Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas by George Herbert

All after pleasures as I rode one day,
My horse and I both tired, body and mind,
With full cry of affections quite astray,
I took up in the next inn I could find.

There, when I come, whom found I but my dear--
My dearest Lord; expecting till the grief
Of pleasures brought me to Him, ready there
To be all passengers' most sweet relief?

O Thou, whose glorious yet contracted light
Wrapt in night's mantle, stole into a manger;
Since my dark soul and brutish is Thy right,
To man, of all beasts be not Thou a stranger;

Furnish and deck my soul, that Thou mayst have
A better lodging than a rack or grave.
The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymn for Thee?
My soul's a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
Of thoughts and words and deeds.
The pasture is Thy word, the streams Thy grace,
Enriching every place.

Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Outsing the daylight hours.
Then we will chide the sun for letting night
Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore He should
Himself the candle hold.

I will go searching till I find a sun
Shall stay till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly
As frost-nipt suns look sadly.
Then we will sing and shine all our own day,
And one another pay.

His beams shall cheer my heart, and both so twine,
Till e'en his beams sing and my music shine.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thinking Out Loud in a Quiet Space of Time

I realized a few days ago, when I sat down to read *all* my friend's FB posts for the first time in weeks, that my life has been moving at a very high speed for the past few months. I haven't read a blog since summer, I guess. I am thankful for this break at Christmas.

I have some projects to work on-- the Madam How and Lady Why lesson notes, and helping the kids with their science fair projects, and figuring out how to meld and adapt to the kids' needs, and I want to design my own set of developmental piano scales and arpeggios on Finale Songwriter.

I wish I had more time to practice myself. I need more time to practice each day, and more time to help my own kids with math and science, and I need time to simmer and continue to develop my own art of homemaking, and I need to sit with my 10yo and hear her thoughts, and walk alongside my 13yo as she makes her way through the middle-school years, and help my biggest girl with requirements for higher education... and listen to her sing... and there is so much driving...

So much. I love this life, and I want to do it ALL. There are limits to time. But God has made me able to do everything required of me. I need to figure out what is REQUIRED and what is an unnecessary add-on.

And all of this busy-ness can mask the wonder:

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
Why Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor ornery people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

What a God we have, and He it is that walks with me as I try to figure things out.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What I Am Reading

I haven't done a book post in awhile, so here are the books I have read since summer:

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, Gifts of the Jews, and Desire of the Everlasting Hills (three books) from the "Hinges of History" series by Thomas Cahill. Cahill is a controversial author because he inserts his opinion and interpretation of history more often than a serious scholar of history (as opposed to a popular writer of history) might. His books tend to get a little too sensational and graphic for me at times, as well. But I try not to view any history book as the definitive work on a subject, because we just do not know for sure what happened, so his interpretations do not bother me much. And he makes me think, which I like. (I will say that I don't just hand these books to my daughters to read, because of the graphic and sensational nature of some sections.)

This fall, I re-read Till We Have Faces by Lewis, feeling like I might have better understanding of the pagan/Greek references after reading Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea. The Lewis book has so many layers to it.

The girls and I just finished Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, with commentary from Miniatures and Morals by Peter Leithart. We are reading through Genesis some mornings, and only have a couple of chapters left. In the New Testament, we have read Galatians, James and the Gospel of John. We have been using Matthew Henry's commentary for our scripture readings this term, except that we followed our church ministers' email comments and questions for the reading of John. We have Romans next on our list, but I am thinking about reading Colossians first. Our pastor has been preaching from Colossians quite a bit.

I am trying to keep up with Aravis in her school reading, and am currently in the midst of Arguing About Slavery, Paul Johnson's History of the American People, and Churchill's Great Democracies. (I am not keeping up at all in the Churchill book.) I also read excerpts from A Short History of Western Civilization by Sullivan, et al., to further inform our history discussions.

Together, Aravis and I just finished The Law by Frederic Bastiat and are slowly reading through How to Read Slowly by James Sire. (Aravis wrote an essay on Bastiat that I also enjoyed reading, and I may post it to the blog at some point.)

I have also been studying up on chemistry, since Aravis is going through an at-home course on it, and has needed some help. I have read the first several chapters of Dr. Jay Wil's chemistry textbook and a chemistry course blog as well as watching The Teaching Company's high school chemistry lectures (which aren't reading, but make one think just as much). Whew, that is one tough subject, the way it combines natural history and math.

Mariel and I read Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott this past term with her literature co-op class, and, in a move that possibly declares my insanity, I allowed her to convince me to read Rob Roy concurrently. (It was fun, but not easy.) We have also begun reading Ourselves, How to Read a Book and Mere Christianity together. We are reading Churchill's Birth of Britain separately and coming together for discussion. I got her through the section on Roman Britain and the Dark Ages, and now she is in the part of the Middle Ages that she is familiar with and is handling the book quite nicely. I am helping her draw out Churchill's points on government. We are also reading The Once and Future King, which she loves. AO/HEO Year 7 is such an amazing year.

Mariel, Cornflower and I are also reading It Couldn't Just Happen and Madam How and Lady Why together during the time that Aravis attends outside classes. Our 'class-time' with these two books has blossomed into discussions on the Earth, the Universe, and our place in it. Love it! (I plan to finish my blognotes on MHLW over Christmas for those of you who are using them. I've discovered additional links for the first four chapters and hope to add those, too.)

As for Cornflower, she and I together are reading Age of Fable and Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution, and I am giving her a boost with the geography aspects of Minn. She does well with the story part, but needs help noticing the references to the river and the states and the way cool diagrams in the book. I didn't teach my older girls to pull out references (out of a fear of 'becoming the textbook'), and, as a result, I had to do some remedial teaching on that in middle school. Probably it would be okay either way, but it seems to me a waste to not get as much as possible out of book. I explain to Cornflower that there are many things we can get out of each book, and she is focusing on some things, while I focus on others that are also important and that she can gradually notice on her own, and I try not to get tedious, so I hope I am keeping it CM while also satisfying my own teacher's conscience. It is a balancing act I am sure all CM teachers are familiar with. ;o)

Cornflower and I just finished Robinson Crusoe, too, and have started Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I have set aside almost all of my educational philosophy reading, feeling like it is time to hyperfocus on application for awhile. I am still reading through CM's Volume 6, Toward a Philosophy of Education, with our book club, but that is only once a month.

This list may not be complete, so if I think of other things I have been reading, I will add to it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Guest Blogger: The Comfort of Warm Tea During Winter

The following post was written by ten-year-old Cornflower. She has dedicated it to Javamom and Sister Lynn. ;o)

Hearing the whistle of the kettle on the stove on a snowy morning tells you to get your blanket and your tea and snuggle up on the couch in your nightclothes. In a Christmas mug you quietly slurp your tea. You feel the cool chill in your body. You watch the snow come down to the ground. You decide to go outside with your tea. You want to do more with your tea, but to your surprise, your tea is gone. You get more tea and do everything over.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Just popping in for a quick post while I wait for a friend to email me back about an ANI chart question for Ivanhoe class tomorrow. I love that class, and those kids, and the recitation assembly that happens before class. We recite the Charlotte Mason Students' Motto, which is a good motto for mommies, too:

I am . . . a child of God, a gift to my parents and my country. I'm a person of great value because God made me.

I can . . . do all things through Christ who strengthens me. God has made me able to do everything required of me.

I ought . . . to do my duty to obey God, to submit to my parents and everyone in authority over me, to be of service to others, and to keep myself healthy with proper food and rest so my body is ready to serve.

I will . . . resolve to keep a watch over my thoughts and choose what's right even if it's not what I want.

My favorite part is, "God has made me able to do everything required of me." I just love hearing so many people say it all together. Every time it happens, I get this swelling sense that I CAN do everything required of me, and that I ought to, and that, with the Lord's help, I will.

I do love those kids. They are ages eleven to thirteen, and have lots of energy. I am not very good at being teachertorial, or authoritative, or whatever you call that proper-authority thing that great teachers do. However, we have discussed nobility, and beseiged Torquilstone, and tomorrow we are going to rescue Rebecca from the court at Templestowe and decide whether she should have refused Bois-Guilbert. Or, instead, we might talk about whether Richard should have played the knight errant (which he did) instead of immediately saving his kingdom from Prince John (which he did NOT).

Here is my favorite definition of magnanimity:

Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquillity and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects.

