Sunday, August 21, 2011

Texas Virtual Academy

The boys (and I) will start our new school year tomorrow. A teaching job never came available for me, so we're homeschooling again this year. Thankfully I found a program that takes a big load off me - Texas Virtual Academy (TXVA).

TXVA is an online public charter school. The boys will receive all their books and supplies (minus paper and pencils) next week sometime, and we'll be on our way! In the meantime, I'll be doing "Learning Coach" training and new family orientation, and they'll be testing in math and reading proficiency for the beginning of their year. (They'll test again at the end of the year and their progress will be measured.)

They each have a teacher who plans their lessons, conducts online classroom sessions, and grades their work. All I have to do is follow her plans and guide the boys through their lessons. The burden of planning and searching for curricula I'm happy with is no longer on me!

Jacob will study math, English/language arts, science, social studies, health, PE, art, and music.

Caleb will study math, English/language arts, science, social studies, health, PE, art, and Latin. He has music on his schedule, but I'm going to have it changed to Latin, which he'll study for the next 3 years if we stay with this program. (Jacob will start Latin when he reaches 6th grade.)

Since it's public school, the boys have to "attend" 180 days, and they're required to work approximately 6 hours a day on schoolwork. I will have to be diligent with recording their attendance and progress each day, but that's just something I'll need to work into our daily schedule.

It's going to be interesting to see how this works out. The boys are excited, but I'm not sure they're grasping the amount of work they'll be doing now. When I homeschooled them on my own, I taught the basics: math, English/language arts, science, and social studies. Now they'll have health, PE, art, and music/Latin thrown into the mix - things I never really felt much like pursuing on my own.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

August 2011 Book List

20. American Idol: The Untold Story by Richard Rushfield

As a big American Idol fan, when I saw this book prominently displayed in my library's "new" section, I snatched it right up. I wasn't sure if it was one of those "unofficial" tell-all books or if it was from a truly legitimate source (which it is). Rushfield, as a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, had full access not only to the creators of the hit phenomenon, but to the crew, the stars, and the contestants.

The book begins with a semi-interesting history of American Idol, introducing Simon Fuller, Nigel Lythgoe, and Simon Cowell. From there, the book follows a logical progression of the quickly-thrown-together first season, the second break-out season, all the way through to Simon's final season (season 10) - all the while highlighting the various forms of contestants that paraded through them.

Interviews with Idol semifinalists sheds a lot of light on the rigorous schedules the contestants must face and the bonds they form with their fellow competitors.

There's also a chapter devoted to dealing with the Idol-hater website, Vote for the Worst. Amid cries every year of conspiracies and faulty voting, VFTW also gets its share of the blame for great singers being sent home while the more mediocre one get to stick around week after week.

The judges and host are also highlighted: Simon Cowell's attitude, Randy Jackson's congeniality, and Paula Abdul's. . . incoherence. When Kara DioGuardi was introduced as a new judge, there was quite a rivalry, not just between Paula and Kara, but between the three original judges and the "freshman". After Paula's departure, Ellen Degeneres' stand-in (and stand-up) did nothing to help ratings in Simon's tenth and final season.

There's so much more here, as well. If you're an Idol fan, this is definitely a book worth reading.

21. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The title of this book intrigued me every time I saw it, but I never picked it up to read the inside cover. After seeing the movie previews on TV, I decided I wanted to read it, but by then I had to wait to get it from the library. When I first put it on hold, I was somewhere in the low 30's in line for it. It was finally ready for me last week. Once I got started, it was extremely hard to put down.

Jacob Jankowski is an old, old man - somewhere in his 90's, but he can't really remember. He's living in a nursing home after falling and breaking a hip, and he's alone. A circus comes to town and sets up next to the nursing home, causing Jacob, a former circus vet, to remember his first stint as a circus worker - and the secret he's been keeping for over 70 years...

He is preparing to graduate from Cornell University with a veterinary science degree when tragedy strikes his family. In a stupor, he leaves school and jumps aboard a train - the Benzini Brothers Circus train. An old man takes pity on him and saves him from being tossed off. Before long, he's placed in charge of the care of the menagerie, a mix of horses, giraffes, big cats, an orangutan, and a chimp, among others. He is immediately drawn to the lovely Marlena, wife of August, a madman. And there the trouble begins...

I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie and seeing if they can do the book justice. It's on my Netflix queue, but they haven't released it into circulation yet. Once they do, it'll go to the top of my list!

22. Jeannie Out of the Bottle by Barbara Eden

I loved watching reruns of I Dream of Jeannie when I was growing up. I wish I could find some now, but we don't have cable and it's not on Netflix streaming. Maybe one day...

Barbara Eden is a breath of fresh air in the whirlwind mess of Hollywood lives. Though she's had plenty of heartache in her life, she's still a beautiful person inside and out. She hasn't become bitter or tried to drown her sorrows in drugs and alcohol. Instead, she tried her best to "rise above it", as her mother often told her when she was a young girl.

She shares her rise to fame before her role as "Jeannie", her work on that series, and how that one role has defined much of her life after the show ended. She doesn't shy away from detailing her romance with first husband Michael Ansara, or the traumatic events that led to their separation and divorce. She's also candid about a marriage she entered with blinders on and how she eventually came to her senses and escaped before something horrible happened. Her only son Matthew, the child she wanted for so long and loved so much, struggled with addiction for much of his life. Yet, through it all, she found a strength to go on - and love with a man who has stood by her during some of her darkest moments.

The thing that bothered me most was her frequent use of the term "Jeannie blink" when she wanted to fast forward or flash back to a different time than what she was writing about. Thankfully that was used mostly during the prologue and only a few other times throughout the book. I honestly don't know if I could've read it if she had kept it going any more. Other than that, it's a great book.