Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ender's Game Book to Movie Discussion Questions

This weekend I'm hosting a pizza party for some young teens at my house. We're going to discuss the book Ender's Game before going out to see it in IMAX 3D. The kids have all read the book to prepare, and another mom and I put together this list of questions to spark the discussion. Enjoy!

Ender's Game Discussion Questions
by Laura Cook and Lydia Netzer

1. Quote: “Knocking him down won the first fight.  I wanted to win all the next ones too.  So they’d leave me alone….It isn’t what he did, Mrs. Wiggin, It’s why.”  

Why do you think the “why” of what Ender had to say was important?  How does  that factor into his ability to save the world later in the story?  What was it about Ender that made him a better match for his later responsibilities than Peter or Valentine might have been?

2. Quote: “He walked the short bridge to the door in the shuttle.  He noticed that the wall to his right was carpeted like a floor.  That was where the disorientation began.  The moment he thought of the wall as the floor, he began to feel like he was walking on a wall.  He got up to the ladder and noticed that the vertical surface behind it was also carpeted.  I am climbing up the floor.”

Ender sees his surroundings differently than the other students in his class, and this helps him to be especially suited to the task that lies ahead of him.  Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you saw things differently than everyone else and it worked in your favor?

3. Quote: "I’ll put it bluntly.  Human beings are free except when humanity needs them.  Maybe humanity needs you.  To do something.  Maybe humanity needs me—to find out what you’re good for.  We might both do despicable things, Ender, but if humankind survives, then we’re good tools.”

Do you think it is OK to do things that are destructive if you perceive the overall endpoint to be positive?

4. Quote: “He can have friends.  It’s parents he can’t have.”

Why do you think it would have negatively impacted Ender’s capabilities as a commander if he had had a strong “parent” figure?

5. Quote: “Human being didn’t evolve to lie around on lakes. Killing’s the first thing we learned. And it’s a good thing we did.” 

Is killing a necessary part of human existence? Why do we simultaneously believe murder is the worst crime you can commit and also that killing is essential to our survival?

6. Quote: “Thank you for this, Peter.  For dry eyes and silent weeping.  You taught me how to hide anything I felt.”

Can you think of a time when someone hurt you, but it taught you something you were thankful for later?

7. Quote: “Hot anger was bad.  Ender’s anger was cold, and he could use it.  Bonzo’s was hot, so it used him.”

Explain what is meant by hot vs. cold anger?  Can you think of a time when you were paralyzed by anger (hot anger)?  Can you think of a time when you used your anger as fuel to allow you to make positive changes (cold anger)?

8. Mazer Rackham gave up living a normal life so that he could artificially stay alive in order to train Ender. Do you think this was a noble sacrifice? Would you have done the same? Do you think it was a hard choice for him?

9. Are you a builder or a destroyer? Do you think there are only two types of people in the world? What other types would you add to that paradigm?

10. The adults decide it is okay to risk Ender's life and sanity to save Earth. Do you think that you would give your own life, or risk the life of someone you love to save humanity in its current state today?

11. Quote: “Perhaps it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.”

Valentine changes as she sinks more deeply into her role as Demosthenes.  Do you think that you become a bit of everything you pretend to be?  If you think this is true, do you think that you can aim to be something you are not and become that someone/something by acting the part for long enough?

12. Do you sympathize with Ender when he just wants to keep on swimming in the lake? Why do you think he felt that way. Do you ever feel that way? What breaks you out of that mood and into action?

13. Were the adults right to lie to the children about what they were actually doing in the "simulation"? Do you think it would have changed the outcome if they had known that they were fighting a real war?

14. This book was written before internet usage was thought of as being useful outside of a university setting.  What do you think about Orson Scott Card’s idea of communicating through a network of computers?  Do you think science fiction writers sometimes contribute ideas to future scientists and technologists? Did the internet turn out as he envisioned it? Are there international networks where people hold serious debates and change minds with strong ideas?

15. If you were Ender, do you think you would be satisfied having been useful and having helped humanity, even though you had to make enormous personal sacrifices to achieve that (leaving your family, not having a normal childhood, not being able to return to Earth?)

16. How would the book have been different if it had ended before Ender discovered the bugger queen and connected with her mind?

17. When you are reading the book, and you are being told that Ender is still "in training" and that the battle is still to come, and yet you know that you only have a few pages left before the end, does that change the way you interpret what's happening? Since you knew you were near the conclusion, did you suspect at all that the battle was happening already?

18. With whom do you identify more -- Peter, Valentine, or Ender? Are there any aspects of the two children you least identify with that you can connect with and understand?

19. Ender was a third child, which was rare in the fictional setting in which he was born.  Do you think his unique birth order contributed to his understanding of different personalities and his leadership capabilities?  Do you think being one of three, rather than an only child or a second child made it easier for him to learn to adapt to the social setting at Battle School?

20. What do you make of the rules regarding having children in the world of the book? Do you think it's fair to limit people's reproduction, or give special favors and permissions based on intelligence or other genetic qualities?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Science Fiction Reading and Writing: A Middle School Literature and Creative Writing Seminar: Intro

Welcome writers and parents!

