Friday, March 16, 2018

Quote for the day: "What we furnished home with"

"Like everybody else, what we furnished home with was ourselves, in other words. We furnished it with the best that we knew and the best that we were, and we furnished it also with everything that we were not wise enough to know and the shadow side of who we were as well as the best side, because we were not self-aware enough to recognize those shadows and somehow both to learn from them and to disempower them...It was the little world we created to be as safe as we knew how to make it..." ~~ Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

An astrophysicist's tribute to Stephen Hawking

"His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it's not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018." ~~ Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter

Quote for the day: On what children don't need to be taught

"When I was in the States ten years ago I saw a series of children's books which just recounted very simply a child's visit to the supermarket, the post office and the station and so on and they read like primers for men from outer space, men who didn't know how to put one foot in front of another. And these books reflected it seemed to me very sharply what I encountered of neurosis in the students that I was teaching. " ~~ Ted Hughes, 1976

Monday, March 12, 2018

From the archives: Charlotte Mason and "that sweet thing which she did not buy"

First posted October 2014
"Before she goes 'shopping,' she must use her reason, and that rapidly, to lay down the principles on which she is to choose her dress,--it is to be pretty, becoming, suitable for the occasions on which it is to be worn, in harmony with what else is worn with it.  Now, she goes to the shop; is able to describe definitely what she wants...judgment is prompt to decide upon the grounds already laid down by reason and what is more, the will steps in to make the decision final, not allowing so much as a twinge of after-regret for that 'sweet thing' which she did not buy." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character
Photo from The Apprentice's Barbie story, here.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Thrifted finds

For Mr. Fixit: two 1957 handyman magazines.
For Ponytails: cookbooks she was looking for.
For Mama Squirrel: a black lacy sweater in a floral pattern. I generally don't wear black, so it's an experiment.
A pashmina scarf, in berry red and blue-grey. The photo is not doing it justice at all; it's more grey than purple..
The belt that should have gone with last week's paisley dress. I was very surprised to see it hanging with the belts.
(Here's the dress)
A book about retro fashions. (To go with the paisley dress.)

From the library: Soulful Simplicity

I was number whatever on the waiting list, but they finally got to me.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

From the archives: What Bubba and me think about homeskooling

First posted February 2008. At the time we had a first grader, a fifth grader, and a public-high-schooler who was still taking one course at home.

I try to stay away from most of the ignorant anti-homeschool articles and letturs-to-the-edditor out there; and heaven knows, there are lots of them, especially after any homeschooler gets into any trouble with the law or does some other antisocial thing. Occasionally I've posted my own rebuttals about homeschoolers/homeschooling not being so weird/scary.

But it's time to set things straight.

The question is, who's weird here?

First, you go ahead and define weird. OK...

"Synonyms: These adjectives refer to what is of a mysteriously strange, usually frightening nature. Weird may suggest the operation of supernatural influences, or merely the odd or unusual: "The person of the house gave a weird little laugh" (Charles Dickens). "There is a weird power in a spoken word" (Joseph Conrad). Something eerie inspires fear or uneasiness and implies a sinister influence: "At nightfall on the marshes, the thing was eerie and fantastic to behold" (Robert Louis Stevenson). Uncanny refers to what is unnatural and peculiarly unsettling: "The queer stumps ... had uncanny shapes, as of monstrous creatures" (John Galsworthy). Something unearthly seems so strange and unnatural as to come from or belong to another world: "He could hear the unearthly scream of some curlew piercing the din" (Henry Kingsley)." (Bolds are mine.)

You know what's really weird, is that a lot of people looking up those synonyms (if anybody did) probably wouldn't have read anything by Conrad or Dickens or Stevenson. Whereas some--not all, mind you--of our unearthly and unsettling homeschoolers will take those books as their common currency.

If you read, you tend to go looking for friends who read...or you like to read about people who like to read, like Father Tim in the Mitford books who hangs out at the bookstore, pondering Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples and waiting for obscure books by John Buchan to arrive (also one of Mr. Fixit's favourite writers).

