31 August 2011

Homeschooling Meme

I don't think I've ever done one of these, but Mama Squirrel tagged me, and I was so flattered I had to play along...plus I think the questions are fun. If you have a chance, read Mama Squirrel's answers at the link above. She compared her 2006 answers to today, which was interesting to me!
    Just one? Well, my all-time go-to resource is Charlotte Mason's sixth volume, Towards a Philosophy of Education. Might I pick a second? My favorite education books ever is Poetic Knowledge.
    My wall timeline. It is a project we enjoy year after year.
    Are you going to hate me that I don't have one? I have never had the money to buy many resources, so the main extras we have are things that I have test-driven for publishers for free.
    Hmmm. I don't think I'd call this our Number One Favorite, but what comes to mind first is Bob Parson's Simply Draw {reviewed here}.
    Goodness! Why does this feel so hard all of a sudden? Oh! I know: Visual Latin. Love it already.
    I have a whole list of things I wish I could add if I had double the budget. My oldest is trying to teach himself to draw birds, so I think number one on my wishlist right now would be a copy of John Busby's Drawing Birds.
    The fabled Ambleside Year 12.
    Veritas Press and The Classical Teacher from Memoria Press.
    Shock: Ambleside Online. I also like to look at Charlotte Mason Help and my beloved CiRCE Institute.
  10. TAG FOUR SIX FIVE OTHER HOMESCHOOLERS Don't fail me, people! I tag Mystie, Dawn, Silvia, Naomi, and Heather.

30 August 2011

Grand Conversation: Discussion Questions for AO Y4 {Post the First}

I was going to detail which week of the AO year, and then I realized that my weeks don't match up precisely with the schedule, and that might be more confusing than helpful, so instead I'll detail the exact reading assignment and then given the questions and that should make sense.

Before I share my questions, I thought I'd mention that I am not looking for an exact answer here, and I had to tell E.-Age-Nine that because he seemed afraid to speak at first, as if he might get the answer wrong. I finally told him that my goal was to get him thinking and talking about the ideas, and I have my own ideas, and sometimes our ideas will match up, and sometimes they won't, and that's okay.

  1. Reading: Madam How and Lady Why Chapter 1, pp. 5-8
    Does Madam How remind you of God? Why or why not?
  2. Reading: Madam How and Lady Why Chapter 1, pp. 8-13
    What does it look like to learn from Madam How? To damage her property?
  3. Reading: Poor Richard pp. 25-31
    Do you think you could make a journey from New York to Philadelphia like that?
  4. Reading: Poor Richard pp. 32-43
    Should Ben have acted as he did in his brother's shop? What do you think about the Governor? Does he remind you of anyone from Pilgrim's Progress*?
  5. Reading: This Country of Ours Ch. 31
    Do you think the people should have hid Goff and Whalley?
  6. Reading: The Story Book of Science Ch. 3 & 4**
    Do you remember what the Bible says about ants?
  7. Reading: Robinson Crusoe***
    Do you think Robinson should have sold Xury to the captain? Did he have the right to sell Xury?
    What is the greatest temptation of Robinson's life at this time? Read. Proverbs 28:20.
    Why do you think Robinson was cast onto the shore rather than drowned? Do you think this is for his good?
*This particular child was intrigued by the Flatterer; the question might not be fitting for all students.

**My student is not reading these chapters on the same day, but I only planned on question. I'll just ask it when it seems most appropriate.

***My copy of Robinson Crusoe has neither chapters nor pages that would be helpful to list. Hopefully, you are reading along and can tell where is the best place to ask such questions.

29 August 2011

New: Year Four Discussion Questions

Last week went well for a first week, I think. At the end of it, though, I found myself thinking that I could easily let my Year Four student slide because I'm working so hard to get my Year One student off to a good start. Because she doesn't yet read well, I need to be with her for every. single. thing. I don't mind--not at all! But I did find myself tempted to ignore my oldest, since he is self-motivated and able to learn a lot all by himself.

One of the things I noticed near the end of Year Three was that E.-Age-Nine was slowly gaining greater and greater ability to really discuss what he had read. I'm not just talking about narration, but about the actual ideas embodied in the text. He was also making connections between what he read in one place, and what he had read somewhere else in a book, or even his Bible.

Not long ago, Naomi over at Living Charlotte Mason in California quoted Dr. Carroll Smith on the steps involved in narration:
  1. Teacher introduces the new text
  2. Student recreation of old text
  3. Reading of living book text
  4. Narration of living book text
  5. Grand conversation
If you click over, there is a brief description of each step. What I want to focus on here is the description of grand conversation:
Following the narration children need to be able to share their reactions and ask questions — their reactions and questions. Following the conversation they have had with the author through reading and narrating, the children now need to be able to have a conversation with the teacher and their fellow students about what the author said in the text. Here, the teacher talks with the students and not at the students.
Some children are big talkers and will naturally start doing this. But other children will need to be trained, and all can benefit from honing their skills a little.

Saturday night, as I did my pre-reading for the week, I wrote down a question for each reading. I tried to muster everything I've learned from Andrew Kern as far as asking a good, idea-provoking question {though I'm sure practice will help, too}. This is my attempt to guarantee grand conversation through preparation. I would love to do it on the fly, but the truth is that I'm more likely to be paying attention to my Year One student rather than engaging fully in my Year Four student's narration. This ought to help me focus and give him the thorough education that he deserves, even if his mommy isn't yet a master of managing multiple students.

My thought was that perhaps some of you who are unable to pre-read, or just want some ideas, would enjoy seeing my weekly questions. Obviously, the first question is, "Do you {student} have any questions?" And if they do, a grand conversation will start all on its own. But if they don't, or if they are the type to need a little prodding, this might get them started. Socrates wasn't afraid to ask questions, and we shouldn't be, either.

My plan is to post my questions most every Tuesday here on Afterthoughts. Now that school has started, I can't write a long article everyday anyhow. Tomorrow, the first set of questions will go live. If you have written up discussions questions, or have ones that you asked spontaneously and found success with, I'd love for you to share them in the comments as we go along!

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

We went to the circus on Saturday and, my, how the circus has changed since I was a little girl! It really is the Greatest Show on Earth! I'll end this post with a couple photos so you can catch a glimpse of how very awesome it was. I am now officially a fan of circuses.

