Monday, June 27, 2011

We Are Educated by Our Intimacies

We Are Educated by Our Intimacies  

I’ve been looking forward to sharing the following quotes by Miss Charlotte Mason with you.

While visiting my daughter I asked her, “Where’s your nature notebook . . .  the one with the lupines in it?”

“It’s on the closet shelf,” she said. I opened her bedroom closet door ever-so-slowly to keep it from squeaking and waking baby Joseph who was sleeping soundly in his cradle two feet from the closet.

“Mom, he doesn’t wake up that easily.”

Ignoring her reply I whispered, “Here it is, oh, goodie. I’d like to show my readers some pages. I promise I’ll take care of it.”

After twelve years of trying her plan of bringing children up on Books and Things, Miss Charlotte Mason wrote:

“On the whole the results are pleasing. The average child studies with ‘delight.’ We do not say he will remember all he knows, but, to use a phrase of Jane Austen’s, he will have his ‘imagination warmed’ in many regions of knowledge.” School Education, page 243

Throughout School Education Miss Mason emphasizes bringing children up on a wide curriculum and first-hand experiences of various kinds. On the subject of science she outlines what educators typically do in schools.

“The boy learns up his text, listens to lectures, makes diagrams, watches demonstrations. Behold! he has learned science and is able to produce facts and figures for a time anyway, in connection with some one class of natural phenomena; but of tender intimacy with Nature herself, he has acquired none.” Pg 76

I remember when my daughter, Sophia was invited to the house of a brand new friend. This friend lived on a diary farm. Flowers, culinary herbs and vegetables grew just outside the doors of the old clapboard farmhouse but it was to the outskirts of the cow pasture that the girls walked. It was here that her new friend wished to show Sophia the dragonflies and red-winged blackbirds down by the creek, the yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace, chicory and milkweed in the meadow. 

Sophia told me that she was impressed that her friend knew the names of all these living things and especially how certain wild herbs were used as medicine in early America. Some plants were so small (like St. John’s Wort) how did she find them? “My mother taught me,” her friend answered. 

This observant girl is a physician’s assistant today.  

“[A young child’s] parents know that the first step in intimacy is recognition; and they will measure his education, not solely by his progress in ‘the three Rs’ but by the number of living and growing things he knows by look, name and habitat . . . He will note with eager interest the order of time in which the trees put on their leaves; will tell you whether to look in hedge, or meadow, or copse, for eyebright, wood-sorrel, ground-ivy; will not think that flowers were made to be plucked for

                                  ‘Its (his) faith that every flower –

                                      Enjoys the air it breathes’ -  

 “He begins to notice that there are resemblances between wild-rose and apple blossom, between buttercup and wood-anemone, between rhododendron blossom and the tiny heath floret. A suggestion will make him find out accurately what these resemblances are, and he gets the new and delightful idea of families of plants. His little bit of knowledge is real science, because he gets it at first-hand; in his small way he is another Linnaeus.” Pages 76 and 77

What evidences are there that your child is having his imagination warmed by living books? Have you also pondered how experiences outside the classroom and nature appreciation play a part in storing curious impressions or beautiful imaginings in the life of a child?

The story Miss Rumphius is based on a real woman who had strewn lupines seeds along the wayside. It is a favorite of my girls. That first spring in Maine, my girls (who were older students then) without me making a single suggestion as to what they might consider entering into their nature notebooks, drew lupines.

Decorating this post are sundry photographs and some girlhood entries of Sophia’s nature notebook. Being cautious she chose a two-step method for making entries. When she was pleased with how a watercolor turned out she then pasted it into her notebook.

She took a fancy to painting old-fashioned figures into her notebook. They are apparently enjoying the outdoors. Would it be farfetched to suppose these persons could be reciting to themselves the words of the old-fashioned poems on the adjoining pages? (Click to enlarge.)

As her mother even Sophia’s short journal entries of the weather are interesting to me.

I photographed these notebook pages on our sunny front stoop because I didn’t want the flash to go off. (My knowledge of photography is slight.) I rested Sophia’s book on a hand woven mat sent to me by a friend. 

It was good to hear that this friend has been able to find time to sit at her loom. Owning a loom has been an interest of hers (a dream) for some years. It shouldn’t surprise me how soon she began using her loom to make gifts. That’s Mother Culture for you. It spills over to those we have it in our hearts to bless.

It is clear in my memory, though it was more than twenty-two years ago, of my reading aloud to Sophia at bedtime from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnet. It was one of few books we owned that were so sweetly illustrated by Tasha Tudor – a favorite illustrator of mine then and now. The Secret Garden is recommend on a list of living book examples in chapter two of Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children Sake and I had taken note of this.

If this post is a longer one it is because I want to tie in Miss Mason’s message with the lovely example of a child’s joy of discovery in the story, The Secret Garden. 