Not that Father Tim is a homeschooler. Just that he's weird in kind of the same way as some homeschoolers. (Not all homeschoolers are bookworms, just not all vegetarians eat nutritiously.
Some homeschoolers would rather be doing than reading.)

Weird is listening to little kids at the park talking about the sexy hot singers they're supposed to like.

And the rest of us just go on scaring people (unsettling them?), just by doing our thing. My six-year-old kind of blew some people away at church when she did a reading with her sister a couple of weeks ago. I don't think they've ever had somebody under seven lead the responsive reading before. But she would have done that even if she wasn't homeschooled. It's a famly thang.

Weird is standing behind mothers in line at teachers' night and hearing them talk about how they get up to commute at 5 or 6 in the morning, drop the little ones at daycare, get home at 5 or 6 at night, and still have to make dinner for everybody including the teenagers. [Oh--you want to know what I'm doing at teachers' night? If you've just climbed up here, our teenager takes most of her classes now at the public high school. Homeschooling-all-the-way isn't a doctrinal thing with us; figuring out what works best for our own kids takes priority over dogma.]

So here's my request: Stop writing those letters telling the powers-that-be to swing their blackjack a little harder at us. Stop writing the breathless articles that always have something in them somewhere about how deprived of real lives homeschooling moms are, or how we'll suddenly become incompetent once the kids get to algebra, or how we need to be sending our kids into the school system so that they'll absorb whatever version of socialization you think is best for my family. It's not like your deathless prose is going to give me the sudden revelation that I've totally messed up my kids' lives. (Although the collective blast of them might eventually make homeschooling more difficult or in some places illegal, depriving the world of some great independent thinkers and people who would have dropped through the cracks, educational and otherwise.)

Some of what's fantastic (unbelievable) to behold in homeschooling is truly fantastic (unbelievably great). Not everything about homeschooling is wonderful. Not every homeschooler is wonderful--kid or parent. What else would you expect?

But we're not all weird either. Some of us watch the Three Stooges. Some of us listen to KISS (as if that defines normal, but for some people it might). Some of us can even read, write, spell, and think through what the the world can offer to our kids--and what we can offer back.

And that's the trooth.

Is this really what we want to see popping up on Women's Day?

Duchess Kate and Prince William's young bridesmaid is all grown up and gorgeous! editors, Wed, Mar 7 10:53 AM EST 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Quote for the day: This is why they believed

"The early message [of the Gospel] was, accordingly, not experienced as something its hearers had to believe or do because otherwise something bad--something with no essential connection with real life--would happen to them. The people initially impacted by that message generally concluded that they would be fools to disregard it. That was the basis of their conversion." ~~ Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Quote for the day: Take a fresh look

"The mere attempt, therefore, to create an artistic form compels the artist to take a fresh look at the visible reality; it requires authentic and personal observation. Long before a creation is completed, the artist has gained for himself another and more intimate achievement: a deeper and more receptive vision...The capacity to see increases." ~~ Josef Pieper, Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation

Friday, March 02, 2018

Frugal finds and fixes: Which way round?

Finds: I bought this vintage teal and pink paisley dress at the thrift store today. It doesn't look like much on the hanger, and my colour-erratic photographs aren't helping; but look closer. Can you see the nice front tucks, the dolman sleeves, and the stand-up collar? (This photo is closer to the real colour; the others are a bit too blue.)
 It's also much improved with accessories, like a scarf and a belt:
 What if you turned it around, opened the zipper partway, and layered it over a top or a scarf? Instant shirt-dress.
 What if you belted it up, to look more like a jacket?
 What if you turned it back around again, to look more like a blouse?
 I think I like it best as a dress, but I will probably wear it the other ways too.

