Saturday, August 29, 2015

Another new book!

The Plutarch Project, Volume One is now up on Amazon. More on my book blog.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Treehouse Photos

Cookies, for a group here tonight 
 Tomatoes from the garden, going in spaghetti sauce tonight
New-to-us table and chairs. What do you think?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Old habits (Not-Back-to-Homeschool Week, Last of Three)

I like it when good things turn up in strange places.

I've been working through William Zinsser's Writing to Learn, and last night I got to his chapter "Man, Woman and Child," about writing in the social sciences. All through the book Zinsser includes examples of good writing in each academic area; but in this chapter, he tells about how his own interest in anthropology began. In the 1950's, he was working as a journalist and was required to attend Broadway performances as part of his job. (What a hard-knock life.) One night he saw a performance by some Balinese dancers, and he was so fascinated that he decided to take his next vacation in Bali. This is what he found:
"...I made my way up into the hills to the village of Pliatan. The musicians and dancers who had conquered Broadway had long since come home and were back at their everyday jobs in the rice fields. That's how I found out that the Balinese have almost no concept of 'art.' What I had assumed was their art turned out to be organic to their life...Art, life and religion were intertwined. Children and chickens were everywhere...That was my first view of a unified culture, and I remember how resentful I felt that my own culture didn't have such an enviable wholeness."
 Zinsser says his point (as he sees it) is that we can't take any culture as just "quaint," and that writing about anthropology is serious business. Unfortunately, that leads in to a skippable "cultural" example about evil spirits, but we'll let that go; I'm more interested in his story about Bali.

That word "organic" has popped up more than once over the last couple of years, and not in a health-food sense; it means a wholeness of life, and (to put it in educational terms), a unity of knowledge and thought. I've said this before, but it's why homeschool "retirees" don't stop thinking about learning, whether we're surrounded by Balinese dancers, children and chickens, or by just keeping up with the laundry and our young-adult offspring. Brother Lawrence had the right idea--prayer functions in the midst of bustle and clatter...and also in the quiet times. Our lives are as real in the supermarket and in a chance to talk with the neighbours, as on the stage, or as (for some of us) in or out of the schoolroom. None of it is perfect, but it is all what we are given to do.

The final Brother Cadfael novel centers around his making a very hard decision. For personal reasons, he chooses to disobey orders and, basically, go AWOL so that he can help someone he cares about. He knows that if he does this, he may never be allowed back in the monastery. The identity he has shaped for years can be torn away by a quick decision. At an earlier point in his life, remaining in the cloister would have meant everything to him, might have been the right choice; but now an act of love is more important than hanging on to position and approval. In the end (spoiler), all is resolved and he is, happily, welcomed back. But even if he hadn't been, we get the impression that it would have been okay either way. He was who he was, whether he had his hair tonsured and wore a habit, or not.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Not-Back-to-Homeschool Week, Part Two

Some thoughts on what we do when we homeschool:

I've said here before, somewhere, that when my mother taught school, she always had her eye open for classroom pictures, clippings, anything that might not come her way again. My dad, a collector of British royalty memorabilia, did the same. Even when I started homeschooling, well after the age of photocopying, it wasn't uncommon to have people trying to pass on sets of prepared "ditto masters" for spirit duplicators. You might not find a reproducible map of the Hebrides again, you know? It was like preparing for a possible rubber-band famine.

Most of us eventually stopped the picture/map hoarding, especially when Google Image and all the rest of it came along. But in another sense, being a homeschooling parent is still very much about preparing, thinking ahead, collecting, storing--even if it's mostly virtual or just in your head. As long as you have at least another year to go, you stay in travel mode, looking at what's coming up next and thinking about where you might land tomorrow, picking up a basket of apples for snacks, looking up campground ratings, and trying to balance "getting there" with enjoying the journey. For me, it's been a twenty-year habit of keeping my eyes peeled at yard sales and liquidation stores; checking out online freebies; and looking at museum ads with the word "field trip" at the front of my brain.

Not so different from my mom.

And right now, although I still do have an almost-ninth grader (so we're not done with school years and all that goes with that), I am beginning to have a sense of finally bringing the suitcases in and unpacking.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Half price books from the thrift store, and a larger find

A trip to the thrift store, and some extra deals on books: Evelyn Waugh, Oswald Chambers, and Nancy Pearcey.

Plus...we bought a table and six chairs, to be delivered. (Yes, thrift shops deliver.) Less vintage than ours, but (hopefully) more comfortable.

