Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Whatcha Readin'? (week 39)

You have probably heard of the equation used for figuring out the socially acceptable age difference of romantic partners:

Younger partner's age must be > 1/2 (older partner's age) + 7.

If younger partner's age is < 1/2 (older partner's age) + 7, then there is a very good chance that the older partner is having a midlife crisis and is making a fool of him/herself.  (I'm looking at you, Tom Cruise.)

I developed the Reader's Corollary this equation. I have to read half the book, plus 7 pages and then I can quit in good conscience. Life is short, and there are more books out there than I can possibly read. Now, that said, I finish the vast majority of books I begin. I'm all about the closure at the end. And that bass. I'm all about that bass, too.

I'm sure you can tell where this is going. I had to break up with a book this week. 

Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison looked promising on GoodReads, but by the end of our first date, I was questioning what I thought I saw in this one to put it on my "To Read" list.

For one thing, it is an epistolary novel, written entirely as journal entries. That doesn't sound so bad, does it? What if I told you every single journal entry could have been written on post-it notes? Chapter 1 was 2 1/2 lines long. Chapter 2 was 3 lines long. 

It gave me the feeling of being on Law Order, when the detectives walk into the crazy conspiracy theorist's secret room and there are notes and newspaper clippings and surveillance photos all over the walls. That is not a feeling I'm comfortable with.

Why Did I Ever was like being dropped into somebody's mental Twitter account. 140 characters that made sense to them at the time, but wasn't necessarily fit for public consumption.  Ironically, as I am writing this--literally, at this very moment--I am beginning to appreciate Mary Robison's point.  

The protagonist has some serious problems that she's dealing with. Her life is in shambles, her adult childrens' lives are in shambles. A few of the longer chapters (e.g., 12 lines) allude to her son having been the recent victim of a violent crime; her daughter is a junkie. As I got closer to the half-the-book-plus-7-pages cutoff, I started to wonder if Money (the protagonist) was a multiple personality or possibly the imagining of the autistic child in St. Elsewhere.  

Why Did I Ever is actually well-written. It's just that it's written in a style I don't personally appreciate. And even that isn't entirely accurate. I found several lines that I thought were just brilliant. In the chapter entitled "Ride Along With You," one Money's coworkers says to her, "I just detest you. To the point that it's almost invigorating."  I loved that sentence. Another example of greatness, from chapter 276: (Why, why, why? Why do some chapters have titles and some have only numbers?)
Anyway, in chapter 276, Money writes, "I think perhaps a syllable maximum should be set for some people and, I'm sorry, but rather a low one."

All in all, I had to break up with Why Did I Ever. There were definitely a couple of interesting things going on, but I just knew that if I stuck with it, I would be sorry. I didn't want to hear about the crime against her son in minimalist prose. There were no signs that anything was going to work out, and there wasn't enough narrative for me to even hope that I was going to understand whatever did happen. And, strangely, I'm sad about it all, just like a real break up.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Homeschool week in review (week 5)

I'm still trying to find the best time to write up our week in review. Yes, I know. Friday seems like the obvious right answer, doesn't it? If only I were EXHAUSTED by the time Friday rolls around. 

Bible: The name of God this week was Qedosh Yisrael, the Holy One of Israel. 
The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the entire assembly of Israel 
and say to them: 'Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy.'"
Leviticus 19:1-2

Another thing we've been doing in our Bible time is getting to know where things are in the Bible. I made this chart for the kids as kind of a cheat sheet while they learn.

Both kids had a decent grasp on where the "biggies" were located, but I wanted them to be able to flip to, say, 2 Chronicles without having to check the table of contents. We drill these in a couple of different ways. I might call out a book and ask one child if it's in the Old or New Testament. Then I'll ask the other child what category that book is in. They also like me to ask what comes before it and after it.  Sometimes I ask them to name a book of history (or poetry or gospels) and they go back and forth until they can't think of any more. And finally, the good old-fashioned sword drill. Remember those? I try to choose a key verse or passage that sums up that book and have them look it up. For example, I might say to look up Exodus 3:7-10, followed by a brief discussion about how Exodus is the story of God's people's exit from Egypt. Or Proverbs 9:10, with a discussion about what God says is wise.

Math: My younger child is working on division, and my older child is working on converting fractions to decimals.

Grammar: Nouns & pronouns for one, direct and indirect quotations for the other. 

Literature: Everybody is within a few days of finishing their biographies and starting their project for this unit. They're going to be putting together a newspaper based on their subject's life. It will include at least two articles, a cartoon strip depicting an event from the book and a timeline showing significant dates and events in their subject's life. I'm hoping to see some historical context. And dare I hope for evidence that they're really into it? Here's hoping!

