Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Books

So last year, after I had made a basic list version of my favorite books of 2013, I saw this creative book round-up post over at Amongst Lovely Things and kept it in mind for my books-of-2014 post.  Now 2014 has just about gone, and I get to share.  J
All together I read 66 books, not including school books and other read-alouds with the kids.  Some of those were slow-and-careful reads, some were quickie reads.  Most I would say weren't a waste of time although some were disappointing…but that's mostly because I'm not afraid to quit reading a book that does feel like a waste of time and those don't get counted. J  There were probably another 5-8 books that I started and read a significant amount of before I quit. 

I learned a lot about myself as a reader this year – what kind of books are really worth my time, what kind of books I should probably pass on because I will probably be disappointed, beginning to feel less intimidated by the Great Books - which is helping me hone my selections to make the best use of my reading time.  I do love to read, but there are always more books than time to read them - I want to make the most of that time.  I also started keeping a Commonplace book mid-year…may I suggest this practice to you as well?  Taking time to jot down thoughts and quotes in a journal forces me to think and ponder more deeply rather than just read and move on.
So here you have it…the books of 2014!
Best Fiction
The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I had tried a couple of times to read this when I was younger, and this time I finally connected with it.  I can't wait to revisit these with my kids in a few years.
Best Non-Fiction
Or shall I say "best non-fiction I haven't mentioned under another heading" J   I'm going to say Rachel Carson's Sense of Wonder – short, easy read but very inspiring.  Highly suggested if you need some fresh motivation to get out and do some nature study.
Best Biography or Memoir
I'm going to say Carolyn Weber's Surprised by Oxford, although Essex Cholmondely's The Story of Charlotte Mason is right up there at the top too.
Best New To Me Author
I am going to say Homer – I've read both The Iliad and The Odyssey this year and I'm glad I did.  I look forward to revisiting these at some point in the future.
Book that made me Cry  Old Sentimental Favorites that I Revisited This Year
Book that made me cry was the heading in the original post that I took this idea from, but quite honestly…I don't tend to cry over books.   But perhaps 'sentimental favorites' fit with the theme?  Besides these are books I love that I read this year that I love and so they need to make my list somehow, right?  Right.  Anyhow…favorite books I revisited this year were Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion and Jan Karon's Mitford series.
Book that Made Me Laugh Out Loud
The Lord God Made Them All and Every Living Thing – James Herriot always makes me laugh. J
Book that Changed my Perspective on Something
I think I'm going to say Isobel Kuhn's In the Arena.   The stories and testimonies she shared in this book helped me to view my present season and some of the issues that I am struggling with in it as training ground for what the Lord may have for me in the future.  That perspective has been the difference between continuing on in the face of discouragement and quitting.
Best Homeschooling Book
The best specifically homeschooling book was probably Sarah MacKenzie's Teaching from a State of Rest.    Best book on education more generally was Charlotte Mason's Volume 3 School Education – I loved the way this book built step-on-step from basic principles to practice…I also loved seeing very clearly for the first time how Charlotte Mason's principles and practices dovetail so nicely with the classical liberal arts tradition.   The Living Page deserves a shout-out here too.   So does Karen Glass' Consider This, although I only read through that kind of quickly with the intention of reading-to-savor in the coming year….this will probably be my 2016 pick. J
Worst Book
I don't know that I have one…mostly because I don't finish the ones that are heading in that direction. If I finished it, it wasn't truly horrible.  And as to the ones I quit...well, I didn't write them down and they obviously didn't make an impact on me, so I couldn't tell ya. :)
Best Surprise Plot Twist
Probably Edmund Jorgenson's Speculation – this book was interesting but rather strange, and I certainly didn't anticipate where it was going when I started.
Most Disappointing
Probably The Deadliest Monster.   We read this in the AO book group as a follow-up to Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, as the premise was that it would build on those into a discussion of worldviews.  I found the book oversimplified (maybe I was expecting too much since it is really a book for young people?), his presentation of the Christian worldview  narrower than it needed to be (presenting one specific set of theological preferences, which bothered me even though I mostly agreed with his theological preferences), and I didn't really care for the us-and-them tone in it.  It was an interesting concept, but I didn't care for how it was carried out, and will likely choose a different book to explore this topic with my kids when we get to those upper levels of AO where it is scheduled (Year 10, I think).
Most Over-Hyped
Desiring the Kingdom.  I had heard so many good things about this book, and in the end found the book itself disappointing.  He did have some good and thought-provoking things to say which I have continued to mull over, but those nuggets were mixed in with a fair amount I didn't agree with or appreciate.  The book also could have been about a third of the size and still made its point, perhaps even making a stronger case for it by being more direct and less rambling.  I'm not sorry I read it, though.
Most Challenging
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, especially paired with The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Dante's Inferno which I also read this fall (well I haven't finished The Inferno yet, but I started it this fall).  These three have really made me contemplate my sinful nature, the tragic consequences of sin, and thereby increased my gratefulness for God's grace.
Best Cover
You know, I do almost all my reading on Kindle, so I don't know that I can really pick one for this category.   I ended up with a lovely old copy of The Story of Charlotte Mason, however, which makes me happy to look at. 
Best Young-Person's Book
I really enjoyed reading a couple of Genevieve Foster's history books – George Washington's World, The World of Captain John Smith, The World of Columbus and Sons - there are several others as well.  I really like the way she traces major people and events taking place all over the world against the backdrop of one single influential person.  These are written for an upper-elementary and middle school readers, and a couple of them are scheduled in AO Years 4-6.
I also really liked George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin, which I pre-read as it is one of Michelle's Year 3 literature selections that I will assign to her to read on her own.
Book I've Been Meaning to Read for Years and Finally Got To
Homer and Lord of the Rings.
Best Book on Homemaking
Did I read any books on Homemaking this year?  I don't read much in this genre anymore – I have systems that work for me so it's not a reading priority.  I did re-read bits of The Hidden Art of Homemaking this year which is possibly my favorite.
Book I have Recommended the Most this Year
I didn't actually read For the Children's Sake this year, but know I've recommended it several times – it's my go-to recommendation for those wanting an introduction to Charlotte Mason.   I've also recommended Surprised by Oxford to several people too.
Best Philosophical or Spiritual Book
Besides the Bible, right? J  I'm going to say Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman. 
What did you read in 2014?

