Wednesday, February 10, 2016

January Book List

Picture Books

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes
A tiny gardener inspiring a child-sized gardener to plant and care for flowers in the space around their home. Rich and full illustrations tell the story of life in a garden. Very nice.

The Big Book of Slumber by Giovanna Zoboli, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani, translated by Antony Shugaar
So I wanted to really like this, especially since Alicia from Posie Gets Cozy mentioned it, but the translated rhymes didn't work very well on some of the pages, although the illustrations captured the imagination. Alright, but not great, in my opinion.


Witness by Whittaker Chambers
I cannot do this book justice in this space, but I am so thankful to have read it, not just for the information, but also for the tremendous spirit displayed in this memoir. Mr. Whittaker Chambers first became an open Communist Party member around 1924-25. He wrote for several Communist newspapers before being recruited to join the underground Communist Party and eventually a Soviet secret agent, I believe. By 1937-38, he wanted out. This is his story of his life.
It is 800 pages and took me the whole month of January, but I persevered through some of the tedious details and names to find many passages that spoke directly to my soul. I'm not very well read, but if I had one of those lists of the best 100 books that everyone should read or books that I would take to a desert island, this would be on it, right near the top.

Without You, There is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim
The following is from my review that I wrote on Goodreads.

This is the first book I have ever read on North Korea, so my review reflects that. I first encountered the idea of the book in an article I read by the author which intrigued me about the book. After waiting months in the library queue, my turn came with the book. I didn't realize that the author had been allowed in to teach at this elite school under the guise of being a Christian missionary. More on that deception later.
Her derision of Christianity is evident, even the mystical brand of Christianity she recounts from her fellow teachers which not all Christians are comfortable with, myself included. But when she recounts coming away from a staff worship service discussing how interchangeable the words 'Jesus' and 'Great Leader' could be in the Christian hymns, you know she questions the validity of the claims of Christianity, not the other way around. 

Although earlier in her book, she had noted that North Koreans do consider their leaders to be gods, so her observations about Christian hymns seems silly at that point. "We all believe what we want to believe," she concludes. Her religious background is Confucianism, but the only reference she makes to her adherence is a trip she remembers making on behalf of her father to tend the ancestral gravestones in South Korea. 
Other reviewers have mentioned her obsession with writing about her love life with deliberate vagueness, yet her habitual use of the term lover to describe the person she writes to while teaching seems pathetic since she openly admits he doesn't love her. Strange relationship, and even stranger that she spends so much time discussing it. Perhaps that just shows how solitary and insular life becomes for those who spend any amount of time there. I don't know.
I mentioned earlier that she knowingly deceives her co-workers on her religious beliefs, apparently even taking Communion during their secret worship services, which becomes a bit of blow-up when she is confronted about that practice by one of her co-teachers and friends. The deception is interesting because she notes that one of the things that becomes hard to abide is the outright lying she knows her students incessantly participate in during her conversations with them. She views them as her children at times, but struggles with her affection with them because of their habitual and even unnecessary dishonesty. She realizes that this is the environment with which they have been raised and trained in, so she gives them a pass. But what of her own deception of which she knows is wrong? It is justified evidently by her desire to use her gathered notes to write this book which lets the outside world know what North Korean culture is like. She admits in the closing paragraphs of her memoir, that the publishing of the book will hurt the staff of the school, but does not appear to be bothered much by it. 
I did find the book interesting because of the descriptions of North and South Korea she provides and the conversations she has, plus her insider knowledge of Korean culture and history is interesting. I would have to read other books on North Korea before I could truly say if I recommend this one or not. I read it in 24 hours after bringing it home from the library, so I can say that I was compelled to read the book. That's something.


The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos
I have written a post about our story discussion experience here and posted our subsequent essays here, so I won't repeat myself. This book proved to be full of interesting details and have many threads of insights tied up into the plot. We discussed the possibility of Erik, the Phantom impersonating The Angel of Music and the idea that Angel implies a minister of good, not evil. Seth also noted that the phantom is a ghost, yet also appears to be human who is susceptible to death. And in his essay, he discusses the idea of Erik living under the opera as a possible symbol of the Underworld. I'm glad we both read it and took the time to explore the story using our Lost Tools of Writing program which has been extremely valuable.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

two essays, one story

As I mentioned last month, we have been working on persuasive essay writing through a book discussion on The Phantom of the Opera.  This was our first time encountering this story, even though the musical and stage productions have made this story familiar to many.
After working through several drafts, both handwritten and typed, we reached a consensus on my son's final draft. We both worked on paper through the various steps of Invention, Arrangement and Elocution for this third essay. It is a process that while is still new to us in some ways, is yielding such good insights into the stories that we continue to persevere in following the instructions set out in The Lost Tools of Writing.

After Seth's final draft was secured, I thought I might take my notes and attempt to write an essay taking the other side of our issue. I was more convinced in the position Seth chose, but thought it would be good for me to try for a different position using the same issue we had chosen.

