Friday, July 6, 2012

High Thinking & Lowly Living

High Thinking & Lowly Living 

     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
     Chapter four of Lessons at Blackberry Inn begins with Cicero’s

     “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. 
Karen Andreola 

If you’d like to subscribe to Moments with Mother Culture or be notified of new posts, you are invited to place your e-mail address in the sidebar.


  1. Lovely post! I've just checked Gervase Phinn has books on audio at and I've added to my wish list. I enjoy "nice" books and Miss Read is a fav.

    All your talk of England made me wonder if you had popped into Susab Branch's blog? She has just been over visiting and has some lovely posts you may like.
    Love Leanne

  2. Yes, it IS hot. We've been at or above 100 degrees for two weeks now, though it seems like six weeks. I too am hiding in the house, but it's too hot to keep the curtains open, so I'm not doing any looking out! I've been sewing. The tote for my niece turned out well. I kept following the directions, and suddenly, a tote materialized out of all those pieces. It was a fun and rewarding project. We had my grandmother's sewing machine serviced this past week. My next task is to learn how to use it. It has this nifly buttonhole dial that makes buttonholes (something I usually dread) beautifully and easily.

    We enjoyed a delicious sald last night for supper. It contained lots of different lettuces, artichoke hearts, grapes, pecans, feta cheese, dried cranberries, and sliced chicken - quite good.

    "Clotilde" is such and inviting painting. It fascinates me that someone actually painted that gossamer curtain. It's beautiful.

    A blessing that comes from the great heat: The peaches are delicious!


  3. I adore the painting ,it reminds me of simple elegance.The salads look yummy, I often try what salads you post, and find them easy peasy and so good.The festive vests are so sweet, I imagine your little men will look spiffy in them.Our family is staying in Strasburg for our annual visit to Lancaster County.We were in Lititz on Thursday, lovely town, but 100 degrees,oh my...Our married children left this afternoon and dear hubby drove me to Quarr me much to ponder.Blessings, Dawn E. Brownher lovely posting,you never fail to give

  4. Leanne,
    Yes there are many audio sites that can keep us in books. Dean like old radio.
    How picturesque England's touristy countryside is as seen through S. Branch's holiday camera. I've been to her blog a couple of times.
    Staying indoors is what we are doing today. I have an apron that is traced and cut but I am working on a formidable article and also with my son who is keen on making me a button for Moments with Mother Culture. He is amazingly good at using the design tools and is making the button into a slide show. "I don't want anything ostentatious," I told him, "but fancy is okay, I guess."
    I love peaches - even more than strawberries and had my first peach this week - thankful for God's bounty.
    I hope that in spite of the dreadful heat you and your family are enjoying Lancaster County. Sunday and Monday will be a little cooler here.
    Until next time,
    Karen A.

  5. I absolutely love James Herriot's books! I have read them more than once. (In checking the spelling of his name, I discovered that it was a pen name--did you know?) I ran and ordered the book you mentioned--I can't wait to read it! Your green salads look so yummy.

  6. Karen~ I love this... "High Thinking & Lowly Living."

    It seems that popular culture would say just the opposite.

    We love our days of slow rhythm and steady living.

    Thank you for sharing a beautiful post. I know that I will be carrying this phrase around with me for the days to come and attempting to dig into it even deeper.


  7. I just purchased a package of crochet hooks last week to take up what I left behind in high school! Will see how it goes...

    It has been blistering hot here with six days of 100+ temps. That's too hot for almost anything to be happy, including tomato plants. Thankfully, a front is going through today to break the intense heat.

    Do you read Susan Branch's blog? She has been in England for a long vacation and has been sharing pictures. It is SO beautiful.

    Now, off to Amazon to look into that new-to-me author. :)

  8. Ooops, I hadn't read the comments when I asked about Susan's blog!

  9. I LOVE James Herriot and Gervase Phinn books. If you like Gervase Phinn you will love Jack Sheffield books. He was a headteacher at a small school in the Yorkshire Dales and has a really lovely and humorous way of writing about his school days.


    Shirley Ann

  10. Good afternoon Karen! What an inspiring post. I always leave your blog encouraged and ready to add more beauty to my home and life! I LOVE the painting of the lady knitting. I am going to look for a copy for my home.

    I love the vests for your wee grandsons. I have heard that the red in the yarn bleeds a bit, so you might want your daughter to set it in vinegar first.

    I am excited to find a new author and my book should be here today! It has been really hot here lately and Monsoon season has begun so it has been humid too. We have enjoyed watching the storms roll in during the afternoon.

    Your salads look very yummy! I wish I could eat avacado, but alas I am highly allergic! :o( We have been enjoying salads here too. Taco, grilled chicken, garden, fruit, yum!

    Love, Heather

  11. We are rejoicing here! We have had rain for the last 5 days. Not a constant rain, but rain, none the less! The world is green again. The birds are singing again. We are cooler. It is cloudy! Our curtains are open to the world. We are grateful for the reprive.

    A favorite preacher of mine used to say, "ENJOY WEATHER!" I find his admonition to be such an encouragement.


  12. I love posts like this! It's like we're next door neighbors and best of friends!