The dangers in our midst

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We’re listening to Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing in the car. It was published in 1972 and I read it as a kid. I have fond memories of the whole Judy Blume oeuvre. But listening to it with my kids, I have to say I’m shocked that it’s still allowed in children’s libraries.  At one point, Peter explains that his dad has told him what to do when he (inevitably) gets mugged as he goes to and from Central Park alone: give the muggers whatever they ask for and try not to get hit in the head.

I must have blacked out that horror from my memory. How could I let my children hear such dangerous words? Then I started thinking about all the other hazards lurking on our book shelves.

In The Courage of Sarah Noble, the eight year old protagonist is left with a newly met Native American family while her father goes to fetch the rest of the family to their new home in the Connecticut wilderness. I mean, they barely speak the same language,much less know one another. And her father is gone for weeks!

In Sign of the Beaver, 12-year-old Matt James Hallowell is left alone–completely alone–for an entire summer. And I don’t want to spoil it, but things get pretty dicey. I was biting my nails.

sign of the  beaver

Nothing about this cover is comforting.

 

In The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, 12-year-old Claudia and her 9-year-old brother Jamie run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Running away AND endangering priceless artifacts!

And then there’s A Wrinkle in Time. Those kids leave the solar system! With three total strangers! Who aren’t even human!

Don’t even get me started on My Side of the Mountain.  (All those books have won awards. Can you believe that sort of recklessness was encouraged?)

In a world where people panic over children walking to the park unsupervised and neighbors call Child Protective Services for letting a kid play outside on their own, it’s surprising that these books are allowed anywhere near kids. Forget banning Tom Sawyer because of the offensive language, that whole cave scenario will have parents clutching pearls and demanding a bonfire be built to purge ourselves of the dangerous words.

Let you think this is paranoia, remember vintage Sesame Street is no longer considered appropriate for children. That’s probably the future of these books: nostalgia curios for adults of a certain age rather than soul-forming literature for impressionable children.

Of course, those of us who love these books and want to pass them on to their children have hopefully developed just the adventurous, creative and rebellious spirit to do so no matter what the nannies say. We’ll carve out hidden compartments in the walls and safe spaces under loose floorboards. We’ll teach our children secret passwords and unbreakable codes. Because if there’s one thing these stories teach, it’s that if you really want an adventure, you have to take risks.

To quote a great book, “Keep up your courage.”

What is your favorite subversive children’s book?

Related: All the best stories have one thing in common: No parents.

 

The next adventure is here!

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Underground Abductor

Well, not here-here, because I forgot to order it early. But we’ll have it by Monday. What is it? The latest from Nathan Hale: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor.

I’ve previously written about these great books and my re-evaluation of the place of graphic novels. (Also, I may have squeed when I saw this post.)

We’re all very excited about the new book, and you should be too. Check out the book trailer:

You can getall five Hazardous Tales here.

War stories and adventure tales

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aeneas_flight_from_troy_by_federico_barocci1

Aeneas flight from Troy by Federico Barrocci, 1598

 

I just finished reading The Aeneid with my daughters. Previously, we had read (well, listened to) The Iliad and The Odyssey. These three epics are arguably three pillars of all Western Literature. (A fourth being the Bible.)

Of the three, I had only read The Iliad previously, although I was familiar with the stories of all three. But familiarity with the the tale of Odysseus and the Cyclops is nothing like reading the original. There is a reason these stories have withstood the rise and fall of so many empires and cultures. The stories and the characters are timeless, profound, and powerful.

Of the three epics, I like The Aeneid the best. It was less gory than The Iliad (although it had its share of bloody battle scenes), and it is culturally more accessible. Especially when we read The Odyssey, the differences in what is considered admirable is great. It’s easy to see why the Romans didn’t think old Ulysses was much of a hero. Even though there is still a great gap in ancient Roman culture and our own, there are a lot more commonalities.  Aeneas, in particular, is a hero that I can relate to. Andrew Kern’s “should” questions are much more interesting and debatable when applied to The Aeneid than Homer’s works. “Should Achilles have returned to the battle?” Well, duh. (“Never leave a man behind/Never abandon your friends/Suck it up, Buttercup.”) “Should Aeneid have left Dido?” Well…maybe?

(Yes, I could come up with a decent argument for Achilles actions if I put some thought into it. But it takes a greater effort for me to “reach” Achilles, so to speak. But of course, that’s one of the blessings of great literature–that reaching that comes from the effort.)

