Friday, September 30, 2011

On the Wings of the Wind

On the Wings of the Wind

“Nature study should be approached with reverence. For the natural world is the expression of God’s personality in a form that is within reach of all of us to comprehend in some measure.” G. Downton (Parents’Review and A Charlotte Mason Companion page 255)

The Lady-of-the-house is always sad when the robins leave. They seemed to leave earlier this year. In their place, in early September, a garden of fluttering butterflies consoled her. She had let the caterpillars nibble to their hearts content on the parsley. The nibbling took place beside the kitchen door. When the Man-of-the-house spied the damage the Lady-of-the-house responded calmly with, “Never mind. I have a spare parsley growing on the other side of the patio. And that parsley is politely untouched.” Her fictional mind told her that it was the swallowtail’s show of courtesy to - in their infant stage - only devour down-to-the bone, one parsley plant.

It was in a picture book that she and her children had read what finicky eaters caterpillars are. They relish a few favorite plants. Nothing else will do.

One of the fattened caterpillars attached itself to the wall of the house to form a chrysalis. The Lady-of-the-house kept on eye on the chrysalis in her goings out and comings in. But it was when she wasn’t looking that the black swallowtail emerged. It didn’t have far to go. The patio is surrounded by pink verbena.

The Lady-of-the-house likes butterflies and she likes birds. When the song-happy robins took flight the neighborhood was suddenly quiet enough for a cardinal’s tweet and chickadee’s humming squeak to be discernable – proof that the branches of the trees were not empty.

Do you recognize the willow warblers on the platter in the kitchen? It is on the shelf over the kitchen stove hood. (Click any image to enlarge.) 

This china pattern matches the dust cover of Edith Holden’s book, The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. In this beautiful 1906 diary these birds are also on page 71.

Noritake makes a whole place setting of china featuring the artwork of Edith Holden. Two plates and a platter are what the Lady-of-the-house has. The red poppies are from page 112. On second glance of this photograph she sees her plate really should be turned to the right as the poppies in the book are horizontal, arching comfortably across two pages.  

An Anecdote of Appreciation
At present butterflies are few. The birds are even quieter. Those that remain are appreciated. Recently the Man-of-the-house had another gall bladder attack. This time in ER he decided to be admitted upstairs to have it out. From his hospital bed he said to his wife, “Open the blinds some more please. More sunlight would be nice.” Still feeling a bit shaky she pulled the chain of the blinds and stood peering out the window. She gazed down on brick row houses and an ornate church built in yester-year. Lancaster has an unmistaken historic air. It is the oldest inland city in America – a sort of miniature Philadelphia – except that most buildings are no taller than three stories. The hospital is one of the tallest and it gave the Lady-of-the-house a nice view.

Is that a gold leaf I see drifting along just beyond the window glass? No, it’s a butterfly! She fixed her eyes upon it to follow its flight. The butterfly was a welcomed oasis of peace, an unexpected gift of nature. Immediately she was reminded: “God is everywhere.” In fact, she said it out loud - with her back still to the room – and continued thinking, although at times He may seem far away He is near – even to one who is standing on the eighth floor.
“What did you say?” asked her husband.
She turned from the window and said again, “God is everywhere,” this time with a smile.
“Yes,” affirmed the Man-of-the-house.

“. . . [He] walketh on the wings of the wind.” Psalm 104:3
“As his essence is immense, not to be confined in place; as it is eternal, not to be measured in time; so it is almighty, not to be limited in regard of action.” - Stephen Charnock

The Man-of-the-house is home safe and sound. Joy!

The Crowe family loves birds. (Imagine that.) Their curious and cute children (picture on the cover) were so taken by the birds that visit their backyard feeders that they created this DVD so you, too, can attract the same beautiful birds to your backyard. The film has a homespun feel, yet is of professional quality. The children are the narrators. They speak clearly and are courteous to each other and to adults . . . how refreshing.

