Due to a serendipitous connection through a completely unrelated project last winter, we got a personal tour this evening of a fantastic nearby organic farm! Despite the superfluous and relentless mosquitoes, we enjoyed meeting one of the residents, and learning more about the land, and about the process of organic farming.
Some time ago, I blogged about textual lineage. One of the things I most enjoy about our family summers on PEI is the time my boys and I spend developing their textual lineage together.
Two examples stand out this summer: A book (or rather, a trilogy) and a movie.
As I was reading the synopsis on the back ("The Breadwinner is set in Afghanistan, where 11-year-old Parvana lives with her family in a bombed-out apartment building in Kabul. When her father is arrested for the crime of having a foreign education, the family...") another mother noticed the book in my hand and exclaimed, "oh, that's a really, really good one! My daughter liked it so much, in fact, we're here picking up the third book in the series today!"
This was accompanied by a vigorous head nod and confirmational smile from said daughter, who looked to be about Simon's age.
I looked quizzically at Simon, who had accompanied me on my quest to pick up suitable summer reading material, and he said, "sure, sounds good, let's get it". So, we purchased the book, and packed it away for our annual tradition of reading together while on PEI.
Interestingly, when I first pulled the book out upon arriving on the island last month, I was met with groans and complaints of "Awww, do we have to? It looks so boring!" It didn't take long, however, before they were hooked: As I often do, I asked my boys to give it a fair chance, which we agreed means stick to it for three chapters before deciding whether to abandon the book.
We needn't have negotiated beyond two: From the get-go, the kids were hooked, and whenever we read (we're currently four chapters from the end of the third book), Alex and Simon beg for "just one more chapter, PLEASE, Mom!"
I must confess, it's hard for me to say no to that request, regardless of how late it is. The Breadwinner really holds ones interest as it graphically and yet age-appropriately introduces the young reader to a world well beyond what most Western children will have ever experienced or imagined. Ellis' work has exposed my Simon and Alex to new ideas, and is helping them to make connections to prior experiences.
Needless to say, we'll be making a trip to Chapters again soon, this time to hunt down the fourth book in the series, My Name is Parvana. And now it will be my kids doing the sales pitch if we see someone else considering the series!
The second piece of textual lineage this summer involves Mozart.
The boys had seen my Director's Cut of Amadeus in our DVD bin in previous summers, and had inquired about it, but due to the mature themes and sometimes frightening scenes and music, I had told them that they needed to be a little older before we watched that one together.
(I remember having watched the film myself when it first came out, and being quite impressed with Constanze's rather ample bosom in one of the early scenes in the movie. And when it really gets into the requiem later on in the film, I had my share of nightmares. Also, as the parental advisory on IMDb notes, "Mozart is very crass and given to scatological humor". But then again, so am I, so it would be nothing new for the boys!!)
Inspired by Tom Chapin's Mozart Duet, which we listened to in the car on the way to and from Ch'town numerous times this summer, the boys once again asked if we could watch Amadeus. This time, I relented, and -- over the course of two evenings -- we took in this masterpiece, pausing often to clarify what was happening, and to talk about historical inaccuracies in this award-winning but often fictionally liberal film.
As was I so many years ago, the boys were very impressed with Mozart's music, and with the lavish sumptuousness of the European court scene. They had many questions, and I answered them all, even reading aloud two online commentaries about the movie after it was over, one of which was quite scathing. ("Come on, Mom, keep reading!" from Simon, when I attempted to skip over some parts in the interest of getting everyone to bed sooner.)
Textual lineage: The texts (music, words, etc.) that form our schema and influence who we become. I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to share two such rich "texts" with my children this summer, and I look forward to next summer's intellectual adventures, as well as all the ones in between! (Intellectual adventures, not summers.)
Today, one week after the deadly fire that claimed one human life, and robbed others of their homes and possessions, the smell of smoke still hangs thick in the air at the epicenter of the fire and the surrounding block.
Where last week, an architecturally historic, 12-unit wooden building stood in downtown Charlottetown, now only a pile of smoky, charred rubble remains. Here and there, evidence of the lives of those who just last week called this place home pokes out of the rubble: here an old TV set, partially melted, there a few LPs, some of their album covers still discernible through the soot. Miraculously, a whole book survived the ravenous fire unscathed (other than the impenetrable smell of smoke); Strome Galloway's "Bravely into Battle" sits perched ominously atop a pile of charred structural remains.
On a hunch, we had hauled two garbage bags full of clothes, bedding, toys and books with us to church; indeed they were collecting baskets of clothing, etc. for the fire victims.
The church we attend here in town is also planning a fundraiser: if you're free next Sat night, call the Trinity United office at 902-892-4114 for your free ticket to their roast beef dinner August 22 at 5:30 p.m. Donations will be collected at the door, and there will be a live cake action and bake sale table. All proceeds will go to the victims of the Prince Street fire.
Inspired by the greens, reds and blues from above, we decided to head to the beach in the afternoon, snapping a few photos from the ground along the way...
Gosh, PEI must be the prettiest place on the planet!
