Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading More: Helpful Habits (your mileage may vary)

This started out as an end-of-year reading review, but it took a sharp turn to the left. I will definitely get back to my reading wrap-up, because I  read some wonderful books in 2015, but today I wanted to follow this rabbit trail.

2015 was my most successful year of reading so far. I read more books, tried new genres, and took more from the books I finished. As I look back, I realized that my reading habits were a little different, and they made all the difference for the year.

1. Audiobooks — Yes, it's likely that I'm the last holdout to "discover" the appeal of audiobooks. Before last year, I never felt like the cost was worthwhile to me. Now though, our library offers access to several apps where I can download eBooks and audiobooks with my library card. I use Hoopla; for the most part, I like it a lot. They have a sizable library, and I've found some interesting options there. It's easier to pick up the latest bestsellers than to wait on the hold list, so I have checked out more modern literature this year. Because they return automatically, there are no library fines to worry about, so I can download more books than I would otherwise check out. Finally, I find myself more likely to cue up a book while I'm doing something else (which has also increased my knitting... double win).

A word of warning: as their library has increased, Hoopla also has added quite a few explicit adult titles. While I'll use their catalog myself, I wouldn't set my kids loose to pick a book.

There was one thing about audiobooks that surprised me. I found myself tackling some books that I had avoided in the past: particularly long books that were intimidating because of their sheer weight and books that are heavy on dialect. I fell in love with The Count of Monte Christo. I own a beautiful leather-bound edition, but it was so thick and gilded and way-too-smart-for-me-looking that I had never pulled it off the shelf. While it took several months to listen to on audio, I adored it. (I don't know if I have ever mentioned this, but my French is atrocious. Listening on audio with an excellent reader meant that I got all the pronunciations right in my head. Yay!) I also listened to my first Dickens, an author I have avoided in the past. I have always struggled with British accents, and the skilled narrator made a big difference for me.

2. Lists: my Bullet Journal — I have tried several times to keep track of my reading, always unsuccessfully. My specific book-tracking notebooks was never in the right place, so I promised myself to write it down later (never did), and eventually it got lost altogether. Usually, I would stumble across those abandoned journals with their ten or twelve entries months later. This year I started a Bullet Journal. It has been only moderately successful for other parts of my life, but it was a slam-dunk when it came to tracking my books. My BuJo is always around, and I have made it a priority to write titles down as I finish them. The list has had a peculiar effect on me, too. I'm not the most organized person, and sometimes I forget that I'm reading a book (or choose to forget a book that I don't really want to finish). Seeing those titles on the list, with their empty check boxes leering at me, gave me the kick I needed to decide whether to finish them or cross them off the list.

3. Which brings me to my favorite new reading habit... not finishing books. Don't get me wrong, I have always been willing to bury dull books at the bottom of the reading pile, slowly slide them under the bed until they disappear, or "accidentally" put them away on my shelves, never to pull them off again. What I haven't been willing to do is to DECIDE that a book isn't worth my time or isn't right for me right now. I fought it for years because I thought it would lead me to quit books whenever they got hard. In fact, it turns out that the opposite has been true. Knowing that I can quit a book if it doesn't work for me right now has freed me up to try some new things, both modern works and classics. I've branched out into some genres and authors that I had never tried before. Some were terrible, but a lot of them were lovely surprises.

4. Commonplace book — Okay, I know I just said that #3 was my favorite new habit, but you know... I reserve the right to change my mind without notice. On that note, THIS has been my absolute favorite change to my reading diet. I'll warn you now, keeping a commonplace book won't necessarily help you read faster. It takes time to write down those favorite passages. It takes time to mull over what the author is trying to communicate. However, this one habit has helped me to get more out of my books than anything else that I've tried. If you aren't sure what a commonplace book is, check this out.

Educators and researchers alike seem to agree that writing down helps to cement things in our mind. My own experience this year has echoed this. I remember my books as a whole—and particular passages—better since I started keeping a commonplace. One thing that has surprised me is how much I love to leaf through my pages and read the quotes and notes I wrote down. It's like running into old friends at the grocery story and spending a few minutes catching up in the aisles.

Thinking about my commonplace reminds me that Reading More isn't just about accruing more finished titles on a list, it's also about getting more out of the books I read. That's a goal that's worth my time in the New Year!

