28 February 2013

Pianophonics Special Combined Edition

I wasn't going to post anything today because we are drowning in piles of laundry {I began the Great Spring Clothing Switch yesterday}. It is supposed to be eighty on Saturday, and some of the children are already complaining that they are hot playing outside in their long sleeves and pants. All of this aside, I have something worth posting today, so here we are.

I have reviewed PianoPhonics before. I still love it, and it's been two years now that we've been using it. I begin my children on piano at eight, which means that Daughter A. will begin using it in the next month or so. She is pretty excited, but I must say I'm glad I waited because I cannot imagine this child sitting down to daily practice any younger, and daily practice is key to piano progress.

I really am pleased with it on so many levels. Everything I said in my original review is still my opinion, only more so. For instance, the things I said about children playing silly songs? Well, I have four children. That is a lot of people eventually playing songs I have to listen to over and over. As a parent, who has to hear hours and hours of piano practice every week, I am grateful that Pianophonics sounds nice. It's like listening to Beethoven or something over and over. I, at least, don't tire of it.

With that said, I wanted to tell you that Pianophonics is printing a Special Combined Edition. If you were thinking of buying Pianophonics, this is a Very Good Deal. Normally, the Primer, Intermediate, and Technics and Little Inventions would be $25 each. {That's $75, people!} This is, in my opinion, a Very Good Deal.

However, comma.

The Special Combined Edition has all three of these volumes in one book for $25 {plus $4 delivery}. This is an Amazing Good Deal!

Pianophonics Cover
I want you to know I have zero financial interest in this. I sound like a used car salesman or something, I think! The truth is, I really appreciate how easy it has been for me to teach my own child piano using Pianophonics, and my interest lies in helping you do the same. Some of you have mentioned to me that you want to use it when the time comes for teaching your own children. This is a deal you don't want to pass up. The printing is almost done, and you can pre-order today, which I suggest because the supply will be limited.

Happy playing!

27 February 2013

Narration and the Single Reading

This, of telling again, sounds very simple but it is really a magical creative process by means of which the narrator sees what he has conceived, so definite and so impressive is the act of narrating that which has been read only once. I dwell on the single reading because, let me repeat, it is impossible to fix attention on that which we have heard before and know we shall hear again.

--Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education

Some questions recently came up on the Ambleside Online forum -- and honestly I've seen this exact topic come up time and time again -- concerning narration. Why do we narrate after every reading? Can't we just narrate some of our books, some of the time? Why is narration so important? And why does it matter that we utilize only one single reading? Can't my child read the assignment three times and then narrate, if that is what he wishes to do, and wouldn't that be equal to the practice of the single reading? If a child falls in love with a book, why wouldn't I let him read it over and over?

I have often publicly referenced this quote from Charlotte Mason's sixth volume:

[A] second reading would be fatal because no one can give full attention to that which he has heard before and expects to hear again. Attention will go halt all its days if we accustom it to the crutch.

A Philosophy of Education
by Charlotte Mason
Every. single. time. I've quoted this I have received one or two responses that are something along the lines of, "See? This is where I simply must disagree with Miss Mason because I love reading my favorite books over and over, and why wouldn't my children want to do the same?"

Well, our children can do the same. But they can also be restricted during lessons to single readings and reap great benefits from this discipline.

There is a lot wrapped up in all of this, so sit back, grab a cup of coffee {or tea, if that's your poison}, and let's sort this out once and for all.

Why Narration?

I haven't decided if I'm ready to call narration the cornerstone of our education, but it is a primary tool. Knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced. If we cannot reproduce it, then we do not yet know it. At least, we do not know it intimately.

A lot of coming to know actually depends upon attention and interest -- though not only that, of course. Developing narration as a skill is actually giving our children the most direct route to assimilation of knowledge. After a while, they have the habit of narrating -- the embodiment of both the habit of paying attention and the habit of working instantly to assimilate the knowledge gained, and all of this translates into becoming the type of person who perceives quickly and easily.

We think of that type of person as being a genius. And some of us are. But genius alone isn't very helpful. That is why Miss Mason said:

Not a doubt of it; and you may rely on it that what is called ability––a different thing from genius, mind you, or even talent––ability is simply the power of fixing the attention steadily on the matter in hand, and success in life turns upon this cultivated power far more than on any natural faculty. Lay a case before a successful barrister, an able man of business, notice how he absorbs all you say; tell your tale as ill as you like, he keeps the thread, straightens the tangle, and by the time you have finished, has the whole matter spread out in order under his mind's eye. Now comes in talent, or genius, or what you will, to deal with the facts he has taken in. But attention is the attribute of the trained intellect, without which genius makes shots in the dark.

Most philosophies of education require some sort of feedback. You have the boring route, like the comprehension questions. You have the truncated test, which is multiple choice. You have the creativity test, which is the illustration -- but if this isn't accompanied by the child's explanation {i.e., some sort of narration}, we are hard pressed to know if the child completely understood.

Narration, on the other hand is simple, efficient, and thorough. The child takes in the reading -- either by being read to, or by reading on his own -- and then he tells back. He re-presents the material.

Why a Single Reading?

A child can narrate after one reading. Or he can narrate after three readings. Or five. Why not ten? I say: Why not one? This is the way it was done in Miss Mason's own classrooms. The question, though, is why one?

For starters, narration after multiple readings is not developing the aforementioned habits of attention and immediate assimilation. Attention is so integral to a child's learning. We cannot learn that to which we do not attend. Period. There are no exceptions. No one has ever learned anything to which he did not first pay attention. If we know we have a second, third, or tenth chance at a subject, we are apt to become lazy.

Miss Mason wrote:

A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising, and the like.

When it comes to the habit of attention and the habit of immediate assimilation, allowing a little child to reread an assignment is completely ineffective. We may get the same external result in terms of a decent narration, but the internal habits we hope to see accompanying this have been weakened. However, comma, I have seen great results in telling a small child, "So you don't remember? Oh, that is so sad. Now you may never know. Oh well. I hope you pay attention next time. I for one thought it was very interesting."

This is probably much more difficult to pull off with older children who have bad habits, and a whole host of other problems besides, I admit. But with a seven-year-old who was daydreaming, it has felt almost like a magic bullet to me at times.

Now, to be fair, Miss Mason required a single reading for the purpose of lessons. This does not mean that she was against reading your favorite books over and over again; she herself was known to have read the Waverly novels throughout her life. Her assertions concerning the single reading are applicable only to the classroom, to the home schoolroom, to the period of time devoted to lessons.

You see, Miss Mason's secondary reason for the single reading is efficiency. Of her students she wrote:

In this way children cover an incredible amount of ground in the time at their disposal.

She also said:

The quantity set for each lesson allows of only a single reading...

Her students were able to cover a great deal of ground because they never went back over anything. Oh, sure, the teachers would sometimes remind students of what they had last read in a book, in order to connect one reading with another, but it was nothing like what we think of in terms of studying and review, and the purpose was to aid the connections of the readings -- to foster fluidity -- not to jar the memory.

Just think of how much more can be studied in a year -- in terms of both breadth as well as depth--if you only go over each reading once.

The great homeschooling goal of being "done by lunch," that children may have time to pursue their own interests at their leisure, is also enabled by this sort of efficiency.

Who can doubt the efficiency in creating an educational approach that requires no review and no studying. No homework. Nothing. The mind is trained to do all of this work, the very first time. What a blessing to help our children develop these habits -- habits many of us wish we had -- when they are young and it comes more naturally.