In other {more important} news...
  • I finally finished James Jordan's Creation in Six Days. I'm sort of neutral on whether or not to recommend it. On the one hand, I like a lot of his criticism of alternative views. I like that he understands where science begins and ends. But his own views are not what I'd call traditional. I mean, yes, okay, he believes in six 24-hour days of creation, but beyond that he gets a little weird. I'm not even saying I totally disagree with him; just that it's a bit odd...sort of belies the title, I think. 
  • Are some or all of your children unvaccinated? If so, I highly encourage you to participate in the survey over at VaccineInjury. {Yes, I hate the name of the website.} I was actually trying to design my own survey to ask these very questions, and even though they could have been more thorough, I think it is a great start. If you recall, in my review of the book Childhood Vaccinations, I said that I thought the most interesting {and unresearched} question concerning vaccines is whether unvaccinated children are healthier than vaccinated children. I find it interesting because, so far, my unvaccinated children are far healthier than my vaccinated children. At the same time, one of my unvaccinated children was born with severe food allergies--before that happened, I was convinced that those sorts of allergies were caused by vaccination. But they are not {at least not in our experience here}. Anyhow, you can only answer the survey for children who are completely unvaccinated--not delayed, and not partially vaxed.
  • Do you try and accommodate "learning styles" in your home? Do you believe that children actually learn differently? Apparently, there is no scientific evidence that this is true. According to Curriculum Matters, a 2009 study concluded that
    there is no scientific evidence to support the popular idea that teaching should be differentiated according to whether a child is a visual or auditory learner, or absorbs ideas best when she's up and moving around while learning.
    I find this interesting because I've read a lot of things lately that imply that there are best ways to learn {and teach!} specific subjects, and catering to "learning styles" {especially excessively so} might actually be playing to a child's handicaps. What do you think? {HT: CiRCE}
  • Here's one for you Tolkien fans out there: Art Student Hand-Illuminates, Binds a Copy of Tolkien's Silmarillion. I do not own a copy of this work. I wonder if illuminated copies will be for sale? Beautiful! {HT: Dawn}
  • My father has a contribution for today: Big Government Destroys Family Farmers. Not that many of you will be surprised by this. Ahem. Have you watched Farmegeddon yet? There hasn't been a screening in our area, but I trust it'll eventually be on Netflix.
  • I love making homemade salad dressing. It's something I started when I children were allergic-to-everything, and I've never stopped since. Here is a new one I want to try: Creamy Ranch Dressing.
Have a wonderful Monday, everybody! If you have a link you want to share with us, use the comments.

26 August 2011

What Education as an Atmosphere Looks Like

Well, that's a pretty audacious title, don't you think? I would have done better to call it What Education as an Atmosphere Might Look Like. But, being the slave to format that I am, I couldn't stand the thought of the title not fitting perfectly with the others, so here we are.

So far, I've been talking about the more concrete aspects of Ambleside: hymns, composer study, picture study, and geography. I'm skipping to the abstract here mainly because it's been on my mind since yesterday.

Before I tell you my story, let's talk about what our dear friend Charlotte means when she says that education is an atmosphere.

Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life
This is one of Mason's brilliant mottoes, packed full of ideas. We're only going to look at atmosphere here, of course, but I wanted to make sure we acknowledge that this is only one facet of the whole; atmosphere alone is not education.

In her sixth and final volume, Mason writes this:
Seeing that we are limited by the respect due to the personality of children we can allow ourselves but three educational instruments––the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit and the presentation of living ideas. Our motto is,––'Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.' When we say that education is an atmosphere we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a 'child environment' specially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere both as regards persons and things and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the 'child's' level.

In other words, by atmosphere, Mason does not mean building the perfect child-appropriate environment. She does not mean covering the corners of our coffee tables in bubble wrap and padding our playgrounds with rubber. She does not mean netting our trampolines {though I own a netted trampoline...ahem} and she does not mean covering our walls in bright colors and engaging pictures. This is what people thought atmosphere meant in Charlotte's own culture. She writes:
The theory has been,––put a child in the right environment and so subtle is its influence, so permanent its effects that he is to all intents and purposes educated thereby. Schools may add Latin and sums and whatever else their curriculum contains, but the actual education is, as it were, performed upon a child by means of colour schemes, harmonious sounds, beautiful forms, gracious persons. He grows up aesthetically educated into sweet reasonableness and harmony with his surroundings.
If we recall that Charlotte criticized the German Kindergarten for being too perfect--contrived--then we realize that she must mean something more than simply manipulating a child's environment.

And, in fact, she does. She quotes Professor Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose as saying:
A plant carefully protected under glass from outside shocks looks sleek and flourishing but its higher nervous function is then found to be atrophied. But when a succession of "blows" (electric shocks) is rained on this effete and bloated specimen, the shocks themselves create nervous channels and arouse anew the deteriorated nature. Is it not the shocks of adversity and not cotton wool protection that evolve true manhood?

And here we are getting at Charlotte's aim, which she made quite clear previously in her third volume:
By this we mean that parents and teachers should know how to make sensible use of a child's circumstances (atmosphere)...
Educationg through atmosphere, then, is not something we create, but rather involves our response to what is. Everything in the child's "atmosphere" is the opportunity for development of the child's character. The child can become a better {or worse} man than he would have been without both the challenges and blessings which God has placed in his life.

Recent Events
These past few weeks leading up to A.-Age-Six's molar extraction and filling--her first real dental procedures--were not easy. For whatever reason, God chose to place these obstacles in the path of my most sensitive, least pain-tolerant, most intensely nervous child. If I were a dullard, I might have missed the point {and I almost did}.

One thought that John Piper has been teaching our small group lately is that our faith is rooted in the knowledge that God does things for our good. Not just our past good or our current good, but also our future good. Walking in faith, then, means trusting along the way that these things will work out for our good.

It logically follows, then, that since my children likewise belong to God, He is also orchestrating the events of their own lives for their good as well. When Charlotte says that education is an atmosphere, I automatically leap to faith- and character-building.

Daughter A. looked to become the sort of woman who would refuse to have children because of the pain and fear involved {and, c'mon, we all know it's scary!}. Yesterday, when her simple extraction became complicated and turned into oral surgery, and I was holding her hand and trying not to look like I was fretting, I just kept reminding myself that the Lord has His purposes. Could it be that experiencing all of this pain and facing all of these fears early in life will reap a great harvest later in life? Will she be a tougher woman because of it?

Honestly, I think she will.

She learned lessons in trust. Two days before The Day, as we headed to Aunt Rebecca's house to borrow a movie, she told me she had decided not to worry about it anymore, that she figured that because I was a Christian and I loved my child, I was probably telling the truth about it not hurting very much to get a shot in the mouth.

She was quite the trooper. She was tempted to freak out and refuse to let the dentist do his job--that was very clear. But she didn't. She even waited until it was all over to cry.

It is so easy to think that my job as a mother is to help her avoid pain. It's like when my oldest was a tiny tot. It was tempting to try and protect him from every bump and bruise, to keep him from hitting ground when he fell. Obviously, we want to avoid serious injuries and death, but in general I learned that allowing a child to fall taught him better balance. Allowing him to be hurt taught him to be more careful--and taught him faster than a thousand naggings!

When we think of education as an atmosphere, let us not think of building an environment but rather of helping the child face his own situation with faith and courage when things seem wrong, and joy and gratitude when they seem right.

Not a bad approach for ourselves, either!

23 August 2011

What Geography Looks Like

Today we return to the What Ambleside Looks Like series. If you missed it, we already discussed picture study, composer study, and hymns {not in that order}. Incidentally, the order of this series is entirely arbitrary. I'm just interested in reviewing the basics.

Geography: What's the Point?

