February 27, 2006

Pinocchio update

I am now the mother of two toys (possibly a toy soldier and a ball, or two balls, or two soldiers, but definitely no wind-up ballerinas) and a Pleasure Island child. We don't have to make rehearsal tomorrow afternoon, but from Wednesday to Friday, the kids have some long rehearsals. The boy toys from 3:45 to 5:45 p.m. every day, and Laura those two hours plus another two from 6:15 to 8:15 p.m. On Saturday, the day of performance, the kids start rehearsals at 2:45 in the afternoon and go until the first and only performance at 7 p.m.

Once again I'm grateful we homeschool. I have to talk to the teacher about letting the kids sleep in and skip some of that homework in the evenings, tee hee.

Nifty resource, and cheaper than a trip to DC

I read this weekend that the U.S. National Archives and Google have teamed up to digitize and make National Archives holdings available free to all online. This means anyone with a computer can now have access to historic movies, documentaries, and other films in the Archives.

You can check Archives' holdings at the official National Archives website as well as at a Google website. At the moment, the pilot program covers 101 films, including some U.S. government World War II newsreels; several NASA documentaries on the history of the spaceflight program; and some documentaries on the history and establishment of a nationwide system of national and state parks, Boulder Dam, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The kids and I took a look through the links and found the following gems (the download takes too long for us dial-up types, but one can hope):
Even better news: the National Archives and Google are considering the possibility of expanding the current online collection -- which at the moment includes the Declaration of Independence, the 1918 influenza epidemic, 20th century photographs and photographers, the meeting of Nixon and Elvis, and much, much more -- and making the Archives' extensive textual holdings available on the internet. Yahoo! Er, I mean Google!

Hey, kids, let's put on a show

The Missoula Children's Theatre travelling group arrives in our nearby teeny tiny little town this afternoon with a van packed to the gills with costumes, props, and scripts, ready to cast the fractured fairy tale version of "Pinocchio". All three little hams are eager to participate (Davy, at five, is finally old enough), but we'll have to see who gets cast, especially depending on how many others show up.

It's a crash course in musical theater, with casting and some rehearsing beginning on the Monday and the performance on Saturday evening. It can be a long week with long evenings, especially for younger kids, and I honestly wouldn't even consider the activity if we weren't homeschooling -- with no school in the afternoons, and the chance to delay things in the morning, the theater project is much more enjoyable for everyone.

Laura made her children's theater debut in Missoula's version of "Hansel and Gretel" a few years several years ago, and the year after (Daniel's debut) in a production of "Snow White" by the more gentle, relaxed Story Man's Children Theatre, more like an English Christmas pantomime than the the manic Missoula all-hands-on-deck-all-week approach.

I should mention that it would never have crossed my mind as a child to do something like this; at Laura's age, I wouldn't (couldn't) ask strangers for the time. For my three, it doesn't cross their minds not participate. I have to thank Tom's family for the extrovert addition to the gene pool -- his sister in Toronto is an actor, singer, dancer, so at least the kids come by it honestly. Will keep you posted on how it goes this afternoon.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming

Today it's back to (home)school, the more formal, Well Trained Mind way, rather than the unschooling way we adopted in early December, when the kids (and I) set aside the books in favor of Christmas crafts, baking, and stories. And then travel/island school, which was heavy on the phys. ed. and unschooled science.

I threw a week or so of schooling in after the New Year, before all the packing started, and now here we are, tanned (well, sort of, kind of, barely, what with all that wind and rain), rested, and ready to hit the books again. Surprisingly, the younger folks are around here, the more eager they are. Laura and Daniel are eager to get back to the Story of the World; Daniel wants to start his new math book (I'm hoping I have a new copy, or at least -- for temporary use -- Laura's old erasable copy, of Singapore 1B) and resume proper reading lessons; and since Daniel has a good head start on reading now, I'll probably start Davy with some phonics lessons now. Over the past week he rediscovered one of his Christmas presents, Flip-Flash Phonics: Words & Pictures, a little McGraw-Hill flip book of high-frequency words (no, I'm really not a whole word kind of gal -- more a Rudolf Flesch kind of gal -- and the word "Dolch" tends to give me the shudders, but it looked cute, was dirt cheap at Bookcloseouts, and keeps the kid busy and happy). We'll have to start out slowly though, especially for Laura, adding a new subject every few days. I'm hoping we'll be up to speed by mid-March, just in time for calving and the local arts festival, where the kids will each be reciting a couple of poems, to slow us down again.