Quote for the day: The model of the Incarnation

"It seems fair to say that the model of how to be in the world ought to be Christ himself. In the doctrine of the Incarnation Christians understand Jesus to be fully human and fully divine. All of the heresies and errors that afflict the church...can be measured by their tendency to stress either the human or the divine dimensions at the expense of the other." ~~ Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

Monday, August 17, 2015

Redeeming the Time (Not-Back-to-Homeschool Week, Part One)

Things I am not doing this week:

Planning school schedules
Worrying about French lessons
Looking for field trip ideas
Signing school board papers (they haven't sent any yet this year anyway)
Writing blog posts about school plans.

Things I am doing this week:

Putting final touches on a second e-book project
Working with online and local friends who are getting ready to start a new homeschool year.
Wondering if baby kangaroos really do care about hugging teddy bears
Reading Beauty Will Save the World by Gregory Wolfe (because it arrived suddenly through inter-library loan, and you don't get renewals)
Trying to use up a lot of cherry tomatoes
Rounding up a few school supplies for Lydia to put in her new backpack
Rounding up moral support and mom-advice to go along with the school supplies (yes, I agree, you need a pair of sneakers because three-inch heels are not a good choice when you're running for the bus)


Words I am thinking about:

"I've found some consolation in the thought that Dante's pilgrimage doesn't really begin at mid-life; in a sense, he's been on a pilgrimage all along." (Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World)

"My own vocation, as I have come to understand it, is to explore the relationship between religion, art, and culture in order to discover how the imagination may 'redeem the time.'" (same)

What that makes me think:

Everybody asks me lately what I'm going to be "doing." The implication is, what is I'm doing to redeem the time, or otherwise justify what until recently was fairly justifiable? If I said "reading library books," I would expect some raised eyebrows. "Making cherry tomato pasta?" Maybe okay. "Mound of laundry?" That's usually acceptable. "Going on pilgrimage?" Unexpected, at least

But this pilgrimage is the one I've been on all along.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Quote for the day: echoes of Frye

Gregory Wolfe seems to echo Northrop Frye here:

"...I am now convinced that authentic renewal can only emerge out of the imaginative visions of the artist and the mystic. This does not mean that I have withdrawn into some anti-intellectual Palace of Art. Rather, it involves the conviction that politics and rhetoric...are shaped by the pre-political roots of culture: myth, metaphor, and spiritual experience as recorded by the artist and the saint." ~~ Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why I can't read self-help books anymore

One summer during university, I remember there being a sort of tuck shop or newspaper stand right outside (or inside, I can't remember) our apartment building. All that matters about that was that I found it hard to go past the booth  after work without picking up a chocolate bar, especially one of those "thick" ones that had recently appeared on the candy racks. And paying for it out of my spindly minimum wage paycheque. It was a temporary habit that died out naturally when the summer sublet was up and I moved somewhere without a too-handy newspaper stand.

A couple of years later, I found I had acquired another, slightly more expensive habit: self-help books. "P" personality types love them, and I was going through enough angst at the time that I felt I needed their (relatively) cheap, if often contradictory therapy. Assert yourself, forgive everyone, stay away from toxic people, mend fences. Wear the right colours. Find your temperament. Drink herbal tea. Stop being a packrat. You are a special person. You are just like everyone else.

Actually that last one was true in the sense that, just like everyone else, I was trying to find the answers to life in the next overpriced book from Coles or Lichtman's, or from the Christian bookstore. Sometimes I did pick up useful advice, but more often I just read them and went on in the same old way, until the next book "fix" popped up.

All that was a very long time ago, and my need (and time) for personal-type self-help books slid away as life got busier and I found myself just doing whatever I had to do. Recently, though, I've been in a position where I thought a (public-library based) self-help book fix wouldn't be a bad thing. I'm at the age, I'm at the stage. So I picked up and downloaded a couple of newer books that I thought might be helpful for Women Who Used to be Busy Mommies Now Wondering What to do Next.

The word "crone" somewhere about page three should have been enough warning. I quit reading the "women's book" less than halfway through. The "happy homemaker" book, likewise.

It's not that my ego is so superinflated that I think I can't learn from someone else's wise words. It's just that, I think, I'm looking in the wrong Dewey number. The trouble with most self-help books is that they're like someone handing you a can of paint and a brush, or maybe a journal and a gel pen, and hoping that the tools themselves will give you an epiphany. I think the truth about life is out there, but it's out there in a lot of other places. You have to do some travelling, some collecting, then maybe come back and figure out what to put into the journal.

