Thursday, January 21, 2010

Made it to Chapter XX



I made it to chapter 20 in Don Quixote.  I am finally enjoying the book.  It took a little while, but I realized that the key to my misery was twofold:  first, I was putting pressure on myself to get it done, and second, I was taking this thing for a serious novel.  So I had a talk with myself...

K1.  Why are you really doing this?
K2.  Ummmm...I'm starting to forget.  Oh yes, the Well Educated Mind goal.  I want to read the classics.

K1.  Did you read the bio of Cervantes?
K2.  Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.  He wasn't much better off than D.Q.  He was poor, landed himself in jail a couple of times, couldn't scrape out a living from writing.  In fact, he couldn't make anything really until he met Don Quixote, the madman who made him famous.

K1. Why do people like to read?
K2. People read primarily to be entertained, and if not that, informed.

K1.  Right, so DQ was...?
K2.  Entertainment.  Okay, I see where you're going with this!

K1.  Let me point something out...you're approaching this like a kid in high school who has a lit assignment.  You're __ years old for crying out loud!
K2.  And your point is...?

K1.  DQ is an entertaining story written for people in the 1500's who were no different than people today, except that they were a lot dirtier and had many more animals than we have now.  But they were entertained by observing other people's insanity, about which most of life revolves, right?  Isn't one of our most satisfying endeavors that of finding someone who is more crazy than ourselves?    My point is that you need to read it for what it is--something of a cartoon strip for the sixteenth century!

K2.  True, and I have no doubt that Cervantes was thinking of all the eggheads who would read and analyze and write about his silly book (yeah, right).  He was probably just happy to have a piece of silver in his hand with which to buy a piece of bread, thanks to DQ.  Thanks.  I think I can get through this book now.

So this is how the conversation with myself went.  I have even found myself laughing out loud at this guy's antics.  I spend most of my time in the book pitying his poor, stupid "squire" who is not crazy, but dumb enough to hook up with the likes of DQ, who has promised to give him an island to rule.  Poor idiot.  I do pity the bloke.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

One of THOSE Weeks or, Who Made that Rule, Anyway?

I sometimes write about the weeks that make my spirit soar, the kind where I want to put my kids up as the poster-children for homeschoolers as the most intelligent, gifted and obedient that ever there were. 

This week, not so much.  There was frustration, dilly-dallying, schedule upsets, tears, playdate disappointments, and kittens playing under and around the kitchen table, providing so much distraction that nothing could get done in an efficient manner. 

Is it them (i.e. my kids), or is it me?  I have to think about this for a second okay I thought about it. 

It's me.

Why?  It all boils down to discipline.  For myself, that means getting to bed at a decent hour, getting up before the children, having my quiet time, scheduling clean-up time, not planning too much or allowing others to disrupt our school time.  For the kids, it means me insisting on boundaries for media, me reminding them to finish their chores, me insisting on first-time obedience and cheerful attitudes. 

The old expression, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" is so true.  The same could be said for, "If Mama ain't organized..." or "If Mama ain't self-disciplined..." or "If Mama ain't prepared..."   So often we tend to expect of our children what we won't demand of ourselves, with the excuse that we made a rule, so they need to follow.  No.  If we are not able or willing to meet our own expectations that we set for ourselves to have an organized home, good meals on the table, or even to just get a shower before the kids rouse for the day, we cannot expect the same level of discipline to magically appear in our children. 

Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit.  It seems sometimes to be on the highest branch.

So, here I admit, I've been slacking.  Allow me to direct you to a delightful blog entry written by a gal on a forum that I like.  Her post hits home to me, and next week's school time will hopefully look different from this week's if I heed the wisdom here...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hedgehogs, and the Elegance Thereof

I have a thing for hedgehogs.  I don't really how it came to this, but in my family, we're serious fans of hedgehogs.  It started when my son started calling everyone "hedgehog" because he had seen Clifford the Big Red Dog, and in that show, Clifford's friend Cleo has a toy hedgehog that she absolutely loves.  I guess the word (which, admittedly rolls nicely off the tongue) just sort of stuck in his little brain.  Then we started collecting stuffed hedgehogs.  We named our GPS "Hedgie" after the character in Jan Brett's stories, Hedgie' Surprise, and The Hat.  We became a big fan of Jan Brett and her books because she also loves hedgehogs, and features them in many of her stories.  You can find one somewhere in nearly all of her books.  In my opinion, hedgehogs are just marvelous little creatures, and I envy Europeans who can find them in their natural habitat, munching on pesky slugs in their gardens.



