Wednesday, May 20, 2015

of funeral speeches and soul formation

It has finally sunk in. Education is the nurturing and training of a soul and mind to love what is right. It took a two minute conversation in our kitchen.

A classical education takes you through the texts and studies that writers down throughout history have written and studied as they considered what the soul and mind should love. A Christian uses this classical education differently than a non-Christian in that the texts and the studies are always being compared to the Law-Word of God.
We are currently reading Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Seth is memorizing Marc Antony's funeral speech for Caesar.
 In the first half, Marc Antony proclaims:
"Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,
For Brutus is an honorable man:
So are they all, all honorable men."

As he finished reciting the portion he is working on, I asked him, "Was Marc Antony right? Were all the men who acted with Brutus, honorable men?"
And his answer came quite quickly.
Why not?
His answer.
Because on the morning of Caesar's death, many of them gathered in his home as friends and counseled him that he was foolish in his belief of his wife's foreboding dream. They intentionally misled him away from being wary. And because they spoke words that had double meanings that the reader is made aware of even if Caesar seems not to notice.

Now someone could certainly disagree with his answer and mount an argument that Caesar himself was not an honorable man and therefore was removed for his own dishonorable tendencies. But then perhaps the discussion needs to move a step back and define what is "honor". And that would be helpful. But only if the definition is being derived from the biblical idea of honor, otherwise it's all relative. Your idea of honor, my idea of honor, who is right? Education is not morally neutral, it involves discerning that which is right and holding it up as the ideal.

Books I use:
The Harp and Laurel Wreath by Laura Berquist
Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare by Isaac Asimov
How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig

books are great, except for when they aren't

I'm going out on a limb here and saying that now more than ever, we need to be super picky about the books we bring into our homes for our kids to read. You cannot trust the libraries and mainstream bookstores (Christian ones too) to have the best books for your readers.
Going through some books on our library's website, I saw some chapter books by an illustrator we previously had enjoyed. So I requested these to see what they were like. I brought them home from the library, two of them, apparently forming some sort of series. I put them with the rest of the library books and went on to something else.

Sometime in the next few days, my almost twelve year old was looking through the library book selection, found these two books and started reading the back of one of them. With a disappointed tone and look he said, "This one is about saving the environment," and the books went back on the shelf. I also was disappointed, but not surprised.
Now, my son loves the outdoors and is very conscious about not leaving messes, hurting insects or animals for his own entertainment. He understands and appreciates that this is God's creation given for us to enjoy and cultivate.
So to find a book that was advertising what it would be preaching to him was a turnoff. As it should be. And I know that Christian stories are often the biggest offenders.
In a lecture that Andrew Kern gave earlier this spring called How to Read A Great Book (And a Hard One) he mentioned this about stories.
"Every story is about something other than the story, because the story didn't really happen. Stories are always analogies. They are always pointing to something else."

Thinking about the stories and the ideas that they are conveying and looking for ideas that are feeding the soul that which is beautiful, true and right. That shortens the endless book lists to just a few great ones. Just a few...

Monday, May 18, 2015

May days

I would love to have some pithy and worthwhile musings to ponder on, but today I just have a collection of camera pixels. It's been hot, then cool, then rainy, then comfortable, then muggy, then breezy. You can imagine the state of the girls' closet and dresser after just 24 hours of this roller coaster weather that spring brings and now that we are more than three weeks into it, I still get overwhelmed by all the outfit decisions each weather change brings. And Kate changes multiple times no matter the weather. She has her own built-in weather vane which demands costume changes like a Paris runway model.
The weather has also been busy changing up the scenery outside with delicious greens that you can smell and flowers budding overnight. The other morning I walked outside our front door and almost fainted from the sheer goodness of the scents in the air. Oh my. It was ethereal. Really and truly transporting.
And of course there is the river, just doing it's thing. It speeds up and forms delicate ripples when the wind sails up and down its surface. And on the still days, it is a perfect mirror for the trees to behold themselves in their brand new leaves. How can they not just stand there and admire themselves for hours on end? The flowering trees must simply know that it is their time to shine. They have unfurled every last nook and cranny of bloom into the sunshine flagging down anyone in the area with a yoo-hoo, look at me.
Driving around the block, the village, or the city is almost torture. You don't want to be admiring from your car seat, you want to be hugging their trunks and burying your face in their branches.
Have I mentioned the lilacs yet?  No?
Next post.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

it never gets old

New life is gloriously appearing everywhere and suddenly I cannot concentrate on our studies. It's supposed to be the kids who have the problem, but right now it's me. I just want to lounge around and do nothing structured, for about 24 hours and then I will want our routine back.
I always do.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

moving on from the Tudors

"But though it may seem sad, one grows out of Tudor cottages. Little by little, the charm of being stunned and sent reeling to the wall, six times a day, by the low beams on the ceiling, is apt to pall; one no longer darts gaily up to the bathroom for the sticking plaster, chortling with amusement at the nice Tudore bumpe on one's forehead. Nor, as season gives way to season, and as the bedroom florr sinks more sharply, tilting at an even acuter angle, does one take so much pleasure in emerging from bed, as it were, on skis, and sliding down a highly polished slope towards a lattice window through which the dawn comes but faintly. It would be pleasant, one feels, to be able to stand up straight, from time to time; it would be even pleasanter to be able to read a book without crouching in a draught under the aforesaid lattice.
As it is with comfort, so it is with taste; to linger in the Tudors is merely a sign of aesthetic adolescence; one must move on to the eighteenth century, and if one has any sense, stay there. There comes a time, or there should come a time, in the life of every civilized man, when he realzes that the eighteenth century said the last word worth saying in absolutely everything connected with the domestic arts. Sometimes this realization comes by chance; he may be standing in a Georgian doorway, and the sun may shine on it, and he may look up and suddenly perceive that he is standing in a frame that is as perfect as a melody made by Mozart. Sometimes it comes painfully, by long study. In my case it came when I inherited four William and Mary chairs of the school of Daniel Marot. Those chairs altered my life. By their elegance, their assurance, their chastity, they were a silent reproof to everything in their vicinity, including myself. I was not sufficiently elegant; I was not sufficiently assured; and we will skip the rest. But those chairs did me persuade at least to try."

