Monday, October 16, 2017

Christmas Countdown with Charlotte Mason, Week 3 of 12: "I have no gift to bring"

10 weeks and counting!

Here is this week's passage from Charlotte Mason:
"Children do not make Self-depreciatory Remarks––What is the secret of this absolute humility, humble alike towards higher or lower, and unaware of distinctions? Our notion of a humble person is one who thinks rather slightingly of himself, who says, deprecatingly, 'Oh, I can't do this or that, you know, I'm not clever'; 'I'm not cut out for public work of any sort, I've no power or influence'; 'Ah! well, I hope he'll be a better man than his father, I don't think much of myself anyway'; 'Your children have great advantages; I wish mine had such a mother, but I'm not a bit wise.' Such things are often said, in all sincerity, without the least soup├žon of the 'Uriah Heep' sentiment.* The thing we quarrel with is, that the speakers are apt to feel that they have, anyway, the saving grace of humility. It is worth while to reflect that there are no such self-depreciatory utterances ascribed to the Example of that 'great humility' which we are bound to follow; and if there is not the slightest evidence of humility in this kind in the divine life, which was all humility, we must re-cast our notions. Children, too, never make self-depreciatory remarks; that is because they are humble, and with the divine Example before us, and the example of our children, we may receive it that humility does not consist in thinking little of ourselves. It is a higher principle, a blessed state, only now and then attained by us elders, but in which the children perpetually dwell, and in which it is the will of God that we should keep them." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, Chapter 26: "The Eternal Child"
*In other words: not just fishing for compliments, or even trying to be "humbler than thou"

In the Spirit of Charlotte Mason

Do we go through life feeling like hobbits in a world of bigger, stronger, wiser creatures? Reminding everyone continually that we are smaller, weaker, and less capable, so that they won't ask us to do anything really hard? (Like...parenting.) Or expect us to succeed at the task?

Does self-belittling offer us an excuse for not attempting something we might fail at? (Remember David and Goliath. Remember the Parable of the Talents.)
The pilgrims progress from this world to that ...
Illustration from The Pilgrim's Progress

Christmas literature is full of little, lesser creatures who have some part to play in the birth of Christ. Spiders, donkeys, drummer boys, doves in the rafters high. Littlest angels. Shepherds abiding in the fields. The chosen earthly family of the Lord.

The remedy seems to be to focus not on capability, but on calling...and the One who calls us.
"Of this thing I am quite sure, that his calling, or, if you like to name it so, his chance, comes to the person who is ready for it. That is why the all-round preparation of body, mind, soul, and heart is necessary for the young knight who is waiting to be called. He will want every bit of himself in the royal service that is appointed him; for it is a royal service. God, who fixes the bounds of our habitation, does not leave us blundering about in search of the right thing; if He find us waiting, ready and willing...
"Each one is wanted for the special bit of work he is fit for; and, of each, it is true that––
          'Thou cam'st not to thy place by accident:
          It is the very place God meant for thee.'"

~~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves (Book I), "Vocation"

Things to Do This Week

Do you need a new tablecloth and/or napkins for the Christmas holidays? We have a giant piece of red sweatshirt fleece that has done duty under a lace tablecloth for several years, but it's starting to show its age, so I'm thinking about replacing it. Here is a basic tablecloth tutorial. (Yes, you can!)

And if we're talking about tables, we might as well start thinking about centerpieces. What do you like? Fresh things? Fruit? Flowers? Something old? Something unique? We have used something different almost every year:, almost always chosen at the last minute (so you know I do not plan everything ahead).

Sunday, October 15, 2017

From the archives: Are you doing it wrong?