February 25, 2006

Food for thought

Click here to learn more.

Home again, home again, jiggity jig (belatedly)

We've been home now for nearly a week, since Sunday night. The bags are unpacked, the laundry is washed (but not all folded and put away), children reunited with favorite toys and books, our own beds collapsed in, and old daily rhythms rewelcomed.

We had a wonderful time with my parents and had a chance to visit with old friends and make some new ones; Laura discovered the local Brownie troop and, wearing her Canadian uniform complete with badge sash, was invited to make Valentine's crafts with the girls one afternoon. We went to favorite old places -- the calm beach with perfect sand for building castles, the rocky beach with all the conch shells, the noisy beach with the coral reef just off shore, the Friday night chicken and ribs barbecue sponsored by the local Water Department (to raise money to support their cricket team). The kids became part fish again, and we all enjoyed a new style of living and eating. Some of us, including the very youngest (ahem), developed a fondness for pina coladas, even with the rum; we're doing our darndest to continue the cocktail hour tradition in the evenings, but for a disconcerting absence of Coco Lopez from local store shelves. We just may have to ask the supermarket to bring in a case, just for us.

And Laura, with her grandfather's help and genes inherited from her grandmother, was able to indulge her growing love of luxury and dining out. Our farewell dinner was enjoyed at the Four Seasons seafood buffet on the beach, where we all stuffed ourselves with lobsters, shrimp, mussels, oysters, and crab legs -- happily, the kids weren't at all interested in the hamburgers or hotdogs made available to keep resort kiddie guests happy -- and then moved on to the dessert table, where my youngest discovered "Mom, I think it's drunken pineapple" (it was marinated in rum) and Daniel had four helpings of the chocolate sponge cake rolled up with chocolate icing and a banana in the middle.

And Tom was his usual productive self.

He spent most of his days, from 7:30 in the morning until 6 in the evening, in the guesthouse, which later this year should become the home for my parents' gardener and his family, he built back in 2003 -- this time, Tom built large closets in all of the bedrooms, cut out the openings for the kitchen sink and taps, installed the guttering outside, made and installed several lattice windows (the largest one is visible on the far right, bottom/basement level), and built two gorgeous bookcases, one extra deep to serve as master bathroom linen storage, out of Caribbean cedar. My started taking measurements in the main house, thinking that in future Tom could build another one or even two, and a few friends were wishing they could have placed orders. Maybe next time...

And this morning I'm home alone, savoring our house -- well, maybe not the unusually loud noises coming from the basement deep freeze on its last legs -- and even the winter scene outdoors. Laura is at her Brownies sleepover, happily postponed from earlier in the month, and this morning Tom asked the boys if they wanted to come along on the current building project, a shop for their uncle on his new property. I'll pick Laura up in a few hours, throw in another load of laundry, and put the wooden skewers into soak (dinner will be grilled garlic shrimp, with rice and maybe some broccoli). It is good to be home.

February 24, 2006

Discovering The Edge of the Forest

Remember earlier today when I was moaning about the fact that for nearly a year, as long as I've known about blogs, I had missed two great kid lit ones? Well, I'm happy to say that in my desire to catch up with Chicken Spaghetti and Big A little a, and the rather coincidental desire to, erm, put off housecleaning for a little longer, I happened on today's birth of The Edge of the Forest, a children's literature monthly. Head over for Volume I, Issue I, brought to you by Kelly and Susan and four other children's book blog friends (links to follow). And there's also a call for submissions. Congratulations to all at the Edge of the Forest, and all best wishes from Farm School for great success!