Most of the film is dedicated to teaching you how to recognize birds by their markings and vocalizations. A brief history of ornithologist John James Audubon is presented by cartoon. I especially enjoyed the interview with the 95-year-old bird enthusiast, Mr. Bell, who lives on a farm nearby and has gained remarkable firsthand knowledge of birds over his many years of banding them.

Those who have read A Pocketful of Pinecones may wish to add Your Backyard to their nature study resources. Birds on the east coast of America such as the chickadee, mourning dove, song sparrow, blue jay, and cardinal are quite common but will reveal themselves only to those who look (and listen). The Crowe family reminds you that keeping your feeders filled helps, too.

With a click of your mouse, you and your students can take the quiz in the Bonus Feature. You can also learn how to construct inexpensive bird feeders or click to review a particular bird and its song as often as you like.

Click Your Backyard to shop at Rainbow.
Karen Andreola's colored pencil sketch

Here are two birds from the 1990 Nature Notebook of the Lady-of-the-house - in colored pencil. 

Thanks for visiting,

Karen Andreola

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Flip Side of a Cleansing Breath

 The Flip Side of a Cleansing Breath

I didn’t tell you that while we were vacationing at the Jersey shore I found an antique vase (chipped and inexpensive) in a bayside boutique. I was charmed by it. I pictured it on the windowsill of our parlor.

 There is something else I didn’t tell you. The day I was sitting on the beach for an hour of knitting bliss (on a previous post), is the same day Dean was taken to the hospital. After supper he had intensifying pain. A telephone call to our GP in Pennsylvania revealed that it could be gall bladder. At 8 o'clock my father drove us to the ER. Since the island has many more times that amount of people in August than it does any other time of the year (especially on the week-end) the ER was crowded. Dean was attended to, thankfully, when I brought his needs intermittently to the attention of the staff. I am naturally unassertive but will step out of my comfort zone for those I love.

 Come midnight I urged my father to leave. All that separated Dean’s narrow bed from another patient was a curtain. On the other side of the curtain a little boy age 3, the same age as our grandson, was rushed in. He was suffering a seizure. It took a team of doctors and nurses quite a while to calm the seizure before he was transferred to a larger hospital. His mother’s face was red with tears. I prayed, begging God for my poor Dean. His pain was terrible. I also prayed for the little boy.

At 4 o’clock in the morning one groggy hubby was doing better and released. Our son-in-law, who had come to the Jersey shore with my daughter for the weekend, retrieved us. The day was dawning when we lumbered up the steps to my parent’s bungalow numb with tiredness. It was a sleepless night but a beautiful morning. I was thankful.

Back in Pennsylvania I knitted during Dean’s scheduled doctor appointments. Waiting rooms are good places for knitting. I embellished this easy pattern with a Fair Isle design referred to as strawberry flowers by Norwegian knitters since ages past. Changing colors and twisting in the back of the knitting goes slowly. But this only lasts a dozen rows or so and adds interest for the knitter.

While I waited for a good time to seam my pieces Hurricane Irene began its path up the east coast. My mother telephoned. She and Dad were being evacuated from their bungalow, as was all of Long Beach Island. “Please come and stay with us, of course,” I told her, “The spare room is ready for you.” They came with an extra suitcase of valuables in the event their home, a block from the beach, was destroyed.

Tall forest trees surround our house. When the high winds of the hurricane hit it roared in the trees. At night I saw in the dim light that the trees were swaying alarmingly. It was frightening. The electricity had failed at 3 am. I had prepared for this. Before going to bed I had turned our two refrigerators into iceboxes with frozen jugs of water from the deep freeze. I was busy. While I made lasagna for supper I had baked a loaf of wheat bread (in the bread machine) and made my orange-cranberry quick-bread usually reserved for Christmas mornings.

“I don’t want you to fuss over us,” my mother told me as she watched me level off the flour with the back of a knife.  