So I leave you with our two essays and if you are familiar with the story, ask you to consider where you fall on the issue presented.

ESSAY 3: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA           Feb.2, 2016

Have you ever seen a ghost or an angel? Have you ever welcomed a stranger to your house?
These questions apply to why I believe that Christine Daae should not have welcomed the Angel of Music in The Phantom of the Opera. She was not cautious, was not careful of her possessions, and did not consider what the Angel said.

Christine should not have welcomed the Angel because she was lured by Erik’s singing. She was so caught up in his singing that she did not ask herself who or what was singing. She did not know the Angel’s plans for her, she should have asked why he was here. She could not see Erik, she should have asked other singers or musicians if they had seen him.

Christine should not have welcomed the Angel because she should not have given her soul to a stranger. Christine said she was dead since she gave her soul to him. The Angel was a curse because he caused pain and suffering to Christine.         

Christine should not have welcomed the Angel because Erik may have been a demon-possessed man. He lived under the opera house which signifies that he may have come from the Underworld. The Angel was a fictional figure who was not supposed to be real.

I believe that Christine Daae should not have welcomed the Angel of Music: She was not cautious, was not careful of her possessions, and did not consider what the Angel said.

The Phantom of the Opera February 5, 2016

What is the cost of love? If there is no cost, is it truly love? Through these questions, I seek to explore the idea that Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera rightly introduced Erik, the Angel of Music into her life for the following three reasons: it promoted her singing career, it provided a connection with her dead family, and  it caused her to have compassion for suffering.

The Angel of Music promoted Christine’s singing career by providing her with fame and status following an enhancement of her singing talent. He provided her with a personal mentoring experience that allowed her to become successful. And lastly, he provided her with an even greater ability to do what she loved, singing.

The Angel of Music provided Christine with a connection to her dead mother and father. He was a companion who knew both the loves of her past and the hopes for her future. His arrival was the fulfillment of a promise made to her by her father when she was yet a young girl.

By introducing the Angel of Music into her life, Christine was given the opportunity to have compassion for the suffering of another. She was able to give the love and affection that Erik’s mother had refused him. By agreeing to marry him, she showed sacrificial love to both Raoul, her devoted lover and to Erik, her unintended lover when they both needed her most. She promised to attend to the details of Erik’s burial upon his death as a final act of compassion to him.

While Christine’s acts of love to the Angel of Music may have cost her turmoil and suffering, she rightly introduced him into her life because it promoted her singing career, provided a connection with her dead family and caused her to have compassion for the suffering of others.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Monday, January 25, 2016

Book Discussion gives Mom a Full Heart

That post title is quite the headline. And since the essay is not written yet, perhaps you may wonder if the cart is before the horse by posting like this. Perhaps. But if the richness is displayed in the essay, surely it can be found in the thinking processes that produced the essay. So while my mind is still reeling from the mining expedition we just completed, (a metaphor brazenly stolen from the Circe Institute's writing course) let me just share some thoughts on the process thus far.

When I read a book, in particular a well known classic, I always feel a bit intimidated both during-and-after my reading that I will miss or have missed the universal ideas behind the story. This happened again when I read The Phantom of the Opera one evening last week after my oldest, Seth picked it out, read it and wanted to talk about it all in the span of about two hours. Alrighty then.

 I read it and was, for lack of a more dignified literary term, weirded out by the story. I had no idea what the point of such a strange tale was about. None.

The following Monday morning came around and Seth suggested we use this novel as the next essay in our Lost Tools of Writing (LTOW) course. Gulp. Well, sure, I admired his enthusiasm.

So we started off with a story chart which is what we have done for many of our books and then we launched ourselves into some should questions.  We also have done this many times before. That is when my brain really started to think. We generated some excellent should questions and then I let Seth pick the one he wanted to make as the Issue of the essay. He happened to pick one that I had written, which I thought was pretty darn good.

The next time we pulled out our papers, we started coming up with reasons from the story that we thought could either answer the 'should' question in the affirmative or the negative. And some things we thought, didn't go in either, so they just went in their own column. (All of this is taught in the LTOW course.) And we were both pleased with the kinds of ideas and content we generated about the story.
But it was the next step of using the Five Common Topics which I believe have their root in Aristotle that gave us so much more material to think about. You are asking questions of Comparison, Definition, Circumstance, Relation and Testimony. If you are wondering what those Common Topics look like when you are asking questions, this link will give you some ideas of how to ask those questions. That may look overwhelming, but  the LTOW breaks it into very manageable parts with video instruction by Andrew Kern and others to walk you through these steps.

The amount of thinking we have now done about this story is amazing. We even discussed how this story is like a very well known fairy tale that we had all read together in the fall, Beauty and the Beast.  That was a very good moment.

Essay writing is not all mountain-top experiences (enter today's work on Parallelism as Exhibit A), but we discussed how this process gives us a greater admiration for the authors of the books we enjoy when we see how much work is involved in crafting good writing.

