El’s Rabbit Trail: Spring Harvest Edition.

Middle springtime down here means summer fruits are ripe for the picking, so this past week we spent a fair amount of time out picking fresh fruits. We started with blueberries:

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After picking far more of those than intended when we started out (the kiddos forget that these berries ain’t free!), we moved on to strawberries:

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Later in the week, we ended the first round of our spring harvest fun by picking peaches:

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Not willing to let farm fresh-from-the-tree-peaches go to waste, I promptly got on with making a peach cobbler to top off Sunday dinner. Diet? What diet?

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#backonthewagonmonday

Look for my review of Miss Maitland, Private Secretary on Wednesday. Until then…

Happy Monday, all!

 

 

Organizing the reading queue.

As of May 3, our official school year will be over. Years of homeschooling have taught us, however, the value of year round learning peppered by strategically structured breaks. Although things are slowing down around here considerably, organization, planning, and substantial bits of leisure are occupying most of our time.  With my increased focus on reading and reviewing books, I decided to fly less by the seat of my pants when deciding what to read. I’m going to…plan my reading.

Rather than simply wandering the library, picking up a dozen books which look interesting, and choosing what to read as if I were throwing darts at a map, I have a list of books I plan to read in May and June and a particular order in which I plan to read them. In the interest of -perhaps- finding someone who has read or wants to read one of the books, here’s the list:

  • Miss Maitland Private Secretary, by Geraldine Bonner. Yes. I am currently reading, and thoroughly enjoying,  a novel! You can get this one for free on Kindle. I’m about a third way through it, and it’s exciting without being depressing.
  • Florida: A Short History, by Michael Gannon.
  • His Image…My Image, by Josh McDowell
  • Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, by Amy Chua
  • The Bostonians, by Henry James.  .99 on Kindle. The review at Marginalia Bookstore piqued my interest in this one.
  • Hippies of the Religious Right, by Preston Shires. The reviews at The Practical Conservative piqued my curiosity about this one.

Let the season of summer reading begin!

 

The Birth Order Book

birthorder book

The Birth Order Book, Kindle edition, by Dr. Kevin Leman. Original print version published in 1984 with 300 pages.

This book has been on my “to read” list for several years, but I never quite got around to reading it until very recently. One of the reasons I hadn’t been in a rush to read it is because every synopsis I’d ever read had me thoroughly convinced that it was an oversimplification based on squirrely evidence which didn’t take into account all the variables. When I began reading it, I was almost convinced that my initial take was correct.

At the very beginning, for instance, was a quiz indicating various fictional people and their tendencies, and the reader is offered the chance to guess their birth order. The answers were at the end of the book. Right away, doubts about the reliability of Dr. Leman’s exposition arosse.

At 46, and as the youngest of a group who range in age from 62 downward, I’ve always been the opposite of typical youngest child perceptions. Our firstborn didn’t fit into the quiz although she and our last born possess more of the typical birth order characteristics than either my husband or I do. My husband’s birth order -solidly middle with no large age gaps between the five siblings- is the least well matched. He has very strong characteristics typically associated with first borns.

As I continued reading however, Dr. Leman’s valiant effort towards accounting for variables witin the typical paradigms slowly began to soften my initial skepticism about his book. In fact, just as I was about to give up on the book, the first example in the second chapter on birth order variables sucked me in. I was -figuratively, of course- the guy who walked up to Dr. Leman and said, roughly paraphrased:

“I’m the baby of my family. I’m the most responsible. I’m the only one who reads [in Elspeth’s specific case that means anything besides the Bible]. How do you explain that?”

Well, since I wanted to know the good doctor’s explanation, I kept reading, and I am very glad that I did. Dr. Leman offered enough explanation for atypical situations such as my own family’s. The death of a parent of a young family and a subsequent blending of family certainly does, to quote Dr. Leman, cause “certain birth orders to get stepped on.”