Monday, December 22, 2014

An Advent Reflection

This year's Advent season has been kind of different – unique – mostly in a good way.
Part of it is borne out of the fact that I decided to wait for most of the 'celebratory' aspects of Christmas – the decorating, the baking, the gift wrapping, the music, the guests -  until…well…Christmas. We are all off of work and school that week between Christmas and New Years and will actually have time to savor and enjoy those activities.   I find that now I'm actually looking forward it rather than dreading one (or two, or three, or four) more thing to cram in around my husband's busy work schedule, the kids' swimming lessons, and moving house (which is how we spent the first three weeks of December).
Part of it has been seeing the kids embrace our Advent devotional traditions as their own.  They asked for weeks ahead of time if we were going to listen to the Messiah again this year.  They are active participators in our nightly Jesse Tree readings.  They listen.  They ask questions.  All those years of trying to establish these traditions when they were all little and it seemed to be a waste of time because they were too wiggly and squirmy to get anything out of it?  That's totally paying off now that they are a little bit older.
Part of it has been that I have been taking the time to do my own personal reflections on Advent, using the devotional guide portion of Bobby Gross' book Living the Christian Year, meditations that have seamlessly tied together with my regular through-the-New-Testament readings, my personal literary reading, and what we've been reading with the children.  Those twin themes of Advent - waiting and patience -have been particularly meaningful to me this year.  This has been true both on a personal level in my daily battle against discouragement and on a grander level when one starts to think about all the hard, hard things going on all over the world – those things that sometimes make you start to wonder at times if God is still there.
Consider this from Isaiah 35:3-4, 10:
"Encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble.  Say to those with anxious heart, 'Take courage, fear not.  Behold your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, But He will save you…The ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads.  They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing with flee away." (NASB)
On the same day that I read that in the Advent devotional, my regularly-scheduled Bible reading was from 2 Peter 2.  The very same theme was echoed – waiting and hoping for the Savior who will mete out vengeance on the unrighteous and salvation to those who belong to Him.  The day is coming when all will be made right.   We've started reading the Narnia books out loud to the children, and even that story has tied right in to my reflections:
"Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again."
(CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe)
The following day, I came to the story of the birth of John the Baptist in my Advent reflections.  The thought occurred to me about how very amazing these events must have been to Zechariah and Elizabeth and those around them after 400 years of "silence" - to see God stirring and working again…to see prophecies being fulfilled, to know that they were not forgotten.  This birth of John the Baptist was like that first thaw of spring after endless winter in Narnia....Aslan was on the move!  The promised Messiah was coming to rescue and to redeem and to save: "Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78-79, NASB).
I saw the Advent theme again as I read the final few books of Homer's Odyssey this past weekend.  Penelope, Odysseus' wife, has been waiting for 20 long years for Odysseus to return home from the Trojan War - never knowing if he was dead or alive.  Talk about waiting - longing - hoping - hardly daring to believe that it might be true - and then the joy when she finally recognizes that it is him, alive and well and home again:
"Joy, warm as the joy that shipwrecked sailors feel when they catch sight of land - Poseidon has struck their well-rigged ship on the open sea with gale winds and crushing walls of  waves, and only a few escape swimming, struggling out of the frothing surf to reach the shore, their bodies crusted with salt but buoyed up with joy as they plant their feet on solid ground again, spared a deadly fate..."
(Homer, trans. Fagles, The Odyssey , Book 23 Lines 262-269
Waiting and patience…and the joy that comes when that long waiting is over and the thing sought for has come at last. He HAS come to save us, and WILL come again to take us home.  We can have hope in the waiting because we know that the joy will come.  It is sure and it is certain.
E'en so Lord Jesus, quickly come!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