Even Luddites can sometimes be at the right place at the right time, even in cyberspace. Or maybe it was just good karma...

A new discovery (er, make that two!)

While writing yesterday's poetry entry, I did some Googling and ran across a new-to-me blog, dedicated to one of this household's consuming passions, children's literature. Kelly's Big A little a has lots of yummy things, including book reviews from around the world and some wonderful links.

I was especially glad to find Kelly's post on the Royal Society of Literature's "children's canon" of top-ten books for schoolchildren, which I had read about in the little (formerly British) island weekly, but that was mostly a garbled press release, and I never had a chance while there to follow up on it. Scroll down to the bottom of the Guardian article for the lists by J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, and, for the second day in a row here at Farm School, Andrew Motion.

Update: I was going through Kelly's blogroll and am now wondering how on earth in the last year (okay, 11 months) since I discovered blogs have I missed Susan at Chicken Spaghetti? But just in time to learn that Susan will be hosting the second Carnival of Children's Literature. The deadline is March 3rd, so you still have time to hurry over.

February 23, 2006

Poetry sings

On the way out of Toronto last month, I was gifted by the airport hotel with the Sunday New York Times, where in the Book Review section I was even more thrilled to find a tiny mention of the new book and cd set, Poetry Speaks to Children, edited by Elise Paschen.

We're big fans of the original, Poetry Speaks, subtitled "Hear Great Poets Read Their Work from Tennyson to Plath," which is best not really for the book but for the three accompanying cds, on which you can actually listen to Tennyson, Browning, Yeats, Eliot and more than 30 other celebrated poets recite their works. Or, as kids in this house have been know to say, "That's what I thought he would sound like!" Tennyson's reading of The Charge of the Light Brigade makes my toes tingle, and when Carl Sandburg speaks you can hear a pin drop in our kitchen, which doesn't happen often. As my kids are learning, poetry (and plays) should be heard and not read.

Poetry Speaks to Children's book has 97 selections, from classic to contemporary, and is apparently profusely illustrated. The cd contains 52 poems read by 36 poets and artists, including such goodies as J.R.R. Tolkien reciting Frodo's Song in Bree from The Fellowship of the Ring; Robert Frost and his Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening; Basil Rathbone (aka Sherlock Holmes) reading Edgar Allen Poe; what I have heard is a lyrical telling by Jamaican-born James Berry's Okay, Brown Girl, Okay*, and -- well worth repeating from the original version -- Langston Hughes's moving The Negro Speaks of Rivers.

With a lineup like that, I'm willing to overlook what seems like pretty goofy cover art, a few apparently equally goofy poetry choices, and, grrr, the fact that the kid's version comes with only one cd rather than three. And, at under $14 US, you Americans are getting a deal.

*If these books whet your appetite, or if your library's waiting list is too long, or if even $14 is too much (so many books, so little money), then you'll be even more excited by the gem that is the UK Poetry Archive website -- the world's premier online collection of recordings of poets reading their work. The Archive includes sections for teachers, students, and a special Children's Archive. A heartfelt thank you to everyone before and behind the scenes at the archive, the brainchild of UK poet laureate Andrew Motion and recording producer Richard Carrington with boosts from former US poet laureate/New York State Poet Billy Collins, poet Seamus Heaney, and writer Melvyn Bragg.

Speaking of Jane Austen...

...this is going to be the soundtrack of our days for the next possibly very long while, and some of us are exceedingly pleased.*
Carl Davis's music is gorgeous, and if you aren't bothered by the fact that not all of the pieces from the broadcast made it on to the disc or that the piano summary is played a whopping five times (and neither of these is particularly bothersome to anyone who has watched the series over and over, and over, again and doesn't plan to mend her ways anytime soon), this one is a keeper.

The disc was a present from my father, who discovered recently that his music collection at the island house is, after 12 years, getting moldy. The simple solution is to swab the cds with vodka (not as sweet and problematic as island rum) and copy them into his iPod, and give away the actual discs. So we returned home with our bags full of weeks and months to come of happy listening, everything from Cole Porter and Ella Fitzgerald to Sousa and Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty.

