29 February 2012

Quotables: The Roots of American Order

The Roots of American Order
by Russell Kirk
Even the simplest human communities cannot endure without some form of laws, consciously held and enforced. Ants and bees may cooperate by instinct; men must have revelation and reason. {p. 13}
For until human beings are tied together by some common faith, and share certain moral principles, they prey upon one another. {p. 14}
"I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nations," [John] Adams wrote in 1809. {p. 17}
What chiefly distinguished the Israelites and their successors the Jews from the political order of the despotisms by which they were surrounded, however, was the existence of a partial check upon the civil authority. {p. 19}
This, then, is the high contribution of Israel to modern social order: the understanding that all true law comes from God, and that God is the source of order and justice. {p. 20}
There is but one God; and He is just. That is the essence of the legacy of Israel. {p. 22}
Job has fallen into presumption by attempting to understand the will of God...It is not for man to adjudge God, as if God and man were litigants. {p. 23-24}
Greece excepted, those other nations called their rulers divine beings. But for Israel, the king was Jehovah's steward at most: the Israelites had their priests and their kings, but not priest-kings. {p. 24}
What is called the "doctrine of original sin" passed from Judaism into Christianity, and became in time a fundamental principle with the Christian settlers in early America. {p. 25}
[The Ten Commandments] are as true for a complex modern civilization as they were for desert wanderers. {p. 28}
For the true Law is derived from the Covenant that God has made and reaffirmed with his people. The Law is revealed to save man from self-destruction; to redeem man from sin and its consequences; to keep man from becoming a Cain, his hand against every man's; to enable man to resemble the God in whose image he was created. {p. 28}
Like the people of Israel and Judah, the Americans broke solemn covenants repeatedly; but like Israel, America nevertheless knew that without a covenant, the people would be lost. {p. 29}
America inherited an understanding of the sanctity of the law. {p. 29}
What signifies most in Amos is his declaration that Jehovah is the God of all peoples, not of Israel only. {p. 32}
How might the little kingdoms of Israel and Judah survive without such unhallowed dealings? Trust in the Lord God, replied the prophets. {p. 33}
The old Covenant, that is, had worked upon the nation; the new Covenant would work upon the individual person, through conscience and private insight. {p. 35}
[I]n truth, the prophets were speaking to all men, in all times. {p. 36}

28 February 2012

Book Club: The Roots of American Order
Chapter 2

Cindy has invited us to share our "random thoughts" on this chapter {or any other for that matter--this is a very informal thing if you didn't notice} and I'm glad because random is about all my brain is capable of today. Lest you think I am pining away for my sweet Abigail, I must confess that mostly I am worn out after not only nursing her both day and night, but also planning and hostessing a birthday party for Daughter A.

Not to mention babysitting the new goat, Wesley. For over an hour yesterday.

In the rain.

To say that it has been a long week or two is an understatement.

All of that is to say that random is all I've got today. He he.

I think I'll post a few quotes and tell you what they made me think about, and any quotes that don't get posted here will be posted in my Official Quote Post tomorrow, without commentary from me {you may be celebrating already}.

On the very first page of the chapter, Kirk writes:
To a wandering people of obscure origin, the Hebrews, or Children of Israel, occurred then a tremendous "leap in being": that is, by an extraordinary perception, the Israelites came to understand the human condition as it has not been understood before.
What jumped out at me here was the idea of understanding the human condition. When I was in high school, I read most--or perhaps all, as I can no longer recall for certain--of The Federalist Papers. It was Number 51 {concerning checks and balances} that I still remember the best. Especially this part:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary.
It's a short little sentence, but it refers to the human condition, no? What I always find interesting is exactly what Kirk mentions later in regard to France:
A principle difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution was this: the American revolutionaries in general held a biblical view of man and his bent toward sin, while the French revolutionaries in general attempted to substitute for the biblical understanding an optimistic doctrine of human goodness advanced by the philosophes of the rationalistic Enlightenment.
I would add that the new governing documents also reflected this difference. Kirk actually says this later:
[T]he American Constitution is a fundamental law deliberately meant to place checks upon will and appetite. The French innovators would endure no such checks upon popular impulses; they ended under a far more arbitrary domination.
This naturally brings me to Random Thought Number 2, which is tied to that phrase "popular impulse." It seems to me that whenever a situation is not grounded upon the Permanent Things, it naturally gives way to fads--to whatever is cool or popular at the time. This is probably why when churches abandoned liturgy, they slowly began to look more and more like the world. I don't mean in their behavior {though obviously that has happened also} I meant in regard to how everything needs to be "relevant" and so we must worship like it's a rock concert and minimize baptism and communion {or Eucharist, if you prefer} and use advertising to attract attendance.

When we are not tied to Permanent Things, everything becomes arbitrary. In regard to government, then, a pretty important Permanent Thing to keep in mind is that man is sinful.

This also helps in parenting.

: : cough : :

With this in mind, I loved Kirk's explanation of the Decalogue:
So the Ten Commandments...are not a set of harsh prohibitions imposed by an arbitrary tribal deity. Instead, they are liberating rules that enable a people to diminish the tyranny of sin; that teach a people how to live with one another and in relation to God, how to restrain violence and fraud, how to know justice and to raise themselves above the level of predatory animals.
In other words, these laws are liberating. I find that interesting, especially in comparison to the many new laws passed in my state every year. Very few of them have the effect of liberating anyone {except criminals as we never can afford for them to serve all of their time}. Typically, they bind the citizenry.

Some day we will strangle to death.

But I digress.
The Law was not a punishment or an oppressive burden imposed upon the people: on the contrary, it was the precious gift of Jehovah, by which Israel might exist in justice.

Read More:
-Buy the book and join in the conversation
-More book club posts linked at Cindy's blog

27 February 2012

Goat Fail

I collected links for the week, yes I did...but I don't feel like posting them today. Maybe another time. Some of you may have noticed {via my Twitter feed} that our goat Abigail is no longer with us. Since a number of you have emailed me and wanted details on our progress in keeping goats, I suppose it is my duty to share with you the bad along with the good. I do so like to focus on the good around here on the blog, but the reality is that something Bad happened last week.

First, though, I would like to publicly thank Kelly {and her husband} who faithfully answered my multiple emails while Abigail was in decline, and offered me countless words of advice and comfort along the way. Kelly has kept goats for years and has been kind enough to share her wisdom with me since I first pondered buying goats many months ago.


Here's the deal: I'm not going to tell you all of what happened because it was just awful and I've never really seen a creature suffer before, so I don't really want to discuss the details.

It all went like this: both Abigail and Charlotte acted funny over a week ago. I assumed they needed deworming. I have been reading through my goat care book, but frankly my reading has not been able to keep up with the real needs of the goats. I spent last week reading through the entire medical issues chapter. And I tried everything I could think of, as well as everything everyone else suggested, but at the end of the day, Charlotte got better, and Abigail got worse. And then she died.

We were up with her from shortly after midnight Thursday night/Friday morning until about 3:15am, when she passed. I have read enough now that I am pretty sure she had goat polio, which is basically a metabolic problem causing a severe vitamin B1 deficiency.

Of course, when you realize this after all the stores have closed up, there is nothing you can do but pray and watch your sweet doeling steadily decline.

That, and debate your views on euthanasia.