Once I let go of my initial incredulity and gave Dr. Leman an open minded hearing, I found that many of his conclusions were solid and had merit. As much as is possible to categorize such things, since there are always variables not easily accounted for, he does an admirable job.

This book presents thoughtful, engaging propositions and examples of how various family dynamics can manifest as it relates to birth order. It’s a good book, and an enjoyable read.

Grade: B

 

 

An Ongoing Conversation

Someone thought I was equipped -dare I say intelligent enough?- to entrust with  leadership in one of the rooms where a segment of The Grand Conversation is being unfolded. That’s my fancy way of saying that for a remunerative pittance, I have agreed to teach a class at a level of academic accountability and rigor that is beyond the standard cooperative that springs to mind when most people think of homeschooling.

Of course, we’ve never been engaged in what typically springs to mind when one considers Chrisitan homeschooling as it was done by the pioneers who paved the way 30-40 years ago.

The good news is that it’s in a subject that I have steadily grown in appreciate of and passion for. The bad news is that it’s in a subject where there isn’t a cohesive and developmentally appropriate collection of material and curriculum for the grade level I am teaching. This means I am in the process of building one from the ground up. If I was simply interested in the disseminating of information, this would be a piece of cake.

However, as a family who has embraced the Classical philosophy of education, we view every subject as interconnected and woven together in such a way that the whole person is fed; not only intellectually, but spiritually, emotionally, and rationally. In effect, a true education is simply the beginning of a conversation on the lifelong journey to discover truth, beauty, and the strands which connect the past, present, and future to eternity.  Building a curriculum and itinerary that disseminates the facts and information in a way that brings the subject to life, connecting it to the whole is daunting, even as I feel relatively confident that it is doable.

Despite that confidence, some inspiration is helpful and I can always count on finding educational inspiration when I click on Circe Institute. And since I am relatively certain that anyone who reads this relatively mundane corner of the web is equally interested in intellectual stimulation and the wider conversation, I figured it would be fitting to share the links from Circe which inspired me over the past few days as I began my project.

The first is Round is a Shape, by Lindsey Brigham Knott. My favorite excerpt:

And then come the genetic tendencies and environmental factors—hardest of all to discern, diagnose, and deliver care. As anyone knows who has struggled with allergies or autoimmune disease, bodies are mysterious things, and what nourishes one person’s health may destroy another’s. This mystery is encountered in the classroom, too: even when a uniform diet, lifestyle, and exercise can be enforced upon students, these will not affect them all in the same ways. Some students complete assignments decently, are fairly obedient at home, and seem like generally good kids, but never approach the zeal and love that, like the glow of health, are the marks of being truly fit in soul. Some students reject all we have sought to teach them, set out to discover the truth they think we’ve denied them, and then, like Chesterton discovering Britain, eventually learn in the only way they ever could have done that it was all true after all, and give to it their hard-won love.

From the uniqueness of every student’s soul flows the mystery and wonder of the teaching vocation; its unruly currents and unforeseen eddies often frustrate our best efforts to direct them in an even course, but to dredge and straighten the stream would be to kill its bubbling inner life. Only wisdom, patience, and prayer can finally aid the teacher who seeks the health of her students’ souls.

The next is Do not read that now; You will read it in 5th grade by Joshua Gibbs, which is heavily relatable as our 4th grader has already read many books that she will encounter or be assigned in the next couple of years:

If an elementary school student is a voracious reader, he will often set his eyes on books which are part of school curriculum from forthcoming years. His teachers or parents will say to a 3rd or 4th grader, “Oh, don’t read that book yet. You’ll read it in 5th grade.” But often enough, this is unfortunate advice.

I will grant that some books are thrill rides and mysteries best experienced for the first time in community. The same is true of films. If a room full of people is watching The Game or Memento and no one in the room has seen the movie except one fellow, that fellow will likely ruin it for everyone else with pointed sighs and gasps and repeated claims of, “This all makes so much more sense the second time through.” No one can stand that fellow.

