Monday, October 30, 2017

Christmas Countdown with Charlotte Mason, Week 5 of 12: Heroes of Faith

8 weeks until Christmas...

Here is this week's passage from Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, Chapter 26: The Eternal Child

"Children are Objective in Tendency––Now, the tendency of children is to be altogether objective, not at all subjective, and perhaps that is why they are said to be first in the kingdom of heaven. This philosophic distinction is not one which we can put aside as having no bearing on everyday life. It strikes the keynote for the training of children. In proportion as our training tends to develop the subjective principle, it tends to place our children on a lower level of purpose, character, and usefulness throughout their lives; while so far as we develop the objective principle, with which the children are born, we make them capable of love, service, heroism, worship."
In the spirit of Charlotte Mason:

Love, service, heroism, worship: these are the things that education should equip us to be and do. Love must have an object. Heroism includes fighting to save and protect others, with little thought for ourselves. Serving and worship also need someone or something outside ourselves.Were you educated with a view to "developing the objective principle?"

If not, Charlotte Mason suggests finding some little children to hang around with, and taking notes from them. (Something that Jesus also recommended.) 

Things to do this week:

If you don't have children close at hand, maybe this is a week to explore family memories and photographs. Or re-read stored-away books that brought you or your children wonder. (Some of my friends recommend The Christmas Mystery, by Jostein Gaarder.)

What's the big holiday this week that has nothing to do with pumpkins? All Saints' Day, November 1st. When our children were younger, that was the night for good clothes, the lace tablecloth, and an invisible "guest" chosen from Christian history. Such events don't need to be for children only; we continue to remember and honour those who loved, served, worshipped, and acted as heroes of faith.

Do you wear aprons? I hardly ever do at home (what do I do that's so messy?), but they are useful for helping out in the kitchen at church or somewhere, and they're also a good symbol of service. (Or you might just think they look cute.) A few years ago, I helped review a downloadable apron pattern, and while it wasn't hard to make, I was a bit shocked at the amount of new fabric it took. Fortunately there are ways around that, and this video on My Green Closet (starting at the 2:30 mark) shows how to upcycle an existing dress into a useful apron. Or you can use skirts, men's shirts, or old jeans. Tip Junkie has more apron ideas.

I don't know why, but the beginning of November always feels a bit Return-to-Narnian around here. I'm thinking of apples, sausages, and cold forest mornings. There's always the off-chance of a bit of snow, or even a lot of snow by the end of the month. Time to get hats and gloves ready for cold weather.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Minimalism: sometimes it's hard to count on

I've said before that my "second Bible" during our early married life was the 1990's Tightwad Gazette. Amy Dacyczyn wrote about her life as a dedicated yard-saler, stuff-stretcher, dupe-it-yourself-er, and occasional do-without-er. She described her wardrobe at the time as consisting of three pairs of jeans (this year's, last year's, and the year before's), and three pairs of sneakers (ditto).Like Amy, I have a mostly-casual lifestyle, so for a long time, I was pretty happy to follow suit. Or rather, jeans. If it came along, fit more or less, and was cheap enough, I would probably wear it. (I drew the line at mustard and orange.)

A couple of years ago, after a period of too much black stuff, I dumped almost everything and started from scratch. I also noticed the growing trend towards minimalism of all kinds. Japanese. Ecological. Inner-peaceful. What that meant for me was zeroing in on a few clothes I really liked and that fit, rather than trying to deal with my previous thrifted and freebie mishmash.

The funny part was that, once I started looking a little harder at my favourite thrift stores, I kept finding stuff I liked. (Was it all there before? I don't know.) Following the Project 333 tiny-wardrobe plan, plus our move to a smaller space, helped to keep a limit on what was hanging in the closet. But I wasn't sure if I could or should aspire to Courtney Carver's level of non-self-consciousness about clothes. (Been there, done that.) It's possible to say that time spent shopping and figuring out what to wear is, essentially, time wasted, because (Courtney asserts) nobody really notices or cares what you wear. But for me, that negative side of minimalism feels like the equivalent of "nobody notices what you cook" (well, sometimes that's true), or "nobody cares what you say." Why bother?

I find it to be the other way around. I think about and enjoy what I'm wearing, the texture of a corduroy skirt, the shade of a scarf, the way my boots fit. I like the furniture and art that we've arranged in our apartment, the flowered teapot we found on an antiquing trip, my grandfather's little chair, the doily a friend crocheted, Mr. Fixit's electronic works-in-progress spread on the table. I like the poetry books, including Wendell Berry's Sabbath poems that I found for sale along with beeswax candles and essential oils in the "hemp cafe." (I bought the book and a vegan brownie, left the rest.) I like the unexpectedness of late corn on the cob from the farm stand, and the bowl of red grapes that's waiting for dessert tonight.

