Tuesday, April 26, 2022

All in the neighborhood

Years ago when my husband and I would visit his parents in their small New Brunswick town, I'd usually sneak a few moments of alone time to hop in our car and sightsee around the area, stopping to check out any place that caught my eye.
One time, it was a home decor shop selling items in the Primitive Country style which was something my mother liked so I would stop in sometimes. 
When we moved back to the area in September, I noticed that the shop sign was no longer up and in fact, I couldn't even remember where it had been. That's because the shop was actually a small part of a home and you entered through a small porch into the store. You never tried to enter the home, because the entrance was well marked but you also knew you were in their private laneway. So every time we would drive past the homes where I remembered it was, I kept looking for which house had a 'store' attached. 
And for weeks and weeks as we sailed by in our car, I would look carefully trying to remember how the slope of the driveway was. One day I mentioned the now defunct shop site to my mother-in-law wondering if she remembered where it was and if it had moved. My mother-in-law who knows everything about everything in her small town had no idea what 'shop in someone's home' I was talking about. 
I tried to describe it to her from my memories but she was not aware of any such place where I told her it had been.  
A few weeks after I mentioned it to her, I finally figured out which house it was because the slope of the driveway only really fit one house and sure enough, there was a sweet little porch entrance from the driveway that showed itself to be the shop entrance once upon a time. 
That little attached area to the house that functioned as a store blended in with the main part of the house but if you knew where to look you could see the entrance and would likely have qualified to be called an ACU, Accessory Commercial Unit. 
Last year, this article from Strong Towns, The Best "New" Ideas in Planning Are All Old News discussed this topic in more depth and I think if you look around your own area or perhaps where you grew up, you too will find places that function in this way.

Where I grew up in Pennsylvania, all manner of ACUs could be found. I've been traveling down memory lane on Google maps, hunting down all the store fronts and services attached to dwellings that I can remember my parents going to . There were farm stands, barber shops, small convenience stores and larger antique stores in houses. Mixed use buildings with sidewalks or small laneways for quick stops. 
In one of the small towns in Ontario where we lived when our children were small there was a house on the main street that still had a take-out window and tiny deck built onto the front of the house. It was bright cheery colors and the small house was older, but well maintained. It closed before we moved there and it never appeared to be operational again for the ten years we lived in town, but I always wondered about what it might have been. 
After we moved out of that small town, we moved 30 minutes away to a historic town with a vibrant downtown area and one of the houses had a small storefront built adjacent to it but sadly it was never in operation for the three years we lived there. Occasionally I would think I saw items being moved around in the storefront windows, but nothing ever materialized before we moved away.
These are examples that I thought of quickly and could easily show because they haven't changed or I used my own photos. Others exist but the buildings have changed or been demolished so you can no longer see how it once functioned as an ACU. This concept of a shop or service operating out of a home or residential building is also represented in stories, television and movies from many different time periods from the Little House series to Gilmore Girls and much in between, One of my favorite stories for beginner readers is called The Doll Shop Downstairs and the sequel The Cats in the Doll Shop where the owner and his family live upstairs and host an immigrant girl during the war. Shows like Doc Martin and Gilmore Girls both feature main characters that live in their places of work, Luke above his diner and Doc Martin in his surgery. 
In our new neighborhood, several places of business are marked on Google maps at residential addresses including an upholstery business, a disc jockey and a local taxi service.  None of the places marked have any signage up so I can't confirm their existence, but if you look in your neighborhood, you might find some interesting entrepreneurs as well. I would love to have a cake shop as my neighbor!

Saturday, April 16, 2022

tell Him of my trouble

An evergreen sapling growing from an unlikely place: a decaying log.

Part of growing in our understanding of what it means to be a person or rather a child of God is learning how to accept suffering and grief of all kinds as part of the human experience. This morning I copied two of the passages from the Common Book of Prayer readings that I use as an app on my phone: Hosea 6:1-6 and Psalm 142:1-2
The passage in Hosea begins with "Come, let us return to the LORD, for it is He who has torn, and He will heal us; He has struck down, and He will bind us up." Psalm 142 begins "I cry aloud to the LORD; to the LORD I make my supplication. I pour out my complaint before Him and tell Him of my trouble."

And the Hosea passage ends with "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice. the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings."
Then in my notebook after I copied those passages down, I listed very quickly the several things that came to mind that I would consider troubles or difficulties for me at the moment. These are things that I pray about but actually listing them made me more aware of how vulnerable I felt about these struggles that are currently unresolved. I like to locate problems and then solve them, not linger in their shadow as if caught under a cloud and wanting the warmth of the sun. So to dwell on these difficulties as areas in my life that I need the Lord to heal and bind up however He chooses to move was an act of seeing myself suffering and know that it was right to look to God for help. 
I was reading an older blog post from Kathy Weitz's The Reading Mother which I have always enjoyed reading and I saw that she had shared a quote from an essay written by C.S. Lewis in 1948 called On Living in an Atomic Age. I read it and found the same comfort that she expressed.
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors — anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

And after several pages, Lewis ends with this perspective for all of us who have ever felt afraid or uncertain over difficulties facing us.

