31 August 2011

Beowulf The Brave...and Accessible

First up on the homeschool reading lineup was this masterpiece right here.

You'll notice, clearly, the words 'new verse translation'.  There was no way I could assign the Anglo-Saxon Old English version, because: a.) I've never read that version myself (my shame as an English major) and b.) Old English looks like this >

I see 'Beowulf' and 'Grendel' in there, and that's about it.  I do know that the characters that look like a funky p are actually 'th' sounds.

Other than that, yeah.  It looks like Greek to me.

Beowulf was a great way to start the school year.  Interesting from the get-go, the first battle happens about 25 pages in (which is quick reading, being an epic poem and all).  Beowulf rescues a kingdom in Denmark from a demon named Grendel.  The battle is excellent, with descriptions the walls shaking and thrashing, until finally Grendel receives a "tremendous shoulder wound"...during which there is the snapping of sinew.

YES!  What 12-year-old boy wouldn't dig that?

The storyline itself is exciting and fast-paced and right to the point, but what I find interesting is the cultural aspect.  What did Middle Age Anglo-Saxons prize in their leaders?  Bravery, strength, battle prowess.  Those qualities reappeared often throughout the poem.  In fact, Beowulf sums it up nicely:

...Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark (1384-1389)...

At one point, Spencer wanted to know why descriptions of people were repeated so often (the ring-giver, Shield-Dane, etc.).  Well, I instructed my young Padawan, the repetition is so that the crowd (who is listening to the story) will remember those important details.  After all, 'Beowulf' isn't just some fanciful sci-fi fantasy yarn...it's a lesson.  It entertains and instructs - teaching young people of that time period WHO to emulate.  In fact, the unknown narrator states one of the valuable lessons rather succinctly:

...Behaviour that's admired
is the path to power among people everywhere (20-25)...

I was extremely pleased with Heaney's translation.  Although I can't say I care for his lengthy and sesquipedalian (new word today = related to using big words) introduction, his take on the poem was great.  Descriptive and vivid.  I didn't feel like I was reading poetry, which, I dunno, maybe that's bad...but I like how it reminds us of the eternal cycle of life and death, and the ways we live our life and who for. 

28 August 2011

Poem For Brent


You cut your hair,
I see gray at the temple.
You let it grow long,
it’s still there.

Either way, it’s sexy to me.

Your eyes crinkle more now
when you smile or laugh
(which is not often enough).
That decades-old scar on your chin
has become part of your natural lining.

I could watch your profile all day.

The important parts of you
have gotten better, or
they’ve stayed exactly the same.
You know what I’m talking about.

Fifteen years have gone fast,
and you are timeless.

26 August 2011

Je Ne Sais Quoi

This expression is French for "I do not know what".

And that is about how I'm feeling right now. 

There are many things pulling me in some different directions, and I feel a definite loss of control.

For one, I can't help thinking that everyone else in the entire world is out doing something super-fun.  And I'm missing out, so I'm compelled to try and "keep up with the Joneses" so to speak.  We received the email tonight about auditions for the children's theatre, and I felt that wormy prickle of obligation  Because why?  Because I want to continue to feel like a part of an elite group of theatre moms?  Because I'm afraid of falling out of favor with the director?  Because I want my kids to be active and creative?  Because they really, really want to?

Second, I think I am having major doubts about everything.  What I want to believe is that staying home, baking bread, homeschooling, hosting a foreign exchange student, how I'm raising my children is the perfect, right thing to do for all members of my family.  But, I have no clue about all that.  Spencer has friends he probably should call - to invite over and keep in touch with - but we're so wrapped up in school and our foreign exchange student to have the energy to do it.  So, is he really losing out socially then?

It's late, and my mind tends to brood more at this time of the day.  Things seem more dire around midnight.  I hope to wake up tomorrow and have solutions and plans of action.

24 August 2011

At The Helm of the Ship of Insanity

This most certainly is going to be a year I will never forget!  How does one come by circuitous paths to these interesting points in life.  We are:

1. Six days into life with our new foreign exchange student.
2. Nine days into the homeschooling year.
3. Four days into the new school year (for the two youngest).
4. Two days into the new school year (for me).

