Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ideas Have Consequences

Blogging through this book with Cindy and others is not going to be easy. The concepts are so huge that they are hard to summarize and it’s difficult even to pick out quotes since Richard Weaver did not write in sound bites. For this reason, please be patient with me when I quote long passages.

Chapter I: The Unsentimental Sentiment

The man of self-control is he who can consistently perform the feat of abstraction. He is therefore trained to see things under the aspect of eternity, because form is the enduring part. Thus we invariably find in the man of true culture a deep respect for forms. He approaches even those he does not understand with awareness that a deep thought lies in an old observance. Such respect distinguishes him from the barbarian, on the one hand, and the degenerate, on the other. The truth can be expressed in another way by saying that the man of culture has a sense of style. Style requires measure, whether in space or time, for measure imparts structure, and it is structure which is essential to intellectual apprenhension. (p. 23)

When I first started this blog, my header said something like “…taking dominion by beautifying one tiny little corner of the world.” By saying that, I was trying to express the idea that everything we do as Christian women to beautify the sphere the Lord has put us into is a very real and a very valuable way of fulfilling mankind’s creation mandate, of rejoicing in being created in his image, and of glorifying the Lord. But after reading the book mentioned in the previous post, I changed it to the much superior words of fellow Arkansan John Gould Fletcher: “…to make our lives an art…”

This, I think, is at least partly what Mr. Weaver is pointing to in this chapter, and this is something I need to remind myself of on a regular basis. I tend to have lofty ideals but then translating those ideals into practice is very hard for me, and for other women I know. Here are some ideas that might inspire those who need foundational help in this area.

• Be sure that your day has a reasonably predictable rhythm to it. If you have no idea where to begin, start with meals and bedtimes - decide when you should have supper, and that will let you know when you need to start preparing it, when the little ones need naps, when to serve lunch and whether the little ones need a snack between lunch and supper, and so forth. From there you can decide when to schedule regular chores, like laundry, when to have storytime…

Do have nap time every afternoon, even if all your children have outgrown the need for a nap. Everyone in the family still needs a space of quiet, alone time when they’re free to daydream or play with their favorite things without having to share. Moms who are homeschooling (unless they are extremely extroverted and get charged up by being around small people all day long - of which, I am most decidedly not one) especially need this regular time every day, if they are going to make it for the long haul.

• Set the table, with real dishes, for every meal, using paper plates only on rare occasion. Unless you’re in absolute survival mode and can’t possibly face having plates to wash after meals, I’d recommend this for all meals. Having a pretty table to sit down to makes the meal so much more pleasant - and you don’t have to have all matching stuff. I have four different sets of flatware, half of it picked up at thrift stores, that we use at each meal. For a long time I had two different sets of stoneware, but they were both white, so it looked fine on the table.

• A trick I learned from a “More Hours in my Day” seminar with Emilie Barnes is to ring a bell a few minutes before a meal to give everyone time to finish up what they’re doing and wash their hands. At supper I ring ours twenty to thirty minutes before the meal because Mike and a couple of the older kids are usually still out doing barn chores. This gives them plenty of time to finish what they’re doing and time to change clothes if needed. In the meantime, the rest of us come to the living room and sit down and read or play quietly or talk. It’s amazing how civilizing this time is. The family gathers in one place, I make a last-minute check on things and then tell them they can come to the table. (This is, of coure, the ideal - it doesn’t happen every day, especially if Mike had to work late at the office.)

• Model using a pleasant tone of voice and encourage your children to do the same. Shouting is for outside - don’t yell for your kids unless there’s an emergency. Get up and go find them or send a messenger. We have a rule in our family that we aren’t supposed to speak to someone unless we can see their eyes. This reminds us to get close enough to speak in a moderate tone of voice, and it helps us notice whether the person is already speaking to someone else so that we don’t interrupt. Teach your children to say “Yes, Ma’am,” and “Yes, Sir,” or whatever is the appropriately respectful response in your family or region.

