The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare. Analysis and synopsis here.

I only read this play -reportedly Shakespeare’s shortest- because our middle school aged daughter was recently a part of its production as a part of the classical education program our children are enrolled in. I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare. However, I am a huge fan of comedy and this play is really quite funny.

The language, as anyone who read Shakespeare in high school can attest, is cumbersome and often frustrating. I know for certain that there were parts of the dialogue that our daughter didn’t quite grasp and for that I am thankful. Our drama instructors, a wonderful couple who love the Lord dearly, are former New York theater people who stayed true to the spirit of Shakespeare’s original play and Shakespeare had a ribald sense of humor.

My  kid is down there in one of these outstanding costumes that a very talented mother put together from blankets, duvet covers, and other miscellaneous scraps of fabric.

comedy of errors

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Book life, homeschooling, and a request.

I still have a few book reviews in draft, which are being slowed down significantly as we adjust to our new homeschool workload. Sometime over the next two weeks, I expect to post reviews of the following books:

  • Captains Courageous
  • Hillbilly Elegy
  • A Bear Called Paddington
  • Your Man is Wonderful

In the meantime, we are experiencing quite the challenge juggling the demands of homeschooling, the homework and readings associated with the supplemental classes our kids are taking, and regular homemaking necessities.

The positives are that our kids are getting top notch instruction from some amazingly gifted women (and a few men) in subjects I could never have tackled with the same depth of knowledge and enthusiasm. Latin, literature, drama, speech, visual arts, and art appreciation taught by teachers with passion for the subjects, years of studying them, and a wholly Christian worldview are pretty priceless. We are thankful to have found such a great community to add to our homeschool repertoire and more parents to join us on the journey.

The challenge is that being out of the house two days a week means that we have to incorporate the reading and homework for those subjects, the instruction of the subjects I am solely responsible for (math and science primarily), meals laundry, and other daily duties into a workable schedule. This, five readers, is where you come in.

I am looking for a scheduling program -online or PDF- that I can use to organize our day, keep good records, and generally organize our new homeschool life. It doesn’t have to be free. I’m willing to pay for it so long as it is adaptable and works. Up until this point our days have been fluid and relaxed because we weren’t out as much with the exception of our much less demanding co-op. It’s a new day, and I need something new to tackle it with. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Today has actually been a pretty sane day. So much so that we made it to the library. Everyone in our house has different reading interests, and as I moved about the house this afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice the different stacks and what they revealed about the range of readers:

 

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My stack.

 

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lover of all things magical.
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The eclectic reader.
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foodie/aspiring culinary artist.
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Too busy mapping northern Europe to check out books! Also busy reading Captains Courageous.

I’ve had to break out my long abandoned -but pretty effective- laundry schedule to keep that from being a huge pain. My slow cooker is also going to start getting quite the workout.

Basically, I’ve got to up my time management game since we decided to abandon the relaxed homeschooling approach.

What Your Doctor May NOT Tell You About Premenopause

doctor may not tell you

What Your Doctor May NOT Tell You About Premenopause: Balance your hormones and your life from thrity to fifty by John Lee, M.D. and Jesse Hanley, M.D. Originally published in 1999. 395 pages.

‘Kay, folks. I read this one almost two months ago, and told myself that I wasn’t going to review it until I had tested the suggestions a bit. Then I tested the suggestions, found a couple of them were not only healthy but genuinely helpful, and still waffled on reviewing it.

Sunday, I handed it to a friend of mine who I thought might be helped by it, and realized that I was avoiding reviewing it because…well, it’s another public declaration of my stage of life. But it’s a great book, and the health improvement suggestions are not only very efffective, they align with my ideals as well. So I’m getting over myself long enough to recommend this book. It’s that good, and I want to share this information with other women.

If my hormones had started wigging out at 40, or I’d had time to process the gradual changes many women report experiencing starting at 35, I might have been better prepared for stuff. However, I was humming along like clockwork with nary the faintest hint of anything out of the ordinary for 45 years. Very recently, little things popped up here and there, and my desire to keep living my normal life in all respects sent me on a hunt for answers, and that hunt led me to this book.

People (ahem, like me) heard Suzanne Somers going on about not having life hindered by hormonal changes and laughed. If I met her today, I would offer her my apologies nd join her on a tour to tell every woman over 40 that you really don’t have to have your life, moods, and sex life turned upside down by the calendar. You can find what to do, how and why by reading this book.

One of the things I appreciated about it was that these are OB/Gyns who openly and defiantly advise women to ignore most of the conventional medical wisdom and toxic prescriptions offered by most gynecological professionals. A second thing I appreciated about them was that they had an entire chapter dedicated to the deadly and damaging nature of artificial birth control. They actually advocate the calendar method for those couples interested in child spacing.

They strongly discourage elective surgeries to handle issues caused by wild hormonal swings or conditions such as menorrhagia. They strongly discourage estrogen-like replacement alternatives as well, although they don’t spend much time on that since the book is written for women who are not yet menopausal. Perhaps in five years I’ll pick up the next book.

