Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Whatcha reading, week 37

I took a detour last week to read Biblical Womanhood instead of Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. I think it's kind of interesting that last week, in the midst of some church drama, I was reading Biblical Womanhood and then immediately after that, I read Black and Blue when domestic violence is blowing up all over the headlines.

So, yeah, a book about domestic violence wasn't the cheeriest of topics. Black and Blue is the story of a woman who flees her abusive cop husband with her ten-year-old son.  The book opens as they leave their lives in New York and follows them as they set up a new life in a new place with new identities.  I read this book in one day, but I'm not sure that was because it was inherently riviting. In fact, the story dragged a little in places and dragged a lot in others. Still, I knew the husband was going to turn back up at some point and I wanted to be there when he did. 

Besides Frannie and her son, there were a handful of supporting characters in the story, but they were pretty one deminsional: the new friend, the new boyfriend-who's-not-a-boyfriend.  Beth (the name Frannie assumed) works as a home health aide, and the most interesting relationship she forms is a friendship with the elderly wife of one of her patients. Beth is not able to be completely honest with anyone because of the risk of her husband finding out where she is, but on reflection, I think she's been less-than-honest with herself and her son for so long, that revealing little and misdirecting when she can't avoid revealing has become second nature.

This is the second Anna Quindlen book I've read in the last month. (The other was Every Last One, which was also decidedly dark.) Quindlen has either been in an abusive relationship, is close to someone who has or has done excellent research. She hits all the right notes, from Beth blaming herself for her husband's actions to planting seeds in Beth's upbringing to explain why she was vulnerable to such a relationship. What she does best, however, is subtly portraying Beth's fatalism. Over the years they were married, through his abuse and her decision to stay, something in Beth clearly died. She loves her son deeply, but she's so damaged that when something awful happens to him, the reader is most struck by her inability to fully engage. She is sad, but resigned. Does she think she somehow deserved it? I don't think so, but she's lacking the fight you would normally expect from a mother in that situation.

Up next: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. How's this for an opening line: "They said the typewriter would unsex us." Can't wait to watch this one unfold. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Whatcha readin'? Week 36

I know I said last week that I was going to read Anna Quindlen's Black and Blue next, but thanks to a Kindle sale, I picked up A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans on a whim. I'm glad I did. The church I attended as a child was having a kerfuffle, so I was already thinking about the religious culture I grew up in. A Year of Biblical Womanhood gave me a convenient framework to examine gender roles and expectations.

Rachel Held Evans took one year to focus on what the Bible says about women and to follow it as literally as possible. One month she took on modesty, another month submission, another month homemaking, etc. Some things--like camping in the front yard during her period a la The Red Tent--seemed gimmicky at first, but to her credit, she writes with warmth and humor, so you sense that she is genuinely trying to follow all the Bible's instructions for women. Yes, I rolled my eyes at some of her tasks, but on reflection, I have to say that I respected her for not dismissing any of what she found in the Bible as being optional or "just how things were done at that time." Since she didn't pick and choose, she earned some credibility with me.

My favorite parts of the book were when she sought out people who were already living certain aspects of Biblical womanhood. She spent time with Amish women, corresponded frequently with an Orthodox Jewish woman and even interviewed a polygamous wife. Ahava, the Jewish woman, was absolutely my favorite. Her insights on the Jewish context of the Old Testament were pure gold. I was shocked to learn from Ahava that Jewish men memorize Proverbs 31 to praise their wives. (As opposed to American women who read Proverbs 31 and feel they can never measure up. What?? Proverbs 31 is about recognizing wisdom in action? I always thought of it as a job description!) "Eschet chayil!" means "Woman of Valor!" and it became the author's battle cry throughout the book when she met with success and as encouragement to herself when the project was wearing her down.

The heavier topics that Evans tackled through this project--such as justice, specifically--really caused me to think. I'm going to be mulling over her conclusions, rereading passages of Scripture and maybe seeking out other commentaries. I think that's the real takeaway from this book--we think we know what the Bible says about women; it's certainly been drilled into me since I was very little. But do we really? Or are we relying on the traditions and interpretations that have been passed down? Are we brave enough to find out for ourselves what God's definition of eschet chayil is, without giving ourselves a pass on the parts that are inconvenient or downright hard? I don't think I'll be picking up a headcovering after reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood, but I will definitely be thinking about and looking for answers to many of the questions it raised.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Homeschool Week in Review (week 2)

Phase Three of our homeschool launch is complete.  First the kids started their co-op classes, then we started Will's pre-algebra and grammar, plus Bible and History, which we do as a family. This week, Katie started her math and grammar. By the end of next week, we'll have all kids doing all subjects!