First posted April 2010

Training your memory is not just a trick for winning baby-shower games, but a habit of mind, taught carefully from a young age. The power of observation is not a unique gift, but a trained power, developed and strengthened with constant use. Along with training in obedience and attention, it makes up a large part of CM’s early-years curriculum. How did Charlotte Mason’s older students get so much done in a school day that ended early and didn’t require homework? They had trained their brains to pay attention the first time, bringing their whole minds to bear on something, visualizing the historical scene or the spelling word, repeating it back, and also retaining it because the next lesson would follow from that one, linking back to the last. The brainwork here was the student’s; he was taught that he could do it, starting small and working up. Charlotte Mason said, “Give an instant’s undivided attention to anything whatsoever, and that thing will be remembered.”

This is what narration is—visualizing, remembering, and telling back either orally or in writing. It is not parroting, or "getting up a lesson" as Laura Ingalls used to do for her mother; it is retelling with understanding. Narration can be written, oral, or done as a combination with a child who is just starting to tell back in writing; and it can be done right after hearing or reading something, or slightly delayed like hearing a story on Friday and then being asked to write a narration on Monday (we have read that this was done in PNEU schools after a Shakespeare reading, later in the 20th century, and we can guess that it was also done that way in earlier years); or it can be done after a bit of time has gone by such as in term exams.

Back to the educational instruments, the three allowable and effective tools for teaching: the last one is the presentation of living ideas. "Give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information." Do I need to say more than that about it? That's all, but that's all.

And if all that habit training and visualizing sound too bewildering and overwhelming when all you’re looking for is what to do for reading and math and how to keep the littler ones out of mischief, Charlotte Mason has some encouragement:

Wise letting alone is the chief thing asked of them…every mother has in Nature an all-sufficient handmaid, who arranges for due work and due rest of mind, muscles, and senses.

These ideas are supposed to free us from some of the anxiety we naturally feel about having all this responsibility for our children’s upbringing and education. You have given them some skills, they have more of their own; let them use them. Parents are not to butt in on play but allow children, as much as possible, to get wet sometimes, dirty, tired, maybe even injured—taking a reasonable risk, but allowing them to grow. The leisurely part of CM is, partly, being able to back off.

“…..A little guiding, a little restraining, much reverent watching, Nature asks of us; but beyond that, it is the wisdom of parents to leave children as much as may be to Nature, and ‘to a higher Power than Nature itself.”
"Nature will look after [a child] and give him promptings of desire to know many things; and somebody must tell as he wants to know; and to do many things, and somebody should be handy just to put him in the way; and to be many things, naughty and good, and somebody should give direction…The busy mother says she has no leisure to be that somebody, and the child will run wild and get into bad habits; but we must not make a fetish of habit; education is a life as well as a discipline."

In other words: CM = Get a Life.

Here is a checklist for leisurely homeschooling—yes, that means You. The philosophy of leisure and the need for an un-anxious, positive atmosphere applies to the teacher too.

If you’re coercing or yelling or threatening, you’re probably doing it wrong.

If you’re spending too much time marking workbooks or cutting things out for the children to paste, you’re doing it wrong.

If you keep switching math curriculums, trying to find the perfect one, you’re probably doing it wrong.

If you’re explaining too much...

If you’re worrying that your kids haven’t mastered sentence diagramming by grade 2...

If you’re pushing your kids to narrate in front of Grandma...

If you never get out of the children’s room at the library...

If you’re worrying too much about this checklist…you’re probably doing it wrong.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday the 13th is a lucky day...

...for thrifting. After a morning spent pricing and shelving books, this is what came home.
Three books (I gave in and bought a few)
One necklace
One bird plaque with a hook. We hung it by the door of the apartment, as a hat-or-whatever hook.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Frugal Finds and Fixes: All You Really Need

Fixing: Mr. Fixit is fixing a vintage electric watch. It was apparently never used, but it doesn't run, so he's doing some diagnostics to find out why. Making it work may be a lost cause; the little mechanism that moves the balance wheel is jammed, and the watch is so small that it's "brain surgery on a beaver"; but it was worth a try.

Frugal: We closed out our storage unit, to save the cost of the rent. The Christmas tree and some decorations went to the thrift store; the rest of the decorations, we were able to fit into a bin in our apartment storage room/pantry. Everything else was also assimilated into our space here. To make a bit of extra space, we have been digitizing old snapshots; and it turned out that we had doubles or triples of many of them (from the good old days when you sent your photos off to be processed).