Finds: a makeup book for Lydia
Fixes: Our iron is thirty years old. It had been temperamental for awhile, and then stopped heating altogether. Mr. Fixit took it apart, and said that the cord and the plug needed to be replaced. He stopped in at an older hardware store that still assumes people want to fix irons, and found this funky-looking new cord. One less appliance in the landfill.
 Finds: Magazines are a great bargain at the thrift store, even when they're a couple of years old.

Quote for the day: when life seems too brutish and short

First posted February 2008
"....I wish to place on record that I am in unrepayable debt to Francis of Assisi, for when I pray his prayer [Make me an instrument of Thy peace], or even remember it, my melancholy is dispelled, my self-pity comes to an end, my faith is restored, because of this majestic conception of what the work of a disciple should be.

"So majestic is this conception that one dare no longer be sorry for oneself. This world ceases to be one's enemy and becomes the place where one lives and works and serves. Life is no longer nasty, mean, brutish, and short, but becomes the time that one needs to make it less nasty and mean, not only for others, but indeed also for oneself."--Alan Paton, Instrument of Thy Peace

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

From the archives: Paul Klee on the priorities of life

First posted March 2015
"First of all, the art of living; then as my ideal profession, poetry and philosophy, and as my real profession, plastic arts; in the last resort, for lack of income, illustrations."   —Paul Klee.
(Gualtieri Di San Lazzaro, Klee. Praeger, New York, 1957, p. 16)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Project 333, Spring 2018: Just a sample

Fashion Revolution Week is April 23-29, 2018
"We love fashion, but we don’t want our clothes to come at the cost of people or our planet." ~~

Inspiration for the Season
Image result for tom thomson nocturne
Tom Thomson, "Nocturne, Algonquin Park, 1915"

Last year I called this page "End of Winter"; but this year I'm feeling more optimistic and hoping for an actual Spring. Birds! Flowers! No March blizzards! (There's usually at least one surprise snowstorm.)

Some clothes I had expected to pull out this spring, that were on every tentative list, suddenly didn't make the cleanout cut. I had a size-six grey dress I thrifted last fall, that I finally admitted was too tight for comfort. Another print dress had had its day. A denim shirt, that I wore as a jean jacket, just felt done. A skirt that didn't have enough of a waistband to stay up properly: time to say goodbye. A blue jacket that was a good colour, but the puffed sleeves were a little much: it also went in the donation bag. At least letting go is easier if you haven't put much money into it.

But I've found good, "keeper" things, too.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

From the archives: Charlotte Mason means no write-by-numbers

First posted February 2013, part of a series on Charlotte Mason's Volume Six. This post discussed Chapter Ten.

"In few things do certain teachers labour in vain more than in the careful and methodical way in which they teach composition to young children. The drill that these undergo in forming sentences is unnecessary and stultifying, as much so perhaps as such drill would be in the acts of mastication and deglutination [sic]." --Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10 
AMANDA: Honey, don’t push with your fingers. If you have to push with something, the thing to push with is a crust of bread. And chew—chew! Animals have sections in their stomachs which enable them to digest food without mastication, but human beings are supposed to chew their food before they swallow it down. Eat food leisurely, son, and really enjoy it. A well-cooked meal has lots of delicate flavors that have to be held in the mouth for appreciation. So chew your food and give your salivary glands a chance to function! ~~Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
Tom Wingfield doesn't need a lecture on how to chew his food.  He's an adult.  He knows how.  His mother means well, but she drives him up the wall, and, eventually, out of the house. 


Children in Charlotte Mason's primary grades narrate a little at a time, to fully develop their powers of attention and their skill in telling back.  Same literature lists as before, for the younger ones:  stories from mythology, fairy tales, Pilgrim's Progress, Bible stories, "how we know the world is round and a great deal besides; for all their work lends itself to oral composition and the power of such composition is innate in children and is not the result of instruction."