In Bible, we studied the name of Jehovah Rophe, the God who heals. This particular name was challenging for me, because we lost a beloved family member to cancer in June. Some of my favorite verses we looked up were these:

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Math--everybody's on track and it seems to be going pretty smoothly. Will has already finished his first chapter and did well on the test. (Yay!) 

Grammar--I love grammar; I really do. My kids are reasonably proficient in it, so it's a subject that nobody really minds doing. We're still in the simplistic early days of "simple subject vs. complete subject," but their Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) co-op class gives them practical exercises to apply what they've learned in grammar. The instructions for IEW will say, for example, "add a who/which clause to your rough draft." The nerdy grammarian in me just gets all giddy over things like that.

History--This week we covered the Mexican Revolution & Pancho Villa; Porfirio Diaz and his 30-year presidency, Francisco Madera & Victoriano Huerta (still called the Jackal or the Usurper by modern-day Mexicans!) This all happened immediately prior to the beginning of World War 1, which we'll begin studying next week. Unless I spend a couple more days on the Mexican Revolution--I found it really interesting!

Science--This is a co-op class, and I really want to stay out of it as much as possible, so there probably won't be much to report on this. I think I saw on the syllabuses (syllabi?) that both kids have their first science tests next week.

In preparation for beginning our study of literature next week, everyone chose a biography to read. Katie chose Milton Hershey; Will chose C.S. Lewis; and I chose Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I'm kicking around a couple of ideas on fun projects we might do, either as we read or to wrap up this unit.

Thanks for reading! I hope you have a wonderful weekend. 

Monday, September 01, 2014

What I've been reading lately...

Back in January, I set a goal to read 52 books in 2014, so I've been reading a lot this year. At first I chose books indiscriminately from all genres. I envisioned reading fiction, nonfiction, biography and history in equal doses. It didn't take long for me to realize that I had seriously romanticized the notion of being a well-rounded reader! Nonfiction and history had fallen off my radar by March or April because, well, I'm doing this for pleasure and it was stressing me out to be falling off-pace because nobody can write nonfiction about, say, WWII in less than eleventy billion pages. The vast majority of my selections are fiction and come from recommendations on, BookRiot or Amazon. If I read something that is beachy chick-lit,  I try to follow it with something substantive and/or respectable.  All books have to be in the 300-page range, and rereading old favorites is not allowed.  And my last "rule" is that I can abandon a book I hate after I get 50% of it read.

The last book I read was Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. I haven't written literary criticism since college (i.e., more than twenty years ago) so my ability to gush about a book and still sound intelligent is long gone. However, if anything were going to convince me to come up with some obscure insight and defend it with high-falutin' language and references to the rest of the text, this would be the book.  It's a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, told from the point of view of the oldest sister. (I realized early in the story that I had confused the story of Cupid and Psyche with the story of Narcissus and Echo.) 

It's hard to read C.S. Lewis and not expect to see Aslan in every shadow, but Till We Have Faces was not written as a Christian retelling of a Greek myth. There is, I think, plenty of symbolism and whatnot to point our eyes toward God, but I think that is the case in almost all good writing. Charlotte Mason, the 19th century English educator whose ideas most influence our homeschooling, asked the following questions to spark her students' thoughts: What does this teach us about God? What does this teach us about mankind? What does this teach us about the world around us? Using these questions as a springboard, I could easily write three A-quality papers about Till We Have Faces, but I'll spare you the academic double-talk.

When I've read C.S. Lewis's theological treatises--back when my brain was still nimble and well-rested--what struck me about his writing style was that he doesn't begin by laying out his premise and then building support for it. He gives a reason, then another reason, then another and THEN says, if A, B and C are true, then we must obviously conclude that X is also true.  Till We Have Faces has a typical story-telling style, but in thinking of what I learned in this book, I see that he used the same inductive process here. He told the story by telling A, B and C so the reader expects him to end with X being true. The twist was that at the end, he revealed that A, B and C were, in fact, NOT true, so X was also not true. I didn't see that coming at all, at it left me wanting to flip immediately back to the start of the book and read it again. I want to tell you the specifics so, so, so badly, but it would be WRONG for me to spoil it. Let's just say that when my yearlong re-reading ban ends, I will be rushing back to Till We Have Faces to see if there were things I should have picked up on.  

Next up on my book list is Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. (A story of domestic abuse--did I mention that the pendulum tends to swing from one extreme to the other??)