* The others prefer a little more stomp in their music and have selected this instead.

February 22, 2006

Who is your Jane Austen?

Of course, I didn't even know I had my own Jane Austen, but then I haven't yet read The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. But reading through the newly revamped AustenBlog with the elegant new JA font, I discovered that I do, and so do you. Thanks to Fowler, you can take a quiz to learn Who's Your Jane Austen? Many thanks to the Editrix for the link, and to Fowler for the fun and games.

According to the quiz, I best resemble the character Bernadette: "Like Bernadette, your Austen is a comic genius whose characters and dialogue are genuinely funny. You may be thought unreasonably attached to Pride and Prejudice. You will not be afraid to wear purple in old age."

Spot on about the book, not to mention my burgeoning inner curmudgeon. Maybe it might be best to disguise it under a purple hat. And maybe I should get around to requesting the book from interlibrary loan while the days are still chilly enough to need a cup of tea, or two.

A Common Reader/The Akadine Press RIP

I made a timely but sad and unpleasant discovery today, now that we're back home and I have a computer at my regular disposal. I feel as though a friend has died, and I sincerely wish James Mustich all the best.

There's a lesson to be learned here, and that's to patronize our small, independent booksellers, even if it means spending a bit more money. Penny wise, pound foolish, and I'm feeling very foolish indeed for not making more purchases there over the years.

By the way, I'll return to regular blogging, and include some tales from our trip, once I've dealt with the jet lag and the last unpacked suitcase.

February 13, 2006

The first Carnival of Children's Literature

Melissa, at Here in the Bonny Glen, has prepared the very first Carnival of Children's Literature and there should be lots for everyone to enjoy, whether you're looking for something different for a family readaloud or a new treasure for your independent reader, or just wondering what others might think of some of your favorite children's books and characters. Some good lists, of authors' websites and such, as well.

Thanks, Melissa!

February 12, 2006

Celebrating Darwin Day: Many happy returns

Here's the official Darwin Day website, with all sorts of links to and about Charles Darwin and his Origin of the Species.

It includes links to an essay about Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought from Scientific American. All sorts of interesting things in the Essays section, including an essay by by Oxford University biologist Richard Dawkins and University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne on why not to accept intelligent design in the classroom; and on Undoing Darwin, an article published in the Columbia Journalism Review.

No longer on the Darwin Day website but worth digging around for at Google is the great Verlyn Klinkengborg's New York Times column from last summer, Grasping the Depth of Time as a First Step in Understanding Evolution:
It's been approximately 3.5 billion years since primeval life first originated on this planet. That is not an unimaginable number in itself, if you're thinking of simple, discrete units like dollars or grains of sand. But 3.5 billion years of biological history is different. All those years have really passed, moment by moment, one by one. They encompass an actual, already lived reality, encompassing all the lives of all the organisms that have come and gone in that time. That expanse of time defines the realm of biological possibility in which life in its extraordinary diversity has evolved. It is time that has allowed the making of us.

The idea of such quantities of time is extremely new. Humans began to understand the true scale of geological time in the early 19th century. The probable depth of cosmological time and the extent of the history of the human species have come to light only within our own lifetimes.

That is a lot to absorb and, not surprisingly, many people refuse to absorb it. Nearly every attack on evolution - whether it is called intelligent design or plain creationism, synonyms for the same faith-based rejection of evolution - ultimately requires a foreshortening of cosmological, geological and biological time.

Humans feel much more content imagining a world of more human proportions, with a shorter time scale and a simple narrative sense of cause and effect. But what we prefer to believe makes no difference. The fact that life on Earth has arrived at a point where it is possible for humans to have beliefs is due to the steady ticking away of eons and the trial and error of natural selection.
And don't forget to get your Darwin Day stocking stuffers here.

February 07, 2006

Swimming School

One area of our homeschooling that's blossoming while we're away is phys ed.