I'm SO looking forward to reading and writing with your children. The material we're going to be working on is stuff that I devoured obsessively when I was in middle school -- my goal is that at least a few of the kids in this class will get bit hard by the sci-fi bug and become scifi geek nerd dork fans like I am! Science fiction is a great "gateway" for young students to begin talking about adult literature, as the themes and ideas are so overt and accessible, and there's plenty of action and adventure as well as characters to remember. 

Here's how the class is shaping up. 


We're going to be reading this short story collection: The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol. 1, 1929-1964, edited by Robert Silverberg. You can order it, get it from a bookstore, whatever. Kindle/Nook/iPad is fine, but it would be nice if the student could bring the device to class so we can refer to the text. Also, I'm not totally sure how the pagination works in the different e-versions, so it might be tricky for them to answer some of the discussion questions, as everything I produce will refer to the print version. 


Each child must have some sort of notebook/composition book/journal/folder and paper/binder. They must also have a writing utensil. If they show up to class without these items, they will be visiting you on a weekly basis if necessary, to get them. :) I provide the weekly opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with your child about being prepared for class, but I do not provide weekly pencils. 


Each week we'll read one short story. I will have homework questions based on the story for them in several categories: Science Fact, Creative Responses, Craft of Writing, and Personal Reactions. They can choose what to focus on and how they want to interact with the text, and I encourage you parents to look at the choices and decide how to direct your child and what you want them to get out of the class. It can also change by the week, or they can mix and match questions and answers - whatever interests them for that week. I will be posting homework questions on the internet on Tuesday evening for each week's lesson. I'm going to be using Freedcamp, an online project management software to do organize information and interact with the students, and I will let you know very soon how to work on that. It has the capacity for group discussions, a reading timer where we can all log our reading minutes and try to get as many as possible as a group, and more. 

I will also be flagging some vocabulary that might be unfamiliar, and assigning a brief writing task each week which can be emailed to me, uploaded to the site, or turned in in class if written by hand.

It is very, very, extremely, monstrously, volcanically important that they read the assigned stories. If you don't feel your child can keep up with at least that, then I love you, and your kid, but this class not for you. I understand we all get busy and this might not be a pedagogical priority for you -- if you don't have your kid doing homework, that's your decision, but if they don't at the very least read the stories, they can't participate. This is me, standing on the roof, with a megaphone: THEY MUST READ THE ASSIGNED STORIES. Don't make me do quizzes now. Because you know I will. I'd like them all to also log in and check the Freedcamp site at least once/week to look at the assignments, the to-do lists, the milestones, the discussions, etc. 


Reading: Over the course of the semester, each child will read one longer work -- a sci fi novel of his or her choosing. The assignment will be to write at least one question in each of our homework categories, for this novel. I'll be giving out a list of suggestions. 

Writing: Over the course of the semester, each child will write a short story -- a work of fiction between 500 and 5000 words. We'll be workshopping these in class a we go along, with the goal of revising, polishing, researching markets, and submitting our work for publication at the end of the term. 

This is a meaty, academic class and this material I care deeply about. I intend to teach my butt off, and deliver a course that's on the level of a high school literature class. If this all sounds overwhelming, bail now! No one will blame  you, and there's still time! But if it sounds awesome and right up your kid's alley then GREAT! I can't wait to get started. 

If you're in (and you're registered for the class), please send me your preferred email and your child's preferred email, so I can add you both to the Freedcamp project site. 

Polynesian Choir and Ukulele Band: Intro

Hello parents and singers!

If you are familiar with my choir classes, you may be wondering about a songbook. I have lots of songs in mind, but I do not have a book ready. I am just not sure, until I see the kids in front of me, what we'll need in the books in terms of lyrics, chord notation, uke fingerings, etc. I am also not sure what level of difficulty we can tackle until I have a final roster and get a measure of everyone's interest level in the first couple of weeks. So, the songbook may be coming, or we may just wing it. 

IF YOU ARE SINGING: Welcome. We'll be learning some pop songs about Hawaii, some popular Hawaiian songs, some songs from the musical South Pacific, some folk songs from South Sea islands, and even some island chants.We'll be doing a bit of music theory -- recognizing minor/major chords, intervals, understanding and controlling pitch and volume and tempo, and other stuff. Some of the songs are FUNNY. Some are sad. Some are love songs. This is definitely a type of music that most people never really explore, so prepare to have your musical horizon expanded! 

