Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017 reading challenges.

Obviously, I am really really bad at blogging.  I really do hope that changes someday, but for now it is just not happening consistently.

It's New Years Eve, and everyone is making resolutions and signing up for challenges for next year.  The time between Thanksgiving and New Years is when I put together my personal reading plan for the next year and buy books for myself.  Any that I want to read and can't buy right now go on a wishlist for easy reference later, but between my birthday and Christmas this is the time of year when I have the most spending money at my disposal, while buying books for myself in, say, midsummer can be a stretch.  It's also the time of year when I can usually count on getting at least one good book as a gift.  (Although there wasn't one this year, but that's OK.  I did get a couple Amazon gift cards, which is the next best thing.)

My usual plan is something like this:

Pick an HEO year to draw inspiration from.  (That's AmblesideOnline's 7th-12th grade curriculum.)
Look over the Back to the Classics challenge for more ideas.
Add in books that my eldest will be reading for school NEXT year which I haven't read yet.
Also check the upcoming AO Book discussion forums for any discussions I'd like to participate in and make sure I have books for the discussions I'm responsible to lead.

I take all that, put together a list and a loose schedule, buy books, and then usually throw the actual PLAN part of the plan out the window and read whatever strikes my interest.  At the end of the year, there are usually a few books from last year's list leftover, and several books I decided to read or re-read over the course of the year that weren't in the plan.  But in general, most of the books I selected do get read at some point over the year.

The one other part of my plan, is that at any given time I have 5 types of books going.  They are:


  • A "Christian Thought" book.  This is a category I've carried over from my high school literature classes.  It covers theology, worldview, Christian living, philosophy, commentaries, and I tend to throw books about pedagogy, parenting, and homemaking into this category, too, because I want to be thinking theologically about my vocations.
  • A history "Spine".  (I've been co-leading a discussion of Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples for the past couple of years, and look forward to continuing being involved in that group).
  • A second book from the "social studies" categories: history, biography, geography, civics, economics, etc.
  • A long/"serious" novel, epic poem, allegory, play, etc.
  • Light reading.  This includes random books I pick up off my kids' free read shelf, Shakespeare plays, poetry, quick novels, poetic essays - anything I can read in a couple of hours on a weekend or a sick day without having to think too hard about it.  I don't usually plan this category in advance.

This year I've added a couple new wrinkles to my plan.  For one thing, I've decided I want to actually try and complete the blogging part of Back to the Classics, rather than just using it as a reading list.  Additionally, one of my pastors issued a reading challenge to our church, and I've decided I'd like to participate in that and in the discussion group that will be meeting quarterly to encourage each other and chat about what we're reading.  So I'll be trying to complete both lists, taking advantage of overlaps when possible.  The other complication is that I have decided to intentionally limit my reading this year to no more than 13 books total in the 4 "serious" categories, so that I can focus more of my attention on my homeschooling/parenting/housekeeping responsibilities.  (As much as I would LOVE to just read all day . . .)  So if I'm going to complete the challenges, I will need to do a little more planning with my "light" reading than normal, and also take advantage of the school books I will be reading out loud to my kids to fill a few slots.

So, here's the plan:

  1. Continue reading History of the English Speaking People.  I don't expect to finish this, so it won't actually count for the challenges.
  2. Christian Thought (Christian living): This Momentary Marriage
  3. Social Studies (history/biography): Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution
  4. Epic: Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves
  5. Christian Thought (theology/devotional): Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ
  6. Social Studies (politics/current events): Real Dissent
  7. Novel: Robinson Crusoe
  8. Christian Thought (motherhood): Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full
  9. Social Studies (history/government): Miracle at Philadelphia
  10. Novel: Faust (part 1)
  11. Christian Thought: "A book recommended by your pastor" TBD
  12. Social Studies (missionary biography): A Passion for the Impossible
  13. Novel: The Count of Monte Cristo

Light reading that I am planning to fit some of the challenge requirements:
  • The Incredible Journey
  • Amos Fortune, Free Man
  • The Pursuit of God
  • Thick as Thieves (the 5th installment in The Queen's Thief series, due out in May)
  • Poetry by Emily Dickinson
  • The Cherry Orchard for my "Russian Classic"
School books I need to read out loud that I'm using to fit some challenge requirements:
  • Pilgrim's Progress
  • Robin Hood
  • Henry V
For Back to the Classics, I'm counting Incredible Journey, Amos Fortune, and Robin Hood as my 3 children's books.  I decided Robinson Crusoe and Legend of Sleepy Hollow are "grown up" books, even though they are sometimes published under children's labels like the Junior Deluxe Editions.  

