Sunday, September 30, 2007

Billy Budd

I will spend several hours tomorrow at an outpatient surgery center waiting to bring my husband home...he turned 50 in May. For some bizarre reason, when physicians perform an invasive procedure on males, they anesthetize them.

During my wait, I will continue reading Luther's De Servo Arbitrio, commonly known as The Bondage of the Will, which I began this evening. I had thought to begin We Were One (the battle for Fallujah) tomorrow, but decided to save that for next week. So far so good on Bondage...I've wanted to read this for a long time.

Anyway, I finished Billy Budd this afternoon. I commend it to you as a brief but thought-provoking read. It is likely to evoke extended meditations on many fronts...authority, military life, innocence, justice, law, etc.

I discovered this evening that Focus on the Family has produced a Radio Theater version of this book...I think I'll try to get my hands on it for my youngest...FOF usually does a good job with these book adaptations. This is a story that shouldn't be missed, but is not accessible to younger readers in its unabridged form.

Melville (I spelled it right this time!) inserts "asides" to the story on matters political, military and philosophical - much like Victor Hugo does in Les Miserables...not to nearly the same extent, but in a similar vein - these asides greatly elevate the level of understanding needed to absorb his ideas. The story itself, however, along with much of its symbolism is certainly appropriate for and understandable by a younger audience.

Here is Melville's description of one colorful character:

"...the Bellipotent's lieutenant, burly and bluff...was one of those sea dogs in whom all the hardship and peril of naval life in the great prolonged wars of his time never impaired the natural instinct for sensuous enjoyment. His duty he always faithfully did; but duty is sometimes a dry obligation, and he was for irrigating its aridity, whensoever possible, with a fertilizing decoction of strong waters." :)

When Billy Budd is taken from his merchant ship and forced into the king's service, his former captain laments his departure thus:

"'Lieutenant, you are going to take my best man from me, the jewel of 'em. Before I shipped that young fellow, my forecastle was a rat-pit of quarrels. It was black times...But Billy came; and it was like a Catholic priest striking peace in an Irish shindy. Not that he preached to them or said or did anything in particular; but a virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones. ...they all love him...anybody will do anything for Billy Budd'
'Well,' said the lieutenant, who was now waxing merry with his tipple; 'well, blessed are the peacemakers, especially the fighting peacemakers. Ah, here he comes lugging along his chest - Apollo with his portmanteau!'"

Melville carefully develops the caricatures of 3 men - Billy, Captain Vere, and Master-at-arms Claggart - actually he reveals and describes their character more than he develops it. The plot ultimately centers around a singular event which follows its tragic course as a result of each man's character.

This was my first reading of Melville...I look forward to expanding my experience!

Liberated Woman

I have been set free! I have a new lease on life. Best of all, I have my house back.

Yes, this is about the final post EVER about The Dog.

Simon was picked up by his new family on Friday morning and the transition was smooth and easy. It was made easier by seeing the joy in the little girl's face, and how Simon responded warmly to his new master. After he left, the fun began...

All my doors are open now and no rooms are blocked by gates. I don't feel the urge to leave or avoid my home anymore because I dread the dog's presence. Additionally, I spent 1 1/2 hours cleaning the lower half of our breakfast area. I knew I had chilled out on the whole cleaning thing because it had become an exercise in futility, but I did not realize just how much filth had accumulated! Afterwards, I stepped back and remembered why I used to keep a clean was a great feeling just to get 1/2 of one room REALLY CLEAN!

Simon's new family confirmed this morning that they are really enjoying him...everyone is happy! Even me! I think this may be the best decision we've made in a long spite of those "friends" who would ridicule me as hard-hearted and disturbed (RH).

At least I am disturbed and FREE!!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Island of the Blue Dolphins

I just finished this book this morning. I forced myself to read it because Eric is reading it at school...finally by about chapter 15 (out of 20-some), I was interested enough to keep going out of more than mere obligation.

Mr. O'Dell's story comes off as a sort of slow, lyrical ballad. Although I can offer no concrete criticisms of its literary qualities, and it is a memorable story that will probably remain with me, I never felt fully engaged or delighted. I appreciated the lyrical quality of his storytelling enough that I think I will try his "King's Fifth" and see how that goes.

In the meantime, I just started "Billy Budd" by Melville, and am already enjoying it immensely! There are definitely some quotable lines in this one!

Thursday, September 27, 2007 the Highest Bidder!

O-K...they were really the lowest bidder...oh, yeah, and the ONLY one.