It is enough to say here that Nature, like us but in her different way, is much alienated from her Creator, though in her, as in us, gleams of the old beauty remain. But they are there not to be worshipped but to be enjoyed. She has nothing to teach us. It is our business to live by our own law not by hers: to follow, in private or in public life, the law of love and temperance even when they seem to be suicidal, and not the law of competition and grab, even when they seem to be necessary to our survival. For it is part of our spiritual law never to put survival first: not even the survival of our species. We must resolutely train ourselves to feel that the survival of Man on this Earth, much more of our own nation or culture of class, is not worth having unless it can be had by honourable and merciful means. The sacrifice is not so great as it seems. Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs. Those who care for something else more than civilization are the only people by whom civilization is at all likely to be preserved. Those who want Heaven must have served Earth best. Those who love Man less than God do most for Man. 

Shortly after reading that, I found this lovely article, The Third Thing written by author and poet Donald Hall who I associate firstly with the children's picture book he wrote entitled Ox-cart Man but who published many books of poetry along with his wife Jane Kenyon. Hall engages in a brief recounting how of two poets, a husband and wife, Donald and Jane, spent their days together. It is a stirring piece of writing and I commend it to you for your enjoyment and thought life.
Sometimes you lose the third thing.
Poetry gives the griever not release from grief, but companionship in grief.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Almost a riddle but more like a rhyme

Whatever comes of today, we have this memory of what we put into making yesterday's today. Putting the effort of care and beauty of today means that you have the memory of it for tomorrow and days after. And so each today gives us the opportunity to spend it in ways that will be a kindness to remember in the tomorrows. 
My posting of this tablescape is part of doing something today that was already enjoyed in a yesterday, but by me sharing the photo in this space allows me to enjoy it again and perhaps even be seen by others for their enjoyment.
It took effort and care to track down a new tablecloth, to decide to spend money on cut flowers for our home and to dress up the tea lights with pretty tape and many other actions and decisions to create this for our extended family gathering. And while I did feel the stress of finishing this centerpiece in time, I also allowed myself the time and effort to take just a couple of photos to remember and enjoy later. In creating some sense of beauty for myself and my family, I also gave myself permission to be me, a person who sets up tablescapes with items collected from around our home. (It also means at some point, I gave myself permission to acquire these possessions.) 
Sometimes the second-hardest thing to let yourself do is care, and the hardest is to let others see that you care. It makes you feel vulnerable and open to possible critique but it also contributes to you feeling alive.
My husband has often referred to a paraphrase of Augustine's words to "Love God and do what you want." to explain his views on how Christians can see their life choices. We are the most free to be ourselves when we have already submitted to the view of who God is and who we are. 
And so my todays are governed by how I want to think of them tomorrow; with thankfulness and renewed purpose to be most alive in what I care for and how I show that care.

Friday, December 03, 2021

October color

What a glorious fall we enjoyed and the color in the gardens and trees lasted through some of November. We had many warm days and evenings in October and it made me wish I had more work outside to do to enjoy every bit of it. While Canadian Thanksgiving gatherings in New Brunswick were restricted to only one household, we enjoyed time with my husband's family earlier in October while Seth did some of his school program online here at home with us. But at the end of October, Seth went back to in-person at his school and found a great place to board with an older couple. He plans to come home later in December for Christmas break.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Solomon's Nature Study

At the end of 1 Kings 4, we are given a further explanation of the depth of Solomon's wisdom that he had received from God after being given one request.

God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than any other man, including Ethan the Ezrahite, wiser than Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. ~ 1 Kings 4:29-34 

Several ideas have come to mind upon reading this interesting bit of narration from the author of 1 Kings.

1. The areas listed as examples of Solomon's wisdom go far beyond the practical and awe-inducing discernment in administering justice seen in the baby custody incident . We are told he wrote proverbs (or wise sayings) and composed songs and poetry in great numbers. He was a prolific writer and composer in what could be considered both the arts and the humanities. But the surprising inclusion of nature study topics is remarkable. Solomon was a naturalist and a lecturer who held talks covering an enormous range of topics in the plant and animal world as well as the arts. Studying nature in all its forms is not just for the scientists and birding clubs. It is an interest worth anyone's time to know the world of creation that we live in. 

In a recent post by GretchenJoanna, she shares her continuing interest and curiosity in looking for and naming wildflowers, insects and other discoveries on a return trip home. She takes photographs, but also keeps a notebook list of what she sees. Anyone can stop and look, you don't need to write a blog post about it. Anyone can look up what they see and learn its name and how it grows, you don't need to take photos for social media. But the point is, being learned in nature is a sign of attainable wisdom, not useless nerdiness. 

2. In Josef Pieper's book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, he makes some statements about who can do philosophy and what it looks like when they are doing it. Bear with me, as I give you some extended quotes from the second part of the book, The Philosophical Act.

