Saturday, March 29, 2008

Milwaukee Museum

Our family took a little Spring Break trip to the Milwaukee Public Museum a couple of days ago, particularly to see the Body Worlds 1 Exhibit, which is being exhibited until June. The trip was a really fun day for the entire family. Milwaukee is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from home, so we left around 7am - quite early for me and the kids. It was Spring Break for Mr. Math Teacher, but also for the Milwaukee Public School System, so we expected lots of kids.

The Body Worlds exhibit was just amazing. The tickets are sold for specific times - ours were for 10am. We had to wait for just a few minutes before they let us in to the exhibit. One very slight problem was that the exhibit was rather crowded, especially the very first part. The Body Worlds exhibit is a set of human bodies that have been donated for preservation through "plastination". This is a technique in which the bodies can be dissected and then preserved and hardened for exhibition. There were a number of complete human bodies on display. Generally, these were for showing the musculoskeletal system. They were displayed in many different positions - dancing, jumping, archery, playing basketball. Some of them had sections of muscles removed or pulled away from the rest of the body to show the underlying sections. There were glass cases in the middle of the rooms in which were shown various organs of the body - most healthy, but some diseased. The smoker's lung was the most impressive.

My favorite part of the exhibit was the section relating to pregnancy. They had this in a separate room for propriety's sake. There were fetuses from implantation through about 8 weeks size shown on their own. Around the room were exhibits of fetuses in the uterus from 16 weeks up through 38 weeks. The most impressive exhibit was of a pregnant woman who was 38 weeks pregnant. The labelling information said that the woman had requested that her body be donated prior to her death. She and her baby died when she was 38 weeks along. The exhibit was dissected in a way that showed how the baby sat in the uterus, along with the placenta. It also displayed how the baby took up so much room within the abdominal cavity.

I strongly encourage people to see this exhibit. It was quite educational. My kids were a little freaked out by the nature of the showing. Ga'Hoole Girl was pretty quiet through most of the exhibit. Wild Man didn't have a problem until Mr. Math Teacher told him that these were bodies from people who had been alive - then he was a little uncomfortable. The bodies are shown naked and with the genitalia in place (most are male). They did have some female reproductive organs on display. Ga'Hoole Girl was amazed (as am I) at how small the female uterus is compared to how large it becomes in late pregnancy.

The rest of the museum was also lots of fun. We spent about an hour in Body Worlds and another two hours in the rest of the museum. We left because I had gotten a headache and the crowds and noise had gotten pretty bad. We missed the entire Africa exhibit and most of the North America exhibit. So, we have a good reason to return.

There were a couple of real highlights for us. First of all, we really enjoyed the butterfly house. They had a good size butterfly and insect exhibit, but then also a butterfly house with several different species of butterflies and moths. Ga'Hoole Girl seemed to attract the butterflies the most, but Wild Man did eventually get one to land on him.

We recently read Black Horses for the King which is a story about the early use of horseshoes (as well as about King Arthur). One of the characters in the book taught his apprentices about horses and hooves using the dissected lower leg of a horse that had been put down. When we went through Body Worlds, we saw a preserved horse (believe it or not) and we all looked closely at the lower leg to see how the hoof looked.

Another exhibit caught our eyes because of a book we've been reading. We just finished A Single Shard, about a pottery apprentice in medieval Korea. In the story, the apprentice wants to learn to make pottery with a celadon glaze - celadon glaze is a specific type of glaze that leaves a grayish green color. In the book, another potter develops an inlay technique that is used with the celadon glazing technique. At the museum, we saw some real celadon glazed pottery with inlay just like the book described - from the same time period! It is really cool to see what we've just read about.

If you get a chance to go to the museum - take it. You'll love it!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Book Reviews - March 29

It's been a while since I've written any reviews, but I have done a lot of reading and even watched a few movies in the last couple of months. These are going to be short reviews, but I hope they can help you decide whether or not to invest in reading a certain book.

