Tuesday Tome Week 52 – The Talent Code

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We had to read The Talent Code during the month of October at the Anna Porter Public Library Group Book. The author, Daniel Coyle, traveled all over the world to talent hotbeds: Russia for tennis, upstate New York for violin and other instruments, Brazil for soccer, Costa Rica for baseball.

The Talent Code

The subtitle says, “Greatness is not born. It is grown. Here’s how.” So the whole book details how a small tennis club in Moscow can produce more Top 20 female tennis players than all the American tennis academies combined in the last decade. And how all these other places can produce the best violinists etc in the world. It turns out, they have similarities, the talent hotbeds.  Continue reading »

The coach or teacher is usually somebody older than 60 years old. Somebody who has seen a lot, who does not have small children to tend to at their own home, somebody with a lot of patience, but also somebody who will not let you off the hook if you make mistakes – somebody who does what Coyle calls “master teaching.”

The Russian kids will not even touch a tennis ball for the first six months or so of training. They only work with their rackets, learning the motion of service and others. That’s right. They swing in the air hundreds of times a day, hours upon hours.

The violin players – that’s a different ball game altogether, but you can recognize the principle of deep practice there, too – the second principle of building greatness and cultivating talent, according to Coyle. These are Suzuki players, and in the beginning they don’t even have an instrument. They listen to the songs they will eventually play over and over again, until every sound has been ingrained in every fiber of their being. Then, they start holding a cardboard violin. After six months, maybe they will graduate to an actual violin and a bow.

The other principle is ignition or intrinsic motivation or passion. A lot of children will not persevere through music lessons or tennis practice unless their parents make them. But then comes the moment – and many children can identify that moment – when something came up on the inside, like a light that got turned on. They started liking their instrument, their sport, their hobby. They started more then liking it. They started loving it. And the more they love it, the more they practice, the better they get, and the more they practice, because they see the results of their hard work.

Brain research has shown how talent is just a very thick layer of myelin, wrapped around the neurons. Practice makes perfect, but practice has to be deep practice – perfect practice builds myelin. For instance, if you can recognize the song a violin player is playing, he is playing it too fast. And there are other things which I will not detail here.

It’s a fascinating book and I loved it, but most people at my book club did not, for various reasons. To each his own. This book inspired me to be even more careful with the habits I am allowing the children to develop in their practice whether it be violin, piano, spelling or math.


Tuesday Tome Week 51 – Joy in the Morning

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We had to read Joy in the Morning by P. G. Wodehouse during the month of November at the local group book I attend. I did not enjoy the book, but I read it anyway. I made the most of it, let’s put it this way.

Joy in the Morning

My conscience would prick me if I did not, because when I commit to something, I follow through. Plus I think it is a good challenge to put up with a book until you finish it. It’s like dealing with a relative you don’t like but whom you must see around now and then. It’s good for your character. Continue reading »

In short, the book was too silly for my taste. Sure, I enjoy jokes a lot, but the overall message of the book ranked on a silliness level I do not find appealing.

This is just one of many books, which stand alone, but they feature the same characters: Jeeves and Bernie Wooster. So if you like this one, have at it, there are several more to enjoy in the same vein.

In retrospect, the title of this book came in handy toward the end of the month of November, when my family had to evacuate Gatlinburg due to wildfires. Ironically, a silly book which I dismissed became a source of encouragement and its title a mantra I had to repeat to myself whenever I got discouraged and worried during the process of fixing our home and business.