History: We read about the Peace of Versailles that ended World War I, including Woodrow Wilson's idea for the League of Nations and the punishment of Germany. We also touched on the emergence of Joseph Stalin as leader of Russia. I'd like to spend a little more time on that topic.

Science (co-op class): Have to brag on my son a little bit here. He had an opportunity to go on a fishing trip with his dad and uncle, but only if he agreed to take his science along so he wouldn't get behind. He actually did the entire week's work before he left! That's a massive jump in maturity and responsibility over what I would have seen even just a year ago.

IEW (co-op class): Their assignment this week was to choose a paragraph out of any book and give it the "IEW treatment." Will, wisely, chose a section about Stalin from Story of the World that can double as his next history summary, and he finished it before he went out of town. Katie chose an exciting excerpt from one of her favorite books. Since she's not going on this trip, she'll finish her assignment on our regularly-scheduled IEW days.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Go in your kitchen and make this now.

The best soup on the planet. This soup is like getting a hug from your grandmother. It's like putting on an old pair of jeans and finding a $20 in the pocket. It's like having your teenager spontaneously say, "I love you, Mom."

I've been on Pinterest for several years now, and I've tried many recipes that were good, but not great and a few that were apparently pinned by people with no taste buds. Believe me when I say that this soup lives up to the hype. It was every bit as delicious as I hoped it would be.  I made it with my daughter, who is learning to cook, so I didn't make any intentional changes to the recipe, but when we got down to the herb part, I didn't have any bay leaves on hand, nor have I ever had herbes de Provence in the spice cabinet. I may get some for next time, but this soup was fantastic without them. I wouldn't recommend omitting the gruyere at serving time, though.

I also didn't have any crusty artisan bread (as pictured) to go with it. Frankly, I'm not sure I'm equipped for that kind of bliss.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Whatcha reading, week 38

Last Friday, I finished The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. I really enjoyed this one! The story is set in the 1920s, and Rindell does a wonderful job capturing that period. Her writing evokes both the genteel upper-class of society that we imagine and the seedier side of Prohibition: speakeasies and crime.

I was not far into the book when I realized the narrator, Rose, was not quite right. With each passing chapter, she became MORE not quite right, until  I thought I was going to burst in anticipation of finally learning about the situation Rose kept alluding to. Once that was revealed, things got even crazier. I'm not kidding when I say that I was holding my breath through many of the final scenes. It was fascinating to watch everything unfold.

A quick Google search just told me that a movie based on The Other Typist is in the works. You know what they say about the movie vs. the book, but if Hitchcock somehow became available, it just might work.  What I enjoyed most about the book was the incremental revealing of salient details. At various times, I thought I knew about 50% of what was really happening. A couple of chapters later, more would be revealed, and yet I would think I knew less than I did earlier. I heard an expression once: "You think you've discovered all her crazy, then you find out there's a whole underground parking garage of crazy yet to explore." I think that's a fantastic description of The Other Typist.

This would make an excellent book club selection. In fact, within the first few chapters, I was wishing I had a book club to discuss it with. Without spoiling the ending, let's just say there is MUCH to interpret and debate. If anyone here has read The Other Typist, please let me know, because I would love to discuss it with you!


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Homeschool week in review (week 4)

Bible: This week's Name of God was El Kanna, which means Consuming Fire and Jealous God.
For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.  
Deuteronomy 4:24

But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one 
who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire.
Deuteronomy 9:3 

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, 
let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God 
an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 
for our God is a consuming fire.  
Hebrews 12:28-29

Math: Fractions still, and they're going really well. (This is significant, because last year, we just about killed each other trying to teach or learn this same stuff.) We're also beginning to move into decimals, which this book describes in a totally different way than I've ever seen before. I held my breath, but either Will didn't remember having it explained differently last year or this explanation made more sense to him. He was able to sail through it, thank you God.

Grammar: Katie had a test over subjects and predicates and did very well on it. Will started a chapter on nouns, which he could do in his sleep. At least, he could do it in his sleep until we got to plural nouns. He made a noun plural by adding apostrophe-s and I freaked out on him. (Apostrophe-s is one of my biggest grammar pet peeves. You never make a word plural that way! NO WIRE HANGERS!!) I don't know if he thought it was funny or if I scared all the previous pluralizing knowledge right out of him, but next he wanted to "drop the Y and add -ing." That would be strike two for Mom. "I.N.G.??  The plural of city is citing??" Thankfully, next we moved on to collective nouns, which we always think are fun. A pride of lions, a class of students, a murder of crows, what's not to love?

Literature: Everybody is still finishing their biographies, and I'm working on a template for their final projects on these books. I predict Katie will really get into the final project and Will will do the bare minimum, which is a shame, because I think C.S. Lewis (Will's book) could yield a fascinating end product.

History: We talked about Ireland, the IRA, Sein Fein and also India and Mahatma Ghandi. (I was surprised to learn that Ghandi's famous hunger strike lasted only 3 days. Did you know that?)

