Sunday, January 8, 2017

On The Eve of the First Day after Christmas Break

So on Friday, the Feast of the Epiphany, the Three Magi safely made it to the fireplace mantle to deliver their gifts to the Baby Jesus, Miss Elizabeth found the quarter in her piece of the Galette des Rois, and just for good measure an ice storm topped off with a dusting of snow passed through.  But with all of that, Christmas break has ended.
Our Christmas break has been a delightful couple of weeks of gifting, and feasting, and reading, and friends, and crafting, and movies, and staying up late, and sleeping in, and playing in pajamas well into the morning and occasionally past lunchtime.
But tomorrow, things need to go back to 'normal'.  We will begin school again, picking back up the last few weeks of the term before exams and starting fresh with a new pile of books.  On Tuesday, the children resume their swimming lessons and choir practices, and on Wednesday we will meet with friends again for co-op.  We're not easing back in, we're diving back in.  
On the one hand, we're ready for it.   After two+ solid weeks off, preceded by the flu and a slow limp to the finish line, it feels like it's been a long time since we've had a day in which we followed a normal routine.   The crankiness that is creeping in around the edges is telling me it's time to reclaim it.  On the other hand, I feel overwhelmed by the thought of trying to get that ball rolling again.  Inertia.  An object at rest wants to stay at rest….   Oh how I want to stay at rest.  Sloth is a vice I wrestle with   I need a little something to kick-start me back into action, to help me to gladly go forth and resume the work He has given me to do.
Maybe I'm not the only one?  I suspect perhaps that I am not.   I can't offer you a package bundle of resources and checklists that guarantee to help you start the New Year with a bang.  I can't even offer you a blogpost in which I attempt to weave these wise words I have gleaned from others into a coherent whole.  That said, these are a few of the words that have been feeding my soul and strengthening my heart and helping me combat my propensity toward sloth this week as I prepare to shift gears and begin "normal" life again after the slower rhythm of these past weeks.
"…the real problem of Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it.  It comes that very moment you wake up each morning.  All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.  And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.  And so on, all day."  (Pt. 4, Ch. 8)
"Every time you fall He will pick you up again.  And he knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection."  (Pt. 4, Ch, 9)
~CS Lewis, Mere Christianity
"MIDWINTER.  The commonest simile in connection with the new year is a book with blank pages.  Nature's year is also a book to be written.  This midwintertime represents a pause in the turning wheel of life.  It is, in northern lands, the year's low point, its nadir.  Life will swell, reach its zenith, before the next resting time. All the events of spring and summer and autumn, of sprouting and growth and seed time, the beginning and the end, lie ahead.  The whole circle of the seasons stretches away before us as we view the year from the cold plateau of January." (p.2)
~Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons
"Care is not passive – the word derives from an Indo-European word meaning 'to cry out', as in a lament. Care asserts that as difficult and painful as life can be, it is worth something to be in the present, alive, doing one's daily bit…combating sloth, being willing to care for oneself and others on a daily basis, is no small part of what constitutes basic human sanity, a faith in the everyday." (p.41-42)
~Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries
A new year with all its possibility spreads out before me.  Tomorrow morning I will get up.  I will push back the voices that will whisper that it's just too hard, pray this prayer, and trust in His grace and goodness and strength to do my 'daily bit'.   Who's with me?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reading Plans for 2017