I really want to do the Richard question because I think it is the more complex of the two. Of course Rebecca should have refused Bois-Guilbert. But Richard, ah, Richard-- that lionhearted, romantic, legendary king. Can anyone fault his doings? But Sir Walter Scott does actually question them:

Novelty in society and adventure were the zest of life to Richard Coeur-de-Lion, and it had its highest relish when enhanced by dangers encountered and surmounted. In the lion-hearted King, the brilliant, but useless character, of a knight of romance, was in a great measure realized and revived; and the personal glory which he acquired by his own deeds of arms, was far more dear to his excited imagination, than that which a course of policy and wisdom would have spread around his government. Accordingly, his reign was like the course of a brilliant and rapid meteor, which shoots along the face of Heaven, shedding around an unnecessary and portentous light, which is instantly swallowed up by universal darkness; his feats of chivalry furnishing themes for bards and minstrels, but affording none of those solid benefits to his country on which history loves to pause, and hold up as an example to posterity.

Sounds like he had an active imagination. He reminds me a little of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey before she realizes how ridiculous she is to seek out a Gothic novel in real life. (There is enough evil in life without seeking for it in dank castles and ruined abbeys, as she eventually realizes.) But according to Scott, Richard never matured enough to learn that true nobility lies in doing one's duty with wisdom and generosity.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why We Can't Have a Conversation

Recently, Citizens Against Government Waste caused quite a stir with a clever commercial speculating on the future economic and political outcome of our government's recent actions. (By recent, I mean in the last twenty years, maybe longer.) I thought the ad, while chilling, was an effective wake-up call for those who may not understand the implications of all that debt. And I was surprised by some responses to the ad.

I am an economic conservative. I believe the borrower is servant to the lender. We ought not to be in debt if at all possible. Going into debt is stupid unless there is an extremely compelling reason.

Going into debt is stupid for individuals, and it is stupid for governments. There is a short list of good reasons to go into debt. What are these reasons? This is where debate ought to take place on the issue of the National Debt.

Unfortunately, economic liberals have focused on the presence of the Chinese in the commercial, saying the commericial is a symptom of the "new McCarthyism" in which the Chinese are demonized for holding American debt.

Economic liberals, please understand that economic conservatives do not dwell in the victim-mentality paradigm. Economic conservatives believe in personal responsibility, which means that going into debt is generally the fault of the debtor, not the lender. Economic conservatives do not say, "Those evil Chinese held us by the throat and forced us to borrow money from them!" How ridiculous. WE are the stupid ones, and we need to stop it.

The CAGW ad was well-placed rhetoric meant to say to Americans, "We have a problem, folks!" And we do have a problem. Whether or not we literally become servants to the Chinese in twenty years is beside the point. (That was rhetoric. It got your attention, didn't it?) It would be nice if we could get past the he-said/she-said blaming and move on to determine which debt situations are acceptable to both economic liberals and economic conservatives. After we figure that out, we may be able to move forward with some sense. But we will never get anywhere by refusing to listen because "they're insulting so-and-so".

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Speaking Worldviewishly

"He believes in passive mankind."

"They thought they were half the world, and the better half, too."

"Is he with Hyde or Frankenstein?"

"That's a shadow-word."

"My worldview sensor just went off."

"What does this say about cats, hats and the world?"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cornflower Quotes

In honor of our youngest daughter turning TEN this month:

"Oh, no. I think I left my head at home... what you see is a hologram."

"I'm like Encyclopedia Brown. I do my best thinking with my eyes closed."

"If we had a kiss detector and shined it on my face, you would see kisses here and here and here and here..."

Love that girl.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Look at Me Blogging...

We got home before 8pm tonight (which feels like a minor miracle) and nobody needs me at the moment (which feels like a major miracle) and my mind is working slowly enough that I feel like writing something down. All at the same time. So here I sit blogging.

It is the end of October. Do you know what your school year is doing?

Right now, we have a lot of reading going. I am reading Robinson Crusoe with Cornflower, Ivanhoe with Mariel and her literature class, and Northanger Abbey with all three girls. Robinson has given up all hope of escaping the island in his periagua, Ivanhoe lies ill at Torquilstone, and Catherine just opened the japanned cabinet and accidentally extinguished her candle. Love it!

But those are the fun, exciting novels. What else are we reading?

We all read Galatians together at the beginning of the year, and now we are reading through the Gospel of John. Mariel finished Be Ready to Answer in September and we began C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. Aravis has been independently reading Thinking Like a Christian and The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life. She didn't expect to like that second title, but she keeps coming to me with points from the book.

She is outlining and rewriting essays by Q and Chesterton this year. A couple days ago, she finished rewriting "A Piece of Chalk" by Chesterton, and fell over herself asking if she could narrate it to me. I love thinking of G.K. Chesterton sitting on the downs drawing with colored chalk on brown paper, and I love when my child begs to narrate. You rock, Mr. Chesterton, sir!

Okay, really great narration a-ha moment story, and then maybe I'll get back to the boring book-list blog post: Aravis is doing Chemistry this year for science. She got to the dreaded Calorimetry chapter and could not understand it. (We think it is rather a mean trick to put the hardest concept in the course in Module 2!) She worked and worked, and I tried to help, and she emailed the Apologia people for help, and we asked our friend at church who used to be a chemist, and still she was struggling. She missed every single calorimetry question on the test, so I told her to reread the section on calorimetry and narrate everything she understood about it. She balked and procrastinated. After a few days I realized that she hadn't done the narration, so I told her no theater rehearsal until she turned in that narration. Trapped, she sat down to write everything she knew about calorimetry. First she described the calorimeter, then she described the equation. At that point, she realized the three q's in the equation line up with the three things used in calorimetry-- the calorimeter, the water and the object. The three q's had been a puzzle to her, so when she put the q's with their calorimetry partners, she knew how to work the problem! Sometimes we just don't put together what we know unless we are made to articulate it.

So there is my narration story, and I think I'll wrap up this post. I'd like to tell what else we are reading, and talk about geology and geography, and how poetry and Poplicola have fallen off the schedule, and why even though we aren't doing Shakespeare or artist or composer study we are still overloaded with fine arts, and how excited Cornflower is to be turning TEN, and how much I enjoy watching her learn, and which curriculums and books are high up on my wish list, and what tests I want Aravis to take this year, and my frustration with trying to teach writing, and how Mariel and I are about ready to throw in the towel with fractions but are rejoicing at the insight we find through history, and how very much I like teaching piano, and the accepting and helpful person that is my very own piano teacher... It would take a long time, though, and I would grow tired, and you might be bored, and I need to do ye next thynge, which is to get in jammies and go to sleep so I can participate in this exuberance again tomorrow.

So I will just say that I love my life. I never thought I would have something so hard and so satisfying on this Earth. And sometimes in the tyranny of the urgent it is a challenge to find the arms of the Lord, but just knowing He is there is a comfort. Good night.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Various and sundry bits of news...

I haven't written on the blog for a while. We are still here, but have a lot going on. Tonight, the Warrior Poet has taken the kids to their activity, and I have been given a luxurious five and three-quarter hours of silence at home in which to fold laundry, print lesson plans for literature class, read over my kids' narrations, correct their math and science, and listen to the gerbil shred cardboard.

It is just enough time to rejoice in, without being so long that I get lonely for them.

The latest news:

Cornflower played violin in her first orchestra concert last week. She is getting so big.

All three girls are currently participating in a production of The Magical Land of Oz (or some such name-- it is version of "Wizard of Oz"). The rehearsal schedule is beginning to get to me.

I have thirteen piano students this year, and I just love teaching them. I am also taking piano lessons every so often from a wise older woman in the next town over. She is so encouraging!

My mom is retiring in January. I can't wait. We are going to have so much fun...

My kids are studying Years 10, 7 and 4 this year. I love studying history. Churchill (Birth of Britain) isn't so difficult the second time around. And in Year 10, Aravis and I are gaining insight into the world of the 1800s-- I thought I understood that world pretty well, but I missed a lot.

I have put off my reading of Poetic Knowledge and Norms and Nobility again. I don't think I have enough background in the ancients to know how they line up with the Bible and how they do not. So I am reading more about the ancients right now. I will dip back into those books in the next couple of months, probably during Christmas, and see whether they make more sense. I was really floundering.

