Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Books read in September and October

I never posted about my September reading, because I think I only read from books already in the works, and nothing complete from cover to cover.

The Silver Pencil by Alice Dalgliesh--this is juvenile literature, purchased to give my 13yo E for Christmas. I'm about halfway through it so far.

The Breaker by Minette Walters--This is one of those authors I read when I'm in the mood for something creepy and criminal, usually with a psychological twist. Not recommended.

The Secret Orchard of Roger Ackerly by Diana Petre--non-fiction, a sort-of biography. Not particularly significant or interesting in any way. (I read this in the intervals when my computer was too slow to use, and kept wondering, "What IS the point?")

We the Living by Ayn Rand--I already blogged about this one. Sometime in the next year or so, I'm going to read The Fountainhead as well, but I have no desire to read her non-fiction.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn--yes! I finally finished something by Solzhenitsyn. This was much shorter than Gulag Archipelago, which I've started but never managed to complete.

The Literary Discipline by John Erskine--I'm about halfway through this now. He has some very interesting things to say about writing as art.

Perry Mason Solves the Case of the Careless Kitten by Erle Stanley Gardner--No, I don't know why I read this. Someone gave it to me, and I was somewhat curious. It was a quick and easy read. Anyone who wants this copy can have it.

W pustyni i w puszczy by Henryk Sienkiewicz--Not much, just a few chapters, but my Polish book is still underway. I must be more disciplined with this, as I don't wish to lose my newly-acquired ability to read semi-fluently in Polish.

Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady--Someone's ending added to the beginning of a book Jane Austen never lived to finish. I haven't finished this yet, and I think I'm still reading Jane Austen's part. Okay, that mean's I've just started it. Perhaps I'll get it finished this month.

Bad for Business by Rex Stout--I actually wanted to read a Nero Wolfe mystery, and this one featured a different detective--Tecumsah Fox. It was okay, but I wasn't terribly impressed (this was my first try at Rex Stout), so it's going on the Bookmooch inventory for anyone who wants it.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy--I probably read another 100 pages or so of this. I wonder if I'll ever reach the end?

I read two more books that I so utterly cannot recommend and want to expunge from my memory that I'm not even going to put them on my list. Fourth-rate trash, and that's where the books are headed.

I've had an idea percolating that I should be reading in a more disciplined and systematic way. When I look at this list, I'm even further convinced of it, as there is a lot of fluff here. For whatever reason, that was what I was in the mood for recently. But, like cotton-candy, it's not satisfying and I'm hungry now for something substantial. We'll see what comes of it by the end of November!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Share the wealth

Some months ago, I discovered (probably from someone's blog) paperbackswap.com. This neat little site is an internet book swap in which no money changes hands, only books. Unfortunately for me, you can only participate from within the United States, so the discovery did me little good.

Then a few months later, I learned about bookmooch.com. This is a very similar program but--oh joy--anyone can join and trade. No one absolutely has to send books overseas if they don't want to (remember, no money changes hands, so you pay when you send a book), but there is at least the possibility that generous-hearted readers will be willing to share books with literature-hungry pals who live in other countries. The system actually "pays" the sender more points for sending a book to a foreign country.

I didn't have much time when I discovered Bookmooch, but I did set up an account and list one book in my inventory, that I was willing to give away. Other things consumed my time; I was not desperate for reading material, and I forgot about it almost entirely.

Until one morning I had an email with a request to "mooch" that single book from me, and was I willing to send the book to Belgium? First, I had to locate the book! Once that was accomplished, however, I was happy to send it off to Belgium (a paperback copy of Funeral Games by Mary Renault--a fictional book involving Alexander the Great that I never could get interested in).

Reminded of the existence of Bookmooch, and now sporting credits that entitle me to "mooch" books from someone else, I added a few more books to my inventory and began contemplating which titles on my wish list I should ask for...

Really, if the internet weren't good for anything else, it would be worthwhile just for this!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Bible and the task of teaching, chapter 4

I'm continuing my discussion of this book by David I. Smith and John Shortt because I'm almost certain that few people are going to order or read it, and I think their ideas are worthy of being discussed among Christian educators--both homeschoolers and those involved with Christian schools.