I have been assured by well-meaning friends that this does not make us failures as goat owners, but I must say I doubted myself in those first few hours after we lost her. It was the most awful night I've had in a long, long time.

So animals get sick, and sometimes they start walking in circles because they get "one-sided," and shortly after this, sometimes they die. I know this seems obvious {except the circling part}, but it really is something to consider when thinking about buying a pet of any kind. I can't say that when we brought these two babies home it ever crossed my mind that we might lose one of them two months later.

As I look out my window, I see poor Charlotte, missing Abigail.

And I also see a greyish-white Pygmy Nigerian Dwarf cross wether. He's crying because he and Charlotte do not yet like each other. He is overweight and looks somewhat like a wine barrel with legs...and a beard.

Why in the world do I have this poor creature in my goat kennel? Because goats cannot live alone. They are herd creatures. And Charlotte has bawled mournfully during all daylight hours since Abigail left her. This still-nameless little fat goat is the Backup Guy. He's the best friend she needs right now, whether she knows it or not.

He's also the only friend I could find for her currently available for sale.

She's pretty mad at me, but I don't care. I just want the crying to Stop. Right. Now.

Before my neighbors hate me.

So that's that.

Abigail is gone. Nameless Short Fat Goat is here as a temporary replacement. And we'll see what the future holds.  At this point, as there are no Kinder bucks in our area, and now that we need at least one new doe, making sure Charlotte has purebred offspring is likely the best idea. My cousin does cattle AI, and so we'll probably be hiring him to fertilize Charlotte when the time comes. And then we'll pray for doe babies. And then we'll move on with the plan.

Unless, of course, something else goes wrong.

23 February 2012

Memorization: The Form Enters the Soul

I used to think that memorization was a kind of necessary evil. Math facts, for instance, must be memorized. I didn't particularly enjoy the process, but I did eventually enjoy math, which was only possible because I had facts at my fingertips. Kids who haven't memorized their math facts cannot enjoy math. So we see that memorization has some immediate practical benefits.

I have mentioned before that I am so thankful for Charlotte Mason and Cindy Rollins, the two reasons my ideas about memorization are maturing. While Miss Mason told us that memorization could consist of things that delight the soul--the things memorized could be a resource hidden inside oneself in times of trouble--Cindy convinced us that man cannot live on facts alone. Miss Mason, via Ambleside, encouraged us to include hymns and folksongs, while Cindy told us that poetry and speeches  and important documents ought not be neglected.

We've not attempted speeches and documents yet, but we now have a nice little list of poems under our belt, a number of hymns and folk songs, and beautiful parables and Psalms from Scripture.

What has fascinated me lately is what I have observed in my children. Things like...
  • Daughter Q. is singing in the bathroom. I recognize the tune as it is a mixture of two hymns we have learned. But the words are her own; she is expressing how her morning is going so far.
  • Daughter A. is scolding her older brother. "Speak when you are spoken to!" she yells {that's Stevenson}. She tells him to share something with someone else. "Let us give from our full measure," she reminds him {that's Alexander}. They turn out the lights in the hallway at night. "Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark!" she says mysteriously {that's Tennyson}.
  • Son E. is taunting his sisters. He has completely re-written Robert Louis Stevenson's My Shadow for the occasion, complete with rhymes. It is loud and annoying.

I was listening to one of the 2011 CiRCE talks {can't remember which one}, and the speaker mentioned that Frederick Douglass had memorized many classical speeches. It was said that when he went to give a speech, the form of those memorized speeches was inside of him, and he could use them to shape what he had to say.

I was thinking of this when I noticed my children using what they had memorized in these other ways. I had not thought that I was giving them material with which to frame their very thoughts, but apparently that is what is happening.

This makes me want to be very careful what I choose to give them, of course, but it also makes me excited to add more to our repertoire. I love the way that all three of these children {Son O. isn't much for memorizing yet; he wants to play cars and "twains"} are so very different, and yet all of them show signs that the memory work is working its way into their souls.

I once called these things--hymns, folksongs, poetry, or what have you--extras. I don't think there is anything extra about it. Feeding the soul is our job, and memorization is just as important to the meal as anything else.

22 February 2012

Quotables: The Roots of American Order

The Roots of American Order
by Russell Kirk
Lacking a knowledge of how we arrived where we stand today, lacking that deeper love of country which is nurtured by a knowledge of the past, lacking the apprehension that we all take part in a great historical continuity--why, a people so deprived will not dare much, sacrifice much, or take long views. With them, creature comforts will be everything; yet, historical consciousness wanting, in the long run they must lose their creature comforts too. {p. xvii}
Quite conceivably men and women uninterested in the soul may forfeit their own souls, and a people uninterested in their history may cease to have a history, or to remain a people. {p. xix}
Order is the path we follow, or the pattern by which we live with purpose and meaning. {p. 3}
Our twentieth century, Simone Weil wrote, is a time of disorder very like the disorder of Greece in the fifth century before Christ. In her words, "It is as though we had returned to the age of Protagoras and the Sophists, the age when the art of persuasion--whose modern equivalent is advertising slogans, publicity, propaganda meetings, the press, the cinema, and radio--took the place of thought and controlled the fate of cities and accomplished coups d'√©tat, So the ninth book of Plato's Republic reads like a description of contemporary events. {p. 4}
[O]rder necessarily precedes justice and freedom. {p. 6}
In America, order and justice and freedom have developed together; but they can decay in parallel fashion. In every generation, some human beings bitterly defy the moral order and the social order. {p. 7}
No order has ever been perfect, and it is tempting to fancy that we could create a new order nearer to our hearts' desire. {p. 8}

21 February 2012

Book Club: The Roots of American Order
Chapter 1

I know you will all be shocked to hear that I am already in love with this book. I think for now my plan will be to write a Real Post on Tuesdays, and then post my favorite quotes on Wednesdays. We'll see if I can actually pull that off over time, but for now that is the format I'm hoping for follow for the duration of this book club.

So. Onto my post, of course.

I want to ponder three main points coming out of this chapter:
  1. Order is the most important thing. Considering that this chapter is titled Order, the First Need of All, it should come as no surprise that this ranked as a "main point." He he.
  2. The best order comes from within, rather than being imposed from without. This is my interpretation, of course.
  3. Our American order comes from things that precede us. In other words, history has given us many gifts.
Order: The Most Important Thing
Kirk best makes this point when he relates the story of a chaotic village at the time of the Russian Revolution. Nothing was safe. Young men were roaming the streets with guns, firing on people at whim. Residents could not count their homes as safe, and could expect to have them raided at any moment, that thieves might obtain mere loaves of bread. The man who told Kirk about this experience concluded:
Much though I hated the Communists, I saw then that even the grim order of Communism is better than no order at all. Many might survive under Communism; no one could survive in general disorder.
This reminds me of the stories Siah's grandpa used to tell. He and Grandma were missionaries in China during the Communist takeover. I expected horror stories, but they had none {of course, the Communists kicked them out of the country before things really got going}. Instead, he always emphasized how horrible the streets were, and how the Communists cleaned them up. They got rid of the prostitutes, etcetera. {One wonders what they did to these people, but still.}

Kirk writes:
[O]nce a revolution or war has demolished an established order, a people find it imperative to search for principles of order afresh, that they may survive. Once they have undone an old order, revolutionaries proceed to decree a new order--often an order harsher than the order which they had overthrown.
The idea is that disorder cries out for order.

