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New Year’s resolutions

I’m not a big one for resolutions. (Ever notice how many people say that?) I think this may even be the first year I’ve consciously made one. It’s not very exciting but if I don’t write something I’m never going to shift this writer’s block – which could quite fairly be called non-writer’s block by now.

So my resolution is this:

Study German for 30 minutes every day.

Yes, after living in a German-speaking environment for 8 years I have finally run out of both good reasons and poor excuses for putting it off. Study German every day… so far I’ve only missed one. Of course, my idea of studying isn’t necessarily something that would delight a college professor.
I’m actually reading Harry Potter.
Reading a book you love and know almost word for word is a surprisingly effective way of not getting bored whilst learning another language. In the past, I’ve used this technique for Spanish (Lord of the Rings) and Danish (Pride and Prejudice, and some Terry Pratchetts). Obviously you do have to have a certain level to start with – I’m borderline B1/B2 in German, and that’s definitely good enough for this.

So far I have learned that the German for “pale” is “blass”. Which seems wrong, somehow. There’s a sickly, bloated feeling to that word (to me, as a native English-speaker, you understand) that is not necessarily attached to the word “pale”. But at least I’ll remember it now.
I’ve also learned that either German has some rather odd set phrases, or the translator didn’t always quite get it. See, when Harry is telling himself “don’t rise” in response to Aunt Marge’s taunting, I doubt that the German for that is “don’t stand up”. I don’t know what it ought to be either, of course. Something fishing-related, perhaps? Which is one reason I don’t translate into German. The other reasons are that my German grammar is non-existent, and more importantly that you should never translate on a professional level into something that isn’t your mother tongue unless you are genuinely completely bilingual, which is much rarer than you might suppose.

Any rabid Harry Potter fans (people after my own heart!) may now be thinking: That’s all very well, but the real question is, why are you beginning your German Harry Potter endeavours with book three?!
To which the answer is: because that’s the one I own in German. Because it happens to be my favourite. It has Professor Lupin in it. What’s not to like about that? But don’t worry, dear reader. I’ve borrowed a copy of PS from a youthful friend, so will henceforth be proceeding in the correct order.

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Who else loves audiobooks?

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten I still need to post about Corfu.

But first a short break so I can tell you about something really cool.

I grew up with no TV. (And no, I’m not that old. 40 is still quite some way off!) No TV, but loads of books. My mother was a librarian, and she taught us to love books as much as she does. When we couldn’t have the written word – for instance on long car journeys – we had the precursor of those nifty backseat DVD players. That’s right, the audiobook. Or Books On Tape, as we knew them. (I am *that* old. Just about.)

I love audiobooks. I would listen to them every night before bed. Some my mother narrated for me – mostly when I was smaller – and others were professional versions. As well as being excellent entertainment, they’re great for your memory. I can still recite most of Nicol Williamson’s wonderful rendition of The Hobbit, complete with regional accents. And virtually all of the slightly-abridged Chronicles of Narnia read by Michael Hordern. That version of The Chronicles of Narnia is still available by the way, in a CD box-set, and I wholeheartedly recommend it, but sadly The Hobbit is now only available secondhand on cassette.

All of this brings us to Librivox.

No this isn’t an advert. Well it sort of is. But I’m not getting paid for it, and as Librivox is a completely volunteer organisation, neither is anyone else.

Librivox volunteers record public domain texts – such as The Green Fairy Book, remember that? and make them available to listen to, free of charge, with various different downloading options, over the internet.

Why?

“We love reading, love books, love literature, think the public domain should be defended and enriched, we like free stuff, we like to hear people read to us, and we like reading to other people. It’s fun, it’s a great community, it’s a rewarding public service to the world. And “nothing” is in it for us, except the satisfaction of participating in a wonderful project.”

Is what their website says. I’ve just signed up to be a volunteer. So far I’ve read one chapter and am halfway through editing a second. Some people have read hundreds. Here’s where you can listen to the recordings:

http://librivox.org/newcatalog/

Remember we’re only talking about Public Domain stuff here. Generally speaking that means the author has been dead for 70 years or more. The rules differ slightly depending on the country you’re in – but basically you won’t find any J.K. Rowling or Bill Bryson, to name just a couple of my own favourite authors. You will however find Jane Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, Tolstoy and many many others who I have never heard of. And if there’s something missing that you know is in the public domain and you think ought to be there, you can leave a suggestion on the Librivox forum, or here in the comments if you don’t want to sign up there. If you’re not sure whether it’s in the public domain, see if it’s on Project Gutenberg, and if it’s there, it’s good to go.

You could even volunteer to read yourself.

