Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmastime, 3 Lesser-known Films, 1 Book

Christmastime, 3 Lesser-known Films, 1 Book
Landis Valley

Dean and I watched an old movie recently that I quickly warmed up to.

"Our Vines Have Tender Grapes" is so sweet I plan to share it with my grandchildren.

Acting extravagantly, I bought the DVD.

I photographed it surrounded by my tiny fabric yo-yo garland that I added more yo-yos to recently.

While I was standing in the kitchen over Thanksgiving holiday telling Sophia about it, ending with "I got the DVD," I heard a funny little echo emanating from the next room. It came from the munchkin mouth of 2-year-old Eloise. Learning to talk, she regularly repeats the word she hears at the tail end of a sentence. I thought I heard, "No DVD." I asked her mother, "Did you hear that?"
Sophia said,"Yes, I guess she was born in the computer age, the generation of no DVDs."

Landis Valley's roomy Yellow Barn where wedding receptions are held. 
Landis Valley, work horse
This film is a slice of Americana. It takes place during the course of one year, 1945, in a small farm community of Norwegian immigrants in Wisconsin.

One farming couple (not too young) have one child, little Selma. We see the story through Selma's eyes.

Father-daughter heart-to-heart talks crop up. Selma has an inquiring mind. She isn't afraid to ask questions about her world. She trusts her father will never say, "I don't know. Go ask your mother, I'm busy."

He came up to Dean to have his photo taken. So Dean did.

He stops to answer Selma, recognizing her questions to be valuable teaching moments when he can sensitively impart truth to her.

Meanwhile our young men are going overseas to fight for freedom. At home, people are fighting for freedom and the American way-of-life in their own humble hard-working way.

Christmastime brings the community to church to worship Christ the newborn King.

Why am I smitten with this film? The loving kindness and generosity of the characters during a trying time, is very touching. 

One of the little books I in my Christmast stash is Let's Keep Christmas, illustrated by Barbara Cooney in 1952.This uplifting sermon by Peter Marshall takes five minutes to read and is a pleasant way to end an evening.
Landis Valley, Children making a snowman.Grandma watches while she sweeps the porch.
Dean's mother Esther, once told me about a new friend she made. This lady was in her nineties and quite frail. She told Esther that her pastor in years gone by, was Peter Marshall. But Esther hadn't heard of him. A week later this lady went to be with Jesus but had evidently (just prior) asked her daughter to send Esther the book, A Man Called Peter written by his wife Catherine Marshall, author of Christie. The daughter handed the book to Esther a day after her mother's decease. Both friends are with Jesus now. We never know who God will bring in our path, when, or where. One life, if it is a life of kindness, will always in some way touch another in an uplifting way.

My daughter Yolanda makes delicious treats at holiday time. She made us some ginger bread.

One of the fun fairy-tale-like Christmastime films I used to have on VHS is "The Snowman." The music is gorgeous. It is based on a picture book by Raymond Briggs. (The Snowman's nose is a tangerine.)

I told a young mother about this British film produced in the 1980s because she hadn't heard of it so I thought to recommend it here.

The snowman (like Frosty the Snowman) has magic powers that enable him to fly through the air and take the boy who built him to the North Pole. There the snowman introduces the boy to Father Christmas. What a delight! They join a merry party. Then they fly home. You can guess the end of the story because you know what happens to all snowmen.

It is a silent film with a dream-like quality (the boy wakes up from a dream) but the music in this pantomime blends-in well and enhances the plot. Your children will be riveted.   

Here's another film that is a slice of Americana. It claims to be true. The story was made public originally in a magazine article. "All Mine to Give" is filled with hope. A young immigrant couple from Scotland (with bonnie accents) carve out a life for themselves in the 19th century, among a community of God fearing people in the mid-west.

Dad makes sure Mom has a pump inside their log cabin - quite an innovation in those days. They love each other dearly but their relationship is humorously "real." Dad sees life through the wisdom of poet Robert Burns. Sickness eventually takes both hard-working parents and leaves their six children orphaned. What becomes of the children?

When Dean and I watched it before I knew what was happening my face became wet with tears. The children are so cute, especially on Christmas Day. You'll need a tissue box to take care of a whirlpool of different emotions in the final scene.

