Read in February

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, amazing book.  I cried a lot. I have not seen the movie.  This is the true story of WW2 era track athlete, elite member of a bomb crew (by elite, I mean one of those most likely to die) and American POW in a Japanese internment camp, Louis Zamperini.  He experienced brutal treatment at the hands of one of the most notoriously sadistic Japanese prison camp guards, and the post-war PTSD and revenge fantasies nearly destroyed him, until he attended a Billy Graham rally .  It’s not just his story, though.  Through his experiences, Hillenbrand, a gifted writer, also teaches about some little known details of WW2 and America’s fighter pilots and their crews, the brutal glorification of sadism and eugenics beliefs in WW2 era Japan.

I read it on Kindle, and just in case you do too, or wish to consider it for your high school students, I thought I’d share a couple book-keeping style details. It is a long read, but via the Kindle, 75% is the actual story.  A significant chunk of the end is footnotes, index, and acknowledgements.  I would definitely read the epilogue and the Reader’s Guide, which includes an interview with Laura Hillenbrand and some letters the adult children and other relatives of survivors of Japanese POW camps wrote to her, and well worth your time.

I am hoping to have my teenaged son read it.  For those wondering, Hillenbrand never goes for salacious details, but she doesn’t avoid hard facts, either.  I think she does an admirable job, but if you have a highly sensitive student who will be traumatized by references to pin-up girls, brutal beatings probably prompted by sexual sadism and cruelty for the sake of cruelty, you may prefer the young readers version. There is a little more detail on some beatings, not really on the sexual sadism except the acknowledgement that for some of the worst, they derived a sensuous pleasure from torture (she does not delve more graphically into the how and why, that’s essentially what she says). I think the most horrific episode is where a small animal is violated by a Japanese guard in front of the whole POW camp and the animals subsequently dies of its injuries.  “…dropped his pants and violated…” is the phrase Hillenbrand uses, and the abuse is not further detailed than that.

There is an adaptation she wrote for young people which I also read this month.  It has a lot more photographs and direct quotes from Zamparini, and also an interview with him.  She said in an interview that she also added a bit more historical explanation of things she took for granted adult readers would know.  She has softened some details while still acknowledging some of the brutality of life in Japanese POW camps.  The brutal and bestial killing of the small animal is not in this version.

John Buchan: Power-House, only 9 chapters, a very quick read.  According to his into he either wrote this one, or published this older tale of his,  for men in the trenches in WW1, because he’d been told they particularly enjoyed his stories. He wanted to write something short and exciting so they could finish quickly and yet have some escapist reading that might, if only for a short time, take them mentally away from the strain.  I supposed he did that. I did enjoy it as escapist reading, but there were a couple of amazingly and inexplicably idiotic decisions on the part of the protagonist that kept ejecting me from my enjoyment.  For example, being in sole possession of vitally important information and knowing his apartment is surrounded by baddies who wish to stop his mouth, he sends to confederates out to attempt to deliver this information to the police.  He has a phone in the apartment at his disposal, but he does not use it to telephone his friend the police officer and share this info with him.  He makes other phone calls, though. Hours later it occurs to him to try to use the phone to pass on that information, only by then, the wire was cut. IT’s almost like somebody else previewed the story for Buchan and said, “I say, old chap, why doesn’t he use the phone to convey his vital information?” and Buchan quickly threw in the belated wire cutting as the simplest way to address it. So annoying.

Strawberry Acres- this is vintage Christian fiction around the same time as Grace Livingston Hill’s, maybe ever so slightly earlier.  It’s less heavy handed in the religious department, and not nearly as fun in the home-making details, but it was a charming read, none-the-less.  19 year old Sally and her 3 brothers (two older, one younger) and their bachelor uncle are trying to make a go of it in a small apartment after coming down in the world rather substantially because of the untimely death of their parents some three years prior to the opening of the novel. The two older boys quit college and are working as low income white collar jobs in the city.  Sally keeps house for them all, and the younger brother is still in high school but also has an after school job to help the family make ends meet.  At the start of the book, they’ve inherited a overly large, rambling old house in the country in somewhat awful shape.  What they do with the property and their various characters and how they develop (as well as some of their friends) is the theme of the rest of the book. Nothing earth shattering, but a pleasant and charming way to spend a couple hours when you want an elbow chair for the brain.

