May 102012

Save 70% - Now Enjoy Brilliant Courses in Your Car or HomeI’ve finally gone and done it: I am an affiliate of The Great Courses. See the pretty linky-link in the sidebar?

I’m not sure when or how I learned of The Great Courses. Actually, it was just The Teaching Company back then. I think The Teaching Company is the company name, and the The Great Courses is a brand. (Huh. Some affiliate I am.) It doesn’t matter: Whatever we call them, I’m a fan!

The Great Courses
are CDs, DVDs, and audio downloads of classes taught by college professors from all over the country. There are some high school subjects, too. All those classes we didn’t have time to take—or didn’t appreciate—back in college, or the classes we missed because we never went to college in the first place, can now be ours for much less than the cost of tuition.

Best of all, we can watch or listen to them at home, in the car, and on various devices while gardening, picking blueberries, etc. There are no tests or grades, so we needn’t fear Einstein’s Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Even better, we can watch or listen as many times as needed to grasp them. (Yep, thinking of relativity again. When the professor is talking, I actually think I understand. Just don’t ask me questions after the lecture.)

We stitchers often watch tv or movies, or maybe we listen to an audio book or have someone read aloud to us while we stitch. Here is another super-fun alternative.

Our collection of The Great Courses

Our current collection of The Great Courses. Many have yet to be watched. I didn't include the old VHS tapes.

As you can see, we have a ton of them. Truly, we love them. We’ve even bought one course twice: We just purchased an updated version of Alex Filippenko’s Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy course.

I will start sharing some of our Great Courses adventures here. I plan to start watching the Chaos class when I return home. That seems like an appropriate summer subject, no?

Do any of you watch these? I know Becca does.

Welcome to Our New Home!

 Posted by on May 1, 2012  Reading
May 012012

For more than two years, I’ve been talking about a redesign for the Stitching for Literacy site and blog. I even signed a contract with a web designer to have it professionally redesigned. The project was delayed and delayed and delayed. Sometimes it was my fault. I gave it a final nudge in December, and since that hasn’t produced results, I have taken matters into my own hands. Ta-da!

It is a work-in-progress, but I’ve decided all websites are—especially blogs—so no apologies or worries on that front.

Come on in and make yourself at home. I hope you’ll be comfortable here.

Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of a Book Club tab in the navigation bar above. It’s a forum (bulletin board, whatever you want to call it), and I think it might be easier to discuss our books there than in the comments here. I’d like to give it a shot. If we don’t like it, we’ll switch back to discussing here.

With a forum, if you get behind and want to comment on a question from some time ago, doing so will bump that discussion back to the top for everyone to see. Plus, you can see more easily when new comments have been made.

Now, I know very little about running a forum, and it’s not styled at all to match this blog. I can’t even figure out how to get back here from there without opening a new browser window and starting over! But I’ll do my best to figure things out as we go along. If you want to help by being a moderator, let me know.

You will have to create a username and password to access the forum, and I think I have to approve you, but then you’re good to go. This is necessary to keep spammers out.

I copied last Thursday’s question into the thread for The Help, and I posted a new question today. Go check it out!

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S4L Book Club – The Help

 Posted by on April 26, 2012  Reading
Apr 262012

I like to read reviews of books after I’ve read the book. I like to see if I agree or disagree with the review, if that reader noticed things I didn’t or had a different take on them. It’s one of the ways I help myself think more about what I read. It’s like having one of you lead discussions: ideas are presented to me, rather than generated by me, and I respond. It’s this interaction of ideas that leads to thinking.

I came across this line in a review of The Help: The book is worth reading if for no other reason than the reminder that popularity and public opinion are bondage. It stopped me in my reading tracks. It’s not a new idea, but in this context, perhaps because of the word “bondage,” it seemed significant. At the very least, it’s something I want to think more about.

In terms of the book, I think every character can be called a slave to popularity and public opinion. Hilly has to work hard to maintain her place. Elizabeth and Celia can’t seem to alter their positions no matter how hard they try: they’ve been labeled, and they’re stuck with those labels.

In fact, Celia is kind of a slave to Minny’s opinion—or public opinion as Minny interprets it. Celia doesn’t seem to see herself as above Minny. Rather, she recognizes and acknowledges some of Minny’s strengths and abilities as superior to her own. She likes and respects Minny and wants to be her friend. But Minny won’t have it, even though she doesn’t disagree that her abilities are often superior. She refuses to accept a place on equal ground with her employer, even when it’s offered. I’d say she holds herself above her white employer.

Do you agree? What other ways are popularity and public opinion conveyed as bondage?