This is my take. Loving kindness is not possible without a degree of sympathy, courage, service, and generosity. You'll find all five virtues tucked inside this true story. Warner Brother's trailer of the film can be found on YouTube.

Landis Valley model of the yellow barn.
Although the world, through its easy acceptance of secular humanism, would like to believe we can be good without God, both films (to their credit) "Our Vines Have Tender Grapes" and "All Mine to Give," drop clues for us to follow. In reality it is the life of Christ that trains the conscience and most deeply inspires the hearts of people, to do the work necessary for living unselfishly.

May we all aspire to be more like our Lord.

 End Notes
For easy access to read more about the resources above, I link them here.

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes

Lets Keep Christmas

The Snowman

All Mine to Give

A Man Called Peter by Catherine Marshall. This is the award-winning film based on the book.

Ginger cookies at Landis Valley 
Every Christmas Blessing Be Yours,
Karen Andreola                                         

Monday, November 13, 2017

Classroom Not Required

Classroom Not Required
A Little News First
"I've been unable to keep up with my blog of late," I said to a friend. She suggested shorter pieces. We'll see if I'm capable. But first, since it's been years, I'll share a little news. . . . 

A photo - not "staged." Sophia often finds her Eloise here with dolls and picture book.
After a summer of freelance writing it felt good to click "Send." 12 articles and more than 55 hand-picked Charlotte Mason quotations went flying through the airways to Simply Charlotte Mason. Come spring their 2018-2019 school-year calendar will be for sale, written by yours truly. I've been doing guest writing and "other writing," too, during a pretty fall. I took a week to re-write the piece "What is Mother Culture" and clicked "Update" here on this blog. 

I was asked to speak out-of-state. I feel honored. But I had to decline. My chronic pain, due to an over-active immune system, is worse. I am, however, learning to manage. I'm not curled up on the sofa thinking one more month of rest will make my small-fiber-neuropathy go away. Slow-breathing helps with unannounced waves of anxiety that accompany these sorts of ailments. I let nothing get in the way of my morning exercises. I do them with worship music playing in the background and with sunshine filling the room. Colorful fruits and veggies are on my plate. Keeping country hours also helps me "hang in there."

Dean is retired. It was difficult accepting early retirement due to his own ailment. His working career was more than 45 years. As a boy he hauled potatoes and gave change at the produce shop next-door. He worked in the public library during high school and managed the reference-desk in the days before Google. He worked in a steel plant in his young manhood (in the days of U.S. manufacturing). After Bible college he worked in publishing and did freelance writing. I have the advantage of tapping his well-seasoned brain when I run into the complexities associated with book distribution in our modern age.

Our son, Nigel, who has gradually improved since his initial bout of RSD, keeps himself busy with his wacom tablet and pen. With it he creates art and music on computer. His graphics and musical compositions are for hire. He built a business website: Feel free to inquire.

I thought he'd be well enough to drive a car again by now. Not yet. But it's a goal. Moving forward, he does his own set of strength training.

Free Talk
Getting close to being out-of-stock of the Mother Culture CD, I've made the talk FREE on YouTube.

It begins and ends with a peek at the piano music Nigel composed. He illustrated it with rabbit-musicians for the cover of his up-coming album of soft music.

After being asked our opinion as to design, his sisters and I told him, "Make it cute."

The Friendly Album
Relaxing music for naptime and study.

You may sign up to be notified when the album comes available.

Classroom Not Required
Although I am fond of the birds that inhabit our woods, and miss them this time of year, it's still hard for me to fathom the depth of admiration the French immigrant Mr. Audubon had for America's birds. It's exhilarating to read his story, about his unwavering pursuit of knowledge – to observe birds in their habitats. What a lofty goal of drawing every one of them and as accurately as possible!

Not too long ago I read the children's biography, The Story of John J. Audubon by Joan Howard (published 1954). My children read it silently during our homeschool years. I doubt I'll ever catch up with the amount of books they read.  