This reminds me of what is sometimes done with out-of-control children. They are sent to military-type boarding schools, where rigid schedules and forms attempt to bring order out of chaos. I don't know what the results of this are, but I have known a number of men whose lives greatly benefited from the order found in the military as young adults.

The Best Order Comes from Within
The order imposed from without is militaristic, especially when we are speaking on a cultural level of the government imposing order on the people. It is easy to get offended at new laws. I myself am constantly offended by them, and I do believe it will one day make an secret anarchist of me. But the point remains that many {not all} new laws are crafted to make up for some insufficiency in the character of a particular segment of society.

I think, for instance, of the handful of judges who have tried to attack, outlaw, or regulate homeschooling in some way. Some of these judges might have an ax to grind with homeschoolers in some sort of perverse, anti-liberty sense. But when I have read up on the jobs these judges have to do, I realize they are dealing with deadbeat parents most of the time--to the point where they no longer trust parents to actually be good at their jobs.

Now, jaded people should not make laws, and judges ought not be activists anyhow.

But the point remains that the order they were seeking to impose was likely born out of their perception of a disordered morality inside of the homes of one too many families.

Kirk writes:
The "inner order" of the soul and the "outer order" of society being intimately linked, we discuss in this book both aspects of order. Without a high degree of private moral order among the American people, the reign of law could not have prevailed in this country.
Kirk later explains a bit of the decline of Rome, and concludes:
Like Plato before him, Cicero understood that the problem of order is simultaneously personal and social: Roman men and Roman justice had declined together. It is so still.
History has Blessed the United States with Order
I only point this out for some of you who are not reading along, and may not entirely "get" the point of this book from the other two posts. We are going to walk through history, touching on the parts that have most influenced American order. This means: Biblical Hebrew culture, Greek and Roman culture, pre- and post-Reformation English culture, and American colonial culture itself {among other things}.

Earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg advised the Egyptians to look elsewhere when crafting a new constitution:
America’s judicial representative counseled the Egyptian people that “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.” Dismissing the document that has ensured the God-given “blessings of liberty” of the American people for over 200 years, Ginsburg instead pointed to countries whose people look to government — rather than the Almighty — as the creator of their rights.

“I might look at the constitution of South Africa,” Ginsburg suggested, referring to the once proud and self-sufficient nation that has teetered on the edge of anarchy for the past 20 years. “It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done,” she said...

She also suggested such UN-modeled documents as the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms implemented by Canada...along with the Convention on Human Rights of the European Union (EU)...

“Yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?” encouraged Ginsburg to her Egyptian audience.
I don't really want to discuss her suggestions {though the article I linked takes a few shots at them}. Instead, I found it interesting that all of her examples were from very recent history. Kirk talks about exactly this in his foreword:
T.S. Eliot remarked once that we have been condemning the rising generation to a new form of provincialism: to the provinciality of time, which imprisons men and women in their own little present moment.
We often call this sort of thing chronological snobbery.

This is not to say that new documents cannot possibly have any wisdom. That is not the point. The point is that the American document was written using the knowledge of human history. {Not to mention Scripture.} To act as if it no longer applies is really to say that all of the past no longer applies, either.

Justice Ginsburg is notorious in her desire to look around and use documents other than the Constitution she is supposed to be interpreting and applying. She obviously finds it insufficient. But at the very least, she could have encouraged the Egyptians to do as our Founders did, which is to reach into the depths of great civilizations of the past, and mine their jewels for the benefit of our progeny. Instead, she suggested the Egyptians trap themselves in time.

Read More:
-Buy the book and join in the conversation
-More book club posts linked at Cindy's blog

20 February 2012

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Good morning! We are enjoying the beginnings of spring here. The peach and apple trees are blooming, the bee boxes are in the almond orchards nearby {which means the bees are in our yard}, we're planning some spring plantings, and the goats made it through the weekend alive. You laugh, but they had something wrong with them starting Friday, and I spent the afternoon nursing four-footed creatures rather than blogging. It was sort of fun to take care of them when they didn't feel good enough to run away from me.

In other news...

  • Are you joining us for the Roots of American Order book club? I am a little intimidated by the size of this book--we're reading all of it in twelve weeks!--but I am also so excited. I've toyed with using this as a spine text for high school, but only because I have heard such wonderful things about it. To read through it, and with brilliant people at that? A dream come true! Join us? Cindy posted the schedule, so get ready! You can still buy the book and jump in a little late {hint hint}.
  • Remember that I linked an article explaining that they {whoever "they" is} are tightening up the autism definitions for the DSM-V? And Asperger's will probably be eliminated entirely? Someone anonymously linked a related article in the comments that was fascinating to me: I had Asperger Syndrome. Briefly.
  • We've been reading a lot the past couple weeks. Our read alouds seem to go in fits and spurts, probably because our schedule does likewise. We finished up Ralph Moody's The Home Ranch {which was just excellent} and commenced with Adam of the Road.
  • Trying to figure out chores for your little ones? It is good for children to learn to work. A friend of ours once told us that children need to start working young, when they want to work, so that the learn to work when they don't want to work, so that when they are grown and they need to work...they will work. Did that make sense? Anyhow, the infamous Auntie Leila has posted What can children do? A guide.
  • Ever read the story of the tortoise and the hare? Angelina thinks Aesop got it wrong. Well, sort of.
  • Do you bring your children to worship with you? A friend and I were recently talking about how folks will complain when their children are not "welcomed" into the church, but then it becomes noticeable that these same folks didn't bother to teach their children how to act at the service. I mean basic decency, not expecting perfection. All of this is to say that I appreciated Nancy Wilson's post Kids and Church:
    At our worship service, we want to include the kids as much as possible, which means a lot of teaching has to go on at home on how to behave. There are no church-enforced rules for the kids, but there are plenty of family-enforced rules that I don’t know anything about.
  • Mystie got rich off of selling her domain name or something. If you're having trouble finding her, here she is: Convivial Home.
  • Did you ever expect to be in the minority? I mean, in regard to having your children inside of a marriage union? Turns out, you are now: The new normal: A child out of wedlock.
And that's all. I'm off to enjoy the invented holiday we call President's Day.

16 February 2012

Oh, the Things I Think I Know

I am still reading through Pat Coleby's Natural Goat Care. I am also trying not to become a goat blogger, because I know you will never forgive me. But surely even animal husbandry gives us access to Permanent Things, right? I mean, Wendell Berry seems to think so.

What I've really been struck by in all of this reading I'm doing is my own ignorance. Not only that, but opinions I didn't fully realize I had founded upon said ignorance.

Let me explain.

I had it in my head that goat keeping would be a certain way. We all do this before going into something new, right? We make assumptions about that new job, about being a mother, whatever. I had my own goat expectations, which were more like opinions than anything else.

For instance, I thought that goats could be raised on alfalfa hay alone because someone had told me so. And people do this, of course. But in reading Coleby I've decided that I need to do more than that if I'm going to be a good steward if my animals.

A more important assumption, though, was that goats ought not be milked through pregnancy. Now, this opinion of mine was based upon my observation of cows, specifically the cows over at Organic Pastures Dairy. When we took the tour years ago, it was explained to our group that OP's cows live--and milk--a lot longer than cows at conventional dairies. In discussing why this was so, the reason hypothesized was twofold: {1} the cows are being fed on hay and pasture, which is their natural feed {as opposed to grain feeding, which causes health problems}, and {2} the cows are not milked while pregnant {this was called a "rest"}.

