Friday, February 25, 2011

Not a Moment to Spare

Not a Moment to Spare

“Not a moment to spare” sounds like a phrase from a fast-paced novel of suspense and close calls.  It also describes the way we live our lives.


The Lady-of-the-House, knowing she was to accompany someone she loves to outpatient surgery, supplied her basket for the wait. A jar of water, an apple, her knitting, a tablet of writing paper and a book would occupy her nicely.  

The couple drove passed a snowy Amish landscape thankful the roads were clear. The scenery was calming to the nerves on a day when nerves could use steadying.



Following the patient’s check-in the Lady-of-the-House left the crowded inner waiting room to sit in the outer waiting room. Only two persons were seated there at either ends of the furniture. Each was doubly supplied with electronics. The man had a laptop open but was urgently text messaging on his cell phone. The woman had a kindle in view but was fully absorbed in her hand held thingy, too.  

You can imagine how old fashioned the Lady-of-the House felt – with her basket. She was suddenly struck with the thought that it is the way she’s been living for years. Time apart from her regular duties is sometimes spent doing a few rounds of knitting, reading a page of a book, or starting a handwritten letter. She may not get very far but likes to have a basket prepared for any brief opportunity.   



“Making a mitten or a sampler sounds lovely but I haven’t the time,” bemoans the dedicated, hardworking home teacher. The Lady-of-the-House is always sorry to hear this. With this post she wishes to offer help.

How can a home teacher, with her multi-faceted responsibilities, find time to dabble in something she longs to try? If you welcome practical advice read on. Otherwise, scroll to “Tickled Pink.”



Putting Lessons in Apple Pie Order 

When a home teacher follows Miss Charlotte Mason’s “gentle art of learning” she is more apt to find time to revive personal interests. She has moments to spare. Here’s why. Many of Miss Mason’s educational principles consequently make good use of time. Let’s look at two. 

Trust in Shorter Lessons.

Miss Mason insisted upon keeping lessons on all subjects short so that optimum attention was achieved, especially with what she called the disciplinary subjects, such as math and spelling. Alternate these with poetry, history, art, or nature study to keep minds bright. It isn’t the number of subjects but their duration that tires the mind.

Curriculum designers think their particular subject is of supreme importance. We are happy to have materials born out of such enthusiasm. Yet, in their enthusiasm they tend to “over-state their case.” Thus, a first-grader might be faced with a weighty math lesson one hour in length. To shorten math lessons the Lady-of-the-House reduced the number of word problems that her young child was required to complete. She also did a quick drill of concentrated effort every morning and another just before supper. A better memory of math facts was the result. (Lessons lengthen as the student matures).


Inch by inch, it's a cinch
Mile by mile, it's a trial


Trust in Habit.

Habit draws us forward to do the “next thing.” Children will readily do what is customary. When lessons last 15, 20 or 30 minutes a young student can have a handful of subjects completed in a morning.

“I can see how useful good habits are,” one mother shares. “With math completed the children look forward to a late-morning snack, then to an episode of history with one child taking his turn at narrating it. After this refreshment, spelling is tackled automatically. Drawing or Nature Study is anticipated on certain afternoons. Part of my children’s afternoons, however, is now free time. And I relish my spare moments.” 

During the first months of home school this mother made every effort to keep to a regular schedule of short lessons. Now, with less effort, habit carries her children smoothly and pleasantly through their morning schoolwork - more smoothly than at the start of the year.


Tickled Pink

The Lady-of-House is happy to announce that after months of stitching, the girlhood sampler of Charlotte Bronte is framed. At first it rested on a windowsill while the Lady-of-the-House considered where to place it. “It will be a pretty-little-thing wherever it ends up,” she thought.


Following a week of indecisiveness it is finally at home near the 18th century silhouettes.


When she gazes at it the Lady-of-the-House tries to envision the author of such an intense story as Jane Eyre at six years of age, head bent embroidering her alphabet – a little girl younger than the girl in the painting of the last post who was knitting her own stocking – out necessity.

The Lady-of-the-House also finished Jane Eyre (the novel started in autumn.) She finds it interesting that the inscription young Charlotte stitched into her sampler was, so many years later, a Christian belief held strongly and lived out admirably by her main character.


After all the chapters of hard circumstance with Miss Eyre striving to live rightly. After struggling to reach sound judgments in spite of the sway of her feminine emotions. Finally, the Lady-of-the-House was able to rejoice over Jane’s happiness, her sense of belonging and opportunity to love and be loved in the end.

