Wordsmiths – Quality grammar, vocabulary, and writing materials in the field of English
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Our mission is to provide teachers and students with quality grammar, vocabulary, and writing materials in the field of English. Home schools, Christian schools, and private schools currently use and recommend our materials.
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Cathy Duffy has picked Jensen’s Format Writing as one of her 100 TOP PICKS for Homeschool Curriculum. It’s an honor we are proud of.
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Notes from the Smithy… #99
Greetings from Southern Oregon! It continues to rain, but we have a few sun breaks now and then. School is closing in a few weeks. I trust you are making the most of it and keeping those noses to the grindstone.
NEWS what’s happening
JUST FOR FUN computer terms
MY WRITING CLASS ongoing report
AN EXPERIENCE a mom writes
RECENT READS a few from me
MISCELLANY as it says
New Leaf has reprinted three of my books thus far, Jensen’s Punctuation, Jensen’s Vocabulary, and Jensen’s Format Writing. The new books have new covers but are essentially the same as before.
The new vocabulary book has the six quarterly and semester vocabulary tests included. If you have an older version, only one test is included. You can get all these tests from me. They are free for the asking. Send an email to email@example.com and ask for them. You will have to print them off. Each set includes the test and the answers. I will send them via an attachment.
I have a very few books left on sale, only 6 copies of Jensen’s Format Writing. They are new. They are older versions but only cosmetic changes were made for the newer editions. I am going to sell them at the regular price but include the JFW DVD for free. The DVD has a flaw in the first lecture, but the content is correct.
If you need the Tests & Answers, the keys for Jensen’s Grammar, I have them also. They cost $1, but you have to pay for shipping and handling.
I still sell the Journey through Grammar Land series. I am slowly winding down the operation, but at 75 it is time to slack off some.
JUST FOR FUN
In today’s politically correct world, it is anathema to make fun of ethnic groups. Well, maybe not all groups. Some white folks are fair game. Anyway, I am mostly Scandinavian, so I think I can get away with passing on a few Norwegian computer terms.
Log on: Makin’ da vood stove hotter
Log off: Don’t add no more vood.
Monitor: Keepin’ an eye on the vood
Download: Getting’ da vood off da truck
Mega Hertz: Ven yer not careful gettin’ da firevood
Ram: Dat ting dat splits da vood
Hard drive: Gettin’ home in da vinter in da snow
Prompt: Vat da mail ain’t in da vinter time
Windows: Vat yew shut ven it’s cold outside
Screen: Vat yew shut ven it’s black fly season
Byte: Vat dem dang black flies do
Chip: Munchies fer da TV
Microchip: Vat’s in da bottom of da munchies bag
Modem: Vat yew did tew da hay fields
Laptop: Vair da kitty sleeps
Keyboard: Vair yew hang da keys
Software: Dem dang plastic forks and knives
Mouse: Vat eats da grain in da barn
Mainframe: Holds up da barn roof
Port: Fancy vine
Random Access Memory: Ven yew can’t remember vat yew paid fer da rifle ven yer wife asks
Firewire: Vat yew blow up da stumps in da field wit
MY WRITING CLASS
This is my ongoing report about the writing class I am teaching to about a dozen students. They range in ages from grades 7 through 12 along with one person who recently graduated from high school.
I provided each student with a copy of Jensen’s Format Writing and a DVD for each family involved. They have to do some reading and viewing the DVD on their own but as directed by me in advance.
Since our last newsletter, the students have finished writing their five paragraph essays and have done the work in sections 3-5 in the book. They wrote a book report, did a resume, wrote a letter for information, and did some précis writing. We are now in the major paper section.
They have three major papers assigned. The topics are ones about which there is much information available: climate change, gold & silver vs. paper money, and alternative medicine. They have two weeks to work on each paper, and it is to be about 1200 words, which is about double what their five paragraph essays were. They have to have a title page and a works cited page, and they will add endnotes and an appendix to the latter papers.
What have I noticed thus far? First, some home schooled students aren’t very good about keeping deadlines. Part of that is personality, and part of it is lack of practice. Moms are fairly lenient I think. Consequently, I spent some time trying to motivate the students to get a plan going and stick to it to meet the deadlines.