The Rules at Our House

I have put boundaries in place in order to protect these habits, and yet still allow re-reading of books that my children have come to love. In no particular order, they are:

  • No re-reading is allowed until after the end of the year, when the final exam has been taken. When I give exams, I am testing, among other things, the effectiveness of my practice of this philosophy. I am testing to see whether one narration following a single reading is really working. How can I know if, following his narration, my student then proceeds to read the assignment five more times?
  • No reading ahead. Students must begin and end their readings in accordance with the day's assignments. This prevents future readings from actually being second readings.
  • A child may read down-years but never up-years. This means a child may read the books of any child younger than himself, but not "up years" -- books belonging to any child older than himself -- because those are his future books. I find this makes them anticipate future years, because the books are so appealing.

That last one has been a source of joy for my oldest. I own so many books now, that I cannot keep all of the years out on shelves the way I did when he was younger. These days, I only have out the books for the particular years we are doing at the time. During the summer when I am switching years, when old books are packed away and "new" ones are brought out, my oldest isn't just excited about his new books, but about the old books that are new to his younger siblings.

26 February 2013

The Birds-in-a-Nest Cake {Tutorial}

Daughter A. loves birds. I teased her for at least a week that I was going to put a big ugly grackle on her cake. Unbeknownst to me, she wasn't sure that I was kidding. So, at the last minute, she changed her cake to a baby bird cake, just to be safe. Normally, I don't allow cake changing so near the Big Day, but in this case, she was changing from a harder cake to an easier cake, so I ever so graciously made an exception.

This was a three layer butter cake. Yes, from a box. {Sorry, Hayley. I really wanted to make one from scratch but I never had time to try out the recipe!}

For fill, I simply used buttercream frosting. I often do this if I don't have something along the lines of raspberry jam on hand. I took a few scoops of buttercream--enough to frost the top of the cake--and added a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder and a little milk, which made for a nice, light-chocolatey top. Since I mixed this up by hand, it sort of looked like dirt. Being that I am not a perfectionist, I didn't care.

If you care, then mix your frosting with a mixer.

I did a quick crumb coat of plain white buttercream, and then popped the cake in the fridge for a while to harden up. Meanwhile, I tinted all of the remaining frosting a pale blue color. The frosting turned out really bright in the photos, but it was quite a bit more subtle than this.

This is a very easy cake. It's inspired by Martha Stewart's Nesting Baby-Bluebird Cupcakes {and a variation of it that I now cannot find my link to}, all the way down to the toasted shredded coconut! The main difference was that I put it on a full-sized cake and therefore added a couple more birdies to the nest. The beaks here are cut from berry fruit leather.

So, to go on with the tutorial, I frosted the sides, being careful not to actually touch the chocolate layer on top. I popped the coconut, which was spread out on a cookie sheet, into the oven to toast. Next, I added the border around the bottom using my largest round tip. When the coconut was nice and brown, I shaped it into a nest, and used the same round tip to make the baby birdies. After that, I piped on the top border.

I slipped the beaks onto the birdies, and then melted the chocolate for the eyes, a la Martha Stewart. Sigh. I was once again reminded of how poorly I work with chocolate. The eyes came out looking like tiny chocolate chips instead of nice round beady things. Oh well. A-Age-Eight was delighted nonetheless.

And that's it. I liked the cupcakes idea, but frankly, I really wasn't up for making two or three dozen bird nests. This simple cake was much more my style.

25 February 2013

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Good Monday morning to you! Daughter A.'s eighth birthday party was a success. It had no games because she dislikes games. We are lucky she lets us sing her Happy Birthday. It was simple, a time for running around and playing with friends. Oh. And eating. I'll try and show some cake photos later this week after I've uploaded what is on my camera.

In other news...in the real news...

  • Pigweed Is Bringing Us To Our Knees from The Contrary Farmer. This is irony on so many levels.
    I still walk my corn rows with a hoe but I’ve only an acre’s worth and I have learned that after the corn gets a head start on the weeds I can quit because it grows just fine even though the weeds come on later. Looks awful but who cares. (The field is not out along the road where everyone can see it.) I hand husk the corn so I don’t have to worry about weeds plugging up the combine. My grandfather turned his sheep in tall corn and they ate the weeds and left the corn ears alone.
  • Begin As You Mean To Go On from Under the Willow Oak. Hence the saying, "Nip it in the bud."
    Sometimes I allow things to begin that as an individual, wife, mother, or home educator I had no intention of ever allowing, much less allowing to go on. Once they have been permitted, however, they incrementally and insidiously take over more and more territory until a bad habit is established that must be overcome... which is ever so much more difficult than not allowing the habit to develop in the first place, though it may not seem so at the moment of its inception.
  • The dark side of preschool: Peers, social skills, and stress from Parent Science. If you've read Charlotte Mason, you know that she basically wrote all of this before there was a studying proving that it was so. My interest was that spending most of the days outdoors seemed to mitigate most of the negative consequences of being in preschool. Miss Mason suggested this, too.
    Over a thousand children were tracked from infancy to kindergarten by investigators at over 20 prominent research universities.

    Researchers found that the more time kids spent in non-maternal care during the first 4.5 years of life, the more behavioral problems they developed.

    Problems included defiance--like talking back, throwing temper tantrums, and refusing to cooperate. They also included aggressive behaviors--being cruel, destroying toys and other objects, and getting into physical fights.

    In addition, kids who spent more time in childcare were rated as less socially competent by their mothers and kindergarten teachers.

  • How I Gave My Son Autism from The Thinking Mom's Revolution. I think we've all been there, blaming ourselves for doing what we've done, even when we didn't know it might cause negative consequences for our children. I don't think blaming ourselves is helpful. I did, however, think the information in the post, and the author's take on autism in general, was interesting.
    There are things I have done for which I know God forgives me. However, I’m pretty sure that I will never forgive myself, for my transgressions are embodied in a beautiful seven-year-old who tells me daily that I am “the best Mom in the universe.” I know the truth. And someday, so will he. All of these “unforgivable” actions were done with the best of intentions, but we all know what they say about “good intentions” and “the road to hell.” I am admitting here for all the world to see: I gave my son Autism. I did it. Me. And no one can ever take that away.
  • 7 Ways to Do a Bad Word Study from ScripplePreach.com. I've seen more of these mistakes made lately, and I think it is because the concept of a word study has been popularized, but not the necessary form for doing it properly.
    You’ve heard this: “The word ekklesia is a Greek word for the church that literally means, “called out ones””. Technically, this isn’t true. While combining the two root words (“called out from”) does indeed create something like “called out ones”, the truth is, the word ekklesia is never used that way in the New Testament or its contemporaries. In fact, ekklesia was used to refer to a group of philosophers, mathematicians, or any other kind of assembly in the Greco-Roman world. So unless we’re supposing that actors and gladiators were called to a holy lifestyle by assembling together, we can’t create a relationship between holiness and ekklesia necessarily. While it’s true that the church is composed of “called out” ones – that’s not the particular point of this word. It just means “assembly” or “gathering”.
  • The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food from The New York Time Magazine. Instead of "pulling back" on their use of salt, sugar, and fat, I'd like to see them stop using non-food chemical ingredients--at least as their focus. But then again, there tends to be a lot more sugar in processed foods than the in the equivalent homemade food item. Anyhow, something about this approach to food seems like cheating to me.
    Even for jobs in which the only concern is taste and the variables are limited to the ingredients, endless charts and graphs will come spewing out of Moskowitz’s computer. “The mathematical model maps out the ingredients to the sensory perceptions these ingredients create,” he told me, “so I can just dial a new product. This is the engineering approach.”
  • This is why charismatics are simply not Reformed from Reformed Baptist Fellowship. Now, now. Don't hate the linker. This came up at The Desiring God Conference, and this is one person's take on it. If you are interested in theology, you will enjoy this article, regardless of what side of the equation it is on which you actually fall.
    Paul saw gospel preaching as an indispensable part of God’s plan for the redemption of sinners. Where there is no preaching, there is no knowledge, no faith, no prayer, and no forgiveness. This has nothing to do with the power of preachers and everything to do with God’s sovereign will. He makes His grace known in the manner of His choosing, and the manner He has chosen is preaching.
  • If any among you are sick, pray and get them to a doctor from Blogging Theologically. This is a take I haven't heard before, so I'm still pondering it.
    I know there are some who worry that seeking medical help shows a lack of trust in the Lord. It doesn’t. Medical intervention may be the ordinary means by which God brings about healing or comfort from illness. I know there are some who feel weird about people praying that God would heal them. Don’t. God may indeed choose to bring about healing, either through ordinary or extraordinary means. But either way, don’t get too hung up on how such things happen.
  • The Mad Mothers' Tea Party from Ordo Amoris. It's catalog season. Time to fortify yourselves! {Nothing fortifies like good philosophy.}
    Charlotte Mason can help us. Her Towards a Philosophy of Education can point us to our own philosophy. She summarized her philosophy is 20 points. Even the most fluttery puddle duck can learn from Charlotte in time to avoid those foxy gentlemen in their glossy coats arriving via the inbox. Oh, dear, I have mixed my metaphors but I maintain.
  • Let Your Baby Sleep Outside – Surprising parenting wisdom from Denmark from Babble. I am linking this mainly because it reminds me of Miss Mason's assertion that baby will simply sleep on a blanket or something while you are in the country with the big children, advice I always found baffling.
    They don’t raise their voices, don’t hover, and generally make parenting look like a day on the best beach on earth. (The one year of paid maternity leave and job security might have something to do with it.) I’ve also honestly never seen a Danish kid have a meltdown – ever. It’s uncanny.
  • The Right Way to Combat Gun Violence from Reason.
    The problem with most gun control laws is that they impose a burden on the law-abiding that lawbreakers can usually evade. What is needed is an approach that focuses tightly on altering the behavior of criminals. There are proven steps that can hobble the dangerous without penalizing the harmless.
The end. Have a happy Monday!