All that to say I was naturally drawn to the title of this book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  I ordered the book.  I started reading.  I started struggling.  It was a slow build, and when I found myself halfway through the book and still didn't see the plot forming very well, I nearly gave up.  It sat on my bed stand for a month or two, and then one night I needed some help falling asleep.  That night however, the book didn't allow it.  It suddenly all started to come together in an incredible way, and I was hooked! 

The story is thus:  two autodidacts live in the same posh apartment building in Paris.  One is the concierge of the building, the other is a 12 year old girl, who plans to commit suicide and burn her family's apartment on her 13th birthday.  Both spend a great deal of the book pondering issues such as friendship, beauty, and death.  Then, a turn of events brings them together, and the story goes from pretty good to luscious.  This book is one that could be read several times and enjoyed equally each time.  A dime-store novel it is not.  One word to the wise, however--keep a dictionary handy.  The author / translator has a much better vocabulary than you do, I'll wager.  If you're like me, you'll be dog-earing your favorite pages and underlining the most beautiful passages to store up and quote at a later time.  It's a book whose journey is to be savored, not rushed through to find out how it all ends.  It ends.  Beautifully.  But I'm not one to spoil a good book.

Oh, by the way, It has nothing to do with hedgehogs, but yet, it does...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Elephants and Asses and Tea?

Happy New Year!  It's an election year!!!  I generally don't blog about politics, but maybe this is about to change...

I'm beginning to feel very excited about the upcoming Congressional revolution.  It seems the political temperature among the American people is rising rapidly, and people who see themselves as the "educated class" of society are getting nervous.  It's going to be very interesting to see what comes out of this election (or rather, who comes out of Congress because their constituents' boots went where the sun don't shine). 

Obama was right on one point--his administration is anything but "politics as usual."  That tag-line is kind of like deceptive labeling on food products, to make you think something is better than it is, like "no antibiotics or hormones added" is supposed to make you think you're getting organic beef or chicken.  Right.  The hormones weren't added.  The animals have been consuming them since birth.  My point is that Obama promised an administration that would bring change, and what he meant was that he was going to make America's head spin with all the control he and the government were planning to seize.  That is change.  That is being true to his word.  It's just that the people who voted for him were too naive to see it coming. They made the mistake of thinking his changes would be good for them. 

So I'm very interested in the public move away from Obama and his minions.  David Brooks of the New York Times agrees that major changes are underway, and he seems very nervous about that fact.  Even implies that the people who are in a position to affect the change are an unruly band of uneducated, albeit passionate, folk.  I wonder what the British thought of the colonists when they dressed up as Indians and had their way with the crown's tea?  I'm sure words like "dignified, educated, orderly, respectable" were in their vocabulary. [hat tip: Spunky Homeschool]

Monday, January 04, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside, or Time to Make Soup!


Cold weather and post-holiday diets require soup.  My absolute favorite is my own family's particular vegetable soup made from the bones of the Christmas roast!  Here is the soup I make.  If this shows up in any cookbook published by anyone other than myself, ever, you're a pinhead, and I'll come to pinch your head off as soon as I possibly can find you.  In other words, I hold the copyright to the following soup instructions.  It's a work of art.  Oh, and no, I have no intention of emulating the Pioneer Woman.  I just happen to think that this was a particularly pretty pot of soup.

Saute one onion and 1-2 cloves garlic in the olive oil in the bottom of a pan until translucent.

Add beef bones (hopefully with some meat still on them, so it can cook off into the soup), a carton of beef stock, 1/2 a head of cabbage (chopped), 2-3 carrots, about 3-4 stalks of chopped celery  with leaves, 1 can red kidney beans, 1 large can of diced tomatoes, one bag of frozen soup vegetables or mixed vegetables, this time I added 1/2 a bag of shelled edamame for giggles, 1/2 cup of barley, 1-2 potatoes depending on how large. 

I add all the vegetables to the stock first to see how much water I need to add.  I like a nice balance between broth and hearty spoonfuls of vegetables.

To the liquid I add a dash of worchestershire sauce, about a glass worth of dry red wine, a dash of red wine vinegar (if needed.  sometimes it already has enough "sour."  I didn't need it this time.)  I season with salt and pepper to taste, two cupped palms full of dried thyme, one cupped palm full of dried rosemary, one cupped palm full of herbes de provence (optional), 2-3 bay leaves.

This sounds like a lot of stuff, and it takes about 30-45 minutes to prep, but I start it early in the day and let it simmer on low heat for most of the day (like a crock pot meal--so conceivably you could do it in the crock pot), and the flavor is amazing.  This is how my mom taught me to make vegetable soup and how her mom taught her.  So far no one has felt the need to change it.  We practically survive on this kind of soup through the winter.  Get some crusty whole grain rolls to go with it and you are set!