This summer, I wanted to make sure that the kids didn't completely lose their German skills, and perhaps even continue to develop them. My plan was to have them work 15-20 minutes a day on a German app on their iPads.
After searching the iTunes store, I finally settled on two apps: German in a Month by Elky Entertainmnet LLC and 24/7 German Tutor.
One thing I was concerned about was providing the boys with a rich and varied, progressive German learning experience, as opposed to the simple vocabulary-only focus that seems to pervade so many of the language apps available out there. Both of these apps delivered!
German in a Month
This app promises to teach the beginner a comprehensive basic German in one month. Since Simon and Alex would be under my supervision for three consecutive weeks, it seemed like the perfect app to check out this summer!
German in a Month offers a game-like, multi-modal approach (the leaner can choose either picture identification or writing/spelling). Right away, the kids were engaged and wanted to play.
The app led them through a series of lessons such as "im Kino" or "prepositions"; each lesson includes a series of "pages". Each page contains 6 items to learn, which are accompanied by a visual image to help aid retention. The depth of lessons is good, beyond the usual cursory "colours", "numbers" and other more basic vocabulary. I also liked how the app offered bite-sized snippets and integrated review. The kids enjoyed it without being overwhelmed.
My main complaint with the app centers around its visuals: As a teacher, I am all too aware of the subliminal messages we can send without ever saying a word -- as Simon noted, "I like this app, mom, but it's kind of sexist". If by sexist he meant "heteronormative" and "racially monotonous", I'd have to agree with him: All the images showing family structure, weddings, etc. assume a male-female only relationship. And the people are mainly Caucasian.
I know sourcing high quality, affordable images can be a daunting task for app developers, but the messages we choose to impart through visual learning are critical, and as a queer woman and a mother interested in equity and social justice, I'm constantly on the look out for materials that are representative, racially and in terms of sex/gender, age and ability level.
Given the many other plusses of this excellent language learning app, I would love to see a revised version with a broader range of visual examples.
Both boys agreed this is a fun app; they liked the interactive component, and were more likely to stick with the program for the full 20 minutes without reminders!
24/7 German Tutor
This is actually a suite of apps: Basic vocabulary, Advanced Vocab, and Phrases.
Each app includes a series of lessons which can be completed in any order. Each lesson begins with a written study list (no pictures here). Once the learner feels confident with the list, she can choose a multiple choice quiz, a puzzle or a fill-in-the-blank exercise to test her knowledge.
In all three apps, the menu includes a progress overview so that the learner can see how much and which sections/lessons have been completed, as indicated by three green bars (one for the MC, one for the puzzle and one for the fill-in-he-blank).
Since the boys have already had a few years of Saturday morning German school, they were okay to use the app with little assistance from me, and seemed able to understand many of the words, despite not having any visual cues.
Although I think including visuals would enhance this app, I did like the pronunciation (I wanted Alex and Simon to hear German often), and in particular, the "Phrases" app appealed to me: From first phrases to feelings, interjections and expressions, this app included full sentences as opposed to just single words.
One thing I really like about these two apps is that that don't require a wifi connection. This was critical for us, as we were not connected to the internet for most of our vacation. Between the two of them, German in a Month and 24/7 Tutor provided a wealth of auditory and visual learning opportunities, all accessible offline.
Overall, I liked using the combination of the two apps; German in a Month and 24/7 Language Tutor provided considerably more than a month's worth of material, and we'll definitely continue to use them after the summer is over.
If you're looking to move your German beyond the basics, I highly recommend these two apps.
Well, it appears I have become my mother! Yes, folks, it's true: I am now using essay-writing as a regular threat of punishment... and I always follow through!!
Over the past two years, the boys have written essays on the importance of pedestrian safety as it relates to crossing major roads at the lights rather than in the middle of the block, why honesty is a critical component of one's reputation, and -- most recently -- one of my boys had to write a paragraph about appropriate dinner table conversation after he continued to talk about farting and make rude farting noises despite several warnings.
His sample below is perhaps not the most exemplary writing ever to grace the screen of an 11-year-old's computer, however, it should be noted that there have been no farting noises at the table since the writing of said paragraph. :)
Yes, yes, I know... if I were a GOOD parent/teacher, I'd make him correct the grammatical and spelling errors. One thing at a time, lol!
Dear Ricky; Thanks for your visit to the Island -- it was fun to be your hosts! Here's a little online photo album so that you can better remember your adventures on PEI this summer... remember to click the images to enlarge them. xxoo, Vera, Alex & Simon :)
Mousehunt in Ch'town
Lighthouses and Sunsets
Even a visit to and personal tour of the local police station...
And let's not forget the excellent movie we saw in the rain (hehe. haha!), the stunning view from "little mouse", our hearty trek to the cliffs in Cavendish and all the woolly friends we saw. Between the sights and the endless seafood lunches and dinners, well, you must be very full! (Who knew one could pack so much into a single week???!!!)
I know the old saying, "Company: Love to see them come, love to see them go!" But truth be told, Ricky, we were more than a little sad to see your plane take off tonight.