How about you? What habits have helped you to Read More? Are there new ideas that you want to try in the upcoming year to help you get more out of your books?

Monday, December 14, 2015

'Tis the Season panic about not getting it all done! Along with the beauty of the Advent season and the wonder of Christmas, December also brings the end of a school term for most homeschoolers. “What do I do if we aren’t ‘caught up’?!” is a questions that I see popping up all over the place. As that end-of-term deadline looms, moms are pulling out those beautiful, color-coded, spreadsheet schedules that they so lovingly crafted in August and measuring them against where their children are now.


If you are anything like me, all you can see is the lessons unfinished, the subjects that never took off, the boxes left unchecked. The panic rises as you think of how behind you are, frantically calculate ways to finish off everything (only three easy weeks of 16-hour days; that’s doable, right?!), and then decide that the only way to “get it done” is to cancel Christmas and your vacation.

Sound familiar?

Step back from the cliff, mama.

Read more at the CME Retreat blog

Monday, November 2, 2015

Do Hard Things

I'm guest posting again today over on the CME Retreat blog. Have you ever hit a roadblock in your homeschool day and wondered, "Is something wrong; should it be this hard"? Have you ever heard that your school days should be filled with joy, or you risk killing your child's love of learning? When things get hard, does it mean that we're doing something wrong?

Have you ever noticed how a particular idea can suddenly appear all over the place, seemingly all at once? Recently I have heard some rumbles on the world wide web that homeschooling is supposed to be a joy-filled endeavor. They say that if it's not, the problem is either with you, the way you have trained your children, or the curriculum itself. They say, homeschooling shouldn’t hurt. If it does, you will kill your child’s love of learning. The moment they leave your home, they will do nothing but play video games and eat fast food all day long. To prevent this catastrophic outcome, dump your current curriculum―maybe ALL curricula―and find something more fun. (Okay, I might be exaggerating a little bit, but only a little.)

It sounds so good. Who wants our days to be hard? If there is a secret that can make it easy, who wouldn’t want that?! But we are called to be wise and discerning. I know that just because something sounds good and appeals to me doesn't mean that it's true. One way I know to test an idea is to look at other parts of the world and ask myself whether this idea fits what I know to be true. Are there other situations where we get to experience wonder-filled days, joyful times where we and our kiddos are reaching our goals and desires? Well, yes. And no...

Please head over to the CME Retreat page to read the full article. After you do, I would love to hear from you, here or on the CME Retreat blog. Have you had to overcome a particular struggle in your homeschool? What did you decide to do about it? How did it go for your family?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Digging for Absolute Truth

I am a big podcast fan. That might be because I'm an auditory learner. It might be because I like to engage my mind while I cheerfully wash dishes, sweep the floor, and work out like a fitness diva. (I'm not saying that it IS, only that it might be.) It might be because I like to play Candy Crush while I lay in bed sipping on hot tea. (I'm not saying that it IS, only that it might be.) Anywho... having exhausted the current offerings from the CiRCE Institute, I've recently discovered Julie Bogart's Brave Writer podcast.

All that backstory is to explain why I'm writing about a podcast three years after it was produced. Timely, I am not.

In 2012, Bogart interviewed Melissa Wiley, author of several children's novels. In the interview, Wiley said something that really hit home for me. I'm paraphrasing here, but essentially she says that on the internet, we tell the truth—the absolute truth—but not necessarily the whole truth. Online, there are obvious reasons for this, primarily discretion and privacy. But what about in my head?

Sometimes, I say awful things in my brain, things that flat-out aren't true. Like most parents, I am my own biggest critic, and it can get ugly up there in my head. Most of the time, though, what I say in my head is true but not the whole truth. My kitchen is a mess. Truth. I could go right now and sweep and mop and clear off the counters and scrub them down with bleach until they gleam like the sun. Truth.  Or I could teach my kids, take the time to laugh at Tiger's latest ridiculous joke, say YES to "...just one. more. chapter. PLEEEEEAAASE!!" and give myself a moment of relaxation so that I can retain the last vestige of sanity desperately clinging on in my Mom Brain. Absolute truth. We had four awful hours spent over a math lesson today. Truth. (Also, not my proudest moment. Those times when you realize that you have locked yourself into a battle of wills and don't know how to back out now... those are not good times. And that's about all I have to say about that.) Before those four hours, however, we had a delightful read aloud time in the morning. After those four hours, we spent the afternoon at the library (where that same stubborn kid sat and read picture books to her little sister for nearly an hour). Everyone came home with new books, and then we munched pizza and read past our bedtimes. Most of our day was great. Absolute truth.