That said, everything does make more sense the second time through, which is a thoroughly classical point to make to students, and very few children’s books contain twist endings. Barring one-off stories with unusual endings, I see no reason to tell 3rd graders not to read 5th grade curriculum simply because “you will read that in two years”, and here’s why:

You can read the “why” over at Circe Institute.

Whether your kids are homeschooled, traditional schooled, or like our kids, hov’ring somewhere in the middle, we are all probably experiencing a bit of spring fever and anticipating the respite of summer. I hope this bit of educational inspiration helps us to hang in there and finish our school year strong.

Happy Monday!

 

 

 

Picture Book Bonanza!

Our 9-year-old is one of the sharpest tools in the shed. Mother wit is not her strongest suit (we’re working on that), but she was blessed with a hefty bit of cognitive fire power.

I don’t just say that about all of my children. We tend to be very open and honest about gifts, talents, abilities, and how the Giver of all gifts does things the way He does for a reason. There’s a point to this particular line of thought, and it is wholly centered around books.

During our recent trip to the library, the kid surprised me by making a beeline for the picture book section. Since she has read chapter books alongside picture books from the time she was 6 or 7,  I figured she might find picture books less worthy of her time and attention. It turns out that a full school year of reading great literature, even though enjoying it,  gave her a craving for some light-hearted, brightly colored picture books.

After readng them to herself, and reading them with her 11-year-old sister, she wasn’t quite read to return them to the library until she’d had the pleasure of my voice reading them to her. I am very glad we took the time to do that, because these were all very enjoyable books:

 

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The fun thing about these books is that they were books I would never would have chosen on my own, since none of them meet the standard guidelines I tend to use when picking out children’s books.

The other interesting thing I noted was how often she gravitated towards boks with characters who looked like her. Although only two of the books listed here met that criteria, she looked at quite a few.

The lesson I took away from this excursion was that no matter how “advanced” kids are, they’re still kids, and they like kid things. Such as brightly colored picture books!

Life at the Bottom

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Life at the Bottom, Kindle Edition, by Theodore Dalrymple. Originally published in 2001. Print edition: 263 pages.

I became interested in this book solely on the force of Thomas Sowell’s recommendation of it. I didn’t know anything about Theodore Dalrymple, but Sowell’s endorsement was enough to intrigue me. His concise description of the book was as follows:

An incisive and brutally honest eye-witness account of the social degeneracy created by the welfare state among the white underclass in Britain– remarkably similar to the social pathology in American ghettos but without such supposed causes as slavery or racism.

Indeed, Dalrymple himself made it clear very early on in this book that his frame of reference was separate, distinct, and unrelated to the perception of lower socioeconomic life commonly held by average Americans. In fact  his documented experiences were relegated almost solely to Britain’s white underclass with a small percentage of Muslim immigrants.

Before buying this, I read the Amazon reviews of “verified purchasers”. Very few of those who reviewed this book liked it. However, the tone of the negative reviews almost immediately indicated that I might like this book for the same reasons that Thomas Sowell recommended it. It wasn’t politically correct, and it summarily dismissed poverty alone as an excuse for bad behavior and life choices.

Many of the stories Dalrymple recounts from his years of practice in the London’s tougher neighborhoods are heart rending. His attempts to offer help and counsel to those who repeatedly make terrible decisions bear no fruit most of the time.  He points out that what we consider poor is hardly poor when compared to those in less developed parts of the world:

“This underclass is not poor, at least by the standards that have prevailed throughout the great majority of human history. It exists, to a varying degree, in all Western societies. Like every other social class, it has benefited enormously from the vast general increase in wealth of the past hundred years. In certain respects, indeed, it enjoys amenities and comforts that would have made a Roman emperor or an absolute monarch gasp. Nor is it politically oppressed: it fears neither to speak its mind nor the midnight knock on the door. “

The result?

