Friday, October 21, 2016

From the Commonplace

You can read the full text of Mr. Arnold's tribute to his father here

What you are doing today matters, my friends. May the Lord strengthen us and bless us.

Monday, October 17, 2016

When You Just Aren't Feeling It

Do you ever feel flat? My kids left a playground ball under the trampoline more than a month ago. It has been rained on, overheated by some blistering summer days, and now cooled considerably by a couple weeks of chilly fall nights. That bouncy ball is looking considerably worse for wear: dull, deflated, half buried in the overgrown grass, and generally weather-beaten and forlorn. For the past couple weeks, I have been feeling a lot like that ball. I’m reading interesting books. I found an excellent new podcast, and it is clarifying ideas that have tumbled in my head and heart for a long time. I have spent time with some good friends and even discovered that a dear family is moving back to our area after several years out of the country. Good things are happening, but I still feel flat, weather-beaten, and a little bit forlorn.

I love ideas. I love the excitement that floods me when my eyes are opened to a new way of seeing the world, when I feel overwhelmed with a beautiful vision. Monday morning? Bring it on! I hit the floor running and ready to conquer our week. When I’m full of motivation, I can climb mountains and plant a flag for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

But then, life isn’t always like that, is it? Some days Monday feels like... well, a Monday. Rolling out of bed is only accomplished through a mixture of habit, defiance, and bone-deep desperation for that first cup of coffee. The past few Mondays, I have stood at the head of the week, and looking forward made me feel more exhausted than excited. I wrote to a friend that I feel like all I can do is to keep moving forward and trust that something is going to light a fire.

Where is your heart today? Do your lesson plans look more like a roadmap to wonder or a list of drudgeries? What is a homeschool parent to do on a dreary October day, when the lesson plans stretch far past the motivation?

Click over the the CME Retreat blog to read more

Monday, September 12, 2016

Part III - Scheduling the Day to Day

Being a part of the Q&A panel at the end of last year's Charlotte Mason Educational Retreat was a lot of fun, but this one kind of left me floundering: "Regarding scheduling: when do you get done laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, etc.? Do you guard your mornings from these tasks?"  It's a fairly simple question that seems to call for a simple response, right?

"We do this..." That's not so hard.

But the more I thought about it, the less I was inclined to give a straight answer. You see, what works for me might be a disaster for you. By saying "We do this..." I risked laying a burden on someone who hears, "This is the right way to do it, so you have to do it my way." We all get 24 hours each day, but how we spend them is going to look unique for each family, even if we follow the same principles, like the ones that drive a Charlotte Mason education. How does someone go about creating a schedule for their day?

Eventually, this simple question turned into the series you've been reading. In Part I - Finding the Given Times, I wrote about attending the Living Education Retreat and being inspired to make huge changes to how I organized my day. In Part II - On Your Mark; Get Set..., I discussed some of the things I did to lay the groundwork for successful change: how did I figure out what I needed from a schedule, what I was currently spending my time on, and what needed to change? Now we finally get to sit down and do the fun part―putting pen to paper (or color to spreadsheet box, whichever you prefer) and figuring out what we want our days to look like.

Please join me over on the CME Retreat blog to wrap up our series. As we finish up, I would love to hear your thoughts. What ideas are sparking your interest as you look at planning your own days out?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Part II - On Your Mark; Get Set...

Welcome back to our planning series. In the first part of this series, I talked about my experiences at the Living Education Retreat. So... there I was, feeling all inspired and ready to change my whole life. Maybe you've been here before? You see or try something and it seems like The Answer to All Your Problems. You adopt the system wholesale, but after a while it fails miserably. Yup, me too. I’ve failed so many times at getting organized that I was feeling a little cynical that I ever could do better. This time, I knew I needed to start well so that I would be encouraged to keep going. That made my first order of business to figure out what I wanted from a schedule.

A schedule isn't a moral good in itself. It is a tool for accomplishing a purpose. Like any other tool, I needed to know what I wanted to build before I could decide what tool would help me do it. When it got down to the essentials, what I wanted from my schedule was (1) to have the decision-making done beforehand. Decision fatigue was sucking me dry. I needed to know exactly what was next, so I could put my energy towards actually doing it; and (2) to still have the flexibility to deal with unexpected situations. It’s important to me that I can drop everything to help a friend, or that I can see that my kids are wiped out and what we really need to do today is go swimming with friends. Perfect order and perfect flexibility. No, we're looking for doable, not perfect. That means I wanted my time to be reasonably ordered for a normal kind of day without accounting for every second, but still flexible enough to handle a not-so-normal day.

Where are you now?

