Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Holly and I were the “Poncho Gnomes.” I’m the cute, stubby one.
I’m so impressed that we had birthday cakes this year. Shannon was born (Mom’s 3rd c-section) just a week or two before this next picture.
I’m fairly certain this next (terrifyingly large) picture was taken in second grade. The year I famously told my mom I did have a positive attitude. I was positive it would be terrible.
This is the log cabin playhouse my dad built for us…still in the construction phase. It had a sleeping loft and we spent whole summers in our own little cabin world.
And the three sisters…
Monday, April 14, 2014
Reading a book is a profoundly personal, intimate thing. ‘Tis true that no two people read the same book, because each person brings to the story her own emotions, her fears, her experiences, her personality, her dreams and hopes. We each see the world through a different lens. A person may identify with a specific character—not necessarily the same character as the next reader.
And are we not different people ourselves at different points in our own lives? Have you read a book in one season and loved it, and hated it a decade later? Or vice versa?
This truth makes recommending a book a difficult, tentative sort of act.
A good friend of mine hated the character Jayber Crow. And she hated Peace Like a River. [gasp!] Another friend hated The Count of Monte Cristo. A few of my friends hated The Giver. I’m positive that more than a few of my friends and readers would dislike The Little French Girl (one of my favorites), but it is an obscure book that no one reads so I don’t have to hear about it. [chuckle]
A reader recommended The History of Love, and I decided to give it a try. I didn’t love it, but the story drew me in and it certainly fell in the realm of “witness”—after reading I felt as if I had been a witness to the lives of the narrators, alternately an older man and a young girl, which reminded me of the most delightful The Elegance of the Hedgehog. But rather than visiting a Parisian apartment, I witnessed a Polish Jew living through and past World War II and on to an elderly, forgotten life in New York.
Several magical passages caused me to stop and linger and savor. Humorous. Melancholy.
"As a child my mother and my aunts used to tell me that I would grow up to *become* handsome. It was clear to me that I wasn't anything to look at then, but I believed that some measure of beauty might come to me eventually. I don't know what I thought: that my ears, which stuck out at an undignified angle, would recede, that my head would somehow grow to fit them? That my hair, not unlike a toilet brush in texture, would, with time, unkink itself and reflect light? That my face, which held so little promise--eyelids as heavy as a frog's, lips on the thin side--would somehow transform itself into something not regrettable? For years I would wake up in the morning and go to the mirror, hoping...The year of my Bar Mitzvah I was visited by a plague of acne that stayed for four years. But still I continued to hope. As soon as the acne cleared my hairline began to recede, as if it wanted to disassociate itself from the embarrassment of my face. My ears, pleased with the new attention they now enjoyed, seemed to strain farther into the spotlight. My eyelids dropped--some muscle tension had to give to support the struggle of the ears--and my eyebrows took on a life of their own, for a brief period achieving all anyone could have hoped for them, and then surpassing those hopes and approaching Neanderthal."
“The War ended. Bit by bit, Litvinoff learned what had happened to his sister Miriam, and to his parents, and to four of his other siblings…He learned to live with the truth. Not to accept it, but to live with it. It was like living with an elephant. His room was tiny, and every morning he had to squeeze around the truth just to get to the bathroom. To reach the armoire to get a pair of underpants he had to crawl under the truth, praying it wouldn’t choose that moment to sit on his face. At night, when he closed his eyes, he felt it looming above him.”
Oh, but then I picked up Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World by N.D. Wilson. A whirlwind of powerful imagery from beginning to end. I’ve never had such a burning desire to seek a terrifying storm and stand, vulnerable and joy-filled, in the deluge. (Or at least watch Planet Earth—glorious, spectacular filming—with the kids…)
"This universe is a portrait in motion, a *compressed* portrait in motion, a miniature, inevitably stylized, for it is trying to capture the Infinite. The galaxies are each one fraction of a syllable in a haiku of the Ultimate. On the human level, art is all recompression, attempts at taking a sunset from the small frame of the horizon and putting it on a postcard; taking a blues riff, the rhythmic vibration of strings, and capturing a sense of loss; marble, chiseled and shaped until it shows nobility..."
“How many quarks are out there, splashing around in this storm? How many vowels are in a hurricane? This wet strength, so enormous beside our small arms, is itself only a tiny corner of the spoken world, a tiny corner of this poem. Bigger breakers swirl in Jupiter’s eye, but who sees them? Starts and worlds twist in solar storms. This storm is nothing, and I am less. But to an infinite artist, a Creator in love with His craft, there is no unimportant corner, there is no thrown-away image, no tattered thread in the novel left untied.
