Book Review: Great Expectations

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was my 1st book for Back to the Classics 2018 – A Classic that Scares You. Why this one? I’ve been intimidated of this read since a bad experience freshman year of high school. First, I’m not sure I actually read the book when it was assigned – that was a bad season of using Cliff Notes instead. Then we watched a terrible film adaptation. And THEN my teacher stepped out of the room during the scene where Miss Havisham catches fire. Bored teens + no supervision = watching that awful scene on repeat for several minutes until the teacher came back. Needless to say it left a horrible taste in my mouth. I’ve been saying I really should re-read it due to it’s classic value for 3 years now. I never got around to it out of fear. But I conquered my fear and I’m so glad I did!

Basic recap: Pip, an orphan living in poverty with his abusive sister and wimp brother in law, has nothing to look forward to in life. Until he enters a complicated web of wealth and crime and lies and expectations. From nothing, to everything, back to nothing, Dickens leads us on a whirlwind of emotions. Dickens does a particularly brilliant job building believable characters – even the weirdest minor ones. My favorite is Wemmick with his Walworth sentiments. I love Pip’s journey. The ending is especially powerful as he moves past his Great Expectations into a life worth living.

I’d call this a coming of age novel, but it’s the best one I’ve ever read to the point it blows every other coming of age novel out of the water. Beautifully done.


Book Review: Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

Just a brief review on my next “Back to the Classics” read:

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew was written by Margaret Sidney. It was released serially in Wide Awake children’s magazine in 1880 and as a book in 1881.

A sweet story of the Pepper family – five children and their mother who live in the Little Brown House living in cheerful poverty. Through a series of unlikely situations, assisted by their own pleasant attitudes, the charming family finds themselves in greatly improved circumstances.

It’s a little Pollyanna at times (SO upbeat!) but I feel the children are written very well. They are well rounded characters. Although the circumstances are unlikely, they aren’t SO much so as to come across inauthentic. Everything ties up a little too neatly in the end but I don’t feel that diminishes the story – it IS a children’s novel after all. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a happy ending.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series at some point, especially with my children. There are a total of 12 Pepper books; Sidney calls 6 of them the “original series” with the other 6 giving background information (according to Wikipedia).

This is my sixth B2tC read for the year – I’m halfway! This my “Classic with a Number in the Title.” I’d originally intended Dickens but life demanded a lighter read.

Book Review: The Grapes of Wrath

Book 6 for my Back to the Classics Challenge: The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. Officially the most depressing book I’ve ever read. It took me 3 months to drag my way through it because I couldn’t read more than a handful of pages at a time.

200px-johnsteinbeck_thegrapesofwrathThis book fulfills the Banned Books category. Why was it banned? From Wikipedia:

At the time of publication, Steinbeck’s novel “was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read.”[13] According to The New York Times, it was the best-selling book of 1939 and 430,000 copies had been printed by February 1940.[2] In that month it won the National Book Award, favorite fiction book of 1939, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association.[2] Soon it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[3]The book was noted for Steinbeck’s passionate depiction of the plight of the poor, and many of his contemporaries attacked his social and political views. Bryan Cordyack writes, “Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book’s depiction of California farmers’ attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a ‘pack of lies’ and labeled it ‘communist propaganda’”.[9] Some accused Steinbeck of exaggerating camp conditions to make a political point. Steinbeck had visited the camps well before publication of the novel[14] and argued their inhumane nature destroyed the settlers’ spirit.

The book begins hopeless as Tommy Joad returns home from prison to find the family home pushed off its foundation by a tractor – the family lost the farm to the bank. They’re at Uncle John’s down the road planning and packing up to head to California. They kill the last pigs and salt them down for food on the road. From this depressing beginning, they set off with varying degrees of optimism about their new life in California. The newlyweds (with baby on the way) dream of a house and a fence and a steady job; the older folks a little more subdued but still expectant.

What follows is 479 pages of misery. People die. People starve. People are treated like animals. People are cheated. More people die. Glimmers of hope come but they’re always balanced by hopelessness: at the government camp the migrant workers find humanity but no work; at the other camps there’s work but no humanity. Pick your misery.

