Jul 22, 2014

So Many Blessings

A few families in my area, who follow Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online, are doing nature study together every Monday. Yesterday it was our first day, and such a great day it was. We are very excited about having regular walks in the same place.

It is truly a blessing to enjoy the company of like-minded friends, and to help each other be accountable. We are also (or at least one mom and I are), reading the weekly few pages of the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock. These past two weeks we read about clover.

I also had the visit of lovely Kelly and her oldest daughter, who had just been at the CIRCE conference, held in Houston this year. Time passed very fast. It was such a wonderful visit. Maybe one day we can correspond. We surely will love that. She left, not before I jotted down some titles of interest.

When my list of books I want to read is growing immense and wonderfully insane, Mary Frances so timely started a group to help each other finish our books.

Some months ago we talked about titles and books, many of us picked recommendations from others, etc., and we set off to read on our own. Our book club is on pause until September, so we were reading solo, and when we read books as hefty as some of our titles, a group to keep accountable is invaluable.

This is Hopper, the grasshopper and pet of one of the families.

For the books...

The three I have committed to finish are:

Right Ho, Jeeves, by P.G. Woodhouse

The Magic Barrel, by Bernard Malamud (This is a short stories book)

The King's General, by Daphne du Maurier. I love it, but I keep reading other books in between, and never get inside it.

And what did I read in between?

Kristin Lavransdatter, The Wreath.
I am still deciding what to think about it, and when to read the other two of the trilogy.

What do I think of it? Excellent book. Living science. A book suitable for adults or high school students. This is such an example of a book in which the author, though with opposing views and theories to some of us, readers (he subscribes to evolution), writes with humility and humor, and exposes the difficulty of scientific theories to explain some observations.

The book mentioned Plutarch, Fabre, Linnaeus, Thoreau, The Life of Samuel Johnson, Jules Verne, Longfellow, the Fantastic Voyage film...

As the title indicates, it is the biography of a germ. The germ being Bb, short for Borrelia Burgdorferi, the germ that causes, among other diseases, Lyme disease.

Jul 14, 2014

Mid July

Already mid July!

Monday: Nature Study (or pick something from our patio or surroundings, and draw away!)

This was after our 2 hours of pool time. Before, we managed to read poetry, and Bambi. We are listening to Heidi. We read 3/4ths of the book two years ago, but it could not be finished, so this year, we are enjoying it with Miss. AOy2 girl!

One sample cupcake of the dozen they baked last Saturday.

This is what I drew. I still need to add the names. Apart from the Indian Paintbrushes, do you recognize that purple flower or weed?

Someone had asked me before. I use color pencils, some markers, some watercolors as you see in the first picture.

A second try of this trilogy many of my friends rave about, the Kristin Lavransdatter (Lavran is Kristin's father, and datter means daughter in Norwegian). I am on the sixth chapter... and hooked! So far, it is growing on me. Thanks to my Ambleside Online Forum friends for sharing how much they like it.

Warning. Do not read blurbs, reviews, back covers ... lol. Sometimes they mislead you or put you off.

Australian author, Australian animals and characters, and sheer cuteness, and smartness, and such a well written and top notch illustrated stories. It is Snugglepot and Cuddlepie., my 7yo favorite, recommended by the one and only, Jeanne.

First pages of Bambi, and it has the three of us mesmerized. Not so good... familiarity with the story. They have doubts about it because they know his mom will die. But I told them there are good moments in the book that will make it worth reading. Wanted or not, they want to keep listening.

Thimbleberry Stories was a book we saw at Amy's blog. We had to get it, and I am glad we did.

This is a paper doll house in a manila pocket folder with Ikea catalog paper clippings. They are working on another one, and the dolls which they will place inside.

I am very excited. On Saturday, we are expecting Kelly and her daughter to come over for dinner. They are currently at CIRCE. I have known Kelly for years and never met her. It is going to be wonderful. And I will get to hear something about the conference.