“I have too few opportunities to fuss over you,” I told her and stopped to give her a floury hug.

After supper I had arranged the table with nonperishables and candles for the following day. Mixed nuts and fruit such as early local apples gave the table a rustic harvest time feel.

By morning the wind had subsided to a strong breeze. Without electricity the men were restless. They wished there were a battery-powered radio in the house somewhere. Under the surface of their composure I knew my parents were really very nervous. While we waited to hear news my mother sat knitting by a window. I took the opportunity to seam my sweater. The heavy clouds made the house shadowy. The only light bright enough for seaming was under the skylight in the kitchen. So I sat at the table. Most knitters would rather knit than seam. I am one of them. But I was happy when I attached the ties at last and held it up for my mother to see.

This is a frugal “use-it-up” sweater. I had estimated that I had enough leftover yarn from other projects to make the 18-month size. The yarns were all worsted but on close inspection of slightly different weights. It is not advisable to combine odds & ends, as they can bring a different tension to the rows, but I took the risk. The different yarns did give the strawberry flowers an ill-fitted tug in places but it came out fine.

When the electricity was restored my parents were relieved to hear a positive news report of the Jersey shore. They returned the next day to a house intact. We were all thankful.

Life brings us sunshine and shadow. We feel the tug of its ill-fitted stitches because we live in a fallen and corruptible state of existence. What we see is the reverse side of the tapestry. God alone sees the front. Miss Corrie ten Boom, who was adept at embroidery, shared this tapestry parable in something of hers that I read. I wish I could tell you where.

Here you see the reverse of my knitting. When I am prone to ask God “why,” when I need encouragement to trust Him during times of stress or anxiety, I remember Miss Corrie’s tapestry. 

After the storm, with a blue sky above, I took a walk. I was intent on picking wild flowers, finally, for my new vase. Calico asters, one clover and the last of the Queen Ann’s lace helped make a wispy bouquet with garden verbena. 

Between chores I sat in the parlor with my hands folded – just for a moment – to gaze at my flowers. They looked just as I had imagined they would. It was a lovely cleansing breath.

Post Script
The cross-stitch scene of the bungalow on the beach isn’t mine. We photographed it (through plastic) last week at the country fair. It won a ribbon.

Interview with Suzanne and Karen

Suzanne at Blueberry Cottage honored me with an invitation to share on her beautiful blog. If you are curious to read a mix of my reminiscence and opinion you will find the interview on her post.

Take care,

Karen Andreola

Saturday, September 10, 2011

History in Literary Language

History in Literary Language

The Lady-of-the-House and the Man-of-the-House tucked their young children into bed with a story. Then they climbed down the stairs into the kitchen for a hot drink. The Man-of-the-House took his tall mug into the living room. A minute later the Lady-of-the-House followed.

“Where’d you find that?” she asked as she entered the room. “It’s been missing for ages.”

He smiled as he held up the remote control. “Under the seat cushion.” He continued, “with a pencil stub and some popcorn.” 

With this shortfall in her cleaning routine staring her in the face the Lady-of-the-House said curtly, “Please get up. I need to sweep out the sofa.”

“Right now?” responded the Man-of-the-House with a slight raise of one eyebrow. “I just got comfortable.” He held out his arm inviting her to sit down and get comfortable too. He spoke calmly and glibly. “Let’s watch something before it gets too late.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s eight ten. There may be something on PBS. We haven’t checked in a long time. There might be something good on.”

“Okay.” The Lady-of-the-House acquiesced.  

“Hmm, it’s a documentary,” stated the Man-of-the-House, “about the Vikings it looks like.”

“Oh, the children and I just finished reading about Leif, Eric the Red’s son. Is there a blank video around somewhere? We could record this for the children.” The Man-of-the-House obliged her. He pushed a video into the slot.