I have no idea what Coleby would think about this for cows, but my point here is that I took that and applied it to goats in my mind, even though goats are a completely different species. I assumed that it would be better for a goat's health to not be milked during pregnancy.

Frankly, I assumed a lot of things.

Now, in general things are going as I expected. I have no buyer's remorse--these gals are great. But it is interesting to learn about them and their needs.

Coleby writes:
For years there was a prejudice against milking a mature doe up to kidding. Older does from good milking lines often do not dry up at all, or do so only for a week or two. Once the udder is full it must be milked normally, otherwise it becomes engorged...with the sad result that the doe may never milk properly again. All too often one hears of does with huge udders which no one has milked coming up to kidding and having no milk when they do--the lack of milking is the reason.
So whereas I thought I'd be doing these girls a favor by drying them up {which is done by not milking them as often, if I understand correctly}, here is Coleby telling me that I am obligated to milk a doe who needs milking, and that I may jeopardize her ability to milk in the future if I don't {and I realize here that there is more than one opinion on this}. Coleby goes on,
Even when the does are feeding the kids, the udder must be checked morning and night and if there is any surplus she must be milked out.
In my reading, I finally came to the realization that these goats are milking animals. This is what defines them as a breed, and their care must take this into account. Therefore, they must get the vitamins and minerals needed to produce milk. And I must make sure that the milk comes out, for that is what it is designed by God to do. Goodness! I even learned that some goats do not need to have babies to begin milk production; they are called maiden milkers.

I also always assumed that the most "natural" thing is for kids to get their milk directly from their mothers. Well, I suppose it is "natural," as long as we note that it is also natural for one of the babies to die if there are multiples {and there usually are}. So I had it in my head that when our goats kidded, I'd let them be hippie mamas, raising their own young as they saw fit {at least for a short period of time before the kids sold}. That would probably work fine for twins, but Coleby notes:
Whether the kid is to suckle its mother or not, it is a good idea to teach it to drink first. As each kid is born, take it from its mother and put it behind a wire door in the stall so the dam can see it. Milk out some of the colostrum...Give all of the kids a drink...to make sure each one receives its colostrum and learns to drink from a bucket. They can then be allowed back on mother if she is to suckle them. This should be done in multiple births or the last kid may not get much colostrum.
It is easy to look on in our ignorance and privately criticize the goat farmer who "steals" kids away from their mamas, but the fact remains that these practices have been developed by generations of farmers who have come before us who might actually know what they are doing.

I guess I'm musing on this also because I see this a lot in the Real Food movement. There is a tendency to romanticize the perfect upbringing for an animal, but it is often long on idealism and short on facts. For instance, even though hay and pasture are the ideal diet for cows, the fact remains that Holsteins will most likely die without any grain at all, and dead animals don't do anyone any good. Or it comes to my mind the time someone was waxing eloquent over the double-yolks in her pastured eggs. Normal, grocery store eggs don't have double-yolks, she declared triumphantly.

Obviously, she never bought jumbo grocery store eggs.

All of our birds laid double-yolks when they first began laying. Their bodies were just getting into the swing of things and all sorts of surprised come out: empty shells, eggs without shells, eggs with no white, eggs with no yolk, and double-yolkers. We have seen it all. But this wasn't because of our superior eggs {even though I am prejudiced in favor of our eggs}, but because this is what young layers do.

I think if I've learned anything by trying our hand at this, it is that I shouldn't get too attached to my uninformed opinions.

15 February 2012

Socratic Mothering

Who told thee that thou wast naked?
Hast thou eaten of the tree,
whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

A while back, a friend of mine pointed out the above verse in Genesis and mentioned that she was "trying this" on her children. She explained her reasoning, and I thought: What have I got to lose? On the one hand, I could possibly have some good conversations with my children. On the other hand, it could prove a fruitless endeavor.

I've had my share of fruitless endeavors, and I'm no not much worse for the wear.


So I've been trying this, too. After all, God was facing the first sin, and His response was to engage his people in conversation. The Bible doesn't set this up as the Most Ultimate Magic Mothering Trick Ever, but it also doesn't say Thou Shalt Not Do This.

So I did it.

And it went pretty well, so I did it again.

It's been so interesting, almost like an intellectual exercise, and now I kick myself whenever I don't remember to do this.

Let's give an example. Son A {hypothetical child} does something Really Stupid and Also Previously Forbidden. Instead of jumping on his case {my usual wisdom cough} I get to play with his head a little. So: "Have you just done the Stupid Thing Previously Forbidden?"

Uncomfortable silence follows.

Along with Blaming, which is interesting, because that is what his father Adam did as well.

And then we get to talk. And sometimes actual, real conviction follows. And sometimes I get a glimpse of what he was thinking. And sometimes I learn not to take it all so seriously. And sometimes he learns to Stop Doing Stupid Things Previously Forbidden. Sometimes I let him guess why it was Previously Forbidden.

I'm not saying I'd do this with a two-year-old. With toddlers, I don't get into mind games. They are too smart for me. But I can't help but think that this was what made Socrates so effective.

Then again, he died a tragic death, so the jury is still out on what will happen here. Consider yourselves warned.

14 February 2012

Goat Progress

Amazon links are affiliate links. I love it when you click on those...so thanks!

Ever since we bought our goats, my husband and I have been going around in circles over what to do about storage. We have literally been bursting at the seams with supplies: barrels of barley, bales of hay, odds and ends like hoof trimmers and harnesses and leashes. The list goes on! We agreed early on that I needed my own shed, as his was already full of lawn care items like rakes, hoes, mowers, shovels, and so on.

Shed, Sweet Shed

But what to do? On the one hand, my husband's shed is one of the less expensive metal kinds. They can be purchased for two-hundred-fifty or three hundred dollars. This is the upside. They can take up to 10 hours for two men to assemble. This is the downside.

We figured that our competence has greatly increased since he put together his first shed years ago, but even then it'd probably take six hours. We both agreed that the ideal would be one of those heavy duty outdoor snap-together sheds made of plastic.

The trouble with those is that they cost twice--and usually more like three times--the amount of a metal shed.

A thousand dollars was our total budget for start-up costs. There was no way we could dish out eight hundred dollars for a shed alone.

What to do?

I searched on Craigslist and the classifieds for weeks, and never found anything that perfectly fit our needs.

So we gave up. We agreed to purchase a metal shed sometime this month, and plan a Saturday to put it together in March. The only other obstacle was food preparation, as I would be the second "man" on the job. I offered to provide leftovers for lunch, and Siah agreed to buy pizza for dinner.

I wasn't thrilled with this solution, but it was a solution nonetheless.

On Thursday I called my husband. I had found cheap hay on Craiglist! {Yes, it seems like I buy almost everything on Craigslist.} The alfalfa was cheap compared to feed store prices {$7/bale less}, and the grass hay {which our feed store doesn't even carry, but our does like} was even cheaper. If I could buy four bales, I'd save myself at least $30 over the long term.

But we didn't have a place to store it all!


So imagine my surprise {and delight} when my Craigslist search {all searches generate an RSS feed to which you can subscribe--I have shared this secret with you all before!} turned up the Perfect Shed. Heavy duty outdoor plastic. Already assembled. The perfect size: 6 x 8. Same price we had budgeted for a metal shed.


my new shed
We scrambled around, Si and the seller moving the shed to our place in the dark, and didn't eat dinner until almost 7:00 pm. But when all was said and done, I had my very own shed.