The next step for me was to do a Time Evaluation. Sounds fancy, huh? Actually, I just tried to consciously observe how I normally spent my time. Did I do a good job deciding what needed to be done? How much was used for the task I had planned on doing? Where did I use my time well? What caused me to waste it? How much time did it take for me to transition from one task to another? How about my kids? What did we actually DO all day? I might bristle if my husband asked that last question, but it was one that I needed to ask myself. If you like to write stuff down, you might keep a time journal. (That wasn’t going to happen for me. Ahem.) A few days of paying attention made my problem areas surprisingly clear to me.
  1. Transitions - I wasted a lot of time looking at a To Do list (when I had one), and trying to decide what to do next.
  2. Distraction - Even when I knew what to do next, I often got distracted by something that needed put away or cleaned, a project that looked more appealing, or whatever thought happened to pop into my head at the moment. Things that needed to be done by a particular time were being dropped because I got distracted by something that could have waited.
  3. I have kids. They aren’t so good with transitions either, especially starting chores and school time. If I’m not ready to help them get started, they get distracted by something more interesting and I have to start the rounding up process all over again.
  4. The internet. ‘Nuff said, right?
If you are struggling, I encourage you to do your own Time Evaluation. Get as fancy or simple as you need to. Write things down... or don’t. The key is to be honest with yourself. Remember to include things you can’t change, so that you know that you need to figure out a way to work around them. If you have babies and toddlers, you must have a certain amount of flexibility to meet their unpredictable needs. The whole point here is to get an honest picture of your life right now. Being aware and realistic—about the good and the bad—is the first step to changing things.

Once you have an honest evaluation done, it's time to get to the good part... daydreaming about what you do want!

So how about you? Have you ever tracked your time? What did you learn from it?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

From the Commonplace

Judge not! the workings of his brain
And of his heart thou canst not see;
What looks to thy dim eyes a stain,
In God's pure light may only be
A scar, brought from some well-won field—
Where thou wouldst only faint and yield.

The look, the air that frets thy sight,
May be a token, that below
The soul has closed in deadly fight
With some infernal fiery foe,
Whose glance would scorch thy smiling grace,
And cast thee shuddering on thy face!

The fall thou darest to despise,—
May-be the Angel's slackened hand
Has suffered it, that he may rise
And take a firmer, surer stand;
Or, trusting less to earthly things,
May henceforth learn to use his wings.

And judge none lost! but wait and see,
With hopefull pity, not disdain!
The depths of the abyss may be
The measure of the height of pain,
And love and glory that may raise
This soul to God in after days.

~Adelaide Procter
(A fascinating woman—practical, generous, a supporter of women and children, the favorite poet of Queen Victoria—who was immensely popular in her own time and who co-wrote with Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Elizabeth Gaskell!)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Giotto di Bondone: Renaissance Man

Ahhh, Giotto. I've heard his name, but I've never actually seen his work before. He is known as the first great painter of the Renaissance. His figures were renown for their life.  In his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Giorgio Vasari told the story of Giotto as a mischievous apprentice painter who took advantage of his master's absence to paint a fly onto one of the master's paintings. The story claims that when his master returned and saw the fly, it was so life-like that he tried to brush it away.

For two hundred years before Giotto, images in Western art had been flat and stylized. His life-like figures were something new and exciting. Beyond just making his people look "real," he also infuses personality and emotion into them. I love the words of the art critic, John Ruskin. "He painted the Madonna and St. Joseph and the Christ, yes, by all means... but essentially Mamma, Papa and Baby."

Nativity from the Scrovegni Chapel, c. 1305
Isn't this fresco breathtaking? The way that Mary is looking at her new son... do you remember what those first glimpses of your babies felt like? He painted it so tenderly.

Although he was a painter, sculptor, and architect, Giotto is best-known for his frescoes. Perhaps his most famous work is on the Scrovegni Chapel. This small, unassuming, pink-brick building houses a glorious riot of color. 37 separate scenes chronicle the life of Mary, the life and death of Jesus, and personifications of Vices and Virtues. They culminate a wall-spanning image of the Last Judgement and are linked by a ceiling of stars. Just looking at photographs of the interior is stunning. I cannot imagine what it would be like to stand in the middle of it. Someday...

Giotto is scheduled during our second term. Normally I would take a break from the official fine arts schedule so that we could focus on Christmas in December. However, the scheduled images fit right into that theme. I found a beautiful book called The Glorious Impossible, written by Madeline L'Engle (yes, the same L'Engle who wrote the Wrinkle in Time series) and illustrated with frescoes from the Scrovegni Chapel. L'Engle's text tells the gospel story while the frescoes are reproduced on large, glossy, full-color pages. My own plan is to read through the book during our morning time and to study our prints as they match up to the story. I included a link to the book we're using, but proceed at your own risk. I have only flipped through the book—the images are gorgeous, but I haven't read the text yet, so I can't speak for the quality of the storytelling.