Lucky for me, my old book has the dust cover intact. For, when I was finished reading the story I read about the author on the back flyleaf. Joan Howard was an American. Her childhood, however, was "spent in places as far apart as England, Alaska, and India." Her family "never stopped in any place long." How interesting to learn that she was home-taught. I am assuming she was, for it said, "most of her education was acquired more from reading than from formal schooling, though she did go to college."*1

A light came on when I read this. This is the identical combination that many home taught children are given today – and they do go to college. The freedom to read whole books, rather than the compendiums made for classroom-convenience is one advantage. The pleasure of varied experiences is another. Observing and getting to know the people, places, and wildlife within reach helps immensely in establishing relations.

Yes. Being in books and out of the restrictions of a crowded classroom, during the early years of one's education, has glorious advantages. Joan Howard probably saw and heard many strange and new things in the far-away places where she lived. Maybe even exciting strange things. These novelties were probably talked about around the family supper table, adding to her education. It is interesting, too, that being in books she gradually became a writer of them.

The school-ish ploys born of the typically large classroom, get in the way of student developing a friendship with knowledge, for establishing relations with books and things. When it comes to schoolwork, she tells her students in Ourselves how very important this friendship is. She personifies knowledge as “she" like the writer of Proverbs personifies "wisdom" as "she." 

"People employ themselves . . . about Mathematics, Poetry, History, in a feverish, eager way - not at all for the love of these things, but for the sake of [grade], prize, or place, or reward . . . But Knowledge has her own prizes, and these she reserves for her lovers. It is only so far as Knowledge is dear to us and delights us for herself, that she yields us lifelong joy and contentment. He who delights in her, not for the sake of showing off, and not for the sake of excelling others, but just because she is so worth to be loved cannot be unhappy. He says, 'my mind to me a kingdom is'*2 -and, however unsatisfactory things are in his outer life, he retires into that kingdom and is entertained and delighted by the curious, beautiful, and wonderful things he has stored within." *3

Post Script
You may have heard of Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey. This New England fairy tale based on a doll with a hickory nut as a head and talking woodland creatures, is one I picked up and read again not long ago.

It's a favorite of our home-learning years. I find it delightful even as an adult. The story begins in the autumn, breaks for Christmas (with a traditional New England brief whimsical scene of animals peacefully gathering at a creche at midnight) and finishes in springtime with a comical, fanciful ending.

Some may not like to mix folk tale with a Biblical truth. I understand.

In a used a brick-a-brack shop, I spotted another story by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey, bought it and read it. It takes place in rural small-town-America (early 1950s). This two-room schoolhouse is a different kind of classroom. It's one that extends into everyday living. The children, with initiative and team-work are enterprising. They scheme at fixing up the schoolhouse, keeping track of their nickle-and-dime earnings for "arithmetic."

Closing the book, the old-fashioned word "capitalism" came to mind, with its investment of creativity and elbow-grease (a microcosm of "nation building" - something we American's never used to apologize for). It left me with a good feeling. It is only charitable capitalism at the hands of a great many free-enterprising people turning-a-small-profit, that makes high taxes and big government unnecessary. Although such basic economics is intentional untaught in schools today, (as public school follows a form of socialist manifesto) this is the America I understand. If you find The Little Red Schoolhouse, buy it to preserve its American way-of-thinking for future generations. Grandmothers tend to be opinionated.

She likes "dress-up" and is Holly Hobby here.
Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey is linked here to Amazon. Most libraries have it.

Landmark Books, such as The Story of John J. Audubon, are mostly out-of-print but can be found by scavenging.

End Notes
*1 Joan Howard, The Story of John J. Audubon, back flyleaf (A Landmark Book). 
*2 "My Mynd to Me a Kingdome is" (original-spelling) - the title and first line of a poem by Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607)
*3 Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, Book One, pg 78-79

Thanks for visiting,
Karen Andreola

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Another Cadillac Course?

Another Cadillac Course?

You might recall the homeschool product reviews the Andreolas wrote. Who knew anything about the quantity of stuff we didn’t review?     No one.    Until now.

Letting the dishes soak I decided to tackle instead, the box that sat on a chair at the far end of the kitchen table. I tucked some hair behind an ear. I straightened my glasses. I meant business. I always gave boxes of sample curriculum a sober and honest appraisal.