Isn't she cute?

There are some things here that I hadn't thought I needed, but will be such a blessing over the long term. This is especially true of the windows {one on each side} and the skylight {which is basically a part of the roof that is translucent}. Today was very cloudy, but there was plenty of light in the shed. I compare this to my husband's shed, in which I practically need a flashlight in the middle of the day.

Nourishing...and Organized, Too!

alfalfa hay and grass hay
"new" shelves
This, of course, snowballed into me being able to store up some hay, so we ran out Saturday and bought the cheap grass and alfalfa hay I mentioned, and now we are brimming with feed for the next few months!

In addition, Uncle Nick was kind enough to bring us over some castoff shelves, and by tomorrow all the supplies for the grain ration and mineral licks will be out of my pantry.

Perhaps I will be able to close the door again.

On Mineral Licks

So I'm reading Coleby's Natural Goat Care and it's been so exciting to learn about how to take care of these babies. One of the issues I've bumped up against, though, in trying to apply Coleby's wisdom to my own property is that there is an underlying assumption that the reader will have a paddock on which the goats are grazing. Technically, we do plan to fill our currently empty garden beds with alfalfa and buffalo grass, but the amount of feed this will provide is nominal at best.

The reason this is important is because it is emphasized that the farmer must know the mineral condition of his own pasture, and supplement the goats with whatever is missing {not to mention fix the soil problem}. Well, I am sure the farmers we are buying hay from have mineral problems, but who knows what they are. And I haven't bought hay from the same place twice. Coleby suggested adjusting the mineral licks and/or mineral supplements based upon this knowledge, but I had no idea how to do this in our situation.

At the same time, I was also keeping track of all the minerals that Coleby either suggested feeding often, or said should be available ad lib {dolomitic lime and seaweed meal come to mind}. I did a little search to find other farmers using Coleby's mineral lick recipe, and I found complaints that the goats didn't eat it straight. They would try to separate the minerals out, leaving behind copper or sulfur or whatever it was they didn't want.

It dawned on me that I'd rather have five or six separate buckets out there, and just see what happens. Perhaps they would just take what they need as they need it.

But I knew from having an ad lib kelp granule bucket out there that they would make a mess of it, kicking it around when they were bored, or accidentally tipping it over when they were fighting {yes, they fight}.

It finally dawned on me that a flower box with individual little pots would be ideal.

my version of a mineral lick
I didn't need to buy one this cute, but it was on sale and actually the cheapest outdoor box available.

There are buckets for baking soda, kelp, MSM or yellow sulfur {right now we are using MSM}, copper sulfate, and dolomitic lime powder {also called dolomite}.

In case you were wondering, the rocks in the photo are to keep out neighborhood chihuahuas. I am not kidding. It was quite a problem when we first moved in.
Each pot is about five or six inches wide, which makes it perfect for a goat's head. They are just low enough for the does to lick from, without being low enough for them to get them very dirty. The whole area is under a tarp so that it is protected from rain. It doesn't rain a lot here, but Coleby was very clear that most of these minerals ought to remain dry.

I feed cider vinegar and ascorbic acid regularly still, but it is nice not to be measuring out tons of minerals with every feed.

In All...

I have been amazed to see God bless this project. In this shed, He gave me more than I expected, and than I deserved.

It is amazing what a difference good husbandry makes. Coleby mentioned that skittish animals would be more easily tamed once they were fed enough dolomite {which contains calcium and magnesium}. Our formerly "wild" kids are now friendly and allowing us to pet them. They are not well trained {yet}, but they are so much tamer than they were two weeks ago, before the dolomite arrived.

13 February 2012

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Good Monday! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. I am stoked because we made so much progress on the goat front. I feel like a real farmer now! But I'll have to write another post on that another day.

In the real news...

  • Do you remember my post on Charlotte Mason's second principle? Naomi posted a round-up on this subject {whether Mason believed in the doctrine of total depravity} for those of you who are still thinking it through. I thought Natal's article especially helpful.
  • At one point, one of my children qualified for an Asperger's diagnosis. I know this because I read the DSM-IV and this child met the requirements for the diagnosis. I didn't have the child formally diagnosed because I refused to accept this as a fate, and we worked instead at improving overall health including eliminating allergies and underlying issues. Seeing that the child could be diagnosed, though, really helped me take the situation seriously instead of waiting around and thinking that the child would outgrow it. All of this is to explain why I found this so interesting: Asperger’s, Overdiagnosed, Ill Defined, May Not Be a Syndrome Much Longer. Looks like the new name is high-functioning autism. What do you think about this?
  • Mystie has really gotten me hooked on Auntie Leila. This week: Destruction-proofing your family. Here's a glimpse:
    Most parents...approach the first decade of their life as a family in one of two ways.

    The first way is that the parents think things will be this way forever, with life ahead of them, little kids running around.

    They think their choices, big and small, don't really matter, whether they strengthen the important roles they each play in family life or weaken them. They let their somewhat undefined wants dictate where they are going and how they will get there.

    And they don't realize how necessary forming habits in their children is to future happiness. They let them grow willy-nilly, pacifying rather than disciplining, leaving family culture to the four winds and then wondering why things are so unpleasant. "Later, when we're older, we'll think about how we want our family to be."
  • Are woolly mammoths really extinct? How cool of a question is that to even be asking? Supposedly one was sighted in Siberia! I like to think that these cold-weather elephants have been hiding out in the north all this time. Unfortunately, it was all a hoax. Sigh. Why can't cool things like that really happen?
  • On the nutrition front today: Did you know that the American Dietetic Association {which has recently renamed itself the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics} is trying to outlaw nutrition advice or care given by anyone who doesn't belong to their association {and, might I add, agree with their advice}. So that alternative practitioner that you love? She won't be able to share her knowledge with you if this strategy of theirs goes through. The good news {I kid} is that my state is one of their first targets. Sigh. Here's the link: Monopoly of Nutrition Field Attempted by Dietetics Professionals {note: this link is not an endorsement of The Canary Party}. After seeing what one of their "certified professionals" tried to feed my husband during his hospital stay and recovery, I certainly don't want them to have more power than they already do! Please note that this would criminalize non-RD {Registered Dietitian} nutrition providers.
  • There is also more California news concerning bake sales, which have been outlawed for some time now. AB1616, the California Homemade Food Act, has been introduced into the legislature. Here's hoping for a little more food freedom!
  • And finally, some odds and ends: The point of apologetics is to win the man, not the argument. Some sound blogging advice can be found here: What I'd Tell My Daughter if She Wanted to be a Blogger. And perhaps the oldest fragment of the New Testament ever has been discovered!
Something for everyone today! Enjoy!

10 February 2012

Wendell Berry's Andy Catlett

Anytime I start to think I can write, or that I might qualify as a respectable writer, I read something written by someone who excels, and then I remember why I am only a Mere Blogger. Last week, I began Wendell Berry's Andy Catlett: Early Travels. I am only a third of the way through, and I am already in love. {My husband always questions my fidelity when I am reading Berry.}

Berry is interesting to me because he is so simple. He doesn't spend a thousand pages developing his characters like Dostoevsky. He doesn't overflow with witty banter like Austen and Wilde. He doesn't weave intricate, sometimes surprising plots like the Bronte sisters or Dickens. He doesn't create fantastical worlds like Tolkien, Lewis, or, more recently, Wilson.