They go into great detail about how our hormones really work. For instance, that it’s not a decrease in estrogen but progestrone that is the culprit when pre-menopausal women first start to experience problems. That alone was very enlightening for me, as well as the less expensive, non drug, all natural, bioidentical hormonal supplements and replacements that work with a woman’s body rather than against it. In other words, unlike progestins or  ERT, natural hormones won’t make you gain weight or increase your risk of developing cancer later in life.

After making several of the adjustments outlined in the book, and probably because I got started working the problem at the first sign of trouble, I have seen a lot of success with every bit of the advice I tried. From greater ease of weight management, to an immediate return to regular cycles, to better sleep. It was actually quite remarkable, until I stopped to consider that the natural way, using the stuff that God created, should yield the best results.

I suppose my grade for this book is obvious, but for the sake of consistency, I’ll offer one.

Grade: A

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals.

sitting kills book

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. By Dr. Joan Vernikos. Published in 2011. 150 pages.

This is another one of those books I stumbled onto while perusing the shelves of the local library. Just as its title implies, this is a little book which explores the science of how gravity, and our use of it benefits our body in terms of health and longevity. I found it fascinating because it the findings of the studies Dr. Vernikos unveiled were an education of gravity that I was pleased to get a refresher on.

It’s not a secret to anyone that sedentary living is damaging to our health and vitality. This is as common to us as our knowledge that the sky is blue. What this life scientist from NASA found however, is that the commonly proposed solutions -30 minutes or more of exercise, 3-5 times per week- is ultimately not the long term answer to the dilemma.

It’s not that time in the gym is without benefit. It certainly is and even improves health metrics on a few levels, including weight and obesity related disorders. It just isn’t the magic elixir we’ve all been lead to believe when it comes to long term health and vigor. To achiever that, in addition to good genetic fortune, requires a life that is active more often than not, and takes advantage of the inherent benefits of gravitational pull on those who stand and move more than they sit and stew.

The gist of the book is that if you spend most of your time standing and acting with the effects of gravity in mind, you increase your chances of being able to do things like stand up from a chair on your own at 90, if you live to see 90, of course.

The interesting thing about this book is that a lot of the tips and tricks the author recommends -as a result of the studies they’ve done at NASA on the effects of gravity on the human body- are things that are easy to do but that many of us don’t do. I was shocked to realize how often, for example, I unconsciously use a small amount of leverage such as my hands to get up and down from a seated position until I started making a point of doing as the book suggests, and getting up and down without using any leverage at all.

A lot of the research overview in this book (because I don’t expect many of my 10 readers to actually read this) can be found here:

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals (pdf)

We have been fortunate in our life to have been surrounded by plenty of lifelong friends and family members who have lifestyles and mobility that defy what our culture has been conditioned to expect when we reach a certain age. As I read this I was almost immediately reminded of the couple who run the ministry to the homeless and needy at our church. Our entire family works alongside them so we get to spend a lot of time with them.

The wife is 61, the husband 71. They are on the move -physically- almost constantly. They can’t sit still if there is something to be done, even in their own house. Their energy level is something the average 40 year old American would envy. They are textbook examples of what Dr. Vernikos describes in this book. I am standing as I type this review, which is actually not unusual for me, but I am certainly inspired to make better use of the inherent work our bodies experience from gravity simply because we’re standing up.

Lots of science in this book. I liked it, but it’s not something everyone will want to sift through. Luckily the second half is an action plan any person can skip right to and begin to make use of.

Not a literary masterpiece, but that isn’t the point. I learned a lot.

Grade: B

 

 

 

 

Write These Laws on Your Children

write these laws on your children

Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling, by Robert Kunzman. Published in 2010. 240 pages.

When I ran across this book on the education shelf of our local library, I checked it out with a hearty bit of skepticism. Anytime a researcher is purporting to give readers a glimpse “inside the world of….[insert here]”, I expect that I am going to read a hit piece. I was pleasantly surprised.

Kunzman, despite his clear bias as a former public high school teacher, took pains to try (emphasis on try) to give homeschooling a fair shake and acknowledge the upsides as well as the potential pitfalls.

After what turned out to be a more arduous search for willing participants than he anticipated, the author spends significant time visiting with and chronicling the techniques, atmosphere, learning, and family environments of five Christian homeschooling families who live in various regions of the country.

The fact that the families who were willing to participate were scattered around the country was useful in the presentation of how the different families, despite their firm adherence to Christian faith, processed the delicate balance of homeschooling and the regulations or lack thereof in their particular states.

Of the five families he visited, only two of them had very large broods. One family, a Vermont pastor and his wife, were the parents of one child, a 12-year-old daughter. I appreciated the variety of family sizes represented rather than focusing on families of six or more since our experience “inside the world of Christian homeschooling” has been more in line with what Kunzman observed. While we certainly have very large families in our community, the vast majority are families of 3-4 children with “big” families such as ours being represented mostly by families of 5-7 children, and a scant few with more than that.

The families which provided the most comprehensive and satisfactory education experience in the author’s assessment included one of the largest families, as well as the family with one child. The other three families ranged in his opinion from adequate to what he considered outright educational neglect. Most of the families were like ours in that they were willing to begin to a la carte school subjects as their children reached the middle school years and beyond. Some of the teenagers were transitioning to community college as dually enrolled students while others would begin using public or private schools for labs and music instruction their parents were not equipped to provide at home.

