Homeschooling Win!

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned to y’all that I plan to homeschool Lorelei next year.  She’s going to be in fourth grade, and I’ve done that before, so I already have a lot of resources, and I’ve slowly been gathering others over the last several months.
There was one place I was stuck, though, and it’s kind of an important place!  I couldn’t find a religion book that I liked.
The religion book I used for Jake and Teddy was actually my own religion book from way back in 1976-1977. (Yes, I saved those kinds of things and I’m glad!) While it’s true that catechesis in the 1970s was a mess, this book was pretty good.  St. Joseph’s School switched to a new program the following year–I still have that book–and it was dreadful, practically content-free.  But this one covered all the basic fourth grade stuff–Commandments, Beatitudes, Works of Mercy, and more–that is still being taught in fourth grade today.
And because I was using it for William in 2011, and it was in his backpack in the living room of what we now call “the burned down house,” it’s gone forever.
So you can find anything on the internet, right?  But I couldn’t remember the name of this book.  I knew what it looked like, and roughly when it was published, and what grade it was for, that’s all.  And no book that looked like that EVER appeared, not once, in many, many months of off-and-on searching.  I even asked the school if they had a record of what book we used back then–no dice.  I conducted research on Catholic publishing companies and looked up every book that was published around that time. My head swam with publishing companies (Sadlier, Benziger, Loyola) and their various programs.  Nope.  I spent hours on this, y’all.  I really had my heart set on that book.
Surely, you ask, there are plenty of other fourth grade Catholic religion textbooks out there?  Why, yes, yes, there are.  But I didn’t want to risk an old one that I hadn’t seen before because, as I mention above, many of the ones that were around back then were just bad.  And I don’t like the modern ones I’ve seen which are too jam-packed with information and fill-in-the-blank pages.  (Honestly, I just don’t like modern textbooks.)  What I liked about this one is that it was very simple with short chapters that I could use as a starting point for further discussion.
I finally found one that seemed similar in content (by looking at a screenshot of the Table of Contents) to the one I remembered.  I thought I could maybe try to make do.  But when I went to order it on Amazon it was about $25–kind of a lot to spend for an unknown.  I searched for it again and found some really cheap copies put up by someone who did not even bother to include a picture of the cover.  So that’s what I ordered.
Have you figured out the punchline yet?  We came home from a short vacation yesterday and my package was waiting for me.  As I tore open the bag I saw not the book I was expecting but the ONE I HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR.  Apparently, it was just a different edition of the one I thought I was ordering.  Some of the material has been rearranged, and of course it has a different cover.  And to sweeten the pot, it’s not written in (which of course mine was) AND it’s a teacher edition with all kinds of other good stuff at the end.
religion book
So that’s a propitious omen for my return to homeschooling.  I look forward to sharing my other adventures with you this year!

What We're Reading Wednesday: Guilty Pleasures

It’s Wednesday so that means it’s time for What We’re Reading Wednesday with Housewifespice.
what we're reading
Do you indulge in “guilty pleasure” reading?  I know I do.  Sometimes I wonder why we call it that–I mean, are there really rules about what we should be reading?  SHOULD there be rules about this?  Isn’t reading ANYTHING better than not reading at all?
Yet, I do feel at least sheepish, or maybe just inferior, when I see what books other folks post on their online book lists.  They are reading history, biography, theology, or other books that aim to educate or improve.  Now, I HAVE books like that.  Y’all have seen a picture of my stack (and I can use an old picture because the size of the stack does not get any smaller.  Ever.), and it’s chock full of great literature and all that other stuff:
books
But nine times out of ten I don’t gravitate for the good stuff.  I’m eating really healthy these days, y’all, but when it comes to reading I go straight for the candy.  So here’s what I’ve been reading this week.
 

I found this at McKay’s recently and I was so happy.  If you’ve heard of Lois Duncan, a most prolific author of young adult fiction from my youth, you are probably most familiar with I Know What You Did Last Summer, which might have been the first of the many books that followed after about teenagers ruining other people’s lives by making foolish choices and then suffering terribly while trying to keep the guilty secret.   A Gift of Magic is more innocent.  I’m pretty sure I ran across it when I was in the 3rd grade.  We had a lot of books in the classroom that year, and since I was always done with my work early, I read a lot of them.  This was one of my favorites and I read it over and over again.  I love reading books over and over.  I know I should be checking new books off my list instead, but there it is.