So…yesterday was the *best of* 2016.  Today, I attempt to share my reading plans for 2017.
It's a little tricky because I don't really plan out my reading in great detail.  I used to, and doing so sucked all the joy out of reading for me. 
That said, there's so much that I want to read.  I don't want to default to nothing but light novels and Netflix.  So, I've settled on a sort of loose plan, more or less, which I thought I'd share here for others who maybe want to try planning their reading in a little more detail, without overwhelming yourself with a neverending list. J
At this season in my life, I find I can fairly successfully juggle about 4 titles at a time, in addition to devotional reading, a volume of poetry to sprinkle in here and there, and maybe a book to read with my husband.   I like to keep balance among those four titles, so I have four basic categories:
Theology or Practical Christian Living
On Education (which I consider "Professional Development")
Nonfiction (Other than Theology or Education)
So pretty much the way it works is that I read a title from each of those categories, rotating through them according to what I feel like when I get a few moments here and there to sit down and read.  When I finish one book, I choose another in that category – whatever sort of strikes my fancy at the time.  No particular time limits or schedules or writing of long lists.  I do try to make sure at least one of them is lighter in nature so I don't end up with huge masses of dense, heavy reading and nothing to dig into when I'm tired in the evening.   It's a pretty simple system that allows me freedom to pick and choose, while helping me stay focused and intentional with my precious bits of reading time.
The only things I can guarantee that I will be reading in 2017 are these, because I'm already part way into them and I intend to finish. :)
You can see my basic categories at work there: Middlemarch is my fiction pick, Echoes of Eden the nonfiction, CS Lewis' Mere Christianity (one of the titles in the big "Signature Classics" collection you see there) my theological pick, Norms and Nobility the educational one, and TS Eliot's poetry.  My husband and I are between books right now, but will probably continue our ongoing Jane Austen project (Persuasion?).   And devotionally, I am using The Ancient Christian Devotional which pairs the Sunday lectionary readings for each week with relevant quotes from the church fathers, along with a slow reading of the Gospels, and prayer resources from The Book of Common Prayer.   I fully expect the devotional readings, the TS Eliot poetry, and Norms and Nobility to take all year.  But as I finish books from the other categories I have lots of choices.
This is basket of books I've picked up here and there that I'd like to read at some point:
Some of those are pre-reading for future AO Years.  Some are just because.   There will most definitely be some Shakespeare, and hopefully at least one or two of the book discussion titles over on the AO Forum.  I also have the stack of my "12 Days of Christmas" books from my husband.  (Yes, he bought me a book for every one of the 12 Days of Christmas.  He's pretty amazing, isn't he?)  Pictured here are only days 1-6…there are more to come!  Not to mention things that are trickling in from my Amazon gift card purchases….
So very much to choose from!  And who knows what else will come my way before the end of the year?  Last year two of my favorites were Mere Motherhood and You Are What You Love which weren't even published or on my radar until later in the year. J   I won't read all of these, of course.  But there is so much possibility here.
I'm looking forward to a good Year in Books.
What are your reading hopes, plans, and dreams for this coming year?