• Get dressed first thing in the morning. Fix your hair, and if you wear makeup or jewelry, put it on before you go to the kitchen to start breakfast. Don’t laugh! I know that sounds really basic, but I grew up with the habit of not getting dressed right away unless we were going somewhere (which, of course, was every day but most Saturdays) and I’d actually been a wife and mother for two or three years before I realized that this was my job and I ought to get dressed for my family even though I wasn’t going out that morning. :-p Expect the older kids to dress themselves before breakfast, including having their teeth brushed and hair neat. I am not going to require you to put on shoes every day the way some homemaking advisors do - I’m a Southerner, and like Henny-penny, “I go barefoot, barefoot, barefoot!” :-D

• Make eye contact, smile, and greet one another with a hug first thing each morning. As Laura said in These Happy Golden Years, saying “Good morning” really does make it a good morning!

• Listen to a wide range of good music throughout the week. We’re focusing our attention this term on Antonine Dvořák’s music, so sometimes we’ll listen to his piano solos or Slavonic dances while preparing meals. I prefer listening to his symphonies and string quartets when I have time to sit down and pay attention. His Mass in D major is simply beautiful (ignore the review at Amazon - the guy’s a snob; apparantly he didn’t like it because it’s a live recording of an actual church choir in church, rather than professionals in a studio, but that’s exactly the version I wanted).

• Read some poetry each day to your children. The little ones and I are reading through Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, and with the older ones I’m reading through Ambleside Online’s Year 6 poetry list, chosen because I haven’t read poetry with the older ones since they were little.

My biggest challenge is simply keeping the house tidy. Children need to grow up in an orderly and peaceful environment, and we have too much stuff, defined as “more stuff than I can manage without being consumed by it.” I feel like I’ve been ruthlessly dejunking this year, but evidently I’m going to have to be ruthlesser. ;-) If you’re a mom just starting out, take two bits of advice from me: 1) Don’t accumulate stuff, and 2) Teach your children to pick up after themselves from infancy. Trust me. I’ve learned this the hard way.

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The Hidden Art of Homemaking, by Edith Schaeffer

Sidetracked Home Executives, by Pam Young and Peggy Jones

More Hours in My Day, by Emilie Barnes

Ambleside Online has Charlotte Mason’s books online so you can read them for free - many of her ideas are in the vein of what I’ve been trying to say in this post.

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By the way, if you want to read the book is actually about, go over to Dana’s blog, Hidden Art. She has insight and a wonderful way with words.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

“ make our lives an art...”

[Reposted from 4 January 2006]

One of the books I received for Christmas was one I’ve been wanting for several years, I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, a collection of essays by twelve Southerners, originally published in 1930. There’s so much good in here that I’m afraid I’m devouring it too rapidly to be able to taste it all, so I’ll have to reread - perhaps to the family. I think it would make a nice read-aloud in the winter evenings after Christmas is over. In the four essays I’ve read so far, several common themes keep reappearing, and today I’d like to share a bit of one of them - the idea of an aesthetic life, of living beautifully and graciously, which has nothing at all to do with material wealth.

We feed and clothe and exercise our bodies, for example, in order to be able to do something with our minds. We employ our minds in order to achieve character…. We achieve character, personality, gentlemanliness in order to make our lives an art and to bring our souls into relation with the whole scheme of things, which is the divine nature.
(John Gould Fletcher, “Education, Past and Present,” pp. 119-120

The arts of the [antebellum South], such as they were, were not immensely passionate, creative, or romantic; they were the eighteenth-century social arts of dress, conversation, manners, the table, the hunt, politics, oratory, the pulpit. These were arts of living and not arts of escape; they were also community arts, in which every class of society could participate after its kind. The South took life easy, which is itself a tolerably comprehensive art.
(John Crowe Ransom, “Reconstructed but Unregenerate,” p. 12)

The art gallery or art museum theory of art to which philanthropists and promoters would persuade us views art as a luxury quite beyond the reach of ordinary people. Its attempt to glorify the arts by setting them aside in specially consecrated shrines can hardly supply more than a superficial gilding to a national culture, if the private direction of that culture is ugly and materialistic…. The truly artistic life is surely that in which the aesthetic experience is not curtained off, but mixed up with all sorts of instruments and occupations pertaining to the round of daily life. It ranges all the way from pots and pans, chairs and rugs, clothing and houses, up to dramas publicly performed and government buildings.
(Donald Davidson, “A Mirror for Artists,” pp. 39-40)

[O]nly in an agrarian society does there remain much hope of a balanced life, where the arts are not luxuries to be purchased but belong as a matter of course in the routine of his living.
(Ibid, pp. 51-2)