Thanks to my parents' pool, and without too much interference from the rain and wind (as Davy explained, "You're going to get wet anyway"), the kids have been having lots of fun and also making steady progress with their swimming, diving, and flips. Laura, so close to eight-and-a-half she can smell it, has been doing beautifully with the front crawl since last summer; however, her inability to do a proper dive, while Daniel has been making annoyingly perfect dolphin dives and flips for a couple of years already, had her in tears more than once since our arrival. But late last week, she started asking for help -- bend your legs more, Tom told her; keep your legs and ankles together, I offered -- and following it. And practicing, almost all the time. And believe it or not, she saw results late on the first day. Now not only are her dives are a thing of beauty, graceful and elegant and quiet, but she has a new understanding in the old saw, practice makes perfect. And today she managed a couple of decent forward flips.

Daniel, of course, isn't too happy to lose his lead as the best, and formerly only, diver of the three. So, at not quite seven years old, he's upped the ante by adding backward flips, and off the unauthorized diving board (installed by Tom, disliked intensely by my father) to boot. Frighteningly good. Davy has decided that he should be able to do back flips too and better dives, like his big brother, and the front crawl, like his big sister. There is no more powerful motivator than being the smallest and the youngest. Davy is also pretty good now at spending most of his time underwater, and reminds me of a small, sleek, brown (albeit hairless) otter, as he swims between my legs or hangs on to Tom's back as they swim the length of the pool floor.

And Laura and I have discovered that holding hands and bouncing in the shallow end while repeating the multiplication tables is great fun, and about as close as we can get to Shirley Temple's trick of singing the tables as she tap danced her way down the lighthouse steps in "Captain January."

No neat tricks for me, other than having the opportunity to read a book every day or every other day, and murder mysteries at that. The latest was P.D. James's The Lighthouse. Not one of her best -- James maroons Dalgliesh and his team on an isolated, supposedly secure, island off Cornwall, and then gives AD SARS -- but the writing is as strong and graceful as ever, and, with James in her late eighties, each volume is a gift.

More Julie

Just because it's my blog, and I can:

Julie Powell's latest blog, added to the blogroll on the right, too. I came too late to blogs, last year, and only twigged to the Julie/Julia business while looking for Christmas books for my mother, most of which tend to center around (other people) cooking. Fortunately, Mom brought her present down here, so I was able to read and enjoy it during our first week on holiday. Funny, warm, and introspective. Imagine Bridget Jones as an unsmug married, moving way, way beyond blue soup.

More carnival fun

The sixth Carnival of Homeschooling is up and ready to go. Enjoy! Since I'm in a part of the world where Carnival is a big deal -- and it's the kind celebrated with rum and soca music, not with popcorn and midway rides -- I'm going to enjoy it with a pina colada and some conch fritters.

February 05, 2006

For the liberty of unlicenc'd printing

"Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."
John Milton, "Areopagitica"

Last week, I just happened to find on my parents' shelves their copy of "Where There's a Will" by Rumpole creator and former barrister John Mortimer; it came out the other year when Mortimer was in his early eighties but seems quite prescient in light of recent events. The book amounts to a curmudgeon's -- and why does curmudgeonly increasingly seem to be a synonym for common sense? -- last will and testament of advice to leave behind, from the dangers of political correctness to the joys of outdoor sex. And surprise, surprise, one of the chapters (lucky number 13 as it happens) is titled "Causing Offence" which Mortimer, naturally, supports:
A life during which you're caused no offence would be as blandly uneventful as death itself. Being caused offence stirs up the spirits, summons up the blood and starts the adrenalin flowing. ... A state in which everyone tiptoed around whispering for fear of hurting somebody's feelings would be dull beyond human endurance. A political or religious belief which can't stand up to insult, mockery and abuse is not worth having. ...

It seems to me to be an insult to the religious beliefs, as well as to those who hold them, to say that they need the special protection of a law which makes it a criminal offence to hurt people's feelings. ...

In fact being caused offence not only stimulates debate but confirms belief and strengthens it. Milton, no enemy of religion, had it right when he wrote 'if we have free speech truth will look after itself'. And if we have a censorship which stops us offending anyone, the truth may be concealed in the surrounding blur.