My conclusion is that sometimes I just like to bother. I am happier bothering. The mistake would be if I counted on clothes, food, or other stuff to fill the empty places. Or if I started keeping score of compliments, or worrying about negative remarks.

And for that reason, I decided two things. First, I pulled out my few extra non-capsule clothes, and added them to the closet where they can be responsible for any bouts of wardrobe indecision I may incur as a result. (I'm not too worried.) Second, I won't be posting a new clothes page for the winter. I feel like I've barely gotten started wearing the fall clothes, and anyway I don't own any others to rotate them with. Snow boots, maybe, but that's it.

So: fewer numbers, less planning, at least for the next few months. Less guilt if I add in a thrifted sweater or two (I could actually use one), or wear a top I thought I wouldn't see for awhile. A little more freedom to I won't have to bother.

Friday, October 27, 2017

From the archives: Picture talk on Titian

First posted October 2014. Lydia was thirteen, doing AO Year 8.

A Teacher's Notes for Titian's "Equestrian Portrait of Charles V" (also called "Emperor Charles V on Horseback" or "Charles V at Mühlberg.")  (Lesson adapted from this Parents' Review Article by K.M. Claxton, 1915.)

1.  Ask the student what she knows about Titian. 

Possible answers:  Titian was the greatest painter of 16th-century Venice.  He was believed to have lived to be 100, but he was more likely about 90 years old when he died. He painted religious art and portraits of princes and emperors all over Europe.

2.  What is the painting?  
Created between April and September 1548 while Titian was at the imperial court of Augsburg, it is a tribute to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, following his victory in the April 1547 Battle of Mühlberg against the Protestant armies. (Wikipedia article)
3. Who was Charles V?  See "Subject" in this article from The Guardian (really useful). 

4. The history of the picture:  
Some sources say that Titian was the official court painter for Charles V., but he seems to have had a special freedom to travel and to paint other subjects, and he is described as almost more of a personal friend of the Emperor.  Read this passage from Titian's Portraits through Aretino's Lens, by Luba Freedman: "Certainly Titian was not the only artist ever to have been admitted to the court and to have become a favourite of rulers, but his close relationship with the emperor was unusual for the time...Aretino opines that this privilege was bestowed on Titian not only because of his talent in painting but also because of his virtuous agent of the Duke of Urbino..also reported that Titian had become the august favourite and even had a room near the emperor so he could converse privately with his patron. That this privilege was exceptional can be seen in a letter of Nov 10, the skeptical Giovanni Della Casa: “Messer Titian has spent a long time with His Imperial Majesty painting his portrait, and seems to have had plenty of opportunities to talk with him, while he was painting and so on"...In thinking about the relationship between Titian and Charles V, one should keep in mind...that he had priority over most persons in attendance upon the emperor, for he was an independent citizen of the Venetian Republic, and as such served Charles only by special invitation. Titian was in no sense a court painter dependent on imperial favor. His independence may have played a part in his unique approach to portraying the emperor."

5.  After studying the picture for several minutes, the student describes it out loud. 
6.  Then we read a few appreciative words on the life and energy displayed, on the beauty of the forms, and on the beautiful shading of the picture.

"The portrait in part gains its impact by its directness and sense of contained power: the horse's strength seems just in check, and Charles' brilliantly shining armour and the painting's deep reds are reminders of battle and heroism." (Wikipedia article)  See also the "Distinguishing Features" section of the article from The Guardian. I especially like the part about "Charles V rides out of the woods, across a sweeping landscape, in front of one of Titian's most unforgettable skies..." 

7.  The student draws the chief lines of the composition.

8. A final note:  Titian's seventeenth-century biographer Carlo Ridolfi recounts an anecdote concerning their relationship..."It is told of Titian that while he was painting the portrait, he dropped a brush, which the emperor picked up, and bowing low, Titian declared: 'Sire, one of your servants does not deserve such an honour.' To this Charles replied: 'Titian deserves to be served by Caesar.'"  Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret painted this scene in 1808 ("Charles V Picking Up Titian's Paintbrush"). (Quote and painting found here.)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

How's that simplicity going? (An update of sorts)

Have you ever heard that quote from the senior citizen (sometimes it's attributed to a man, sometimes a woman) who said "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits?"