Economical, if not frugal: The common-area barbecues at our building are now stored for the season. Mr. Fixit did a little searching, and found out that we're allowed to have a small electric grill on the balcony. So we bought one. It doesn't look much bigger than a waffle iron, but it's enough to cook a couple of burgers or some chicken. It's also easy to clean and store, which is good (I wouldn't like to be dumping ashes off the balcony).

More frugal than the alternatives: I wanted to bake some egg-free, dairy-free cupcakes, but most of the recipes I found called for alternative milks and egg replacers, none of which I had. Even our favourite Small Chocolate Cake calls for an egg, and I'm not sure it would work to leave it out. Then I found this vinegar-oil version (like Wacky Cake), and made a panful of those. Ignore the occasional negative reviews there: I just followed the recipe, and they turned out fine.

Fun: Lydia was playing around with Duolingo, so I got a free account and started brushing up old languages.

Frugal: I had been looking at thrift stores for a pair of flat shoes, with no success. I need something with a lot of toe, so ballet flats don't work. Last weekend, we found ourselves near a shoe outlet and decided to look there. Someone pointed us to the back of the store, where the last-pairs and other oddments were priced even lower than the rest. Miraculously, there was one pair, in a colour and size and style I liked. I showed them to an offspring, who said "um hmm, Sensible Shoes." But they do look better on, and they're comfortable.
Frugal: In the past couple of weeks, I have thrifted a shirt, a dressy dress, a belt, a card-making kit, some notepaper, and an animal-print scarf. I'm looking for a farmhouse-style tiered tray, for a holiday decoration, but haven't found one yet.

Fun: So, you want to know why I've been hanging out at the thrift store so much? I have been sorting books there, two mornings a week, and I usually take a quick look around the store before I leave. Notice that I have not been buying books.

The finer things in life: The children at church on Sunday were asked what things people need most to live. The five-year-old said clothes, food, air. The three-year-old said "salad dressing."

And that's it for this round.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What's for supper? --post-Thanksgiving

Nothing so original; we were mainly going for ease and retro here.

Turkey leftovers cooked in mushroom soup with canned green chilies and paprika

Chocolate cupcakes

Monday, October 09, 2017

Christmas Countdown with Charlotte Mason, Week 2 of 12: A primrose, a worm, a beggar, a prince

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Yesterday at church, this quote was shared from John Ortberg's book When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box:
“Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It opens us up to wonder, delight, and humility. It makes our hearts generous. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation…Without gratitude our lives degenerate into envy, dissatisfaction, and complaints, taking what we have for granted and always wanting more.”
Here is this week's passage from Charlotte Mason:
"A Child is Humble––...Our common notion of humility is inaccurate. We regard it as a relative quality. We humble ourselves to this one and that, bow to the prince and lord it over the peasant. This is why the grace of humility does not commend itself even to ourselves in our most sincere moods. We feel that this relative humility is hardly consistent with self-respect and due independence of character. We have been taught to recognise humility as a Christian grace, and therefore do not utter our protest; but this misconception confuses our thought on an important subject. For humility is absolute, not relative.

"It is by no means a taking of our place among our fellows according to a given scale, some being above us by many grades and others as far below. There is no reference to above or below in the humble soul, which is equally humble before an infant, a primrose, a worm, a beggar, a prince.

"This, if we think of it, is the state natural to children. Every person and thing commands their interest; but the person or thing in action is deeply interesting. 'May I go and make mud-pies with the boy in the gutter?' prays the little prince, discerning no difference at all; and the little boy in the gutter would meet him with equal frankness."  ~~ Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, Chapter 26: The Eternal Child
In the spirit of Charlotte Mason

Would you be very impressed by meeting a celebrity? Do you care what the Queen of England eats for breakfast? Do you ever get a chance to go and make mud-pies with people outside of your usual social circle?
"If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,        
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,    
If all men count with you, but none too much...(Rudyard Kipling, "If")
Most holiday advertising is built around the need to impress others...especially those who shouldn't "count so much," or at all. If something doesn't add more beauty or love...why are we doing it?