The opening sentence of chapter 4 echoes the concerns of classical education from Plato to David Hicks (author of Norms & Nobility). "Is virtue necessary to learning?" Although classical education as such is never mentioned in this book, I find it intriguing that the Biblical approach to education is similar.

Schwen argues that we should understand learning itself as in part a moral affair, and not simply a matter of technique or cognitive processes. Learning, he argues, "depends not simply upon the possession of certain cognitive skills but also upon the possession of moral dispositions or virtues that enable inquiry to proceed." We should not therefore think of virtue as something added to learning in the form of character education, but rather as something intrinsic to learning."

And what virtue is requisite to learning--particularly to "inquiry"?



This basic virtue is essential to true classical education, and I suppose it should not be surprising to find that a Biblical approach to education requires it as well. Humility is essential to inquiry and knowledge, because the learner must admit that he does not know something, that he needs to be taught, that someone else may know more than he does, and that such a person should be attended to. Without such humility, our minds are closed.

There is much more in the chapter, of course, as the authors follow a line of reasoning that links virtues in education to the development of Christian propositions in every area of study. The previous chapter focused on Christian living, while this chapter is devoted to a discussion of Christian thinking. From a practical point of view, I like the way this chapter defines different aspects of educational thinking.

In sum, then, procedures are individual actions in the classroom, designs are repeatable patterns in the way teaching takes place, and approaches are the background beliefs, orientations, and commitments which give rise to one pattern rather than another.

Not all of the fundamental background beliefs can be proven logically, but those assumptions that we accept, on faith, as it were, underlie our approach. At the same time, the procedures and designs form the actual method by which we attempt to accomplish our beliefs in a practical way.

Friday, October 27, 2006


I've mentioned before a few of the sources where I find reading material in English here in Krakow. Actually, it's much easier than it used to be. This is the last place--the main public library in Krakow, on Ulica Rajska ("Paradise Street").

This library, which fills an entire city block, has one room of foreign-language books which may be borrowed. About three-fourths of their collection is English, with the remaining fourth being made up of books in French, German, Italian and Russian. I've had a card ever since the foreign-language room opened, although I no longer remember what year that was, which allows me to borrow two books at a time.

Because I brought so many books back from the States with me, I haven't paid a visit to this library until quite recently. A couple of weeks ago, I thought it was about time I made my way back there and took the familiar walk to the main entrance, located precisely in the middle of this long building. When I went in, I saw immediately that the familiar sign informing visitors where to find the wypożyczalnia obcojęzycznych ("foreign-language lending library") was painted out.

I didn't like the looks of that at all, but climbed the stairs and walked down the long hall to the familiar room at the end. The door bore a new sign, announcing that the room was a place for making digital copies. But--oh joy!--another placard noted that the foreign-language room was now located on the floor above, and gave the room number. I climbed another flight of stairs and found the correct number.

When I opened the door, I was pleased to see that the foreign-language collection had been given twice as much space as it formerly occupied. I was also pleased that the librarian, who has not seen me for over 18 months, knew me at once. We chatted about the new location, my time in the states, and the age of my baby (she recollected my pregnancy--I was in there weekly during that time, I think).

The books on the shelves are very familiar to me--I've spent a lot of time perusing them, and this is not an enormous collection. I really didn't need reading material (!), but I borrowed a couple of books anyway--one fiction, one non-fiction. I'll have to make regular visits to the library now, which is no hardship.

I'm really grateful that they only moved the foreign-language room, and that it was not closed. I've had that unhappy experience before. Formerly, the British Consulate maintained an English lending-library in the main library belonging to the Jagellonian University (the one that's been existence for centuries, where Copernicus taught). When that library was under construction for expansion, part of the library, including the English library, were closed. I waited months and months for them to reopen, and I remember the sinking feeling I felt the day I discovered that their sign was no longer posted by the door.

I learned that funding for these foreign libraries had been reduced, and the one in Krakow would not reopen. I was terribly disappointed, but fortunately it was about that time that the main public library opened their foreign-language room. Later I learned that some thousands of books had been donated to them by the British Consulate Library--the majority of their fiction collection--while most of the non-fiction books (which had featured mostly British history, biographies, and travel literature) had been donated to the University library.