So that's the plan.  Of course, I probably will go "off plan" at some point, and there will be a bunch of other books read in the "light" category before the year is done, but this is where I'm starting.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Spring

Year's at the Spring.
Day's at the morn.
Morning's at seven.
Hillside's dew-pearled.
The Lark's on the wing.
The Snail's on the thorn.
God's in his Heaven.
All's right with the world.
- R. Browning

After nearly a week of rain and a night of thunderstorms, we have a beautiful sunny afternoon.

And suddenly, the grass is green!  The flowers are blooming - explosions of daffodil and hyacinth in the front bed, splashes of purple and yellow in the back yard.  The mourning dove who has built her nest outside the children's bedroom window for the past several years has returned, and from the way she's sitting on that nest I suspect she's laid her eggs already.  Jack saw a robin earlier.  I've been noticing them for a couple weeks, but this was the first bird he spotted and ID'd all by himself.  (He was very excited.)  And, thanks to Mr. Thorton Burgess, we now know that the robin is a thrush.  :D

This afternoon, they brought armfuls of wildflowers inside for me.  I now have a pot of dandelions on the kitchen table, thanks to Sally, and a huge pile of dandelions, violets, and purple dead-nettle that Jack wants to catalog for nature study.  He's not crazy about the idea of drawing them, he just wants to find them and look at them.  For today, I'm OK with that. 

I showed him how to find the leaves at the base of the dandelion.  Then we came inside, and I taught him how to use the key in our field guide - explaining some of the terms and showing examples of the various types of leaves.  Then we sat down with his haul and tried to classify them.  We narrowed the dandelion down to two: we think it is a red dandelion, based on the leaves, but will have to wait for a seed-head before we can totally rule out the common dandelion.  Of course, they picked ALL the flowers, so we may have to wait a while. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wednesdays with Words: Mercy

During our family devotions we've been reading about Joseph and his brothers.  Today's passage was the part where Jacob sends his sons back to Egypt, with Benjamin, to buy more food.  Before they leave, he prays that God would grant them mercy.  And He does.  So does their brother.  Instead of throwing them in prison or making them slaves, Joseph invites them over for lunch.

After reading the chapter, and giving the children a chance to tell the story back to me, we looked at the discussion points in Long Story Short.  The key idea for this passage was to make sure the kids knew what the word mercy means, and how it applies to Joseph's actions towards his brothers.  And how God shows mercy to us.

Mercy
The compassionate treatment of an offender.  Pity, clemency, forbearance.  The judge's power to pardon or to mitigate a sentence.

Lamentations is a disturbingly vivid poetic account of God punishing sin in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.  In the middle of verses eloquently describing the physical and emotional agonies of starvation and war, Jeremiah throws out this:


But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."

Even in the midst of horrors, we can have hope because we have confidence in the unfailing mercies of God towards his people.

God's mercy is amazing.  In Psalms, it is repeatedly linked to his steadfast love - the love that never changes or fails.  His mercy gives us life and keeps us from the destruction that our sins surely deserve.  The prophets tell us that God shows mercy to his people by limiting the extent and duration of their chastisement.  The sick and the blind come to Christ crying out for his mercy.  Paul tells us in Romans and Ephesians that the softening and quickening of our stone-dead hearts is an act of God's mercy.  

I kind of have a thing for old, semi-obscure hymns, and it is National Poetry Month, so here's another of my favorites:

Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart and the boast of my tongue;
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Hath won my affections and bound my soul fast.
Without thy free mercy I could not live here.
My sin would reduce me to utter despair;
But, through thy free goodness, my spirits revive,
And he that first made me, still keeps me alive.
Thy mercy surpasses the sin of my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart.
Dissolved by thy goodness, I fall to the ground
And weep to the praise of the mercy I found.
Thy mercy in Jesus exempts me from hell;
Its glories I'll sing, and its wonders I'll tell:
'Twas Jesus the friend, when he hung on the tree,
That opened the channel of mercy for me.
Great Father of mercies, thy goodness I own,
In the covenant love of thy crucified Son:
All praise to the Spirit, whose action divine
Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine.
- John Stocker, 1776

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Treasuring These Things: A Moment of Quiet

I've been squeezing my babies a little tighter today.