IF YOU ARE ALSO PLAYING UKULELE: Welcome to you too. :) I've had some questions about what ukulele you need to participate. Any regular old ukulele is fine. The cheapest, silliest one is A-OK, in any color. :) The standard size ukulele is a soprano. The brand most people buy as a starter instrument is a Makala or a Lanikai. Here's the one I bought for my daughter a few Christmases ago: 

If you have a tenor or baritone uke and you know how to play it already and want to bring it, go for it. Our instruction will be on the soprano uke with standard D6 tuning. If you don't know how to tune your ukulele, please come a bit early to class so Benny can handle all that before class begins and still have lots of time to sing and play. If you want to bring a folding music stand, this would be great! It'll be much easier to read the chords and lyrics while holding a ukulele if you have a music stand in front of you. Note: We will not be using the ukuleles for all the songs. Please prepare your child for the fact that she/he will be putting the instrument down and just singing sometimes. :) We will not be going FAST on the uke instruction. We'll try learning one chord per week. So, on our first song, when we only know the one chord, we'll work on playing only when that chord comes around. 

PRACTICE: I do expect children to memorize some songs. I've always had, in choir, a few songs that were based on poetry -- in Celtic choir we learned some Yeats, and in Appalachian choir we learned some Stephen Foster. This semester I am very much hoping that we can learn at least one traditional Hawaiian chant. This will be challenging because I'm neither Hawaiian nor traditional, but we're going to try it with a soundtrack. I'm going to have some YouTube videos and some iTunes downloads to listen to each week -- optional of course but I think helpful! I'll leave you with this one:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Walker Family Band Summer Fiddle Camp

Last summer we tried an experiment. Instead of going to a Suzuki Institute or a local music camp, we packed up our violins, tin whistles, guitar, cello and ukulele, and headed to the mountains of North Carolina for a week of fiddling fun with Scott Walker and his family fiddle camp. I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to the camp before and I didn't know anyone who had gone. But I did know that what I wanted for my children was to experience some freedom and joy in music, and to kick back and relax with their strings.

First Night Jam Session

I met Scott Walker and his brother Landon at a Suzuki Workshop where he was teaching cello master classes and fiddle group classes. His immediate connection with both my kids impressed me -- his gleefulness, his sense of fun, and his ability to work with Benny immediately and effectively, and charm the socks off Sadie -- I was impressed. During the faculty concert, Scott and Landon played a song together that is without a doubt one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've heard played on the cello. When I found that Scott had written the song, I knew that I had to get my kids more time with these people, so I began to look into their summer camp.

We've been a Suzuki family since Benny was 3. When Sadie was born she began attending his lessons in the baby sling, and by the age of two she had a foam-a-lin under her chin. The best thing about Suzuki, for us, has been the teachers: their willingness to accept children as individuals, their patience and faith in their method, and their positive, forward energy. But after 8 years of toil along the Suzuki path to enlightenment (and Benny's path has not been without thorns and potholes) I felt like we needed to step outside the program, and try something new.

Advanced Fiddle Class

The Walker Family Band Summer Fiddle Camp was without a doubt the best week my kids had all year. The teachers were fantastic. The other families were welcoming and fun. The other kids were music-obsessed, violin-addicted, foot-stomping fiddle-fanatics. It was amazing.

The camp is held at the Blowing Rock Conference Center, which is a resort way up on a hill at the end of a road. It's on a lovely green campus with lots of room for the kids to roam around, and there's nothing else out there. They eat in the cafeteria, they play outside on the grounds, all the classes are in one of the main or adjoining buildings, you sleep in your room in the main building, and everything you need is right there. There's no need to use your car for the whole week if you don't want to.

When I arrived I was concerned my kids would find friends, would be able to get to their classes, would be able to adjust to all the new people, etc. Let me tell you. On the first day, my little 7 year old got herself to her first class, and made a friend by the end of her second class. By the end of the day Benny had his own room key and was getting himself around the campus like a pro. He was telling *me* where stuff was located. They got themselves to their meals, got themselves to their classes -- the self-sufficiency of all the kids at the camp was amazing. I had so much time to chill out that this time *I* am going to take classes!

The culture of the camp is obviously very music positive, but it shows up not just in the activities and the official mission, but in all of the people too. There's a gang of teenagers -- they're all walking around with instruments in their hands, and when they clump up, they're playing fiddle tunes. To "be cool" you better be able to play Devil's Dream real fast -- these are the teenagers I want my kids exposed to! There was such an inclusive, warm, family feel to the whole thing -- moms helping other moms' kids all over the place. It reminded me a lot of our homeschooling community at home, and unsurprisingly a lot of the kids are homeschooled.

There's a pool:

Silly girls playing in the pool during an off hour. 

You can make new friends:

Phoebe and Sadie wrote to each other throughout the year.

A trio that formed for the talent show: Flute, violin, and cello. 

There are lots of red haired boys who know "Red Haired Boy":

During the talent show performance.

And I haven't even mentioned the bonfire, the awesome pottery teacher who fires all the pieces in a spectacular fashion on the last day, the kayak river trip, the yoga, the nature walks, the song-writing class, the kitchen sink parade, the talent show, and more! 

Look, if you're a Suzuki parent, and you're worried, I get you. You may look at the web site and wonder, "Where will my kid fit in? He's in book 4 -- is that intermediate or advanced? Will he have to read music? Will I be able to sit in the classes? Will they let his bow hand go to heck? What if he doesn't get along with the teacher?" The culture of the place is a little different, for us hard-charging classical academic types. 