“It is the prerogative of the unthinkingly prosperous to sneer at the bourgeois virtues.”

The people who reviewed Dalrymple’s book negatively accused him of blaming the poor for their plight. In reality, his book did no such thing. While it is true that Life at the Bottom repeatedly notes that many of the perils of Dalrymple’s patients are a result of their own poor decisions, in the end, he places the ultimate blame elsewhere:

“And if I paint a picture of a way of life that is wholly without charm or merit, and describe many people who are deeply unattractive, it is important to remember that, if blame is to be apportioned, it is the intellectuals who deserve most of it. They should have known better but always preferred to avert their gaze. They considered the purity of their ideas to be more important than the actual consequences of their ideas. I know of no egotism more profound.”
I agree with him.

Grade: B-. The content is good, but the writing is a bit disjointed.

 

Swoon

 

Swoon bookSwoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them, by Betsy Prioleau. Published in 2013. 288 pages.

I don’t know if Thomas, the man whose return slip indicated he checked this library book out before me, is the same reader who rudely took notes inside the book, but if he is, I can’t help but wonder if he found anything within its pages that might help him on whatever quest inspired him to check it out in the first place.

Swoon, Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them, by Betsy Prioleau is a long-winded journey on the road to a well-known conclusion. Namely, that when it comes to being popular with women, some men have “it”, others don’t, and the characteristics of the men who do have it are too widely varied to be easily quantified. In other words, there was no new information to be found here.

That isn’t to say that the book wasn’t filled with interesting or even fascinating historical references and narratives of men throughout history who were known to be famously, and sometimes infamously, “popular”. Some of them in our modern age would defy credulity, such as Benjamin Franklin. Others, such as Casanova, hardly need to be explored as their stories are so familiar.

The one thing this book made perfectly clear however, and I tend to agree with the author on this if not much else, is that the men who have the greatest success with women tend to be men who genuinely like women, finding us fascinating and interesting, even if they are well acquainted with our flaws and weaknesses. Interestingly, despite a questionable encounter with a woman which might call into doubt Prioleau’s analysis, the late Sam Cooke, whose music I enjoy listening to for hours on end, was seducer for whom this author had little to offer other than glowing praise.

What I didn’t like about this book was born entirely of my own moral code. Despite my usual ability to set aside any demands that an author acquiesce to my view, it bothered me Prioleau offered no moral judgement –only awe or praise ever- against the character of men who used their *gift* for swaying women in questionable ways. She seemed convinced that the fact that they were often amiable, likable men absolved them of responsibility for the way they plowed through women. Pun fully intended.

To her credit she noted, and there is a strong ring of truth here, that those men who are honest about who and what they are with the women in their single lives are usually just as honest, faithful and true in the event that they decide to settle down. And some of them do.

In the end, this book was more historical references smattered with opinions than anything offering insight. There was never an answer which indicated *Why* the men in her book elicit the titular female reaction, which is fitting. What’s more, there was a wholesale dismissal of men such as rappers, gamers, or others she deemed low class as well as the types of women who respond to them. The implication was that they are an almost sub human class of people not numerous or smart enough to be included as real samples in her exploration. The lady doth protest too much, or perhaps is just a snob.

Men whose seductive prowess are wielded in ways which didn’t offend her sensibilities are good and worthy to be emulated, regardless of the lack of character their behavior implies. Others, not so much. The veneer of subjectivity Prioleau attempted to portray here is wafer thin, and doesn’t hold.

The end effect of Prioleau’s approach to the subject is a book which is at times entertaining, but is sunk by her intellectualism, inability to set aside her class biases, and honestly discuss the things about women that make them susceptible to certain kinds of men, whatever their social strata or background.

This book never provides a sufficient rejoinder to the subject its author promises the reader she will demystify.

Grade: C, and that because there was some entertainment value in it.