Learning German with Felix and Franzi

October 19, 2017 @ 6:18 pm | Filed under: Foreign Languages, Fun Learning Stuff

A few weeks ago the kids and I discovered a new-to-us resource for our German studies. The Goethe Institute has a set of comprehensive and quite entertaining lessons for children—fun, thorough, and (amazingly) free.

The elementary-aged program is called German With Felix and Franzi, a cartoon frog and duck who move from Berlin to London. Each lesson begins with a short animated video. Supplementary materials include a Powerpoint with vocabulary-practice activities (we download them, move the words and pictures around as directed, and then close without saving changes), as well as music and lyrics for a couple of songs. The site is loaded with additional resources, and I’ve only just begun to mine the possibilities.

While the animation tends toward the preschool end of the spectrum, the lesson content is just right for my two beginners, ages 8 and 11. We work through several lessons a week, beginning each day’s session with a re-watch of earlier videos in the series, with the speed bumped up to 1.5 to help with comprehension. (Since conversational speakers usually talk a lot faster than the characters in educational videos.)

A real plus: the already rich lesson content is further enhanced by corresponding Memrise lessons for vocabulary review! (I’ve raved about Memrise before…)

So our lessons look something like:

—watch one or two of the videos whose content they’ve already learned;
—watch the next new lesson in the series;
—sing a few of the songs;
—(maybe) play with the Powerpoint activities;
—(maybe) watch a few other German children’s song videos on Youtube—not part of Felix & Franzi, just things we find in search;
—(later in the day) Rilla does a Memrise lesson. (Huck’s not a fan.)

It’s a good format for us and I’m pleased with their progress.

Beanie, with several years of German under her belt already, has been investigating the Goethe Institut resources for more advanced students. She especially enjoys the music playlists.

This was an accidental find last month, right when I needed a nudge, and so far the program gets high marks from me. Which is saying something, because I do believe I’ve tried just about every foreign language program on the homeschooling market, at some point or other!

Happening here and there

October 16, 2017 @ 7:35 am | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry

What’s happening…

on my Instagram: I’ve been sharing glimpses of our daily homeschooling adventures on the feed and in my IG Stories. Been playing a bit with Live Stories, too. Need to decide if I’m going to archive/upload them somewhere, since they disappear after 24 hours.

on my Patreon: in this week’s subscriber-only post, I shared the most important piece of advice I give my writing students.

…in my backyard: the hydrangeas are stunning, and the hedge is beginning to turn red. Summer, meet fall.

…on my nightstand: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, the December Arrow selection.

…on our speakers: The Girl Who Drank the Moon audiobook.

…in my inbox: Naomi Bulger’s “The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written e-course, which starts today. I’m pretty excited. Naomi’s work is lovely and her gentle, thoughtful approach resonates with me. I think you can still join the class, if you’re interested. (Affiliate link.)

…in my sketchbook: mostly rough pencil sketches of flowers, lately. Not as much of anything as I would like. I’m a bit buried under work, now that my radiation vacation is over. (Hahaha I slay myself. It was the exact opposite of a vacation. It was…not my favorite experience ever.)

(That reminds me: I shared these photos on IG but not here. If anything deserves to make the permanent archive, it’s this moment that Scott captured on the day of my final treatment. When you walk out of the radiation room for the last time, the staff is waiting with confetti, cheers, and a ‘diploma.’ I had no idea this was coming, so the celebration caught me by surprise.)


The next couple of weeks were pretty rough (side effects lag behind treatment, so my burn didn’t get ugly until a few days after I was finished), but hitting this milestone wonderful. And now, three weeks later, I’m feeling pretty good. Not quite my old self? But getting there.

Become a Patron!

Tuesday

October 3, 2017 @ 5:12 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry

I’m starting to feel better, for real. For the first time in weeks, I felt up to a nature walk with Huck and Rilla. Sure, we only went around the block, but after weeks of radiation fatigue, that felt like a really big deal. We wanted to see if the giant conifers at the end of our block are Douglas firs. They aren’t! But we found one in a neighbor’s yard one block over. And then another, and another. The cones are quite distinctive, with little upward-pointing bracts between the scales. Our pinecone collection is growing. Big excitement for my SoCal chaparral kids.