The junior grades "write their little essays themselves." I don't think "little" is meant in a pejorative way here, it's simply referring to length.  And oh my, the reading list..."We could do anything with books like those," says one headmaster quoted in a later chapter.  Charlotte scolds him for thinking that he just needs a good book list (and for missing the point that he needs to follow her other principles of education), but I think he's at least half right; the ability to narrate well, and to turn that skill into written composition, does begin with the choice of books.  I remember, and it was not so long ago, that homeschoolers using a certain series of Christian textbooks tried to have their children narrate from the textbooks, and they argued that that was just as correct a way to apply Charlotte Mason's principles as, say, narrating from a book of Greek myths...and probably safer!  And then we have the other situation, more common in schools now, where children, being "naturally creative," are expected to create lots of output without much input.  Some writers can start from a point inside their heads, without any outside reference, but for most of us, that's as hard as being handed a brush and told to paint, without having anything to look at.  "Compose something," my piano teacher once commanded, when I was about ten.  But since I knew very little about listening to music, much less creating it, all I came back with was something stupid, a waste of time.  I had never seen anyone create music. I had no musical ideas; nothing to write music about, or sing music about, or paint music about.  And she never asked me to do that again.  


According to Charlotte's theory of education, children arrive in the classroom with a dazzling array of powers of mind.  Agreed! say contemporary educators, and so children are given the paintbrush, or more often these days the keyboard, mouse, animation software, computer music program, and told to create.  But a few clicks of a "paint" program produce no more genuine art than did the "blobs" Charlotte criticized in the school art of her own time.  "Blobs" meant using the flat of the paintbrush to make a shape on the paper, which you could arrange, say, into the petals of a flower.  Charlotte said that was not true painting, but "the power of effective creation by a sort of clever trick."  In other words, on the level of rubber-stamping or potato printing, or drawing around your hand to make reindeer antlers.  Now real (adult) artists do use such techniques--blobs, stamping, layering bits of paper on the ground, whatever--to make "real" art, so we might argue her point.  

However, big however:  there are a couple of reasons why blobby artmaking does not belong in the CM educational environment.  (I thought we were talking about composition?  Bear with me.)  In Home Education, Charlotte said, "This is what we wish to do for children in teaching them to draw––to cause the eye to rest, not unconsciously, but consciously, on some object of beauty which will leave in their minds an image of delight for all their lives to come. Children of six and seven draw budding twigs of oak and ash, beech and larch, with such tender fidelity to colour, tone, and gesture, that the crude little drawings are in themselves things of beauty."  If the drawing is not created from the ground up, so to speak, and if it is not based on some real object, then the child does not learn to care about what he is seeing or the art he is making, will not remember it, will not learn anything.  Small twigs painted well, and kept in a nature notebook, are better than entire "lollipop" trees, stuck up on the fridge for a few days and then thrown away.

The other reason to be cautious of such programmed art is that the students become overpraised, too confident in their own abilities ("look, I wrote music!"), but at the same time they are demeaned by being told that they're such good artists, such good writers, when they know that all they did was just blobs, happy-faces, lollipop trees.  But if that's all the teacher thinks they're capable of...


"Knowledge is not sensation, nor is it to be derived through sensation; we feed upon the thoughts of other minds; and thought applied to thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful. No one need invite us to reason, compare, imagine; the mind, like the body, digests its proper food, and it must have the labour of digestion or it ceases to function....But let information hang upon a principle, be inspired by an idea, and it is taken with avidity and used in making whatsoever in the spiritual nature stands for tissue in the physical."--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education (page 26) 

No paint-by-numbers, at least within the "classroom."  (What you do for fun on a rainy afternoon is your own business.)

No write-by-numbers.  No story-starter cubes.

No gimmicks.

If you look at the student responses printed in this section of the book, you will see Charlotte's version of story-starters.  There are three, more or less:  Literature.  Nature.  Current Events.  Those three are repeated over and over...that is "suggestive," as she would say.  The youngest students may just "tell back," but the oldest ones are required to turn their thoughts on spring, or Home Rule in Ireland, or the poems of Tennyson, into blank verse, or ballads, or scenes involving literary characters.  Which also, not incidentally, gives us a clear picture of the "Knowledge of Man" end of the curriculum.  The older classes obviously spent a fair amount of time reading or talking or writing about literature (especially classical mythology, if we go by the exam responses), about nature,  and about current events.  They obviously spent a lot of time reading poetry, and had some training in metre.  And without being told to use "higher levels of thinking," they were practicing synthesis and evaluation.  No blobs, no gimmicks. They were acting like real least, real writers of 1920.  

