Christmas Past and Present

Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone. – Charles Schulz

It’s December 16, 1913 and, as always, I’ve left my Christmas shopping until the very last minute. I’ve spent this morning creating a list of my family of book-lovers and searching the Eaton’s Catalog to find the perfect gifts. I think perhaps I will cut out the images of these books and paste them into the cards for my family so they might know that they will be receiving these books sometime in February.

If only there was a quicker method of receiving these books, like a magic screen I could look at and just make the pages of these books appear…

Whoa. What was that? And what the H*#% am I wearing? Nevermind that! The Eaton’s 1913 catalog has transformed itself into just the screen I was thinking about, and it has a series of buttons attached to it which mirror the QWERTY typewriters I’ve heard so much about! This machine is telling me that its now December 16th, 2011… and as my new-age capacity to deal with technology sets in, all I can hear in my head is “Google it… Google it… Google it.”

For Dad

Mortars, plasters, stuccos, artificial marbles, concretes, portland cements and compositions …

Catalog #34-272

Author: Fred T. Hodgson

Place: Chicago

Year: 1906

Found this full text online at the Internet Archive’s Open Library. Although it is the same book, I believe the 300 page cloth-bound edition that appears in the catalog might be a later edition than the one available online.

For Mum

The White House Cook Book

Catalog # 34-195

Author: Mrs. F.L. Gillette

Place: New York

Year: 1887

The best online version of this book I could find was part of the Project Gutenberg project. The book has been redesigned as one long script, but the chapters are hyper-linked and the text is keyword searchable. Also included are scans of the original, showing various cuts of meat and photos of all of the First-Ladies.

For Edith and Andrew

What a Young Wife Ought to Know/What a Young Husband Ought to Know

Catalog # 34-180

Author: Emma F. Angell Drake

Place: Philadelphia

Year: 1908

Catalog # 34-181

Author: Sylvanus Stall

Place: Philadelphia

Year: 1907

These two books were both found using Google, and the search led me directly to the Internet Archive. What’s great about this site is that it allows you to download the book in a series of formats (PDF, plain text, daisy, Epub) or to simply read the book online. It also provides a good deal of information about where else the book can be found online, and about the physical document itself, so you can get exactly the gift you want to give!

For Thomas

The New Century standard Letter-Writer

Catalog # 34-200

Author: Alfred B. Chambers, Ph.D

Place: Chicago

Year: 1900

Once again, Open Library provided the best version of this book available online. Given the age of the book, I couldn’t believe what a clear set of scans were available. Reading these letters, and looking over the reasons that letters used to be deemed necessary gives one a sense of nostalgia very fitting for this time of year. I might just keep this one for myself and get Thomas a Toblerone.

For Ruth

Through the Looking-Glass

Catalog # 34-352

Author: Lewis Carrol

Place: London

Year: 1871

There are very many copies of this book available online, but because of the ease of use of the University of Virginia’s Etext library version, and because they kept the original John Tenniel drawings, I thought this was the best version for my 13 year old sister.

For Robert

The Boy Scouts in the Rockies

Catalog # ??? page N 286

Author: Herbert Carter

Place: New York

Year: 1913

Although the origin for this book is Project Gutenberg, I much preferred the layout of the ManyBooks page, which gives you information about the book, a short synopsis, an excerpt and then allows you to choose to download in one of 24 formats.

What surprised me most about my search for these books in 2011 was the ease with which most of them could be found. For anyone simply wanting to read these books from times gone by, it wouldn’t take long to find most of these online. I think, however, that one going in search of a specific edition of a book might have a much harder time in their quest. Luckily for me, my family is unaware of my ability to time travel ( as was I just a short time ago) so they should enjoy their books regardless of the edition I was able to find. Now if I can only find a way to lug this machine back to 1913…

Getting Started with Cursive – An Online Guide to Handwriting

The pen is mightier than the sword – Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1839)

While having a discussion about teaching and technology the other day, it came to my attention that local schools were no longer instructing students in the art of cursive writing. Although I have heard rumours that cursive writing was being eliminated in schools in the Southern United States, the idea that my own child might not be taught handwriting when he attends school in 2 years struck a chord a little closer to home. I decided to do a little homework on what people are saying about the elimination of cursive writing from the education system, and at the same time I thought I’d complete a course assignment and create a “How To”  blog about learning to write in cursive.