The girls like to help with different things during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I like to know ahead of time whether someone had set her heart on helping with the gnocchi or the pie. Otherwise, I invariably start the mixing/roasting/baking process without the interested girl being present. I asked the kids to sign up this year, so I don't forget. They write down what they would like to help with, and I make sure it is on the menu and that I involve them in the cooking process. And I do not lose the sign-up sheet. That's the theory, anyway. If we lose the paper, we can always make another one...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Why of English (and Western) History

In this book I am trying to give you only those events of the past which can throw a light upon the conditions of the present world. If I do not mention certain countries, the cause is not to be found in any secret dislike on my part. I wish that I could tell you what happened to Norway and Switzerland and Serbia and China. But these lands exercised no great influence upon the development of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I therefore pass them by with a polite and very respectful bow. England however is in a different position. What the people of that small island have done during the last five hundred years has shaped the course of history in every corner of the world. Without a proper knowledge of the background of English history, you cannot understand what you read in the newspapers. And it is therefore necessary that you know how England happened to develop a parliamentary form of government while the rest of the European continent was still ruled by absolute monarchs.

--from The Story of Mankind by Hendrick Van Loon (Chapter 45)

Friday, September 03, 2010

Notes on Madam How and Lady Why: Ch. 4 The Transformations of a Grain of Soil

Ch. 4 The Transformations of a Grain of Soil

 P. 78 In 1529 in Mexico, the conquistador Cortes ordered one of his men, Montano, to lead a very dangerous expedition to retrieve 60 lbs of sulphur from Popocatépetl (Popo’s Crater), which was used as gunpowder:

 P. 79-80 The difference between soul/spirit and physical body

 P. 81-83 Description of lava flow

 Video of Kilauea (Hawaii) erupting:

 Whinstone: any various hard, dark-colored rocks, esp. basalt and chert (Free Online Dictionary)

 Slag: vitreous (glass-like) residue left by the smelting (melting or fusing) of metallic ore (Free Online Dictionary)

 Cinder: a burnt or partially burnt substance that cannot be reduced to ashes but is incapable of further combustion (Free Online Dictionary)

 Fascinating photo essay of volcanism and other geologic phenomena in Hawaii:

 P. 85-96 Kingsley explains the rock cycle

 Madeira: an island near Portugal

 Lothians of Scotland: Lothian is a region in Scotland which includes Edinburgh and Dunbar (Wikipedia)

 Rock cycle:

 Advantages/fertile soil:

 Advantages/mineral resources:

 Advantages/geothermal energy:

 Potash: a potassium compound often used in agriculture, being an ingredient in fertilizers (

 Magnesia: also called periclase; magnesium oxide (

 Silicates: types of rock that consist predominantly of silicon/oxygen; most of the Earth’s mantle and crust are made up of silicate rocks (

 Carbonic acid gas: carbon dioxide gas (absorbed from the air by plants in photosynthesis) (

 P. 88 Eruption of Skaptar Jokull in 1783 (and some other stories of volcanoes affecting the weather):

 West India Islands: West Indies, a group of islands just to the east of South/Central America

 Giant’s Causeway/Fingal’s Cave: Two corresponding areas of unique lava formations in Ireland and the Hebrides (near Scotland); they figure in legends about Finn McCool (Fionn Mac Cumhaill)'s_Cave's_Causeway

 An example of a trap dyke in the Adirondacks of upstate New York:

 Chalk:

 An old geological map of the British Isles (volcanic—igneous—rock is labeled ‘E’ for “eruptive rocks” and is colored dark red):

 Some very cool pictures of rock formations in the South of England (Wessex), and more geological maps of the British Isles and Europe:

 Since we live in Texas, a geological map of our state (igneous rock shown in pink):

 Virtual geology field trips:

 Geological structures and landforms in Dallas County:

 Madam How’s ice plough: glaciers

 Madam How’s gentle spade: rain

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Notes on Madam How and Lady Why: Ch. 3 Volcanoes

(Previous MHLW posts)

Ch. 3 Volcanoes

My favorite part of this chapter is Kingsley's imaginative description of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. :)

 P. 123-133 in Exploring His Earth is about volcanoes (and earthquakes)

 P. 54-55 is more admonition to people who live near volcanoes and earthquake activity

 Relationships between volcanoes and earthquakes:

 P. 55 Sandwich Islands: an old name for the Hawaiian Islands

 P. 55 Pele’s Hair: Thin strands of volcanic glass drawn out from molten lava

 Story of Kapiolani defying the volcano:

 Friendly Islands: an old name for the Kingdom of Tonga

 Fortunate Islands: legendary islands believed by the Greeks to be the gateway to Paradise

 P. 56 Use the following map (showing earth’s plates and earthquake/volcano activity) and an atlas to locate regions listed on p. 56, and identify areas of activity in the U.S.:

 P. 57-59 Pacific Ring of Fire traced (he begins in the Bay of Bengal, which is outside the Ring, but quickly gets to Java and the Philippines and traces most of the rest of it.

 Map of Ring of Fire:

 P. 61-66 Excellent description of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79

 Different types of volcanoes and a photo essay of the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s:

 P. 68-77 Definitions of cone, crater; and a description of an eruption

 Movie on different types of volcanoes:

 Videos of 2010 Icelandic eruption:

 Volcanoes:

 National Geographic lesson plan for Gr. 3-5 on earthquakes and volcanoes (plate tectonics):

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Notes on Madam How and Lady Why: Ch. 2 Earthquakes

(Previous MHLW post)

Ch. 2 Earthquakes

 P. 33 This chapter begins with a discussion of the 1868 earthquake in Arica, Peru. (Kingsley published Madam How and Lady Why in 1869.) We can also talk about the earthquake in Haiti, or the one Daddy experienced in 1991 in Northern California.

 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake:

 Wikipedia article:

* Addition: The girls pulled out two books when we started reading about earthquakes-- The Usborne Book of World Geography and All About Volcanoes and Earthquakes by Frederick H. Pough

 He goes into quite a bit of speculation about why—- not how-- the earthquake might have happened. This is a good time to discuss whether every bad thing that happens is because of the sin of the individual or group— in the Gospel of John Ch. 9, for instance, the Lord himself said that a certain man’s blindness came upon him not because of sin he or his parents committed, “but that the works of God should be made manifest in him”. (Later note: The Bible also says, "The wise man foresees the danger and hides himself," and it could be argued that people who live in earthquake-prone areas really ought to protect themselves, or else move. Proverbs 22:3, 27:12. Kingsley starts with this argument.)

 P. 37 The simplest explanation is usually the correct one (an idea popularly known as Occam’s Razor).

 P. 38 He speculates on the likeliest explanation for earthquakes. Here is a modern explanation of earthquakes (make sure to read the brief history of seismology to 1910, as it tells of different theories people used to believe):



 An explanation of earthquakes in Yellowstone (scroll down to “Earthquakes”):

 Skip p. 38-40 and begin again at the middle of p. 41, “…as I had come up the valley…”

 Ch. 7-9 in Exploring His Earth (Ann Voskamp) deals with the earth’s structure, earthquakes, and plate tectonics.

 P. 46 Tsunamis discussed.

 P. 52 Fen: low, flat, swampy land (we see something similar just off the highway in our neighborhood)

 A picture of a fen:

 P. 52 Bog: an area having a wet, spongy, acidic substrate composed chiefly of sphagnum moss and peat…

 Dersingham Bog:

 Sunken forest:

 Another portion of the sunken forest:

 Pholas: a bivalve mussel

 P. 53 Change in the Earth is inevitable

 Science fair idea:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Notes on Madam How and Lady Why: Ch. 1 The Glen

Scientists, if they are doing their jobs, are constantly refining their theories. As a result, science books tend to go out-of-date fairly quickly.

Charles Kingsley's book of natural history, Madam How and Lady Why, is kind of an exception in my opinion. Some of his geological ideas are now obsolete, but his philosophy of science still provides insight today.

I have been fascinated with Madam How and Lady Why since Aravis and I first read it six years ago. I often find myself thinking about Kingsley's way of looking at science as I read things in the news and in other books.

I wanted to read the book with Mariel and Cornflower this year, but also wanted to avoid having to wade through out-of-date portions with the kids, so I went through the book taking notes and finding supplementary information online. For the next few days I will post my (by no means exhaustive) notes on the first four chapters, in the hope that it will help someone else who wants to use the book. My plans is to accomplish the notes for the second four chapters before Thanksgiving, and the notes for the third four chapters by New Year's.