Science (co-op class): The General Science class was focused on the scientific method. It could have been pretty straightforward, but I'm noticing the textbook repeats itself by restating what it previously said regardless of the wordiness of the section being repeated. Or restated. For clarity. I find that distracting, confusing and irritating.  The other class--Physical Science--was covering air pollution. Also in exhaustive detail.

IEW (co-op class): They each had two paragraphs to write, and they did great work with them. Each paragraph had to contain two clauses, which is a surprisingly sophisticated construction, because a clause has to have a subject and a verb. See what I did there? "Which is a surprisingly sophisticated construction"is a phrase, but "because a clause has to have a subject and a verb" is a clause. Okay, enough nerdy grammar talk. They're using strong verbs and adverbs like old pros. It makes me so proud.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Homeschool week in review (week 3)

Our homeschool year has officially, completely (finally!) launched! It was a good week.

Bible: Our Name of God for this week was Jehovah Nissi, The Lord is my banner. I really got a lot out of this one. In ancient times, a banner was carried into battle. I've always pictured the banner as a fabric flag, but we learned that the banner was much sturdier, made of wood or even metal. At the top, they would mount symbols of their values, much the way the American flag gives us a surge of patriotism. These banners served several purposes: first, to rally the troops in battle, second to guide the troops to safety or a meeting place, and third, as a sign of victory.

Moses built an alter and called it The LORD is my Banner. 
He said, "For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. 
The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.
Exodus 17:15-16

Math: Fractions for one, place value for the other. Math is not my dealio.

Grammar: Will is finishing up the first unit of his Grammar and will have his second test on Tuesday. Since Katie started a week later, she's a little past halfway in her first unit.

IEW (co-op class): Both kids' assignments came together fine. Honestly, I wish they were being asked to do a little more, since they're so familiar with IEW. They're doing a who/which clause and an adverb. No sentence starters, no banned words, no strong verbs. I think I'm going to start punching the assignments up a little.

Science (co-op class): Complete opposite of IEW. This class is reeeeeeallllly stretching us. Lots of homework and harder work than any of us are quite used to. They both had a test that went well, but I'm not sure they gained any confidence from that.

Literature: We are reading biographies this month. Both of the kids' books were written by Janet and Geoff Benge, but one is from the series "Christian Heroes: Then & Now" and the other is from "Heroes of History." I think Will is going to have an easier time talking about the character virtues of C.S. Lewis than Katie is with Milton Hershey.

History: We finished learned about PART A and PART B. Will and Katie turned in their first notebook projects. Will filled in a map showing the Central Powers and the Allied Powers in World War 1. Katie did a comic strip showing the life of Phan Boi Chau.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Whatcha reading, week 37

I took a detour last week to read Biblical Womanhood instead of Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. I think it's kind of interesting that last week, in the midst of some church drama, I was reading Biblical Womanhood and then immediately after that, I read Black and Blue when domestic violence is blowing up all over the headlines.

So, yeah, a book about domestic violence wasn't the cheeriest of topics. Black and Blue is the story of a woman who flees her abusive cop husband with her ten-year-old son.  The book opens as they leave their lives in New York and follows them as they set up a new life in a new place with new identities.  I read this book in one day, but I'm not sure that was because it was inherently riviting. In fact, the story dragged a little in places and dragged a lot in others. Still, I knew the husband was going to turn back up at some point and I wanted to be there when he did. 

Besides Frannie and her son, there were a handful of supporting characters in the story, but they were pretty one deminsional: the new friend, the new boyfriend-who's-not-a-boyfriend.  Beth (the name Frannie assumed) works as a home health aide, and the most interesting relationship she forms is a friendship with the elderly wife of one of her patients. Beth is not able to be completely honest with anyone because of the risk of her husband finding out where she is, but on reflection, I think she's been less-than-honest with herself and her son for so long, that revealing little and misdirecting when she can't avoid revealing has become second nature.

This is the second Anna Quindlen book I've read in the last month. (The other was Every Last One, which was also decidedly dark.) Quindlen has either been in an abusive relationship, is close to someone who has or has done excellent research. She hits all the right notes, from Beth blaming herself for her husband's actions to planting seeds in Beth's upbringing to explain why she was vulnerable to such a relationship. What she does best, however, is subtly portraying Beth's fatalism. Over the years they were married, through his abuse and her decision to stay, something in Beth clearly died. She loves her son deeply, but she's so damaged that when something awful happens to him, the reader is most struck by her inability to fully engage. She is sad, but resigned. Does she think she somehow deserved it? I don't think so, but she's lacking the fight you would normally expect from a mother in that situation.

Up next: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. How's this for an opening line: "They said the typewriter would unsex us." Can't wait to watch this one unfold.