An Assembly Such as This; Duty and Desire; These Three Remain all by Pamela Aidan

This series of novels takes us through the story of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of Mr. Darcy. Since it takes three books, you can imagine that it is pretty detailed. This is a wonderful series of books. Ms. Aidan does a good job of maintaining the characters created by Ms. Austen. The plot is interesting, although it gets a little unbelievable in the second book. The relationships between Darcy and Bingley and between Darcy and Georgiana are explored and fleshed out. If you're a Jane Austen fan, I highly recommend these books. (P.S. Special thanks to DA, my college roomie, for getting me hooked on these books!)

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoli

This is one of the (many) novels that tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy after Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Overall, I liked the book. It has a wide scope in both plot and characterizations. At times, the plot becomes somewhat unbelievable and "gothic", but it seems to work as part of the whole story. The one downside is that Ms. Berdoli gives more detail about the Darcy's s*xual relationship than is needed for the story to work. If you're an Austen fan, you'll probably enjoy the book, but I don't think it's appropriate for teens - some of the content is clearly PG-13.

Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris

Ms. Bebris has written several "extension" novels based on Jane Austen's stories. One of the interesting things is that they are mystery novels. I enjoyed this book, but it was kind of like marshmallow - all fluff and no substance. The characters are pretty two dimensional. The plot includes elements of the supernatural (magic), but they don't mesh well into the rest of the story. It was an interesting read, but I'm not planning on reading anymore of Mr. Bebris' books. There are lots of other good books out there to spend my time on.

The Second Mrs. Darcy by Elizabeth Aston

Despite it's name, this book is only distantly related to Austen's Pride and Prejudice characters. It takes place 10 years or so after Pride and Prejudice. The main character is related to the Darcy family through her husband, but her husband dies before the opening of the book. The plot centers around the main character's adjusting to life as a widow and her trying to take control of her own life in a society in which women are generally dependent on their male relations. I really enjoyed this book. The characters are believable and engaging. The writer's style of writing made me want to continue reading. I recommend this to Austen fans.

The Language Police by Diane Ravitch

Ravitch has done an excellent job of documenting the degeneration of public schools' textbooks and standardized testing due to political correctness. This book explains the process by which test companies and textbook companies edit their items to be "appropriate". The assumption underlying their actions is that children will become uncomfortable and have difficulty learning or testing if they are shown negative events. There is also an assumption that children who are shown only an ideal world in print will take in those values and not be racist, sexist, or whatever other "ist" you can think of. If you look at current textbooks, you will see that the stories contain a representative sample of people by race and sex. Photos of all races, ages, and disabilities are also included.

So, what's the problem? For one thing, the publishers are spending a huge amount of money on this, apparently to the detriment of the academic side of things. Ravitch claims that publishers are also not using nearly as much classic literature as they used to because it does not meet their "PC" screening standards.

I highly recommend this book for anyone with kids in school. It provides motivation to get involved with the school district and in textbook evaluation. For me, it was another confirmation of the benefits of home education. My kids read stuff that might otherwise be censored and, I believe, are the better for it.

Black Rednecks, White Liberals by Thomas Sowell

I figured that anything written by Thomas Sowell was likely to be good and I was not disappointed. This collection of essays by Sowell was excellent. I enjoyed the topics. The depth and research level was impressive. I will briefly discuss just two topics in the book - you have to read it for the rest.

The first essay was a quite interesting essay on the history of American Black culture. The fashionable theory is that black urban culture is based on many American blacks being descended from slaves who were then freed at the end of the Civil War. The evidence, though, does not bear this out. In fact, Sowell shows that black urban culture is related most closely to "Cracker culture" from Scotland and Ireland which was imported to this country in the eighteenth century. The freed blacks absorbed this culture after being freed from slavery and living among rural whites in the South who were descended from the Crackers from Scotland and Ireland. It's a thought-provoking essay and I encourage you to read it.

The other essay that I most enjoyed was about the history of slavery in the history of the world. American slavery was certainly an evil, but it often gets treated as an evil that was peculiar to American whites. In fact, slavery is almost as old as civilization itself. Sowell does a nice job of showing slavery in many different cultures and shows that it was rarely based on race. He then asks the question of why Britain and America were the first two countries to really seriously pursue abolition. It's another essay I think everyone should read.

