Friday, April 29, 2011

And the Oft-Overlooked Middle Child...

My posts lately have been about Eric, Sammy, or my own ramblings.

I didn't want to neglect Daniel, so I include here a video of him reading a book he recently published at school.

(His teacher wrote a special note on his last report card about how thrilled she was with his writing skills. That's m'boy!)

I have figured out how to upload video, but I'm still working on how to edit it down to manageable clips. This video has the advantage of being already short.

I knew nothing about this until he brought it home and read it to me. I must say, he is very good at pursuing independent projects with minimal adult assistance. He is currently working on a story called "School Wars" which is up to twelve pages. (That's with huge handwriting and pictures, but still.)

What impresses me most is how he'll do a page or two, leave it for several days, and then do another page.

What concerns me most is that the content is about children taking over the school, knocking adults out with tranquilizer darts, and forcing teachers to give birth in the "pound."

When Danny finishes his latest project, I will, naturally, post a video of him reading it.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Historical Histrionics: Case Studies in European, American, and High School Dramatics

I started this as a quick reply to Carolyn's comment, but it quickly grew out of hand, so it has morphed into it's own post.

She said, "I would have gotten the Allende question! Well...I would have gotten it within +/- 2 years. But that's also because one of the first papers I ever wrote in Spanish was on the Allende-Pinochet coup."

Of course she would, but then, she took Spanish in high school and actually spent a semester in Spain. I'm jealous. I took French in school and was offered a slot for a language immersion summer program in France, but didn't take it for a variety of reasons. Mostly, I went on an anxiety trip, convinced my family couldn't afford it, and worried that if I didn't take a PE class that summer, I wouldn't graduate, thus delaying my escape from HSE high school. I spent the summer thinking, "I could have *gasp* been in Paris right now, *pant* but noooo, I have to run laps around this *wheeze* ($^& track..." I've always regretted that missed opportunity.

French Personalities

Still, I did acquire a fair amount of French history during my five-odd years studying the language. I could give you a brief bio (like two sentences) about Vercingetorix or Charlemagne. At a stretch, I might even still be able to manage it in simple, stammering French. Not specific dates, but general time frames. And definitely their crazy stories.

I could tell you stories about Clovis, first Catholic King of the Franks. According to legend, after winning a battle, he drew his sword on his own people and bullied them into jumping into a river and getting "baptized" as Christians. Rather more direct than Constantine's approach.

I once entertained Jon on a date by explaining how the modern French language's aversion to "borrowing" words like "computer" is all the fault of Cardinal Richelieu, who died over three centuries before the things were even invented.

I could tell you rather a lot about Napoleon. I have fond memories of the IU interview where a lady asked me about Napoleon's career, and I said, "He crowned himself" -- her eyebrows shot up, looking impressed -- "in, um..." (I did some rapid mental calculations, trying to add on years after the Revolution) "...well, it was early in the nineteenth century. Probably somewhere between 1800 and 1805." (She informed me, by the way, the correct date was 1803.)

I remember reading once about how Charles de Gaulle drove the Allied command crazy. I remarked to Jon, "Poor Eisenhower. All those egomaniacs in one theatre. Rommel and Hitler probably annoyed him far less than Montgomery, Patton, and de Gaulle. At least he didn't have to take on MacArthur, who was probably the equal of any three other self-deifying generals..."

I like European history in general, and also took a little German. I could identify Otto von Bismark or Ludwig II of Bavaria. (He's the crazy guy who was obsessed with Wagner, built Neuschwanstein, bankrupted his duchy, was declared legally insane, and then drowned under mysterious circumstances.)

I admit, however, that my grasp of Latin American history is quite weak.

Latin American "Learning"

Lesse, everything I know about the history of Central and South America, off the top of my head.

First, there were the Jaredites. Then the Nephites. Also the Maya, Aztecs, and Inca. (With some overlap. I think Book of Mormon scholars hypothesize the Maya and Nephites correlate.)

Then Columbus, followed by the Conquistadores. Then colonization and lots of Catholic missions. ("Loot, then colonize" doesn't sound like a good strategy to me, but what do I know? Not a lot, as demonstrated.) Next, the Line of Demarcation, negotiated by the Pope, is why Brazil speaks Portuguese and everyone else speaks Spanish.

Some tangential involvement in the Napoleonic wars. Simon Bolivar and various independence movements. Then the Monroe Doctrine, which all the major powers ignored at the time, though they stopped new colonies for other reasons, like (I'm guessing) the British navy.

Then another charming century or two of revolutions, coups, guerilla warfare, attempts at democratic reform, more coups, experiments with socialism, shifting alliances, more coups, drug cartels, and mostly-botched US meddling, etc. Many of the states are doing much better these days than they were in the late eighties, when I first started paying attention. On the other hand, we now have Hugo Chavez. Joy!