So, many of the books I borrowed and read from the British library are still there, like familiar acquaintences, on the shelves of the library on Rajska. It's not quite the same as having a local library in the US. They offer very little for children--not much fiction, and virtually no non-fiction. They do not buy new books as they come out. As far as I know, there is no budget for increasing the collection at all. They accept donations of books, and I have taken some there when I needed to thin our shelves a bit. The collection is small by any American standard. And yet, it is there--a library to browse in, with tables and chairs for reading, and a friendly librarian.

If a second English lending library had been closed here in Krakow, it would have been dreadful! But that wasn't the case, and I'll do my bit of patronizing the library to give them a reason to continue existing.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It wasn't my idea, but it works.

Since the Deputy Headmistress asked...

While I was in the States last year, we spent a few days in the home of a pastor. He and his wife had eight children, ranging from early-elementary to college age. A few times while we were there, the mother of the home announced "everyone spend 15 minutes cleaning your room!" Without further instruction, and within a very short time, the entire house was tidy. "Your room" did not mean "your bedroom" (none of the children had rooms of their own), but rather "the room assigned to you."

Each child was responsible for a room in the house. Every public room--kitchen, bathrooms, family room, living room--was covered, as well as hallways, entry-ways, and the steps. Older children had tougher areas like the kitchen, while younger children were assigned simpler areas to clean. I was so impressed with her system, that I actually wrote it down, so I wouldn't forget about it before I got back home to Poland.

I have far fewer children capable of work, but I divided my house into four "sectors" (room by room didn't work for me), and assigned one to each of my three older children, and one to myself. Those sectors are their spaces to clean and keep tidy. We spend 30 minutes per day on "sector time," so I effectively have 2 man-hours of cleaning done each day. They keep the same sector for a long, long time (many months), so they learn to cover daily cleaning, weekly cleaning, and the deeper cleaning that only occurs a few times per year for that sector.

Any time I need the house to look better than it does, I can announce, like the mother who gave me the idea, "Everyone spend 15 minutes on your sector!" and within a very short time, the house looks quite tidy. No one is allowed to ask someone else to clean their sector during an official "cleaning" time. If someone else made a mess in your area, you just have to clean it up. However, you may also "police" your area and ask anyone (even a parent!) who has left a mess in your sector to clean it up at other times.

Now, I have to admit that this does absolutely nothing about untidy bedrooms, but it does keep the public areas of the house in reasonable order, and I always know that within a short amount of time, everything can be improved. No one is getting in anyone else's way, and there is no arguing about who should be doing what job.

We've had this system running for over six months, and it's still functioning, which is probably some kind of record. My bathrooms are much cleaner, my trash cans don't overflow, and the dust actually doesn't have time to build up.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Back to the books...

I've had so little time to read until just recently. I feel like a famine victim sitting down to a feast--too many choices, everything tastes wonderful, and I don't really care what I'm eating as long as I'm shoveling in nourishment as fast as possible. I no longer remember little details such as moderation or satiation. Just bring on the words, and I'll read them.

This is how it came about that I read We the Living by Ayn Rand in less than 24 hours. This is the second of Rand's books that I have read. I've previously read Atlas Shrugged twice. This book is interesting to read, because it is actually her first published novel, and the ideas that are fully developed in Atlas Shrugged appear here in their infancy.

Rand said that this book was the closest thing she ever wrote to an autobiography, and yet it is not the details of the life of the main character, Kira, that are autobiographical, but her ideals and convictions. What those ideals and convictions are...well, my resonance with them is extremely limited. Ayn Rand's convictions are not mine. As far as she is concerned, selfishness is a core virtue of humanity, and altruism is a gross immorality. I don't accept that fundamental principle, so I do not enter into her philosophy with sympathy.

Nevertheless, the mental horror of post-revolutionary Russia is fascinating. The struggle for any individual to maintain his (or her) integrity in the face of an all-powerful state is limited by the personal strength and resources he possesses. It is horrifying to watch as one by one, all the characters succumb to the de-humanization imposed on them by the state. The manner of their capitulation varies, but in the end, they are diminished. This book was written in 1936, and I can't help wondering what kind of an impact it made on readers who read it then, knowing that it was a present reality to hundreds of thousands of people, and not the historical episode that it is to me.