It's my son's birthday (for lack of a better word), and for once I've actually slowed down enough to notice the big achy hole in my heart.  To cry, because it hurts, and not worry that the kids might see me crying.  To mentally estimate the difference in size and abilities between a 7-week-old and a 4-month old, and then immediately feel horrified that I did it because my 7-week old is beautiful, sweet, precious and (of course) I don't want to trade him.  But there's still that hole, because you can't simply replace one person with another.

I know that there was nothing we could've done to save his life.  That God is in control, and works all these things for good - for his own glory, and my sanctification.  That it's truly a blessing that I miscarried during the night before my ultrasound and we didn't have to deal with the drama and pain of a tubal pregnancy.  But those things don't take away the simple fact that living in a fallen and sin-cursed world is heart-wrenchingly painful sometimes.

There was a moment, that morning, when everyone else was still asleep.  The pain had intensified during the night and awakened me, and then the bleeding suddenly got heavier.  If we hadn't had an 8 AM appointment, I'd probably have called in to try and get one.  But as it was, I sat there in the bathroom: shaking, trying to clean up, repeating Sta. Teresa's "Nada te turbe" over and over, and staring at a little white balloon floating in the bloody water.  I almost fished it out.

I can't tell you how many thousands of times over the last year I've wished I had pulled that little coracle of membranes out of the mess.  That I'd looked inside it and seen his face, held his tiny body - if even for just a moment.  But I didn't.  I told myself that I couldn't "go there" - I had kids to wake up and dress, breakfast to cook, an appointment to keep.  I couldn't think about it right now.  There would be time later.

After the ultrasound and resulting consultation with the OB and a talk with our family doctor, there were phone calls to make and more calls to answer and children to comfort and dishes to wash.  There were the forced smiles trying very hard to be not-forced, the memorized spiels focusing on how it could've been so-much-worse (and it really, truly, could have been).  I "lost it" exactly once, cried for all of 3 minutes, and quickly pulled myself back together before the kids saw me.  And then suddenly, there was a new little one, much sooner than I had hoped, and I felt like I wasn't allowed to grieve for Edmund, because I ought to be thankful that the new baby was healthy and growing and normal.  It's not that anyone told me not to grieve, but . . . How do you hold two such BIG emotions in one heart at the same time?  So "later" never really came.

Until today.  Today I am "going there" - I am remembering, and I am crying, and giving my newborn extra hugs and kisses, and I am finally saying "Yes, it could've been worse, and I'm thankful it wasn't, but my baby still died."  I'm dealing with the fact that it hurts, instead of pretending it doesn't.  It hurts in the very depths of my being.  And I'm coming full circle: Solo Dios Basta.  Only God Suffices.

Blessed be your name, on the road marked with suffering.  When there's pain in the offering, Blessed be your name . . . You give and take away, You give and take away.  My heart will choose to say: Blessed be Your Name.

Monday, April 6, 2015

"Never Stop Learning"

Last autumn, I entered a drawing for an autographed copy of Karen Glass's book Consider This.  I was shocked (and super excited) when I learned that I had won the raffle.  When my husband brought in the mail asking who we knew in Poland, I snatched the parcel out of his hands and eagerly ripped open the envelope.  It's a very good book, and worth a post of it's own, but that's not the topic tonight.

In the front cover of my book, where she signed it, Mrs. Glass wrote the words "Never Stop Learning."  This little phrase - and the idea it embodies - is a vital part of successful teaching.  Continuing education is important for the classroom teacher.  It's arguably even MORE important for the home-school teacher, since we are all but guaranteed to find ourselves teaching outside our areas of expertise.  We have to be committed to continuing to stretch ourselves if we are going to challenge our students appropriately.

It was with this idea in mind that I was interested in this book in the first place.  It was the reason I've been reading Churchill's Birth of Britain chapters corresponding with the history Jack is learning in Our Island Story.  And Richard Maybury's primer on Austrian Economics, Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?   And it's the reason I joined in with a book discussion group on the AO forum planning to read through many of the literature selections from Years 7&8 together over the next couple of years.  We just finished Idylls of the King, and are about halfway through Watership Down.  It's lots of fun.

But.

Joining in the book discussions with these wonderful ladies has made me realize something.  Several of the women in the group do not share my natural affinity for reading, analyzing, parsing, inhaling, rolling around and just generally delighting in "classic" literature.  They actually have to WORK to get through Tennyson.   Can you believe it!?

And yet, they do work at it.  Because they want to learn and grow, even if they never fall in love with it.  (For the record, I have come to have great admiration for these ladies as we read and discuss together.)   Which got me thinking: OK, so British History isn't something I've studied before, but . . . history, literature, philosophy, BOOKS - this is what I'm GOOD at.  My whole plan for self-education, for "Mother Culture", is incredibly biased towards the things I like doing anyway.

