Friday, May 29, 2009

"Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty"

(This started out as a comment on this blog post by Tim's Mom, but it got it quickly got too long.)

"Nonsense!" exploded Miss Garnder.

Thus, Francie's teacher responds to her statement that her stories are the truth, and are therefore beautiful. What is beauty? What is truth?

At this point in Betty Smith's classic novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Francie's stories have taken a turn for the sordid. Francie's father has passed away, and she is writing little stories about his life in an effort to show the love and kindness and zest for living that he demonstrated. He was a drunk and an irresponsible husband, and they are an impoverished family. But Johnny Nolan was also a handsome dancer and a singer with a fine voice, and a man who loved his family. He was a storyteller and keenly observant (when he wasn't drunk). All the teacher 'hears' in Francie's stories is the poverty and the drunkenness. She doesn't get Francie's ideas about the kindness and love that came through her father. (To be fair to the teacher, from the little we get to read of these stories, it is evident that they contain a strong element of bitterness, bordering on despair, that someone so fine and with such a love of life and people could come to such a sad end.)

Miss Garnder, tells Francie to return to writing about things that are beautiful. Francie asks her, "What is beauty?" Miss Garnder replies that she cannot do better than to quote Keats: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty."

Francie replies, "These stories are the truth."

This apparently offends the teacher, because she unwittingly erupts into strong disagreement, interjecting "Nonsense!" Miss Garnder then goes into a speech about the kind of truth she is talking about:

"By truth, we mean things like the stars always being there, and the sun always rising, and the true nobility of man, and mother-love, and love for one's country."

She continues by explaining her take on why poverty and drunkenness and hunger are not beautiful. Francie answers bitterly in her mind. And all through Francie's internal responses, the reader can see her struggle to communicate the beauty that is her family, underneath the vice and dirt and meanness. She has moved on from the innocent telling of "birds and trees and My Impressions" and is now faced with the enormous task of shining light on hidden virtues in a dark world.

Betty Smith includes a character near the beginning of the book who succeeds at doing just that:

She spoke softly in a clear singing voice. Her hands were beautiful and quick with a bit of chalk or a stick of charcoal. There was magic in the way her wrist turned when she held a crayon. One wrist twist and there was an apple. Two more twists and there was a child's sweet hand holding the apple. On a rainy day, she wouldn't give a lesson. She'd take a block of paper and a stick of charcoal and sketch the poorest, meanest kid in the room. And when the picture was finished, you didn't see the dirt or the meanness; you saw the glory of innocence and the poignancy of a baby growing up too soon. Oh, Miss Bernstone was grand.

I think Miss Garnder received the talking points on beauty, while Miss Bernstone really understood.

_A Tree Grows in Brooklyn_ seems to be Betty Smith's way of illustrating the beauty found even in wretched conditions. I remember the first time I read it. I was surprised to find that the tree mentioned in the title was a common, unwanted tree that grew in tenements and 'liked poor people'. As I got further into the book, I was shocked at the love and laughter contrasted with low, mean living.

At one point in the book, Francie and her brother Neeley are cussed out by a Christmas tree salesman. (There is a whole story surrounding this incident, which includes the throwing of a large Christmas tree, ruffians, blood and a personal Gethsemane.) Francie, having lived in the neighborhood her whole life and understanding its ways, smiles sweetly at him because she knows he is saying, "Good-bye! God bless you!" And Betty Smith writes with such skill that the reader believes it, too.

There is an ache deep within me that takes immense joy in momentary beauty, and then returns to longing. Stories like Betty Smith's satisfy me in that peculiar way. We are all so imperfect, so wrong, so mean and low-- this world is so full of avarice, degredation, degeneracy-- but then for one moment, one slice of time, that magnificence flares out brightly. After that happens, I want to talk about it forever, to keep it always in memory. There is glory out there! Can we revel in it, even for a time? Although I know this is a base and wicked world, I want to tell my children the stories of glory, show them the beauty, the virtue, the Shining Lands that we catch glimpses of here in this life. We do not have to dwell in the sordid. Even Frodo, on Mount Doom, and "at the end of all things", rejoiced in the loyalty and friendship of Samwise Gamgee. If we have eyes to see, we can look through or around the iniquity of this world (not excusing it, mind you) and see the splendor of nobility in a kind gesture, or a magnificent mixture of colors, or a strain of music.