Second, some students are just naturally better writers than others. By that I mean their writing flows and is more interesting to read. I believe that is a gift, but at least one aspect of it can be taught. That is why I am putting them through the class; they are learning organizational formats that help make their ideas flow.
Thus far it has been a good experience for them, and most of them will admit it although the class hasn’t been what they would call fun. Well, so be it. In the summer edition, the next one, I will give my final appraisal of the class.
What follows came in from a mom who has used some of my books over time. It’s a good testimony.
After many years, I felt like I should write you a quick note of thanks. Thank you for making my children look at you as the enemy. I shall clarify.
We have used Jensen’s Grammar for all nine of our children. We are schooling our final two children. All of them dislike your books until they graduate. While they are in the midst of the work, there is whining, cajoling, utterances of, “Why do we have to do THIS grammar book?”
I say the same thing every time: “Wait until you get past the 25th lesson, and you will see how this will help you be a better writer.” I have found that is the pivotal lesson. Of course, then the sentences begin in earnest, and they tell me they dread the sentence parameter part of the work for each lesson. Then, the fun begins. They find a very rare mistake in the book. It is the rarity of the mistakes that makes the discovery all the sweeter as they feel they have outsmarted this man, this brilliant man, the writer of this book, who inflicts such pain on them each day.
Of course, because I did not write the book, I am not the enemy. Well, I am at least on a lower tier as I only chose the book. So the children concentrate of you. Defeating you! In the process, they become very good writers of sentence structure. Those that have gone to college have done beautifully in the Language Arts! Format Writing is a big part of this process of taking reluctant, boy-children writers and giving them definitive, right/wrong parameters to use when writing papers. Out of our eight boys, I have only had two that seemed to naturally be able to summarize and write stories without it being akin to having teeth pulled with no sedation! You may be surprised to learn that I have them do very little formal writing before high school for more reasons than I will go into here, but I do use the principles set forth in Format Writing starting in grammar school grades, just in a very informal way.
Right now, the last two boys, one of which is working hard to graduate at least a year early, are using the principle of summarizing paragraphs in their Biology to start a dual credit for Format Writing. Although it slows down the Biology, they love the dual credit idea and the fact that it helps them study. The home school Biology class I am teaching also has found value in this as well as other note taking ideas.
Anyway, after sixteen years of Jensen’s Grammar, this year will be my last year, and the book that resurrected grammar and was hard for me at first as I wrestled toddlers and babies while teaching my first high schoolers, has now become a friend. I will miss it, but I recommend it to everyone I know!
All nine children feel the same way about Jensen’s Punctuation. They hate it. Until they begin to spy all the mistakes they see all around them at work, on social media, on signs, etc.
So thank you for being the enemy with me. You have helped me as I work myself out of a job. My children are literate, Lain-root knowing people who are more and more thankful for you the older they get. I suspect there are many more children like them, but you probably already knew that. You may be one of the most hated, yet most appreciated man for so many of us in the home schooling trenches.
Late winter is cold and wet in Oregon, especially this winter, so I was inside a lot. That meant more reading time (yeah!). My reviews are below.
Stories of the Covenanters in Scotlandwas written by Robert Pollock in 1859. It was republished by Sprinkle in 2004. This book is three stories in one. All take place in Scotland during the same time period, and all are written about the persecution suffered by the Covenanters.
The first story is about a young minister, his wife and two children. They are driven out of their home and forced to wander and beg, living in a cave or being hosted at random in some out of the way cot. They all ultimately die for their faith, and the reader will be sympathetic to their cause. In this story I thought this family was portrayed as quite saintly, perhaps beyond normal.
The second story is about a young man of privilege. His father is a persecutor, but his mother favors the Covenanters. She dies when Ralph is in his early teens. He throws his lot in with the Covenanters, is caught but rescued by his dad. Ralph tries to be like his father and younger brother, but the call of Christ brings him back to the Covenanters. He is again caught but this time has his sentence commuted by an uncle, so Ralph is sent as a slave to the Indies. After some years, the persecution at home is lifted, and he returns where he reunites with his dad & brother.