Orphaned in India, Mary Lennox is sent to Yorkshire, England to live in her uncle’s big house, Misselthwaite Manor. Nature is so different here - all new and interesting to her. But she is a sullen, cross and contrary girl because her parents had been uninvolved in her life. She was kept in the nursery and spoiled by a nanny. Mary’s uncle is a gloomy widower, is rarely home and keeps the door locked to his deceased wife’s walled garden. Even the gardener is not permitted to tend it.

Mary spends the chilly days of early spring jumping rope outdoors. She is entertained by the reappearances of a robin that flutters and tweets nearby. She meets the cheerful lad Dickon who introduces her to critters on the moor and the plants he is so familiar with.

As if lead by the daring robin she finds a key. It fits in the door of the walled garden. The author tells her readers,   “. . . [Mary] was not a child who had been trained to ask permission or consult her elders about things.” All she thought about was entering the garden. And she did. She showed it to Dickon, too, who could indentify what was sprouting under the dead tangled vines and leaves. 

“Are there flowers that look like bells,” [Mary] inquired.

“Lilies o’ th’ valley does,” [Dickon] answered, “digging away with the trowel. . .”

What might be a concern is the reference to nature being “magical.” This word describes, from a child’s point of view, the mysteries of nature and how working and playing outdoors, through the seasons builds muscle and fills lungs with fresh air for a vibrant, less sullen, way of living.

I omitted the children’s chanting at the end of the story and how the “magic” of this is meant to bring the uncle home. I find it interesting that the words of the Doxology are spoken impromptu brought forth from the children’s joy, although they admit to not understanding what these words of praising “God from whom all blessings flow” really mean. Therefore, the story tends to be pantheistic. Yet a Christian parent may easily clarify where the characters stray.

Miss Rumphius and A Secret Garden are sold by Rainbow Resource Center.

*(If you look up page 243 of School Education - and I like to encourage you to read my selected quotations in context - you’ll see the word “evolution” used. Miss Mason is referring to the general meaning of the word; “slow gradual change” not Darwin’s evolution of species.)

Photographs Explained
lupine out the kitchen door in cottage pink
patch of wild May apples – all parts except the fruit are toxic.
peeking underneath to spot last month’s May Apple in bloom.
wild mustard
wild mustard close up
red plumes of astilbe by the courtship rock
(astilbe is pronounced like: I'll still be your friend. )
my British robin figurine, book, and large antique key
lily of the valley by the side door

Discussion is Invited,
Karen Andreola 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Drops of Joy

Drops of Joy

Last year William wore the colorful vest I knitted him. The primary colors happened to match those of the toys he plays with when he visits. Self-striping yarn adds instant color design. It gave me joy to see him in it. He quickly out-grew it.

The azaleas in the front garden bloom red in spring. They accent our front door. 

I planted this little shade garden three springs ago, adding bulbs, leaving space for the wild ferns do what they like, repositioning the hostas a year later, keeping the moisture loving azalea’s happy during a heat wave. 

Even a little garden takes attention. And my attentions were well received. For it began to fill in nicely. This garden gave me joy and made me feel more settled although we have a history of relocations and only lived in this house a few years; settled until . . .

the largest tree in the right of the grouping died. I am familiar with how the ground around a tree is disturbed when tree removers start in with their chain saws. Therefore I’ve begun transplanting some of the plants to a shady spot on the opposite side of the lawn to save them from an impending doom. No more little garden.


When I discovered patches of moss at the shady edge of the woods I came up with another idea to contribute to feelings of permanence. Perhaps with this moss I could create a more aged look to our side entrance.

I dug some up and pressed it into the cracks of the steppingstones. Keeping the moss moist between the intervals when we were away was something I nearly forgot to do.

Some of the larger steppingstones that touch the porch are definitely sunken and will need to be raised up with a crow bar and a new application of crushed stone and soil. The moss will soon be disturbed, too, I’m afraid.

On rainy days I retreated indoors for a little sewing. Pink paisley and polka dot flannel made a pretty gift of washable nursing pads for my daughter. They’re a frugal project and much softer than disposable.

I picked up the idea over the winter when I was blog hopping but lost track of which blogspot listed the simple directions. Therefore I’ll include them here.

 Trace three circles on cotton flannel and one circle of fleece per pad. The outside layer of acrylic fleece is moisture resistant. I like to trim two of the flannel circles slightly so that they will fit under the top circle. Stack the circles: one fleece, two trimmed flannel circles, one slightly larger circle (same size as the fleece.) Edge on the sewing machine with a zigzag stitch. 

At the same time I started knitting a chemo-cap in organic cotton yarn for a widow who was scheduled for a mastectomy. Her loss is a startling contrast to my daughter’s birthing experience. I couldn’t help think of the changes life brings especially to women.

 Life is what happens when you are making other plans. John Lennon

My shifting gardens revealed to me my longing for a feeling of permanence – a reprieve from dark clouds of changing circumstances. As much as I enjoy our home I know a certain nesting urge and deep sense of security will be satisfied by an experience only heaven will bring. Nothing we have in this life is permanent. Youth is fleeting. Change can be unsettling. Losses require the balm of cheerfulness, reassuring friendship. Perhaps we appreciate the little refreshing drops of joy best when we remember that the blessings we enjoy on this earth point to greater ones to come.