Sheer craziness, yes.  A new school term always brings with it that sense of imbalance...that feeling that we need to get some kind of routine around here.  The routine will come (I hope).  Brent and I have remarked that nothing we do these days is without purpose, without conscious thought and direction.  Nothing is autopilot around here anymore.

I have a million bajillion things I'd like to talk about...but unfortunately, all I have the energy for tonight is curling up in bed with a little Seamus Heaney, who has been kind enough to translate Beowulf from Old English for me.

21 August 2011

Hm. End of Summer. What?

First of all, where are all my followers?  Should I contact missing persons or something?

Second of all, school starts tomorrow.  My two youngest and the foreign exchange will head off to the wide world of public school.  Is it terrible parenting that I'm looking forward to it?

Maybe.  But then, I see some overly, inappropriate enraged parent berating their kid at the local Wal-Mart for something I think is a trifle...and then I don't feel so bad.  For obvious reasons, it's good Jaycob is going to high school, it's the whole reason he's here.  Part of the American experience.  For the younger two, it's also good.  We have had nothing but positive experiences here at the elementary in town, and there's no alarming reason to pull them out for homeschooling.  Actually, Spencer is dual-enrolling - he'll be taking Industrial Tech and Orchestra at the middle school.

And honestly, my three kids are in need of some space and their "away" time.  And they will all get it.  Then, I start back to work/class on Tuesday, and that'll be my away time.  And hopefully, when we all come back together, we will appreciate what home means a little more.

Have a good week, all.

18 August 2011

Gifts From Korea

In the homeschool department, today was the best yet...and only a smidge of that is because because Spencer worked efficiently and was done (for me) by noon.

I enjoyed the discussion with him regarding the composition he'll write tomorrow.  We outlined it today, and I really got a kick of hearing him give details about Archimedes, Greek Fire, the Ottoman Turks, Constantinople...I mean, he really chatted it up!  How that loquaciousness will translate into a well-written essay, though, I don't know.

If you read Spencer's blog for today, you'll know how excited he was about the science experiment.  Even I'll admit it was fun to do.  Talk about hands-on - we've had three days of science this week and we've done three experiments.  None of them required more than simple household items. 

Then, it was homeschool-to-go, as Brent conducted his math lesson in the car ride to Des Moines International Airport.  That's right, the new foreign exchange student arrived today.  He was pleased to see us, but exhausted.  He slept most of the way home, actually, only waking up when we stopped for take-and-bake pizza.

The poor kid.  He got a brief tour of the house before we shuttled him off to the elementary school, where the two youngers had Meet The Teacher night before school starts next Monday.  Then, it was finally time for dinner, followed by a hilarious round of Apples to Apples (Spencer won, but Jaycob came in second).  Right before bedtime, Jaycob presented all of us with gifts from Korea...and the kids were just so excited!  Stickers for Korea!  Trinkets from Korea!  Puzzles from Korea!  Chopsticks from Korea!  A fan from Korea!  Korean writing!

They had a hard time getting to bed, that's for sure.

Tomorrow, we tackle the juggernaut that is high school registration.

17 August 2011

Today, I Remember Socrates...

...and his wise, wise immortal words: all I really know is that I know nothing.

Most of you regular readers here know I'm homeschooling my son for the first time ever.  We started class on Monday.

I went into this thing with delusions of grandeur, let me tell you.  First, I thought very highly of my son's academic abilities...all the data and numbers seemed to indicate that I had a very bright child indeed. 

And while I do believe I have a intelligent child, what he was measured with causes me concern.  I assumed he would know how to take notes (a simple outline) and be able to pick out major plot events in a novel he was reading.

He didn't.  Whether that means he did learn it at one point and it didn't stick, or he never learned it, I don't know.  It doesn't matter.  We've got to get back to basics.  So, I assigned him a crossword puzzle today in lieu of reading his novel.  Each clue was embedded within a sentence; the puzzle was designed with comprehension in mind.  As he mentioned in his blog today, there were some difficult clues...but still it took him most of the morning to finish it.

I thought, as a public school teacher with twelve years' experience under my belt, I'd just waltz in, give my kid some work, do a little instruction, then he'd get right to it, and awesome learning would take place.  As it turns out, these things are happening, but at a slower pace than I'd imagined and after my tweaking on my part. 