The last story is about a young girl and her younger brother. Their mother is shot to death returning from a clandestine meeting. The girl, Helen, is a model of faith. Her brother, William, is not. He goes to Glasgow, falls in with an unbelieving crowd, and is influenced by the world. He returns to his sister for a visit, is somewhat shamed by her witness, and tries to change when he returns to Glasgow but is unsuccessful. He hears his sister is dying, rushes to her with a doctor, but she dies, charging him to change his ways. He does.
The book is preachy in spots, sometimes because a preacher is giving a message, sometimes because of extended dialogue between a couple of characters, and sometimes when the author does a “dear reader” aside. The language, although changed from the original by Pollock, is still somewhat archaic for today’s young reader, and that is the target audience for this book.
Eric Metaxas has done us a service by writing If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. This is an important book. It is well written albeit a bit uneven from my perspective. The first chapter was repetitive, but he is setting a foundation for the book. The second chapter about the golden triangle was good; it was about the relationship of liberty, virtue, and faith. For me, the third chapter, the one primarily about George Whitfield, was the highlight of the book. The rest of the chapters were pretty good. Metaxas gives lots of stories from history to make his points, and the stories are powerful. He talks about Lincoln, Washington, Squanto, de Tocqueville, and others. Being an older fellow and a reader by nature, most of the stories were somewhat familiar to me although some details were new. Unfortunately, in today’s society, many have never heard of these stories.
His premise for writing the book is that we, meaning America, are on a pivot point. Will we be able to keep the great experiment that is America going, or will we fall back into the age old tyrannies of the past and no longer be the light of the world? His hope is that we will keep the American of yesteryear alive. However, having outlined the situation, what is his answer? His answer is to love America. What he means by that is less clear. You will have to read the book and make your own conclusions.
I liked the book. The author is a son of immigrants but loves America. He reviews history and identifies where we went wrong and what we should admire. He defines historically what American exceptionalism really means. Millennials and others ought to read this book.
Neil Oliver wrote The Vikings: A New History. I read it on my Kindle. For me, this was a good book, but consider my heritage, Scandinavian. The author goes on a quest to find out about the Vikings. He travels to Scandinavia, into Russia, down to Istanbul, to England, the Faroes and Orkneys, Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland in his quest. Some chapters focus on Denmark, Norway and Sweden; others more or less describe one of the areas the Vikings settled. They went east, south and west.
Yes, there are lots of names that non-Scandinavians will have trouble pronouncing, mostly names of people and sometimes places. The book has some maps up front, a long list of principal Viking characters at the end along with a chronology of events covered in the book and a well documented bibliography. There is also an index, mostly of names, but also of some topics. The book moves along fairly well, and his writing style is pretty good by my standards. He is detailed and careful as an historian, but he is not dry reading.
When describing the Icelandic food called hakarl, I actually laughed until tears came. Imagine rancid fish fat marinated in carpet cleaner. His actual description of eating this stuff took a few hundred words, and it was a hoot. If you’ve ever had lutefisk, that would just be a hint of what the Icelanders concocted. It is also a delight to find my own name mentioned. This time it was in conjunction with Ari Thorgilsson, also know as Ari hinn frodi or Ari Frodi, meaning Ari the Wise. Anyway it was a treat for me to read. If you want to know more about the Vikings, read the book. It’s good history.
I read two more books in the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson: Shadows of Self, and The Bands of Mourning. #5 was fun? Wax and Wayne continue to exchange their classic comments. Wayne’s crazy ideas about Ranette and her reactions are always a chuckle. And SURPRISES! Lots of them. Plus, the reader gets to meet some old friends from the original trilogy. Then there’s all that action with lots of shoot ’em up stuff. Wax is really an old West guy at heart; you know, shoot first and ask questions later. He flies around through the mists, makes entrances to buildings or groups in unusual ways, and gets himself into odd predicaments. The plot is convoluted and unfolds in odd but believable ways, which is where most of the surprises arise.