So first, let's ask ourselves what the point of geography is in the context of a Charlotte Mason-style classroom. In her first volume, Charlotte tells us:
[T]he peculiar value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas, and to furnish the imagination with pictures. Herein lies the educational value of geography.
She does not believe that studying dry geography textbooks and memorizing the names of capital cities is a good example of geographic study. Remember: Charlotte Mason believed that education is nothing less than the forging of relationships. Geography was one more way for a child to form a relationship with the world in which God placed him.

In this sense, she viewed geography as a means of world travel. The child could become intimate with a place in the world which he had never visited, if he was reading the right sort of books:
But let him be at home in any single region; let him see, with the mind's eye, the people at their work and at their play, the flowers and fruits in their seasons, the beasts, each in its habitat; and let him see all sympathetically, that is, let him follow the adventures of a traveller; and he knows more, is better furnished with ideas, than if he had learnt all the names on all the maps.
In her sixth volume, we see her pressing even more for a geography that is gloriously, wonderfully alive to our students:
Do we wish every child in a class to say,––or, if he does not say, to feel,––"I was enlarged wonderfully" by a Geography lesson? Let him see the place with the eyes of those who have seen or conceived it; your barographs, thermographs, contour lines, relief models, sections, profiles and the like, will not do it. A map of the world must be a panorama to a child of pictures so entrancing that he would rather ponder them than go out to play; and nothing is more easy than to give him this joie de vivre. Let him see the world as we ourselves choose to see it when we travel; its cities and peoples, its mountains and rivers, and he will go away from his lesson with the piece of the world he has read about, be it county or country, sea or shore, as that of "a new room prepared for him, so much will he be magnified and delighted in it." All the world is in truth the child's possession, prepared for him, and if we keep him out of his rights by our technical, commercial, even historical, geography, any sort of geography, in fact, made to illustrate our theories, we are guilty of fraudulent practices. What he wants is the world and every bit, piece by piece, each bit a key to the rest.
That last part has greatly impacted my philosophy of geography. I never considered that in teaching geography, we ought to be giving them the world.

Early Geography

Our friend Charlotte discriminated between the ages. In the younger years, geography, like much else, was taught in a more hands-on approach. In Volume One, she writes:
[T]he mother...will find a hundred opportunities to teach geography by the way: a duck-pond is a lake or an inland sea; any brooklet will serve to illustrate the great rivers of the world; a hillock grows into a mountain––an Alpine system; a hazel-copse suggests the mighty forests of the Amazon; a reedy swamp, the rice-fields of China; a meadow, the boundless prairies of the West; the pretty purple flowers of the common mallow is a text whereon to hang the cotton fields of the Southern States: indeed, the whole field of pictorial geography––maps may wait until by-and-by––may be covered in this way.
Here we see her suggest teaching geography by analogy. A hill is like a mountain, a pond is like a lake or sea. And so on.

In addition, she suggests that the mother of young children teach them to observe the position of the sun {and its relation to the hour of day}, gain a sense of direction by recognizing east and west, and later drill them with a compass. Basically, the many hours spent out of doors are not focused solely on nature study proper, but also include geographical study.

Geography for the Older Student

It was only after the child had built up a repertoire of analogies through his hours of outdoor romping that he was welcomed into the classroom to read great geographical works. When Charlotte says we ought to allow our geography student to be "at home" in a region, she accomplished this through certain kinds of books: 
The 'way' of this kind of teaching is very simple and obvious; read to him, or read for him, that is, read bit by bit, and tell as you read, Hartwig's Tropical World, the same author's Polar World, Livingstone's missionary travels, Mrs. Bishop's Unbeaten Tracks in Japan––in fact, any interesting, well-written book of travel. It may be necessary to leave out a good deal, but every illustrative anecdote, every bit of description, is so much towards the child's education. Here, as elsewhere, the question is, not how many things does he know, but how much does he know about each thing.
{I actually own an ancient copy of Hartwig's Tropical World and it is absolutely fabulous.}

A child uses maps at this stage, but not for drills.
Maps must be carefully used in this type of work,––a sketch-map following the traveller's progress, to be compared finally with a complete map of the region; and the teacher will exact a description of such and such a town, and such and such a district, marked on the map, by way of testing and confirming the child's exact knowledge. In this way, too, he gets intelligent notions of physical geography; in the course of his readings he falls in with a description of a volcano, a glacier, a cañon, a hurricane; he hears all about, and asks and learns the how and the why, of such phenomena at the moment when his interest is excited.
Charlotte firmly believed that a child ought to grasp the meaning of a map. She writes in her first volume:
The child who gets no ideas from considering the map, say of Italy or of Russia, has no knowledge of geography, however many facts about places he may be able to produce. Therefore he should begin this study by learning the meaning of a map and how to use it. He must learn to draw a plan of his schoolroom, etc., according to scale, go on to the plan of a field, consider how to make the plan of his town, and be carried gradually from the idea of a plan to that of a map; always beginning with the notion of an explorer who finds the land and measures it, and by means of sun and stars, is able to record just where it is on the earth's surface, east or west, north or south.
Basically, a little cartography is in order.

Practically Speaking...

In my own home, we have a basic geography routine which works for us. We utilize the basic geography selections for Ambleside, of course. For each book, we secure a blank map to work with. I have done this with every book, save Marco Polo. His journey was so extended that we worked with a globe instead. Now, I wish I had thought to get a number of blank maps and tape them all together, that we might have had a great big one with which to record our intellectual travels. This is what I hope to do with my future students.

But as I was saying, we have a map. On the first day, I take the child to the globe {the children are trained from very young to know where our own residence is upon the globe}. We start with where we are, and then we "travel" to find the place about which we will be reading. Then I show them how the map "matches" the globe. I find this is most important with my youngest students, who don't yet completely comprehend maps.

As we are reading, we trace the journey {for most of the books detail a journey of some sort} upon the map. In Paddle to the Sea, for instance, I have a blank map of the Great Lakes, which I label for my students, and they color. On the first day, Lake Superior is mentioned. I label it, and my students color it blue. As we go on, they color the places we talk about that day. As students get older, the details and flourishes they add to their maps can become more extravagant.

In fact, I think it would help greatly if we began to think of the maps as a sort of travel diary, where the children are recording not only the journey, but the things which interest them along the way. What if they drew little icons to represent parts of the journey? The man-sized sheep upon the mountain top from Marco Polo? The iron mills in Paddle to the Sea?

But I digress.

I end our geography readings with we call our "map narration." Instead of merely telling back, the child tells back while using the map as a prop. He traces the journey upon the map while he is explaining what happened there. All of this goes a great way in associating his memories of the stories with actual positions upon the map.

In addition to all of this, Charlotte mentioned cartography, as I pointed out above. We have made models of their bedrooms to scale using graph paper. Both times we did this, we were trying to make decisions about furniture, and this helped us to see how it would fit and how the rooms could be arranged. The children seem to have learned a ton through this, and I keep thinking that I should just do our whole house, with their assistance, of course.

We are blessed to be near real mountains and a real ocean, so we haven't had to work too hard with analogies. But as I think about it now, I want to make a special effort to point out geographical features whenever we are on nature walks. This is easy for me to forget in the midst of identifying a butterfly, of course, but it would be a generous gift, especially to my littlest ones.

