Wednesday, September 11, 2013

in grace and mercy

Sometimes you get a glimpse of yourself by reading someone else's words about someone else's problems.
And the glimpse is not how you thought you looked when you looked inside yourself.
Sin robs of us our ability to avoid self-justification of our flaws and misbehaviors.
We excuse so much and demand so little from ourselves because after all, we have problems to deal with.
Someone somewhere isn't doing what we expect and therefore we have problems.

We all have something in our life that is an irritant. Similar to that piece of irritant in the clam's shell, we all struggle with something that we'd rather not be there.  How we treat this irritant makes all the difference.

Perhaps like me, you have seen a glimpse of yourself treating your irritant in a way that will never produce a pearl. Perhaps like me, you long to bathe your irritant in grace and mercy and with gentleness that is beyond your ability.

Perhaps you will pray along with me, that God will accomplish His purpose for that irritant and a pearl of wonder will be produced in your life, to the glory of God.

my free-to-me clematis has finally bloomed. beautiful.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An atmosphere of learning, 2013-2014

Nancy at Sage Parnassus recently shared in a post what their lesson schedule and home atmosphere is like. She has graduated two of her children already using Charlotte Mason's ideas and even seen them go on to get married.  I mention that only to say that when I read people like her, I take comfort in knowing that many like her have gone this way before.

This year, Seth is entering Year 5 (grade 5) and without intentionally doing it, our lesson work lines up almost perfectly with Ambleside Online's Year 5. I say without intention because I went through each of our subjects and the books/curriculum I use and found that we were still on track with most of the Ambleside selections for this year which pleasantly surprised me.

Here is a rough sketch of how our days typically go, with figuring in having Kate and Laura to attend to.

Our Bible time, which I now consider Morning Time since we do more than just read our Bibles and sing begins our day once Shane has finished Seth's math lesson and left for work.

Morning Time:
- Hymn singing
- Catechism using Starr Meade's Training Hearts, Teaching Minds which is based on the Shorter Catechism
- Memory work: Psalm 145
- Bible reading, continuing through 1 Samuel
- prayer
- a variety of readings, one each day: Mr. Pipes by Douglas Bond, Trial and Triumph, historical fiction (current selection is The Minute Boys of Lexington by Edward Stratemeyer),
- Nature guides (the daily reading from Naming Nature by Mary Blocksma and checking the calendar from Natural Science Through the Seasons by James Partridge
- review memorized poems
- folksongs
-art and composer study once a week
-history reading and narration (We're finishing up Story of the World Volume 3, Volume 4 is up next)

Then we break for a snack or lunch depending on when we get finished. Seth has an Independent Work List notebook where I write down tasks or assignments for him to complete on his own. Examples of work in a moment.

Here are some tasks from last week before we really started our lessons.

He can work on these anytime that we are not working on a subject together or when I need to take care of the girls, like give them baths or household work that I need to do. Taped to the inside cover of this notebook is his Morning Routine list which reminds him of everything he supposed to be doing before we are ready to start our Morning Time.  He has to complete this around Shane's work schedule so that he is available for his math lesson with Shane whenever Shane tells him to be ready.  It includes tidying his room, reading his Bible, reviewing catechism questions, Latin vocab, etc.

Other lessons we work on throughout the day include Grammar (First Language Lessons Level 4), Spelling (All About Spelling Level 5, only 2 lessons left), Latin (which is a mixture of Henle, Lingua Latina, and Visual Latin), Classical Writing: Aesop, Level B (new to us this year and so far so good, although it took awhile for me to wrap my head around how to do it, lots of prayer for understanding was sent up), Shakespeare, and Literature Read Alouds, (like Bullfinch's Age of Fable, Arthur Ransome's Swallowdale, and Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Since I am only planning for four days a week, this leaves Friday open for things like Nature Walks/Journals, true Science lessons, Handicraft work(whittling), and any catch up work needed.  Also we are amassing quite a collection of nature items, some which need preservation or pressing so that takes time as well. And I confess, I'm probably the biggest contributor to our collections, but I really enjoy working with God's creation and learning how to care for all the things we find.

On his Independent Work List, he may have a reading and written narration assignment from George Washington's World by Genevieve Foster, soon to move on to her Abraham Lincoln's World. Or he will have a map drawing assignment, (so far we have completed S. America, Australia and surroundings, and Canada with N. America) or play a geography game online or complete a map puzzle. He will have copywork or drawing lessons to work on, and new this year, typing lessons.  Also he will have to read and complete both an oral and written narration from his Nature Reader.  You get the idea, work that he can do without my full attention needed.