My thanks to Cindy Gould and Ambleside Online for providing some of the links. I apologize in advance for listing the entire web address for links rather than embedding them. These are rough notes.

Ch. 1 The Glen

 Winter on a moor east of London in England (Windsor-to-Aldershot-to-Hartford-Bridge-Flats-- see p. 17-- is east of London according to Google Maps).

 Mountains and Hills of England with topographical map:
Our interest is just inside Area 12, North Downs, in the county of Surrey.

 P. 5 The difference between How and Why

 P. 6 Madam How is at work making and remaking natural things. Kingsley has personified the concept of how nature works, and attributes everything that is done in nature to this “fairy”, which he calls “The Housekeeper of the Whole Universe”. Madam How is employed by another fairy, Lady Why, who represents Wisdom, and both are under the authority of another Master, whom we can assume is God.

 P. 6 Using his fairy terms, he discusses the Butterfly Effect—an idea put forth in Chaos Theory that “small differences in the initial conditions of a dynamic system may produce large variations in the long-term behavior of the system.” (Wikipedia)

 P. 6 Everything eventually reduces to its elements, which Madam How uses to make something else.

 Glen: a narrow and deep mountain valley (Free Online Dictionary) Glens are similar to what we call canyons here in the Western United States.

 P. 14 He talks about water erosion.

 P. 17 Heath, fern

 P. 18-19 Bournemouth Chines: Bournemouth is on the south coast of England; a chine is “a steep-sided river valley where the river flows through coastal cliffs to the sea.” (Wikipedia)

 A beautiful picture of a chine on the Isle of Wight, southeast of Bournemouth:

 A great photo of a sandstone cliff in Bournemouth:

 P. 20 brief allusion to the Ice Age

 A glen in Scotland that was formed by a glacier:

 The same glen in winter:

 Another glen with interesting conical mounds and a towering tableland:

 A webpage on an area of glens in the UK:

 P. 22 Figure out the answers to your questions with experimentation and observation.

 P. 22 He mentions Madam How “lifting Hartford Bridge Flats”, but does not
say how it was done. He will address this later.

 P. 23 He suggests an experiment: start with a flat area of clay, top it with a layer of sand, then ‘rain’ on it with a watering can, and see what forms. Then try different soils, or put the clay on top of the sand.

 Clay, chalk, limestone, slate—these are all different kinds of rock, or soil. Water erodes these as well.

 P. 25 “…such a chasm…” a set of pictures of Avon Gorge in Bristol with the River Avon running through it):

 P. 25 The Matterhorn, Weisshorn, Pic du Midi (pics easily found online)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Liberty and Constraint in Writing

When we began AO/HEO, I thought that narration, dictation and copywork would cause my children to simply blossom into amazing writers. I remember explaining my point of view to a living-books friend whose part-time job is grading standardized test essays. Her response was gentle but a little disturbing. She looked at me doubtfully and said, "Well, that isn't going to be enough for my kids."

That was two years into our Ambleside experience. The kernel of doubt thus lodged in my mind was nurtured by the lack of structure I found in my kids' writing. They were imaginative, yes. They had things to say, absolutely. But they were not succinct or cohesive. Sometimes they were not even coherent.

By that time, my oldest was beginning Year 7. I saw that there were specific books recommended for composition. They were commendable, trusted commentaries and celebrated writing handbooks. I had heard of these.

But I wanted systematic assignments. I wanted someone to lay out the work for me. I didn't have the experience to know how to order the work to be done with these books. My student and I read them through and tried to implement them in the narration process, but our efforts were sporadic.

As we went through Year 7 and into Year 8, I began to panic a little. Some of my panic was public, which is rather embarassing to recall. I started purchasing any and every writing handbook I could find for cheap. Anxious to stay away from 'formula' writing programs, I shunned IEW and purchased BraveWriter. It was good for making me calm as I taught the kids writing, but didn't fill that gap I perceived in our writing program.

In Year 9, desperate, I purchased Jensen's Format Writing and had my oldest work through that. It wasn't a complete success, although she dutifully wrote dry essays in the 'proper' five-paragraph format. She rewrote Lamb's Essays of Elia for dictation at the same time, which are definitely NOT 'proper' five-paragraph essays-- Jensen and Lamb are as different as night and day. In comparing the two, I finally saw the difference between writing for an "A" and writing for the joy of expression.

The rewriting of essays in the last year-- a recommendation given at AO/HEO Year 9-- has probably been the best thing that we have done at our house to improve writing skills. I am following the HEO Year 10 plan of having her rewrite eighteen more essays from various authors this year. But slogging through Jensen's was helpful too, in terms of making her aware that structure is not optional. She eventually discovered structure in the Lamb essays, but I do not know that she would have seen it without having to outline and bullet-point her way through a format writing curriculum.

I asked Aravis what she felt helped her the most with writing essays and articles. She thought perhaps writing for the science fair, since it was the only 'report writing' she did for so many years. I think this is funny because after last year's science fair, students were told in no uncertain terms that if they were writing their project speeches in literary style, they needed to stop that and be more brief and technical. You can't please everyone.

But Aravis had a point. In writing for the science fair, she had a purpose, she had a goal, and she had to be coherent.

Good writers write. They read and they research and they live, and then they write and write and write. Some of the writing is motivated by the writer's own desire to express, to get it out of the mind and onto the page. Sometimes the writer is given a job to do, with boundaries and requirements, but inside those limits the joy of expression can still be found.

Aravis has been learning the art of the 25-minute SAT essay this summer. It is difficult to impossible to freewrite through the SAT essay. The tight time limit and complicated writing topics practically require the student to quickly develop a thesis and bullet points as framework before composing. It is not a leisurely exercise. But these assignments will present themselves despite my efforts to allow my students time to think. I now hope to teach my kids how to discover writing liberty within the constraints that will be imposed on them by their guides, overseers and rulers.

(Related note: I am still looking for an excellent writing program to help us on our journey, and am currently interested in-- read: drooling over-- Andrew Kern's Lost Tools of Writing.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I sent the following note to a dear, sweet mother of two primary students and one toddler child who expressed frustration and sorrow for her struggling efforts the other day. Then I realized I know other moms with kids in the early elementary and toddler/preschool years that might like to hear about our journey, so here it is:

Dear _____,

I wanted to let you know that I was standing right in your shoes seven years ago. My daughters were 9, 6 and 3. I felt guilt for the time I didn't spend with the 3yo, frustration with the 6yo because she simply *would not* learn how to read, and exhaustion trying to keep up with the 9yo who was extremely curious about the world and wanted to read everything before I could preread it.

It was a tough time. People told me, "These years pass so quickly. They don't stay small forever. Enjoy it while you can."

I thought, "I *know* these years pass quickly, but I need to get through *today*." I even felt guilty that I wasn't enjoying their younger years more!

Fast-forward seven years. I have three children who are almost 16, 13 and 10. They are independent, intelligent, and fun. I did some things right, and many things wrong (including yelling and the manipulative mama guilt trip). I cried out to the Lord, and many times felt like I couldn't pray. I learned to put little islands of calm into each day-- a promise that we would definitely read a chapter from a favorite book (with no narration), a trip to the park after violin lesson every week, a day in which we did no chores but the necessary. I learned to evaluate what went well and what needed tweaking—without a self-inflicted, judgmental guilt-trip/pity-party combo—at the end/beginning of each term, and to adjust to the reality of our immediate situation, appreciating idealistic scenarios, but understanding that sometimes they just aren’t practical.

It's a lot to think about. At one point in those elementary years (I think it was the year my youngest began Year 0), I confessed to a friend that I just *could not* do this. She laughingly said, "You know we're crazy, right?" Then she suggested that I stop grabbing guilt out of the universe and go easier on myself.

I want to suggest that you stop grabbing guilt out of the universe and go easy on yourself.

I try hard not to vent at my kids when I get frustrated or overwhelmed, but when it happens, I humbly ask their forgiveness. And move on. They know their mom is not perfect. Sometimes it takes a day or two for me to climb down from my 'mad' enough to talk to them about it, but the Lord doesn't let me rest until I have made reparation. Then He wants me to move on as well. God doesn't want us dwelling on our sinful parts. Go forth and sin no more, right? Forgetting those things that are behind, we press for the mark of the high calling in Christ Jesus. He paid for those sins. They are as far away as the East is from the West.