But, here's the reason I'm doing it.  Yesterday, Spencer checks out this book from the library: Science Goes To War.  He's doing his history composition on Greek Fire, and there's some information on it in this book.  So, today, he reads and takes notes on the two pages (out of 288) he'll need for his essay.  I figure he's done after that...but no, he spends a couple of hours tonight with his nose in it!  He's reading it when I come down to say goodnight!  He then proceeds to tell me that it's "getting really good now".

And that's the one amazing thing (today) about homeschooling.  He's excited about learning again.

15 August 2011

A Busy Day, A Good Day

I know those two things do not always correlate, but in my case, today, they did.

It was an early up this morning, and Spencer and I went out for breakfast...just he and I.  A little pre-school kickoff, I guess.

The, it was back home and the beginning of the first day of school.  He chose to tackle history first.  Mondays are a history-heavy day, and especially the first day...well, his reading/notes/outlining/timeline work MUCH longer than I anticipated.  As in...he did not finish it all until about fifteen minutes ago.  :) 

But, here's already a side benefit I've discovered about this whole homeschool thing.  He does his schoolwork in the way he wants.  For example, the reason history took him so long is because he'd stop after awhile, work on vocab, logic, math, etc.  Then he'd come back to it.  Talk about being able to manage tasks!

However, there is already a snag in the road.  Brent and Spencer sat down for math and discovered that we may have the wrong book (in fact, it's very likely).  He understood everything in the book, even the concepts at the end.  But, it's a good problem to have...much like having to buy a new pair of jeans - the next size down.  Actually, I think Brent was more disjointed by the math snafu than Spencer was.

I figured I'd need to walk Spencer through his work, and I did, but I also answered a lot of random questions that came my way too.  Another great thing I discovered is that Spencer is much more free to engage in conversation about topics/assignments he's working on.  Also, whenever questions came up, and they did (where exactly is Anatolia?  Why were the Crusaders trying to capture Constantinople?  Michael VIII was a Christian emperor.), Spencer could take a quick break to the computer or book to find out.

So, in short, the kid was busy today.  It was a great day, actually. 

Now me.  I baked a loaf of bread, cleaned a ceiling fan, finished a college syllabus, got laundry caught up, made granola for Elliot, and did some shopping for the foreign exchange student.  On top of all that, we have guys running in and out of our house, putting an egress window in downstairs.

After Spencer updates his blog here in a few minutes, I shall unwind with a couple of episodes of 'Glee'...season two.

Looking forward to tomorrow.

14 August 2011

And Away We Go!

I use this metaphor every year at the beginning of a new school year: the roller coaster.  The jangling anticipation as you sit at the crest of the highest hill, waiting for the breathless descent to carry you, screaming, into the unknown.  The coaster zips you through ups and downs, until finally, you arrive, breathless again at the end.  And you wonder where the time went and how it could have gone so fast.

This family is sitting at that high point right now, waiting for the ride to painstakingly inch downward until it accelerates madly.

Spencer starts school tomorrow.  Kirby and Elliot start school a week from tomorrow.  Our foreign exchange student arrives Thursday.

It is the deep breath before the plunge.

If you would like, you are welcome to follow along with Spencer's school year...here at his blog Spencer's Homeschool Year.  It is posted through my account here at blogspot, but will be written and edited by Spencer himself.  He will be discussing the trials and tribulations of his unique year of education.

A happy week to you all!

10 August 2011

The Year of Discovery

Well, I think I am at the point here where I can disclose some fairly important details about the upcoming year.  It is shaping up to be a year of important discovery for our family...the following reasons:

1.  I've alluded to it here before, but I'll make the formal announcement now: I will be homeschooling my seventh-grade son next year.  It is scary and exciting all at the same time.  I truly feel my mettle as a teacher will be tested, and I look forward to the challenge.

My son happens to be a pretty smart kid, but not smart enough to meet the criteria in enrollment in most of the enrichment programs.  He does 8th grade math, but otherwise, he is in a classroom with average to low-performing students in his other classes, consequently, he wasn't being terribly challenged (which is the danger when teaching to the middle, most public school teachers' only option).  It also occurred to me that I knew absolutely nothing about my son as a learner.  Did he get right to work or did he have to be prodded to begin?  Was he one of the first ones?  Did he double-check his work?  Did he know how to take notes?  Well, I guess I'm no longer content to be ignorant and hope it all works out for him.