A few things I did enjoy about the book:

  1. Biblical references – the title itself comes from several verses in the Bible which say something along the line of “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” – a reminder to all of us that temporary crises are just that, temporary, and good times are sure to come; our test will become our testimony.
  2. Wodehouse’s writing style – the sentences were well-written and the self-deprecating humor, British par excellence, gave me a chuckle here and there.
  3. Shakespeare does not teach you anything, but it sounds good – that’s what Wodehouse says and I happen to agree. Glad to hear it from somebody else’s mouth.
  4. Like an Old Testament minor prophet who was having a bilious morning – what a great phrase! Wodehouse got me laughing out loud with this description.
  5. Steeple Bumpleigh is the name of the small village where the action takes place – it sort of reminds me of Downton Abbey.
  6. Lord Worplesdon cracked me up during the twists and turns of the plot, as he got shock after shock. His reaction every time was, “What? What? What? What? What? What? What?” Don’t you feel that way when you homeschool sometimes?
  7. Jeeves, the butler, is an intellectual who knows Latin, Greek, the Bible, Shakespeare and many ways to get out of trouble. Very impressive.

Tuesday Tome Week 50 – Prayer for the Day

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Prayer for the Day is a devotional published by BBC Radio 4 in several formats. I bought the Kindle version and have been enjoying it for almost a month. It has 365 daily devotionals, so you can plan on having this for the whole year.

Prayer for the Day

Of course, nothing stops you from reading several daily devotionals in one sitting. Sometimes I do that with my devotionals – I run ahead. But if I am reading several things for my “daily bread,” then I just read one page a day from this devotional.

Continue reading »

What is different about this devotional is that it offers prayers and food for thought from different denominations and religions. At first, I dismissed this book as an ecumenical, one-world-religion type of effort. But I decided to give it a try and have not been disappointed. If anything, it has taught me a lot about the messages of peace and neighborly love which all major religions of the world espouse.

Apparently, BBC Radio 4 has been airing these daily devotionals and prayers for several decades. You can listen to them every day on their website, but they will be different from the book. The book was written several years ago and, obviously, it contains different material than what the BBC is putting out day in and day out this year.

So you can get it daily in two different formats – the book and the radio program online – and they will have different materials. Some of the stories are really cute, like the story of this cat in St. Andrews – yes, the town where Prince William and Catherine Middleton met at university. Others are sad and others are inspirational to the point of tears.

I like this devotional so far and thought I would mention it here, though for obvious reasons I chose not to read it in one week. What devotionals have you found helpful?


Tuesday Tome Week 48 – I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression

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The second book by Erma Bombeck which I read was I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression. By now I knew Bombeck’s writing was very dated. Moms from the 70s and 80s relished her writing, but I did not.

I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression

First off, her children are disrespectful and annoying. They take furniture and appliances with them when they go to college. They never return the family car with the right amount of gas. After reading James Dobson and Kevin Leman on parenting, coming to a book by Bombeck makes me want to whisper, “you got it all wrong, Mrs. Bombeck!” But, of course, she could not hear me anyway. Continue reading »

With all due respect to a deceased author, I did not enjoy this book. It was funnier than the first one I read, about motherhood as the second oldest profession, but it still did not help me in any way.

So I chuckled because she is funny in the way she presents things, but her chaotic family life makes me want to travel back in time and space and help her put her life in order. Her overbearing mom does not seem so bad after all – she is just trying to help Erma put her life on a schedule.

Her husband – I don’t understand how he allowed her to describe him in such a negative light. Maybe it was because her books were paying the bills more so than his educator’s salary? It was the beginning of the “bash the white man” movement of the 80s. So yes, her books sold well.

Don’t waste you time on this book is what I say.


Tuesday Tome Week 47 – Aunt Erma’s Cope Book

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This was the third and last book I read by Erma Bombeck. It was better than the first two but I don’t know if it’s because she is growing on me or because she actually got better in this book. It’s all a blur by now but I know I don’t want to read any more of her titles.

Aunt Erma's Cope Book

In this book, she mocks self-help books. I guess the self-help movement was taking flight in the 70s and 80s when she wrote and all these people in her life were trying to help her by suggesting this title and that title. Continue reading »

She read each one and mocked each one and pretty much said she did not find any help. She was going to be a disorganized mom and housewife for the rest of her life. However, even she notices that somehow she does not miss a writing deadline. Hmmm….

What are we to make of it?

I can only suppose the majority of women in her generation felt that way and acted that way and received validation from her writings. She would not sell many books today. Or am I living in a bubble?