Landis Valley. The white doors lead to the basement. 
This time, it was a science curriculum. Wow. What large, beautiful photographs of the animal kingdom and their habitats. The kit came with two thick, hardcover textbooks; shiny and durable enough to last 100 years. The teacher’s book contained the identical text of the student’s book but with an added paragraph or two. This way the teacher could be “one-up” on the animal at hand. Why? Was the added information too difficult for a child to comprehend? Too boring? The text was expected to be livened-up by the teacher. The teacher’s edition said it was “an aid to formulating lectures.”

Our wild rabbits eat dogwood berries for breakfast.
It supplied dozens of questions on each animal. Added to this was a pack of animal-fact-check cards, a softcover quiz book and test book. 

It was an expensive package, impressively school-ish in the modern-classroom sense of the word. 

Following this course who could possibly say a child wasn’t doing school? (Charlotte Mason. That’s who?)

My decision was firm. I would not review it. Time to wash the dishes.

At the sink I stood. Motionless. Mesmerized. I was staring out the window, a wet dishcloth in my hand. I wasn’t looking at anything outside. It was dark. I was seeing something in my mind’s eye. I saw a young mother, new-to-homeschooling, less-than-confident, well-meaning, hardworking, tired. I could relate. I’d been there. A little whirlwind of emotions swirled within me. It rose to the surface and I sighed just as Man-of-the-House entered the room. He wanted to know what was the matter. 
I finished a little quilt for a bedroom wall with early American scenes and scrappy stars.

“It’s this new fancy-dancy Cadillac course,” I blurted out, my back to him. I began filling the dishwasher. “It involves hours upon hours of teacher-preparation for giving lectures, a sort of spoiler, you-might-call-it, because much of the same information is repeated . . . as it’s supposed to be read by the student afterward. Then, repeated for the quiz. And repeated again for the test. It’s riddled with review questions, multiple choice, cross-word puzzles . . . and those dreadful match-the-columns.”

“I always hated those,” he said. “Are they meant to throw a child off?”

“I dunno,” I said weakly. But I revved up again. “The quizzes teach for the test. It all goes to substantiate a final grade. I can just see it.”   

“See what?” he said.

It's mushroom season in our front garden. 
“I can see this classroom busy-work, marketed to homeschoolers, leading to burn-out in Mother and tedium in student - if followed exactly as the course objectives advise,” I said, eyes widening. 

“And conscientious moms wanting the best for their children, who’ve just spent 300 dollars on it, might do just that – attempt to do it all

If all her courses are the biggest and best, the family will be doing “school” ‘till 5 o’clock. (I almost said “midnight," which on second thought, might not have been too inaccurate.)  

“So . . . this kit has all the earmarks of what Charlotte Mason advised NOT to do?” the Man-of-the-House asked, knowing the answer.

“Yup,” I said, emptying the sink of the last fork. I rinsed the sink of all its suds and squeezed out the dishcloth with unusual vigor.

When I finally turned around, I saw the Man-of-the-House squinting down at the books and rubbing his beard. He, too, was impressed with the pictures. He said, “A committee of Ph.Ds wrote this course, you know.”

I made a little face. 

He missed this. He was still reading. “Hmm . . . it’s as if the writing has no voice. It’s impersonal. Like a computer wrote it . . . not a person enthused with his subject.” He paused while he drew his conclusion. “It requires a gallon of teaching, doesn’t it?” He smiled at me.

“Yup,” I said, smiling back. Hanging up the tea towel for the night it struck me how glad I was for a husband who understood. Softened by this thought, I put a hand on his arm. 

“Okay. That’s that,” he said. 

There was one thing left to do. 

Knowing how much I disliked cardboard boxes strewn about the place, he carried the impressive-looking course to the basement. 

There it sat. Until it was given away with boxes of other material that had had their turn at cluttering up our keeping-room that year – our last year of writing catalog reviews.

Young George Herbert (Christian Poet) and Mother. Painting by Charles West Cope
A Different Story
One day, Charlotte Mason observed a PNEU class of girls, age 13, read an essay on George Herbert with 3 or 4 poems included. None of the girls had read either the essay or the poems before. They narrated in full paragraphs. 

