my booklist in the sidebar, but I cleaned that up today. I’ve read shockingly little this year, compared to my usual book gluttony. The grantwriting work is to blame for that, too. That, and some highly absorbing internet rabbit trails. I’ve read zillions of articles but I don’t keep a list of those, and then when I’m tallying up, it looks like I’ve barely read a thing. It’s funny what we count and what we don’t.


Speaking of funny, this conversation with Scott:

He was talking about George Washington and he said, “I guess I think of him as sort of…Stalin.”

And I gave him this look like what on earth are you talking about????

And he looked at me like why are you looking at me like that?

Me: Are you being serious?

Scott: Yes, why? What’s wrong? 

Me: Seriously? STALIN????

(wait for it)

Scott: What? No! I said STOLID.

The hardest thing I do

June 7, 2016 @ 8:49 pm | Filed under: Books

Read-aloud possibility pile

…is pick the next read-aloud. We finished From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler—they loved it; more about that later—and today I had to choose a new book. You’ve seen many of these choices in the pile already this year. Sooner or later, everyone’s turn will come around. Either for read-aloud or read-alone, I mean. Mysterious Benedict Society is a delight but it’s a bit longer than I like for a read-aloud. I get antsy and like things we can finish in a month or so. Mixed-Up Files was exactly in my sweet spot.

Anyway, long story short, this time around we landed on Harriet the Spy. Good old Harriet. A key influence on me since, oh, age ten or so. Rilla’s age. Chapter one roped them in immediately. I wasn’t sure if Huck would be captured, but he was transfixed by Mixed-Up Files, and the Harriet-Sport dynamic seemed to engage him as much as the Claudia-Jamie relationship. Bossy girl, questioning boy. Hmm, I wonder what the appeal is? 😉

Would you believe I’ve never actually read Harriet out loud before? Am enjoying a chance to dust off my New York accent.

By the way, Dogsbody was a contender in this group but the consensus was that Daddy should read that one. There are protocols for this sort of thing. Scott reads My Father’s Dragon, Watership Down, Lord of the Rings, By the Great Horn Spoon, Cheaper By the Dozen, and all of my books. I get Understood Betsy, Betsy-Tacy, Charlotte’s Web, The Penderwicks, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (oh whoops! I just remembered THAT was supposed to be our next read-aloud), and The Secret Garden. HANDS OFF MY SECRET GARDEN.

Merriam-Webster, take note

June 5, 2016 @ 10:35 am | Filed under: These People Crack Me Up

Huck, who is in the room for a lot of grammar discussions between the older kids and me: “That dog is jamping all over the place!”

Me: “What’s jamping?”

Huck: “The plural of jumping.”

tuesday muffin

May 24, 2016 @ 2:23 pm | Filed under: Books, Early Childhood Education, Fun Learning Stuff, Homeschooling

Rilla and Huck and a bug book

A lot of the replies to my blog-topics post asked for more glimpses of our tidal homeschooling days, especially how I work with my teens and my elementary-aged kids at the same time. So here’s a peek at a fairly typical Tuesday morning. The broad strokes—the basic rhythms—of our days stay consistent, four days a week (with one morning given to group piano and [for Beanie] literature classes). The details (what exactly we read, do, discuss, sing) vary, but the shape is the same—sort of like a muffin pan. Yeah, that’s it. Our days are like muffins, alike in shape, but we vary the recipe quite a bit. Make sense?

So—during high tide, we do lessons from 9 to noon, more or less. Noon to 1 is lunch and (often) a read-aloud. From 1-3 the younger kids get gaming time (iPad, Wii) and then they play outside most of the rest of the day. The older girls spend their afternoons reading, writing, gaming, walking, and whatever else they have on tap. I work (write) in the afternoons, and sometimes pop out to teach weekly classes to other homeschoolers. For example, I wrapped up a six-week poetry workshop yesterday with a lively group of boys who always keep me laughing. Love those kids.

Anyway, here’s our Tuesday morning.

9 a.m.
Beanie is outlining her Tempest paper for the weekly literature class I teach to her and a few friends.
Huck is playing with refrigerator magnets.
Rilla has drawn a scene from the story of Elissa of Carthage, and is now writing a description under the drawing, complete with Phoenician letters for the names.
Now Huck is noodling around on the piano.

