31 May 2010

A Charlotte Mason Examination {Year Two, Term Three}

This term, I am finally beginning examinations. I've known about the concept for at least a year, but it's taken me a while to decide to put it into place. I toyed with it briefly at the end of last year, but with my husband ending up in a coma, last year's term three took almost all of summer and a number of helpers to complete.

This past Friday, incidentally, was the anniversary of my husband's first day home sick, or the beginning of that long battle. He came home early again this year, this time because he had errands to run and a driver's license {because he can drive again, and has been able for a while now!} to renew. Once he was home, I couldn't help but consider the similarity to last year, and how all I thought he had was a mild stomach ache and how I really had no idea what we were in for.

Life is that way, sometimes, isn't it? And what good is it for us to know "what we're in for" anyhow?

Ahem.

On Saturday, I sat on our patio with a pile of Mason's volumes next to me. I looked up "examination" in the indices, and I read all about them. The best thing about her volumes is that a couple of them {specifically, A Philosophy of Education and School Education} have pages full of actual questions asked during real exams given at Mason's school, plus real answers given by real students {and we learn the students' ages so we can see what children were capable of at various levels of maturity}. What a treasure!

One of the things that is most striking about Mason's methods is that a child was expected to remember {pretty much everything} after a single reading. There was no studying, no review, no cramming for a test:
[A]n unusual amount of ground is covered with such certainty that no revision is required for the examination at the end of the term. A single reading is a condition insisted upon because a naturally desultory habit of mind leads us all to put off the effort of attention as long as a second or third chance of coping with our subject is to be hoped for.
I was tempted to wait and begin examinations next year. But now I see that the examination itself is a training device. Once the child has been given an exam, he knows that he will be later accountable for the knowledge he has been offered during the term. Therefore, if I want him to spend the entirety of next year knowing that he will be accountable, then I need to give an examination this year to teach him that lesson.

I also get the impression that if a child actually did poorly on an examination, the child might not be at fault at all. Either the teacher "got in the way" {as Mason was apt to put it}, or the book which was chosen turned out not to be living after all, for only living books are capable of imparting knowledge in a single reading. {This is why Mason was so picky about her books.} This tells me that giving an examination is one way to gauge how well is my own practice in this art of teaching.

Mason also wrote that her exams themselves were "a source of intellectual profit." Here, again, I see the difference between what I have the honor of offering my children, and what I myself was given during the vast majority of my own education. The point is not to pass a test, get a high score, or earn a scholarship. The examination itself was written in a way that the child would personally benefit from taking it.

I am trying my hardest to finish school by Friday, even though today is a holiday. There are many reasons of this, the overarching one being that my children did not have much of a summer last year, what with their daddy in the hospital, and I want to give them a good long one.

This means that I am getting creative in examinations. Mason typically held an examination week. We, however, have regular lessons to attend to. Therefore, I'm going to have my son answer some of the questions in the afternoons this week. On Friday night, we'll hold an Exam Night with Daddy and family to finish up and we'll couple that with an end-of-the year celebration {translation: Mommy is serving dessert}.

I noticed that Ambleside Online has been working at getting an examination page up*. I looked at their examples {Year Five is a great place to look because it is more complete}, read Mason's examples, and below is what I've got up my sleeve. I wouldn't call it perfect, but it'll do fine for our first attempt.


Year Two Term Three Examination
Bible
1. In your own words, tell about your favorite character that we read in our Bible reading this term.
2. In your own words, tell about your favorite event that we read in our Bible reading this term.

Children's Catechism Memory Work
1. Who made you?
2. What else did God make?
3. Why did God make you and all things?
4. How can you glorify God?
5. Why ought you to glorify God?
6. Are there more gods than one?
7. In how many persons does this one God exist?
8. What are they?
9. What is God?
10. Where is God?
11. Can you see God?
12. Does God know all things?
13. Can God do all things?
14. Where do you learn how to love and obey God?
15. Who wrote the Bible?
16. Who were our first parents?
17. Of what were our first parents made?
18. What did God give Adam and Eve besides bodies?

Composition
1. Write your own fairy tale.
2. Who is your favorite of Robin Hood's merry men? Describe him completely and explain why you like him.

History
1. Tell me all you know about Joan of Arc.
2. What makes a good king or a bad king? Use real kings as examples.
3. Tell me everything you know about Peter Waldo and the Waldensians.

Literature
1. What is Robin Hood like? Tell me all about him. {Tests both Ivanhoe as well as Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.}
2. Tell me the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
3. Which is your favorite fairy tale from this term? Tell it to me in your own words.

Geography
1. Use your finger to trace Colombus' life and famous journey on our globe. Tell me everything you know about it as you trace.
2. Using the globe, point out The Horn and tell me why it is so dangerous.

Natural Philosophy
1. Tell me all you know about hermit crabs.
2. What is grafting? Explain to me all you know about it.

Singing
1. Sing All Creatures of our God and King
2. Pick another song you know--hymn or folk song--and sing it.

Handicraft {knot tying}
Show us how you...
1. Tie a bow line.
2. Tie a clove hitch.
3. Tie a better bow.
4. Tie a sheet bend.
5. Tie a fisherman's knot.

Artist Study
1. Describe your favorite Titian painting in detail.

 *Ambleside Exams are now available and I highly suggest them.

28 May 2010

Norms and Nobility: Biography and Autobiography

The title of chapter 4 of Norms and Nobility is The Tyrannizing Image. If I could summarize this chapter as briefly as possible {because I already discussed it a bit last year}, it would be to say that classical education is prescriptive by nature, while contemporary education is descriptive by nature. What this points out is the difference between what man is naturally like and how he should be. Contemporary education, therefore, tends to begin from the idea of what people are like, children are like, and so on. It teaches them where they are at. Classicism, however, is trying to make man into what he should be. Teaching in this situation aims at nothing less than the man he will become. What Hicks calls the "tyrannizing image" is the Ideal Type--a man both beautiful and good.

Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on EducationI could go on, but what I really want to talk about biographies. I am about to begin kindergarten for the second time around here, and I'll be writing about that throughout summer as I'm pondering what to do with this second child of mine, who is so like, and yet unlike, her brother. Like anything else, I don't think kindergarten can be put in a box and sold.

With that said, I think the best thing we did for "kindergarten" was to read.

We read for about two hours per day. There were no lessons, though my son did ask questions. Near the close of the year, when I knew Ambleside was creeping up on us, I taught him to narrate. But for the most part, we simply read.

Approximately 90% of what we read was biographical. By the end of the year, my little guy was in love with George Washington, Buffalo Bill, Crazy Horse, Thomas Jefferson, and all of the traditional American heroes that have been forgotten by the masses, except in name.

