Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy 4th of July with Longfellow

Happy 4th of July with Longfellow


    Our patriotic holiday invites me to share another of my samplers with you. It is one I hang in the family room for the summer. Just for the photograph I placed it on the door of our coat closet so that the patriotic blue would make a nice background. This confirms my craving for color in the house. All the doors and trim in our front hallway as well as the Colonial-style staircase are painted “Georgian Blue.” It was a risky business but I’m happy with it.


Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
On the eighteen of April, in Seventy-five,
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.





    The first verse of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” comes to mind when I look at the tavern sign of the sampler. I chose a loose weave of 22 count natural linen because I knew I’d be stitching a whole square of tiny one over one for the sign.




“Why not ask what the poets have to say about whatever you happen to be studying?” A Charlotte Mason Companion, page 223.




Favorite Poems Old and New


    If you’ve been following my writing over the years you might know how much I like, Favorite Poems Old and New, selected by Helen Ferris. (Click to read the how and why of her nifty selection process in my review). It is my guess that most public libraries keep a copy of this anthology on their shelves because it is a classic. I borrowed a library copy so often that I finally bought a new copy of my own.



    Are you looking for a patriotic poem to read aloud this week or do you wish to line up poetry for September? Open the pages of Favorite Poems and you will find the whole of Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” as well as a variety of handy poems for all seasons. Those who chose to be immersed in a week or two of an appreciation of Longfellow will be happy to know that nine of his other poems are scattered throughout. Being fond of Longfellow I decided the children of Lessons at Blackberry Inn would learn to memorize part of “The Village Blacksmith.” Favorite Poems  has this one, too.

   We are usually careful at handling hardcover books in our house, but I see that our copy is certainly not new anymore. The binding is loose. It’s taken a beating from repeated use. And like the stuffed toy, Velveteen Rabbit, it has affectionately had its edges worn.

Prerogative

    Managing the home school can be tiring. The work is lighter when there is some study in your day that you are fond of, something you find rewarding to teach - thus my decision to be immersed in Longfellow with my own children and the children in my story. Do you take advantage of the freedom of your prerogative? The mother, who does, consequently blesses her children with a little enthusiasm for what is being learned.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

An Older-Woman-in-the-Lord

An Older-Woman-in-the-Lord



    A faded photograph of my great-great grandmother, Emma Cook, was recently handed down to me. I never met her but I named a story character after her. All that I know about Emma has come from tid-bits of memories shared by my mother.




    Like my great-great grandmother, the Emma of my story is soft on advice, big on cheer, and graciously understanding. In Pocketful of Pinecones Carol says, “Emma is as durable as marble and as gentle as the May’s mist. I’d like someday to be more like her.” Underneath Emma’s feminine sweetness is the rock-hard strength of her trust in the God of the Bible. I created her for my readers, to be an older-woman-in-the-Lord.






    If you’ve read Lessons at Blackberry Inn you might like to know that the Edwardian style of dress Emma wore to her birthday party is based on a dress I’ve had hanging in my closet for more than twenty years. I bought it in England in 1986 to wear to church.
    Where is that older-woman-in-the-Lord of inner strength, inner beauty and femininity? Why is she so hard to find? Perhaps she sits quietly reserved in your church, or is among your relatives or acquaintances, but needs someone to reach out to her. She could be brimming with experience and little words-of-wisdom but like the Emma of my story she is reticent about giving advice where it might not be wanted. Perhaps she isn’t one for standing up in front of a group, arranging her advice in neat packages for an inspiring talk. Most likely she has older children than yours and thus she mixes in different circles. Or perhaps, she is older still, sitting alone like Emma, with her crochet, making gifts for the ones she loves and needs to be sought out.




    In my childhood I used to walk around the corner to visit with Emma Cook’s daughter, Helen, (my great-grandmother). These old wooden and wire hangers were made by Helen’s hand. I inherited them. I thought you’d like to see the kind of crocheted gifts the Emma of my story liked to make.


   Hungry for direction and inspiration from an older-woman-in-the-Lord, younger mothers reach for books. I know I have. I love books. Books, magazine articles, and now the Internet, stand by in urgent readiness to meet the needs of the questioning mind. But may I share an observation? When I read too much too fast I get more advice than I know what to do with. I can become mentally muddled and strangely discouraged. Does this ever happen to you?

    Could this be because “in person” insights are shared in smaller doses? The natural sparsity of advice of “in person” conversation offers an engaging combination of wisdom and admonishment. Charlotte Mason’s description of the potency of an idea tells us that the seed of an idea grows gradually. As you apply it new aspects suggest themselves, new aspects make their appeal. An idea unfolds its leaves as it receives a little more pondering, a little more prayer. This makes further application possible. We know better which steps to take.