I know this is not a new thought, but it keeps coming at me from different directions. What I choose to think about dictates my attitude, my reactions, the way our day plays out, and how I interpret that day when I'm lying in bed at night. I look past the facts of what happened and attribute motivations and meaning. It starts and ends in my head. When I assume the best about my kids, I react with more kindness. When I review our day in my head and cement those memories, I can choose to fixate on the rough spots or I can choose to zoom in on the laughter, the silliness, the "ah ha" moments, the chocolately kisses, the victory in Tempest's voice when she finally slammed that math book shut and called it FINISHED, the image of Tempest and Tiger curled up in a chair with their heads bent over a book together.

There is a part of me that wants to keep my mind private. I want to lay claim over it as all my own, free to think what I like without answering to anyone. The thing is, that's not truth—not absolute truth, not partial truth, not any truth. There is the spiritual fact that all of me belongs to Jesus: my feelings, my thoughts, my expectations, my actions... ALL of it. But there is also the practical fact. My actions flow out of my thoughts. Those actions determine the quality of people's lives: not just my own, but the lives of my kids, my husband, and even—to a lesser extent—the people I come into contact with. There is no such thing as "private." Some thoughts come and go, but I others take up permanent residence. It's not that I can't ever visit the Land of Dour. I just can't build a house and move there. The thoughts that I give room to form who I am. Who I am inside will come out, no matter how much I try to pretty-up my outsides. For good or ill, it will affect the people around me. That makes it vital for me to protect my mind, to choose joy and truth and hope.

I hear it. I see that it is truth. Now I get to try to live it out. That is when I discover that these are the things I cannot do on my own. I cling to the strength of the Holy Spirit in this moment by moment quest to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Cor 10:5) So, once again I choose hope and I try again. I choose to focus on the books and the love and the laughter and the brownies. Moment by moment, right?

Someone tell me that I'm not the only mama struggling with this. (Please?!) What do you do to protect your thought life? How do you make sure that you don't get so caught up in truths that you miss the Absolute Truth?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Truer than True

Next February, something incredibly exciting is coming to Colorado! Colorado Springs will play host to our first ever western-region Charlotte Mason conference. I am very excited (and so stinking nervous) to be one of the speakers. Today, I'm blogging on the Charlotte Mason Educational Retreat website about the unique power of fiction in education.

Join me over on the CME Retreat blog to read the full article. After you check it out, I'm curious to know, how do you feel about fiction as a tool for education? Have your thoughts or concerns changed at all over time? Strike up a conversation here or on the CME blog. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, August 17, 2015

From the Commonplace

It is very helpful to read with a commonplace book or reading-diary, in which to put down any striking thought in your author, or your own impression of the work, or of any part of it; but not summaries of facts. Such a diary, carefully kept through life, should be exceedingly interesting as containing the intellectual history of the writer; besides, we never forget the book that we have made extracts from, and of which we have taken the trouble to write a short review. ~ Vol. 5 p. 260
The Commonplace Book. It's not an auspicious name, is it? It seems so... well, common. It isn't fancy. There is nothing out-of-reach about a commonplace book. It doesn't rely on my own sophistication, cleverness, or skill to be filled up with wonderful things. In its simplest form, it is just a place to copy down passages that catch your attention while you read. Your book doesn't have to be particularly beautiful (although beauty is always a good idea). Mine is a $0.50 composition book that I covered with some scrapbook papers and embellishments. I think it's lovely, but it's no hand-stitched, Italian-leather bound journal. You don't have to be a painter and illustrate your book. You don't have to be an author and write brilliant essays in response to what you have been reading. You don't have to be a scholar and choose historically relevant entries. All those things are fine, but none of them are required. There are no rules for choosing your passage, other than that it contains a thought or turn of phrase that you want to hold on to.