Jul 12, 2014

About Blogs

Do you still read blogs?

I do... but I admit that I am liking less and less having to read from the screen.

Those blogs of friends I have known for years, I read, but then I find new blogs to me, like through the great links Amy posted in her blog, and I discover beautifully written posts there, and I think, "if only I could get those blog posts in a daily or weekly newspaper form".

I guess when the topic being treated is of special interest to us, we keep reading. I appreciate blogs with not so small font, -when working on mine, I had to tweak it to enlarge the font to a pass forty tolerable size, :)/. As for the pictures, some bloggers are wonderful photographers, others not so much, and that is fine if the writing is enticing. But in that case, it helps to have good size font, as I said, and images, which one can find online giving credit to the source.

Jul 11, 2014

The Headmistresss, by Angela Thirkell

After hearing about Angela Thirkell books for such a long time at The Captive Reader's blog, I finally decided to give one title a chance. I borrowed The Headmistress from the library. Oh, joy! This year is going to be difficult to say which was my favorite author from those I have discovered up to now. How can one not like a writer who loves Thackeray, Dickens, and Gaskell.

What was the novel about?

The book takes place in Barsetshire, a fictional English county created by Trollope,  whom Thirkell admired. The Headmistress, Miss Sparling, moves with the students from the Hosier Girls School to Harefield Park, the former residence of the Beltons that are forced to rent it. She is one of the main characters, as well as Elsa Belton, and her family, specially her mother.

It happens during the times of IIWW. I learned much about how people had to lived with coupons, scarcity of food, and it was nonetheless such an upbeat novel, to see them get creative to maintain normalcy, and foster community ties and life.

What have I loved the most while reading this book?

The humor, the tenderness. Thirkell writes conversations so well, it is like being a fly in the wall. It had such a variety of personalities and people, it was like traveling in time and space. The school affairs were a delight. The way Miss Sparling handles herself, as the 'new to the community', is fascinating.

Apart from entertaining, have I gained something more substantial reading The Headmistress?

Absolutely. Weaved in the book there were many ideas and views of life, marriage, war, motherhood, adolescence, class, race, prejudice, work ethics, love, death, family... I even got to see how, in schools in the 20th century, everybody saw the importance and place of doing some Shakespeare. It was very revealing to see they abridged the plays, some girls of that Hosier Girls School had to double or triple parts. It is said how Miss Ferdinand, who loved literature and knew all Shakespeare, wished everyone would have caught a cold to do a one person play all by herself, :) But Heather Adams, a plain and unattractive girl, great in math and not so good in literature, was fond of being in the play, with a small part, no matter how bad her acting skills. You got to laugh with the other girl who emphasized the first syllable of each word, LOL. Putting together a small play was a binding and community affair. Someone donated fabric, the vicar practiced memorizing lines with the girls, others played the music... There is a hilarious part in which one girl is saying Eye Faith, and Isabelle Ferdinand says it's truly I' faith as in "In faith". It made me realize it's OK not to understand 100% of a play to enjoy reading it as we do. In some years, with my girls and a few more children, I simply would love to do the same. A small home production of a play, even if shortened.

Any other remarks?

Yes. Thirkell is so modern, or I was so ignorant that I did not know that authors like her, and also Wilkie Collins, and Thackeray, and I am sure others I have not read, addressed the reader and talked about them as writing fiction. In one part she said something like, "it could happen in real life, so it can happen in fiction too"; in another place, she tells us she had prepared the stage for that which was coming next to happened... and she said, "you did not think I would have written about this and that if I wasn't thinking about writing this conclusion next?" But I don't want to quote because I don't want to spoil it for you.

Jul 8, 2014

A different way of scheduling and planning

Allow me to give you some context first.

The least lessons we do, the more removed from studies we get... the grumpier and more discontented we become.

