Porter alerted me to this interesting, though highly biased, view of what's necessary for successful learning at home. It's from a Geopolitical Futures report by Antonia Colibasanu.

According to an April 2020 report by the European Commission, more than a fifth of children lack at least two of the basic resources for studying at home: their own room, reading opportunities, internet access and parental involvement (for children under 10 years old).

We can ignore the absurdity of needing internet access to learn from home, because the context of the quote is traditional classroom schooling provided from outside to children at home, rather than education per se.

What struck both of us, however, is the first "basic resource": that the child should have his own room. Granted, a quiet place to work is a great thing, but I see no reason why that implies the need for single bedrooms. And, as my friend and sometime guest poster points out, school classrooms are hardly solitary spaces. Mind you, I'm not in favor of open-plan offices, but I find it amusing that one's own room is considered necessary for learning but currently out of favor in our trendier workplaces.

Public education from home is relatively new, but of course homeschoolers have been doing it for centuries (well pre-internet, I might add), and often in the context of large families in which shared bedrooms are common. What is required is not separate bedrooms, but discipline and respect for others. I'll admit it also helps to have the ability to concentrate in the presence of distractions, especially if you live (as our grandchildren do) in a family where someone is nearly always singing or playing a musical instrument. Our own children discovered that climbing a tree was a good way to get some undistracted reading time.

Further, this insistence on single bedrooms—with its implication of small family size—ignores the tremendous educational advantage of having multiple siblings. My nephew learned math far beyond his grade level because he wanted to keep up with his brother. Our younger grandchildren see no reason why they shouldn't be learning and doing what their older siblings are, and the older ones are usually happy to help them along.

Public education is a very confining box to learn to think outside of, even when the devil drives.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 29, 2021 at 6:14 am | Edit
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I've posted quite a bit already about and by David Freiheit and his YouTube channel Viva Frei. But he certainly deserves a part in this series, so here it is, along with some new (to here) videos.

David Freiheit is a Canadian lawyer in Montreal, who, worked several years with a big law firm, then started his own commercial litigation practice. During this time his YouTube presence grew, and in 2018 he gave up his practice and took his YouTube channel fulltime. He calls his vlog (video blog) a VLAWG, because his video commentary on current issues from a legal standpoint is what really took off for him. I love seeing American politics from a Canadian point of view, and learning more about life in Canada, especially in Quebec. Occasionally one gets a chance to practice French, but the vlog is in English and Freiheit is good at providing translations.

His style is a little on the crazy side, but he makes legal issues and legal documents interesting, which qualifies him as a miracle worker as far as I'm concerned.

Although Freiheit pulls no punches he is also generally happy, positive, and willing to see more than one side of a situation. He retains his lawyer's caution and willingness to go beyond the surface of a story. Sadly, the pandemic—or more precisely, governmental reaction to the pandemic—is taking its toll on his optimism, but as with much these days, we live in hope that "this too shall pass."

Note: This is a caveat appropriate for all YouTube videos, but especially ones that touch on politics: you may want to avoid the comments. Freiheit is a reasonable and generally even-handed commentator, but not all his followers are so polite. 

Another note: You may notice that he uses his own euphemisms for certain words. I don't mean for profanities—he's quite good at keeping his vlog clean without that—but for otherwise normal words that tend to upset the YouTube algorithm and lead to the demonetization or even taking down of videos. Words like "coronavirus," "COVID," and "fraud," for example, have at one time or another been YouTube no-no's. Sometimes he'll also just leave a legal paper or a tweet or letter up on the screen for the audience to read, since apparently YouTube is more likely to object to the spoken word than an image of words. The things you have to do for freedom of speech these days!

There are several different kinds of videos on Viva Frei, and he films in a few different locations. Many of his vlogs are recorded in his car, a concession to the pandemic reality that there's no quiet place in the house. Some are nonetheless done from his basement, and right now he is being quarantined in a family cabin because someone in one of his children's classrooms tested positive for COVID. He also vlogs while ice fishing, which I find both interesting and distracting—I tend to worry because even a New Hampshire native would consider the conditions very cold, and he often has bare hands!

My introduction to Freiheit's work was his legal analysis of current issues; even after all this time, I'm still tickled that he can make legal language and legal proceedings interesting. The following video about a lawsuit against Facebook is a good example of that kind, including a short explanation of class-action lawsuit, and it's less than 10 minutes from start to finish.