I like C.S. Lewis' explanation of the aching desire we have for the objectively beautiful:

We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light. What we feel then has been well described by Keats as "the journey homeward to habitual self."


The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.


We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

This is Truth. This is Beauty. Those glimpses we see are promises of what is to come. The most beautiful and true things of all are not quantifiable, and are apt to be dismissed in the treadmill of daily life. But they are the promise of glory. I want to revel in them. (When I try it, I seem to lose much of my common sense and become forgetful of the urgent. I haven't got the hang of revelling in beauty yet. I feel like the little boy, Bastien, in The Never-Ending Story: "But I'm supposed to keep my feet on the ground!" :sigh: Maybe someday I will master the art of Getting Things Done While Simultaneously Revelling in Beauty and Joy.)

So there, Tim's Mom. You set my mind a-going. :O) I am very excited about what you and Tim are reading, I sure wish I was going to the ChildLight conference, and I really want to read _The Christian Mind_ too. (I need to get back into my _Poetic Knowledge_ and _Seeking the Face of God_ reading before I try to tackle anything else.)

Note: To balance this post which possibly borders on the spiritually gluttonous, I recommend the Queen's blog post on Chapter 10 of Seeking the Face of God by Gary Thomas. Of a truth, the life of faith is more than chasing after good feelings. And here is an excellent article on developing a Christian mind, by Elder Michael Gowens.

'Nuther Note: I apologize for continually updating after publishing, but there is something about knowing others are reading my work that gives me all kinds of ideas for improvement. I guess this blog is my own personal writer's workshop, lol.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Random Rant About Signs

Certain neighborhoods in our area have signs posted which say, “We love our children. Please drive slowly!”

I wonder if the folks who posted the signs realize what they are implying-- that it’s okay to drive fast around kids whose parents do not love them.

And what about the signs around schools that say, “Drug-Free Zone”? What does that mean? That it is not okay to have illegal drugs in the area immediately surrounding the school, but it is okay just outside the limits of the sign? After all, the 'drug-free zone' is only around the school. Silly me, I thought illegal drugs were illegal everywhere.

Who thinks of these signs, anyway?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Gracious Homemaking

I am reading an excellent book on homemaking right now, _Home Comforts_ by Cheryl Mendelson. Her discussion of what she learned from her mother and grandmothers has inspired me to make a stream-of-consciousness and by-no-means-complete list of attitudes I observed in my mom as I was growing up. (Please allow me to strongly emphasize that, despite her excellent example, I did not inherit my mom's gracious and easygoing attitude, nor her enjoyment of cleaning. But, because of my mom, I know they are attainable, and I work toward them every day.)

1. A clean house is not worth hurt feelings—yours or anyone else’s. She neither pouted nor nagged about us leaving things about or keeping our rooms messy.(This does not mean that she didn’t tell us to pick things up—it just means she did not have an attitude about it. And yes, she did have to deal with our adolescent attitudes.)

2. Neaten as you go. (Pick up out-of-place items as you walk through a room and place them where they belong, or at least *closer* to where they belong.)

3. Shoes belong in closets, clothes belong on hangers or in drawers.

4. The belongings of others are to be respected, even if they are left out. (She thought it was awful to toss someone’s shoes or backpack onto the floor of
their bedroom. Instead, she placed things neatly on the bed or in the corner.)

5. Fold clothes neatly and always iron and match socks as you go. She had no odd-sock basket. (We do.)

6. Having good-quality clothes is a privilege, and ironing can be fun if you think about the beauty of the item you are working with. (I struggle with this because I get impatient.)