I'm going back to my "regular station" (a.k.a. a long want-to-read list). Ironically, my favourite book right now is John Ciardi's translation of The Divine Comedy, a journey through heaven, hell, and places in between. Virgil must have been the original self-help tour guide.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Quote for the day, on the writing of sentences

"What does preoccupy me is the plain declarative sentence. How have we managed to hide it from so much of the population?...Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly should be able to write clearly--about any subject at all...by breaking the ideas down into logical units, called sentences, and putting one sentence after another." ~~ Willliam Zinsser, Writing to Learn

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Bookoverts? Book-roverts?

In some of the AmblesideOnline posts leading up to the retreat, people were talking about their personality types, and whether they enjoy large, loud groups of people, or if they want to go home and hide in the closet for a week afterwards. Extroverts, introverts.

Well, if extroverts get charged up on being around other people, and introverts recharge with solitude, is there a word for people who need a frequent plugin with books? I have been working all spring and summer putting words out, mainly on the computer, and what I really want to do this month is drink some iced tea and read The Divine Comedy. I need words back in, in a large dose.

There is a website called Bookovert, but I've never seen Book-rovert used. Take whichever you prefer.


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

This box of books is different

Who'd have thought?
Now if I ever find one in the thrift store...that will be the day I laugh the longest.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hymns to Fireworks: (Indiana Journey, last day)

Sunday was kind of an incredible day all round. It started with hymn singing in Indiana and ended with fireworks in Toronto.

Image from the Toronto Star, because my photos weren't nearly that good. You can see a video at this link.

The hymn singing wasn't technically part of the retreat--it was just how those of us hosting (plus a couple of friends) spent the last while together. (Reminiscent of the big carol sing in A Muppet Family Christmas.) Highlight of the goodbyes (you need there to be a laugh when you are asunder parting): one of the moms was doing her usual silly-deep-voice dog-to-English interpreting for Ronan the Giant Dog, and her toddler started mimicking her. She really nailed the deep voice.

A small group of us got dropped off at the Chicago airport mid-afternoon, and I had the option of taking an earlier flight than my ticket said. That was fine by me, so after we shared pizza and goodbyes, I headed off to my gate and got on a packed flight for Toronto. (They must have sold me the last ticket.)

When we had landed and were waiting for the ferry boat to get us the 400 feet to the mainland, there was one of those news-TV things on the wall in front of us that said there were going to be fireworks shot off from the CN tower that evening, to mark the closing of the Pan Am games. I got to the Apprentice's place of residence (I planned to stay there and get home by bus the next day), and mentioned the fireworks. When it got dark, sure enough, there they went, three minutes of you-aren't-going-to-see-this-often firework art. We could see them from her back deck.

And the morning came, and the bus ride, and Mr. Fixit was there to pick me up at the terminal. How else would I want to end the story?

But if I've forgotten anything, you can just ask.

The Retreat (Indiana Journey)

The retreat was held at a church, Friday evening and all day Saturday. What it was about, for most of us: celebrating friends and exploring the possibilities of family-oriented, lifelong learning. That was underscored for me by the presence of several babies, a few brave husbands (who were not just there to hold the babies), several older offspring who were there in various roles (playing music, working in the kitchen, packing boxes into vehicles, minding the info table, or just being themselves). When one of the speakers exhorted everyone to "love their children," that seemed to be  given.

And yet a lot of it was still "eek, my online friends!" Even dedicated moms need a break to hang out and enjoy some girl-time.
We had plenary talks and breakout sessions. If you wanted, you could learn how to do Swedish drill and nature study. There were children's notebooks on display, and also some book signings going on. (Not to be confused with one person's totebag signing.) There were serious points made, and some important stuff discussed over cucumber sandwiches and pie. I helped one person do a Google search for the essay where Plutarch mentions child sacrifice to Moloch (who knew?). This was a weekend to make whatever you wanted it to be.

And as the closing speaker quoted from Mary Poppins, it was (too soon) Time To Go Home. For those of us on the hostessing team, it was more like Mary Poppins' game of Tidy Up the Nursery, but we had a lot of hands helping, and also enough willing drivers to get everyone back to "Ma Bear's house."

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Tripping Over the Hodgepodge Edition


1.  I recently read here about four secrets to happiness from around the world. They were-Overcome your fears by facing them head on, allow yourself to relax and reset, work to live versus living to work, and find the good in life. Not sure if these are the actual secret to happiness, but which of the four do you struggle with most? Which one comes most easily to you?

Struggle with: overcoming fears; but when you "see things for what they are" (Marcus Aurelius, courtesy of Father Tim), they sometimes shrink to manageable size.  Not as hard: finding the good in life. One of my daughter's favourite kindergarten books was Good Times on Grandfather Mountain, and it was a good lesson in bad-turned-to-good.


2. How would you spend a found $20 bill today?

I'd get a pizza for dinner. It's too hot to cook.