“This ocean, tiny in the universe, is here because it’s beautiful. This word, these words that keep surging and crashing and grinding against the contrast of cliffs, they are strong and guttural, like the taste of Anglo-Saxon. This is poetry, but it is not delicate and fragile, a placid ocean beneath a Bible verse on an inspirational poster.
“This poetry has testicles. It’s rougher than rodeo. Which is why the cliffs are crowded with spectators.”
“Step outside your front door and look at today’s stage. Speak. God will reply. He will speak to you. He gave you senses. Use them. He will parade His art. He will give you a scene, a setting for the day. He will give you conflict to overcome, opportunities for your character to grow or fail.
“But do not expect Him to speak in English. And do not expect Him to stay on whatever topic you might choose. His attention is everywhere and no story should be easy, as every reader knows…
“Listen to your dialogue. Look at your thoughts. Be horrified. Be grateful that God loves characters, and loves characters on journeys, characters honestly striving to grow. If someone else was delivering your lines, would you like them? If someone else was wearing your attitude, would you be impressed?”
"Here is my lady, my picture, my philosophical account of an olive. I look around at the stuff of the world and I ask myself what it is made of.
“Words. Magic words. Words spoken by the Infinite, words so potent, spoken by One so potent that they have weight and mass and flavor. They are real. They have taken on flesh and dwelt among us. They are us. In the Christian story, the material world came into existence at the point of speech, and that speech was ex nihilo, from nothing. God did not look around for some cosmic goo to sculpt, or another god to dice and recycle. He sang a song, composed a poem, began a novel so enormous that even the Russians are dwarfed by its heaped up pages.
“You are spoken. I am spoken. We stand on a spoken stage. The spinning kind. The round kind. The moist kind. The kind of stage with beetles and laughter and babies and dirt and snow and fresh-cut cedar."
My book is a flurry of pencil-marks.
This quote by C.S. Lewis crossed my path as I was knee-deep in Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl:
"Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing....All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still 'about to be.'"
A stab of joy. That sums it up.
In previous posts I’ve linked articles by N.D. Wilson and shared quotes. The boys have read all of his fiction books: the 100 Cupboards series, the Ashtown Burials series, and Leepike Ridge. Wilson’s Boys of Blur just came out this month, so I picked it up. It’s next on the stack for the boys.
Let’s see. What else have the boys been enjoying recently? (They fly through books much faster than I.)
After seeing this book list, I pre-read The City of Ember then handed it over to the boys. Luke immediately requested the movie (watched it) and the other books in the series (read them), and gave them most favorite status. Luke reads quite a bit, but I’ve never seen him enjoy a book quite like he did with these.
I can’t remember what list I saw it on, but The Wishing-Chair by Enid Blyton was recommended somewhere. We had other books by Blyton, but not that one. I picked up the six books in The Enid Blyton Faraway Tree & Wishing-Chair Collection. Levi and Luke sped through them, but Leif was a tough one to convince (he doesn’t like new things). His brothers tried to tell him how much they loved the books, but he didn’t budge. Finally I had to require a few chapters…and he was hooked, finishing them in no time.
I also had to twist Leif’s arm to get him to read Little Pear, but then he quickly followed it up with Little Pear and His Friends. They are great books for kids just starting on simple chapter books.
I need to spend more time reading to Lola. Or assign the boys as reading helpers. [grin] She has been enjoying I Spy: An Alphabet in Art and is very interested in letter sounds. It is crazy to think that Luke and Leif started reading about her age!
What books has your family been enjoying? Or hating? [ha!]
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Lola loves scissors. She knew, from multiple past experiences, that she would get in trouble for cutting her hair—so she cut her eyebrows.
Luke was having a rough day too.
Worst life ever.
Lola was sympathizing. And working on her frowny face.
Just in case you think lessons are all roses and games around here.
Writing = BADBADBADBADBADBAD (Luke asked me to type that.)
And just in case you think that is an isolated emotion—it’s not. It is a generally held opinion by the boys at Mt. Hope Chronicles that any assigned writing is torture and must be met with all possible resistance and tantrums and whiny fits.
Levi distracts himself from the pain by playing with his terrifying hair. Unfortunately, there are only so many hills I can choose to die on. Writing, yes. Hair, no.