But I'm telling you: Don't worry. These are good people. All of them. Their sole purpose for the week is having a good time -- with the kids, with their instruments, with you. You can juggle the classes around if you need to. You can sit in. You can hang out. You can pick up a drum and join in. Your child will learn an ENORMOUS amount. Not just repertoire, or new bowing techniques, or how to play a new instrument like the mandolin or whistle, but also how to really participate, how to join in without fear, how to step out with confidence, how to enjoy his instrument, how to really "play" the violin instead of "work" on it. 

The Walker Family Band Summer Fiddle Camp was a great investment in my kids' growth as people and their love of music. They have been talking about it all winter, and they cannot WAIT to go back this year. 

Go to this web site: Summer Fiddle Camp.

Look at all the documents and follow the directions. 

If you get confused, call. They will help you figure it out. 

If you're still confused, go. When you arrive, you will begin to understand. Maybe this photo will help. My 7 year old daughter, with her ukulele, perfectly happy and comfortable jamming with these experienced pros, who welcomed her with respect and good humor, and helped her fit right in. When I saw this happening, I knew I was in a good place. 

Robbie Wells, Landon Walker, Scott Manring, and Sadie.

If you have any questions, I'm happy to answer them from my experience. Here is a slideshow of all the rest of my pictures from 2011! I hope to see you at camp in 2012! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Suzuki Violins and Cellos in an Outreach Concert

On Sunday we went to Suffolk, VA for a pair of outreach concerts with Mrs. Morton's studio. The kids played beautifully in a country church and then in a retirement home. Thank you to the church ladies who made us lunch, and to Mrs. Morton for putting together such a lovely program!

Sadie got to play along for two songs. The first was Minuet 2 from Suzuki Book 1:

Then Lully Gavotte from Suzuki Book 2:

Benny and his buddy Stephen share a stand in their youth orchestra, and also share a cello teacher. Here are the "Bad Boys of Cello" with their teacher, performing Minuet in G by Beethoven as a trio:

"The Prayer" in ensemble, a song made popular by Celine Dion:

And finally, "Hot Canary," a crazy-to-play but super fun violin lark:

A great way for the kids and me to spend a Sunday. :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Homeschool Choir is Fun!

For the last two semesters at Homeschool Out of the Box, our secular co-op here in Norfolk, I have been teaching a choir class for all ages. The first semester we learned some basics -- interval training, breathing, projecting, etc. and some simple songs. The second semester we took on Celtic music -- ballads and jigs and reels and silly songs and sad songs, all from the British Isles. This coming semester, we will be diving into the music of Appalachia -- murder ballads, nonsense songs, Stephen Foster standards, and bluegrass favorites.

We work on memorizing lyrics, ear training with notes and dynamics, and have lots of fun in class. Here are a couple of examples of our songs from last semester. We love to incorporate instruments that the kids play -- you can see a cello and tin whistle participating in this song, as well as my guitar:

Last semester we memorized several poems from W. B. Yeats, and here's one of them, one of our more serious selections:

This spring, we're singing American tunes like "Beautiful Dreamer," "Skip to My Lou," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," "Cotton Eyed Joe," and "Shady Grove." Our songbook can be purchased as a coil-bound notebook from for $10 or you can download and print your own for free from our Yahoo Group files section. If you order the official songbook, the cost of the class is $60 for all 15 weeks. Without the songbook, the cost is $80 for the semester. We meet for an hour every Tuesday morning near the Chrysler Museum in downtown Norfolk. Won't you join the fun?

Friday, April 01, 2011

Pendragon Mail: 492 AD


Esteemed Lady Knight,

You are welcomed into our number. The Order of the Hatchet is now your home. You will recognize other members by the hatchet incorporated into their heraldry, or by the phrase, “Dagnabbit, I wish I had a hatchet right now.” Your rank is Amaranth. In order to achieve the next rank, Campion, you must bring another girl warrior into the Order. Train her, test her, and when you believe in her, encourage her to contact us. Fight with honor, keep your secrets close, and if you have need of aid, call on your sisterhood before all others.

Your sister in arms,

Selene, Gentian, Order of the Hatchet


My Dear Daughter,

I hope this letter finds you well. It is my opinion that you should share your secret with the world as soon as possible. I know it would do my heart good to be able to communicate with you openly rather than using your sister as translator for your impossible ciphers. Thank you for the money. I have hired your mother a servant to do the dishes and the laundry for a year. This will really help! Speaking of sisters, I am sending you one. This little rogue, Esme, is trying your mother’s patience in the extreme. She will not work, she will not learn to read, she will not listen, and she claims to have fallen in love with one of the local smiths. She is nineteen years old. Do what you can with her.

Your loving parent,




Young Knight,

It is with regret that we recognize your allegiance to the southern usurper. Without the mandate of the legates of Britain, he will never be other than a usurper to the Kings of Gorre, whatever sword he waves around to enchant our brethren in Malahaut. Perchance we will see you on the battlefield someday. Maybe that day will come sooner than you think. Say hello to King Lot if you see him. He may be your last hope to align yourself on the right side of the coming conflict.

