Sunday, September 27, 2009

Book Disappointment

For the past couple of weeks I've been reading, off and on, Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy by John R. Hale. I saw it on the new books shelf of my library; it fits in with our loose study of ancient history this quarter.

I read the first few chapters eagerly, thinking this would be great for my boy. There were a couple of vulgar sexual references in the introduction, but I figured he could skip that. I assigned him to read the first two chapters which were about Themistocles' plan for the Athenian navy, and the building of the trireme fleet. My boy loved it and it led to more research on the trireme ship.

I continued to read, partly for my own edification and partly to see if it would work for him. I was thinking I'd buy a copy to have around for him to read when he wanted to. And then, about a third of the way through, I just had to stop. For there is one paragraph that just ruins the book. It is just a paragraph, but the graphic sexual imagery in it makes it impossible for me to hand the book off to my 12-year-old, or to recommend it to anyone other than an adult. Actually, I'm not going to recommend it to anyone at all.

The paragraph added nothing to the book in terms of the history of the navy. I suppose it might be interesting to some, this bit of information about Greek culture. But it was completely unnecessary. And I understand that the book was written for adults, but it was very readable for my guy and would be for most middle- or high-schoolers with an interest in the topic. But, forget it. It's just not suitable.

It's really frustrating to find a book - a really well-written and interesting book - that has to be ruined like that. Finding good books for a middle-schooler is hard. The books in the kids' department are not detailed enough. The "young adult" area is mostly useless; the focus there is on supposed "teen interest" with loads of books on self-esteem, drug use, and dating problems, but not much in the way of academic subjects.

This seemed like a near-perfect book. What a disappointment, and what a waste.

Feels like playing hooky

Both my kids are a little bit sick today: slightly feverish, alternating between feeling hot and feeling cold, "gunky throat," all that stuff. So we are staying home from church. They are not so sick that they are flat on their backs or sleeping all day, just feeling crummy.

I hate those borderline sicknesses. I'd almost rather they were sicker so I could be sure they are sick enough to keep home. I don't want them spreading illness. But I don't want to stay home for every little symptom.

My boy keeps saying "H1N1?" every time we take his temp or ask how he's feeling. We don't talk about the flu much around here but I guess he hears enough little things to start worrying.

Today is our Pastor's last day at our church. He accepted a full-time position at the seminary where he has been a part-time lecturer. Of course his family has to find a new church home, so we'll not only miss him as pastor but will miss having his family as part of the congregation. Maybe it'll be easier on me not to have to hear all the goodbyes today. We know we'll be seeing them again, just not at church every Sunday.

For someone who hasn't updated this blog in a long time, I'm not making a very good comeback, am I?

More about books and reading tomorrow, maybe.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Things I never thought I'd see

Woodstock Paper Dolls.

Does anyone really want their little girl playing with Roger Daltrey paper dolls? Note that each doll comes with a groovy extra outfit!

(Dover Books does have lots of other, and good, stuff.)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Yesterday I had one of those moments wherein I wish I was more quick-witted. I was at a small dinner party and during dessert talk got around to the pros and cons - mostly cons - of Facebook. Then someone commented on the waste of time that is the blogosphere: how odd it is that anyone - imagine, just anyone! - can express their opinions electronically to the world. A few others at the table joined in agreement; a few of us just stayed quiet. There was a sort of "what is this world coming to?" vibe about the exchange. Then a moment of silence as a few people (maybe all the bloggers and Facebookers) got up for more dessert and coffee and the conversation moved on.

I can never think of what to say in those moments. Certainly "I blog!" would not have been the right thing. But, why couldn't I have said that I find some blogs helpful and interesting and not a waste of time at all? I could have gently reminded the critics that they don't have to read any blogs, but some of us don't consider them all a waste of time. I probably should have defended Facebook too, in support of the lone user at the table. When asked if I use it, I truthfully said no, but I probably gave the impression that it's due to disapproval, not to my fear of losing hours of my day looking for high school friends and former coworkers.

But I can never think quickly enough.

Those are also the times I feel like a young person trapped in an old person's body. I might have been the oldest person there, but I felt like I was sitting with a bunch of old fogies grumbling about the all the new-fangled ways of the world. At least no one said "back in my day..."

It makes me want to (finally) learn how to upload photos and get going on Facebook. First people I'd look for? The other silent ones at the table last night.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Personal reading challenge

There was a time when I considered myself a reader. I was one of those bookworm kids and I continued to read a lot as an adult. Somewhere after becoming a mother, personal reading fell off the daily agenda. Homeschooling didn't really help; I read (both past and present tense) a lot, but it's not really the personal reading that I crave.

Then I read Susan Wise Bauer's essay "Stop Cleaning the Kitchen and Read a Book" in "The Classical Teacher," a magazine/catalog put out by Memoria Press. That did not help me feel any better about the lack of reading in my life.