OK, y’all, promise not to laugh.  I’m not even putting a specific book up here, because to tell you the truth, I’ve already forgotten the one I read a couple of days ago and I will probably forget the one I am reading now shortly after I finish it.  Almost without exception, these go straight to McKay’s as soon as I finish them.  But I still enjoy reading them (and they are usually free, obtained from my mother-in-law or as free samples).  What they are is Christian romance novels.  Some of them are a little too preachy, and all of them are formulaic, but they are feel-good happy-ending easy reads when I want something to read in the tub and that I can put down without a qualm in order to get back to what I’m doing.  They lack the love scenes that frankly started boring me a long time ago.  I wish that there were some Catholics in them, but my absolute favorites are the ones about the Amish.  Despite my love of my computer and my iPhone there is something about the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle and about the people themselves that draws me.

See, y’all, I’m not hopeless.  I’m reading this one too.  And it’s interesting.  But a lot harder work.  I’ve been reading it for awhile and I’ll tell you more about it when I finish.
What are YOU reading?  Dollars to doughnuts it will be more interesting than what I’ve shared!  So tell me in the comments.  And for more books, check out the linkup above.

What We're Reading Wednesday

I’m linking up with Housewifespice for What We’re Reading Wednesday!
what we're reading
Maybe I should call it What I’M Reading Wednesday because I don’t know what else anyone else is reading.  John usually has about five books going at once.  Emily reads about a book a day.  She visits the library regularly, and Young Adult is her favorite genre, especially fantasy.  As far as I can tell, the only thing Jake ever reads is Tolkien.  Teddy has not read for pleasure (to my knowledge) since the last Harry Potter book came out.  William reads all the time, but not books.  The computer provides his information.  Lorelei would rather watch t.v. than read.  Where did I get these children?
So here’s what I am reading!
act of contrition
I finally started reading this (after it was already overdue at the library . . . sigh).  It’s the story of a love affair between an intellectual and sophisticated widow and a divorced devout Catholic man.   This is set (I presume) in the 50s, when annulments were rare and in his case hopeless.  He has just asked her to marry him and as yet she does not know what this means for him.  I don’t see this one headed for a happy ending, folks.  The prose is beautiful and the story is interesting.  It’s told from the woman’s point of view, and her hostility toward the Church, her inability to comprehend it and her lover’s relationship to it, are fascinating for a Catholic to read.  This is a Janice Holt Giles novel, posthumously published because it was considered too controversial at the time it was written.  In these times, it seems quaint.

Yes, I really did read the whole opinion in the Hobby Lobby matter.  I did not want to weigh in on the debate based on either personal belief on the underlying issue or headlines I read on the internet.  It’s about 90 pages long and I encourage you to read it too if you want to have an informed opinion.

I’m still making my way slowly through all the Anne of Green Gables books, in whatever order strikes my fancy.  This is one I did not discover until I was grown up (although some of the events are alluded to in Anne of Ingleside, which was actually written later).  I’m glad I didn’t.  This is a story of the World War I years for those left behind in Canada–the only such account told from a woman’s perspective, or so I read recently.  It’s an interesting bit of history as well as a good story, but of course it’s very sad and I doubt it would have appealed to me as a child when I still believed people could live happily ever after. (It does have a happy ending, however!)
If_Only
Finally, I just finished reading Michelle van Loon’s book on regret.  Please read my reflection on it here, and you can also enter my giveaway for you own copy by commenting on that post.  The giveaway ends tomorrow, and entries have been few so your chances are really good!
Looking for more great reads?  Check out the rest of the linkup here!