In fact, it is the "holding on" aspect that brings commonplace books to vibrant, breathing, exciting life. I have read SO.MANY.BOOKS. in my life: so many wonderful, useful, educational, inspiring books. Some of them have changed me, but most of them briefly called up my admiration and agreement, and then their wonderful ideas floated right out of my head and into the ether. When I write ideas down in a copybook, however, something different happens. Somehow the act of producing words on paper with my own hands creates a kind of ownership. I remember them more. While I'm doing laundry or sweeping the floor, I find myself pondering an idea, rolling particular phrases around in my head, arguing with the author, or composing my own thoughts in response (which I rarely write down, but the ordering of those thoughts is, in and of itself, valuable). Somehow by writing these words down, I let them in.

So... commonplace books are wonderful, and sharing the things we love is wonderful. From the Commonplace is going to be a (semi?) regular feature where I can share whatever has gone into my copybook recently. Ready? Off we go, then...

The first entry I have to share is not from a book, but from a blog. If that seems a little odd to you, well, it does to me, too, but that's what I'm reading right now. This week I copied a large chunk from Lindsey Brigham's post Redeeming Time posted over on the CiRCE Institute blog. CiRCE is one of my favorite places to hang out on the web. If you haven't discovered all their new podcast offerings or their blog, Forma, go check them out posthaste.

It is back-to-school planning season for me right now, along with quite a few other homeschool families. The potential to make things wonderful, to adjust our course, and to re-energize our days is exciting, but along with all this potential for change comes an overwhelming desire to make things "perfect." That completely stresses me out. In light of this season, my favorite bit from Brigham's post was this:
We do not only speak of time as a commodity. We live as though time is a commodity... [T]he pressure to make the most of each extra minute can be overwhelming [and bring] the feeling of missed opportunity and misused resources...

[T]ime is not a commodity, but the soil of eternity, and our lives the seed. We need not hoard up and cash out momentary time-units, with all their significance resting on the present transaction; we may instead seek to "redeem the time"... Yesterday's sins and slackenings may today be met by the God of grace, Giver of life, that we may live in hope for tomorrow. We may lose time, but our Lord does not.

"We may lose time, but our Lord does not." Are there any words homeschooling parents need to hear more as we head into a new school year? I think not. If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to go and read the whole article. It's well-worth your time.

God bless us as we move forward in faith. Remember, we may lose time, but our Lord does not. May He redeem our every mistake and misstep and lead us in a higher path.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Art Prints 2015-16 (Part I: the First Two Terms)

Ah, another year, another crop of artists. Over the past few years, art study has become one of my favorite subjects, and I'm really excited about this year's choices. As usual, we will be following the Ambleside Online schedule. I love the variety of artists, the AO leadership always picks great pictures, and it's fun to share resources with other people on the forum. We'll be studying two Frenchman this year, so I will be curious to hear the kids compare and contrast them.

In term 1, we start off with Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Last week, the kids brought me the image of the day from their Metropolitan Art Calendar. (They do this anytime a day's art particularly catches their eyes.) I noticed that the painting was by Camille Corot and took the opportunity to tell them about their upcoming study. Although it was a small connection, it has them excited to see more of his paintings.

4x6 cards print three on a page
I have specific frames for our picture study, so these prints will print on a standard-sized computer paper, and they are intended to be trimmed down to an 8x10" size. I take my file to Office Max and have them printed on glossy cardstock. They always do a beautiful job, and their prices are the most reasonable in (our) town. You can download 8x10" prints here, including a self-portrait of Corot. We don't usually discuss the self-portrait; we just add it to our gallery so the kids can "meet" the painter.

In our house, all school-aged (or teacher-aged) people get their own Book of Masterpieces, with smaller copies of each of the pictures that person has studied. You can click here to download the 4x6" series.

 In Term 2 we'll study Jacques-Louis David. I don't know about the kids, but I am ridiculously excited about this artist. Two years ago, I took my kiddos to a large art museum to see the French exhibit. The girls were looking forward to seeing one of "their" Manets. We all enjoyed the exhibit quite a bit, but I was particularly captivated by this enormous painting of a Roman man and his grieving family. The look on his face, the tension in his fists and shoulders, the terrible grief of the women in the family... I stood there staring at it until the girls dragged me off. It was so captivating that I wrote down the title and artist, looked it up, and printed off a copy for myself when I came home. Then, a couple months ago, my oldest started Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. In the life of Publicola, we read the story of Brutus, who condemned his own sons to death to save the Republic. I remembered the picture and pulled it up to show her. Then, lo and behold, when I looked up this year's artist, what do I see but that same captivating painting offered as a study option?! **insert happy dance here**

You can download the 8x10" prints here, including a self-portrait of David. We are going to study Brutus instead of The Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine, but I included both options in the print files. Delete whichever you don't want to study. You can download the 4x6" series here.

