Wanting to Belong II – “House Rules” by Jodi Picoult

Emma Hunt is a single mother of two teen-aged boys. Jacob, the older of the two, has Asperger’s Syndrome. Fifteen year old Theo does not. Their mother has established “house rules,” which include “Tell the Truth” and “Take care of your brother; he’s the only one you’ve got.” Because of his syndrome, Jacob likes and needs rules and is very, very good at following them. At one point, Jacob asks his mother if she also has to follow the rules, and she says Yes. Being literal, Jacob responds, “But you don’t have a brother.”

Jacob’s tendency to see the world in black and white, and being very literal, is a big part of the story of Emma, Jacob and Theo. The three of them, as well as Rich, a detective, and Oliver, their attorney, share the events of “House Rules,” along with other background material from their lives. Jacob’s involvement with a “social skills” tutor and his obsession with crime scene investigation leads to his arrest for murder. Jacob’s inability to go beyond answering questions only specifically, not being able to perceive what you might really need to know, makes the investigation and trial last a bit longer than they ought. The truth is revealed at the end, and again, all’s well that ends well. I was reading hurriedly through the last few chapters, longing for everyone to know the truth. I did, however, find myself missing the reactions of the judge, prosecutor, detective, parents of the deceased, etc. to the true story. Maybe Ms. Picoult was just tired of writing, and decided to leave that to our imagination. I’m sure there would have still be doubts and questions by everyone involved.

The most interesting part of the novel is Jacob and Emma and Theo dealing with Asperger’s on a daily basis. I actually found myself relating to Jacob from time to time. He also reminded me of the two fellas I live with. I also wonder if the Jacobs of this world aren’t really the “normal” ones and it is the rest of us that have issues. Emma, as the mother, definitely had her struggles, but so many of those were brought on by the reactions of those around them. Jacob made me laugh often at his very reasonable responses to what he was being taught was proper social etiquette. He did frustrate me when he wouldn’t tell them the complete story of what happened when he got to Jess’s house. But they didn’t ask, did they?

After Jacob’s arrest for murder, Emma homeschools both boys. The coolest part for me, being a homeschooling mother, was that the boys both loved it. Jacob says, “I wonder why we never thought of this before: learning without socialization. It’s every Aspie’s dream.” That made me smile and cringe at the same time, knowing that anti-HSing people love to bring up socialization. Theo begins his chapter on their new life with “If a school day is seven hours long, six of those are eaten up by blocks of time that are full of nothing but crap: teachers yelling at kids who misbehave, gossip as you walk to your locker, recap of a math concept you understood the first time it was explained. What being homeschooled has taught me, more than anything, is what a waste of a life high school is.”

Perhaps “House Rules” is really Theo’s story. He’s the one dealing with a brother with Asperger’s, being shut out by normal kids who don’t want to be around him because of his brother. Theo has to deal with the unfairness of all that, and has a love/hate relationship with his brother. In the end, however, you see that both Theo and Jacob have obeyed the rule to take care of their brother. Jacob is proud that he has shown that an “Aspie” can feel empathy and think of someone other than himself. I think I would like to be friends with Theo and Jacob and would definitely be proud to call them my sons.

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Wanting to Belong — Brat Farrar

On the suggestion of a friend who said, “I can eat her books like jelly donuts,” I brought home two Josephine Tey novels from the library and another is on its way from Amazon. I chose Brat Farrar for my first week of 52 books in 52 weeks. I knew mysteries would be a great way to hold my attention and get me back into reading a book from cover to cover; and would also most likely be a quick read. And this story proved to be so. I enjoyed reading it from the very beginning. I was pulled instantly into the lives of these characters.

Brat Farrar grew up in an orphanage where he had been left on the doorstep as an infant. After leaving the home at around age 13, he set off for adventures in England, as well as America. By coincidence — or was it providence? —- upon his return to England, he meets a man that is startled by his resemblance to someone else. Together they plot to deceive a family and their attorneys, as well as their friends and neighbors, by Brat posing as a twin that disappeared, and believed to have committed suicide, eight years before. Brat is at first reluctant to play this part, but when he does agree to it and meets the family, he finds himself very drawn to them all — except for the living twin, who is not very accepting of this returned prodigal.

One of my favorite lines from the book has nothing really to do with the main plot, but I love these little observances that witty authors add to their stories. Brat is visiting church with the family for the first time and the author tells us that “Brat…listened to the Rector’s unemphatic voice providing the inhabitants of Clare with their weekly ration of the abstract.”  The Rector is actually a very good man who helps Brat in the resolution of this very sticky situation that he has gotten himself into; but I did find this observation of church ritual quite aptly put and it made me chuckle.