In the Beginning: the story of the King James Bible and how it changed a nation, a language, and a culture by Alistar McGrath

McGrath is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, partly because of this book. This book is a fascinating look at the history of the King James Bible and then how that translation has affected Western Civilization. McGrath does an excellent job of weaving history, linguistics, and religion into a coherent whole. I have never really been a fan of the KJV of the Bible; I think it's partly because it was the only translation used when I was a child and it was hard to understand, but also because I'm reacting against the almost worshipful attitude some people have toward this translation. As I've gotten older, I've mellowed in my attitude. This book, though, has opened my eyes to how this one translation of the Bible has affected so much of our culture. I very strongly recommend this book for anyone with any interest in history or linguistics. You will be enriched and fascinated.

Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey

Yes, the author is also the author of the "Dragonriders of Pern" series. This, though, is the first book by this author I've read. This is a Sonight Core 6 read aloud. Mr. Math Teacher read it aloud for the whole family and it was a hit. The plot revolves around a young man who works with King Arthur's horses. He and an older man start to make "horse sandals" (horseshoes) to protect the horses' hooves. "No hoof, no horse" becomes their tagline. This was a great historical novel that is appropriate for older kids through adults.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Goodbye Notebooking

Well, another great homeschooling idea goes in the "doesn't work for us" column. I love the idea of notebooking. The kids are supposed to create pages about something they have learned in which they write a summary and then draw or use scrapbooking techniques for embellishment. My kids are completely uninterested. We were also going to include any other useful info in the notebooks (maps, etc.) so the kids could go back someday and look at their work. It just didn't work. I ended up spending way too much time tracking down papers and putting them in the notebooks.

Now we're doing "file-foldering". I still want the kids to write about what we're studying, but now I'm not worried about them doing drawings or other decorations. And the papers aren't organized into notebooks. I just put them into file folders in the file drawer by my desk. It's much more efficient and meets the educational goal of having the children write about what their learning in order to strengthen writing skill and reinforce the information.

I am very thankful for the flexibility of homeschooling!

Spring? Really?

I think I may have to take back my previous post about springtime. Tomorrow's Easter and we have a foot of snow on the ground and it's 30 degrees outside. We'll be wearing our Christmas clothes to church tomorrow. But, at least it's Spring.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Signs of Spring

It's going to be Spring soon. Here's how I can tell:
1. Rain instead of snow.
2. Wearing jackets instead of heavy coats.
3. Cats shedding even more than usual.
4. Ice fisherman on the lake in lawn chairs instead of shanties.
5. Exhibition baseball games on TV.
6. Kids practicing for the play, dance recital, and piano recital.

We live with Uncle Sam

Wild Man has been cast as Uncle Sam in this year's homeschool play, "Old Glory". Wild Man is a natural performer and is really excited about the role. He has lots more lines to learn this year than ever before, but he says that he's up to it. Mr. Math Teacher will be doing the sound for the play, with the help of Ga'Hoole Girl and a boy from the homeschool group.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Eating In

I found this here. I can't imagine this as a future, but, then again, could people 150 years ago have imagined not being allowed to teach their children at home?