PART FIVE, in which we try not to be too cynical about the state of the world, but we do need to ask some big questions...


What do we do now?

If there is no reason for an adult today to write in the metre of Tennyson, can we expect students to find meaning in such an exercise? Or find an audience or a place for their work?

Is it harder to translate the writing of 1920 into our own time and space than it is the reading?  Because you still want an audience for your serious (or seriously hilarious) writing...but I'm guessing there is little to no market for a Shakespearian sonnet about the ups and downs of computer companies.  Or a ballad about the doings at the Vatican, about light rail transit, or the "new food."  Should we have Mr. Woodhouse chat about the latest celebrity divorce?  

There are still good poets out there, in fact, quite young ones.  Do we encourage our young writers to carry on older forms of writing, simply in tribute to literary tradition?  

Or is it not so much going backwards as simply giving them opportunity to perform the act of knowing?

Is there any contemporary way to  respectfully, insightfully, and beautifully respond to a classic book, a piano concerto, the buds on a tree, without turning it into a rap song or a LEGO animation?

In other words, we can read, receive, participate, enjoy literature spanning centuries...but how do we reproduce?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday Hodgepodge: It's Chili Out

From this Side of the Pond

1. Where do you go when you need some inspiration?

Place, person, or thing? Pretty pictures of Hygge things, that would be Pinterest. Words of wisdom, ideas about dinner, or an opinion on whether something matches, that would be Mr. Fixit. A reminder that so many lives intertwine: online friends.

And don't forget books.

2. What's under your bed?

Storage baskets, spare bedding, and a Christmas tree.

3. Thursday, February 22nd is National Chili Day, National Margarita Day, and National Cook a Sweet Potato Day. Of the three which would you most like to celebrate? Is that likely?

I made white chicken chili on Tuesday, so I guess that counts.

Chicken Chili, adapted from "White Chili" on A Year of Slow Cooking

2 cups chicken broth
some chopped cooked chicken
1 can corn, drained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 little can chopped green chilies (don't drain)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chopped garlic (I used jarred garlic)
a little salt, pepper, and oregano, plus a spoonful of dried onion flakes

Combine in a pot, bring to a boil, turn down to low, and cook for about an hour. Serve with sour cream.

4. What are you 'snowed under' with right now?

Not exactly snowed under, but pretty busy with course work. It means I am not finding much time for blogging right now.

5. Tell us three to five things that make you feel balanced?

An interesting question, but I'm not sure of the answer(s). One would be Sunday worship in church, as a start/end to the week. Also having a mix of things to do, between working at home and going out.

6. Insert your own random thought here.

I'm halfway through the current 10 x 10 Wardrobe Challenge

And in relation to that, I did something yesterday that could be considered strange. After I finished my volunteer morning at the thrift store, I saw that the two blazers I donated recently, and that I had been feeling a bit regretful about, had been relegated to the 75% off rack. So I bought them back for $2 each. Better than sending them to be baled up and shipped off or turned into seat filling or whatever might have been their destination.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From Across the Pond.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Quote for the day: Genuine, custom-packaged authenticity (pay with your credit card)

"In a world of proliferating choice (consumer choice, that is), we are less prone [than we used to be] to feel we are deprived of an identity we value. In fact, it is likely that someone is trying very hard to understand what we feel is authentic so that it can be packaged somehow and sold to us in the form of a rebellious T-shirt or self-help book." ~~ Donovan Plumb, "Critical Adult Education in Canada in the Time of CASAE," New Directions For Adult & Continuing Education, 2009(124), 5-14.