Friday, December 30, 2016

Books of 2016

So, as promised, my "Best Books of 2016".   Even when I'm not otherwise actively blogging, I can't help a good book post. J
So…the stats.  I actually read and finished 43 books this year, not counting the Bible or books read to/with the children for school or otherwise.  I was actually shocked by that, because I have felt so often this year that I *just don't read as much as I used to* for a wide variety of reasons.  But that's only 6 short of my 2015 tally.  Granted, I read more light fiction this year that I have typically read in years past, but still pretty respectable.  I guess I'm squeezing more reading in there than I thought I was.
My top 5 picks for this year, in no particular order:
1.       Parents and Children (Charlotte Mason) – This is Charlotte Mason's second volume, and was one of the two that I hadn't yet read (Volume 5 is my last holdout.  Hoping to tackle that one this year.)  I wrote a review of this book here.
2.      Mere Motherhood (Cindy Rollins) – Delightful and Profound.  Read my review here.
3.      You Are What You Love (James KA Smith) – If you read along with Desiring the Kingdom a couple years ago and liked Smith's ideas but not his delivery so much, this is the book for you.   The basic premise is the same as Desiring the Kingdom, but the presentation and application is much more accessible for ordinary, not-academic-philosophers.  My husband is actually reading and enjoying this one too.   In a nutshell, this is an apologetic for why liturgy matters – both in the formal worship setting, as well as informally in the habits and everyday practices of our lives.  These things form and shape us more than we realizeIt's worth taking the time to consider what kind of people our habits – liturgies – are shaping us into.
4.      I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed)  (Alessandro Manzoni) – This is one of the assigned literature selections in AO Year 8, and one of the titles selected for the Book Discussion group over on the AO Forum this past year.  It is *the* novel of Italy and an epic in every sense of the word – so much food for thought and insight into human nature all wrapped up in a compelling story.
5.      Gilead (Marilynne Robinson) – This is an author I've heard mentioned many times in the literary circles I frequent, and I'm so glad I finally gave her a try.   So, so good.  I have her others in my 'to be read' basket, waiting for just the right moment.
And a few honorable mentions, just because I can never pick just 5….
1.       The Tempest (Shakespeare) – I've dipped in to a fair amount of Shakespeare this year as my kids have reached the age that we have started to study Shakespeare for school and I (and they!) am loving it.  I haven't studied this one with the kids yet, but it was far and away my favorite Shakespeare that I have encountered yet.
2.      Surprised by Oxford (Carolyn Weber) – So this was a re-read.  For the third or fourth time.  I loved it every bit as much as the first couple of times, but since it has made a previous best book of the year list, I figured maybe I ought to bump it down?   Re-reading it made me wish I had taken an English degree rather than an Elementary Education one, made me want to travel to England and read more CS Lewis (which I have been!), and inspired me to finally finish Paradise Lost, which was worth the effort.
3.      Surprised by Joy (CS Lewis) – I've read a fair bit of CS Lewis this year, and this was my favorite of the lot.  So fascinating…I loved reading his story.
4.      Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (Marilyn Chandler McEntyre) – Recommended by a friend from church.  It is a series of essays on using Words well written by a literature professor.  Much food for thought, and a book I will revisit.
5.      To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) – Beautiful picture of what it means to live with integrity in a hostile culture.  I read this back in high school, but it was very meaningful to revisit it as a 30-something adult with that much more experience of the world.
There weren't really any books I read this year that I *didn't* like, and actually only one or two that I started and didn't finish.   So I'm sort of hard pressed to pick a bottom of the pile book.  But, if I'm being pressed…I guess I would have to say Emma (Jane Austen).  Don't get me wrong.  I love Jane Austen.  And I love the movie adaptations of this book, so it's not the story that bothers me.  It's just that the pacing of the book itself is slower than some of her others.  Something would happen, and then the next chapter or two would be the characters discussing the thing that happened.  But…I finished it!  I've tried before and just couldn't.   But my hubby and I are very slowly reading through Jane Austen's work together, so I had accountability.   Now we're watching and comparing all the movie versions. :D
(Yes, I know I am a very lucky girl to have a hubby who actually enjoys reading and watching Jane Austen with me.  He also found my list of books I want to read someday and bought me a book for every single one of the 12 days of Christmas.  And when I fill up my current bookcases, I can count on him to take me back to Ikea for more.  Yes, I am a lucky girl indeed.)
What did you read this year? Highlights?  Lowlights?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Repost: An Advent Reflection

So many times over the past few weeks I have tried to sit down and write, and just found that the words won't come.  The thoughts are there swirling around in my head, but the words just won't come.  So...I think it's time to step back from this space for a spell and let those thoughts percolate a bit more.   For today, I leave you with an Advent reflection I originally posted December 22, 2014, and I will probably pop in some time around New Years to share my Best Books of 2016, but otherwise...I will be back when the words are ready,  my friends. 

A Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

An Advent Reflection
This year's Advent season has been kind of different – unique – mostly in a good way.
Part of it is borne out of the fact that I decided to wait for most of the 'celebratory' aspects of Christmas – the decorating, the baking, the gift wrapping, the music, the guests -  until…well…Christmas. We are all off of work and school that week between Christmas and New Years and will actually have time to savor and enjoy those activities.   I find that now I'm actually looking forward it rather than dreading one (or two, or three, or four) more thing to cram in around my husband's busy work schedule, the kids' swimming lessons, and moving house (which is how we spent the first three weeks of December).
Part of it has been seeing the kids embrace our Advent devotional traditions as their own.  They asked for weeks ahead of time if we were going to listen to the Messiah again this year.  They are active participators in our nightly Jesse Tree readings.  They listen.  They ask questions.  All those years of trying to establish these traditions when they were all little and it seemed to be a waste of time because they were too wiggly and squirmy to get anything out of it?  That's totally paying off now that they are a little bit older.
Part of it has been that I have been taking the time to do my own personal reflections on Advent, using the devotional guide portion of Bobby Gross' book Living the Christian Year, meditations that have seamlessly tied together with my regular through-the-New-Testament readings, my personal literary reading, and what we've been reading with the children.  Those twin themes of Advent - waiting and patience -have been particularly meaningful to me this year.  This has been true both on a personal level in my daily battle against discouragement and on a grander level when one starts to think about all the hard, hard things going on all over the world – those things that sometimes make you start to wonder at times if God is still there.
Consider this from Isaiah 35:3-4, 10:
"Encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble.  Say to those with anxious heart, 'Take courage, fear not.  Behold your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, But He will save you…The ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads.  They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing with flee away." (NASB)
On the same day that I read that in the Advent devotional, my regularly-scheduled Bible reading was from 2 Peter 2.  The very same theme was echoed – waiting and hoping for the Savior who will mete out vengeance on the unrighteous and salvation to those who belong to Him.  The day is coming when all will be made right.   We've started reading the Narnia books out loud to the children, and even that story has tied right in to my reflections:
"Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again."
(CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe)
The following day, I came to the story of the birth of John the Baptist in my Advent reflections.  The thought occurred to me about how very amazing these events must have been to Zechariah and Elizabeth and those around them after 400 years of "silence" - to see God stirring and working again…to see prophecies being fulfilled, to know that they were not forgotten.  This birth of John the Baptist was like that first thaw of spring after endless winter in Narnia....Aslan was on the move!  The promised Messiah was coming to rescue and to redeem and to save: "Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78-79, NASB).
I saw the Advent theme again as I read the final few books of Homer's Odyssey this past weekend.  Penelope, Odysseus' wife, has been waiting for 20 long years for Odysseus to return home from the Trojan War - never knowing if he was dead or alive.  Talk about waiting - longing - hoping - hardly daring to believe that it might be true - and then the joy when she finally recognizes that it is him, alive and well and home again:
"Joy, warm as the joy that shipwrecked sailors feel when they catch sight of land - Poseidon has struck their well-rigged ship on the open sea with gale winds and crushing walls of  waves, and only a few escape swimming, struggling out of the frothing surf to reach the shore, their bodies crusted with salt but buoyed up with joy as they plant their feet on solid ground again, spared a deadly fate..."
(Homer, trans. Fagles, The Odyssey , Book 23 Lines 262-269
Waiting and patience…and the joy that comes when that long waiting is over and the thing sought for has come at last. He HAS come to save us, and WILL come again to take us home.  We can have hope in the waiting because we know that the joy will come.  It is sure and it is certain.
E'en so Lord Jesus, quickly come!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

From My Commonplace: On Love, True Love

"…ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love.  Love in this second sense – love as distinct from being 'in love' – is not merely a feeling.  It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive from God. They can have this love for each other even at these moments when they do not like each other… 'Being in love' first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise."
"Let the thrill go – let it die away – go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow – and you will find you are living a world of new thrills all the time."
Part 3 – Chapter 6 – "On Christian Marriage"
~ CS Lewis, Mere Christianity
I read this book years ago, as a college student.  I remember enjoying it – I've always been a fan of CS Lewis – but I don't remember now much about what I took away from it.  (I actually really wish I still had the same copy I read all those years ago, because I'd love to see now what sections I marked and commented on my first go around, and how it compares to my second go.  Alas, that book was lost somewhere in one of our many international moves over the last 15 years.)  I am so enjoying reading it again, though.   Even though Lewis wrote this somewhere around the time of World War 2, if I'm not mistaken, there has been so much that has just resonated as timely and true in the issues of our modern culture.   And that's the mark of a good book, don't you think?