So now I have to face my children this afternoon and tell them the news. I guess I'll console them by saying we can watch Simon whenever his new family leaves town...and maybe a "Love-It" from Coldstone won't hurt, either. I'm gonna be attempting to buy back their love for a long time!

I promised I wouldn't sent this dog away, so Steve is acting like it's his deal, but I don't think they'll buy it. He really DOES want to get rid of the dog, for the same reasons I do (he's not really being cared for), but I'm sure my complaining is influencing the decision as well. To make the boys and me feel better, he is surmising that his allergies have been worse since Simon moved into our household. That may be true, but bottom line is, everyone knows this decision is about MOM.

I FEEL SO GUILTY (can you tell?), but I gave it a good shot...I keep telling myself that I have made many other sacrifices for my family, but this one is too big...I just can't do it...and that's O-K, right?

The sad thing is: this dog worships me. I am his favorite in the household. Wherever I am, he wants to be. I know I'll be sad too, but mostly for the boys.

Well, H family, ENJOY!! He's all yours!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Don't Forget!

He's actually FREE to any family we know...and 1 has already expressed interest...better hurry!!

Dud'n he jush wook sooo shad...poooor puppy!


Well, you know, Monterey gets a bit monotonous after a while:

This was Thursday evening's sunset:

This was Friday evening's sunset:

This was Saturday evening's sunset:

O-K, so maybe there was a little variety! They threw in a bagpiper on Saturday. Actually, we watched the sunset on Saturday from Spanish Bay golf course where the bagpiper closes the course each evening, beginning at the 1st hole and ending at the 18th...very cool.

The place we stayed was one house in from Ocean View Blvd. We only had to walk a few yards to get to the beach. Here's the neighborhood:

This is the house to the left of ours:

This is the house to the right of ours:

This is the house directly across the street:

This is our house:

It was comical...the interior must be original to the house, including the was all very 50's.

And here's the house I want to buy in Pacific Grove (that's really where we were...) Look at all the photos of the interior and tell me this house isn't ME!!

Hey, I gotta go to choir! I'll talk more about Monterey later...

For Sale: One Cockapoo

Yeah, yeah, he's so could I ever give him up?

Nobody plays with him...takes him for walks...keeps up with his health...bathes him except by force...yada, yada, yada...

Bottom line: We're NOT dog people

This is Simon. He is almost 2 years old and weighs about 30pounds. He is house-trained and is eager to please. He is obedient and even knows a few "tricks." There is nothing wrong with him, just with us.

Are you dog-people? Can you give this dog a good home? We'll strike you a bargain! Yes...I'm serious...he's for sale.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sentimental...with a Touch of Bitter

Now that the Cardinals are mathematically excluded from post-season play, I am somewhat relieved - October will be easier without scheduling life around games as we've done for the last few seasons.

I must admit that I was not a very faithful fan this year. I adamantly maintain that I am NOT a fair-weather fan and my disinterestedness arose before they lost a game (which was fairly early...Opening Day, in fact). The past couple of years have brought too many changes, and long-time traditions have been easily discarded. The accumulation of these changes has stirred up a tad of bitterness in my otherwise delicate-feeling heart.

First of all, I miss the old Busch. Maybe I'm old and can't endure progress, but I had accumulated memories in that place for several decades and there was nothing I didn't like about the old stadium. The shadow of the arches on the field is one of my favorite images...we liked the shady spots tucked underneath the overhang...and we liked being able to get in on Opening Day - it was a tradition with us for 8 years...tailgating with Kevin and Melissa before going inside for all the Opening Day hoopla!

I don't find that the new stadium offers anything, well, new! The bathrooms are still ugly and crowded with long lines, the concessions are still the same old ballpark food, and if everyone who sits in front of us shows up, the view from our seats isn't all that great - in spite of the talking-heads' insistence that there isn't a bad seat in the house. Additionally, there is nothing that sets this ballpark in self-professed "baseball heaven" apart from any other new ballpark. Cardinal history is not nearly prominent enough in the new set-up...the tributes to past players are weak at best. San Francisco's park is much more beautiful and unique - and for crying out loud, you can get a fresh turkey breast (not lunchmeat, but real turkey breast!) sandwich with cranberries to go with your Guinness!!

It also seems that the atmosphere in the new Busch has changed. The ownership has purposely appealed to the business crowd with the multiplication of fancy meals and prime party boxes. This is reflected in the attitudes issuing from the stands...I believe there are fewer die-hard Cardinal fans who can actually get seats now, resulting in an uninformed and demanding crowd.

