Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wednesday with Words: Thrift store find

“The small boys came early to the hanging”
The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

Well, with an opening line like that, how could I resist?

Monday, October 7, 2013


That’s true for the routine difficulties we all live through because we’re human, but even though that’s the usual kind of hardship we face, it isn’t the only kind.

There are the calamitous ones. 

Like the death of a loved one that leaves you in a state of shock, where you’re just numbly going through the motions because things must be done and you are the one who must do them. 

Or a severe illness of the sort that allows your body to keep working, albeit in a badly reduced capacity, and you just keep muddling through because… well, because that’s just what you do.

In situations like those it’s actually the opposite of the routine kind of hardship.  When you’ve finally climbed out on the other side of that vale, you look back and think, “That was awful!  How was I even able to live like that?”

In both cases it’s the grace of God.  “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.  For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”

Reality check

I always enjoy looking at people’s Typical School Day posts.  A few years ago I posted an ideal week using Ambleside Online but what happens for me is I have two different kinds of typical days:  (1) The kind where I get most of the school work and none of the housework done and I end the day happy but exhausted; and (2) The kind where I intend to get housework done but I spend too much time on the computer, so while I do get more done than on a school work day, it’s not enough to justify having done no school work at all, and I end the day unhappy and exhausted.

So when you’re reading my posts about typical or ideal school days you mustn’t imagine me getting all that done AND getting what you consider a decent amount of housework done.  It simply doesn’t work that way for me.

When I was in my 20s and 30s I got a lot more housework done during the day, even though back then I felt like I really wasn’t getting much done at all.  There are some things that improve with time and age, and I hope I’ve improved in some ways, but (and I hope it isn’t this way for you) housekeeping isn’t one of them.

I think it’s always like that, living through hard times.

You know how you’ll think about how fat you felt when you were in your late teens and early 20s and then you’ll see a picture of yourself and think, “I had no idea I looked that great!  What was wrong with me?” and wish you could look half as good now as you did then?  It’s sort of like that.

It’s always worse when you’re living through it than it will be when you’re remembering it.

Edited 7 October, 10:45 a.m.:  Be sure to read the addendum I posted just now.

Friday, October 4, 2013

“What do you DO with your kids if they don’t learn to read before age 10 or so?” Part 1

After reading my post from a few weeks ago, Different children learn to read at different ages, and that's okay, a friend asked the above question, which she kindly allowed me to use here.  My original answer to her was about what I’m doing now, but for this blog post I thought I’d begin with what I did with my older children, who are now 24, 22, and 20.  I’ll cover what we’re doing now next time.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Part I:  What I did with my older children

I asked #1 Son what he remembers doing in the days before he could read to himself, and his answer was, “We played outside.  All the time!

That’s funny, because what I remember was that I read aloud to them – all the time.

But, yes.  Playing outside was kind of the default thing for me.  From the time Eldest Daughter was a baby I made sure to let them be outside as much as possible, in all kinds of weather.  A frequent refrain around here is, “The Lord made the out-of-doors for children to play in.  Now go outside.”  So, ditto what Cindy said:  “I let them play outside a lot. I mean, a lot, a lot.” 

Playing outside wasn’t even a priority – it was just, as I said, the default.  As a child I loved being outside, and the whole reason I began homeschooling in the first place was so my own children would have plenty of time for a happy childhood.

And that means playing outside. 

A lot.

Without adult interference.

About the time my oldest was six or seven years old, I read Susan Schaeffer Macauley’s For the Children’s Sake, and I tried to incorporate some of her ideas.  First of all, this was when I learned that playing outside was part of the children’s education – Nature Study – so occasionally, as she suggested, I would ask my children to tell me something interesting they had seen while outside, and sometimes I would give them a specific task, like watching the ants on the sidewalk.  When they came in I’d ask them to tell me what the ants were doing and where they were going, and that sort of thing.

By “occasionally” and “sometimes” I mean, oh, once or twice a month.  When I’m really working at it. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a pretty relaxed homeschooler.  Some people might call it dilatoriness, but I prefer to think of it as Homeschooling From a Place of Rest. ;-)

Also from Macauley, I learned the centrality of reading the Bible, history, and literature.  I had already been reading the Bible, picture books, and children’s literature to them every day, but I began to be more deliberate about choosing history books to read.

That fall, the first school book I read to Eldest Daughter, who was my only official student at that point, was Margaret Pumphrey’s Stories of the Pilgrims.  It was beyond her reading level, and anyway I wanted my younger ones to hear it, so I read it aloud to all of them.  That went so well that I decided it was best to include the younger ones in the school work I did with the oldest as much as possible.

As she got older and I began giving her Greenleaf Press’s books to read on her own, I also got library books for the younger kids that covered the same period she was studying.  A great resource for finding titles in the library is Christine Miller’s All Through the AgesWe had at least two story times during the day when I read “school” books to the younger kids – one in the morning and one after lunch.

In addition to this I always had a bedtime story going.  In those early years we read through Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, E.B. White’s books, all the Chronicles of Narnia, most of Brian Jacques’s Redwall books, and a few G.A. Henty books.

