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Review: Mendeleyev’s Dream by Paul Strathern

mendeleyevs dream

From ancient Greece through centuries of alchemy to the modern periodic table, Mendeleyev’s Dream traces the history of chemistry with fascinating mini-biographies.  We learn about Thales of Miletus who fell off a cliff while stargazing; Henning Brand who fermented and distilled vats of urine to isolate phosphorus, the first new element; Boyle, the founder of modern chemistry, who introduced clear experimental write-ups to replace the secretive ones alchemists used;  Laviosier and his child bride Anne Marie who worked together in their personal lab until he was guillotined in the French Revolution; and of course, Mendeleyev, an irascible genius who discovered the periodic table—the structure of chemistry—in a dream.

We also learn about the elements themselves, progress in alchemy, the beginnings of modern chemistry, and the importance of ‘obvious’ ideas like precise measurements and consistent nomenclature. All this is presented against a background of interesting historical details.

So, if this well-written book is filled with informative vignettes about fascinating people, why do I dislike it? Its tone is unpleasant, and it contains far too much judgement, insinuation, and mockery.  Strathern is trained in philosophy and his cynicism about many of the great scientists and historical ideas seems to result from his atheistic and evolutionary worldview.

Written for adults, this book is also appropriate for high school students who can deal with the cynicism.  However, I’m hoping there are better histories of chemistry out there. The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean is next on my list, partly because Miss 16 really enjoyed it for her required science reading.

This is yet another book in the in the 2014 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Finishing Strong , and Trivium Tuesdays.

Disclosure:  I borrowed this book from our library and am not compensated for sharing my opinions with you.

Week 1 Wrap Up

Studying Density with Apologia's General Science:  oil, water, syrup with cork, ice, a wild grape, and a rock.

Studying Density with Apologia’s General Science: oil, water, and syrup, with cork, ice, a wild grape, and a rock.

This was our first week of school, and quite a lot happened:

–bookwork, from math to history to science.

–experiments, like the above one from Apologia’s General Science.

–online work in the form of MathScore.

–reading books like Crazy Horse, Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine, and Paradise Lost as well as lighter fare by Enid Blyton and Josephine Tey.

–a long, long nature walk in the woods.

–games including cribbage, chess, and Rummikub.

–movies like The Game Stands Tall (highly recommended), the Monuments Men (worthwhile), and Lord of the Rings (which I would never be able to watch but the rest of the family loves).

–volunteering at a small Christian school (Miss 16) and at therapeutic riding (Miss 14 and Miss 12).

– attending a rally in support of Iraqi Christians;  this speech by MP Pierre Poilievre is well worth listening to.

–harvesting several bushels of peppers, the first of our melons, and all the basil as well as daily fare such as raspberries and salads.

This year's pepper harvest.  Some of them even turned red!

This year’s pepper harvest. Some of them even turned red!

–excellent food, from all sorts of vegetables to a snacky Saturday of grazing on gluten-free goodies:  lembas, butter tarts, pumpkin pie (first of the season), and pear pie…with whipping cream, of course, all courtesy of Miss 16.

–too much heavy lifting for me (peppers and melons do get heavy) which resulted in 24 hours of couch time.  I read two light books, so it was bearable, but I did have to give up my plans for a day.  Our home is not as neat as I want it to be on Saturday evening, and all those peppers are still waiting to be processed (except for the ones we stuffed, added to soup, put into coleslaw, and ate raw).

So that was part of our week.  Lots of activity, lots of learning, lots of living with all its ups and downs.

Even though I have changed the format of my weekly wrap up, I still want to record all my reading, so here goes:

I am reading Colossians for my personal quiet time, after meals we are still in Mark, and when my husband is home we read Isaiah.   I finished Mendeleyev’s Dream, Theodore Roosevelt, and The Fat Chance Cookbook (the latter two were today’s couch reading–cookbooks are fun to read when you’re exhausted); am reading On Christian Doctrine, Pascal’s Pensees, The Stories We Tell, A Man Called Intrepid, 52 Weeks of Family French, and The Meaning of Marriage; and have given up on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I enjoyed decades ago but cannot seem to get into now.

I hope you had a good week, too, and wish you a blessed Sunday.

This post is linked to Kris’s Weekly Wrap Up .

Review: The Good News About Marriage by Shaunti Feldhahn

the good news about marriage

We all know those ‘facts’ about marriage:  half of all marriages fail, most marriages are unhappy, it takes years of painful work to fix a bad marriage, remarriages are unlikely to succeed, and Christians’ divorce rates are the same as unbelievers’.