From My Commonplace: Persons Created in the Image of God

One of the ladies in my Odyssey reading group suggested reading Chesterton's The Everlasting Man together as well.  As if I needed another book discussion to join…

This is my first Chesterton. I have always thought he was one of those authors that I *should* read, but he's always kind of intimidated me so I haven't. I'm finding I'm really glad that she suggested it, however, since I'm really enjoying him so far, and I don't think I would have picked it up otherwise. I find that I am appreciating his humor as well as his deeper insights. To me, he is making some very profound truths sound completely reasonable.

A few quotes that I put into my commonplace book  from Chapter 1 (oh, Chesterton is indeed quotable!)...
"And it will be valuable to our sense of reality to consider quite simply what that real evidence is, and not to go beyond it."
In this first chapter, Chesterton is refuting the common caricature of prehistoric cavemen that have been drawn up on little more evidence than a few paintings found in caves. I think maybe this is the crux of his point about the cave men might be? The truth is that the little bits of evidence we do have about ancient times/prehistory DON'T give us the complete story of what life was like in those times. There is much we don't know and can't know, and we would do well to be humble about that and realize that much of what does get passed off as early history is conjecture. He then goes on from there to make his next point: what we CAN know from the ancient cave drawings -
"It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree, and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man."
"Art is the signature of man."
"This creature was truly different from other creatures; because he was a creator as well as a creature."
"Man is the microcosm; man is the measure of all things, man is the image of God."
"The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth."
"There may be a broken trail of stone and bone faintly suggesting the development of the human body. There is nothing even faintly suggesting such a development of the human mind."
~GK Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

The cave painting tells us that man is unique - he is not just some smart and highly developed animal. And man is unique because he is made in the image of God. Because of that, he has capacities that other creatures don't have - art, as Chesterton says here...theology/thought of God as one of my fellow book discussion ladies pointed out, I think I've heard Andrew Kern mention language in this category too. This is all making me think about how Charlotte Mason says children are born persons - persons reflecting the image of God in in our art, in our worship, in our words.  When you think of it that way, it makes all the difference in how we view them, interact with them, and teach them.  We aren't training them to do tricks, we are helping them to better see and reflect the glory of God to the world around them. (I fleshed this topic out in a little more detail here.)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Family Reading #16