Indebted: A Suspense Novel ; I downloaded this for free earlier this month, but it’s 2.99 now. It is billed as Christian suspense. Here is what I didn’t like, followed by what I did:
The end was incredibly abrupt and left a major element’s projectory from point A to point D completely unexplained. Also, it had the only grammatical error in the story that I noticed, but it was kind of a big one. Now, you don’t really *need* to have it explained to appreciate the story, but I want to know. I’d be happy if there is a sequel about this part of the story.
There are also two rather large coincidences not explained well enough to my satisfaction.
A couple of the ‘Christian’ speeches seem stilted to me, and the easy acceptance of his fate by somebody horrifically wronged, with long ranging consequences to his innocent children, was a bit too easy to me, and too lightly glossed over.

What I liked: The characters, the plot, the story, the writing.

Some of the criticisms of the story in Amazon reviews were a bit weird. Somebody objects to a character in a Christian book referring to Karma, but the character in question is not a believer at the time the reference to Karma is made- it’s maybe the first chapter.

God, Robot- by Anthony Marchetta, John C. Wright, Vox Day, MJ Marzo, Steve Rzasa, Joshua M. Young, L. Jagi Lamplighter, EJ Shumak
It’s an interesting premise, one that has been done before- a single novel, with each author continuing the story in his or her own chapter. I mainly find these interesting for the exercise, not for the story itself, and this was no exception. I’m a little frustrated because I think I actually paid 4.99 for this one.
The premise of the story itself was interesting- theobots which initially are primed with Asimov’s three laws, but then two more are added – the greatest two commandments. What happens after that?
The first few chapters were the best. I just felt that by the end the story had really unraveled and was too disconnected from its beginning.

Where this kind of book is  really useful for is getting some insight into which of the authors you’d like to read more of, and which you’ll probably pass on next time.  I found several I’ll read more of, and one or two that aren’t really my style so if that’s what you’re looking for, one book instead of eight, to give you a taste of 8 current sci-fi and fantasy writers so you can narrow down your future selections, than it’s worth the five dollars.

I forget the title, but I read a Suicide Squad short story from the pulp fiction, thirties or forties era. Thee Suicide Squad are a group of G-men known to taken any assignment, but they break the rules (and other people heads and appendages) quite frequently, often with a sardonic grin or other machismo demonstration. Not really my cuppa.

Short Story by E. Nesbit in the horror genre.  Typical of the time, and I hope she was able to buy something she needed with the profits.

Partners, by Grace Livingston Hill, you get what you expect to get from this one.  It’s the first GLH I ever read.   In this one, the poor orphaned girl making do with milk and crackers in the upstairs back room of a not very friendly and congenial boarding house in between jobs helps the energetic orphaned reporter save the life of an abandoned baby with predictable results.  One of the things I love about this one all over again when I read it is that it is refreshingly free, and even, for the times, dismissive of the eugenics usual for the era (and quite openly promulgated in Gene Stratton Porter’s books).  Nothing is known of the parentage of the baby- his dead mother is found starved to death, and she wore a wedding band and there are reasons to believe she was a widow, but at the time, that would not have been enough to justify taking in a stranger baby. In the story, several characters bring up this point of view- how could you do this? You don’t know his background.  What if he grows up to be a bad man? And their answer is basically ‘we know he is a baby who needs to be loved and we will teach him and we are praying that if he’s going to grow up to be a bad man, God takes Him home now, but we’d rather help him grow up to be a good man.’  When I first read this back in 1980, I had no idea how prevalent Eugenics was at the time, so this didn’t really stand out to me as refreshing, it was more  of a series of repeated, ‘Duh, every body knows this’ speed bumps in the story. Having a more informed historical context this time through, the story is a bit more labored, but the ‘save the baby, who cares about his background’ message was a delight.  God bless GLH.

I had a room-mate in college who loved these and owned several.  She could not believe I had never even heard of them, (my lovely mother did not care for Christian fiction, finding it theologically muddleheaded, wrong, and she objected to the generally sappy and not very polished writing).  My mother is pretty much right about all of it, but GLH hits my sweet spot in certain ways that I just can’t ignore- as I have mentioned before, the slice of life in the time, like reading historical fiction, except it’s written at the time. I love the little pieces, like the girl fleeing from a man who wants to kidnap her, but who has to stop and make herself a natty little hat by folding a handkerchief on the train so she won’t stand out to bystanders- from this you see train travel, that girls had to wear a hat in public, and something of styles of the time (her handkerchief hat is folded much like a captain’s hat, and perched on the side of her head.  That’s not this story, it’s from another one but it’s an example of the kind of thing I mean.  I also love the little details of housekeeping and cooking spread throughout the books.