One time we were visiting in the home of friends who also homeschool. Her oldest son had been having some behavior issues, and the evening had been rather bumpy as a result. I will never forget the prayer she prayed as we sat down to dinner. "Lord, please redeem this evening."

He redeems our efforts. He knows our frame, that we are dust. He knows we need Him in order for anything good to grow.

I *so* feel your pain. I have been there many times. As the girls get more independent and less in need of constant supervision, puberty, teenage hormones and college preparations come into the mix. But God is faithful. He has done so much with my girls. They are fascinating and funny and smart. They certainly have their flaws, but I am amazed at what the Lord has wrought. My oldest is getting through college testing with flying colors (we've done living books all the way through-- ha!), and my younger two are blossoming and revealing their potential in spite of my mistakes. They are His kids, too. :)

Blessings, sweet mother! Rest assured that "no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should, and after all, you are just one woman-- a person, not superhuman after all." Keep your eyes on your Maker, abide in Him, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

With Love,

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Absolute Best Homeschool Method Ever

It's not Charlotte Mason. It's not Classical. It's not even the Principle Approach.

A friend of mine visited the blog today and sent me a message saying that CM is her goal school-wise, but that she seems to get further away from Charlotte Mason method as more of her kids become school-aged.

Then she named it. The Absolute Best Homeschool Method Ever.

(This is all you need, folks.)

"But I press along still looking up in prayer..."

That's the way to do it.

Van Paid, Check!

(Find previous getting-out-of-debt posts here.)

Well, the Warrior Poet and I have sent off our final payment on the van loan. Yippee! It only took us five (!) years. Here's praying that the transmission doesn't fall out before we save up for a replacement!

(Those of you who think you need a new car even though you have to schedule the payments out for sixty months, don't do it! Back away from the salesman. Please pay cash for a beater instead of going into long-term debt for a car. Believe me.)

But God has been good to us. Two years ago, we faced the fact that not only were we $25,000 in debt (excluding the house), we were too undisciplined to get out of debt without personal help. We enlisted the aid of a personal financial coach for six months, who trained us to keep our heads in the game and our eyes on the goal. He was very helpful. He still replies to our occasional emails when things go awry and we don't know what to do.

Anyway, in two years we have paid off over $15,000. We listen to folks on Dave Ramsey that have paid off $50,000 or more in two years, and realize we are not nearly as aggressive as Dave recommends, BUT we have still paid off $15,000 in debt in two years.

(We realized in the counselling sessions that the only way we could get that aggressive would be to put the kids in school and send me back to work full-time. We decided that we were Not In That Bad Of Shape. We were going to do this thing while homeschooling if at all possible, even if it took longer.)

$9700 to go. Yippee!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Lizzy, Emma, Catherine, and Us

Roasting marshmallows at sunset

Last weekend we came back from a visit to our friends in Missouri. These are the friends that used to live across the street from us, and were our long-lost brethren in many ways, and I never thought while they lived here that they would ever move away. But they did.

So now we visit them, and they come to see us, and my friend K. and I do the mom version of the Vulcan mind-meld and drink tea and coffee and laugh at our children.

K. with her youngest son

Anyway, K. gave me a book for a present when we got to her house, and I was delighted. I wonder sometimes if I will ever cease to be delighted by books, especially when I look at my bookcases and counters and tabletops covered in them, but I came home from Missouri with bags of new ones I purchased from the terrific thrift stores up there. The book K. gave to me is the prize of them all. It is called Miniatures and Morals: the Christian Novels of Jane Austen by Peter Leithart.

We have Peter Leithart's commentary on six Shakespeare plays, and have been pleased to add him to the conversation at our house. I didn't even realize he had an Austen commentary until K. handed me a copy.

"One for you and one for me," she smiled.

See. What a great friend.

I begin to see the possibilities for this book. With two girls fixing to be thirteen and sixteen at the beginning of the fall, and a third daughter coming up fast behind, I am always on the lookout for another Beauty and Virtue book. You know the kind. How to Have Good Manners and Good Hygiene, Take Care of Things, Serve Others, and Glorify God in Everything You Do. And Other Fun Stuff...

Okay, just kidding. :D

Actually, I like those kinds of books. If only life could be reduced to a formula. But then it would not be lavish and imaginative and joyful. And unpredictable.

With this new Jane Austen commentary, I sense a different kind of Beauty and Virtue experience. We have read (and watched) and enjoyed (and dissected) the Austen novels for years, but I hope Mr. Leithart's insight will provide us an additional road map through the qualities of light and truth-- as well as darkness and deception-- in her books.

We plan to read aloud three novels during the first hour next year:

Pride and Prejudice ("Morals and Manners, Marriage and Money")
Emma ("Charity and the Deeper Game")
Northanger Abbey ("What Ideas Have You Been Admitting?")

Ooh, I'm so excited. Now if only Mr. Leithart would write a commentary for Sir Walter Scott's novels...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


We went to Natchez with my dad this spring and saw the beautiful town houses of the planters. We actually got to tour the insides of two: the tragic Longwood (otherwise known as Nutt's Folly) and the gorgeous Stanton Hall.

The tour I most enjoyed, however, was a photographic tour through time, located in a church rather than a home. The 1st Presbyterian Church, a beauty itself in terms of architecture, houses a sizable collection of photographic art from the 19th and early 20th Century-- fashion, town and river life, families, homes and businesses. The photos personalized and brought reality to the fantastic buildings we were touring.

An organist was giving a lesson in the sanctuary while we were there, and, since Dad and Aravis and I were fascinated by the photos, the kids occupied themselves listening when they got tired. (I was so fascinated that I didn't even take any pictures of the building or the gallery.)

The people at the church were welcoming and kind, and even offered to let us help paint a couple of rooms they were working on downstairs. :) I might have taken them up on it, they were so friendly and the place so beautiful, but we were slated to drive up Natchez Trace and have a picnic, so we declined.

Our picnic with one of our friends along the Natchez Trace.

Henry C. Norman was an internationally recognized photographer from the early days of photography. There is a book I want, Norman's Natchez, that contains quite a few of his pictures. I think it is out of print. I am wishing for it on Paperback Swap.

The day before visiting the photo gallery, we travelled across the Mississippi River into Louisiana, where the wealthy of Natchez traditionally had their plantations. We visited Frogmore Plantation a working cotton plantation and gin that also contains historic slave cabins and other plantation buildings.

The outside of a slave cabin at Frogmore, with unplanted cotton fields in the background. Nowadays the cotton plantation is operated by only a few people and lots of machinery. When we went, they were waiting on one more rain before they put in the cotton.

The old Frogmore cotton gin. The new one is down the road and is completely mechanized and run by computer.

A bed in a slave cabin. Having toured several pioneer-type historical parks, I was struck by the similarity of these slave cabins to pioneer cabins in the Western wilderness.

After Emancipation, many former slaves were "upgraded" to sharecropper status. This was what a sharecropper's cabin might have looked like on the inside.

At Frogmore I purchased two books:

My Folks Don't Want Me To Talk About Slavery, a collection of accounts of slavery related by former slaves to writers in the Federal Writers Project of the 1930s. The interviewers followed a list of prescribed questions, and the interviewees' answers were candid. There are over 2000 of these interviews available for perusal at the Library of Congress website. I found the book intensely interesting.


The Plantation Mistress: A Woman's World in the Old South by Catherine Clinton, a history of planters' wives and their world. Despite the obvious radical feminist bias, I relished this book, especially because in the writing of it, Ms. Clinton accessed and quoted from over 500 manuscript collections containing many source documents previously unexamined. (What I would really like is a book containing all of those source documents!) Unfortunately, Ms. Clinton's determination to label these women "prisoners in disguise" is a distraction from the admirably detailed look at the social customs, health, morals and management of these amazing women.