She mocks her children, her husband, her friends, her mom and the clients from her part-time job. I know it’s called sarcasm and self-deprecating humor, but it just seems a little disrespectful, in my opinion. Do you really want to make a living laughing at the people in your life?

If it pays the mortgage, I guess some people are OK with it. I would not be.

Life is not perfect and our families are not perfect, but this mocking tone towards them reminds me of mindless TV shows during which everybody cuts everybody down. What’s the point?


Tuesday Tome Week 40 – Bringing Up Girls

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Of all the books I have been reading from Focus on the Family, this one brought me to tears several times. Oh, and I promised myself to be tough and just “get the principles!” I knew what Dr. Dobson was trying to do. He was being Oprah – making me cry about raising a little girl. And I was determined not to let him.

But he got me anyway. Once I read the poem about the hope chest song, I lost it. But there is so much more to this book than just sentimental ideas and feel-good little poems to move a tired mom from bitterness to sweetness again.

Bringing Up Girls Cover

Dr. Dobson shares not just research findings on raising daughters, but also simplified brain facts. The brain of a girl is different from the brain of a boy. Sorry, feministas of the world, we are simply different from the guys. Different does not mean inferior or weaker. Different means different.  Continue reading »

We are told the self-image of girls is very fragile. Successful women like Oprah Winfrey and Chris Evert kept pushing themselves to achieve in order to feel like they had some worth. While the whole world was wowed by their feats, Oprah and Chris and others like them went home wondering if they have any self-worth. See any successful women around you? They are probably pushing themselves to succeed because of their low self-esteem (emphasis on probably).

There is also practical advice on how to interact with daughters. One of such advice is how to teach the art of conversation by using a game with a tennis ball: talking together is a game called conversation. It only works if the ball is tossed back. When a person throws a question at you and you hold it by not answering fully or properly, you are not playing the game right.

The book also covers some manners and gives at least two other books we could use to teach children manners. Of course, Dobson insists on making clear that a daughter’s relationship with her daddy will haunt her for the rest of her life. (I know because I married somebody who looks like my dad, though they could not be more different in other ways).

Then, there is the relationship with their mammas: promiscuity happens in girls who are not well-connected to their moms. You probably know one or two girls who made that mistake in their life, as I know some.

Dr. Dobson shares a John Adams quote which is essentially about homeschooling (in a broader sense) and, at the very least, it is about parenting. Here’s brief part of it: “The foundations of national morality must be laid in private families. In vain are schools, academies and universities instituted if loose principles and licentious habits are impressed upon children in their earliest years. The mothers are the earliest and most important instructors of youth.”

More practical advice: are you too exhausted to put your children to bed? You are making a mistake. Children share things at bedtime that they would not otherwise share with their parents. So be there for one last talk and build a stronger relationship with your children by listening.

The female brain is explained in the book, as I said above, and, frankly, I understood myself a little bit better. Expect a full presentation on hormonal changes from birth until adulthood.

“Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, but boys are made out of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails.” I used to see that on my children’s newborn nightgowns. From this book, I found out these were quotes from Robert Southey, What Folks Are Made Of. You learn all sorts of things when you read.

The book ends with a list of resources for further study – lots of books and CDs to listen to with your adolescents or pre-adolescents when the time comes.


Tuesday Tome Week 39 – The Last Battle

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My daughter, who is six, says that The Last Battle is her favorite book in all The Chronicles of Narnia. I don’t think it was my favorite, but it was definitely a great book to read.

The Last Battle

The allegories to the Christian journey continued and culminated with the last scenes where all the characters come back. We had to go back to the first volume to remember if the first king of Narnia, King Frank, was a policeman or a cabby (he was a cabby) because we had forgotten such details.

It was good to recount who was who and who did what and when. The children remembered more than I did, which is a good thing. I have enough things to remember as it is. Information overload is the story of a mother’s life.