This type of thinking is equally demanding, yet equally satisfying.  I hope our finished essays show both in full measure.

Friday, January 15, 2016


So we returned home from our Christmas travels to a bit of snow on the ground and these last two weeks have just added to the amount, but only a little bit at a time. Enough crystals to make everything white, enough cold to start some ice formations on the river and enough mounds to make snow forts and sledding hills. Almost everyday, Kate puts on all her snow gear herself and takes herself outside for a few laps. But she doesn't like the cold and due to her poor circulation, her hands and feet get cold very quick. So we put her in front of the heater and she finds a doll quilt made by her Nannie to become her own thawing spot.
Laura and Seth are more robust and determined to face the cold and ice to play, shovel, and sled just by themselves or with playmates. I have so many wonderful memories of winter play, it is hard to believe that I have turned into such an indoor hermit. But I did manage to take some time this week while the girls were napping and Seth doing his own lesson work to go for a nice long walk. I walked to the edge of the woods and started down the path only to hear incessantly knocking sounds from a tall tree just ahead of me off the path. I only managed a couple of photos of what I think is the female Pileated Woodpecker which I think must be fairly common in our area. My husband's former co-worker had problems with them around his home. Her mate was with her, but he flew off to another part of the woods and she did too, but I caught up with her again only a few more feet down the path. She posed one more time for me and then took off, her huge wings carrying her deeper into the woods. The amount of bark that they have removed from some of the trees is incredible. I don't know how those trees will cope. I also noticed different animal tracks in the snow which I would like to try and identify, especially those close to the river.
On my walk back, I played with the shadows a bit, creating giant steps and silly poses fully aware that someone might be watching me. Obviously I didn't let that stop me.
Yesterday we looked out while it was snowing and saw our little neighbor boy pushing his little green sand shovel through the holes in the fence to remove some of the snow. His rosy red cheeks and almost blond-white hair were so cute in contrast to the flakes of snow tumbling down around him. He didn't see us watching him and I took the photos without opening our back door so he was undisturbed in his play.
Laura is already asking if the river ice is ready to skate on, so I think she is a more eager skater than Seth who prefers walking around on it with his boots.  I took a bit of a drive after stopping by the library and I saw one boy skating on a rink in his spacious front yard while one of his parents skated around with a shovel removing the fresh snow. Bright floodlight from their garage gave them plenty of light to play and see by. I felt so glad for him, skating around on this home rink.
Winter gets a bad rap, but not being bitten by mosquitoes is a definite bonus. And when you consider the beauty in the formation of ice crystals, there is so much to admire. And we haven't even talked about the gorgeous soft pastel sunrises and sunsets you see this time of year. It's all wintery goodness.

education dressed in Modernism

"I think one of the interesting aspects of Modernism came to focus in the death of God school as it surfaces, oh, around 1970. One of the points that Altizer, who was a leader in the school, made is one that is not often appreciated, but it is basic to Modernism, basic to Liberalism, basic to every aspect of this cultural force. The death of God school did not say that there is no God or that God is dead. Their point was that God is dead to us. Whoever he may be and whatever he may think, we don’t care. He is irrelevant to our lives and our interests. And this has been the very important aspect of Modernism as a whole. It was never that we have proven that there is no God or we believe there is no God. Some na├»ve Atheists have held that. But Modernism has not been Atheistic. It has been indifferent to the question outwardly, at least, because it has been so man centered, it does not care whether God exists or not. He is irrelevant for us, because everything is going to be in our hands."

~R.J. Rushdoony,  from the transcript of The Culture of Modernism, a discussion with Otto Scott

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book list for the rest of December

I posted some of the books that I read in December when I grouped them in with my late October/November list. Here are the rest of the books I read, the stragglers.

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Alison Jay
I always like to find one new Christmas book to look forward to reading during the Advent season. This year, this one was a delightful find. The couple on the front cover is featured throughout the book as the song/poem progresses through its familiar lines. The artwork captures much joy, delight and romantic love. A fresh rendering of an old favorite.

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson, illustrated by Garth Williams
We started to read this aloud last year during Advent but didn't make it very far. So this December, we started over and managed to finish it the first week of January. We enjoyed seeing the change in Armand, the old tramp as he interacted and cared for the Calcet children and family. A short, but sweet book to read aloud together.

Waiting on the Word by Malcolm Guite
A treat for myself that I bought in November to read through the Advent and Christmas season. I follow Malcolm Guite on Facebook so I knew the quality of poetry he writes. What I did not expect, although I should have, was the quality of the poem commentary he provides in this book which contains both his own original poems and other poets. So much rich theological and literary content, it was a perfect blend. I will be reading this again and again as well as getting his other books for other times of the year.

And finally, this special photo book that Shane assembled for me as a Christmas gift. He hand-picked every photo and arranged them to his liking. I'm sure it must have taken him many late nights since he worked in secret. It came out so nice. I have loved looking through it many times already.