In one of the firs, we spotted a Northern flicker directly overhead. We watched him until our necks ached, then hurried home because Rilla needed to paint him before she burst. We know flickers pretty well through my parents, who have a nesting box with webcam in their backyard. Wee ugly baby birds every spring—very cool. So it was extra exciting to encounter one in our new neighborhood.

Northern flicker by Rilla

These days I find I dread opening tabs in the morning. The news has been unremittingly awful for so long. I’ve fallen quiet on most of the platforms I used to be chatty on. Facebook and Twitter have become outlets for activism (which annoys some friends, but I can’t help it; I can’t not try). Only on Instagram do I shut all of that out. I worry, sometimes, about sharing happy and peaceful photos over there, or here, when there are so many horrors unfolding everywhere. But I need it, I need that space for celebrating the good. And since Instagram is a stream platform where the feed, hosted and controlled by another entity, scrolls away and could disappear altogether some day, as platforms do, I’m compelled to bring those memories over here too, where I can keep them safe. Thus the repost of the thoughts above, which I shared on IG yesterday.

I find I’m using IG Stories more often, too, to show quick glimpses of our day-in-progress. I got a sweet note from a reader yesterday who mentioned that she appreciated the window into our homeschooling days. I know how she feels; I love those peeks into other households. IG Stories disappear after 24 hours, and although my online urge is always toward preservation and archiving, I like the transitory nature of those photo and video snippets. It feels like sharing just enough, not too much.

I started this post this morning, and now it’s dinnertime and I’ve forgotten where I was going with it. Ah, well. Back to the salt mines. (Rilla got curious about that phrase yesterday and we spent twenty minutes watching videos about actual salt mines. Because of course we did!)

October Announcements

October 1, 2017 @ 2:50 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry

1.

I first encountered Naomi Bulger’s mail art via her enchanting Instagram account. She has sent hundreds and hundreds of gorgeously illustrated letters around the world, and her delightful “Naomi Loves” newsletter often includes free downloadable templates for dressing up your own snail mail. Like this:

This month Naomi is launching an online snail mail e-course called “The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written.” It will focus on both the ins and outs of letter-writing—how (and why) to slow down and make time for snail mail correspondence, and how to dress up your letters so beautifully that just the sight of them will bring a smile to the recipient. The course includes writing prompts, tips for compelling writing, mail art tutorials and templates, and membership in a private mail-art pen-pal club. Lots more information here.

(Contains affiliate links.)

2.

The hardest part of writing the Brave Writer Arrow for Kelly Barnhill’s gorgeous novel The Girl Who Drank the Moon was narrowing it down to just four quotes. What a rich and wonderful book. (It was this year’s Newbery Medal winner!) I’m so enjoying writing the Arrow guides. It’s a pleasure to choose passages from someone else’s work and dive deep into the writing, exploring language and craft. This week I’ll be working on the November issue, Johnny Tremain.

Other Arrow issues I have written:

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

This year’s Arrow guides include a fantastic new feature: Book Club Party School by Mary Hanna Wilson. Personally, I think Mary is a party genius, and I’m always excited to see what fun celebration ideas she comes up with for the books I’m writing about.

3.

Today begins the two-week public nominations period for the 2017 Cybils Awards. Please visit the Cybils blog to find out how to submit your favorite children’s and YA books of the past year for consideration!

4.

Now that I have finished radiation treatments and am slowly beginning to feel a bit more like my old self (for chunks of the day, at least), I’m looking forward to sharing regular weekly posts and monthly live chats with my Patreon subscribers. I began the Patreon to help pay medical bills and to support this dear old blog. If you’re interested in subscribing for $1 or more per month, click here. (And thanks!)

Become a Patron!

Joan Angela Blewitt Peterson

September 27, 2017 @ 7:53 pm | Filed under: Family


Sept. 5, 1935-Sept. 25, 2017

What I’m reading: Helene Hanff

September 16, 2017 @ 1:22 pm | Filed under: Books

Yes, again.

As I head into the home stretch of radiation (only three treatments to go!!), I’m feeling pretty wiped. I’m like a phone that won’t hold a charge for long anymore. But I know the end is in sight and I’m trying to be good and take it easy. Still working, because I gotta. But the rest of the day is for rest and reading.