I was probably most disappointed by the switch from KMOX to the "Big-550-KTRS." That tradition runs too deep, and the professionalism and experience of KMOX far exceeds that of the other station, whose programming is worthless (except maybe McGraw...). I can't get used to new Cardinal's broadcaster John Rooney either. What was the big freakin' deal about him?

The final straws of discontent for me were the removal of all but 20 games from local television and my inability to "get in" on Opening Day. Steve and the boys were gone, so I headed downtown and walked around for 2+ hours trying to buy a ticket...I was willing to pay almost any price, even an unreasonable one...I COULD NOT FIND ONE TICKET FOR SALE! I didn't turn down any offers...there were no offers to refuse! Silly as it may seem, that ticked me off and I decided I had had enough of Cardinal baseball. So, I went home and tried not to listen to the game...I couldn't just give it up cold turkey, but I only checked in every 5 minutes or so!

I "sort of" let go for a while, and I really didn't follow full-force until Rick Ankiel showed up...I'll never forget his first opening day at the old Busch...what an emotional experience that was! And what a great story in general! I have listened and watched faithfully since his return...I can't help myself. It's been in my blood for too long now.

Tonight, I purchased the latest copy of Gameday first this's a great one highlighting Rick, Yadi and Mike Matheny. How can you not love baseball with guys like Yadi and Mike?

So, here's to another pretty good season of Cardinal baseball!

Oh, and by the way...only 21 weeks 'til Spring Training! ;)

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Long Walk

In addition to Leepike Ridge, I also finished The Great Gatsby (with which I was not especially impressed, and therefore will not review!) as well as The Long Walk.

The Long Walk is a poignant tale of WWII, detailing one Polish man's journey - a harrowing ordeal of unjustified imprisonment by the Russians, his experience in and finally his escape from a labor camp in Siberia. The scope of gut-wrenching tribulations this man endured is almost unbelievable at times, and his determination to survive in the midst of cruelty and inconceivable hardship is astonishing. Though not a "pleasant" read, the author's voice is surprisingly devoid of bitterness and even rings with hope.

One of the most memorable scenes occured as the men were walking, chained behind a truck, 3000 miles through the vast, frozen Siberian wilderness toward their labor camp near the Arctic Circle. Most of these men had already undergone various degrees of torture and humiliation, sub-zero rides in packed train cars, and were near starvation:

"Somehow someone learned during the second week of the march that it was 24 December. The news went up and down the long, struggling line like the leaping flames of a forest fire. 'It's Christmas Eve,' went the whisper from man to man. Away back behind us there was suddenly a thin, wavering sound. It was odd and startling. It grew in volume and swept towards us. It was the sound of men singing, men singing with increasing power in the wastes of the Siberian wilderness. The mounting song reached us unchecked and engulged us. I was singing and Grechinen was singing. Everybody who had a voice left was joining in. A marching choir of nearly five thousand male voices drowning their despair in a song of praise for the Child who would be born on the morrow."

Of the "older" men who worked beside him in the camp (men in their 40's-50's...he was 25 at the time) the author writes: "...[they] fought to stay young, to work, to live, the men who had lived leisured lives and now, marvellously, displayed the guts to face a cruel new life very bravely. They should have been telling tales to their grandchildren, these oldsters. Instead they spent their day straining and lifting at the great fallen trees, working alongside men who were often half their age. There is a courage which flourishes in the worst kind of adversity and it is quite unspectacular. These men had it in full."

When those who survive the journey finally reach India - after crossing Siberia, the Gobi desert and the Himalayas - they realize, "'We are safe...we are safe...We shall be able to live again.' I thought a little about that. It sounded a wonderful thing to say. All that misery, all that sorrow, the hardship of a whole year afoot, so that we might live again."

Leepike Ridge

Monterey was as beautiful as ever...more on that later (hopefully with photos). I finished 3 of the 4 books I took along, and will share my opinion of them.

Leepike Ridge is the first fiction offering from Nathan Wilson (son of Doug Wilson), and my prior experience with both was not an inducement to read the book! I was unimpressed with the elder Wilson's attempts at fiction for seemed somewhat contrived, plus the number of typeset errors for which Canon Press is famous, presented a huge distraction for me. My experience with the younger was only through his immature, overly sarcastic and disrespectful (though admittedly funny at times), Right Behind.

I was prompted to read the book by a very favorable review from a librarian in New York who absolutely LOVED the book. Her favor is not unjustified.