What if these ideas were not true?  What if they were based on misunderstanding or incorrectly analysing the data?  What if there were good news about marriage instead of bad news?

When Shaunti Feldhahn tried to find the source of the 50% divorce rate for a column she was writing, her quick search unexpectedly turned into a longer one that ended with experts telling her that they did not know the real divorce rate!  She was shocked, and this experience sparked a thorough eight-year study of the available marriage and divorce data.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce is full of explanations of the study Shaunti and Tally Whitehead conducted.  It discusses in detail how the statistics were re-analysed and which experts were consulted, and it explains the five good news facts they came up with:

  • The actual divorce rate has never gotten close to 50%.
  • Most marriages are happy.
  • The rate of divorce among those who regularly attend worship services is significantly less than the rate among those who do not.
  • Most remarriages survive just fine.
  • Most marriage problems are not caused by big-ticket items, and simple changes can make a big difference.


Note:  to understand what is meant by these statements and where they come from, you will want to read the book.    It contains detailed tables, explanations of where the often-quoted numbers come from and why they are not reliable, explanations of how the new numbers were obtained, and responses from experts.

However, it is not only experts who respond to these results.  So do pastors, counsellors, and ordinary couples, and they respond with hope and joy.  These five statements remove the discouragement about marriage, especially Christian marriage.  There is hope.  And that hope gives struggling marriages a life line and thus helps to save them.

When I recently read and reviewed Total Truth, one point stood out:  the author was encouraging Christians everywhere to do their work from a Christian point of view, seeking Truth in their fields.  She suggested that such efforts could change our culture.

I think this is what Shaunti Feldhahn is doing with her determination to truly understand the statistics about marriage.  Her work could transform North America’s view of marriage, giving hope both to those who are married and to those avoiding marriage out of cynicism and fear.  It also reassures Christians that obeying God does make a difference, something that misinterpretation of the statistics–and even George Barna himself said his study had been misused—had called into question.

This book is highly recommended to anyone who feels discouraged by the commonly accepted statistics about marriage.  It would also be helpful to those involved in marriage counselling and would be a valuable addition to any public or church library.

A helpful companion to The Good News About Marriage is Shaunti’s intensely practical book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages (this link is to my review).

This is yet another book in the in the 2014 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Works for Me Wednesdays, Booknificent Thursdays, and Raising Homemakers.

Disclosure: A download of this book was provided by Multnomah Books for the purpose of this review.

August Wrap Up: Puppy, Raspberries to Give Away, Timers for Effectiveness

Sparky, our new puppy

Sparky, our new puppy

In our lives this month

So, here we are at the end of another month full of sunshine, rain, fun, and work.   August’s highlight was our new puppy, the sweetest little fellow with such soft ears and a great desire to please…most of the time.  He is difficult to photograph, though.

In our homeschool

We did do some studying most of the summer, just to make up for time we missed last year, and I think we’re ready to start school on Monday.  I have some more reading to do, a few things to tweak on the first trimester lists, a book to find, and some maps to print out, and then we’re ready to head into a year of grade 7, 9, and 12.  Time does go so quickly!

Miss 12 worked hard on math all summer and has learned a lot.  She is still not where I hoped she would be, but we’ll just keep on working.

Miss 14 completed Streams of Civilization 1 as well as Apologia’s Physical Science, both left over from last year.

Miss 16 volunteered, worked, painted her room a lovely light lilac (after patching all the nail holes in the walls), finished Apologia’s Chemistry, started Physics, and worked on her ambitious essays on Dante’s Divine Comedy.  We’ve also done some quick essays as subject tests and as preparation for the SAT.

In our gluten free kitchen… We ate lots from the garden and lots from the grocery store.  I cannot remember a whole month’s worth of eating, but fresh salads, cucumbers, raspberries, barbequed meat and zucchini, and some dramatic cakes stand out.

In our gardens and yard

Everything is late.  We have not had any ripe tomatoes except cherry tomatoes.  Even so, life has been so busy that I need to weed the garden before the weeds reseed themselves.

For the first time ever I have decided not to pick our huge raspberry patch and only concentrate on the little patch.  So, if you live in the Ottawa area and want raspberries, just let me know and we’ll arrange a time when you can pick the large patch.  The only thing is that I’ll probably need to be busy with other tasks and won’t be able to pick with you.

Some of my favorite things were

  • Hanging out with my family.
  • Hanging out with friends.
  • Sunshine, rain, and swimming.
  • Watching Ottawa’s Company of Fools perform As You Like It.