Yesterday, after four days of 'vacation', it was a very rusty day. We did not seem to be able to start, and there was impatience on my side, and indifference in them, tears and accusations flew, and we had to hit the restart button several times. Even though we read on Sundays, and my 9yo is copying from the lesson at church, that is not enough to keep up with a good attitude when we come back to our lessons. It always takes time to pick up the rhythm, even if it is a relaxed summer sort of rhythm.

Today, what a different picture! Even though yesterday we accomplished some (I got to check those boxes), and were able to finish week 5, most of the day did not go that well. Today it was a better day. We even left home to go swim, and they did not start lessons until pass 1:00 pm, but they were engaged, loving every thing, it was easier to find that working and joyful mood.

I know we are different. I do not like to have schedules with times. We never start lessons at the same time, but we all know what has to happen every week, and also daily, and we simply get at it! I ask the girls if they wish to start with math, or a reading, or with copy work, piano practice... I read poetry at breakfast time, but we shuffle the components differently as needed, always alternating from a more demanding practice, -such as reading and narrating-, to a more mechanical one, -such as copy work, and never forgetting that drawing, listening to music, listening to some foreign language, singing, walking out of doors, doing some exercise, are integral components of our days. The 3 R's don't sustain an education, they will burn you out if you are always focusing on those to the exclusion of the rest.

We have crossed a line in our homeschool. We cannot conceived weeks and weeks of not "Charlotte Mason something", lol. Whether a family reading, a folk song, Bible reading and hymn singing, drawing, a nature walk, some crafts or cooking, drawing... We enjoy breaks, surely, but we don't like to be completely removed from our source of learning.

My way of planning is different. I humbly do not say it is better or worse, but it is a way that fits my personality and our family dynamics. I am very spontaneous, very flexible. We all get tired easily if we follow things in the same order, but we are diligent and persistent. We don't demand entertainment, but we like the variety that Charlotte Mason offers, and we like to start from a place of joy, which, for my girls, means usually drawing. That places them at the table, and from there, I bring the laptop and play a folk song, read to one, read to the other, move to the sofa, or outside... then one goes to the piano, or does some free reading. We then know we need to do math, so I get the folders out and work assisting each as needed.

Some days we take our books to the library, for a change of environment. There we do our readings, copy work, and math, and in between, they pick books and read. 

All throughout the year, I am always learning about the new components (such as Latin, Plutarch, Shakespeare), and the usual ones. All throughout the year I set myself goals to improve what we do, or to be more consistent at those weakest areas. They have a simple booklet with their week's work printed, and in it the daily and weekly components, and after a few weeks, they know their books.

Maybe it is because with two, and the second one doing what I already did with my oldest, I do not need those multiple schedules since we get to internalize our days and weeks fast, but we have ongoing lessons, and I do ongoing scheduling in my head, and ongoing planning, and I happen to love it. I will not say everything is smooth. Those days after a vacation, I sometimes wake up and resent that my daughters do not go straight to their books and lessons. I secretly desire more independence, and that shows in them, and they pick up a bad attitude and a bad heart. Then I stop, breath, and start all over after apologizing, and yes, sometimes chastising a bit too (they can take me for granted easily, :). I then remember it is alright they are waiting for me to sit down happily, and ask them nicely to start their lessons, or start myself by reading a poem, saying a prayer, or telling them I want to look at something in our backyard and draw it. They like my company, they still need my example. And when I do this with love and diligence, they work non stop, they delight in their readings, rev in their narrations... life is good again!
We studied the Hudson River painters, specially Church, and we did more than one term. For 4th of July, it coincided that we had the first picture, Our Banner in the Sky. When you look at it from the distance, the flag appears more defined.

Of course at times they work alone with me doing something else, but I have no problem being by their side, and working on something, reading aloud, drawing along with them... after all, when we finish and it's time to clean up or cook, they help me too, lol.

My philosophy is to enjoy without indulging in unhealthy excesses. I sleep as much as I need, being reasonable, so do they. I get my exercise, my own down time, I do my own reading (which always helps with theirs), and I learn along with them, and support them with my presence (from more active to more passive, depending on their needs and the stage they are at).