The Saddest Words

IfOnly_BlogTourBanner
Hi, y’all, and welcome to the final day (saving the best for last and all that!) if the If Only Blog Tour.  In my capacity as an Off The Shelf Blogger for Beacon Hill Press, I’ve been given the opportunity to read If Only: Letting Go of Regret by Michelle Van Loon.  (My advance copy was my only compensation, and, as always, my opinion is my own.)  This time, instead of reviewing the book, I was asked to write a personal reflection on regret.
Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been.”
~ John Greenleaf Whittier
In Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Charles Wallace Murry is given the responsibility, with the help of  a time traveling unicorn, of saving the world from imminent nuclear destruction by finding and changing the right “Might Have Been” in the past.  Charles succeeds, and the world is saved.  The rest of us aren’t so lucky.
Because all of our lives are littered with “might have beens.”  Whether for good or ill, every choice made excludes all the other possible choices.  Everything we do–or leave undone–has repercussions.  In If Only, Michelle Van Loon writes of how regrets can divide our hearts, trap us in the past, and damage our relationships with God and with one another.
Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention . . . That’s the first thing that comes into my mind when I try to reflect on my personal experience with regret, but I’m not sure whether it’s true or just a comforting story I’m telling myself.  Van Loon writes of people who have submerged their regrets so deeply that they don’t even realize the damage these unresolved feelings are causing in their current lives.
Most of the time I tell myself that there is no point in regret, because I can’t really know what would have happened if I had done things differently.  Like those well-meaning time travelers in just about every book or movie you’ve ever seen on the topic, what if I had made things worse by doing (or not doing) whatever it was?  Is wishing I could go back and change things not a rejection of everything good that has happened since?
I think about our house burning down.  If only I had insisted on having a professional deal with the electrical box situation instead of the handyman employed by our landlord (not that it ever occurred to me at the time).  Then the box wouldn’t have exploded and the house wouldn’t have burned down and I would still have all my things.  But what about the lessons and the love and the new home and new friends we have now?  And who’s to say that if we had stayed in that house, we might not have died in a car crash on the way home one night?  This is why it’s a good thing that we are not God and that time travel remains the stuff of science fiction.
If only I hadn’t wasted so much time and energy on sorting and storing all the things that I had.  If only I hadn’t gotten so upset over various things getting broken or ruined by floods in the basement or careless children.  But I couldn’t have known what was going to happen–all I can do is try to be better going forward.  Which is definitely one of Van Loon’s points–that our regrets can be a tool for us now if we acknowledge them and own them instead of burying them.  And her book supplies tools to do that, with discussion/reflection questions, scripture, and prayer.
Where she really got me was when she started talking about her experience as a parent of grown children: “My empty nest echoed with the sound of regret.”  My nest is still quite full (will any of them EVER leave?), [edit: two are gone now, one quite far away.] but three of my babies are legal adults.  Without implying that there is anything seriously wrong with any of them–don’t get me wrong!–of course they have their struggles and I cannot help but think there were things I should have done differently.  I can’t help but remember how far short I have fallen–and continue to fall–of the perfect mother I just knew I was going to be.  I regret deeply–I can’t tell you how much–that I didn’t enjoy them enough when they were little.  I never heard that saying “The days are long but the years are short” until my kids were already big.  I wish I had.  It won’t do any good for me to tell those of you who still have little kids that they will be grown up before you know it but it is true.
So I guess that is a pretty typical regret to have with kids who are almost but not quite launched, but it’s the one I am really struggling with right now, and I hope that going through some of the reflections in If Only will help me.
If_Only
Would you like to know more about Michelle Van Loon?  Her website is here.
Michelle
For more on If Only, please visit the other stops on the Blog Tour: Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4  Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10 Day 11 Day 12 Day 13 Day 14 Day 15  

What We're Reading Wednesday #2

It may be Hump Day to the rest of the world, but to me it’s What We’re Reading Wednesday hosted by Housewife Spice.
what we're reading
Y’all, I am so boring.  Whenever I look at anyone else’s reading posts, they are either reading theology or the latest literary best seller.  Me, I’m still re-reading Anne of Green Gables books.

If you could see my stack of books-to-be-read (well, you CAN see it, because I’m going to share a picture below!) you would think I was crazy to keep reading things I’ve already read a million times.  My husband certainly thinks I am.  But 1) I find it comforting and relaxing and 2) I always, always find something new when I re-read a book.  In fact, this time I am finding so many new things that I have a sneaking suspicion that some things in this particular edition actually ARE new to me.  There’s no way to check that though, since the copies I read almost to pieces are gone.  Seriously, though, there is nothing like the thrill of reading the unabridged version of a book you originally read abridged.  It’s so delightful to read new things about your favorite characters!  Here’s my stack:
books
This is actually an old picture but the stack has gotten bigger, not smaller.  The afghans had to be put away to make more room.   How can this be? you ask.  Well, a couple of friends gave me boxes and boxes of books because they knew how sad I was about mine all burning up.  Then my church has an awesome book swap once a month.  Father Ron actually suggested to me last week that maybe I shouldn’t take more books home until I read the ones I already had but that’s not going to happen!
Anyway, I am going to START reading something interesting this week:

