Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Only Two More Days!

And I get to go here: Charlotte Mason Northwest Educator's Conference. I'm totally excited. I will bring my ugly knitting. But I haven't figured out what I did with my copy of The Living Page.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wheat Thickens

I don't have as many stories of household disasters as I did in my younger years. Those of you who have only known me in the past ten years or so may think I am a sane, well-rounded manager. Those of you whose memory stretches back to my teens and early twenties know at what cost this knowledge was gained.

Among my siblings, any time I manage to put baking *powder* in the biscuits is still an occasion for celebration.

Still, some challenges never entirely go away. Last week I was doing the grocery shopping and was trying to obtain wheat kernels. They were in bulk bins, the upper bins where you lower the lever and your desired substance goes shooting out, hopefully into a plastic bag you are holding underneath it.

The trouble is, wheat kernels are quite heavy and plastic bags are not strong and the lower level of bins has a lot of poky bits. The inevitable result of this was a small hole in the bottom of the bag. However, by the time that happened, the top of the bag was very, very full. If I tipped the bag so kernels wouldn't fall out of the bottom hole, they all just came spilling out the top. I realized this was not a problem I could address on my own, so I asked fellow shoppers to hand me a second bag.

Someone was kind enough to do so, but this didn't really address the problem because I still couldn't get what was in Bag A into Bag B without letting things fall out of one end or the other. I finally just kind of dumped the whole thing into Bag B, which had developed a hole of its own by this time, so then I needed to summon Bag C, which finally proved enough to keep what was left of my kernels contained.

I think some people were hovering around wanting to offer more constructive help, only they couldn't quite figure out how to step into this mass of flailing arms and bags and cascading kernels without making things worse. Or maybe they were just standing around laughing. I was a little too busy to tell.

When the bag was finally fastened with no kernels emerging from other holes, I beat a hasty retreat from the bulk section, leaving the floor covered with kernels in my wake. I hope nobody fell on them. Those things are slippery.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Summer Reading List

One advantage of being rather tired and down this summer is that I read quite a lot. I've probably forgotten many of them. But here are some I remember.

The Wave-Watcher's Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Quite a fun read about the aspects and nature of waves. Science for people who like to read novels.

Beyonders series by Brandon Mull. The ducklings are all avid Brandon Mull fans. I had only read the Fablehaven series previously, but having tried one series they wanted more. And then they insisted I should read it, and since I'm making them read Little Women and Treasure Island it seemed only fair. As middle-grade series fantasy goes I'm pretty happy with them. There's plenty of action, a good bit of trying to do the right thing in the face of extreme difficulty, and the grownups aren't all stupid or evil. A little gruesome for the more sensitive, but apparently none of the ducklings fall into that category. (BTW, after several years of nudging on my part, they have finally gotten hooked on Redwall.) Romance tends to stall at the butterflies in the stomach stage until the epilogue, when everyone is safely grown up.

 I tried to read an Agatha Christie that wasn't a murder mystery, and that just didn't work at all. I can't even remember the name.

What Language Is by John McWhorter. I like to read McWhorter and pretend I am a linguist, without the bother of having to actually master another language.

An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. And then I like to read Sacks and pretend I am a neurologist, without the bother of having to actually go to medical school. The way he brings out the soul of individuals even with damaged brains and minds is unmatched. Sad to hear of his death right as I finished this.

Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews. This is definitely my guilty pleasure author. However, drafting a murder mystery solved by a woman eight and a half months pregnant with twins and have it come off as believable is a feat worthy of some note. (It helped that the murder happened in her home office so she doesn't have to go far and she overhears much of the important evidence because she is napping or eating in odd locations.)

The City of Ember and sequels by Jeanne Duprau. And this would be middle-grade post-apocalyptic fiction, but I enjoyed it very much and so has Duchess. (Neither of us could get into the one prequel in the series, The Prophet of Yonwood. We prefer apocalypses in the distant past.) We also watched the movie version of the first book over the summer, which was notable for being a movie that Deux had never seen before but still liked.

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett. The next-to-last of the Discworld books. Some sad and narrow-minded newspaper writer recently blasted people for celebrating Terry Pratchett, as he was clearly nothing more than a hack churning out pot-boilers. He admitted he hadn't actually read any of the books, though, but he tried to snobbishly compare it to Mansfield Park, which he had only recently read for the first time. Well, I've read Mansfield Park several times, and it is a lovely work of its kind, and Pratchett's works are excellent works of their own kind; not the finessed style of an Austen, but generous work of a writer who gets better and better through long and copious practice. It will take a hundred years to be sure, but I think he easily stands with writers like Wodehouse and Dickens. Just because a book is funny doesn't mean it isn't profound. As Moist von Lipwig would point out, if you can get people laughing, they'll buy your goods. (One sign of his genius: he has so many books and so many different characters and they are all profoundly different and yet still human. Moist von Lipwig is most certainly not Sam Vimes who is not Archchancellor Ridcully who is not Susan who is not Granny Weatherwax. Even the minor characters sparkle with aliveness. And he can do something that in my reading is very rare among even celebrated male writers--he can write believable and interesting women, of every degree of age and desirability.)

I'm trying to get into Don Quixote, but apparently the version I started on was so abridged as to have left out most of the fun; I have borrowed from the library the translation Silvia recommends. It does read well, but it's frightfully thick and I may not get far before the library runs out of patience.

Also working on The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, The Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World, by Edward Dolnick. So far quite absorbing.

And to the kids I am reading one of my all-time favorites, Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, which has everything: ships and storms and love and loss and lots of math.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Here With You

We have started school again, with all the attendant fun and drama. Sometimes we have those frameable moments when everyone is eagerly sketching leaves in their nature notebooks to the music of Brahms, and sometimes it's just plain hard work and you can  do one more line, and sometimes the majority of the participants are wailing in despair (usually because everybody else is making so much noise).

One thing I have learned in five years of this is that it is all the good stuff. Ambleside Schools International has an inspiring series of videos, one phrase from which echoes in my mind through every day: "It is good to be me here with you."

It may be that our lesson today is not so much about odd versus even numbers and more about putting your mind back to your work despite the fact that your brother has the audacity to breathe audibly, but I am here to help you learn both.

It may be that you only get three words on the page after fifteen minutes of tears, but those three words represent a battle bravely fought and won against fear, perfectionism, and a brain that takes things in much faster than it can get them out.

It may be that we are still practicing three-letter words when I thought we would be reading novels, but we are weaving day by day the links between sight and sound and movement and one day that weaving will be strong enough to hold the torrent of ideas you will need it for.

The written lesson plan matters, but the unwritten lesson plan matters more. And that is the plan that says: Here, today, we will do the best we can with what we have; we will give it everything we have in us; we will grow in what we need today.

It is good.

ETA: Why yes, it is the fifth day of school and I am winding up eating brownies straight from the pan. They're good, too.