22 February 2013

A Big Girl Birthday

No, I'm not posting cake pictures. That'll be next week sometime, Lord willing. However, I did spend my coffee break looking through old family photos. How is it possible that she is eight? I know, I know. I say that every single birthday. I'm always shocked that they are a year older. But really, my "little" children are all too quickly becoming a collection of big children.

Today is Daughter A.'s eighth birthday.

She used to look like this:

Yes, she is still strawberry blonde, though not nearly like the picture. Thank you for asking.

At this age she received her nickname, The Bird, because her hair made these little wing-like things by her ears. And she's always been a fluttery sort of person. She still is. In many ways I suppose she's exactly what we expected. She began crawling at four months of age just so she could be closer to her big brother, and she still does whatever she can to get into his space. She even talks him into hugging sometimes, and that is really saying something for a boy almost eleven.

I'd post a photo of her now except that I'd be breaking The Rules, the ones where I respect my children's privacy {for the most part}. If any of my children want their privacy, it is this one.

Happy birthday, Little Bird.

20 February 2013

Lift Me Up: Imagination as Lever

Imagination, not dialectic, rules the world.

Yesterday was one of those days. You know the ones I'm talking about, right? The ones where you feel like a bad human being--because you are. Where you grouch and grump, and no one can make you happy. Where you stop before you start because you know you'll lose your patience if you try. Where you can't seem to talk {or discipline} yourself into behaving as you know you ought. What can I say? I think there might be a wrong side of the bed after all.

I read my Bible, but it seemed like nothing could get into my hardened heart.

I apologized to my children.


It was just a no good, very bad day. Today is a Good Day and so, in retrospect, it all seems so silly. Why exactly was I short-tempered and completely unbearable to be around?

To be honest, I have no idea. Try as I might, I can't come up with an excuse, and I venture to say that this is because there isn't one.

When we finally got a chance to sit down, at the very end of the day, we read. We read Nicholas Nickelby, just one chapter, and I felt like an even worse human being than before. I woke up in a funk, for no particular reason that I can think of, and at the end of the day I tortured myself by reading about Miss Nickelby, who will suffer all pains and insults with gratitude, comforting herself that her dear brother is doing well--who will work for her bread, even though she is not accustomed to it, that her mother might be secure.

Who will sacrifice herself with grace and dignity.

She is something like a martyr, only even more endearing because she is willing to live through day after day of sacrifice.

I could have read my Bible for hours, but it was Kate Nickelby who made me want to repent.

Lest you think I'm diminishing my belief in sola scriptura, I assure you that I'm not. But perhaps God gave Story an open door into our hearts?

I know I quote Kirk all the time in this regard, and perhaps it's getting tiresome, but is it not a powerful thought, what he said about Pilgrim's Progress?
Being brought up on Bunyan was some protection against being swallowed by Hobbes' Leviathan.
Think about that! A story written in a humble prison protected the soul from a horrendous but highly intellectual piece of political philosophy!

Scripture says this:
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.
How is that for a lifelong curriculum? Think on these things! Think on the things that are true and honest and just and pure and lovely and virtuous. Think on the things that are worth thinking about.

What is interesting about the mind is that we don't usually think about abstract ideas; we think about incarnations. We don't think about the idea of a hero. We think about heroes. We require a narrative. We can't meditate on the idea of good manners as long as we can ponder a story--or a person--in which {or by whom} they were embodied. I can try to think of what it is like to be a good mother, or I can think about Caroline Ingalls and Marmee. I can say that the greatest love is when one lays down his life for his friend, but it really hits home when I read the story of the Crucifixion, or Yonge's Book of Golden Deeds.

A story works its way into our souls, and suddenly, for a moment at least, we want to be better people. It is almost as if, briefly, we remember what God created Man to be, and instead of being crushed by how very far we've fallen, we see a hope of greatness. Perhaps, by God's grace, some of us really can follow in Christ's steps, and do the things that are pure and honest and lovely--do the things worth thinking about.

I think this is why Longfellow, in his poem about Florence Nightingale, wrote:
Whene'er a noble deed is wrought,
Whene'er is spoken a noble thought,
Our hearts, in glad surprise,
To higher levels rise.
Is this not true? Do not our own hearts swell when we read of a good deed done and a noble life lived?

Longfellow goes on:
The tidal wave of deeper souls
Into our inmost being rolls,
And lifts us unawares
Out of all meaner cares.
We read about people better than ourselves, and we forget our own petty troubles, at least momentarily.

I wish I could write stories like that. Maybe someday I will. But for now I recognize that in good stories, God has allowed us a powerful lever, lifting our hearts out of the mire. This is why He tells us to think on these things. If we choose good books, the fruit is there for the taking.

And with Longfellow we might pray:
Honor to those whose words or deeds
Thus help us in our daily needs,
And by their overflow
Raise us from what is low!
I needed raising yesterday. Did you?

19 February 2013

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday {Tuesday Edition?}

Sigh. I just don't have enough hours in my day lately, it seems. Some of that is just life with children, and some of that is my own fault. I've been working on the launch of the new website design for our local homeschool conference, so that is taking up a lot of time, too. But it's fun!

With that said, I still collected links, so let's share them already...