I’m participating in a blog tour for the release of the above book in my capacity as one of Beacon Hill Press’s Off the Shelf bloggers.  I’m very excited about reading it and writing a reflection on it.  I’ve also got to read this:
act of contrition
Because, you see, it’s a library book and I’ve already endangered Emily’s library card by forgetting to return the movie we checked out for the little kids last week.  This one is on Lorelei’s card and if I mess her card up I will not be able to go to the library any more until I pay some massive fines. I mean, I’m going to tell them the missing books burned up in a house fire, which is true, but they were already way overdue before that happened so I’m not sure the fire card will work this time.
Finally, here is something I read a couple of weeks ago, that I loved, and am going to review just because I want to when I have a free half hour or so:

I am so proud to know the author of this amazing book.  Maggie writes about marriage like no one else.  I mean, everything she writes is beautiful but her posts on marriage are my favorite.  More on this one later for sure.
I’m not sure whether I will be able to link this post today or not as the hostess is over 40 weeks pregnant, has not put up the post today, and may well be in labor!  So I am going to go ahead and put this up since I’ve written it, and I will add the link later if possible.  If you want to tell me what you are reading, please share in the comments!

Word-filled Wednesday

Maybe (probably?) y’all have heard of Wordless Wednesday, that great blogging invention in which all you have to do is post a quick picture and then you are finished with your post for the day?  Well, this is kind of the opposite of that because I am linking up with HousewifeSpice and it’s What We’re Reading Wednesday!
what we're reading
Not that you’ll ever see me sitting in an actual chair while I read or anything like that . . . it’s more stolen moments at bed at night or standing by the bathroom sink just finishing up a chapter . . .
I read a whole book yesterday, though.  I belong to an awesome book club, and because I usually borrow the book from my hostess/next door neighbor I didn’t start reading until two hours before our meeting.  I can read really really fast, though, and honestly I’m just as glad I did not devote too much time to this:
ishmael
Briefly, Ishmael is a gorilla who has become self-aware and is now using the Socratic method to  educate an unnamed seeker on the mythology of our culture and how it is leading toward the destruction of the world.  That’s very brief and very simplistic, and if I wanted to tell it well I’d need a couple of paragraphs, but not a whole book.  This is a novel in the same way that The Jungle is a novel, only with less story involved.
Before I dove headfirst into Ishmael, I had just finished this:
savanna
Reading Janice Holt Giles is a summer tradition for me from way back (more later on that, perhaps).  I hadn’t read this one in years.  Certainly Savanna bears some resemblance to Scarlett O’Hara but she’s an original character for all that and Giles’ particular talent for bringing another place and time vividly to life is unmatched.
Finally, I am about to finish up this one:
windy poplars
Of course, I’ve read it before.  Countless times, although it’s not my favorite of the Anne of Green Gables books.  Mima gave me Anne of Green Gables when I was a little girl, and bought me each book as I finished the one before it.  I’m pretty sure she told me she had read them herself as a child.  Naturally, I loved them, because who doesn’t?  So when I saw the whole set available on my last visit to McKay’s, I decided these were books I wanted to have again.
And there you have it!  What are YOU reading this week?