And yet his simplicity is every bit a piece of perfection.

What can I say? I already told you I am in love.

Berry shows us his understanding of the human condition:
For I had not grown, as I preferred to think, into the vaguest semblance of adulthood, but rather into a serious and lasting form of nuisancehood. As even I had noticed, I could not be good at home and at school at the same time, which meant that I was a worry to my parents all the time.
And his understanding of the minds of small towns:
Hargrave, though it seemed large to me, was a small town that loved its connections with the greater world, had always aspired to be bigger, richer, and grander than it was, and had always apologized to itself for being only what it was. When school was out, I lived mostly in the orbit of the tiny village of Port William, which, so long as it remained at the center of its own attention, was entirely satisfied to be what it was. 
He can turn a perfect phrase:
At the start of the morning you could feel him aiming himself into the day.
And if you know Berry, you know he writes about a world which once was, but is now lost. And you can feel him mourning, and you enter into mourning with him, because you know that what we received in its place is somehow lacking. It was thought to be an improvement, but on fundamental levels it has not proven to be so.

Every Berry novel I read {and every essay and poem, too} contributes to the picture in my mind of what was lost, and how. Perhaps that is the most interesting thing. Many worlds have been lost over time, and the fascinating points of the story are often in the how. Take this, for instance:
Sugar was rationed because of the war, and people were encouraged to drink their coffee without it. Miss Angela, a patriot, did not supply sugar until specifically asked.


The war changed things. It was changing the world, and it was changing us. I didn't know it then, but sugar rationing was changing the way we would live after the war. Businesses and restaurants were given larger rations of sugar than households, and this helped to shift the dependence of households from their own kitchens to commercial bakeries. Betty Crocker was the "homemaker" who got the most sugar, and she did more and more of the baking.

09 February 2012

Quotables: Reversed Thunder

Reversed Thunder:
The Revelation of John
and the Praying Imagination

by Eugene Peterson
The gospel is never for individuals but always for a people. Sin fragments us, separates us, and sentences us to solitary confinement. Gospel restores us, unites us, and sets us in community. The life of faith revealed and nurtured in the biblical narratives is highly personal but never merely individual: always there is a family, a tribe, a nation--church. {p. 42}
"Outside the church there is no salvation" is not ecclesiastical arrogance but spiritual sense, confirmed in everyday experience. {p. 43}
When St. John turned towards the trumpet voice that commanded his attention, the first thing he saw was seven gold lampstands, "which are the seven churches" to which he was pastor. Then, in their midst, he saw the one "like a Son of Man" who was Jesus, the Christ. Christ is not seen apart from the gathered, listening, praying, believing, worshiping people to whom he is Lord and Savior. It is not possible to have Christ apart from the church. {p. 44}
There is no evidence in the annals of ancient Israel or in the pages of the New Testament that churches were ever much better or much worse than they are today. A random selection of seven churches in any century, including our own, would turn up something very much like the seven churches to which St. John was pastor. {p. 56} 

08 February 2012

Community Business

It all started a little over a week ago when I received an email from one of those political groups explaining that Starbucks was encouraging pro-homosexual "marriage" legislation. I did a little research and fact-checking, and found this article on the Blaze that sums it all up nicely. The next thing I did was email my reading club. Do you think we should still meet at Starbucks? If not, where do we go?

I naturally shy away from boycotts, though I'm not sure I have a good reason for it. My goal in raising the question was not to suggest that we all boycott Starbucks, but that we think about where our money is going and what it is building. Here we are, meeting to discuss the work of Charlotte Mason and, hopefully, encourage each other to build a better culture. But then we send our cash to a company who wishes to destroy the very culture we are trying to build.

It just seems contradictory.

The question immediately switched to where to go. In my zip code, Starbucks is the only coffee shop I can think of. Up until a few years ago, there were a couple drive-through coffee shacks, but no places to sit and chat. And, of course, we never worried about that fact before. We preferred our Starbucks, as we called it. It had a unique little nook that held five comfy chairs, perfectly fitting our little group.

Wendell Berry once wrote that in order to be a community, a locale must do a certain amount of business with itself. {I have now read enough of his books that I'm not sure which one he wrote this in.} Economic activity is part and parcel of what it means to be a community. Sometimes this takes place as bartering or trading of work, while other times it is actual local businesses patronized by members of the community.

I remember a few years back when the Powers that Be threw a fit over big box stores {like Home Depot} renaming Christmas Trees, "Holiday Trees." I don't pretend to know why this was done--whether it was a vast conspiracy to destroy Christmas, or whether they really thought they could talk Jewish folks into buying a tree for Hanukkah by calling it "Holiday" and therefore multiply their profits. What I do know is that the local shops didn't change the name. They called them Christmas trees, same as usual.

Do you know why?

Because local shops, being that they are part of the community, are more likely to represent the community's interests, and I mean this in the broadest way possible.

So while Starbucks is out pushing gay-marriage legislation, most Mom and Pop coffee houses are doing nothing of the sort. It isn't their interest, it has nothing to do with their community, and it doesn't make sense.

Corporations get so huge they work almost like a fourth arm of government, pushing their agendas both politically {through lobbying} as well as by being able to control the conversation {as in "Holiday Trees"--if you live in a town where Walmart has run every other business out of town, you don't have options}.

So I found myself thinking about Starbucks. Starbucks provides decent low-paying jobs {relatively speaking} with health insurance to employees. But for the most part, their vast profits are pumped out of our community and up to Seattle, which could care less about my city and what it means to be, the needs that it has. A little Mom and Pop shop might not generate the kind of profits expected by a Starbucks, but all of those profits stay in the community and are used within the community for the most part.

I have seen more than one local person who has made lots of money invest in our city--they have built wings on hospitals, gymnasiums at private Christian schools, buildings at churches, and so on and so forth. Because they live here, they care about the city and what it is like. They help build it up in a physical sense.

My reading club friends are just mothers of small children like me, who hope to build a better city in our own little way by raising up quality citizens in our own homes. Last week, we met at a local cafe. It was a little different. They chairs weren't as comfy. At one point, it was very crowded and a little too loud. I bought hot cocoa like I always do, but it cost me more because I needed to leave a tip. I spent more on gas because I had to drive a little farther.

But I'm not complaining.

We will get used to it, I think {or come up with better solutions}, and in the meantime we're not just building community within ourselves by reading and thinking and learning together. We're also building community in a tangible economic sense, by spending our few dollars at a local business that is a part of our community.

07 February 2012

Stevia Extract: Learning to Like It

Almost two years ago, I "quit" coffee. {I put that in quotes because I am now able to drink it in moderation.} My reasons for doing so were twofold. First, I was completely addicted to caffeine. I couldn't hardly function without it, and was drinking three very tall cups of it per day. If I skipped it for some reason, I had a horrendous headache. In the afternoons, the only alternative to a cup was a nap.

In a sentence, I was a slave.

My second reason was the sugar I was putting in my coffee. Now, I am not anti-sugar by any means. I have a thyroid condition, which means I have trouble maintaining my body temperature. A little sugar or carbs helps keep my body at a temperature that wards off disease {unlike my 97.8 average, at which I catch every bug under the sun}. But a little sugar goes a long ways. I can often get enough from a cup of milk, a smoothie at breakfast, or a piece of fruit. In addition to this, I felt like I couldn't add social sugar on top of this, so I worried about dessert when we met with friends.