Popular culture has, for the most part, replaced the biography with the memoir. This is where we read of the nitty-gritty, sometimes grim, details of the life of an average {for the most part} person. While I have appreciated those books {I adored Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Eric Brende's Better Off}, they do not give us much of a glimpse of the Ideal Type {though it can rightly be postulated that those memoirs we often love the most propose an Ideal Lifestyle, which is a close second}. There is a very real sense in which the memoir, at its worst, is a direct attack on the Ideal Type.

But I don't want to get distracted by memoirs, for I certainly think they have their place.

If we want to give young students a glimpse of the best that humanity is capable of, biographies and autobiographies of the truly great are an obvious means.

I just ordered a couple biographies for my son, Albert Einstein: Young Thinker and Thomas Edison: Young Inventor. When he was in kindergarten, I primarily used the Signature Series biographies {which are around 60-years-old}. The D'Aulaire's books are also wonderful, and better suited for young children who like pretty illustrations.

Anyhow, my point is not exactly what we have read or are reading, but rather that biographies and autobiographies are the perfect starting place for instilling that concept of an Ideal Type. Long before the student is ready to discuss an ideal on the philosophic level, before he can name all the qualities of a good or great man, he will internalize the idea that great men exist in the first place.

And he will have healthy heroes, men who have actually accomplished something worth reading about.

For my daughter, I will add in women's biographies {Pocahontas is already a favorite of hers}, of course, but I still think the concept of great men is imperative in a girl's education.

If we consider education to be a forming of the soul, an elevation of sorts, biographies and autobiographies--and later examination of important documents such as the Constitution or the Mayflower Compact, as well as personal letters and essays penned by the great--are a sort of cornerstone for developing that internal picture of the Ideal Type.

After all, one must have an image in the first place if one is to be tyrannized by it.

27 May 2010

Evening in the Palace of Reason

The next book scheduled to soon depart from my Current Reading shelf in the library is James Gaines' Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment, which I mainly picked up because it sounded fascinating. I was not disappointed when I got my first taste of the connection between counterpoint, mathematics, and astronomy. {And never before did contemporary music seem to be so entirely lacking depth!}

I'll be reviewing this book either tomorrow or next week, so I thought I'd set it up first, as setting usually matters.

Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment (P.S.)The book portrays this meeting between Bach and Frederick the Great as monumental on many levels. On the political level, Bach is the subject of the elector of Saxony, who was an enemy of Frederick the Great. On the personal and religious levels, Bach and Frederick are opposites, Bach being a faithful Christian who has been married twice {widowed once} and had 20 children, while Frederick is "a bisexual misanthrope in a childless, political marriage, ...a lapsed Calvinist whose reputation for religious tolerance arose from the fact that he held all religions equally in contempt." But most importantly of all, the author plays up what I'm calling the symbolic level. The men were symbols of their ages:
[T]he meeting represented something of a confrontation for the aging composer--a confrontation, one might say, with his age. In music and virtually every other sphere of life in mid-eighteenth-century Germany, Frederick represented all that was new and fashionable, while Bach's music had come to stand for everything ancient and outmoded.
Gaines explains that their musical differences revealed all of these deeper, philosophical differences:
Bach represented church music and especially the "learned counterpoint" of canon and fugue, a centuries-old craft that by now had developed such esoteric theories and procedures that some of its practitioners saw themselves as the custodians of a quasi-divine art, even as weavers of the cosmic tapestry itself. Frederick and his generation were having none of that. They denigrated counterpoint as the vestige of an outworn aesthetic, extolling instead the "natural and delightful" in music, by which they meant the easier pleasure of song, the harmonic ornamentation of a single line of melody....Composing and performing music was for [Bach] and his musical ancestors a deeply spiritual enterprise whose sole purpose...was "for the glory of God." For Frederick the goal of music was simply to be "agreeable," an entertainment and a diversion, easy work for performer and audience alike.
Gaines calls this meeting the "tipping point between ancient and modern culture." Bach represented a spiritual age, where every part of creation was infused with the glory of God. Frederick represented the enlightenment, a world without God which held fast to "a confidence in human perfectibility."

This meeting, incidentally, was more than shaking hands. Much more. It was a musical challenge. Frederick had, in a sense, invented a game called Stump Old Bach. When Bach entered the room to meet Frederick for the first time, Frederick seated himself at the piano and played "an impossibly long and complex musical figure and asked the old master to make a three-part fugue of it," not an easy task, especially since this was a particularly devious melody, "constructed to be as resistant to counterpoint as possible."

But Bach rose to the task and improvised a three-part fugue.

So Frederick asked for a six-part fugue.

Bach had never written a six-part fugue for piano before. Ever. But Bach simply said he'd need time to work on it.

The story, then, teaches the reader beautiful bits of music theory, science, history, and philosophy, while detailing the outcome of this challenge.

Soon, I'll have some wonderful morsels to share from the latter contents of the book.

25 May 2010

Eight Years Old

It is hard to believe that E. is eight years old today. Turning thirty? Didn't make me feel old. Having a ninth anniversary? Also didn't make me feel old. But an eight-year-old? Is that a grey hair I spy? Was it really only eight years ago that we held our first little bundle...and wondered what in the world we'd gotten ourselves into this time?

once upon a time, he was only three
and he loved to play with cars
We have spent the last year watching our little boy become less and less...little.

I once read that eight was a lot like seven, only more.

I think I see that now. We have on our hands someone who is a little more...

...adept at answering the phone...
...skilled at conversation...
...comfortable using tools...
...confident in swimming...
...mature than last year...
...well read...
...understanding of what the world is like and how it works...
...capable...
...charming...
...tall...
...cheerful...
...himself.

He's growing into himself, he is.

I feel honored that God chose to surprise us with parenthood. What a blessing it has turned out to be. And, my, what a wonderful firstborn we were given.

Happy birthday, Not-So-Little E.

24 May 2010

Wrap-Up: The Geography of Nowhere

Okay, I'll be honest: my shelf filled up. You see, I have this shelf which we all mentally label as "Current Reading." The three serious readers in our family are free to stash their current reads upon this convenient shelf rather than putting them back into their proper spots in the library and then getting them back out again each and every time they want to read. This is especially helpful for E., who isn't tall enough to reach every shelf {though I did try my best to keep the types of books he would read within the shelves he could access}.

Well, the shelf filled up.

I have a bad habit of reading many books at once, and I reached my limit. So, any book I've been "reading" for over a year has to go.

One of these books is The Geography of Nowhere. Please don't think it took me so long to read it because it was somehow lacking--no, I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I just get distracted. This is a personal flaw, for the most part, not a reflection of the books.

So this weekend, I finished up, and I am happy to report that I have a copy of Home from Nowhere in my bedroom on the Future Reading shelf. {It is entirely possible that the presence of Home from Nowhere enticed me to finish Geography of Nowhere in the first place!}

Ahem.