3. Ego trip, power trip, guilt trip, round trip, trip the light fantastic, or trip over your own two feet...which 'trip' have you experienced or dealt with most recently? Explain.

Round trip. See #5.

4. If you could master any physical skill in the world what would it be, and how would you use that skill?


Driving. Enough said.

5. As July draws to a close, let's take inventory of our summer fun. Since the official first day of (North American) summer (June 20th) have you...been swimming? enjoyed an ice cream cone? seen a summer blockbuster? camped? eaten corn on the cob? gardened? deliberately unplugged? watched a ballgame? picked fruit off the vine? taken a road trip? read a book?  Are any of these activities on your must-do-before-summer-ends list?

Swimming, no. Corn on the cob, yes. Read a book, yes, several. Over the last week I took a road trip/400-foot ferry trip/air trip/road trip to the U.S. and back, so that would include several of the above and some you haven't even mentioned including Cameroonian coffee, Vegemite chocolate, and Chicago airport pizza (I don't think it was deep-dish though).  And fireworks from the C.N. Tower in Toronto. In a way I did "unplug" during that trip since I misplaced my watch (found when I was repacking to go home).

6. The Republican Presidential candidates will debate on August 6th. What's your question?

I'm staying out of that one.

7. What's your most listened to song so far this summer?

Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk. That's a whole album, not a song, but good enough.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

I'm sad that my praying mantises never hatched. But we can't have everything.

Wednesday Hodgepodge comes courtesy of This Side of the Pond, where you can find the linky and add your own thoughts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pre-Retreat (Indiana Journey)

Of buses and airplanes, I don't need to say much. Every trip has its quirks, but this one did go pretty smoothly, at least until I got to Chicago. I've only taken one other flight to the U.S., and that time I had a connecting flight in Detroit, our arrival from Toronto was late, and I barely remember anything about that except rushing through the airport. But squeezed in there somewhere, I must have gone through Customs, and so that second flight was a domestic one--no Customs.

This time I was flying nonstop to Chicago, and (of course) forgot about the fact that when you go through Customs, by the time you've been x-rayed and screened and everything else, you're sort of booted out a side door into the non-security part of the airport. The trouble was, I was supposed to meet someone from a domestic flight (you see this now?) at a pre-arranged spot in the security area, and I didn't have a phone, or enough American coins to use a pay phone to call either her or a third person who was picking us both up. The other tiny problem was that I knew her only by a photograph, and real live people can look quite different, so I wasn't a hundred percent sure who I was watching for!

I tried to think on my feet (literally, as I was dragging around my luggage), and tried a couple of different approaches to get an escort pass or at least a little help in connecting with my friends. Nope, I was not getting back in there and nobody very official seemed much interested in helping Find My Party. (I am not blaming airport employees, they have to do what they have to do.) Finally I asked an employee working in the baggage area of My Party's airline, and she got it right away. She let me use the phone in their office to call our Third Person, and it turned out that she was parked almost right outside the door. So we all connected up and, really, it hadn't been that long a delay--it just felt like it at the time.

So...over the next day or so, everyone on our team finished arriving.
Emily 'Ma' Bear: I'm afraid we're running out of room. Two of you will have to sleep on hangers on a hook on the wall.
Gonzo: What a fabulous idea!
Animal: Love hanger! Love hanger! (Muppet Family Christmas, 1987)
No hangers, but we were kind of all over the place.

Janice: [bringing out a basket of Christmas cookies] Hey, everybody, look what I've got: Christmas cookies!
Cookie Monster: COOKIE!
[gobbles up the whole basket, as Animal watches in amazement]
Cookie Monster: Oh, thank you!
Janice: Who was that strange blue creature?
Animal: Dat my kinda fella! Ahahahahaha!
Our charming hostess
Some of us made cookies. Some of us cut flowers. Some of us wrote names on calling cards name tags. Some of us cooked meals. Some of us cleaned up. We all ate chocolate.

Next post: The retreat!

(All images from A Muppet Family Christmas, 1987)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Quote for the day: Life shouldn't always be so serious

"Oh all this endless thinking, it's very overrated. I blame the war, before 1914 nobody thought of anything at all.." - Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), Downton Abbey (to the family about leaving Edith to think while the rest of them have a picnic).

Home at last (Indiana Journey)

I will be posting some thoughts about the AmblesideOnline AtHome Retreat over the next day or so. In the meantime, I'm unpacking.
I am now officially airing my dirty laundry on the blog.
A magnet from the Ukraine. (Thank you!)
A new book by an AmblesideOnline Auxiliary member. (Review to come!)
A couple of retreat "specials!"
These came all the way from Poland. Again, thank you very much.