Questions/thoughts I have…   If our days are so full now, how will we possibly manage once our school year begins?

Fitness… I managed to average around 10,000 steps, but have let the other exercises go.  Sometimes life just gets in the way, but as I told Miss 16, exercise is simply something you restart over and over your whole life long.  In the last few days I’ve been restarting again.

Some of the things I’ve been working on

  • Planning for next year.
  • Keeping up with the garden.
  • Reading all sorts of non-fiction; I have several reviews written up and ready to post over the next month.
  • Straightening out the house for fall.

I’m reading… Ephesians.   This month I read the The Slight Edge, Home to Chicory Lane, The Smartest Kids in the World, Crazy Busy, As You Like It, and The Good News about Marriage, and am reading Mendeleyev’s Dream, Pascal’s Pensees, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Man Called Intrepid, 52 Weeks of Family French, and The Meaning of Marriage.

Reading Aloud… In the middle of Hosea we switched to Mark.  Spending too much time in the prophets gets gloomy, and we’ve been reading prophets for months.

When my husband is home for meals, we read Isaiah.

I’m grateful for ….  Life, both the earthly kind and the heavenly kind.  Family and friends.

Quote or link to share…. There’s this idea that people are most effective if they work hard for a timed 25 minutes and then take a timed 5 minute break.  If the work involves sitting and the break involves getting up and moving around, then this is apparently also a good health practice.  There’s even an online timer for this purpose.

This post is linked to Kris’s Weekly Wrap Up .

Bible Narratives for Ages 10-15

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Recently a mom asked me to recommend good quality Bible stories for her 10-15 year old children.  Since it is crucial for everyone to read and understand the Bible, I have put together an annotated resource list suitable for this age and for new Christians…and for everyone else who wants a narrative approach to the Bible.

First of all, I recommend reading the Bible itself.  It is, unfortunately, easy for young people and new Christians to get bogged down in prophecies, laws, and genealogies, especially if they are not familiar with the stories.  Penny Gardner has compiled a list of Bible stories from the Old Testament and the New Testament, with brief descriptive titles.  If you are looking for a simple narrative approach to the Bible this is an excellent start.

Of course, 10-15 year olds could also be reading Psalms, Proverbs, Paul’s letters, and the rest of the Bible, but that is not possible for everyone.  Most Bibles list key devotional passages in the front to introduce people to these important aspects of Scripture.

The best ‘story Bible’ I know of is the Illustrated Family Bible.  We have read it many times.  It is a realistically illustrated book that tells the stories using words straight from the Bible.  It also gives background information in the sidebars, and is therefore a good handbook as well.  For more information you can read my review of this wonderful resource .

If you prefer a real story Bible told by a gifted story-teller, try the Story Bible for Older Children by Anne de Vries.  (Link is to my review.)  It is available in a beautiful two volume hardback version here (about 1/5 of the way down the page) or as a free PDF for both the Old Testament and New Testament volumes.

If you are looking for a deeper study narrative Bible, you will not find anything surpassing the four volume Promise and Deliverance series by S.G. de Graaf.  It is one of the classics of Bible resources and has been used by teens, teachers, and pastors for years.  I myself have read it several times and we have also used it for our homeschool, although I have not yet reviewed it.  This series is available in paperback (almost ½ way down this page) and some volumes are occasionally available second hand from Amazon.  However, each volume can also be downloaded for free in PDF format:

The Candle Bible Handbook is not a story Bible, but rather an illustrated introduction to each book of the Bible.  It is suitable for ages 7 to adult and would be an excellent supplement to the above resources.

To make this article more complete, I’m including a list of good Bible resources that I have reviewed for homeschoolers:

Candle Bible Handbook

Why Christ Came

Scripture Stickies (Bible memory resource)

Crucifying Morality (the Beatitudes)

A Cry from Egypt (Exodus, fiction)

The Glorious Victory (Revelation)

Deeper into the Word  (New Testament)

Illustrated Family Bible

Story Bible for Older Children

Hidden Treasures (Proverbs)

Pure Love (Song of Songs)

Taste and See  (This resource is more suited to introducing adults to the Bible for the first time, but I’m including it here for completeness.)

Also, if you use Veritas Press’s Omnibus program, you might also be interested in my tables organizing their Bible study by Omnibus volume.

This post is also linked to Raising HomemakersFinishing Strong , and Trivium Tuesdays as well as the Carnival of Homeschooling and the Charlotte Mason Carnival.

Disclosure:  As usual, I am not compensated in any way for mentioning these resources to you.

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