From a literary point of view, the characters are pretty flat. Wax struggles with who he really is and what sort of god Harmony is, but Wax’s swashbuckling ways remain the same. Steris actually begins to show some humanity. Marasi has become a constable but still struggles with how to relate to Wax. But then who really cares about character growth except for the literati, and they don’t generally read this type of work anyway.
Elendel is at risk by forces human and otherwise. The Set, headed by Wax’s uncle Edwarn, is active, but there are deeper currents at work.
#6 builds on the previous ones, and it makes much greater sense to have read the others prior to reading this one. The main conflict between Wax and his Uncle drives the story. Wax is the lawman trying to keep the law; Edwarn is out to change things, illegally and at whatever cost.
Surprises and more surprises. Wax and Wayne continue their odd humor in dialogue. The story moves outside of Elendel to New Seran and some remoter areas. It is typical Sanderson and is fun to read. There is plenty of action and intrigue. Things are revealed as the book moves along. I found the story to be relatively well paced and clever, but Sanderson is a clever writer.
There is some but not much discussion about political realities and the blindness of those in power. Wax is the one who rebels against the high society culture of snobbishness, but Steris lends some counterbalance. Actually, Steris becomes even likeable, which is quite a character shift since she first appeared in the earlier novels.
At the end some things are resolved, but others are not. A new mystery and new people are revealed. A fourth novel about Wax is promised. I will read it. I am hooked. The saga continues. Keep writing, Mr. Sanderson, and keep surprising.
I also read two novels by Fredrik Backman: A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie was Here. The first I liked; the second not so much. I’ll talk about Ove first. Engaging. Interesting writing, sort of choppy but effective. I can relate to Ove.
Lots of flashbacks build out his character. I, and likely you will too if you read the book, began to get a sense of why he was the way he was. He is complicated, but aren’t we all. His background as it fills in explains some of his behavior and character. Dare I say it; he is quirky.
The names Ove gives to others are entertaining: foreign pregnant woman, and tattoo-throat for instance. There are laughs, real guffaws, in this book, but there are some very sobering moments as well. Life is not all fun and games.
Ove’s sense of right and wrong isn’t the same as everyone else’s, maybe no one else’s, but it is his, and he lives by it. Principles mean something. Well, too bad that today many seem not to have principles. Ooops, getting to sound like Ove.
I liked the book a lot; I would give it 4.5 stars but not 5. Some of the language is off color, not bad, but there nonetheless. I will pass it on to select people but probably not to kids. The book had a tendency to grow on me. I read it in 48 hours.
On the strength of reading about Ove, I picked up the book on Britt-Marie. Mistake? What was problematic for me with this book when I liked his earlier book about Ove quite well? Here are my negatives. 1) All the characters were dysfunctional, the whole town. That stretches the imagination too much. 2) There was just too much swearing and bad language for me. Yes, there are people like that, but…. 3) Britt-Marie’s character was not believable. Maybe it’s because I am a man, but still. 4) Soccer is the savior of the town and the people? No way! While I rather like the sport, these people were off the wall in their support for various teams. 5) He just had to work in a homosexual or transgender or whatever the boy was. Why? 6) The resolution was weak. She gets to go to her dream destination, maybe. And how would she store all that gas in the car? There wouldn’t be room for much else. 7) Nobody talks to rats. At least no normal people do, but this book is about dysfunctional folks, so maybe it works???
On the positive side, there were some hopeful moments and some chuckles but not enough to make up for the deficits. I don’t recommend it.
Sigmund Brouwer writes well, and Saffire is no exception. Saffire is a girl with an unusual spelling to her name. She is not the focal point of the story, but she plays her part. Due to her, James Holt, the protagonist, gets involved in more than he bargained for.
The setting is historical, the digging of the Panama Canal. A number of actual historical people are part of the book. Lots of information about the canal is given, and it is an impressive piece of work. The intrigue in Panama at the time was intense, and Holt, our cowboy hero, is caught in the middle of it.
Brouwer is very good at developing a story and revealing details as the story flows along. I read the book in two sittings in two days, so it was captivating. The characters are believable, and the action moves along readily. Holt is in the dark about some things and doesn’t reveal much himself. Politics and personalities are constantly in play.
