Friday, August 17, 2018

N is for Nicky and Alix (Blogging through the Alphabet)


One area of history that has always interested me was Russian History. After having the pleasure of taking a Russian History course taught by a professor from Russia, my interest grew. A very fascinating period of Russian History is that of the Romanov Dynasty. For decades, people have been intrigued by the last Romanov Tsar and his family and asked many "what if" questions. Many people claimed to be a surviving member of the family and even a children's movie (Anastasia) was made to tell the story.

In this post, I will share details from the early life of Nicholas and Alexandra and leave the drama of the Russian Revolutions and their subsequent arrest, imprisonment, and execution to a future post.

Youths Meet and Fall in Love 

Nicholas and Alexandra first met in 1884. Princess Alix of Hesse – called "Sunny" by her family – was 12 years old while Nicholas (her second cousin) was 16 years old.

Sunny had a happy and pleasant disposition but was often shy and quiet. Her early years had been marked by sadness. In 1873, her 3-year-old brother fell from their mother's bedroom window. He died within hours of internal bleeding. Her mother died when she was only 6 years old.

Alix's mother was the daughter of Queen Victoria and Alix could trace her lineage back to Charlemagne.

Nicky was an outdoorsman – enjoying hiking, hunting, shooting, walking, and riding. He was tutored in mathematics, geography, science, and history but preferred spending time outside rather than in the classroom. He spoke five languages – 3 fluently – English, French, and Russian. Nicky was described as "full of quiet" and very gentle.

Unfortunately, Nicky was not trained in politics. He had little interest in politics and did not understand it. When he was only 13 years old, Nicky witnessed his grandfather, Alexander II, die after a terrorist's bomb blew him up. This led to repression under the rule of Nicky's father, Alexander III and the idea of absolute control by the Romanovs. Nicky's father kept him out of politics so when he came to the throne, he was quite unprepared for the task.

Winter Season and Young Love 

In 1889, Alix arrived in St. Petersburg for the winter social season. During the time Nicky and Alix would see each other at numerous grand balls, dinners, and other social outings. The two quickly fell in love. When Alix left the city, Nicky soon pasted a photo of her in his diary.

There were reservations regarding the match between Nicholas and Alexandra. Queen Victoria, who had been instrumental in the rearing of Alix and her siblings since the death of their mother, was not pleased with the match. Queen Victoria wanted them placed in marriages she approved of and Russia was not one of those locales. Alexander III did not want Queen Victoria involved in Russian affairs any more than necessary and was looking for a match between his son and France to cement an alliance.

For a brief period, Nicky had a relationship with the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska but he still loved his Prussian Princess – Alix of Hesse – and there is no way that he would be able to marry a ballerina anyway as he was the heir to the Romanov dynasty. In the fall of 1890, Nicholas was sent on a tour of the Far East. He traveled with his brother and their cousin through Egypt, India, Thailand, and Japan.

The Otsu Mark 

While visiting Japan, Nicholas and his brother Grand Duke George and his cousin Prince George visited the town of Otsu. While walking along a crowded street, Nicky was attacked by one of the  policemen, Tsuda Sanzō. The policeman swung a saber delivering a blow to Nicky's forehead. Prince George stopped the assassination attempt by going after the attacker with a bamboo cane. (The first blow left a mark on Nicky's forehead.) The Russians returned soon after and Nicky resumed his affair with his ballerina, Kschessinska. 

In 1892, Alix's father died and she became lady of Hesse with her brother the Grand Duke of Hesse. It appeared that she might be content to remain the hostess of Hesse but things were to change when Nicky's father, Alexander III, grew sick in 1894. With his illness, he finally let go of his opposition to a marriage between his son, Nicholas, and Alix of Hesse.


The final piece that was needed was Alix's conversion from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy. Originally, she was very firm in the fact that religion was "not a thing to be slipped on and off 'like a glove'" but her resolve began to weaken with the conversion of her sister and the marriage of her brother. 

Marriage Proposal 

In April 1894, while attending the wedding of Alix's brother, Ernest – Ernie – and Princess Victoria of Edinburgh, Nicky proposed to his love. While she loved him, she did not want to give up her religion. But this wasn't to be the end of the proposal. Everyone seemed to have an opinion. Queen Victoria was still opposed to the match between Nicky and Alix but Kaiser Wilhelm I (Cousin Willy) said it was Alix's duty to marry Nicky. However it was Alix's sister, Ella – who had converted earlier, who spoke of the personal experience. Her reassurance of the new faith persuaded Alix to accept Nicky's proposal.

In a touching scene, Nicky and Alix became engaged while a thunderstorm raged outside. (Foreshadowing of the troubles to come? Probably just a sad coincidence.) Both cried tears of happiness and there was great rejoicing among Alix's family.