What really happened eight years ago is revealed at the end, as one might suspect of a mystery. Another mystery is resolved as to why the family is also drawn to this impostor. All’s well that ends well, and after not knowing who he was or where he belongs, Brat Farrar eventually does find home.

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A Resolve for 2012

I have realized through the years, as others would marvel at my knowledge of movies and books, that I mostly had spent time reading about movies and books, rather than actually reading the books or watching the movies. When I began earning money, I purchased several books about movies. I recall a particular one titled “50 Years of the Oscars.” I read every word of that book. I don’t know how one would analyze my psyche — being someone who prefers to read about things more than just experiencing them. I enjoy Prefaces before non-fiction and fiction works. I enjoy the analysis of a work that might be included with a novel. A few days ago I found myself reaching a new low. I was reading someone’s blog entry about their Top 10 Fiction and Non-Fiction picks for 2011. I read the first entry and then the reader comments that followed. On the second blog entry, I chose to go to the reader comments first. I laughed at myself. The blog entries themselves were About books. But now I found myself attracted to read first what people were saying About what the writer had said About the books they had read.

My office has two windows. One looks out onto our front yard and my bird-feeders. Ninety degrees to the right is the other window looking out to some pine trees and a lovely uphill path. I especially admire the second view and find myself swiveling to the right often to look out that window. Once again, though, I realize that I spend more time admiring the view rather than being drawn to be out and be a part of the scene and truly experience it. We have been blessed with 20 acres of our own to roam around, yet I stay in here. I’m sure the mountain lion(s) and rattle and bull snakes have something to do with that.

At the risk of completely boring you, I’m going to share a few other stories of my past life to show how long this quirk of mine has been with me. I was in England many, many moons ago. I made my way up to Cambridge one day and immediately went to the bookstore. Wow! the Cambridge University bookstore. I found myself at a table of large picture books of local scenery. Then I said to myself, “Self, you have spent your whole life looking at books and dreaming of seeing these places. Now you’re in one of those places and here you are looking at books about it! Get out of here and go look at the sights!”

A few years back, my family gave me a mandolin. I bought a few books to get me started and then didn’t really stick to playing. I was traveling with my sister and brother-in-law across state and we stopped in some kind of country store. I headed to whatever books I could find, of course, and found some mandolin book. As I made my purchase, my brother-in-law said to me, “So you think the more books you have, the better you’ll be able to play?” His point was well taken. Stop buying books and just get down to it. If you’re not already using the ones you have, are you thinking one more will work the magic?

I am very attracted to books and the idea of reading and knowing, but I haven’t for a long time really read them. Now that I’m teaching my son, I have read several from cover and cover. And in the spirit of Charlotte Mason, James and I have really lived with these characters. Now to do that on my own.

So my resolve for 2012 and beyond is to really enjoy life and all that it has to offer for me. I need to not just know about things, but really know them from having experience them. I’m even going to challenge myself to enjoy some “meaningless” things — read some books, see some movies simply to enjoy them.

To get out and just go on my own is a bit challenging for me these days. In my single years, perhaps having no choice but to be, I was pretty independent. I used to drive all on my lonesome from my home in NY to visit my family in the south. Now it’s strange to go to the grocery store all by myself. For several years now our little family has owned only one vehicle, and so my independent lifestyle was altered. Staying put, making no plans, has become a habit for me. Now I have my own vehicle, yet I stay inside. As soon as I remember what all there was to do out there, and that I want to do those things, I’ll be back to living life out there.

As part of my 2012 goal to really experience things, I have joined an online challenge to read 52 books in 52 weeks. I will not just know about these books and their authors; I will actually have read them! In getting back into reading for fun, I will be reading a lot of mysteries. I recently asked on Facebook for suggestions and I made a list and brought a stack of books home from the library.

I’m also going to make this the year I learn to knit. Okay, that’s not really an outside activity, but it is a creative one and creativity scares me. It’s really all about being able to relax and enjoy.

I grew up with a notion that life was really all about being good and being safe and secure. This paradigm has prevented me from enjoying life and made me a rather dull person. I’d like to be very different by the end of this year. Why should the bad guys get to have all the fun, anyhow! And I know one little boy that will be happy to have a mother that really enjoys life.

Feel free to send any suggestions my way.