Here's another, also from his car, showing not so much legal matters as applying a logical legal mind to reveal the facts behind the news story—or in this case, the tweet. (Just over 10 minutes.)

Then there's his "Viva on the Street" series, in which he vlogs while walking along the streets of Montreal with one or both of his dogs, because walking a dog is one of the very few ways in which it is legal for a Québecois to be out after the "temporary, one-month" curfew was imposed back in mid-January. (Spoiler alert: the curfew is still in place.) Since one of his dogs has paralyzed hind legs, and the other is a puppy going blind, he actually spends more time carrying them than letting them walk, but so far the officials haven't fined him—as they've done to those who have been walking their cats, and the one intrepid woman who had her husband on a leash. Dogs only, please.

But I digress. Here's one of the "Viva on the Street" episodes about the curfew (11 minutes).

He also does live streams with American lawyer Robert Barnes, which are fascinating, but who has time to watch for two hours? I wait for the excerpts that he publishes afterwards. I'd post a sample here, but I'd rather not include more than three videos in an introduction. If you get interested in the channel, you'll find the live streams.

And there's more. All in all, it's a fascinating channel, with more videos than I can keep up with—or even want to. If you'd occasionally like to get out of your American news bubble, or your mainstream media bubble, or to know more of the stories behind the headlines, this is a good place to be.

For less in the way of politics and more on everyday life in Quebec, Freiheit has another channel, Viva Family.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 26, 2021 at 9:58 am | Edit
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altGreenglass House by Kate Milford (Clarion Books, 2014)

This book appeared in the curriculum for one or more of our grandchildren. I'm not sure what level—probably upper elementary—but when you homeschool, school grade levels are meaningless, and everyone in the family enjoyed it, from kindergarten through high school, as well as the adults.

I can see why.

Even after hearing their enthusiasm, I made the mistake of being swayed by what I read on Amazon. Based on that, I thought this was going to be a "school story," and I find adolescent school stories almost as intolerable as romances. But on their repeated recommendation, I borrowed the book from the library and did, indeed, enjoy it very much. It has certain attractions for a genealogist, and more attractions for a mystery-lover, and I am both. The school part appears only at the very beginning and is cheerfully ignored thereafter.

My only disappointment is a bit of a deus ex machina at the end. I'm not going to spoil the story here, but let's just say I could have done without the supernatural elements. Not that I'm totally against them—I do enjoy E. Nesbit's books, for example—but in this case it felt rather like cheating.

The story, however, is a good one, and I especially enjoyed the author's descriptions, and use of words. Plus, I love stained glass windows. Here's a sample:

He padded through to the far end of the living room and past the biggest of the house’s stained-glass windows, a huge floor-to-ceiling panel in copper, wine, chestnut, verdigris, and navy. He continued down a very short hall to a blue door at the end of it. A big, round brass bell tied to his doorknob with a wide plaid ribbon gave a welcoming jingle as Milo turned the knob to enter and another as he closed the door behind him. He reached for a switch and the lights came on: a brass anchor lantern that hung beside the door that had once belonged to the ship his grandfather had served on, and a string of onion-shaped red silk lanterns embroidered with Chinese characters and hung with gold tassels that crossed the room diagonally from opposite corners of the ceiling.

They had me at "copper, wine, chestnut, verdigris, and navy."

I'm told there are interesting sequels, but unlike the first book there is swearing in them that makes reading aloud more of a challenge. I can't imagine why an author would think this is appropriate in a book designed (according to Amazon) for 10-12 year olds. I miss the old days when publishers reined in their authors' bad language, forcing them to write, "She swore like a sailor," letting the reader's imagination fill in the blanks, instead of making the language explicit.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at 6:05 am | Edit
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It looks as if my Pfizer vaccine worked.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 20, 2021 at 6:38 am | Edit
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Next up in this series of interesting YouTube channel subscriptions: Everything Music, by Rick Beato. I was going to say that I can't remember what introduced me to to Rick Beato's channel, but a look back at one of my own posts gave me the answer: Google apparently decided I would be interested in it, popping up a suggested video on my phone. For once they were right.

My gateway to Beato's channel was the musical abilities of his young son, Dylan. There are several Dylan videos, but this one is a good 13-minute compilation:


It turns out that the Dylan videos are but a small part of Everything Music. Beato covers so much; I'll let him give the intro (13 minutes).