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A Grecian holiday, part one

Have you ever heard of Gerald Durrell? If you have, chances are you’re either a naturalist, or you’ve read one of his books (or, in the UK, seen the TV series). Or possibly you’re thinking of his older brother Lawrence, the famous author. Gerald Durrell was an ardent lover of nature and animals in particular, who became a great conservationist, founded one of the first zoos dedicated to conservation, on the island of Jersey, and incidentally wrote a great many very entertaining books about animals and his life with or near them.

As you may be able to tell, I’m something of a fan. But what does all that have to do with Greece? Well, everything. It’s the reason we chose our holiday destination. (Well the reason I chose it anyway. Everyone else just thought my suggestion was a good second-best to theirs, so democracy ensured I won.) But back to my point: Gerald Durrell spent 5 years of his early life living on the Greek island of Corfu, and at least three of his books deal with memories from that time. And if you’ve read them, you can’t help but want to go there and see what it’s like now, nearly 80 years later.

So we did.

It’s quite different. There are more cars, fewer donkeys, and considerably less in the way of wildlife – in our time there we found one shell on the beach. One.
Things are more organised. There are more fences – his books give the feeling that in the early 1930s you could walk from one end of the island to the other without “trespassing”, although I imagine that wasn’t really the case.

Fortunately, I was mentally prepared for this, and thus not disappointed. After all, who expects a member state of the European Union to be exactly how it was before the war that gave birth to what would eventually become the EU? So, disregarding the changes, I focused on the things that had remained the same. Of course I made sure we had the books with us too!

So that was one exciting thing, for me. (No one else shared this, despite all my family having read the books too. Ah well.) The other exciting thing was being with my whole family – parents and three sisters, some with husbands and kids in tow. Froglet loved having someone almost his own age to play with. Actually his little cousin is almost exactly halfway between him and Nutmeg, but she mostly played with him. Nutmeg mostly clung to me, at least the first few days. I can’t blame her though, as it was surprisingly cold and windy. We had thunderstorms and rain for a whole two days, and then for part of several more. (Great for me – I’m not a hot-weather person).

We stayed at a lovely all-inclusive hotel in the north of the island, with several saltwater pools and its own beach. Most of the tourist attractions are elsewhere to be honest, but as we drove down and got the car ferry across we were able to drive into Corfu town for a day, and visit a couple of other little places nearer at hand too. I definitely recommend hiring/bringing a car if you’re not staying in the capital of the island, as Greek public transport can be quite infrequent (not to mention slow). That’s Froglet on the car ferry on the left, with the island behind him. The photo above is the view of the Old Citadel in Corfu Town, as seen from the ferry while we were docking.

And that is all I’m going to say for now, but at some point soon I’ll write more about Corfu itself. And Venice. Have I mentioned Venice yet?

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Review: the voice of psalms

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The voice of psalms is a paperback retelling of the Biblical book of Psalms by the Ecclesia Bible Society, published by Thomas Nelson. It’s part of a larger project called “the voice”. Like many Bibles, it includes some commentary and some daily reading plans but that is pretty much where the similarities end.

The first thing that struck me was that here is a very beautiful book. The text is laid out like poetry, with a single column per page, and the pages themselves have a lovely background design giving a feeling of sacred art that the plain-white, onion-skin pages of a standard Bible never really conveyed to me.

Additions to the text have been inserted in italics rather than footnotes, and I found myself in two minds about this. The translator in me understands the need to expand on a phrase because the English equivalent doesn’t convey the subtler nuances of the original. At the same time I find the voice in the back of my head going “aha, italics: an optional extra” very distracting! However, having finished reading a whole passage I could then look back and see what the italics had really added, for instance in the 23rd Psalm a sense of present danger, which isn’t so tangible in the more traditional versions, with or without footnotes. Of course, I’m not a Hebrew scholar, so I can’t really tell how accurate that sense is either!

I did appreciate that the translators didn’t feel the need to modernise the language all the way into slang, which was something I found very off-putting with the Message version of the Psalms even though I was in my early twenties then.

All in all I like the book, but I wonder if the format – especially the italics – will be too hard to get used to, so I won’t ditch my NIV just yet. I wouldn’t buy it as a first Bible for a new believer, but it’s good as a fresh look at a too-familiar text, as long as you’re looking for a narrative rather than a constitution-type document to be taken literally.

Just two more things (which I didn’t put in my amazon review): some of you may remember I was looking for a program of advent readings last autumn. Well the voice of psalms has one with readings from Psalms and other books! And also a Lent program! Pretty cool huh.

And secondly, they also do various other books, but the one that attracted me most is called the voice from on high, which contains excerpts from 19 Bible books referring to Jesus as the Liberating King. That one sounds really cool and I think would work well in this format, not to mention that Brian McLaren, one of my favourite authors, is involved, so I’ll get it and keep you posted. 🙂

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MTM – Childrens Lit

If you’re looking for the Save One Mammy post, it’s here.

Like I said last week, I’m really excited about this theme. I love books, especially childrens books. Click here to see what everyone else came up with.