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Meeting the family — Thanksgiving, 2001

Previously I wrote about events of 10 years ago and my growing friendship with Jack. Today I remember Thanksgiving 10 years ago when I first met the Pelhams — a lot of Pelhams! Jack and I drove made in through Atlanta Thanksgiving Eve traffic to arrive somewhere in the wee hours of the morning at his sister Sandy’s house. On the following day I was welcomed to his parents’ house where lots and lots of Pelhams with nametags were waiting to feast together and meet this new girl. Later that day Jack took me on my first tour of the capital and capitol of Florida.

I’m very grateful for the parents, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins that welcomed me into the family. It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years. I wish I had a picture of the clan that met together that day, but for now, here is a very young Jack and Kay enjoying that special Thanksgiving.

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Take a hike, James!

Scenes from a recent hike James took with his Dad.

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A moment with Edna

For the sake of having another blog post for this month,  I’ll post this story that I shared with my Facebook world today. (I’m so lame at this blogging thing. My excuse this time is that in this month we have taken a cross-country trip that required 3 weeks of our lives and we moved to a new and very wonderful home upon our return. Still settling in. Hopefully, I’ll have great shots to share from our “new” camera that the very thoughtful Sandy Pelham passed on to us.)


One of my favorite stories about my Mom (PG-13 warning!)

From time to time in my younger years my mother would come up with some very witty remarks. This is definitely my favorite. I hope I can set the scene well and do the moment justice. First of all, you must understand that my mother (now age 79) was full-time housewifing and mothering (5 children) when it was becoming quite uncool to be so. Most women of her generation were entering the outside-the-home workforce. We were at a shower (baby or wedding, I can’t remember) at the Moline, IL Church of Christ building. At some point in the evening the discussion turned into a lot of stories about their jobs at offices and local factories. Mom kept silent as they all discussed a life that she didn’t share.  As the conversations were reaching a lull, Mom speaks up and says, “Well, I think I have the best job of all.” There must have been several women at the shower who were not members of that church and did not know my mother or what her job was. Several leaned forward and with sincere curiosity inquired about her job. So Mom begins to tell them different aspects of her job (you know the things wives and mothers like to list that they do) and these women were so awed by this amazing and exciting and diverse job that Mom had. She really had them in the palm of her hand. And then she says, “And do you know what the best part of my job is?” They just couldn’t imagine. She responds, “I get to sleep with the Boss every night.” Uh-huh. You should have seen the look on some of their faces. It took a few moments for some of them to get it :)

I hold that story close to my heart and know that I too have the best job in the world — with all its perks and benefits.

The Boss and Mom still in harmony after 60 years

Mom (right) and I (middle) circa the time of the event

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Art and Music and a little Danke Schoen

We are away from home and on a 3 week break from lessons. So from my remote area in the Cayman Islands (joking!) I’ll do a write up about our Art and Music studies.

The artist whose works we’re getting to know this term is Jean Honore Fragonard. Here’s the most recent painting we’ve studied. If I had painted it, it might be called a self-portrait. I’m sorry that I have no videos to show James doing picture narration, but you may look at these from last term to see the kinds of things he looks for in paintings. We began using Artistic Pursuits for art application. We’ve learned that artists compose from their imagination as well as realistically from what they see before them. They compose from photographs and other graphics as well as the real scene or person before them. We have used water color crayons and oil pastels to make our own pictures from our imagination and have done some landscapes and portraits. I’d post a sampling of our artwork, but alas, they are not with me. (Remember, we’re on break and that includes the break of not having to lug the school room across the U.S.)

Our folk music selection this term is a song from Scotland called Aiken Drum. This song was totally new to me (and I have yet to figure out a piano accompaniment that works), so we sing along with this video or good ol’ a capella. I think James’ favorite part is when King Jamie is mentioned. We’ve also spent time with two hymns — “More Love to Thee” and “He Leadeth Me.” I try to find arrangements on YouTube for James to hear, but he mostly likes for us just to sing our hymns. He finds most arrangements very melancholy and sad and doesn’t think the message of the songs match that. James really enjoys singing and his mother (without prejudice, of course) thinks he has a very nice voice and understands pitch very well. We were hoping that he could sing with our city boy choir this fall, but alas, the director moved across country and the group has yet to replace him. Perhaps this spring that opportunity or another will arise. We continue our piano lessons and have entered the world of eighth notes. It’s challenging for James and the challenge seems to have sucked a little of his zeal for practicing. He’s not telling people that piano is his favorite part of school like he used to. But I know once he gets the feel of the rhythm in his head and hands and body, he’ll be back on track.

