A homemade language arts plan for school

One of the irritating things about being in a backwards part of the country is that the Language Arts classes in the public schools are pretty much garbage.*  We thought last year that it was just that DC1 wasn’t in advanced language arts, but no, it’s a thing.  K-4 was at a private school and they used standard texts and read novels and it seemed pretty much like what we had growing up in the midwest.  5th grade we did in Paradise and while it wasn’t as hard-core as 5th grade would have been in the Midwest it wasn’t so bad.  We have no idea what DC1 did in language arts last year, but they didn’t read any books as a class.

This year, in 7th grade, most of their assignments, which are done in class, are just drawing pictures and doing crafts, but it’s not like an art class where they’re getting instruction on arts and crafts, they’re just asked to do them.  At the first open house, the teacher spent her entire time talking about the rules of the course (no talking for the first 10 min when doing the bellwork, then talking with a neighbor for the next 15, etc. etc. etc.) but did not talk about the curriculum at all.  DH asked what books they’d be reading as a class.  She said they wouldn’t be reading anything as a class but they would be picking out books that they could bring from home or check out from the school library to read individually.

Later we found out that the 2#$23ing reading log is back.  We had a lot of trouble with the @#$@3ing reading log back in 5th grade.  It is @#$23ing hard for a reader who loves reading to track every minute read.

This time there are additional wrinkles.  They have to finish one book that they have chosen for this purpose each month.  That book has to be the one that they read in class during their reading time.  But they also have to read this book for at least 20 min per day, and they don’t get a full 20 min in class to read it.  So that means that they need to take the book home and definitely not leave it at home next to the bed where they’ve fallen asleep reading it.  It has to be a book they’ve never read and it has to be one that wasn’t meant for kids in 4th grade or below.  The first month, DC1 picked The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett.

It boggles my mind that they don’t read a Shakespeare play each year starting now.  That their junior year is the first year they start reading books together as a class AND it’s the same @$#@43ing terrible list of whiny male protagonists that we had back 25+ years ago when we were FRESHMEN (I guess at least they’re reading Fahrenheit 451?).  Their senior year is a subset of what our school’s sophomore list changed to being after I complained about the lack of women.  There has been no change in their reading lists in 2+ decades, and they’re two years behind what we had back at our small middle-income midwestern farming towns.

Anyhow, it came to me that although we can’t add to the experience of reading a book as a class and learning way too much about symbolism and foreshadowing and plot and character development and all those other things we spent so long on, maybe we could get DC1 to read some important books that we would probably never have read if they hadn’t been part of the curriculum.

We’re going to start with October and DC1 will be reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which was part of our language arts curriculum in 5th grade, but an important book.  November we’re going to do As You Like It (I’m getting hir the Folger version that comes with explanations on every page) which we read as our first Shakespeare play in 7th grade.  At the very least, DC will have to figure out what’s going on in order to draw illustrations for their class assignments.  I’ll have to decide if we add books that I didn’t personally like but might(?) be important like The Pearl (8th grade) or The Red Badge of Courage (8th grade).

What other recommendations do you have for must-read middle school reading lists that are important but aren’t as fun as what a kid would generally choose on hir own?  Note that it has to be something finishable in a month, so Tree Grows in Brooklyn isn’t going to make the list even though I spent most of my 6th grade “super sustained silent reading” time on it.  What are kids in blue states reading in school these days?

*#notallbackwards But they certainly do want to minimize parent complaints from crazy racist religious zealots as well as parents who aren’t crazy racist religious zealots.  That’s my best guess of why there’s so little humanities learning.  There’s no problem with the math curriculum!

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Cranking through cookbooks again

Long-time readers will know that #1 gets the bulk of her excitement in life from food.  While some people enjoy eating the same (excellent) ~14 meals on rotation, I am too much of a food dilettante.  On top of that, we live in a relatively small town, so even going out can’t bring excitement to my life because we’ve already had everything our town has to offer until places go out of business and get replaced with the new crop of restaurants.  (And our latest and best beloved CSA went out of business a few months ago, so no being forced to try new veggie things.)