Book Review: Rescuing Julia Twice

rescuing julia
I am so happy that Tina Traster offered me the chance to read and review this important story of her daughter’s adoption from Russia (Siberia, to be precise) and the family’s struggle with Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Let me start by explaining why this subject resonates with me, and why I was excited to read this book.
I have long been an advocate of “Attachment Parenting,” which sometimes receives a bad rap in the popular press by people who misunderstand it as a rigid set of rules. Really it’s more about rejecting rigid rules, trusting yourself, and following your baby’s (and later your child’s) cues. It was already something I was doing at least in part when I learned what it was called from my sister (who founded the Knoxville Chapter of Attachment Parenting International), and I’m now friends with someone who actually wrote the book (or at least one of them!) on it. So I know how important secure attachment is for children, and how we as parents should be fostering that from the moment of birth.
But what happens when children don’t get that kind of parenting, or indeed much parenting at all? As Melissa Fay Greene asks in her foreword to Ms. Traster’s book: “[W]hat of babies who . . . are unable to attract permanent devoted caregivers and cannot seem to locate an adult to adore? . . . What happens to such a baby if she is not rescued before the light in her eyes has gone out? . . . When a baby or young child has learned that no one is coming, that no one thinks he or she is the cutest little baby on earth; that he or she must weather hunger, cold, and sickness in solitary, those are hard lessons to unlearn.”
Doesn’t your heart just break, reading that? I know mine does. And it’s something I often think of and worry about because of the work I do.
As many of you know, my husband is an attorney, and we do a lot of work in the juvenile court system. We see babies who are removed from their parents as infants, and allowed to see them for only 4.3 hours per month. Sometimes months and years go by before these children are reunited with their parents. Many times they are moved from one foster home to another. No one seems to discuss the effect this has on their ability to form attachments not just to their parents but to anyone. Conversely, I routinely read Petitions to Terminate the Parental Rights of some of our clients which claim that no bond exists with the birth parents (with whom the child may have lived for many years) and that a bond has formed with the foster parents (with whom the child has lived for a few months). We always question these non-evidence-based assumptions when we answer these petitions, and demand to see the science that would back them up, but of course there is no such science.
So we worry. We worry about these kids, and their futures, because we know secure attachment is so important. And that’s why this book is so important, not only for those who have adopted from foreign countries or are considering doing so, but for anyone who is interested in helping the troubled children in our social services system, or in doing something to reform that broken system.
When Tina Traster and her husband, Ricky Tannenbaum, set out to adopt a baby from Siberia, they did not even consider the idea that their child might have trouble bonding with them. On the contrary, Tina was more concerned about her own “queasy ambivalence.” She hasn’t read any parenting books. She is shocked, and not in a happy way, to learn that Julia’s adoption will take place much sooner than they had been told. She doesn’t even know how to change a diaper.
Tina’s honesty in disclosing her fears and her mixed feelings about adopting a baby strikes me as a bold move. It would be easy to blame Julia’s lack of bonding on a mother who has her own issues with attachment–one who is in fact in the middle of long-standing conflict with and estrangement from her own mother. But this tactic works because of Ricky, who is not ambivalent, who is deft and efficient in caring for the baby from the start, who is loving and nurturing and who seems to his wife to have it all together. We are accompanying Tina on her journey as she worries when she sees other babies and the way their mothers interact with them, and becomes certain something is different about Julia at the same time that she questions her own ability to mother. When Tina writes: “For the first two years after we brought Julia home, I thought I was the only one in the world who experienced difficulties with her, that I’d made a mistake, that motherhood and I weren’t meant to be . . . only in the last year have I seen Ricky become aggravated with her behavior. She’s just as unresponsive to him as she is to me,”  her concerns are validated, and any misgivings the reader may have had as to the origins of Julia’s inability to bond are swept away as well.
It takes a while for Julia’s parents to accept the diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder, and some time after that for them to decide to attack the problem head on, which they do not with the help of professionals but via copious research and then applying what they have learned on their own.  They don’t advocate this approach for everyone, noting especially that some children with RAD can hurt themselves or others and would require professional intervention. But it works for Julia.  While Tina is quick to make sure we understand that RAD is not something that goes away, that it will always be a part of Julia and will require constant vigilance by her parents, she has become “solidly attached.”
Rescuing Julia Twice is a gripping story, and Ms. Traster is a good writer (an award-winning journalist–this is no ghost-written memoir).  It weaves together seamlessly the linear events of Julia’s adoption and what follows with scientific information (accessibly presented) on RAD as well as flashbacks to Tina’s past and the conflict with her mother.  So this book is a lot of things put together, and that’s a strength.  You will not be bored by it, and you will also learn from it.  My only criticism is that I would have liked more story about Julia’s transition to firm attachment, and further information on the techniques her parents used.  This is primarily the story of the road toward Tina and Ricky’s definitive realization that Julia has RAD, and I feel that the ending comes a little abruptly.  However, to be fair, this may just be the story that Ms. Traster wants to tell, and she tells it very well.
Rescuing Julia Twice is available on Amazon both in hardback and Kindle versions.  You can read more about Julia here, and more about Ms. Traster’s other writing here.  Additionally, there are many resources on RAD listed in the Resources section at the end of the book.
As always, this review represents my own opinion.  My only compensation was the review copy I received.