While Holt wants to help Saffire, he has another job to do, and he tries to get them done together as best he can. There is a love story as well. Much of Holt’s memories and musings involve his deceased wife and his daughter left alone with her uncle in the Dakotas. He is smitten unexpectedly by a Panamanian lady, who shows some interest in him. It’s quite convoluted, but it all works out in the end.
A character of interest, T. B. Miskimon, was a real person. Brouwer makes him out to be a curious fellow with rather odd strengths and weaknesses. Holt calls him “Muskie.” They have a number of interactions that add to the story.
I recommend this book for its history and its story. Too many folks are unaware of what we gave away some years back.
Douglas Bond writes good historical fiction. The Battle for Seattle is nicely done. Bond is on his home ground, and it shows. Literally some of the action takes place in his immediate environs. Nice. After reading good books by Douglas Bond set in other places, this was a switch, and a good one. While Southern Oregon isn’t quite as wet as Seattle, our 42 inches of rain during the wet season here brought the fog and gray damp days in the book quite close to home.
The story is a good one, not preachy as some of his books are at times, and it is based in historical facts. Personally, I knew nothing of the short war with the Indians in the Puget Sound area. It was good reading. As far as characters go, Junebug is a joy. Noclas is the wise and godly man. Charlie Salitat is Bill Tidd’s Indian friend, who earns the nickname “The Paul Revere of Puget Sound.” Bill Tidd, the main character, has his own struggles and adventures, and he matures nicely in the book.
Lots of history is woven into the story. There are places and events that are worked into Bond’s novel in an unobtrusive way. The reader gets some flavors of the time, both good and bad. People are people and doubtless will continue to be so. Some folks are giving and sacrificial; others are mean and self-serving. A few are willing to give folks the benefit of the doubt, but others are prejudiced and make no allowances for any deviation. All these types appear in this story.
If you live in the Northwest or are interested in its early settlement history, this is a good book to read, especially for young folks. The story moves along; there is plenty of action, but there are also times of thoughtful reflection, usually done in conversations. I liked the book. If you’ve not read any of Douglas Bond, this is a good place to start. It is a stand alone novel and worthy of your time.
Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims is by Daniel R. Hyde. It is relatively short and to the point.
This is a great book for those who know little or nothing about the Reformed churches. Daniel Hyde has an easy writing style, and the organization is logical. He begins with some history and moves easily into the confessions. From there he talks about Scripture and its authority in the Reformed Church. He has a chapter on the Covenant and how it is God’s story and the unifying thread in the Old and New Testaments. He spends a fair amount of time on justification and sanctification. He explains the basis for justification and then how sanctification works out in one’s life. One chapter is devoted to the church, particularly how to identify a true church. Following that he discusses worship and how it is to be crafted according to God’s Word and not man’s preferences. He finishes off the main body of the text with a chapter on preaching and the use of the sacraments. He has two appendices and three indexes. The first appendix is entitled “Questions and Answers.” He has fourteen questions that people new to the Reformed faith or curious about it are likely to ask, and he answers briefly. It is a very good section of the book.
Who should read this book? Anyone who is exploring where they might go to church or anyone interested in finding out the basics of the Reformed faith. I recommend it, particularly to those who might be newly attending a Reformed church. It is rather basic material, but it clearly would be helpful to anyone for either review or for those plowing new ground in Christianity.
- This newsletter is posted quarterly on the website, and it is emailed free to those who wish to subscribe. You will note my website and this newsletter are free of commercials except for my own stuff; I plan to keep it that way.
- Remember, if you have questions, I am only an email away, firstname.lastname@example.org. I am your support, so use me when the need arises. I try to email a response within a day or two. The more specific the question, the better my answer will be. I suspect the folks at New Leaf are answering a few questions now as well.
- Thanks so much to those of you who purchase, use, and recommend my books. I am pleased to know that my materials have helped many students and teachers/moms over the years.
- The next issue of Smithy Notes will likely appear next summer if I manage to keep the schedule. This time I was a bit behind, but a trip and getting my taxes done intervened. The future is unknown, but for now I plan to do at least one more issue, number 100. We will see what happens after that.
By God’s hand of mercy,