Earlier this week I was chatting with Naomi Bulger about our shared love of Helene Hanff. 84 Charing Cross Road is one of my favorite books of all time, and Hanff’s other books are way up there too. Of course the conversation made me want to reread everything, and that’s how I spent yesterday afternoon.

I’ve blogged a lot about why I love Helene Hanff’s books so much. The first one I encountered was her Letter from New York, which I read just before I moved to NYC. I carried it all over the city, seeking out the places Helene described. (Here’s a post all about it: How Radio Helped a Garden Grow.)

She really shaped my understanding and experience of Manhattan, and I was stunned to realize, many years later, that at that very time in the mid-90s, Helene was still living in the 72nd St apartment she moved to during 84 Charing Cross Road—just a block from Scott’s first NYC studio! I could have visited her!

I often wonder what happened to her personal book collection, and to the NY Public Library books she (according to her letters) filled with margin notes. Oh to stumble upon one of those!

“I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to ‘I hate to read new books, and I hollered ‘Comrade!’ to whoever owned it before me.”

84 Charing Cross Road

“It’s against my principles to buy a book I haven’t read, it’s like buying a dress you haven’t tried on.”

84 Charing Cross Road

Q (Quiller-Couch) was all by himself my college education. I went down to the public library one day when I was 17 looking for books on the art of writing, and found five books of lectures which Q had delivered to his students of writing at Cambridge.

“Just what I need!” I congratulated myself. I hurried home with the first volume and started reading and got to page 3 and hit a snag:

Q was lecturing to young men educated at Eton and Harrow. He therefore assumed that his students—including me—had read Paradise Lost as a matter of course and would understand his analysis of the “Invocation to Light” in book 9. So I said, “Wait here,” and went down to the library and got Paradise Lost and took it home and started reading it and got to page 3 when I hit a snag:

Milton assumed I’d read the Christian version of Isaiah and the New Testament and had learned all about Lucifer and the War in Heaven, and since I’d been reared in Judaism I hadn’t. So I said, “Wait here,” and borrowed a Christian Bible and read about Lucifer and so forth, and then went back to Milton and read Paradise Lost, and then finally got back to Q, page 3. On page 4 or 5, I discovered that the point of the sentence at the top of the page was in Latin and the long quotation at the bottom of the page was in Greek. So I advertised in the Saturday Review for somebody to teach me Latin and Greek, and went back to Q meanwhile, and discovered he assumed I not only knew all the plays of Shakespeare, and Boswell’s Johnson, but also the Second Book of Esdras, which is not in the Old Testament and is not in the New Testament, it’s in the Apocrypha, which is a set of books nobody had ever thought to tell me existed.

So what with one thing and another and an average of three “Wait here’s” a week, it took me eleven years to get through Q’s five books of lectures.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

“My problem is that while other people are reading fifty books I’m reading one book fifty times. I only stop when at the bottom of page 20, say, I realize I can recite pages 21 and 22 from memory. Then I put the book away for a few years.”

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

“I tell you, life is extraordinary. A few years ago I couldn’t write anything or sell anything, I’d passed the age where you know all the returns are in, I’d had my chance and done my best and failed. And how was I to know the miracle waiting to happen round the corner in late middle age? 84, Charing Cross Road was no best seller, you understand; it didn’t make me rich or famous. It just got me hundreds of letters and phone calls from people I never knew existed; it got me wonderful reviews; it restored a self-confidence and self-esteem I’d lost somewhere along the way, God knows how many years ago. It brought me to England. It changed my life.”

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

“Somewhere along the way I came upon a mews with a small sign on the entrance gate addressed to the passing world. The sign orders flatly:

COMMIT NO NUISANCE

The more you stare at that, the more territory it covers. From dirtying the streets to housebreaking to invading Viet Nam, that covers all the territory there is.”

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

 

Related posts:

Books That Make Me Want to Write Letters (84 Charing Cross Road)

“Wait here.” (The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street)

How Radio Helped a Garden Grow (Letter from New York)

***

My 2014 booknotes on Underfoot in Show Business:
Am now bereft: it was the last (well, the first for her, but the last for me) of Helene’s memoirs. I wish she’d written five more. The tales in this one: so rich! That first summer she spends at the artist’s colony—sitting down at the desk in her quiet studio and seeing Thornton Wilder’s name written on the plaque listing all the previous occupants of this cabin. He’d stayed there in 1937; she realizes he’d written Our Town in this very spot. For a moment it throws her—I completely understood that wave of comparative despair—until she registers that in the long list of writers under Wilder, there’s no one she ever heard of. This makes her feel better, and then she’s able to work.