Our local Classical Conversations community put on a spring protocol event for the Challenge I and II groups (20 students, roughly 9th-11th grades). They had a gorgeous, multi-course dinner at a family home and then had a dance (with a dance instructor) at a separate location. I was able to take pictures of the evening and wanted to share a few glimpses.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
- res·pite [ réspit ]
- brief interval of rest: a brief period of rest and recovery between periods of exertion or after something disagreeable
Facebook tells me it is National Siblings Day. I don’t really need an excuse to celebrate my sisters, but I figured this would be a good time to share the photo of my sisters and me (and Mom and Ilex and Rilla) on our girls’ day out that we spent together the day before my birthday.
And any day is a good day for Jane Austen.
“Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply...” ~Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
Speaking of much-needed respite, my dear friend Cheris offered to watch my kids for a few hours this afternoon after our Memory Master director proofs (congratulations to her daughter Chloe for passing her MM proof just before us!).
Russ has been in Washington D.C. the past few days, so I really appreciated the time alone. Like, really appreciated it.
(No, my choice of respite food was not healthy. But it was delicious.)
Speaking of respite (how many times can I write the word “respite” in this post?), Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World is 200 pages of delightful, delicious respite. I’ll share a few quotes in my upcoming “What We’re Reading” post.
As of today, we have THREE Classical Conversations Cycle 2 Memory Masters in the house!
Levi and Luke both completed their director proofs for the second year in a row, and I have now finished all 3 cycles. Whew!!
What is a CC Memory Master? A student recites for his or her tutor every piece of information memorized in a cycle (24 weeks work of information) for all subjects (History Timeline, U.S. Presidents, History, Geography, Science, Latin, English Grammar, and Math) with 100% mastery all in one sitting. (This happens after multiple practice “proofs.”) This recitation can take anywhere from 1-2+ hours. A one-hour recitation is speed-mode! After completing a tutor “proof,” a student is spot-checked in all subjects by the CC director (around 20 minutes). If a student is able to complete the director proof with 100% mastery, he or she becomes a Memory Master.
What did we memorize in Cycle 2?
- 161 events and people in a chronological timeline (from ancient history to the present)
- 24 world history sentences (from 800 AD to the present)
- 44 U.S. presidents in chronological order
- More than 100 locations and geographic features in Europe, Asia, Central America, and Southern Africa
- 24 science facts/lists (including biomes, planets, Newton’s laws of motion, and the laws of thermodynamics)
- Latin verb endings (six tenses) of the first conjugation
- English grammar facts (including pronoun lists and parts of speech definitions)
- Multiplication tables up to 15x15, common squares and cubes, unit conversions, basic geometry formulas, and math laws
Years ago—it seems like yesterday—I received our first Foundations Guide in the mail. I remember thinking, alternately, there is no way we can memorize all this information and I cannot wait until we’ve memorized all this information!! Here we are. Four years later. My boys have been introduced to all three cycles of memory work, and mastered much of it. I’ve mastered and tested each and every piece of memory work in the Foundations Guide. And I can personally attest—it’s possible.
“No matter what your children’s strengths and weaknesses are, or their likes and dislikes, or their gifts and talents—their brains want to gather, sort, and store, and retrieve information.” (The Core, page 52)
“It is not surprising that, for the Greek mind, the Muses—of epic, history, astronomy, music, dance, tragedy, comedy, lyric poetry, and sacred poetry—should be daughters of Memory.” (Anthony Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, page 9)
“One simple and immutable fact about the human brain is that you can’t get something out of it that isn’t there to start with. Supernatural inspiration notwithstanding, human beings in general—and children in particular—really can’t produce... thoughts or concepts that they haven’t first experienced and stored. In other words, we cannot think a thought we don’t have to begin with. Even the most unique, creative, and extraordinary ideas can only exist as a combination and permutation of previously learned bits of information.” ~Andrew Pudewa, 1 Myth, 2 Truths
“There are times when memorization is out of favor in education. Some might say that “rote memorization” is not appropriate as a teaching strategy. “Rote memorization,” however, is loaded language, biased against the discipline and effort required to learn things permanently. There is nothing wrong with challenge. We must remember that the alternative to remembering is forgetting, and when we teach something as important as grammar, that will be needed for one’s entire life, the ban on memorization makes little sense. There are areas of knowledge that should be memorized, and in the past, there was a better term for it: to learn by heart.” ~Michael Clay Thompson
“But more than that, we would desire to bring children into the garden of created being, and thought, and expression. Caldecott reminds us that for the medieval schoolmen, as for Plato, education was essentially musical, an education in the cosmos or lovely order that surrounds us and bears us up. Thus when we teach our youngest children by means of rhymes and songs, we do so not merely because rhymes and songs are actually effective mnemonic devices. We do so because we wish to form their souls by memory: we wish to bring them up as rememberers, as persons, born, as Caldecott points out, in certain localities, among certain people, who bear a certain history, and who claim our love and loyalty.” (Anthony Esolen, author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, in the Foreword from Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education by Stratford Caldecott)
In addition to the benefits of stored information, the process of testing for Memory Master develops work ethic, the ability to work toward a goal, perseverance, and a willingness to do hard things.