There were a couple of families for whom this was not an option due to ideological or logistical reasons and unsurprisingly, they were the families whose children Kunzman felt were getting shorter educational shrift. This wasn’t in my opinion based on the information he provided, always  fair assessment.

My biggest problem with Kunzman’s assessment of homeschooling was his dogged and repeated insistence that because the children in the families represented were being raised with a strictly Biblical worldview, that somehow their ability to “think for themselves” was being short-circuited in a way that it wouldn’t be if they attended public schools. He frequently intimated that the public school environment is one where the free flow of competing worldviews and ideologies are offered for children to make up their own minds.

Public schools are every bit as ideologically rigid as devout Christian schools or Christian homeschoolers, and there is mountains of evidence to support the notion that colleges and universities are even worse. Nevertheless a couple of these “rigid patriarchal ideologues” allowed their teenagers to attend community colleges.

That he actually believed that public school are bastions of free thought, despite the parent attempts to argue otherwise to him, was a bit irritating. No one in the education monopoly seems to have a problem with student indoctrination into progressive ideology, which is exactly what happens. Students are probably less free to learn to “think for themselves” than they are in a Christian homeschool family.

In between the chapters where he spent time with the families -on and off over two years- Kunzman visited homeschool conferences and did interviews with officials at HSLDA. One short chapter dedicated to the suggestion that conservative homeschoolers are motivated by race also filled one of those spots, although Kunzman refrained from commenting except to note that three of the families he visited couldn’t have possibly been referring to race when they talked about the “public school environment” since they lived in places that were lily white.

The atmosphere at the homeschool conferences he attended was understandably very pro homeschooling and adversarial to the suggestion of increased accountability to the state to ensure that homeschooled students are getting a proper education.

Aside from his private conversations with the fathers of the researched families, however, there was little in the day to day schooling or curriculums which indicated that a conflation of Christianity and political ideology was a major part of their homeschool motivation. Kunzman found the same when he visited the churches of the families, which was refreshing to me because I have met very few homeschool families where politics is a major part of why they do this, or how they do it.

The book was more fair than I expected, and Kunzman did concede that there are public school turning out kids far less literate than the ones he felt -rightly so- were losing out on a good education. Overall, the book did a good job of asking questions as well as making me think about some things as we continue on our homeschool journey.

Grade: B-

No content advisory necessary.

Mary Poppins

mary poppins

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers, originally published in 1934. 224 pages.

“Don’t you know that everybody’s got a Fairyland of their own?”
Disney, especially, as one of the first things we noticed was that the book P.L. Travers wrote is pretty different from the movie Walt Disney produced.
Our third grader decently read this one and enjoyed it a great deal. She read large portions to me throughout the book, but I myself have not read it. The grade at the bottom will be hers, not mine.
This is a story we all know well by now. A chipper, cheerful, magical nanny floats into the banks household and whips the children into shape. It wasn’t long before our daughter noted, “Mary Poppins was much nicer in the movie!” There were also more children in the book than in the movie.
In fact, there were quite a few differences between the book and the movie. However, since we have had numerous occasion to dissect the differences between real books or fairy tales and sanitized Disney versions, our kid took the differences in stride.
The book was well written, stretched her eight-year-old vocabulary, and left her looking forward to reading more Mary Poppins books. It was a win.
She gives it an A.

 

Curriculum Review: Student Writing Intensives

 

swiLast year I asked for reviews of the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s program because we were considering using it with our fifth-grader. Because we are friends with several families who are a part of Classical Conversations (we are not), I wasn’t unfamiliar with it. It is the writing program endorsed by CC. However, I couldn’t get a good read on whether or not it would be a good fit for us.

The veteran homeschoolers who read the post were really helpful in helping me to narrow down what would be helpful and what might be expensive and extemporaneous. Not long after, as if it were serendipity, a mother who found the program too overwhelming let me borrow the Teaching Writing Structure and Style dvds. Frankly,  I found those overwhelming as well.

Included in the very back, however, were three samples lessons of the Student Writing Intensives, which the student is supposed to watch, follow along with, and do the writing assignments. I turned on the first lesson for our daughter, and she enjoyed it a great deal.

We briefly considered if it was worth the investment to buy the discs since theoretically, I could teach her everything covered through the program. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that this is one instance where it would be worth the $149 to buy the program and let Mr. Pudewa teach her the basics of how to write effectively.

It has turned out to be worth the investment. Firstly, she genuinely looks forward to writing and following along with the lessons in a way that she simply didn’t when I was teaching her the principles. Secondly, Andrew Pudewa is more entertaining and engaging than Mom, and his way of breaking down the principles of writing is simply better than what I could have come up with on my own. Lastly, her creative juices are flowing without as much interference from me. She’s a more creative and effective writer.

In a nutshell, I heartily endorse Student writing Intensives, and I agree with the original commenters here that if you’re already a decent writer, you can save yourself $100 and skip the discs on Teaching Writing, Structure and Style.