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?