The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

I have mixed feelings about The Wilder Life, a book-geek memoir written by Wendy McClure about her adult obsession to return to “Laura World” and recapture that elusive feeling she felt as a child reading the Little House on the Prairie books for the first time.  Mostly this involves visiting the Laura sites and experiencing what she could of Laura’s world (i.e. churning butter, making hay twists, etc.).  I’m a fairly devoted Little House fan, and I’ve happily passed my love for the series down to my girls.  In fact, I have had my own instances of Laura-adoration, including dressing up as her for an author fair in fifth grade, detouring off our  pre-planned route west on a trip to Yellowstone back in 2003 just so I could visit De Smet, S.D., and lots and lots of blog posts detailing the books’ influence on my girls’ young lives.    A couple of things about The Wilder Life, as much as I could relate to it at times, drove me a bit nuts.  The biggest issue I took with it is its meandering style.  McClure doesn’t start at point A and arrive at point B in any clearly logical fashion; in fact, it’s not unusual to start at A and end, somehow, back at Q, by going in reverse.  Although I didn’t expect this book to be a research article, she does include quite a bit of expert opinion and literary analysis (which I mostly enjoyed, an unfortunate sexualized analysis of a scene in one of the books notwithstanding).  It’s just that I often couldn’t really get a firm grasp in my mind on which book she was discussing or which site she was visiting.  I ended up seeing her experiences as one big, jumbled mush, especially the ones on the prairie.  The other thing is, and this one probably goes without saying (especially if the profanity-related statistics in this post on McClure’s blog are any indication), I just didn’t like her tone and voice all that much.  (The fact that she includes the statistics on her blog post is probably as indicative of her attitude as anything I can explain here.)  The word I’ve seen used most to describe the book is “irreverent,” and though I’d never doubt McClure’s affinity for all thing Laura Ingalls Wilder, I just don’t care for her attitude toward it all. 

What kept me reading a book that I had such a major gripe with?  I don’t really know.  Maybe it’s because I dearly love visiting museums and historical sites, so McClure’s trek across the upper midwest was like a long roadtrip I got to vicariously experience.  I also learned things I didn’t know or had forgotten.  The biggest one of these is that another Little House on the Prairie movie, produced by Disney, was released in 2005.  How did I miss this?  (Oh, I remember.  I had a newborn and a toddler at the end of 2005, and I hadn’t discovered the world of blogs!)  Of course, I’m (almost) always a fan of the book over the movie, but the LHotP  television series played a part in my childhood, and yes, I still like it.  🙂  I’d like to track down the 2005 movie some day.  The other thing that reading The Wilder Life helped me remember is just how complicated Rose Wilder Lane’s relationship with her parents was.  I didn’t remember all that when I read and reviewed Let the Hurricane Roar, and while I really like to let works stand on their own merits, I can’t help but wonder if I would’ve felt the same way about it had I read The Wilder Life first.

The bottom line?  This book seemed a little over-the-top for even me, a person who, for the love of Anne Shirley, traveled to Prince Edward Island (and on her honeymoon, no less).  It felt to me like McClure was on some existential quest for the Ingalls family to answer all the big questions in her life, but she was still a bit snarky about it.  If you like that kind of humor, you might like this book.  Just don’t expect it to really give any definitive answers about, well, anything.  (Riverhead Books, 2011)

Reviews elsewhere:

Across the Page

Stray Thoughts

5 Minutes for Books

**Special thanks to Janet who passed her copy of the book along to me.  Although my review of it is mixed, my esteem for Janet is not.  🙂

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading ChallengeI read this book for Barbara’s LIW Challenge which ends today.  Click over to read more reviews and thoughts on all things LIW. 
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February 2012 Nightstand

Since last month’s Nightstand post, here’s what I’ve read:

I didn’t actually read every word of Organized Simplicity because when I got to the bit about actually putting the philosophy into practice through cleaning and decluttering, I realized that I didn’t have time to do it then.  🙁 However, I wanted to note it here because it’s a great, simple (of course!), motivational book that I hope to come back to soon.  I read Mindset for Moms quickly, but I’ve started back over, meditating on the points and trying to put some of them into practice.  I highly recommend both of these books, as well as the blogs Simple Mom, Steady Mom, and Simple Homeschool (well, all the Simple blogs, really), which are the authors’ online homes.  {And that’s possibly all the review of those two books I’ll do here!  :-)}

My girls and I (and we usually include the DLM, too, but I’m not sure he appreciates it 😉 ) finished up a couple of chapter books in the past month, too:

I started a new little bloggy thing here at the beginning of the year, and I thought it would be fun to include it in my Nightstand posts.  I started taking a picture of (most of) the books the girls and I read each week and blogging the picture in a This Week in Books post.  This is a collage of this month’s pictures:


Pretty neat, huh?

This month we also finished up the Armchair Cybils challenge and I started a new bloggy project in honor of my birthday. It has been a bookish month!