A dignified man with a gray bread and a suit to match was talking. He sat in a leather chair at a desk made of fine-grained walnut. He spoke with authority. He was a professor. Behind him the dark wood paneling gleamed. A beautiful shot of a windswept hillside on the coast of Nova Scotia showed the site of what was once a dig. Under the rubble of moss and lichen covered rock a tiny artifact had once been uncovered. Back in his study the professor spoke again. The Lady-of-the-House was waiting to hear something significantly more than what she and her children had read in their children’s books. She grew impatient. The Man-of-the-House was bored but endured. After some minutes more the Lady-of-the-House said, “That’s enough. No use taping this.”


“We learned similar facts in our children’s books and in a more interesting manner.” Being a bookman the Man-of-the-House understood.

Much more recently the Man-of-the-House shot a photograph for his wife of Leif-the-Lucky on the Atlantic coast while on vacation - to amuse you – and to highlight a love of living books. 

During rare moments when a busy home teacher is able to sit comfortably somewhere she is likely to be found on the sofa with a picture book in hand, her children close beside her. Cozy and sweet? Yes, it is. These cozy times, however, should not be underestimated in their power to train children in the habit of attention. Reading aloud from a picture book can be a wonderful way of introducing a subject, especially history. 

A knowledge of history is gained through the unfolding of a story. For this reason, children understand history best through literary language. Focusing on the story of history allows children to develop their powers of imagination. The use of imagination will be an advantage to the intellectual activity of a student in the school years that follow, when there are fewer pictures in his books. Save the serious side of history, the details of politics and philosophy, for the older student. 

Through a well-written story, such as Leif the Lucky, children in the elementary years can learn to see the connections between events, and to trace causes.

Children can be asked to tell a few paragraphs back in their own words by narrating. “Describe the place that Leif explored and called Vineland.” Along with the enjoyment of the story comes the mental benefit gained through narrating it. Hearing her student narrate is the best way for a teacher to find out what he knows. 

The D’Aularie biographies are a set of picture books created by a husband and wife team about 50 years ago. These books by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire are part of a sequence of living books within the Early American History course guide by Rea Berg published by Beautiful Feet Books.

When Nigel, the 22-year-old son of the Lady-of-the-House, was 8 he followed the course. The pictures, filled in with colored pencil and the drawing of the longboat, are from Nigel’s history notebook. The guide recommends photocopying key black and white illustrations to be glued into the notebook and colored. The student writes a simple caption under his picture. The Lady-of-the-House wrote the captions out for Nigel to copy. This was his history writing for the day – in pencil that is. His longer writing was what he composed in his oral narration.

A pile of fill-in-the-blank paperwork is apt to eventually be discarded. A notebook of entries becomes a keepsake.

Barbarous atrocities by Viking pirates who raided the coast of England are unmentioned in Leif The Lucky. Sea voyages are emphasized. The later influence of Christianity is made plain and not intentionally swept under the rug as history writers do today. Even though the Vikings are part of Europe’s medieval history they have a small part to play in America’s distant past. The D’Aulaire’s drawings of the Vikings with American Indians makes this memorable. Reference is made to danger but there are lots more smiles in this book than anything else.

On page 172 of Philosophy of Education Miss Charlotte Mason reminds us that a knowledge of history belongs to the person who can tell what ‘tis all about.

“. . . so the teacher reads and the children ‘tell’ paragraph after paragraph, passage by passage. The teacher does not talk much and is careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to ‘tell.’  
The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency. . . .  
She will bear in mind that the child . . . has begun the serious business of his education, that it does not matter much whether he understands this word or that, but that it matters a great deal that he should learn to deal directly with books. Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and what he cannot tell, he does not know.”

Click D’Aulaire to see other titles.

Comments are welcome,
Karen Andreola

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Cleansing Breath for Mother Culture

A Cleansing Breath for Mother Culture

Those who have undergone physical therapy know that between exercises it is advisable to take a deep “cleansing breath.” Remembering to stop to take a cleansing breath among complex responsibilities is a principle I’ve carried over into Mother Culture - both literally and figuratively.