The only redeeming part of this book is the character of Ma Joad. Although she suffers along with (and probably more than) the rest of the family, her strength is the only thing that keeps them alive and sane. It’s said beautifully early in the book (pg 81):

She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt or fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended on. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty.

This beauty carried through all the way to the last page when even in conditions far beyond what most of will ever see, much less experience, Ma continues to guide, love, care for, and provide not only for her blood relatives but for those others who have become part of the migrant family.

Maybe it’s just too fresh; even as I’m writing this I’m pondering more how Ma influences Rose of Sharon and imagining what kind of woman she may grow into, after the book closes. I wonder at what the anger that has risen within the migrant family will lead to. I wonder what influence Casey’s words will have on them as they struggle to survive the workless winter. I wonder.

This is my Banned Book for the Back to the Classics Challenge. The link up for this category can be found HERE.

Back to the Classics Challenge

I stumbled across this challenge in a homeschool forum I’m a part of and just can’t not participate! The challenge? Read 12 classic books in 12 separate categories within 2016. That’s one a month – totally doable, right? Even though we have a cross country move in process and a daily-more-mobile baby in the house? LOL. Well, it’s definitely called a challenge for a reason! Read the original post here:

I’m excited to try this! I always need a book on hand, otherwise I just end up surfing Pinterest. For this challenge, I’m limiting myself to 1) Books I own or 2) Books attainable at a reasonable library. I’m on an absolute hold on purchasing more books due to the move. I’m also giving myself freedom to swap and switch as I please and have no set reading order. Life’s too unpredictable for that!

With that in mind, here’s my current, for today, until I change it reading list:

  1.  A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899. Something Mark Twain
  2. A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1966. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later. The Wind in the Willows
  3. A classic by a woman author. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  4.  A classic in translation.Le Petit Prince, Antione de Saint-Exupery
  5. A classic by a non-white author. Can be African-American, Asian, Latino, Native American, etc. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  6. An adventure classic – can be fiction or non-fiction. Treasure Island, Robert Lewis Stevenson
  7. A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. Dystopian could include classics like Animal Farm or 1984. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
  8.  A classic detective novel. It must include a detective, amateur or professional. This list of books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction is a great starting point if you’re looking for ideas. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
  9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title.  It can be the name of a house, a town, a street, etc. Examples include Bleak House, Main Street, The Belly of Paris, or The Vicar of Wakefield. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  10. A classic which has been banned or censored. If possible, please mention why this book was banned or censored in your review. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck 
  11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college).  If it’s a book you loved, does it stand the test of time?  If it’s a book you disliked, is it any better a second time around? Great Expectations, Charles Dickens. I more skimmed than read in 9th grade English Lit and it is time to remedy that failure.
  12. A volume of classic short stories. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories. Children’s stories are acceptable in this category only. Something Edgar Allen Poe, I have a few

There are some serious books in this stack! I hope I can accomplish some of it; there are “mini goals” at 6 books and 9 books as well as all 12. I’m going to start boldly and see how far I get. I’ll be adding book reviews as I go – another part of the challenge.

Summer Capsule Wardrobe: A Necessary Dress

After a few weeks of planning, I’m starting to sew on my summer capsule wardrobe. I first busted out a couple no-alterations-necessary basics to give me something to cover myself with while I work. Now I’m buried deeply in the piles of tissue paper required for pattern alteration. Because honestly – if I’m going to pour this kind of time and money into sewing for myself, I want to be sure I like the outcome. Especially right now as I’m going through so many body transitions after pregnancy. I love the result – my sweet little Reid!- but pregnancy and nursing are definitely hard on my body. I’ve been doing lots of measuring, followed by re-measuring, sewing test garments, adjusting those test garments, more measuring…

There was a good post on Free Notion on “where do I start” to help establish priorities. For me, our family schedule dictated my top priority – a wedding, followed by the dedication of our son at church, followed by another wedding, then business travel the rest of the summer. I was desperate for a good basic dress that 1) fit and 2) is easy to work on. Goal accomplished!


This is the Jocole Crossover Dress. I made it last summer as a sort of “wearable muslin.” Based on that I made a couple minor tweaks to the pattern – I added 1/4″ to the upper bodice area and cut the armhole out a bit larger to better suit my arms. I also added 5″ to the length (just added it to the bottom) to get the length I want for a little more formal dress.