Music theory, film music, modal scales, tales from his own interesting musical history, and a whole lot of modern music about which I know little and like less.

Remember what I said about Excellence and Enthusiasm?

I'm a child of the 60's, chronologically, but unlike most of my generation, I've never liked rock music, nor any of its relatives and derivatives. Granted, growing up when I did there was no getting away from it, and there were a few specific songs I did enjoy. At one point, I was even a minor fan of Jefferson Airplane, and attended one of their wild, live concerts. That point in my life, while embarrassing, reminds me of this line from C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters: "I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Who knows what trouble I might have gotten into in my college years had I not had a stronger taste for what is loosely called classical music?

What, specifically, don't I like about the rock genre(s)?

  • The music is almost invariably played at ear-splitting volume, literally ear-damaging.
  • Most of the music comes with lyrics, and with a few exceptions, I find that they range from boring to abominable.
  • The heavy emphasis on pounding rhythms drives me crazy; I never have liked playing with a metronome.
  • The timbre of the electric guitar, nearly ubiquitous in rock music, is one of a very few that I generally find unpleasant (saxophone is another).

Enter Rick Beato. If his son's abilities are astounding, Rick's aren't all that far behind, and his experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm keep me interested in his analysis even though most of his examples are from music I can't stand. It helps a lot that he uses short excerpts, in which neither lyrics nor pounding beats have a chance to do much harm. Plus, I control the volume.

I especially enjoy Rick's videos on modal music, as that has always interested my ear. It does seem really odd to hear him talk about modes without any reference to church music, in which modal music was once really big. But I had no idea how important modes are in rock music and film scoring, and learning through Rick's videos has been a delight. Hiding underneath all that raucous sound and those objectionable lyrics is a lot of complex and very interesting music. It's not going to make me a rock music fan, but it gives me more appreciation for the skill of the musicians behind it—if not for their sometimes questionable moral compasses. (I know, classical composers were not necessarily saints, either. There's a reason I generally prefer instrumental music.) It has also heightened my awareness of the music that undergirds our movies and television shows, and why it is often so powerful.

Here's an interesting Gustav Holtz/John Williams comparison from one of his movie music videos (16 minutes):

That's enough for an introduction; I'm sure I'll be posting more Everything Music videos in the future.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 6:15 am | Edit
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I've mentioned before situations in which fear has led to unreasonable responses to the COVID-19 threat. Whether by governments or by private citizens, that's a bad thing. However, this is still funny.

For those who are wondering, HEMA stands for Historical European Martial Arts.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 15, 2021 at 3:44 am | Edit
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I'm starting a new series of posts featuring YouTube channels I've found interesting and which I think others might enjoy, too. Some were recommended by friends; some I just happened upon in the almost-random way one does online.

Today? Chateau Love.

The writers (producers? hosts?) are friends of ours, so I would have subscribed in any case. But this is also an example of what I wrote about yesterday, of how excellence and enthusiasm draw me into an appreciation of subjects that I might otherwise give a miss.

Our friends Vivienne and Simon have recently started their own vlog (video blog), featuring life at and around their château in France. Without meaning in any way to diminish Simon's many contributions, I'll focus on Vivienne in this introduction because she's clearly the hostess and narrator of the vlog, and because we've known her longer and better.

Vivienne is an artist. I mean a "real" artist, whose paintings have been exhibited in Paris. Now that sounds really impressive, and it is, but you do have to bear in mind that for a number of years Paris was her home. She's an American, married to a Brit—but they've called France home for a long time. When I say she is an artist, however, I mean much more than her paintings. Vivienne puts beauty and elegance into everything she touches, whether it's a small, temporary apartment, a huge French château, a simple meal, a feast for the neighborhood, or a birthday Easter basket for an enchanted guest. Our tastes differ in many respects: not only am I incapable of the amazing feats of home decor Vivienne achieves, but also I wouldn't want that for our house. It's not my style. That does not stop me from standing in awe of the beauty that looks as if it could be in a museum. What she does with food, now—that's welcome in our house any day.

Watching the Chateau Love videos, you might assume that Vivienne and Simon must be wealthy. I assure you they are ordinary human beings with ordinary human struggles and no trust funds! Vivienne is incredibly talented at finding bargains as well as making something both useful and beautiful out of items the rest of us would casually toss in the trash. (See the "Louis XVI coathooks" in Episode 2.)

