Friday, February 21, 2014

Worry, Worry, Go Away

Worry, Worry, Go Away
     If you are new, feel free to click-about. I need to pause in writing posts for a while but plan to return before long. 

Large Shadows
     I was a young mother. Worry followed me around the house - all day.  I carried it like I carried the baby on my hip. My husband was laid-off from work and contemplating a career change. We were busy giving the walls of the house a fresh coat of paint, covering over children’s fingerprints; making the place ready for sale. We thought it best to be available to move to wherever his next position took us.

Teddy Bear Mittens

     For the sake of the children I hid my worry under a small smile. It was a forced cheerfulness. By the end of the day I was weary of anxiety and physical exertion. When all was dark in the night I said a prayer. The words seemed trapped below the ceiling. It was a short and sincere prayer. I was saving the scary details, my deepest feelings, for the morning. Exhaustion can give problems disproportionately large shadows. In the morning, in the pink tinged rays of dawn, peeking through white ruffled curtains, I would have a clear head. I decided to make this my worry hour. For the time being I knew God heard my abbreviated message no matter how I was feeling about the ceiling. I closed my eyes.

The Worry Hour
     As a young mother and home teacher, I understood the importance of scheduling set times for things. I learned to give worry its allotted time, too. A set-time is needed to be personal with God and cast all my cares upon Him. I can also acknowledge His greatness, confess undeserved-ness for His redeeming love, glean from Scripture, quiet my heart, and count my blessings. A busy day is ahead of me. And so I need my worry hour. It doesn’t usually take an hour. It might be ten or fifteen minutes. But then, throughout the day, if the gray clouds roll in for the fifth day in a row, if I stay up too late or experience insurmountable fatigue caring for a sick loved one  – I am not haunted by anxiety. I needn’t carry it around. I faced my fears already - during the worry hour.

Ferns in Maine
Primitive rock wall on our property in Maine 2003. Spring Ferns

Simple Pleasures

          We gather simple pleasures like daises - by the way. Louisa May Alcott

     To chase away clouds of worry it helps to “gather simple pleasures.” For all of my adult life I’ve enjoyed writing paper letters and walking them to the mailbox. In Maine the walk took twenty minutes. A Maine spring is much anticipated. The crisp, cool air of a walk is exhilarating. I would notice the progress of the ferns uncurling or the daffodils emerging from the bulbs I had dug into rocky soil the year before.

Daffodils and rock wall
Front Yard. Maine 2003

     The cemetery lawn would be covered with purple phlox come spring. In the woods around it grew a large patch of lily-of-the-valley that rooted themselves there, from a finished pot of flowers flung over the fence, I surmised. Each walk revealed a twittering bird – almost always a cheerful chick-a-dee. Walking among the birds can smooth away a frown. It uses up nervous adrenalin. And it gives us a moment to “consider the lilies.”

phlox in Maine
Cemetery on our property in Maine - Pease is the name of a character in P.P.

     Carol in Pocketful of Pinecones felt herself slipping into the darkness of worry when her husband was out of work. She came across something in her reading that brightly illustrates Mathew 6:30. Because in Maine I had walked along a rutted dirt road this passage spoke close to home. 

I saw a delicate flower had grown up two feet high, between the horses’ path and the wheeltrack. An inch more to right or left had sealed its fate, or an inch higher; and yet it lived to flourish as much as if it had a thousand acres of untrodden space around it, and never knew the danger it incurred. It did not borrow trouble, nor invited an evil fate by apprehending it.  Henry D. Thoreau

     I am no longer a young mother. After decades of changes-of-circumstance I’m a little better at not worrying. It’s a wavering conscious effort. Sadly, our service to Rainbow Resource Center has ended. Dean is actively searching for a position that will take full advantage of his many years of executive management, marketing, and motivational teaching experience.  He has posted his resume on LinkedIn.

Work horse
Pennsylvanian work horse. You never know what will find you on a nature walk.

     Our adult son, who suddenly became handicapped over a year ago, is scheduled for long-awaited medical treatment – not covered by insurance - the first two weeks of March. I am also scheduled for in-hospital medical treatment during the same weeks, but the insurance company has denied the claim - pending appeal. Thank you for your prayers and well wishes. It will be a trying two weeks.

cross stitch alphabet

With my Needle
     Because I am asked, “What are you stitching,” here is the new sampler I started. I’ve abandoned a large project for several portable ones. My married daughter told me she fancies a house sampler. I chose an alphabet (from one chart) and asked her what color she’d like the house (from another chart). I will enjoy fitting in spots of birds and flowers (from still other charts). The house color is a toss up. Will it be red or gold? I’m waiting to hear.     

stuffed mushrooms
Ready to bake in the oven
Comfort Food
     Have you ever made stuffed mushrooms? The Man-of-the-House finds them a delicious treat. I remember watching his grandmother make them. My stuffing is like hers but without the bacon. Chopped onion or shallot is cooked in olive oil along with the chopped mushroom stems and parsley, mixed in a bowl with bread, raw egg, grated cheese - baked - served as an appetizer or in an anti-pasta.   