Good luck,

Knights of the Order of the Golden Apple


My Son,

I am disappointed but not surprised that you have not embraced the privilege to join our great Northern alliance and the Order of the Golden Apple. I trust your intelligence that you can keep yourself safe. Thank you for returning the sword – it pains me to know that in future it might have torn heads from the shoulders of my friends and allies, your uncles of the North. I’m glad your attention, for now, is on the Saxons. Beware King Lot. I rejoice that you are ready to wed and provide me grandchildren. Your mother says to tell you not to have your head turned by a pretty face. You and I know that is more difficult in practice than in theory. I was not able to find any women of suitable rank here that were willing to go so far from home and oppose their fathers’ wishes. Please keep me informed of all you do – even if my liege is someday your liege’s enemy, I remain your father, and you my son.

With fondness,

Sir Aeron



Brave Knight,

It is with honor I salute you as a Knight of the Lions of Logres. You will find many friends among the knights of King Uther. Should you be in doubt of a fellow knight’s allegiance, you may test them in the following way: If you say “the means becomes the end” and they answer “the spirit takes precedence over the letter of the law” then they are indeed a Lion of Logres. If they answer otherwise, and you so desire, feel free to decapitate them. Your rank is currently initiate. In order to advance to a novice rank, you must acquire a lion skin and craft it (or have it crafted) into a cape with a hood, to wear to our rituals. Here’s the catch: the lion must be a male, must be over a year old, and cannot have been killed by you. Welcome to the order! May we support King Uther on the throne into eternity.

Your Comrade in Arms,

Paeter, Captain of the Lions of Logres


My Son,

I am so proud that you have become a knight! We miss you every year at Winter Solstice. I remember, since you were a wee lad, how you used to chant the ritual. Do you remember? If you are married, your mother wishes to know that you will teach our pagan rituals to your children, especially the winter solstice chant. Now don’t go marrying a Christian girl and forgetting your druid ways!

By the flame that burneth bright, O' Horned One!
We call they name into the night, O' Ancient One!
Thee we invoke, by the moon-led sea,
By the standing stone and the twisted tree.
Thee we invoke where gather thine own,
By the nameless shrine forgotten and lone.
Come where the round of the dance is trod,
Horn and hoof of the goatfoot God!
In fiery flame by starlight pale,
In shadowy host that rides the gale,
To the heart-beats drum! Come to us who gather below! We hear thy hoofs on the wind of night!
As black tree-branches shake and sigh,
By joy and terror we know thee nigh.
We speak the spell thy power unlocks,
At Solstice, Sabbat and equinox.

We hear very little news of the wars down South. I hope you will keep yourself strong and safe, and mace anyone in the head who appears to have other plans. ---Your loving Dad



Brother Knight,

Ye are a sassfaced young weed, aren’t ye? Well, ye’re lucky I appreciate humor in the young. I don’t question your loyalties any longer. I know now if I need to call on ye to betray your King and join forces with the Kings of Ireland ye won’t hesitate! Now ye are a Knight of the Red Branch of Ulster, ye must engage in one of our finest traditions: songmaking. Your current rank, as a new Knight among us, is Potato. To advance to the next rank, Slice of Soda Bread, you must compose a battle hymn for the Knights. This hymn must be of at least four verses and a chorus, must inspire warriors to fight our enemies. Further, you must teach this song to somebody else.

Welcome to the order, Flann! May you wander with dignity and honor and always carry a full saddlebag.


Sir Hort


My Son,

Your temper gets away with you! I had to listen to quite the whacking lecture from Sir Hort about your sassy retort to his questions. Please control yourself! I’ve sent along with this message a shillelagh – it belonged to your great grandfather who used it to hike all over Ireland. Now that you’ve surpassed your dad and become a knight, I can’t teach you anything about sword fighting and the like, but I can recommend you learn the fine art of Irish Stick Fighting. Look it up on the Merlinternet and see if you find an interest. Your sister is still lost, but the bears are healthy. Mother plans to make more sisters.



Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pendragon Assignments 490 AD

Hello Sir Knights!

It's time to write a letter home, to let your families know what's going on with your careers. You can choose to ask for advice, assistance, company, wives, items, or information. You can choose to send money, information, instructions, news, or items along with your letter.

In addition to the mail you are sending, you have also received a piece of mail.


The envelope is addressed to Sir Gwanon, but inside the letter reads thus:

Respected Lady Knight,

We have received your request to pledge your service with the Order of the Hatchet. We pledge in turn to keep our correspondence discreet, even if you should not decide to join our ranks. In order to know more about you, we ask that you choose one of the Nine Female Worthies that you respect the most, and tell us why. You may find out more about them on the Merlinternet.