Another reason I think I enjoyed The Aeneid more is that is moved at a much faster pace. In twelve books, it covered the same territory that The Iliad and The Odyssey covered at twenty-four books each. Of course, that’s not necessarily good that my cultural preference is for fast-paced, cut to the action, stories. But it is true that The Iliad would be half the length if every gory kill wasn’t accompanied by a lengthy speech taunting the defeated foe, and The Odyssey is a smidge repetitive.

Even though I’ve finished these three epics, I’m not finished with them. I want to re-read them slowly, as in a book a month for the next few years. I want to ruminate on them and let them work on me. I want to be thinking of them as we continue reading through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and modern times. These stories–like all great stories–aren’t ones you read and check off a list. They are the ones that stay with you, that you find yourself thinking of at the weirdest times, and that you making connections that may seem tenuous to less enlightened folks. (“No, April, I don’t think that children are like Harpies befouling or consuming everything in their sight. Perhaps you need a nap.”)

Have you read any of these three epics? Which is your favorite?

 

 

 

 

Fine Arts Friday: Tony Danza*

Degas-dancer 2

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is the artist for the third term on the Ambleside rotation. Most people are familiar with Degas’s paintings and sculptures, especially of dancers. His sculpture “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” has an interesting story. From the National Gallery of Art website:

The sculpture was not so warmly received when she first appeared. The critics protested almost unanimously that she was ugly, but had to acknowledge the work’s astonishing realism as well as its revolutionary nature. The mixed media of the Little Dancer, basically a wax statuette dressed in real clothes, was very innovative, most of all because she was considered a modern subject—a student dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet. Marie van Goethem, the model for the figure, was the daughter of a Belgian tailor and a laundress; her working–class background was typical of the Paris Opera school’s ballerinas. These dancers were known as “petits rats de l’opéra,” literally opera rats, presumably because of their scurrying around the opera stage in tiny, fast–moving steps. But the derogatory association of the name with dirt and poverty was also intentional. Young, pretty, and poor, the ballet students also were potential targets of male “protectors.” Degas understood the predicament of the Little Dancer—what the contemporary reviewer Joris–Karl Huysmans called her “terrible reality.” The Little Dancer is a very poignant, deeply felt work of art in which a little girl of fourteen, in spite of the difficult position in which she is placed, both physically and psychologically, struggles for a measure of dignity: her head is held high, though her arms and hands are uncomfortably stretched behind her back.

The works suggested by Ambleside Online are:

1. The Belleli Family, 1862
2. A Cotton Office in New Orleans 1873
3. The Dance Class, 1873-75
4. Place de la Concorde, 1875
5. The Little Dancer, sculpture; executed ca. 1880 or 1881; cast in 1922 (another view)
6. Before the Race, 1882-84
Further Interest: The Crucifixion, 1861

(Links to image sources at Ambleside.)

A good biography for younger kids can be found at this great website (which I plan to explore more when/if I every have time.) For older students, this is a helpful background (note: there is a small image of a nude toward the bottom of the article.)

 

* For those who didn’t get the post title, here’s the reference. What can I say, you came to a website named, “Oddly Said.”

Striving for rest

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weary and heavy laden

This year, I have been wanting to have a more restful, peaceful year and paradoxically (or not incoincidentally, depending on your point of view) have been having the most stressful year that I’ve had in a long time.

Part of it is just the way the ball has bounced this year–stuff happened, and we’ve had to deal with it. But a big part of it is that I fell into the trap that homeschoolers in particular are susceptible to: not wanting my kids to miss out on important things. This is my oldest daughter’s first year in high school, and like homeschool moms everywhere I panicked. (Note to self: Chill. Out.)

(True story, I was working through the very helpful book Tell Your Time (af), and I started hyperventilating when I realized that my “non-negotiable” completely filled–and overfilled–my schedule. That’s when I realized that my current schedule is not only unsustainable, but impossible. There is no way for me to do the stuff I have put on my “non-negotiable” list. No wonder I’m stressed.)

In the mad, mad month of February, I decided to go to the Great Homeschool Convention. There were a couple of speakers I wanted to see, and I needed to buy new math workbooks and look at a few other things. But mainly, I needed to see if I could find a life-line to pull me out of the morass I was (am?) caught in. I found it in the Classical-Christian track offered, and I’m still sorting through the wisdom and resources I discovered there. But the big thing–the life-saver–was Sarah Mackenzie’s lovely little book Teaching from Rest.