When we were reading school books, I tried to get my children to narrate, or tell back in their own words what I had just read, but this never worked out well.  One of my children thought I meant for him to recite verbatim and he simply couldn’t do that!  I don’t remember now whether I ever thought to model narration for them, but after a while I just dropped it.

But we did talk about what we were reading.  Sometimes I’d ask them to tell Daddy what we’d read that day, or I’d ask them to tell me what their favorite story was.  As they got older this became so easy and natural that I can’t figure out why it was such a problem at the beginning.

For math with the three oldest, I used Math-U-See, which is fairly teacher intensive, but doesn’t require any reading on the student’s part, so it was no problem for the two who read later than is typical.  Also, I tried to have them count for me and do simple math problems orally as they came up during the week.  “How many spoons do you need to put on the table?” – that sort of thing.  I’m not very creative though, and didn’t do nearly as much of this as would have been good for them.

We also drilled them in math facts, but that doesn’t seem to have stuck, probably because we weren’t consistent about it.  Math is definitely my weak area.

I have always loved classical music and I began my collection of CDs about the time Eldest Daughter was born.  I don’t remember how often I played it – I’m guessing two or three times a week, because I rarely play it as background music.  I prefer to play it when we can really listen to it.

About the time baby #5 was born (the older ones were 9 ½, 8, 6, and almost 4) we started going to a church that encouraged families to teach the hymns to their children, so we bought four hymnals and began memorizing the ones that we sang in church fairly regularly.

So here’s a summary: 
  • Let them play outside a lot, and sometimes ask them to tell you what they’ve observed while outside
  • Read aloud a lot from well-written books covering a wide range of stories and topics, and talk about what you’ve read, especially when you’re not doing lessons
  • Demonstrate math concepts to them instead of having them read a textbook, and talk about math as it comes up in everyday life
  • Listen, really listen, to classical music a few times a week
  • Sing and memorize hymns together as a family

Bonus advice, especially for moms who spend a lot of time pregnant and nursing:
Combine as much of your children’s schoolwork as possible.  Combine subjects (for example literature and history), and combine ages, having all of your children learn together as much as possible.  This works for nearly everything except skills where each child needs individual tutoring and isn’t on the same level as any of the other children, like reading or handwriting.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wednesday with Words: A word from the Father of History

Marble bust of Herodotus
photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen
Wikimedia Commons
Herodotus of Halicarnassus here displays his inquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvellous deeds  some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians  may not be without their glory; and especially to show why the two peoples fought with each other.
[Herodotus, The Histories, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt, revised by John Marincola.]

Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC) was born at Halicarnassus, which is on the Aegean coast of modern day Turkey.  Cicero called him the Father of History because he is the first person we know of who systematically inquired into events of the past and tried to make sure that they had actually happened before creating his own narrative.

That seems obvious to us, but compare his book's opening lines with the usual way of telling of memorable deeds of the past:

Sing, O Goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. (The Illiad. tr. Butler)


Speak to me, Muse, of the adventurous man who wandered long after he sacked the sacred citadel of Troy.  (The Odyssey, tr. Palmer)

Homer appeals to the goddess for inspiration, and then tells how the gods' actions led to the events following.

But Herodotus begins by saying that he's going to tell about great things people have done and then gives a lengthy account of the Persian's version of what caused the war:  Io was kidnapped by a group of Phoenecian sailors and then in retaliation Europa was kidnapped by a group of Greeks followed by the abduction of Medea which inspired Paris to kidnap Helen.  Evidently the Persians thought all this kidnapping was no big deal, but "the Greeks, merely on account of a girl from Sparta, raised a big army, invaded Asia and destroyed the empire of Priam."

All of this caused the eternal enmity between the Greeks and the Persians.  No mention at all of gods, but simply the actions of men — things that can be verified by inquiry.

Just for fun, here's the original Greek text:

Ἡροδότου Ἁλικαρνησσέος ἱστορίης ἀπόδεξις ἥδε, ὡς μήτε τὰ γενόμενα ἐξ ἀνθρώπων τῷ χρόνῳ ἐξίτηλα γένηται, μήτε ἔργα μεγάλα τε καὶ θωμαστά, τὰ μὲν Ἕλλησι τὰ δὲ βαρβάροισι ἀποδεχθέντα, ἀκλεᾶ γένηται, τά τε ἄλλα καὶ δι᾽ ἣν αἰτίην ἐπολέμησαν ἀλλήλοισι.
[Source:  Sacred Texts]

Oh, and the "word" from Herodotus?  The third word in Greek is ἱστορίης, which means inquiry.  It is pronounced something like istoria, and gives us our word history.

And there you have the history of History.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Around the farm

Actually, this photo was taken
by my daughter
On the way home from church today we stopped so I could take a picture of a pretty plant I'd seen blooming along a stretch of road.

I was pretty sure it was chicory, but I wanted to ask Heather, my herbalist friend, who confirmed that it is indeed chicory, and now is the time to harvest the roots.  Heather says, "I like chicory (and dandelion) as a coffee additive because it really nourishes the liver and makes the coffee less taxing on the kidneys."

I love chicory in my coffee, but... um... in spite of the farm stuff we do around here I'm still more of an armchair agrarian than otherwise.


What was I saying?

Oh, yes.  We stopped and took this picture on the way home, and I guess that's what inspired me to take pictures of the things blooming around the house, so I took my phone with me on my afternoon ramble around the yard and took pictures of just about everything that's blooming right now.