A Story Unfinished: A Review

A few months ago, I was honored to be chosen as an “Off the Shelf” reviewer for Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City.  Y’all may have noticed by now that I love books.  So why wouldn’t I be thrilled to have the opportunity to read quality books (for free!) and talk about them here?  My first review follows.  My only compensation was the book itself, and the opinion is my own.
book cover
A Story Unfinished:  99 Days with Eliot is the story of every parent’s worse nightmare–the death of a child.  And even more tragically,  about knowing that death is inevitable before in the eyes of the world that child’s life has even begun.  It sounds sad, and of course it is.  But reading it will lift you up, not drag you down.
At a 30-week prenatal appointment, Matt and Ginny Mooney learned that their unborn child had a genetic condition–Trisomy 18–that would result in his death within hours or days of birth, if not before.  But baby Eliot defied the doctors’ expectations and lived for 99 precious days.  His parents chronicled his brief life in their blog, and those entries make up a portion of the book.
Knowing only that their time with their son would be brief, the Mooneys took full advantage of it, cherishing every moment.  The shortness of Eliot’s life seems like a tragedy, but having feared he would die in the womb, each of those 99 days felt like a gift to the Mooneys and was treated as such.
This isn’t your typical biography.  For one thing, you know in advance how the story ends–or at least how THIS part of the story ends.  You know going in that Eliot dies in 99 days.   And the story isn’t told in a linear fashion.  Matt mixes the story of Eliot’s life with flashbacks and previews, and adds his insights.  This was a little disconcerting to me at first because I didn’t expect it, but I think it works well for what he is hoping to accomplish with this book.
Because it’s ultimately not just the story of a baby’s life; it’s about what his parents took away from the experience, and what we all can learn from it.  Yet I don’t want to make it sound preachy, because it isn’t.  Matt believes in the goodness of God and the redemptive value of suffering, but he doesn’t sugarcoat the pain:  “We do not get to pick the ways in which God chooses to reveal himself.  Please understand what I am not saying.  The loss of Eliot is bad, big-bucket Bad, and I make no attempt to tie a bow on our own experience nor the immense pain I come across in the lives of others.  I miss him every day.”
People debate whether God causes bad things to happen, or ask why He doesn’t prevent them, or say that is He doesn’t prevent them, it’s just as bad as if He causes them.  Some people believe that every death and every tragedy is part of God’s plan, and directly willed by Him with a purpose that we cannot hope to understand.  Certainly all of us know that sometimes good things come out of bad things.  Matt writes about this toward the end of the book, in talking about his journey to pick up his adopted daughter, abandoned in a Ukrainian orphanage because she was disabled.  This was for me the most profound moment in a book that is overflowing with profound moments: “But for losing my son, I would not be in this car.  I would not be in Ukraine. . . . If Eliot were here, I would not be here.  The absolute worst thing in each of our lives was the thing that brought us together.  Without walking a road of pain and misery, our paths would never have crossed.  But they did.  Lena is my daughter.”
Off The Shelf-V3