Read Stone Soup to Huck. Rose stopped unloading the dishwasher to come listen—she says it’s one of her favorite stories from childhood.
While I read, Rilla finished her Elissa of Carthage passage. Beanie moved to another room for better concentration.

Rose finished the dishes and began making pretzel rolls for our teatime. Huck, Rilla, and I did our morning stretches and recitations. That word sounds so formal! What we do is quite casual. About four mornings a week, we gather in the living room for some singing, memory work, and movement games. It goes something like this:

—We move through a series of stretches (this is mostly for me) which include two planks. During the first plank, we skip-count by sixes; during the second, by sevens.

—Practice the Shakespeare speech or poem we are currently memorizing. Huck, Rilla, and I learn these all together, and usually the older girls wind up knowing them too, because they’re hearing us recite them all the time. This year, I’ve been using Ken Ludwig’s Midsummer Night’s Dream passages from How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. I had already had Pucks “merry wanderer” speech in mind for Huck and Rilla to learn this year—I earned a small scholarship for performing that one during college, so I’m extra fond of it—when I read the Ludwig book (last summer) and decided his approach meshes perfectly with mine. So: this year they’ve learned “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows,” the merry wanderer monologue, the “Lord what fools these mortals be” speech, and now we’re working on Puck’s final speech (“If we shadows have offended”).

—Then we sing an assortment of memory songs and folk songs. Today it was: U.S. Presidents song; United States song; Horrible Histories English Monarchs song. Yesterday was the same lineup plus Skye Boat Song—a family favorite. This is an informal (meaning not planned-in-advance) part of our day, and basically I just starting singing things and the kids join in. Our Presidents and States songs come from an old Singin’ Smart cassette (cassette!!) I bought back when Jane was little, circa 1999. I wish I could find the booklet—there were some other useful tunes in there. I remember the melody for the U.S. Capitals song and have been meaning to print up a list so my littles can learn to sing along. I’m a big fan of music for anything requiring rote memory. We lean heavily on Schoolhouse Rock around here. Last year our mornings were dominated by French songs, as you may recall.

—This week I started Huck and Rilla on the Latin vocabulary chants from Latin for Children Primer A. We are not doing the workbook—just the rhythmic vocab chants: amo, amare, amavi, amatum and so on. Again, this was something that worked really well with my older set and is a solid, painless way to implant a bunch of Latin roots. We also enjoy my friend Edith Hope Fine’s Cryptomaniacs workbook (Greek and Latin roots)—Rilla will be using that steadily next year.

10 a.m.
Rose’s rolls are in the oven. She’s playing piano. Beanie is doing German on Duolingo. I send the littles outside with a snack.

Rose heads to her room to maybe do some math? She’s taking business math this year. Yesterday we slogged through the compound interest chapter together. I know you’re jealous. Beanie’s studying geometry, which I find much more entertaining.

I call Huck and Rilla back inside for some history. I read them the Elizabethan Era chapter from A Child’s History of the World—Walter Raleigh, Roanoke, Shakespeare. Long side-discussion of tobacco was sparked by a mention in the chapter. Also a lot of discussion about Roanoke because who isn’t fascinated by that story? I mention to Rose (who is back, checking on her rolls) that Gwenda Bond has a YA novel about Roanoke she might enjoy. This reminds us we need to return some books to the library.

Rilla has done a little Math-U-See, and Huck and I had an impromptu chat about the short E sound. He is reading incredibly well these days, devouring Boxcar Children books with ease. I picked up an easy spelling workbook a couple of weeks ago and pull it out occasionally to talk about sounds with him. Rilla is the first of my kids to need some deliberate, steady spelling instruction (she’s using a Spelling You See book this year and really enjoying it because it came with a set of erasable colored pencils, which (art supply) is the key to her heart. With Huck, age 7, I’m now casually pulling out some light spelling games to help him start making those phonics-y connections.

