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 49 – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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One of the 32 classic novels in Western literature recommended by Susan Wise Bauer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written by Mark Twain, the father of all good things in American belles lettres. I was surprised Huck Finn was picked over Tom Sawyer, but I guess I am still learning the subtleties of why one novel is considered more important than another.

Huckleberry Finn

Huck Finn is on the run – that’s the main theme of the novel. The quintessential American quest for freedom is exemplified in his running away from his alcoholic, abusive father, from the religious lady who tried to adopt him and make him into a Christian, and from the rest of the people who mean well, but are doing him more harm than good.

Continue reading »

When Jim, a Negro slave, runs away and meets Huck by accident in the woods, the two band together and run into adventure after adventure. It is hard to read Jim’s language. Twain spelled the words phonetically, the way a Negro slave spoke back then. That really slowed down my reading as words did not make any sense. I ran into the same problem with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, of course.

I know some people refuse to read these books because of that language barrier. I confess that was tough even for me, and I love a linguistic challenge.

The value of any book starts when you find yourself in the story. I found myself in Huck in some ways. Even though my father was an honest man and held a job, he did have a drinking problem. I remember being a child and wanting to disappear from the picture of our not-so-happy family. The scenes with his father were hard to read from that point of view.

Maybe that’s why I found it easy to go overseas for college. It was my own quest for freedom, for wanting to put some distance between me and the domestic abuse I witnessed. In that sense, Huck Finn’s story spoke to my heart.


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 33 – The Magician’s Nephew

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The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis have inspired me and the children in many ways. I will attempt to cover several in this blog post but there will be more points coming, as I will write about each volume in a separate post.

The Magician's Nephew

The first volume of this masterpiece is titled The Magician’s Nephew. The language, the long sentences, the descriptions, i.e. the beautiful prose of C.S. Lewis, represent the first reason why any homeschool should put Narnia on their reading list.  Continue reading »

Whether you do it out loud like we do or you let the children read on their own depends on you, your schedule, and their reading skills. I think it makes for a great read out loud title(s) because, for one, I had never read them from cover to cover. So it helps me to get exposure to great English literature. Then, we can talk about it.

“Mommy, wasn’t it funny when … [insert different scenes from the book, which I see as her own way of naturally narrating back to me what she heard] ?” says my six-year-old, whose world is all fun and games. She sees everything as funny and amusing. She inspires me, that’s for sure.

Then my eight-year-old would repeat phrases and words from the book and let them roll off his tongue and I can tell he tries them on for size. He is taking on new vocabulary and longer sentences or at least full sentences, descriptions and turns of phrases, as if they were new outfits he puts on, outfits that define him in a new way.

See, even my sentences on this blog have become longer thanks to reading Narnia. That’s what a book does to you. It changes you, it penetrates your mind, it becomes one with you. All the more reasons to look for the best titles and immerse yourself in them.

The second reason you should drop everything and start on Narnia is the gospel theme woven throughout the books. You may get more of the symbolism than your children, if they are under 10. But you can always point it out to them. I have personally been very inspired in my walk with God by these books, as I see myself in the struggles and joys of the characters and their interaction with Aslan, the symbol of Jesus Christ.

Finally, Narnia should be read because it is fantasy or fairy tale literature. At the time when C.S. Lewis was publishing Narnia, in the 1950s, many people thought fairy tales were wrong for children because it confused them, as children already have a hard time discerning what is real and what is make believe. Uber-conservative Christians today still stand on that platform.

C.S. Lewis explained why that position is nonsensical in many essays and articles. He explained how children’s imaginations were fed and encouraged by fantastic creatures and mythical worlds where seemingly everything is possible. And he kept on writing Narnia – seven volumes of it.

Well, that is quite a debate and I shall not even attempt it. I have made my choices and you have yours to make. To each his own.


Tuesday Tome Week 32 – Romanian History

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The title of my book this week was “O scurtă istorie ilustrată a românilor” written by Nicolae Djuvara, who is almost 100 years old. I picked up this book when I was in Romania in April. To be clear, it is in Romanian.

Romanian History

Just in case you are interested in reading it, this Romanian title has been translated into English and French. The English title is “A Brief Illustrated History of Romanians” and Amazon sells it, of course. Well, I should say that is the literal translation of the Romanian title. I see they chose “A Concise History of Romania” for the official title of the English version, translated and published in Canada.

Djuvara is a historian with many book titles to his name, so I can only assume that this English translation is the same as the Romanian title I read. If you are not confused yet, read on.

Continue reading »

First of all, this was a great read because of the content. I love history and it has been a long time since I read anything about Romanian history. Secondly, the history I was taught growing up was highly censored and biased, as the Communist regime in Romania wanted things presented from their point of view. So I learned a lot from this book, which tells the real story of what actually happened.

Last but not least, the older I get, the more I want to re-visit my roots. I have spoken with other immigrants and they told me they feel the same way. This one gentleman from Jamaica was telling me when he was in his 70s that he felt himself drawn more and more to the culture, cooking, music etc of his home country despite the fact that he had lived in the US since he was a teenager.