    The Holy Spirit does this work of enlightenment in us. We don’t need a superabundance of advice to spur us onward. Really good advice, that is small enough to be taken with a grain of salt, is plenty – for the time being.




    You may not have had the comfort of an older-woman-in-the-Lord in your life. Too few of us have. It’s sad. But I will make a good guess, my friend, that God is working in you so that you are becoming one. You may even be one right now.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bedazzled When It’s Done

Bedazzled When It’s Done


    I would have never guessed that our relocation from Maine to Pennsylvania would find us renting a house for four years. As soon as we moved in I put up curtains. Most rental houses are a neutral color scheme - all the more reason for adding color with curtains – but the curtains I had on hand were a safe-white, cast off from windows gone- by. “White is okay,” I thought, “after all, anytime now we will be moving again.”


    We are now in a house of our own. Just before the move various projects swirled in my head. No more neutral – Oh, to be surrounded with daring color. Peach paint – that will be a warm color for our bathroom. I lay awake during the early mornings, planning “colors” before I was up on my feet. I imagined a curtain fabric of a honey brown - with flowers, too; flowers that incorporated the peach of the walls and the white of the trim. Stepping into one of the many quilters’ shops here in Lancaster, I found exactly what I was looking for. I was elated. But it was months after I purchased the fabric, months after we had moved into this house, that the curtains were still a work-in-progress. I always have a work-in-progress. This time I had too many.


    Yolanda (married and living nearby) came by for a visit and after we had lunch I sprang it on her. “My curtain project is dragging on. I’ve lost my initial enthusiasm. Would you help me finish what I started before Christmas? All that’s needed is the hemming.”


    “Let’s get at it,” she said. She gave me more than moral support. She sat at my sewing machine and did the hems for me with perfection, right where I had measured and pinned them for her. We first decided upon the height of the tension rod. I wanted optimum light and optimum privacy. Within the hour they were up. “Aren’t they cute?” Yolanda said.
     “I knew they would be,” I smiled, eyes fixed on my new curtains.


    As Yolanda gave me the impetus to finish a work-in-progress, I wish to offer you friendly impetus, too, to enjoy your summer with either a new project or an old one. You will be bedazzled when it’s done.



    Your WIP can’t be as old as my toddler-size ladybug socks. Shall I admit to you that they were started before I needed reading glasses? I found the socks at the bottom of a box of yarn I unpacked and nestled the project in an inviting basket.



    I left off knitting (before our daughters’ weddings) just where I was about to decrease for the toe. Decreasing here is a bit tricky, as the fleur-de-lis pattern must be kept up nearly until the toe is completed. All excuses aside – soon I hope to say, “Aren’t they cute?”


   




    You can tell I am partial to red by the photo of the newest sampler I started. Ahh, another WIP. Just as I have several books started I often have several WIP. In both cases “I pick up the one I feel fit for.” How about you?




    “I know, some people get their thrills climbing mountains, but why go through all that trouble when a similar feeling of accomplishment can be experienced in a little time, with a little domestic thing?” Karen Andreola A Charlotte Mason Companion page 328.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Wonder-knowledge of Nature


The Wonder-knowledge of Nature



    A very special book is kept on my shelf in the room where I write my posts to you: my sewing room in the attic. This homemade book is more than ten years old. It is the girlhood Nature Notebook of my daughter Yolanda. She is married and lives nearby. Oh, someday, Yolanda will want to look through her youthful recordings, and show them to the children she hopes to have, but for now it is in my possession. And it is dear to me.



    Here is a small sampling of spring flowers from Yolanda’s Nature Notebook. I find it curious that she chose to look up the age-old language of flowers and add them to her entrees. It is one of the ways she has shown herself to be like Jane Austin’s Marianne.

    A satisfying aspect of Mother Culture is the joy that comes from watching children take delight in the natural world around them.

The Art of Seeing

    In her book, Home Education Miss Charlotte Mason recommends that a mother first guide her children in “the art of seeing.” A mother can direct their attention to notice details of landscape, growing things and living creatures.



    Of the dandelion, for instance, she might say, “What do these sharp points on the leaves remind you of? After a few moments she may mention that the leaves reminded someone of the teeth of a lion and this may have gone into the forming of the plant’s name. The child can better remember this leaf detail and later see it in his mind’s eye anytime afterwards. If he fingers the softness of the flower he knows something more about it than just its yellow color. And who, when a child, has not picked a fussy dandelion filled with ripened seeds, held it to his lips and blown its fuzziness into the breeze to watch the fuzz sail? To read the poem Yolanda chose to copy around her dandelion click on the notebook page.




The Picture Gallery of our Minds

    Noticing details brings a fuller knowledge of the world around us: the sparkling water of a rocky stream, the golden expanse of a field of drying hay, the bright blue/purple of a Lupine by the sunny roadside, the flickering wings of an iridescent dragonfly. Such details can be stored in the “picture gallery” of our minds. When the child is set on this path of close observation he will later be able to recall these scenes from his picture gallery at will. This is what people did before the common use of photography. I suspect this is what my Amish neighbors do.