I've read and used some of Mrs. Bauer's books. I can't say I run a classical homeschool though I use some of the recommendations I've found in A Well-Trained Mind. I disagree with some of her philosophy - which means I agree with some of it. Like this:

In order to embark on the project of classical education— not just for our children, but also for ourselves—we have to rediscover a much older way of thinking. For us to really enter into the project of classical education, we have to change our perspective from “I could be educated if I could go through school again" or “I could be educated if I had time to enroll in a graduate program" to “I can educate myself." We have to think about how we will enter into classical education along with our children.

In order to get educated, we do not have to go to graduate school. We have to read, take notes on what we read, and discuss ideas with our friends.

The article has much more to it; there is practical advice on how to read (as in, to get a lot out of a book), and how to get over the feeling that there is simply not enough time to read. There are no recommended booklists; she covered that in her book A Well-Educated Mind, and there are plenty of other places to find good books to read.

Regarding "there's not enough time to read," she says:

The biggest difference between electronic media and books is the way in which television and the internet can insinuate themselves into every spare minute. I have never once sat down to read Plato, lost myself in it, and looked up and found that two hours have passed. But there have been a lot of times when I've just sat down to look at email ... and have suddenly discovered that a huge amount of valuable time has slipped away from me.

I read this article at the end of July, so for August I set myself the goal of spending an hour a day reading. Real books - the internet and magazines don't count. Homeschooling books and curriculum don't count either.

The first week of August was pretty easy for me; one child was away at camp and one was at a daycamp for 5 hours each day. But that first easy week reminded me of how much I missed reading, so it was a little easier to keep up after the camp week was over. I probably missed my goal a few days here and there, but overall I found or made the time. I read quite a few books of my own, and previewed a few for the kids. I read parts of some books that have been kicking around for ages, only to find they really weren't worth finishing after all.

During that month, the house wasn't any messier than usual, the kids and husband didn't go hungry, and I was probably more content and relaxed than normal because I was reading again. Actually, my kids probably stepped up to help more than before, because I was asking them to - so I would have more time to read.

Some mothers I tried to talk to about this were dubious. They couldn't get past the "stop washing dishes" part. Some are just in the wrong season of life for this right now. It's true that I don't have babies and toddlers who demand constant attention; I wouldn't be typing this up right now if I did.

What I do have, though, are two young people who need to see, in a concrete way, that reading is valued in our house. I can talk to them all I want about the importance of reading good books but at what point do they look at me and say "if it's so important, why aren't you doing it too?" I might think I don't have to worry about that; they are good and enthusiastic readers. Well, that's today. What about tomorrow?

Someone might say I'm justifying my own selfishness because I simply want to read. (Actually someone did say that.) I am not always reading Plato and Aristotle and Homer, it's true.

But, that is a challenge for another month. August was my month to get started. I haven't decided on any changes for September. It's enough for me right now just to be reading again.

Friday, September 04, 2009

When you go to the fair...

be sure to look for the racing pigs.

They swim too:

I knew the racing pigs would be on youtube. We didn't take any pictures of the racing pigs when we saw them today; we were laughing too hard.

It was the highlight of the fair for us!

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas

Last night I reluctantly put Prayers for Sale down with only 30 pages left to read. But it was late, and I felt like I didn't want to rush the ending. This morning I did a few morning things, then hunkered down with it to finish it off. I'm glad I didn't rush.

This is a book I would never have picked up if I hadn't read Smallworld's review. It just looks like "women's fiction" which I typically don't like. It is a woman's story, but also much more.

The story is set in during the Great Depression, in a Colorado mining town. But Hennie, the main character, loves to tell stories, so it really goes back to the time of the Civil War when she was a young woman as she tells her story and the stories of many others. (She also quilts; it's not a quilting book but quilts and quilting figure prominently in the story - making me want to do some sewing.)

Some of the stories are funny; some are heartbreakingly sad; some are gruesome. I often stop reading a book when the tragedies start piling up and the story becomes too bleak. But the author never lets this book get to that point. There are lots of surprises in the story, and some coincidences, too, but they never come off as contrived. The ending is quite satisfying. Endings of books are very important to me; I really hate when a book seems to stop abruptly with an outlandish ending, or when the loose ends are neatly and improbably all tied up. This ended so perfectly. I wil look for more books by this author.

As I started reading the book I kept thinking that I need to read Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose next. Now it's been at least 20 years since I read that, so I don't remember much about it; the only connection I can come up with is the setting of western mining towns. But I guess it's time to get that one back out and take a look.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Why we start our school year in July

Some people think I'm crazy to start our homeschooling year in July. They have fond memories of their own long summer vacations and think I'm cruel to have my kids doing math before Labor Day. That's OK; they can do things their way.