Last weekend I was at the L'Harmas (Charlotte Mason) retreat, and the word "simplicity" came up in one of the talks: not as a question of how many wooden spoons and pairs of shoes you have, or what you wrap your avocados in, but more as a contemplative, even agrarian, old/new set of values; something that people are looking for but not finding. The title of a much-maligned expensive magazine comes to mind.

The idea of a retreat implies slowing down, unplugging, renewing. At L'Harmas, we often find ourselves asked to slow down in ways that are out of our "ordinary." If we're homeschoolers, we might be used to reading poems to our children, or showing them how to do a craft; but it feels different, even uncertain somehow, to have someone asking us, the grownups, to try Swedish drill. Or to have someone read a poem just for us, or show us how to needle-felt with those scary-looking barbed needles. Yes, I know needle-felting has been popular for ages, but some of us have never tried it (preferring our nice safe crochet hooks).

Or (at last year's L'Harmas), singing The Gypsy Rover, learning about ladybugs in greenhouses, and making a paper box, Sloyd-style.

To hear something different, to try something new, we have to slow down, listen to the words or the instructions, make our hands, voices, or bodies do something they don't normally do. We re-discover a place where the reading, the making, the singing come from our own initiative. This is the complete opposite of pushing a button or clicking an icon.

Those are the things I bring back from such a time away. Where do they lead?

Since returning, I've also sat in a church workshop on conservative Mennonite choral traditions, watched clouds from our balcony, spent a morning sorting books at the thrift store, baked a new/old gingerbread recipe, thrifted a cardigan, put away a few last summer clothes, picked up bananas and chocolate rolls at the discount store (because I can walk there), hand-washed my sweaters, and thought through the counting-clothes, capsule wardrobe problem again. (Post coming on that.) Tomorrow night will be our local Charlotte Mason study night; we're working through School Education.

I have been listening to a CD of hymns and the radio jazz station, and discussing retirement finances with Mr. Fixit. We have an at-home daughter doing late-night essays and wondering what to wear for Halloween, and grown-up Squirrelings dealing with work, sick pets, and other life issues.

I'm reading a book by Madeleine L'Engle where she muses on a similar variety of this-is-life happenings. In the first chapter, she's awake in the middle of the night, watching out the window, listening to the night sounds. Sometimes that's the best place to find quiet and think about simplicity.

Some of the minimalist writers are big on saying No. I would like to turn it around and say more Yes. Yes, I can come help. Yes, that thrifted purse would look nice with a dress.Yes, I'll make time to read that book. Yes, I will talk to someone instead of doing something else that I thought was going to be important (and it wasn't). Yes, I will try that new thing.

Because simplicity allows us to refuse, but also to choose. And Yes can be a good choice.

Morning view, with balloon (photo)

That little speck is a hot-air balloon. Who takes a balloon up at 8:30 in the morning? We can only guess.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Mixing it up

From this Side of the Pond

1. What's surprised you most about your life or life in general? 

To go with a cliche, how fast it goes. Also how long some things (material things, friendships, circumstances) last, and not always the ones you'd expect. I made gingerbread this morning from a 1977 magazine recipe, in a plastic mixing bowl Mr. Fixit's mother gave him when he moved out from home. I used vintage measuring spoons of his grandma's, a recent-vintage silicone scraper, and a 25-year-old Pyrex measuring cup; and I baked it in a pan we got free this year with a pair of new cookie sheets.

2.  Sweet potato fries, sweet potato casserole, a baked sweet potato, a bowl of butternut squash soup, a caramel apple or a slice of pumpkin have to order one thing on this list right now. Which one do you go for?

Any of them except the caramel apple: too sticky.

3. What's a famous book set in your home state? Have you read it? On a scale of 1-5 (5 is fantastic) how many stars does it rate?

How about Lucy Maud Montgomery's The Blue Castle, I think her only novel set in Ontario? Those who love it would give it multiple stars.
Valancy got her John Foster book--Magic of Wings. "His latest--all about birds," said Miss Clarkson. She had almost decided that she would go home, instead of going to see Dr. Trent. Her courage had failed her. She was afraid of offending Uncle James--afraid of angering her mother--afraid of facing gruff, shaggy-browed old Dr. Trent, who would probably tell her, as he had told Cousin Gladys, that her trouble was entirely imaginary and that she only had it because she liked to have it... Valancy slammed the magazine shut; she opened Magic of Wings. Her eyes fell on the paragraph that changed her life.