Yes, that would be all three of my children reading while waiting for a wedding to start.  Cameroonian weddings involve all the guests having outfits made from fabric chosen by the bride and groom, in case you are wondering about the matching outfits. :)  They also involve a fair amount of sitting around and waiting for the next thing to happen, so I'm glad I thought to have each of them bring a book.  Apparently this is kind of a strange thing for children to do, though, as I had one person comment that it was so nice to see children reading rather than playing with electronics, and someone else (an adult) comment to my 9 year old that he had never read a book that thick.  Who knew we were so radical?
It has been officially far-too-long since I did a reading post.  So, here it goes. J
With the Littles (James Age 6 and Elizabeth Age 4.5)
The consistent favorite picture book choices lately have included Shirley Hughes' Alfie books and the Brambly Hedge series by Jill Barklem.  After lunch, I have been reading the two littler ones the Little House on the Prairie series – currently working on Farmer Boy.  (My Big Girl often comes and listens in too – I don't think one can ever get tired of the Little House books.)
Michelle's Reading (Age 9)
I can't keep up with this girl's reading anymore.  She's read LOTS.  But a recent favorite was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh.  She's read it about 5 times in the last 2 months, and she even prompted me to go read it again since she wanted to talk about it with me and I couldn't remember much more than the very basic outline of the plot from my childhood reading of it. J  She's also been enjoying the Noel Streatfield Shoes books – Ballet Shoes, Theatre Shoes, and Dancing Shoes are the ones that we have.  She is particularly delighted by the references to Shakespeare in these books – thank you AO!
James' Reading (Age 6)
We continue to buddy read each day from the Thornton Burgess books – currently just about finished with The Adventures of Johnny Chuck.  He's also enjoyed reading from our Thomas the Tank Engine treasury (these are the original stories, not the based-on-the-cartoon ones).  He dips in and out of lots of other books too…I think I need to start challenging him to read through some chapter books on his own rather than just dipping.
Featured School Book
Michelle has about 2 days left to finish Ambleside Online Year 2!  Her favorite book this term has been Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.  While she's enjoyed the adventure aspect of the story, her narrations (oral, drawn, and written) have also paid a great deal of attention to the clothing and fashion of the people concerned, which has made me smile.  It's kind of funny, but at the same time I see her making connections not only with the text and the illustrations in the text, but also ideas that she has gathered about medieval dress and medieval lifestyle from other books.   Making connections? Check.  Really living in the time period?  Check.   (Have I mentioned how much I love AO?!)
Bedtime Reading
We just finished Along Came a Dog, a Year 2 free reading choice.  This was a surprise favorite for my crew.  It's a fairly simple story about a little red hen who loses her toes when her feet freeze (so she trots about on her 'knucklebones') and the big, black stray dog that protects her.   I've caught James and Elizabeth pretend-playing that they are the little red hen and the black dog several times in the past few days, and all three children came dashing into the kitchen when I was preparing the Thanksgiving chicken last week to see the feet (whole chickens are always sold with the feet here) so I could show them which part exactly were the knucklebones.  Who'd-a-thunk?
Next up is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Their first trip to Narnia.  I'm almost giddy with excitement.  'Nuff said.
On Mama's Nightstand
Too much as usual. J  I won't even try to list everything out, although feel free to take a peep at the sidebar if you want the full scoop J.  A lot them are books that I am reading with discussion groups that are winding down for the holidays and will resume in the New Year anyhow.  I do have three that are in process that I'm hoping to finish by the end of the year, namely: The Universe Next Door (a "worldview catalog" – I read this in college for the first time, and was inspired to revisit it by a recent discussion on the nature and importance of worldviews over on the Forum), Introducing Covenant Theology (about the significance of covenants in Scripture, and taking the theme of covenants as an organizing principle for theology – interesting so far), and The Odyssey (which has been far more readable than The Iliad – I'm about ¾ through and can't wait to see how it turns out.)
What have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

From my Commonplace: On Integrity

A much needed 'kick in the pants' this morning from a wise mentor:
"As a matter of fact, it is easier to do the definite work of school or profession than the easily evaded, indefinite work which belongs to the home daughter [or home mother!]"
"We know that an integer is a whole number; and a man of integrity is a whole man, complete and sound.  Like Rome itself, such a man is not built in a day."
"The whole worker goes at his job with a will, does it completely and with pleasure, and has more leisure for his own diversions than the poor 'ca'-canny' creature whose jobs never get done."
"It is well to make up your mind that there is always a next thing to be done, whether in work or play; and that the next thing, be it ever so trifling, is the right thing; not so much for its own sake, perhaps, as because, each time we insist upon ourselves doing the next thing, we gain power in the management of that unruly filly, Inclination.  But to find 'ye the next thynge' is not after all so simple.  It is often a matter of selection."
"What is worth beginning is worth finishing, and what is worth doing is worth doing well."
"It is worthwhile to make ourselves go on with the thing we are doing until it is finished.  Even so, there is temptation to scamp in order to get at the new thing; but let us do each bit of work as perfectly as we know how, remembering that each thing we turn out is a bit of ourselves, and we must leave it whole and complete; for this is Integrity."
"[Integrity] rests upon the foundations of diligence, attention, and perseverance.  In the end, integrity makes for gaiety, because the person who is honest about his work has time to play, and is not secretly vexed by the remembrance of things left undone or ill done."
~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p.167-172
(Interesting addendum:  I read the chapter from which these quotes are taken Tuesday morning in my quiet time, and typed them up Tuesday afternoon with the intention of sharing them here. Then, Tuesday evening, our Bible Study group discussed Colossians 3:18-4:1.  Verses 22-24 particularly jumped out at me in light of these thoughts: "Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.  It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."  Okay, Lord, I'm listening....)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