First, there are still several blossoms on the climbing rose that grows across our porch.  Here's a nearly perfect one.

Beyond the garage/barn we have a huge stand of Jerusalem artichoke.  Our pastor gave us the ancestors of this batch a few years ago.  The succeeding generations are all volunteers.  Eldest Daughter makes a lovely soup out of them that's every bit as good as cream of potato.

Jerusalem artichoke, and poultry

Gratuitous poultry shot

Here's a better picture of the Jerusalem artichoke flowers.  They're related to sunflowers, so some people call them Sunchokes.

And here we have one of my daylily beds, which is overgrown with mint and some other weeds.  There's some kind of wild sweet pea in there on the left edge of the photo, but it doesn't really show up well.  And that pinkish-purplish beady stuff, that I have no idea what it is.



I remember that I identified this plant in 2008 when I attempted the 100 Species Challenge, but now I don't remember what it's called.  That was on my Wordpress blog, which only exists in my Google Reader archives, which I have not yet figured out how to access.

Daisy fleabane?  I think?

Our geese were extraordinarily noisy while I was taking pictures.  Don't know whether they wanted me to feed them or to go away.

I think it was the latter.

More of that pretty pinkish-purplish flower. 

I think this is different from the daisy-like one above.  The leaves are skinnier.

This seems to be a variety of dandelion.  The flowers bloom on tall stems, and they're real team players -- all the plants in the whole yard bloom one day, then they close up at night and the next day they've all turned to puff balls.  By the time I got around to this one it had already started closing up for the day.

Golden ragweed and an unidentified legume under my clothesline.  This legume is a lot bigger than the ones that infest the flower beds on the other side of the house.

The goats were unusually playful.  They're probably in heat.

The darker brown one is Jemima, who is a six year old half-Alpine half-Nubian.  The lighter brown one is Sunday, who's five.  She's a three-quarter Nubian, one-quarter Alpine.  Psyche is the big white one.  She's the herd queen and I think she's just interfering on principle.  All three of these girls (and Sunday's father) were born here.

This doesn't show well, but two of our crape myrtles are still blooming.

And here's a gratuitous sunset shot, taken by my shutterbug daughter a few days ago.

Hope you all had a lovely Michaelmas.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


I had a head cold earlier this week that made me feel so woolly-brained I could hardly think.  Consequently we got zero schooling done.  The kids are obsessed with Minecraft and World of Tanks.  Minecraft is endorsed by The Libertarian Homeschooler, and WOT by my husband and adult children who often play it with the youngers, so I assuage my guilt by telling myself that they are learning Strategy and other Important Life Skills while playing these games.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

This Ancient Greeks class is killing me.  Even on a good week I usually read the biography in my kids' copy of Famous Men of Greece instead of from Plutarch, Herodotus, or Thucydides, as the syllabus calls for, but owing to the head cold and the inability to think properly, I skipped nearly all of the readings and I'm just listening to the lectures.  They're sooo interesting, though.  It's not a waste of time.  This week we're covering the reforms of Kleisthenes and the Persian Wars.  When I have time I want to think about the differences between earlier Greece under Solon and what it became under Kleisthenes.  Under Solon's laws it was more aristocratic and feudal.  Under Kleisthenes' it was more democratic and statist.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

The two oldest girls and I have been been watching a Korean drama called Two Weeks that just ended, and I'm feeling a little empty.  It was really exciting (action, intrigue, romance, treachery, heartbreak, murder... and that's just the first episode), and it ended well, with the bad guys getting their just desserts (plus redemption for more than one of them), the good guys who did bad things acknowledging their errors and making restitution, and all the right people on their way to getting a happy ending.

Lee Joon Gi (the Magistrate from "Arang and the Magistrate") plays Jang Tae San, a good-for-nothing piece of trash who doesn't care whether he lives or dies.  His ex-girlfriend shows up one day to tell him he has an illegitimate daughter he never knew about who's dying of leukemia because they can't find a bone marrow donor, and asks him to take a blood test to see if he might be a match.  Miraculously, he is a match, and he feels that for the first time in many years he has a reason to live.  But that day, his gangster boss discovers some things that send him into a rage, and he frames Tae San for murder.

If, like me, you know anything about donating bone marrow, certain aspects of this show you'll just have to ignore.  Tae San has lived so badly in the past several years that I don't think he'd even qualify as a donor, and then over the next several episodes he suffers several injuries, and of course he's not supposed to be getting any infections just now, on account of the bone marrow harvest coming up.  I just had to decide that Tae Sannie has magic healing blood, and get over it.  I guess it's like any show -- if you're a lawyer you can't bear to watch courtroom dramas; if you're a cop, police shows will drive you crazy, and so on.

But the depiction of the relationships between the characters is so well done.  Their backstories are slowly revealed throughout the show and add depth and meaning to their present choices.  The little girl is adorable.  The characters' emotions and reactions are believable.