One thing we have been doing more and more of is highlight humorous passages. For example, the kids laugh when a character says, “Hallo! What are we stopping for?” or “aii-aii-aouwee!” or “ow! ow! What d’you do that for!” They are beginning to take literature in and react and respond to different scenes and turns of phrases, the silly ones for now, but others later on, too, I am sure. That was my goal all along.

Once literature speaks to them directly, they will reach for books again and again. It’s like anything else. You cannot force them to love music (or Jesus). You put them in the presence of music (or Jesus) over and over and then music (or Jesus) works its (His) magic. Continue reading »

Further in and further up, the two commands toward the end of the book, are such metaphors. In our Christian walk, we are encouraged constantly to come further in (closer to the heart of God) and further up (raising our standards and conduct accordingly).

The whole confusion between Aslan and Tash should clarify once and for all – if anybody has ears to hear – the confusion between true religion and the false religions of the world. In mixing reality with the shadow of reality, C. S. Lewis reaches for Plato again, showing us his scholarship and power of synthesis.

Lord Digory complains, “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what DO they teach them at these schools?” While everybody laughs at his remarks, I am not laughing. Unfortunately, most schools these days have abandoned the classics for newer methods and play learning. I am not just referring to government schools but also to private Christian schools and some homeschools as well.

While Classical methods are on the rise among homeschoolers, many still resist the idea of a thorough, challenging curriculum which includes Greek philosophers. They refuse it in the name of Christ. There’s no arguing with such folks, either, because many of them have decided “pagan” ideas should not be shared with their children.

To each his own, but I have spoken with several mothers whose children walked away from the faith after they took Philosophy 101 in their freshman year in college. A little introduction (at the very least, in high school) to the ancient ideas that laid the foundation of the Western thought and civilization would have inoculated their children against unbelief. Just sayin’.


Tuesday Tome Week 38 – The Silver Chair

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The Silver Chair did not seem very interesting to me at first. It took more than half the book to even understand the title. I felt confused by the whole layout of the land described and the Marsh-Wiggle called Puddleglum. (Uh, what’s a Marsh-Wiggle?)

The Silver Chair

The book begins with Eustace helping a school mate, Jill, while she is being chased by bullies. They both escape to Narnia just in time before the bullies get to Jill. Folks, this is 1950 and C.S. Lewis knew enough about schools in those days to put a bit of them in his books. The bullies today work just the same, if not worse.  Continue reading »

It made me realize there is a whole theme about education through Narnia. Peter complained about the school Edmund started attending. In fact, Peter claims the school Edmund started attending made Edmund a traitor and a liar.

Jill’s bullying in The Silver Chair makes me thankful we are able to homeschool and spare our children the grief. She attends an Experiment House where children can do what they want and teachers believe that if they just talk to the children with the right words, they can elicit the correct behavior. Sounds like the progressive education of the 21st century we see all around us, doesn’t it? Well, it all started 20 years before Narnia was published and so by the time Lewis wrote about it, it was developed enough to be analyzed and mocked by an intellectual of his caliber.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Professor wonders, “What DO they teach them in these schools?” when he realizes the children have no Logic principles. In yet another place, the question is repeated by another character.

The Christian overtones become very clear in The Silver Chair. Puddleglum sacrifices his health by stomping out the fire with his own foot in order to stop the witch’s spell. The children are given directions by Aslan, directions which must be memorized and obeyed (Scripture memorization?).

When they wonder what will happen if they do what Aslan told them to, Puddleglum reminds them that Aslan never told them what would happen. He just wanted their obedience. And as long as you listen to his words and trust they are the best for you, you will have done your duty.

Prince Rilian is tied to a silver chair when he comes back to his right mind, so that he may not escape from the Underworld. Reality and fantasy blend and become very confusing. The children don’t know if they should release him or not, because he is a totally different person when his “fit” comes over him. I could go on and on with examples of how deep this book goes into the Christian journey with its ups and downs, confusing and clear moments.

For those familiar with Plato, you will of course recognize his allegory of the cave. Lewis is a genius in coming up with a story which can show children philosophical principles.