The elimination of handwriting from the grade school classroom has received a fair bit of attention in the past while. Some bloggers, like myself, seem unsure of where they stand and are left wondering what will happen if no one in the upcoming generation knows the art of handwriting. The general consensus at the moment seems to be that handwriting is still an essential skill, despite the fact that it will likely not be used every day. Arguments for teaching handwriting include that the practice tunes fine motor skills, trains the brain to connect hand-activity with memory, and that it helps to connect students with their past.

My main concern when I think of handwriting not being taught is that these students will never get to discover a creative side of themselves that previous generations have taken for granted. No one’s handwriting is the same; the act of putting pen to paper is quite literally one of placing yourself on the page. I just received a Christmas card that was created online, and while I know that it’s the thought that counts, there were no signatures or notes of any kind made on the card, just a simple “Merry Christmas” in a generic font. Handwriting, and signatures more specifically, make things special, unique, and genuine. We can type all we want, but our handwriting defines us, it makes us stand out from all the others, it is an artistic skill, and for many, it is a thing of beauty. Where, then, would one start to look online for places to learn about handwriting? What sites provide the necessary information to help the next generation learn this skill at home, if they are not to receive these lessons at school? The following list will provide a starting place for adults to learn handwriting themselves, or to refresh their memories and help their children with their cursive classes.

Step One: The Importance of Handwriting – A History of Cursive

In order to understand the importance of the skill you are about to learn, it is useful to look to the past and see the ways that handwriting has played a role in many different cultures. This site: provides this very information, showing how different types of script have prevailed over others at certain points in time and detailing the difference between ideographic and phonetic systems of writing. Once you have explored the history of cursive writing, this site gives details about ways to hold your pen, where to position yourself at your desk, and provides worksheets for beginning to learn your cursive letters. Although there are instructions for creating the letters on this site, they are extremely detailed and might intimidate one who is new to cursive writing. I suggest taking the historical knowledge from this site and moving on.

Step Two: Video instruction

As the web allows for many types of communication, I suggest taking advantage of this and watching this video that details what you will need to get started with cursive writing:

While this video doesn’t provide the necessary worksheets, it suggests you look on line for them and gives you important tips such as practicing the same shape of letters at the same time to learn cursive more quickly. The subject of the video is an adult female, which helps to show that this skill can be learned at any age, and helps those who didn’t have the opportunity to learn it in grade school feel comfortable taking it on.

Once you have yourself set up with a pen, lined paper or tracing sheets, and an internet connection, you should turn to the more detailed series of videos by Susan Corbett:

There is a video available for each letter of the alphabet, and the upper case and lower case letters are covered in each video. Susan takes her time with the lessons, and clearly details how many lines are needed to create each letter and where they should be on the page. This series is intended for children who are home-schooled, and, like the video above, defines letters by their type (ex.  “climb and slide” =  I u w t , or “lumpy letters” = m n v x) to help with learning quickly. Although it doesn’t have the music or visual components that make a lot of the other available videos more ‘fun’, this video gets right to the point and is easy to follow.

Step Three: Practice makes Perfect

Now that you are familiar with the cursive style, you might find it helpful to practice on your own, without the aid of a video. This site: provides worksheets for practicing your letters and also groups them into the types of letters that you would have been learning if you followed the video instructions. Once you’ve mastered the individual letters, you might want to start writing words and sentences that interest you. Although you can copy words from a book, this often times means that you would be looking at print and focusing on making cursive from those words, which can be confusing. Instead, try making your own worksheets here:

You can put in a series of words and create a worksheet that is printable for practice. You can start with a series of single letters and work up to joining them into words, and then making them into sentences and paragraphs. And in case anyone ever asks you, and you don’t have a keyboard nearby, you can even practice writing the name of your blog!