Vlogging is a new project for them, a bit of pandemic-and-lockdown-stress relief. I'm also excited to watch the growth of Chateau Love as they gain experience and new equipment. May this be a very long-running show!

Below are the first three episodes. So far they have each been just under 30 minutes long, and published on a once-a-week schedule.  As a bonus, you can hear music by Vivienne's talented singer sister, Ashley Locheed. And you can occasionally catch glimpses of Janet & Stephan's flower girl—much grown up.

Episode 1: Romance, DIY, A Dodgy Haircut & Who We Are!

Episode 2: Dramatic Bedroom-Bathroom Reveal, DIY Chateau Bed, Cheesy Meltdown, & Winter Wonderland!!

For some reason the second video is not playing here on my blog, though the first and third are. You can see it on YouTube itself by clicking on the title link. I'll leave the embedded video up while I try to find out what's going on. 

Episode 3: Wine Tasting, Vineyards, Plants, Cheese & Pony Pedicures!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 12, 2021 at 6:32 pm | Edit
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Do you see a man skilful in his work? he will stand before kings - Proverbs 22:29 (RSV)

Excellence is almost always a joy to behold. A well-crafted piece of furniture, a musical performance of great artistry, a fabulous meal, a well-run business, an amazing athletic feat—I think we are hard-wired to find great skill attractive. Something done well is not necessarily something worth doing, and it is all too easy to value the wrong things simply because they are excellently done. But the excellence itself is good.

I'm sure we could all be better at whatever we do, if we would only put enough time and focused effort into it. If we don't find that possible, or desirable, however, there's another attractive factor that can fill in some of the gaps: Enthusiasm. Often something merely "good enough," if approached with passion, can be delightful. Not always: Florence Foster Jenkins comes to mind, but even she had famous admirers and once sold out Carnegie Hall.

Passion for a subject often encourages hard work, long hours, and perseverance, which in turn can take native talent to greatness. When excellence and enthusiasm meet, the result is attractive indeed.

This is why I sometimes find myself really enjoying YouTube videos covering subjects in which I have previously had little to no interest. You'll see some of them in an upcoming series of posts featuring channels to which I've recently subscribed. The usual caveats apply: I like to make available to others books, articles, and videos I have found to be of some value, even if I don't agree with everything presented. Your mileage may vary. Take what is helpful to you; leave the rest.

I may not agree with, or even understand, all that I see and hear, but I love the skill and passion with which it is presented.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 11, 2021 at 7:01 am | Edit
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Last week the air conditioning came on; today we are back to heating. That's Florida Spring for you. One day you sleep with the ceiling fans awhirl; the next you are very glad you haven't gotten around to putting away the extra blankets.

Snce I love the cooler weather, I'm not sorry for its return. Of course, that's "cooler" as in mid-40's lows, and mid-70's highs, which qualifies as a warm spring day where I spent my childhood.  :)

Anything lower than that might discourage the blossoming citrus trees, whose heavenly odor is one of my favorite signs of Florida Spring.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7:05 am | Edit
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altMistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (Tor 2006)

At last I ventured into Mistborn territory, at the urging of my brother and my grandson, and because I've read and enjoyed a couple of other Sanderson books. I was reluctant to get involved with a series of very long books (this one is 541 pages), but there's a difference between a 500-page nonfiction book—even a really enjoyable one—and good fiction of similar length. This book did not take long to read, and the only reason I haven't moved on to The Well of Ascension, the second book in the series, is that our library doesn't have it. I've submitted a request....

I can't say I love Brandon Sanderson's writing as much as our grandson does, at least not yet. It's impossible to judge a book like this on first reading, especially when it's part of a series, but I didn't feel the deep connection to the good, the true, and the beautiful I've felt in my favorite books, such as J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, C. S. Lewis's Narnia stories, and S. D. Smith's Green Ember books. Even in my favorite authors that connection is not the same in all their works: it's there, for example, in Lewis's Space Trilogy, but not nearly as strongly. That's okay; authors aren't required to be completely consistent, and they are allowed to grow and develop. :)

What I can say for certain about this first Mistborn book is this: it's clever, it's wildly complex, and it's enjoyable to read. It's more explicitly dark in places than I would prefer, and quite violent, but the foundation of the story still feels good, not evil. And there's no doubt that Sanderson is a clever, skilled, and thoughtful writer.

