Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ten Minutes of Tranquility

  Ten Minutes of Tranquility

    On a cold and frosty morning the Lady-of-the-house ventured outside. The temperature was in the teens. The day was dawning pink behind the trees. It was a week before Christmas and although there was no need for last minute shopping, the Lady-of-the-House had her nerves a bit on edge. Nature, however, has its calming affects and that morning it was a treat for the senses. The air was clean, the sky clear. With muffled steps on the softest of snow she meandered in a peaceful oasis of quiet. Only the faintest tweet of a bird, half a mile away, could be heard. No breeze moved in the branches. All was still and frozen. 

    The light snowfall dusted a pot of herbs that the Lady-of-the-House was remiss in planting in the ground for over-wintering. The candytuft next to the oregano looked as if it was sprinkled with powdered sugar. A set of tiny paw prints, at the side door, nearly went unnoticed had it not been that the Lady-of-the-House is versed in Beatrix Potter.   

    Stinging fingers beneath their gloves told the Lady-of-the-House it was time to go inside. Left on her desk was Parents and Children. The middle of chapter 17 was bookmarked. It must have been its message on sensations that had renewed her desire for an early morning meandering. The chilly walk took only ten minutes but was immeasurably refreshing to the soul - ten minutes of tranquility to “tarry” alone in the garden with God and His creation. 

Education by Observation

    Observation by way of the senses is what Miss Charlotte Mason talks about in chapter 17 of Parents and Children. (“We” refers to we who teach.)
She says,

"For the first five or six years of his life everything, especially everything in action, is an object of intelligent curiosity for the child – the street or the field is a panorama of delight, the shepherd’s dog, the baker’s cart, the man with the barrow, are full of vivid interest. He has a thousand questions to ask, he wants to know about everything; he has in fact, an inordinate appetite for knowledge. We soon cure all that: we occupy him with books instead of things; we evoke other desires instead of the desire to know; and we succeed in bringing up an unobservant man [ . . .  or woman] who discerns no difference between an elm, a poplar, or a lime tree, and misses very much of the joy of living.”

Best Learned Out of School
    Have you ever wondered why A Charlotte Mason Companion includes a chapter on the senses? One book reviewer who found Companion interesting also warned that some of its pages have nothing to do with education. That’s fine. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. The reviewer might be right. Yet she declines to identify the superfluous.

    This got the Lady-of-the-House thinking. Perhaps if a more schoolish title to the chapter were attributed to it, such as, “Foundations of an Education by Observation,” this would satisfy utilitarian expectations. She prefers, “Summer Senses for Country Folk.” It is a winsome title for a winsome chapter that really doesn’t have anything to do with school at all. And yet, it has everything to do with what Miss Mason advised in Parents and Children because it encourages a child to observe (learn about) his world through the fine-tuning of his senses. It encourages an education by “books and things.”

Indoor Guessing Games
    In her chapter Miss Mason recommends indoor games for training young children in the use of their senses. The Lady-of-the-House chose a “rainy day” – actually a gray cloudy week in mid-winter - to play these games with her children (ages 4 to 10). They require a collection of household items and the use of a simple blindfold. The children can just close their eyes but a blindfold accentuates reliance on their other senses.

    One by one, items were placed in the hands of her willing participants to touch and weigh. Another day items to smell, the next day things to taste, were for guessing. Yet another day was a game to discriminate sound. These short winter games accompanied more bookish lessons and were met with a few giggles. 

   Here are some examples. Many others will suggest themselves to you.
Feel: Hairbrush, basket, ball of yarn
Taste: lemon, peanut, carrot
Smell: crushed thyme, grated ginger, cinnamon stick
Weight, Size, Shape: coins, rubber band, large bowl
Sound: water pouring, sandpapering, the refrigerator opening

New Vocabulary for Narrating
    Children, while narrating their observations, will welcome new vocabulary offered by the teacher. By supplying new words she helps them find the words for describing texture, shape, weight, fragrance, sound, etc. This is training in exactitude.

    Some years later, the same descriptive vocabulary is likely to be called upon by an older student when polishing his writing. And here we see that anything really educational will make its way eventually into a child’s store of knowledge or skill as rain makes its way to the sea.

Sensory Language
    The Lady-of-the-House has been looking for a way to make a graceful entrance in mentioning her book, Story Starters. Today’s post beckons her to do so because Story Starters provides oodles of opportunities in using sensory language – language of the five senses. At first the student is encouraged to write freely, with gusto, with zest, or more abandon than he is used to. This is the most important aspect of writing, and the main purpose of the story starters. Afterwards the student is required to go back over his writing to do some polishing – to polish it until it shines. He will want his story to read as vividly as it is in his imagination. Using descriptive vocabulary will deliver particular details about his characters, setting, and actions. Therefore, he is guided to use language of the five senses. Lessons that follow are “vivid verbs”, “artful adjective” and “advantageous adverbs”, etc. but the use of sensory language heads the way.