That's it so far. Stay tuned for term 3, when we will take a big jump in time and space...

Update: Several people have had problems downloading files from my previous file host. I have updated the links to Google Docs. If you download these files after 9/04/15, would you mind leaving me a comment letting me know whether your download was successful, or if you have any problems? Thanks ever so much!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

In Which I Find Myself Surprised

It's probably no surprise that over the years, the way I read has been profoundly changed by Charlotte Mason's principles. Reading slowly, enjoying several books at a time, paying close attention, and even narration have all worked their way into my own reading habits. I'm trying new genres, and discovering that I like them (for the most part). However—color me prejudiced—I have always preferred long, satisfying reads. I'm more than happy to hang on for several hundred pages while an author introduces me to a brand new world, it's rules, and it's inhabitants. It's the mental equivalent of a giant pot of deliciously satisfying lamb stew.

Illustrations by Joanna Hunt
While I have expanded the kinds of reading I enjoy, I stubbornly clung to my deliciously long books. Over and over again, I turned my nose up at short stories. How can you learn to love a character in twelve pages? It's ridiculous. I positively sneered at essays. Humph, they are over before they even get properly going. (Shades of Kipling's camel, and we all know what happened to him.) No. No thanks. Not interested. Humph.

Then I met this book:

If Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is the equivalent of a pot of bubbling, thick stew (a massive pot of ridiculously thick stew with a whole lot of random ingredients... but I digress), Anne Fadiman's book of essays is a platter of those tiny little entrées at a gourmet restaurant. They may not be large, but they are beautiful to look at, the flavors are a blend of familiar and surprising, and the textures combine perfectly. Reading them is an experience to be savored, not a Country Buffet to stuff myself at. Ex Libris is filled with essays about books and the thrills of being a bibliophile, so I'll admit that I was inclined to enjoy it before I even began. Still, I was surprised by how much I like the format. Essays are short and to the point, but they aren't necessarily simple. Fadiman's stories make me laugh. I recognize myself in them. Favorite bits have me nodding along as I read. However, when I get to the end of the essay, it turns out not to be the end of the story. I find myself turning bits and phrases over in my mind. After reading the second essay, "The Joy of Sesquipedalians," I found myself mumbling sesquipedalian, grimoire, and mephitic under my breath as I made the bed and vacuumed the floor. (Especially mephitic. It WAS housecleaning day, after all.) I was thinking about Tennyson and the beauty of his lines while I brushed my teeth. I felt an Ah Ha! moment while listening to a lecture about the value of beauty, for it's own sake rather than for any utilitarian purpose. Yup, that's exactly what she meant when she talked about the glory of those big, rollable words. Fadiman's insights have lingered far beyond the few pages her stories themselves take up.

Maybe it's a function of maturity. More likely, it's a matter of getting used to something new. Like Tiger and her vegetables, it has taken many tentative stabs at this new genre—a taste here (quickly spat out), then a little nibble here (not quite so bad, but hardly marvelous), a few bits of Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac over here (ooooh, I might actually like this), and then something clicks. My palette expands. A new love is born.

Once again, I find that Miss Mason is a wise woman. While she speaks specifically of curriculum, I find that my own self-education needs do not vary in any essential way from my students' needs.
“In the nature of things then the unspoken demand of children is for a wide and very varied curriculum; it is necessary that they should have some knowledge of the wide range of interests proper to them as human beings, and for no reasons of convenience or time limitations may we curtail their proper curriculum
(Vol. 6, p. 14).
There is so much out there beyond my regular genres, my familiar styles. Don't quit on your kids—or yourself—if you don't click with everything the first time you encounter it. Don't limit yourself to the things you are used to. Life is a big feast, and part of its wonder is the wide variety of goodness, truth, and beauty.