  1. Lucretia
    Wife of Brutus, her suicide prompted the overthrow of the Roman monarchy in 510 BC.
  2. Veturia
    Mother of Coriolanus, she persuaded her son to stop fighting on the side of the Volscians, Rome's enemies.
  3. Verginia
    A beautiful plebian Roman girl whose father killed her to prevent one of the Decemviri (corrupt leaders of the government) from enslaving her. Her death prompted the overthrow of the government and the reestablishment of the Roman Republic.
  4. Esther
    Queen from the Book of Esther, saved the Jewish people in exile from a plot to destroy them.
  5. Judith
    Jewish heroine who killed the Assyrian general Holophernes after getting him to trust her.
  6. Yael
    Heroine mentioned in Judges 4:17-22 as having killed Sisera, the chief of the Canaanites, after he took refuge in her tent.
  7. St Helena
    Mother of Constantine the Great, according to legend found the True Cross in Jerusalem.
  8. St Briget of Sweden
    Had visions of Christ, wrote the prayers "The Fifteen Oes" which were included in the Book of Hours.
  9. St Elisabeth of Hungary
    Followed the beliefs of St. Francis of Assisi, built a hospital, once turned bread into roses to hide the fact that she was feeding the poor in secret.
When you have chosen the worthy you feel most deserves your respect, please respond, and we will be, discreetly, in touch.

Your future allies,
The Order of the Hatchet


Sir Knight, Gwair Son of Aeron of Gorre, Respected Countryman,

Word of your deeds has reached far into the northern reaches of Briton, and of course your father has made known your progress in chivalry and battle. As such a valorous knight would be welcome in our ranks, you are invited to join the ORDER OF THE GOLDEN APPLE. The Order of the Golden Apple was formed by the King of Malahaut to honor members of his own or neighboring
lands who distinguished themselves. Members believe that they have an obligation to live chivalrously and to support each other against strangers and Saxons. Members must come from one of the Cumbrian or Northern kingdoms (Malahaut, Norgales, Nohaut, Lothian, Gorre, Strangore); or come from one of the northern Saxon lands (Sorestan, Deira). Members must never fight against each other for conquest or for love, including on opposing sides of a tournament. Members must support and succor each other beyond normal expectations.

As your father (a member of the order, did you know?) has vouched for you publicly, you have only to complete the following requirements to join our order of knights, should you so desire.

1. Submit a statement of loyalty to the northern kings, and swear always to defend the free north.
2. Define what you see to be the most dangerous threat from the kings in the south.
3. Provide an account of your most recent battle against the Saxons.

Looking forward to meeting you.

In trust,
Sir Hendrian, Knight to King Barant of Malahaut


Sir Talorc,

It is with Great Pride that I welcome you to the service of King Uther. You should know that some of the most valorous knights in service of the king, whatever their local liege, have banded together to create an order of brotherhood called The Lions of Logres. Our rules are simple: We never tell each other's secrets, wink at each other's women, or cut each other's throats. This does not include jousting, but decapitation in a jousting tournament against a fellow Lion will be held as highly suspect. We support and defend each other against all enemies, Saxon or otherwise, and unite in strength and honor in defending and promoting the interests of King Uther. If you wish to join our order, you must provide the following:

1. An account of your most recent battle against the Saxons, for our archives.
2. Tell what you like best about King Uther: His awesomeness or his superness?
3. Tell what you like least about the Saxons: Their dumbness or their meanness?

If there are any other knights in your knowledge that deserve to be part of the Lions of Logres, our doors are always open to the recommendations of a brother knight. Please respond quickly, as we are about to go to war in Cornwall, and the mail may be interrupted.

Sir Brastius


Sir Flann, you red devil,

Well it's been a few years since you murdered my dog. I have forgiven you, for what it is worth. I've heard from your father, who is still a fine squire, and very noble, thank you for asking, you've become a knight, in the service of King Uther. I am writing to invite you to apply, if you wish, to be a member of the Red Branch Knights. This is a fine old order of Irish fighters, dating back to the time our kinsmen fought in chariots. Lest you be tempted by some of these British knights and their brand new orders, still wet from their mother's wombs, know that the Red Branch of Ulster predates them by a thousand years, and when our shillelaghs are flying, the British are dying! Sorry, sorry, I got carried away. Of course we are all united under our common enemy, the Saxons. Or was it the Picts? Or the Romans. Can't remember. Anyway, join the Red Branch of Ulster straightaway, and come back to visit Ireland as soon as you can.

In order to join, you must answer the following questions:

1. What is a shillelagh?
2. Who is Cuculainn (besides the finest Red Branch commander in the history of Ireland)?
3. Where does your loyalty lie?

Send me the answers quick, and I'll send you back some news from your homeland. The Irish must fight together! Stay true to your roots.

Sir Hort



1. Write to your father.
2. Respond to the invitation to knightly orders. Sarah and Benny can do research on their orders if they want -- they are real. Stephen and Jacob's are invented to go with our game, but if they really want to do research, they can research chivalric orders in general:
3. Let me know how the reading is going and where you are in the book.