The music is mostly forgettable, so that's a mark against my hypothesis that the quality of the music is a decent indicator of how well I'll like the show.  I'm glad it worked out that way -- some of the music in the early episodes is so schmaltzy that I was afraid I'd wind up hating the show and I really wanted to like it.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Oh, and I have to share this with you.  Bought this drying rack at Walmart a month or so ago and love it.  I line-dry a lot of my clothes and when I can't put them on the clothes line, I hang them in the shower in my bathroom, which is small and crowded even without laundry hanging around.  And then, if I don't get things hung up early enough in the day and they're still damp when it's time to take our showers at night, we have to move them, and, well, it's just a hassle.

I know. First world problems.  But I love this rack.  It's collapsible so I can keep it in my closet when I'm not using it.

Best $15 I've spent in a long time.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Well, tonight's Razorback game will be starting soon and I have to quit blogging so we can set up the computer and watch it.  Y'all be good.

Edited to add:  Alas, no ballgame.  I usually watch them on but they don't air every game -- this is two weeks in a row now.  This is the one time of year I wish we had TV.  Wish I could just get a football season package.  I know.  More first world problems.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pirate Story

...because it's National Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Pirate Story
~Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Three of us afloat in the meadow by the swing,
    Three of us abroad in the basket on the lea.
Winds are in the air, they are blowing in the spring,
    And waves are on the meadow like the waves there are at sea.

Where shall we adventure, to-day that we're afloat,
    Wary of the weather and steering by a star?
Shall it be to Africa, a-steering of the boat,
    To Providence, or Babylon or off to Malabar?

Hi! but here's a squadron a-rowing on the sea--
    Cattle on the meadow a-charging with a roar!
Quick, and we'll escape them, they're as mad as they can be,
    The wicket is the harbour and the garden is the shore.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday with Words: The power of a poet

We all know what it means to be spartan – stern, austere, brave, frugal – but Sparta, the home of Menelaus and Helen, was not always “spartan.”  During the Dark Age and the early Archaic Age of Greece she was not so different from other Greek cities like Athens.  Sparta’s merchants traveled to other cities to trade, her poets wrote lyric verse, her craftsmen and artisans flourished.

In the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. the Spartans fought two wars with neighboring Messenia. During the First Messenia War, Lycurgus gave his famous laws to Sparta, but scholars see the warrior-poet Tyrtaeus, who lived during the Second Messenian War, as the man who first envisioned the true Spartan – the people they became and whom we think of as Classical Spartans.

“Spartan Soldier”
~Tyrtaeus of Sparta (c. 620 B.C.)

It is beautiful when a brave man of the front ranks,
falls and dies, battling for his homeland,
and ghastly when a man flees planted fields and city
and wanders begging with his dear mother,
aging father, little children and true wife.
He will be scorned in every new village,
reduced to want and loathsome poverty; and shame
will brand his family line, his noble
figure. Derision and disaster will hound him.
A turncoat gets no respect or pity;
so let us battle for our country and freely give
our lives to save our darling children.

Young men, fight shield to shield and never succumb
to panic or miserable flight,
but steel the heart in your chests with magnificence
and courage. Forget your own life
when you grapple with the enemy. Never run
and let an old soldier collapse
whose legs have lost their power. It is shocking when
an old man lies on the front line
before a youth: an old warrior whose head is white
and beard gray, exhaling his strong soul
into the dust, clutching his bloody genitals
into his hands: an abominable vision,
foul to see: his flesh naked. But in a young man
all is beautiful when he still
possesses the shining flower of lovely youth.
Alive he is adored by men,
desired by women, and finest to look upon
when he falls dead in the forward clash.

Let each man spread his legs, rooting them in the ground,
bite his teeth into his lips, and hold.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday with Words: "House and wife and an ox for the plough"

This semester I’m taking a seven week-long class from Coursera on The Ancient Greeks. Check out the syllabus – it’s brutal.

This quote is from one of my assigned readings this week, a selection from Aristotle’s Politics, on the polis.  I’ve deleted a longish section because I wanted to focus on Aristotle’s description of the oikos, the household or family.

He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything else, will obtain the clearest view of them. In the first place there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other; namely, of male and female, that the race may continue (and this is a union which is formed, not of deliberate purpose, but because, in common with other animals and with plants, mankind have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of themselves), and of natural ruler and subject, that both may be preserved…. 
Out of these two relationships between man and woman, master and slave, the first thing to arise is the family, and Hesiod is right when he says, 
        ‘First house and wife and an ox for the plough,’ 
for the ox is the poor man’s slave. The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men’s everyday wants, and the members of it are called by Charondas ‘companions of the cupboard,’ and by Epimenides the Cretan, ‘companions of the manger.’

Friday, September 6, 2013

Different children learn to read at different ages, and that's okay*

Of my seven children, one will probably never be able to read.  One was a fairly typical student in the beginning.  We used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, beginning whe she was six.  Then she progressed through easy readers and chapter books until she was about ten years old when she suddenly started reading way beyond her grade level (and by that I mean, she started reading The Lord of the Rings).  Another one learned to read about the same way I did – she had a few lessons in phonics when she was five or six, figured out the rest for herself right away, and began reading classic children’s literature on her own around age eight.  When she was thirteen I handed her a stack of books from Ambleside Online’s Year 7 book list and she managed them fine. 

The other four have all been “late” readers.  