You never know what treasures you will uncover until you take a little time for Mother Culture.
Karen Andreola 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mommy’s Mittens

Mommy’s Mittens  


Its been said that you never forget the person who taught you how to knit. In this painting by Albert Samuel Anker (1831-1910) a brother is interested in learning from his sister. I remember my teacher: my mother. After the birth of my third child my mother got on an airplane to come and see the baby. In her suitcase were yarn, needles and a trusted pattern. She was answering a call to teach me how to make mittens.


Some women have strange cravings when they are expecting a baby. I would have cravings upon a baby’s joyous arrival. Perhaps the source of my mitten craving came from my repeated reading aloud of the story, Too Many Mittens. (Click photographs to enlarge.)


Anyway, I desired to make my children mittens like those my mother had made for her children. She must have made dozens and in all colors of the rainbow. My brother and sister and I were instructed to “be on the safe side” and wear one pair inside another (as a lining.) Doubly protected against the cold we rambunctiously dug into, and tunneled through, deep snow. How merciless we were toward our mittens! Soggy and somewhat shredded from the day’s use, we were directed to place our pairs on the baseboard heating. This is were they dried. They were lined up in a colorful row, cuff to fingertip, all along a wall of the family room.


The little blue mitten in the bunch was my first. It lost its match long ago. Saved from extinction it was tucked away at the bottom of the cloths drawer of a sentimental knitter. 


Unbeknownst to myself then, my early days of knitting were fulfilling a craving for Mother Culture. Quiet and creative minutes sequestered for the sake of knitting a few rounds with my double pointed needles, while the children were themselves occupied, brought calm to busy days.


My children wore Mommy’s mittens throughout their growing years. They shared them with friends who paid us a visit unprepared. The large mitten-&-hat basket sat at the back door. “Oh you have cold hands? My mother always makes extra mittens. How about the red ones?” one daughter would tell a friend wishing to be hospitable. Right up to the time my girls were married they were loaning out Mommy’s mittens.


I don’t have a clear memory of all the pairs that were never returned. I do remember, however, that the young people enjoyed a friendly day in the brisk winter air and that is what matters.

The mittens I made with my homespun wool are completed. They are tailored to fit my hands snugly – just the way I like them.  I will not loan these out. Well, okay, I would if I were asked nicely.


Knitters and non-knitters alike are invited to comment.

Karen Andreola

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Brightening a Faded Valentine



Brightening a Faded Valentine

As a rule I refrain from pronouncing the word “spring” in January. My lips are sealed. My pen is prohibited. In February, however, I take liberty. Oh, I still keep the winter d├ęcor on the windowsill but I allow myself to daydream of spring - because spring is not as far off.


A New Flower to Anticipate
I believe in the elixir of anticipation. Back in autumn I planted some snowdrop bulbs. They are of the earliest spring flowers. Having grown familiar with gardening shortcomings, when planting bulbs I surrounded those of snowdrop with crocus. The crocus are my consolation when snowdrops won’t thrive. Snowdrops bulbs are so tiny and delicate I’ve begun to wonder if they dry-out in shops while on display.



In The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady Edith Holden features snowdrops as a February flower. The winter I spent in England I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I observed what was taking place in a cement planter just outside the landlord’s French doors I was astonished. Flowers in February? I’ve been charmed by snowdrops ever since. Snowdrops will bloom in America’s northern states but somewhat later. This is fine with me because they would be buried deep in Pennsylvania’s snow otherwise. I am content to wait and anticipate.


A Winter-y Mix
Meanwhile, any-and-all combinations of what meteorologists call, “a winter-y mix” befall us. Roads are hazardous, appointments are rescheduled or “braved.”  Many are the days of gray skies, of wearing the same fuzzy sweater, of making yet another batch of hearty soup. Children have colds. But little ones can be peevish when indoors too much. (William prefers a romp outdoors in the snow.)







In such conditions it may become difficult for the homemaker to conquer and conceal the doldrums. To top it all, would I be singing out of tune if I questioned February as being the best month for feeling as bright and affectionate as a Valentine is expected to feel? Wouldn’t April be better suited?



A Change of Scenery
To rise to the challenge of February I’ve followed the advice of a change of scenery. Yes, a change of scenery can be had within the confines of four winter walls. It lies in a good story. With my shoulders wrapped in a wool shawl, knit primarily for winter reading, I will reach for something adventurous. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim, published in 1923 is on my list of favorites.