Six Months of Happiness

Both Nicky and Alix spent time in England together where they would grow in their love. Alix began reading Nicky's diary and writing in the margin her own notes. They traveled to visit Queen Victoria at Windsor where she entreated Nicky to call her Granny. A Russian language teacher, Catherine Schneider, and Father John Yanishev, the Romanov's confessor, arrived to school Alix in language and religion.

Happiness was soon ended when the failing health of Alexander III led to his death on November 1, 1894. Nicholas II was in no way ready to rule Russia. He was never trained in how to rule for Alexander III had ruled with an iron fist and did not involve his son and heir.

The following weeks were filled with ceremonies and funerals leading up to the wedding of Nicholas and Alexandra on November 26, 1894. Unfortunately, Alexandra wrote that the wedding seemed to be a continuation of the masses for the dead with the only difference being she was wearing a white dress instead of a black one. What had started as a happy time – both Nicky and Alix were so in love – would be overshadowed with the death of a Tsar and the problems that would come with Nicholas II as the new leader of Russia.

Things would never really be normal for the couple. Times were greatly changing with advancements in technology and changes in leadership across Europe. War would soon come and with it revolutions that would bring about the end of the Romanov Dynasty completely and totally. For only a short while, Nicky and Alix were happy as a couple.

References and Resources 

Images from WPClipart, Openclipart, and Stock Free Images.

Winter Palace image credit: © Valuykins | Stock Free Images

I own both this book and the movie (which I really enjoy!).

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Brief Journey through the Quotes of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

photograph of state of Julius Caesar

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This homeschool year I hope to read the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare with our teen. To prepare, I looked through my copy of the play – which I purchased in 1994 at a Renaissance Faire according to my notation inside the cover – to find some memorable quotes to share with him.

From the fearless nature of Caesar in Act II to his pride in Act III right before his demise Shakespeare has gifted his readers with many memorable moments and quotes.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Learning Together through Branch Out World - A Review of Picture Book Explorers: Paddington Bear

Picture Book Explorers: Paddington Bear is a literature-based unit for children of ages 5-10 that will take your family on a journey to the countries of England and Peru. Our five-year-old son and I had a fun time reviewing the Picture Book Explorers unit from Branch Out World. We completed many of the 30-plus activities, leaving some to go back to when he is older.

Branch Out World is a UK-based company that was founded by "a home educating family" that loves books. Their "literature-based units are designed so that you can tailor them to your child's needs." What is great is that you could use one unit with all your children – if they fit into the age range – or use it again and again as your children grow. All of the books that are part of their literature studies have a link to the United Kingdom which make them especially educational for us living in the United States. Branch Out World also produces lapbooks which allow you to study topics from Christmas in Europe to Volcanoes.

There are over 20 units to choose in the Picture Book Explorers series including the unit we reviewed – Paddington Bear – and others such as The Day The Crayons Quit and The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck.

How Picture Book Explorers: Paddington Bear is Organized

The idea behind Picture Book Explorers is that "a particular picture book is read every day for five days and then followed up by activities chosen from a suggested selection." There are five different sections corresponding to five days with a multitude of various learning activities to complete.

In the paragraphs that follow, I will provide a brief sampling of the activities as organized by the days and how we used the material.

Day One – Exploring the Setting

I printed the maps on the same page so I stapled it at the to the page of our logbook.

In addition to reading the book, we discussed the flags of England and Peru, colored them in, and later attached them to our logbook.

We also located England and Peru on a map of the world, South America, and the United Kingdom.

I printed out two coloring pages to include in the logbook as we did not have easy access to travel posters/brochures as suggested by Picture Book Explorers. This way both our 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter could participate together, too!

There is also a section on Migration factors including push and pull factors that we skipped for now because I knew it would be too difficult for our 5-year-old. But in my opinion that makes the Picture Book Explorers: Paddington Bear more valuable because we can go back during a later year and do the activities that we skipped.

Day Two – Exploring the Words

The theme of Helping Others is addressed in Picture Book Explorers, so our son and I talked about how each person in our family helps others. We then talked about how Mr. and Mrs. Brown help Paddington Bear. There are many opportunities in the story to discuss the theme of helping others as Paddington gets into a few problems – even over-filling the bathtub!

One of the activities we completed was creating vocabulary cards for our logbook.

Day Three – Exploring the Pictures 

One of the activities we spent some time on was examining the different architectural features of not only the Brown's home but also our own home and others in the neighborhood. We looked at examples online, read the definitions provided in Picture Book Explorers, and completed the mini-book together. (My recommendation is to remember that – when putting together the mini-book – you will be turning and flipping the pages. Some of the pages ended up sideways or upside down because we filled it all out before cutting the pages out.)