With that said, I have a few parting objections thoughts on this work.

  1. Kunstler insists that charm is important. We tend to think it a trivial concept, but he explains that he uses the word
    to mean explicitly that which makes our physical surroundings worth caring about.
    I found that thought...charming. At the same time, I do wonder if he has it backwards. Kunstler seems to think that most citizens of our country don't care very much about their surroundings {when we lived in LA County, we saw an inordinate amount of ugly} because it is not charming--meaning that if somebody somewhere would just build something attractive, people would care about it. But I also wonder if it is true that when we care about our surroundings, they become charming. They have that je ne sais quoi--that intangible quality we find attractive. There is a house in my neighborhood that I always say is my favorite house. It is utterly charming. But I live in a tract neighborhood--half the street is the exact same house. The reason this house stands heads above the rest is because somebody cared, and also had the resources {both inside herself and also monetarily} to show it. Charm, in my estimation, is more often evidence that someone cared in the first place than anything else.
  2. Kunstler lost me a little at the end. I think his critique was deserving and well-founded, but, like many authors of his day, he fails to have a thorough, coherent argument for why all of this has happened. He says, for instance, that community has been lost. He points fingers all over--at modernism, the invention/acceptance of the car, suburbia, urban sprawl, etcetera--but even through all of his historical tracings, I still come away not quite certain of why he thinks all of this has occurred.

    My guess is actually that secularism is at the root. {Though also, a fair amount of history simply carries us away with it, does it not?} So many times, Kunstler seemed to be pointing out that cities of various sizes, small towns, country farmers, zoning boards, and whatnot, chose short-term gain over long-term consequences. It is hard to imagine that many of them actually had overtly evil intent. What they lacked tended to be foresight {or, in some cases, any viable Option B}, which is a major symptom of secularism, being a completely present-tense culture. Kunstler did not use this example, but how many times have we heard of a Wal-Mart "destroying" a small town? What we fail to admit is that the town's aldermen tend to invite these big stores, bending local tax and zoning laws to make them possible. And why? Because all they can see is the potential for tax dollars. This is secularism, the religion in which Today is the only day. A belief in tomorrow--which is bred of a belief in eternity--allows for that rare type of foresight from which towns and cities would benefit.
  3. Kunstler gets real hung-up on lot size. He believes in smaller lots, and he has a decent argument as far as it goes. However, as the proud owner of almost half an acre within the city limits, I think Kunstler fails to understand that some people feel connected to the land and want a plot of it for themselves. It is a natural and human response to the world. Kunstler makes this same mistake when he questions LA for building so many single-family dwellings. Yes, the traffic is horrible. Yes, a series of small, independent communities would have been preferable to "sprawl", but at the end of the day, families want their privacy. If they can at all afford it, they don't want to share a wall with a neighbor. They don't want to worry, for instance, that their squalling newborn is keeping the family one wall over awake at night. LA built single-family homes because families like having their own property. The problem is really the city mentality--thinking we all need to live in the same place.

    This is probably a good place to say that something was missing in Kunstler's treatment of farmland. I suppose I am just accustomed to reading authors with a more agrarian mindset. The more ideal towns he mentioned still didn't seem to have a place in them for that "urban homesteading" which so many find appealing today--the idea of owning a piece of soil and developing it into something productive and healthy. Kunstler quoted Berry {hooray!} but missed a bit of his spirit. Farmland was referred to in such a way that there was no vision for actual resident farmers, which Berry promotes constantly and whole-heartedly.
  4. It was fascinating to read Kunstler's account of different people who are trying to build new developments that possess actual...charm. What they find is that charm--being defined here as something which, in addition to being deserving of care, also promotes real community, including but not limited to a local economy--is illegal.
    The deeper truth...was that typical zoning laws not only failed to protect the landscape, they virtually mandated sprawl. To reproduce anything resembling a tradition New England village had become illegal, a violation of all codes, acreage requirements, setbacks, street widths, and laws insisting on the separation of uses. So, towns ended up splattered all over the countryside while the countryside completely lost its rural character. All you could build in present-day New England was Los Angeles.
    Near the end, Kunstler really explains that zoning laws have destroyed charm, for all practical purposes. So, obviously, he believes that the solution is...new and improved zoning laws. Ah, the planners of the world. The problem was not that someone tried to plan it, but that the wrong person--a person with bad taste or lacking in understanding--tried to plan it. But if the right experts just plan it for us, then we'll be getting somewhere.

    Villages have propped up for millenia without much planning. What the people had in common was a shared culture, an interdependent economy, and a care for one another and for the future which expressed itself in architecture as "design"--only there wasn't a ton of designing involved. I'm not saying I'm against all zoning laws entirely. I really don't want to live next door to a factory, for instance. But this idea that the problem was zoning laws, which can only be fixed by more zoning laws is a little shortsighted, to my mind. I, for one, have encountered enough city bureaucrats to know better.
  5. Kunstler assumes that an oil shortage will eventually drive our culture away from the car. This may or may not be true. With so many advances in technology, I sort of doubt we'd give up the car so easily. I understand that Kunstler is uncomfortable with the impact of the car on community. I am, too, though not in the same way Kunstler is, I don't think. But the idea that cars could easily become a thing of the past? I don't completely buy it.
I also have a collection of quotes, which I underlined for various reasons. Here is a sampling:
The people who owned and operated these businesses took pride in their buildings and they took care of them. Many owned dwellings in the village as well. The value that their businesses accrued remained in town.
And:
By the standards of the day, the workers were well paid. The money they earned was spent mostly in town. The factories were owned locally. Their owners built impressive houses and lived locally. The money they spent, in turn, supported local tradesmen and local merchants. Part of the wealth that these mills generated was invested in public buildings. No state grants were involved and hence decisions made about public works were made locally, rather than by distant bureaucrats.
One contributing factor to the charming villages and small towns of the past was that the rich and poor lived side-by-side in a shared economy, and the rich built the town up into a nice place to live, and because they spent their money in town, for the most part, it trickled down {to use the popular term} into the pockets of the merchants they purchased goods from and the contractors they hired for their projects. The rich were not living distantly, sucking the town dry of funds, while contributing nothing of value in return.