An Afternoon at Deception Pass

I am very fortunate to have relatives who live in Washington State.  I love Washington.   We honeymooned in Washington.  I would live there if I could.  But since God has other plans for our family right now (one can always dream about someday, right?!), having relatives there is the next best thing since it gives us the excuse to visit regularly.  J Michelle and I were there in September for my grandfather's memorial service.  Our time there was way too short, but thankfully we were able to spend an couple of hours one afternoon here, one of my very favorite spots in the world.   We stopped.   We rested.  We breathed.  And our souls were refreshed. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Couple of Resources You Should Know About

There have been a couple of new 'must have' resources for Christian Classical and/or Charlotte Mason educators released recently, and just in case you haven't heard about them yet, I wanted to make sure that you know about them. J  
The first is Karen Glass' new book, Consider This.   Ever wonder about the roots of the Classical Liberal Arts tradition and how Charlotte Mason's approach to education fits in?  This is the book that will put together the pieces of that puzzle for you.  It is well written and incredibly accessible.  I just finished reading through it for a fairly quick 'first pass', but look forward to revisiting it slowly and savoring it when I get a chance.   You can read more about the book at Karen's website, and here is an in-depth review.
The other is Brandy Vencel's new study guide for Charlotte Mason's 20 principles: Start Here.    Have you ever wanted to dig in to Charlotte Mason's writings, but find it a little intimidating to know where?  This is a great starting place!  Brandy has taken Charlotte Mason's 20 principles and turned them into a study drawing from Charlotte's writings, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's book For the Children's Sake, and insightful posts and articles from all around the web.   In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't actually purchased a copy of this one yet, but I participated in a 20 Principles study that Brandy led last year over on the AO Forum, the same study that this study guide is based upon.  It was a fantastic, eye-opening experience – you can read some of my quotes and thoughts from that study here.   I am so thrilled that Brandy has made this same study available for anyone who wants to use it to dig deeply into what Charlotte Mason education is really all about.
Happy Reading, folks!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Guest Post!

Today, I am guest posting over at Expanding Wisdom, sharing my journey from a conventional classroom educator to Christian Classsical homeschooler. J   Feel free to click on over and give it a read.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Grandfather: A Reflection

In September, Michelle and I made a whirlwind trip (11 days total, 3 of which were spent in airports or on airplanes) all the way from Africa to the USA to attend my Grandfather's memorial service.  He passed away on August 31 this year at the age of 93.   It was a long way to go for such a short period of time, but it was totally and completely worth it.  In the 13+ years that I have lived overseas, I have missed numerous events in the lives of my family and close friends – weddings, reunions, births, funerals.   Because of that, it was so very precious to me to be able to be there this time – to spend a few days with my extended family all in one place and to celebrate the life of the man who was my hero.
Why was he my hero?  It all started when I was three years old and he and Grandma came to stay with me while my parents were at the hospital having my little sister.  They brought with them a set of "Magic Mary Ann" paper dolls.  (The 'magic'?  They were magnetic so the clothes would actually stay on!)  He sat down with me at my little tiny table-and-chairs and cut out all the clothes, taped the little metal bits on the back that would stick to the magnet, and even traced a blank dress for me to color myself.   I still remember it vividly now, over thirty years later. 
After he retired, he and Grandma bought a piece of property in the woods up in the Northern California mountains and built a house there.  The vast majority of my favorite childhood memories took place at that house.   Walks in the woods, game nights, watching Hercule Poirot on TV, camping in their trailer, playing in the snow at Christmas time (oh the travesty the year I was 10 and we didn't get any snow for Christmas!), driving down the mountain to go shopping and out for lunch at King's Table or the Westside Deli or to that place where you could get the twisty chocolate and vanilla soft-serve ice cream cones….little things really.  But precious to me all the same, the stuff that memories are made of.
When I left home and went away to college, we kept up a lively pen-and-paper correspondence.   This lasted for years – well beyond the advent of email -  many of the years that I lived in Papua New Guinea included.  It really only ended in the past 5 years or so as his mind really started to slip.    When I got married, he made a special trip and flew all the way from Washington to Florida at the age of 83 so that he could be there at my wedding.   And he was so very tickled that he got to meet all three of my little ones the last time we were back in the States.
My Grandpa led a pretty ordinary life.  He was a simple man who loved his Lord, loved his family, loved to work with his hands.  All these little things that I remember about him are really very simple little memories, things that in and of themselves were not that noteworthy or spectacular.  And yet, I considered him my hero.  I am realizing now it was because he took the time.  He sat with me when I was a little girl.   He and Grandma spent hours and days and weeks and months as I grew up spending time at their home in the mountains doing simple, ordinary things with me.   He took the time to write me letters regularly for years when I was a young woman.    He built a relationship with me.
Building a relationship with me didn't require any special talents, or a lot of money, or a lot of fuss and trouble.   It just took time…little moments here and there spread out over the years that added up over a lifetime.   If there is one thing that I want to remember about him - to learn from how he lived his life - it is this.
Take the time for the little things.  They matter more than you may ever know.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Narration as Translation