In quitting coffee, I found freedom from both of these problems.

So why did I go back? Well, quite frankly, I like the taste. I like the natural break in my day which a cup of coffee affords me {and I just couldn't get tea to replace it in the mornings}. I can tell my children I'll be ready to work again when my coffee is gone. It works nicely.

I was never anti-coffee. I was anti-coffee addiction. I don't think that addiction has any place in a healthy Christian life. How can I become mature if I am enslaved?

Abstaining from coffee for over a year was enough to break the addiction. I can now skip my morning cup without a headache or other effect if I need or want to. I can enjoy one cup without "needing" more.

What remained was what to do about the sugar. I still didn't like starting my day off with a teaspoon of sugar, even if I was buying sucanat most of the time.

For a while, I tried xylitol, only to find I am one of the people who cannot use much of it without stomach pain. I tried powdered stevia leaf and all I can say is: yuck! The bitter aftertaste was not for me.

But then I read about liquid stevia extract by Sweetleaf. Bloggers were claiming that it was the stevia for people who don't like stevia. I checked the price, and decided I could afford to give it a try.

The first time I tried it, I went cold turkey: no sugar, all stevia. Big Mistake. Even though the extract is much less bitter than the powder, it is still a different quality of sweetness than sugar. My tastebuds rejected it!

Now, it is my habit to measure the sugar for my coffee in these little tiny silver spoons which Si inherited. I use four little spoonfulls, which works out to just over a teaspoon. I decided to try easing into it, and for three weeks, I used three little spoons, and three drops of stevia. So far, so good, so I went to two little spoons, and five drops of stevia. After three weeks of that, I went to one little spoon of sugar, and eight drops of stevia.

And then I stalled. I just wasn't sure I could do all stevia. So for months, I have been drinking my morning coffee this way.

I'm writing this because today was the day I finally went all-stevia, with ten drops of stevia {in my 12 oz coffee cup, for those of you who are wondering}. And it was fine.

In this, I verified something that people will often tell you: tastebuds can be trained. Likewise, tastes can be acquired.

My children loved stevia from the outset, so in the evenings, when they like to have a bowl of yogurt, I have begun sweetening it with four or five drops of stevia instead of honey, so as to not serve sugar right before bed {even though, in general, I think a little sugar is good for children, too}.

Now that I know I like stevia, and that it sits well with everyone in our family {except my husband, strangely enough, who chooses xylitol every time he wants a sugar substitute}, I look forward to trying some of the flavors Sweetleaf offers:

Anyhow, all of this is to say: if you are looking for a sugar substitute, stevia might be the ticket. It is pricey, but since it is measured in drops, it isn't as expensive as it seems. I found that once I acquired the taste, it is a handy way to manage my sugar intake.

06 February 2012

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

I am just about to collapse this morning after a very busy weekend. The Wintons were here {which was a blast--they are Good People}, but I was up too late two nights in a row and apparently I've been spoiled by my new healthy sleeping habits because I'm barely alive this morning.

I did, however, collect links, so here we go.
  • Do you have a cast iron skillet that is looking a little tired? Or have you ever seen one at a garage sale that was a total classic, but rusty? Here is a tutorial for rescuing and restoring iron skillets that have rusted.
  • One of my favorite parts of our week is Plutarch. I think I've said that before. When we do it right, we also have Plutarch as part of our co-op. One of my favorite memories from this year's first term was two little boys arguing about Poplicola. Classic. All of this is to say that I really resonated with Waiting for Lycurgas. I have a dream of hosting a little boys' Plutarch club next year in my home.
  • Not that you need another book list, but...Here is a good one anyhow: Good Books for Great Readers.
  • Have any of you been wondering what this Elephant Room controversy has all been about? The best timeline I've seen is Herding the Elephants, for those of you who are interested. I also found Voddie Baucham's post The Elephant in the Room to be helpful as it explained why he dropped out of Elephant Room 2 before it even began.
  • We all know a recent Supreme Court decision reaffirmed religious freedom in this country. Unfortunately, our President doesn't agree. Michael Gerson explains explains the relationship between ObamaCare and Catholicism.
    The religious exemption granted by Obamacare is narrower than anywhere else in federal law — essentially covering the delivery of homilies and the distribution of sacraments. Serving the poor and healing the sick are regarded as secular pursuits — a determination that would have surprised Christianity’s founder.
  • I know you are all ready to subscribed to a new homemaking blog, right? My dear friend Mystie has moved to a new domain: The Convivial Home. Her first post, What Has Happened to All Your Joy? is a sign of good things to come, I am sure!
  • If you have been keeping up on the Vanderbilt scandal regarding religious freedom on campus, you might want to read this article.
  • Today signifies the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. In honor of this, Dr. Sunshine posted a portion of his book The Reformation for Armchair Theologians {which we own and love, by the way}, detailing the birth of the first Queen Elizabeth: In Honor of Queen Elizabeth II.
And that's all for today. Leave your links in the comments, of course!

02 February 2012

Quotables: Home Economics

Home Economics
by Wendell Berry
Agriculture deals with living things and biological processes, whereas the materials of industry are not alive and the processes are mechanical. That agriculture can produce only out of the lives of living creatures means that it cannot for very long escape the qualitative standard; that is, in addition to productivity, efficiency, decent earnings, and so on, it must have health. {p. 123}
[T]he best farms have always been homes as well as workplaces. {p. 124}
The best thing for any nation or people, obviously, is to grow its own food. {p. 124}
There must be a decent balance between what people earn and what they pay, and this can be made possible only by control of production. When farmers have to sell on a depressed market and buy on an inflated on, that is death to farmers, death to farming, death to rural communities, death to the soil, and {to put it in urban terms} death to food. {p. 127}
It is apparently easy to say that there are too many farmers, if one is not a farmer. This is not a pronouncement often heard in farm communities, nor have farmers yet been informed of a dangerous surplus of population in the "agribusiness" professions or among the middlemen of the food system. No agricultural economist has yet perceived that there are too many agricultural economists. {p. 129}
With us, a resource is something that has no value until it has been made into something else. Thus, a tree has value only insofar as it can be made into lumber, and our schools, which are more and more understood and justified as dispensers of "job training," are based on the implicit principle that children have no value until they have been made into employees. {p. 134}
We are going to have to see that, if we want our forests to last, then we must make wood products that last, for our forests are more threatened by shoddy workmanship than by clear-cutting or by fire. {p. 143}
[T]here is great danger in the perception that "there are too many people," whatever truth may be in it, for this is a premise from which it is too likely that somebody, sooner or later, will proceed to a determination of who are the surplus. {p. 149}
[W]hen farmers let themselves be persuaded to buy their food instead of grow it, they become consumers instead of producers and lose a considerable income from their farms. This is simply to say that there is a domestic economy that is proper to the farming life and that it is different from the domestic economy of the industrial suburbs. {p. 177}

01 February 2012

AO with the Less Academic Child

My firstborn child is of the naturally bookish sort. I gave him a few phonics lessons when he was three-years-old {because he was bored}, and he took off on reading without much more intervention on my part. He is truly the ideal first student, and his ability to read at a very high level came in handy when, during the first month of his first year of "real" lessons, I gave birth to my fourth child, making that three children aged 3.5 and under, in addition to himself.