Several weeks ago our 1997 American-made car was equipped with a new transmission. “They don’t make cars like this anymore,” I was told. I believe it. I am a trusting wife - generally. Feeling something like what the owners of a new car must feel, Dean and I filled the trunk with provisions. It held a weighty ice chest of local produce, homemade raison cookies, farm eggs, the big camera, two suitcases of holiday clothes, suntan lotion, straw hats, sundry books and (I didn’t forget) yarn. With the packing complete we set off on a few days vacation on the Jersey shore. My parents live in a bungalow a block from the ocean.

Dean and I do not travel lightly. In the heat of the glaring sun we (Dean mostly) walked back and forth unpacking the trunk, armload after armload. Mom and Dad’s neat little bungalow was quickly transformed into a house of stuff. Normally, during our short visits I try to conceal our stuff in assorted baskets. Alas, it still looks out-of-place.

Glad to see us Mom and Dad graciously overlooked our clutter - as always. Then we settled down to a good long chat. A sea breeze drifted through the windows cooling our brows as we unraveled the details of our lives. We tossed in all the family news we could think of for good measure.

In the mornings I put on a vintage (sounds nicer than outdated) Laura Ashley dress for a quiet walk at low tide. Here I took a cleansing breath – a whole series of slow deep breaths this time  – of salty sea air. It was windy yet invigorating. 

A flowery dress at the seashore fulfills a romantic notion of mine. 

The yellow dress with the coral flowers and the shawl collar has a string of memories attached to it because it was purchased twenty years ago. A first violin recital, a home school graduation and a speaking engagement are a few memories that stand out. 

The mostly orange dress here and at the start of the post is one Dean bid for me on e-bay last year. The cost was quite reasonable. I’ve only started making memories in this one.

We walk up the beach in silence, but in harmony, as the sandpipers ahead of us move like a corps of ballet dancers keeping time to some interior rhythm inaudible to us. . . Emotions are carried out to sea. (From Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea chap. 6, page 101 in my grandmother’s copy handed down to me.) 

From my beach bag I placed a child’s cotton sweater at the edge of the dune grass. It’s a pleasure sharing my knitting with you. 

Dean, who uses his camera more intelligently than I, and wanted to protect the lens from windblown sand, took the photographs for me. It was nice to have his help - although I’ve learned to save knitting as a subject of conversation for those more readily inclined.

The variegated blues and wavy wool cables of this size-two cardigan make it at home at the seashore. I had fun knitting it from a pattern by Yankee Designs. Can you see the little wishbone cables one stitch in width? They remind me of horseshoe crabs in this setting. Seed stitch and blackberry stitch are placed between the fisherman ropes. 

While braver souls - at least half our age - were going in deeper, we faced the breaking surf our own way. We were jostled by the foamy undertow. How refreshing the water was – even if somewhat wearing. Returning to our umbrella the cameraman was smiling. He was satisfied that, yes, his wife now drenched in seawater, was indeed having a good time.

Next came the relaxing moment I had been anticipating. I took out of my beach bag the beginnings of another little sweater. Its stitches were cast on at home, a week prior with the hope of spending an hour of knitting bliss in the shade of a beach umbrella - the ocean before me. Involuntarily, I sighed after my second row. Then I remembered. I closed my eyes and took a slow cleansing breath. Gratitude inhabited the pause.

For body and soul, in your everyday, will you remember to literally take a cleansing breath now and again? Also for your Mother Culture I hope you will consider taking one figuratively - in whatever way you come up with. No doubt it is fast becoming a busy school year. 

Post Script

After a bath Baby is happy when wrapped in the green blanket Mommy knit for him. 

She only knits when expecting. That’s okay. Another knitter is keeping an eye on domestic supply-and-demand.

Blessings to you
Not for knitters only,

Karen Andreola