Thursday, June 13, 2019

Cultivating Beauty

* I wrote this article for our church's Resurrection Reads: Summer 2019 Newspaper and some of it was from an older blog post I had written back in 2012.

In Francis Schaeffer's essay, Pollution and the Death of Man, he describes lecturing at a Christian school whose neighboring property was what they termed a "hippie community". This property across the ravine included trees and farms where pagan grape stomps were enjoyed by the members of this "Bohemian" community. Francis Schaeffer's curiosity was stirred so he visited the community and met one of the leaders and enjoyed a conversation which included Schaeffer's views on the Christian answer to life and ecology. The leader complimented Schaeffer by telling him that he was the first person from "across the ravine" who had ever been shown the pagan grape stomping area, complete with a pagan image. I will let Schaeffer tell it now:

Having shown me all this, he looked across to the Christian school and said to me, "Look at that, isn't that ugly?" And it was!  I could not deny it. It was an ugly building, without even trees around it.
It was then that I realized what a poor situation this was. When I stood on Christian ground and looked at the Bohemian people's place, it was beautiful. They had even gone to the trouble of running their electricity cables under the level of the trees so that they couldn't be seen. Then I stood on pagan ground and looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness. Here you have a Christianity that is failing to take into account man's responsibility and proper relationship to nature.

Several pages later, he comes back to this thought as he writes how the Christian church can exercise dominion over nature without being destructive.

For instance, in the area of nature, we ought to be exhibiting the very opposite of the situation I described earlier, where the pagans who had their wine stomps provided a beautiful setting for the Christians to look at, while the Christians provided something ugly for the pagans to see.  That sort of situation should be reversed, or our words and our philosophy will, predictably, be ignored.
It is always true that if you treat the land properly, you have to make two choices. The first is in the area of economics. It costs more money, at least at first, to treat the land well. For instance, in the case of the school I have mentioned, all they had to do to improve the place was to plant trees, and somebody decided that instead of planting trees they would prefer to do something else with the money. Of course, the school needs the money for its important work; but there is a time when planting trees is an important work.

His account resonated with me. Christians should be providing something beautiful for the pagans to look at. When the hippie community looked across the ravine, they saw no culture worth pursuing, no nourishment for their souls, no ideas for their consideration. They saw ugliness and there was no relief from it, except to turn away. And while Schaeffer was writing especially about nature and ecology, this has implications for all of our endeavors as Christians.

Christian educator Andrew Kern defines education as the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty. I’ve added order to that for our family. We want to cultivate wisdom and virtue by nourishing our souls on truth, goodness, beauty and order so we may bring life to our family and to those around us.

We have a new home on a street in which new homes are still being completed. None of us have any landscaping yet. We are waiting for all of our lots to be graded, top-soiled and then sodded. It's part of the building package we paid for. I find this current tree-less, grass-less, plant-less situation depressing. If you've talked to me about our new house in recent weeks, I've probably mentioned it.
But the older homes behind our new development all have super green grass, small trees and shrubs, garden plants and bird feeders. We are living on their creation of beauty as we look out of our windows and notice the birds flitting from one take-away to the next. I'm tempted to pity myself most days without a garden to plant but my new neighbors have inadvertently shared their work of cultivating beauty and care for creation by giving us a lovely view.  I hope we can return the favor soon by creating order and beauty on our property.

Creating beauty is not limited of course to landscaping or education. When our daughter Kate was hospitalized as a newborn, the nurses made her crib area as cheerful as possible with a decorated homemade name tag above her crib, cute blankets and even the tape holding the tube into her nose was often cut into a heart or star shape. It was very touching to see this devoted care.

And of the many, many commutes I traveled back and forth from our home to hospital for those three winter weeks, it was seeing the Christmas lights on the trees and houses and beautiful stained glass windows lit up on the church that gave me extra hope and comfort as I drove home in the dark in the late afternoons. Those homeowners and church builders never knew how much cheer they brought me as their wonderful attempts at beauty shone out into the darkness. But I knew.
As a young girl, my mother traveled extensively throughout the United States with her family by car. She never forgot driving through an area of Appalachia in the southern US and seeing many unkempt homes lining the road and then seeing one house with a tidy and clean front yard and a few flowers bringing cheer to a difficult home life. As a young girl, she understood that even in the poorest of places, beauty can shine where there is desire for it.