This book is a prelude into making another go at Solzhenitsyn. I've never managed to finish any of his books that I've started, but maybe this time I will. My interest in Russian literature has been kindled by War and Peace, which I still haven't finished, but have been working on again recently. My "to be read" pile of books is getting out of hand, but I'm beginning to think I'd have more time to read books if I read fewer blogs...

Perish the thought!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

One more thing to add

Oh, I really can't finish the hospital story without adding this! One afternoon while C. was sleeping, Krakovian and I were both slipping away to raid the coffee machine when we were met by someone from the cashier's office. She was looking for us, because we have foreign insurance, and thus had to satisfy our hospital bill ourselves and seek reimbursement.

We've had this experience before. She was SO reluctant to hit us with the bad news of how much it was going to cost. Finally, we dragged it out of her: the hospital cost PLN150 per day (around $50). We assumed that was the base cost, and expected to be charged additional fees for the oxygen and medication C. was receiving, but...no. That's not the case. The PLN150 was all we would be expected to pay.

Naturally, we tried to suppress our amusement and relief in front of her. She felt so bad that we would have to pay such a lot of money, and when she came around the last day with the bill for PLN450 for a three-day hospital stay she acted as if she was serving us with such terrible news.

How can we explain that $150 for three days in the hospital is nothing? Last year in the states, C. was in the emergency room for three hours with similar (less severe, I think) breathing problems, and it cost over $500. Needless to say, our insurance deductible is so much higher than the $150 we paid that they will NOT be reimbursing us for the hospital stay.

Fifty dollars per day. My, my. And we were in the ICU!!!

The hospital story

Well, we actually came home on Friday, but I haven't had time to write much of an update. I'm sorry about that. Many, many thanks to each of you who prayed for C. and for us.

On Tuesday, I was in the city with E., having escorted her to her arts and crafts class. When I left the house, C. was in perfectly fine condition. The worst anyone could have said was that she had a (very mild) runny nose. A couple of hours later, Krakovian called me on the cell phone to tell me that C. was in bad shape--coughing a croupy cough and having trouble breathing, also sounding as if she had a sore throat. As E. and I rode the bus home, I knew I'd be dealing with a sick baby for the evening.

As soon as I walked in the door, I located the nebulizer and albuterol and gave C. a breathing treatment. Normally, this would make a dramatic improvement in her condition, but it literally seemed to have no effect at all. As soon as we finished that, I made a steam-tent of the shower, and kept her there for ten minutes or so, but that had no effect either. She was fighting for every breath, turning livid with the effort.

It was around 7pm, and I knew we'd never make it through the night, so we called our pediatrician to see where we should take her, and headed for a pediatric hospital not far from our house. We had to sit in the waiting room for an hour before we could see a doctor. The whole time, C.'s breathing was ragged and loud. Her temperature was rising, and she fell asleep in my arms. I just knew they were going to want to admit her, and sure enough, the doctor took one look at her, still in my arms, and said she'd have to stay.

After making us wait so long, they were in a hurry to start treatment, so a nurse hustled us upstairs to the infants' ward, where C. was given another breathing treatment via nebulizer, and they prepared an IV for her. After the treatment, they gave her a bed in a room that contained ten cribs in total, at least half of which were occupied. The lights were all out, and there were several mothers in the room, spending the night with their babies. One mother was having a terrible time trying to get her one year old son settled. He cried and cried and wailed every time he was disturbed. Unfortunately, we were a disturbance.

The nurse was very concerned because C.'s breathing did not really improve after the treatment. The same young doctor who had seen her in the first place came in to see her again and ordered oxygen. They turned on a dim light so they could see what they were doing, and the nurse came continually to see if C.'s breathing improved. The young doctor was not satisfied and called the main pediatrician on duty that night, and she came to see C. herself. She ordered hydrocortisone as well as another breathing treatment (C. would have a total of three before the night was over, as well as another dose of hydrocortisone), and the nurse was back and forth administering the treatments.