  • Post-Evangelical Blogging for Dummies: Harnessing the Zeitgeist for Fun and Prophet from Juicy Ecumenism. You have to click over so that you can see the awesome Jesus picture.
    Post-evangelical blogging is not for everyone. If you are going to be successful you need to have a few important things settled from the outset...
  • Thor’s Hammer Weighs as Much as 300 Billion Elephants, Says Neil deGrasse Tyson from Gizmodo. This really cleared some things up for me.
    How much does Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor and forged from a collapsing star, actually weigh? Turns out, stars weigh a lot.
  • Accountability from The Common Room. What do you say when someone tells you they think homeschoolers should be accountable "to the government?"
    Now, how much sense does it make to have company A, which has three times the failure rate yet spends ten times the money, be the one give the oversight of company B? Would it make sense for the government to force the widgets of company B to be sent to company A if they are defective? How is a model that fails so many supposed to be capable of even recognizing a model for success? They don’t even know what works, so why are they supposed to be holding their superiors ‘accountable?’
  • The Boy With a Thorn in His Joints from The New York Times Magazine. I've seen so many possibilities in regard to dietary change that nothing surprises me anymore.
    She had treated thousands of kids with arthritis, she said, and diet changes did not work. I tried to explain leaky gut, but I’m sure I was stammering and blushing. She handed me a piece of paper with a list of hospital resources that included a name next to the words “complementary medicine.”
  • 'This Is The Greatest Thing I've Ever Seen' from FOXNation. Well, my city made national headlines. That's something. Having been humiliated by my animals before, I sympathize with the trainer.
    Things quickly unraveled during the National Anthem of a Bakersfield Condors (ECHL) game when a condor went wild as the bird man attempted to bring it to a perch in center ice.

    As the bird man caught the condor he fell while running on the ice, setting the bird free again. The bird then jumped into the Bakersfield bench, startling the players before flying into the locker room.
  • German Homeschool Case May Impact U.S. Homeschool Freedom from HSLDA.
    There are two major portions of constitutional rights of citizens—fundamental liberties and equal protection. The U.S. Attorney General has said this about homeschooling. There is no fundamental liberty to homeschool. So long as a government bans homeschooling broadly and equally, there is no violation of your rights. This is a view which gives some acknowledgement to the principle of equal protection but which entirely jettisons the concept of fundamental liberties.
  • Benedict’s Warning? by Rod Dreher.
    This comes at the end of a reflection about the Pope possibly having lost control over the Curia. It’s not just a traditionalist concern. Today’s New York Times reports that a “constant drumbeat” of bad news regarding intrigue and ungovernability within the Vatican may have worn the frail pope down.
  • No, You Don’t from Unstrange Mind. An autistic blogger talks about the negative impact of trying to make autistic children compliant.
    Children like yours — children like I was — are taught to be compliant. That’s what 90% of autism therapy looks like to me: compliance training. They become hungry for those words of praise, those “good girls,” the M&Ms or stickers or other tokens you use to reward them.
  • The Beards of Ministry from Out of Ur. The infographic on this one was was hilarious.
    The ministry beard has a long and glorious history among preachers, theologians, and everyday men of the cloth. A skilled observer can identify nuances of theology, polity, and diet from a pastor's beard. Now you can too! A carefully groomed beard can make a powerful spiritual statement, and we’re here to interpret for you.
And that...is enough for today.

14 February 2013

Of Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis

Are we allowed to give books by C.S. Lewis less than five stars? I feel a little guilty saying that this one is worth three, maybe four, but to be honest I think most, if not all, of these were published posthumously, which means Lewis himself didn't insist on their publication. Well, maybe it means that. Maybe he would agree with me!

The book starts out strong, with a couple of his more famous essays on fiction and fantasy, On Stories and On Three Ways of Writing for Children. Most of the wonderful quotes I noted in this part are some of those famous Lewis quotes that make the rounds.

The hardest part of the reading for me was near the end, where there are chapters from an unfinished book concerning the Trojan Horse, Helen of Troy, and all that. It was engaging and interesting...and very frustrating to me that there was no conclusion. The saving grace for that was Roger Lancelyn Green's afterward in which he explains the possible directions Lewis might have gone, had not his ability to "see pictures" {which was how all his fiction was given birth, it seems} degenerated.

What I loved most about this was getting a glimpse of what the writing process might have been like for Lewis, at least in regard to Story.

I copied out some quotes from his unfinished essay {or letter to the editor, perhaps?} titled A Reply to Professor Haldane that I thought might be less well known:
Detestation for any ethic which worships success is one of my chief reasons for disagreeing with most communists.
Every tyrant must begin by claiming to have what his victims respect and to give what they want.
{This next one is my favorite.}
The worst of all public dangers is the committee of public safety.
I must, of course, admit that the actual state of affairs may sometimes be so bad that a man is tempted to risk change even by revolutionary methods; to say that desperate diseases require desperate remedies and that necessity knows no law. But to yield to this temptation is, I think, fatal. It is under that pretext that every abomination enters. Hitler, the Machiavellian Prince, the Inquisition, the Witch Doctor, all claimed to be necessary. 
Most of his best lines on writing stories, or on the value of fantasy, are already very well known, so I will not bother to type them out.

So is this worth reading? Absolutely, especially if you are a Lewis fan {which I am}. Just don't expect something written to perfection, because these are unfinished works, for the most part. In fact, in writing this review, I talked myself into giving it four stars and calling it "excellent" because...well, because despite my frustrations, Lewis almost always is excellent.

13 February 2013

Applying the Progymnasmata to Ambleside Online

Before I say anything at all, I need to be clear that all of this has been my own little experiment with my own budding writer. This is not anything that is officially AO. No one from AO has endorsed--or even commented--on what I'm doing in this area. I don't want to inadvertently mislead anyone around here.

With that said, I am currently working with a ten-year-old Year Five student. My other students are too young for this. Not all AO students are ready for daily written narrations. We can start with one per week, and work up to daily {or even more than one daily} according to the child's ability.

According to AO Advisory Board Memeber Karen Glass:
Written narration begins around age 10, and if you allow a year or two for fluency to develop, then anything like "creative writing" begins about that time. Creative writing will be an extension of written narration.
This idea that creative writing should be an extension of narration is not what you find in most writing curricula. The general sentiment of our age is that creativity comes from inside of ourselves, and so we give assignments that reflect this. I believe that only God creates ex nihilo. The rest of us must start with raw materials, and some of us need more raw materials than others. The stories that our children have read will function as their raw materials.

In Towards a Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason wrote:
One is not sure that so-called original composition is wholesome for children, because their consciences are alert and they are quite aware of their borrowings; it may be better that they should read on a theme before they write upon it, using then as much latitude as they like.

What is the Progymnasmata?

For those of you just joining us, my claim to "apply the progymnasmata" is misleading, now that I think about it. What I'm really applying are the first two stages of the progym: Fable Stage and Narrative Stage. For our purposes here, I will simply define the former stage as where a child takes a fable {usually by Aesop} and writes a variation of it, while in the latter, he takes a report of something that really happened--an historical narrative--and writes a variation of it. In historical narrative, the student cannot take quite as many liberties as he does with a fable--he cannot, for example, retell it with different characters in a different setting, whereas in a fable he will do so.

The progymnasmata was an ancient writing curriculum. Actually, it was the ancient writing curriculum. There wasn't, according to James Selby, any other to speak of until about the late 1800s and early 1900s. My guess is that Miss Mason was trained in or at least familiar with the progym, as were her teachers, and that their methods hearkened back to it, hence her assertion that children should read something and then write upon it, taking latitudes.

Unlike what I've seen in the progym curricula I've looked at thus far, Miss Mason put an emphasis on poetry, and her students often {in their exams} wrote verse upon a subject.

My Year Five Application

We've spent last term and this term learning to do these exercises using James Selby's curriculum. This curriculum has more than served my purposes for it. It has taught me enough that now I am confident combining the ideas behind the fable and narrative stages into our curriculum. This curriculum has helped me coach my student, teaching him to outline, and to write different types of variations.