And the more I thought about this, the more it bugged me.

My son is very academically inclined.  Last summer we signed him up for baseball.  He couldn't hit.  He couldn't catch.  He couldn't throw.  We made him practice.  He played catch with Dad several times a week, and he whined and fussed about how hard it was Over and Over and Over.  But he got better.  One day he came in for dinner just bubbling with the news that they had made it to TEN catches before he dropped the ball.  By the end of the season, he still couldn't hit, but at least he wasn't whining about it and he couldn't catch or throw very well, but he was trying.

We also make him learn piano.  Now, this boy LOVES music.  But he does not love piano.  He particularly hates that he can't make the music sound the way it is supposed to right away on the first try.  He gets frustrated and wants to quit and we keep telling him, "No."   Now, I know that for some CM students, it would be totally OK to hold off on music lessons until the child is in Year 4, closer to age 10.  But we are including piano now and insisting he keep it for a particular reason.  The reason is: because the academic stuff all comes naturally to him.  We want there to be something in his schoolwork that is hard for him, so that he can learn how to work through a challenge.  Because there's so much room for learning and growing in that process of patient effort.  It's not really about the piano at all, it's about virtue and character.

From a Mama who had a natural gift for academics, and never did develop that particular virtue (of working hard at hard tasks), it is important to me that he learn this lesson NOW at age seven.  Because it is oh-so-much harder to learn at 20.  Or 30.

I tried explaining all of this to said 7-year-old the other day.  He wasn't impressed.

And after that conversation, I got on-line and scheduled a driving test.  In two weeks.  Even though I haven't even pretended to be practicing in like two (?) years.

Relevant background: I got a learner's permit (again) back in October because I thought it would make voting simpler.  (Long story).  But I never really planned on using it for, y'know, learning to drive.  Motor skills and spatial reasoning are not my strong points.  I've never been able to wrap my brain around kinetic learning - it's just totally foreign to the way I think.  Physics, however, I can wrap my brain around, and high mass with high velocity = yikes.

But I realized that I need to force myself to stretch beyond my comfort zone for the very same reasons that Jack needs to practice his piano lesson and to read books that are harder than Frog and Toad.  Because that's how we grow.

There was a lot of practicing during the past two weeks.  The friend who helped teach me during my most recent half-hearted attempt took me out on the roads a couple of times.  My husband packed all four kids into the car and took me to the exam station 30+ minutes away to get in some time on their practice course after dinner each evening for a week.  (My kids were bored to tears the first night.  We took music for them after that, and it went better.)  There may have been a moment where I broke down and pitched a "this-is-pointless-I'll-never-get-it-the-whole-thing-is-stupid" fit EXACTLY like the one my first grader had thrown over his piano lesson that morning.  In front of said first grader, of course.  That was embarrassing.

I got my license this weekend, 14 years after my first driving lesson.  Tonight, I drove my four kids to and from church.  In the dark, and the rain.  It was AWFUL.  But we got home safe and in one piece.  (Thank you, Abba!)  My husband is out of town on a business trip, and I have at least one other place we are supposed to get to before he comes home.  And I'm going to challenge myself to drive at least once a week for a while.  Because even though it's hard, and I don't like it, and might never like it - it is worth learning.

I don't know if this technically qualifies as "Mother Culture" or not - but it's not really about the driving.  It's about learning, and growing.  It's about deliberately making TIME to learn and grow, instead of being ruled by "tyranny of the urgent."  It's about building relationships with space and mass and velocity and learning to trust God and surrender fears.  And, somehow, I think that the woman who insisted that students of all backgrounds study poetry and handicrafts, classical music and Swedish Drill, would not rule out an area of learning just because on the surface it seems mundane.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Who is This?

I thought I'd do something a little lighter today.  It's a holiday (holy-day) and also National Poetry Month, so I'm going to post the lyrics of one of my favorite hymns.  And, yes, I know that it's technically a Christmas Carol.  Bear with me, and read past the first verse.  (Lyrics by William Walsham How, 1823-1897)
Who is this, so weak and helpless
Child of lowly Hebrew maid?
Rudely in a stable sheltered,
Coldly in a manger laid?
’Tis the Lord of all creation,
Who this wondrous path has trod;
He is Lord from everlasting,
And to everlasting God.