We'll see what the next book brings.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 5, 2021 at 9:17 am | Edit
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I've just discovered another reason I'm keeping my masks when all this brouhaha is over.

Two nights ago I woke up in the middle of the night with post-nasal drip and a persistent cough. I was too tired to recognize the symptoms at the time, but the morning's "snowfall" made the cause clear: it's oak pollen season again. The last thing I had done before going to bed had been to take some mild exercise on the back porch, in the cool of the night. It usually helps me sleep—but not when it sends oak pollen deep into my lungs.

Last night I had an inspiration, and did my bedtime exercises while wearing my mask. Porter can't wear a mask while exercising because it immediately gets drenched with sweat. But did I mention that these are mild exercises? Not a problem. A little weird, but okay. And of great benefit: I slept very well. (I would have said, "like a baby," but in my experience babies wake up every two hours or so at night and want to eat. Who made up that simile, anyway?)

Two data points aren't enough for correlation, let alone causation. But they are enough for hope.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 2, 2021 at 8:32 am | Edit
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What current generations think of as ancient history is as alive as yesterday to those of us who lived through it.

A long time ago (1970's) in a galaxy far, far, away (the state of New York), a new mother innocently asked if it was normal to experience orgasm while breastfeeding. (It's not common, but it happens. Just as orgasm during childbirth sometimes happens. Not to anyone I know, though.)

These were days when natural childbirth was just beginning to gain popularity, and breastfeeding was still considered to be a bit weird, especially by doctors. The woman was reported to the authorities (some version of Child Protective Services) who decided she must be a sexual deviant. They forceably separated her from her baby. My memory of it is a bit hazy, but I believe it was after La Leche League got involved that the situation was resolved in the mother's favor—but by then she and her nursing infant had been separated for several days. The justification given by the authorities for their behavior, not to say their ignorance, was that it is better to falsely traumatize 100 innocent families than to let one potential evildoer slip through their hands. Sadly, this family was far from the only one similarly torn apart in those days. Maybe it's still going on; I don't know. I'm not as close to those issues as I was back then.

These memories came back in strength as I listened to this Viva Frei report. Freiheit isn't any happier than I am that COVID-19 is pre-empting so much of his law vlog, but needs must when the devil drives. Who indeed but the devil can be driving Canada to force apart law-abiding, healthy Canadian families—including very young children?

The Regional Municipality of Peel is near Toronto, Ontario. There the recommendations for what to do if someone in your child's class or daycare tests positive for COVID-19 include the following:

The child must self isolate, which means:

  • Stay in a separate bedroom
  • Eat in a separate room apart from others
  • Use a separate bathroom, if possible
  • If the child must leave their room, they should wear a mask and stay 2 metres apart from others

Remember that this includes elementary school children, and even those in day care. Very young children are to be isolated from their families—from their mothers!—for two weeks. Two weeks is a very long time in child-years.

And this is for children with no symptoms at all. What about those who are sick, whether or not with COVID-19? Is a child with an upset stomach to be left in his own vomit? What are these people thinking?

What child, even a healthy one, can endure 14 days of isolation without mental and emotional scars? In prisons, solitary confinement is a serious punishment. Freiheit makes the legitimate point that people who have been arrested on suspicion of having committed a crime have more protections than those who are suspected of possibly harboring the COVID-19 virus.

Another question comes to mind: Do all Canadians have big houses and small families? Or does the government plan to take away the children of people who don't happen to have a bedroom to spare for isolation? Apparently the fear that such official interference will take their children is driving some parents to comply with these horrendous rules. That and the $5,000 fine for non-compliance. If parents did these acts on their own they would be accused of child abuse.

I apologize if some of you think I'm being too alarmist, and maybe listening to too many YouTube videos. And yet I don't apologize—someone has to broadcast what's happening. Someone has to tell the victims' stories. Freiheit himself thought at first this had to be false news, but couldn't avoid the conclusion that it is all too real.

There is a little good news: apparently there has been enough outrage over these regulations that some politicians are now distancing themselves from them. It's an ongoing story. But one thing is for sure: If people don't speak up, the road from bad to worse is a swift one.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 1, 2021 at 9:40 am | Edit
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