Thanks for reading! If you're reading something fantastic, I would love to hear about it!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Homeschool Week in Review (week 1)

This summer has been tumultuous for my family, with 5 major, life-changing events between June 1 and August 31.  We got through the last heartbreaking event of the summer on August 21, and I had planned to start school after Labor Day so we could enjoy one week of peaceful, relaxing summer. Apparently that was too much to ask. My son announced on Sunday, August 24, that he didn't want to wait until after Labor Day; all his friends were starting school on the 25th. Since I never, ever, ever (EVER) expected my middle schooler to complain that he wasn't getting to start school when everybody else did, I compressed my planning/enjoy the summer week into a planning/enjoy the summer DAY and we started last Tuesday.

(Of course, Life in the Button Factory is never as simple as just starting a school year on 24 hours' notice. My daughter decided that she was fine with waiting until after Labor Day, so we're have two different start dates. I tell you what, I have the lunatics running the asylum here.)

So here's what our first week looked like:
Bible: We are continuing our study from last year on the names of God. This week we learned about God's name Adonai, which means Lord or Master. Adonai has the connotation of being the name a servant would use to address his master. My favorite verse that we found was Luke 1:38, where Mary said to the angel, "I am the Lord's servant. Let it be to me according to your word."
Math: We are using Teaching Textbooks again this year. Will completed his first lessons; Katie will start hers on Tuesday.
Grammar: We are using Growing with Grammar again this year. Just like Math, Will started his lessons, and Katie will start them this week.
History: We read about Puyi, the last Emperor of China, the French colonization of Indochina and Phan Boi Chau, who started the Vietnamese thinking of the possibility of independence.
Science: Will is taking Apologia Physical Science at a local co-op; Katie is taking Apologia General Science at the same co-op.
Institute for Excellence in Writing: they're also taking this class at the co-op. I love this program, but I was really having a hard time teaching it myself. The cobbler's children have no shoes, and all that.
Literature: planning to start our literature studies in the next two weeks.

I plan to post a weekly wrap-up of what we're learning throughout this year. I always seem to lose steam with gradebooks and such, so my hope is that having a narrative-style record of our year is something I can enjoy and stick with.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Menu Plan Monday 8/25/14

Since I haven't blogged in more than two years, I'm going to start slow. You know, like going back to the gym after a long absence. Sharing our menu plan for the week was always an easy way to ease back into blogging and Lord knows I like to talk about food.

Monday--Skillet lasagna. (The kids like it better if it's called lasagna. It's cheese ravioli with meat sauce with mozzerella melted on top. I've had REAL lasagna lessons and have felt guilty about the name of this dish ever since. It's so far from the same thing that I pretty much live in fear that my Italian friend is going to find out and never speak to me again.) 

Tuesday--Beef and broccoli. This one is a crowd-pleaser. The recipe is here. The only change I make is to double the sauce, because the sauce is the boss!

Wednesday--Salmon over pasta. Easy & quick: a thin spread of Grey Poupon over salmon filets, bake it and serve atop fettuccine that you've stirred a little pesto into. 

Thursday--Red beans and rice. I recently had a life-changing epiphany. (Is that redundant? Are all epiphanies, by definition, life-changing?) I've been making red beans & rice wrong for the last twenty years. My cajun friend Robin finally convinced me to put in the time and make them right, from dried beans, soaked overnight and cooked all day. Seriously, they taste like heaven this way. Add some cornbread and some sauteed spinach, and we are all blissed out.

Friday-- Matthew West is doing a concert at our church this Friday, so we won't have time to do our normal homemade pizza & movie thing. Guessing we may grab some restaurant food. We've really been into this place called Cosi lately. 

Saturday--Homemade pizza night, because I forgot about the Matthew West thing while doing the shopping, so we already have all the ingredients. It would be a shame not to use them, right??

Sunday lunch--Chicken broccoli pie. Recipe here. She does individual pockets for her family; I just load it all into a pie plate. I use my grandmother's pie crust recipe instead of using a packaged one. Using a pre-made crust saves a ton of time and mess, but c'mon, this is Sunday lunch we're talking about.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Day One of LOAD

LOAD1, originally uploaded by Wendy.A.
LOAD stands for "Layout a Day" and for the month of February, I am participating in a challenge to create at least one scrapbook page each day.  Each morning I get a prompt via email. Using that as a springboard, I came up with this layout about cooking with my kids.

Just between you and me, I fully expect to tweak this page a little before it goes into an album. It needs a little something-something to make it pop.