How about you? Have you been surprised lately by a new author, book, or genre?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

In Which I Discover There is More to Life than Star Trek

Have you ever noticed how easily people fall into ruts habits? When I was growing up, if there was a special occasion in my home, it was marked with a dinner of fillet mignon and asparagus, followed by Rocky Road ice cream for dessert. My children are gourmet cheese mongers. Every time we go to the grocery store, the want to check the cheese counter for samples. Me? I'm a coffee girl. Gourmet, fair trade, locally roasted, freshly ground: pour it in, foam it up, and top it with whipped cream and I'm a happy girl. All of these foods are delicious. Really, who can argue with fillet mignon? A grilled cheese made with applewood smoked Gouda? Rocky Road?! Obviously though, one meal, no matter how special, won't fill every need. It's easy to see that any diet consisting of only a few foods is going to leave us missing important nutrients.

Why is it that a principle we can see so clearly in the physical world becomes so cloudy and debatable when it comes to the intellectual world? Charlotte Mason declared that the mind has needs, just like the body does.

Knowledge 'nourishes' the mind as food nourishes the body.
A child requires knowledge as much as he requires food.
~Volume 6, p.18

If this is true, then it is easy to see that one or two kinds of books will not serve to create a full and richly-fed mind. Just like our bodies, our minds require both quantity and variety.

In the nature of things then the unspoken demand of children is for a wide and very varied curriculum; it is necessary that they should have some knowledge of the wide range of interests proper to them as human beings, and for no reasons of convenience or time limitations may we curtail their proper curriculum.
~Volume 6, p.14 

But just like the suspicious redundancy in my weekly meal plan, it's easy to fall into a reading rut. Growing up, I read science fiction and epic fantasy. I cut my teeth on Narnia, loved all the iterations of Star Trek (well, almost all of them; I'm looking in deep disgust at you, Deep Space 9), then leaped happily into Xanth, Pern, and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Red Planet. I was full to the brim with grilled asparagus and Rocky Road, but there was little else in my reading life. I would have been happy to continue this way, except...

...well... children. Yup, children don't come out reading. Who knew? If I wanted to expose them to many ideas through a broad and generous curriculum, I was going to have to read their books aloud. So, we read books. 

So. Many. Books.

We read history, biography, fairy tales, natural science, poetry, and geography. One of my favorite things about Ambleside Online is the number and variety of books. I run into old friends all the time, but there are also a lot of unfamiliar titles. We read a chapter at a time, slowly working through a book, sometimes over two or three years, and the girls draw surprising connections between all the diverse sources. It's delightful to see.

Even though two of my girls can read at least some of their own schoolbooks, I find that my own appetite has been whetted by the past few years of broad reading. I don't want to pass off that history book. In fact, I find myself searching for more information, because I just have to know if Richard III really did kill his nephews or if it was a politically-motivated frame-up by Henry VII. (I still don't know, by the way, but I have my suspicions.) I'm digging their geography book, because I never really noticed how the shape of the land drives history. As I model the kind of curiosity that I want my kids to develop, it's growing in my own life.

What about you? Is your personal reading heavy in one particular genre? (And do tell, which is it? I always want to hear more about people's favorite books.) Have you decided or been forced to branch out into something new? How did it go?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Learn More, Know More, Love More

If you are subscribed to this blog and you received a rough draft in your inbox this morning, please accept my apologies. The Publish button is right next to the Save Draft button, and I was running out the door for a Dunkin Donuts date with my girls and a dear friend. If it did come to you, consider it a peek into the unedited workings of my mind. For whatever that's worth. ;)

Over the past two years, art study has become a huge source of joy in our home. I have already written here about how much we've learned. That's still true, and even more so as we explore new genres. What I didn't mentioned there is how much I've learned to love. Charlotte Mason was onto something important when she said, " “The question is not—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? ... In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”

There are so many subjects that I didn't know anything (or at least not very much) about, so I didn't care. Nothing moves your heart simply because it should. You have to get to know it before you can love it. After two years of picture study, I'm falling in love. I look forward to each new artist like a chance to get to know a new friend. (All the extroverts are nodding, and some of my dear introvert friends are shrinking back in horror at that image. Ahem, moving right along...) I haven't loved every painting, nor even every artist. I am, however, learning to love art. It's so much fun to see how each artist responds to what came before, how he changes it and makes it his own. Art is a window into the heart of the artist, and it's something special to be invited into that. Knowing more—loving more—makes my life, and the lives of my girls, broader and richer.