Partners actually doesn’t have as much of that as many others. But there was this:

“Then she made a game of getting an interesting supper out of the odds and ends she had in her little tin box out the window, which she called her refrigerator. A stalk of celery, too tough to enjoy raw, nearly a cup of stewed tomatoes left over from yesterday, a lump of baked beans, the last of a can she had opened a week ago, a scrap of hamburg.
She put them all in her little tin saucepan, and watched over them carefully, till there came out a very tasty dish of soup- was it bean or beef? At any rate, it had a delicious flavor.
There was also a lettuce leaf, two leaves of spinach, one radish, and a half a tiny onion, besides the little white leaf top of the celery stalk. Minced fine they made a very attractive salad with the last cracker from the box and a tiny wedge of cheese. It was a good dinner and she really enjoyed it. And then as she nibbled at a single chocolate peppermint left over from some that had been passed around in the office that day, and now serving as desert, she got to thinking that she really ought to go out somewhere and get a brighter outlook on life.”

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Why We’re Here

I have shared a lot about the fun, cool things we see and do, the things we learn, and how much we love living in the Philippines.  I have shared a few tidbits, surface information, about the work we do, the work my husband primarily does, at the school.  The reason for that is that these are real people and if I share enough to show you a picture of just how needed my husband’s work here is, the children who are getting a necessary hand to help them overcome some challenges, the children who can now come to this school because a system is in place to meet their needs, the parents and teachers who have been clutching at straws and struggling to know what to do for and with these precious, and sometimes frustrating, children- well, then, I have shared too much.

But, oh, my heart.  There is one child, one family, that particularly squeeze my heart.  I wish I could tell you all the reasons why.  There is a child who is much like one of that child’s parents, distracted, intense, at times incredibly unfocused, easily distracted, constantly in trouble not because of ill will in the child, but because this sweet, always distracted youngster is just is a star-shaped peg living in a very square shaped world. Incidentally, all those struggles the parent has precisely what has helped that parent create a truly unique ministry here.

The parents love this child with all their heart and they are doing their best.  The teachers are overwhelmed, not so much, or at least, not only, by the child, but by the fact that they cannot focus on just one child, they have other students and a curriculum and a schedule and multiple cultures to flex and mesh together.  The child is from two cultures, the child’s classmates are largely from another culture that doesn’t mesh well with this star shaped child and doesn’t accept or understand differences deeply, and, well, they are also children. The child is lonely.

My husband works with this one, and nearly a dozen others, one on one.  He also shows up in the classroom or during recess and lunch or merienda time,   to help the child be aware, to help the little one integrate,  stay out of trouble, remember to keep walking to the picnic tables at lunch time instead of falling woefully behind because of the interesting bugs, flowers, ideas that are so deliciously distracting.   The child’s parents come to the school often, to help, to watch with hungry, aching eyes.  And day after day, my husband says, one or the other mouths to my husband, across the playground, across the gym, across the classroom, ‘Thank-you!’  It is only those two words, but it is an intense, deep from the heart expression of gratitude.

I have had the child and a sibling in one or the other classes I substitute for. Before I knew that the child was one of my husband’s particular cases, I was in love.    Delightful.

In case you are asking, “Why don’t they homeschool?”  Well, that’s one of the things I cannot tell you.  What I can tell you is they are going through a massive, live-changing crisis outside of anybody’s control, something they neither asked for or caused, and they cannot make it go away.  They cannot homeschool.  It is incredible that they find the emotional stamina to continue to love and support each other and their children and make things seem normal and show up at the school to help out and be involved.  Amazing, in fact, that they get out of bed every day and put one foot in front of the other.

My husband came home a few weeks ago and said, “I need to tell you something.  They said I could tell the other teachers, and since you have had their kids in classes when you substitute I am going to consider you one of the teachers they meant. ”  He told me.

I went in my room and shut the door and cried.

Last week  after a bout of subbing I was on my way to find a cab to do some grocery shopping, and I passed one of these children, a cheerful, adorable, gap-toothed charmer, playing on the corner sidewalk of a small family restaurant where one of the parents was visiting friends and eating.  I waved at the little one, and received a wave back, as well as a flood of conversation.

I was enthusiastically told about the work one of the parents does, and how the children help with that work, and how much they enjoy it, and then I heard about where they live and I was invited to hurry up and come visit them (the parents have also invited us, and we intend to go, we just haven’t had time).  On and on went the artless, enthusiastic, friendly, charming, chatter.  It was music to my ears, but bruises to my heart, because of what I know, and what the child does not.

My cab came, and I took my leave, “Are you going to my house now?” the charmer asked, pleading for that visit.   The children are so proud of the work their parents have been involved in, and the proofs of it around their domicile.   “Not now,” I said.  “But soon.  I will come visit when you are all at home and my husband can come with me.”