Some Wise Letting Alone
    But after introducing to children how to notice details closely, a mother then does some “wise letting-alone.” She leaves the observer to discover things for himself. Miss Mason goes so far as to say that a mother “had better make a vow to suppress herself” of much talk which is an intrusion. It is possible to step on the toes of curiosity. A child will experience a quiet curiosity, an internal delight, if we do not always come between him and the wonder-knowledge of nature. Wonder-knowledge isn’t something that can be acquired by the usual schoolwork, nor can it be measured by the usual school test. It is education, nonetheless. It is education of the most personal kind - the kind that lasts.


To Walk the Paths of Wonder
    In my book, Pocketful of Pinecones Carol writes, “I know that not all of what they will learn about God’s creation will conveniently fit into my lessons. My students have a lifetime ahead of them in which to observe and discover – to become self-educated in their leisure, so to speak. My job is to allow their feet to walk the paths of wonder, to see that they form relations to various things, so that when the habit is formed, they will carry an appreciation for nature with them throughout their lives.”

   



     Observing nature with my children over the years has contributed to my Mother Culture. I have formed my own picture gallery and these memories are unspeakably precious to me.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Seeds of a Good Attitude

Seeds of a Good Attitude



    A good attitude helps us cope with what life brings. I felt the weight of oppression in past years while our children were young, during the handful of instances when Dad was laid off. “Here we go again,” I would think to myself. I was scared. Dean was always an excellent employee. But when the economy dictates company cuts, downsizing is inevitable. It took courage to start our home business but I am so happy we did.



    During our earlier years, during those long patient months between jobs, to best mother my children, I tried to keep all traces of gladness from slowly draining out of my attitude. As the sun would rise every morning so would I. “Get up, Dress up, Show up,” was my personal motto at those trying times. Praying about attitude enabled me to act on this motto. Attitude makes the difference between coping and not coping. Counting our blessings is an enormous boost to attitude. Trusting in Providence is another.



    Think how attitude embodies the fruit of the Spirit. By seeking God to work in us a good attitude we are inviting Him to do what the Psalmist so humbly asked: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit with me.”



     Here is the full photo of my newly finished cross-stitch. Its style is reminiscent of the old Quaker samplers with its emblems and similar to an alphabet sampler with its berry border. I choose the design because of its old-fashioned feel and because of the basket of fruit. Although the chart suggested stitching in the initials of family members I decided upon the fruit of the Spirit. I placed virtues where the initials were to go using a magnifying glass and one thread of embroidery floss over one thread of linen. The rest of the sampler is stitched two over two.



    Hung on a wall of the house my sampler is a reminder that when the seeds of a good attitude are sown, the various fruits of the Spirit are possible.

What is Mother Culture?

What is Mother Culture?

    A few weeks ago Dean called me from the basement. “What is it?” I asked as I reached the bottom of the stairs.
    “Look at this,” he said. He was standing in a puddle, holding a flashlight and pointing above his head to a slow-leaking flex-pipe. “I’ll call the heating guy in the morning,” he said.
    Next to the puddle was a small stack of soggy boxes. We examined the state of things inside them and found that much of our stuff was ruined. Somehow I didn’t mind very much. “Now we have less stuff.” I said. Some of the contents were fine. I came across cassette tapes of talks we had delivered to homeschool conferences. The word “cassette” tells you how old they are. Two were marked Mother Culture 1999 - the year we spoke in Massachusetts and Maine. “What on earth are we going to do with these?” I said.
    The man-of-the-house does not, and I emphasis “not,” like getting rid of things but he did say, “We have CDs from other conferences . . . somewhere in all this storage . . . we’ll keep those.”
    “If we ever find them.” I replied. I often lament the amount of storage we have.



    Why have I chosen to devote an entire hour on the subject of Mother Culture when I am asked to speak? I do it out of sympathy. It is not uncommon for a self-sacrificing mother to feel overwhelmed or live on the verge of exhaustion. Therefore, it is just as important to encourage a mother with ways she can nurture her soul, as it is to supply her with tried-and-true ideas on how to foster “The Gentle Art of Learning” in her children.
    Early in my homeschooling experience I paid attention to something I found intriguing. I don’t’ remember where I read it but I jotted it down to ponder it further. It was a quote by Billy Graham. He said, “Mothers should nurture their souls so in turn they can nurture the souls of their children.” This, my friend, is what I call Mother Culture. Every homeschool is comprised of a child (or children) and a teacher. Although the focus is on the children some of what she does for her children she would do well to consider doing for herself.

How have you nurtured your soul this week?