Mackenzie is the proprietor of the blog Amongst Lovely Things and the host of the excellent podcast The Read Aloud Revival. If you have children, whether they are homeschooled or not, I urge you to listen to that podcast.

Teaching from Rest was truly balm for my soul. The first half was encouragement and wisdom, the second was instruction and practical application. It really helped me look objectively at our life and our goals, and to repent of some unwise and fear-of-man driven choices I’ve made. Primarily, it led me to re-focus on three things critical for every homeschooler: Who I am, what I am called to do, and most importantly, who God is, which forms and informs the first two. It’s full of nuggets of wisdom that resonate with my soul, like:

“He’s called me to be faithful, yet I’m hell-bent on being successful.”

And:

“We are weary because we forget about grace. We act as though God showing up is the miracle. But guess what? God showing up is the given. Grace is a fact.”

Preach, sister!

You can get Teaching from Rest from Amazon, but you can get a package  from the Amongst Lovely Things website with a Companion Journal and audio extras for just a few dollars more. The Companion Journal, in particular, was very useful in helping me make an honest assessment of what went wrong this past year. I’ll be looking at that more in a future post, but for now, I highly recommend this little book for anyone looking to find peace and purpose in their homeschool.

The Rite

100wordsStormClouds

Her knees quaked as the clouds rushed at her.

Bracing herself against the bare rock, she breathed, “I can do this. Withstand the storm; stand in the assembly.”

A too-close crack of lightning shattered a tree in the valley below. Cowering, her wide eyes fell on an arrow, made visible in the bright flash. It pointed to an opening in the cliff.

“Forget this,” she ran.

She lit her now protected torch and gasped.

Hundreds of names covered the wall: Parents, elder brother… grandmother? Under the faded name of the tribe’s founder, her finger traced, “Brave doesn’t mean stupid.” She grabbed a rock and began to carve.

___________

Snagged from Jimmie’s great story, who snagged the idea from from Darleen at protein wisdom and Smitty at The Other McCain.  Mine is 106 words, but whatever. Don’t judge me! Or actually do. What do you think? Join in with your own story!

 

 

Fine Arts Friday: Sing in the spring!

A month ago, we were cold and miserable and wondering if spring would ever arrive. But spring is finally here, and we shall sing! (Okay, we sang in March, too, huddled under our blankets.)

I didn’t like the folk song on the Ambleside rotation, so I picked “Mairzy Doats,” a song that my mom and grandma sang to me when I was a child. While not technically a folk song, it is (possibly) based on an English nursery rhyme. And it’s ridiculously fun to sing.

 

Lyrics (because you’ll need them!):

Mairzy doats and dozy doats
And liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?
Yes! Mairzy doats and dozy doats
and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?

If the words sound queer
And funny to your ear,
A little bit jumbled and jivey
Sing “Mares eat oats
And does eat oats
And little lambs eat ivy”

Oh! Mairzy doats and dozy doats
And liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?

The hymn for the month is “Hallelujah, What a Savior.” There are many modern versions of this hymn, and of course, traditional versions with full choir and pipe organ. I found this version blends the best of both worlds for singing in our living room. It maintains the traditional form, but is very singable. And they have a banjo.

Finally, the composer for the month is Sergei Rachmaninoff. This is a nice, brief biography from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Just a warning, we’ve already found that this playlist is mesmerizing to young kids. Don’t play it if you need little ones to put on their shoes and move!

Happy spring!

Let’s Kill Hitler?

lets kill hitler

A madman and a box.

 

A study has found that if given the choice to travel back in time and kill Hitler, men are more likely to do so than women.

And I asked myself, “Self, would you kill Hitler?” And Self said, “It depends.”

Oh, Self. It’s Hitler! Explain yourself, Self.

Okay, here’s my thinking:

If it were not a matter of traveling back in time–that is if I were a person living in the 1930s and 1940s–and in a position to kill Hitler, then absolutely I’d do that in a hot minute.

But go back in time? Do you people not read or watch any science fiction? These things always backfire!

Some what if:

  • What if killing Hitler allowed a better commander to step into the vacuum and Germany won, or at least didn’t lose (a la WWI)?
  • What if killing Hitler benefited Stalin, who was even more of a mass murderer than Hitler?
  • And why not kill Stalin or Mao instead? They killed more people, after all.
  • We know how World War II and all the following events turned out. The idea of avoiding that horrible war and the Holocaust are definitely appealing, but what if killing Hitler didn’t avoid either? Or made them worse? Hitler was one man–albeit an influential man–but he wasn’t the only one who pushed for war or slaughter of “undesirables.”