Do we take enough notice of primroses and worms? Sunrises? Raindrops? Black walnuts in their squishy green coats? If you haven't been outside enough lately, consider taking an October walk or bicycle ride, through a park or down a trail.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Christmas Countdown with Charlotte Mason, Week 1 of 12: Catching Echoes of Joy

Where I live, the weather has just turned from summery-hot to fall-nippy, and Canadian Thanksgiving is almost here. On Sunday morning we could see frost-covered roofs  Unless you are sewing a quilt or planning a massive Christmas dinner, why think about the holidays so far ahead? 

And stranger than that, what does Charlotte Mason have to do with Christmas? She's just about homeschooling, isn't she?

Over the next twelve weeks, I will be posting passages from Miss Mason, on the theme of humility. They are all taken from the last chapter of her book Parents and Children. Here is the first one:
"Children necessary to Christmas Joy––In these levelling days we like to think that everybody has quite equal opportunities in some direction; but Christmas joy, for example, is not for every one in like measure. It is not only that those who are in need, sorrow, or any other adversity do not sit down to the Christmas feast of joy and thanksgiving; for, indeed, a Benjamin's portion [Benjamin received five times as much as the others]  is often served to the sorrowful. But it takes the presence of children to help us to realise the idea of the Eternal Child. The Dayspring is with the children, and we think their thoughts and are glad in their joy; and every mother knows out of her own heart's fulness what the Birth at Bethlehem means. Those of us who have not children catch echoes. We hear the wondrous story read in church, the waits chant the tale, the church-bells echo it, the years that are no more come back to us, and our hearts are meek and mild, glad and gay, loving and tender, as those of little children; but, alas, only for the little while occupied by the passing thought. Too soon the dreariness of daily living settles down upon us again, and we become a little impatient, do we not, of the Christmas demand of joyousness...

 "Every Babe bears an Evangel––For the little child is the true St Christopher: in him is the light and life of Christ; and every birth is a message of salvation, and a reminder that we, too, must humble ourselves and become as little children…" ~~ Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, Chapter 26: "The Eternal Child"
This beginning seems a bit depressing on its own, especially for those of us whose houseful-of-small-children season is over. What does she expect us to do, rent some for the holidays? But as the chapter goes on, we will see that her focus is not on having physical children around, but on the value of a childlike humility. Less I, me, mine. Less embarrassment over my mistakes. Less worry over how others might view my life, my home, my family. Less attachment to my stuff. More of what Amy Carmichael called Calvary Love.

How do we let go of ourselves, our own demands and expectations, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ? If we do have children in our care, how can we best allow them to hold on to what should be their special gift? Miss Mason will expand on these questions as the chapter continues.

In the spirit of Charlotte Mason

Unless you really are sewing quilts or organizing a village feast at Christmas, feel free to spend the early weeks of preparation on...not preparing. Not in busyness, anyway.

Seek out and enjoy whatever natural changes are happening where you live. For some people, that unfortunately may include the remnants of storms, floods, and other disasters. Cherish signs of rebirth, new life. Look for ways to become involved in caring for the earth and restoring what has been broken.

Even if you don't have children at home, you can choose a composer, a songwriter, or a different style of music to listen to throughout the fall. This is a CD I'm considering purchasing myself.

Good books (of course).

Take time to focus on other people, little ones or big ones, with the purpose not of changing them, but of knowing them as born people.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Quote for the day: here is a tough one

"No emotion is, in itself, a judgement: in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform...When a Roman father told his son that it was a sweet and seemly thing to die for his country, he believed what he said. He was communicating to the son an emotion which he himself shared and which he believed to be in accord with the value which his judgement discerned in noble death...[this was] men transmitting manhood to men." ~~ C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man