Nathan does a superb job of capturing the essence of boyhood...the grit, the moodiness, the sensitivity. In my experience, 11-year-old boys are all that. The theme of descent into darkness followed by ascension to light (or death and resurrection) is obvious and prominent, but Nathan's father remarks that this theme is as unremarkable as the presence of ten toes on the author's feet. His use of language and image IS remarkable in my opinion. Below are two excerpts which demonstrate his ability...his words are fluid and his plot is works. I recommend reading this one - I am anxious to hear my 13-year-old's opinion. He is more widely read than I am, and will offer a unique perspective...I'll let you know what he thinks.

"After a few mouthfuls of moon-flavored air, even the stubbornly drowsy can find themselves wide-eyed. Tom was hardly drowsy, and he took more than a few mouthfuls. By the time he had reached the base of the rock, his senses were heightened nearly to the point of bursting. All the normal noises of life were gone, leaving behind the secretive sounds, the shy sounds, the whispers and conversations of moss disputing with grass over some soft piece of earth..."

"The world has seen many men sail down rivers or out to sea lying on rafts or in boats, even on large pyres on the wooden decks of battered warships. These men were usually dead and gripping swords, not sticks, and wearing armor. ...Tom was the first one to ever strike such a pose on this stream...And while he was definitely the first in history to make such a voyage on white packing foam, being alive when he made it was not terribly original."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

65 & Sunny...or Sunny & 65

Tonight my husband and I head to the Monterey/Carmel area. We will be joining his brother, sister and their spouses. They are an easy group to be with, so it should be a great time!

From what I understand, we will be visiting wineries on our first day then the boys will be playing golf the rest of the week. I have purchased several books to read:

East of Eden (apparently Steinbeck spent some time in Monterey and his Cannery Row developed out of his time there...)

Leepike Ridge (this is a recent publication by Nathan Wilson...supposedly an intelligent, rollicking boy's adventure story)

The Long Walk (a WWII story of some prisoners' escape and their arduous odyssey to freedom)

I don't know if I will have access to internet while I am there, so I may not post until next Monday...have a great week, everybody!

Dump & Pour

I've decided this would be a good place to deposit a few of my "culinary creations." I must warn you though, that all measurements are approximate, because I tend to cook by the dump-and-pour method. When I like the result, I record what I think I did, hoping to duplicate it in the future. The problem is, I often don't bother getting out my own recipe the next time around, but will once again, dump-and-pour. So if you are not too black-and-white, when it comes to cooking, and are willing to experiment and adjust, then ENJOY!

I'm giving 2 variations of this first recipe. The first is more involved and is what I have done for a crowd, while the second is the one I throw together last minute for my lunch.

Ginger-Mandarin Chicken Salad

(fills 24 dollar rolls or 10-12 large croissants)

In a large bowl, toss together:

5-6 medium chicken breasts - grilled, coarsely chopped in processor

1/2 med red onion - minced

2-3 stalks celery - minced

1 c. pecans - coarsely ground in processor

4 oz. crystallized ginger chips

12 oz. mandarin oranges - drain, pulse 2x in processor, strain and reserve juice

Blend ingredients in food processor:

1/2 - 3/4 c. each: sour cream and real mayo

1/8 - 1/4 c. soy sauce

1/8 - 1/4 c. reserved mandarin juice

1-2 T. ground ginger

1-2 t. salt

1-1 1/2 T. coarse ground pepper

Combine wet and dry ingredients. Let sit for a couple hours or overnight to blend flavors.


Cilantro-Ginger Chicken Salad

(serves 1-2)

Toss in bowl:

1-2 chicken breasts - cooked, coarsely chopped in processor

1/4+ c. drained mandarin oranges

2-4 T. crystallized ginger chips

Blend in food processor:

3-4 heaping spoonfuls of sour cream

1 heaping spoonful of mayo

1/2 c. fresh cilantro (1 handful)

1/4 c. Splenda

1 T. crystallized ginger chips

Blend the wet and dry ingredients. EAT!

Both of these taste great without the bread...just scoop and eat! The second version is delicious over 1/2 an avacado!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Giving Credit Where It's Due

I don't want to be remiss in giving credit to those "teachers" by which I have obtained my information and views regarding classical composition:

Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style - Erasmus (1512)

"Classical Composition" curriculum - Jim Selby (2003)

Composition in the Classical Tradition - Frank D'Angelo (2000, Allyn & Bacon)

Composition & Rhetoric for Higher Schools - Lockwood & Emerson (1902 Athenaeum Press)

Silvae Rhetoricae - an internet site hosted by Brigham Young University

60 Ways to Turn a Phrase - Arthur Quinn (1982)

Of course, these sources are largely derivative from the Ancients (Aphthonius, Aristotle, Cicero, Isocrates, etc.....), as well as from Medievalists (Augustine, Bede, Boethius...). And, I might add, there are a host of other brilliant resources - some which I have studied and some which I have only perused - but those listed above have been most formative for me thus far.