“And the Cherub,” the wretched charmer said, never realizing how deep into my heart this went.   “She goes everywhere with you and she can come to my house too!” Only because of that delightful gap-toothed grin,  it was more like “sthee goeth everywhere with you and sthee can come to my houth, too!”

I agreed, and hurried to the waiting cab, waving enthusiastically back as the cab left.  I wanted to scoop up this little one and race to the mall and buy all the chocolate and ice-cream that could be managed.  But I limited myself to waving.   As soon as we were out of sight, I let my hand fall, held the Cherub’s hand with one hand, and surreptitiously wiped away my tears with the other hand, thinking of what I know, and what they are dealing with and how they can be managing.

“Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you,” the parents tell my husband every day.  The dad sometimes emails, “I don’t know what we’d be doing without you here this year,” and we are so deeply humbled and so grateful to be part of this precious family’s support in this small, temporary way.

Please pray for all of them.  The crisis is immense.   The child would also like a friend, and a good friend is going to be very important.

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Isaac Watts on Learning Languages




The first thing required in reading an author, or in hearing lectures of a tutor, is, that you well understand the language in which they write or speak. Living languages, or such as are the native tongue of any nation in the present age, are more easily learned and taught by a few rules and much familiar converse, joined to the reading some proper authors.

The dead languages are such as cease to be spoken in any nation; and even these are more easy to be taught (as far as may be) in that method wherein living languages are best learned, i. e. partly by rule, and partly by rote or custom. And it may not be improper in this place to mention a very few directions for that purpose.

I. Begin with the most necessary and most general observations and rules which belong to that language, compiled in the form of a grammar; and these are but few in most languages. The regular declensions and variations of nouns and verbs should be early and thoroughly learned by heart, together with twenty or thirty of the plainest and most necessary rules of syntax.


But let it be observed that, in almost all languages, some of the very commonest nouns and verbs have many irregularities in them; such are the common auxiliary verbs — to be, and to have — to do, and to be done, &c. The comparatives and superlatives of the words — good, bad, great, small, much, little, &c.; and these should be learned among the first rules and variations, because they continually occur. But as to other words, which are less frequent, let but few of the anomalies or irregularities of the tongue be taught among the general rules to young beginners. These will come in afterwards to be learned by advanced scholars in a way of notes on the rules, as in the Latin Grammar, called the Oxford Grammar, or in Ruddiman’s notes on his Rudiments, &c.

Or they may be learned by examples alone, when they do occur; or by a larger and more complete system of grammar, which descends to the more particular forms of speech; so the heteroclite nouns of the Latin tongue, which are taught in the school-book called Qucb Genus, should not be touched in the first learning of the rudiments of the tongue.

II. As the grammar by which you learn any tongue should be very short at first, so it must be written in a tongue with which you are well acquainted, and which is very familiar to you. Therefore I much prefer even the common English accidence (as it is called) to any grammar whatsoever written in Latin for this end. The English accidence has, doubtless, many faults; but those editions of it which were printed since the year 1728, under the correction of a learned professor, are the best; or the English rudiments of the Latin tongue, by that learned North Briton, Mr. Ruddiman, which are perhaps the most useful books of this kind I am acquainted with; especially because I would not depart too far from the ancient and common forms of teaching, which several good grammarians have done, to the great detriment of such lads as have been removed to other schools.

The tiresome and unreasonable method of learning the Latin tongue by a grammar, with Latin rules, would appear, even to those masters who teach it so, in its proper colours of absurdity and ridicule, if those very masters would attempt to learn the Chinese or Arabic tongue, by a grammar written in the Chinese or Arabic language.

Mr. Clarke, of Hull, has said enough in a few pages of the preface to his new grammar, 1723, to make that practice appear very irrational and improper; though he has said it in so warm and angry a manner, that it has kindled Mr. Ruddiman to write against him, and to say what can be said to vindicate a practice, which, I think, is utterly indefensible.



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Euphorbia Mili, or Crown of Thorns, houseplant in US, landscaping plant in Philippines


This little beauty is called Euphorbia milii:

Euphorbia milii (crown of thorns, Christ plant, Christ thorn) is a species of flowering plant in the spurge family Euphorbiaciae, native to Madagascar. The species name commemorates Baron Milius, once Governor of Réunion, who introduced the species to France in 1821

Why is this pretty flower called Crown of Thorns or Christ thorn?
You can just see the stem above, if you know what you’re looking for. Here’s a closer view:

That’s why. It’s a tropical cactus.