I found the film “Enchanted April” so inspiring, so uplifting, so unlike other films, that I sought after the story in print. Amidst last winter’s two blizzards I feasted. Turning a few pages of The Enchanted April at eventide fortified my emotions, piqued my wifely sympathies, and made me a new set of book friends.    


Page one sets the stage. It is February in London during the early 20th century. On a miserable gray, cold and wet afternoon Mrs. Wilkins, running her listless eye down a newspaper column saw this:

To those who appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine. Small mediaeval Italian castle on the shore of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain.  Z., Box 1000, The Times.   

She was entirely unaware at that moment that her April had been settled for her.

A Beautiful Story and a Beautiful Film
As the story unfolds Mrs. Wilkins and three other very different women (two wives who are faded Valentines) divide the cost of the Italian castle between them and look forward to their own private Ladies Retreat. In their exotic and serene surroundings they relax and are ponderous. The story is beautiful both in setting and sentiments. As the garden blossoms in the bright Italian sunshine so do the hearts of the characters.

A married woman who might be feeling a little faded will be affirmed and encouraged in her desire to be her husband’s bright Valentine.

WIP (work-in-progress) Update
Charlotte Bronte’s sampler is at the framers. I’m working on a pair of mittens with my homespun.



Post Script
The 1992 film stars Miranda Richardson, Josie Lawrence, Polly Walker and Joan Plowright. My DVD is decorated with faux lily-of-the-valley.








The pattern for the garter-stitch blue shawl can be found in my book, A Charlotte Mason Companion of all places. The photograph of the shawl is a candid shot taken on Christmas Day. I reserve the e-bay vintage Laura Ashley corduroy dress for home celebrations.

I was tickled to find hearts with snowdrops (above) in my old clip-art book. On the subject of flowers the Victorians had it covered.

  My Regards,
Karen Andreola 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pretzels, Lords and Ladies

Pretzels, Lords and Ladies

Lady is an ancient word of Old England. It comes from hlaefdige, which meant, literally, “bread kneader”.  Hlaf  meaning bread, is where we get the word loaf


With this in mind, the Lady-of-the-House decided to exercise her ladyship. Snow was on the roof and all around. It blocked the front door. Indoors computers hummed.


 But in one corner of the house dough was rising in a little blue bowl. It rose twice.



Then the Lady-of-the-House made her announcement. “It’s time to make the pretzels,” she said in her nicest voice, wishing to make it a family affair. Therefore, she put together a little speech to rally the help of the Man-of-the-House and son. “In this computer age it is good to do something three dimensional,” she reasoned. Her men folk agreed at last. The cameraman even rolled and twisted his piece of dough into a pretzel - in between shots.


Both lords and ladies are words (or titles) connected with bread. Lord comes from two Old English words, hlaf, bread, and weard, which became ward or guardian. A hlafweard was a loaf-ward or “one who guards the bread.”


Using her regular wholegrain dough recipe she then followed Pennsylvania Dutch directions for soft pretzels. 


Once formed, several pretzels at a time are simmered in a solution of water and baking soda for two minutes.


Drained on a towel they are then placed on a buttered cookie sheet and given a sprinkle of coarse Celtic salt.


They are baked until golden brown.


Do you know the amazing story of the pretzel? While we are on the subject of word origins, pretzel comes from the Latin word pretiola, meaning small reward.

The legend tells of a young Italian monk who, it seems, was blessed with a good imagination and a heart for children. As early as the year 610 AD the monk noticed some leftover bread dough and was struck with an idea. He twisted small dough pieces into a shape that represented a child’s arms folded prayer. (Christians in that day would pray with their arms folded across their chest.) He used these biscuits as a treat or pretiola for children who learned their lessons and prayers. (It was also a way to feed the hungry.) The three empty holes in the biscuits helped teach the Holy Trinity. As pretiola gained in popularity it spread across the Alps into Germany where it became known as the pretzel.



Post Script
The 19th century line-drawing at the start of the post adorns a homemade card sent by a pen-friend who is in every way a lady (and kneader of bread). Baking multiple loaves for her family each week is one of her most satisfying labors of love. It is a creative and practical way she has chosen to live out her Mother Culture.
 
May the ideas on this post, in some way, be uplifting to you.
Karen Andreola