“No point made by the poet was omitted and his exact words were used pretty freely,” Miss Mason says. “The teacher made comments upon one or two unusual words and that was all. To explain or enforce (other than by a reverently sympathetic manner, the glance and words that showed that she too, cared), would have been impertinent.”
“It is an interesting thing,” she says, “that hundreds of children of the same age [following the PNEU syllabus] . . . scattered over the world, read and narrated the same essay and no doubt paraphrased the verses with equal ease. I felt humbled before the children knowing myself incapable of such immediate and rapid apprehension of several pages of new matter . . . In such ways, the great thoughts of great thinkers illuminate children and they grow in knowledge, chiefly the knowledge of God.”

Yet usually, the work of education, she says, “is drowned in torrents of talk, in tedious repetition, . . . in every sort of way in which the mind may be bored and the affections deadened.” *1
Read the living book. Narrate. This is mostly what’s necessary. But it’s a BIG necessary. Children are brought up acquiring powers of self-education, by this method. They want opportunity and direction. Not mental gymnastics for storing information. Rather, their mind comes alive when it ponders ideas conveyed in literary language. Are the children free to make their own associations, follow a train-of-thought, draw conclusions? This is how persons truly become knowledgeable. By it, they enter a state of knowledge, like friendship.

Dean fondly remembers "Stones & Minerals" from his boyhood.

Example: “Tell (or add to your notebook) what you’ve learned about Australia’s amazing kangaroo from its birth to adulthood. Draw a series of 3-4 illustrations for it.” An ounce of teaching, for a gallon of learning. Not the other way around.

Today, some call this “minimalist-homeschooling.” Call it what you like. I call it “The Gentle Art of Learning.”
Label stitched to back of quilt written in fine point laundry marker. 

End Notes
For preparation for year-end tests children need to be familiar with multiple-choice. Sample test-booklets are available and can be worked a month or two before the test, 10 minutes a day. But mostly, multiple choice can take a back seat.  

*1 Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, pages 64-65 (Italics mine)

Comments are Welcome,
Karen Andreola

(I'm working on the log-cabin table runner at present. Nice to have you for a visit.) 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Story Hand-Me-Downs

Story Hand-Me-Downs

I'm squirreling away gifts into the Christmas-Closet and knitting mittens.

A small pile of books is forming. I noticed something they share in common. They recall true events. What a strange coincidence. I'm guessing that if an adult finds the events interesting, a child would, too.

People of all ages enjoy (and can learn something) from a well-written picture-book.

Out of the Woods - A True Story of an Unforgettable Event by Rebecca Bond is a brand new hardcover. What beautiful illustrations! (Pen & ink with color wash.)

This gentle story was handed down by the author's grandfather. An old photograph of him as a boy is in the "Author's Note" - surrounded by the mittens I made for my 3 grandchildren.

The author's grandfather.   Mittens for my grandchildren.
The setting is the woods of Ontario, Canada, 1914. Young Antonio's mother runs a hotel for lumber jacks and trappers. With no other children nearby Antonio pokes his nose into the goings-on of the hotel and wanders in the woods. During a forest fire a remarkable event brings people and animals together. (Pub. 2015)

Pages inside "Out of the Woods"
I purchased a used copy of Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnell. Although the story is fictionalized the historical facts are accurate. Five-year-old May Pierstorff really was mailed from Graneville to Lewiston, Idaho the winter of 1914.

May would like to spend some time with her grandmother but a railroad ticket would cost a full day's wage for her father. He can't afford that. But May's parents come up with an idea. Mail May. Because she, with her suitcase, weighs under 50 pounds, she is classified as a baby chick. Her uncle Leonard works in the postal car. He could easily watch over this special live parcel. The train's conductor approves it.

Pages inside "Mailing May"
The author gathered his facts from museums and word-of-mouth, included May's son. Mr.Tunnell wrote his book to show that ordinary people can come up with creative ways to solve a problem. The illustrations are richly saturated in color with accurate details of the period. (Pub. 1997)

Just before sitting down to write about The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds, Dean shared a bit of news. The thought had already crossed my mind that it is doubtful whether The Matchlock Gun would win a Newberry Award today.