Jacob specifically: Figure out how to run a battle.
Benny specifically: Do your Mabinogion work.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Everyone Who Doesn't Agree With Me Must Be a Communist

In a recent political discussion with a conservative homeschooler (I would say friend, but she'd probably be offended, given that I'm a communist and all), I was surprised to hear her still generalizing that all liberals are actually communists. Here are some of the organizations she considers Marxist:

The Coffee Party, the Obama campaign, Center for American Progress,, the SEIU, MoveOn, La Raza, Organizing for America, the Alliance for Climate Protection, NPR, and PBS.

Yes, even Elmo -- well, he is already red.

It strikes me that it's really counterproductive for the right to redefine "communism" as anything left of Glenn Beck. If people keep getting told that something as centrist as the Coffee Party is communism, eventually the word is going to lose all power to terrify and subdue. And where you can you really go, after communism has lost its oomph? They'll have to start marching up and down insisting that everyone who doesn't agree with them is a cannibal. Hey, it worked for the Romans. Carthage never got over that particular smear.

For me it's possible the overuse of the charge "communist!" has already lost some of its power to terrify and dismay. Instead of heading for my basement in fear, or defending my honor, I feel more likely to roll my eyes and vote for another Democrat. The fact that the word has already been softened should be a warning to conservatives.

Are there real communists out there? Sure. Ones that want to abolish private property and inheritance, land ownership and the accumulation of wealth. If you hunt hard enough, you can find one or two. Probably they'll be hopping mad that Obama is too centrist, and the Coffee Party isn't progressive *enough.* You may find them at liberal marches or rallies. If they're smart, they're voting Democrat, but it's equally likely they're voting for their own candidates. There is a radical fringe on both sides. Failing to recognize that means you don't understand your own position.

I just want conservatives to embrace some intellectual rigor! Calling all supporters of the Coffee Party, for example, communists would be analogous to us calling all supporters of the Tea Party fascists. It wouldn't be true, and worse than that, it wouldn't be smart. It's more difficult to understand complexity in an idea or a group of people -- easier to shriek "COMMIES!" or from this direction maybe "RACISTS!" and be done. But it's not only incorrect -- it's dishonest. And increasingly, it's ineffective.

People are getting educated - they're waking up to the fact that their neighbors, their third grade teacher, the cops down the street, the firemen downtown... aren't actually communists. They're regular people, trying not to get crapped on so that big corporations and the top 2% of earners can have their tax cuts. And the more that realization comes home to people, the more the Tea Party "Patriots" who dance around shrieking "COMMIES! COMMIES!" are going to be the ones looking foolish.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pendragon Assignments 488 AD

Player 1:

You receive a sealed letter from your father. The handwriting is pretty miserable but it's clear that he wrote it himself. You take it to Gwair, and he reads it to you.

My dear daughter,
It pained me greatly to find that you had left home, but I understand why you did. Your mother told me about your aspirations as a seamstress in the south. I can only hope that you are cutting up lots of fabric, if you know what I mean. I am proud that you have decided to wield the scissors, and hope that you have created many fine garments. I have included a gift for you. I received it from a water nymph with whom I made acquaintance while boating on the Tyne. I give it to you, the better for you to pursue your art. I had the castle wizard enchant it for me so that no one would open it before it reached you. The lock on the case is magical, and can be opened by speaking the answer to this riddle:

What comes through the door without pinching itself?
What lands on the stove without burning itself?
What falls on the table without spilling a thing?

We are hard set about by Saxons here in Northumbria, my daughter. Any news of your safety would be welcome.


Your assignment is to try to open the case, and also to write back to your father. Your letter should have at least 10 complete sentences. You can email it to me, and also print it out or write it out for our next class meeting. If you send me your answer to the riddle, I'll tell you whether the case opens and what's inside.


My dear father,

I am safe and sound. Thank you for your support and understanding in my undertaking. I am an apprentice to a seamstress now. I have made many lovely garments. One was especially large. All the bare threads can be gruesome, but I am learning not to mind. A few months ago a prominent customer came to where I live. He sent me and my comrades to sew for him on a ship. Our vessel is headed towards Northumbria. I hope that soon my sewing skills can be of service to you. I do hope this letter finds you in good health. Please convey my love and good wishes to my mother and sisters.



Player 2:

You receive a letter from your father, sealed with his seal and printed on his private stock of paper that he keeps in his writing desk. You crack the seal and read the letter:

My dear son,

Your mother and I send our regards. I have much news from your home here in the kingdom of Gorre. I do hope you remember where your home is. I have heard the news that Uther Pendragon has died. I must tell you this filled our liege lord with great hope for a glorious invasion of Logres. If it is possible for you to ingratiate yourself with these people and become a landed knight in Logres, it will be very useful to your true king when the invasion takes place. Knowing we have a friend on the inside will be very helpful when the time comes for the kings of the North to unite and conquer all of Britain. then we will show those Saxons who's boss.