We went to Frogmore first, because I wanted the girls to see where the wealth came from before we saw the town houses. By a strange coincidence, the two homes we chose to tour in Natchez were built by wealthy men who, like the rich fool in the parable (Luke 12), did not live to enjoy their wealth:


Longwood was built for Julia Nutt by her husband, Dr. Haller Nutt. A Northern sympathizer and incredibly bad prophet, Dr. Nutt did not think all the secession talk would amount to anything, and began building his lavish Oriental octagonal villa only months before the War of Northern Aggression (that's the Civil War to Northerners). When war was declared, the Northern workers dropped their tools where they were and fled the South, leaving Dr. Nutt and Miss Julia with a home finished on the outside and unfinished on the inside. They were living in the slave quarters while the building went on, so Dr. Nutt hired local craftsmen to finish out the basement of the mansion and the family moved in.

This would have been the entry hall on the first floor.

Julia would live in the basement of that mansion for decades.

Being a Northern sympathizer, Dr. Nutt gave General Grant permission to use his Louisiana plantation, Winter Quarters, for a military camp. When the soldiers left, they looted and destroyed the crops, leaving no means for supporting the people who lived on the plantation or across the river at Longwood. (However, Winter Quarters was the only plantation in that area left standing after Grant's men came through.)

Dr. Nutt passed away in 1864, leaving Julia and her several children with many slaves, no crops, and bills overdue for luxurious materials and furnishings that had not been received due to Northern blockades.

I mean, really, the man had no clue, did he?

Julia rose to the occasion, fought the federal government for damages after the war, won enough money to send her children to school, and raised her family. Eventually, the unfinished mansion was turned over to the Pilgrimage Garden Club (a group of ladies that caretake and provide tours of many Natchez town houses) with the stipulation that the Oriental villa never be completed. Until the 1960s, the tools lay on the upper floors exactly where the workers dropped them as they returned North.

The view from the first floor up through the center of the house-- when completed, it would have allowed light through the Byzantine-Moorish dome at the top down to all the floors below.

Look at the intricate detail on those pillars!

Longwood is located in what would have been the outskirts of Natchez at that time, while Stanton Hall was built on a city block in the downtown area. It was completely finished, and we got a private tour of the inside. No one else joined our group, so the kids and I asked every question we could think of and stretched what was supposed to be a thirty minute tour into over an hour.

Stanton Hall

Oh, goodness, that was a fancy house. And very symmetrical. The house had several stories, but we toured only the first two. Each level had a large hall in the middle that stretched from the front to the back of the house, with rooms on either side. There were gorgeously carved Carrera marble fireplaces (all I could think when I saw those was the poor parlormaid and the dusting she had to do), lavish cornices and draperies and moulding, Hudson River School artwork, and a beautiful little piano in one corner. I thought the most striking decorations were the ornate wrought-iron chandeliers adorned with a different theme in each room-- the dining room had Native American warriors; the drawing room had cherubs and fruit if I remember correctly; and Frederick Stanton's office had English soldiers from the 1600s-- you know, like Captain John Smith. I could go on and on about the ornamentation. There was a LOT. It was fatiguing on the eye after awhile.

Frederick Stanton, a cotton broker, died one month after his dream home was finished. Thankfully, he paid cash for materials as he went and did not leave his widow in debt.

On the second-floor back porch at Stanton Hall.

I haven't said much about Natchez Trace, or our climb up the ceremonial Native American mounds, or our visit to one of the roadside inns, or our treacherous and questionable journey on dirt roads of loess soil out to the ghost town of Rodney to see the church that was fired upon by the Union and still contains cannon balls in its facade, but I have really gone on too long, so I will save those for another day.

Monday, June 21, 2010


We are visiting friends in Missouri right now, and my friend was telling me a story she heard regarding the oaken beams in the dining hall at New College, Oxford. The beams were rotting, so they wanted to replace them, but the oaks had to be very tall in order to be made into beams for this particular building.

They asked the college forester if there might be some oak trees on college lands that were tall enough for the beams. He said there had been a grove of oaks planted for future provision. The administrators had some of the trees cut down and used for beams.

I love this story so much, although the folks at New College say it isn't true. It reminds me of one of my favorite Wendell Berry quotes:

Invest in the Millennium. Plant sequoias.

I want to plant sequoias. I want to teach my kids to plant sequoias. I want us to have a long-term view.

They are learning a lot about singing this summer. I majored in vocal performance in college. I was thoroughly trained to sing healthy (healthily?), and to resist poor technique. In the last year, I have come into conflict with my children over this issue. (I don't think they realize how very thoroughly I was trained to resist unhealthy singing.) They have figured out that they can get more volume with less work by belting out their songs, and naturally want to take the easy route. I have alternated between discussion and masterly inactivity in dealing with this issue. I feel so strongly about them learning to sing in a way that will preserve their beautiful voices, although the process is longer. In the end, they will have to decide whether to bloom quickly and fade, or grow slowly with a good foundation.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.

Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.

--Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

And as I work on next year's plans, I, too, want to remember I am planting sequoias, that my profit is the forest I "will not live to harvest." I want to keep the long-term in view.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Guest Blogger: George Washington's Limits

(Written by Aravis)

George Washington started his career as a surveyor, measuring off how much land belonged to a certain person. As a teenager, he was already learning the value of limits and boundaries, which would later become important in his political career. He was a soldier for several years, participating in the French and Indian War as well as the American Revolution, during which he rose to national attention. He helped to create the nation in the Constitutional Convention, where he was the head of the meetings.

Washington was what is now referred to as a “control freak”, but not in the usual meaning. He wanted complete control of himself, not others, and had set precise rules for himself since he was a child. This may have influenced him when he advocated a government with limited control over the individual – he believed people should be in charge of themselves, but knew that some civil government was necessary to deal with those who would not deal with themselves.

Technicalities for the role of President were still being hammered out when Washington assumed the position. If he had not been the right sort of “control freak”, the job of President could be drastically different today, because he was the one who shaped it. But he was aware of the human lust for power and also of the damage it could do, and kept himself from doing anything that was not for the good of his country. The limits he set for himself helped shape the entire nation.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Guest Blogger: Bread

(Guest post written by Mariel)

Bread is a chemical compound. Have you ever thought of it in this way? Neither had I until this exam question: Explain bread-making in a scientific way. So, here goes.

First you take the water and put it into the pan of the bread machine. The 2tsp butter, made up of pasteurized cream and salt, is melted and put into the pan. The 4 cups of flour goes in next. This Great Value All Purpose Flour is made of enriched bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, reduced iron, and thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid. So then you put the sugar and salt in. They are made of sugar and salt. After all that, the yeast is put in. Now the yeast is a bacteria that makes the bread puff up. You have to measure it very carefully, or else you will have very puffy bread. I know, because I made bread once and I think that I put a little too much yeast in. But the yeast does not affect the flavor. The yeast is made up of yeast, sorbitan monostearate, and ascorbic acid. We keep the yeast in the freezer to keep it alive but dormant.

The funny thing about yeast is that it is a living thing that you eat, like chicken. Except it is not a meat. That is all that I know about bread-making. But remember, ‘Man cannot live on bread alone.’

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Guest Blogger: Full of Light

(A narration of Monet's "Women in the Garden", written by Aravis)

In Monet’s painting “Women in the Garden”, one woman sits underneath a tree reading a book, another stands slightly behind the tree, and a third walks along the path. The model for all three women was his wife, who posed in each different position so that her husband could paint it. On the face of the woman beneath the tree, Monet tried a new technique – he painted it slightly paler than ordinary to indicate the woman’s skirt reflecting light upwards. In the bottom left corner there are lilies and other flowers, leading up to the sitting woman. The tree is dark and shadowy and so is the woman standing behind it, providing an interesting comparison to the bright, hard shape of the woman walking on the garden path between two rows of black-green conifers. The women in their white dresses, the white lilies in the corner, the light-brown sandy gravel of the path and the pale sky with its white clouds contrast sharply with the almost navy-green trees and shadowy grass. But even the trees have slim white reflective glints on their glossy leaves. The painting is full of light.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Guest Blogger: Cricket on the Shore

A poem in blank verse written by Aravis

Beneath an overhanging cliff, the shore
Stood empty, quiet, and devoid of life.
A cricket chirped inside the nearby wood.
A boat slid onto crunching rocks and sand.
Another followed. Several men got out
And quietly conferred there on the beach.
Two men paced off a section of the shore.
The others took their places at the ends.
Two heavy, ornate pistols fiercely flashed
As they were loaded, and the duel began.
The cricket heard two shots, and then a crack.
A bullet struck an overhanging branch,
Which fell beside him. One man dropped his gun.
The first two helped him up. The cricket watched
As all four boarded boats again and rowed
To where they came from, leaving him alone –
A cricket on the narrow shore on which
Two great men – Hamilton and Aaron Burr –
Had fought their duel, and history was made.

