The Commons – July 11th Edition

The Commons is my weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

I’ve got several titles I’m trying to finish up this month. I’ve been working on my school plans for the Fall, so my personal reading has really been pushed to the side these past few weeks. I’m behind schedule, as usual, so we’ll see if I reach my goals.

I couldn’t help myself – I added another book to the pile. I saw it recommended somewhere – maybe Goodreads or Instagram and started it this month. Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner – the author really breaks down the process of learning a new language – what works and doesn’t work.

Wyner stresses practicing recall for learning a new language – writing down or saying from memory what you have studied – rather than just studying over and over.

“When you study by reading through a list multiple times, you’re practicing reading, not recall. If you want to get better at recalling something, you should practice recalling it.” (Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner)

Seems intuitive, but it’s a study skill that is applicable in any subject really. He recommends using flash cards, and specifically a study method called Spaced Repetition Systems – what the author refers to as flash cards on steroids.

Another point he stresses is to stop translating. So often our foreign language learning attempts have this middle step. If we are learning the word cat, we may see a picture of a cat, the English word CAT, and then the word we are learning, GATTO, as an example. But your brain has to go through this extra process of translating. It is more efficient to see the cat and learn the word gatto.

“By throwing away English, I could spend my time building fluency instead of decoding sentences word by word.” (Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner)

One more area the author stresses is the importance of learning proper pronunciation at the beginning – you don’t get bogged down with broken words (words that we think are pronounced one way but are actually pronounced another) and we also learn to distinguish between similar sounds, known as minimal pairs (the author use the examples of R and L in English for a native Japanese speaker – their ear isn’t trained to distinguish the R and L sounds as separate).

“If you have better listening comprehension, you’ll gain more vocabulary and grammar every time you hear someone speak your language.” (Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner)

One thing that I am loving about this book is the detail and research presented in this book. It’s not just a book of Do This, It Works! The author goes into a lot of detail of why and how it works. How our brains hear language and recall information. It’s very thorough.

I did manage to get in some other reading this week.

This week I have been working on the July chapter in The Life-giving Home. Sarah Clarkson writes about the importance of story in developing our own character.

“Literature is humanity’s ongoing conversation with itself about what it means to be human, to be good, to live with meaning.” (The Life-giving Home, Sally and Sarah Clarkson)

Sigh. There is my motivation for reading good books, and ensuring my children are surrounded by good books.

Speaking of good books – I’ve got a stack of books arriving over the next couple of weeks as I get ready for the new school year – I look forward to sharing our curriculum plans soon!

 

Current Reads:

 

The Commons – June 14th Edition

The Commons is my weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

I continue to progress slowly through my June stack. I’ve fallen behind in my Don Quixote reading – I had hoped to be further along but I think I overloaded myself this month. But small steps are better than nothing.

I am really enjoying Don Quixote. It is such a funny story, and I so love the dialogue. I was laughing out loud throughout Chapter XII, where Pedro the goatherd is telling the story of the broken hearted shepherd Grisostomo to Don Quixote. Pedro keeps using the wrong words and Don Quixote corrects him several times, to the point of annoyance, but always followed with a gracious compliment of the man’s storytelling skills. After the story is finished, Don Quixote, having been invited to attend the funeral of the deceased shepherd, responds:

“I shall be certain to, ” said Don Quixote, “and I thank you for the pleasure you have given me with the narration of so delightful a story.” (Don Quixote)

I am currently reading about autobiographies in The Well-educated Mind. This has never been a genre that has caught my attention, but this particular chapter is really winning me over.

“You no longer read an autobiography to find out the truth about past events (an assumption that governed the memoirs of political retirees for decades). Rather, you read autobiography to find out what it’s like to see the world from another point of view, from inside the skin of another person.” (The Well-educated Mind)

Susan Wise Bauer suggests the book The Timetables of History as a reference tool. I’m ordering it this week and look forward to utilizing this resource. Amazon allows you to peek inside, so you can see how the tables are set up, with time periods along the left side and columns containing significant events in several categories including history and politics, literature and theatre, music, religion, philosophy and learning.

I continue to enjoy Educating the Whole-hearted Child. So many gems in this book! Concerning reading and language arts:

“the single best way to strengthen your children’s minds is making sure they read lots of good books.” (Educating the Whole-hearted Child)

And this comment about raising readers:

“Do everything you can to cultivate in your children a love of books. Give them their own copies of special books they read on their own, illustrated storybooks that capture their hearts, series of books that they especially enjoy, classics that every child should have, informational books about subjects that are special to them, and even books that they are not quite ready for but will be soon.” (Educating the Whole-hearted Child)

And finally:

“Be generous with books. It is an investment that will return hundredfold rewards in your children’s lives.” (Educating the Whole-hearted Child)

I’m pretty sure that Clay and Sally just told me to go buy a lot more books. Done and done!