On Rhetoric XIV: The Canons

There are 5 Canons within the classical rhetorical pedagogy: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory and Delivery.

Invention is derivative from the Latin, invenire, to find, and is primarily concerned with finding something to say. It refers to what the author says, rather than how he says it. This phase of writing can present the most difficulty and consume the most time, but is foundational. Obviously, no matter how well you say a thing, if substance is lacking, your eloquence is wasted.

Arrangement is the process of ordering your thoughts, arguments, or appeals in a logical and coherent way. The arrangement of a Classical Oration would follow this pattern:

1) Introduction (exordium) - The writer convinces the audience to listen to what he has to say, which requires an ethical appeal to authority...either the writer's own, or those whom he will use to defend his position. The persuasive appeal to authority is called ethos.

2) Statement of Facts (narratio) - Set it up...tell the story.

3) Division (partitio) - The author reveals the charge, accusation, or problem and lets his audience know what is coming in the rest of the oration.

4) Proof (confirmatio) - Exactly what it sounds like...the setting forth of what is true and why...arguing for your view.

5) Refutation (refutatio) - Again, the name reveals all...arguing against opposing views.

#'s 2-5 constitute the "Body" of the paper and use persuasive appeals to reason, called logos.

6) Conclusion (peroratio/epilogos) - The author uses an emotional appeal, pathos, to get his audience to "come over to his side."

Style ,as you might guess, refers to how the thing is said..."the artful expression of ideas." This is the primary aspect commonly associated with rhetoric, but it is only one of several considerations...but one not to be neglected. Refining stylistic techniques assumes that form is as essential as content in communication. Usually three areas are considered when stylizing an oration.

1) The Virtues of Style - Lists vary from 3-7 "encompassing concerns." The 3, kairos, audience and decorum, cover the concerns nicely. Kairos: Where and when will the oration be given? Audience: Who will be listening and to what end? (judicial, legislative or ceremonial) Decorum: What is appropriate to say and how can it best be said? In other words, the writing is tailored for its listeners.

2) The Levels of Style - In the Roman tradition, one of three styles was followed depending on the purpose of the speech. These "branches of oratory" are: 1) Judicial: deals with the justice or injustice of a past act. 2) Legislative: attempts to persuade or dissuade as worthy or unworthy for the future. 3) Ceremonial: praises or blames a virtue or vice in the present.

3) The Quality of Style - The quality of an oration consists in its ornamentation...the word choices, tropes, figures of speech or figures of description employed to communicate the ideas. Soon, I will spend a number of posts defining and providing examples for several of these figures of description from quality literature.

Memory refers to the obvious aspect of becoming so thoroughly familiar with your writing (for oration), that you can easily recall it. However, it also carries the idea of being widely learned so that you can call to mind - from memory - appropriate analogies, examples, details, correlations, etc. Here the orator also considers what will cement his ideas in the mind of his audience. (note the past, present, future nature of these aspects of memory...)

Delivery, effective delivery anyway, requires a bit of acting...vocal inflection, facial expressions, bodily gestures all become important in maximizing effect. The presence of this in the 5 Canons reminds us of the oral nature of rhetoric...the written word is often prepared for public hearing. It has been said that, "Winston Churchill could never have stirred the British public as he did were it not for the grave, serious, and controlled tone of voice that he employed in his radio speeches. His faith in the allied powers rang out in stentorian cadences that by their very vibrations instilled belief in the masses. His message was often cliche, but his delivery was never anything but spell-binding. Had he had a feeble voice, perhaps Germany would have fared better."

Monday, September 17, 2007

More Than Dates & Dead People

"Remember this and be assured;
Recall it to mind.
Remember the former things long past,
For I am God and there is no other;
I am God and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning
And from ancient times
things which have not yet been done,
Saying, 'My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all my good pleasure.'
Truly I have spoken;
truly I will bring it to pass.
I have planned it, surely I will do it."
Isaiah 46:8-11

"Any book that can actually redeem the subject of history from the dust bin of, well, history, is quite a modern marvel and really ought to receive all the attention we can give it. A book that can perform the feat of not just exhuming, but resurrecting all those dry-as-dust fact from the annals of the past, ought to find its way to the top of our must-read list. It is informative. It is short. It is funny. It is short. It is inspiring. Oh, and did I mention? It is short."