So, Carolyn, how did I do? Do I get a C, at least? Or do I need a remedial class?

Speaking of history class, one of my favorite high school stories involved...

An Error of Epic Inaccuracy

Once upon a time, during my junior year, I was sitting in French class, brooding about my bleak, bored, and depressed existence at "This stupid high school in the middle of a cornfield, which claims to be one of the best in the state but doesn't offer any AP classes."

At least French, taught by Madame Selke, was almost up to my standards. (She herself was an excellent teacher who did great things for my accent. I was annoyed because the official grammar and vocabulary curricula were mostly repeats for me.)

Then she started a unit on French history, and I perked up. Madame assigned us to do group presentations about various historical figures. I forget who I did; probably Robespierre, who was always a favorite of mine after Mrs. Johnston's ninth-grade simulation of the Revolution.

Anyway, this three-person group, which included a GPA-obsessed girl named Holly (names have been changed), her best friend, Betty, and Betty's boyfriend, stood up and started doing a presentation about Henry IV in halting French. I quickly caught the problem and started grinning. I looked over and caught Madame Selke's eye. She looked less amused, but then, she was a native Frenchwoman.

(Henry IV, who instituted religious tolerance, among other things, is a famous and beloved figure in French history. To Madame, this was probably like an "ignerint Yank" messing up on Queen Elizabeth the First while talking to a Brit.)

She interrupted them brusquely and told them, in French, "Wrong guy. You're talking about Henry IV of England. Go back and do some real research. You can re-present in two days. You might even, possibly, be able to salvage a passing grade..."

Holly, predictably, started to cry. That was her response to everything. "I got a B- on this calculus test. I think I'm going to cry!" she would announce, and then burst into tears. Followed immediately by "But I'm ranked number nine in the class! This might knock me out of the top ten! I'll never get into college...[Wail]" (This despite the fact her parents had been pre-paying her tuition to the Florida university system for years.)

I still wonder, to this day, how they could have made such an error. Granted, the French and British aristocracy intermarried and conquered each other over the years. Acquitaine, Normandy, and other provinces endured political tug-of-war. Henry VI (of England) was even briefly declared king of both nations, but that didn't last.

Still, you'd think a modicum of research would alert them to the difference between "Guy who usurps the English throne and kills his nephew(s), 1399" and "Guy who converts to Catholicism so he can be crowned King of France, 1594." I mean, two centuries!

I found the entire thing hilarious. It also demonstrated one of the reasons I was never obsessed about class rank. I was interested in getting good grades, of course, and I played the numbers game as much as necessary, but I never let the fear of "But I might get a B in that class!" stop me from choosing challenging coursework. The most important thing was acquiring a real education, which included knowing how to [*snicker*] apply sanity tests to research.

(Does it count as a "creative anachronism" if it's unintentional?)

Holly was a classic example of putting grades over learning. She used to ask me for help with her homework; once she had a current events question and muttered "you're so smart!" when I answered "Jean-Bertrand Aristide used to be the president of Haiti. There was a coup there recently, he fled to the U.S., and President Clinton is considering sending troops to intervene." This simple explanation would have been unnecessary had she ever read a newspaper. Instead, she spent all her time on rigid homework, cheerleading, and boys.

Of course, she was just being a typical teen-age girl, while I was most decidedly...not. No wonder I didn't date much. I had my own drama over that, naturally, but never enough to make me act like an airhead.


History, for me, is about stories. It's less about exact dates and more about broad sweeping movements. It is the biographies and interactions of fascinating personalities. Learning from past mistakes and trying not to repeat 'em. But, mostly, it's about expanding my scope of things to satirize. Obviously, there is much to mock in the modern world, but why limit oneself?

Just yesterday, Eric asked me a question and I found myself summarizing the career of Charles the First (of England), concluding with "He might have tried a variety of strategies after being captured. He could have argued, 'I'm incompetent, but not evil!' or pretended to be penitent, or tried to negotiate a settlement of voluntary exile. Instead, he looked haughtily at Oliver Cromwell and said 'You have no right to put me on trial. I do not accept this court's authority; I can only be judged by my peers, which means other heads of state. You people are so unequal to me, I think I'll just ignore you.' So the Puritans went "Uh huh," and chopped off his head anyway..."

I may take a few liberties with the facts. Hollywood does it all the time (and I critique them), but if it helps the dramatic arc of my story, then it's okay.

Feel free to mock my summary of Latin-American history. After all, if I run out of historical anachronisms to satirize, I must needs create mine own.