Hope you've landed safely by the time I publish this, and enjoy this little photo essay of your week on PEI!
"SOMEbuddy likes peanut butter", came the email from Tats and Sneakers this afternoon, accompanied by this cute and incriminating photo...
"You might know her. Name is DORG.
She'd say hi if she weren't so busy licking. This Kong thing is brilliant. Just a teaspoon of peanut butter is holding her attention longer than anything I've seen, apart from another DORG, of course. She's been going at it for twenty minutes, causing no problems at all! :))) "
As my partner wrote in a previous email after heading back to Ontario with Sneakers last week, the news these days pretty much revolves around the dog, hehe.
Those wishing to help the victims of the 12 unit building fire today in Charlottetown (nearby homes and businesses were also evacuated; people basically lost everything: books, clothing, all personal effects, and many are now homeless!) may do so through the Red Cross in Charlottetown, which is providing temporary shelter as well as some basic necessities for the victims.
Something interesting I also found out tonight is that the vast majority of firefighters in Charlottetown are volunteers!
A massive fire is about the last thing you'd expect on a sleepy Sunday afternoon in Charlottetown, PEI. But a massive fire is exactly what we got!
We parked the car on Prince Street near the corner of Sydney, and went to church.
As I put my seat back to lie down, I looked over at the fellow sitting on the stoop in front of the apartment dwelling next to the car. He was eating his lunch, a wrap of sorts, and I lazily wondered what kind. When I glanced back at him again, he was on his feet, and thick, black smoke was billowing out of two of the building's windows!
A smoke alarm went off somewhere in the building, but this looked (and was beginning to smell) a little bigger than a burning frying pan.
In the few seconds it took me to decide to move the car so that I wouldn't get charged by the rental company for smoking inside the rental car or something ridiculous, it was clear that the building was burning... and fast! I pulled over at the next block and called 911. While the fellow at the other end tried to clarify which CITY the "Prince Street" I was calling about was in (consider that I was calling from a 416 area code on my cell phone!), I noticed that several people were beginning to run towards the building to see what help they could offer, and a number of others had their phones out as well, to call for help.
"Fire department is on their way!", I yelled out the window, and then drove off to park the car out of reach out of the ever-growing, vicious, orange flames.
Turns out moving the car way from a burning building was a wise move: By the time I walked back to the scene about 6 minutes later, the Fire Dept was audibly on their way, and a large crowd of onlookers had gathered to stare in awe and horror at the evolving drama: The fire had spread quickly, and smoke was pouring out through the roof all the way to the end of the street corner. I could feel the burning in my throat and in my eyes.
Two fire trucks had arrived on the scene, including one with a ladder, and local bystanders were helping to get things moving: "Stay with Mom", shouted one man to his youngster, and ran into the street to help haul the heavy, HEAVY hose out of the truck and onto the street so that it could be more easily accessed by the fire fighters, who seemed to be multiplying on the scene, and were in turns standing in small groups to discuss strategy and entering in the building in twos and threes to begin what would surely be a courageous and difficult fight.
The police, meanwhile, had managed to put up a yellow safety tape barrier to keep the growing throngs of people safely back. A woman came running into the street, lifted the yellow barrier tape, and continued to run towards the heart of the scene outside the burning building.
What is she doing??! wondered the crowd.
Within seconds, she was into her boots and suited up to join the fight: She was a firefighter.
A young onlooker turned to her friends... "I wonder if there were any pets in the building".
I shuddered from the relative safety of my spot in the midst of the crowd. My own pet is safe at home in a non-burning building in Toronto. I was fairly certain that no people had been left in the burning building when it began to blaze. But I was also certain that everyone who lived there was now homeless.
As I trudged a few blocks over to Beanz cafe on Great George st, I marveled at the thick gray clouds that blanketed the little city I so love to visit each summer. Inside the cafe, everyone was talking about the fire. I sat down at a table nearby and began downloading photos, sharing them with a fellow and his wife at the next table.
Soon, my children and our houseguest arrived: The land part of their Harbour Hippo tour had been cut short, the money refunded. Traffic in the whole downtown core had been affected by the massive blaze; certainly no giant tour bus was going to be able to do business as usual in the already congested streets.
Excited as I was to be reunited with my kids, I was still somewhat traumatized by the speed with which the preceded scene at the corner of Prince and Sydney had unfolded before me. One moment I had been parked in front of the red building I so often parked in front of Sunday mornings in town, and the next minute, the same building had gone up in flames!
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera turned her written attention to prolific blogging for some years, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and SMARTbansho . Homeschooling 4 was her travel blog in Argentina. She now spends more time on her Instagram (@schalgzeug_usw) than her blog (pictures are worth a thousand words?!)
The views expressed on this blog are the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of her family members or the position of her employer on the the issues she blogs about. These posts are intended to share resources, document family life, and encourage critical thought on a variety of subjects. They are not intended to cause harm to any individual or member of any group. By reading this blog and viewing this site, you agree to not hold Vera liable for any harm done by views expressed in this blog.