Or, at least, that is how it once was. Enter today's "global economy" and all that remains of many small towns {a couple convenience stores and rows of empty buildings}:
The X and Y Corporations pay property taxes to operate their stores...and a percentage of the county sales tax they pay is returned to the village via a rather abstruse political formula. The stores also furnish a handful of minimum-wage jobs. but what they they contribute to the town is far less significant than what they take away: the chance for a local merchant to make a profit, to keep that profit in town, where it might be put to work locally, for instance, in the upkeep of a hundred-year-old shopfront building downtown, or a Greek Revival house on Pearl Street, or in the decent support of a family. But that profit does not stay in town. Instead, it is funneled directly into distant corporate coffers. The officers of the X and Y Corporations, who do not live [in town], have no vested interest in the upkeep of the...hundred-year-old shopfront buildings or the Greek Revival houses there...Their success is measured strictly by the tonnage...they manage to move off the shelves. The income they derive from their jobs is spent supporting and maintaining distant suburbs--and the cost of that is fantastic. The presence of convenience stores has eliminated many other local operations--the newsroom, several lunch counters, mom and pop groceries--which couldn't compete in volume of sales....So no local businesses thrive and the old buildings fall increasingly into disrepair.
Let me just say here that I grew up watching a small town "die." I put that in quotes because it isn't dead yet, and I think there is still hope for it. It didn't die exactly for the reasons that Kunstler details in the above paragraph, but I think we'd be foolish to say that this didn't contribute. When I was a little girl, I remember getting my piano recital dresses and new fancy shoes at Johnson's Department Store, which went out of business before I became a teenager. Our friends owned the local pharmacy {which has since been replaced by a Rite Aid, and let me say that that pharmacy was in the family for many generations}. Small towns {or at least their leaders} do find reason to invite X and Y Corporation and drive their leading families--some of whom are their founding families {from generations past}--elsewhere.

Kunstler explains some of the long-term effects of this behavior:
The buildings that the X and Y Corporations put up express the companies' attitudes perfectly. They are cinder-block sheds that have no relation to the local architecture. They do not respect the sidewalk edge of building fronts that lined Broad Street, but are set back behind parking lagoons. Their garish internally lighted plastic signs tower above the town's rooflines, and the mercury-vapor lamps in their parking lots cast an unearthly pinkish-green glow far beyond the edge of their properties. What they contribute to the village visually is ugliness and discord. The people who design them and build them do not have to live with the consequences of their shabby and disruptive work.
This describes a Rite Aid almost perfectly. I would note that Rite Aids have a very distinct look. The goal of the Rite Aid "architecture" is not to identify itself with the town or city it inhabits, but rather to identify itself with the brand, so that any member of any town will recognize it. This is helpful for branding purposes, but contributes to that loss of charm, because part of charm is that it is peculiar to the people and spirit of a place.

I wanted to add so many other thoughtful quotes, but it is altogether too much. Kunstler's analysis of Disneyland and Disney World, his take on what destroyed Detroit, his thoughts on Henry Ford's quirky {carless!} project named Greenfield Village, and more are all worth a thoughtful treatment that I do not have time for.

So I will leave off with one last quote:
[A] community is not something you have, like a pizza. Nor is it something you can buy, as visitors to Disneyland and Williamsburg discover. It is a living organism based on a web of interdependencies--which is to say, a local economy. It expresses itself physically as connectedness, as buildings actively relating to one another, and to whatever public space exists, be it the street, or the courthouse square, or the village green.

21 May 2010

In the Kitchen

Back when we were GFCF {actually, we were gluten-free, casein-free, and also soy- and corn-and coffee- and chocolate- and artificial-everything-free...sometimes it felt like fun-free} dieting, I regularly posted about my life in the kitchen. Part of it was because going GFCF can be so hard, and when you realize that you must do it, for the sake of your children's health, you feel thrown into the deep end.

I don't know about you, but for the most part I like to baby-step my way through significant changes in life. That time, I had to learn to swim quite quickly!

When we were done with the diet, I was done blogging about the kitchen for a while.

But now? Well, the Summer Switchover is upon us, no? When we have to figure out what to make because soup simply will not do when the thermometer soars above 90 degrees? Yes, I knew I was not alone.

This doesn't mean I don't make hot meals in the summertime--I do. But soup is just too warming for summer, and we usually avoid it from May until October, though we are experiencing record-low-highs {whatever that means}, so I'm reconsidering for the weekend.

Ahem.

As I was saying, I'm in the kitchen, wondering about summer. I also have a birthday boy next week, and want to serve a special daytime treat since he is waiting a number of days for his party. And then there is breakfast, the bane of my existence.

Who in the world invented the idea that anyone should eat first thing in the morning?

Well, we are trying to kick the constant oatmeal habit and mix it up a bit.

I've done a little research, and I thought I'd share the recipes I'm printing out to try next week. First up is that special treat I mentioned. I'm not much interested in serving something full of sugar, so I decided to go with Blueberry Butter Balls. I'm skipping the sugar and serving fat! Perfect.

If you doubt me on this, just answer me this question: when was the last time your kids got high on fat? I rest my case. It'll be slightly sweet, special, and oh-so-filling. Perfect.

I'm rolling them in ground crispy walnuts, though, because I am not a huge shredded coconut fan, and neither are most of the children.

Next up, I'm trying something new for dinner. I was recently thinking that I was sad to say goodbye to kielbasa until next autumn. There is a wonderful nitrite-free kielbasa at Trader Joe's, but I cannot bear to serve it standing alone--I like to stretch it and make sure it lasts for more than one meal. I usually put it into a German soup I make {instead of pork}, but, as you know, soups and I are parting ways.

Thankfully, I found Food Renegade's Broccoli Casserole. It's still too hot for 100+ degree weather, but next week will be mild enough to try it. I was just apologizing to a dear friend because I never have taught my children to eat broccoli, and so they are embarrassing when we eat it with others. And I am totally adding the grated cauliflower. I adore cauliflower.

What could go better with that broccoli casserole that that No-Knead Sourdough Bread I've been meaning to try? I have attempted to make my own starter in this house not once, but twice. Unfortunately, I've had no success. I was able to pull it off at my old house, so I don't think it's me--I think I don't have the right "bugs" roaming wild in my kitchen.

Does anyone local out there have a starter and a deep desire to help me out?

Ahem.

In other news, I found a yummy, yummy salad that I plan to make as soon as our backyard tomato season kicks off: Bacon, Egg, Avocado, Tomato (BEAT) Salad. Reading that recipe makes me hungry every single time.

In my renovation of our breakfast habits, I began with a single babystep: once per week, I make us a smoothie. {O. eats a banana since this is too cold for his little mouth.} Once the orchard starts producing, I'll do it more often, but until then they are just too pricey to do daily. I'll share my recipe {more or less} just for fun:

Family Breakfast Smoothie {double batch}
Ingredients
2.5 cups orange juice
1/4 cup chia seed
2 cups raw milk
3 bananas
10 large frozen strawberries
2 small piles of frozen raspberries
2 handfuls frozen peaches
tall cup of ice

Directions
1. The night before, soak 1/4 cup of chia seed in 2.5 cups of orange juice in a bowl for 5 minutes. Whisk out the clumps and let soak 15 more minutes. Whisk again until seeds are evenly disbursed, cover bowl, and store in the refrigerator until morning.