The Heart of Geography

As in a number of other places within her philosophy, geography is one of the places where we see Charlotte Mason crossing the educational divide we see in our culture. The adoption of John Dewey's philosophy has resulted in our culture valuing children who know about rather than know intimately. It seems an odd idea to say that children ought to "build a relationship" with the world around them, or even the world far away {through the use of books}. Instead, we prefer our children to possess a large arsenal of facts about geography. We drill them--sometimes without even using maps. We consider ourselves "successful" if our children can rattle off information about places they've never seen.

Charlotte asks different questions to determine her success: Does the student love the place he studied? {Has he gained affection?} Has he read such great books about places, and gained such intimate knowledge, that he can visualize the place? Is it as if he has already been there? If he is able to travel there someday, will the place actually seem familiar to him?

It's not that memorizing facts is wrong. Though I don't have my children memorize geography facts at this time, they all must memorize their math facts, and they do this because it aids them in their math. I am sure that geography facts might function in this way, depending on the approach. But it isn't really Ambleside if we aren't working on increasing in affection for these places and being able to visualize these foreign parts of God's world.

Generosity. That is really the heart of a Charlotte Mason education, which is why I appreciate it so much. Let us always remember that in the geography lesson, we are offering them the world.

22 August 2011

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday {First Day of School Edition}

Otherwise known as the "O.'s Third Birthday Edition." My littlest one is three-years-old today. Sniff. I need a new baby, and fast! I am undone.

But enough about me.

In other news...
  • Can you boil your affection for the liberal arts down into a bumper sticker? This guy can.
  • There is an interesting old post over at The Rabbit Room by Jonathan Rogers, author of The Charlatan's Boy {reviewed here}. It's called How Stories do Their Work on Us. Here's a tiny taste:
    Nathan’s story did what all great fiction does: it took David out of himself, and it gave him an emotional attachment to what it is good and right.
  • Pray for us on Thursday, please. Daughter A. is finally having that molar extraction she needs, plus a filling. We need travel mercies...and a calm, brave heart for my little girl.
  • Did you hear about the South Dakota schools moving to a four-day school week as a solution to their financial troubles? I'm going to laugh if they find that with less days in school, their test scores go up. On second thought, the article says:
    In elementary school, recess and physical education classes will be shortened.
    So now I'm thinking the only things going up are their diagnoses of ADHD.
  • I enjoyed many of the quotes in MMv's chapbook entry from The Idle Parent. One of my favorites was:
    For the idle mother it is not a choice between "going back to work" or "staying at home." She explores that vast and rich territory between those two barren poles.
  • Don't look now, but Cindy actually posted something on her Morning Time Moms blog. Might there be more in the future? I'm hoping!
  • Last week, I posted some links on the Rawesome raid. This week, I thought I'd follow up with the other side of the story: A Raw Deal by Root Simple. I read the report from the private investigation firm, and they have a witness that Healthy Family Farms was buying conventional eggs, for instance, and repackaging them as organic and/or pastured and then selling them for double the price, and by the end of the report {if you get there} you'll be thinking this whole thing was something of a racket. I am for food freedom, yes, but not for fraud.
  • Lastly, we could talk about the massive shut down of power plants headed our way, and about how some of you might be really, really cold this winter. This might be viewed as quite the triumph for the USA's green religion, and if you choose to worship at that altar, you might find this pleasing. Since coal power is a big reason why we didn't burn every tree {for heat} from sea to shining sea, I'm thinking this is Not Good. Really, though, our main concern should, once again, be the idea that the EPA can govern without any oversight at all from our actual legislative branch. I find it disturbing that any alphabet soup government arm {i.e., EPA, DOE, etc.} can create "rules" {otherwise known as laws} outside of the constitutional provisions. I mean, really! Doesn't anyone even read Russian literature anymore?
And that's all. Happy first day of lessons, to those of you who are celebrating it today!

21 August 2011

Sailboat Cake Tutorial

It's that time of year again! On at least four occasions per year, I decorate a cake for a special someone. This time around, it was O.'s turn.

This cake was super simple, so this tutorial will be, too.

Step 1: Bake two round cakes. I did eight-inch. Nine-inch would be fine, also.

Step 2: Freeze said cakes. Don't skip this step. It is far, far easier to decorate a frozen cake compared to an unfrozen one. So do yourself a favor and freeze the cake. This can be done up to two days in advance without negative consequences.

Step 3: Make your frosting. I make the Wilton Buttercream. It never fails me. I made three batches, but only ended up needing two, so I froze some on the off-chance that it will last until I make cupcakes in a few weeks.

Ste 3a: Taste test the frosting. You know: "Just in case."

Crumb Coat

Step 4: Crumb-coat and cake-stacking. Put your first cake on your pedestal {or wherever you want it to be when you're done}. Generously frost the top because this will be your filler {unless you're fancy and using some sort of real filling}. Stack the second cake on top, and then do a crumb coat on the top and sides. The purpose of the crumb coat is to catch the crumbs for you. It should be super-thin, but completely covering. I don't always do this, but since I had chocolate cake under this white frosting, I considered it imperative. When I use white cake, I often skip this step and it looks messier, but I'm not a perfectionist and so...I don't care.

Step 5: Put in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. You want that crumb coat to harden up. If you are me, you put it there and then ate lunch and came back to it later.

Step 5a: Taste test more frosting. You know: "In case something changed."

Base Coat

Step 6: Do your base coat. I don't know if this is official Cake Decorator's Language, but I call the final coat upon which the decorations sit my "base coat." For this cake, I did the white sides first and then the light blue top second. I was afraid I'd smear blue on the sides if I did it the other way around.

Step 7: Put it back in the fridge for at least 10 minutes. Once again, you are hardening it up to prevent smearing it around.

Step 8: Mark out your sailboat. I did this using a toothpick. I do not like free drawing with frosting. The cake I was imitating used fondant for this part, so it was cut and then slapped on top. I don't like the way fondant tastes, so I did all frosting, therefore I marked some light lines on my "canvas."

Step 9: Add your sailboat. I did the blue {darker than the base coat} bottom first, then the white sails. Then I put it back in the fridge for 10 minutes before adding the red stripes. I consider that optional so I'm not making it an official step. I marked my stripes with a toothpick in the cold frosting and then traced it. Finally, I added the mast and the white portholes on the bottom.

Side View

Step 10: Add borders. I used one big blue dot separated by two smaller red dots. You can do whatever you like with whatever frosting you have left to use up. The main purpose of borders is to neaten it up and give it a finished look, and most types of borders can do that for you.

Top View

18 August 2011

What Composer Study Looks Like

Welcome back to the What Ambleside Looks Like series, where I tell you what Charlotte Mason said about these things, and then confess where I fall short in order to make you all feel better! If you missed my posts on picture study or hymns, don't forget to check them out.