All the many little things a mother’s hands find to do in one day may seem to her like trifles in the grand scheme of things. But it is the little things that make the difference in the world. The good they do is inconceivable. They are drops of joy we wouldn’t know if we hadn’t touched our hands to them.

Happiness is a perfume you cannot put on others without getting a few drops on yourself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you for your notes and comments, public or private - however you send them. I know what shy feels like when it comes to writing. I write anyway. 

Karen Andreola

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Memento of a Marriage

A Memento of a Marriage
 Enter marriage with your eyes wide open
After marriage keep your eyes half closed - Folklore

The Lady-of-the-House stitched a gift for her parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. She chose colors to match their décor. Observing their relationship the Lady-of-the-House has seen how her parents keep a sense of proportion.  “What advice would you give a young couple,” she asked her mother. A few hints were shared.

A wife needn’t always be silent in situations of conflict but when she speaks the hard truth she does so kindly – especially when upset. Love honors verbally, intellectually, emotionally, physically and economically.   

Love keeps inevitable idiosyncrasies to their rightful size – minuscule. 

Thank you, Mom.  

With a patient eye open for a sampler that would double as a memento of her own marriage, the Lady-of-the-House finally found one. It is in the winter 2005 issue of Sampler & Antique Needlework Quarterly.

A pen friend sent her a stack of back issues. The gift was received with earnest appreciation. 

About Schoolgirl Samplers
A typical feature of an early American sampler is an alphabet. The sampler might be kept in a sewing box and the alphabet referenced when linens in a trousseau were to be monogrammed or embroidered.

Tiny cross-stitches might form the words of wise saying or religious verse in the center of the sampler. Above and below this might be “spots.” Spots of birds, flowers, majestic lions and crowns, figures of family members or pets offered interesting sewing practice. A house, very much like the one the girl lived in, might also be a prominent feature. She stitched in her name and dated her work. And perhaps to get the most use out of a piece of linen, a sampler would often be embellished with a border of pink strawberries or a vine of honeysuckle. 

What Settled the Matter for the Lady-of-the-House?
“The verse on this historic needlework would make fitting words for a wedding sampler,” she thought.

Tell me ye knowing and discerning few
Where I may find a friend both firm and true
Who dares stand by me when in deep distress
And then his love and friendship most express

She also decided that its Adam and Eve would make a fitting representation of a married couple – and (though it wouldn’t cross the mind of the average onlooker) in her heart they represented her marriage. She has been married for thirty-two years to the Man-of-the-House who stands by her in sickness and in health, through richer and poorer with love and friendship. 

A Formally Dressed Adam and Eve
It isn’t unusual to find the figures of Adam and Eve on a sampler. They commonly stand on either side of a tree dressed in their fig leaves. Rarely, they can be found fully dressed. This is the case with the sampler the Lady-of-the-House chose. The bottom of this magazine page shows Eve and Adam in “modern” clothes as stitched by Mary Oldfield in 1806 at age 10.

Miss Oldfield dressed the ancient couple – properly. The bell shape of Eve’s dress suggests a corset at the waist but also other undergarments that widened the skirt at the sides of the hip. I’ve read that this fashion emphasized to a suitor that a maiden was capable of producing heirs or in the middle class, general child bearing. In the north east of early America children were valuable help on the homestead. 

According to an article in Early American Life Adam’s breeches reflect an earlier American fashion. By1806 knee beeches were going out of style. Long trousers had been gradually taking their place. Breeches would still have been worn with a jacket of tails, however, on formal occasions.

Custom Color
Pastel colors are recommended in the chart for Mary Oldfield. (making progress above) They mirror how the historic sampler has survived and looks today. The Lady-of-the-House wrote her pen friend that she was excited about reproducing a certain antique sampler from one of the magazines. Just for fun she included snippets of her new threads in the envelope with her letter. 

Miles away her friend followed a whim and secretly went to work. She picked up some DMC, matching colors of the snippets, and over-dyed them in her kitchen with a tan Ritz dye. With her letter of reply she tucked in tiny bags of her custom threads as a surprise. The Lady-of-House was indeed surprised and intrigued when these “aged” threads spilled out of the envelope.

She wrapped each gingerly around a holding card. This photograph shows the subtle comparison between DMC and over-dyed DMC. The Lady-of-the-House likes to keep the threads for a project in an empty box of note cards.

Leftover threads from past projects are stored in an organizer until they may be called upon again. Can you see the turquoise from her parent’s sampler? 

Perhaps you have already gathered your favorite kinds of materials together to create a memento of your life and haven’t delayed as long as the Lady-of-the-House has. When hers is finished she anticipates showing it to you.  

Until next time, 
Karen Andreola