WARNING: Chia seeds must, must, must be soaked. They absorb ten times their weight in water, and if you eat them raw, they can absorb much of the water in your gut and bind your intestines. If you forget this step, leave them out. I put them in because they are very filling and nourishing and...we like it.

2. This recipe is actually a double batch, meaning I will give directions for a single batch and you can do it twice if you family is about the size of mine. If your family is smaller, one batch might work fine. {I am blessed and have two blender jars, so I can fill up both jars and then blend each on the base.} Spoon 1 cup of the chia mixture into the jar, add 1 cup milk, 1.5 bananas, 5 strawberries, 1 pile raspberries, and 1 handful of peaches. Top with a large cup of ice {my cup is about 16 oz. I think}. Blend until smooth. Repeat for double batch.

3. Serve in pretty cups with a side of crispy walnuts {about 1/4 cup}.

4. Pour what remains of the chia mixture into a cup, and offer it to Daddy as a morning snack on the way to work the next day. Or, use it as an afternoon pick-me-up for yourself!
Okay, so what else? I usually serve pancakes on Saturdays and Sundays because they take a while to make and I need something faster on weekday mornings when my husband needs to eat and leave promptly. So far, that has left us still eating...oatmeal four days per week.

My reasoning for this was that oatmeal is a cheap and nourishing breakfast. However, comma. My two oldest children now have dental issues. Daughter A. came home from the dentist recently with seven cavities. Seven. Seriously, I feel ill when I try and talk about it. A friend told me that it just had to be something we were eating, and so I began to research, and I found that there is a known link between oatmeal consumption and dental caries.

That's all I'll say about that, except that the price of cavities tends to make oatmeal more expensive than I anticipated. Also, we are at a disadvantage from the outset because said children are also sensitive to fluoride, and that handy coating they paint on a child's teeth is truly helpful, even if actually ingesting fluoride is not. Therefore, I am in the process of finding a holistic dentist who perhaps has some creative alternatives for our unusual situation.

Ahem.

This post is supposed to be about food, right?

Okay, so today I'm going to soak some of these Fluffy Whole Wheat Biscuits, only we aren't allergic to milk anymore, so I'm soaking them in buttermilk instead of the creative option offered in the recipe. I'm also doubling, if not tripling, the recipe. As you know, we have a decent supply of eggs. I read somewhere that I could basically create a muffin tin breakfast sandwich by sticking an {uncooked} biscuit in the bottom of the pan, adding the toppings, and then another {uncooked} biscuit on top, and then cook all those little sandwiches at once. I'm going to try it and see what happens.

Does anyone have a good homemade beef sausage recipe? I'd love to brown some and add it to the eggs in the "sandwich" for some extra flavor. I have a wonderful turkey sausage recipe, but I only make it during turkey season when I can acquire ground turkey at a reasonable price.

I'm also considering baking a bunch of potatoes and sweet potatoes and making a couple different varieties of hash browns {served on different days--not together}, one sweet and one savory.

I'm not cutting out the oatmeal all the way, but I am trying to make sure it doesn't dominate breakfast the way it has. Seriously, the idea of an all-protein or protein-and-fruit breakfast appeals to me, except for the cost.

I wonder if pot bellied pigs would make good bacon? We're zoned for those.

Ahem.

What I really meant to say is that I am also hoping to make some blueberry muffins using my stash of kamut flour, and probably some scones with my stash of almond meal. Hopefully, all of that freezes well.

Adding almond meal adds protein, people. Protein means: filling. Filling means that no one is saying they are "still hungry" when all of the food is gone. I feel so defeated when that happens.

Anyone have any good, oatmeal-free breakfast recipes to share?

14 May 2010

Microhomestead Experiment: Pastured Vegetables

I was going to write another Charlotte Mason post, but due to actual interest in my clover project, I thought I'd change directions for today. This project is experimental and should not be taken as gardening advice. I have never heard of anyone doing what we are attempting to do, but we do think that it makes sense, and I'll explain the logic in this post.

What Are We Doing?

First, I'll quickly explain the Microclover Project. Microclover is a lawn substituted that is very hard to find in isolated seed. Typically, it is mixed in with a bag of various seed grasses. The idea is that you have a mixed lawn with Microclover functioning as a natural fertilizer, keeping that lawn green year-round. Microclover is a true clover, meaning that it is deep-rooted and nitrogen-fixing. However, it was bred with a lawn in mind, meaning that it stands up to traffic better than the more traditional clovers.

I was lucky to find a supplier for isolated Microclover seed. I knew it had to be out there somewhere, for years ago Si and I attended a Bible study at the home of an acquaintance, and their next-door neighbors had a full clover-only lawn. This is ideal for our area: less water, less mowing, less maintenance, but it looks beautiful and green and you don't know it's clover until you are up close. It just looks like a lawn from a distance.

I tried to convince Si to put in a Microclover lawn, but he wants a true grass, plus the seed is pricey. However, he did agree to plant it in...almost all of the garden beds. The only area without clover is the strawberry patch, and that is because we weren't sure what would happen when combining clover with berries. We aren't done with the planting, yet.

To make it clear: we are going to grow pastured vegetables. This means that we will have {hopefully} permanent clover pasture in all of the beds {plus around the trees in the orchard}, and we will just plant those vegetables right in the midst of the pasture.

Why Pastured Vegetables?

A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems. I am talking about health as opposed to almost any cure, coherence of pattern as opposed to almost any solution produced piecemeal or in isolation...A good solution will satisfy a whole range of criteria; it will be good in all respects. A farm that has found correct agricultural solutions to its problems will be fertile, productive, healthful, conservative, beautiful, pleasant to live on.

--Wendell Berry in his essay Solving for Pattern in The Gift of Good Land
Our property has a number of challenges which may or may not be peculiar to itself. It was interesting to move from one property, where what we were doing "worked" {i.e., grew vegetables when we planted them and with relative ease}, to one where what we were doing did not work {i.e., it grew foliage with little or no fruit, seeds often did not germinate, etc.}. This alone was a huge lesson to me. I now begin to understand why Wendell Berry treats the land as an organism. Each plot of land, even the tiniest city lot, has its own quirks. It has a past which has, usually, taken its toll. It has its own potential.

When I walk around our property and survey it, I feel I am getting to know our land--even though it is a small space, as these things go--and I also feel that there was a bit of audacity involved in thinking that we could formulate a five-year plan without really knowing our place first.