The thing about having a super-easy firstborn is that you start to wonder about your other children when they aren't quite as quick. Granted, we have had our share of "issues." My second-born didn't talk much until she was three, and we later realized it was because of her food allergies {which we didn't know she had}. We put her on a gluten-free diet and within a week she was chattering in complete sentences! Likewise, my fourth-born still wasn't saying much as he neared his third birthday, and lo and behold!, he couldn't hear. {He can now, in case you were wondering.}

My second child has told me more than once that she "hates school." Now this was amusing to me because she says she loves this, that, and the other thing about school, so why would she say she hates school? After asking her, "Well, do you like this book?" {Yes.} And, "Do you like this book?" {Also yes.} We had a good talk and I learned that it isn't so much that she hates school as that she would much rather be outside.

This is why I ended up doing almost nothing for "kindergarten" {which isn't legally required anyhow}. I couldn't bear to bring her in from her beloved sunshine and make her sit at a desk before I absolutely had to.

So this year is her first year of real, planned-and-scheduled lessons. And she is doing fine. I keep telling myself this because if I let myself compare her to her older brother at this stage, I'd make myself nervous with worry.

Of course, on some levels she is superior to him, able to memorize quite lengthy poems. She memorizes all of her poems and Scriptures...and all of her older brother's, too. I say this so you don't think she is missing a marble or something.


As I was saying, I have been pondering what Charlotte Mason might say to those of us with children who are simply not academic. Or what if our children have something wrong, like learning disabilities? One glance at the Ambleside Online curriculum reveals its rigor. Children are assigned no textbooks. Instead, they are reading {or being read to from} full books--not abridgments, and not dumbed down to a "child's level"--from the very first year. They are beginning Plutarch's Lives and Shakespeare in the original language at the age of nine or ten. Really? Some adults cannot read these things!

Is this really for all children? Or is it for "gifted and talented" children who need something to challenge them?

Let me share some encouragement I have received, directly from Miss Mason herself.

Learning to Deal Directly with Books

I know I am not the only Year 1 mother who has secretly panicked when a child repeatedly did not "get" the moral in an Aesop's fable, or did not understand the significance of Casabianca. Every year on the email lists, we read questions from Year 1 mothers on this issue. My child isn't getting it. Maybe he can't cut it in AO? Maybe I'm doing something wrong?

Miss Mason tells us:
[The teacher] will bear in mind that the child of six has begun the serious business of his education, that it does not matter much whether he understands this word or that, but that it matters a great deal that he should learn to deal directly with books.
I confess that I heaved a sigh of relief when I read this last week. Yes, it matters whether our children connect with the moral Aesop is trying to communicate. It's true. But it only matters a little. Miss Mason says it matters "a great deal" that our little six-year-old children learn to deal with books.

In many ways, I think we can see Year 1 as a training year, especially for less academic children. They are receiving their phonics lessons. They are toying with addition. They are learning to narrate larger and larger passages. And in the midst of all of this, they are also learning to deal with books. This will serve them well in the future.

The Same Feast for Different Powers

I would remark on the evenness with which the power of children in dealing with books is developed. We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can. The child of genius and imagination gets greatly more than his duller comrade but all sit down to the same feast and each one gets according to his needs and powers.

The surprises afforded by the dull and even the 'backward' children are encouraging and illuminating. We think we know that man is an educable being, but when we afford to children all that they want we discover how straitened were our views, how poor and narrow the education we offered.

This tenant of Miss Mason's flies in the face of contemporary educational approaches, where dull or disabled--or even merely "average!"--children receive a truncated curriculum, while "gifted" children are treated with honors and herded off to special programs which develop them in some mysteriously meaningful way. When I was in high school, this hierarchy was clear. The college prep students read boring history textbooks, while our AP class read original documents--a feast of Federalist Papers and Supreme Court decisions and the like. The idea was that these documents, which define our heritage as Americans, were only for "special" students.

Mason was not an elitist, and this was based upon her first principle--that all children are born persons. Regardless of giftedness or lack thereof {or even disability}, regardless of economic station, each child is a person.

So Miss Mason set out to educate children as if they really are persons. This means she made a feast fit for persons and allowed all a place at the table.

The "gifted" child will get more out of it, which is akin to how the healthiest children often seem to have better digestive powers, or how the hungriest child eats the most. The "dull" child will get less. But all will have had their souls and intellects fed generously.

When dealing with a less academic child, though, the temptation is to diminish the feast. He can't handle this, we think to ourselves. This is too much for him. Sometimes this is true, I admit it. Sometimes, a child is better off waiting an additional year before beginning Year 1, or adding in Year 3.5 before transitioning to the Latin-Shakespeare-and-Plutarch intensity of Year 4. But notice that this is merely slowing the feast down, or pacing it. This isn't the same as saying that the less academic child should be fed bread and milk instead of steak and lobster and salad and so on.

Yes, we want children to connect with the books and, yes, we ought to be concerned if the child is comprehending nothing. But let's think about how we adults got to our own reading levels. I don't know about you, but I have greatly improved mine over the years by reading books that are...wait for it...hard for me to understand.

When I read said books, I didn't "get" every single word on the first reading. I didn't comprehend all of what I read. In fact, on re-reading Charlotte Mason's sixth volume this past year with my reading group, I am amazed at what did not connect in my brain the many other times through. I missed so much!

But you know what? I received much, also.

We can offer our children a generous feast, and then refuse to stress out when some of them seem to digest every crumb, while the others take a bite here and there by comparison.

Character Really Matters

In the Ambleside FAQ document {which you really should read, if you haven't already}, the point is made that a Charlotte Mason education is not...unschooling...Montessori...unit studies...and so on. So what is it exactly? Here is the official answer:
First and foremost, Charlotte Mason is a 12-year Christian Character Building curriculum. Books are chosen not for cultural literacy so much as the literary quality with which they were written, and even more, their ability to develop the whole person and inspire his character. For all those years that children are getting a CM education, what's really being trained more than anything else is their character. Students receiving a CM education don't need any character building program because the entire curriculum is geared towards building character with the use of personal habits, quality books, teacher guidance, the work of the Holy Spirit and personal reflection.

Yes, a child who has gone through even half of the curriculum will know a lot and have amazing powers of thought. This is why we say that completing Year 8 is akin to completing high school as far as academics go. But this is not the point. It is merely a side benefit. The point is the cultivation of the soul, the ordering of the appetites. To put it plainly, it is not what they know, but who they become.

The important conversations which flow from any given reading--but especially Plutarch, at least in my house--are irreplaceable. As long as a child can comprehend language, he will be inspired by the heroism, by the goodness, while also learning to despise the bad and inadequate. In books of this quality, this effect is inescapable. To think that because a child would rather be outside, or isn't very quick, he should be condemned to worksheets, busy work, and dusty, dry textbooks--to a life devoid of living thought!--is to reinstate elitism, and say that some children are "more human" than others.

As I work with my academically average-and-normal daughter--in the aftermath of working with a gifted and easy-to-teach son--I am reminded that she will take what she can and it will be a gift. And ten years from now I may be very surprised by who I think is my "brightest" child and "quickest thinker."

For now, let's not fret over Aesop and Island Story. Instead, let's set the table, serve the feast, and see what God will do.

Read More:

School Prep: AO Selections for the Less Bookish Child