On My Nightstand This Week:
Devotional: Luke with the Luke for Everyone Commentary (Wright)
The Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven (Maurice)
The Ancient Christian Devotional: Lectionary Cycle A (Crosby and Oden)
 Theological: Mere Christianity (Lewis)
On Education: Norms and Nobility (Hicks)
                                                          Personal Choice Fiction: Middlemarch (Eliot)
Personal Choice Nonfiction: Slowly savoring the Circe 2017 Magazine while between books. J
With my Hubby: Emma (Austen)
Family Read-Aloud Literature: At the Back of the North Wind (MacDonald)
Click Here for more Words

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

From My Commonplace: On Conversation

"To 'converse' originally meant to live among or together, or to act together, to foster community, to commune with.  It was a large verb that implied public, cooperative, and deliberate action.  When we converse, we act together toward a common end, and we act upon one another.  Indeed, conversation is a form of activism – a political enterprise in the largest and oldest sense – a way of building and sustaining community."  (p. 89)
"His willingness to listen for correction is always a lesson in humility and grace, and even in courage. Good conversation, if it is to involve mutual teaching and learning, does require courage – not only the courage of one's convictions, but also the courage to admit one's limited range of vision and to allow for change, which always exacts some cost in comfort and the security of being 'right'." (p. 105)
"And prayer itself is a conversation.  To be in conversation with God is, like tithing, a way of returning to Him some part of the gift of words we have received from Him who is the Word.  Like the long intimate conversations of shared life among partners and friends, conversation with God keeps us turning toward, confiding in, trusting, and learning from the very source of life and language. In that intimate conversation we can be sure of receiving whatever direction and words we need for all the others." (p. 110)
~Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies
I finished this gem of a book over Thanksgiving break.  So much food for thought – I will be revisiting it I'm sure, even as I continue to mull over the thoughts I recorded in my commonplace.  This was actually recommended to me by a friend from church, and it's not a Charlotte Mason or Classical Education book per se.  But there are a lot of ideas that will probably be of interest to my fellow CM or Classical educators and/or literature lovers.  Worth checking it out, in case you needed another book to add to your already immense stack.  (Ha!) 

On My Nightstand This Week:
Devotional: Luke with the Luke for Everyone Commentary (Wright)
The Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven (Maurice)
The Ancient Christian Devotional: Lectionary Cycle A (Crosby and Oden)
 Theological: Mere Christianity (Lewis)
On Education: Norms and Nobility (Hicks)
                                                          Personal Choice Fiction: Hannah Coulter (Berry)
Personal Choice Nonfiction: Slowly savoring the Circe 2017 Magazine while between books. J
With my Hubby: Emma (Austen)
Family Read-Aloud Literature: At the Back of the North Wind (MacDonald)
Click Here for more Words