7. If you are careful with your clothing, it will last longer. But don’t stress if a shirt gets ruined, simply wear something else, and buy another when you can. It’s just clothes.

8. Scour the sink.

9. Dishes should not sit in the sink. But if someone neglects to rinse and put them in the dishwasher, it is not worth fussing over. Put them in the dishwasher yourself.

10. Bring a tall glass of iced tea to the people working hard out-of-doors.

11. Clean house on Saturdays and before company comes. Cleaning house is also a great cure for insomnia.

12. If you don’t have time to clean house, it’s okay. It will get done a little later.

13. Keep important papers and bills filed in a filing cabinet.

14. It is okay to close the door of your child’s messy bedroom if you must. But insist on having it cleaned out every so often. This will most likely take three hours or more and be accompanied by bad attitudes, but your mood does not have to be influenced by your child’s frustration. (And despite the fact that we were not made to clean our rooms every day, my brother and I keep neat homes. He keeps a very neat home-- I would put my home more on the fairly neat side-- if you give me warning that you are coming to visit, lol-- but I am homeschooling three children. My house was a lot neater when Mr. Honey and I were first married. Hee hee.)

15. Think about your set-outs. Do they look pretty where they are? Rearrange them every so often.

16. It’s your husband’s house, too. Remember to let your arrangements reflect his taste as well as yours.

I'll just end by saying that, growing up, our house was not always spotless, but it was pretty close, and Mom worked full-time in addition to taking care of us and the house. She was, and is, a strong woman.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


We watched the "Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy this past week, and I have been haunted by Gollum ever since. Something about him looks vaguely familiar to me. I realized where my sympathy came from after reading this passage from _The Pursuit of God_ by A.W. Tozer.

There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. It covets "things" with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns "my" and "mine" look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant. They express the real nature of the old Adamic man better than a thousand volumes of theology could do. They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God's gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the monstrous substitution.

There it is. (The Ring was made by a force of evil and not of good, so that is a difference. But still.) He is a pitiful and frightening example of a soul given up to lust.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Toad-Frog, Conch and Pearls

Cornflower's new friend. He lives in our backyard. We disagree about whether he is a toad or a frog. What do you think?

Mariel and Cornflower's arrangement of the 'science manipulatives' from our lesson yesterday.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Days Like This Part II

Everything falls into place
Like the flick of a switch
Well my momma told me
There'll be days like this

Mariel, Cornflower and I are currently reading about mollusks in the science book. Today, we read about mussels, clams, oysters, scallops, and different types of gastropods. This sounds like it might be a little boring-- what do mollusks do besides sit there, right? But the text was pretty inspiring, and by the end of our science lesson, the girls had on every pearl (faux and otherwise) in the house, had given opinions as to where each strand had come from, watched a video of a man removing a pearl from an oyster (as well as another video of a man inserting a tiny bead into an oyster to make a cultured pearl), decided the color of the pearl can be predicted by the color of the inside of the shell, dug out numerous shells we keep sitting around as conversation pieces, and pulled out Triss' conch shell horn she got in the Caribbean awhile back. We figured out where the conch's antennae (with eyeballs at the ends) would have peeked out of the shell, and compared the shell to a whelk shell, which is kind of similar. Of course, we all had to try and see if we could blow the horn properly and use our hand positions to make the pitch change.

(I also found a couple of short videos of a scallop swimming. That doesn't sound like it would be amusing, but you should watch them sometime.)

This was a spontaneous eruption of interest. My plan for the lesson had been to read aloud and have the girls narrate. They did narrate, but one thing led to another, as sometimes happens, and when it does, I just love it. They ended by arranging everything on a tray in the middle of the dining table and sketching pictures. Of course, we went way over scheduled time, but it was worth it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Days Like This

I just really like this song.