Home Grown Kids, by Raymond and Dorothy Moore, was the first book I ever read on homeschooling.  I never believed that all children should develop physically or intellectually on the same schedule, but having read the Moores’ book, I was steadfast when a loving family member began to worry that my second child wasn’t reading yet shortly after his ninth birthday.

“Read, sing and play with your children from birth.  Read to them several times a day, and they will learn to read in their own time – as early as 3 or 4, but usually later, and some as late as 14. [p. 225]”

They’d said that children under eight or nine years old quite often reverse letters like b and d, and words like saw and was, so I wasn’t caught off-guard when my son also did that.  He had beautiful handwriting but he often wrote a beautiful mirror-image of what he intended.

I began his reading lessons when he was almost seven, using 100 Easy Lessons, supplemented with phonogram cards from Bonnie Dettmer’s Phonics for Reading and Spelling, which is based on Romalda Spalding’s method.  We’d have a brief lesson each day, always keeping it under fifteen minutes and cutting it shorter than that if he was struggling.  I wanted to end each lesson with success, not frustration.  When he quit making progress, we’d take a break for a week or a month to give his brain time to catch up. 

The most important thing to me was that he not learn to hate reading, or get the idea that he was stupid.

After a while I switched to McGuffey’s First Reader because the stories were more interesting and I could tell he didn’t like the silliness of 100 Easy Lessons.  That’s not meant to be a criticism of 100 Easy Lessons.  Lots of kids love it and do well in it.  I’m just pointing out that although it’s obviously a bad idea to hop haphazardly from one curriculum to another, there’s nothing wrong with making a judicious change when you think it will be better for your child. 

Then one day, when he was nine and a half, he picked up Brian Jacques’ Redwall and read the whole thing in a few days.  Just like that, it all clicked, and he never needed easy readers.

This spring my then-twelve year old son had a similar experience.  We’d spent years going through 100 Easy Lessons, memorizing phonogram cards, reading through all the BOB books, working slowly, slowly through McGuffey’s Primer and First Reader, taking breaks as needed.  He was also slowly reading through Josephine Pollard’s Life of George Washington, covering just one or two paragraphs a week. 

Then one day, because his older sister was taking too long getting to the next chapter of the Harry Potter book she was reading to him and the ten-year-old, he just read the rest of the book himself.  And it’s been hard to get him to do anything besides devour books since then.  Over the last few months he’s read the rest of Harry Potter, all of the Artemis Fowl and Percy Jackson books, several Sugar Creek Gang and Landmark books, and The X-Craft Raid by Thomas Gallagher, which retells the story of the men involved in a particular battle during World War II.

My ten-year-old is still memorizing phongram cards with me and struggling through the BOB books.  She won’t let me forget her reading lesson though – she loves it and she’s eager to learn, it’s just slow, hard work for her.  She’s had a lot of trouble keeping the six spellings of /er/ straight.  Phonics for Reading and Spelling suggests this mnemonic:  “Her first church worships, and learns courage.”  She can remember that easily enough and she knows the first four, but she’s been having a hard time with the last two – ear, the /er/ of “learns” and our, the /er/ of “courage.” 

This week I hit on something that seems to be working.

We’re also using the cursive handwriting program from Logic of English, and looking at these two troublesome phonograms it occurred to me that c and o both belong to the curve family of letters, while l and e both belong to the loop family.

I wrote it out for her on the lined white board we use for lessons:

She wrote the two words out herself that day and the next day she remembered it – a huge victory!

I had another child who also needed to learn kinesthetically.  I’ll never forget how hard she worked on a – /ă/ /ā/ /ä/ – but never getting anywhere until I told her to march around the room, saying the sounds in rhythm.  That did the job for her.  After that, anytime she needed to learn something that wasn’t coming easily, she’d march and say it to the beat of her feet.

My point is that every child is different, and you shouldn’t worry if yours isn’t meeting typical grade- or age-level expectations.  Just work slowly and cheerfully at it, figuring out what your child needs in order to master the skill for himself.  Keep the lesson short – end it on a success, not a failure.  If either of you is getting frustrated, take a break for a while.  And by “a while” I mean anything from a few minutes to a few months, just depending on what the situation calls for.

* I just noticed and corrected a horrifically embarrassing typo in the title.  Of course, it can't be changed on Feedly or Facebook, so I'll just have to swallow my vanity.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wednesday with Words: Implacable resentment

Odysseus answered: 
“May it please your grace, my lord King Agamemnon, the man will not quench his anger; he is even more full of passion and rejects you and your gifts….” 
All heard this aghast, in dead silence; it was a heavy blow.  They were long silent, but Diomedês broke the silence, as usual: 
“May it please your Grace, my lord King Agamemnon!  It was a great pity to ask [Achillês] at all or to offer your heaps of treasure.  He is always a proud man, and now you have made him prouder than ever.
 [The Illiad, Book IX, Homer, tr. W.H.D. Rouse]

‘No’ – said Darcy, ‘I have made no such pretension.  I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding.  My temper I dare not vouch for. – It is, I believe, too little yielding – certainly too little for the convenience of the world.  I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself.  My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them.  My temper would perhaps be called resentful.  My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.’ 
That is a failing indeed!’ cried Elizabeth.
 [Pride and Prejudice, chapter XI, Jane Austen]

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


That's me yelling at Feedly.  Just now I accidentally hit the publish button on a post I meant to save.  It isn't ready yet.  It's incomplete.  It's probably also incoherent.  I immediately took it off my blog, but it was sent to Feedly before I could delete it and Feedly doesn't update things like that the way Google Reader did.