The previous paragraph is taken from George Grant's preface to the book named in my post title. Following is an excerpt from the author, Stephen Mansfield:

"I hated history. [History class] was the perfect combination of boredom and terror. Like watching paint dry knowing that the paint could explode at any minute. The reason I hated history class, though, was none other than Miss Ira high school history teacher. These folks assumed that if they just jammed enough dusty details into the vacuous minds of their students something important would happen. Perhaps they thought that if one memorized and crammed and regurgitated, something like the 'big picture' would appear miraculously on its own.

"The results are in. It didn't work. After a year of this kind of stuff, I concluded that every earthly event of real importance was happening while I was sitting in Miss Wratchet's Chamber of Horrors, not in the distant past."

In this entertaining, but thought-provoking little read, Mr. Mansfield lays out what he believes are the four pillars of a Christian view of history, seven ways history can change our lives, and five definitions which he asserts will enable us to understand any society, past or present. He suggests a number of helpful resources (books, magazines, films, internet and recordings) for getting started in your own study of history.

"History maketh a man old, without either wrinkles or gray hairs; privileging him with the experience of age, without either the infirmities or inconveniences thereof." Thomas Fuller

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I won! I won!

For the first time in my life, I won something!

What did I win?

Thanks for asking! Ironically enough, I won a purse...yes, a purse. But not just ANY purse! It's an original, one-of-a-kind Annie Wolfe bag! What? Never heard of her? Neither had I...

You see, my friend, April (April Showers) has a sister, Rechelle, who hosted a contest on her blog to win one of these 3 bags (Country Doctor's Wife). All you had to do was write an ode to your old purse. There were 40 entries and I got 2nd place! Now I need to buy a whole new wardrobe because this bag is way more stylin' than anything I currently own!

Here is my "winning" entry:

Old timeless bag, you're stained and ripped and overall quite shabby;

You once were shiny, firm and chic, but now you're thin and flabby;

Unlike the boy who loved his worn-out, scarlet-fevered rabby;

I'm sending you to your funeral pyre, 'cause now I covet Abby.

"Abby" is the bag's name...

If you get a chance, visit April and Rechelle's blogs. They are both great story tellers and possess a brilliant knack for making the mundane delightful! Rechelle is also a musician...check out her album "Famous Girl Detective" at i-Tunes.

Teaching Spelling

After reading an older post at Barlow Farms, (8/27/07 "Educational Question") I was prompted to record my thoughts about teaching spelling. There are many who argue that it is a waste of time to teach spelling in our day. Afterall, we have spellcheck and as a general rule, you're either a speller or you're not.

It may shock you to know that I disagree! Teaching students how to spell, when done correctly, isn't ONLY about the is one of the basic components of language acquisition and mastery. That statement is not couched in a "Polyanna" ideology that all you have to do is give a spelling list and kids will be consistently accurate spellers and wordsmiths.

I have just enough experience as a Mom and Teacher to know 2 things:

1) There exists a sharp distinction between natural spellers and everyone else.

2) Both natural and non-natural spellers benefit from formal spelling instruction.

Successful spelling instruction will incorporate a combination of strategies which must include:

1) Reading - not just ANY reading, but good literature. Over time, exposure to a wide variety of words in context influences one's ability to spell.

2) Systematic study and application of spelling rules

3) Systematic study and application of prefixes & suffixes

4) Systematic vocabulary study, application and immersion in Latin, Greek and German roots

I have repeatedly witnessed the positive results of this combination. If any one of these are absent, the rate of success diminishes significantly.

Think about's not that hard to imagine how familiarity with "the system" would actually prove beneficial in increasing one's skill. Noah Webster is largely responsible for establishing consistency and many of the "rules" by which our system operates. Before his work, spelling in America was very haphazard and varied widely, according to one's ethnic background. The rules make a great deal of sense, once you memorize and learn how to apply them. Some argue that these rules remain impotent because of numerous exceptions; but these exceptions occur primarily in words whose origin is German, Greek or Latin...thus the necessity of studying these roots.

This combination must be sustained over a period of years (at least 1st-8th grades), and increase in complexity over time for maximum benefit. I have observed its success in the classroom, but most markedly with my youngest son. The elder one is a natural who has misspelled fewer than a dozen words in his whole life, while the younger butchered the language with his horrific distortions! The elder didn't necessarily require the study of rules, yet the study of roots combined with his "extreme" reading habits, have resulted in a mastery of words well beyond his 13 years. The younger, however, has needed the constant reinforcement of every aspect outlined above, and the result of its implementation in 4th and 5th grades, has been dramatic! He's still not a "perfect" speller, but is very much on the right track.