And the early story about how she gets to NYC in the first place—winning a fellowship for promising young playwrights. Late 30s, the second year of the award. In the first year, the two winners were given $1500 apiece and sent out to make their way in the world. In Helene’s year, the TheatreGuild decides to bring the three fellowship winners (Helene is the youngest, and the only female) to New York to attend a year-long seminar along with some other hopeful playwrights. The $1500 prize pays her expenses during this year of what sounded very similar to a modern MFA program, minus the university affiliation: classes with big-name producers, directors, and playwrights. Lee Strasberg! An unprecedented opportunity for these twelve young seminar attendees. And the fruit of this careful nurturing? Helene, chronicling the story decades later, rattles off the eventual career paths of the students: there’s a doctor, a short-story writer, a TV critic, a couple of English professors, a handful of screenwriters.

“The Theatre Guild, convinced that fledgling playwrights need training as well as money, exhausted itself training twelve of us—and not one of the twelve ever became a Broadway playwright.

“The two fellowship winners who, the previous year, had been given $1500 and sent wandering off on their own were Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.”

I laughed my head off when I read that.

When they want to know about Venn diagrams…

September 8, 2017 @ 8:57 am | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff

you go to the experts, of course.

He holds him with his glittering eye

September 7, 2017 @ 5:55 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Poetry

HMMM, I just realized my Diigo sidebar feed hasn’t been updating. If you like to check in on my Caught My Eye section, I’ve fixed the problem now. You especially shouldn’t miss Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s gorgeous and devastating poem, “The Sun Got All Over Everything.”

“…which seems like something I’d make up in a poem
except this time I actually did it.
I wrote: Grieve. Because we’re all so busy
aren’t we? And so broke.”

Lately it seems like poetry is the one constant in my day. (Well, and nail-biting.) We slid back into high tide about a week ago—albeit a choppy one, since I have to slip away for an hour in the middle of every morning to lie on a table that looks like something out of the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey—and what fits best into the allotted space are poems. Giddy over the thought of a Real Autumn, I turned to the “almanac” section of Favorite Poems Old and New and am working my way through all the seasonally appropriate verses. And then I’m reading “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” a section at a time—I can’t remember what prompted me to reach for it last week, but I’m glad I did because it’s been a big hit. You know it warms the cockles of this mama’s heart to hear her young children actually pleading for me to keep going, just a little more. I mean, of course they love it, it’s a good old-fashioned ghost story. Huck has joined the ranks of those tormented by the question of why the Old Mariner shot the Albatross. Why?

Side note: I had to chuckle over this stanza:

He holds him with his glittering eye— 
The Wedding-Guest stood still, 
And listens like a three years’ child: 
The Mariner hath his will. 

I know Coleridge had a pretty good handle on childhood—“Frost at Midnight” is in my top five favorite poems—but “listens like a three years’ child”? You mean the Wedding-Guest is wiggling and thumping his heels on the floor and interjecting questions into the tale every four seconds?

I remember reading to this three-year-old. It most certainly did not involve any ‘standing still.’

***

Thank so you much to all of you who have subscribed to my Patreon! I’m two people shy of 50 patrons, which is pretty darned exciting. I’m starting slowly with the special subscriber-only posts (trying to be sensible until radiation fatigue is over), but a new dispatch went out this afternoon. A monthly contribution of $1 or more gets you access to the private patron feed.

You had me at ‘Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens’

September 7, 2017 @ 4:27 pm | Filed under: Chesterton & Dickens

Have you seen the trailer for The Man Who Invented Christmas yet?

Dan Stevens (aka Matthew Crawley) as struggling writer, Charles Dickens. HELLO. Also Miriam Margolyes, Jonathan Pryce, and Christopher Plummer. Best of all, characters who “won’t do what I want.” Oh Charles. I get you.

And for the record, he really IS working when he’s in there playing around with that accordion thingie.

Related, my favorite Dickens story. I mean, my favorite story about Dickens, not by him. “I distinctly want to learn more about those very dull parts.”