Which means that cook-books are a lifeline.  Yes, the internet is great, but the internet takes effort if you want to find something *new* and *different*.  It’s easy to use the internet to say, find the “best chocolate cake recipe” but not so easy to find something that you don’t yet know exists.

Some cookbooks are really amazing.  Here’s a list from 4 years ago of cookbooks we have loved.  I love taking a cookbook that is ~100% winning recipes and just trying them all, even if some of them sound a little weird (example:  egg and onion soup from Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen! turned out to be quick, simple, and delicious, much to our surprise).

Recently I’ve been on kind of a new American/comfort food kick.  (Part of this is because DC1 has started being a pickier eater for no good reason and DC2 has responded by being unable to handle even the smallest bit of spiciness.  American tends to suit both palates so long as we skip cheese and tomatoes.)   I just retired the Better Homes and Gardens 10 years of best recipes book I’d been digging through after realizing we had marked every recipe we’d tried from that book in the number of years we’ve owned it with “ok, nothing special” except for their cake recipes and a single chocolate chip cookie recipe (the other cookie recipes we tried all say, “meh” or “too cakey” or “nothing special”).  Better Homes and Gardens has good cake, but we don’t make cake that often.  Now I’ve dug out the Cooking Light book with the same theme– 10 years of five star recipes.  So far it’s been giving us better luck, especially when I cut down on sugar and switch out the non-fat ingredients with full-fat alternatives.

It’s possible that we need to get more kids’ cookbooks.  The Disney Princess Cookbook has surprisingly good meals, but not very many of them.  Kid Chef has more difficult recipes, but they’ve almost all been winners (we weren’t that crazy about the sesame bar cookies, but there are a number of recipes that were so amazing that they made our “make for other people” list).  We’ve had the kids’ fun and healthy cookbook for years and it’s been a reliable go-to.

Because DC1 is the pickiest eater, zie is now in charge of menu planning and we have been pushing hir to do more cooking (today the kids made monkey bread from the Disney cookbook… it uses an excellent buttery biscuit dough for the balls which are then dipped into butter and cinnamon sugars)… so I hope I’m passing some of this cooking excitement on to the next generation.  Maybe no-knead bread will be more enticing than drugz for them too.  ;)

What cookbooks do you think are worth cranking through?  Where do you find new recipes?  How do you deal with getting out of a cooking rut?  (Or do you prefer repetition?)

In which #1 and #2 discuss Billy the Bookcase

#1: I bought a bookcase and a floor lamp.

#2: Exciting. Well, the bookcase is exciting. Bookcases are full of adventure, similar to boxes.

#1: Billy the bookcase says hello.

#2: Hello, Billy!

#1: Billy is currently downstairs in DH’s car, but we will bring him up in a bit. He’s too much for me to handle on my own. :-)

#2: Ha!

#1: I mean, he’s even taller than DH.

#2: ooh

#1: 79″ bay-bee

[Time passes]

#1: Billy is having a lie-down in the living room until I rearrange my bedroom a bit to fit him in (hah)

#2: Oh my.

#1: bow chicka bow-bow

[More time passes]

#1: last night I made Billy :-)

#2: I’m not sure if that sound vaguely sinister or vaguely dirty. I’m going to go with sinister given your Hogwarts house. Billy is now part of the Slytherin Mafia. Billy is like your accountant now– he does the books.

#1: I screwed him up against the wall.

#2: Oh jeez.

#1: Later I’ll fill him up.

Show us pics of your books, Grumpeteers.  We’ll drool in appreciation!

 

Haunting the Middle-Grade Library Stacks

#2 likes to read Regency romances when stressed.  I like them too, but I can’t read a lot of them in a row.  In the worst of my stress and anxiety, I found myself gravitating to the middle-grade stacks in the local library.  Soothing.  Here are some books:

The Anastasia series by Lois Lowry.  I love these so much!  Anastasia, Absolutely… One of my favorites is Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst (hilarious hijinks).  I have read the whole series at least once or twice.  They do have an order, but it’s not important to me.