Below are a list of considerations involved in opting for our pastured gardening experiment. Some of them are broad, general principles which apply to any land {more or less}, and others are specific to our own backyard.
  1. The ground is modest. These are Si's words, but he's paraphrasing something we learned from Wendell Berry's essays, and possible Gene Logsdon's blog as well. The ground does not stay bare for long, does it? We spend our lives battling weeds! Instead of thinking of war imagery, we have learned to think like caretakers by acknowledging this key truth about the nature of the earth: the soil does not want to be bare. This is actually protective. Even weeds keep the top soil from eroding. They help moisture stay in the ground, rather than evaporating away. They fiberize the soil, which basically aerates it a bit. Some weeds can even indicate the condition of the soil. Once we realize the benefit of a covering, then {generally speaking, for there are a few weeds which are horrible, will kill trees, and so on} a weed simply becomes a plant growing where we don't want it to grow. Well, the lady needs some clothes, so to speak, no matter what. We decided to replace the clothes we disliked {especially the foxtails!} with some clothes we do like.
  2. Poor soil is the problem. Our soil is far too alkaline, for starters. But beyond this, there was little to no topsoil when we moved in. My father explained to me that in many neighborhoods, fill dirt from elsewhere was trucked in during the construction period, especially for houses like ours, which are built up from the street. The hill our house is on is a manufactured one. Subsequent to construction, our soil had nothing planted on it for years. The alkalinity was so bad, that hardly anything wild grew at all {few weeds}, and in the meantime, any topsoil it did have was weathered away.
  3. Top soil can be grown. In The Gift of Good Land, Wendell Berry included an essay called A Rescued Farm which changed my perspective on our project. I loved it so much, I read it aloud to Si one evening. The essay details Wally Aiken's farm, which is an old strip mine that Aiken purchased for $18 per acre, and then began to recover. Near the end of the essay, in which we learn  about Aiken's process of restoration--beginning with a bulldozer, covering a number of steps, and ending with a legume mixture--Berry writes:
    How would this pale mixture of subsoil and gravel ever support a sod? Who, after so much work, could be encouraged by this result? By the time we reached the oldest of the reclaimed plots, my doubts were gone. The ground was covered everywhere by a dense, thriving stand of pasture plants comparable to the best you would see anywhere. And underneath the sod was a brown, duffy layer of humus, where topsoil was building again. I was impressed to see that this layer was already thicker under a six-year-old sod than it was under the thirty- or fourty-year-old thicket growth on the spoil banks.
  4. Fertilizer can be grown. Well, not all fertilizer, but work with me here. Most commercial fertilizers contain a combination of potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen. Clover is an amazing plant in that it takes nitrogen out of the air and "fixes" it into the soil. Now, nitrogen can be released back into the air if you till the soil. But, if you keep tilling to a minimum, and let the clover alone, it'll make the soil nitrogen-rich. One of our long-term goals is to become less reliant on store-bought solutions for our garden. Growing clover can be a piece of that puzzle.
  5. We can't thrive on compost alone. When we first moved here, I thought that compost would be our biggest asset. However, once we added the ducks, I found that the vast majority of our kitchen scraps ended up as duck feed. Now, duck manure is a fertilizer on its own, but since we try and keep the ducks out of the garden {because they will eat the plants}, our lawn benefits from this more than anything else. I also realized that our soil is so desperate for nutrition that I couldn't possibly grow enough compost, even though composting is a useful thing to do.

Can Pastures and Gardens Peacefully Coexist?

This is the main question surrounding the experiment. I mentioned in the comments that my long-term plan for garden paths is clover, but I suppose that wasn't a precise way of explaining what we're attempting. Really, what we are doing is gardening within an all-clover pasture. This idea came to us bit by bit over a period of months, but the starting point for this train of thought was definitely Wendell Berry's {surprise!} essay An Agricultural Journey in Peru. In it, Berry describes the farming practices of Peruvian nationals which have been handed down to them since antiquity, up in the Andes mountains, where soil erosion is a large concern due to the hilly nature of the land. Berry found that the people divided the land up into very small plots which could be managed with individual care. But, more importantly for our purposes, he describes a crude form of what I've termed pastured gardening:
Many of these highland fields are still broken with the foot plow...Weeding occurs only after the plants are well established {six to eight inches high}; the weeds are thus left undisturbed to hold the soil until the roots of the crop plant can take over the job. In some fields, the potatoes are planted directly into the sod; a planting hole is opened with a foot plow, and the seed potato and a little manure are dropped in and covered, the ground not being worked until about six weeks later. In any talk of soil conservation in the Andes, it is necessary to consider the quality of Andean sod, which is extremely tough and fibrous, much harder to shake apart than the sod I am familiar with in Kentucky. In cultivating, the chunks of sod seem often to be merely inverted and left more or less intact during the growing season.
I had already been researching no-till farming practices, and the home version, Lasagna Gardening {you can read the history of Lasagna Gardening online}. I was convinced that one of the primary causes of our excessive effort in our home gardens is because we are driven to keep the ground bare. I am reminded of the Butchart Gardens, which Si and I visited on our honeymoon, and how the plants were grown in layers, with a ground cover underneath, and no soil showing at all.

When I think about Berry's admonishment that a good solution solves more than one problem, I think of the possibilities of Microclover for our property. It has the potential to crowd out weeds and help us grow topsoil, while also partially fertilizing the soil. It is short, shorter than the vast majority of vegetables, and so I don't think it'll cause any problems as far as coexistence in the garden. Just like I saw at Butchart Gardens, I expect the clover to be my "bottom layer." Yes, I'll cut a large enough hole into the clover growth when I plant a seed, just to make sure that the new plant's life isn't stifled by the pasture growth, but all of my reading leads me to believe that planting a beneficial plant will be exactly that--beneficial.

Many other versions of no-till farming {especially on large farms} are unattractive. Yes, one can plant this year's corn right on top of last year's decaying sunflower stalks, and yes it is even beneficial, but do we really want that to be the view from the kitchen window? In our situation, Microclover has the added benefit of being aesthetically pleasing. It is nice to look at. It looks fine with flowers or vegetables or whatever. It is soft on feet when walked upon. I can put a light layers of organic matter one top of it {coffee grounds are my favorite}, and it'll fall below the little leaves and be incorporated into the topsoil. My list of what I like about it grows with time.

The Barren Wasteland

And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.

Genesis 4:11-12
For a long time, I had in my mind that the ideal garden consisted of vegetables, yes, but lots of barren ground in between them. Square Foot Gardening encouraged me to put them closer together, but still the idea was to have nothing on the floor of the earth. I now think about this differently. The wilderness which grows nothing is a curse upon man, not a blessing. Spraying my yard so that "she yields not her strength" is bringing about an objectively negative situation, not a positive, however convenient it is to be weed-free for a time.

As I begin to view myself as a caretaker of the garden, I begin to see Berry's sense:
And if we understand the farm as an organism, we see that it is impossible to sacrifice the health of the soil to improve the health of plants, or to sacrifice the health of the plants to improve the health of the animals, or to sacrifice the health of the animals to improve the health of the people.
As we nurture the soil, we nurture our plants, our animals, ourselves.