Society thinks differently than it did in 1942. Therefore, when the news reached my ears it seconded my suspicions. Today, general opinion seems to be that guns are bad.

To those, however, who believe in the right to self-defense, the 2nd amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and small government, guns are not bad. It is violent people and big, tyrannical governments that are bad.

The news? Yale University decided to cover up an offensive musket held by a Puritan. (I googled. A group of 500 Puritans founded Yale in 1638.) In this carved stone relief on the outside of the Yale library, the musket is pointing in the direction of an Indian. The arrow, grasped in the Indian's hand, pointing toward the Puritan, is not covered up. Clay was used to cover-up the musket. This way future generations might find it (and see how far we've progressed to becoming a gun-free, 2nd-amendment-free society?)

Pages inside "The Matchlock Gun"  Antique doll quilt
It's Colonial America in The Matchlock Gun. Young Edward's father is away defending a village near Albany, New York, from an Indian raid. Edward, his mother and little sister, are home. Near the end of the story Edward (frightened but brave) is forced to use drastic measures.

His mother is being chased up the hill and to the door of their cabin by an attacking Indian. Edward, in the kitchen, stands behind his grandfather's heavy antique Spanish gun (that is propped up on the table). He has one shot.

He fires just as the Indian strikes his mother in the shoulder with a tomahawk. Mother is wounded. The Indian dies. The boy saves his mother's life. (No red blood is depicted.) (Pub. 1941)

The author's story was handed down to him as part of his personal family heritage.

This rooster pin-cushion has wings.  Missouri Star Quilt Co. has a chicken pin cushion tutorial.
I'm uncertain whether Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco is a memory from the author's childhood. But it seems so. She dedicates it to her Babushka Carle and writes in first-person, starting with: "On sultry summer days at my grandma's farm in Michigan . . .

Dean and I went bonkers at this enormous used-book sale this summer.
A Russian-immigrant grandmother deals cleverly with her granddaughter's fear of thunder. As a summer thunderstorm approaches Grandma relies upon her granddaughter's help to make a Thunder Cake. The granddaughter is busy collecting eggs from the hen house, milk from the cow, an over-rip tomato from the garden. Yes, a tomato. The cake must be made during a thunderstorm for it to be authentic Thunder Cake. By the time the cake is in the oven and the table is set, thunder is loudly crashing overhead. But when the cake is cool and frosted it is delicious; a tangible proof of  bravery.

A recipe for Thunder Cake, a chocolate tomato layer cake, is found in on a back page. 15 years ago, after being intrigued by a muffin recipe in Joy of Cooking, with the "secret ingredient" of tomato, I made a dozen. They were good. Therefore, it wouldn't surprise me if Thunder Cake was tasty, too. (Pub. 1990) I picked up a used copy.

Our herb garden around the back patio
Post Script
Zucchini burgers with garden herbs smell delicious while cooking.

When summer brings zucchini, I make vegetarian burgers. A gluten-free, bell pepper-free batch for the Man-of-the-House. A batch with "the works" for me includes finely grated carrot. Yum.

A generous helping of minced herbs from the patio garden add flavor: chive, oregano, sweet basil, thyme, parsley. I cook the burgers in butter and olive oil until brown and crispy on the outside, but creamy-soft inside.

The parsley is store-bought. (Can you see why?) Peter Rabbit lives in the back yard. Benjamin Bunny lives in the front yard. They love parsley. And leave none for us. Dean noticed that finicky Peter won't touch the Italian herbs. "I wonder if the rabbits in Italy have acquired a taste for them," I said "I hope our rabbits never do."

The Doll Quilt
The little blue-and-yellow quilt is an antique doll quilt presented to me by a family we invited for lasagna dinner. It was a sweet and thoughtful surprise. At close inspection I see it was a young girl who hand quilted it because the quilting stitches are wobbly. Cute. I wonder what her doll looked like.

The Mennonite Historical Society raises money each year with this enormous used-book sale out on their lawn. Some of the books fit under a tent. We found armfuls of gems.

Books reviewed are linked to Amazon.

Happy Reading,
Karen Andreola

Typing-in my e-mail reduces spam. Thank you. 

Tiny oregano flowers fill-out my little bouquet nicely.