So, please ignore the last post.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Can't get enough of this song

It's from Master's Sun, the drama about the girl who sees ghosts, which I mentioned the other day.

[Translation by pop!gasa]

When you pass by my finger tips
Warmth spreads throughout my cold heart

I want to softly go to you and lean on you
But the distance between us is not narrowing

It’s okay even if I can’t touch you
It’s okay even if I can’t hug you
Lonely love
Yes I love you, like my destiny
I can feel you

Lalala lala lala
Lalala lala lala
Lalala lala lala lala
My heart can reach you

I want to reach out my hands and hold you
But it feels like we’ll get farther apart so I just linger around you

It’s okay even if I can’t love you
It’s okay even if I can’t reach you
Lonely love
Yes I love you, even from far away
I can see you

It’s okay even if I can’t touch you
It’s okay even if I can’t hug you
Lonely love
Yes I love you, like my destiny
I can feel you

Lalala lala lala
Lalala lala lala
Lalala lala lala lala
My heart can reach you

Lonely love

Friday, August 30, 2013

Confessions of a K-drama addict

I really have the Deputy Headmistress to blame thank for introducing me to Korean drama.  She started blogging about it last year and after a while I started reading her posts, and then her description of one show, Stars Falling from the Sky, caught my attention (it was her mention of a family with five super-cute adopted children in the family) and I decided to watch it.

Eldest Daughter caught me watching it and scolded me horribly, because she'd tried before to get me to watch some K-drama with her and I wasn't interested.  I don't even remember her asking me about it.  After the conversation, I vaguely remembered knowing that she'd watched some Korean shows (along with Japanese ones), and I knew she liked Korean pop music (along with Japanese), but honestly.  I'm sure my take on it at the time was, "That's nice, dear."  My only excuse is that a positive review by one of my peers carried more influence than a positive review by my own offspring.  I have since learned that my daughter was raised well enough that I can trust her taste, not only in books, but also in entertainment.  Go figure.

I've watched a little over two dozen of them, which is an embarrassing thing to say, because these shows tend to run sixteen to twenty one-hour episodes (and I've watched some of them more than once).  But last winter I was sick in bed for several days and watched several hours during that time.  Also I've been devouring K-drama instead of books.  But in my defense I'll say that their stories are so well-told and complex that you're not going to have your brains melt by watching them, unlike with most American television shows.  Really.  The plots are positively Dickensian.

So, what do I love about K-drama?

First, how important family is.  This was the reason I watched the first drama.  In that show, the parents die in a car accident and the oldest daughter, who is twenty-five and amazingly irresponsible, has to grow up fast so she can take care of her five adopted siblings.  On one occasion the oldest boy scolds her for her bad behavior and she listens to him and promises to do better, and she really does.  That may sound disrespectful of an older relative, but he is the oldest boy after all, which carries a lot of responsibility, so even though he's only twelve years old, he's the man of the family.

Second, how shy they are about physical contact between the sexes.  This makes the love stories very sweet, for the most part, and so much more romantic than shows that convey the couple's feeling for each other by, well, physical contact.  I'll just point out here that even though these shows are very clean by American standards, I don't let my younger children watch many of them, because romance is such a big part of the stories and I don't want them feeding very much on that fare.

Then there's the music.  Faith, aka The Great Doctor has gorgeous music, some of it classical-style soundtrack stuff like you'd expect, but also a lot of music by pop stars, which I didn't expect in a drama set in the 1300s.  The first time this particular bit was played during the first episode, Number One Son came out of his room to listen and was hooked on the drama ever after.

I'm testing a hypothesis of mine -- if I love the music, I'm going to love the show.  If the music is bad, or forgettable, the show will be too.

I also love listening to the language.  Korean is structured so very differently than English, and that difference fascinates me.  Where we would say, "I'm sorry for being rude," or "Thank you for giving me a ride," in Korean it's something like "For being rude, I'm sorry," or "For giving me a ride, I thank you."  That's not a literal translation because I don't speak Korean -- it's just what I've noticed from picking up a few words here and there.  I love listening for the ways people address each other, the honorifics and endearments, the way old people are all called grandfather or grandmother, even by strangers.  I love the fact that they have informal or comfortable speech for family and close friends and formal speech for everyone else.  I love listening for when two characters transition from formal to informal words because of what it means in their relationship.  It kills me that I don't know Korean.  In some of these shows I love the characters so much and want to know their language so I can know them better.

This is closely related to loving the language difference -- I love seeing the world through a different culture's eyes, seeing what they value and how they go about solving their problems.

A big attraction for me is how they create their characters and tell their stories.  For example, in American movies and TV shows, generally the characters are non-religious and they live in a world where religion doesn't exist, unless it's necessary to the plot.  But in Korean dramas, characters are Christian or Buddhist or non-religious in the same way that people are in real life -- it's a part of their being and doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the plot.  It's just the way people are.  Characters are generally well-rounded with strengths and weaknesses that tend to go hand-in-hand in real life.  There are exceptions to this, of course, notably the cartoon villain who is evil just because he loves being evil.  There are also stock characters who aren't realistic at all -- the evil girl who does everything in her power to break up the main couple just because... well, the plot needs some conflict, right?  Preferably several layers of conflict.  The evil mom or mother-in-law is another common one.  But the main characters are usually believable individuals.