Of course, this is all an experiment. We don't know yet that it'll work. It is not yet a true solution. As Mr. Berry said, "Good solutions exist only in proof."

We are {very slowly} building an organic farm in the Berry-ian sense:
An organic farm, properly speaking, is not one that uses certain methods and substances and avoids others; it is a farm who structure is formed in imitation of the structure of a natural system; it has the integrity, the independence, and the benign dependence of an organism. Sir Albert Howard said that a good farm is an analogue of the forest which "manures itself." A farm that imports too much fertility, even as feed or manure, is in this sense as inorganic as a farm that exports too much or that imports chemical fertilizer.

13 May 2010

The Microhomestead Report {Early May 2010}

I spent some time recently walking around our property, surveying all the baby plants, and taking some photos. Some of our babies appear to have more promise than others, but I'm not feeling too terribly discouraged, seeing as our goal this year is to Grow Soil rather than necessarily to Grow Vegetables. We love our veggies, but we aren't going to have much of a harvest until we get our dirt under control.

Anna Tree
One thing that took me by surprise this year was the activity in the orchard. We haven't even lived here for two years. Last February, we planted a number of trees, and then we tried to finish off the orchard this February {though I have since learned we may have a late-bearing orange tree headed our way}. All of this is to say that I didn't expect any fruit for at least another year, if not a number of years from now.

But two of our apple trees are loaded with fruit. I quickly studied up on apple thinning, and the remaining fruit has really plumped up since I thinned the trees last week. Granted, these trees are still small, so we aren't talking about a lot of fruit, but I expected nothing so this is a very pleasant surprise.

Anna Apples
Anna is a lovely apple variety for the southern valley, as it is extremely low chill {less than 300 hours}. This past winter, that wouldn't have mattered, but considering how mild some of our winters can be, it was a definitely consideration for us. Another benefit of Anna is its July harvest. We cannot wait to taste one, and the good news is that we don't have to wait all that long! Our Anna tree was beautiful in bloom.

Granny Smith Apples
The Granny Smith tree was not to be outdone. The apples were so numerous on the branches, they looked more like grapes before thinning. Just last week, they were only about 1" diameter fruits, but they responded well to the thinning and plumped up quickly. What you see is over 2", meaning they more than doubled in size in only a week.

I took a photo of our cherry tree, but it didn't come out. There are three little cherries on it, from what I can see. Not a big deal, I know, but considering that we only planted her in February, I was quite impressed. Her friends in the last row--Idaho Walnut, All-in-One Almond, and Comice Pear--still haven't woken up yet. To tell you the truth, that detail concerns me a bit, but there is nothing we can do other than wait and watch.

Peach
Our peach tree also has a light crop. I cannot remember the name of this particular variety--Sunset, perhaps? Maybe Saturn. Something like that. It is the only tree we purchased that was bred to be ornamental as well as fruiting. She did not disappoint, for she was the queen of the flowers early this spring, and I was so happy that we remembered to plant her where we could see her from the dining room window.

Microclover
We have made liberal use of our new friend and ally, Microclover {Trifolium repens.} One of the ways we are using this beautiful clover is to plant it around the base of each tree. I later read that this helps prevent erosion, but the main reason we did it was to try and keep away the weeds. Our new philosophy is that the earth wants a covering. Period. As long as we leave the ground bare, we are going to find ourselves battling with weeds. But, since we know that the ground is modest {as Si like to put it}, it is to our advantage to buy her some proper clothes, something that we like, and something which is useful when it comes to our other goal: growing better soil. So, clover it is. I'll write more about this in a future post.

Future Strawberry
In the meantime, the strawberry patch is beginning to perk up. I had my doubts about it; the babies didn't handle transplanting very well. But they're doing okay. We have a couple green berries that should be ready for eating {if the starlings don't steal them} next week. I am hoping that this everbearing variety is aggressively stoloniforous and will fill in the patch quickly and efficiently.

Volunteer Sunflowers
In other news, we had a number of sunflowers volunteer for duty. What a wonderful surprise! I didn't replant sunflowers, but I suppose my delay in harvest last year meant that a number of seeds fell to the ground, ready for this year to come. We only picked one {because it was blocking the water supply} and are letting the others grow up tall. Hopefully, sunflowers get along well with tomatoes, because my tomatoes are going to need all the help they can get. What a sorry looking lot they are!

Zucchini Seedling
My son and I soaked some zucchini seeds on a whim about a month ago. I hadn't planned to plant any seeds at all since we were working on soil issues late into the planting season, but E. suggested it, and I figured, why not? They are tiny, but they're looking good so far. If you look closely at the photo, you can see teensy tiny microclover sprouts. We call this "pastured gardening" and I am convinced it's the next new thing in gardening!

Buckwheat Flowers
Our buckwheat crop is still going strong. Our first winter here, we planted this as a sort of ground cover, to keep down the weeds. It was also an experiment, just for fun! We didn't even buy the seed, but planted some of what we had on hand for our gluten-free diet. Usually our area is too hot by now, and the buckwheat would have withered and died away, but our spring has been so mild that it is thriving {even though we planted it late this time around}, and I am curious if we'll make it all the way to seed. I love the flowers. They make me happy. So do the resulting pancakes.

Rouge Vif d'Etampes Pumpkin
We also had two pumpkins come up! Technically, they are not volunteers, because I planted them on purpose. However, I did that last year, and our soil was so bad that I had only a 50% germination rate. Thankfully, none of the birds ran off with the seeds, and after some work early this spring, we have two pumpkins trying their best. These pumpkins are a French Cinderella variety called Rouge Vif d'Etampes, and they are supposed to produce a red fruit that is large--between 10 and 25 pounds. Unfortunately for us, all our little plot could muster was tiny little orange three-pounders last year. I am hoping this year turns out better.
Boadicea and Friends
Of course, the pumpkin's primary enemy in our area is...any and all giant Khaki Campbell ducks! I like to let the girls graze freely, but they simply cannot be trusted without someone keeping a close eye on them. They haven't been out lately, due to our attempt to establish the clover. I read somewhere that they like clover, and I'm not willing to hazard a test of this until the clover has knit together a bit.

In all, things are shaping up nicely. We are actually ahead of where I thought we'd be on our five-year plan, so I certainly cannot complain. We're learning a lot, we've had some failures, but we've also got some future successes to look forward--starting with {God willing} a large basket full of Anna apples come July!

12 May 2010

Mason on Boredom

The theme of this week is Book Finishing! I've gotten behind on the Norms and Nobility reading, yes, but Si and I finished The Blood of the Moon and I'm a hair's breadth away from completing Charlotte Mason's Volume 5, Formation of Character: Shaping the Child's Personality, so all is not lost! After spending too many years completing far fewer books than I began, I finally feel like I've turned over a new leaf.