April 13, 2099Reunited Press
After much heated debate on the house floor, legislation was passed today to allow a growing number of families to cook meals for their families in their homes. The children must have annual physical examinations to assure proper growth and weight gain. Attempts to require weekly meal plans and monthly kitchen inspections were voted down.
A spokesperson from the National Association of Nutritionists (NANs) condemns this decision. "These children are being denied the rich socialization and diversity that is an essential part of the eating process. Without the proper nutritional background, it is impossible for the average person to feed their own children. We, as child advocates, see this as a step backwards and speak out for the sake of the children who cannot speak for themselves."
Homecooking parents say the benefits of eating at home include increased family unity and the ability to tailor a diet to a particular need. Elizabeth Crocker, a home cook, states, "We started cooking and eating at home when we realized that my son had a severe allergy to eggs. The public kitchens required him to take numerous medications that had serious side effects in order to counteract his allergy. We found that eliminating eggs was a simpler method and our son has thrived since we began doing so."
After this experience, the Crockers decided to home cook for all of their children, and converted their media room into a kitchen. Elizabeth says, "We have experienced so much closeness as we have explored recipes and spent time cooking together and eating together. We have a dining circle with other families where we sometimes share ideas and meals together."
The Crocker children have done well physically under their mother's care, weighing in at optimum weights for their ages and having health records far above average. It should be noted that Mrs. Crocker, while not a professional nutritionist, has a family history rich with nutritionists and home economists. "Surely the success of the Crocker children is due to the background of their mother," responded the spokesman from NANs. "The results they have achieved should not be viewed as normative." Mrs. Crocker counters that her background was actually a hindrance to the nutritional principles she follows. "Our paternal great-grandmother was a home economist, but she prepared most meal from pre-made mixes. In our homecooking we try not to duplicate public-kitchen meals, but to tailor our meals to the needs and preferences of our children."
In a related issue, legislation is in committee that would provide oversight for the emerging homecooking movement. Says the Home Eating Legal Defense Association (HELDA): "We want to provide umbrella kitchens to aid parents in the complicated tasks of feeding their children. Many families lack the expertise of the Crocker family, yet desire to eat at home. As we have seen, the umbrella kitchens meet the needs of all concerned. We are happy to provide this service."

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Ready for Spring!

I am soooooo ready for spring! I try very hard not to complain about winter, but it's getting rather old now. We still have about 2 feet of snow in our yard along with 3 1/2 to 4 feet along the driveway and road. We haven't had any new snow in over a week so the snow is icy and not nice to play in. Last night it was about 10 below zero, but it is supposed to get up to 40 this week. Yikes!

Of course, spring is lovely, but it accompanied by lots of mud as the snow melts. But, at least it will be warm. And, we'll be able to open the windows. I just have to be patient.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Teeth in mouth . . .

We were doing our evening reading the other night and came across a saying that meant "don't just stand there". I told the kids about a saying that my dad used to use when I was a kid: "Don't just stand there with your teeth in your mouth and your bare face hangin' out!" We had quite a laugh about it! The kids kept trying to keep their "bare faces" from "hangin' out". It involved trying to suck their mouths in as far as possible. What a fun moment!!

The Math Teacher

Mr. Math Teacher is a "real" math teacher now!! He is the long-term substitute in a high school math class, working for a teacher who just had a baby Monday night. He actually got the job about a month ago so he's been getting himself prepared to start. He was supposed to start on Friday so he went in Monday to get a feel for what he will be doing. He planned to sleep in on Tuesday, but he got a call at 10:30pm Monday. It was the math teacher, now in labor. She had the baby about five hours later, Mr. Math Teacher learned later. In any case, he was up and out early Tuesday morning to be a "real" math teacher.

The kids were very happy about Dad working. In fact, Wild Man was quite distressed that I would consider making him do schoolwork on such a special day. But, we did work. And, the kids decorated the house and made cupcakes so to celebrate. It was a great day for everyone. And Mr. Math Teacher survived his first day!!

Pain Update

My pain management plan seems to actually be helping some. Of course, the weather here has cooperated for the last week, too. I have had quite a good week on the pain front. I've had headaches every day, but they have been pretty manageable. The kids and I have been getting most of the schoolwork and housework done every day. I have been using minimal pain meds, and that has mostly been for muscle pains.

So, what has been working? It's hard to know for sure, but here are the things that I think are helping.
1. My schedule is manageable right now. I'm busy Monday evening, Wednesday daytime, and Thursday morning. I like having the time at home to rest when I need to.
2. I'm using my TENS unit. The TENS unit doesn't do much for a full-blown migraine, but it helps the daily headaches. It's kind of annoying to try to get set up, but once the pads are on, I don't have any trouble using it.
3. I have several scheduled breaks during my day. Actually, I don't get to all of my breaks, but just having the possiblity of taking them is reassuring. Even on Wednesdays, which are my busiest days, I can usually take a little time-out during reading lesson or piano lesson.

Let's hope this continues. I enjoy being able to keep the house reasonable clean and make sure the kids are learning something.