Okay, so that was going on but only for a few minutes, and now Rose’s pretzel rolls are ready. We hurry to the table to enjoy them while they’re warm. Tuesday mornings are our Poetry Teatime—which for us generally means Something Rose Baked and a glass of milk. I usually grab our battered Favorite Poems Old and New and read six or seven poems. Not a week goes by that they don’t beg for their favorite, “My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months”…some days I have it in me, and other weeks I’m not up to the performance. When you do that poem, you gotta DO that poem. 🙂

Huck and Rilla have gone off to play together. This usually means I will find my bed turned into a fort later. Last week, it became some kind of Monkey Kingdom and I had stuffed primates hanging from the miniblind cords all week.

Time for some history with Rose and Beanie. Today was a selection from Don’t Know Much About American History, one of several books we rotate through. Charles Lindbergh, mostly.

I go grab a sweater from my room. Sure enough, every pillow in the house is piled high. I send Huck and Rilla to get their shoes on. Rose and Beanie are at the piano again, working out a duet—Beanie began taking violin lessons a few months ago and likes to try to work out simple accompaniment to the pieces Rose is working on for piano class.

Everyone piles into the minivan for a quick library run. We have a million things to return. Rilla found a new graphic novel, Jellaby: The Lost Monster, that looks fun. Rose recommended Sarah Zettel’s Palace of Spies for Beanie—a YA historical novel I read for the 2014 CYBILs and passed along to Rose when I finished.

Home for a late lunch. I forgot to read our chapter of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler! I’ll have to try to squeeze it in after dinner. This is because—in an unprecedented development—I went into Scott’s office (aka our boys’ bedroom) to give him a package that had arrived, and I stretched out on the bed just for a second and fell asleep. I never nap.

I guess I napped. Scott is amused. I’m totally discombobulated. Wonderboy is just arriving home from school and the littles are already deep into Terraria. Jane is pinging me from college. My afternoon has begun.

Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel Jellaby The Lost Monster by Kean Soo Greek and Latin for Cryptomaniacs by Edith Hope Fine How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig Blackwood by Gwenda Bond Stone Soup by Marcia Brown Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Favorite Poems Old and New

make that Puck

May 16, 2016 @ 9:39 am | Filed under: These People Crack Me Up

Me, happening upon a small boy industriously wielding a feather duster on the bookcases: “Wow! Thank you!”

Huck, a certain gleam in his eye: “I need lots of dust so I can shake it in Rilla’s face.”

monday booknotes

May 9, 2016 @ 5:16 pm | Filed under: Books, Read-Alouds

Ingredients of a typical day in my house

Ingredients of a typical day in my house

Thanks to everyone for the comments on last week’s post. It was fun to see what you’d like to hear more about. I think I take some of those topics for granted and assume people are tired of hearing me chatter about tidal homeschooling and whatnot. 🙂 I really appreciate your feedback and look forward to diving into the topics you raised.

I’m coming up bust on the most pressing question, though—details on the washi tape in that photo. I can’t remember where it came from! I’ll see if I can track it down. 🙂

Ace the Very Important Pig by Dick King-Smith The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall  The Whisper of Glocken by Carol Kendall

I finished reading Ace, the Very Important Pig to Huck and Rilla last week. They really enjoyed it, although they didn’t find it quite as engrossing as our last pig book, Charlotte’s Web. I mean, it’s kind of hard to compete with Charlotte. But Ace is fun and funny and was a lighthearted, enjoyable read. It works really well as a readaloud, too, which can’t be said about every good book. It’s a funny thing that some truly wonderful books just don’t take off when I try to read them aloud. That happened with The Gammage Cup, which is a huge favorite with my older kids—all of Carol Kendall’s books are winners. For sheer enjoyability, her writing style ranks up there with L. M. Montgomery and Elizabeth Goudge, as far as I’m concerned. Delicious prose and endearing, quirky characters. But…I think the very thing that makes her prose so magical—long, complicated sentences with rich description, and a lot of interior life for the characters—renders it difficult to the listening ear.