Before I get started, I want to remind you that when I say "Ambleside," I'm talking about Years One through Six--the elementary curriculum--and not Years Seven and up {also called House of Education}. In addition to this, my oldest child is only nine and beginning Year Four next week. So when I'm discussing all of this, I'm talking about young, beginning students, not advanced students. There is a difference, and we must keep in mind that what is good for young beginners is rarely sufficient for advanced students, while what is good for advanced students is not appropriate for beginners.

If we think we can approach our students the same way all of the way through their education, we are fooling ourselves. We have to deal with the nature of the student, and a Year One student, who is six years of age, is quite different from who she will be in Year Five when she is ten.


To begin this discussion, I think it is most helpful to quote part of what one of the AO Advisory, Wendi Capehart, says on the music page:
In music study the same principles apply as do in picture study, nature study, and nature notebooks. That is the principle of attentiveness and good observation. The goal is not to have children who can give a lecture on music theory. It is to have children learn to enjoy classical music and tell one piece from another just as naturally as they learn the difference between, say, The Farmer in the Dell and When the Saints Go Marching In - because they are both familiar with and fond of what they are hearing. The more they are exposed to good literature, the better they get at reading the themes and language of literature. In art and music, the more they are simply exposed to pictures and music, the more they learn to 'read' the themes of the world's classic compositions.
It bears repeating what I learned from a lecture by John Hodges {conductor, musician, and composer, as well as director of The Center for Western Studies}, which is that exposure breeds taste. I remember reading once in regard to food that some children require ten separate tastes of a food in order to acquire even a tolerance for that food. This is why we always made our children take one. single. bite. of whatever it was they thought they didn't like. Just one. We knew it would pay dividends later when they had learned to tolerate--or even like--those foods. The same goes with music. If you ever hear someone say they "hate" classical music, chances are they were never really exposed to it.

Wendi goes on to say:
With reading we don't begin with the mechanics, the grammar and punctuation, nor we do we begin with a biography of Beatrix Potter before we read Peter Rabbit. With music, we should begin in much the same way - with simple exposure. Our children may read and be familiar with Beatrix Potter's children's stories for years before we would move on to Shakespeare, biographies, the history of "English Literature." So they can simply play around with music, listening to it, plinking away on musical instruments without being burdened with facts about the lives of composers, music theory, technique, and composition. In other words, those of us who do nothing much more than play the tapes and CDs, occasionally humming along, of each term's composers, need not feel guilty.
Wendi says that adding music appreciation to the PNEU {Charlotte Mason's schools} was a bit of an afterthought, and I'd say that Volume Six concurs, in which Charlotte quotes from a lecture given at an Ambleside conference in the 1920s:
Musical Appreciation––which is so much before the eye at the present moment––originated in the P.N.E.U. about twenty-five years ago. At that time I was playing to my little child much of the best music in which I was interested, and Miss Mason happened to hear of what I was doing. She realised that music might give great joy and interest to the life of all, and she felt that just as children in the P.U.S. were given the greatest literature and art, so they should have the greatest music as well. She asked me to write an article In the Review on the result of my observations, and to make a programme of music each term which might be played to the children. From that day to this, at the beginning of every term a programme has appeared; thus began a movement which was to spread far and wide.

Musical Appreciation, of course, has nothing to do with playing the piano. It used to be thought that 'learning music' must mean this, and it was supposed that children who had no talent for playing were unmusical and would not like concerts. But Musical Appreciation had no more to do with playing an instrument than acting had to do with an appreciation of Shakespeare, or painting with enjoyment of pictures. I think that all children should take Musical Appreciation and not only the musical ones, for it has been proved that only three per cent of children are what is called 'tone-deaf'; and if they are taken at an early age it is astonishing how children who appear to be without ear, develop it and are able to enjoy listening to music with understanding.
If the first goal of what we in Ambleside commonly call "composer study" {which I think is a bit of a misnomer} is exposure and acquiring taste and appreciation, the second goal brings us back to the verse I shared earlier in this series:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. {Philippians 4:8}
In her fourth volume, Charlotte writes:
Many great men have put their beautiful thoughts, not into books, or pictures, or buildings, but into musical score, to be sung with the voice or played on instruments.
The music we introduce, then, is another source of great thoughts--of true, honest, lovely things to think upon. The second goal is nothing less than the enlarging of the soul as it feeds upon virtuous ideas.

Wasn't This About Doing Composer Study?

Yes, well, sometimes I first need to remind myself of the goal. Depending upon our aim, our methods will be different, right?

In Volume Four, Charlotte tells us:
Use every chance you get of hearing music {I do not mean only tunes, though these are very nice}, and ask whose music has been played, and, by degrees, you will find out that one composer has one sort of thing to say to you, and another speaks other things; these messages of the musicians cannot be put into words, so there is no way of hearing them if we do not train our ear to listen. A great help towards learning to hear music is to know the notes, to be able to tell with one's eyes shut any note or chord that is struck on the piano or sung with the voice.
She mentions two things here: knowing the name of the composer {that, eventually, we might recognize his work whenever we hear it} and having what is commonly called perfect pitch. I would say that the former belongs to composer study, while the latter belongs to solfege or other music lessons.

As I searched through her volumes, I found that Charlotte's primary emphasis was upon really listening to the music. Again and again we see her using everything in her power--including music exposure--to train the attention. She wants her students to graduate with the ability to be fully present in their lives.

On the In Memoriam page {where Charlotte's former friends and comrades wrote about her after she passed}, one woman says:
[T]hrough Musical Appreciation she prepared children to understand and enjoy concerts.
Later, another writes:
[T]he musical appreciation which is taught in the P.U.S. makes one able to understand in some measure the work of a musician, as well as having one's senses pleased by it.
Charlotte herself writes, in Volume Five:
Let the young people hear good music as often as possible, and that under instruction. It is a pity we like our music, as our pictures and our poetry, mixed, so that there are few opportunities of going through, as a listener, a course of the works of a single composer. But this is to be aimed at for the young people; let them study occasionally the works of a single great master until they have received some of his teaching, and know his style.
I think we can use all of this to put together a nice little list concerning the qualities of music appreciation as taught by Mason and her friends:
  • The focus is upon hearing the music.
  • Most of the time, the information the children receive concerning the pieces listened to is quite simple, and might often be as simple as only learning the name.
  • The children ought to enjoy the hearing.
  • Works studied ought to be a number of works by a single composer, that the students might learn something of the style and message of that composer.
Do you see what is missing? Music lectures. Composer biographies. Charts. Graphs. Timeline figures.

The noise, noise, noise, NOISE!

Now, I for one do make a timeline figure {because I am a timeline nut...I have issues, people!}, if the composer whose works we are studying happens to have lived during the period of history we are studying, but that is hardly the point.

Composer study--which is, more rightly, a study of six works by a single composer--is very, very simple. Play the works. Listen to them. Name them {and, obviously, we name the composer}.

I do not do this formally. Rather, I put on the works while we are doing chores or some other activity {like painting}. The children might dance or march around, depending on how the music makes them feel. My oldest is probably ready to do this formally, now that he is in Year Four. We shall see if his mother is ready.

