Wednesday, December 30, 2009

52 Books in 52 Weeks wrap-up and moving on

I did it!! Yay!! I read 53 books in the last calendar year!!! (Actually, I read more but didn't officially start counting "school" books until April)

I just answered some basic questions about the year on the Well Trained Mind forum but thought I should expand a bit here especially on the question of what I learned through all this reading.

It isn't surprising that my list is so eclectic as I'm a fairly eclectic person in my tastes and interests. My list reflects this as it includes everything from fluff to classics to science to biographies and history. I learned so much about the world, made new connections through studying the Iliad and Beowulf. I originally left "school" books off the list, such as Beowulf and Lord of the Rings, but I shouldn't have. Reading The Two Towers after studying Beowulf was an enlightening experience -- there, in Tolkein's work, were kennings and the details of heraldry that I had learned about through Beowulf. It wasn't simply description to skim over as it was when I'd read it before, it was there for a reason and evoked a long gone world. The Iliad has proven just as enlightening to me.

I learned that I'm still fascinated with China, and can easily re-enter grad-student mode. I finally read The Good Earth, which I can't believe I skipped while being a Chinese Studies major! I'd have to look at the book again to fully explain my reaction to it, but Pearl Buck definitely was pinning lots of positive Protestant qualities on the protagonist while yet painting an accurate picture of pre-revolutionary life in rural China.

I learned a great deal about science, thanks to A Short History of Nearly Everything, and Death By Black Hole and The Pluto Files. I learned about crazed and obsessive birders in To See Every Bird and The Big Year. I loved learning in Julie Andrews' memoir that she knew TH White because I had just finished Once and Future King and had really enjoyed it. I was intrigued my Maria Tallchief's life -- ballerinas are fascinating women.

I learned the beauty of listening to a good reader by listening to Nadia May's recordings of several Jane Austen books. I never laughed out loud when reading Austen to myself, but Nadia May made the dialog and comic characters come to life. I loved the narrators for Life of Pi and Citizen of the Galaxy. I crocheted an afghan and 5 scarves while listening to books!

I learned that many books are forgettable. There are books I know I enjoyed, but they left no lasting impression on me. I learned that I don't like mystery books featuring sleuths who solve the mystery by dumb luck. I want them to have some brains and a method. It took most of the Stephanie Plum books for me to realize that, but now I know.

I learned the joy of having a fellow reader in the house. My 14yo ds has been a great book-buddy as he recommends titles to me and loves discussing what we read and listen to.

As for next year? Well, I've got Julia Child's memoir about life in France, my ds really wants me to read Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I want to read Marcel Theroux's Far North and I have a stack of books by my bed waiting for me to open them. I want to finally read Austen's Masnfield Park, but don't think Nadia May has a recording of that one -- egads I'd have to read it on my own! I'm going to read Kim with my ds and Book Thief, but haven't settled on a major classic to tackle in the spring semester.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

(Not very) Wordless Wednesday

Here are some pictures of Team 135's adventures at the FTC robotics competition held in the Los Angeles area last Saturday. While our team came in 13th out of 14 due to a series of battery issues, we homeschool moms and dads were really proud because our kids didn't give up, and kept working on and tinkering with the bot until it was time to pack up and go home. They spent last night's meeting planning on redesigns and solutions to other problems that they can fix before the next competition in mid-January.

In the "pit area" tinkering on the bot.

In the staging area before the first round.

Our sparkly MC who works at JPL.
Someone joked they had never met an extroverted engineer until that day!

Each team gets to have 2 drivers and one coach on the field for each round.

One of the rounds in which our bot actually moved and scored points...

Our motley but loveable team of homeschooled kids!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Home (school) for the holidays...

My first Christmas season homeschooling left me stunned because I couldn't figure out how to homeschool while at the same time letting my inner Martha Stewart out for her annual holiday run. Moms who have kids in school have those hours during the day to shop, decorate, vacuum, and have fun. Working moms at least get a lunch break and commute time without kids. But homeschool moms get to deal with the hyped up spirits of their kids 24/7 during all the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. How do you shop and prepare holiday surprises for the little darlings when you are with them all the time? How do you get them to focus on math when the ornaments for the tree, or the wrapping paper is out?

I used to give up on anything that looked remotely like school during this period. We baked and decorated cookies and made lots of crafty presents for Grandparents, aunts and uncles. Lucky them!! I still have the sculpy clay ornaments we kept along with the "Palantirs" or giant clear balls into which we'd pour and swirld around paint. We read aloud, went out to look at lights, watched old movies.

After 10 years it is just as difficultto focus on school. The college kid is already done with classes and recently quit his job, so he is home and underfoot. And sick. There are music obligations that pull me away mentally and physically. And there are rain storms which beg for afternoons of cookie baking. I made school plans for December, and the State wants evidence of schooling for the month.


Regular school just ain't happening this month. Soon enough my youngest son will be away at college studying for finals during these weeks -- we might as well enjoy ourselves now. We spent yesterday afternoon, during the rain, watching the movie Shakespeare in Love. I made cookies and we started putting up Christmas ornaments. Today we started reading The Tempest while listening along to an audio dramatization. We're going to watch Forbidden Planet next week and compare it to Shakespeare's play.

We're going to the Getty Museum on Friday, staying in the area to head to a robotics competition the next morning. We'll listen to audio books in the car, he is keeping a journal for the month about all he reads and does. Add in a little biology, geometry and Spanish and it's a month well spent.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009