Laura is clamoring for schoolwork so I have a list of things to be working on with her that require very little prep and can be done anytime. Readings from Leading Little Ones to God, various picture books from our home library, Mother Goose songs and rhymes, coloring, cutting and pasting Kumon books, letter and sound recognition, and Bible story book. She just turned four and in Ontario she would be going to Junior Kindergarten full days, so we do some things, but mostly she just listens in and plays. And listening she is. Tonight after supper, she was playing with some of her little animals at the table and I was working on the computer and I realized that she was chanting part of the list of personal pronouns that she heard Seth and I reviewing today.  She asked me to repeat the list and then she would try again, apologizing when she messed up and saying she was "just getting it mixed up, forry about that."  I was surprise by how many she could remember like "I, me my mine, you, your, yours..."  Crazy.

Seth also has books each week to read, usually two a week, but given our heavier schedule so far this year, he may only have to read one before Saturday morning. This week he is reading The Sign of the Beaver which I pre-read last week and enjoyed.

My goal is to enjoy our lessons and if the joy is gone, I need to find a way to bring it back.  The children and I do not always get through the lesson with peace and harmony in our house and for me that is just as important as the lesson subjects. I don't want learning to be fun. I want it to be interesting and satisfying, and at times it will be exhausting, but completing difficult work is rewarding and it stretches our minds in good ways. A well written narration, a carefully drawn map, a successful Latin translation, a verse or poem recalled from memory, all of these take effort but give so much satisfaction when completed.

I know I haven't included many links, so if you have questions about any of the resources I mentioned, please just ask and I can let you know more details if needed.

July/August Book List

Favorite Picture Books

John Muir: America's First Environmentalist by Kathryn Lasky
I bought this book earlier this summer at the gift shop at Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania.  The illustrations are full page and always portray John Muir in the great outdoors, even from a young boy.  I knew very little about John Muir so this was a good introduction into his life, his work and his legacy.

Chapter Books

Frightful's Mountain by Jean Craighead George
The last of the My Side of the Mountain trilogy (see previous titles discussed here) and equally enjoyable as it recounts Frightful's attempts to mate and hatch young peregrine falcons.  I found the migratory patterns and atmospheric calculations used by birds to be informative and interesting.  I had no idea that they use the position of the sun's rays to tell them when to migrate and which direction to fly in. A wonderful final book in a great series.  Highly recommend.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Skylark by Patricia MacLachlan
Caleb's Story by Patricia MacLachlan
These three books make up a short trilogy of books about a family from the Prairie who have lost their mother and their father writes to Sarah from Maine about coming to join their family as a wife and mother. They decide to have her come for one month as a trial to see how she fits. I give a spoiler here and say that she stays and marries the dad.  The rest of the series details various life events that this new family must go through together and remain united.  While the books are very simple to read, the themes of the book portray more complex life situations. Enjoyable, although very brief reads.