After researching, I opted for the Classical Education approach for Spencer's homeschooling...with some modifications of my own.  Ultimately, I value reading, great literature, note-taking, and critical thinking and reflecting in education, and an education based on the book The Well-Trained Mind appealed to me the most.  However, that was just the beginning.  I spent several weeks this summer researching curricula....and it is overwhelming.  Just a few days ago, I firmed up Spencer's reading list, and with that, had all the pieces in place to start the school year.  As it stands, this is his schedule and texts:

Science: Apologia - General Science
Math: Saxon 8/7
History: Kingfisher History Encyclopedia (combined with outlining, additional reading/research, and a weekly composition).  We will be covering the Medieval-Renaissance period (400-1600 AD).
Writing: Writing Strands, Level 3
Grammar: Combination of Holt and Glencoe Grammar, along with Easy Grammar Plus
Vocabulary, Wordly Wise 3000, Book 7
Logic: The Fallacy Detective and Thinking Toolbox
Reading: Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Dante's Inferno, L'Morte D'Arthur, Sword in the Stone, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Shakespeare (He will read these intermittently with historical novels like Rolf and the Viking Bow, Catherine Called Birdy, The Samurai's Tale, The Emperor's Winding Sheet, etc.)

Doesn't that look fun?!  I think it does!

2.  We are hosting a foreign exchange student in our house this year.  He will be arriving on the 18th from South Korea (well, from his orientation at NYC, really).  I only knew one family personally that ever hosted, and those were my in-laws, who had a really bad experience.  Needless to say, I did not anticipate hosting...ever.  But, then we got a call about a week and a half ago.  the student seemed like a really good fit for our family: plays soccer, in orchestra, 15 years old, likes camping, board games, and reading.

Brent and I talked about, made a pro/con list, talked through solutions, and finally decided to go for it.  We figured the potential goods outweighed the potential bads.  As long as we kept the lines communication and our expectations clear, we could avoid everything but the freakiest of personality clashes.

So yeah, soon our family of five will be a busy family of six.  We've done some rearranging and outfitted a fourth bedroom for the student.  We've done a little reading about Korean culture, and I think all of us in general will be in for a little culture shock.  But...it could very well be the best experience of our lives.

And like my friend, Taoist Rose says, no matter what happens, we'll learn something.  And that is good.

01 August 2011

Time For a Turnaround in Temper

It's been a long time since I've had an alliterative blog title post.  And frankly, it is about time.

It was probably pretty damn clear in some of my past months' posts, but it's worth stating now: my attitude the last five months was piss-poor (whatever that means).  Okay, I didn't care much for my job and some of my relationships were off, so yeah, I inhabited a small cloud of negativity for much of the spring.  Then, school was out, and I thought the vibe would dissipate.  I visited the beautiful and sublime state of Alaska...and I thought I would get my groove back.

Wrong.  I returned home in mid-June to a seemingly insurmountable To-Do list.  Finish a yearbook, write and finesse three college-level syllabuses (and read the texts that went with them), prepare a homeschool curriculum, etc., etc., etc.  Oh, and involvement in a community theater play meant free evenings were a thing of the past.

It's no shocker really that, this summer, my attitude did not improve much.  I resembled that 'Peanuts' character Pigpen, except my cloud was composed of antipathy instead of dirt. 

And today, I had the moment...you know...that moment where you realize your crappy attitude is getting you nowhere.  It's getting you nothing, and the waste of energy on being pukey is absolutely mind-boggling and stupid.

I had the moment today...because I came across this quote, which popped up on my personalized Google page today.

"Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people."  - Eleanor Roosevelt

And I have been discussing people a lot lately.  In a not-so-great way, either.  But, it's going to change.  Because, again, not only does bitching about others get me nothing, it makes me a small-minded person.  And well, that's someone I don't really want to be.

In addition to the quote, I was reading a blog here earlier tonight, and the writer was discussing her tough financial times.  Her house is in desperate (like right now) need of a new roof, and then, this morning, her 22-year-old refrigerator went kaput.  So, this writer and her family now have to piece together some kind of patchwork financial plan to get what they need.

And I am reminded of how damn lucky I am.  So there.  Time to get better, not bitter.