And now I think we're ready--or will be in Term 3--to reach my goal of bringing the writing assignments back to the AO curriculum so that we're not spread out so thin.

Each day, my child will have a written narration to do. At first, I'll probably select the readings for him because I want to choose whichever works best lend themselves to the assignment. After a couple weeks of that, I think he'll be ready to begin making his own choices.

For a fiction reading {or, with longer chapters, a chosen scene from the reading}, these are the variation options I've thought up so far:
  • Write it shorter.
  • Write it longer {adding descriptions of characters and settings to readings that don't include it}.
  • Write it from the perspective of one of the characters. {Note: inanimate objects are allowed, such as the perspective of a tree or the house the action takes place in, etc.}
  • Write the same plot but change the characters and the setting {so now Oliver Twist, the British orphan boy held hostage by the Jew, could be a little peasant girl held hostage by an Arabian bandit, or a little American colonist held hostage by Indians, or all the characters could become animals, etc.}.
  • Write it in poetic verse.
  • Take dialog and make it narrative, or take narrative and make it dialog.
  • Write it as an article, as if you were a newspaper reporter.
  • Write it backwards {invert the sequence of events}.
The options would be essentially the same for a nonfiction, historical narrative, except that I'd eliminate the option to change the characters and setting, out of respect for the historical nature of the events.

In addition to this, one day every two weeks or so, I'll have my student outline a reading instead of doing a written narration. Learning to outline has been really helpful for my student, and I notice that Miss Mason did mention something like it:
But this is only one way to use books: others are to enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter; to analyse a chapter, to divide it into paragraphs under proper headings, to tabulate and classify series; to trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause; to discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact; to get lessons of life and conduct, or the living knowledge which makes for science, out of books; all this is possible for school boys and girls, and until they have begun to use books for themselves in such ways, they can hardly be said to have begun their education. {emphasis mine]

Other Narration Options

I think the ideas involved in the first two stages of the progymnasmata suffice for this age and stage, at least in regard to basic literature and history reading assignments. I have considered, however, encouraging more "creative" narrations. For example, diagramming a Shakespeare scene is often the only way I can understand it. Why not teach him to diagram it himself? Miss Mason occasionally encouraged students to illustrate a scene {the story of Beowulf was specifically mentioned}:
I have spoken, from time to time, of original illustrations drawn by the children.
For a child who doesn't do this on his own, perhaps assigning it once in a while would be a good idea. I've never done this, so I'm just speculating.


I plan for us begin this new approach in Term Three. I'm going to spend these last few weeks of Term Two helping him refine his narrative stage work, and then we'll be ready. I'm trying to decide how to mix up his options. Some folks have talked about a "narration cube," but I have more options than there are sides of a cube. Perhaps two cubes? Or I suppose I could just let him choose, but tell him to try and do everything once before he begins choosing from the entire list again.

Any ideas on that?

And do any of you have variation ideas to add to my list?

12 February 2013

Switching to CM

I was wondering if you could offer some tips/advice about switching over to CM? We've been homeschooling for 6+ years now and the past year I have been trying to transition over to a more CM style of learning. I have three boys ages 5, 8 and 10. I was wondering if you kept your learning {lesson wise} to mornings like Miss Mason suggests? I have been doing my best to keep the lessons shorter, but, it seems I am having a difficult time getting it all done in the morning.
The above is part of a longer message that came through my Contact Form recently. I am going to do my best to answer these questions, but I know there are also a lot of CMers out there reading this, so please feel free to chime in your best advice in the comments! Also, before I forget, this is a great set of questions to ask in the Ambleside Online Forum.

I have never switched to CM because I was introduced to Charlotte Mason's writings when my oldest was four {and Ambleside Online soon after that}. There was never a time that I offered my children lessons from some other curriculum, or using some other philosophical approach or educational methodology {at least, not on purpose}. Ambleside Online is all we have used.

However, comma.

I think most of us were schooled a different way ourselves. What we are doing is not something that is common right now in the United States, nor throughout the world, so all of us mothers are having to mentally switch, whether we've ever had to switch our children or not.

With that said, let's divide this up into smaller parts.

Tips on Switching to CM

I was wondering if you could offer some tips/advice about switching over to CM? We've been homeschooling for 6+ years now and the past year I have been trying to transition over to a more CM style of learning.
The only advice I have here--since I've never done this myself--is the advice I'd give to anyone trying to make big changes in any area of their lives: start small, and give yourself six months if what you were doing before was somewhat similar, and a year if it was totally different. And know that change is usually harder the older you are, so it might be hardest...on you.

I think that what Charlotte Mason said about habit building applies here:
Here, again, is an illustration of that fable of the anxious pendulum, overwhelmed with the thought of the number of ticks it must tick. But the ticks are to be delivered tick by tick, and there will always be a second of time to tick in. The mother devotes herself to the formation of one habit at a time, doing no more than keep watch over those already formed.

I don't know that switching to CM is exactly the same thing as building a habit of, say, closing the door behind you when you go outside, but I think her point that big change comes from small changes--each individual tick in its own time--is important. Why overwhelm ourselves? Pick one thing, and change it {or add it}. Then change one more thing, adding and subtracting until your days are more CM-ish, until you're satisfied.

Oh. And you'll never be satisfied. There will always be something you can tweak to make it better.

Some people find it is easier to start by adding in what they call "extras" {which aren't really extras, by the way}--things like picture study, singing hymns and folks songs, or nature study. Others immediately change to the Ambleside Online booklist, which means training in narration will take priority. Narration is our primary learning tool when it comes to the reading, so if you've already switched to a CM curriculum  narration is probably the first thing you want to train.

I wish I had already written a post on narration training because I would link to it right now. For now, I'll just say that narration is when the child tells back what he has heard read aloud to him {or read by himself} in his own words, from memory. Narration is performed after a single reading. Narration is trained. Some children are natural narrators and don't seem to require training at all, but usually children learn to narrate paragraph by paragraph and then larger section by larger section until they know how to narrate a whole reading {within reason--I still break up readings if they are huge} at a time.

Eventually, every single reading should be narrated. But if a child is beginning in a higher year--Year 4 or above--I don't know that I would over-do narration at the beginning. I'd start with the easier or more enjoyable {for that particular child} books and work up to narrating the harder ones {unless, of course, the child is one of those born-to-narrate children}.

As far as how a mother makes the mental switch, all I can say is: read, read, read. The more you read, the more it will come together for you. Read Miss Mason's own words. If you join the Forum, you can participate in one of the book clubs that are reading through various volumes of Mason. Perhaps find a CM reading group or co-op in your local area.

Getting Things Done

I have three boys ages 5, 8 and 10. I was wondering if you kept your learning {lesson wise} to mornings like Miss Mason suggests? I have been doing my best to keep the lessons shorter, but, it seems I am having a difficult time getting it all done in the morning.
I really think that we all naturally become more efficient as we go along, and what is more efficient for my family might not be what is more efficient for you {and vice versa}. With that said, sometimes hearing what other people do gives us ideas.

My children are currently 10, 7, 6, and 4. My two older children, are doing Year Five and Year Two {plus my just-turned-six-year-old sits in on some of Year Two--geography and Shakespeare--and has her own reading lessons}. My Year Five student can read all of his books on his own. Not all Year Five students can or do, and frankly I wish that I still read one or two books aloud with him, but right now having him read everything on his own {I preread on weekends and evenings so that we can discuss} has been key to Getting Things Done around here. Also: reading alone in your head is faster than reading aloud, at least for most of us.

My Year Two student has really taken off on her reading this year, but is only just now becoming ready to even think about reading any assignments on her own, so everything we've done we've done aloud.