So, are spelling lists and tests necessary? I am open to the possibility that they may not be, however, it is often the case that students won't memorize material unless they know they'll be tested on it, so at the very least the rules ought to be memorized and tested. Practice and proficiency in applying the rules can, and probably should, be accomplished apart from testing. I might eliminate the memorization of a weekly list of words (except commonly used "sight words" which must be known!), but would require memorization and testing on the definitions of prefixes, suffixes and roots.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Should I or Shouldn't I?

Last night my husband returned from Columbus only to tell me that Lyle Lovett will be performing in San Antonio on October 14. We've been waiting for him to perform there, because we want to visit San Antonio's River Walk, the Alamo, etc.

So here's the deal...we have a dinner party already scheduled for the 13th, so we would leave Sunday AM the 14th, attend the concert that evening, sight-see Monday AM and return Monday PM.

It's a very irrational thing to do...and I told Steve, "Thanks, but we shouldn't." Now, I'm second guessing myself! Soooo.........I'm taking a poll!! Should we go to San Antonio or not? The poll is found in the upper left-hand corner of this blog page.

Anyone care to join us? :)

Heidelberg Catechism 1

Several years ago, our pastor introduced us to the Heidelberg Catechism and spent a number of weeks in Sunday School walking through it. No names of individual men are attached to this piece of work, but it is known that it was a collaborative effort between "the theological faculty, the superintendents and the chief officers of the Palatinate church." This background information comes from its preface: 

"From his castle in Heidelberg, Elector Frederick 1562, commissioned the preparation of a new catechism for guiding ministers and teachers in instructing the people in the Christian faith.

"At the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619, delegates from the Reformed churches of Europe gave the Heidelberg Catechism high praise for its pedagogical and doctrinal features. It soon became the most ecumenical of all the Reformed catechisms and has been translated into most of the European languages and into many Asian and Afican languages as well."

While we studied it, we were encouraged to memorize certain portions, including Question #1. This answer is laden with solace and it plays over and over in my mind, especially the first paragraph...

Question 1:
What is your only comfort in life and in death?


That I am not my own, but belong- body and soul, in life and in death- to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Thanks be to God for faithful pastors and ministers who compose confessions, creeds and catechisms for the building up of the People of God; and for those who continue to set them before us for our edification!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

On Rhetoric XIII: The Final Four

The final four stages are advanced applications and variations of earlier stages, and since I have neither taught, nor yet worked extensively through them, I will simply provide brief definitions and explanations.

Impersonation: Compose a speech or dialogue from the 1st person perspective of an historical or literary figure; an "in-character" composition, if you will.

Description: Describe an object, event or person in such a way as to set it clearly before the reader's eye; the mastery of Tropes, Figures of Speech and Figures of Description.

Thesis: Advanced argumentation for or against a speculative or theoretical idea, such as "Should a person marry?" (a high-level refutation/confirmation)

Defend/Attack a Law: a declamation setting forth the pros and cons of a given law using the Heads of Purpose (right, just, decent, probable, possible, proper,etc...)

Once a student has mastered these 14 Progymnasmata, he should be ready and competent to tackle advanced rhetorical applications within the Canons of Rhetoric...but I'll save those for another day!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's Not Big, It's Large

This is the title of my favorite musician's new release!

In spite of those who insist on labeling him "country," the reality is that much of the music performed by Lyle Lovett and His Large Band draws heavily from the blues, jazz, swing, and big band styles. Apparently, this has lead many to mistakenly call them the "Big Band." The album's title is his witty attempt to correct this.

I acquired the album today and listened all the way through a couple of times. My first take: It's Not Great, It's Good. The tone is rather somber...or maybe it's just subdued...I'm not sure.

Highlights include "No Big Deal," "Don't Cry a Tear," the acoustic version of "Up in Indiana" and, of course, the opener "Tickle Toe" which is the only piece that showcases the Large Band. I also enjoyed "South Texas Girl" which features another favorite of mine, Guy Clark. My early favorite: "All Downhill" a catchy little tune, that I interpret as a lighthearted ditty about turning 50. [him, not me :)]

I've been the whole world 'round
I've been up and I've been down
I've been good and I've been bad
Mostly...I've been bad.

I've had an excellent time so far
There's only one thing that I fear
I've been up so long on this lucky star
It could be all downhill from here.