The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Peter Jackson

Beware!  Herein lie spoilers!
I’m not in the habit of writing movie reviews, but then I’m not in the habit of going to movies either.  John loves them, and occasionally he insists on taking me, but usually I’d rather spend date nights talking.  I go to the theatre for big events:  Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Hobbit . . . the movies whose opening date you’ve known for months, the ones where your heart is pounding and you are a little bit breathless as the show finally begins.  Y’all, I had actual tears in my eyes when the theme music started.  This is serious stuff to me.
Why so serious? you ask.  Because I am, and have been, a certified Tolkien geek for most of my life, since I first read The Hobbit when I was about eight years old.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it–and its “sequel”–since.  I read it aloud to my children; I read The Lord of the Rings (yes, all 1,200 pages) aloud to my husband.  Pre-fire, I owned most of Tolkien’s books, including obscure works; I had the soundtracks of the animated versions of his books; I had encyclopedias and atlases of Middle Earth; I even had the War of the Rings board game.  In college, I wrote a term paper on Tolkien’s life; in grad school, I created an annotated bibliography of sources related to the languages he created.
So I’m not a casual fan, or someone who just discovered Tolkien because of Peter Jackson’s movies (which up until now I’ve mostly been pleased with).  And this is a family full of serious Tolkien fans.   We were so excited about this movie that we kept the kids out of school today so that we could go as early as possible.
the hobbitSo I hate that I was disappointed.
I was skeptical when Peter Jackson announced that he was making The Hobbit into a trilogy.  I knew he was going to have to make additions, but I expected that most of them would involve adding scenes from other Tolkien sources (like Gandalf’s meeting with Thorin in Bree, a scene in this movie) or expounding on things that are mentioned in the book but not fleshed out (like flashbacks to the fall of Dale and Erebor in the last one).  I did not expect him to flat-out MAKE THINGS UP.  His efforts to insert matters from The Lord of the Rings  into the first installment were irksome, requiring mischaracterization of the relationship between Saruman and Galdalf, and I groused about that then, but for the most part his tampering was minor enough to overlook.
But not this time.  You know, I could overlook Azog not being actually dead in the first movie, but I can’t overlook the appearance of Bolg as well and orc after orc after hideously ugly orc in this one, especially not in freaking Imax 3-D.  THERE SHOULD BE NO ORCS IN THIS SECTION OF THE MOVIE.  They go back to the Misty Mountains and don’t reappear until the Battle of Five Armies.  Y’all, orcs are repulsive to look at and I’m tired of seeing them get their heads cut off.  I mean the thrill is totally gone.
You know what else shouldn’t be in this movie? Legolas.  Now. don’t get me wrong, I love Legolas.  And I was prepared to go along with his presence, because Thranduil IS his father, and he is a Mirkwood elf, so he was probably there.  So give him  a few lines or whatever, but don’t give him a huge subplot, complete with a love triangle.
Oh, and don’t create a “she-elf” to be one of the vertices of said love triangle, and have her be the one who enlightens Legolas on his duty to leave the safety of the forest against his father’s will in order to help stop the spreading darkness (which is not really even mentioned in this book but which is insisted upon over and over in the movie–by the elves, Gandalf, the orcs, and even Smaug).
So belatedly I should say that the first problem I have with this movie is it adds things that never happened.  More things than I’ve mentioned.  But enough said.
Second, just because a movie is fantasy doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be believable.  Believable, I mean, within the confines of its own universe.  So yes, dragons and elves and dwarves exist, but even awesome elves like Legolas cannot physically do the things he does in the crazy action sequences (SO many action sequences) in this movie.  After awhile you are just shaking your head.  Nor can Thorin constantly survive blasts of Smaug’s fiery breath.  Or people fall repeatedly from great heights and hop right up with no broken bones.
Third, wouldn’t you think that one of the pluses of turning a short book into three long movies is that at least nothing would need to be cut?  That you would get to see every beloved scene on screen?  Well, think again, Buster.  Because Mr. Jackson is so enamored of his manufactured subplots that he doesn’t have time for the things that ACTUALLY happened.  The weeks of weary travel through Mirkwood?  Five minutes, tops.   Bilbo’s time spent skulking in the halls of the woodelves?  We see plenty of Thranduil (and what an ass he is) and Legolas and Tauriel (aforesaid she-elf) but we have no idea what poor Bilbo is up to until he appears with the keys.  The weeks the dwarves spend on the Lonely Mountain before they get inside?  They arrive moments before the keyhole appeared.
Fourth, the Ring.   The chief importance of the Ring in The Hobbit is that it’s Bilbo’s little secret weapon–he’s invisible while he fights the spiders, he’s invisible in the elf king’s halls, he’s invisible while talking to Smaug.  The Ring is NOT yet exerting some malevolent influence over him, for one thing because Tolkien hadn’t thought of that yet (although he goes for a little revisionist history later himself), but more important, MUCH more important, because it takes years and years and years before the Ring even begins to affect Bilbo.  His ability to resist its evil effects is miraculous and a tribute to him and to hobbits in general, and Gandalf makes much of that in The Fellowship of the Ring (the book, I’m talking about here).   But in this movie he has to be constantly pulling it out and staring at it and hearing the words that he does not even know are inscribed in it inside his head–in the Black Speech, no less–and even tells a spider, “It’s mine!” (At least he didn’t say it was precious.)  And when he should be using it, he’s always TAKING IT OFF.  Like when he is standing a couple of feet away from the MOUTH OF A FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON.
Finally, and most important of all, Peter Jackson has missed the point of The Hobbit in every possible way.  It’s a children’s story that he wants to rewrite for an adult audience.  It’s a simple tale that he wants to make complicated.  It’s a standalone book that he wants to tie to the War of the Ring.  And at its heart, it’s BILBO’s story.  It’s the story of how a simple, stay-at-home hobbit left his comfortable fireside for an adventure he never knew he wanted  and discovered that there was more inside him than he and others guessed.    Bilbo is largely missing from the second installment, which plays partly like Thorin’s story and partly like a prelude of the evil to come.  His triumphant moments are passed over quickly or even taken away from him all together (the elves come to the rescue and finish killing off the spiders, his single-handed liberation of the dwarves from the eleven king requires more elvish assistance as well as help from the dwarves and Bard).  In the book the dwarves respect and rely upon Bilbo more and more as time goes on.  That’s important–central–and you don’t see it here.
If I had never read The Hobbit, I would have liked this movie.  It was fast-paced and exciting and visually appealing.  I thought the 3D was used to much better effect this time around–there were times where the characters looked REAL to me in a way I can’t exactly explain.  The spiders and Smaug were awesomely scary.  I liked Tauriel’s character.  But as someone who loves the book, I instead found myself constantly shaking my head, and thinking, “Did he really just do that? Really?”