Two of your brothers have wandered off to Ireland to become poets. Your oldest brother spends most of his time with his head in a flagon of ale. That "firstborn" birthright might be closer than you think. I hope this finds you well and strong, and that you will find a use for this helmet. It was to be your brother's, but he only seems to want to drink out of it.

Sir Aeron

The messenger is also carrying an iron helm that will add +3 to your armor when you are wearing it. It is very heavy but it fits great!

ASSIGNMENT: Write a letter back to your father. It must be at least ten complete sentences, but you may write more if you like. Email it back to me and print it out (or write it out) for our meeting on Friday


Thank you for the helmet. It's arrival was just in time- I will go off to fight the Saxons in spring. The King is not dead. I know you mean well, but an invasion from the north would cripple us. As I said, I am going off to fight the Saxons. I am loyal to you, but I also must be loyal to my Lord Cadmon and Uther Pendragon. Please, do not attack. Besides, I'm not a knight, only a squire.
I hope things are going well at home. For your comfort, I do remember where I live.
Send my regards to my eldest brother. Also, tell him I've got his helmet.

Player 3:

You receive a letter from your father. The envelope is very weathered and stained, but inside is a clean sheet of paper, carefully written. Obviously he has paid a scribe dearly to have this done. You take it to one of the castle scholars, who is in charge of teaching Lord Caedmon's children to read and write. He lets you know what it says:

Valiant Talorc,
It has been years since we last saw you. Your absence is aging your mother. She can barely lift a bucket. Please send news. Stay fast and low. The armies of the north stand strong and free. Are you a knight yet? Don't be foolish. Uncle Ort fell off a cliff and died. Here is his mace. Fondly, Da

The messenger is also carrying a solid oak mace with a broad, fierce ball studded in nails. It has been carried by Picts in your family for centuries. When you use this mace, you will add +3 to any damage roll. What a great present!

ASSIGNMENT: Write a letter back to your father. It must be at least ten complete sentences, but you may write more if you like. Email it back to me and print it out (or write it out) for our meeting on Friday.


Dear Father,
I'm not a knight, but a knight has taken me on as a squire.I wish I could come home, but I am going to raid the Saxons by sea. When you get this, I will probably be on a ship, but here is 7 Denari to help keep our house running. Please tell me how my brothers are doing, and I want to thank you for the mace. It is in good solid condition, and I am constantly thinking of you. When I finish the raid, I will try to get back to the house. I want for all of you to know that I want to come home. When I do come home, please have all my brothers waiting. I want to talk to them and all my friends. I love you all.

Player 4:

You receive a letter from your father in Ireland. You open it up and get your friend Gwair to help you read it.

My bright son,
I am writing to you because our king is returning to our green homeland and quitting these shores of Britain. Of course I will follow Sir Hort back across the water. He has been faithful to me and to our family, in spite of the fact that we have not always been faithful to him. Yes, I know about the dog. It has been paid for, child, but I will not be telling your poor mother about the way you repay the kindness of our Lord. Trouble is brewing in Britain, and especially in Logres, my son. I pray to the goddess for your safety. Maintain the strength of your beliefs in the old ways, and don't be turned by the new Roman religion. Please write home with some news of your health and adventures so that I can reassure your poor mother and all her sisters, who ask about your constantly.

You forgot this, maybe in the haste of your departure. I thought you'd like it with you.

Best of luck to you,

Wrapped in a cloth you find your favorite griddle. It's special to you because you've ground one side of it into a sharp blade, which you used for chopping vegetables and also chopping up enemies. This weapon / kitchen utensil can be used as an axe, and will give you a +3 bonus to any damage roll.


Dear Dad
I met up in an inn first with Gwair, from Gorre, then Guenon from Northumberland, and Talorc from the Out Isles. The strangest part was that we were all heading to maiden castle because of the news we heard. As you know, I fought the dog, Gwair was the son of a night, going to make his fortune, with an unexpected visit from his older brother, trying to kill him. Talorc fought a deer, then falling unconsious, shortly falling off a cliff. We found a horse trotting down the road with no rider. We put Talorc on the horse, because he was wounded, and we set off to find it's rider. We then found the squire of the knight who rides the horse, a warhorse charger. Gwair went off not trusting the squire. We worked together to find the knight, in which we succeeded. We accepted his offering of the horse, and set off for maiden castle. After a cold hard winter full of traveling, spring sprung it's way into the path in which we were traveling. We met this old beggar who went by the name of Merlin, and he gave us a mission. He gave me a book called the Mabinogion and told me to illustrate the first story. We took him to the fort Bath to drop him off and then we descended into the woods. Not too soon after we entered the deep dark wood, we ran into a bear! It struck me and part of my arm hung off, so I ran away as quickly as I could. The rest came and tried to do first aid on me, and I later healed at an abbe where I attempted to read my first story, the lady of the fountain. Alas, I see a lot of black marks on the parchment in front of me. What do they mean? I went to see Gwair, who was the only person I knew who could read. I found him chatting with Guenon. I then found out that he was a she! I do not have the time to tell my whole adventure. I will continue another day.