Wrappin' It Up

The last few weeks, I've watched the kids' activities gradually vacate the calendar, until this week all we have are piano lessons and one audition. I keep mentally renaming the days of the week--

Monday- "The Day We Didn't Go To Violin"
Tuesday- "The Day We Won't Attend Orchestra Rehearsal"
Wednesday- "The Day We Don't Drive To Spanish Class"
Thursday- "The Day We Won't Drive to Biology"
Friday- "The Day We Don't Attend Drama Club"

Hee hee. I really like this week.

My grandparents are coming to visit later in the week, so that makes it extra-special-nice.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Charge of the Light Brigade

We dearly love the poem "In Flanders Fields" as a Memorial Day tribute to fallen soldiers, but this year Allie suggested that we post "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and I liked her suggestion. To me, this poem represents the courage, loyalty and sacrifice of brave men and women that die in service to their country, as well as the grave responsibility placed on leaders to lead with wisdom and understanding, and the tragedy of war. May God bless our leaders and soldiers!

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack & Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter'd & sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

--Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1854)

AO Year 3 Term 3 Exam Questions

(Based on the Year 3 book list at Ambleside Online, and the ideas of Charlotte Mason)

1. (History) Add important figures to your time chart and show Mom.

2. (Bible) In your own words, tell about a favorite Bible character you read about and/or discussed this term.

3. (Bible) In your own words, tell about a favorite Bible event you read about and/or discussed this term.

4. (Writing) In your best penmanship, write down 2-4 lines of a poem you memorized this term.

5. (Dictation) In your best penmanship, write down a sentence that Mom will dictate to you.

6. (Composition) Describe a favorite scene or character from a Shakespeare story you read this term.

7. (Composition) Tell a story about Mowgli.

8. (Composition) Tell a story about Cis (from _Unknown to History_).

9. (Grammar) Underline the subject and circle the verb in your dictation sentence (#5).

10. (U.S. History) Describe an event in the founding of the American colonies.

11. (U.S. History) Describe a famous person from this term’s reading of _This Country of Ours_.

12. (World History) Tell a story about one of the English Kings from this term’s reading of _An Island Story_.

13. (World History) Tell about one of the inventors and his invention from this term’s reading of _Famous Inventors_.

14. (Natural History/Science) Explain the life cycle of a plant.

15. (Natural History/Science) Draw and label different kinds of fungus.

16. (Natural History/Science) Explain how spray bottles and spray cans work OR write down a recipe for making whipped cream.

17. (Arithmetic) Play the dominoes multiplication facts game with Mom.

18. (Picture Study) Describe your favorite Monet painting from the following pictures: Terrace at St. Adresse, Women in the Garden, Jean Monet on His Hobby Horse, Tulip Fields in Holland, The Waterlily Pond

19. (Drawing) Draw an original illustration from The Jungle Book.

20. (Drawing) Draw a still life of a plant in our yard.

21. (Natural History/Science) List all the inventors you can remember, and name their inventions.

AO Year 6 Term 3 Exam Questions

(Based on the Year 6 book list at Ambleside Online and the ideas of Charlotte Mason)

1. (Bible) Compare and contrast Abraham and Isaac.

2. (Bible) What are the purposes of the church?

3. (Writing) Write 2-4 lines of a poem you have memorized this term.

4. (Dictation) In your best penmanship, write down a passage that Mom will dictate to you.

5. (Composition) Take one of the character qualities highlighted in _Never Give In_, show how Winston Churchill exemplified that quality, and explain how you could incorporate that quality into your life.

6. (Composition) Rewrite one scene from Shakespeare’s _Julius Caesar_, substituting current American leaders for Roman leaders, and current events for historic Roman events.

7. (Composition) Describe Frank Osbaldistone. What is he like?

8. (World History) Describe an event from Roman history. Who was involved?

9. (World History) Describe a famous person from the time of Augustus Caesar. Include his or her deeds, and whether he or she acted justly.

10. (World History) Describe four of the following religions:
a. Islam
b. Judaism
c. Hinduism
d. Buddhism
e. Taoism
f. Confucianism
g. Zoroastrianism

11. (World History) What do you know about the following ancient civilizations?
a. Egypt
b. China
c. India
d. Persia

12. (Natural History/Science) When did Galen live? Give a sketch of his career as a doctor.

13. (Natural History/Science) Define the following chemistry terms:
a. affinity
b. solution
c. chemical combination
d. chemical compound
e. combustion

14. (Natural History/Science) Explain bread-making in scientific terms.

15. (Natural History/Science) Why does the wind blow?

16. (Natural History/Science) What is a glacier and how is it formed?

17. (Geometry) Define the terms listed on the next page.

18. (Picture Study) Describe your favorite Monet painting from the following
pictures: Terrace at St. Adresse, Women in the Garden, Jean Monet on His Hobby Horse, Tulip Fields in Holland, The Waterlily Pond

19. (Drawing) Draw an original illustration from “Julius Caesar”.

20. (Drawing) Draw a still life of a plant in our yard.

HEO Year 9 Term 3 Exam Questions

(Based on the HEO Year 9 book list from Ambleside Online and the ideas of Charlotte Mason)

1. (Bible) “A double-sided humility…” What does Gary Thomas mean by this?

2. (Bible) How did God fulfill his covenant with Abraham? (The historical record of the covenant is found in Genesis 15.)

3. (Bible- full essay) Write an essay on the purposes of the church.

4. (Writing) Write ten lines of poetry from memory.

5. (Composition) Write a poem, in blank verse (that must scan), on one of the following: John and Abigail Adams, the duel of Hamilton and Burr, or the correspondence of Jefferson and Adams.

6. (Composition- full essay) Write an essay, in the style of Charles Lamb, on some aspect of our trip to Natchez.

7. (Literature- full essay) Discuss the role of superstition and divination in "Julius Caesar".

8. (Literature) Explain the satire in _Tale of a Tub_.

9. (History) Turn in your Century Chart for the 1700s.

10. (American History) Describe the career of George Washington, his take on the role of civil government, and his power as "Father of his Country".

11. (American History) Give a sketch of John Adams’ career.

12. (American History) Describe the condition of the U.S. when the Constitutional Convention met in 1787.

13. (Citizenship) What do you have to say about drunkenness, gluttony, and slothfulness? Discuss temperance, soberness and chastity.

14. (Citizenship) Why did Brutus participate in the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar?

15. (Citizenship) What qualities should we look for in a member of the U.S. Congress?

16. (Geography) Give some account of South Africa with a map (you may trace or copy the map, but put in major cities and bodies of water).

17. (Geography) Name and describe three countries in Africa.

18. (Geography) What do you know of Mark Twain’s manner of life while traveling? What parts of the world did he explore in _Following the Equator_?

19. (Picture Study) Describe your favorite Monet painting from the following pictures: Terrace at St. Adresse, Women in the Garden, Jean Monet on His Hobby Horse, Tulip Fields in Holland, The Waterlily Pond

20. (Drawing) Draw an original illustration from “Julius Caesar”.

21. (Drawing) Draw a still life of a plant in our yard.

(Please note that there are no questions on grammar, mathematics, science or foreign languages. I left them out because we used other means of evaluating those subjects this term.)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Opinions About Ideas

Once an idea crystallizes into an opinion, is it still an idea?

Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. Probably he will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer, as he makes use of only a small proportion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest. He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that; our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and his to take what he needs. Urgency on our part annoys him. He resists forcible feeding and loathes predigested food. What suits him best is pabulum presented in the indirect literary form which Our Lord adopts in those wonderful parables whose quality is that they cannot be forgotten though, while every detail of the story is remembered, its application may pass and leave no trace. We, too, must take this risk. We may offer children as their sustenance the Lysander of Plutarch, an object lesson, we think, shewing what a statesman or a citizen should avoid: but, who knows, the child may take to Lysander and think his 'cute' ways estimable! Again, we take the risk, as did our Lord in that puzzling parable of the Unjust Steward. One other caution; it seems to be necessary to present ideas with a great deal of padding, as they reach us in a novel or poem or history book written with literary power. A child cannot in mind or body live upon tabloids however scientifically prepared; out of a whole big book he may not get more than half a dozen of those ideas upon which his spirit thrives; and they come in unexpected places and unrecognised forms, so that no grown person is capable of making such extracts from Scott or Dickens or Milton, as will certainly give him nourishment. It is a case of,––"In the morning sow thy seed and in the evening withhold not thine hand for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that."