Froglet and I picked Star Seeker as our book. It’s actually on loan from a friend but we love it so much we’re definitely going to buy a copy. We love the poetry, the illustrations and the explanations about the Solar System in the back. It’s a great book for any kid interested in outer space.

Click on the photo to get a closer look… I think… Anyway clockwise from right we have:

Cookies on Venus = a gingerbread rocket
Mars, the red planet = bread roll covered in tomato paste
Fireworks on Pluto = yoghurt and raspberries with sprinkles
Moons and asteroids = cheese and pickled onions
Saturn = Pineapple rings and gold-wrapped chocolate
The Milky Way = frothy whipped cream with a gingerbread Bear and a pinwheel, representing the page you can see open (my favourite).

In case you can’t read it, it says:

I’ll spin like a pinwheel
Through the Milky Way’s froth
Take a ride on the Great Bear
And never fall off

Can you guess why cookies for Venus and fireworks for Pluto? 🙂

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Weather – a book review

We started studying the weather by reading a book on the subject from a series of which I am inordinately fond: Usborne Beginners. As the name suggests, the series is aimed at beginning readers, ages 4 and up. Nonetheless, it has been my first port of call when looking for a new factual book for Froglet ever since he got given one about aeroplanes when he was around two. He loved it – still does – and I learned a few things too. I think we now own about ten of the books from this series, covering various topics. The explanations are simple but not overly so, the illustrations are a nice combination of drawings and photos, and there are always interesting snippets that a small child can relate to (e.g. the air above the clouds is 6 times colder than the inside of a freezer).

This particular book, succinctly entitled Weather, didn’t disappoint us. It discusses pretty much everything you might expect a younger child to understand (avoiding hot and cold fronts and air pressure but covering tornado formation, clouds and the water cycle) and makes it interesting. No mention of rainbows though, now I come to think of it. Perhaps most children already know about those?

As in all this series, the end of the book provides a brief vocab list with accompanying pictures. I was rather pleased when we got there and Froglet pointed to a picture of a hurricane tearing the roof off a house and said “That’s a twelve” (meaning a force twelve wind). He obviously retained something.

I don’t think this book will be a perennial favourite like Firefighters or Planes, but that’s more down to Froglet’s areas of interest, and it’s not going to sit on the shelf unread for the next year either. We give it 9/10.

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Learning to read

I am pulling together a bunch of things from various sites to help me teach Froglet some phonics. He already knows the alphabet thanks to the wonderful Starfall website, and as he’s started spelling out words to himself while playing, I think now it’s time for the more complicated stuff.
Sound of the week is a great place to start, with a different page for each sound (e.g. /ee/), including a theme to match the sound (e.g. trees), book ideas, rhymes or poems, and art projects. So far we have done the first two sounds off this page: /ck/ and /ee/. Other sites I have been using include the brilliant Phonics, and the BBCs Words and Pictures.

After thinking about it quite a bit, and to-ing and fro-ing between various possibilities, I’ve decided to link the sounds I teach to whatever longer theme I’m currently on, rather than follow the order set out at SOTW or Phonics. And as we’re doing flowers and gardening at the moment, next up are /er/ and /ow/ (as in cow not grow). I have ordered a book about plants, which hasn’t arrived yet, but fortunately we do have a book on weather, which also has the /er/ sound in it, and as it’s particularly rainy at the moment this will be a good place to start tomorrow.

In fact I’ve ordered a whole bunch of books, which may get reviewed on here at some point. They are:
How Flowers Grow (Usborne Beginners)
Summer Nature Activities for Children (by Irmgard Kutsch, I think)
Floppy Phonics (Stage 1+)
Miffy in the Garden
Things that Go (Trace, Stick and Learn)
Stories Jesus Told (by Nick Butterworth/Mick Inkpen)
and several less educational ones for our own entertainment.

Froglet saw me ordering the Miffy book and said that he wanted one too. I said it would have to be with his own money, so he chose Miffy is crying (!) and now owes me 3 pounds. His first book purchase of his very own!

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A good book

[Christian-locked]

I have been reading an excellent book by Mahesh Chavda, called “the Hidden Power of Prayer and Fasting”.

It’s brilliant, it’s biblical, and it’s really interesting and full of examples of amazing things God has done recently, as well as practical stuff about the how and (most importantly perhaps) the why of fasting. I read it in two sittings, couldn’t put it down, and am now going through it again slowly.

And since Lent is coming up, I thought I’d recommend it to you all.

While I’m on the subject of amazing things God has done, here is a song we have sung twice at church recently and which has really stuck in my head (despite having a rather odd tune). The lyrics are from the book of Habbakuk:

Lord, I have heard of your fame
I stand in awe of your deed, O Lord.
I have heard of your fame.
I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.

Renew them – renew them
In our day and in our time,
make them known

In wrath, remember mercy.

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