There's more, but I'll stop here since this is getting pretty long.  This was just meant as fair warning:  I'm going to be blogging about some of the shows I've watched.

Currently, my two oldest girls and I are watching one called Master's Sun.  Today episode 8 was aired and I'm liking this show more and more as it goes on.  It's about a girl who had some unspecified accident a few years earlier and has been able to see ghosts ever since.  Of course, since she can see them they harass her, wanting her to give messages to loved ones, or buy coffee for them to drink, or various other things, and some of them are really scary.  She's exhausted because she can hardly sleep at night and then one night, running away from a scary ghost, she bumps into a man and the ghost vanishes.  She's so excited to have a refuge and wants to hang around him all the time just to keep the ghosts at bay, but of course the man doesn't want a weird girl hanging onto him.  Until he discovers that someone who can see ghosts can be very useful.  And then he falls for her.  It so cute, and creepy in a campy way.  The title sequence conveys the feeling of the show perfectly.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wednesday with Words: More from Wodehouse's Love Among the Chickens

Garnet entered the compartment, and stood at the door, looking out in order, after the friendly manner of the traveling Briton, to thwart an invasion of fellow-travelers.


There are few things more restful than to watch some one else busy under a warm sun.


It was only when I heard him call out to Hawk to be careful, when a movement on the part of that oarsman set the boat rocking, that I began to weave romances round him in which I myself figured.

But, once started, I progressed rapidly. I imagined a sudden upset. Professor struggling in water. Myself (heroically): “Courage! I’m coming!” A few rapid strokes. Saved! Sequel: A subdued professor, dripping salt water and tears of gratitude, urging me to become his son-in-law. That sort of thing happened in fiction. It was a shame that it should not happen in real life. In my hot youth I once had seven stories in seven weekly penny papers in the same month all dealing with a situation of the kind. Only the details differed. In “Not Really a Coward,” Vincent Devereux had rescued the earl’s daughter from a fire, whereas in “Hilda’s Hero” it was the peppery old father whom Tom Slingsby saved, singularly enough, from drowning. In other words, I, a very mediocre scribbler, had effected seven times in a single month what the powers of the universe could not manage once, even on the smallest scale.

I was a little annoyed with the powers of the universe.


The professor was in the best of tempers, and I worked strenuously to keep him so. My scheme had been so successful that its iniquity did not worry me. I have noticed that this is usually the case in matters of its kind. It is the bungled crime that brings remorse.


I went into the garden. She was sitting under the cedar by the tennis lawn, reading. She looked up as I approached.

To walk any distance under observation is one of the most trying things I know. I advanced in bad order, hoping that my hands did not really look as big as they felt. The same remark applied to my feet. In emergencies of this kind a diffident man could very well dispense with extremities. I should have liked to be wheeled up in a bath chair.


I felt, like the man in the fable, as if some one had played a mean trick on me, and substituted for my brain a side order of cauliflower.


I often make Bob [the dog] the recipient of my confidences. He listens appreciatively and never interrupts. And he never has grievances of his own. If there is one person I dislike, it is the man who tries to air his grievances when I wish to air mine. 


But, I reflected, I ought not to be surprised. His whole career, as long as I had known him, had been dotted with little eccentricities of a type which an unfeeling world generally stigmatizes as shady. They were small things, it was true; but they ought to have warned me. We are most of us wise after the event. When the wind has blown we generally discover a multitude of straws which should have shown us which way it was blowing.


“Now this,” I said to myself, “is rather interesting. Here in this one farm we have the only three known methods of dealing with duns. Beale is evidently an exponent of the violent method. Ukridge is an apostle of evasion. I shall try conciliation. I wonder which of us will be the most successful.”

Meanwhile, not to spoil Beale’s efforts by allowing him too little scope for experiment, I refrained from making my presence known, and continued to stand by the gate, an interested spectator.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Recipe: Buttermilk Cornbread

1 stick butter*
2 cups self-rising cornmeal mix**
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs

This looks deceptively simple, but like all good Southern cooking it absolutely depends on having the right tools and using the right technique.  I'm not even sure it can be made well just from reading a recipe -- it's probably one of those things you have to see done at least once, and try yourself several times, tweaking things until it comes out just right.

First, put the stick of butter in an 8" iron skillet, put into the oven, and turn on to 425°.

Next, using a one-cup scoop*** put two scoops of cornmeal mix into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center.

Then, pour two cups of buttermilk into a glass four-cup measure or small mixing bowl.  Crack the two eggs into the buttermilk and beat well with a wire whisk or a fork.

Add the liquid to the dry, pouring it into the well, and stir a little, just until moistened.  There will still be lumps and that's okay -- just don't overmix it.  Let it rest while the oven finishes preheating.

When the oven's hot and the butter is just starting to turn brown, pour the batter into the middle of the skillet all at once, and put it back in the oven.  Cook until it's golden brown on top and crispy around the edges, oh, twenty or thirty minutes.