But do we consider memorization the be-all and end-all?
No. This is just the beginning.
Next comes the questions…
Congratulations to all our fellow Memory Masters!
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Oh, and The Lost Tools of Writing.
I have my work cut out for me.
If you want a summary, check out What is Rhetoric? by Jennifer Courtney at Classical Conversations.
If you want a little more, purchase one of these GORGEOUS, laminated rhetoric reference charts. They are incredibly well-designed, and stuffed full of practical information and instruction.
I may not share much of what I am reading and discovering until July or so, but just know that I’m putting my nose to the grindstone.
Yes, Classical Conversations Parent Practicum season is just around the corner…
Thursday, April 3, 2014
A Curator of Randomness.
The above picture is one of my favorite family pictures. Levi was almost 4 and Luke was 1 and a half. This is the “no-hair” stage of our family.
Words, Questions, and Music
:: Blessings and Symbols by Andrew Kern @ CiRCE (Brilliant look into the nature of words. Be sure to read to the end.)
“I love the way another person can possess an amazing insight in his own soul and, by embodying it in a collection of sound-signs (what we call words), he can give me eyes to see the same thing: at least, if I am ready.”
“Using words we can bond and bless, or we can break apart and curse.”
“What have we been missing in all the debates about education reform? The question.”
I’ve been thinking much about asking questions. I am, by nature, a “formula” person rather than a “question” person. My husband and oldest son, on the other hand, question everything. Everything.
Dorothy Sayers addresses in The Mind of the Maker the “formula” or “problem/solution” obsession that society seems to have.
“The detective problem summons us to the energetic exercise of our wits precisely in order that, when we have read the last page, we may sit back in our chairs and cease thinking. So does the cross-word. So does the chess-problem…The struggle is over and finished with and now we may legitimately, if we like, cease upon the midnight with no pain. The problem leaves us feeling like that because it is deliberately designed to do so. Because we can, in this world, achieve so little, and so little perfectly, we are prepared to pay good money in order to acquire a vicarious sensation of achievement. The detective-novelist knows this, and so do the setters of puzzles. And the schoolboy, triumphantly scoring a line beneath his finished homework, is thankful that he need not…inquire into the subsequent history of A, B, and C. But this is the measure, not of the likeness between problems in detection and problems in life, but of the unlikeness. For the converse is also true; when they are done with, they are dead.”
And so I am slowly learning to ask questions and accept the tension of the unknown.
In the aptly named book The Question, Leigh Bortins spends more than 200 pages on the topic of asking questions (complete with model questions). Questions of definition, comparison, relationship, circumstance, and testimony (Aristotle’s five common topics)—across all academic subjects. If one needs inspiration or direction to feed the spirit of inquiry, this book is a great start. It is thoroughly grounded in practical application, but here is a taste of the inspirational:
“Contentment in questions and mysteries seems to irk the world.”
“I wonder if it was because she had been trained to write down the correct answer and for some discussions there are no correct answers, only very interesting questions.”
“How do you know what questions to ask if there are not copious amounts of ideas in your head?”
“Humans long for relationship, and thinking together in an interesting way about hard things is very rewarding.”
“They limit the questions, so they limit the answers.”
“Here is the problem with teaching a populace to ask questions: they ask questions.”
“Remember, the trouble about learning to ask questions is that you’ll ask questions. No more accepting the status quo. No more doing what you are told. Know thyself, and be prepared for a life of conflict. C.S. Lewis called man “a glorious ruin.” The more questions we ask, the more ruins we will find in need of repair. But the entire adventure is glorious.”
[Another fantastic question resource for literature is the Teaching the Classics Seminar Syllabus, which includes pages of Socratic discussion questions.]
The boys have been learning about composers and the instruments of the orchestra in Classical Conversations during the past few weeks, and someone shared links to the following videos. The filming is fantastic, and we loved watching them, so I thought I would share.