~ Beverley Nichols, Merry Hall

So there. We can romanticize life in a quaint Tudor home, but reality sinks in every time the low beams make their point.
Two years ago, I read the second book in this trilogy, Laughter on the Stairs, (without knowing it was a sequel) as my first introduction to Beverley Nichols and his writing. He paints such clear scenes with his words, even if there is only a sliver of truth to it. Heidi at Mt. Hope Chronicles recently shared quotes from Merry Hall which reminded me to go back and read the trilogy in the right order this time.

Monday, April 27, 2015

ambitions and practice

When you want to learn something that seems mostly impossible and at best, barely attainable, it is quite easy to be discouraged at every turn if you know where to look. And I know where to look.

Sometime after I became a mom I realized that I wanted to know how to draw and help my kids know how to draw. I bought a book and tried my hand for several weeks and then another hobby, interest or baby took my attention away from my goals and my efforts.
I kept my notebooks and supplies close at hand, which succeeded in both making it easy to keep trying and also in mocking me as they stood there panhandling for dust.
But I also began to work to turn my discouragement over my lack of ability into inspiration by creating spaces where I could keep track of drawings and illustrations that inspired and delighted me. I came to understand that artistic talent can be learned, and that while many wonderful artists, illustrators, and doodlers are born with a natural ability that wows and cheers us, there are many aspects of drawing, painting and lettering that can develop from genuine practice and perseverance.

And so I putter.  I follow directions. I study images. I notice how the mind can be tricked into seeing complex shapes by simple lines and shadows. I give myself time to practice, to play, and definitely to scowl and frown at my work.

My children wander by and stand over my work and ask, "Did you draw that, Mommy?". 
Yes, for better or for worse, I did. 
They are always impressed and sometimes I feel quite embarrassed by their accolades because it's not very good work. 
But then again, that's the wonder of children that we seek to keep alive and nurture. Build walls around their wonder to protect it is how Dr. Christopher Perrin phrased it in his talk last year on Chesterton.

To look at those letters that form April and see my first attempt to letter with a paint brush is a bit astounding. My cursive handwriting is not very pretty so I quailed at the thought of trying it with a paint brush, but the brush bent in such a way, I simply followed it's graceful swoop. And then before I knew it, I had made it to the end and I simply exhaled, slightly giddy over the attempt. How could I have made that? I still wonder, but I know it was the delicate brush that made it possible.

So let me encourage you to persevere in your noble goals and dreams. I consider myself to be the least likely to draw or paint anything(trust me) and if I can produce anything even remotely recognizable, surely you can too in whatever area seems impossible to you right now, whether it be in music, fine art, handwork or under-water basket weaving. Sorry, old high school joke.

And when you find yourself making a fern stem that looks more like a walking stick, you can always mix up some browns and turn it into a log, bursting into bloom. Perhaps it will look nothing like any species found in your guide book, but surely Tolkien's Middle Earth had at least one growing next to a giant walking tree. And then perhaps everyone in the shire will want one.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

a gaggle of girls

Sunday morning. Kate only wanted to hug and squeeze Laura and not look at the camera. She also was done taking photos. So Laura took the spotlight for the last four seconds. Gotta get 'em while you can.

days go by

April has been full of life, New life outside and creative life inside. We are delighting in the new season of spring although winter seems to want us to remember it by sending some brief snowflakes this week.
It is so enjoyable to run through the grass and carpets of moss knowing that we have many wonderful days ahead of us to watch everything break into bloom, despite some truly chilly days which drove us back inside. The mosquitoes appear to still be drugged with winter hibernation, but we certainly don't regret their tardiness.
The male cardinal likes to sit in the very highest of high branches of the locust tree in our front yard and sing his heart out. The female noiselessly alighted on our back fence for seconds before taking flight again. I don't know the status of their relationship, perhaps it's complicated.

I appear to have unjinxed myself from the curse of messing up hard-boiled eggs. I have been using, as one friend jokingly called it after she heard the process, the hard-steaming method which I first heard about from Heather Bruggmann of Beauty Moves.
Instead of bringing the water to a boil and then adding the eggs, I have been adding the eggs to cold water, bringing it all to a boil and the reducing the heat to a bare simmer and setting the timer for about 13 minutes. After cooking time is complete, I dump out the hot water and pour cold running water over the eggs for about 30 seconds that put them right into the fridge to chill as usual. When it comes time to peel, I run cool water over the egg as I peel the shell into a small bowl and compost. I've followed this process twice in the last week and had identical success so I consider it a victory and am contemplating a summer of deviled eggs for every potluck.

After saving toilet paper rolls for weeks, I finally gathered them up and got out the paints and had a paint party with the kids. They were done after about one or two rolls so I happily took over the paints and mixed and slopped to my heart's content. I was setting about to make houses for Laura's peg people, new and old ones, wandering animals and others in need of shelter. The idea came from a image seen on Pinterest, which when I finally tracked down the source came from a cute blog in Hungarian.
A few minutes with Google translate and after a few rough starts, mass production began and we now have a small village of homes which are awaiting some newly refurbished peg people. One resident down, 41 to go.
I was inspired by Margaret Bloom's book Making Peg Dolls which I saw on Remedial Eating, (another wonderful blog)and Margaret Bloom's own blog We Bloom Here.