The final chapters of Mason's Formation of Character have caused me to build another book list, this time of literature that she finds to be instructive in the area of education. So far, I've added Jörn Uhl, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Sartor Resartus, and The History of Pendennis. Whether or not I can find these works on PBS will be another matter.

Has anyone else noticed that the 200-book wish list is insufficient? Especially when you are trying to cover all your bases for the children and yourself, and also your husband, and occasionally even your parents?

Ahem.

On Boredom

In her chapter, Mason seems to tie together boredom and vanity, and for the life of me I can't quite figure out how she does it. I have considered sitting down and mapping out her logical progression on paper, but I haven't done it yet.

Tomorrow's post will, hopefully, cover the vanity aspect. Perhaps I shall have an epiphany by then.

Concerning boredom, Mason begins by saying that we often offer too narrow an education, concentrating on one thing--one good thing, mind you--to the detriment of other good things. She writes:
Now, the country is to be brought up upon nature-lore, and now upon handicrafts; now upon science, and then upon art; we will not understand that knowledge is food; and therefore we believe that the whole of education may be accomplished by means of a single subject.
She makes a case here for her "broad and generous education" for which she consistently lobbies. She argues for the Aristotelian doctrine of the Mean--keeping all things in balance. She mentions that the French allowed one virtue--thrift--to drown out all others {i.e., diligence, candor  kindness, and "all the graces that go to make up love and justice, all the habits that ensue in intelligence}.

So Mason proposes a curriculum that is "an exemplification of the doctrine of the Mean as regards both studies and students."

Mason says that we--children and grown men alike--spend half our time being bored. Why?
[W]e are bored because our thoughts wander from the thing in hand--we are inattentive. When for a moment we do brace ourselves to an act of attention, the invigorating effect of such act is surprising. We are alive; and it is so good to be alive that we seek the fitful stimulus of excitement--to be the more listless after than before, because we have been stimulated and not invigorated.
This is so insightful, so let's walk through it. {I had to read it through a couple times to really understand all of what she was saying.}
  1. We are bored because we aren't really paying attention. When we actually bother to pay attention, we find the act to be "invigorating"--life giving.
  2. We seek stimulation as a substitute for this invigorating act of paying attention because we are attracted to that feeling of "being alive." {I might add that most of us do not realize there is a difference.}
  3. We come down hard after stimulation because stimulation, according to its nature, is not life-giving but rather draining. It takes away from the person, rather than adding to him. The hours of entertainment/stimulation are empty, vapid, and nothing remains to show for them.
  4. This becomes a vicious cycle: boredom becomes a habit which we attempt to relieve through stimulus, which results in nothing being added to the person, and therefore predisposes that person to future habitual boredom.
This is the story of our culture, which loves little and is therefore interested in little. Mason does not say that this is so, but I believe I do not err in this. Apathy--that lack of love for the world around us, for the issues of the day {or of the past}, for almost anything save self--is a primary cause of boredom. We do not pay attention because we do not care and we believe that very little is worth learning about or being interested in.

But if this really is our Father's world, then there is much to love and discover and education--that true education born of a passionate looking-into of the way of things--is an act of repentance.

This is my concern when it comes to, for instance, video games--that the child is gaining a taste for that stimulation which stands in utter antithesis to everything which will relieve or cure the habit of boredom, that it sets the child up for further malaise, that the hours spent upon it are forever lost.

I, personally, try not to interrupt when the children are bored. I have found that, after being bored for an hour or so, something wonderful usually happens. Boredom can be the precursor to inventions of every sort, and shouldn't be feared. When children harass their mothers, claiming to be bored, we can be sure that they are usually seeking "stimulus" rather than that particular fruit which boredom sometimes bears if responded to properly.

Does this mean we ought to design an especially boring existence for our children, that they might invent great things out of the void?

Mason says absolutely not:
[T]o begin with the children, we may do something to keep them from getting into the habit of being bored. As it is, the best children pay attention probably for about one-third of a given lesson; for the rest of the time they are at the mercy of volatile thoughts, and at the end they are fagged, not so much by the lesson as by the throng of vagrant fancies which has played upon their inattentive minds.

How, if we tried the same quantity of work in one-third of the time with the interest which induces fixed attention? This would enable us to reduce working-hours by one-third, and at the same time to get in a good many more subjects, having regard to the child's real need for knowledge of many kinds: the children would not be bored, they would discover the delightfulness of knowledge, and we should all benefit, for we might hope that, instead of shutting up our books when we leave school or college, each of us, under ninety say, would have his days varied and the springs of life renewed by periods of definite study.
When I first realized how short the individual lessons were within the world of Mason-style education, I was shocked. I thought it impossible to learn anything in short bites like that. And yet, I had already had one too many encounters with losing my students--giving reading lessons which were far too long and reaping the consequence of a student who still thinks he hates reading. I remembered that, when I was only a child myself, I learned that varying the lesson--a bit of book work here, flash cards there, and then reading aloud of an interesting book at the end--cultivated a love for the subject. It dawned on me that perhaps Ambleside was like that, only on a broad scale.

And so it was. How often I hear, "Oh, Mommy! Another chapter, please!"

In saying no, we must wait until next time, the book becomes like sugar, a coveted treat.

In addition to varied--covering many different areas of interest--short lessons, Mason offers us more wisdom:
But this highly varied intellectual work must not have the passing character of an amusement {is not this the danger of lectures?}. Continuation and progression must mark every study, so that each day we go on from where we left off, and know that we are covering fresh ground. Perhaps some day we shall come to perceive that moral and spiritual progression are also for us, not by way of distinction, but for us in common with all men, and because we are human beings.
This morning, I read a rather brilliant {as usual} post from the DHM, where she describes how she dealt with one of her children, who seemed like she'd never progress beyond easy-reader books. She did something that many people might consider illogical--she pulled out a much more challenging book. She describes that child now, fully grown, who though not "academic" in the usual sense, reads classic literature for fun. I loved this conclusion from DHM:
She can read and understand more than she ever would have if I'd continued to be afraid to try this stuff that anybody could have seen was too hard for her. She can actually read and understand more than a goodly number of peers who were never challenged by the hard stuff because the adults around them figured it was too hard to understand.

I had very good reasons for thinking this stuff was too hard for her. And every one of my sympathetic, concerned, and loving reasons was just another way of underestimating what she was capable of doing, of keeping her trapped in the same ghetto of the mind she'd come from. For most people 'the soft bigotry of low expectations' is just a cheap slogan. For me, it's the very real way I nearly failed and cheated my child.
We spend so much time trying to keep things "at their level" that we forget that it is in being surrounded by wonderful, high, grand things that people grow--that people thrive.

And people who are thriving are not bored, is this not so?