Monday, August 31, 2015

Circe Quote for the Day: Preparing a lesson is not the same as just writing it

"There's no substitute for a teacher's quality preparation. Without preparation a teacher can't teach with purpose.  This obviously refers to photocopies and supplies and crafting lesson plans, all of which are important.

"But it also refers to the kind of preparation that involves contemplation. A good teacher reflects on both the subject he is teaching and his role as a cultivator of wisdom and virtue; he doesn't lose sight of (or ignore) the purpose of his calling. That is, he doesn't allow contemplation of the lesson plans to keep him from preparing his own mind and soul for the act of seed-planting."
Full article: 3 Things Teachers Can Learn from Cooking, by David Kern

Monday, August 24, 2015

Treehouse Photos

Cookies, for a group here tonight 
 Tomatoes from the garden, going in spaghetti sauce tonight
New-to-us table and chairs. What do you think?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Old habits (Not-Back-to-Homeschool Week, Last of Three)

I like it when good things turn up in strange places.

I've been working through William Zinsser's Writing to Learn, and last night I got to his chapter "Man, Woman and Child," about writing in the social sciences. All through the book Zinsser includes examples of good writing in each academic area; but in this chapter, he tells about how his own interest in anthropology began. In the 1950's, he was working as a journalist and was required to attend Broadway performances as part of his job. (What a hard-knock life.) One night he saw a performance by some Balinese dancers, and he was so fascinated that he decided to take his next vacation in Bali. This is what he found:
"...I made my way up into the hills to the village of Pliatan. The musicians and dancers who had conquered Broadway had long since come home and were back at their everyday jobs in the rice fields. That's how I found out that the Balinese have almost no concept of 'art.' What I had assumed was their art turned out to be organic to their life...Art, life and religion were intertwined. Children and chickens were everywhere...That was my first view of a unified culture, and I remember how resentful I felt that my own culture didn't have such an enviable wholeness."
 Zinsser says his point (as he sees it) is that we can't take any culture as just "quaint," and that writing about anthropology is serious business. Unfortunately, that leads in to a skippable "cultural" example about evil spirits, but we'll let that go; I'm more interested in his story about Bali.

That word "organic" has popped up more than once over the last couple of years, and not in a health-food sense; it means a wholeness of life, and (to put it in educational terms), a unity of knowledge and thought. I've said this before, but it's why homeschool "retirees" don't stop thinking about learning, whether we're surrounded by Balinese dancers, children and chickens, or by just keeping up with the laundry and our young-adult offspring. Brother Lawrence had the right idea--prayer functions in the midst of bustle and clatter...and also in the quiet times. Our lives are as real in the supermarket and in a chance to talk with the neighbours, as on the stage, or as (for some of us) in or out of the schoolroom. None of it is perfect, but it is all what we are given to do.

The final Brother Cadfael novel centers around his making a very hard decision. For personal reasons, he chooses to disobey orders and, basically, go AWOL so that he can help someone he cares about. He knows that if he does this, he may never be allowed back in the monastery. The identity he has shaped for years can be torn away by a quick decision. At an earlier point in his life, remaining in the cloister would have meant everything to him, might have been the right choice; but now an act of love is more important than hanging on to position and approval. In the end (spoiler), all is resolved and he is, happily, welcomed back. But even if he hadn't been, we get the impression that it would have been okay either way. He was who he was, whether he had his hair tonsured and wore a habit, or not.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Not-Back-to-Homeschool Week, Part Two

Some thoughts on what we do when we homeschool:

I've said here before, somewhere, that when my mother taught school, she always had her eye open for classroom pictures, clippings, anything that might not come her way again. My dad, a collector of British royalty memorabilia, did the same. Even when I started homeschooling, well after the age of photocopying, it wasn't uncommon to have people trying to pass on sets of prepared "ditto masters" for spirit duplicators. You might not find a reproducible map of the Hebrides again, you know? It was like preparing for a possible rubber-band famine.

Most of us eventually stopped the picture/map hoarding, especially when Google Image and all the rest of it came along. But in another sense, being a homeschooling parent is still very much about preparing, thinking ahead, collecting, storing--even if it's mostly virtual or just in your head. As long as you have at least another year to go, you stay in travel mode, looking at what's coming up next and thinking about where you might land tomorrow, picking up a basket of apples for snacks, looking up campground ratings, and trying to balance "getting there" with enjoying the journey. For me, it's been a twenty-year habit of keeping my eyes peeled at yard sales and liquidation stores; checking out online freebies; and looking at museum ads with the word "field trip" at the front of my brain.

Not so different from my mom.

And right now, although I still do have an almost-ninth grader (so we're not done with school years and all that goes with that), I am beginning to have a sense of finally bringing the suitcases in and unpacking.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Half price books from the thrift store, and a larger find

A trip to the thrift store, and some extra deals on books: Evelyn Waugh, Oswald Chambers, and Nancy Pearcey.

Plus...we bought a table and six chairs, to be delivered. (Yes, thrift shops deliver.) Less vintage than ours, but (hopefully) more comfortable.

Quote for the day: The model of the Incarnation

"It seems fair to say that the model of how to be in the world ought to be Christ himself. In the doctrine of the Incarnation Christians understand Jesus to be fully human and fully divine. All of the heresies and errors that afflict the church...can be measured by their tendency to stress either the human or the divine dimensions at the expense of the other." ~~ Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

Monday, August 17, 2015

Redeeming the Time (Not-Back-to-Homeschool Week, Part One)

Things I am not doing this week:

Planning school schedules
Worrying about French lessons
Looking for field trip ideas
Signing school board papers (they haven't sent any yet this year anyway)
Writing blog posts about school plans.