My older girls tore through Gammage and its sequel, The Whisper of Glocken, on their own. (The Firelings is my personal favorite of Kendall’s books, but I think my girls would vote for The Gammage Cup.) But as excited as I was to begin reading it to Huck and Rilla, and as excited as Rose and Beanie were for them to experience it, we bogged down after a couple of chapters. Then came a busy week and we didn’t make time for it at all, which is generally a good indicator that I haven’t picked the right book. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and I never have qualms about abandoning a book that isn’t making them beg for more. I’d rather they read it alone, later, and really enjoy it. I’m sure that’s what will happen with Gammage, because it’s so darn good.

Anyway, long story short (ha!), we had fun with Ace—lots of great voice fodder among the animals. Yesterday I again faced the exhilarating, momentous decision of The Next Book. I mean, this is just a huge event in my life, over and over. 🙂 My next read, our next read—oh the agony of decision!

I didn’t dither overlong this time around…a particular favorite had been on my mind, and it’s one I’m not sure I ever read aloud to the other kids. I think most of them beat me to it.

Actually, I’ve always thought of this as sort of a private book, one meant for solo immersion. But…it felt right. Huck may be a little young to care much about the quest Claudia is going to undertake. But he’s into it so far—the big sister/little brother dynamic, the exciting running-away plan, Jamie chewing up Claudia’s instruction note and having his teeth turn blue. Rilla, of course, is enchanted. Running away to an art museum (as Jamie ungrammatically puts it, to Claudia’s disgust)—well, if Rilla could live anywhere but home, an art museum would likely be her pick. She’s impressed with Claudia’s good sense.

I had to decide whether to let Rilla meet the Met as I did, through this book, or to show it to her on YouTube. Would a glimpse of the vastness of the building and the extent of the collection enhance her mental picture of Claudia and Jamie’s adventure, or  is it better to create that picture completely in your own imagination? If you’ve not been to Manhattan yourself, I mean. In the end, conversation made the choice for me. We finished our chapter today and Rilla had questions, and next thing you know we were all watching Sister Wendy tour the museum.

I haven’t been to the Met since the 90s. I’m a bit NYC homesick now.


May 5, 2016 @ 2:44 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Comics

Me:  Check out paragraph 2 of this press release I just got—

May 5, 2016, Mount Laurel, NJ: Four of the leading independent comic book publishers have come together with Groupees to offer fans a low cost entry into the world of original storytelling from some of the leading names in graphic fiction!

This cross-publisher pay what you want “Bundle of Independents” features approximately $300 worth of books by some of the industry’s greatest creators from Garth Ennis, Greg Rucka, Duane Swierczynski, Andy Diggle, Howard Chaykin, Peter Milligan, Andy Diggle, Jim Starlin, Jae Lee, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Tim Seeley, Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, Brian Wood, Rick Remender, Joe Hill, Sam Keith, Charles Soule, Cullen Bunn, and more!

brilliant editing, guys

Scott: that’s so embarrassing


The all-men lineup. Lower in the press release you learn that one of the items in the bundle is Saga. 

Why on earth wouldn’t you mention Fiona (and BKV for that matter) in your summary???

Scott: that’s insane.

But you know what? They didn’t mention Darwyn Cooke, either. Or Bryan Lee O’Malley, Walter Simonson.

Poorly done


badly done emma

Scott: what a perfect expression

Me: He’s the Mr. Knightley to the Emma actress you looked up the other day, the one I knew SO WELL

from, you know, Emma

Scott: yes

He’s Sherlock

Me: Also Edmund from Mansfield Park

Scott: yes

Me: You realize this is why nothing gets done in modern civilization

random blog topics

May 4, 2016 @ 9:03 am | Filed under: Bloggity

sketching washi

Guys, I need you to help me get back in the groove. 🙂 Where did my daily blogging mojo go? How about you hit me with some topic suggestions in the comments. Doesn’t have to be kidlit or homeschooling related. Any old thing you’d like to hear me yap about. Sort of like one of those Instagram daily drawing challenges. What’ll it be?

(As I write this, I’m reminded of five or six advice-seeking emails that have been awaiting replies from me for way too long. Embarrassingly long. A lot of the questions in those emails would make good post topics, but a thoughtful response takes time, and time is what I’m short on. But some quick off-the-cuff remarks on subjects you suggest here—surely I can swing that.)