stuffed mushrooms on fancy blue plate

Say it Isn’t Snow
     Another way I am “gathering simple pleasures” is by displaying an over-sized book on seasons, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. It must be spring. The little girl is wearing a fur-lined jacket but do you see what’s in her mitten? She clutches a handful of pussy-willows, violets and a jack-in-the-pulpit. (Salix discolor, Viola, Arisaema atrorubens). Delightful. After a couple days of this book-cover-of-hope on display, I impulsively reached for a ball of wool. I started knitting a pair of mittens like the one on the girl’s hand, adding a rickrack design similar to it. Books have a way of seeping their influence into the crevices of our lives. Teddy is prepared for a chilly spring with mittens made for him. 

The Wonders of the Seasons illustrated by Eloise Wilkin

Hope Everlasting 
     I love the richness of the old hymns. Contemporary songs – though simple - can also chase away the clouds. Click the album cover to link to Laura Story’s “Blessings” in case you haven’t heard it. Are you weary or worrisome? Could you use words of hope? Dean and I have been conveying a message of hope to our son and ourselves in as many ways we can think to express it.

Laura Story Blessings

     Sometimes His blessings come in raindrops.

I'll be with you again, come spring, Lord willing.
Until then, write anytime,
Karen Andreola

Post Script 
     I placed news with the comments but thought to give the good report here.

     With an appeal to the insurance company my specialist's office got my treatment approved. I will be admitted to the hospital after all. We were previously (and firmly) warned by the nurse that no time is taken (and ever has been taken) for these appeal processes. The chronic pain doctor has thousands of patients.
     I believe God unlocked and opened a door for me.

Monday, February 10, 2014

An Alternative to the Grammar School Grind

An Alternative to the Grammar School Grind

     What an icy winter. Pottering around an ominously quiet house during the power outage, I kept hearing an eerie sound. Crack. Snap. Thud. The tops of trees broke under the weight of snow and ice, and fell to the forest floor – all morning. 

February sun-catcher - A homemade gift found in a friend's paper letter 

     Our prettiest maple is bowed but not broken. This is how I feel, in February too, sometimes. 

Our bowed maple iced over

     Snug indoors I’ve been turning the pages of very different sorts of books. I keep meeting coincidences. Evidently, sympathetic minds think alike.

Charles Dickens Hard Times
Some winter reading

     After wading through a tedious introduction in Hard Times, where a literary critic warns of it being dark and the weakest of Charles Dickens’ novels, I ventured forth half-heartedly. By chapter-two the pages went limp in my hand. No, I won’t put myself through the depression – not in winter, I decided.

     I closed the book. But I couldn’t ignore Mr. Thomas Gradgrind. He is worth knowing for the pride he takes in a straightforward emphasis to education. The emphasis is familiar to us today – 150 years later! Miss Charlotte Mason refers to it as the “grammar school grind.” 

Highlights of Chapter-one:

     “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to the Facts, Sir!” . . .
. . . The speaker’s obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders, - nay, this very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was, - all helped the emphasis. . .
. . . The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim. *1

Colonial blue stairway - front hall
Late afternoon sun through the transom shines on a print by Bonnie White 

Only One Kind of Food
     On the academic assembly line facts take first place. Convenient for testing, they streamline the business in big classrooms, big schools. Memorize this heap of facts and you’ve really learned something - is the claim. Would these educators find it appalling that their philosophy is akin to Mr. Gradgrind? Probably not.

A paper heart borrowed from a keepsake home school folder dated 1992

     Miss Charlotte Mason believed that knowledge is a state of being, like friendship. I found this concept to be tantalizingly interesting when I first read it. To be knowledgeable is a little like being in love.

On closer inspection you see the hall painting is a cheery winter scene

Oh, I like this red wooden clapboard house
     To become knowledgeable we must have food-for-thought. Yet school children are served meager rations of food-for-thought. What they get instead are dry facts and information. “The mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body,” says Miss Mason.*2

     Along with Charles Dickens, Charlotte Mason finds the Gradgrinds to be unwitting antagonists.  She asks her readers to, “Look at any publisher’s list of school books and you will find that the books recommended are carefully . . . drained of the least suspicion of an idea, reduced to the driest statements of fact.” She sought to put children directly in touch with the best thoughts of the best minds. When is school boring? When once-curious children are left starving for something to think about.

winter chores
Will he skate with the other children after chores?

 “The mind feeds on ideas and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.”
“Varied reading “as well as human thought expressed in the forms of art, is not a luxury, a tid-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life, which they must have in abundant portions and at regular periods.” *3

Padding the Facts
     Facts are needed. My son loves science facts – still. Yet, there are different ways of dealing with them. One is to memorize as many as possible. This is accomplished with incentives: grades, games, competition, prizes, awards, food and entertainment.
A curious rabbit lives dangerously
     There is a better way.