As a preliminary approach, however, it may be said to philosophize is to act in such a way that one steps out of the workaday world. The next thing to do is to define what is meant by the workaday world, and then what is meant by going beyond that sphere.
The workaday world is the world of work, the utilitarian world, the world of the useful, subject to ends, open to achievement and subdivided according to functions; it is the world of demand and supply, of hunger and satiety. It is dominated by a single end: the satisfaction of the "common need".
And then he goes to to speak more about what this "common need" entails. So he has given a definition of "the workaday world". And he goes at length to make sure the reader understands that he does not intend to denigrate this world, "that the world is of course essentially part of man's world, being the very ground of his physical existence, without which, obviously no one could philosophize". So then, with that clarification, let's see what he means by "going beyond that sphere" into doing philosophy.

A properly philosophical question [my note: his example used is "Why is there anything at all?" as asked by Heidegger and others] always pierces the dome that encloses the bourgeois workaday world, though it is not the only way of taking a step beyond that world. Poetry no less than philosophy is incommensurable with it.
... Nor is it otherwise with prayer. 
... Man also steps beyond the chain of ends and means, that binds the world of work, in love, or when he takes a step toward the frontier of existence, deeply moved by some existential experience, for this, too, sends a shock through the world of relationships, whatever the occasion may be, perhaps the close proximity of death.

So in Pieper's thesis, you step outside or beyond the workaday world when you ask important questions of yourself, the world, the nature of man, etc, when you partake of some form of poetry or song, when you pray or when you have an encounter that stirs your emotions on different levels.
Clearly Pieper says more than I can quote or explain on this matter, but in my readings I see how the wisdom that Solomon became famous for was not limited to intellectual musings or judicial prudence, but the very matters of human existence: life, death, poetry, song, prayer, trees, plants, birds, fish, etc. Solomon studied the world that God gave us and he was given supernatural insight into these matters that he then in turn, poured out in word and writing to those around him and for us. He used the gift of his wisdom to instruct and help his own nation and those who came to him from all over.  How much can we find help and comfort in these same areas as we live in this very real world created by God but subject to the curse?

3. And my final thought was how this list of Solomon's areas of wisdom coincides with the areas of study that we strive for in education, in particular the methods of education spelled out by Charlotte Mason who promoted all of this and more for all children and all people. Her particular attention to poetry and nature study as being as important as history and literature. To neglect these 'subjects' as extras or luxury is in Pieper's words: "to screw down the dome more firmly than ever, to close every window, and then man really is imprisoned in the world of work." If you're interested in learning more about the educational methods of Charlotte Mason or who she was, this brief introduction from The Charlotte Mason Institute and Deani Van Pelt will give you some information and resources.

There is always more than can be thought about and said on any of the ideas mentioned. I mostly write this out for my own benefit, but if it has stirred up ideas and connections for you, I am thrilled.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Educated by our views

When you see a photo, illustration or art print of something you like, it's helpful to ask yourself why do you think you like this? What is the content of the image that makes it pleasing and hopeful to you?
What about the images make you wish you could be part of that scene for a moment or forever?

Earlier this year, I was viewing some photos shared by someone I follow on Facebook who I do not know in real life but she posts about topics I enjoy or would like to understand better. She shared some photos she took from a car trip as she traveled from her home to another location.

As I enjoyed looking through her photos and was wishing I could see this same place myself, I asked myself why I liked every single one I scrolled through. I noticed the theme of her photos was landscape and buildings that showed terracing. And I immediately checked back and each photo had some level of terraceous aspect to it. What did this mean? Why was she drawn to these scenes to take photos and share them with her followers and why was I drawn to every image? A terrace is most often marked by an elevated area whether it is part of a structure or created by landscaping. Why is this design pleasing to us? Perhaps it is because humans live on the ground and our eyes are located on the highest part of our head which is the highest part of our bodies. We enjoy this view but we also enjoy looking above and beyond our regular elevation to scenes that create movement for our eyes and often then our bodies as we move up toward new views. (If you are interested in thinking more about this design idea, here is a brief explanation from Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language on Terraced Slopes.) 

I see this as an analogy what happens in education. Education comes from the Latin word for educere which means to draw out or long, to bring up. In education, we are looking at the world that is beyond us and seeking to understand how we relate to it and how it relates to everything around it. We are not content to stay with the view and understanding we have as infants and children. We seek to grow and move into new levels of wisdom, understanding and character. 

When you meet someone for the first time and you ask where they are from, you are asking for a part of their story, the history of their movement so you can learn about them. Education is the process of looking at yourself and understanding where you are in relation to everything else. Education does what prepositions provide in a sentence. It helps you relate the subject and the movement to yourself and others around you. Humility allows us to study ourselves objectively and see what is missing so we are motivated to keep learning and growing. It is the process of learning humility to look past your own view and see what other stories and views are waiting for you to learn from that we often call education.