We do a daily Circle Time, and during this time everything that can be done together, is done together. {Click here to learn about planning a Circle Time.}This means picture study, singing hymns and folk songs, memory work, and even some read alouds -- Pilgrim's Progress comes to mind. We spend 45 minutes to an hour doing this, and when it goes well {ha} it is my favorite thing.

This is our daily rhythm: barn chores, breakfast, Circle Time, house chores, snack break, lessons, lunch. So, yes, we tend to be "done by lunch" but sometimes lunch is after 1:00 pm. We've decided we'd rather have a late lunch and not have to come back to it.

We rise early {around 6:00 am and I woke up sleepers-in this morning at 6:45 am for barn chores -- yes, I wake sleeping children}, so in trying to duplicate something like this, your mileage may vary. If your children sleep in, chances are you will not be done by lunch, but that is a trade-off some people are willing to make; it just isn't one we are willing to make.

Remember: Miss Mason practiced in a school, not a home, so there will be differences.

"Lessons" is sort of nebulous, so I'll try to explain. I keep extensive Excel spreadsheets because that is what works for me. I create one for each week in the school year when I do my planning in the summer, but I don't print them off in advance because they inevitably require tweaking. On Monday morning, both of my students each receive a copy of that week's spreadsheet, divided into days, that we work from. This saves us the time of trying to make decisions about what our days will look like. We have our lists and we work from them.

I work with my Year Two student first, while my two littles play in the backyard. My Year Five student is working alone, coming in and out of the room to narrate as needed. He has been instructed to peek in, tell me he has a narration, and then go work on something else until I have a natural break in my time with A-Age-Seven.

My Year Five student has been taught to alternate, and I also alternate subjects with my Year Two student. A Year Two student only has about two readings per day, while a Year Five has about four, plus subjects like Latin and grammar. This means that I do my work with my Year Two student, pull in my six-year-old for the things I do with both girls, and then send my Year Two student outside to play with my four-year-old while I work alone with my six-year-old--and all this time, my Year Five student is working away at his desk, or in my bedroom {where he does his Latin videos}, etc.

And the four-year-old gets a story most days, for being so patient during lessons. This usually comes right before lunch.

For the record, I have no idea how I will handle the increased load next year {not to mention the year after that, when all four of my children will have lessons}, but I figure each year has enough trouble of its own.

So, to repeat: barn chores, breakfast, Circle Time, house chores, snack break, lessons {where I work with various children and my Year Five student works independently}, lunch. This is what works for us right now.

11 February 2013

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Spring is in the air! We had the most wonderful weekend. The weather was beautiful. We got a lot of work done. We also went to an amazing, beautiful party thrown in celebration of my cousin's engagement, and that was fun. I mean really fun. I mean I think, for Si at least, all of life is downhill from that amazing party. Since we are of the potluck-with-friends variety, the whole thing was extra amazing, from the professional pianist on the baby grand piano when we entered the house, to the live jazz ensemble outside in the gazebo, to the beautifully dressed cocktail tables and the amazing hor d'oeurves that just kept coming and coming...

What can I say? It was a special treat.

The other special treat of the weekend was the addition of Moonlight to the family zoo. Moonlight is Q-Age-Six's sweet baby rabbit. Rabbits have {accidentally} become the Initiation into Pet Ownership for our children. If they wish, they are allowed, after they turn six, to own a rabbit of their very own. They have to save up their money {usually birthday and Christmas money} and buy their own cage, water bottle, food bowl, etc., and then pay for a bunny as well {Q-Age-Six was given some of these things for Christmas, so she didn't have to buy them}. This sweet little bunny cost Q-Age-Six nine whole dollars. Rabbits are easy for children to care for on their own, and they are inexpensive to feed. Moonlight is a doe, and Thumper {who belongs to A-Age-Seven} is a buck, so they are not allowed to let them out of their cages at the same time. The girls plan to eventually breed them and sell the bunnies, or keep them for meat.

Okay. Enough vanity blogging for one day.

In the real news...

  • Raisin farmers in SCOTUS case face $650K charge if they don’t give half their crop to the feds from The Blaze. I'm so glad this family is taking this to court! Now you know why your raisins cost so much!
    Well, it all started in 1937, as so many good things do, when the federal government began requiring raising farmers to lay aside a tribute portion of their crops in order to control supply and price.
  • For millionaire athletes, states with highest tax rates may not make the cut from FOXNews. Hint: if you want millionaires to live in your state {ahem...California} and, thus, contribute to your economy, try not being so greedy about their money.
    The Golden State's new 13.3 percent income tax on top earners prompted golfer Phil Mickelson to say earlier this month he was considering a move, and according to the accountants who advise millionaire athletes, he was just saying what a lot of jocks were already thinking. Federal taxes on the top income bracket just rose by roughly 5 percent, and, while there's nothing rich athletes can do about that, they are paying attention to which states dip into their game checks — and how much they take.
  • ARMED GUARD STOPS SCHOOL SHOOTER AFTER HE OPENED FIRE AT ATLANTA MIDDLE SCHOOL from The Blaze. Shock: guns stop a crime while it is taking place.
    The armed resource officer who took the gun away was off-duty and at the school, but police didn’t release details on him or whether he is regularly at Price.
  • America's Baby Bust from The Wall Street Journal. All I can say is that, Si and I, we tried our best. By the way, if you've read Steyn, this is old news.
    Low-fertility societies don't innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt overwhelmingly toward health care. They don't invest aggressively because, with the average age skewing higher, capital shifts to preserving and extending life and then begins drawing down. They cannot sustain social-security programs because they don't have enough workers to pay for the retirees. They cannot project power because they lack the money to pay for defense and the military-age manpower to serve in their armed forces.
  • Ashton Kutcher hospitalized after following 'fruitarian' diet from the LA Times. The reason I found this so interesting is because he was having problems with his pancreas and Jobs died of pancreatic cancer!
    Kutcher divulged he adopted Steve Jobs' fruitarian diet to help him better play the computer mogul.
  • Tracking down "the twins" and "Lord Reay" (Charlotte Mason) from Dewey's Treehouse. Having just finished reading the chapter she's referring to, this was fascinating.
    I don't know if anyone's ever bothered to track down "the twins" that Charlotte Mason mentions in the "Supplementary" (epilogue) section of Towards a Philosophy of Education. You know, the ones who have such great schooling but such a poor education?
  • Homemakers and Mothers as Artisans from Simply Convivial. I like this term: artisan.
    So which is the best paradigm for a mother at home? Are we amateurs or professionals? Are we intentional and deliberate and competent? Professional. Are we engaging in our work out of love – not only for the people, but even for the work itself? Amateur. Are we cold and calculating and looking for what we can get for ourselves out of our chosen life? Professional. Are we not particularly skilled nor seeking to become so? Amateur.

    Is there a third option?
  • The Anti-Snobbery of 'Downton Abbey' from The Wall Street Journal.
    "I think the—well, not even the subtext, the supertext—of 'Downton,' " he says not five minutes after we sit down for coffee Monday morning at the Savoy Hotel in central London, "is that it is possible for us all to get on, that we don't have to be ranged in class warfare permanently—that for the general public, the fact that people are leading different lives with different economic realities and different expectations is perfectly cope-able with."
  • Overcriminalization Ruins Lives from The Foundry. I was blessed to have a doctor when I was young that was rather an expert on off-label uses.
    Oftentimes, a drug will have benefits beyond its original purpose; this is commonly referred to as the drug’s “off-label” use. Under FDA regulations, a pharmaceutical company is prohibited from promoting a drug for a use that the FDA has not approved. Doctors, on the other hand, are not prohibited from touting a drug’s “off-label” use.
I think that's enough for today. Enjoy!