Current Reads:

 

The Commons – May 31st Edition

The Commons is my weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

This past week I snuck a reread into my stack – The Awakening of Miss Prim. This is such a delightful read, and full of goodness and inspiration for simple living and spiritual growth. I absolutely love the pace and quality of living in the village of San Ireno de Arnois.

“Nowadays, to live quietly and simply you have to take refuge in a small community, a village or hamlet where the din and aggression of the overgrown cities can’t reach; a remote corner like this, where you know nevertheless that about a couple of hundred of miles away, just in case, ” – he smiled – “a vigorous, vibrant metropolis exists.” The Awakening of Miss Prim

The children in the village learn the basics in the village school (the three Rs) but then continue their education at home and with others in the village, in an intimate setting.

“They’re being brought up with good books so that later they can absorb great books.” The Awakening of Miss Prim

I’ve continued with my slow reads, including Educating the Whole-hearted Child. This week’s focus was on discipleship study methods. One point that really stood out was the importance of keeping the Bible as the primary source of Bible study.

“The incessant fragmentation of Bible content into booklets, condensations, Bible stories, Bible products, software, websites, greeting cards, Biblezines, ad infinitum unfortuntately trivializes and devalues Scripture rather than making it more valuable. “ Educating the Whole-hearted Child

I am slowly working through The Fourth Turning – it is so full of minute details I can’t imagine going at any faster of a pace. The premise, that human events in history are cyclical, is just fascinating.

“What happens to each generation separately is only part of the picture. Of more importance to history is what happens to generations together. They age in place in a manner that Francois Mentre described as ’tiles on a roof’ – overlapping in time, corrective in purpose, complementary in effect.” The Fourth Turning

My slow reads continue. I’ve also taken on two more books this week, reading along with fellow book clubbers. Don Quixote (I am reading the newer Grossman translation), as well as Locke’s Second Essay. I’m just getting starting on these two so look for commentary starting next week.

Current Reads:

 

The Commons – May 17th Edition

The Commons is my weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

This week I continued to make progress in my reading stack.

I worked through Chapter 1 of A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe. This is a fascinating read so far. Each chapter digs into the math and mystery of the numbers 1 through 10. Chapter 1 is all about the number one, or the monad.

In the first chapter, the geometer’s tools – the compass, the straightedge and the pencil are described. My excitement to try out the compasses in my new geometry tool kit (it came with three!) seems inadequate compared to the fact that:

“The Medieval geometers contemplated the compass as an abstract symbol of the eye of God.” A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe

Even the simple task of sitting down with tools to make the most basic of shapes, the circle, carried a greater significance.

“Pencil and paper translate divine, eternal ideas into symbols accessible to the geometer’s sight.” A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe

The monad, the circle, also represents the cyclic nature of everything, from the simplest to most complex biological system, even to the rock cycle.

This part of my reading tied into another title I am working on, The Fourth Turning.

This book is examing in great detail the cyclic nature to historical events. The authors discuss this concept of a circle of time, the wheels of time, with each cycle:

“represented by a circle, symbolizing perfect and unbreakable recurrence. Nearly every primitive or archaic society came to see sacred time as rounded.” A Fourth Turning

Much of the book (so far as I can tell being four chapters in) covers the saeculum, the recurring cycle of history that runs the average length of a lifetime (approximately 100 years). The saeculum is divided into four parts, represented by four generations within the hundred years.

“Roughly once every twenty years, America discovers a new generation – a happenstance triggered by some striking event in which the young people appear to behave in ways manifestly different than the youth who came just before.” A Fourth Turning

This is a fascinating book, but it is packed with information and details – thankfully there are a lot of tables to help keep things straight – so I am moving through it slowly.

This week I let myself enjoy some lighter fiction reads. I finished up Waking Gods, the follow up to last year’s Sleeping Giants. I enjoy epistolary novels – and this would fall into this category. The chapters are mostly transcripts between an unnamed man who is quite influential in a shadow government sort of way (think Cigarette Smoking Man in X Files…) and the main characters, or transcripts of mission logs.

It is an interesting writing style. You don’t get descriptions or details to animate the story in your head, other than what you can glean from the transcript conversations. This might seem like a limitation, but somehow it just “works.”

I see that there are audio book performances of both books now, which could be a lot of fun, since the one complaint I have about how the author formats his transcripts is the lack of speaker notation (who is saying what), the back and forth in conversations are really just distinguished by hyphens. Usually I can follow pretty well, but on occasion if I leave a chapter and come back, I have to orient myself again to the conversation to see who is saying what. An audible performance wouldn’t have this problem.