While you're doing that, I'll reflect on my own personal history, and one of the best moments of an otherwise horrible year. Henry IV. Heh, heh, heh.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Best Homeschool Lessons: Spontaneous Historical Battles

So, this history lesson was a digression. Normally Eric reads one section of Story of the World and we discuss it, making connections to previous empires, geography, economic pressures, religious innovations, suppositions about where various myths came from, and other 'social studies' implications. It frequently turns into me telling him a more detailed story. For instance, when he read the myth about Romulus and Remus founding Rome, I supplemented by relating an abridged version of The Aeneid.

On one particular day, though, Eric tried to stump me. He pulled out the "Everything You Need to Know About World History" book and asked me questions.

I took notes of the subsequent contest and counted it as his history class for the day.

I have edited the notes slightly and present the conversation here:

First Question

Eric: When was William the Conqueror crowned?
Mom: Well, he won the Battle of Hastings in 1066 A.D... you mean, when was he crowned King of England, not Duke of Normandy, right?
Eric: Yes. [Note: I think Eric looked a little worried, like he was thinking "Uh oh, Mom seems to know a lot about this..."]
Mom: Then it would have been 1066 or the next year, 1067. I'll go with 1066.
Eric: But it was on Christmas Day. You didn't get the specific day.
Mom: [philosophically] Ah well.

Second Question:

Eric: When did Allende die?
Mom: Who?
Eric: Allende. A-L-L-E-N-D-E.
Mom: I have no idea who that is. [Pause while Mom muses/mutters to herself. "Is that a French name? What was the name of that British general in Palestine during WWI?..."]
[Note: I was thinking of General Allenby, whom I looked up later.]
Mom: [incorrectly hoping Eric was pulling questions from a timeline of medieval European history.] Okay, I'll guess 1350 A.D.
Eric: 1973.
Mom: What was he famous for?
Eric: I don't know.
Mom: That's going to drive me nuts, then.
[I looked it up and discovered Allende was the leader of Chile deposed by Pinochet.]


A tie. I got one and lost one. Of course, we also ended up discussing the Battle of Hastings and its impact on the English language, so I can claim I successfully taught Eric something by being sneaky. Hehehe.

Best Homeschool Lessons: Minion Training

So, I have recovered some of my files, and I have finally figured out how to upload video from my phone to my computer. I'm still waiting for access to my laptop files, though, so I can't update Mommy quotes from November 2009 through December 2010 yet.

This presents me with a dilemma: do I wait and update everything in order, probably this summer, or do I do the most recent few months and then add flashback Mommy Moments retroactively?

At the moment, I am punting by taking content instead from classic homeschool lessons.

So here are my notes from Friday, September 17, 2010:

Minion Day

"Today, Eric requested a Minion-themed day instead of a field trip."
[Note: normally, if he does a good job Monday through Thursday, we try to have some kind of field trip, like going to the library, on Friday.]

"History: Considered minion case studies, like Pinky and the Brain, or the familiars in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Discussed how a good minion thinks through problems, tries to identify the boss's underlying goal(s), asks for clarification, etc. Eric asked why most minions made stupid mistakes. I theorized that people with any gumption wouldn't put up with awful, abusive working conditions. I explained that, as the Witch of Doom, I am training my minions young so they can be both clever and loyal."

[Another side note: this, plus the algebra problem where she turns minion #18 into an alligator, led to a series of bedtime stories where the Witch of Doom related the sad ends of her string of minions. The first died valiantly, shielding her from a spell. Some blew themselves up through incompetence in the lab; one, a graduate student, got too uppity and escaped. That successful defection still rankles.) The Witch is constantly trying to balance competence with loyalty, and getting frustrated. Hence, as stated above, her current project to subvert brilliant but impressionable young children.]

[Yet another side note: My sister Cheryl suggested to Dad, years ago, that he do a Total Quality Management seminar about the leadership styles of various evil villains, with emphasis on how their poor handling of underlings frequently results in the downfall of their otherwise brilliant plan for world domination. Feel free to submit examples.]

"English: Grammar lesson. Linking verbs, diagramming thereof. Minion sentences."

Right: Minion sentences with linking verbs.
Left: Much more fun, Eric diagrammed
"Extremely crazy Eric sings very loud lectures about silly books ambiguously."

"Science: Chemistry of potions. Dragon's blood is a colloid. Love potion w/ground herbs is a suspension which must be stirred three times clockwise immediately before use. Explanation of when to use alligator's blood plus fairy dust as an emergency substitution."

[Note: this included the caveat about how it doesn't work for finicky-class potions; an important plot point in the later "Witch of Mixed-Fraction Doom" algebra problem involving polymorph juice.]

"Math: Showed Eric a simple supply/demand curve on a price/quantity chart. Discussed finding the optimal price point and quantity of love potions to produce each month."

Minion Week

[Minion Day was so successful, Eric requested, and got, a Minion Week for Halloween. It was more of a practical, hands-on experience, run by the Witch of Doom. Excerpts from her notes on his performance that week:]

"...helped in the library. Sorting books by category, alphabetizing by author, plus good old fashioned work ethic/loyalty test. Kind of apprenticeship/unpaid internship/job interview..."