If your skillet is well seasoned, you can invert it over a plate when it's done and the cornbread will fall right out.

Cut into wedges and serve with  more butter and honey if it's for dessert, or butter and cheese (or just butter) if it's for supper.  Or crumble it up and sprinkle over chili or soup, or crumble it into a goblet, pour buttermilk over it and eat it with a spoon.  The latter was my daddy's favorite dessert.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

* It really has to be real butter, and yes, a whole stick of it.

** I like Aunt Jemima and White Lily the best.  I only use white cornmeal, and I think the buttermilk mix turns out better than the plain one.  Where I live right now, I can only find one-pound bags of mix, so I usually make my own.  Here's how:  1 cup of white cornmeal, 1 cup of plain, unbleached flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon of salt.  I mix up several cups of it at a time -- enough to fill a large Rubbermaid canister about 3/4 of the way to the top, so that there's some room at the top to make scooping it out easier.

*** On using a measuring scoop:  With a dry-measure cup, you fill it lightly with flour, tap the side to make the flour settle, then scrape off the top with the back side of a knife.  This gives you exactly one cup.  To use a scoop, you dig into the mix a time or two to fluff it up a little, then you dig in and bring up a fill, overflowing scoop of the mix.  Shake the scoop a little so that the excess falls off, but it should still be mounded above the top of the scoop -- just not so high that it's going to spill while transferring it to the mixing bowl.  I have no idea what the exact measure is.  I just know that once you've got the technique down, it's a lot easier than using a cup.

As it turns out, this wasn't quite full enough and I had to add a smidgen more when mixing the batter.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

This Is Just to Say

[with apologies to Mr Williams]

I have eaten
the chocolates
that were in
your drawer

and which
you were probably
for Sunday treat

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so nutty

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wednesday with Words: A Commonplace Book

A commonplace book is the author's rag bag. In it he places all the insane ideas that come to him, in the groundless hope that some day he will be able to convert them with magic touch into marketable plots.
~ P.G. Wodehouse, Love Among the Chickens

Monday, August 19, 2013

Our Book of Centuries

Actually, we have four of them, one for each of the four younger kids.  I've had a couple of wall timelines over the years, but they never lasted long, the first because we moved and it just never got put back up again, and the second because the pictures kept falling off the wall.  I wanted to do a timeline book, but you know how they say that the perfect is often the enemy of the good?  It's true.  I couldn't figure out how to make one that would be absolutely perfect, so I put it off for years.

Finally, I just decided the heck with it.  All I need is a notebook they can glue pictures in.  So I bought four 1 1/2" 3-ring binders, the heavy-duty kind with D-rings because I like the way the pages lay, and a package of 8 1/2 by 11 cardstock.  Just before I started punching holes in the paper, I decided it would be nice to have lines on one side of the two-page spread, so we could write things in chronological order, so I ran the sheets through my printer, copying a sheet of notebook paper onto one side of each.

Note that "A.D." is in its proper place BEFORE the year.
You can just barely see the lines on the left page, but they show up well enough in real life to serve my purpose.

For each two-page spread I labeled the top and bottom outside corners of the left page with the first and last years of the century.  As you can see, this is the page where we write down the person or event, along with the correct date.  Generally, we have people listed by year of death.  On the right hand page the pictures are placed higher or lower depending on where they belong in the century, but it's pretty subjective.  The header names the century, and the number in the top right corner is just to make it easier to flip through the book when looking for a particular century.  That note is present on all the pages, even where we haven't added any information yet.  We fill in the other stuff as it comes up.

The early part of the book, up to 1500 B.C., has five centuries per two-page spread, but I think I could have gotten away with a millennium each, because there's not much of anything recorded before then.  The earliest date we have recorded is 4004 B.C., which is the date of creation according to Bishop Ussher, but there's a note that current creationists date it at c. 5000 B.C.  We don't get into the whole old earth/young earth debate until the kids are a lot older.

We've been using these for about three years, and the pages are still pretty sparsely populated.  Ideally, we'd add figures once a week or so, whenever a noteworthy person or event comes up in our reading, but we really only do it once a month or less.  Still, this is better than what I was doing before.

Here we are late Saturday afternoon, adding figures of Mozart, whom we studied last school year, Homer, the Trojan Horse, George Washington (whom we studied ages ago), Hannibal crossing the Alps (we're reading about Fabius, the Roman dictator who fought him, in Plutarch's Lives, but this was a funner picture), and Tennyson (our current poet).

Mike is not doing timeline stuff.  He's doing Computer God stuff.

The advantage to adding figures months or even years after studying them is that the kids can tell you what they remember while we're doing it, so it all works out in the end -- even if it's not perfect.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

I'll Take the High Road Commission

~Ogden Nash, 1902-1971

    In between the route marks
    And the shaving rhymes,
    Black and yellow markers
    Comment on the times.
    All along the highway
    Hear the signs discourse:


    Cryptic crossroads preachers
    Proffer good advice

    Helping wary drivers
    Keep out of Paradise.

    Transcontinental sermons,
    Transcendental talk:


    Wisest of their proverbs,
    Truest of their talk,
    Have I found that dictum:


    When Adam took the highway
    He left his sons a guide: