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?