As always, we will follow the art recommendations from AmblesideOnline. Although our focus will be on the book, The Glorious Impossible, we will still post our regular prints in the dining room and the kids will still get their own art cards to add to their Books of Masterpieces.

Click here to download 8x10" prints
Click here to download 4x6" art cards

Normally I would include an image of the artist as part of our print set, but Giotto is a little different. With more than seven centuries between his life and ours, and no confirmed self-portraits, we don't exactly know what he looked like. We do, however, have some clues. One modern artist has tackled the mystery, and he has been kind enough to give me permission to share his work with you. Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

From the Commonplace

 "Indeed, by loving myself amiss, I lost myself, 
and by seeking Thee alone, 
I have found both myself and Thee."
~Thomas À Kempis

Good Sunday, my friends. Today's quote comes from last week's reading in The Cloud of Witness, EM Gell. Each week has an idea to focus on, then includes daily readings of poetry, prose, and Bible verses to meditate on. I have been reading this little book every morning over the last two months. It's a jewel.

May this day of rest be blessed for you.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Part I - Finding the Given Times

Every now and then, one of those life-changing experiences sneaks up and catches you completely unaware. Last July I went to Nancy Kelly’s Living Education Retreat out in Iowa, and I was blindsided by a realization. The area was lovely, and there were some helpful speakers, but it wasn’t the content that caused the heavens to part for me. It's true that I didn't have to cook, do laundry, or tend to my kids, but that wasn't any of those things that made me feel so at peace. At some point in the weekend, I realized that the whole thing was so restful because it was all scheduled out for me. I knew exactly how much time I had to get showered and dressed in the morning before breakfast started. I had to eat breakfast in the hour it was served or I didn't eat until lunch.  If I wanted to take a walk or a swim, look through my new books, or check my email, I knew when free time was scheduled. If I wanted to hear a speaker, I had to be in the room at a particular time. Not once did I have to argue with myself about what to do next. Once I picked my workshops, I had no decisions to make—I only had to show up and do the next thing.

Up until that weekend, I had always resented schedules a bit. I knew they were necessary, but they always felt restrictive. That may or may have been me standing in my dining room informing the spreadsheet on my school cupboard, "You can't tell me what to do!" Ahem. It was silly and immature; I fully acknowledge that. While I knew in my head that I needed to organize my time, for some reason over the course of that weekend retreat, I finally started to believe that a schedule isn't a slave driver to push me—it is a tool that I can use to free myself up.

The beauty of a schedule—or a routine, or a daily rhythm—is that you don't have to make decisions when you are rushed or tired or hangry. You have already made the decisions; all that's left is to do the next thing. When my alarm goes off, I don’t have debate whether to hit the snooze button or not, because I know that if I do I won't get to have my coffee alone before my kids get up. (Believe me when I say, no one wants to be around me before I have my coffee.) When I'm heading to the shower I don’t have to get sidetracked by a mess, because I know that it will be dealt with during our chore hour. I don't have to argue with myself about when I feel like starting our school day, because I know that at 9am (or close to it), we are going to gather in the living room and get going. When I'm tempted to hide out with a new book instead of making lunch, I can remind myself that my free hour is coming and I can read then... with a clear conscience. For the first time in my life, I have really embraced Miss Mason’s assertion:

"This idea of definite work to be finished in a given time is valuable to the child, not only as training him in habits of order, but in diligence; he learns that one time is not 'as good as another'; that there is no right time left for what is not done in its own time..." (Vol 1, p.142)

At this point, I’m playing with possibilities, trying to find the right combination for my days. It seems like I should say, “Now the hard work begins,” but that's not really true. The experimentation, successes and failures, and reassessment isn’t really that hard. The hardest part was humbling my own heart and realizing that I needed the structure I’ve fought against for so long. I guess I will say instead, now the fun part begins!

In the next post, I'll share some of the details behind how I'm planning out my days. Maybe it will spark an idea that will help you out. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you. Are you a natural scheduler? How has your time management worked for (or hindered) your homeschooling efforts?

Friday, June 24, 2016

An American Impressionist

I think most people are just settling into the groove of their summer vacations. At our house, however, our summer term of school will be starting up in just a few weeks. I'm not quite ready to let go of our vacation freedom, but I suppose that this isn't quite as tragic as it might seem. We don't do math or writing in the summer term, and most of our books are read in the car on our way to or from activities. It does mean that I have to get started on my planning for the year. This always feels like a slog at first, but the more I look through our material for the year, the more excited I get. AmblesideOnline is a fabulous curriculum, and I'm always excited at what I... uh, I mean the kids... will be learning.