No, I wouldn’t “go back” and kill Hitler, because I don’t have the ability to know the consequences of that act. Changing history seems full of unknown dangerous and fueled by hubris. No, I wouldn’t change history, but I hope I will learn from it and act on that counsel in my own time.

What about you? Would you kill Hitler (Or Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc?) Why or why not?

 

The bluebonnets have arrived!

I’ve been watching reports of bluebonnet sightings slowly move north throughout Texas. I new when I started seeing pictures from Waco, the day would soon be here. On Sunday, I saw my first glimpse of the lovely flower on my way to church. Today, we visited the local nature preserve with MTG’s family who are in town visiting and behold! Bluebonnets!

bluebonnets arrive

Lupinus texensis!

Lupinus texensis

A couple of years ago, I heard that bluebonnets blossoms change color from white to red when they’re pollinated. Bees can’t see red and are drawn to white, so the bees are drawn to the unpollinated blossoms and leave the others alone. But I was wrong about bees changing the color of the blossom, which is a pity because we were going to do experiments to try to figure out how this magic happened.

bluebonnets 2

The children would dress as bees and see who could make the blossoms change colors. That’s how science works, right?

 

The truth is that the white blossoms are newer and the red blossoms are older, and therefore have less fresh pollen. In fact, bees can collect up to 150 times the pollen on white blossoms than on red (purple/scarlet) ones.  Anyway, the blossoms turn red on the fifth day, regardless of whether they’ve been pollinated or not. Oh, well. Bluebonnets are still cool and lovely.

Enjoy your bluebonnets, Texans! (Sorry, non-Texans. I’m sure your state flower is lovely, too.)

I’m going to break the chain, y’all

Since March 1, 2013, I have posted something on my blog every day.  From lengthy rants, to regular features, to weirdness, to place fillers, I’ve followed Jerry Seinfeld’s advice on writing: Don’t break the chain.

But now I’m going to break it, deliberately.

Breaking the Chain

Sorry, Jerry. I just don’t think this is going to work.

Why would I want to break a two year streak on purpose?

Mainly because I’ve lost focus of my purpose. I’m actually realizing this is true  in many areas of my life this past year. In pursuit of a lot of good things, I’ve lost site of what’s best for my family and for myself. Actually, pursuit is in the wrong place in that sentence. In latching on to every good thing that’s come down the road, we’ve been hindered from pursuing the path that’s best for us. (I’ll be writing more on that later; I’m still processing what happened, how it happened, and what’s next.)

While blogging every day has been an undoubtedly good thing for me as a blogger, it’s starting to get in the way of what would be best. Blogging every day has helped me to develop discipline,to prioritize my writing, and to be less wordy. Relatively speaking. The challenge has made me a better blogger, but now I find it to be a hindrance. In the urgency to get something–anything–up everyday, I’ve not had time to polish my craft. And I’ve skipped writing about things that I thought important because I was spending my blogging time punching the proverbial clock. I do have limited time and attention to devote to blogging, and I’ve been asking myself if I’m spending those limited resources wisely in putting the focus on daily blogging.

It’s becoming more clear that I am not. My time and energies are not producing the best content that I could. I know I’ve got a better blog in me if I try. In fact, I don’t intend to spend less time blogging. I’ll probably keep the “don’t break the chain” thing going when it comes to writing every day. But I’ll be posting less. I’d rather spend three or four days polishing a piece I’m satisfied with, or be comfortable in deleting a post that’s awful, than feel compelled to put something up every day regardless of the quality.

What will this look like practically?

I won’t be posting every day, but I’ll try to post a few times a week. I don’t want to say X times, because I don’t know, and I’m not trying to set a similar goal: like every day, but less. I’ll probably keep the “Fine Arts Friday” feature, but won’t kill myself making it an every Friday feature. Terrible Tuesdays, however, are going the way of the Dodo, and I’ll probably use my Facebook page more to share those things that were linked in those posts. Some of those things I kept in reserve for Terrible Tuesday will probably become brief blog posts–no more than a paragraph. I was always reluctant to do that in the past, because I might need that post to be a link in the chain. But if the chain is already broken, it doesn’t matter if I post 3 things on Monday and nothing again til Friday.

I’m breaking the chain and moving on to (hopefully) better things.  So I’ll see you soon. But not tomorrow.

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