By some measures, I think I walked away from popularity and public opinion a long time ago by choosing this life I live, but my work is often slave to them. Is a writer/needleworker/designer successful if public opinion doesn’t favor her work? Can she earn a living if her work isn’t popular? Trying to make a living with my creative output means that it is judged publicly. There’s no way around that. If I want to make money, I have to produce things the public wants and deems valuable enough to exchange money for.

If I’m honest, having my work and income be a slave to popularity and public opinion bothers me greatly, but I can’t deny or ignore the fact that it is.

In what ways do you feel the bondage of popularity and public opinion?

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S4L Book Club – The Help

 Posted by on April 24, 2012  Reading
Apr 242012

Aibileen writes her prayers. I loved that and understood it. It was one way that I related to Aibileen.

Recently, on Facebook, a friend shared a note her daughter had left on her bed. The thirteen-year-old girl wanted my friend to consider an important matter, and rather than discuss it, she put her request in writing. This is not the first note the child has written. This is how she addresses important matters.

Through the comments, I learned that the daughters of another friend text their important issues rather than broach the subjects aloud.

I remember writing letters to my own parents about important things, and several female friends have admitted to doing the same, so this is not an unusual tactic.

Why do you suppose we choose to write about important issues?

There’s a saying, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down,” that I’ve seen attributed to several authors, so I don’t know the real origin, but I do know that it’s true for many people, myself included. Why do you think this is true?

For one thing, thoughts can be fleeting, but writing is slower; it takes time. Slowing the thought process down may be key to thinking more deeply.

Also, writing something down allows us to see it, to see all the different parts of an issue, literally and figuratively. Gaps are revealed. We can then rearrange the parts, which, when they first come out, are often muddled, and we can fill in the gaps. This rearrangement and filling in, I think, creates order and understanding.

The technique used in Teaching College Students to Read Analytically is to have participants write about what they read. Teachers respond to the writing, ask probing questions, and students rewrite. Writing requires thinking.

Surely research has been done on how the brain functions while writing, but I’m not familiar with it. I’d be interested to know.

Have you ever written about something or written routinely, the way Aibileen writes her prayers? Have you ever chosen to address an important issue in writing rather than through discussion? Has anyone around you chosen writing as a way of communicating something important to you?

Get Ready for The Switch

 Posted by on April 20, 2012  Needle and ThREAD
Apr 202012

“The time has come,” the walrus said…

Yep, yep. It’s time to separate Stitching for Literacy and It’s a work-in-progress. The S4L Book Club and usual posts will continue over on the Jen site while I get the new digs sorted out and decorated.

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S4L Book Club – The Help

 Posted by on April 19, 2012  Reading
Apr 192012

Ziggy has recommended The Hunger Games as our next book. I think it’s a great choice. I read the series some time ago, but would enjoy reading it again, so how about we plan this for June?

She also suggested we each talk about whatever books we’re reading in May. I love this idea, too! I think everyone should write a post and email it to me at mail AT funkandweber DOT com so that I can post it here. Will you do it? Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease?

I think this will be a great way to get some suggestions for our TBR lists.

In the meantime…

One of the criticisms I’ve read about The Help is that the dialects used made for difficult reading. I wouldn’t know: I listened to the audio book.

I’m on the fence about dialects. On the one hand, people talk all kinds of different ways, and it’s both accurate and interesting to try to depict that in writing. The way a person talks is part of his/her personality. It seems like a valid literary tool.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to read. Sometimes, when Mike reads oddly-spelled words aloud, they don’t make sense to him. Looking at them, he doesn’t know what those words mean, and he has to stop and translate. Oftentimes, I can recite back to him what he’s said. It made perfect sense to me because the sounds, while technically incorrect, made sense, and I, as a listener, don’t have the added confusion of misspelled words to contend with.

Because I listened to The Help, the dialect problem was all on the heads of the readers–there were three–and they handled it superbly. For me, the dialects were definitely a plus. They seemed natural to the characters, appropriate, and were entirely enjoyable.

Writers are cautioned to use dialects sparingly. Sometimes, we’re advised to start with them and then reduce the usage with the expectation that the reader will take the cue and “hear” it without having it actually (mis)spelled out.

I don’t cotton to that fading-out approach because it feels like a dropped story thread, but I suppose the “use sparingly” advice is good. You don’t want a reader to have to stop and translate frequently.

So what did you think? Was the use of dialect a delight or a drag? Did it improve the book or weaken it?

Have you had any significant experiences, good or bad, with dialects used in other stories?