We have over 30 of our 180 required school days done. Some of those were accomplished over 2 half days. We didn't have to spend a lot of time reviewing math concepts forgotten over the long break. (We have enough trouble with math after a short break.) We continued on with our history and "language arts" and started some interesting science work while I continue to search for a good, "regular" science curriculum. (Nothing I come across seems quite right, but they're "doing science" in any case.)

But here's the real reason: today is a gorgeous late-summer day. It hasn't been a terribly hot summer by most standards, but my kids wilt when it gets over 85 or so. They don't mind being inside reading and doing other work when it's really hot out. (I'm not pretending that they enjoy all their schoolwork, but they know they have to do it, and why not on a miserably hot day?) But today, it's mild and beautiful. They went out to bounce on the trampoline (a recent hand-me-down gift from some friends) and are now playing commando with all their duct-tape-and-cardboard-tube weaponry and backpacks full of canned goods. I love it that my 12-year-old will still play this way with his sister.

And I can let them do that because in the hot days of July and August they were doing their math.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Earlier this summer we met a boy, about the age of mine, in the neighborhood. Actually my boy had encountered him a few times while playing street hockey with some other kids, but he'd never really known him. He was going through the neighborhood soliciting yard jobs when he came to our door.

We stood out on what passes for our front porch and chatted a bit. Right from the start the boy seemed eager for a friend. He was up front about being bored this summer. He wanted to know if he could come in right that minute and hang out. No? How about tomorrow then? When I made a vague reference to maybe sometime going to the local pool, he wanted to know if we could go right then. His mom was standing there but she didn't do anything to rein him in a little.

A day or so later we invited him over. The kids hung out together while his mom and I chatted. I had been careful to set an approximate time when we had to do something so it wasn't an open-ended visit. They were here for a couple of hours.

The next day, and the next, the boy called, but mine was not available. The boy called every day, sometimes more than once. Every few days they'd get together for an hour or two. But usually I had to remind my boy to call him, and he really didn't always feel like it.


I have been on the wrong side of a one-sided relationship before. It took me a while to clue in to the fact that I was always initiating the get-togethers and when I decided to stop trying, the relationship ended. That was not fun. And I saw how hurt my girl was when girls she met soon after we moved here showed no interest in her. She invited them over, they seemed to have a good time, but there was no reciprocation. She's made some other friends now, but it was hard for her to understand why the neighborhood girls didn't want to befriend her. Of course we talked about the long hours kids are at school, and the fact that piano lessons and such have to come after all those hours. Those kids are busy, very very busy. We also talked about compatibility: they didn't like dolls; she doesn't like talking about tween celebrities. She understood, but was still lonely.

So, I try to be aware of these issues with my kids and their friendships. We don't want to be hurt, and we don't want to hurt others.


So I asked my boy why he didn't want to call this neighbor and he told me they just didn't have anything in common. There were no shared interests at all. They would get together and talk at each other about things they wanted to talk about. I tried to pay attention during one visit and I could see the problem. They didn't really have anything to talk about, and didn't enjoy the same activities. I also learned that the neighbor is familiar with, and comfortable using, some pretty vulgar language. Once when my boy was at his house and I had to call to have him come home early, the neighbor argued with me a bit; he didn't think my boy should have had to leave early. So I wasn't too inclined to promote this friendship either.


Kids have to spend a lot of time with people they are not compatible with. I have a friend who has kids the same age as mine, but our two boys don't really get along. They are mostly nice to each other when they are forced to be together, but they are very different in temperament and interests. One loves sports and is very competitive; the other enjoys a casual game now and then but cares more about having fun than winning. It can be frustrating for both of them. Yet we expect them to be friends because their mothers are friends.

Of course schoolkids are not compatible with all their classmates.


Now my boy doesn't appear to be someone who needs a lot of time with friends. He has his Boy Scouts and another kid around the corner he sometimes gets together with. He has his sister, and the dog, and books and the computer and now his soccer team. He does not spend a lot of time sitting around bored, wanting someone - anyone - to come over.

How and why was I supposed to make him be friends with this neighbor?

Finally, that last time the neighbor called, he just told the semi-truth: that he has been having a busy summer, that we have started our school year, and that he would call when he could. In other words, don't call me, I'll call you. Harsh, isn't it?

Of course as Christians we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we might consider that that command might include befriending a lonely kid on the block. I still don't feel great about all this, but I still don't know what I would have done differently.

Public school is starting soon, or has started already (I never really know). This neighbor is or will soon be busy with his classes and school friends. I assume he will, or has, found kids he is compatible with. I hope he has.

And I hope we learn how to do this better next time.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling

Homegrown Mommy is hosting the Carnival of Homeschooling this week.

I think every homeschooler ought to check out When Homeschooling is Hard at The Architect and the Artist. It's a good list of reasons to be thankful for homeschooling.

Of course there are many more good posts to read at the carnival. Check it out.