When it's not always raining
There'll be days like this
When there's no one complaining
There'll be days like this
Everything falls into place
Like the flick of a switch
Well my momma told me
There'll be days like this

When you don't need to worry
There'll be days like this
When no one's in a hurry
There'll be days like this
When you don't get betrayed
By that old Judas kiss
Oh my momma told me
There'll be days like this

When you don't need an answer
There'll be days like this
When you don't meet a chancer
There'll be days like this
When all the parts of the puzzle
Start to look like they fit
Then I must remember
There'll be days like this

When everyone is up-front
And they're not playing tricks
When you don't have no freeloaders
Out to get their kicks in
When it's nobody's business
The way that you wanna live
I just have to remember
There'll be days like this

When no one steps on my dreams
There'll be days like this
When people understand what I mean
There'll be days like this
When you bring out the changes
Of how everything is
Well my momma told me
There'll be days like this

--Van Morrison

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pictures from a Hike

Here are some pictures of flowers and such from a hike Cornflower and I took with her Girl Scout troop in Dinosaur Valley State Park.

The Paluxy River, as viewed from the top of the hill. We forded this river at least twice during our hike. (We got a little turned around, but we managed to find our way back thanks to scouting parties and someone's iPhone GPS, hee hee.)

Indian blanket. It had rained all morning, and the drops were still on the flowers.

Golden coreopsis.

I don't know what these are, but aren't they pretty? And look at the tall, blue-green grass behind-- it was all over the edges of the path. I would like some for my front flower beds.

My very own Cornflower.

A field of (mostly) Indian blanket. Just beyond this field, we saw three deer.

I have always called this milkweed, but I just found a website that calls it 'antelope horns'. It is of the milkweed family, so I guess we can continue calling it milkweed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Are They Measuring?

I have been thinking a lot about standardized testing this year-- where I think it falls in terms of usefulness, whether it is something we ought to participate in, etc. I have also felt the allure of the possibility of 'knowing' whether we are 'doing it right' in terms of educating the children. I don't like wondering about stuff like that. I do like being able to easily quantify value and progress.

In the midst of this wondering (and waffling back and forth between 'just get the testing' and 'what is it measuring, anyway?') I have also pondered the fact that the Texas education authorities are directly responsible for inserting inane questions about the color of Willie Nelson's bandanna into defensive driving courses, thereby effectively distracting folks like me, who were seriously attempting to absorb the material before realizing that they expect us to focus on clothing at least as much as driving principles.

Anyway, I have looked at the TAKS tests more than once this year, and actually had my older two girls take the math and reading tests for their grade level (they did exactly as well as I expected them to). Triss' grade level also has history and science tests, and I have wondered whether to even bother with those. When I looked at the history test, it was chock full of in-depth factual questions on American history and government. Triss is currently at the period of the Mayflower in her second trek through history, the first having been an overview taking six years. In the past two years, she has gone through the fall of Rome, the Dark and Middle Ages and the Renaissance and Reformation. We are going in depth into the American Revolution and American government next year.

She has learned a lot about the foundations of American government in the past two years, by which I mean she has learned about English Common Law, the struggle between 'might is right' and 'right is right', the amazing questions concerning the divine right of kings and the rights of individuals to liberty and property, the struggles between a state that enforces worship practices and individuals who desire to follow the dictates of conscience. She has read Sir Thomas More's Utopia, and can now recognize expressions of the desire for a perfect society.

I don't know how much of that has 'stuck' and how much she has simply had her 'historic atmosphere warmed'. But I feel like the past two years have been extremely worth it. She has a sense of history she wouldn't have gotten from simply memorizing the date of the Magna Charta and Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church.

At the same time, I feel dates and facts are important. But they are of less importance than having a sense of where we come from. I would really like to learn how to emphasize these more fact-oriented aspects of history without taking away from the enlarging sense of connection between other eras and our own. How to do that?