08 February 2013

Microhomestead Update
{Late Winter 2013}

Before spring gets underway--and it was already making itself known at this time last year, mind you--I thought I'd write down some things before I forget them. We made some big decisions, and are anticipating an eventful spring, and so on.

Welsh Harlequin Ducks

This photo isn't a very good one, but I'm including it nonetheless. I have to admit that we got into Welsh Harlequins because I fell in love with them while looking through a breeder's catalog. I loved the white. To this day, I love the way the navy blue wing stripe reflects the sunlight. I love the way the drake's black head looks green like a mallard when it's bright out. They are beautiful birds.

When I tried to convince myself that this was a good purchase, I used the points from the catalog: they are descended from, and supposed to be very much like, Khaki Campbells {which we've kept for years}, but supposed to be quieter. They are supposed to be equal to Khaki Campbells in things like laying eggs and foraging.

All of this sounded good. We've been happy with our Khaki Campbells.

Did you notice I kept saying supposed to be?

I don't know if we bought from a bad breeder, got a bad batch, or if this breed has been falsely touted. I really don't know what happened. I just know that they were pretty, but useless when it came to any practical purposes.

They started off well. Our flock of six Khaki Campbells was getting old. One died, and then another. In the meantime, once the Welsh Harlequins {we purchased four ducks and a drake} started laying, we were gathering six eggs per day, and sometimes more. That was pretty good. We had one duck that laid only egg whites during that time, and that was strange.

So for the first full year, from maturity to around their first birthdays, I'd say we got what we expected, except that they didn't forage as well as the Khaki Campbells, refused to eat kitchen scraps, and consumed twice as much feed as the Khaki Campbells when it was cold. Not a deal breaker, but I know now that this portended of things to come.

Just like our Khaki Campbells, they molted and stopped laying in early fall. The thing is, we never got more than two or three eggs per day after this, even though we kept essentially the same flock for another year. Looking back, I would say that the Welsh Harlequins never started laying again after that.

Last spring, we lost another Khaki Campbell, so we were down to three Khaki Campbell ducks and four Welsh Harlequin ducks, and we were only collecting one or two eggs per day. My husband started making comments about who would be served for Easter, who for Thanksgiving, and so on. Things were not looking good for these birds, as it was.

And then the honking started.

I vaguely recall that our Khaki Campbells went through a stage like this around their second birthdays, but I can't be positive. This was a loud, goose-like honking that the queen duck began letting loose at dawn. In the summer, it didn't bother us so much because we were getting up at five to deal with goat kids and we could just let the ducks out and they would quiet down. But as goat chores calmed down and we dared to desire sleeping to six--or even seven--on Saturday mornings, the loudness was an issue.

And not just for us. We live in a residential neighborhood. We expect all animals on our property to be good neighbors, because we want to be good neighbors.

So my husband had me use Craigslist to get rid of them. Fist, I listed the queen, and she went within a day or two. It was so quiet the morning after she left! We thought that was the end of our troubles. But all that day they scuffled around, deciding who the new queen would be, and by the next morning, that queen became the loudest of the flock. This happened two more times as we rid ourselves of successive birds, so it seems that whoever is in charge gets to honk first thing in the morning.

The last two I sold for $10 each for my trouble.

When I listed them, I joked to my husband about how sorry he'd be when we didn't have eggs anymore at all. We'll be running a nursing home for old ducks! I said.

Um, no.

You see, I made the assumption that the one or two eggs per day were coming from the Welsh Harlequins because they were younger. But our production levels never changed once they were gone!

So these days we're feeding less than half the grain {because the remaining ducks know how to forage}, and receiving the same amount of eggs per day. The yard is quiet, the ducks are happy, and though it isn't a lot of eggs, it does add up to something for me to make eggnog with on occasion {I'd never serve raw eggs from a grocery store}.

We're discussing what breed to get next. We know our current flock is ageing, and we don't want to breed the Welsh Harlequin drake because we don't like those blood lines. I should probably sell him, but he's so pretty that he makes me happy. Our priorities are good layers, good foragers, not very loud. Do any of you have ideas? We like our Khaki Campbells, but it is always fun to try something new.

Charlotte's Daughters?

We bred Charlotte the Goat to one of Reese the Goat's buck kids in the fall, and I really didn't know if it took. We've not done this before {we bought Reese already pregnant last spring} and still have so, so much to learn. But after talking with a friend at 4-H, I checked her udder and lo! she is definitely expecting. This means we should have babies in a few weeks!

Reese doing weed control--
it took a year, but the goats
completely eradicated our
fox tail problem
What I haven't admitted until now is that this same buck jumped the fence and bred Reese {his own dam} a few weeks after he'd bred Charlotte. I know that some people say that inbreeding isn't horrible, but Reese has a physical udder defect, so I really didn't want to line breed her, or breed her for anything but meat babies for that matter. What I've read is that it is inbreeding if it has bad results, and line breeding if it has good results, so I guess the jury is out.

Reese is either pregnant or retaining a lot of water.

I keep imagining what the neighbors are going to think if both does have quads and I have ten goats in my yard. I might die.

We didn't wether the bucks last time because we wanted them for breeding. This time, I think wethers will sell better, so we plan to do that, even though I'm a little nervous because we've never done it before. I'm told our 4-H club owns the proper tools.

We really enjoy goat ownership--they are great pets and something like dogs. But Charlotte? Charlotte is incorrigible. She is like the worst toddler you can imagine because she's over a hundred pounds and very, very strong. I am trying to train her to the milk table these next few weeks before the babies come and I cannot tell you how frustrating it is. She will. not. obey.


So every day, twice per day, I have to drag her by her horns to the table. Then, I pull up while A-Age-Seven grabs one front leg and E-Age-Ten grabs the other. They place her front legs on the table while Q-age-Six pushes Charlotte's behind as hard as she can, effectively forcing her to jump onto the table. Then I force her head forward and lock her into the stanchion before she can escape. And then we reward her with her grain and mineral ration with sunflower seeds on top.

She loves the grain, but she has yet to love anything more than disobeying.

It feels like it's never going to get easier, and the truth is I have tried before and it never did get easier, but now, if she's going to be a respectable dairy goat, we've reached the point of no compromise and she just has to do it, period.

Can you sell goats to the glue factory like you can horses?


we're ready for
baby cuteness again soon
The only other thing I'll say about goats is that I've learned a lot about parasite control this year. If you know anything about goats, then you know they are prone to worms--lung worms, intestinal worms, etc. They get them really bad right after giving birth.

Each goat that has come onto our property {and we've owned a total of six this year} has had a bad case. We've used an herbal wormer from Molly's Herbals to clean them up, and then Pat Coleby's suggestions to keep them clean. Truly, it has been amazing. Coleby basically says that worms will not stay in a goat that has the proper copper levels in its body. I had copper supplements available free choice, but the goats never ate enough on their own. Three or four months ago, I began sprinkling a daily copper ration on their grain feeding {along with dolomite powder}. Ever since then, they've been parasite-free.

There are two schools of thought on worming that I'm aware of. The first is that you worm on a schedule. You do it regularly, even if your stock have no symptoms. The second school of thought is that you wait until you see symptoms and then do it. The reasoning for the latter is that worms, like other critters, become immune to treatment over time because only the most immune survive to breed in the future. By only worming when you see symptoms, you are giving time for a weaker organism to establish itself--not just inside the animal, but also the ones that come out in their manure and become part of the environment of the pasture.

I chose the latter approach because that fits with my philosophy on a lot of things, and it fits my wallet really well, too. However, comma, my choice didn't really matter because before we established good copper levels, we were treating almost as often as we would have needed to on a schedule. I haven't had to treat in many months now, though. I think this means Coleby is right because the only thing I changed was their copper intake, though of course only time will tell me if it's the new pasture {we redid it this fall} or the colder weather.

