A walk at 7 a.m. is almost early enough to avoid the heat and humidity in July in Lancaster. The Lady-of-the-House has been keeping indoors after her walks at seven, keeping cool, gazing out of windows, knitting, reading, and making salads.
|A walk in Lititz, Pa|
She has also been contemplating the phrase she met years back while reading Miss Charlotte Mason’s writings. That is: “high thinking and lowly living.” This motto-of-sorts is one reason Miss Mason chose the pastoral setting of the Lake District of northern England for the House of Education. Here, historically, is where the contemplative would go - the poets – the great names of the valley – Matthew Arnold, William Wordsworth, Martineau, Coleridge, Faber, and Clough.
For a conference in 1905 at the House of Education Miss Mason wrote a verse to show that
Lake dwellers know
That Poesy and Education go
Together hand in hand; that either sundered,
Droops, languishes and dies bereft of the other. *1
This verse underscores her belief that the humanities is an essential part of education. Living without poverty of thought, with time to appreciate nature, time for the mind to wander, for the contemplation of ideas, including spiritual ones, is to Charlotte Mason what vivifies the soul – the soul of both teacher and student.
Walking around the block in the blog-neighborhood, popping in for visits now and again, the Lady-of-the-House is encouraged by what she sees. Many a mother is in books. She reads non-fiction, fiction - whatever stimulates her mind in various directions. She is passing on high thinking and lowly living to her children by example. Living books are read together. Handicrafts, nature study, cooking; chores indoors and in the garden, have become part of the routine of a close-knit family.
|Ingredients for a green salad|
“If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need.”
Working in the soil eventually leads to working in the kitchen. Then how good it feels after physical exertion to put one’s feet up and open a book. And if you are listening to your children read or to audio, and your quilting hoop is close by, your knitting, crochet, rug hooking or embroidery, something practical and colorful can be created before your eyes and before the inquisitive watchful eyes of the children.
You might prefer not to be listening to anything. You might choose a quiet time to reflect, daydream and contemplate.
Quiet was her fist thought when the Lady-of-the-House looked at this peaceful painting by Louis Paul Dessar – quieted fears, a temporary blind eye to the ticking of the clock, a purposeful quiet moment of prayer. It is interesting how often the needlewoman is depicted as a subject of an artist’s work. She seems to attract the attention of many painters.
|"Clotilde" 1893 by Louis Paul Dessar, (1867-1952)|
Do you like how unpretentious this painting is? A plain linen curtain, strung onto nails, defuses the light of a sunny picture window, framed in cheerful blue/green with a sill wide enough for pots of geraniums. The room’s whitewashed walls add to the soft light of the room. The girl’s clothing is pastel homespun. With an apron and her hair up, braided close to her head, it seems that perhaps she is purloining a moment of leisure between household chores. The way her fingers and double-pointed needles are positioned indicates that there are probably at least three needles and that she is knitting a sock or a sleeve in the round.
There is nothing glamorous about this picture (her shoes are the practical kind worn by one who spends more time on her feet than off them) but it is a testimony to a well-managed domestic life – one that leaves room for calm - something many a busy mother craves so dearly.
This summer the knitting of the Lady-of-the-House has been of sturdy cotton. Two vests were knit for her grandsons in patriotic colors – a sort of Christmas in July endeavor - to be stored away in the Christmas closet. Sugar 'n Cream cotton is sold five minutes from her house.
She found a sweater pattern that accommodates 4 stitches to the inch, which is what Sugar 'n Cream knits up for her on number 5 needles. Happy with the self-stripping results she referred to a sport-yarn vest pattern for decreasing at the arms and neck, though she had to guess at converting it for use with bulky yarn. The vests – size 6 and size 2 – went surprisingly fast.
One morning the Man-of-the-House read something aloud to the Lady-of-the-House from his Facebook that made her laugh. (She hasn’t a Facebook.) "Listen to this definition of 'boy' he said" - after a pause - “noise with dirt on it.”
“That’s our grandsons all right,” his wife affirmed. Sugar 'n Cream is popular because it is durable enough for a dishcloth. Goodness knows how many times these vests can be tossed in the wash before they wear out. Perhaps Sugar 'n Cream should more properly be titled, “Puppy Dog Tails” for its usefulness for boys.
|July listening pleasure|
To nourish the knitter and the Man-of-the-House two salads, in particular, are proving refreshing. Each use cucumber - a vegetable prevalent in the garden this time of year. The first is called “Spring Rain Salad” in one of her recipe books.
Raw veggies are cut in julienne strips and tossed with Thai rice noodles or angel hair pasta, served with an Asian dressing or dressing of choice. The Lady-of-the-House added tiny tomatoes, too. This vegan salad can be garnished with pumpkin seeds (not shown). When cocktail size shrimp are added it resembles a traditional Asian dish.
The second salad is one the Lady-of-the-House made up. It is a green salad of avocado, cucumber and kiwi served over butter-crunch lettuce with a squeeze of lime. Although the table was adorned with other dishes her guests for lunch took seconds of this salad to her delight. It is also vegan, can be garnished with crushed pistachios (not shown) or made non-vegan with sliced hard-boiled egg.
With light summer knitting and light summer eating we now turn to light reading. Here is an easy evening read of good humor. The British pen friend of the Lady-of-the-House recommends the books by Gervase Phinn. She heard him speak locally and met him in the reception lounge. How fun. Gervase Phinn is considered to be “The James Herriot of schools” because he writes first-hand about the school children of Yorkshire like Mr. Herriot wrote about the people and their animals of Yorkshire. Mr. Phinn was a teacher for fourteen years until 1984 when he became an inspector of schools.
The Lady-of-the-House just finished his The Other Side of the Dale. She smiled her way through every chapter. One episode has comments made by children during a nativity play that can be taken as irreverent but it probably isn't the slyest intension of the author to be so. As did the knitting of the red-white-and-blue vests the reading of this book went quickly – too quickly. Now she’d like to read another.
If you find Miss Read a relaxing stroll you will find Gervase Phinn similar but from a man’s point of view and a few decades more contemporary. He will introduce you to his colorful acquaintances with his crystal clear characterization and witty dialog. He writes personally. He is, after all, the main character of his books and we sympathize and snicker when the joke is on him.
Those who teach children will appreciate The Other Side of the Dale for although it is written for grown-ups we see life as children see it, too, and by grown-ups who “take on the most important duty in society – the education of the young” (a line from the dedication page). The Man-of-the-House bought his wife a used copy online - for a song.
The self-striping yarn in tones of green is also Sugar 'n Cream. A pullover with rolled edges is started in size 2. If the pattern created by the Lady-of-the-House turns out satisfactory she hopes to share it. She has a slow and careful sampler started. It will take months but she doesn’t mind. She also has several slower, heavier books started. It is nice to have both kinds about the place.
|The spinning room at Ephrata Cloister - high thinking and lowly living in the 18th century|
How do you view life through the lens of high thinking and lowly living?
*1 The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley, page 34
Click any photograph to enlarge.
Keep up your Mother Culture.
Comments are welcome.