Sunday filler

I have a post bouncing around in my head–actually even a bit it saved to draft–that I had intended to finish and post. But first a killer headache due to my fun new jaw grinding habit, and then a t0-do list that’s gotten uppity have knocked it back to. . . whenever. I hope I actually do get to it, because I think it’ll be a decent post, but from long experience I know the longer it is from the idea to the writing, the less likely it will be written at all.

The trials of a blogger.

Anyway, in place of that and so as not to break the chain, some fun and fluff!

humans geeks

By the webcomic Abustruse Goose.  Or that’s the name of the strip and the artist part is a bit vague. Whatever. That’s the origin.

 

Kitty stories

A 10 year old Keaggy, very patiently accepting love from a 10 month old Satchmo. The face says it all.

Sweet Keaggy is gone, and MTG has very kindly put away all the cat paraphernalia. The house feels rather empty without that small, inactive cat, but we still have the memories. So here is a Keaggy story for you.

In the summer of 1999, I lived in a townhouse with 3 other girls and my two cats who were then about two years old. Keaggy’s favorite toy was a q-tip, and he was forever digging them out of the trash or knocking them off of counters to play with. One Saturday morning, I was the only one up and sitting on the living room couch watching Keaggy play with what I thought was a q-tip. After a few minutes, I realized that it was not q-tip shaped. A little more investigation revealed that it was a mouse. A live mouse. Keaggy was tossing up, pouncing on, and tossing up again a live mouse in my living room not five feet from where I sat.

Obviously I did the only rational thing I could do: I ran up the stairs, into my roommates room, and jumped on her bed seeking shelter from the tiny, half-dead mouse. I know she appreciated the early morning heart attack.

Armed with reinforcements, we returned to the field of carnage. We managed to separate the cat from the mouse, used the fireplace shovel to scoop up the barely living mouse, and tossed him over the fence into an empty lot. Could we have been more humane? Probably, but we were far too wigged out. Besides, the idea of mercy-killing a mouse still makes me shudder. Keaggy was rather put-out by the theft of his toy/snack, but he seemed mollified by a gift of q-tips.

Keaggy’s gone, my roommates in a nunnery (literally: she entered a convent that fall), and I’m a 1300 miles from that house with a completely different life. But I’m grateful for the memories.

*I promise, this is the last of the Keaggy posts. Most likely. Here’s a little video in thanks for your patience.

Hard

It was hard when my cat Keaggy was diagnosed with cancer.

It’s been hard to take care of him after his leg ulcerated: rebandaging every two days, weekly vet visits.

It’s been hard to see my normally cuddly cat eschew laps and snuggles for the warmth of the refrigerator vent.

It’s been hard knowing if we’ve done all we can do and if we can, or should do more.

But it was really hard to call the vet and tell them we need to bring him in one last time.

I have three more hours. You’ll find me in front of the refrigerator.

keaggy 4.jpg

Incoming!

We had a boys day with our homeschool group today, and I was in charge of crafts. Generally, that’s a bad idea, as I’m neither artsy or crafty. But boys usually don’t care a great deal about artsy, so … catapults?

catapult 3

 

 

Catapults!

 

catapult 1

Perhaps the best part is the ammunition: mini-marshmallows!

 

catapult 2

The directions for this very simple catapult are here. For more elaborate designs with more dangerous missiles (candy corn!), check out these beauties.

Does this little girl make housecalls?

I know I’ve posted this before, but seriously, this is a message my kids need to hear.

 

With four kids in different grades, I like to combine lessons when I can to keep me sane-ish. Even when they aren’t combined, they are generally doing the same thing in a subject like math. For example, we use Math-U-See, so Mondays are worksheet A with mom, B on your own. But after that, they can skip to D if they have the concept or do C for more practice. Bulldozer did C yesterday while Satchmo did E. Today we have teary, “But he’s ahead of me!”, even though they’re not even in the same book or on the same lesson number.

Then Satchmo got upset that Bulldozer was ahead of him in handwriting, and Bulldozer got upset that Satchmo wanted to catch up. And I got upset that the coffee pot was empty.

I think a lot of this stems from the human tendency to be competitive, and I understand it. Sometimes I even use it to my advantage. (Mwahahaha!) Sometimes it comes from jealousy or envy or pride. It’s about measuring themselves against each other rather than measuring their own efforts and growth. Far too frequently, they spend more time obsessing over what their brother has or hasn’t done than doing their own work.

