Monday, August 14, 2017

A Few Random Thoughts and Peter Paul Rubens Art Prints

Happy fall, y'all. Okay, it's not actually fall, despite what the decor in Hobby Lobby is telling you. It's hot and muggy here in Colorado: hot enough to be miserable, but not hot enough to swim. *pout* Autumn is coming, though.

1. A new school year is upon us. My family started three weeks ago, but I know many of you are finishing your final prep work before you get started. I'm heading into this year with a second, fifth, and seventh grader. (SEVENTH GRADER!! Ahhhhhhh!!!) My kiddos jump grades in the fall for the purpose of church classes, activities, and answering strangers in the grocery store, but they don't finish their curriculum years until January. We break for summer in the middle of a 12-week term, so starting back in the fall just means picking up our books where we left off. Right now, that is Years 2, 4, and 6 of AmblesideOnline. Because of our schedule, most of my academic planning happens over Christmas Break.

2. What I do need to prepare in the fall, however, are the fine arts subjects. After seven years of homeschooling, I know myself well enough to know that if we're going to get to a subject during a busy day, it needs to be queued up and ready to go. For arts subjects, that means I have playlists or CDs of our hymns, folksongs, and composers. For art study, that means all my pictures are printed, trimmed, and filed somewhere. I'm currently running behind in my fine arts organizing, but I am making progress.

3. Naked people. No, I'm not talking about toddlers rampaging through my house. Peter Paul Rubens is the artist for our first term. He was a Belgian Baroque painter, and he brings a lot of Greek Classical elements into his paintings... including nudity. When we studied the first scheduled print, every single one of my kids felt the need to observe, "There are a LOT of naked people in this picture, Mama." They weren't particularly giggly or disturbed, just pointing out the facts, ma'am. (Okay, they were a little giggly.) In our family, we have no problem with nudity in art, presuming that the image is not designed to titillate. As such, I actually have a bigger problem with an image like Fragonard's The Swing than I do with Rubens' The Fall of Phaeton. Your family may take a different tact, and that's great. I'm not telling you what to do, and you don't have to call me a pagan in the comment section, deal? (Don't laugh; it has happened.) At any rate, the kiddos and I had a very interesting conversation about Greek art, why they painted and sculpted nudes, and their effect on Rubens. They enjoyed our study time quite a bit, especially when I gave them muffins to eat while we were looking and talking.

4. Peter Paul Rubens. If you avoid nudity in your art studies, you may want to choose a different artists or some different pieces, rather than what is listed on the AmblesideOnline rotation. I have had several parents ask me how I format my prints. I thought I wrote a post about that, but apparently not. Oops. I plan to remedy that next week, after we get back from our eclipse trip. In the meantime, I am done with our Rubens prints, and I'm really excited about the artwork we will be looking at. It feels different from anything we have studied yet. (Be sure to check out the sizes on his canvases. Several of them are HUGE! One of the things I have had my kiddos do before is outline the original size of the picture in masking tape to get a feel for just how big it is.)

Self-portrait, 1623, Royal Collection - I didn't include this one in my prints, because he looks mighty grumpy.

Download 8x10" prints here. As always, I included a self-portrait so the kids can see the artist. If you don't want it, just delete that page when you download the file.

Download 4x6" art cards here. They print three on a page, and I trim them to fit in the kids' Book of Masterpieces. Those books are still well-beloved and often-used in our home. I have lovely, slightly misty, visions of the kids sitting on their dorm room beds, finding comfort and a whiff of home as they flip through all their beautiful pictures. **sigh**

As usual, I have my prints done at Office Max on glossy cardstock. Regular sized paper is the cheapest way to get them printed, and I trim them size. Unfortunately, I have noticed an increase in their prices in the last couple years. If anyone has an option that prints as nicely and costs less, I'm all ears.

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...