As Christians, we need to cultivate a Christian understanding of the world  and we need to make it obvious, whether it shows in planting trees and flowers, making good music, writing lasting stories, building beautiful buildings or cooking wholesome food.  May it no longer be said that we as Christians have only contributed that which is sterile, but instead that we have sought to cultivate a culture of beauty through wisdom and virtue.

Forget-me-not flowers from my friend Rachel's garden

Friday, May 31, 2019

books gathered and books read

What follows is a visual collection of some of the books that have found their way into our home since the beginning of the year. Many have come for a short while before returning to their home at the library. Some of those treasures have been placed on the fantastically long Wish List I keep on Amazon, but often go hunting for on ebay because I'm cheap!
I especially like to borrow the beautiful, but pricey books on gardens, interior decorating and home organization. I rarely purchase such books but I do enjoy looking through them and noting ideas that would work for our home. And many of my friends do the same, so I often look through their books when I visit. It's not uncommon for any of us to snap a photo of a book cover so we remember the title. In fact, at our Charlotte Mason Study group nights, we usually bring books we have found or borrowed and then they all get passed around to either have their picture taken or their name written down in a notebook. It's the Show and Tell that everyone loves.
I also usually take photos of the library books so I can remember what I borrowed and liked. The library only keeps a few months of history on my account so I keep track of my borrowing history myself.

Others were brought home in great numbers from the annual February used book sale at a church in our area. They included a whole stack of Wodehouse and hardback Harry Potter for Seth's collection that he requested. The amount of books I bring home from that sale has diminished over the years as our family library has grown, but it goes without saying that our library has been built on the finds at that annual sale.
The books that we weekly find at the local thrift store two miles from our new house have all managed to drift onto the shelves without having their photo taken. All of the books that come to live here get a thorough cleaning with disinfectant wipes and sticker removal cleaner. Then once they are cleaned, they get added to my LibraryThing account so I can make an attempt at keeping track of what we have. Most of the picture books have not been added to that account, but everything else gets scanned or manually entered. I just use the barcode scanner app on our tablet and it goes very quick.

Just a few notes on the library reads below:

Earlier this year trying to catch up with Claire at The Captive Reader, I found this interesting post she had written up on German author, Erich Kästner whose Emil and the Detectives Seth and I had both read a couple years ago as one of our book sale finds.
Unaware of his other books, I checked our library and they had the The Flying Classroom, so I borrowed it for a quick read. Telling the story of a group of boys at school, you follow them through their antics, their disappointments and their triumphs. I found that despite the unusual introduction I liked it very much. 
Kästner's stories can be enjoyed by boys or girls and he is also credited with writing the story loosely behind the classic movie The Parent Trap which is one of my all time favorite movies (the vintage version) from my limited television childhood. 
His books are written in German so I'm only able to read the translated editions and look at the pictures. 

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon and Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon
I try to read Alan Jacobs' meaty blog and when he gave high praise to Austin Kleon's books, I decided I should check them out. Kleon has an unusual style in his books because he combines his artwork with his writing. The books' smaller size also works in their favor since they are easy to hold in your hand, pack in a bag or lay flat for display. If you're interested in creating content of any category, he writes with enthusiasm and helpful advice.

Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson
I always see D.E. Stevenson's name on lists of good authors to read, so I thought I would start with the first book in her Miss Buncle series and I loved it. I can't speak for the other Miss Buncle titles, but well written and entertaining books about village life are my favorite so this story was perfect.

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent by James Duane
I saw this book mentioned in some comment section I think on Douglas Wilson's website after he mentioned being visited by the FBI last year.  I believe similar content is presented by the author on YouTube.
His main point is that you should not allow yourself to be extensively questioned by police without a lawyer present. He cautions about invoking the fifth amendment to avoid answering questions, but rather to confidently invoke the sixth amendment which gives you the right to a lawyer. He allows that you should answer who you are and what you are doing at that exact moment, but cautions against answering more than that.
However you take in the content, either in book or video format, I recommend this material.