Sometimes, I purchase an Opal Wheeler biography and leave it lying around the house on the off-chance that my oldest wishes to learn more about the composer.

But that's about it.

I know that lots of supermommies out there like to make a composer lapbook and do composer crafts and talk about all the details of the composer's life. You can do what you like. But if you are feeling pressured to make composer study into Composer Study {if you know what I mean}, well then...relax. One of the goals is to enjoy it, and you can't possibly do that if the stress of it has just turned your shoulders into knots.

Listen to the music. Name it. Breathe. Enjoy!

In these younger years, that is enough.

One final note: In my opinion, a child's musical education is not complete without actually studying music formally. Ambleside officially suggests that this begins in Year Four. Our family begins at age eight {which tends to fall in Year Three}. Personally, I think any younger is not necessary and possibly detrimental, depending on the child. So much of the information we are tempted to drown students in during composer study can be learned, slowly and steadily, during formal music instruction. Chances are that adding in musical study around year four will naturally enhance a child's appreciation during composer study.

17 August 2011

What Hymns Look Like

If you are just dropping in, we have begun a new series called What Ambleside Looks Like. {Yesterday, we discussed What Picture Study Looks Like.} If you wonder why I'm doing this, well...I find I benefit from reviewing the basics annually before we begin. This time around, I'm merely thinking "aloud" instead of privately. If any of you want to discuss these aspects of a Charlotte Mason education, please use the comments; that is what they are for!

In regard to hymns, Charlotte doesn't say a whole lot about them in her writings. In Volume Five, she does explain the state of education in England:
Nowhere with us are two out of twelve, much less sixteen out of twenty-four, school hours devoted to religious instruction. Psalm, hymn, and catechism have departed; the Bible lesson is pared down to a shred; and, in our zeal, we do not see that we have deprived the people of the classics, the metaphysics, the ethics––as well as the religion––peculiarly their own. Instead, we have put into their hands––"Readers"––scraps of science, of history, of geography––saw-dust, that cannot take root downwards and bear fruit upwards in human soil.
Here we see that psalm, hymn, catechism, and Bible lesson together comprise a healthy religious education.

In the hymns section of the Ambleside curriculum, we learn that Charlotte's students were taught three hymns per term, making for a total of twelve per year. On her Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six, she explains that a six-year-old ought to be able "to recite, beautifully, 6 easy poems and hymns."

In her third volume, Charlotte describes the singing of hymns as an aid to the habit of praise:
Perhaps we do not attach enough importance to the habit of praise in our children's devotion. Praise and thanksgiving come freely from the young heart; gladness is natural and holy, and music is a delight. The singing of hymns at home and of the hymns and canticles in church should be a special delight; and the habit of soft and reverent singing, of offering our very best in praise, should be carefully formed. Hymns with a story, such as: 'A little ship was on the sea,' 'I think when I read that sweet story of old,' 'Hushed was the evening hymn,' are perhaps the best for little children.
In the Parent's Review article The Religious Training of Children at Home, the habits of the Christian Sabbath are discussed. The author says, for instance, that
I would have Sunday tasks as small as might well be. No child of mine, unless of its own free will, should learn a whole hymn on Sunday. It is a very common and delightful custom to repeat hymns on Sunday--every one of the family saying something--and you will say, "Hymns ought to be learnt." Yes indeed, they ought; but must it be a whole hymn? Would not two verses carefully said be as acceptable, and the rest of the hymn could be read, and more of it learnt another Sunday.
The idea behind this is that it ought to be a sweet, restful task rather than becoming a burden of work for the child. In my own opinion, it seems even better, then, to have learned the hymns throughout the week, that Sunday might simply involve the joyful singing of songs already known.

I'd like to take a moment and connect all of this to our Poetic Knowledge study as well: At the beginning level, poetry, music, astronomy, Latin, etcetera, are done rather than studied. Music is experienced with the whole body; the students use their voices to sing, play an instrument if they know one, and dance.

This is getting us close to the place where I can explain that we do not, at this age, do "hymn studies." Again, as with picture study, there is such a thing as doing too much. In our zeal for children to "understand" we actually muddy the waters. I do not believe that a child needs to have all of the background of a hymn to sing a hymn; to love a hymn.

Children love to sing, and they adore familiarity, including in their music. This is why, as much as I appreciate the hymn rotation on the Ambleside site, I have chosen to focus on hymns which are regularly sung in my church or by family members {of course, most of them are on the rotation, just not in that particular order}. Once the children have mastered those, we will branch out and follow the rotation, but one of our goals is for them to be able to fully participate in worship service, to the full extent that they are able, including singing the songs.

Remember: part of the philosophy is that we can trust children to make their own connections. We do not have to spoon-feed anything to them, including their hymns. So let's talk about what learning a new hymn looks like in my home, which might be quite different from what works for your home, but that's part of the fun, no?

Here are the steps I take:
  1. Prep for the hymn. This is the part I do in advance. Hymn learning is just one more part of our memory binder system, so the first thing I do is find the score of the hymn, either online or in our hymnal, and print it off, placing it in the "daily review" section of the binder.
  2. Brief introduction. When we begin the hymn, I tell them its name. If it is written by someone they know {like Martin Luther, for instance}, I tell them who is the author. If necessary, I explain a couple words and phrases that might trip them up.
  3. Teach the first verse. Sometimes I accompany with the piano, but usually I don't. I sing the verse, and they listen. I sing it through phrase by phrase, with them repeating after me phrase by phrase. I sing it again a couple times, with them joining in more and more as they put the words together. One last time, they listen while I sing, and then we close with all trying to sing the verse together.
  4. Review. Beginning the next day, we sing the verse every day we have lessons.
  5. Teach the subsequent verses. Once per week, I add a new verse, until we have learned it all. This means that the "review" portion is reviewing all of the verses we learned.
The average hymn takes about a month to learn. Once they seem to have the words down well, I move the song to my every-other-day review, to see if they can remember it even when skipping a day of practice. If they can, I prep for our next hymn. Some hymns take us an entire term because I wait until even the four-year-old knows it. We probably average two, rather than three, hymns per term.

What if a hymn has a compelling story behind it?

My parents gave us a children's book about some of the major hymns of the faith, and it was quite moving to read the background information. It is sort of like in the book Future Grace, where John Piper explains that B. B. Warfield's wife was struck by lightening and paralyzed on their honeymoon. She never recovered, and he stuck close to home, nursing her himself, for almost forty years. In the next paragraph, when Piper shares Warfield's thoughts on Romans 8:28, it means a lot:
The fundamental thought is the universal government of God. All that comes to you is under His controlling hand.
Obviously, the stories behind hymns can make them feel even more powerful. With this said, I choose to save those stories for later. I think they can be distracting when our purpose is to connect the children to the song  and the church through memorization of the verses and melody. In reading the story later, when they have mastered the hymn, the story will turn the tables, and then they will be mastered by the hymn as well.