Anyway, back to the standardized tests. There is no point to me giving Triss the 8th grade TAKS history test, because she hasn't gone that in-depth into American history and government yet.

Or has she?

The test measures a knowledge of dates and document titles, but perhaps does not measure in-depth knowledge necessary to a broad understanding of American history and government. This is the quandary in which I often find myself while thinking of standardized testing. What are they measuring? Is it really important? Is it *as* important as what we are studying? And how are these tests going to help me in my decision-making processes?

Perhaps they are valuable simply as a way of knowing that if something happened to prevent us homeschooling, the kids would be able to take a place with their age-mates in the public schools. At this point, I wonder if they would have a Sissy Jupe experience, were they to set foot in school, knowing all about the essence of a horse (or a nation, in our case), but little about its scientific classification.** Is that kind of thinking profitable, or is it a waste of energy, trying to have a foot in both camps? We do need to remember dates as well as understand ideas, but how much effort should be expended in drilling dates that don't stick when reading narratives? And which dates are equivalent to Willie Nelson's bandanna and can safely be ignored, except when studying for *required* standardized tests? (Not that any testing is required in Texas. It isn't at this point. But I am thinking of college entrance exams, too.)

I am no closer to understanding or reaching conclusions than when I started. But at least you, my twelve readers, now know that these thoughts continue to revolve in my mind.

*This post was inspired by a quote posted by Lindafay, as well as the following books:

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Poetic Knowledge (only the first three chapters) by James S. Taylor
various parts of the CM volumes

**(Don't worry, Dad, we have been studying dates, too. I am just not seeing those "stick" the way I think they should. Yes, I realize I am a perfectionist. Love you. Thanks for watching my back. ;o)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Of People Who Write Essays for Fun (!)

...from a freewrite of Triss':

"People who write essays for fun like Sir Francis Bacon never act as though they're learning about a subject; their writing style sounds as if their essay was the definitive work. But I just plain don't know a lot about many subjects, so I can't write as though I did."

Sunday, May 10, 2009


When I was growing up, my grandmother called deep-felt and poignant words "tear-jerkers". I looked at a few of those this morning, searching for something I could post to encourage the moms in my life, and quickly teared up.

All of us moms need encouragement. I once read that being a mom is like having your heart walk around outside of your body, and I firmly believe it. I didn't realize that I had signed up for heartwrenching joy and sorrow when I began having kids, but I realize it now. (The really crazy part is that I wouldn't willingly give it up.)

Being a mom forced me to understand how little control I have. It took at least ten years of mothering for me to realize I couldn't control these sweet angels, much as I tried. They are good girls who listen to their mama, but they have minds of their own, as well as their own line to the Holy Spirit, Who works in them without consulting me first. And you know, it's better that way, although in my darker moments I think it isn't. He knows the future-- and He knows their hearts in a way that I don't. Much as that frustrates me at times.

I have known more than one mothering lady in my life so far, and continue to learn much from the women who sacrifice themselves tirelessly on behalf of all the thoughtless young things around them (myself included). Until I became a mother, I didn't realize how self-sacrificing my mom was. We have somewhat different personalities, but despite that, I honestly don't know how she held her tongue and simply loved me when I said hurtful things to her. Amazing love.

If you have a mother, most likely she has gladly given something up for you. Right or wrong as her behavior or thoughts toward you have been, she has had her heart walking around outside her body all your life. (How would you handle that?) Just make sure to tell her thank-you today.

And mommies... I think it is our job to realize they don't get the 'heart walking around outside the body' thing. How can they unless they have experienced it? So when you get little or no thanks for the beautiful sacrifices you make, or worse yet, when your sacrifices are met with scorn or bitterness, forgive them. They do not understand, and are fighting for their own thoughts, their own way. (You don't have to give it to them. But we do need to understand that often children behave like that because they think they are Right. Even when they aren't.)

Friday, May 01, 2009

1Corinthians 9:22

To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.