The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda.  The beginning of an adventure series with two kids in peril, based on Hindu mythology.

School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough.  A kid learns that not every super-human is a hero, and not all heroes or sidekicks are what they seem.  Happy ending!

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman.  Beautiful and also a happy ending.  What happens when people find out that your brother isn’t… like everyone else?

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier.  Very pretty and moving graphic novel about family, love, ghosts, and culture.  Read it!

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill.  Another graphic novel for younger kids.  Princesses can do all sorts of active things.

I read all of Zilpha Keatley Snyder when I was young.  Turns out, she kept on writing while I grew up, and I found a bunch of her newer stuff (ca. 2008) on the shelves.  Try finding magic and friendship in The Unseen.

Grumpeteers, do you read any children’s books for comfort?  Which ones?

Ask the Grumpies: Where to learn economics?

Leah asks:

I’d love to learn some basic econ. Where’s a good place to start that is not too arduous but is also accurate?

I know there are a lot of Econ for laypeople books out there (Freakanomics being the most famous), but when people ask me this question I always stick to two textbook recommendations.  The first is the Intermediate Microeconomics by Robert Frank called Microeconomics and Behavior.  The second is Public Finance by Jonathan Gruber.

I love Frank because he discusses microeconomics in a way that contrasts how the rational person would behave with how people actually behave.  This I think makes the theory more believable and more powerful.

Public Finance I really think ought to be taught in high school.  If you want to understand the role for government, it is a must read.  So much of what is going on with healthcare right now violates basic economic principles and after reading about adverse selection, you, too, will understand why.

Note for these that you do not at all need to buy the most recent edition.  The 1998 edition of Frank is fine for understanding the basics.  The first edition of Public Finance by Gruber is still a fantastic read.  Get whatever is available and cheap.

What economics tomes/videos do you recommend, Grumpy Nation?

What are we reading?

Most of Ruth Ann Nordin’s stuff is pretty bad– heroes trapping women into marriages by kissing them against their will in public.  Not cool (also not believable–this regency world has different rules than most).  Oddly most of her heroes are otherwise sweet usually virgins.  But taking away a woman’s agency is still awful.  One exception that was readable (this hero accidentally traps both himself and the heroine into marriage) but not buyable was a most unsuitable earl.

Carole Mortimer is really into spanking.  All her heroines seem to be naughty naughty girls.  Many of her books seem to start out with plot, then just kind of forget to have any substance after the spanking.  I am embarrassed to admit that I read 5 of them in one day– more novellas than novels and not very good at that.  Kind of like eating 5 regular somewhat stale Krispy Kreme in one sitting.

I read the highest rated Christi Caldwell, To redeem a rake, so that you don’t have to.  Amazon has been pushing them on me for years and no library seems to carry them.  It was fine.  Meh and derivative with lengthy repetitive parts that dragged.  A library read if you were bored and if libraries carried it, which they don’t.  I’m trying to decide whether or not to delete it from my kindle.  It doesn’t “spark joy” but I’m sure I will have forgotten it entirely by the time I am desperate for reading material on a delayed flight.  Still, wouldn’t rereading Candice Hearn for the 20th time be a better use of my time?

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by KJ Charles definitely sparks joy.  Unputdownable even though it is episodic.  Wonderful.

the marriage gamble is rather sweet.  Marina Oliver’s books that I’ve seen are a bit dated and a little slow, but I do not regret reading them.

I enjoyed Rules for Reforming a Rake by Meara Platt (not to be confused with a similarly titled more excellent book by Sarah MacLean).  If you’re a stickler for historical accuracy, this one is not for you.  Suspension of disbelief FTW!  All the books in the series are pretty enjoyable– not perfect books, but the family of young women and their suitors are fun to get to know.  I think I may buy the set.

Couldn’t finish any of the Ella Quinn I tried.

I did enjoy The Mysterious Marquess by Eileen Ramsay, though not enough to buy.