The balance between academics and character formation–and how those two things intertwine–is always a challenge. Celebrate Calm posted this status today:

“We spend so much time teaching our kids academics. We fight over homework and get stressed over bad grades. School is important. It is. But it’s not the most important thing. I know a lot of very bright people with good jobs, but their relationships with their spouse or kids isn’t healthy…and they are absolutely miserable.

Are you slowing down life enough to teach and show your kids how to have healthy relationships? Relationships characterized by respect, healthy boundaries, emotional vulnerability, honesty and trust.

Your kids can google the periodic table. But they can’t use technology to handle conflict, show empathy or demonstrate self-respect. They can’t memorize how to solve problems creatively or work through messy situations with wisdom. Realign your priorities to focus on what’s most important.”

It’s a good reminder and a challenge to me to remember I’m not educating my kids so they’ll pass a test, but so they’ll be strong, loving men and women who live their lives boldly for the glory of God.

But seriously, they need to worry about themselves.

How do you deal with inappropriate competitiveness between your kids? Is duct tape a viable solution?

 

Terrible Tuesday: I desire bread

My eldest daughter and I are doing yet another sugar detox. I want bread. I want a croissant. And some cereal. And a bagel. And a cookie.

But noooooo, it’s all sugary and not on the list. Honestly, if my kid didn’t do this with me, I’d have fallen of the wagon on day 2. I’m a pillar of strength.

Sugar craving links!

Spaced out challenge: very cool lunar eclipse/blood moon/selenelion. It will be visible at 5:30 in the morning at our house. The kids are going to love getting up! Mwahahahaha!

One of the fun things about the recent (highly recommended!) geography program we did was some of the fun/weird laws she listed. Now someone’s compiled a list of examples for all 50 states. I’d like to know the back-story behind some of these loony laws.

From the amusing Stuff Christians Like Pinterest board. Be amused!

 

not manna

The end of an era: no more Saturday morning cartoons. Of course, we watch almost no live television, and my kids won’t notice at all, but it’s one more bit of my childhood that’s dead. Sniff.

Mom calls out Target for their girl’s clothing problem. She focuses on tiny girls, but let me assure you that it applies to bigger girls, too. Although I’ve been more likely to find appropriate clothing at Target than most other stores. So there’s that.

52 meatless meals to slash your grocery bill. Nice to have options with beef at an all-time high. (Chicken’s not too cheap, either. Or pork.)

Senior Snippets! These couple (the real couple having the conversations and their mini-mes) make me smile every time.

 

 

Too many priorities

I finally got around to getting Little Miss in for her well-child check up, although at 14 she’s not really a child. It’s probably time to switch to a family doctor for her, but eh, we like her pediatrician, even if she is a bit skittish. Has anyone met a non-afraid pediatrician? I’m pretty sure she would be happy if my kids were in booster seats til 12, and bubble wrap until 20.

Anyway, while we were there, I asked for forms for my other kids for the mandatory state health screenings required because they take enrichment classes one day a week at the same private school where Little Miss take orchestra and biology.  The State of Texas requires “that all children enrolled for the first time in any public, private, parochial or denominational school in a Child and Family Protective Services (CFPS) child-care center or licensed day care home in Texas, or who meet certain grade criteria (specified below), must be screened or have a professional examination for possible vision and hearing problems.” There are also requirements for diabetes and scoliosis screenings for some students–which also includes some or all of my kids depending on the kid.

There is no opt out.  There is no “we see a doctor regularly, thank you” box to check or “Mind your own dang business” form. There is however, a helpful company that will come do the screenings at your school for a fee. It’s not really a high fee, but with three kids it adds up. (Four if you add the oldest, which I don’t think needs it, but the school thinks otherwise. I’m still researching. Anyway, I got the info from her regular doctor on the chance I do need it.)

For me this is a minor annoyance, a superflous buns* situation. Frankly, all the “extras” piling up is like being pecked to death by baby ducks. I feel like cooking the darling ducklings.

But it really comes down to that fact that my kids’ health is my responsibility. I make sure they have a healthy diet, plenty of physical activity, and a healthy environment. I take them for annual checkups, etc. And frankly, I don’t see how enrolling them in a private school makes any of that the state’s business, to monitor and record. I will grant that in true public health situations like communicable diseases, the state has a valid interest. I have no issue with school kids being required to be vaccinated before they congregate, the little germ spreaders. But I don’t see why the state needs to insert it’s nose into every area of life of every student in the state.