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs
I spent more than three weeks with Alan Jacobs' book on the pleasures of reading, but I don't think I did it justice. I look back over my scribbled notes and quotes and I'm a bit at sea as to what I agreed with and what I had questions about, mostly in his comments on reading for knowledge. I thought I found his thesis near the end of the book where Jacobs states, You cannot teach deep attention in reading, you have to experience it through finding pleasure in reading.
Then a few pages later he says, From this kind of leisurely encounter, education, however wonderful, must be distinguished.
I asked in my notes, must reading for pleasure be distinguished from education?
Charlotte Mason in her volume Home Education talking about the reading habits of older children says,  A child has not begun his education until he has acquired the habit of reading to himself, with interest and pleasure, books fully on a level with his intelligence.
I have more questions, but I think that if you are thinking of education as information learned from textbooks in the classroom, than I think I can agree with Alan Jacobs. But if you're thinking of education that comes from reading living books or as Miss Mason says elsewhere, lesson-books...with literary power than we should see the habit of deep reading with attention flourish and bring delight.

I've read other books by Robert MacFarlane and I enjoy his approach to travel and nature writing because he tells about so much of the world that I know very little about. This oversize book of poems illustrated by Jackie Morris is incredible.  I read it through several times and poured over the gorgeous illustrations.

I've been a fan of this author/illustrator combo, Sarah Stewart and David Small for many years who also happen to be married and live in Michigan. I first found their award winning books, The Library and The Gardener when I worked at Barnes & Noble long ago.  So how lovely to find another one of their books at our library about an Amish girl's trip into Chicago.

The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett
This is a fun book we found at the library creatively explaining the Fibonacci sequence, with rabbits.  I didn't read every calendar page, so I don't know how the "Too many rabbits" problem was solved as the year went on.  I'm wondering if stew was involved.

Another David Small illustrated book about book readers, even reluctant ones and the dedicated women who delivered books on horseback to rural families.

Bees: A Honeyed History by Piotr Socha
Another over-sized book and one that I first spotted at a store in our town that mentors youth with intellectual challenges. The name of their organization involves bees so I assume that they use this book for some of their activities as it sat out on display. Thankfully our library had this gorgeous book too. It's originally written in Polish and while the translated text is a bit heavy with facts, the illustrations are a wonder!

The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill
I picked this book up on a whim at the library and read it all by myself marveling at the interesting history of the house sparrow.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal have teamed up for three nature books so far and we love them all.  We have read this before but it was so nice to look through it again.

A First Book of the Sea by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton
I think this was hands-down the favorite library book I showed my study group back in April. It's a thick book full of the sweetest illustrated poems ever. I think it's going to be a must-have book even though it's spendy and it makes you long to live by the ocean.

If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian, illustrated by Barbara Hirsch Lember
I loved this simple tribute to the value and appreciation of everyday rocks we encounter if we are observant.

Seasons by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Erik Blegvad
What the poems may lack in substance or rhymes, the illustrations make up for in charm.  I love the natural depictions of children and creatures in all sorts of situations.  It's very gentle and welcoming, as a book for a new reader should be.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

indoors in April

Kate is an expert at folding laundry. She is an expert at knowing whose clothes are whose. She is also an expert at putting away the clothes. She expertly handles hanging clothes on the hangers. 
But recently she was thrown a loop when we added open shelving to our master walk-in closet giving Seth our tall dresser. 
So now she simply dumps the socks and shirts and undies on the closet floor, hangs up a few articles and then whips the remaining items up as high as she can muster to wherever they land on the open shelves. It's become a bit of messy nightmare. She also hasn't mastered any system of keeping pairs of socks together so she invented her own. It's called the stuffed sock. She opens one sock and stuffs it full with whatever pleases her. It also is a messy nightmare. And I need to help her understand our new system since her new system is driving me batty

Laura's history readings have centered around the exploration of the 'New World' and the English colonies' fight for independence. Our readings have taken us up and down the American coast with time spent in the French, Spanish and English colonies. But when it came time to discuss the thirteen colonies' decision for independence, she struggled to keep up with it all.  So we asked for Seth's army people, we dug out my grandmother's Liberty bell replica and we worked on establishing a good timeline of the events.  This sure is tricky terrain to study among all these Loyalists up here. 

Celebrating Easter in a new house meant deciding on new places to hide chocolate eggs for three levels of searchers in one area. I'm pleased to say that all three of them were stumped on a couple of hiding places!