Next: What Composer Study Looks Like

16 August 2011

What Picture Study Looks Like

Picture study is one of those indispensable elements of a Charlotte Mason education. If you've read her works, you know that Charlotte adored art. I don't know much about art, so I always become keenly aware of my own ignorance when reading those portions of her books. Nevertheless, picture study has become one of the weekly rituals of our home. I have learned to trust Charlotte, incorporating even the practices that I am naturally resistant to, because...well, frankly, she just makes a lot of sense.

Why do Picture Study?

Mason had a number of reasons for beginning picture study with even her youngest of students {meaning age six}. First, she believed that this would increase their interest in the artists' works. This is akin to John Hodges' assertion {made in regard to music} that exposure encourages appetite. If you want children to like art {or music}, you have to familiarize them with it.

Second, she believed it was one other way of increasing their power of attention and observation {of course, this might depend upon how you go about it}. In addition to this, at various times she mentioned its value in regard to the ability to make a clear mental picture, increasing the power of imagination, training their ideas of "form and colour," and even enjoyment and populating the mind with beautiful images to think upon.

When I think of why we do picture study, I think of Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
This is nothing less than a habit of the mind, and this habit requires a lot of content. Lucky for us, the world is full of beautiful, noble, lovely things to think about. As a child becomes so acquainted with a beautiful picture that it is stored forever in her memory, this is one more image that he can draw up and ponder whenever he might need it.

How is Picture Study Planned?

Ambleside Online assigns six pictures from a single artist per term. These may be line drawings, oil or watercolor paintings, etchings, etcetera. In Volume 6 of Mason's work, we see that this is exactly what was done in Mason's own schools. I think that Mason exposed the children to them one at a time, but I have them all printed up on cardstock at once, frame them, and hang them upon a wall in our dining room. When it is picture study day, I bring down that day's assigned piece.

How is Picture Study Done?

I'll tell you how Mason described it, and then I'll tell you what we here on the microhomestead actually do. Here is a quote from Mason's first volume:
"Step I.––Ask the children if they remember what their last picture-talk was about, and what artist was famous for animal-painting. Tell them Landseer was acquainted with animals when he was quite young: he had dogs for pets, and because he loved them he studied them and their habits––so was able to paint them.

"Step II.––Give them the picture 'Alexander and the Diogenes' to look at, and ask them to find out all they can about it themselves, and to think what idea the artist had in his mind, and what idea or ideas he meant his picture to convey to us.

"Step III.––After three or four minutes, take the picture away and see what the children have noticed. Then ask them what the different dogs suggest to them; the strength of the mastiff representing Alexander; the dignity and stateliness of the bloodhounds in his rear; the look of the wise counselor on the face of the setter; the rather contemptuous look of the rough-haired terrier in the tub. Ask the children if they have noticed anything in the picture which shows the time of day: for example, the tools thrown down by the side of the workman's basket suggesting the mid-day meal; and the bright sunshine on the dogs who cast a shadow on the tub shows it must be somewhere about noon.

"Step IV.––Let them read the title, and tell any facts they know about Alexander and Diogenes; then tell them Alexander was a great conqueror who lived B.C. 356-323, famous for the battles he won against Persia, India, and along the coast of the Mediterranean He was very proud, strong, and boastful. Diogenes was a cynic philosopher. Explain cynic, illustrating by the legend of Alexander and Diogenes; and from it find out which dog represents Alexander and which Diogenes.

"Step V.––Let the children draw the chief lines of the picture, in five minutes, with a pencil and paper."

Before I tell you what I do, allow me to tell you what I think is the most important point our dear friend Charlotte ever made about picture study:
There is no talk about schools of painting, little about style; consideration of these matters comes in later life, but the first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves. As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art as elsewhere we shut out the middleman. {emphasis mine}
There is a huge temptation here, as in all areas, to make these things harder than they have to be. Mason simply allowed the child to interact with the picture.


We do not have to select a biography of the painter, an analysis of the painting, and so on and so forth. Students do not have to do a craft with the painting in mind, or take a test about the painting. We do not have to discuss symbolism until we are blue in the face. I have seen mothers feel so inadequate when it comes to picture study simply because they have overcomplicated the process.

It isn't that we can "be lazy" and not do all of these activities. It is that these activities come between the child and the object of study. Too many distractions cause him to not know.

In other words, picture study is simple because it is focused. It has one goal: to know the painting.

So here is what we do: Once per week, I take down the assigned picture {each picture gets two weeks}, and we look at it. I tell them the name of the artist and the name of the picture. If the picture is referring to a story, I first read it to them {except when they are already very familiar with it}. This usually takes a short period of time because most paintings, if they reference a story at all, reference a short myth or passage of Scripture. Then, the children crowd around and they take turns telling me what they see. I call this "narrating the painting." In the past, I had them try and "draw the lines" but there were tears {they were too young, for the most part} so last year, this oral description was all that they gave me. On his exam, my son would describe a painting in the most detail he possibly could without giving us the name, and then we had to guess which one he was talking about.

This year, I plan to have my oldest {age nine} draw the lines. The others can do so if they like, but it will not be required. I like that Charlotte limited the time on this activity to five minutes.

On occasion, I've bought a children's book about a particularly famous artist or painting, but for the most part, we keep it this simple.

Charlotte believed that artistic analysis was appropriate in the older years, not in the younger years. This makes sense to us because Poetic Knowledge already taught us that small children must deal in wholes, and that the wholes must precede analysis by years, not days. When the time for analysis comes, we will find good books to aid us. For now, we stick to very simple, but very regular picture study.

Preschooler approved?

I don't think a child is ever too young for this activity, as long as our expectations are age-appropriate. Picture study is by far my two-year-old's favorite time of the week. He literally cheers when I grab a picture off the wall! For him, though, we turn it around. Do you see the woman? The door? The house? The tree? The dog? He points and points and enjoys every minutes of it. We ask him what he sees, and sometimes we understand him, and sometimes we don't. And then he listens to what the others are saying about the picture.

Because of my poor experience with drawing the lines of the painting, I would say that, unless a child is a natural artist, beginning this before age six or seven might be unwise. But other than that, this is a wonderful way to begin incorporating the elements of a broad and generous education into a lives of our youngest members.

Next: What Hymns Look Like

15 August 2011

What Ambleside Looks Like

I recently met with a homeschool mom who is switching to Ambleside Online. This will be her first time using a Charlotte Mason approach to education. We spent three hours going over all of the different aspects of the curriculum, and let me be honest: it looks quite daunting, especially if you aren't yet familiar with the philosophy.

Personally, I think that Ambleside is the simplest, most effective curriculum I've ever encountered. Regardless of its simplicity, it can be hard for us to implement because of our huge mental hurdles. After all, most of us {myself included} spent years learning in an environment that was highly influenced by Dewey, which means it was almost completely antithetical to what we are trying to do. Learning to think about education in a way that diverges so much from our upbringing--our culture--is the hardest part.

It matters not that this is actually a return to the traditions of humanity. Right here, right now, it can be difficult.

This is why I've decided to start a new series. Plus, I've got school on the brain, whether I like it or not. I'll just serve this muse until another comes my way.

Starting tomorrow, we'll go through the elements day by day {or post by post, as the case may be}.