I also started back up my reading in the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh, reading Conspirator. This long-running series has several trilogies and a new book is about to be released. I’m two trilogies behind and working to catch up. It is very easy for me to get totally immersed in her writing though, so I am pacing myself. I definitely had a couple of rough mornings this past week as I had to read just one.more.chapter.

Current Reads:

 

Review: Abigail Adams

I have to be honest – biographies are not typically the type of book I reach for; they just haven’t really been an interest of mine. However, I decided over the next couple of years to include one or more in my reading plans each year.

Abigail Adams by Woody Holton, was my slow and steady read for 2016. I finished it up at the beginning of the new year and want to continue with her story this year.

While there are several works on either John or Abigail Adams, this is the first I have read. I enjoyed it immensely.

I imagine it is nearly impossible for a biography to not reflect biases held by the biographer. In this book, I certainly got the impression that the author held Abigail Adams in high esteem, as a woman of great accomplishment in spite of the restrictions that bound women of this time. Abigail was in some aspects very traditional and reserved, but in other ways very forward thinking and strong willed when it came to women’s welfare and interests.

Unlike some other books that primarily reference letters exchanged between Abigail and John Adams (including two I hope to tackle this year), this biography is told primarily through the extensive letters that Abigail Adams exchanged with a multitude of people, not only her husband but her children, sisters, and friends.

I think this allows for a fuller picture of her attitudes and actions, and illustrates the sometimes complicated relationships she had with others besides her husband.

Abigail Adams pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for women to accomplish and what role she had as a wife. She had a keen business sense and made many financial decisions independent of her husband. Due to John’s frequent absences she effectively was the head of household.

One thing that stood out to me was her drive for personal scholarship. I count myself lucky to be part of a great group of women (well, primarily women, but a few men as well) online who encourage each other to read more, read deeper, and strive for personal scholarship. Abigail Adams gave and received encouragement in this regard as well, in letters exchanged with friends and sisters.

My 2017 reading plan includes two more books that examine the life of Abigail Adams. I’m looking forward to continuing my study!

Upcoming reads:

John Adams, for which David McCullough earned the Pulitzer Prize, which presents the life of the second president and which pulls from the extensive collection of letters exchanged between John and Abigail throughout their long relationship.

My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams is an extensive collection of the actual letters exchanged between John and Abigail.

The Commons: May 10th Edition

The Commons is my weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

This has been a hectic week at home, and so I haven’t made as much progress, page wise, as I had planned for my weekly schedule. But I did manage to make significant progress in my fiction read, Waking Gods, and got off to a good start with A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe.

This week I worked through the Introduction in A Beginner’s Guide, and it was pretty awesome.

This is also not just a book for reading, but for doing. I have ordered a geometry set to use as I work through the book (and my kid’s aren’t allowed to touch it!). I know we have compasses and set squares for use in our math lessons, but I want a set all my own, for my own scholarship.

“Both Pythagoras and Plato suggested that all citizens learn the properties of the first ten numbers as a form of moral instruction.” A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe

I am finding this book goes along well with my other read, The Fourth Turning, which examines recurring cycles that occur in human history.

“When the lessons of symbolic or philosophical mathematics seen in nature, which were designed intro religious architecture or art, are applied functionally (not just intellectually) to facilitate the growth and transformation of consciousness, then mathematics may rightly be called “sacred.” A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe

 Most of my May reads are my “slow and steady” titles, but I have The Beginner’s Guide, as well as a couple of fiction reads I hope to get to this month.

Current Reads:

 

The Commons: May 3rd Edition

The Commons is my weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

I spent the final week of April trying to wrap up a few titles and make room in my stack for May reads. This past week I finished Experiencing God, Honey for a Child’s Heart, and 10 Habits of Happy Moms. I also read Henry and the Chalk Dragon to my children.

Experiencing God has been quite impactful – I’ve been working through it slowly since January and I strongly recommend it to Christians. No matter how far along your Christian walk you may be, you will be challenged in your relationship with God and come out with a deeper understanding of what it really means to experience God in your personal life, and as part of the larger Christian body.

“You can’t stay where you are and go with God at the same time.” Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God

I feel like I am late to the game, having only just now read Honey for a Child’s Heart, though I have been homeschooling since 2011, and have four children at home. This book is so full of goodness – and I am so thankful that our family leans so heavily on good literature, not just for homeschooling but for character building and family entertainment. This is a resource I will return to again and again as my children grow.