"Fear is the original sin," wrote John Foster. "Almost all the evil in the world has its origin in the fact that some one is afraid of something. It is a cold, slimy serpent coiling about you. It is horrible to live with fear; and it is of all things degrading."
Image result for montgomery the blue castle
This is the cover of the edition I first read in the 1970's

4. There are 60 days until Christmas...have you started your shopping? How do you stay organized for the holidays?

No, I haven't bought any gifts or other holiday things, except for a nativity silhouette we bought in the summer from Ten Thousand Villages.

5. October 26th is National Tennessee Day. Have you ever lived or spent any time in Tennessee? Is this a state you'd like to visit one day? The top rated tourist attractions in Tennessee are-

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park (Gatlinburg area), Elvis's Graceland (Memphis), Birth of the Music Biz (Memphis and Nashville), Dollywood (Pigeon Forge), Tennessee's Military Heritage (many battlefields), The Hermitage (Andrew Jackson's home), The Parthenon (Nashville), Oak Ridge American Museum of Science and Energy, Chattagnooa and the Tennessee Valley Railroad, Downtown Knoxville, Lookout Mountain, The Titanic Museum (Pigeon Forge), The Museum of Appalachia (Clinton), and The Lost Sea Adventure (Sweetwater)

How many on this list have you seen? Which one on the list would you most like to see?

My family stayed at a KOA campground in Tennessee, when I was ten, on our way to Florida. Elvis was still alive and living in his house, and Dollywood didn't exist. That's all I remember!

6.  Insert your own random thought here.

Can I make an unsolicited plug for the digital Simplify Magazine? For any digital magazine (it seems) to last more than a couple of issues is a good sign, and they're already working on the third. It's enjoyably diverse, occasionally even unexpected, and well written.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond

Making gingerbread (photos)

 Here's the Frontier Gingerbread I posted about earlier. It's good, not too sweet, and the mustard powder seems to blend well with the other spices. (You're not wondering why the gingerbread tastes like mustard.)
Here's the 1977 magazine with the recipe.

As the clouds roll by (photo from the balcony)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Christmas Countdown with Charlotte Mason, Week 4 of 12: Something for everyone

9 weeks until Christmas...
"The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,

But here the world's desire.)"

~~ G.K.Chesterton

Here is this week's passage from Parents and Children:
"Humility Unconscious of Self.––Humility does not think much or little of itself; it does not think of itself at all. It is a negative rather than a positive quality, being an absence of self-consciousness rather than the presence of any distinctive virtue. The person who is unaware of himself is capable of all lowly service, of all suffering for others, of bright cheerfulness under all the small crosses and worries of everyday life. This is the quality that makes heroes, and this is the quality that makes saints. We are able to pray, but we are hardly able to worship or to praise, to say, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord' so long as in the innermost chamber of our hearts we are self-occupied. 
"The Christian Religion Objective––The Christian religion is, in its very nature, objective. It offers for our worship, reverence, service, adoration and delight, a Divine Person, the Desire of the world. Simplicity, happiness and expansion come from the outpouring of a human heart upon that which is altogether worthy. But we mistake our own needs, are occupied with our own falls and our own repentances, our manifold states of consciousness. Our religion is subjective first, and after that, so far as we are able, objective. The order should rather be objective first and after that, so far as we have any time or care to think about ourselves, subjective."
In the spirit of Charlotte Mason:

In the children's book Understood Betsy, Betsy trudges home to the farm on a late winter day, having failed a test at school. She plans to tell every gory detail to Cousin Ann, who is busy making maple syrup, because that is what she would have been expected to do in her "old life" with Aunt Frances. Cousin Ann asks her bluntly, "Do you really want to tell me all this?" Betsy says, "Um, no." Cousin Ann says, "Fine. Here's some syrup, go make some snow candy." (I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point.)

This passage moves into the idea that even being overly focused on our own sinfulness, weakness, mistakes, things we have done and things we have left undone can, in a certain sense, become tiresome, a sort of pious navel-gazing. When soul-searching becomes soul-scraping to the point that we cannot accept God's assurance of His love and forgiveness, we may no longer call it humility.

Iin the same way that parents are directed to provide a healthy table but to discourage children from over-noticing what they are eating ("I like, I don't like..."), they are to train children in good habits, teach them that they have a Saviour, that they certainly do sin and need to repent, but not allow too much focus on the endless stream of mistakes, too much attention-seeking for either good or bad behaviour. Would we as parents enjoy having a child who came to us constantly, needing to tell and re-tell about the failure or the quarrel or the cheating, even after the situation had been resolved? Do we chatter about ourselves (good things and bad) too much, to the Lord, to each other, or as self-talk? Do we have too many self-help books cluttering our shelves?