A Promise Kept by Robertson McQuilkin

Back in late spring, our pastor quoted a passage from this short book which demonstrated the love of a husband for his ailing wife in a certain episode of their life together.  The quote intrigued me so when we came home, I looked up the book and found myself a used copy with this beautiful cover. I read the book in one sitting and was so moved by his recounting of helping care for his wife after her diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. If I was providing any type of marriage counseling, I would make this book required reading I think. The quote below is not the same passage our pastor read to us, but this one is exceptional.
And Muriel loved me too. By then she couldn't speak in sentences, only words--and often words that didn't make sense. No when she meant yes, for example. But she could still say one sentence. And she said it often: I love you."
She not only said it, she acted it. During the latter years of my presidency at Columbia, it became increasingly difficult to keep her at home. As soon as I left for the office, she would take out after me. With me, she was content; without me she was distressed, sometimes terror-stricken.
The walk to school is a mile round trip. She would make that trip as many as ten times a day--ten miles, speed walking. Sometimes at night when I helped her undress, I found bloody feet. When I told our family doctor, he choked up. "Such love,"  he said simply. Then, after a moment, "I have a theory that the characteristics developed across the years come out at times like these."
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
Although Lanier had written about this book before, I only casually noted that I should read it. It wasn't until her more recent post entitled Mercies that I got serious about finding a used copy.  It took me a while to get through, but its not the kind of book that I wanted to rush through to the end, especially as I already had tracked down a copy of the sequel Under the Mercy. There were parts that I really enjoyed and stayed up late to read through and other parts that I felt I was struggling to get through. Their time spent in Oxford was so special, I remember feeling envious of having such an opportunity like that. The letters from C.S. Lewis are full of thoughtfulness and care and their friendship with him is surely a special part of the story. Some of Vanauken's thoughts on time and eternity while could be considered speculative have been places where my mind has wandered as well, so I felt in good company. The scenes recounted from the hospital are so detailed and full of heart-breaking moments that I felt myself reading so intensely it almost seemed like I was forgetting to relax and breathe.  I finished the book and have begun to read the sequel which is so far enjoyable and compelling. These books may not be for everyone, but it is a true love story which is recounted and that makes it worth while.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer
I read most of this book several years ago, wasn't really impressed and shelved it with other books destined to be given away.  When Cindy at Ordo Amoris announced she was hosting an online book club to read through the book and would designate a board on her Pinterest for readers to share their homemaking images, I was intrigued with both the book and perhaps getting my Pinterest account back.  (Yes, I started one a couple of years ago and ditched it because of the privacy settings.)  I even granted that perhaps I missed something about the book that everyone else had so enjoyed.  As I worked my way through the chapters week after week, I did find myself interested in the homemaking areas she was addressing.  While you may not find the book to be full of new and novel ideas, it does provide quiet reassurances that spending time making your home and its atmosphere, lovely, is a God-honoring art.

Classics and Other Such Books
Work by Louisa May Alcott
Since I have already acknowledged that I love Louisa May Alcott's books, it should come as no surprise that this novel while not destined to be a favorite was still enjoyed.  The story centers on a young woman who leaves the care of her guardians determined to find suitable work for herself and provide herself with a living. Several chapters are devoted to almost vignette-like stories of each of the positions that become available for this single young woman. Her friendships and troubles are given equal time but it is the love story that captures the imagination and ties up the all elements of a good story.

I'm sorry that this list appears to be lacking in better descriptions(and better formatting) of the books I read, but since we have begun our lessons again, I'm afraid most of my brain cells are otherwise occupied. I hope that my mind can recover from the current stupor I find myself in and can offer up more interesting comments on the books I'm reading through this month and next. One can always hope.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

bouquet garni

Several years ago when I first began using my copy of The Joy of Cooking, I wanted to make homemade chicken stock and one of the things the recipe called for was a bouquet garni.  I had never bought or used cheesecloth before so instead I added my aromatics(herbs, garlic, peppercorns) in by the handfuls and fished them out at the end.
But on a recent and irregular trip to the local dollar store, I spotted a package of cheesecloth and was determined to use it for all those necessary projects that called for it.
Yesterday was cool and cloudy, and I was busy running errands and retrieving Shane from work at suppertime, so I grabbed the lonely crockpot, threw in some chicken legs and broth and headed to the garden to round up my herbs and celery.  A few minutes later, I had assembled all the ingredients(celery leaves, sage, oregano, parsley, garlic, and peppercorns), I used my fabric shears to cut of a small rectangular piece of cheesecloth and then laid everything inside it and tied the little bundle together with some white string.  I dropped it into the broth amongst the celery and onion pieces and wished it well.
It was only later when I checked the cookbook version that I realized I had omitted the bay leaves, so they went in by themselves.  Straining the broth was much easier with my little peppercorns safely snuggled into the cheesecloth. A quick tamping down on the strainer and the excess juices ran out of the onion, celery and bouquet garni.  What a novel idea.  Now, what next can I do with my cheesecloth?

Doesn't everyone store their homegrown garlic in a Hello Kitty party cup?

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

on our table

Potato and Bacon Corn Chowder
 (the full-fat-throw-it-together recipe version)
-boil diced unpeeled potatoes (6ish medium) broth in Dutch oven(I use chicken broth, 3-4 cups)
-cook bacon in skillet, remove bacon, do not drain
-saute chopped onion and minced garlic in bacon fat (oh yes, I do), throw in green onions if you have them
-when potatoes are fork-tender, blend partially with immersion stick, leaving as many chunks of potato as you like
-add frozen or cooked corn on the cob
-add any type of cream or milk, (I don't measure, perhaps a cup or less)
-stir in mostly drained onions and garlic
-crumble in bacon
-add salt and pepper to taste, also a dash of nutmeg
-add fresh or frozen parsley
-stir to combine well
-let it thicken for a few minutes 
(Previously posted last September here.)