So that's it: copper is good and Charlotte's been bad, and spring is coming whether we're ready or not.

06 February 2013

An Antidote for Theological Naïveté

The last time I flipped through the Christian Book Distributor catalog, I sighed. I really shouldn't have because, after all, Cindy has taught us to mock laugh at their fiction offerings. It is just amazing to me what Christians will {1} believe, {2} sell to each other, and {3} buy. I'm not saying it's all bad. There are always diamonds in the rough, of course. I really could go on about the mediocre writing put out by most publishing companies these days, but truly it is the ideas that concern me.

A year or two ago, I quit doing book reviews {unless I'm offered a book that I really would be willing to buy with my own money}. This was a very intentional decision. I was involved in some of the better known programs, such as Blogging for Books. It was fun, and I liked the idea of receiving books for free. I'm a sucker for books, what can I say? After a while, however, I realized that I was spending my time reading and reviewing books filled with bad ideas, bad writing, and subsequently spending a lot of time anguishing over how to give an honest review while still be gracious and encouraging.

{Now, if Mongerism, offered books for review, that is something I could get in on.}

I decided that reviewing these {mostly} terrible books was a bad use of my time.

But still, I inwardly cringe throughout the year. I ache for my community when it embraces bad ideas, bad theology, bad stories. Let's take The Shack. It got a pass into the mainstream because it gave a lot of people warm, fuzzy feelings about God. But if "stories are catechisms with flesh on," as N.D. Wilson once said, then, Houston, we have a problem. The only thing worse than bad theology is bad theology wrapped in poor, purple prose.

Of course, truly good writing is much more compelling, and therefore dangerous. But I digress.

I flipped through the offerings of the catalog, torturing myself.

I was going to give examples, but I decided that I can only sound cruel and insensitive when I doubt the wisdom of people who "believe in Heaven more" because some child claims that he went there, rather than because the Bible says it's true.

Over the years, my question has become one of protecting my own children and those I love. How do I help my children become the sort of people who are not blown about by every wind of doctrine, who do not naïvely embrace every new silly book published by a "Christian" publisher, without encouraging them to become also prideful or cynical, neither of which ought to be characteristic of a believer?

I was reading chapter 6 of Charlotte Mason's sixth volume, when I stumbled upon her answer to this conundrum.
It is as we have seen disastrous when child or man learns to think in a groove, and shivers like an unaccustomed bather on the steps of a new notion. This danger is perhaps averted by giving children as their daily diet the wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds; so that they may gradually and unconsciously get the courage of their opinions. If we fail in this duty, so soon as the young people get their 'liberty' they will run after the first fad that presents itself; try it for a while and then take up another to be discarded in its turn, and remain uncertain and ill-guided for the rest of their days.
Let's walk through this quote. In this chapter, she warns against us feeding our children opinions instead of living ideas. Opinions--even if we truly believe they be correct--do not have the sort of substance upon which we can build a foundation for good thinking. Living ideas, Miss Mason says, do. Truth does.

Seeing Many Sides

I once listened to a lecture on teaching the progymnasmata, in preparation for our own endeavors here. The lecturer--it might have been James Selby himself--discussed the different writing assignments. We ask the student to rewrite what he has read, and we call these writings "variations." In the Fable Stages, he is to write the story shorter, write the story longer, write it from the perspective of someone in the story, write the same plot but with different characters in a different setting, and so on.

The idea is that the student becomes able to view a story from all sides and from different perspectives. First, he reads the story, which is much like seeing a cube drawn upon a piece of paper. But then, he picks it up and plays with it and turns it around and feels it and views it right-side-up and up-side down.

When he is older, he must do this with arguments. The ultimate orator has the ability to view his arguments from all sides, anticipate possible objections, and answer them himself before they are ever raised by his opponents or audience. This is what we see the Apostle Paul doing over and over in his writings, especially in Romans--raising and answering objections. The is one sign of an expert orator.

To return to Miss Mason's quote, then, she warns us against the "disastrous" effects of a child or man who has the habit of "thinking in a groove." This is the person who has never picked up the cube and played with it. He comes of age, and never realizes there are other ways to think about things, and it shakes him to his very core when he begins to hear other perspectives. He loses what little confidence he once had. The ultimate result, she says, is "running after fads," which is exactly what we see in many Christians--hastening to uncritically embrace every new thought or idea, every new hip blogger, every new book put out by CBD or their local Christian bookstore.

The Antidote

If Charlotte had just left us with a warning, I would have felt discouraged. How do we get children to think outside of the groove? Very few people are teaching the progym; surely there is more to it than that. But right inside her quote is the answer:
This danger is perhaps averted by giving children as their daily diet the wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds; so that they may gradually and unconsciously get the courage of their opinions.
So, in addition to their Bible reading and catechism , the "wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds" is an antidote.

I love Ambleside Online. I am currently reading through Year 5, pre-reading for my oldest son, and Year 2, aloud with my oldest daughter. This week alone we've had the opportunity to think about Christian ministry to Muslims, women in ministry, the treatment of the poor, how God answers prayer, why it is important for a king to love his country, tactics in war, how the human eye works, and more. We've discussed how Jed Smith acted out his faith while among Indians and nonbelieving whites, how he handled the pressures of being a mountain man, and how he repented when he did wrong. We've discussed friendship through the lens of Badger, Mole, and Rat's intervention with Toad. We've discussed the power of story and how it seems superior in persuasion in regard to the influence of Uncle Tom's Cabin upon slavery sentiment {essentially agreeing with Russell Kirk that imagination, not dialectic, rules the world}.

And it's only Wednesday.

So what about theological naïveté? What specific works guard against this?

Well, I don't know that I'm the right person to come up with a list, but I'll try.

For adults, I think much can be done by simply reading Athanasius' On the Incarnation {this link is to the version that CS Lewis considered "a masterpiece"} and Augustine's City of God. I haven't finished either of these {yet--like everything, this is a marathon, not a race}, but just as I've noticed that reading Mason inoculates me against every new educational fad and idea that comes along, so reading bits and pieces of Augustine and Athanasius inoculates me against new theological ideas. In fact, they teach me that these "new" bad ideas aren't new at all, and likewise the best reasons for rejecting them were thought many, many centuries ago.

My husband assures me that Kuyper's Lectures on Calvanism is equally fortifying, but I have yet to read it. And how could we forget Russell Kirk's assertion that Pilgrim's Progress was the antidote to Hobbes' Leviathan?

For my children, we read Scripture and narrate. That is key. If we don't do that, we might as well not do anything. But lately, I have discovered something really excellent. Or, should I say, someone really excellent: Simonetta Carr. Last term, we read Augustine. This term, we're reading Athanasius. {John Calvin is waiting in the wings.} We read a chapter at a sitting, and the children take turns narrating. Through these books, we've discussed the importance of prayer, the courage of convictions, sin and salvation, the false doctrines of Arius. Augustine laughed at baptism, but was rebuked by his friend, and we discussed the implications of their conversation. We've discussed the right of the Church to govern herself, free from the intervention of kings and emperors.

And more.

These little books have been excellent, and my children have discussed doctrine, gently and without knowing it, without getting their minds bogged down in a sort of analysis that isn't appropriate for their ages, especially the younger ones.

These books essentially do for depth what Trial and Triumph tends to do for breadth and have been a wonderful addition to our weeks.

When we think of "good books" we often think in terms of books that are pleasant to us. We think subjectively. But good books are more than that. To the extent that they get good ideas into our souls, they fortify us against falsehood, strengthen and challenge and refine our convictions, and mature the soul.