I liked the latest Lenora Bell, Blame it on the Duke, though not as much as I liked the second in that series, despite the bluestocking/rake pairing which is one of my favorite tropes.  It was a bit thinner than her earlier two works.  I don’t regret buying it and I will no doubt read it again.  Again, Lenora Bell is most fun if you don’t really care about historical accuracy.

What have you all been reading?  Any great summer reads to recommend?  Also:  What am I going to do when I run out of the alphabet in my regency ebook sweep?

Book review: A Gentleman’s Position by KJ Charles

A Gentleman’s Position is getting its own review because it is the best regency romance I have read in a long time.  It is new and different and thought-provoking and very Courtney Milan.  I loved it so much!

It’s actually the third book in a series, but I read it first since Sarah Maclean’s recommendation caught my eye.  It is the best book of the three (unless you prefer the second which is also extremely good and explores sub/dom relationships) and I think the other two books are actually better for having read this one first, so long as you don’t mind spoilers.  (And if you’re reading regency romances… you probably don’t.)

What makes this book special?  Well, it’s about a male/male relationship in Regency London.  It does an amazing job of exploring the very real problems that people in this situation in this time period had, as well as class conflicts and how to pull together a relationship under these constraints.  The conflicts are real conflicts that sensible people in too realistic situations might end up with.  It also plays with standard romance tropes in a new setting that makes them all the more ridiculous in the standard male/female setting given the very real reasons they keep the two heroes apart in this setting.  Oh, and there’s a clever heist (technically a swindle) and I love clever heist books.

The two main characters don’t include a standard female trope in male body (or worse, tired Regency stereotypes that include the word “mincing”), but instead are two standard Regency heroes with slight tweaks to fit the setting.  Richard, the aristocratic hero, is your standard responsible lord of the manor trope (usually seen paired with either a manic pixie girl or with his sensible childhood friend as they keep a manic pixie out of trouble).  Here he’s the spare rather than the heir which allows him to remain unmarried without the duty to procreate.  Cyprian, his valet, is usually seen as the bastard brother of nobility (often working as his brother’s confidential secretary) or the whore’s bastard who now runs a gambling hell.  He is a superior Jeeves style valet in this book, but with far more ambition than to work for someone like Bertie Wooster.

There is explicit sex, much like the kind you’d read in a modern male/female Regency, and I guess it’s pretty vanilla given the biological differences in a male/male pairing?  (The other two books have heroes who are a bit more adventurous, and so are a bit more risque, particularly in the second book, and I’m only on the first chapter of the second book right now.)  (update:  still more risqué)

The minor characters are also interesting, and reading the previous two books in the series is like reading the back stories of old friends.  If there’s any complaint it’s that the book is a sausage-fest with very few female characters (oddly, at least two women are named Euphemia), but that’s forgivable given the circumstances of their segregated society and the illegality of homosexuality during this time period.  [Update:  Having read many of her other books, this is the only series that is a sausage-fest– the Magpie series, the Sins of the City* series, and her stand-alones have a lot more women as minor characters.  Also, all maiden aunts are named Lucie.]

This book is a great exploration of love against constraints.   I normally dislike love stories between an employer and an employee, but so does our hero, Richard, and figuring out how to make things work in that setting is a large part of the story.  How do you get equality in a society that wants to keep you apart?  Both heroes are incredibly likable and reading about their struggles reminds the reader of the very real struggles of GLBT couples today.

Also, the book is a lot of fun.  Especially the second half when everything comes together.

Strongly recommend!

*After writing the first draft of this review I went on a massive KJ Charles binge.  An Unseen Attraction in the Sins of the city series is the only one of her books available right now that isn’t a light-hearted regency.  It fits more in the gritty late 19th century murder/suspense genre than the long-regency romance genre.  The heroes will not end unscathed and some of the pain will be heartache.  Her magpie series also has magic and definitely fits in the 19th/20th century magician genre. (She has more books written than are currently available, but one of the companies that published her books has gone out of business so she’s going to re-release as self-pub ebooks in the near future.  I will read the rest of her Magpie books at that time!)

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