This is also grown as a houseplant in the US, and it grows freely outside here (more of a landscaping plant in the Philippines, I think. It is native to Madagascar.)
If you get one, be careful. Its defenses are formidable. Not only are there those brutal looking thorns, there is an irritating, tumour causing sap connected with the flowers, which is insoluble in water once it dries. Use gloves and touch as little as possible.

If you can find a real specimen, look very, very closely at the flowers. The flower is actually the small, fleshier looking center. The things that look like petals are actually bracts. More about the flowers (called cyathia) here.

genus euphorbia has 2,000 species.

According to this website: Linnaeus established the genus Euphorbia and he named it after a Greek surgeon called Euphorbus. He was the physician of Juba II, about 50 BC to 19 AD, the Roman king of a of Numidia, present day Algeria.
King Juba II was the first person to find a succulent-type Euphorbia, and he named it after his physician. Euphorbus used the milky sap as an ingredient for his potions.
The name “milii” is for Baron Milius, once governor of the island of Bourbon, who introduced the species into cultivation in France in 1821.
“Splendens” means splendid.
The legend says that the crown of thorns worn by Christ at the time of his crucifixion was made from the stems of this plant. Interestingly, the stems of this plant are pliable and can be intertwined into a circle and there are substantial evidence that the species had been brought to the Middle East before the time of Christ.
(From Dr. T. Ombrello Notes, Union County College, NJ.)

(Information for this species compiled and recorded by Camelia Cirnaru, NTBG Consultant.)

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Effective Studying

I started reading Fluent Forever: How to Read any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner.

I have quite a ways to go, yet, but what he says so far really makes sense to me.

He talks about the importance of not thinking of your learning in translation- you don’t think, ‘lalaki, boy or man, you try and put a picture in your head to match lalaki. You don’t think ‘pina is pineapple,’ you think pina and see that fruit in your head.

He talks about the right kind of repetition for study, basically what Duolingo does, or apps like Quizmo and Anki.

He talks about studying being more successful when you go over things and then just write down as much as you can remember shortly afterwards, rather than just reviewing, reviewing, reviewing. Writing down helps you remember.

He mentions flash cards, with the words on one side and the image you choose to represent the word on the other, and how much more effective it is to make your own flashcards. Even though you think it saves time to use somebody else’s- actually, it does not, in the long run, because the act of creating your own cards actually helps really paint the learning to the walls of your mind.

Which brings me to this story on myself which solidified or illustrates perfectly what he says about the value of making your own cards.

In highschool I took Spanish for two years. I was to busy partying to take it seriously. One year in particular we also had a really lax teacher. She was so lax that we began to cheat, and cheat badly. Four or five of us had a competition going among us as to who could be the most creative, get away with the most. We took cheat sheets to an unprecedented level- tiny little scrolls hidden beneath a ring band, notes on shoelaces, artistically incorporated into a drawn design so that on first glance they looked like just part of an illustration, not word combinations. I wasn’t the artistic one, btw, but I did master the tiniest script possible.

Once, one of us was caught (the artist, not me). To be fair to him, he wasn’t caught in the act. He just got carried away in his cheating. After spending hours on his lovely cheatsheet drawings (like murals on a notebook cover), he had actually managed to get a copy of the test in advance and had filled it out at home and brought it to school and turned it in, slipping his blank copy into the stack of extra tests on her desk. But he turned in his copy too quickly and the teacher didn’t believe he could possibly have filled out the test so fast without cheating. The teacher threw away his test and gave him a new one and had him write the answers while she stood over him and watched. He finished the test in five minutes and got a perfect score.

He told me afterwards, with some embarrassment, that he guessed he’d been studying while creating his pretty designs and hidden messages. I attempted the next test without reference to my cheat sheets and I passed as well. It was kind of ironic to realize that all our elaborate schemes and creations to avoid studying actually were highly effective study methods(probably more effective than actually studying the old fashioned way, although that did not occur to us then).

All our elaborate creations of cheat sheets had essentially been concentrated studying. I see the practice of making your own cards of words and images as accomplishing the same thing- only, you know, without trying to deceive anybody, so a definite improvement over my high school study methods.

Shocked by the successful, er, test my friend J. and I had made, subsequently we all planned to cheat in the usual way, but tried first to take our test without cheating. We all passed our tests without reference to our perfidiously plotted little notes. We were cheating because we absolutely refused to study, but we ended up studying twice as much and far more efficiently than our most honest classmates. Kind of unfair and more than a little hard on the good kids who studied the regular way and nobly refused to cheat and then didn’t do well on their tests.

The really funny part is I felt kind of indignant and resentful about it! I had intended to avoid studying, and somehow had tricked myself into actually studying, and it was offensive. But I had nobody to blame but myself.

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