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fall 2016 Co-op Plans

Last year, we were part of a fantastic Charlotte Mason friendly classical co-op and loved every minute of it.  I taught history, literature, writing, and art/music appreciation to the third and fourth grade, which was a wonderful experience.  Michelle fell in love with Shakespeare because of the Shakespeare class she took there.  The only little problem with it….it was clear on the other side of town – a very sprawling town.  And we had to leave in the morning before rush hour ended.  So, we sadly had to decline participating in that group again.  I'm still sad about it.
For this year, our Plan A involved a co-op with a couple of friends from church who were planning to give AmblesideOnline a try this year.  We made a lovely plan for the year, and I was so very excited about where it was heading.   And then, one of those families had to move away. L  I'm still sad about that t00.
So that left just my other friend and I.  Thankfully, our children are very similar ages and get along really well, so we decided to go ahead and have a little co-op together anyway.  We had to pare things down a little bit from the original plan that we had settled on when we thought we were 3, but we're both pretty happy with how things are going so far…so all's well that ends well I guess.
What are we doing, you may ask?
We meet twice a month.  One meeting is at my house and for lack of a better name we are calling this an "enrichment class".    In that class we are covering the following:
We start our meetings with an opportunity for any children who would like to share a poem, Scripture, or piano piece they have learned with the rest of the group.
Picture Study
Charlotte Mason style picture study involves studying a set of 6 paintings from a particular artist slowly, over a period of several months, so we can truly acquaint ourselves with the artist's work and style.  This is done mainly by quietly studying a painting for a few minutes, and then turning it over and narrating all we remember about the painting, talking about what we notice, and what story we think may lie behind the scene or person depicted.  Only after the students have given their insights do I share a few (very few) choice tidbits about the artist or the story behind the painting.  We will be studying Hans Holbein the Younger this fall, and Giotto this spring.
Nature Study
We do an "object lesson" on a seasonally appropriate topic during our time together, and spend some time journaling together.   So far, we have done lessons on seeds, fall leaves, and pumpkins (comparing and contrasting with other squashes and cucumbers).   I didn't really plan it this way, but it's working out well to study a different aspect of plant life for each of our studies, so we will probably continue with object lessons on that topic as we continue on through the year.   My method of conducting these object lessons is pretty simple: we collect samples, lay them all out on the table and observe them, discussing what we see.  I have found using the prompts What do you notice? – What questions do you have? – What does it remind you of? a la John Muir Laws helpful to guide this process.   And then we sketch something of interest in our nature journals.
Composer Study
We are studying Dvorak this fall and will do Medieval Music in the spring (going along with Giotto as our artist.)   Ideally, we play the music of our chosen composer at home frequently to gain familiarity.  During our time together, we do some focused listening on a selection of one of his pieces and discuss a bit what we hear (or what we see – occasionally we watch a YouTube video of an actual performance), and perhaps discuss a bit of what Dvorak's influences were.  (This is really fascinating y'all.  Maybe I'll write another post about some of the fun connections I've come across.)
This the most challenging since we range in ages from 4-11, meaning there is a wide range of skill and ability.  This fall we are doing Paper Sloyd projects (measuring/cutting/folding to make envelopes, boxes, bookmarks, etc), which has gone okay for the most part.  We do have two adults with extra hands, and we are learning how to help the children with perfectionistic tendencies not get too upset when it doesn't work quite right the first time.   I'm not sure if we will continue paper sloyd in the spring, or choose a different handicraft. Handicrafts are neither of our forte…
We also have a recess break at the small playground in our subdivision, and our friends usually pack a lunch and stay and eat with us before they head home so the kids get some playtime together in too.
On our other monthly meeting, we plan a park day or other field trip of some kind.  Thus far, we've just had a couple of park days, but I think we will need to be a little more creative during the winter when it is likely to be too cold to want to spend all morning out in the park. J  But our crew has been pretty happy with this arrangement so far.
While there are times I find myself missing the more academic, discussion-based focus of the group we were part of last year, we are finding this a good fit for us this year.  Because we only meet twice a month, we have some wiggle room in our schedule on our off-weeks, which has given us time to pursue other field-trip opportunities on our own or set up outings with other friends.  These were things I rarely felt like I could give us permission to do last year when we were part of a weekly, more academic co-op (especially given the distance factor and how much that weekly cross-town trip took from all of us energy wise.)  Our kids love spending time together, and it's been good for us Mamas to be able to chat outside of church time too (especially since I've been unable to participate in our women's Bible study this fall).  So, all's well that ends well….