I have a last thought to share. Becca’s most recent post on the capsule wardrobe sew along is all about fitting for your own unique, extraordinary body. These little adjustments seem so small. They would be easy to skip – after all, the dress was wearable straight from the pattern. Not perfect, but wearable. And yet they made me self conscious and super aware of my clothes, not in a good way. In my mind the best outfit fits well and is well suited for the activity of the day to the point that it blends into the background. You put it on and never think about it again.

By taking the time to measure myself and carefully adjust the pattern, I achieved that on this dress. I’m so glad I did. The way I feel in this dress is the motivation to take the time on some of the other patterns I’m using this summer that require *a lot* more fitting. Pants. Woven tops. Things that won’t just stretch over my mommy tummy and look decent even if they’re perfect. This is my kick start to get sewing on everything else!


If you’re wondering, here are the main reasons for my own #extraordinarybody. These two crazy kids are the sunshine in my day! Grace Abigail, age 4 and Reid Isaiah, 6 weeks yesterday. They’re worth every bump, bulge, and stretch mark!



I’m Back!

Hey friends! I’m here!

I took a 9 month break from blogging, and honestly, from most creating. In addition to our usual busy life I ended up crafting this little dude:


This is Reid Isaiah, and I think he’s a pretty stinking cute excuse for not getting a whole lot accomplished! I did make a couple maternity tee shirts and a dress or two for Grace, but nothing particularly interesting or blog worthy. I have Reid’s quilt top made but it’ll be another year or three before it actually gets a back and quilted; I will show it once it’s actually done.


But! I’m back in the swing of things. Little Man is 3 weeks old and my creative mind is spinning again. The main focus this summer? Selfish sewing – I have almost no clothes. Everything either wore out, doesn’t fit right post-pregnancy, or got caught up in a giant clothing purge. I’ve spent the past couple months pondering the concept of a Capsule Wardrobe. Then I saw on facebook that Becca Duval of Free Notion (she’s tested basically every woman’s pdf pattern out there) is hosting a Capsule Wardrobe Sew Along. I’m IN! Check back occasionally for updates 🙂

And one more darling picture – these two are going to be best friends!


Rainbows and Unicorns Travel Quilt

It seems like ever since Gracie learned to talk, she’s been asking me for a rainbow quilt. With unicorns. That covers her toes. She’s extremely specific! Thankfully, she considers anything with stripes of various colors to be a rainbow, so choosing the pattern was easy – the Travel Quilt from Little Things to Sew.


Finding the just-right unicorns took much longer. Do you know how many ugly unicorn fabrics there are available? Lots. I finally found it though from Michael Miller – Magic Unicorns in the Sorbet color way. I pulled the colors for the front of the quilt from the novelty print. Matching colors isn’t my strongest point; I simply picked my favorite unicorns from the back and did stripes in those color pairs (with a couple exceptions to make my eyes happy).


I love piecing quilt tops. I love the puzzle of making it all fit together; starting with tiny sections and building and building all the way to a completed top. I love the math involved. Piecing quilts definitely appeals to my inner nerd.

Quilting them, however, isn’t my favorite. I guess the repetition gets to me. Plus the bulk of working a giant quilt around the bed of my regular home machine is nothing if not awkward. That’s probably why I’ve only completed 3 quilts in my life. I have a double top down in my stash with its batting and back that may wait until I’m 60 to actually get quilted… if then. [Hey Mom, if you get that long arm frame I’ll keep you busy!] So I kept the quilting pretty simple – I traced the colored bars 1/4″ inside and outside, then filled the white sections with straight lines at a 45 degree angle to the colored bars, each 4″ apart. Simple and striking – the diagonal lines really make the bars pop.


My only modification to the pattern was to skip the overlap section – instead of cutting a little piece, I simply cut the 2nd bar to match the 1st. Clear as mud? You can see it in the pictures better than I can explain it with words.


This project is part of the Little Things to Sew Cover to Cover Challenge (Flickr pool). I didn’t get as far as I would like, but this quilt was my #1 Must Do. Since it’s done, and I probably never would have completed it without the challenge, I’m counting it as a success! I’ll probably do a couple more but it may not be by the Aug 31 deadline. Want to see my completed projects? The list is here.