First up: picture study.

Update: Read More
-What Picture Study Looks Like
-What Hymns Look Like
-What Composer Study Looks Like

Miscellaneous Musing on Monday {One-Week-Until-School Edition}

Not to brag, but my school plans are done. This is the first year I gave myself a deadline of the Sunday before the Sunday before school. I decided I'm tired of stressing out over that last weekend because I'm trying to throw a birthday party and pull off school at the same time. I don't know that I'll ever be able to do this again, but this year I'm finishing the season by playing with my babies and designing a birthday cake.

In other news...
  • Feel like thinking your way through some feminism this bright Monday morning? Angelina Stanford {of Permanent Things fame} gave what I heard was a brilliant talk at the CiRCE Conference this year. The text of her speech is now available on the CiRCE website: What is Woman?: A Re-examination of Feminism & the Church. Highly recommended.
  • Or, maybe homemade gumdrops are more your style? I don't really like gumdrops, so you won't catch me spending time on this in my kitchen, but I think it's pretty cool that she did it.
  • Willa is quietly continuing her thoughts in the stream of our Poetic Knowledge bookclub. She hasn't written much lately, but Looking Into Childhood has some worthy thoughts.
  • In my poultry reading this week, I learned that poultry farms that go organic experience a drop in antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections  in their flocks. I love reading this stuff...even though I do not feed our birds an organic diet. WHY? you might ask. Have you priced 50lb. bags of organic feed lately? Because I have and I'm telling you it's not affordable. But I don't worry, because our birds have never had antibiotics, and my reading indicates that it is the steady stream of antibiotics {including that found in medicated feed} causing the drug-resistance. Our flock mainly subsists on grass and bugs, enjoying grain rations at morning and evening. The fact that this is not organic bothers me not at all, especially considering it is such a small percentage of their diet.
  • I grew up knowing how George Soros made billions by destroying countries, economies, and banks. But perhaps your family talked about something else at the dinner table? Here's a little primer from The Blaze on how he might have done it here.
  • I'm considering a new recipe sometime this week, just for fun. These Veggie Potato Latkes sound good to me. There will definitely be some zucchini in these!
  • I have a question. Does anyone know why I would have giant, beautiful tomato plants...and absolutely no fruit? My garden has otherwise performed perfectly. I have five beautiful pumpkins ripening. The zucchini is still going strong. I have more beets than I know what to do with. The carrots are almost ready. And so on. But my tomatoes? Nothing! I've seen a few flowers, but not even any green fruit. No sign of any bugs...I am mystified. I grew them from seed. Might the seed be the problem?
And that's all I've got for today. If you have a link to share with the rest of us, post it to the comments!

11 August 2011

AO Year Four Timeline Figures

You do remember my frugal wall timeline {view photos here}, do you not? Yes, well, I recently did what I do each summer, which is prepare a document including every. single. thing. I think we might want to put on our timeline. Then, I email it over to a nearby printing place so that it's in nice color on cardstock. {It has to survive a toddler, after all.}
There was a time when I considered selling timeline figures for my wall timeline on the side to earn a little book money, but I decided to just give it away. You know: casting my bread upon the waters and all that.
So here are my Year Four figures, for those of you who might enjoy them:
AO Year 4 Timeline Figures

And you're welcome.

10 August 2011

Quotables: A Return to Modesty

A Return to Modesty:
Discovering the Lost Virtue
by Wendy Shalit

A truly misogynist culture like our own loves to encourage the so-called fatal woman or "b--ch," because she confirms its suspicion that all women are really evil, and if we were honest, we would admit it. What it cannot bear is a real, living woman--someone with hopes, dreams, secrets, and all of that other schmaltzy stuff with Dr. Klein & Misogyny, Inc. takes as evidence of being "emotionally labile." {p. 169}
Modesty damps down crudeness, it doesn't dampen down Eros. In fact, it is more likely to enkindle it. {p. 173}
"When teenagers easily dismiss the s*exual side of a male/female relationship and claim to be 'just friends,'" Friedman continues, "it's not a virtue or an accomplishment; it's a sad loss. And what we have lost is our ability to be naturally s*xual." {p. 179}
[S]ome say that embarrassment is socially constructed...I would say the opposite--that embarrassment is natural but it can be socially destructed. {p. 204}
Preventing pregnancy doesn't make everything OK. {p. 207}
We don't believe our girls when they tell us what they hoped for. When they come crying to us in all sincerity or despair, we are annoyed with them and tell them, like Sharon Thompson, that "their distress" is "disproportionate." They would be better off, as she says, if they took "the romantic equation apart," "accept[ed] love as ephemeral." So we put her on the Pill, on Prozac, tell her to try harder, and by the end, it's her hopes that are dead. Then when she no longer cares about anything, we deem her "mature." If she's like me and still cares, then she is "immature." {p. 208}
We tell them that the only risk is pregnancy or s*xually transmitted diseases, but it simply isn't true. Maybe it's true if you're the sort of person who loves only yourself, because then you can never lose yourself completely in anyone else, but most girls are not as narcissistic as our culture trains them to be. {p. 210}
What's rarely talked about is what it's like to grow up in a divorce culture even when your parents are not divorced. For even when they're happy, they always could get divorced... {p. 210}
No child can ever really rest in our culture of divorce. We have to be careful not to be sick, to be entertaining all the time. If we're too much of a burden, we could find ourselves all alone. {p. 211}
[I] see s*xual modesty among my peers as a return to the idea of having private claims, as a way of escaping from the mire of indeterminacy and insecurity. First, by not having s*x before marriage, you are insisting on your right to take these things seriously, when many around you do not seem to. By reserving a part of you for someone else, you are insisting on your right to keep something sacred; you are welcoming the prospect of someone else making an enduring private claim to you, and you to him. But more significantly, not having s*x before marriage is a way of insisting that the most interesting part of your life will take place after marriage, and if it's more interesting, maybe then it will last. {p. 212}
Working mothers with small children now say they work "because I have to." Why do so many women say that? If we have been freed from oppression and are supposed to be liberated, then how has it come to pass that so many women are forced to do what they do not want? {p. 215}
However particular religious understandings of modesty may differ, all are in agreement that modesty is inextricably entwined with holiness. {p. 218}
The most common complaint I hear from women my age is that there is no longer any "dating scene." Young people go out in packs, they drink, they "hook up," and the next day life returns to normal. {p. 236}
[C]onsider yourself forewarned: If you refuse to be cured of your sensitivity or your womanhood, if you start defending your right to your illusions, be prepared for people to tell you that you are silly and childish.  Be prepared for some to make fun of you directly, and for others to be more sophisticated about it and try to reduce your hopes to various psychological maladies. {p. 237}
[Older women] generally take for granted the dating, the courtship rituals, the early marriage they enjoyed, and--what now almost never exists--the lifetime companionship, the simple trust one has with a spouse who was also one's first lover. To them, "innocence" is always in ironic quotes; it was a word their mothers used. They do not make the connection between this initial innocence and the lasting love that came after. {p. 240}