     Clothe facts in literary language. Living books, with their “great amount of padding,” are necessary for giving children the opportunity to dig out facts for themselves. Books of literary power have, too, a sprinkling of ideas - woven neatly and colorfully, often by way of a story-aspect. Children find them interesting.  
     Let’s delve. Let’s look into the background of the discoveries in history and science. Let’s consider the interpretations of creative minds through: prose, poetry, music, plays, painting, sculpture, or architecture. The “great amount of padding” gives us something to think - and care - about.  

nature notebook in winter
Yolanda's nature notebook when drawing subjects were scarce

Fact Detection
     In a journal entry dated November 13, 1958, the American teacher John Holt, wrote, “Kids have trouble with arithmetic, not only because they have to memorize a host of facts that seem to have no pattern, meaning, or interest, but also because they are given a host or rules for manipulating these facts, which they have to take on faith. . . .” He found the Cuisenaire rods helpful. Not only do they “enable the child to discover, by himself, how to carry out certain operations, but also that they enable him to satisfy himself that these operations really work, really describe what happens.”

     Charlotte Mason and John Holt opened their eyes to how the streamline teach-and-test method is a routine that hinders real learning. Mr. Holt saw symptoms of the grammar school grind in his classroom. “I have . . . seen children crank out right answers to problems without the faintest idea of what they were doing. They are blind recipe followers. Some can even parrot back my explanations, but again without knowing what they mean.” *4 He gives us an illustration. What good is it if a child can memorize all the names of the streets in his town – yet is not given - and cannot follow - a route from one place to another? To pile facts one on top of another doesn’t mean we are empowering children with useful knowledge. 

Pocketful of Pinecones
Sophia's water color of a scene from A Pocketful of Pinecones

The Art of Knowing
     In his June 20, 1960 entry, John Holt suggests a handful of unconventional ways for testing understanding. You can imagine my a-ha moment when I read what was first on the list. Most obvious to him was to “ask the student to state something in his own words.”*5 The Charlotte-Mason-minded reader is giving a nod of her head. It is by narrating that children do the work of digging out facts and ideas. The effort a student puts into forming a narration self-teaches – and it demonstrates understanding. You can see the beauty of how and why this works in the narration chapters of A Charlotte Mason Companion. 

     My children also enjoyed hands-on learning. Drawing is a kind of narration. Nature study is hands-on. So is doing a phonics lesson with movable letters and understanding math concepts with math manipulatives. This keeps the lessons light and meaningful.

     Touch, hold, move, create, build, experiment, try this out, is learning by doing. While the doing is “hands-on” the mind is “right-on”:

I wonder. . .
What does this make?
If I do this . . .
How would this work?
I’ll try this.
Will it work again if I . . ?
Oh, I see.

     "Mom. Look. I made j-e-t,” says the little boy pointing to his movable letters – a little boy who finds cause and effect - magical. The same little boy takes a measuring tape his mother gives him from out of her sewing box and bee-bops around the house with it, measuring things and calling out the number of inches to her. Can you tell I’ve been getting reports on the telephone about my grandson?

Nigel's quick pencil sketch 

Persons, Not Parrots
     Children are persons - not parrots. I can’t resist sharing one more coincidence with you from my winter reading. 

     In Jonathan and Sarah I was met with the subject of fact-swallowing yet again. Further back in time, in the mid 18th century, Jonathon Edwards was investigating the school situation within his realm of responsibility. He was concerned when he discovered that the Mohawk Indians, who were being taught to read English, had no comprehension. The children could “read words accurately but with no sense of their meaning. He was fired with a vision to start a method of teaching reading according to his own ideas . . . His logical mind balked at parrot learning. He felt more time should be spent helping the children understand thoughts.”

     In his own words Jonathan Edwards (who later became the president of Princeton University) says,

“This will be a rational way of teaching. Assisting the child’s reason enables him to see the use, and end, and result of reading, at the same time that he takes pains from day to day to read. It is the way also to accustom the child from its infancy to think and reflect, and beget in it an early taste for knowledge, and a regular increasing appetite for it.” *6

     I rejoiced in these coincidences.
foggy day, Valentine sun catcher
A corner of the parlor during the power-outage - The green is so appreciated
     Keep sauntering through your living books with their “great amount of padding” (Miss Mason’s words) and other learning experiences. It is a labor of love due by-and-by to show itself in happy consequences. 

Give us this day our daily bread.

Karen Andreola

End Notes
Click any image to enlarge. 

*1  Charles Dickens, Hard Times, 1854, Chapter One
*2  Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, 1925, page 105
*3  Ibid, page 111
*4  John Holt, How Children Fail, Dell Pub, 1964, page 107
*5  Ibid, page136
*6  Edna Gerstner, Jonathon and Sarah – An Uncommon Union - A Novel Based on the Family of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards (The Stockbridge Years, 1750-1758), Soli Deo Gloria Pub, 1995 (out-of-print) pages 45 - 46