Day Four – Exploring Science 

As a former zoo educator, I loved that we were able to talk about Spectacled bears during the study of Paddington Bear! As our son is younger, I wrote the information about the bears on the activity sheet as we read facts from the provided fact sheet. We also looked at information we found during a bit of research.

There was an opportunity to explore shaving foam and soap to compare the two in a sensory activity. This was a perfect tie-in to the event in the story when Paddington Bear overfilled the bathtub.

Day Five – Exploring Math, Crafts, and More 

There are a great number of activities included – from working with parallel lines to baking your own strawberry tarts. We had fun packing an imaginary suitcase and talking about what items can and cannot fit into the case.

Some of the additional ideas provided for your family!

What We Liked 

  • The directions are very thorough – great examples of how to record your child's work 
  • List of optional activities and supplies needed 
  • Inclusion of printables like the maps and flags 
  • Inclusion of fact sheets to provide parents with additional information 
  • Activities to pick and choose that span the age range
  • Art lessons about design discussing overlapping and emphasis

Some of the information provided on the facts sheets in Picture Book Explorers: Paddington Bear.

The picture we colored in to represent Peru and the facts on the right about bears.

Our logbook in the process of being completed. Still room for photos and science experiment notes!

Things to Note 

  • Picture Book Explorers is published in the United Kingdom so the spelling of the some of the words (like color) are different (colour) (Our 5-year-old son asked why some of the words were spelled the way they were!) 
  • It is a digital file – you will need to print the lengthy PDFs yourself 
  • You will need to have a copy of the book (this one suggested a specific edition of Paddington Bear as there are some activities to complete that required specific features) 
  • Review the items necessary for the recipes (like caster sugar) – some of them may not be familiar to people living outside of the UK 

To learn more please visit the following: 

To see more examples of the activities from Picture Book Explorers: Paddington Bear, please visit the Homeschool Review Crew's reviews

Thursday, August 9, 2018

M is for Mummies (Blogging through the Alphabet)

M is for Mummy; photograph of Egyptian mummy

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What images come to mind when you hear the words: mummy, mummies, or mummification? Do you immediately think of a museum or movie? Do you imagine the hot sands of the Egyptian desert? Or maybe the cold mountain tops of the Andes?

M is for Mummy; drawing of mummification process

So what exactly is a mummy? 

It is the preserved body of a person or animal through artificial or natural means. Mummification can happen quite naturally as in marshes (bog mummies) or polar mountains (Peruvian mummies). It can also take place through the artificial process of embalming as in the case of ancient Egyptians or Sicilians of Italy.

In the movies, the most famous mummy is probably Imhotep. He was first made famous by Boris Karloff in the 1932 movie The Mummy and then in the movie of the same title staring Brendan Fraser (1999). (There was also an attempt by Universal for a reboot in 2017 but the first movie was considered a box office flop.)

Cartoon image of a mummy

Amazingly, Boris Karloff cemented the idea of mummies in cinema and he only appeared as the Mummy for a few minutes in the movie!

In addition to watching movies about mummies, I also like reading books about them – especially those books written by Bob Brier, an American Egyptologist. He has written a number of books about Egypt and mummies. He has also hosted a number of television specials, including one series that is my favorite – Unwrapped: The Mysterious World of Mummies.

Why do we find mummies so fascinating? 

Perhaps mummies are fascinating because they seem to cheat death. Depending upon the way in which they are preserved, they can almost seem like they will wake up at any moment. They can also teach us so many things about the time in which they live from their clothing to the objects buried with them.

There are many famous mummies including:

  • Ramses the Great 
  • Lady Dai 
  • Eva Peron 
  • Vladimir Lenin 
  • Rosali Lombardo 

Ramses the Great 

Sometimes what happens to the mummies long after their death is almost as interesting as the process of mummification. For example, the mummy of Ramses the Great was discovered in 1881 in a tomb near Deir el-Bahari. His body rested in the Cairo Museum until a request from the French government started it on a journey to France.

In 1975, the French government wanted the mummy for their exhibition on Ramses the Great. Unfortunately, the body of Ramses was under attack by over 370 separate colonies of 89 different species of fungi. The fungi was slowly destroying the body, the linen, and the wood. So the body of Ramses the Great arrived on September 26, 1976 in France with a full military reception needing treatment and conservation rather than exhibition.

Gamma-ray sterilization was used to treat the fungi. The bacteria that infested the mummy due to modern contamination and the fungi were both irradiated. During the conservation process a team of over 100 specialists also investigated Ramses using such means as x-rays. The x-rays showed that Ramses, who died at the age of 67, was probably crippled by arthritis late in life and had a dental infection at his death.

So what is your opinion of mummies? Do they belong in museums, buried in cemeteries or in crypts or in horror movies?

We own all three of these books (although our copy of the DK Eyewitness book is an older version)!

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