The goal expressed in this passage is for us to focus fully on "the beauty of the Divine Person, the Desire of mankind."

Things to do this week

In the 1977 Family Circle Christmas Helps magazine that inspired this countdown, the projects suggested for "nine weeks till Christmas" include baking gingerbread, making appliqued toaster and can-opener covers (I think I'll pass), covering wooden boxes with fabric (I like those), and making sets of needlepoint coasters. Here's a page from PlanetJune (a crochet designer's blog) with photos of some crocheted but non-Christmassy coasters and other things that may inspire you. Or if you're more of a sewer, you can look forward to the annual month of Handmade Holidays on SewMamaSew, that should be popping up in about a week. Here's the master list of posts from 2016.

If you're not a crafter, you could decide to buy handmade gifts through a fair-trade shop like Ten Thousand Villages. Or from a craft sale or a church bazaar.

If you're more into recycling, you could buy second-life crafted items from a thrift store.

And if you're a minimalist and/or live in a tiny house, maybe you will be happier just looking at photos of other people's stuff, and thinking, "So glad that's not me."

Here is the 1970's-vibe recipe for "Frontier Gingerbread" that was included in the magazine. I was going to test-bake one today so I could give you an honest review, but it's a warmish week and we're not wanting the oven to be on for long. So, I'll add a photo and comments when the temperature drops again.

Frontier Gingerbread

makes one large oval or one 9x9x2 inch cake

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, melted
1 cup light molasses
1 egg
1 cup hot water

Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together with a wire whip in bowl. Blend the other dry ingredients into melted shortening in a large bowl. Beat in molasses and egg with wire whip. Add flour mixture alternately with hot water. Beat mixture until smooth.

Pour into a well-greased and lightly floured 10-inch oval au gratin pan or a 9x9x2 inch baking pan.

Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) 45 minutes; or until top springs back when pressed with fingertip. Cool in pan on wire rack to cool completely. Serve with whipped cream or fruit sauce, if you wish.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

From the archives: What books freaked you out?

First posted April 2013

Little kids read a monster book and then hide under the bed, right?

Well, sometimes the monsters follow you the rest of your life...or you acquire new ones as an adult. What irrational (or quite rational) worries have you acquired as a result of reading?  Have any of them ever kept you from making mistakes?

Tiny Little Medical Problems:  I've been paranoid of splinters ever since reading On Tide Mill Lane.  Wouldn't you be?  

Bad salmon:  Flight into Danger, required reading in grade five or six.
Bad whipped cream:  A Cap for Mary Ellis.

Leaving things too close to light bulbs:  The Saturdays.

Creepy old houses, not to mention reading under the covers:  The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring.  You wouldn't believe how badly that book scared me one cured me of after-hours reading for some time. 

Running with scissors:  The title, I can't remember; but it was a Parents' Magazine Press book from about 1970, about safety rules.  A bit like Struwwelpeter although not so extreme.  One little raccoon "liked to cut paper dolls, she snipped away happily singing" until she heard a friend's bicycle bell ringing--and ran with scissors, to what end exactly we're not sure. [Oh, look at that: I just found the title.  Watch Out! How to Be Safe and Not Sorry, by Harold Longman.]

Teasing Weasels:  if the opportunity ever came up.

Books finished July to October 2017

Favourite book read since July:

Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times
Guinness, Os


Books, Children and Men
Hazard, Paul

The Abolition of Man
Lewis, C.S.

A Touch of the Infinite: Studies in Music Appreciation with Charlotte Mason
Hoyt, Megan Elizabeth

Pretty interesting:

Christian's Children: The Influence of John Bunyan's the Pilgrim's Progress on American Children's Literature
MacDonald, Ruth K.

Could have left at the library:

What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life: Ageless Secrets of Style
Gross, Kim Johnson

And the rest:

A World Lost (a short novel about his character Andy Catlett)
Berry, Wendell

Slave to Fashion (about the movement to create justice in the fashion industry)
Minney, Safia

Precious Lord, Take My Hand: Meditations for Caregivers
Beach, Shelly

Revolution in World Missions
Yohannan, K.P.

Little Women (Little Women, #1) (re-read)
Alcott, Louisa May

The Man in the Queue
Tey, Josephine

Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life
Selk, Jason

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 soupçon 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