“Children’s books cannot be written for or down to children. Children reject books that do not treat them as equal.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart

The 10 Habits for Happy Moms is a great resource for moms who struggle to consider their own needs because they are constantly meeting the needs of others. Meg Meeker does a great job reminding women that self care is so important, and she addresses ten habits to cultivate to improve happiness.

“We all choose what thoughts will fill the spaces in our minds, if you will, at the beginning of the day. It is a simple mathematical truth that if we spend more time pondering what we don’t have, we will have far less time to feel grateful for what we do have.” Meg Meeker, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers

I’ll mention Henry and the Chalk Dragon even though it is a family read, and not just in my personal stack. This is a must read for families. We had so much fun reading this book aloud. It is laugh out loud funny and so sweet!

“Don’t insult anything that has just shimmied down the drain.” Jennifer Trafton, Henry and the Chalk Dragon

I started a new book in April that I’ll work on over the spring and summer. The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. Part ‘How to Read a Book’ and part great books reading list, I am enjoying this so far.

I am reading A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe this month with several others. I’ve only just started so I’ll share more as I get into it.

Current Reads:

Review: Different

I have recently finished reading Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him by Sally and Nathan Clarkson.

This book arrived at such a needed time in my life. While I think parenting in general is not an easy task, parenting four children ranging in age from 2 up to 10 years feels especially overwhelming most days.

Parenting children who are considered “different” certainly presents an additional layer of parenting challenges.

I have been working through several titles by Sally Clarkson (she’s one of my literary mentors for the year…) and if there was a word I would choose to describe her, I would probably choose “together.” This is such an incredible woman, a Godly woman who shares her experiences and wisdom for families and homeschoolers.

I was blown away with her raw honesty she poured out in Different. Along with her son Nathan, the pair talks about the struggles (and blessings!) of dealing with a child being different. They take turns sharing their experiences navigating a variety of issues, including OCD, ODD, and ADHD.

It was refreshing to read Nathan’s story from both his and his mom’s perspective. Reading this, you get an honest picture of the very real struggles that go along with dealing with behavioral  and mental health issues. Clarkson also was candid about their struggles seeking professional help and a diagnosis. Dealing with mental health issues is an ongoing process, with good days and bad ones too.

“But even in this broken world, where our differences often come with burdensome baggage, the imprint of God on our lives still gives value to each one of use as we are.” (p.7)

Clarkson was candid about the tension that can arise between spouses as they parent a child that is different.

“Most OCD kids, we have learned, have one parent who acts as the ‘confessor’ in their lives – the one they go to daily to tell their recurring thoughts and find relief from the guilt those thoughts carry, the one with whom they find acceptance and sense of safety. ” (p. xxv)

While she shared some of the more challenging occasions in their lives, she also discussed some of the techniques or strategies she found helpful in her daily interactions with Nathan.

“I learned to appreciate and celebrate (not just “cope with it”) because all human beings are a work of the Artist and have infinite value to the One who made them.” (p.8)

“I intentionally pressed in on issues that would affect relationships, character, and faith and tried to back off of other, less crucial issue…” (p.41)

And she spoke of the heart and attitude necessary to deal with out-of-the-box type children.

“If we accept the puzzle we have been given and ask, “What can I learn at this juncture, God? How should I be humble and glorify You in this place?” then we will become stronger, developing muscles of faith, wisdom, humility, and understanding.” (p. 121)

Clarkson addresses something that parents everywhere probably struggle with, a need to control. We want the best for our kids, and so there is a conscious or unconscious desire to control things so we can guarantee a positive outcome.

“In our broken world, there is – and will be – much that we cannot understand or control.” (p. 135)

“He [God] does not require us to control our children or friends, much less ‘fix’ them. But he does call us to pay attention, to love others, to be the ones who reach out as consistently as possible.”

It was so encouraging to read about these struggles with mental illness and behavioral issues both from the perspective of the parent and the child.

I could go on and on with the powerful words and encouragement I got from reading this book. But I’ll close with two statements and then encourage you to read the book yourself.

From Sally:

“My most important ministry would unfold one obedient moment after another as I learned to love and understand and serve those who were closest to me. Nathan or one of my other family members would push my buttons. And I would have to overcome my feelings and practice giving patient answers, to give up my rights one more time…” and “walking in the power of the Holy Spirit often means choosing to be patient and loving when you feel like being impatient and angry.” (p. 137)

And from Nathan:

“The truth is, we live in a deeply fractured world, and we don’t always have a choice about being broken. But we do have a choice about where we let our brokenness lead us. We can follow it into escape or addiction. But we can also follow it straight to God. To the One who knows us inside and out – with all our mistakes, broken parts, insecurities, and battles – and who still loves us. To the one who can not only handle our anger and our frustration and our questions, but can use them to transform them.” (p.186)