All the while, the little boy wailed and wailed, and his mother grew more and more vocal in her complaints about the disturbance. In the end, C. was moved downstairs to the intensive care room, where she was the only patient. Her condition remained much the same all night. They treated her fever with paracetamol (tylenol), and she was hooked up to the IV, a pulse/ox monitor, oxygen with a mask, and also a steam/mist hose. It was a LONG night, and I got very little sleep.

I thought she was never going to improve, but she finally slept for a couple of hours in the very early morning, and woke up around 8am, ready to eat. Her fever was gone, and she both devoured her breakfast and drank from a cup, indicating that her throat was less irritated. She continued to improve after that, but I knew they wouldn't let her come home that day.

We stayed in the intensive care the whole time C. was in the hospital, and I have to say--it was pretty nice that way. There was a children's ward across the hall from us, with 8 or 10 children in it (one room), and the moms had to sleep on the floor if they stayed overnight. I had to stay with C.--she doesn't understand Polish well, and doesn't speak much at all, even in English. I could never leave her alone there. It was much quieter and more peaceful for us in the IC unit.

After that first night, C. didn't get much care at all--just the regular administration of medication, which I gave her myself when they brought it. On Thursday morning, I told the doctor we wanted to go home, although I knew she probably wouldn't let us. Sure enough, she said no, but suggested that we could perhaps go home the next day. That was actually what I was hoping for/expecting, so I pressed the point and said firmly that we wanted to go home before the weekend (or we'd be stuck until Monday, for sure), and that I could take care of C. just as well at home as I was taking care of her there. I insisted that she did not have to be 100% percent well in order to be well enough to leave the hospital. (And yes, they do often keep kids in the hospital until they are completely recovered!)

As it turns out, C. did not actually have pneumonia, though she was in danger of it, and to some extent, still is. Her congenital laryngomalacia simply made a bad cold (which three others in our family have had) extremely dangerous. Her weak throat was inflamed, and allowed congestion to reach her chest very easily. In any case, they let her come home on Friday, although her release papers stated that she was discharged "at her parents' request" and "in good condition."

We have a strong antibiotic, two kinds of medicine to use with the nebulizer, and another liqued syrup to administer, as well as a "pro-biotic" to offset the side-effects of the antibiotic. Stll, C. and I are much happier to be at home, and I'm overjoyed to sleep in a real bed instead of the examination table in the IC unit (although I'm grateful they let me use it--most parents had to use the floor).

Thanks again for praying for us,

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


It was not my intention to interrupt regular blogging. Certaintly, I have plenty of things to write about. However, I was busy with my life and blogging was unintentionally set aside for a little while. Now the rest of my life has been interrupted by the sudden illness of my 2.5yo C.

In short, C. is in the hospital with pneumonia. All prayers on her behalf are gratefully appreciated, and for those who like specific requests, please pray that she will recover quickly and that her hospital stay may be as short as possible. Doctors here tend to prolong hospital stays longer than usually deemed necessary by Americans.

I will not leave her alone while she is there (her dad is with her at the moment), so this is likely to be the only news I write until I can tell you that she is home again.

Thanks for praying!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Breathing a big sigh of relief.

Ever since I knew I was going to be speaking at the Polish homeschooler's conference, and knew that it directly preceded a Ladies' Tea in my home, during which I had to give a devotional in Polish, I have been carrying too much in my head. Those two things, combined with starting up regular homeschooling after a summer break (not a "new school year" for us yet, though--we start in January ) have eaten up all my energy and attention. Those who notice such things may have noticed that I did not put up a "books read in September" post. I did read in September, but with a single exception, all I did was make a little--far too little--progress on the books I have been working on for months.

With those speaking events behind me, I can catch my breath, dust off the "in progress" pile and maybe even cast an eye on the "to be read" shelf with the hope of starting one or two of those this month.

Before I start anything new, I must finish War and Peace. I picked it up this week and found that picking up the thread around the Battle of Borodino was not easy. Also, when I read it the first time, I couldn't remember if Napoleon ever actually did attack Moscow. I've since learned that he did, and now I'm dreading reading what will happen. I still have 500 pages left in this 1400+ page tome, and I would like to have it completed at long last.