I'm sure the songs I wasn't crazy about will grow on me...he's had very few over the years that I haven't come to like.

I had the great fun of watching Lyle perform from the 6th row at a small St. Louis venue called the Roberts Orpheum Theater, where I celebrated my 40th birthday. Lovett conveys a humble, unassuming charm. He is not a showman, but a great singer-songwriter who has judiciously surrounded himself with vocalists and instrumentalists who are keen masters of their craft. His esteem for them was obvious by his gracious acknowledgements which surpassed the usual obligatory nod that a band receives from a "star" musician. The other cool thing is that the whole band dresses in black suits and ties, which communicates class as well as respect for the audience and the art. Definitely NOT country! (Not that there's anything wrong with country...Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw or Steve Holy in small doses is quite tolerable, right DK?)

For a REAL - and profusely positive - review of the new release, check out this article at Pop Matters.

If you have not yet experienced Lyle, begin with "Lyle Lovett and His Large Band," a 1989 release...move onto "Smile," a compilation of jazz tunes he recorded for movies...then check out his rockabilly/gospel album, "My Baby Don't Tolerate." "Step Inside This House" is essential. Although the songs are not his own, but those of other Texas singer-songwriters including Townes VanZandt & Guy Clark, it is excellent...very folksy.

Alright, already! Enough about Lyle...ENJOY!

On Rhetoric XII: Examples of Stages 8-10

For a shining example of encomium, see President Bush's address at Ronald Reagan's funeral. You'll see how it follows this pattern quite effectively.

The prima facie example for Comparison would be Plutarch's Lives, where he composes both double Encomiums as well as Encomium/Invective comparisons.

Resources for student practice:

Encomium: Choose from many Biblical/historical/literary figures (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab...Augustine, Luther, Wilberforce, Washington...The Ant, Frodo, Beowulf, etc....)

Invective: Choose from Biblical/historical/literary figures (Cain, Saul, Judas,...Nero, Hitler, Hussein...Javert, The Fox, Achilles, etc...)

Comparison: Proverbs - the Wise Man and the Foolish Man

The Good Samaritan - and the neglectful religious leaders

The Little Red Hen - and the lazy animals

Cinderella - and her stepsisters

Robert E. Lee & Stonewall Jackson
King David & King Ahab

You get the idea! A host of material exists and is easily accessible for these 3 stages.

On Rhetoric XI: Encomium & Invective

The previous stage, Commonplace, provides foundational training for these next two stages:

Encomium & Invective: AKA: Blaming and Praising; chiefly, the author finds fault with or commends a particular person; however, these can be used in regard to abstract ideas (innocence, wisdom), or times (a season, or an era), places, animals, etc.

Mode: Exposition, Description

Means: Use all skills previously mastered and follow this pattern:

Prologue - composed of 4 sentences:
1st Sentence - utilize 2 "Heads of purpose": Justice, legality, possibility, decency, etc... [i.e. it is right (just) to honor those who have.....and to recall the benefits (decency) they bestowed....]
2nd Sentence - Thesis expressing purpose or intent of essay 
3rd Sentence - Heighten the praise by pointing out that this person: is the only one is the first one is almost the only one has done it better than all others has done it at an unexpected time, etc.
4th Sentence - states or reiterates the good attributed to the person

Birth, Source, Origin - describe a person's stock 
Ancestors/Heritage Parents

Upbringing - describe a person's background 

Achievments - describe the person's deeds which proceed from:
Excellency of mind (prudence, bravery, wisdom)
Excellency of body (beauty, speed, vigor)
Excellency of fortune (position, power, wealth, friends)

Comparison - make a favorable 3-sentence comparison to escalate your praise
1st Sentence - Ask a question (Can so-and-so's accomplishments compare...?)
2nd Sentence - Highlight the difference (So-and-so did it because....but he did it for...)
3rd Sentence - Draw an analogy (In the same way "this" excels "that", so does so-and-so's action exceed....)

Epilogue - Briefly exhort your audience to emulate this person

The descriptions above all apply to Encomium. Simply reverse the positives to negatives to compose an Invective.

Also, the specific # of sentences prescribed for the Prologue and Comparison are for the benefit and discipline of students learning the experienced writer need not follow such rigid formulas. The same basic ideas should be included, but it may take 2 sentences or it may take 8.

The 10th Stage is:

Comparison: A full-fledged comparison made through a double Encomium or a combination Encomium/Invective. Follow the same procedures outlined above for both persons, highlighting the similarities (double encomium) or the differences (encomium/invective).  Plutarch's Lives provides an excellent example of Comparison.