I have looked forward to this term's artist for a while: Edgar Degas. I have three daughters. My Teacup-age-10 started dance last fall, and she has found her "thing." I'm really excited about introducing to the master of Ballet paintings. As always, Ambleside Online has prepared a wide sampling of Degas' work, so we actually won't be focused specifically on his dancer portraits. Don't worry, though. I have plenty of extra goodies in the wings for my girls!

The Dance Class, Edgar Degas, 1875

Feel free to download these prints for your own use.* We have a new set of frames in our Art Gallery (AKA, the dining room), so these are now formatted as 8x10 prints. They still print on a letter-sized page, there is just more white space now. I trim the prints down to fit in our frames. As always, we get ours printed on glossy card stock at Office Max. They are reasonably priced and their quality is excellent.

Each of my girls has her own Book of Masterpieces, where she keeps her own 4x6" copy of every print she studies. The 4x6 art cards also print on a standard-sized computer page, three to a sheet. In addition to the assigned prints, I included a copy of one of Degas' self-portrait. Our curriculum recommends a different one, but this one makes me laugh. I don't really know anything about him, but I suspect that he had attitude.

Is Picture Study a part of your family's routine yet? I would love to hear your thoughts about you fit this important subject into your busy homeschool day. Are you excited to study Degas? What are you planning for this term?

*If you want to use these prints for your family or group's study, download them with my blessings. It should go without saying, but please don't copy the files and pass them off as your own work, don't sell the files, and don't sell the prints. Basically, the Golden Rule still applies!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

And Then There Were Three...

I'm tempted to begin with an apology for how long it has been since I posted. Well over a year is a little ridiculous, I know. All I can say to excuse myself I that I haven't had a lot to say. I have been in a phase of my life where I'm soaking knowledge up as... well, not exactly as fast as I can. Perhaps I should say I'm soaking in as much as I can handle. I am working my way through The Living Page again, this time with a group of local CM homeschool mamas. This book has changed my heart about what we're doing, and expanded my ideas about why we're doing it. Maybe I'll write more about that later. For now, I can only recommend that you go get yourself a copy, if you don't already have one. If you are the sort to buy a new book and tuck it on the shelf for "someday," I encourage you to pull it out and crack it open.

When we started back to school this January, Tiger began her Kindergarten year. Well, kind of. According to the letter I send to the state, she doesn't technically start kinder until the fall. However, she's ready and raring to go, so go we will. I realize that Mason herself did not advocate formal education before age 6. That's perfectly fine, because calling what we're doing right now "formal" would be a stretch, if you know what I mean. Mason does recommend reading and early math lessons as the child requests them. That is pretty much what happens at our house, except it's more like whenever Mama can slip them in around everything else. Tiger is so excited to have her OWN math book and to learn to read that she is the one begging and pushing. At our house, Kinder is a warm-up year. Both Tempest and Tiger have enjoyed the one-on-one attention, the big-kid feeling of "doing school," and the excellent stories recommended on the Year 0 page at Ambleside Online. We aren't terribly consistent, but it gets them into the routine of coming to the table (or couch) and paying attention to a lesson.

So… homeschooling three. Can I admit it? I'm feeling very overwhelmed. I don't transition easily, and this case is no exception. At the end of the day, I'm tired and mentally sore in the way that I hear exercise people get sore after a workout. I wouldn't know about that, but I'll take their word for it. This is why Kindergarten is a warm-up year. It isn't just for my kids' benefit, but for my own. It's comforting to know that we'll get to what we get to, and everything will be fine.

We definitely haven't reached equilibrium… yet. I have faith, though, that we will. As I encourage myself, let me encourage you, too. If you feel like you can't *insert your struggle here*, just remember to add "YET."

I don't get up on time… yet.
I don't keep the house as clean as I would like to… yet.
I don't do my meal planning consistently… yet.

Keep pressing in, and we'll get there yet! How is your back-to-school going so far? Are you raring to go, or feeling a little blue from winter clouds? Have you hit your stride, or are you still struggling to find your rhythm?