When the Rest of the Story Is Bad

Surely you remember Paul Harvey with his “and now you know the rest of the story.”  In his show, the rest of the story was always surprising, frequently meaningful, and sometimes moving. (And also, according to Snopes, possibly not really true!)
As a child who read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, I used to wonder a lot about the rest of the story.  What happened to those people in my books later?  There was no easy way to find out back then.
But now, we have the Internet.
I am going to gently to suggest to you that sometimes it’s better not to try to find out the rest of the story.  Doing so may bring disappointment, disillusionment, or genuine grief.  It may spoil the original much-loved book for you forever as well.
You know that Toby Keith song, “I wish I didn’t know now what didn’t know then“?  That expresses my feelings exactly.  If you’ve read either of the two books I’m getting ready to talk about, you might want to stop reading soon.
I loved the book Karen by Marie Killilea.  It was the story of her daughter’s triumph over cerebral palsy, condition that was poorly understood in the 1940s when she was born.  I was delighted to read the sequel, With Love from Karen, a few years later.  Y’all, I read these books literally to pieces.    I wondered for years what happened to Karen and her family and wished there was a way to find out.
I totally could have done without knowing that Karen’s three little nieces died in a fire a few years later.
But at least when those books were written no one knew the terrible real-life sequel.  Can you tell me why anyone would write an inspirational book knowing that unspeakable things happened to most of the characters as a DIRECT RESULT of the supposedly triumphant tale?
I’m talking about Seven Alone, which was originally published as On to Oregon and which I first became aware of by watching the televised Saturday morning movie.  Then I bought the book from one of those Scholastic Book Clubs and read it over and over.
That one is about a family who are following the Oregon Trail when their parents die.  The children are supposed to be sent back to family in Pennsylvania, but instead the oldest boy–just thirteen at the time–sneaks off with his younger brother and five little sisters (including a newborn baby) to fulfill his father’s dream.  Needless to say, after many adventures and brushes with death, they make it to Oregon where they are adopted by the Whitmans who run a mission for the Indians.
Now as an adult I had already fallen a bit out of love with this story, because why did the boy ALMOST CAUSE THE DEATHS OF ALL HIS LITTLE SIBLINGS just because his father had this stupid idea to go to Oregon that had already killed him and his wife?  But since the story had a happy ending, I could forgive him.
But that was before I learned  . . . the REST of the story. 🙁
If you or your kids ever played the educational computer game Oregon Trail in which practically everyone dies of dysentery or drowning or the common cold, you may remember that the Whitman Mission was a stop along the trail.  Depending on when you were making your trip, you might see the Whitmans, or THE MISSION MIGHT BE DESTROYED.
Yes, you read that right.  My kids started playing this game, I saw that part, I looked on the Internet, and I found out that Indians attacked the Mission a few years after the children arrived and killed the Whitmans and both boys.  Lucky me, I got to read one sister’s eye-witness account of this horror.  Then the girls were all abducted by the Indians and at least one died in captivity.  I don’t remember the exact details and don’t expect me to go look them up either because I don’t ever want to read that again.
So here’s my advice to you:  If there’s a book you’ve loved, and you’re curious to know what happened next, wait for the sequel.  If there’s not one, you probably don’t want to know the rest of the story.