The more I think of it, the more I’m a bit irked for the individual public schools and their superfluous buns situations. Schools have already been pressed into being more than just places of education, from feeding hungry kids to being the engines for the social issue of the day (Just Say No, Earth Day/Hour/Decade, etc.)  It’s no secret teachers do more than just teach reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. The person who spends 8 hours a day with a child (or 5 hours a week) is going to have a voice  about more than the kid’s knowledge base. They’ll speak into their lives, help shape their character, and potentially be the ones to spot problems and help find solutions. By law, teachers are mandatory reporters, and must report suspected abuse. And they do all that while dealing with an often frustrating bureaucracy and sometimes without the support of parents.  (See? I’m really not anti-teacher; we just chose a different educational model for our family!)

This is just one more way schools have been subjected to “mission creep.” The state can mandate that all kids get screened, and private schools and day cares will pass that on to the students. Public schools don’t do that, they just add another responsibility to the nursing staff, add one more thing for the teachers to make time for, and add one more “priority” to an ever growing list. When everything’s a priority, nothing is.

I suspect the majority of families are in the same boat we are. They take their kids for annual check-ups where their doctors do all those screenings, probably more thoroughly, and with an eye to their history and growth. It’s a job the school isn’t designed to do, and frankly not everything about their students should fall under their purview. Are there some families for whom this screening provides a real service? Maybe. I’d like to see some actual evidence that these screenings lead to something actually beneficial. But even if there is a need for certain populations, surely there is a way to serve low-income or at-risk kids without this all or nothing, mandated from on high to all people, everywhere approach. Wouldn’t it be better to use scarce resources where they’re actually needed instead of a shotgun like approach? There was an attempt to ditch the scoliosis screening–or at least make it optional for school districts, but Perry vetoed it. I understand his reasoning, but I don’t agree with it. I don’t think the only way we serve those in need is to make public schools provide screening for everyone.  In fact, that probably hurts those who need it because it becomes a perfunctory task to check off, rather than a necessary intervention.

We ask schools to do a lot, but we ought to only ask them to do the things they are designed to do. Let’s give them a break and take out some superfluous buns.

 

*I stole this metaphor from Ashley Sewell and her magnificent post on her superfluous buns. 

When you’re weary

but have a list as long as your arm, what do you do? How do you psyche yourself up for the race?

There’s always the classic, whether for cleaning or working out or … doing lesson plans.

What do you do to light a fire under yourself when you need it?

Empty Shelf: An adequate substitute for a good book

This post contains affiliated links.

guns of august

Title: The Guns of August

Author: Barbara Tuchman, read by Nadia May

What’s It About: Tuchman explores the lead up to World War I and the first month of the war, up to The First Battle of the Marne. It is one of the most well-known and well-regarded books about The Great War, and for good reason. The author explores the war from both the political and military perspective, particularly looking at those decisions and developments which lead to the years long war of attrition.

Why I read (listened to) it: It’s the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI, and I’ve been studying up. The only thing I remember learning about this war in all my years of education is watching All Quiet on the Western Front. So I’ve wanted to fill in the very considerable gaps. In my other readings/listenings, I kept hearing about “the classic World War I book,” so I thought I should add it to my list. And honestly the book was really cheap on Audible last month. (And yes, getting it cheap was also my reason for reading To the Last Man. Hey! Affordable is a valid criteria!)

 What I thought: The book itself is a masterpiece, and it’s easy to see why it is still considered a classic. Despite the limitations of the audiobook (more on that in a bit), Tuchman conveys the many moving parts and personalities behind the beginning of the war in clear and interesting prose.  It’s a bit overwhelming at times, but at the end of the book I found I had attained a much better understanding of the issues and players in the war that ushered in the modern era.

One interesting (to me) difference between Tuchman and modern views is that she lays the blame for the war and particularly the atrocities of the war firmly at the feet of the Germans. There is tendency by some modern historians and pontificators to paint WWI as a pointless event (which is a fair argument) where everyone erred equally in causing the disaster. Tuchman points at the Kaiser specifically and the German worldview more generally as the cause of the war and of original perpetrators of crimes like taking hostages and shooting civilians. She quotes Goethe commenting on the German people (and this is my paraphrased remembrance): “If the Germans have to choose between injustice and order or justice and disorder, they will choose injustice and order.” I also thought it interesting that she juxtaposed the Western World with Germany. In our modern understanding, Germany is part of the West, but perhaps that is only a new development.  That being said, I don’t think she was particularly unfair to the Germans. If you start a war, then that’s on you, right?