The wild and wacky and unbelievably talented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is our composer for this term. Along with listening to 4 specific pieces at this point, we enjoy the podcasts at Classics for Kids. James loves those 3 question quizzes after the 6 minute podcast. We read the always entertaining Mike Venezia’s bio of Mozart. We also enjoyed reading the Mozart story from The Magic Tree House series. From what I’ve read and heard over the years (especially while in college studying music) the portrayal of the boy Mozart was quite accurate in this book. Just add a little more sassiness and sarcasm. Mozart was good and he knew it and didn’t hold back from mocking the less good.

In a previous post I reviewed our official Literature readings. We’ve also enjoyed the “free reading” selections of Farmer Boy and King of the Wind. Let me tell you, if you haven’t already moved on from the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees and water creatures to mammal reproduction, it will probably come up while reading King of the Wind. It’s not graphic at all; it’s simply that the main horse in the story is the sire for several generations of great race horses and that is mentioned from time to time in the story. After James asked, “What does it matter who the father is?” I figured it was time for that lesson. It’s quite beautiful how it all makes sense to him based on what he already knows about the aforementioned created things. And yes, a few days later, the question arose as to human reproduction. So glad that he’s learning from his parents, rather than movies and the jokes that the 6th graders told across the lunch table from me when I was a 2nd grader.

Farmer Boy is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s telling of about a year in the life of her husband at around age 10 on a farm in New York. I imagine Almanzo telling these stories as an old man to Laura (and Rose, their daughter, who most likely helped in the writing of the books). James is a lot like Almanzo. He loves that kind of work and is glad to get out of schoolwork in order to help with outside work. One job Almanzo had when the family was spring cleaning was to beat the dust out of the rugs as they hung on a line outside. James thought that was awesome and said he’d love that job. We shall see.

On his own, James has enjoyed reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret and four of the Tintin graphic novels. He’s also reading A Dog’s Life, a gift from his Grammy. I asked him what the dog’s name was when he was first reading the book and he looked at the cover and said, “Ann M. Martin.” Look at the cover yourself and you’ll see that he must be correct and that our Latin and Greek roots studies are going well :)

Last year we switched our foreign language study from French to German and James has done really well. I made this choice mostly because Jack’s German is far better than my French. James seems to have picked up the German better and enjoys the sound and accent of these words more than French. “Merci” never became a habit with him, but “Danke” seems to roll off his tongue at the appropriate time throughout the day. Now I wish I could find a great German CD to match the French CD that we’ve enjoyed for about 5 years now.

Beyond the things on our schedule, there is always learning going on around this house. With a dad who loves gadgets and mechanics and electricity, etc., James is not lacking for excitement in that area. And there is always talks about life and right and wrong and why do people do the things they do. James is a blessed boy to have a very hands-on Dad. And I am very blessed as well.

And that will end my 6 week review. Until next time, au revoir, auf wiedersehn.

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Vasco, Pizarro, Leonardo, Marco, Martin and John

I best get on with this 6 week review now that we’ve finished our 8th week of school. I’ll begin with our journeys through British, American and World History. This is our third year reading Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall.  (Yay, Kara Shallenberg!) At the end of our 2nd year, Henry Tudor had finally put an end to that nasty ol’ War of the Roses. In these 6 weeks we’ve read about the antics of jolly ol’ Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith.” Wonder what the Pope thought about giving Henry that title after Henry skedaddled out from under the Pope’s control so that he could be rid of Katherine and get Anne of a 1000 days? We read about the poor boy King Edward and the very, very sad fate of innocent Lady Jane Grey. Currently in our story Mary is being bloody and Elizabeth is Continue reading

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Math Wars

Before I continue with the beautiful and glowing reports of our History, Geography, Literature readings and Art and Music studies as promised in the last post, I’m going to share the hardest battle we’ve have this school term. (Funny that one might call it the “fall term” and autumn just began today.) Math, math, math. Multiplication facts! Argh!