Charlotte Mason ends her chapter with this:

“No doubt the best and happiest exercises of the senses springs out of a loving familiarity of the world of nature, but the sorts of gymnastics [games for the mind] indicated render the perceptions more acute, and are greatly enjoyed by children.”

Discussion is invited.

       Happy New Year

               Karen Andreola

Friday, December 17, 2010

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

    I invite you to take a tour of some December needlework. If you have at this hour, a lack of mental energy, you might prefer to just look. That’s okay. Save the reading of my sentimental vignettes for another day. However you choose to scroll, may it be just the relaxation you need to unwind. Click the teacup at the end of the post to play a Christmas song that might be new to you.

    “I like this cross-stitch chart of a Christmas Goose,” I said some years back to my married daughter Yolanda. She liked it, too. In winter the Canadian geese fly back and forth over the countryside and honk handsomely. Feathered in bold markings they are picturesque when they land and assemble on the snow around the farm ponds – although the farmers hold a different opinion. We were thinking well ahead. It was summer. Together, at a local shop, we enjoyed purchasing the cloth and the floss indicated by the chart, and we divided the colors between us so we could start stitching months before December. Surely we’d be able to finish in time for Christmas.

    I didn’t hear of how she was getting on. She didn’t ask me how I was getting on. Some months later the excitement that comes with starting a new project, fizzled away. I assumed it did for Yolanda, too, being a young married woman who was planning a formal dinner party with all the trimmings, for a half dozen young adults at Christmastime. The week of her party she handed me an early present. When I unwrapped it I was pleasantly astonished. It was the Christmas Goose. I hadn't made one stitch yet in mine.

    Peace on Earth was a breeze to stitch on 22 count even-weave. It is all one color. Because I used three strands of over-dyed floss rather than two, I should have anticipated I might run out of thread at the bottom of the sampler. My later purchase must have been a different dye lot because you can see “toward men” is lighter. Look again and you’ll see the alphabet has two “Os.” The “Q” is missing a stitch. Perhaps that’s when the kettle was whistling. Anyway, I noticed the “Q” after it was framed. I’ve read that quilters will craft one inconspicuous mistake somewhere in their needlework for the prevention of vanity. I don’t have to deliberately craft one in mine.   

    Last month Dean entered the kitchen slyly and said, “I’ve done something that is sure to earn me Brownie points.”
    My back was to him as I stood at the kitchen sink. “What is it?”  I said with skepticism and without turning around. 
    “I found your grandmother’s embroidery.”
    With upraised voice I replied, “Oh, you did?” I turned and met his grin face on.
    I had given the embroidery up for lost. Having moved so often, much of our belongings would remain in boxes until we moved again. Since our move from Maine to Pennsylvania our searching for the embroidery had been in vain and I didn’t want to make a big mess looking for it since we anticipated moving yet again. When we finally settled into this house we still couldn’t find it. I didn’t believe Dean anymore when he told me, “It will turn up.” 

    How happy he was when he handed the embroidery to me. (I had dried my soapy hands on a tea towel by then.) Free of its flimsy frame, discarded for junk, I inspected the staples used to hold the linen onto a board. They were rusted and had stained the outer edge brown. Otherwise, I was relieved it was in good condition.
    Newly framed it hangs on the wall of our dining area. It is special to me. My grandmother stitched it for my grandfather in 1970. She excelled in crewel. This scene stitched in wool commemorates the American folk art of Grandma Moses. If you peruse paintings by Grandma Moses you will see how it resembles her style and subject. One painting heads this post.

    In the 1970s I was excited when school was closed due to snow and a whole neighborhood of children (baby-boomers of all ages) were bundled up and sent outside by their stay-at-home mothers, to play in it. Our chief thing to do was go sledding down our hilly street. We gained the most momentum just before we reached the stop sign. Is it possible that while we were sledding my grandmother, who lived just around the corner, could have been stitching her winter scene on the same piece of linen that hangs in my house today?   

    I was going to throw away a green mitten I had knitted. My children had outgrown it long ago, and if its match hadn’t turned up yet . . . well. Instead, some notion held my hand back – a memory perhaps. I threaded a needle with red floss and stitched the poinsettia on the mitten free hand. A loop at the cuff to hang it on the Christmas tree and it becomes a souvenir of an earlier winter – a winter when it was worn on a little hand to build a snowman. 
    The little sock was a way to use up tiny balls of yarn – the remains of larger knitting projects.

    Last year using a regular sock pattern I knit a long sock in worsted wool that, nailed to the fireplace, passes as a primitive Christmas stocking.