Who is this, a Man of Sorrows,
Walking sadly life’s hard way,
Homeless, weary, sighing, weeping
Over sin and Satan’s sway?
’Tis our God, our glorious Savior,
Who above the starry sky
Is for us a place preparing,
Where no tear can dim the eye.

Who is this? Behold him shedding
Drops of blood upon the ground!
Who is this, despised, rejected,
Mocked, insulted, beaten, bound?
’Tis our God, Who gifts and graces
On His church is pouring down;
Who shall smite in holy vengeance
All His foes beneath His throne.

Who is this that hangs there dying
While the rude world scoffs and scorns,
Numbered with the malefactors,
Torn with nails, and crowned with thorns?
’Tis our God Who lives forever
’Mid the shining ones on high,
In the glorious golden city, Reigning everlastingly.
"Tis the Lord of all creation, who this wondrous path hath trod.  He is Lord from everlasting, and to everlasting God."

In the words of another hymn: How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior's love for me!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Towards a Theology of Education

Beginning a home-schooling journey can be overwhelming.  There are literally hundreds of different curricula to comb through.  There are friends, family, and random blogging moms making suggestions and sharing what they like to use.  There is a new vocabulary to learn: "classical" doesn't always mean the same thing in home-school circles as it did in my Education classes.  "Unit study" has a different flavor.  And then there are terms I'd never heard of in my (admittedly, short) teaching career - like "Charlotte Mason", which is where I landed.

What originally attracted me to CM-style homeschooling was that the methods are so deeply rooted in a carefully thought-out philosophy that resonates with my own ideas about education and the teacher/student relationship.  Well, OK, what originally attracted me is that AmblesideOnline is free. :D But what has kept me there even after our financial situation improved is that I firmly believe that good methods grow out of good philosophy.  Miss Mason articulates a great deal of what I wanted to say back when I wrote my "Personal Philosophy of Education" essay back in college.

However - just because I like it doesn't make it good.

Good methods start with good philosophy, and good philosophy has to start with good theology.

So - so, so, so - I constantly need to reexamine what I'm doing and why I'm doing it, and make sure it lines up with Scripture.

Fortunately, Miss Mason didn't just leave us a teacher's manual explaining her methods, she left 6 whole books with a robust (and yet, coherent) explanation of the philosophy behind her methods.  And then she summarized it all into a 20-bullet-point list, so the cross-examination starts there.

Point number 1: Children are born persons.

Not "blank slates" or "sponges" or "memorization machines" or even "potential persons".

So far, so good - if I believe in personhood from conception, then surely I can accept personhood from birth.

But what does it mean that my children are persons?  and how does that affect my role as their teacher?

Some thoughts:

1. As persons, children have the same God-given rights as other people.  These rights are rooted in our status as bearers of God's image.  "Life, liberty, and property" comes to mind. (Gen 9:6 and Ex. 20:1-17, among others)  This is a common battle-cry among libertarians, but the idea is an old one.  Jefferson used a variation of it by saying "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  I've always found it significant that no one has ever seriously said we have an inalienable right to be happy, only to pursue happiness.  Which brings me to my next point:

2. As persons, children have the right to make their own choices and receive the consequences.  (Ezekiel 18 is one example)  Now, children are foolish and lacking in wisdom, so as a parent (and teacher) I have a responsibility to set boundaries around them.  But within those boundaries, there should be freedom.  And consequences, both good and bad.  (A corollary to this is the classic idea of "Freedom of Conscience" - which my husband calls "Self-Stewardship.")

I think Miss Mason's concept of "masterly inactivity" fits in here, as does her principle of allowing ONE attempt at an assignment and not allowing corrections or second chances.

3. Another corollary of point 3 is that persons have the right to do their own work.  Miss Mason fleshes this idea out in a later section of her 20 points, so we'll come back to it then.

4. As persons, my children are sinners in desperate need of God's grace.  (Rom 3:23, Eph 2:1-10)  This is another one we'll come back to later.

5. According to the Westminster Catechism, the chief end of man is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."  If we accept this premise, than it stands to reason that my homeschooling needs to be done in a way that brings glory to God, and that encourages my children to glorify God and to enjoy him.  (Rom 11:36, I Cor 10:31, Phil 4:4, Rev 21:3-4)  My children are, like Adam, living creatures, (Gen 2:7), with souls that were created to love and fear God.

Because of this (and in combination with point 4) I have to come at education from a Deuteronomy 6 perspective.  Teach them diligently to know and love the One True God.  With all their hearts, souls, and might.  While we walk by the way, and while we sit at home, and while we lay down, and while we stand up.  Day in, and day out, everything comes back to God.