Without actually setting a goal for when it must be finished, I would like to be more consistent with my Polish book, W Pustyni i w puszczy by Sienkiewicz. Every time I open my mouth to speak Polish, my ungrammatical language causes me grief, and I keep hoping that reading will allow me to absorb and internalize the structure of Polish sentences so I don't have to think so hard about what I want to say.

I want to continue working through The Literary Discipline by John Erskine. I'm not in a hurry to finish this one, as slower, more thoughtful reading will give me time to absorb what he has to say. I have another book by Erskine, The Delight of Great Books that I'm dying to start, but I can't justify reading both at the same time.

Of course, I'm rereading The Bible and the task of teaching by David I. Smith and John Shortt, also at a nice slow pace so I can contemplate their ideas. That makes just five books I'm currently reading. It may not seem significant to some people, but for me it is odd, as my habit is generally to devour books whole, at sight, and then go prowling about looking for more. I haven't lost the "looking for more" habit, but I do believe this is the first time in my life I've had such an enormous stack of "to be read" books that I haven't had time to read.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Noisy Nora

This is currently C's favorite book. I picked it up on a whim because we have some board books by Rosemary Wells, and we like the illustrations. The story of Noisy Nora is told in sing-songy verse and C. is enamored of the whole thing.

There was one little problem with the story, however, that prevented me from wanting to read it over and over and over again (the usual toddler plan for reading books). Nora is a middle child feeling a bit neglected, and she makes a lot of noise to get attention. A couple of lines, repeated twice in the story, go like this:

"Quiet!" said her father.
"Hush," said her mum.
"Nora," said her sister,
"Why are you so dumb?"

Now, my children are far from saints and they have and occasionally still do call each other things worse even than "dumb." But I don't want to be encouraging it, and I was cringing every time I read the story, wondering how I could lose the book without causing C. any grief.

Krakovian came to the rescue, first by coming up with an alternative rhyme, and second by matching the text font and size and printing new words, which he carefully pasted over the offending ones. The story now reads:

"Quiet!" said her mother.
"Hush!" said her dad.
"Nora," said her sister,
"Why are you so bad?"

I still don't love it, but at least "bad" is an evaluation of Nora's behavior (which does involve slamming doors, knocking over lamps and chairs, and taking her siblings' belongings) rather than gratuitous name-calling. So I can live with it.

Although I still absolutely refuse to read it more than three times at a single sitting.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What a weekend!

I've been wanting to take the time to blog about this past weekend with the Polish homeschoolers, but I've been busy with my next project, a Ladies' Tea coming up this very Friday, so I haven't had time to do the subect justice.

I still don't! But I'll do the best I can.

I took 9yo K with me to the conference, which was held at this very nicely-appointed facility. I won't go into detail about the location--the pictures are there if anyone is interested--but I will make a note that we had the most gorgeous weather imagineable for the end of September. On Saturday afternoon, the kids were wading in the water! That's amazing for Poland at this time of year.

I spoke three times at the conference, each time at some length. I started on Friday evening, the first night, with the fundamental message that was my theme: Education is the science of relations, ala Charlotte Mason. It was all theory and philosophy and I knew I was asking a lot to expect everyone to made a radical jump in their understanding of what education actually is. I definitely confused them in the beginning, but my translator felt that by the end of the evening, they were beginning to understand what I was trying to convey.

I followed up in all my other lectures with concrete examples across the spectrum of school "subjects," always bringing everything back to the fundamental principle that education is more than learning facts and information. During every single break or moment away from the lectures, individuals sought me out with more questions, personal situations to discuss, and general inquiry. Although I spoke in English with a translator, the personal contact was in Polish for the most part. Whew!

There were probably 12 or 13 couples there, although another 9 or 10 had cancelled at the last minute, mostly because of illness. They were universal in their appeal that I would speak to them again some time, but gatherings like this will probably be infrequent--these families had come from every corner of Poland and few of them live near each other. I hope within a year or two these folks will be sharing their experiences and successes with even more Polish families who desire to homeschool.

I'll be keeping in touch via the internet with a few of these folks, but for the most part they are individually very much alone in their endeavors.

There were heaps of children, the food was good, the weather was amazing, the company was never dull. As I said, what a weekend!