Things I am doing this week:

Putting final touches on a second e-book project
Working with online and local friends who are getting ready to start a new homeschool year.
Wondering if baby kangaroos really do care about hugging teddy bears
Reading Beauty Will Save the World by Gregory Wolfe (because it arrived suddenly through inter-library loan, and you don't get renewals)
Trying to use up a lot of cherry tomatoes
Rounding up a few school supplies for Lydia to put in her new backpack
Rounding up moral support and mom-advice to go along with the school supplies (yes, I agree, you need a pair of sneakers because three-inch heels are not a good choice when you're running for the bus)

Words I am thinking about:

"I've found some consolation in the thought that Dante's pilgrimage doesn't really begin at mid-life; in a sense, he's been on a pilgrimage all along." (Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World)

"My own vocation, as I have come to understand it, is to explore the relationship between religion, art, and culture in order to discover how the imagination may 'redeem the time.'" (same)

What that makes me think:

Everybody asks me lately what I'm going to be "doing." The implication is, what is I'm doing to redeem the time, or otherwise justify what until recently was fairly justifiable? If I said "reading library books," I would expect some raised eyebrows. "Making cherry tomato pasta?" Maybe okay. "Mound of laundry?" That's usually acceptable. "Going on pilgrimage?" Unexpected, at least

But this pilgrimage is the one I've been on all along.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Quote for the day: echoes of Frye

Gregory Wolfe seems to echo Northrop Frye here:

"...I am now convinced that authentic renewal can only emerge out of the imaginative visions of the artist and the mystic. This does not mean that I have withdrawn into some anti-intellectual Palace of Art. Rather, it involves the conviction that politics and rhetoric...are shaped by the pre-political roots of culture: myth, metaphor, and spiritual experience as recorded by the artist and the saint." ~~ Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why I can't read self-help books anymore

One summer during university, I remember there being a sort of tuck shop or newspaper stand right outside (or inside, I can't remember) our apartment building. All that matters about that was that I found it hard to go past the booth  after work without picking up a chocolate bar, especially one of those "thick" ones that had recently appeared on the candy racks. And paying for it out of my spindly minimum wage paycheque. It was a temporary habit that died out naturally when the summer sublet was up and I moved somewhere without a too-handy newspaper stand.

A couple of years later, I found I had acquired another, slightly more expensive habit: self-help books. "P" personality types love them, and I was going through enough angst at the time that I felt I needed their (relatively) cheap, if often contradictory therapy. Assert yourself, forgive everyone, stay away from toxic people, mend fences. Wear the right colours. Find your temperament. Drink herbal tea. Stop being a packrat. You are a special person. You are just like everyone else.

Actually that last one was true in the sense that, just like everyone else, I was trying to find the answers to life in the next overpriced book from Coles or Lichtman's, or from the Christian bookstore. Sometimes I did pick up useful advice, but more often I just read them and went on in the same old way, until the next book "fix" popped up.

All that was a very long time ago, and my need (and time) for personal-type self-help books slid away as life got busier and I found myself just doing whatever I had to do. Recently, though, I've been in a position where I thought a (public-library based) self-help book fix wouldn't be a bad thing. I'm at the age, I'm at the stage. So I picked up and downloaded a couple of newer books that I thought might be helpful for Women Who Used to be Busy Mommies Now Wondering What to do Next.

The word "crone" somewhere about page three should have been enough warning. I quit reading the "women's book" less than halfway through. The "happy homemaker" book, likewise.

It's not that my ego is so superinflated that I think I can't learn from someone else's wise words. It's just that, I think, I'm looking in the wrong Dewey number. The trouble with most self-help books is that they're like someone handing you a can of paint and a brush, or maybe a journal and a gel pen, and hoping that the tools themselves will give you an epiphany. I think the truth about life is out there, but it's out there in a lot of other places. You have to do some travelling, some collecting, then maybe come back and figure out what to put into the journal.

I'm going back to my "regular station" (a.k.a. a long want-to-read list). Ironically, my favourite book right now is John Ciardi's translation of The Divine Comedy, a journey through heaven, hell, and places in between. Virgil must have been the original self-help tour guide.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Quote for the day, on the writing of sentences

"What does preoccupy me is the plain declarative sentence. How have we managed to hide it from so much of the population?...Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly should be able to write clearly--about any subject at breaking the ideas down into logical units, called sentences, and putting one sentence after another." ~~ Willliam Zinsser, Writing to Learn

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Bookoverts? Book-roverts?

In some of the AmblesideOnline posts leading up to the retreat, people were talking about their personality types, and whether they enjoy large, loud groups of people, or if they want to go home and hide in the closet for a week afterwards. Extroverts, introverts.

Well, if extroverts get charged up on being around other people, and introverts recharge with solitude, is there a word for people who need a frequent plugin with books? I have been working all spring and summer putting words out, mainly on the computer, and what I really want to do this month is drink some iced tea and read The Divine Comedy. I need words back in, in a large dose.

There is a website called Bookovert, but I've never seen Book-rovert used. Take whichever you prefer.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

This box of books is different

Who'd have thought?
Now if I ever find one in the thrift store...that will be the day I laugh the longest.