First thing's first, it's time for new art prints. The fall term's artist is the American Impressionist, Mary Cassatt. While I foresee a few groans from the teen boys in co-op, my girly-girls are going to go nuts over her work. She is famous for her paintings of mothers and children. I find her portraits both tender and complicated - the moms look tired and overwhelmed as well as adoring and beautiful!

Download the 8 x 10" prints here
Download the 4 x 6" art cards here

Both sets of prints include a self-portrait. If you prefer not to use those, you can just delete that page from the file before you send it into the print shop. I take my files to Office Max, have them printed on glossy cardstock, and trim them to size. They always come out nicely. The new file hosting site seems to be easier for people to use, so I'll keep posting my prints there. Please let me know if there is any problems with downloading them. I'm not techy, but I'll do my best to help. Prints for the next two artist should be up within the next couple weeks.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Holbein the Younger and the Northern Renaissance

February is over, and another school term is upon us. I suppose that I ought to look forward to meeting a new artist, but I must admit the truth: I'm still grieving over having to say goodbye to Jacques Louis David. I find his paintings so compelling; they are a curious combination of thought-provoking and deeply emotional. We hang our prints in the dining room for the whole term, and I cannot keep my eye off David's paintings. I think my favorites of the ones we studies were Brutus and The Oath of the Horatii. I still can't decide whether I think they are passionate calls to patriotism, or skilled propaganda. Perhaps it's a little of both.

All that being said, time marches on and new art will be studied. This term, our artist is Hans Holbein the Younger. He was a German painter during the Renaissance. If you grew up thinking that the Renaissance happened only in Italy... well, so did I. Nope. We were wrong.

Germany was initially isolated from the changes that were stirring in Italy by the high Alps, which slowed the movement of people and ideas. The Northern Renaissance lagged nearly a century behind the familiar Italian changes, but it still brought forth a few important developments. A German named Johannes Gutenberg created a handy machine called the printing press. Martin Luther made waves in religious circles. The beautiful St. Michael's Church was constructed. Hans Holbein the Elder, Holbein's father, was pioneer in moving German art from the Gothic style into the new Renaissance style. In addition to a great many altar paintings, he also worked in woodcuts, illustrated books, and designed church windows. Other artists from the Northern Renaissance who might be familiar to you are Albrecht Dürer and Matthias Grünewald.

Interestingly enough, the German Renaissance was relatively short-lived, at least in terms of art. From the reading I'm doing, it looks like this was primarily because German had no Classical past to look back to. Italy was deeply tied to Roman culture—it's authors, artists, architects, and all it's contributions to Western civilization. Germany, on the other hand, didn't come into contact with Rome all that much. Lacking a personal connection, German artists simply didn't have the motivation that Mediterranean artists did.

Holbein the Younger is German, but he spent a lot of time outside of his native land. He traveled in Italy and France, and eventually settled in England. He is best known for his portraits. Humanist ideas combined with Protestant objections to religious art changed the content of paintings. When churches stopped commissioning art, portraits commissioned by well-heeled patrons became a necessity for artists who still needed to eat and buy paint. A study of human beings as fascinating individuals also fit into the philosophy of the time. Holbein's portraits focused on powerful, confident, well-educated men and women. His subjects included English royalty, ambassadors, merchants, churchman, author, and philosopher Sir Thomas More, as well as the famous scholar and philosopher Erasmus.

As always, my family uses the AmblesideOnline picture study rotation.  One of the things I love best about this rotation is that it exposes my kids (and me!) to many different styles and schools of art. While Durer's work didn't immediately appeal to me, I enjoyed reading and researching and placing him in his historical context. If you want to read further about the Northern Renaissance, check out this website. They also have a Timeline of Art that is helpful. It's not all that visually appealing (which is ironic, given that it's an art website), but there is a lot of fascinating information.

For our study of Holbein the Younger, I have created 8x10" prints that you can download here. If your kids keep a Book of Masterpieces, you can download 4x6" art cards here. I print all of our artwork on glossy cardstock. Both sets print on a standard-sized computer page, and will need to be trimmed to the desired size.

Several people have had problems with the old file hosting site I was using. This time, I am trying Dropbox. Please let me know what you think, so I know whether it is worth the trouble to switch my old files over to the new site. Thank you muchly.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Beating the Winter Slump

It’s January, for a few more days anyway. Along with New Year’s Resolutions, cold weather, and trying to fit back into those pre-holiday jeans, January means back to school for most of our families. For many of us, it also means the Dreaded Winter Slump.

If the dreary winter days have you feeling a little more like this:

 than like this:

then you might want to join me over on the CME Retreat blog for some ideas about how to Beat the Winter Slump.