On an even more personal note, my dad was a history buff. With his passing last year, I felt even more drawn to reading history as a way to connect with him post-humously. I wonder, “Did dad know about this event?” or “How did he feel about this historical figure?” and so on.

So, you know, I am aging. It is a sign of getting older that I turn to history books about Romania and learning and re-learning some facts. The most interesting part for me was modern history – since 1859 and on. The Masons had a lot to do with our history, just like all over the world. It’s a historical fact.

Then, the royal house of Hohenzollern (from Germany) was brought to the throne of Romania at the end of the 19th century and I did not know much about that. The Communists made sure we did not get too much information about the royals they ousted in 1947. A great read if you like this kind of stuff.


Tuesday Tome Week 31 – Nurtured By Love

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Nurtured by Love was written by Shinichi Suzuki when he was in his 80s. His wife, Waltraud, translated it into English. The subtitle is “The Classic Approach to Talent Education.” If your child is taking music lessons from a Suzuki-certified teacher, you will probably be required to read this book as a Suzuki parent.

Nurtured by Love Review

Suzuki’s idea about learning an instrument has to do with fluency in one’s native language. Just as Japanese children become fluent in Japanese and master complicated dialects by the age of four or five, American children become fluent in English, their native language, and master the accent of the area in which they were raised. It works the same way for an instrument. Continue reading »

Before they speak, babies listen to the language spoken to them for about a year before they start making intelligible sounds. In the same way, Suzuki students listen to a lot of music many times over. That is why Suzuki method books come with CDs.

I know my children have to listen to their songs every night. Their teacher ascribes certain songs to be listened to five or six times every night. Which brings me to the next core value in Talent Education: repetition. Suzuki is known to have said that every piece should be repeated as many times as your age. So a six-year-old should go through their music six times, a 42-year-old should repeat a song 42 times. It’s cruel, I know, but that’s what he said.

He should know. He picked up a violin at the age of 17 and experienced a lot of discouragement because by then his fingers were not accustomed to moving up and down the strings like those of children who had been playing for a few years.

The core value of Talent Education is that we create talent through hard work and exposure to noble people. People are not born with talent. Talent is developed. It takes dedication from the parents and a wonderful teacher to awaken a child to the beauty of music and the desire to produce ever more beautiful sounds.

Suzuki writes: “Parents who understand children make fine teachers.” What a great thought for homeschooling parents! And on page 86 of the second edition, he writes a scathing rebuke to schools who instruct instead of educating. He explains the difference between instruction and education. Schools take children in, inform them of certain facts, and then test them. If the test results are low, they declare that child to be “deficient.” Next!

Education has nothing to do with that process of informing and testing to death to see if the child has retained the information. Education means to bring out, to develop from latent or potential existence. True education develops the human potential.

The book is actually a series of stories from his life about his students and teachers, friends and inspirational acquaintances (like Einstein and Enesco). At first you scratch your head and don’t get what Suzuki is saying, but as you close the book and live your life as a Suzuki parent, you finally see it. There are many lessons to be drawn from this small book (109 pages in my edition) which can definitely be tackled in one week.


Tuesday Tome Week 30 – One Amazing Thing

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One Amazing Thing was the book of the month of August at our book club. Its author, Chitra Divakaruni (say that three times fast!), teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houson. Her 18 novels have received awards and been translated into 29 languages. Two have been made into movies.

One Amazing Thing - Tuesday Tome

I read this book in three days and I could probably have read it in one if I were not a mom with responsibilities. What a great story about the human condition!  Continue reading »

Nine people seeking travel visas to India for different reasons get trapped in an Indian Consulate in the US after an earthquake. When it becomes clear that they will die, because the building keeps shaking due to aftershocks, they decide to share one amazing thing about themselves – a story to connect them to each other in their last hour, something nobody knows about them.

One of the nine people is an African American ex-Marine and he becomes the leader of the group, rationing their food and water, telling them not to open doors (which might endanger the structure above their heads) and administering medicine as needed (some people got hit by debris during the earthquake).

Another one is the consular officer who was hitting on a young employee just before the earthquake started. The other one is the employee herself. The dynamics of their relationship is a reminder that flirting is always dangerous, especially when one is married.

There is also an older couple in the room – a childless couple with serious marital and communication issues. The aftermath of the earthquake helps them get to know each other better – although the pain of “why haven’t you told me this before?” is something they will have to deal with if they get rescued.

Another couple in the room is made up of a grandmother and her granddaughter. They were Chinese living in India who emigrated to the US. The writer captures the essence of different cultures very well.

Uma is a graduate student who gets everybody to start telling their story and Malik is a Muslim teenager on the verge of becoming radicalized, especially in the aftermath of 9/11. A lot of dynamics in this group, as you can imagine. Chitra Divakaruni knows how to tell a story while giving just enough cultural background without insulting our intelligence.

Spoiler alert: the book ends with the hope of rescuers coming by, but we are not told for sure how and if everybody will get rescued.