I have a few books I hope to get to next month.  I’m currently reading Enemies of the Heart by Andy Stanley, a birthday gift from my dear mother-in-law that she says is a must-read.  I hope I can finally get to Lit!:  A Christian’s Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke.  Reading to Know - Book ClubI also hope to muster up enough brain cells, attention, and time to read The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan for the Reading to Know Bookclub.  I’m also intrigued by this read-aloud at Book Club Girl.  Although I’m unfamiliar with the Bess Crawford mysteries, Elizabeth got my attention with her post at 5 Minutes for Books about the series by mentioning Downton Abbey, which is the first television show I’ve watched in a long, long, long time.  I’m hooked.  🙂

What a blessing to is to have so many excellent books available to me and the time and interest to pursue them!  🙂

What’s on your nightstand this month?

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February birdwatching

One of my great disappointments of last week is that we didn’t participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count.  Steady Eddie and I went out of town overnight the weekend before, and coming off a busy weekend I just didn’t have my ducks in a row (ha!) enough to do it with the girls.  Plus, every time we looked out at our birdfeeders, we never saw a single bird, which is unusual.  It’s almost like they knew we wanted to count them.  😉  However, we are growing more and more aware of our feathered friends, and I love it.  Steady Eddie even bought me a little pair of binoculars for Valentine’s Day.  (Yes, he is the greatest husband ever!) 

These are some of our frequent feeder visitors:


When we got home from a picnic at the park this afternoon, a little fellow serenaded us from high up in a neighbor’s budding tree:

I’m slowly learning the identities of our friends.  I’d like to purchase a poster of common feeder birds to hang somewhere by one of our windows.  Any suggestions?

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Back in the saddle again + a fabulous field trip

It has been a whirlwind week of returning to routine, only to throw routine to the wind once again and take a two-day road trip that culminated in a fantastic field trip.  All this after a week off the week of Valentine’s Day and a weekend getaway sans children for Steady Eddie and me.  The week off didn’t go as I expected (do they ever?), and my feelings about it have run the gamut from why bother with a scheduled week off every six weeks when they are so unproductive (for me)? to maybe I need to rethink how I approach these weeks off and go in with lower expectations and more of a plan for the children.  The jury’s still out on how this will affect the future.  Our plan going into this school year was to work for six weeks and take the seventh week off.  Our first off week took us to Disney World (which actually ended up being two off weeks) and the second off week was around Christmas (two weeks again), so this was the first off week in which we had nothing planned.  Part of me thinks with my over-achieving personality I’d be better off just taking off unplanned days as we need them; the other part thinks it’s good to plan in some down-time, if I can truly look at it that way.  Do you take week-long breaks during the school year?  What do those weeks look like?

All things considered, our back-in-the-saddle week was a good one.  Here’s a little peek into it:

1.  On Monday Steady Eddie was off work, and it was nice to have him hang out with us, observe our school day, and help corral the DLM.  The local public schools were out for President’s Day, so my sister called and invited us to eat lunch with her and my nephew at our favorite Chinese restaurant.  We couldn’t turn her down.  🙂  That’s the DLM and Louise, gazing longingly into the goldfish pond at the restaurant.  I love that homeschooling gives us the freedom to have a more seamless life!

2.  Steady Eddie was once again my Science Hero this week as he led the girls in an interesting investigation of solutions.  They love that it ended up with a drinkable product, something they never have at home:  Kool-Aid!  I love that they now know the meanings of the words solvent and solute and have the minibooks to prove it.  🙂  (Of course, their lesson was a little more in-depth than that, but those are the high points.)

3.  Lulu pulled out the dictionary this week to look up how to divide words at the ends of lines for one of her narration lessons.  I love fitting in skills like this in real-life situations. (WWE week 21 days 1-3)

4.  The DLM made lots and lots of messes this week.  Number four is just one of them.  He also discovered the word No this week as a preferred response to almost any question, and he perfected the shoulder shrug.  If you’ve never seen a twenty month old shrug his shoulders when you ask him a question, (etiquette aside) it’s just about the cutest thing ever.

5.  We broke out level two of All About Spelling this week and Lulu reviewed open and closed syllables and added some new spelling rules to her repertoire.  I really, really like this curriculum. (AAS level two steps 1 and 2)

6.  I took a bit of time this week to just do something with my girls.  When they asked if we could put together a puzzle together, I said yes.  I said yes!  We didn’t finish the puzzle, but I am so glad I ignored the to-dos and simply said yes.

7.  RightStart level C (lessons 83-84) took us back into the world of arithmetic this week and away from geometry for a while.  I can’t help but say that I’m glad!  Lulu caught on quickly to adding multi-digit numbers in a column and even enjoyed it.  We had a rough few math days, though, over a lesson that involved figuring out the number of dimes and pennies in a monetary amount (and vice-versa).  It’s all about place value, of course.  I think a more hands-on approach and possibly some living math books would be helpful. Any suggestions?