What I though of the audio: I have two problems with the audiobook. The first is that audio is really not the best format for this book. It is too rich and detailed to truly grasp all the strands presented. You can’t flip back to the first reference, or maps, or whatever previous information would add to what you’re reading. That being said, I still benefited greatly from listening to the audio book. If you can’t take the time to read the actually text (and right now I don’t have that luxury), the audio book is an adequate substitute. I definitely have a greater understanding of the start of WWI, but I also am a bit frustrated because I know I didn’t grasp the facts as well as I would had I read the book. So while I can definitely recommend the book, I only recommend the audiobook with the caveat that you will not get as much as you would if you read the book.

The narrator herself was mostly very good.  May’s reading is clear and understandable. For such a dense and detailed book, she did a good job of keeping the threads and divisions clear by her performances. My one quibble with her performance is how she handled the quotes. I understand the challenges of quotes in a non-fiction book. In a fiction book, a good narrator is a performer, and the quotes are read in character, with some readers doing this better than others. In a non-fiction book, the narrator can choose characterization (which was May’s choice, sort of) or do what I call, “quote voice.” I’ve been listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, and he has an interesting quote voice. His basic podcast voice is fairly conversational, but when he gets to a quote, he kicks it up into an intensity and volume that can’t be mistaken. It’s helpful because you always know when he’s quoting someone.  I do sometimes wonder what it would sound like if he was quoting something like, “The playful puppies frolicked among the daffodils, and then fell asleep in the warm spring sun.”  (I think a great fundraiser for him would be to record someone’s outgoing phone message in his quote voice. Maybe he could auction that off.)

Ahem. Back to the book at hand. Obviously the people quoted in this book speak a variety of different languages, so May (who is English) chose to read the quote in that accent: German, French, Belgium (i.e. more French), etc. When I first heard it, I was a little taken back, but then I thought, “Yeah, that makes sense. It helps to keep it sorted a little.” But then I she read a quote in an American accent, and it was just so bad I actually laughed out loud. Then I couldn’t help wondering how bad her German/French/etc accents might sound to a native speaker of those languages. So the quote thing was a bit of a ding on an otherwise good performance. Incidentally, John Lee who narrates the other history books I’ve been listening to also has read The Guns of August. I purchased this version because it was cheap, but I thought May’s performance was on par with Lee’s. Lee tends to use a lofty voice–more quote voice than characterization– for his quotes. Then again, does anyone know what an ancient Sumerian accent would sound like?

Where you can get it: Text or audiobook read by Nadia May here, or the audiobook read by John Lee here. Your local library almost certainly has this one, too.

Fine Arts Friday: Sing in October!

New songs, new songs, move down, move down!

We’re still listening to the beautiful chants of Hildegard von Bilgen, but we have our new folk song and hymn for the month. A reminder, I usually follow Ambleside Online’s well-put together rotation. If you are at all interested in Charlotte Mason, you should definitely spend some time reading through that impressive site. In addition to a year-by-year curriculum guide and fine arts suggestions, they have reproduced most (all) of Miss Mason’s original work and have a great many resources for families wanted to use her methods. Even if you aren’t as gung-ho in your Charlotte Mason approach as they are (and I’m not), it’s still an invaluable resource.

Ahem, to the singing.

The folk song is one that has  English, Irish, and American versions: “Billy Boy.” I’m going with the American version because ‘Merica! Also, it’s the one with which I’m most familiar. But I think the different versions highlight one of the things I like most about folk songs: their versatility and adaptability. For example, Wikipedia lists a fun, final verse that puts a humorous twist on the whole song.

 

 

Be careful if you go searching for other performances. Some people think this song is one big double entendre. Those people need Jesus.

Speaking of needing Jesus, I was altogether impressed with the hymn selection for the month, so I chose “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”  I like this a cappella version, but it’s one of those tunes that is simple enough to sing without accompaniment.

 

This hymn is one that survivors report being played by the band on the Titanic before she sank.  Here’s another beautiful vocal rendition by BYU’s a capella group Vocal Point.

And finally, so as not to ignore the beauty of instruments other than voices, The Piano Guys version. It gets me in the feels.

Have a musical October!

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