"Lab assistant. Washed beakers & followed a recipe to create Dragon Turd Bread. Distracted, but didn't explode anything..."

[Note: If a lackey destroys property or dies, he automatically fails.]

"Minion history. Worksheet on Nixon's underlings. Demonstrated recruit could (1) do research, (2) evaluate, and (3) weigh sources. Also discussed what he would have done differently as McCord or Haldeman, etc..."

"Conclusion: Shows promise as apprentice. Worth training. Nine year indenture, sleep in stables with harpies."

--Of course, the Witch is notoriously bad about choosing, training, and keeping staff, but I'm sure we all wish her good luck on this latest try. We'll also hope her latest lackey thinks to provide his own earplugs.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sammy is walking! (And he's sooo cute!)

Sammy rolled/crawled/stood/climbed stairs early. Based on my preliminary data, it seemed probable that he would also walk early.

Instead, he hit a very comfortable plateau and cruised there -- literally. He cruised, and cruised, and cruised...

Bravely Cruising around Mount Mama.
(The rocky terrain made a sea voyage difficult.
No wonder it lasted five months.)

I developed a theory. I think he knows that once he starts walking, he will be classed as a "toddler," and not a "baby," after which the spontaneous adoration may fade.

And he's addicted to adulation. Any trip (especially to the grocery store) which doesn't yield at least one new convert? Total loss in his ledger. His slogan is "My dimple can fell victims at thirty paces," and it's true. (Almost all his victims are female, by the way. He's such a ladies' man.)

For the last month or two, he has been toddling two steps back and forth between the sofa and the hot chocolate table. Those are stationary objects, though, and in-house motion requires crawling. For distances, a mobile throne (ie stroller or shopping cart) suffices. His favorite mode of transport, naturally, involves the litter-bearing shoulders of worshiping grandmas.

Sammy graciously accepts tributes
from doting grandpas, as well.
As with a shiny new helicopter!
Thanks, Grandpa and Grandma Berry!
December 17, 2010.

I fear his cousin Patrick (who "skates through life entirely on charm") may soon have a rival.

I know, as his mama, that it's my duty to step in and protect him from the spotlight. How many child stars end up miserable? For that matter, how many adults can't handle fame and become highly self-destructive? A better question might be "how many movie stars actually maintain a single, healthy marriage?" I agree with John Rosemond's wise counsel about "attention is an addictive drug" and "spoiled children do not become happy adults."

Praising a child for being cute/handsome/beautiful leads to shallow character, and vanity. I know this. And yet, along with every female who has ever crossed his path, I just smile helplessly and say "But he's soooooo cute!"

(Well, okay, two-year-old girls tend to say, simply "Baby!" And the lady at Danny's school who picked him up in the office and started chattering at him was speaking Spanish. I'm pretty sure the content translated to "Oh, what a cute baby! What a handsome boy!" though.)

...Wait, how did we get from "Sammy is walking" into a long digression about his amazing charm?

You see? You see the awesome mind control powers he has? I will post pictures as evidence, but I add that no picture or video clip has ever adequately captured his cuteness. As with most charismatic figures, one must experience his coyly flashed dimple, must bask in his powerful magnetism, in person.

Go ahead and buy your plane tickets. I'll wait.

At the airport with Grandpa Homer.
His shirt reads "Future Rockets Scientist."
December 20, 2010

Tae Kwon Do Baby. His brothers say
his most fearsome move is
"slobber-hand strike."
December 9, 2010

Well, with mixed emotions, I report that yesterday, on multiple occasions, he left an anchored position (like the couch) for an only semi-stationary target. (Me.) He toddled at least four steps (twice), then flashed a triumphant grin, which included a gratuitous dimple as a side-benefit. (Awww.)

He has taken his first steps toward real independence. Now I get to make a new prediction: the terrible twos will be horrible. When Sammy is eighteen months old, he will suddenly acquire a little brother or sister. Assuming this one is at least as cute as all my other babies -- I hasten to add that Eric and Danny were handsome and charming babies, too, just as physically cute, in my opinion, though they didn't get as much attention from strangers, possibly an eye contact issue -- U will probably begin stealing limelight at once. Addiction withdrawal, combined with all the other frustrations of toddlerhood...well, it likely won't be pretty.

But why worry about the heavy-interest emotional debt? Right now, Sammy is practicing walking to me, and each time he succeeds, I get a fix from his precious smile.

Medieval Prince, coyly singing "Greensleeves."
April 3, 2011

Addendum: Tonight during Family Home Evening, I had Eric hold my smartphone while Sammy toddled back and forth between Jon, me, and a chair. I didn't want to list it publically on youtube, but if you email me, I can send you a link to it.