My humble tip. Do not disconnect completely from learning -genuine, not forced, where you are the first one working, not where you throw things to them and come back to check your email or facebook-. Make it part of your life as much as you can, otherwise, turning the wheels of  learning will be a difficult task. If we plan while doing no lessons, or having no lesson time at all for long while you are in your normal routine days, (unless you are out of your home, or have a Bible school sort of week, or have guests...), we run the risk of writing or typing so many things we don't even know why they are there, how long they really take, how they are supposed to be done, not knowing if they are realistic goals for our children, etc. If you are always doing something, you will stay away from wanting to do it all and ending up doing nothing!

Jul 6, 2014

First Week of July

This past week my husband took two days off, and we spent Thursday redoing my youngest daughter's room. It needed work. It had become storage, toy cluttered, and not functional. She had two mattresses on the floor, my craft table that I did not want in my office anymore... now she has this nice room with repainted furniture that looks like new and Barbies hanging from the ceiling, as she likes it. We all worked like maniacs, I in particular... not only did I paint the furniture, but I cleaned her closet, worked on the other room -closet and some changes-, and cleaned my computer desk drawers and the closet in the office... uff... I couldn't barely walk the next day. I even forgot I was supposed to walk-run with my neighbor and friend!

But because we "lost" two days of lessons, we are one day behind. We managed to squeezed our weekly work into 4 days, but we only got to 3 days, so tomorrow we will finish week 5 of years 4 and 2 lessons, and I hope in the reminder 4 days we will be able to tackle week 6 (specially since we have read the Robinson Crusoe portion). We love Robinson Crusoe, and read it as a family. I still plan to do our Monday Nature Study, if nothing else, we will paint. The girls want to paint a bird, so we will see.

We also finished our 3rd Narnia book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and after these 3 books we are fans, :) This brings me to 50+ books between those read by myself and with the girls! This has been by far my most profuse reading year. This year I have met new and great authors. I thought Elizabeth Goudge was going to be my favorite grown up author, but I am reading Thirkell and despite of my obvious infatuation with the latest book or author I read, I believe her Barsetshire books will be companions for a long time. So far, I have not been able to buy any of her books, I must make it a birthday tradition to get two or three of her titles. That will be such a treat.

We are reading the Narnia books in this order:

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Boy and His Horse
The Magician's Nephew

The Silver Chair
The Last Battle

If you don't read them because you think they are magic mixed up badly with christianity or something like that... please don't think like that.
If you are reading them thinking they are christian fantasy that will give your children character while teaching them about God and Jesus... please don't think like that.

Many these days shrink at words like "witch", or "magician". I would only say that witches in Macbeth or magicians in Narnia, are something very different to witches or magic conceived into the minds of those who hold a relativistic or non christian worldview.

I could link to several articles I have read over the years and I like to read over and over again at times, or bring different explanations why fantasy, imagination, and faith are related, -all as long as the author you are reading is worth it-, but I will leave you with a quote from Angela Thirkell's book, The Headmistress, which is set in England, at the time of the II War.

"Some acting, I understand," said Mrs. Hunter. "My daily woman's niece works at the school and tells me they are getting up some scenes from As You Like It. So Shakespearean!"
The Rear-Admiral's wife said she and her husband had seen a most interesting performance of As You Like It by the girls in a misionary school in Zanzibar many years ago when her husband was on leave from Simonstown. It was of course, she added, a Church of England school.
"Of course it would be, with Shakespeare," said Mrs. Hunter thoughtfully.
"What I feel about Shakespeare," said Mrs. Hoare, "is that in times like these he makes us all pull together. Duke's son, cook's son. England is a wonderful country."

It was a beautiful 4 day weekend, with a 4th of July celebration, and a nice relaxing Saturday for me. I have an oldest girl sleeping already, exhausted, and a youngest one waiting for me to read Heidi. So I must go. See you all soon!