I, along with a few other ladies over at the AO Forum, are still very slowly plugging our way through Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book.  I really enjoyed the first couple of chapters of this book…and then he dived into all his 'rules' for analytical reading.  Oy.  I can't actually imagine myself 'analyzing' every word, sentence, paragraph in the way he describes.  I always thought I was a detail-oriented person, but I don't think that it extends quite as far as would be necessary to do what Mr Adler describes in his book.   I have very nearly set this book aside several times, but I keep on keeping on since a) our weekly reading assignments are very small and so don't take away much time from other things I'd rather read and b) it is one of the core books used in the upper years of AO.  I don't want to knock it until I've really given it a chance. 
So all of that is context to the section from chapter 9 that I read a couple of weeks ago.  All of a sudden light bulbs started going off in my mind.  Mr Adler is talking about the two tests one can apply to see if they really understand the crux of the point an author is trying to make:  Test #1: Retell the author's point in your own words.   Test #2: See if you can connect the author's point to a personal experience you've had or know about or something else you've read.    Hmm, sounds awfully similar to what Charlotte Mason recommended for her students:  Tell back what you just read.  Make connections. 
What was most fascinating to me is the parallel that Adler draws between this idea of retelling (narration) and translation:
" 'State in your own words!'  That suggests the best test we know for telling whether you have understood the proposition or propositions in the sentence.  If, when you are asked to explain what the author means by a particular sentence, all you can do is repeat his very words, with some minor alterations in their order, you had better suspect that you do not know what he means.  Ideally, you should be able to say the same thing in totally different words.  The idea can of course, be approximated in varying degrees.  But if you cannot get away at all from the author's words, it shows that only words have passed from him to you, not thought or knowledge.  You know his words, but not his mind.  He was trying communicate knowledge, and all you received was words.
The process of translation from a foreign language to English is relevant to the test we have suggested.  If you cannot state in an English sentence what a French sentence says, you know you do not understand the meaning of the French.  But even if you can, your translation may remain only on the verbal level; for even when you have formed a faithful English replica, you still may not know what the writer of the French sentence was trying to convey.
The translation of one English sentence into another, however, is not merely verbal.  The new sentence you have formed is not a verbal replica of the original.  If accurate, it is faithful to the thought alone.  That is why making such translations is the best test you can apply to yourself, if you want to be sure you have digested the proposition, not merely swallowed the words.  If you fail the test, you have uncovered a failure of understanding."
~Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book (emphasis mine)
Isn't that an interesting analogy?  Maybe I just thought it was interesting because I live in a bilingual country and do a fair amount of going back and forth between English and French myself.   The church we attend is [mostly French but kind of] bilingual, so sometimes the sermon portion of the service is translated from French to English (or the other way around, depending on who's preaching).   Given that I am fairly comfortable in both languages, it's usually pretty easy to tell when the translator really understands the message – he's digested it and turned it around quickly into proper idiomatic form in the other language.  Other times you can tell that he's just grasping at words and translating literally word-for-word…at best it's a little stilted and at worst doesn't quite work (think: Google translate).   A good translation – that's hard work!  Often times over on the Forum, people will post about how their child is struggling with narration, and the encouragement and advice often given in this situation is that narration is hard work, it's a skill that takes time and experience to master.  One has to attend, to comprehend, to sift through and organize the information that has been taken in, and then reproduce it in one's own words – in many ways the same thing that a translator is doing when he takes a message in French and has to turn it into English.  "Tell back the story" seems simple…but when thinking in terms of translating the ideas the author is sharing from his 'language' into your own, I think it brings out just how much work it is - particularly for a child who has only ever been asked to spit back 'words' in reply to comprehension questions on a worksheet.  I also liked how he used the swallowing vs. digesting analogy in that last line – fits right in with Charlotte Mason's analogy of spreading the feast before our children.   Narration, while hard work, also ensures that our students are truly digesting the feast, and not just gulping and swallowing without tasting and savoring and being nourished.
Click here to find links to more quotable books for this week.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Summer of Handicrafts