One of our presumptuous sins in this connection is that we venture to offer opinions to children (and to older persons) instead of ideas. We believe that an opinion expresses thought and therefore embodies an idea. Even if it did so once the very act of crystallization into opinion destroys any vitality it may have had; pace Ruskin, a crystal is not a living body and does not feed men. We think to feed children on the dogmas of a church, the theorems of Euclid, mere abstracts of history, and we wonder that their education does not seem to take hold of them.

CMSeries Vol. 6 p. 109-110

Assumptions in Science

"The nature, functions, and behaviour of ideas, and how ideas have power in their impact upon the cerebral hemisphere to make some sort of sensible impression––all this is matter as to which we are able only to make 'guesses at truth.' But this need not dismay us, for such other ultimate facts as sleep and life and death are equally unexplained. In every department of science we are brought up before facts which we have to assume as the bases of our so-called science. Where a working hypothesis is necessary, all we can do is to assume those bases that seem to us the most adequate and the most fruitful."

CM Series Volume 3 page 69

Monday, April 26, 2010

N&N: That Which One Thinks is True

David Hicks uses the word, 'dogma', in his book. I keep bumping up against it in an uncomfortable way. What exactly does it mean? And in what sense does he use it? And why am I uncomfortable with that word in the context of education?

1. tenet, a religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof
2. a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative.

1 a : something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet b : a code of such tenets c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
2 : a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church

The word is from a Greek root meaning, "to seem good, think". Hmm.

Here are some quotes from N&N. I think Mr. Hicks is using the word in the sense of 'authoritative code of beliefs':

"I have differed from many modern writers on education by insisting upon the necessity of dogma..." (p. vi)

"Both an elaborate dogma and a man, [the Ideal Type] defied comparison with any man, yet all men discovered themselves in it." (p. 4)

"Like the thinker whose brilliance we universally acclaim, Alfred North Whitehead, we have cultivated a perverse form of modesty and self-deception that, in the absence of dogma (the working yet scientifically undemonstrable hypotheses of the old civilization), has allowed us to forget who we are and what our purposes are, as well as to neglect to teach those lessons to our children." (p. 10)

"Classical education presents the right way, not with the intention of stifling future inquiry, but as a necessary starting point for dialogue. In this sense, dogma can resemble art: it confronts man with some truth about himself, a kind of truth that might have taken him a lifetime of error and misdirection to arrive at for himself, but ultimately, a truth he must test in his own experience of life if he is to appropriate it for himself and benefit from the confrontation." (p. 19)

So-- Mr. Hicks believes dogma is necessary in education. The Ideal Type is dogma. So were the "working yet scientifically undemonstrable hypotheses of the old civilization". Without it, we do not know who man is, and what his purposes are. And dogma can behave like art.

I think I am uncomfortable because I do fear indoctrination, especially if we are talking about education in a larger sense than what I am doing at my house with my own kids. Obviously, I think dogma (Christian dogma, to be specific) is a necessary component of education-- one of the reasons we homeschool is because we have strong convictions regarding "what we think is true". But who picks the dogma for institutional schools? The parents? The school board? The state or national government?

Can dogma be broad enough to be universal and not infringe on religious freedoms when the state runs government schools-- and yet still be that spirit that confronts us with who we are and what we ought to do?

C.S. Lewis, in his book, _Mere Christianity_, talks about certain laws that are accepted by almost every human culture, even the remotest. The fact that so many different cultures have such similar principles, Lewis says, is proof (in the sense of classical inquiry rather than scientific) that a universal code of ethics exists. This is why we can use Greek and Roman myths, African "Anansi" legends, and old European fairy tales as 'organizing stories' for our young folks-- these stories embody universal values.

Could this code be used to form dogma for education, even in a nation in which the definition of 'religious freedom' is being debated? I know some folks have tried (William Bennett comes to mind). Is that what Mr. Hicks is talking about? Is it enough?

Update: It occurred to me as I woke up this morning that CM's student's motto and 20 Principles are dogma, although she did call on the science of her day as proof for some of her principles. She had tremendous respect for and hope of science, it seems. And she also understood the educational necessity-- indeed, the human necessity-- of addressing the questions, "What is man? and what are his purposes?"

"I am, I can, I ought, I will." This was the motto she gave us. I am a human being, one of God's children; I can do right by my fellowmen and by myself; I ought so to do and God help me, I will so do. Is this not a great message she has given us?

--Michael A. E. Franklin, one of Charlotte Mason's students; from In Memoriam

N&N: The Shape of Education

Form is the necessary precondition for all experience and expression, perception and comprehension.

--David Hicks, Norms and Nobility, p. 18.


Two criteria for the classical curriculum:

1. Logical methods

2. Okay, I have to say I can't figure out the second criterion. It has to do with general curiosity, beauty, and ethics. It's the criterion that broadens, while the first one narrows. This second one is the 'spirit' part, while logic is the 'format' part of classical inquiry. It is what CM meant when she said, "Education is a life." It is ideas. I think.

N&N: Classical Inquiry

Classical education is not, preeminently, of a specific time or place. It stands instead for a spirit of inquiry and a form of instruction concerned with the development of style through language and conscience through myth.

--David Hicks, Norms and Nobility, p. 18.


The three essential attributes of classical inquiry:

1. general curiosity (emphasis on general rather than systematic or specific)

2. imaginative hypotheses (often broader than scientific hypotheses)

3. methods of testing the hypotheses (reason, observation, logic, experimentation)


In the process of asking a wide range of questions, of forming hypotheses, and of testing their consistency with known facts, the student learns about the nature of his subject and about the methods appropriate for mastering it. This process-- because it is the indispensable tool for unearthing all human knowledge-- is the only true basis for a classical, or universal, education.

--David Hicks, Norms and Nobility, p. 18.


*NOTE: The idea of hypothesis, etc., in this context, is not quite the same as what is known to us as the scientific method, which is based almost completely on gathering empirical evidence-- evidence that is observable by the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. To quote Charlotte, "the greater includes the less, but the less does not include the greater."

Sunday, April 25, 2010


(A narration by Aravis based on an episode in the biography, Marie Antoinette and Her Son.)

The royal family was imprisoned. The monarchy was officially dissolved. The former king was killed.

But Toulan was still there. And wherever Toulan’s bravery and creativity was, there was hope.

Toulan was an actor. He managed to give himself the façade of a Citizen loyal to the people, and was often on guard outside the queen’s chamber. One day he proposed to the other guard, Simon, that they teach the queen to smoke. “And if she will smoke,” he added, “We will not smoke in her anteroom anymore.”

So saying, he abruptly threw open the door to the room where the children were playing and the queen and her ladies were sewing. “Madame Capet,” he inquired, “Do you smoke?”

“You know I do not,” she said, ‘not raising her eyes from her work.

“Then I shall teach you,” Toulan declared. “If you will smoke, nobody else will smoke in your chambers.”

The queen, smiling a little at his bravado, accepted the long bit of rolled paper he handed her, and allowed him to light it with another bit of paper. “That is enough,” said Simon after a moment. “Now we will only smoke in the hall.”

The queen put out the cigarette and stowed it in her workbasket. “I will show you my cigarette if you ever smoke here again, gentlemen,” she laughed.

Toulan laughed too, picking up a ball of thread one lady had dropped. “And I shall keep this thread as a gift from you,” he said, bowing. “Come on, Simon, I challenge you to a game of cards.”

After a while, the queen said, “Citizen Toulan, would you mind returning the thread? I need it to mend this dress.” Toulan, acting bored, rolled the ball to the table.

“It looks bigger than it was,” began Simon.

“Of course—anything held by a citizen is bigger and better than when it is held by one of the old royalty,” laughed Toulon. “Let’s go outside—I want to smoke.”

As the men left, Toulan caught the queen’s eye, glanced towards a padded bench, and whispered, “Tomorrow.”

Under the cushions were disguises for everyone.

Inside the paper-lighter was a letter from a loyal friend.

Inside the replaced ball of thread were keepsakes from the king.

And inside the cigarette was a plan of escape.