Tuesday Tome Week 35 – The Horse and His Boy

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Volume 3 in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy was a completely unknown book to me. How sad! This book has fed me so much since we read it with the children. We also listened to it in radio theater form from Focus on the Family.

The Horse and His Boy

Shasta is an orphan boy raised by a cruel man, who ends up running away to Narnia on a talking horse. So now you know who the characters in the title are. The books presents several other memorable characters as Shasta meets friends and foes on the way to his new destiny.  Continue reading »

The most memorable quote in this volume for me was something Aslan says to Shasta and, later, to Aravis. Shasta wanted to know why Aslan hurt Aravis. Aslan replies, “I only tell you your story, not hers. Nobody gets told anybody else’s story but their own.”

In another place, Aravis finds out that Aslan clawed her back because she needed to experience what her servant girl had to experience for having helped her flee. Aravis knew that she was just using this servant. She knew they would flog the girl once they realized she had helped Aravis take her flight from a planned marriage.

And Aravis did not care. This servant girl used to work for Aravis’ step-mother and had given Aravis a hard time once or twice before. It was Aravis’ way to take revenge. Well, Aslan showed her. We don’t take revenge. We let the lion do the revenge for us. It’s always better. So he clawed her.

After Aravis understood, she wanted to know what happened to the servant girl afterwards. Aslan replies, “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. Nobody gets told anybody else’s story but their own.”

When you look at somebody’s life and you see something going amiss, you start speculating. But you don’t know. And you should not want to know. Everybody has their own story with Aslan. And even if we think we know why bad things happen to good people or why good things happen to bad people, we actually don’t.

It’s liberating. It’s a relief. I don’t have to figure out why there is conflict in the world or in my friends’ lives. Aslan – a symbol of Christ – is in charge. He knows. He is handling it even as I wonder about it. And I just need to rest in the assurance that their story is in good hands. I don’t need to understand it. I can pray for them, I can help them if they seem to need help or if they ask for help, but that’s about it.

Of course, the book has a wonderful plot and great descriptions and it makes for an exquisite reading choice. The children love it and even if they don’t get all the Christian nuances and allegories, they get exposure to wonderful writing.


Tuesday Tome Week 34 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the second volume of The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and, probably, the best-known and the most read. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy spend their summer in the country because of the war (this was World War II England – a chance to discuss some history with the kids), in the home of an old professor. There, Lucy walks into a wardrobe and, from there, into Narnia, a magical land.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

C. S. Lewis wrote about Narnia and you could just enjoy the story as it is, of course. But the writer meant it all as an allegory of the Christian walk and a human’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Aslan, the lion in the title, represents Jesus. The Witch represents Satan and, at times, our fallen nature. The Wardrobe is the actual “door” used to go between our world and Narnia.  Continue reading »

There are so many double meanings to what the characters say and do. Every time I read this book or listen to its radio theater version, which I highly recommend, I see something new. It’s the mark of a good writer and somebody who understands the Christian walk through his own experience.

The most memorable quote for me from volume 2 is when Mr. Beaver talks to the kids about Aslan, the lion. They have never met him so they are wondering what he is like. Is he safe? Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Who said anything about being safe? But he is good.”

I tear up every time I read or hear that quote because I have experienced this with the lion, Jesus, in my own Christian walk. Aslan will take you places where you will hurt. He will make you meet people who will hurt you. You will feel unsafe in places and relationships where you know He placed you. But it’s all part of His good plan for your life. He knows what you need to get ready for the “big journey” as He calls it.

After I read the book out loud to the kids, one chapter a day, sometimes two, we listened to the Focus on the Family radio theater version of it (as mentioned above). Then and only then, did I allow the kids to watch the BBC production of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I pointed out to the kids how the movie just cannot give you all the details you find in the book and why they should always read the book first.

It’s not that hard to finish the book in 10 days actually. If you read one chapter in the morning, right after breakfast and devotional, as a way to usher in your Language Arts for the day, and then another chapter in the evening, after dinner, you can get it done. It has 17 chapters. You can definitely read it in two weeks if you should slow down a bit here and there.