Let me just say up front that I'm not a particularly crafty or creative person.   Nor am I a 'fun mom'.   You won't find me culling Pinterest for fun projects I can do with my kids.   One of the things that I was so relieved about when I discovered Charlotte Mason was that it gave me permission not to have to do cute 'hands-on' projects that I have no idea what to do with once they are finished for every history or science topic we cover.  I hate clutter.  And I hate pouring time into a project that is eventually destined for the trash can.
That said, Charlotte Mason education is much more than just books and narration, as Celeste points out in the article she wrote for the Charlotte Mason Myth Busting series over at Afterthoughts.  One of the many more active pursuits she included in her curriculum is what she called "handicrafts".    Celeste explains: "The goal for [handicrafts] was beauty, usefulness, and quality -- this is not crafting for the sake of crafting, as so many educational supplements seem to be."   Handicrafts can be things we might consider to be in the realm of crafts such as sewing or crocheting or paper folding, but I would say it also rolls over into what we might term 'life skills' too – even such things as chores, and cooking, and home repairs.  In this excellent article about handicrafts, Nicole lists four purposes for teaching our children handicrafts:
  1. A possible lifelong hobby (fire making and camp fire cooking, knitting, woodworking, sewing, basket making, carving)
  2. A skill which can be used to gift friends and family (homemade ornaments, sewing, knitting, preserving food, cooking, card making, basket making, carving)
  3. A life skill that allows you to care for family or otherwise makes things more comfortable in your home (cooking, preserving food, cleaning)
  4. A means to training hand-eye coordination (all of the above examples)
Ah yes.  This I can wrap my mind around.  These don't involve shoe boxes, papier-mâché, salt-dough, or glitter.  This I can do.
I didn't really plan it to be this way, but this summer turned out to be the summer of handicrafts.  I thought I'd show you some of the things that we did.
James, age 6, was often (always?) around and involved in the process whenever his Papa was repairing something:


He also helped his Papa put together a model airplane from a kit that was given to us:
Michelle, age 8-going-on-9 learned how to crochet when my mom was visiting:
This was her first completed project, a little bag.   She's working on a scarf now (almost done), and wants to do some dish cloths next.
Even I got in on the action as I learned to crochet along with Michelle.  I'd never been interested in learning to crochet before because it always looked sort of tedious and fiddly to me, so I only intended to learn enough that I could help her out if she got stuck somewhere once Grandma went home again.  Alas, I got hooked (pun only sort of intended).  I don't have any pictures, but I have crocheted a small pencil-pouch, some flowers, quite a few dishcloths, and am working on a garland for Christmas decorations now.  I also got out my sewing machine this summer and made some covers for Michelle and James' Bibles, both of which were looking a little worse-for-the-wear (which I guess is a good problem to have for a Bible!!)
I find that handicrafts work best for us when I don't try to schedule them….they just sort of ebb and flow with our life.  James is learning lots of 'handyman' skills by shadowing his Papa when he does fix-it jobs around the house.   All three of them float in and out of the kitchen to help as I cook, and the older two are starting to be able to follow recipes and make a few things on their own.   Papercrafting supplies are always available to them to make cards, books, stationary, little decorations, and they often do.  Michelle has learned the basic techniques for handsewing and crocheting and is often working on a hand-project of some kind during read-alouds.   

Handicrafts: simple, natural, beautiful, and useful. 
What kind of handicrafts have you enjoyed in your home?