8.  We left our well-traveled path of Medieval history this week for a simple, straightforward biographical study of George Washington Carver in preparation for the week’s field trip.  I’m particularly proud of that notebooking page up there because Lulu did it all by herself.  Well, I read aloud from the biography (and she had already read a {fictionalized?} children’s biography herself as her required reading for the week) and asked her questions to draw out the salient points in the information a lá Writing with Ease.  I didn’t correct it much; I just pointed out some punctuation problems in the last bit to her and worked with her to fix it.  I didn’t correct her spelling at all.  It is amazing to me that she has gone from a child who never wanted to write anything to one who actually prefers to write her own narrations.  I’ve been encouraged to re-start my pursuit of formal notebooking after reading this spotlight post at the Notebooking Fairy.  I’ve long been a reader of Daisy’s blog and have been impressed with the quality of work her children produce, especially in their notebooking pages.  This is the way I envision school working around here, and I am actively taking steps to make it a reality in our homeschool now that the girls are getting old enough to really do this.

As far as history goes, though, I’m sort of at a loss.  We’ve all but decided to join a newly-forming Classical Conversations group that’s starting in our area next year, so we’ll start over again with the ancients in history.  I see no real pressing need to continue on with our Middle Ages study, and I was really floundering with it anyway. I’m half-way tempted to just go with biographical studies of interesting people for the rest of the year; my girls would love that.  And I think why not?

9.  Our week culminated in my birthday (well, on Thursday) and a road trip with Steady Eddie and the girls to the south-central part of the state.  Steady Eddie had been asked to help judge in a state-wide, highly prestigious high school science paper reading competition hosted this year by Tuskegee University (a different state university hosts each year).  This is a competition which he once had his students participate in and one which nets the winners big scholarship bucks.  I’m usually kind of at a loss at these events, surrounded by savvy public and private schooled students.  At the banquet Thursday night, our party of four was already seated, plus one of Steady Eddie’s colleagues, leaving three empty seats.  Who should sit down in those three empty seats but the lone homeschooled student who was up for the scholarship award and accompanied by his father and teacher.  (From what I can gather, he actually participates in a once-a-week chemistry class at a homeschool co-op {?}.  As his teacher said, it’s as close to private school as one can get and still be homeschooled.  Still.  I’ll take it.)  The young man had re-built a gas-powered truck to function as an electric vehicle.  Wow.  I guess seeing a homeschooled student in a setting like this, among the brightest lights in our state, helped me realize that yes, we can do this, too.  (Am I the only one who needs reminding about this?)

Of course, my homeschooling mother angst has nothing to do with our field trip, does it?  I actually consider the whole thing a field trip–the girls devoured the audiobook of Black Beauty on the way day.  (We downloaded the one from LibriVox, but we actually found the title via Books Should Be Free.  I like the way it’s organized much better than LibriVox.)  They behaved beautifully at the two-hour long banquet.  They walked all over campus with me, which is something I dearly love to do.  It takes me back to my days as a high school student on field trips that involved finding my way around college campuses across the state.  I just like to do this, and it was a bonus for me to be doing it with my girls.  The real high point of trip, though, was our time spent at the George Washington Carver museum which is located on campus at Tuskegee.  It was wonderful.  It will get its own blog post sometime in the near future, I hope.  🙂

Of course our week also included lots of reading, the beginning of a new math curriculum (RightStart B) for Louise, and the chanting of prepositions.  🙂  Louise is getting to be quite the reader, too!

I’ve been inspired by this post at Miss A La Mode this week to figure out how to “pay” myself for what I’m doing.  As someone who is easily overwhelmed, I think her advice is wise and timely and (believe it or not) not at all luxurious and self-indulgent.  We are the engine that runs the homeschool machine, mamas, and if we don’t take care of ourselves, it will crash and burn.  What do you think?

I’ll end this ramble with a little funny.  We’re getting cranked back up on our memory work (We started memorizing the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” but we haven’t settled on the other stuff yet.)  While talking about poetry, Lulu shared her judgment of the revered Robert Louis Stevenson’s stuff:  “I hate poems by Robert Louis Stevenson.  They’re too poemish.”  Is there any hope that this girl will love poetry like her mama does one day?  Only time will tell. . . 🙂

Have a relaxing weekend, friends!


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This Week in Books

It seems like the week gets away from me before I read enough picture books to my girls each week.  I need to make a more concerted effort to do this.  Lulu’s assigned book this week was George Carver from the Childhood of Famous Americans series, and I read parts of a couple of biographies about George Washington Carver to the girls.  (More on GWC later!)  Louise found (hurray!) and finished Aunt Eater Loves a Mystery and got really close to finishing Maybelle Goes to Tea.  Our new chapter book read-aloud is Little Britches, which is an out-of-the-ballpark success so far.  I finished and reviewed Let the Hurricane Roar.  I’m still working on The Wilder Life, and I’ve barely started a YA pick I got off the new shelf at the library–Dead Reckoning.

Have you had a bookish week?

(February 17-22, 2012)

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