When James was around 2 or 3 he was recognizing shapes and their names and did great with patterns and sequences. I thought I had a math genius on my hands and that he had inherited Uncle Mike’s gift. We started the 1st level of formal math when he was 5. Math-U-See is the curriculum we use and their Alpha book might be considered 1st grade level.  James did pretty well with this. We enjoy the DVDs and letting Mr. Demme teach us each new lesson and concept. We worked slowly through the book and finished it in a year and a half. This put James at 6 months ahead of his “grade level.” I was cool with that. The walls we hit at that time were Continue reading

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I’m back and a Six Week Report

I thought I would get back in the saddle here by posting a report about our first six weeks of “third grade.” We’ve done lots of reading and learning. Our new thing this year was adding Science, while continuing Nature Study that we’ve been doing since the beginning of time. We chose Physics and are working through the lessons from Noeo Science Physics I. Many in my circle of educational philosophy would say it was too soon for formal Science, but I decided James was ready for it. There is no textbook for this curriculum, but a series of books and bios to read and experiments to do. James loves the experiment part, of course. We have learned about forces, gravity, friction, laws of motion, resistance, light, shadows, colors, the spectrum. I did not know that the primary colors of light were red, yellow and GREEN. Did you? Didn’t know there were any other primaries but the ones they taught us in school. And when it comes to paint, you don’t have yellow, blue, and red. You have yellow, cyan and magenta. Cool, eh?

We have continued to learn cursive using the Getty-Dubay Italics method. And we have begun to do our Copywork (copying beautiful sentences and passages from our readings) in cursive. We are ever so gently working our way through Spelling Wisdom from Simply Charlotte Mason and doing no more than one lesson a week from Simply Grammar. We’re just trying to get a handle on those two parts of a sentence and those 8 or 9 (depending on who you’re talking to) parts of speech. The most excitement I see from James when it comes to our “language arts” studies is with English from the Roots Up. He gets a kick out of remembering the pronunciation and meanings and then remembering English words from those roots and making up his own words. Do you know what “telephobia” is? Don’t bother googling it because they got it wrong. James’ definition is better.

Now that I’ve confessed to my Ambleside friends that I’ve gone beyond and started formal science, grammar, and spelling/dictation before the proper time, let me share what we have read from the suggestions at Ambleside Online. For Literature we are reading four William Blake poems a week and memorizing “Spring.”  Blake has not been our favorite poet. We are thoroughly enjoying The Princess and the Goblin. As with most stories of this type, James likes to figure out what is going to happen next. My favorite line so far is from Chapter 15 where the great-great-great…grandmother (who is “older than you are able to think”) tells Princess Irene, “it is so silly of people to fancy that old age means crookedness and witheredness and feebleness and sticks and spectacles and rheumatism and forgetfulness! It is so silly! Old age has nothing whatever to do with all that. The right old age means strength and beauty and mirth and courage and clear eyes and strong painless limbs.” Isn’t that great? That’s the kind of old lady I want to be. Strength…mirth…courage…clear eyes. James says his favorite character from the book is Curdie. “Do you know any boy as brave as that? And he wants to work extra hours to buy his mom a red petticoat! What boy would do that?” (I didn’t even remember the red petticoat deal until James mentioned it. It must have made an impression on him — a boy working longer just to buy something for his mom.)

We have also read the stories of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill from American Tall Tales. I probably don’t need to tell you that those tales are quite entertaining to an 8 year old boy and not too hard for him to do his narration of them. We have followed the life and times of Perseus in The Heroes and we’re anxious to find out if the prophecy given to Perseus’ grandfather comes to pass. We continue to read Parables from Nature which we began two years ago. In this 6 week period we learned that you ought to purr when you’re pleased and that one should not just look only at the bad on earth, but see the good too. James tells me that he doesn’t want to just see the good because he doesn’t want to forget the bad because he wants to change the bad. We have continued on the journey with Christian and now his friend Faithful in Pilgrim’s Progress. We made it halfway through last year and will hopefully see Christian into the Celestial City by next spring. James likes the way that characters and places are called by exactly what they are. He gets very excited every week when it’s Pilg Prog day and is disappointed when the reading is over because they are so short. We are reading from the original version and James has had no problem following the old language. We read “The Merchant of Venice” from Tales from Shakespeare. This is the 13th play of Shakespeare that we have read about since beginning two years ago. We love reading these stories and by now, of course, many of the plots are becoming predictable. Women disguised as men, shipwrecks and bodies washed up on shore, and romantic entanglements and twists and mistaken identities. Our method of keeping all the people and plottings untwisted is to draw stick figures and maps and draw arrows to who goes to who and where. We’ve also enjoyed watching BBC’s Animated Shakespeare of any of the plays that we have read.

I’ll finish there for this post. I’ll continue in the next with our History and Geography readings, as well as our art and music studies. It’s been a good year so far and I for one am looking forward to all that I have to learn in Third Grade.

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