    Are you familiar with Victorian punched paper mottos? Emma stitched one at Blackberry Inn. This little Take Joy was designed and stitched on punched paper by a long-distance friend. I find it a cheerful reminder, partly for the joy our Savior gives us and partly as a token of friendship. When a fire is lit I move it to a knob on the pie-safe away from the heat. Satin stitches on punched paper probably give the fastest results of any needlework. I like how visible the stitches are. 

    Every Christmas Joy Be Thine is another gift on punched paper hanging in our hall between the electric sconces.

    With the design painted for me, I stitched the motto, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. It ended up in a house that is geometrically modern on the outside but decidedly Victorian on the inside. Stitched leisurely after Christmas while I was still in the holiday spirit, it was saved aside for two years until I could spy out who would most appreciate it. I gave it as an early gift this year. It was received with tears of gratitude, exceeding my expectations. It had been ages since this tired homemaker had received anything homemade. She had eyed the mottos in my house and wished to make one, too, but was kept crazy-busy. For some, receiving a homemade item is a disappointment. For others, what is made by hand is prized.

    Her tears made me wonder. How touched am I . . . and how much gratitude do I show at Christmas, for the gift of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord? (Romans 6:23)

    I draped a tablecloth of roses on a chair so its stitches may be best observed.    

Every Christmas Joy be Thine
        Karen Andreola 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Love’s Pure Light

Love’s Pure Light

    The Lady-of-the-house has her bayberry candles ready in her candle box for Christmastime. Tapers are traditionally stored horizontally to prevent warping. Dipped candles can also hang by their wicks but she decided to tuck a few into a basket with faux greenery to cheer up the fireplace. 

    Do you see the gingerbread couple in front of the candle mold? A creative friend made the gingerbread man for her last December. This December from the same friend she was happy to receive the gingerbread lady who holds a garland of the tiniest yo-yos you’ve ever seen. The yo-yos are of a peppermint stripe fabric.   

    A bayberry candle stands in a Colonial wall sconce with some faux holly and berries. At night it sparkles. The mirrors multiple the flame and light the dinner table. Leave a taper burning too long and it can make a mess. Therefore the Lady-of-the-house likes to burn hers no more than an hour at a time. 

    Honey bees where not prevalent in early America as we might suppose. In the Colonies most candles were made of animal fat: beef and mutton tallow. They did not smell at all pleasant when burning, quite the opposite in fact, and they were smoky.

    Bayberry candles, however, were luxurious in comparison. They perfumed the air, burned longer and cleaner. Wax is derived from the fruit coat of the bayberry. Directions to the Colonial homemaker were to cook the berries in a kettle of boiling water. (The kettle, no doubt, hung on the crane in a wide fireplace.) Boil until the fruit coat melts and its wax floats to the surface. Let cool. Skim the wax. Melt this wax in a kettle and dip wicking into it until well coated.

Committed to Homemaking
    It can take up to a half bushel of berries to make a single candle. No wonder these candles were reserved for the celebration of the holy days of Christmas. A whole hillside of bayberry bushes it seems would be required to make a few candles. What long tedious work it must have been bending over a hot kettle inside a dangerous fireplace – dangerous, that is, for someone who wore a complete set of long skirts and no shoes. And a homemaker’s days were already well occupied with the many physical demands of crude household chores. What remarkable lengths she took in her desire to add something sweet to her household, to mark the coming of Christ as a special time to be celebrated. It proved her love for her family.

A Fictional Visitor
    Another candle stands in the foyer. It is surrounded by glass to protect it from the drafts of cold air that enter when welcoming guests at the front door. Does it look like Bob Cratchit is paying a visit? The sealskin top hat is in poor condition and is disintegrating at the seams with age, having been worn in the 19th century. The Lady-of-the-house sets it out at Christmastime because the reading, listening, or viewing of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is a tradition in her family.

Two Favorite Films
    All the members of the family (even the Man-of-the-house) vote Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol to be tip-top. This cartoon contrasts selfishness and fear with pity, love and joy. The melodies by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill are catchy and sweet. The Lady-of-the-house can hum every one.  

    Although Marley’s ghost would be too scary for young children, a good production of A Christmas Carol stars Patrick Stewart. The scene proceeding Scrooge’s happy conversion, where Scrooge attends church on Christmas Day, depicts gratitude and reverence.

     Now the Lady-of-the-house pays her biggest compliment. In most so-called Christmas films the name of Christ is commonly not given a holiday-glimmer-of-a-mention. This film, however, breaks secular rules. It includes the singing of Silent Night. Moreover, characters seem to comfort themselves by it. In his story Dickens refers only to the singing of a “Christmas song.” Was it Stephen Warbeck, responsible for the music, who specified Silent Night? If so bless him. The Lady-of-the-house cherishes all its verses and ends this post with the third verse. When lighting her candles she thinks of them. 

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Joseph Mohr (1792-1848)
John freeman Young (1820-85) translated the verses leaving out “for” making “beams” a verb not a noun.
Thoughts and Sentiments are Welcome
             Karen Andreola